Climate change whistle-blower from Falmouth to speak at Maine Audubon

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FALMOUTH — Remote Alaskan villages are at risk of being swallowed by the ocean as climate change causes melting ice, coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

Joel Clement, a Falmouth High School alumnus, was one of the federal scientists attempting to understand the impact and also help these endangered communities prepare for and adapt to the changing climate.

That is, until last summer, when he was summarily reassigned to a completely unrelated accounting job by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is now under the control of President Donald Trump appointee Ryan Zinke.

So Clement spoke out and filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, arguing that his reassignment violated federal whistle-blower protections because he was publicly speaking out about the dangers of climate change.

In mid-July Clement wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post that accused the Trump administration of “choos(ing) silence over science.”

Now Clement is returning to Falmouth to talk about what he says is the federal government’s effort to undermine climate change policy and scientific research.

Clement’s talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 15 at Maine Audubon. There is a fee to attend and reservations can be made online.

In the Post piece, Clement said, “I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistle-blower.” Eventually, Clement retired from his job with the federal government.

Clement argued that while his reassignment was a waste of taxpayer dollars, the worst part is “that the Alaska native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean.”

“In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves,” he said. “As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.”

Clement in late July told the Portland Press Herald he was targeted for job reassignment because “my disclosures for the months prior … were exclusively about climate change impacts.”

Jeremy Cluchey, director of communications at Maine Audubon, said the organization invited Clement to speak because “(our) natural environment is at the heart of who we are as a state.”

“Our major industries, from forestry to fishing to tourism, all revolve around our natural resources. The fact that climate change is a major threat to those resources, our wildlife, and their habitat, means it threatens our economy and our way of life,” Cluchey said.

Along with the talk, Cluchey said Eliza Donoghue, Maine Audubon’s senior policy and advocacy specialist, will take the opportunity to “focus on concrete actions we can all take to combat climate change.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Joel Clement, a graduate of Falmouth High School and a former federal climate change scientist, on March 15 at Maine Audubon will discuss attempts by the Trump Adminstration to “silence science” on climate change.