President Donald Trump may soon have a widely-respected scientist briefing him on the extreme weather walloping the nation.
On Tuesday, The White House announced that Trump intends to nominate atmospheric scientist Kelvin Droegemeier, who is currently the Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position Trump hasn’t filled since becoming president 19 months ago.
Trump is the first president in over half a century, since President John F. Kennedy, who hasn’t nominated a science adviser in the first year of his term. The head of the Office of Science and Technology usually assumes the role of science adviser, though the Senate must confirm the nomination before Droegemeier is able to take the post.
Droegemeier is immersed in extreme weather science, advancing storm prediction research at the University of Oklahoma and teaching advanced meteorology classes. He was previously appointed by President Obama to the National Science Board, where he served from 2011 until 2016.
Trump has been consistently hostile to mainstream climate science — which he fails to have a grade school-level understanding of — so the idea of a science adviser who actively researches the atmosphere and is a candid promoter of the sciences generally, might seem like an inconsistent, if not a bit unexpected, choice.
That said, Droegemeier may have qualities or beliefs that the president truly admires, including Droegemeier’s apparent outspoken love for the nation.
For example, Droegemeier proudly exclaims “God Bless America!!!” on his academic webpage.
Droegemeier is a clear supporter of a vast diversity of the sciences, and believes the federal government should play a prominent role in funding research. In an opinion piece in The Des Moines Register last year, he lamented the government’s declining investment in research:
“This decline is especially worrisome given the clear and convincing evidence that basic research investments are critical for growing our economy, developing medical treatments, ensuring our national security and improving our quality of life,” Droegemeier wrote.
In the piece, Droegemeier underscores support for a wide-range of sciences, including “the physical sciences, engineering, biomedicine, and the social and behavioral sciences.”
Droegemeier himself studies the physical sciences, and he almost certainly has a clear grasp of how emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide, are warming the climate at an accelerating pace and stoking extreme weather.
“He’s been a serious climate scientist, and he’s been a serious science adviser to people in positions of influence,” John Holdren, the former director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama, told The Washington Post.
“Dr. Droegemeier is an extreme weather expert, a knowledge base that is becoming more and more important with climate change loading the dice as extreme weather becomes more prevalent, costly, and deadly,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy, said in a statement.
Trump has filled or attempted to fill prominent scientific leadership posts with people who aren’t scientists, challenge climate science, or both. Scott Pruitt, a lawyer who served as former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a glaring example.
In 2017, Trump nominated climate-skeptic Kathleen Hartnett White to head the Council on Environmental Quality, and selected Myron Ebell, a political scientist who believes the impacts of climate change will be quite mild, to lead the EPA transition team.
The influences of climate science on extreme weather have been made very apparent this summer, as rising temperatures have enhanced heat waves and hotter weather.
“More broadly, science and technology have been responsible for more than half of all U.S. economic growth since World War II,” he wrote. “This is an astounding return on a modest federal investment in basic research that continues to build over time.”