Earlier in the year, Global Citizen traveled to Kivalina, Alaska to report on how climate change is affecting the indigenous community there.
Within 10 years, they’ll be displaced from their barrier island, becoming some of the first climate change refugees within the US.
Global Citizen became aware of Kivalina’s plight through advocates within the community, and the pioneering work of scientists like Joel Clement, who has been studying the consequences of climate change in Alaska for years while working at the Department of Interior.
Clement has become a staunch and essential advocate for the people of Kivalina and other indigenous communities like Shishmaref and Newtok who are struggling to get funding to relocate.
But last month, he was effectively muzzled by the Trump administration. Now, he is adopting the role of whistleblower.
Clement was reassigned within the Interior Department to an accounting role that, as he wrote in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, “collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.”
Clement has no accounting experience.
He believes that he was reassigned because he raised the issue of climate change with the Trump administration and advocated on behalf of indigenous communities in Alaska.
Ryan Zinke, the director of the Interior Department, has said that he plans to cut more than 4,000 jobs from the agency and would use reassignments as a way to push people out.
“Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars,” Clement wrote. “Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean.”
Clement filed a complaint and a disclosure of information with the US Office of Special Counsel to challenge his reassignment, and, more broadly, to sound an alarm about what he sees as a troubling effort to obstruct climate change science.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, scrubbed websites of references to climate change, reoriented the Environmental Protection Agency, and sought to repeal a range of regulations that seek to curb climate change such as the Clean Power Plan.
Clement was one of around 50 senior scientists who were reassigned within the Interior Department recently.
In his new role as whistleblower, he argues that these reassignments were politically motivated and put the American people in harm’s way.
“I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies,” he wrote. “But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.”
Clement hopes to be protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and that US Office of Special Counsel will investigate the his agency’s actions.
“Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out,” he wrote in his op-ed. “They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered.