Scientists Respond to CDC Climate Summit Cancellation

An agency-sponsored meeting, which is now postponed indefinitely, was intended to highlight the ways in which global warming poses threats to public health.

Jan 25, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

CDC GLOBALThe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has canceled a climate change summit that had been planned for February 2017, E&E News reported this week (January 23). The conference would have focused on the well-established connection between climate change and public health, providing attendees with strategies on how to mitigate its effects.  

Scientists immediately expressed worry about the decision. “I’m concerned this is an act of self-sabotage on the part of the CDC,” Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, told E&E News. “The larger specter is that it will set the tone for self-silencing from the people at the top.”

The CDC confirmed the decision to cancel the summit, the Associated Press reported, but offered no explanation. In a statement sent to those registered for the conference and obtained by the AP, the agency noted that the event may be rescheduled.

Some scientists wondered whether the CDC had much choice in the matter. “They ran it up the flagpole and realized that it was so close to the inauguration, the chances of it being canceled were pretty real with the administration that was coming in,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was scheduled to speak at the summit, told The Washington Post. (President Donald Trump has previously called climate change “a hoax.”)

For scientists concerned about the incoming administration’s position on climate science, the CDC’s abrupt cancellation of its highly anticipated summit was a red flag. This is “what self-censorship looks like,” tweeted neurosurgeon and writer Atul Gawande. “And the sad truth is [government] scientists now must pick their battles to discuss data.”

Brian William Jones, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah, agreed. “Science in America is already on the defensive,” he tweeted.

While Maibach told The Washington Post that he understands why the CDC may have felt the need to cancel, he maintains that the act could set a dangerous precedent of bowing to political pressure. “As the nation’s public health agency, we need CDC to be fully engaged in protecting our health from climate change,” Maibach told The Verge. “Politics is politics, but protecting the health of our citizens is one of our government's most important obligations to us.”