News Article | February 19, 2017
Hundreds of scientists rallied in Boston on Sunday to protest what they call the “direct attack” of Donald Trump and Republicans on research, scientific institutions and facts themselves, as a community reckons, and argues, with a new era of American politics. Gathering in Boston’s Copley Square, outside the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), several scientists gave speeches to a crowd holding signs shaped like beakers and reading “Stand up for science”. The speeches reflected a sea change in the culture of many labs and universities, where many researchers long maintained that good scientific work could speak for itself. At the AAAS conference, scientists this week have discussed political activism, the psychology of “fake news” , and how to protect climate science from hostile governments. But a rift has opened up in the community between those in favor and those opposed to rallies focused on science, including a March for Science planned across multiple cities in April. Professor Jim Gates, the eminent string theorist and former adviser to Barack Obama, told journalists that the march appeared to lack an end goal – a prerequisite for political action – and would simply be perceived as “science against Trump”. “At least as far as I can detect, there is no theory of action behind this,” he said. “This bothers me tremendously. “I don’t understand how the organisers of this march can guard against provocateurs, quite frankly,” he added. “I don’t think they’re ready for that, I don’t think they’re considering that kind of danger. To have science represented as this political force I think is just extraordinarily dangerous.” Others urged the protesters on, including Rush Holt, the CEO of AAAS, said that his organization would work with other US societies to “make the march a success”. “It’s the first time in my 50-year career that I have seen people speaking up for science at large,” he said. “I’ve seen for or against nuclear power or whatever. This is an unusual phenomenon.” Astrid Caldas, a climate scientist and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the rally showed that “scientists who are usually happy in the corner of their labs are speaking”. “I think that scientists are realizing that they have to use their voice, as scientists, in self-defense.” Dr Jacquelyn Gill, an ecologist at the University of Maine, was one of the speakers Sunday, and is tentatively considering whether to run for Congress in 2018. “A lot of scientists are realizing that the institutions that fund and support and science in this country – science for everyone, publicly funded and transparent – those institutions are under direct attack,” she told the Guardian. Trump, she said, “not only doesn’t value our institutions, he doesn’t seem to value evidence-based decision making at all. That is alarming to us.” The president’s views about science – he has variously called global warming a “hoax” and pledged to “unlock the mysteries of space” – is not the only concern on the scientists’ minds. “I’m concerned that we’re going to lose the EPA. I’m concerned that we’re going to lose regulations that have a direct impact on human health, like automobile emissions,” Gill said. “People will get sicker. People will die because of a lack of environmental regulation and medical research.” Beka Economopoulos, one of the rally’s organizers and a co-founder of the Natural History Museum, a mobile exhibition, said that scientists could no longer truly avoid politics. “That ship has sailed,” she said, noting that researchers have a long history protesting, for instance against nuclear proliferation in the 1970s. “It’s not just about scientists, it’s about science,” she said. “Communities are going to bear the brunt of the impacts of these attacks on science in the public interest.” Gill also stressed that the nascent movement wanted to stress “science for the people, by the people and for the people”. Arguments about “trimming the fat” of budgets, she said, did not stand up to scrutiny, considering that the government’s science and medical research funding makes up a tiny percentage of the federal budget. “That money has got one of the best returns on investment you could possibly hope for,” she said. “The real stakeholders are the citizens that stand to gain or lose the most if the institutions are weakened.” Another organizer, Emily Southard, said that the rally and the march in Washington, were meant to help “demystify what scientists do”. She defended “science that delivers clean, safe drinking water to our faucets, science that’s being taken for granted – and that’s the science that’s being taken under attack.” Economopoulos used the Environmental Protection Agency as an example, criticizing its newly confirmed head, who repeatedly sued the agency in favor of corporations as Oklahoma attorney general . “We have a sort of fox in the henhouse situation here with Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, an agency that he has sued 14 times,” she said. Gill also said that researchers needed to do more to take control of their image, noting the ways scientists had been politicized by lawmakers in debates over climate science. “Throwing more information or more data doesn’t really change minds, whether it’s climate change or vaccines,” she said. “Empathy trumps fact when it comes to people’s minds.” Such disputes were nothing new, she said: “Science and religion clashes go back to Darwin and Galileo and Copernicus.” Caldas said that she hoped scientists would continue organize at local levels. “The federal government may not be on board, but local government works hardest with people who see these problems at their doorsteps, and they cannot deny it.” Members of Congress facing re-election, she said, were already starting to feel pressure from constituents about climate change. “The stakes are really high but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
News Article | February 20, 2017
Elon Musk is preparing to Colonize Mars, Gates is hoping for an energy breakthrough, Hawking has set the doomsday clock at 1,000 years and Chomsky warns of a climate change-induced migrant crisis and nuclear holocaust. Hundreds of scientists gathered in Boston’s Copley Square over the weekend to express their concerns about, and to protest against the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. The rally, which included crowds holding bright signs such as “Stand up for science,” “Science is not a liberal conspiracy,” “Science, not silence” and “Climate change is NOT a controversy,” had sponsors that included the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace USA, Mass Sierra Club and groups from universities in the area, according to Scientific American. Although not directly sponsored by or affiliated with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — a five-day conference that opened nearby on Wednesday with the theme "Serving Society Through Science Policy" — the protest rally was offered support by the CEO of AAAS, who backed plans to hold similar rallies under the banner "March for Science," scheduled to be held on Earth Day, April 22, in Washington and across multiple cities. "It is partly because of the previous statements of the president and his appointees on issues such as climate change and vaccination for children which have not been in keeping with good science," Rush Holt, AAAS CEO, explained to BBC News. "But