Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
And I’ve been so good about putting all our plastics into the recycling bin. See this disappointing article.
Why it’s difficult to respect the GOP: The House GOP passed a bill to forbid the EPA from getting expert advice from scientists
Because why? Because ignorance is good, I guess. Beverly Mitchell reports at Habitat:
While everyone’s attention was focused on the Senate and the Keystone XL decision on Tuesday, some pretty shocking stuff was quietly going on in the House of Representatives. The GOP-dominated House passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say. Perversely, all this is being done in the name of “transparency.”
Bill H.R. 1422, also known as the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, passed 229-191. It was sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT), pictured. The bill changes the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Among many other things, it states: “Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work.” This means that a scientist who had published a peer-reviewed paper on a particular topic would not be able to advise the EPA on the findings contained within that paper. That is, the very scientists who know the subject matter best would not be able to discuss it.
On Monday, the White House issued a statement indicating it would veto the bill if it passed, noting: “H.R. 1422 would negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.” Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was more blunt, telling House Republicans on Tuesday: “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.” . . .
The bill seems to me to be simply insane. I simply cannot grasp how any serious adult would sign on to that but this is how the GOP thinks.
Fascinating post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.
Here’s a fascinating little anecdote about lead and crime from a recent paper by Rick Nevin. It shouldn’t be taken as proof of anything, but it’s certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.
Here’s the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red? . . .
Integrity is scarce in some circles. Justin Gillis and John Schwartz report in the NY Times:
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.
One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Though Dr. Soon did not respond to questions about the documents, he has long stated that his corporate funding has not influenced his scientific findings.
The documents were obtained by Greenpeace, the environmental group, under the Freedom of Information Act. Greenpeace and an allied group, the Climate Investigations Center, shared them with several news organizations last week.
The documents shed light on the role of scientists like Dr. Soon in fostering public debate over whether human activity is causing global warming. The vast majority of experts have concluded that it is and that greenhouse emissions pose long-term risks to civilization.
Historians and sociologists of science say that since the tobacco wars of the 1960s, corporations trying to block legislation that hurts their interests have employed a strategy of creating the appearance of scientific doubt, usually with the help of ostensibly independent researchers who accept industry funding.
Fossil-fuel interests have followed this approach for years, but the mechanics of their activities remained largely hidden.
“The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” said Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University and the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a book about such campaigns. “Willie Soon is playing a role in a certain kind of political theater.”
Environmentalists have long questioned Dr. Soon’s work, and his acceptance of funding from the fossil-fuel industry was previously known. But the full extent of the links was not; the documents show that corporate contributions were tied to specific papers and were not disclosed, as required by modern standards of publishing. . .
A pretty lucrative business model, akin to product-endorsement deals in which professional athletics accept substantial sums of money to praise products they probably do not even use.
From later in the story:
Though often described on conservative news programs as a “Harvard astrophysicist,” Dr. Soon is not an astrophysicist and has never been employed by Harvard. He is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution with a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering. He has received little federal research money over the past decade and is thus responsible for bringing in his own funds, including his salary.
Though he has little formal training in climatology, Dr. Soon has for years published papers trying to show that variations in the sun’s energy can explain most recent global warming. His thesis is that human activity has played a relatively small role in causing climate change.
Many experts in the field say that Dr. Soon uses out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change.
Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a NASA division that studies climate change, said that the sun had probably accounted for no more than 10 percent of recent global warming and that greenhouse gases produced by human activity explained most of it.
“The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless,” Dr. Schmidt said.
Kevin Drum points out a report that includes a section linking crime to environmental lead:
The Brennan Center has released a lengthy report examining the reasons for the big crime decline of the 90s and aughts, and one section highlights the work of Jessica Reyes and others linking crime levels to gasoline lead emissions:
Reyes, and other researchers, have found that lead is connected to aggressive behavior and behavioral problems because it affects brain development of children….Reyes found that the decrease in lead caused a remarkable 56 percent of the decrease in violent crime in the 1990s….This theory had been previously suggested by another economist, Rick Nevin, in 1999. He illustrated a similarity in the trends between violent crime and gasoline lead 23 years prior.
