…A federal judge presiding over lawsuits that accuse big oil companies of lying about global warming to protect their profits turned his courtroom into a classroom Wednesday in what could be the first hearing to study the science of climate change.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked lawyers for two California cities and five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies to present “the best science now available on global warming.” He said at the start of the hearing that he wanted to “stick to the science” and avoid politics….
Ignore the warnings of scientists at your peril. That is a very valuable lesson our nation can learn from a horrific weather-related tragedy that befell London in 1952, bathing the city in toxic smog that claimed the lives of thousands of people. Had London acted as had been suggested after a nearly identical disaster struck Donora, Pa., four years earlier, many deaths could have been avoided.
The yellow-brown “killer fog,” as it came to be called, reduced visibility to two feet. Thousands of tons of sulfurous coal smoke and diesel fumes were trapped over a 30-mile area by a cold, moist temperature inversion, covering London with a blanket of poisonous air. In less than a week, the fog killed about 4,000 people, and another 8,000 died prematurely in the months that followed.
British scientists had been warning of such a disaster, but alas, the protective measures they suggested were approved by lawmakers but never implemented. To make matters worse, the government ignored its meteorologists’ warning that an extraordinarily dense fog was about to descend on London.
It took nearly four years for Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act of 1956 that restricted the burning of coal in urban areas and helped homeowners convert from coal to less harmful ways to heat their homes.
The parallels of this catastrophic weather event to current concerns about climate change are hard to ignore. Already as the world’s climate warms, there has been an increase in devastating droughts and life- and property-destroying wildfires, mudslides and floods.
All the while the polar and Arctic ice caps are melting and, despite dire warnings from highly reputable scientists, the current administration is taking little action to protect its citizens from future climactic disasters that scientists say are sure to come. Instead, there has been a push to bring back coal and rescind regulatory measures that helped to clean the air and water of pollutants.
Likewise, a loosening of regulations and appointments of agency administrators with strong ties to the industries they oversee threaten the safety and healthfulness of the foods and beverages we consume and feed to our most vulnerable: children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity. Agencies tasked with protecting public health are under fire and working with diminished resources.
Must it take a calamity, like an outbreak of food poisoning that kills tens of thousands or a deadly epidemic of an infectious disease, to awaken Congress to the dangers that lie ahead and goad it to protect the citizens it was elected to serve?
History is filled with examples of scientifically sound guidance that was ignored or pilloried by those in power. In the late 1990s, for example, half a dozen major health agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, endorsed a national needle exchange program to curb the spread of H.I.V./AIDS. But President Bill Clinton rejected the advice, and the resulting H.I.V. infections cost the health care system as much as half a billion dollars.
Last March, Scott Pruitt, newly appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency, rejected the previous administration’s proposal to ban agricultural use of a Dow Chemical Company pesticide, chlorpyrifos. The agency’s scientific advisory panel had concluded in 2016 that children risked irreversible brain damage and neurodevelopmental problems from very low levels of exposure to food residues of the chemical, which continues to be widely used on fruits and vegetables.
In hopes of bolstering the coal industry, Mr. Pruitt, who has rejected established climate science, has also scrapped regulations in the Clean Power Plan put in place by the Obama administration to minimize heat-trapping pollution. A warming trend in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic in recent decades has been strongly associated with the spread of potentially deadly marine pathogens like Vibrio cholerae, the cause of cholera, and V. parahaemolyticus, a cause of food poisoning, and could lead to widespread outbreaks.
Food safety measures are also in jeopardy. Enforcement has been delayed indefinitely of crucial rules in the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act, enacted seven years ago with bipartisan support to protect consumers from exposure to dangerous pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. Some of those who harvest, package and store foods produced on farms are now exempt from the act’s rules to prevent contamination of the food supply. Yet, each year 48 million people in this country are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from preventable food-borne diseases.