mostly by what we have seen since the new administration has come in, [which] is silence about science. Very few appointments to positions are filled by people who understand science, very few comments about the importance of science; there is no science advisor in the White House now and we don't know whether there will be one…and so the silence is beginning to sound ominous," he said. The AAAS conference included lectures that reflected contemporary political issues such as the psychology of “fake news,” and how to protect climate science from hostile governments. It also saw the participation of several scientists who walked over from the conference to take part in the rally. Several of the event organizers gave speeches and addressed the rallies over the weekend. “I’m concerned that we’re going to lose the EPA. I’m concerned that we’re going to lose regulations that have a direct impact on human health, like automobile emissions…People will get sicker. People will die because of a lack of environmental regulation and medical research,” Jacquelyn Gill, an ecologist at the University of Maine and one of the speakers addressing Sunday’s rally, told the Guardian. Beka Economopoulos, one of the event organizers and the director of the mobile and pop-up Natural History Museum, explained that one of the big concerns are the arguments regarding “trimming the fat” of budgets because science and medical research funding already make a minuscule proportion of the federal budget. “That money has got one of the best returns on investment you could possibly hope for…the real stakeholders are the citizens that stand to gain or lose the most if the institutions are weakened,” she said. Beka also expressed apprehension at the appointment of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt’s as head of the EPA. “We have a sort of fox in the henhouse situation here with Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, an agency that he has sued 14 times,” she told the Guardian. “This is about freedom of inquiry…from the muzzling of scientists and government agencies, to the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the defunding of public science, the erosion of our institutions of science is a dangerous direction for our country. Real people and communities bear the brunt of these actions,” Economopulos told the crowd, according to the BBC. However, not every scientist was optimistic about the rally. Eminent string theorist Jim Gates, for instance, said that without an end goal in mind, the movement may be perceived as “science against Trump”. “At least as far as I can detect, there is no theory of action behind this…This bothers me tremendously…I don’t understand how the organizers of this march can guard against provocateurs, quite frankly…I don’t think they’re ready for that, I don’t think they’re considering that kind of danger. To have science represented as this political force I think is just extraordinarily dangerous,” he warned.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Members of a House of Representatives committee hammered the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday at a hearing titled “Making EPA Great Again,” accusing it of basing its regulations on biased, politicized science, and calling for reforms in the EPA’s rule-making process. But a number of scientific organizations call this an attempt to covertly strip the agency’s power—and ultimately to interfere with the scientific process itself. In his opening statement at the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology hearing, Chair Lamar Smith—a Republican from Texas—excoriated the EPA over what he has called its “secret science.” In setting past environmental regulations the EPA has “routinely relied on questionable science, based on nonpublic information, that could not be reproduced…and deliberately used its regulatory power to undercut American industries and advance a misguided political agenda that has minimal environmental benefit,” Smith said. With Pres. Donald Trump’s administration newly in charge, Smith added that he now sees a chance to rein in an agency he thinks has run amok. “There is now an opportunity to right the ship at the EPA, and steer the agency in the right direction,” he said. Many believe that means Smith plans to revive legislation called the Secret Science Reform Act, which he co-sponsored in 2014 and introduced again in 2015—but which Pres. Barack Obama vowed to veto. The bill would prohibit the EPA from creating regulations based on science that is “not transparent or reproducible.” Scientific organizations say this would make it more difficult for the EPA to create rules at all, and craft them based on the best available science. For example, if the bill requires the EPA only use studies that can be identically reproduced, that would impose an unreasonable demand on scientists, according to Rush Holt, who testified at the hearing as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Many studies cannot be repeated in exactly the same way—the populations have changed, those people [in the studies] have grown up or moved away or the forest you’re studying has been overtaken by an invasive [species],” Holt explained. “The Secret Science Act has been based on a misunderstanding of how science works—the gold standard is to find other approaches to come up with the same conclusions. Rarely can you repeat an experiment in exactly the same way.” Critics also worry the legislation could keep the EPA from using important multiyear studies—say, for example, a 10-year study examining air pollution’s effect on human health—in the agency’s rule-making process. Those critical long-term studies are extremely difficult to replicate because they require so much time and money. Because of this, they may not fall under the definition of “reproducible.” Although the bill’s supporters might argue long-term studies would not be excluded, the law’s language would likely leave the term “reproducibility” open to interpretation. For instance, someone could potentially sue the EPA for using one of those long-term studies in its rule-making, leaving it to the courts to determine the definition of “reproducibility.” All of this means the bill could limit the number of studies the EPA might consider, if either the courts decide a study is not “reproducible” or if the EPA refrains from using a multiyear study because it believes the research will not meet the bill’s “reproducibility” demand. In other words, the agency may not be able use the best available science to make its rules. “I think [the Secret Science bill] is fundamentally substituting a politically originated revision of the process for the scientific process,” Holt said in the hearing. The Secret Science Reform Act would also require the EPA use only studies for which data is publicly available online—or the agency makes publicly available—in the name of transparency. But critics of this approach note that scientific studies often include private data, including individual health information, or industry records that cannot be made public for competitive, ethical or legal reasons. During the hearing the representative from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group, asked that confidential commercial data be protected in the bill. “That was another great illustration that the bill is not about transparency—it’s about what is politically expedient to move industry’s agenda