….In December 2013, an NAS roundtable discussed the lead theory. There was an extended discussion in which most participants seemed to concur that the 56 percent drop in crime attributed to lead by Reyes was likely too large.Most experts seem to believe that lead played some role, but maybe not as high as the finding presented by Reyes. More research is needed to establish lead’s precise role in the crime decline.
….The authors do not draw a conclusion on this theory because they could not secure complete state-by-state data on this variable level for 1980 to 2013, as needed for the regression….Based on current research and expert reactions, it is possible that lead played some role in the 1990s drop in violent crime but perhaps not as large as that found by Reyes. Further, lead’s effect on the crime drop likely waned in the 2000s.
Now, you might think I’d be annoyed that lead was the 13th out of 13 theories they looked at, and that they downplayed the likelihood of a significant role for lead. In fact, I’m thrilled. This is one of the first reports I’ve seen that gives lead a substantial section of its own, and the authors clearly take the idea seriously. The fact that they want more research before committing themselves further is perfectly reasonable. It’s a new theory that needs more research from people not already committed to it one way or the other.
A couple of notes, though. . .
Kevin Drum has a good post, with chart. Dramatic changes once the neurotoxin was removed from the environment, as one might expect.
Chris Mooney reports in the Washington Post:
In the arid lands of the Mojave Desert, Marine regimental commander Jim Caley traveled alongside a 24-mile stretch of road and saw trucks, tanks and armored tracked vehicles all idling in the heat — and wasting enormous amounts of expensive fuel.
Caley had already led forces in Iraq, and at the time was charged with seven battalions comprising 7,000 Marines. But this was a new and different challenge. Overseeing a major spring 2013 training exercise at the Marine Corps’ Twentynine Palms base in southern California, he was struck by how little he knew about how America’s war-fighting machine used energy.
“No targets prosecuted, no miles to the gallon, no combat benefit being delivered,” Caley, a Marine colonel, says of the scene. “At the time, I had no system to understand what was going on, and what was occurring, and how much further I could go on the same fuel.”
The Department of Defense is the single biggest user of energy in the U.S. — its energy bill in 2013 was $18.9 billion — and Caley now plays a central role in trying to ensure that just one of its branches, the Marine Corps, uses that power in the optimal way. The implications for the military are vast. For instance, the Marines alone have estimated that they could save $26 million per year through a 10 percent energy reduction at their installations and bases, to say nothing of Marine field operations, which used an estimated 1.5 million barrels of fuel in 2014.
But most striking is how these changes are coming about. As head of the Marines Corps’ five-year-old Expeditionary Energy Office, Caley is tapping into one of the hottest trends in academic energy research: looking to use psychology and the behavioral sciences to find ways of saving energy by changing people — their habits, routines, practices and preconceptions.
“The opportunities that we see on the behavioral side of the house are phenomenal,” Caley explained during a recent interview in his Pentagon office. “And they’re frankly less expensive than us trying to buy new equipment.”
Through behavioral changes alone — tweaking the ways that Marines drive their vehicles, power their outposts, handle their equipment — Caley thinks he can increase their overall battlefield range by as much as five days, a change that would provide immense tactical benefit by cutting down on refueling requirements (and the logistical hurdles and vulnerabilities associated with them). If he succeeds, the Marines would stand at the forefront of an energy revolution that may someday rival wind or solar in importance: one focused not on changing our technologies or devices, but on changing us. And its applications would touch every corner of our society, from how we behave in our homes to how we drive our cars.
The behavioral science wave
Any change to how the military uses energy has momentous implications simply because it uses so much of it — roughly the same amount of power annually as the state of West Virginia. But the behavioral revolution in energy is also highly significant in the civilian sector, where truly Pentagon-sized energy gains could be reaped just by tweaking little behaviors. For instance, here are some published estimates of possible energy savings from behavioral changes. These shouldn’t be taken as exact, but rather as ballpark figures: . . .