League of Women Voters forum discusses the impact Trump’s budget cuts will have on mitigating the mounting negative effects of climate change

At a time when yet another yearly world heat record is being broken and President Trump is denying climate change while proposing massive cuts to environmental restoration, protection, research and sustainability efforts, the League of Women Voters Pasadena Area (LWV-PA) is hosting the 6th Annual Climate Change Forum.

The forum, which is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, April 1, at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena, will cover three topics: how to meet California’s emission goals during the current political climate, which will be given by La Ronda Bowen, California Air Resources Board ombudsman; global low-carbon energy technology as well as a discussion of the “Fuel from Sunlight” research and development, given by Caltech Chemistry Professor Nate Lewis; and the global health effects of climate change, which will be presented by Edward Avol, professor of clinical medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine.

“This year it’s more urgent for people to be informed [about climate change] because we’re facing a lot of policy challenges from the federal government,” said George Null, chairman of the natural resources committee of the Pasadena LWV.

Before the league can advocate for a cause, it has to study the issues, which is what members did with climate change. “The league is very dedicated to learning about what’s happening with different issues before it acts. It has a position about climate change: that climate change is the most important natural resources issue in this generation. [The league] is very much in favor of meeting the Paris climate goals,” Null said.

The Paris climate goals is a reference to the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement between 195 countries to address climate change was adopted by consensus in 2015 and went into effect last November. According to the agreement, the goal is to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

In her presentation, Bowen will talk about California’s emissions plans and the state’s achievements, the current policy roles of California and the United States and potential challenges if California takes over some of the federal roles.

“(The California Air Resources Board is) responsible for meeting the California climate change goals. La Ronda Bowen will educate us about how California intends to meet these goals considering we have all this uncertainty,” Null said.

Bowen could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

Trump has claimed he doesn’t believe in climate change, tweeting in 2012 that it was a hoax invented by the Chinese. After being called out by Bernie Sanders during NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2016, Trump said the tweet was a joke and called climate change a “very expensive form of tax” on “Fox & Friends.” He said, “I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.”

However, in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a plan to suspend production of 101 coal plants and invest $360 billion in renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax since his 2012 tweet. After taking office in January, the Trump administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove information regarding climate change from its website. Trump’s proposed budget cuts 31 percent of the EPA’s budget and calls for climate change initiatives at the UN to lose all their funding.

On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order that rolls back climate policies from the Obama administration, including the rule to mitigate carbon emissions from power plants as well as other executive orders aimed at reducing climate change.

“It was historic to get the nations of the world to come together to discuss climate change, to agree that a concerted effort is needed to respond to the challenge and to develop a plan that starts to address various aspect of the problem,” said Avol, the third speaker for Saturday’s forum.

During his presentation on global health effects, Avol will also talk about climate change adaptation, which is an acknowledgement that the climate in our general surroundings is or will soon be different and how thoughtful adjustments to co-exist with that changed set of conditions are made.

“The loss of funding would stop many of [their] efforts, which would result in continued increases in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, continued increases in climate-related changes and deterioration of human health on a global scale,” he said.

Avol’s examples of how human health would deteriorate include the proliferation of infectious diseases; decreases in food and water access; shifting agricultural seasons and viable growth locations and increased societal conflicts due to competition from decreasing amounts of water, food and land.

Recently, there have been reports about disease outbreaks that can be linked to climate change. Avol said the shifts in climate have made some areas warmer and wetter for longer periods of time, and these conditions are more hospitable to the growth and establishment of some species of insects, bacteria, viruses, animal and plant populations that may not have previously been able to survive in a particular region.

“So, there might be higher numbers of mosquitoes able to survive and breed, or more beetles or bugs able to survive through a not-so-cold winter, or a species of plant able to survive or thrive under more attractive living conditions. These circumstances can lead to increases in transmission of disease,” he said.

The proposed budget by Trump’s administration also includes cutting about $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for biomedical research. Avol said much of the health research done in this country is supported by funding from the NIH, everything from primary basic research to clinical care.

“The proposed budget cuts would reduce the ability to continue this work by something like a fifth, which is a sizable amount. We don’t know in advance which of the funded studies will be successful or what they will find, but all of the proposed studies are carefully screened before funding is awarded to ensure that the proposed effort makes scientific sense, offers some chance for success or improved understanding and is being done with appropriate respect for human safety and confidentiality. In my particular area of research (in the university setting), most all of our research is supported by NIH funding, so these cuts could result in job layoffs, cessation of current research, a slow-down in other related leveraged research and a general loss of research momentum and scientific progress,” he said.

The idea that the proposed budget cuts, if enacted, will cause the US to lose its edge in scientific progress is shared by Lewis, who may also see cuts in his area of expertise because the proposed budget plan also reduces energy discretionary spending by about $1.7 billion.

His presentation at the forum will focus on how critically government climate regulations and carbon pricing depend on energy research and development to be successful by providing cost-effective technology. He will discuss “Fuel from Sunlight,” which is a process that uses sunlight energy to make chemical fuel that can be stored.

“No electricity, no solar panels, no plants like biofuel and 10 times more efficient per unit area and makes a fuel we can convert to one that is directly usable in our existing infrastructure. You’d never know the difference,” Lewis said. The difference is the energy comes from the sun instead of fossil fuels, which is finite and its use has been proven to be detrimental to the environment.

As for the prospect of losing $1.7 billion in discretionary funding, “That would definitely be an impediment to keeping up our ability to do research in this area and our competitiveness internationally because other countries are stepping up their game and trying to beat us to the punch by taking what we started and trying to run with the ball,” Lewis said. “So I don’t think it’s wise, after we have the lead, to cut our legs off from under us halfway through the race.”

The 6th Annual Climate Change Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Pasadena Area will be at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 1, at the First United Methodist Church, 500 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call (626) 796-0965 or visit http://lwv-pa.org.