The rap on Washington and the Trump administration these days is that nothing is getting done.
Well, tell that to anyone concerned about the climate crisis.
Sure, most of President Donald Trump’s legislative initiatives have gone nowhere in Congress.
But Trump is delivering big time on his promises to gut the federal government's efforts to fight climate change, from pulling out of the Paris climate agreement to pulling the plug on President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to proposing massive budget cuts in federal agencies that work on the problem.
So, what's an American who cares about climate change to do?
French President Emmanuel Macron has an answer. The day after Trump's June 1 repudiation of the Paris deal, Macron issued this plea: “To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I call on them: Come and work here, with us.”
Macron went on to add a dig at the Trump campaign promise to “Make America great again.”
“Because wherever we live,” Macron said, “whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again.”
Macron followed up this plea with a concrete offer: roughly $70 million to pay outside climate researchers to come work in France.
The offer presents France as something of a promised land for climate researchers, in sharp contrast to the troubled waters of the US.
And a couple of months into the effort it seems there’s been a steady drumbeat of interest, from researchers in the US and elsewhere.
So far, according to the agency handling the program, there’ve been about 1,000 requests. Roughly 150 were qualified and about half of those are from the US.
Applications are being solicited through a “Make Our Planet Great Again” website, which offers interested researchers perks like visas for their entire families and quality public schools.
Not running away from Trump
One US-based researcher who’s among the applicants is Ashley Ballantyne, a bioclimatologist at the University of Montana in Missoula.
“It’s not that I’m running away from Donald Trump,” says Ballantyne, who studies the interaction between the Earth’s climate and its ecosystems. But he says he finds research funding “increasingly challenging to come by in the United States.”
“I’m certainly trying to diversify my research base and always looking for ways to collaborate with scientists around the world,” Ballantyne says. “I think this is a pretty intriguing opportunity.”
And he says many of his colleagues in the field seem to be looking for similar opportunities outside of the US.
“It used to be that European scientists would come to the US for opportunities,” he says. “But I think the tides are turning, and there have been several really well-respected, midcareer scientists leaving for institutions in Germany and Switzerland and France [and] England. … In some respects, there’s been a bit of a reverse brain drain.”
“It used to be that European scientists would come to the US for opportunities.”
Ballantyne and other climate scientists from the US and elsewhere will learn this fall whether their proposals to conduct research in France under Macron’s program have been accepted.
But not all of their colleagues in France are happy with the effort, and some warn that the soil there may not be as fertile as Macron has promised.
The French government imposed a $350 million cut on science funding earlier this year, while this project would cost about $70 million. That has a lot of French scientists scratching their head and wondering where the money will come from.
‘Don't come to our country at any cost’
Chief among those raising flags is Patrick Monfort, a board member at the National Institute for Scientific Research, the French agency handling the research applications.
Monfort says in spite of Trump’s decisions, science funding is still stronger in the US than in France.
“I would say to Americans, don’t come to our country at any cost,” Monfort says.
In other words, “Come to France at your own risk. You may not like it.”
And Ballantyne suggests that whatever the relative funding prospects in the US and elsewhere, his colleagues here won’t be rushing the exits en masse.
“The morale is on one hand a bit low,” Ballantyne says, “but on the other hand [the Trump administration has] in some ways galvanized the climate science community to speak out more. And maybe we were getting a little bit complacent with the previous administration.”