Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | By Sabrina Siddiqui | No Comments
This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order aimed at unraveling one of Barack Obama’s signature environmental policies designed to protect American waterways from pollution.
The president’s move marked the first step toward fulfilling his pledge on the campaign trail to roll back Obama-era regulations, which include a 2015 rule designed to curb the flow of pollution into major bodies of water, wetlands and ponds by expanding the requirement of permits to pursue any actions that might cause them harm.
Trump, who cannot simply repeal the entire rule with the stroke of a pen, declared Obama’s policy “a massive power grab” and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to formally review it. The action also bolstered the position of Trump’s new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, who wishes to dismantle the rule and sued the Obama administration over it in 2015 while serving as the attorney general of Oklahoma.
Republicans have long decried all environmental regulations enacted under Obama as “overreach” and vowed to overturn them. The clean water rule has been particularly controversial among farming and ranching groups, who lobbied against it, claiming it provided the federal government with too much control and potentially exposed them to litigation for taking actions affecting even the smallest bodies of water.
The Obama administration and environmental groups had championed the rule as a necessary step in securing streams and wetlands that are connected to sources that provide roughly one-third of Americans with drinking water.
Trump also signed an executive order on Tuesday billed by his administration as an effort to boost historically black colleges and universities, one day after the president gathered with representatives of 64 of the country’s 100 institutions known as HBCUs.
Under Trump’s direction, a federal government program established to strengthen and promote HBCUs will move from the Department of Education to the White House.
“With this executive order, we will make HBCUs a priority in the White House, an absolute priority,” Trump said upon its signing. “Historically black colleges and universities are incredibly important institutions, woven into the fabric of our history, just about like no other.”
Dozens of HBCU presidents descended upon Washington this week as part of a push to secure as much as $25 billion in funding from a forthcoming budget that will be debated by Congress. Leaders from HBCUs, who met with Trump at the White House on Monday, said they were seeking financial support to tackle issues ranging from infrastructure to student loans.
Trump was backed by just 8% of African Americans in November’s election, and his administration’s commitment to civil rights has been met with skepticism.
Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, sparked controversy on Monday for issuing a statement that dubbed HBCUs as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice”—her preferred direction for education policy in America. Her comments were swiftly criticized for glossing over the reality that HBCUs were founded during the era of racial segregation, when laws prohibiting African Americans from attending schools left them with no choice but to establish their own.
In the wake of the uproar, DeVos made a more concerted effort to acknowledge the barriers to education faced by African Americans while addressing a luncheon with HBCU leaders in Washington on Tuesday.
“Bucking [the] status quo, and providing an alternative option to students denied the right to attend a quality school, is the legacy of HBCUs,” DeVos said.
“But your history was born not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.”
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | By Emily Atkin | No Comments
This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Earlier this month, thousands of scientists from around the world came together for their favorite nerd fest: The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific organization and publisher of the renowned Science journals. There were panels on everything from climate change to robots, hornless cows to honeybees. But this year’s meeting was different than any other in its 168-year history, for one reason: Donald Trump was president. And scientists were freaking out.
“I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching,” Dr. Rush Holt, the president of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science journals, told the New Republic.
Most scientists are uncomfortable talking politics because their work needs to be perceived as objective rather than partisan. But ever since America elected a president who’s made scientifically inaccurate statements on everything from vaccines to climate change, more and more scientists are stepping into the spotlight to stand up for their profession. That includes Holt, who announced Wednesday that AAAS would partner with the March for Science, an Earth Day rally with the primary goal of preserving and promoting evidence-based policymaking.
In a conversation with the New Republic, Holt—who is also a former U.S. Congressman—talked about the unprecedented level of political anxiety among American scientists, and how those scientists should navigate these murky waters.
TNR: We’ve reached this point where scientists are being thrown into the political spotlight, which I imagine is deeply uncomfortable for a lot of people in this profession. You just came from your annual conference, where thousands of scientists in attendance. What is the level of concern you observed from them about the Trump administration, and politics in general?
RH: The level of concern and anxiety among scientists—and I guess I’d say the science-friendly public—about the place of science in society in government, has gone beyond concern to anxiety. I haven’t seen anything like it in my many decades in science and science watching.