forward,” says Yogin Kothari, a representative with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. As for medical data, supporters of the bill say names and other private information could be scrubbed—but that would likely be expensive and time-intensive, and thus another factor limiting the number of studies the EPA could use to make its environmental protection rules. “You don’t need access to the raw data to figure out what information the EPA is relying on,” Kothari wrote in an e-mail. “The idea of secret science is based on a false premise.” The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing the latest version of the Secret Science bill (the 2015 version) would cost the EPA $250 million annually over the next few years. The bill, however, allots the EPA only $1 million per fiscal year to carry out its new requirements. “The goal [of the bill] is really to throw a wrench in the rule-making process at the agency,” Kothari says. Smith’s office referred queries to the House Science Committee, whose spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. Industry groups including the ACC have supported the latest version of the bill. “A more transparent EPA helps to foster the kind of regulatory environment that gives our members the confidence and certainty they need to continue to invest in the U.S. economy and develop transformational, innovative products,” an ACC spokesperson wrote to Scientific American in an e-mail after the hearing. Other industry groups that supported the latest version of the bill declined to commment. The House panel also focused on reforming the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which some committee members and industry groups say does not represent a balanced view of science. In 2015 Smith co-sponsored a bill called the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act,” which never became law—it is widely believed Smith will revive that legislation this year, along with the Secret Science bill. Opponents say the Advisory Board act would make it possible to stack the board with members who favor industry. “[The board] will not function better by having fewer scientists on it,” Holt said at the hearing. Committee members also devoted a significant portion of the hearing to a recent controversial article about climate change research, recently published in the Daily Mail, a London tabloid newspaper. A whistleblower at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reportedly told the newspaper the agency violated scientific integrity and rushed to publish a landmark scientific paper, which showed no pause in global warming, for political reasons. Smith referenced the story in his opening statement at Tuesday’s hearing, saying, “Recent news stories report that NOAA tried to deceive the American people by falsifying data to justify a partisan agenda.” The whistleblower, John Bates, told another publication on Tuesday, however, that the agency had broken protocol when it rushed to publication—but that the data had not been manipulated. The points Bates complained about made no difference in the scientific paper’s overall conclusions, according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and an energy systems analyst at the University of California, Berkeley. Hausfather noted other studies, including one of his own, have independently verified the NOAA paper’s results. “I would strongly recommend,” he adds, “that if Congress wants to assess matters of science, they should rely on peer-reviewed publications rather than tabloid articles.”
News Article | February 19, 2017
BOSTON — Hundreds of scientists and their supporters rallied in historic Copley Square on Sunday, demanding that the Trump administration accept empirical reality on issues such as climate change and highlighting the centrality of objective information to making policy. “We did not politicize science,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard science historian who spoke at the rally, which unfolded on a surprisingly warm February day that left the square filled with mud puddles from the melt of a recent blizzard. “We did not start this fight.” “Our colleagues who have been attacked have not been attacked because they did something wrong,” Oreskes continued. “They have been attacked because they did something right” — namely, producing information that proved politically inconvenient. [Under Trump, scientists could face more sweeping challenges than they did under George W. Bush] The event, called the Rally to Stand Up for Science, was organized by the Natural History Museum, ClimateTruth.org and a number of other groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists. It was timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), also occurring in downtown Boston. This timing — along with the science-intensive community in an area that features Harvard, MIT and numerous other universities — probably helped to ensure a good part of the turnout. “I feel that we’re in this public relations battle right now, and we need to recast our work as scientists, not as dispassionate data junkies, but as people that care about the world around us,” said Beka Economopoulos, one of the march organizers, who is with the Natural History Museum. As these were scientists marching, the event naturally featured some colorful signs, reading “Objective Reality Exists,” “Make America Smart Again,” and “Poetry Nerds for Science.” The organizers of the event promised that they would provide not only signs but also “lab coats” to those who attended. “Science and education are the future, and denying that denies us a future,” said Perry Hatchfield, a PhD student in physics at the University of Connecticut, who held an “Immigrants Make Science Great” sign. While the event’s Facebook page didn’t explicitly attack Trump, it did say that this science-focused rally would be “the first one since anti-science forces and climate deniers have taken office.” Scientists also rallied outside the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December shortly after Trump’s election. “We represent a range of political views here. But what we are united in is our confidence in science and evidence-based investigation,” said Anne Rookey, an IT manager from the area, who held a sign reading, “Science is Real.” Still, it’s difficult to separate the newfound energy within the scientific community from the advent of the Trump administration. Those organizing the event cited not only the issue of climate change, on which Trump and his appointees have often challenged the scientific consensus that it is mostly caused by humans, but also charged that there has been “muzzling” of scientists and that research data has been deleted by his administration. However, many science policy watchdogs and observers do not agree that the Trump administration has yet gone beyond what any other new U.S. administration might do when it comes to getting communications organized at different federal agencies and figuring out how each will disseminate its message. Restrictions on immigration, the fear of a U.S. talent drain and concerns about hits to the funding of research also loomed large at the Boston event. “We have to be concerned about the best and brightest being kept in our country — already France has offered to have scientists go over into their country if they aren’t welcomed in ours,” said Emily Southard, a march organizer with ClimateTruth.org. “And you can see