By Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune
May 23, 2010, 6:05AM
Watching our politicians and listening to oil industry voices during BP's mugging of our coastal ecosystem has me repeatedly thinking of two things:
Horses out of barns, and the planet Mars.
The first thought is prompted by the endless parade of Louisiana politicos who can't seem to get enough face time lately showing their concern for the potentially horrendous harm oil poses to our coastal wetlands, all the while stressing how important that habitat is to our economy, culture and future. Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sens. David Vitter and Mary Landrieu, Rep. Charlie Melancon and many more are doing a replay of President Bush's 9/11 photo ops: visiting the scenes of destruction, hugging the hearty locals terrorized by the disaster and pledging to make those responsible accountable for the dastardly deed.
Well, if they're serious about that accounting, they can start by looking in the mirror.
The shock and arrrgh being expressed by these folks -- and many of their constituents -- at the terrible environmental gamble that comes with offshore drilling goes beyond preaching caution after the horse is out of the barn. After all, these same groups helped open the barn door, hung a feed bucket around the horse's neck and then gave it a good slap on the rump to speed it on its way.
I'm talking about the fervor for deregulation, the movement to eliminate federal laws that protect people and the environment.
That has been a battle cry for conservative politics for three decades. It was Ronald Reagan who famously made "get government off the backs of business," a winning strategy. And it was George W. Bush who pushed to rewrite the rule books for energy development on public property, rolling back protections for fish, wildlife, air and water under the banner of streamlining the nation's race for energy. That movement sought to turn 40 years of bipartisan environmental protection on its head, and it did.
Industry lobbyists and officials were appointed to key environmental positions with orders to make the environment safe for business -- especially the energy business. Agencies became boosters for development, not protectors of the public trust.
Louisiana's delegations, and most of its voters, cheered almost every step.
For our political leaders to act shocked that something like this could happen requires equal portions of gall and amnesia.
The media is now filled with testimony from whistle blowers at agencies telling how warnings of threats to the environment were down-played, ignored or tossed in the trash bin. Their bosses were only following orders.
Even after the disaster, industry promoters are saying how rare such accidents are, are talking (in almost reverential tones) about how amazing the technology for deep-ocean drilling is, often using the refrain "this is like stuff we do in space."
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: May 19, 2010
WASHINGTON — In its most comprehensive study so far, the nation’s leading scientific body declared on Wednesday that climate change is a reality and is driven mostly by human activity, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
The group, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued three reports describing the case for a harmful human influence on the global climate as overwhelming and arguing for strong immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases in the United States and around the world — including the creation of a carbon pricing system.
Congress requested the reports in 2008. This is the first time the academy has issued specific recommendations on how to mitigate or adapt to climate change.
One of the reports, “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change,” urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a “reasonable goal.”
Legislation pending in Congress calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
The report says the most efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to set a predictable and rising price. It does not explicitly recommend a cap-and-trade system, but says that such a system of tradable emissions permits would give industry more flexibility in meeting an emissions target or budget.
Another report, “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change,” suggests that the United States and other nations begin planning for effects like rising sea levels and more severe storms and droughts. Increasing preparedness can be viewed as “an insurance policy against an uncertain future,” the report said, while inaction could impose large costs on future generations.
“These reports show that the state of climate-change science is strong,” Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a statement accompanying the reports. “But the nation also needs the scientific community to expand upon its understanding of why climate change is happening and focus also on when and where the most severe impacts will occur and what we can do to respond.” …
Heartland Institute, the premier source of denialist anti-science, would have been expecting a presentation on the “myth of global warming” – instead they got “myths about global warming.” Clever!
By Michael Tobis
Apparently Prof. Scott Denning of Colorado State has tricked the Heartland Institute into accepting a talk entitled "Debunking Common Myths About Global Warming" for their annual
conferencecaucus this year.
The joke is on them. It turns out that the presentation is quite excellent! (Well, except that it's a Microsoft PowerPoint (with heavy use of Comic Sans) but if you can put up with that, here you go.)
Update: In comments, Heartland Institute people claim they knew exactly what they were doing when they invited Prof. Denning to speak – you see, Heartland encourages debate, unlike those close-minded scientists…
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post all rejected op-ed/letter from 255 National Academy of Sciences members defending climate science integrity
Here’s the state of science journalism in America today: Sarah Palin gets two anti-science op-eds in the Washington Post, and actual climate scientists get none.
Last week, I wrote about the remarkable letter in Science supporting the accuracy of climate science, signed by 255 National Academy of Sciences members, including 11 Nobel laureates.
