President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, proposed budget cuts for research, and general anti-science sentiment has spooked climate scientists. Ultimately, his actions may have a greater effect on the nation’s scientific community than on its climate.
In just a few weeks, countries around the globe have stepped into the scientific void created by the administration. Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron even recorded a video inviting American climate researchers to come to France and “make our planet great again.” The EU even launched a website with information for those wishing to accept Macron’s offer. Senior researchers could receive laboratory space and up to €1.5 million ($1.68 million) per year under a four-year grant.
“If enough resources are available and the size of the individual packages are large enough ... it could turn out to be a significant venture, particularly from the European side,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. Still, he does not expect a significant brain drain.
The United Kingdom is taking a more tactful approach to poaching U.S. scientists. Although there is no formal government policy, a number of the top research institutes and universities have been trying to take advantage of the situation.
“We live in a global marketplace and want to recruit the best minds—and many of the very best are in U.S. labs,” said Professor Piers Forster, director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds. Professor Forster is now “actively recruiting” Americans. “We have had a trickle of approaches from U.S. colleagues,” he said. Other U.K. institutes “are having similar conversations,” he added.
It is too early to anticipate the full impact of Trump’s policies, but if the proposed budget cuts go into effect, there could be more interest among scientists and researchers to take up offers in Europe, said Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.
There may, however, be negative consequences to an American emigration. The major concern is the impact the proposed budget cuts could have on research globally, said Professor Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change & Environment. A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the future of global facilities, infrastructures, and international projects previously built and maintained by the U.S.
Of particular concern are the proposed cuts to NASA’s Earth-science research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research office. Researchers around the globe rely on data from NOAA and other U.S. satellite programs, which are made freely available, and any cutbacks “would have a huge impact on the work we do,” said Professor Haigh.
The satellite data is “a key area of U.S. leadership,” said Professor Oppenheimer. It is also particularly vulnerable to the shifting budgetary whims of the Trump administration. “There seems to be an interest in the administration of shifting resources out of science and once again to manned exploration,” he said. Manned space research is more glamorous, but it’s also more expensive and has produced “very modest returns,” according to Oppenheimer.
Although having a few more American scientists on the continent would be nice, they’re not desperately needed. “We need their satellite data and access to the U.S.’s many freely available datasets,” said Professor Forster. “We need their expertise.”