just when you walk around the floor of the AAAS that there are other nations interested in recruiting some of our top scientists,” Southard said. Organizers had said that they expected several hundred marchers at the event — both scientists and non-scientist supporters — and the turnout appeared to support that assessment. The Facebook page for the event listed 1,800 people who said they would be attending. The event, which covered much of Copley Square, seemed to be a promising sign for a far larger March for Science event, scheduled for April 22, Earth Day. That event has more than 800,000 Facebook group members at present and, if such momentum continues, could lead to an unprecedented demonstration by scientists against the new administration. Marches aren’t the only way that the science community has found support since the election — the AAAS told The Washington Post that since the election, it has seen “more than double” the number of new memberships in comparison with a comparable period in 2015-2016. Yet there are tensions within the science world over these marches, and especially the April 22 event. They were apparent Saturday inside the nearby AAAS annual meeting. There, hundreds packed into a panel discussion, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, titled “Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump.” The panel included John Holdren, former Obama science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. No speaker directly opposed the march, but Holdren did voice his worry, in a general sense, about whether messages emanating from the science world at this moment would be strategically coordinated or constructive. “If we let a thousand flowers bloom, one liability is that we will end up with a whole less than the sum of the parts,” Holdren said. When an audience questioner asked whether the planned April 22 march would lead to scientists being perceived as elitist or partisan, Lubchenco advised that the community should “encourage people who aren’t scientists to march as well. Have it be a celebration of science.” Yet it was hard to deny the raw emotion in the room — and the potential for energized activism. One audience questioner even went so far as to suggest that the United States was becoming like fascist Germany, leading to a strong rebuttal from physicist Kurt Gottfried, one of the founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was born in Austria in 1929. “I have experienced what you are talking about,” Gottfried said. “And I want to warn you against overstating the case. I think the United States is not Germany or Austria in 1938.” Back at the march, Hatchfield, the physics student, said he was confident that the pro-science movement already afoot could build from here. “It’s about perseverance,” he said, “and that if you actually stick with a message and continue to stand for it, the movement will grow.”
News Article | March 1, 2017
The hamburger chain Burger King has been buying animal feed produced in soy plantations carved out by the burning of tropical forests in Brazil and Bolivia, according to a new report. Jaguars, giant anteaters and sloths have all been affected by the disappearance of around 700,000 hectares (1,729,738 acres) of forest land between 2011 and 2015. The campaign group Mighty Earth says that evidence gathered from aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping and field research shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning. Local farmers carried out the forest-burning to grow soybeans for Burger King’s suppliers Cargill and Bunge, the only two agricultural traders known to be operating in the area. Glenn Hurowitz, Mighty Earth’s CEO, said: “The connections are quite clear. Bunge and Cargill supply Burger King and other big meat sellers with grain. McDonald’s, Subway and KFC are not perfect but they’re doing a hell of a lot more to protect the forests. If Burger King does not respond immediately to people who want to know where their food comes from, then people should shop elsewhere.” The destruction of tropical forest and savannah land highlighted in the report is concentrated in Bolivia’s lowland forests and in the Brazilian Cerrado, where the pace of deforestation is now outstripping that of the Amazon. One of Burger King’s suppliers buys soy from Bunge that originates in the Brazilian Cerrado, according to commodities data provided by the Stockholm Enterprise Institute. Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014. Last year, nearly 2m hectares of land was deforested in Brazil – up from 1.5m in 2015 – while an estimated 865,000 hectares of forest was cleared in Bolivia, compared to 667,000 a year in the 2000s. Not all of the forest clearing was linked to soy production, but Mighty Earth says food companies are not doing enough to prevent deforestation in areas they operate in, and offer financial incentives that spur the process in the first place. Burger King, which is owned by the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, does not disclose details of its suppliers but has refused to rule out buying products produced on deforested land. Sharon Smith, a tropical forests manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “Burger King is one of the world’s largest fast food companies, but consistently ranks last in the industry when it comes to environmental protection policies. The fast food giant needs to follow its competitors like McDonald’s and demand that its suppliers are not destroying tropical forests as part of their business model.” The fast food giant, which operates at least one joint venture with Cargill, declined to respond to requests for comment. Cargill has also sponsored Burger King’s annual convention in 2015, and donated a five-figure sum to the Burger King McLamore Foundation in 2014. In a written statement to the Guardian, Cargill stressed its commitment to halving incidences of deforestation in its supply chains by 2020 and ending it by 2030. A company statement sent to the Guardian said: “In Brazil, we have seen great progress as we partnered to advance the soy moratorium in the Amazon for more than a decade. Today, we are working with more than 15,000 soy farmers and collaborating with governments, NGOs and partners to implement the Brazilian forest code and advance forest protection.” Campaigners counter that Cargill has refused to extend the soy moratorium beyond the Amazon, with its trade association citing the lack of a “crisis situation”. Bunge said that the report made a misleading correlation between Bunge’s presence in the Brazilian Cerrado and total deforestation figures in that region. “Two facts are important,” it said. “First, most land use change is not directly related to the crops Bunge buys. According to Global Forest Watch, soy covers 25% of land cleared since 2011 in the Matopiba region, where recent deforestation has been most prevalent. Second, our market share for the municipalities where we operate silos in the region is only 20%.” More than half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation has already been cleared, compared to 25% of the Amazon’s. Investors representing $617bn of assets on Tuesday sent a letter to Cargill, Bunge and several burger chains, in which they “demand that companies reaffirm and extend zero deforestation commitments specific to Latin America”. • This article was amended on 2 March 2017 to add a statement from Bunge received after publication.