The insufficiently-covered letter has been kept alive as a story for two reasons. First, the editors at Science ran the letter with a ‘photoshopped’ ‘collage’ (see above). Second, we learned that the authors first tried to get some of the newspapers that have been publishing dubious attacks on climate scientists to publish the piece as an op-ed, but were rejected. …
NY Times, WSJ, and Washington Post all rejected op-ed/letter from 255 National Academy of Sciences members defending climate science integrity - MSM largely ignored it, but unintentionally clever ploy by Science with polar bear artwork got the anti-science crowd to read it
Sunday, May 9, 2010
ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2009) — Using more advanced analytical instruments now available, a Johnson Space Center research team has reexamined the 1996 finding that a meteorite contains strong evidence that life may have existed on ancient Mars.
The new research focused on investigating alternate proposals for the creation of materials thought to be signs of ancient life found in the meteorite. The new study argues that ancient life remains the most plausible explanation for the materials and structures found in the meteorite.
In 1996, a group of scientists led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta of NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the ALH84001 meteorite. A newly published paper revisits that original hypothesis with new analyses. The paper, "Origin of Magnetite Nanocrystals in Martian Meteorite ALH84001," by Thomas-Keprta and coauthors Simon Clemett, McKay, Gibson and Susan Wentworth, all scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at JSC, is in the November issue of the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta of The Geochemical Society and The Meteoritical Society. …
In this new study, the JSC research team reassessed the leading alternative non-biologic hypothesis that heating or shock decomposition produced the magnetites. The authors argue that their new results do not support the heating hypothesis for the formation of the magnetites. They conclude that the biogenic explanation is a more viable hypothesis for the origin of the magnetites.
"In this study, we interpret our results to suggest that the in situ inorganic hypotheses are inconsistent with the data, and thus infer that the biogenic hypothesis is still a viable explanation," said lead author Thomas-Keprta, senior scientist for Barrios Technology at JSC.
"We believe that the biogenic hypothesis is stronger now than when we first proposed it 13 years ago," said Gibson, NASA senior scientist. …
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010
RICHMOND -- Academics from across the country are rallying against a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II seeking documents related to the work of a former University of Virginia climate scientist, even as the university says it is preparing to comply with Cuccinelli's request.
Cuccinelli (R) issued the civil investigative demand to the university last month for all documents related to five grant applications made by Michael Mann, a climate-change expert who joined Penn State in 2005.
Cuccinelli also sought all e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists as well as any correspondence between Mann and research assistants, secretaries or administrative staff with whom he worked from 1999 until he left the university.
In a statement Thursday night, a spokeswoman for the university said the school is "required by law to comply." She said that the university received an extension from the original deadline and that documents are now due July 26.
"The University has never received a complaint or allegation of academic misconduct on the part of Professor Mann," spokeswoman Carol Wood said in an e-mail. "While we may not understand the basis of the [demand], we will gather what information may still reside at the University."
Cuccinelli has said he is investigating whether Mann defrauded taxpayers as he sought grants. In several interviews this past week, Cuccinelli has rejected the notion that he is targeting Mann over the scientific conclusions on climate change with which he disagrees.
"We're not investigating his academic work," Cuccinelli said Friday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU radio. "That subpoena is directed at the expenditure of dollars. Whether he does a good job, bad job or I don't like the outcome -- and I think everybody already knows his position on some of this is one that I question. But that is not what that's about."
U-Va.'s Board of Visitors is coming under increasing pressure from the school's faculty and others to ask a judge to set aside the demand.
"I think the university should take the strongest possible stand on this," said Patricia Wiberg, chairwoman of the Environmental Sciences Department, where Mann worked. "There are legitimate disagreements that can be held within the scientific community. If that were to constitute fraud, it would change the whole game in terms of doing research."
Also urging the board to resist the subpoena are the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors, which this past week sent the university a joint letter on the issue.
And on Friday, the magazine Science published a letter by 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences decrying "political assaults" against climate scientists.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Scientists have used X-ray diffraction microscopy to make images of whole yeast cells, achieving the highest resolution -- 11 to 13 nanometers (billionths of a meter) -- ever obtained with this method for biological specimens. Their success indicates that full 3-D tomography of whole cells at equivalent resolution should soon be possible.
"We have demonstrated that lensless imaging techniques can achieve very high resolution while overcoming the limitations of x-ray optics -- limitations that include requiring 20 to 50 times the radiation exposure to get a magnified image of the sample," says Chris Jacobsen, formerly of Stony Brook University, now of Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University, who designed the lensless-imaging research program at beamline 9.0.1. "While at present it takes us a long time to image a single specimen -- and full 3-D imaging of hydrated cells will take even more work -- this is a big step in the right direction."
Three-dimensional imaging of whole cells under conditions close to those in nature, namely a hydrated (watery) environment, is already done at the National Center for X-Ray Tomography at ALS beamline 2.1, under the direction of Carolyn Larabell of Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division, where large numbers of cells can be processed in a short time at resolutions of 40 to 60 nanometers. The ability to increase resolution to the 10-nanometer range would significantly advance research in both biology and materials sciences.