The lax food safety rules of the European Union should be a lesson to heed. France and its allies are currently reeling under massive recalls of baby formula and other products contaminated with salmonella, a crisis said to stem from weak regulations that allowed tainted products to make their way into supermarkets and pharmacies even weeks after the problem was discovered.
Nutritional depletion from rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, is another risk to the healthfulness of the American food supply, according to some experts. Dr. Samuel S. Myers, principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues linked significant reductions in zinc, iron and protein in staple grain crops like rice and wheat and smaller reductions in protein in legumes to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
The researchers demonstrated these effects by growing 41 different varieties of staple crops under conditions likely to exist by 2050 unless there is a major decline in carbon dioxide pollution.
In an interview, Dr. Myers explained that even a small reduction in the protein content of grains could increase carbohydrate consumption and raise the risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that already endanger our overweight population.
Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming can provide not only long-term benefits for public health but also have immediate health “co-benefits,” according to Dr. Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
An increase in walking and cycling instead of a reliance on fuel-powered vehicles, for example, would help to counter diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic ailments linked to a sedentary lifestyle. A shift to “environmentally more sustainable healthy diets,” he notes, would not only help to counter greenhouse gases but also lead to reductions in all-cause mortality.
Wildlife conservation in North America may not be science-based after all — per scientists who analyzed all of the publicly available documents describing 667 hunt management systems.
Only 9% of management systems had an explanation for how quotas were set and <10% underwent any form of review, including internal reviews, with fewer than six per cent subjected to external review.
Science-based management would, however, be supported if management defined clear objectives, used evidence to inform decisions, was transparent with the public about all factors contributing to decisions, and subjected plans and approaches to external review.
A study has unveiled new findings that challenge the widespread assumption that wildlife hunt management in North America is science-based….
…researchers…. identified four hallmarks that provide rigour to science-based management: clear objectives, use of evidence, transparency and external review.
…they found that 60 per cent of them featured fewer than half of the indicator criteria. In addition, some of the most basic assumptions of scientific management were almost entirely absent.
For example, only nine per cent of management systems had an explanation for how quotas were set. Similarly, less than 10 per cent of management systems underwent any form of review, including internal reviews, with fewer than six per cent subjected to external review.
…”We are not saying that wildlife hunting decisions should be based only on science, as there can be important social and economic considerations,” says SFU biological sciences professor John Reynolds. “But the extent to which these dimensions influence management decisions should be clearly articulated alongside claims of scientific rigour.”
The researchers note that claims of science-based management would, however, be supported if management defined clear objectives, used evidence to inform decisions, was transparent with the public about all factors contributing to decisions, and subjected plans and approaches to external review….
Kyle A. Artelle, John D. Reynolds, Adrian Treves, Jessica C. Walsh, Paul C. Paquet, Chris T. Darimont. Hallmarks of science missing from North American wildlife management. Science Advances, 2018; 4 (3): eaao0167 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao0167
…Scientists should be speaking up about all sorts of science-based issues that affect our lives. Especially now, when Trump administration officials tell us that climate change is debatable and that killing African elephants can benefit the herd, scientists should be constantly exposing misinformation, bogus alternative facts and fake science.
Unfortunately, the greatest obstacle to informing the public may be the very universities that many scientists work for.
When Scientific American editors talk with Ph.D. students, postdoctoral researchers and early-career scientists, they often tell us that an adviser or senior department member has instructed them not to write blogs or articles for the general public, speak at public events or talk with reporters and to stay away from social media. In a 2016 survey of 61 chairs of U.S. and Canadian medical departments, only 23 percent said it was important for faculty to participate in blogs hosted by medical journals. Never mind personal blogs and those in the media…..
But in the weeks before this year’s conference, the Interior Department — which oversees the USGS — issued a new cap on attendance: No more than 199 employees across the department could travel to the meeting, and expenditures could not exceed $399,000.
As a result, just 178 USGS researchers were present at the AGU conference in New Orleans last week — a 60 percent drop from last year. In addition, 30 abstracts for posters or oral presentations, which take weeks to prepare, were withdrawn by USGS scientists who were unable to attend….