News Article | February 20, 2017
Members of the scientific community, environmental advocates, and supporters demonstrate on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, in Boston, to call attention to what they say are the increasing threats to science and scientific research under the administration of President Trump. —As temperatures climbed above the 50 degrees F., on Sunday, many Bostonians enjoyed the February weekend outdoors on the city’s bike trails and waterfronts. But for those who gathered in Copley Square downtown, the unseasonable warmth was just the latest evidence of their cause for concern. “Climate change is not a controversy,” read one sign at yesterday’s “Rally to Stand Up for Science,” which drew hundreds to the historic downtown plaza. Other slogans were more lighthearted, arguing that “Trump’s team are like atoms – They make up everything.” Whether the signs provoked laughs or stoked outrage among onlookers, the rally’s attendees shared a sense of concern for the future of scientific research in the United States – particularly climate science – under President Trump. Sunday's protest added to the growing movement of scientists across the country who are voicing activist views on the Trump administration's emerging policies. "We're really trying to send a message today to Mr. Trump that America runs on science, science is the backbone of our prosperity and progress," said Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who studies renewable energy, to the Associated Press. This sentiment has spread after Trump, who once dismissed climate change as a “hoax,” won the presidential election in November. In the months that followed, Trump and his transition team have requested the names of Energy Department climate scientists, nominated fossil-fuel advocate Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and reduced that agency’s representation at a recent Alaska environmental conference. Federal agencies generally endure some shake-up during presidential transitions, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported on previously. But the speed and breadth at which Trump is settling his new policies into place have spurred many scientists to leave the neutrality of lab benches to voice their alarm through activism. This trend first gained momentum at December’s American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, where earth scientists staged a climate rally. With hundreds of scientists convening in Boston last week for the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, activists saw another ripe opportunity for a public rally. A “March for Science” is being planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington, D.C. In addition to holding rallies, scientists and their supporters are also taking more practical steps to preserve their research and funding. Last week, the Monitor reported that an all-day “hackathon” at the University of California, Berkeley, “managed to collect and archive the majority of NASA and Department of Energy earth science data,” keeping it safe from possible deletion. Meanwhile, 314 Action, a newly formed political action committee, aims to support scientists running for office. In the Feb. 13 focus story for the Monitor magazine, "For scientists, this time feels different" Henry Gass and Zack Colman report that: The same held true for the attendees at the Boston rally. “It would be great to live in a world where evidence speaks for itself,” Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Boston Globe. “But we’re mobilizing because that’s not happening.”