It used to be when that, when scientists in the hallways would talk about being worried about the state of science, what they really meant was, they were worried about the funding for their research. That’s not so much what we’re hearing now, although I do think scientists don’t realize what Congress seems to have in store for non-defense discretionary spending.
TNR: So you’re saying the concern among scientists has gone from, “will I get funding,” to something more existential.
RH: Existential might even be the right word. The concern now is whether policymakers even understand the meaning of evidence. Whether there is any truth to this descriptor of “fact-free era.” Whether policy is going to be made more and more in the absence of scientific input. There seems to be a concern about whether the public appreciation of science has eroded to a point where it has removed science from public debate and public decision making. Whether the public has come to regard evidence as optional.
TNR: You’ve only been at the head of AAAS some 2014, but compared to other years, was there a lot of political talk at this year’s annual meetings?
RH: That was the main hallways discussion, as well as discussion that broke out in panels on various scientific topics. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never seen as much of a spontaneous upsurge now of scientists and science-loving members of the public who want to defend science. We see that in the March for Science.
TNR: Regarding the march, though, some people have expressed concern that it’s going to politicize science even further. That it’s going to make science into a partisan issue.
RH: Well, the March for Science is not just a march. It’s a public education effort. It is a children’s science festival. It is emblematic of this public upsurge of interest in defending the idea of science. That’s really unusual. It’s also a rare opportunity for scientists to help get out the message of just how valuable, how powerful science is and how important it is—how it’s more important to lives of nonscientists than to the job of scientists.
TNR: So you don’t think that a march that will likely have politically-oriented signs will undermine science?
RH: There is a sense that science and politics are incompatible. I don’t think so at all. I think it’s important that scientists take great pains to make sure that ideology and personal bias and wishful thinking do not contaminate the collection and analysis and evidence. One must not politicize science. But the converse is not necessarily true. There’s no reason why scientists can not go into the public sphere. In fact, I would argue they should.
TNR: Does that mean you think more scientists should be running for political office?
RH: It doesn’t necessarily mean running for office. Every citizen, scientists included, has some obligation to be involved in public affairs and politics. I do think that in recent months I’ve seen a lot more public-directed attention from scientists. More and more scientists have called me up—strangers for the most part—who say, “I’m thinking about running for office. You’ve done it, how do you do it.” And I say, “just do it.”
TNR: Do you think all this concern is just because of Trump?
RH: Actually, the concerns that I heard raised at the annual meeting seemed to be rooted in trends that began years ago, quite independent of Donald Trump. It is true that when people are appointed to positions and talk without any appreciation or understanding of scientists, well, that gets scientists worried. And when public officials talk about alternative facts, people who have devoted their careers to trying to uncover facts are dismayed. But this type of rhetoric has been present in politics for some time.
TNR: Where do you think the conversation about science in policymaking needs to go from here? What needs to be done to communicate the stakes of an anti-science government?
RH: So much of this discussion in recent weeks and months has not been about specific issues, but about the place of science and science-based evidence in general. The phrase I hear most—more often than genetic engineering or nuclear power or anything like that—is “evidence-based decision-making.” I hear that phrase over and over.
There needs to be a public dawning—and it is beginning to dawn on some members of the public—that how science is practiced actually makes a difference in their lives. If evidence becomes optional, if ideological assertions or beliefs are just as good as scientifically vetted evidence, then their quality of life suffers. I think that’s dawning on people. There’s a level of concern unlike anything I’ve seen.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | By Inae Oh | No Comments
A 1991 public documentary produced by Shell, in which the oil giant acknowledged the dangerous effects of climate change and the fossil fuel industry’s role in accelerating “ferocious” climate patterns globally, has resurfaced this week.
“Faced with such a disturbing scenario, governments are having to consider their response,” the narrator said in the film. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that the wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
The documentary also explored the power of alternative energy sources, including wind and solar powers, while predicting the devastating consequences manmade global warming might have on flooding, climate refugee populations, and more.
The video, which was obtained by the Correspondent, a Dutch online journalism platform and shared with the Guardian, calls into question why the company continued to heavily invest in controversial drilling projects and lobby against environmental protections, despite the prescient warnings presented in its film.
The video also adds to growing evidence of how early the oil industry knew about the serious dangers surrounding global warming. In 2015, previously unseen documents revealed ExxonMobil attempted to cover up its own scientific findings confirming the existence of climate change. The research programs were followed by decades of climate denial and the intense lobbying by the oil giant against emissions regulations.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | By Martha Roberts | No Comments
Pruitt's words and actions as the new EPA administrator send a clear signal.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 | By Steve Cochran | No Comments
With so much urgent work to choose from, here's why coastal restoration should be at the top of the list.
Monday, February 27, 2017 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
Some of the most important climate and energy achievements of the last eight years—including many that were Wilderness Society priorities—are on the chopping block with President Trump in the Oval Office. It will be more important than ever to stand up and let our lawmakers know what is important to us.
Monday, February 27, 2017 | By Kiera Butler | No Comments
President Donald J. Trump’s attitude toward food safety has so far been somewhat mysterious. Last year, during his campaign, he announced plans to rein in the “FDA food police”—but then the statement disappeared from the campaign website.
The plot thickens: Today, Gizmodo published “what appears to be a leaked phone conversation between Trump and Wilbur Ross, his nominee for Commerce Secretary.” In the recording, which metadata suggests was recorded at Ross’ office on December 13, 2016, Trump pitches the idea of using the threat of increased food inspection as a tool to pressure foreign powers on trade deals:
TRUMP: If you look at Japan, what they do with food—they say it’s not clean enough, and you have to send it back, and by the time it comes back it’s all gone.
ROSS: Exactly. And we oughta let them know we’re gonna start playing the same game.
TRUMP: Well I think you let them know that we’re going to do that. Without saying that, you say, “We’re gonna inspect you so closely,” bomp bomp.
ROSS: Yeah. That’s the thing—not to say that it’s punitive, but in the interest of American safety.
Gizmodo has more here.
Monday, February 27, 2017 | By Tom Philpott | No Comments
In a Monday piece, The New York Times served up one of the conundrums of Trumpism on a platter, steaming like a just-seared mound of fajitas. On the one hand ….
Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco — just Carlos to the people of West Frankfort — has been the manager of La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant in this city of 8,000, for a decade. Yes, he always greeted people warmly at the cheerfully decorated restaurant, known for its beef and chicken fajitas. … [O]ne night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort — the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city.
On the other:
Ask residents of this coal-mining crossroads about President Trump’s decision to crack down on undocumented immigrants and most offer no protest. Mr. Trump, who easily won this mostly white southern Illinois county, is doing what he promised, they say. As Terry Chambers, a barber on Main Street, put it, the president simply wants “to get rid of the bad eggs.”
Carlos, beloved pillar of the community, recently got picked up in an immigration raid. And now some of the upstanding citizens of West Frankfurt, Ill., are flummoxed.
“I think people need to do things the right way, follow the rules and obey the laws, and I firmly believe in that,” said Lori Barron, the owner of Lori’s Hair A’Fairs, a beauty salon. “But in the case of Carlos, I think he may have done more for the people here than this place has ever given him. I think it’s absolutely terrible that he could be taken away.”
I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for Trump’s immigration policy: demonize, hound, and when possible, and detain the very people who feed us. Before Trump is done, I’m guessing that a lot more Americans will be feeling the bewilderment now sweeping West Frankfurt.
Monday, February 27, 2017 | By Rebecca Boyle | No Comments
This story was originally published by Fusion and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The debate surrounding science education in America is at least as old as the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a high school science teacher was criminally charged for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. But bills percolating through state legislatures across the US are giving the education fight a new flavor, by encompassing climate change denial and serving it up as academic freedom.
One prominent example, South Dakota’s Senate Bill 55, was voted down Wednesday, but others are on the docket in three states, with possible others on the way. Advocates say the bills are designed to give teachers additional latitude to explain scientific theories. Opponents say they empower science denial, removing accountability from science education and eroding the foundation of public schools.
In bills making their way through statehouses in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and a potential measure in Iowa, making common cause with climate change denial is a way for advocates to encourage skepticism of evolution, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group.
