On Wednesday, March 14, Joel Clement, the Former Top Climate Official at the Department of Interior came back to his home state of Maine to deliver a speech on the Trump Administration’s War on Climate Policy. In recent news, Clement has become somewhat of a celebrity whistleblower after writing an explosive op-ed in The Washington Post titled “I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration” this past July. More recently, The Washington Post has also published his fiery resignation letter to Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, criticizing him for failing to address the threat of climate change.
When Clement first came to the podium, he commemorated Stephen Hawking who died the morning of his speech, adding “how clever [it was] of him to die on Pi Day and also Albert Einstein’s birthday.” He continued, “So in his honor, I’m going to state a scientific consensus on climate change. Rapid climate change is real, it’s dangerous, and we’re causing it.”
His speech centered on Maine State’s motto: dirigo, meaning “I lead” in Latin. “I always thought it was just referring to Mainers, you know. We lead, we’re leaders. There’s a farmer and a sailor on the emblem and they’re leaders. It totally escaped me that the north star was at the top of the emblem. Polaris, the symbol of guidance and direction is sitting there.”
In his work, Clement advocates for Alaska Natives who are facing the threat of being erased from the face of the earth due to extreme weather and ice-cap melting. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, “The warm temperature anomalies…I don’t know at what point anomaly stops becoming anomaly, because this year we far exceeded those warm temperatures. In fact, I think the closest recording station to the Arctic is in Northern Greenland. And in February they detected temperatures over 40 degrees.” Unfortunately, Maine is next on the list after Arctic people for facing devastating consequences of global warming.
“I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience as whistle blower to give you a sense of what we’re up against both in Maine and Alaska with these climate impacts and can give you a little bit of a taste of what they’re up to in this administration,” said Clement.
He first began by describing the responsibilities involved for his job at the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C., “Every aspect of every mission is affected by climate impacts, whether it’s managing our legendary national parks, protecting biodiversity, providing world class science that the US. Geological Survey provides… And so I was very public about this. I spoke very publicly and very frequently about the importance of addressing these impacts. I wasn’t talking about CO2 and methane. I was talking about how do we handle the impacts that we know are already coming.”
According to Clement, their goal was to eliminate all programs from the previous administration, “Anything with an Obama stamp on it had to go, good or bad, effective or ineffective. Marginalize all the scientists and experts, get them out of the way, and shrink and hobble government to allow industry fuller access.”
One of the punches from the administration was aimed at the Senior Executive Service at the Department of the Interior where Clement worked at the time. As an expert in climate change, Clement belonged to the SCS, which is the executive core of career professionals who were meant to be deployed wherever an agency needs high level but nonpolitical talent. “No agency in any administration has ever come in and move dozens in one night, as this group did…and to accomplish that they moved people into positions that were completely unrelated to their backgrounds or expertise. They moved them across the country, there was no prior consolation, they were given no choice in the matter.”
Clement then admitted, “At any rate, I guess it was obvious that I was on their list, I believe, because of my work on behalf of Alaska natives facing these climate change effects. They seemed particularly eager for me to quit and I stayed at it because I was the climate change guy. They moved me to the office that collects and disperses royalty incomes from the oil and gas companies.”
Clements was then promptly moved to an auditing office. Although he enjoyed the people working there, he felt that it was “a huge waste of my expertise and background and my salary.” To him, it was very poor governance, but more importantly, it ended his work supporting the Alaska Natives. In fact, to this day, there is no one in D.C. coordinating federal response to this disaster in Alaska.
For the second half of his speech, he focused on how can we can put science back in the forefront of public policy, and “make it the north star of public policy.” He proposed that we should have five goals: Democracy, transparency, fair budgeting, rule of law, and science advocacy.