News Article | March 3, 2017
As part of a spate of recent changes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will no longer be asking oil and gas companies to spill the beans on the greenhouse gases they're letting loose. The agency announced yesterday that it is dropping the Obama administration's latter-day request for data on emissions of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas and by-product of the oil and gas industries that's worse news for climate than we previously thought. In a brief statement, the EPA informed some 15,000 companies who'd received letters seeking such data of its decision to discontinue the matter, leading to a range of reactions from industry and environmental groups. Mark Brownstein, vice president for climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, expressed concern over the deregulatory-style reversal of the EPA's fact-finding effort. He commented to the Washington Post, "With this action, Administrator Pruitt is effectively telling oil and gas companies to go ahead and withhold vital pollution data from the American public ... This was a good faith effort on the part of the agency to collect additional information on oil and gas industry operations and the pollution that comes from them," he said. "[Now], it’s a complete lack of transparency ." As the Post notes, responses from the oil and gas industries have been more cheerful, citing savings on the equipment required to monitor emissions. The agency itself referred to a letter from a group of attorneys general who felt their oil-heavy states had incurred "the imposition of burdensome climate rules on existing sites, the cost and expense of which will be enormous.” The thing about methane, though—like a cat in a bag or human sorrow in Pandora's box—is that once it's been let out, there's no going back or controlling the damage; according to financial and environmental experts, that means a global economy that's about to get seriously burned. The data on climate change's likely massive economic impact has been collecting for decades, but Lord Nicholas Stern's 2006 review for the London School of Economics did much to help enrich the field. The roughly 700-page analysis describes, among many other things, the tens of millions of displaced workers, numerous compromised or turned-upside-down industries, and trillions of lost dollars likely to result from just a couple degrees Celsius' rise in global temperatures. As Canadian super-scientist and environment activist David Suzuki explains, Stern calculated that climate change could ultimately knock down the gross world product by 20% in the coming decades, while investments in renewable technologies of just 1-2% GDP could significantly help us restructure for a more renewable and sustainable global energy setup. More recently, Stern and others have upped the suggested rates of investment by a few GDP percentage points in response to expanded data on the process and progress of climate change. That investment in renewable energy may still seem like a bargain, though, considering its economic benefits and general necessity for any plan that aims to be around in the middle or long term. For example, an extensive report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory—"the only federal laboratory dedicated to research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies," according to the group—details various local and national inefficiencies that plague our current energy system, such as disproportionate energy spending per capita and a strange fad of sending that money out of state (eyes on you, New York). Like a similarly comprehensive one by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the report also explores the more than substantial long-term costs of this system, as well as the truly broad range of (renewable) economic opportunities that green energy provides, from jobs and investment to taxes [PDF]. Under the direction of Scott Pruitt, who emails revealed had "regularly huddled with fossil fuel firms and electric utilities" as Oklahoma's Attorney General, according to the Post, the EPA also made a splash this week with another major break from recent environmental policy. On Wednesday, Pruitt and his administrative colleagues partially outlined a budget which would see 25% cuts to the national group's staff and funding, and 30% cuts to state grants that often support local efforts from toxic cleanup to education. It's hard to know just how greatly rising sea levels and changing ecosystems will affect the market, of course; however, economic and scientific experts whose express professional and funding-dependent purpose is the pursuit of objective fact have given us some clues. The global fishing industry, for example, which employs an estimated 200 million people and generates $80 billion or more annually, may find itself netting an estimated $10 billion less per year by 2050 because of climate change (incidentally, says the World Bank, we could double that $80 billion if we stop over-fishing). One thing we know for sure, though, is that world economies on the micro and macro scale will have to confront a future defined by the lava-like reality of climate change. In other words, one that is creeping, uncomfortably hot, and inescapable.
News Article | February 15, 2017
As the Arctic slipped into the half-darkness of autumn last year, it seemed to enter the Twilight Zone. In the span of a few months, all manner of strange things happened. The cap of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean started to shrink when it should have been growing. Temperatures at the North Pole soared more than 20 °C above normal at times. And polar bears prowling the shorelines of Hudson Bay had a record number of run-ins with people while waiting for the water to freeze over. It was a stark illustration of just how quickly climate change is reshaping the far north. And if last autumn was bizarre, it's the summers that have really got scientists worried. As early as 2030, researchers say, the Arctic Ocean could lose essentially all of its ice during the warmest months of the year — a radical transformation that would upend Arctic ecosystems and disrupt many northern communities. Change will spill beyond the region, too. An increasingly blue Arctic Ocean could amplify warming trends and even scramble weather patterns around the globe. “It’s not just that we’re talking about polar bears or seals,” says Julienne Stroeve, a sea-ice researcher at University College London. “We all are ice-dependent species.” With the prospect of ice-free Arctic summers on the horizon, scientists are striving to understand how residents of the north will fare, which animals face the biggest risks and whether nations could save them by protecting small icy refuges. But as some researchers look even further into the future, they see reasons to preserve hope. If society ever manages to reverse the surge in greenhouse-gas concentrations — as some suspect it ultimately will — then the same physics that makes it easy for Arctic sea ice to melt rapidly may also allow it to regrow, says Stephanie Pfirman, a sea-ice researcher at Barnard College in New York City. She and other scientists say that it’s time to look beyond the Arctic’s decline and start thinking about what it would take to restore sea ice. That raises controversial questions about how quickly summer ice could return and whether it could regrow fast enough to spare Arctic species. Could nations