Two Bowdoin professors helped write a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to act on the issue of climate change. The letter, defending scientific fact, was ultimately signed by over 700 physics and astronomy professors at colleges and universities across the nation. It outlines three points—major areas of climate change scientific consensus—that its writers encourage the Trump administration to value in policy creation. 

After Trump’s election in November, Paul Nakroshis, an associate professor of physics at the University of Southern Maine, contacted Mark Battle, associate professor of physics, about writing a letter. Battle then recruited Professor of Physics Madeleine Msall and the three contacted colleagues at every institution that offers an undergraduate physics degree. 

“We decided to not just have it come from the National Academy of Sciences, but let’s have it come from people and communities all around the country,” Msall said. “There are small and big colleges all across the nation, and the people who teach there are connected to a set of community resources. We decided to use that platform to say, ‘Look: physics teachers, people who are at academic institutions, recognize the truth of this research and want it to be used in policy.’” 

The letter argued three points central to climate science: “climate scientists have confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that our planet is warmer now than it was in 1850,” “the human use of fossil fuels is driving this warming,” and “climate change is an economic and existential threat to our country and to human and animal life on our planet,” according to the letter. 

“Our hope was that the administration would make use of the scientific information available to them to fuel infrastructure projects or carbon taxes,” Battle said. 

The professors were concerned both by Trump’s individual rhetoric on climate change and the words of his close advisors. His nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has said that climate science is “far from settled.”

However, Battle and Msall said the letter’s ultimate goal extends beyond the issue of climate change and relates to the larger question of the role of science in policy creation. 

“It’s not just climate change—it’s about using good data with a breadth of understanding, not just arbitrary policy agendas that direct legislation,” Msall said. 

“The Trump administration is cracking down on multiple areas that conduct research, not simply scientific, and essentially saying that only they have the answers. What we really want to put on the record is a strong sense for scientific consensus as a basis for directing government policy.”

Battle said he was concerned by Trump’s science-related actions in the president’s first few days in office, particularly the restriction placed on government agencies disseminating scientific information. 

“I’m deeply disappointed by the action to remove all mention[s] of climate change from the White House website,” he said. “I’m also concerned with the decision to keep the five federal agencies that do the most work on issues of climate change from communicating with the press or social media, but instead to funnel their information through an appeals process. It’s not particularly unusual to have a directive for agencies to speak with one voice, but what is extraordinary is that it’s not a blanket order—it’s just the five agencies that are focused on climate change research.”

Wednesday, the Trump administration asked the EPA to take down its webpage about climate change. 

“They seek to subordinate the importance of scientific facts to partisan issues,” Msall said. 

In addition to the open letter, the professors have been tweeting from an account with the handle @Physics4Climate.