They call my name. I walk to the stage and sit at the mic. I feel the eyes of the government decision-makers in front of me and the audience watching below. I start to speak. I’m interrupted by a baby crying. My baby. He’s four weeks old and strapped to my chest. I look down and frantically try to put a pacifier in his mouth. I lose my place in my notes. An awkward pause. The audience hears only my baby crying as I struggle find the words I scribbled down in a notebook earlier. I finally find them, press on to the end of my testimony, and step off the stage.
It was a flustered moment but it’s part of my new normal. I’m a scientist and a mom. My job is to advocate for science, but these days it feels much more personal. On the night Donald Trump was elected, I crept into my toddler son’s room and watched him peacefully sleep. What would the days and years to come have in store, I wondered, and how would they change the country he’ll grow up in? We would soon find out.
That day I testified to the US Environmental Protection Agency, I spoke about a policy that, if enacted, could mean more Americans exposed to air pollution, to harmful pesticides, or to toxic chemicals in our products. The proposal is only one of an ever-growing list of actions taken by the Trump Administration that chip away at our country’s science-based policies that protect my family and yours.
I find my mind is constantly consumed with thoughts of how our leaders’ actions today will affect my children tomorrow. I think about it when the Trump Administration allows power plants to emit more toxics into the air. I think about it when industry representatives are put in charge of keeping children’s toys safe. And I think about it when people who don’t accept the basics of reproductive health are placed in the courts and at government agencies. In just the last month, the Trump administration has gutted the leadership of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and announced plans to allow more emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin that damages the brains of infants and children.
We certainly aren’t leaving our kids a safer world.
I think too about whose kids will be most affected. The unfortunate truth is that the impacts of these actions won’t be shared evenly. The burden of more toxic pollution, for example, will fall to those living and working nearby, who tend to be low-income communities and people of color. Groups that are already exposed to greater air pollution. Children, the elderly, and those with lung diseases will feel the effects more.
This isn’t just politics. Under both Democrats and Republicans, our nation has a long history of using science to benefit its people. From medicine to engineering to national security, our government’s investment and trust in science have built a remarkable place to live and raise a family, with each generation safer and healthier than the previous. But I worry that strong relationship between science and our decisionmakers is slipping away. To be fair, we have never lived in a world without political interference in science, but the Trump Administration is taking these problems to new heights.
My first son was born days before the start of the United Nations climate talks in Paris, where my husband was set to represent the US there. He missed the first two weeks of our child’s life but we told ourselves it was worth it. The Paris negotiations would be and were a promise and a hope for my son’s generation. The historic Paris Accord set the world on a course to stave off the worst effects of climate change. We were elated. And then we watched in horror as the Trump Administration pulled the US out of the agreement, shattering what many worked so hard to build. That year, we marched with our son in Washington DC at the People’s Climate March under (fittingly) oppressive heat.
My son has now been to five major marches in our nation’s capital. He and his new brother have had to wait for me while I talked with journalists, wrote blog posts, and organized with colleagues. My children won’t remember any of these political decisions. The names of those implementing them will be a footnote in their history books but I’m certain they’ll feel the impacts.
I want to believe that when this Administration is over, we will return to a “normal” America. But these forces didn’t start with Trump and they won’t end with him either. My children will grow up in a different world than I did. A world with more knowledge and more diversity than we’ve ever had and yet also a deeply divided nation, one that ignores evidence to the detriment of its children.
I was still on maternity leave when I testified to the EPA that day. I didn’t have to be there but I needed to be. These threats are too big, the consequences too real, my kids too important. As I sat breastfeeding my infant in the meeting overflow room waiting for my turn to testify, I thought, as I often do, about what I will tell my kids if decades from now they ask me about this time in our nation’s history. I’ll tell them I didn’t just watch it happen. I’ll tell them I did everything in my power to ensure their generation had a chance to thrive. I’ll tell them I was right there fighting, and they were too.
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