Of the new recruits, 13 now work in the United States; they will get 3- to 5-year grants, worth up to €1.5 million each
French President Emmanuel Macron’s effort to lure disgruntled foreign climate scientists to France—especially from the United States—has produced its first harvest. France today announced that Macron’s Make Our Planet Great Again initiative has recruited its first class of 18 scientists. Of the new recruits, 13, including a few French nationals, now work in the United States, whereas others are based in Canada, India, and elsewhere in Europe.
….Ultimately, 450 researchers were deemed eligible to apply for the grants, and 255 submitted applications. Ninety were then invited to submit proposals in collaboration with a French institution. The French National Research Agency ultimately received 57 proposals, which were reviewed by a nine-member international panel chaired by Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich, U.K. The proposals were “high quality and in cutting-edge fields,” Le Quéré says.
Macron and French research minister Frédérique Vidal announced the 18 initial grants at a Paris event held on the eve of the One Climate Summit, which aims to harness global financial backing for climate action on the 2-year anniversary of the Paris climate accord….
Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries. An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer….
…There is evidence that other agencies are making similar decisions. Earlier this year, a project coordinator at a Department of Energy lab emailed a researcher at Northeastern University asking her to adjust the language a public abstract for research funded by the DOE….
…Avoiding the term “climate change” could also lead to a more fractured scientific community. Climate change research is an inherently interdisciplinary field and shared terminology allows people to collaborate, either through interagency groups or through university departments that reflect the larger trends in available funding.
…And all of that could translate into problems for average citizens. Cities, some of them already dealing with rising sea levels and more severe storms, rely on the federal government for information about climate change. Water resource managers and emergency officials look to federal climate programs for long-term data. And insurers are using climate change data to determine rates for homeowners.
“This is the biggest environmental challenge in human history,” says Mote. “Absent political winds, I don’t think researchers would avoid using the term ‘climate change’ to describe it.”
Hesitancy among scientists to express the gravity of our situation is a major block to our understanding and response to climate change…
Scientific Reticence: A Threat to Humanity and Nature. Jim Hansen/Pam Pearson/Philip Duffy press conference at COP-23 in Bonn, Germany on 10 November 2017. Video link to a press conference with Drs. James Hansen, Pam Peterson, and Philip Duffy discussing how the hesitancy among scientists to express the gravity of our situation is a major block to our understanding and response to climate change. The reticence results from a combination of factors: political pressure, institutional conservatism, the desire to avoid controversy, aspiring to objectivity, etc. But when the data and the conclusions it leads to are alarming, isn’t it imperative that the alarm be transmitted publicly? Here is another facet of society’s apparent inability to assess and respond appropriately to the present immense, existential threat of climate change
The Ecological Society of America strongly condemns the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to cancel the presentations of three ecologists in Rhode Island at an event to launch the 2017 State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed Summary Report that underwent extensive peer review and a public comment process. The report addresses many topics including management of climate change impacts to human and natural systems.
“Stifling ecologists who have valid research to inform management decisions affecting those living and working in the watershed is unconscionable and serves no one,” said Katherine McCarter, executive director, Ecological Society of America.
Scientific research – and the free exchange of scientific knowledge, ideas, and data – must be valued and protected. Scientists, including scientists serving in the federal government, must be able to freely conduct their research, communicate their findings, publish their work, and ensure the accuracy of scientific information without fear of retaliation or restriction.
ESA and its members are committed to the integrity and availability of scientific research and we believe in the critical importance of the unrestricted sharing of scientific data and findings. Objective scientific findings play a crucial role in addressing a wide range of domestic and international challenges. Scientific knowledge is a critical element of decision-making, and unbiased scientific research is used to inform policies that serve the public interest. Without scientific integrity and independence, our nation will lose the benefits that science provides to the economy, policymaking, technological innovation, and society.