Matilda Kreider, a freshman double-majoring in political communication and environmental studies, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
Like many students who have been paying attention to President Donald Trump’s first days in office, I’ve been caught off guard by some of his executive orders. The one that hit me hardest personally is a little out-of-the-ordinary.
For the past few years, I have wanted to work for the communications department of one of the government’s environmental agencies – which is, admittedly, a pretty specific career. So imagine my shock when the Trump administration issued a media blackout on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture. People who work for either department were barred from posting scientific findings to social media or to the press. Research grants cannot be issued with the new restriction, and public-facing documents can’t be released.
Not only does this set a dangerous precedent for how the Trump administration will handle issues related to the environment, but it makes me think about how it affects my future career and reflect on why it is my dream job in the first place.
Being able to communicate about scientific and environmental information is important to our society because it keeps citizens involved and holds scientists accountable. This open conversation between scientists, the government and the public ensures that progress happens and that people can be better educated on how their lives and the planet connect. The recent executive orders show me that making sure people can learn about science and the environment is more important than ever.
Though I’ve always loved writing and nature, it wasn’t until recently that I realized I could combine those interests. At the end of my senior year of high school, I interned for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and absolutely loved it. I was involved in some communications projects and taught wildlife education classes to elementary school students, which made me realize I had a passion for communicating about science. My internship taught me that I could work in the world of science and nature while still maintaining my love for writing by communicating scientific findings to the public.
I have learned that concerned citizens are often the only thing standing between government policies and the environment. History proves that environmental problems get solved when citizens are involved. That’s a big part of why I want to work in the field of environmental journalism – I know how important it is to involve all people in the conversation.
Hopefully, by the time that I am working for government agencies, Trump’s new restrictions will have been lifted. But if not, I will have to find a way to work with them and still accomplish my goal of open communication between the scientific community and the public.
One way I, and anyone else who is interested, could work against censorship and communicate to the public is by following the example of the media team at the Badlands National Park. Following the enforced media blackout, the Badlands social media team continued to publish information on climate change and the environment until they eventually went silent. Their resistance inspired me, and I soon learned that it inspired other people, too.
The day after the media blackout was put into place, I found a Twitter account called
“Unofficial National Park Service” – now called “Not Alt World.” The account is continuously putting out scientific facts, and it’s run by unnamed non-government scientists. The account is doing the work that the official NPS media team is no longer allowed to do.
When I saw the Badlands National Park resisting the gag rule and concerned scientists and citizens stepping up, my fears were assuaged. Even if the Trump administration forces government science agencies to permanently go silent, there are other people in the world, like the people behind the “Not Alt World” Twitter account, who will continue to put out facts.
Citizens and scientists alike can fight back by staying vigilant and committed to progress. Personally, I plan to start by both speaking up and elevating the voices of others. I will go to protests, call my representatives and inform others of actions they can take. I will continue to support science and the environment in the forms of research organizations, lobbying groups, museums and publications.
I still look forward to protecting the environment publicly in my career. Perhaps the future of environmental science will have to function outside the realm of the government. Maybe my career path will have to change, and I’ll gravitate toward non-governmental organizations or groups like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund. But I’m not hesitating to do what I can now.
What I know for sure is that I am choosing to defend scientists and environmentalists because they defend us. Whether we are allowed to talk about it or not, the planet is depending on us.
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