"Ten-nanometer resolution is easy to achieve with an electron microscope," says Janos Kirz of the ALS, co-designer with Jacobsen of the lensless imaging program. "The problem is that electron microscopy is limited to very thin samples, a few hundred nanometers or less -- so you can't use it to look through a whole cell."…
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
A new theory suggests that the thick forests that we think of as wild may actually be an effect of human settlement.
By Andrew Curry
From the March 2010 issue; published online for subscribers only on May 5, 2010
On the train headed north from Amsterdam’s Central Station, be sure to sit to the left. Just past the town of Almere, as you round a right-hand bend, you will find a sight unseen in Europe for centuries, if not millennia: hundreds of red deer, plodding groups of long-horned wild cattle, and skittish herds of low-slung brown horses, all moving through the open landscape like something out of a cave painting. This place goes by the name of Oostvaardersplassen. It is a nature reserve, yes, but it is also a far-reaching experiment. Biologists worldwide are increasingly talking about using large herbivores like the ones sharp-eyed passengers can spot from the train to re-create prehistoric, and sometimes even prehuman, ecosystems.
When keystone species—from ancient mammoths, woolly rhinos, and giant bears to more prosaic grazers like bison, horses, and deer—are wiped out, ecosystems that had sustained themselves in perpetuity collapse. The result is a severe loss of biodiversity. By reintroducing approximations of extinct animals to modern habitats, rewilding advocates want to reestablish dynamic systems that have not existed since the rise of human settlement in Europe. This reserve is the first place where they have done more than talk. Just a short train ride from downtown Amsterdam, nearly 3,000 wild horses, deer, and descendants of prehistoric cattle roam a landscape that is being dramatically shaped by their presence.
The brainchild of a pugnacious Dutch ecologist named Frans Vera, Oostvaardersplassen is challenging some of our most basic assumptions about wildness. Today thick, dense forests are considered synonymous with unspoiled nature. “The current idea is that when you have an area and you do nothing with it, it turns into a forest,” Vera says. Ecologists call this one-way process “succession” and say it rules the unfolding of ecosystems much as natural selection rules evolution. The theory has dominated conservation for centuries, virtually unchallenged.
Until now. Vera says his experiment in rewilding has revealed succession as a human artifact: an unnatural, unbalanced outcome created when people killed off the woolly mammoth and corralled wild horses and cattle. Without free-roaming herds of grazing animals to hold them back, closed-canopy forests took over the land wherever humans did not intervene. The result is a crippled collection of ecosystems that need constant human help to limp along. But Oostvaardersplassen, some 25 years in the making, stands as a test case of what the wild animals that once roamed Europe might create when left to their own devices. …
The World People's Conference on Climate Change ends with Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia
The World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth wrapped up its four days of non-stop working activism a little over a week ago. Located in the small Bolivian town of Tiquipaya, right on the outskirts of Cochabamba, the WPCCC was a collective effort to gather the voices of activists, indigenous people and the global community at large into a collective document. This document titled Submission from the Plurinational State of Bolivia to UNFCCC would include the People's Declaration Agreement on Climate Change and the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Static Photography had the chance to head down to South America to photograph this event which sparked a strengthened voice in the people's movement around climate change. …
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is demanding that the University of Virginia turn over a broad range of documents from a former professor to determine whether he defrauded taxpayers as he sought grants for global-warming research.
The civil investigative demand asks for all data and materials presented by former professor Michael Mann when he applied for five research grants from the university. It also gives the school until May 27 to produce all correspondence or e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists since 1999.
The actions by Republican Cuccinelli (R)— who has sued the federal government over its regulation of greenhouse gases and has become a leading national voice in alleging that scientists have skewed data to show evidence that Earth is warming — were cheered by those on the right, who long have targeted Mann as a leading proponent of the theory.
Mann, who now works at Pennylvania State University, was one of the authors of the “hockey stick” graph, a study that used a variety of data, including tree rings, to chart climate change. His research showed a rapid recent increase in Earth’s temperature.
Mann’s work has been repeatedly targeted by global-warming skeptics, particularly after an e-mail from him referring to a statistical “trick” he used in his research surfaced in leaked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.
Mann has said the e-mail was taken out of context, and an inquiry by Penn State concluded that there was no evidence that Mann has engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data.
Mann and several academic groups decried Cuccinelli’sthe subpoena as an unprecedented inquisition that could threaten academic freedom.
“I think he’s simply trying to smear me as part of a larger campaign to discredit my science,” said Mann, who left U.Va. the University of Virginia in 2005.
Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”
“It would be incredibly chilling to anyone else practicing in either the same area or in any politically sensitive area,” she said. In an interview, Cuccinelli said the request is part of an “open inquiry” into whether there were “knowing inconsistencies” made by Mann as he sought taxpayer dollars to fund research. …