even cool the climate quickly through geoengineering, to reverse the most drastic changes up north? Pfirman and her colleagues published a paper1 last year designed to kick-start a broader conversation about how countries might plan for the regrowth of ice, and whether they would welcome it. Only by considering all the possibilities for the far future can the world stay one step ahead of the ever-changing Arctic, say scientists. “We’ve committed to the Arctic of the next generation,” Pfirman says. “What comes next?” Pfirman remembers the first time she realized just how fast the Arctic was unravelling. It was September 2007, and she was preparing to give a talk. She went online to download the latest sea-ice maps and discovered something disturbing: the extent of Arctic ice had shrunk past the record minimum and was still dropping. “Oh, no! It’s happening,” she thought. Although Pfirman and others knew that Arctic sea ice was shrinking, they hadn’t expected to see such extreme ice losses until the middle of the twenty-first century. “It was a wake-up call that we had basically run out of time,” she says. In theory, there’s still a chance that the world could prevent the total loss of summer sea ice. Global climate models suggest that about 3 million square kilometres — roughly half of the minimum summer coverage in recent decades — could survive if countries fulfil their commitments to the newly ratified Paris climate agreement, which limits global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. But sea-ice researchers aren’t counting on that. Models have consistently underestimated ice losses in the past, causing scientists to worry that the declines in the next few decades will outpace projections2. And given the limited commitments that countries have made so far to address climate change, many researchers suspect the world will overshoot the 2 °C target, all but guaranteeing essentially ice-free summers (winter ice is projected to persist for much longer). In the best-case scenario, the Arctic is in for a 4–5 °C temperature rise, thanks to processes that amplify warming at high latitudes, says James Overland, an oceanographer at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. “We really don’t have any clue about how disruptive that’s going to be.” The Arctic’s 4 million residents — including 400,000 indigenous people — will feel the most direct effects of ice loss. Entire coastal communities, such as many in Alaska, will be forced to relocate as permafrost melts and shorelines crumble without sea ice to buffer them from violent storms, according to a 2013 report3 by the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Residents in Greenland will find it hard to travel on sea ice, and reindeer herders in Siberia could struggle to feed their animals. At the same time, new economic opportunities will beckon as open water allows greater access to fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits, and other sources of revenue. People living at mid-latitudes may not be immune, either. Emerging research4 suggests that open water in the Arctic might have helped to amplify weather events, such as cold snaps in the United States, Europe and Asia in recent winters. Indeed, the impacts could reach around the globe. That’s because sea ice helps to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight and preventing the Arctic Ocean from absorbing heat. Keeping local air and water temperatures low, in turn, limits melting of the Greenland ice sheet and permafrost. With summer ice gone, Greenland’s glaciers could contribute more to sea-level rise, and permafrost could release its stores of greenhouse gases such as methane. Such is the vast influence of Arctic ice. “It is really the tail that wags the dog of global climate,” says Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But Arctic ecosystems will take the biggest hit. In 2007, for example, biologists in Alaska noticed something odd: vast numbers of walruses had clambered ashore on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. From above, it looked like the Woodstock music festival — with tusks — as thousands of plump pinnipeds crowded swathes of ice-free shoreline. Normally, walruses rest atop sea ice while foraging on the shallow sea floor. But that year, and almost every year since, sea-ice retreat made that impossible by late summer. Pacific walruses have adapted by hauling out on land, but scientists with the US Fish and Wildlife Service worry that their numbers will continue to decline. Here and across the region, the effects of Arctic thawing will ripple through ecosystems. In the ocean, photosynthetic plankton that thrive in open water will replace algae that grow on ice. Some models5 suggest that biological productivity in a seasonally ice-free Arctic could increase by up to 70% by 2100, which could boost revenue from Arctic fisheries even more. (To prevent a seafood gold rush, five Arctic nations have agreed to refrain from unregulated fishing in international waters for now.) Many whales already seem to be benefiting from the bounty of food, says Sue Moore, an Arctic mammal specialist at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. But the changing Arctic will pose a challenge for species whose life cycles are intimately linked to sea ice, such as walruses and Arctic seals — as well as polar bears, which don’t have much to eat on land. Research6 suggests that many will starve if the ice-free season gets too long in much of the Arctic. “Basically, you can write off most of the southern populations,” says Andrew Derocher, a biologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Such findings spurred the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as threatened in 2008. Ice-dependent ecosystems may survive for longest along the rugged north shores of Greenland and Canada, where models suggest that about half a million square kilometres of summer sea ice will linger after the rest of the Arctic opens up (see ‘Going, going …’). Wind patterns cause ice to pile up there, and the thickness of the ice — along with the high latitude — helps prevent it from melting. “The Siberian coastlines are the ice factory, and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is the ice graveyard,” says Robert Newton, an oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Groups such as the wildlife charity WWF have proposed protecting this ‘last ice area’ as a World Heritage Site in the hope that it will serve as a life preserver for many Arctic species. Last December, Canada announced that it would at least consider setting the area aside for conservation, and indigenous groups have expressed interest in helping to manage it. (Before he left office, then-US president Barack Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in pledging to protect 17% of the countries’ Arctic lands and 10% of marine areas by 2020.) But the last ice area has limitations as an Arctic Noah’s ark. Some species don’t live in the region, and those that do are there in only small numbers. Derocher estimates that there are less than 2,000 polar bears in that last ice area today — a fraction of the total Arctic population of roughly 25,000. How many bears will live there in the future depends on how the ecosystem evolves with warming. The area may also be more vulnerable than global climate models suggest. Bruno Tremblay, a sea-ice researcher at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and David Huard, an independent