“The rhetoric falls into predictable patterns, and the patterns are very similar for those two groups of science deniers,” he said.
Science defenders like the NCSE say science denial has three pillars: That the science is uncertain; that its acceptance would have bad moral and social consequences; and that it’s only fair to present all sides. All three are at work in the latest efforts to attack state and federal education standards on science education, Branch said.
According to a survey published last year, this strategy is already making headway. The survey, in the journal Science, found that three-fourths of science teachers spend time on climate change instruction. But of those teachers, 30% tell their students that it is “likely due to natural causes,” while another 31% teach that the science is unsettled. Yet 97% of scientists who actively study Earth’s climate say it is changing because of human activity.
In South Dakota, state Rep. Chip Campbell, R-Rapid City, said the bill would have enabled broader discussions in the classroom, according to The Argus-Leader.
“In science it is imperative that we show not only the strengths but also the weaknesses of theories,” he said. “Weaknesses, not strengths, are the key to finding the truth.”
Many of these bills are being pushed in response to recently adopted federal standards for science education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developed by 26 states, were finalized in 2015. As of November 2016, 16 states had adopted them, and the guidelines are under consideration in several others.
Efforts to undermine science education are often related to adoption of the new standards. In West Virginia in 2016, for example, lawmakers removed language in the standards that said human activity has increased carbon dioxide emissions and affected the climate. In Wyoming, lawmakers passed a statute banning public schools from teaching climate change is caused by humans, though that was later repealed. Also in 2016, Idaho lawmakers passed a bill permitting the use of the Bible in public schools as long as it was in connection with astronomy, biology, and geology. The bill passed in a modified form without referencing those scientific topics, but it was later vetoed.
“The concerns of these anti-science officials aren’t rooted in peer-vetted science. They are rooted in opposition to learning the truth about climate change,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, an offshoot of the Sierra Club that supports climate education. “The purpose of these bills is to create space for peer-reviewed, evidence-based science to be challenged based on teachers’ political opinions.”
It’s part of a third wave of anti-science legislation at the state level, according to Branch.
The first wave, specifically targeting evolution, dissipated after 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional. The second wave focused on “intelligent design,” a branch of creation theory that postulates a higher power guides and shapes the process of evolution. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, anti-evolutionists focused on bills that would require teachers to say evolution was controversial, while staying silent on possible alternatives, Branch said. Later Supreme Court cases also rejected these policies on various First Amendment grounds.
The newest wave, which began around 2004, focuses on “academic freedom—teach the controversy, talk about theories’ strengths and weaknesses,” Branch said.
“They all have the same effect, which is to free teachers from having to teach evolution as accepted science, and to prevent state and local officials from doing anything about it,” he said.
The bills initially targeted evolution, but later, advocates came up with a standard list: biological evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning are considered the controversial topics in science education, Branch said.
He and Hoyos both noted that the bill would have protected teachers who wanted to teach anything at all, not just skepticism of climate change and evolution.
“A teacher could, on the public dime, teach creationism, flat-Earthism, white supremacism, and there would be nothing that the taxpayers could do about it,” Branch said. “It’s not that science teachers shouldn’t have some freedom to do what they do; but all of these states already have all various kinds of regulations, policies, and informal practices that give a reasonable degree of freedom.”
Similar active bills include Indiana’s Senate Resolution 17, Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 393, and Texas’s House Bill 1485, Branch said. Because Indiana’s is a resolution, it would have no legal effect other than to express the intent of lawmakers, which Branch said was an “interesting variant.” In Iowa, lawmakers are discussing a measure that would make the next generation standards optional, he said.
To date, South Dakota’s was the only measure to have been passed by a chamber of the legislature; the state Senate passed it in January. It’s also the first measure to die. It lingered in a House education committee before a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, and it was defeated, 11-4. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jeff Monroe of Pierre, had introduced different versions of the bill for the past four years, but it never made it as far as it did in 2017, Hoyos said.
“Perhaps that’s because of the political climate we’re in, with the president actively opposing climate science,” she said. “From the president on down, there are some political forces in our society who think it is open season to attack climate science.”
Saturday, February 25, 2017 | By The Wilderness Society | No Comments
These lands are Our Wild. Let’s keep them public.