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Thu Mar 19, 2020, 09:43 AM

In COVID Isolation, Climatologist Ben Santer Rolls Out Some Fundamentals The WH Will Never Grasp


Lesson 1: Scientific ignorance can be fatal—particularly if ignorance starts with the U.S. president and trickles down from there. It was scientifically incorrect for President Trump to dismiss the coronavirus as no worse than the seasonal flu. It was scientifically incorrect to advise U.S. citizens to engage in business as usual in the face of a pandemic. Dissemination of such incorrect information by the commander-in-chief helped to spread the novel coronavirus in America. Ignorance served as a potent disease vector.

Lesson 2: The president of the United States failed to accept responsibility for the administration’s chaotic response to the virus. The shortage of reliable tests for the “foreign” virus? Not his fault. Shutting down the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense? Not his decision. The quarantined passengers on a cruise ship off San Francisco? Not his problem. In the Trump administration, the buck never stops at the top.

Lesson 3: Our president cannot lead this country. A leader tells hard truths in times of crisis. A leader does not assume the mantle of expertise in areas where he or she has none. A leader is more concerned with the well-being of all citizens than with bad poll numbers or bad numbers of confirmed disease cases. A leader accepts responsibility for personal and organizational failures (see above). And a leader cares more about saving lives than winning reelection.

Lesson 4: “America First” is a singularly poor survival strategy in the middle of a global pandemic. No nation is an impregnable fortress against a microscopic agent that can hitch a ride on any plane, ship, train or car. Building effective international organizations and alliances is a far better way of surviving a global health crisis than “going it alone.”


After years of belittling and neglecting science, Donald J. Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative to human survival, and perhaps even to his own political survival. Through science, a vaccine will be developed for the novel coronavirus. If this country invests in science now—and if we invest in maintaining strong global health systems—we will be better prepared for the next novel virus waiting out there.

Pandemics are not the only existential problem we face. Climate change endangers every present and future citizen of this planet. If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels. It would be a tragedy to survive the coronavirus but succumb to human-caused climate disruption. An abundance of caution demands that we address both problems.



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