climate consultant based in Quebec, Canada, studied the fate of the refuge with a high-resolution sea-ice and ocean model that better represented the narrow channels between the islands of the Canadian archipelago. In a report7 commissioned by the WWF, they found that ice might actually be able to sneak between the islands and flow south to latitudes where it would melt. According to the model, Tremblay says, “even the last ice area gets flushed out much more efficiently”. If the future of the Arctic seems dire, there is one source of optimism: summer sea ice will return whenever the planet cools down again. “It’s not this irreversible process,” Stroeve says. “You could bring it back even if you lose it all.” Unlike land-based ice sheets, which wax and wane over millennia and lag behind climate changes by similar spans, sea ice will regrow as soon as summer temperatures get cold enough. But identifying the exact threshold at which sea ice will return is tricky, says Dirk Notz, a sea-ice researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. On the basis of model projections, researchers suggest that the threshold hovers around 450 parts per million (p.p.m.) — some 50 p.p.m. higher than today. But greenhouse-gas concentrations are not the only factor that affects ice regrowth; it also depends on how long the region has been ice-free in summer, which determines how much heat can build up in the Arctic Ocean. Notz and his colleagues studied the interplay between greenhouse gases and ocean temperature with a global climate model8. They increased CO from pre-industrial concentrations of 280 p.p.m. to 1,100 p.p.m. — a bit more than the 1,000 p.p.m. projected by 2100 if no major action is taken to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. Then they left it at those levels for millennia. This obliterated both winter and summer sea ice, and allowed the ocean to warm up. The researchers then reduced CO concentrations to levels at which summer ice should have returned, but it did not regrow until the ocean had a chance to cool off, which took centuries. By contrast, if the Arctic experiences ice-free summers for a relatively short time before greenhouse gases drop, then models suggest ice would regrow much sooner. That could theoretically start to happen by the end of the century, assuming that nations take very aggressive steps to reduce carbon dioxide levels1, according to Newton, Pfirman and their colleagues. So even if society cannot forestall the loss of summer sea ice in coming decades, taking action to keep CO concentrations under control could still make it easier to regrow the ice cover later, Notz says. Given the stakes, some researchers have proposed global-scale geoengineering to cool the planet and, by extension, preserve or restore ice. Others argue that it might be possible to chill just the north, for instance by artificially whitening the Arctic Ocean with light-coloured floating particles to reflect sunlight. A study9 this year suggested installing wind-powered pumps to bring water to the surface in winter, where it would freeze, forming thicker ice. But many researchers hesitate to embrace geoengineering. And most agree that regional efforts would take tremendous effort and have limited benefits, given that Earth’s circulation systems could just bring more heat north to compensate. “It’s kind of like walking against a conveyor the wrong way,” Pfirman says. She and others agree that managing greenhouse gases — and local pollutants such as black carbon from shipping — is the only long-term solution. Returning to a world with summer sea ice could have big perks, such as restoring some of the climate services that the Arctic provides to the globe and stabilizing weather patterns. And in the region itself, restoring a white Arctic could offer relief to polar bears and other ice-dependent species, says Pfirman. These creatures might be able to weather a relatively short ice-free window, hunkered down in either the last ice area or other places set aside to preserve biodiversity. When the ice returned, they could spread out again to repopulate the Arctic. That has almost certainly happened during past climate changes. For instance, researchers think the Arctic may have experienced nearly ice-free summers during the last interglacial period, 130,000 years ago10. But, one thing is certain: getting back to a world with Arctic summer sea ice won’t be simple, politically or technically. Not everyone will embrace a return to an ice-covered Arctic, especially if it’s been blue for several generations. Companies and countries are already eyeing the opportunities for oil and gas exploration, mining, shipping, tourism and fishing in a region hungry for economic development. “In many communities, people are split,” Pfirman says. Some researchers also say that the idea of regrowing sea ice seems like wishful thinking, because it would require efforts well beyond what nations must do to meet the Paris agreement. Limiting warming to 2 °C will probably entail converting huge swathes of land into forest and using still-nascent technologies to suck billions of tonnes of CO out of the air. Lowering greenhouse-gas concentrations enough to regrow ice would demand even more. And if summer sea ice ever does come back, it’s hard to know how a remade Arctic would work, Derocher says. “There will be an ecosystem. It will function. It just may not look like the one we currently have.”
News Article | January 30, 2017
Interactive map of every satellite in orbit David Yanofsky and Tim Fernholz created an interactive chart showing the weight, national origin and position of more than 1,300 active satellites orbiting the planet Earth. The data was sourced from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It goes out in bands: there's a cloud in low-earth orbit bulked up with the International Sapce Station and surveillance satellites. Satellite phone networks such as Iridium and Globalstar form conspicuous rings about 800 and 1500 km up. 20km up are the navigation networks GPS and Glonass. 37km up is a mess, with so many geostationary satellites clustered together that they become a rainbow blur in the graphic.
News Article | February 15, 2017
For years, researchers have been working behind the scenes to improve autonomous vehicles. And all of a sudden that work is playing out in a very public way. Top tech companies and automakers are testing new models on the streets, talking bullishly about fleets of self-driving cars, and thinking about how to combine electrification with automation. Meanwhile, regulators and city planners are trying to keep up with the pace of technological change. This year will likely mark the beginning of the commercial autonomous car era. Will that era bring sweeping efficiency improvements to the transportation sector? Or will it result in a chaotic, overcrowded hellscape for our streets? The decisions we make today will determine our fate. In this week's show, we'll talk with Joshua Goldman, a senior policy analyst for clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists, about those two potential futures. In the second half of the show, we’ll examine Uber’s attempt to help city planners by opening up some of its data. And we’ll discuss President Obama's article in Science magazine arguing that the clean energy transition is "irreversible." This podcast is sponsored by KACO New Energy, a leading solar inverter company with superior engineering and unmatched customer service.