Camille Parmesan: ‘We are now sure of what we only suspected years ago. Policy needs to catch up with science.’ Photograph: Lloyd Russell/University of Plymouth
Interview by John Vidal Sun 31 Dec ‘17 02.00 EST
The climate scientist on leaving the US to work in France – with funding from President Macron – and why she believes Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement will backfire on him
Camille Parmesan, a biologist at the universities of Texas and Plymouth, is one of the world’s most influential climate change scientists, having shown how butterflies and other species are affected by it across all continents. She is one of 18 US scientists moving to France to take up President Macron’s invitation of refuge after Donald Trump’s decision to cut science funding and withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris agreement.
What has made you leave the US?
The impact of Trump on climate science has been far greater than what the public believe it has. He has not only slashed funding, but he’s gone on the attack in any way he can with his powers as the president. University researchers are buffered from this, but scientists working at government agencies have really felt the blow. They have been muffled and not allowed to speak freely with the press, they have had their reports altered to remove “climate change” from the text, and are being told to leave climate change out of future reports and funding proposals. This degrades the entire climate science community. Scientists are fighting back, but Congress needs to exercise its constitutional powers and keep the executive branch in check. This is not a partisan issue – this is about the future of America.
Are you angry?
None of us expected Trump to win. It was a real shock. It was horrifying to have him as a candidate. He was so extreme. Frankly, I am not just angry at the far right, extreme Republican groups but also with [some] liberals who bought the Russian propaganda and who are not taking responsibility. And with people who didn’t vote. Good lord. You need to vote! It was a bit like Brexit. Many young people did not vote. I understand they did not want a mainstream candidate but they got Trump and Brexit.
Why go to France?
I came to the UK for family reasons seven years ago. But I was not happy with my department at the University of Texas. Research funding has gone down so much in the US. I had a big collaborative grant and I wanted to continue it, but it looked like funding was not there. Then Brexit happened, Trump got elected and President Macron made his offer [to fund climate
research]. It was perfect timing. His initiative brings me to France, which allows me to apply for EU money.