John Foley – climate change is a ‘civilization problem’
Aug06

John Foley – climate change is a ‘civilization problem’

By Terence Houston, ESA policy analyst In the face of what he called an “inflection point in history,” on issues such as climate change and natural resources consumption, opening plenary speaker John Foley called on Ecological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting attendees to reexamine and build upon the traditional methods of public engagement. Noting that traditional modes of governance (such as Congress) are “broken and inadequate,” Foley suggested that we reexamine our theories and methods of influencing policy changes, asserting that relying on grassroots activism, international support or free markets alone are “theories of change” that need to be re-evaluated in favor of a new frameworks. He stated that we should not “pigeon-hole” an issue like climate change as an environmental problem, but as a “civilization problem – do you get to have one?” We often get stuck focusing on the aspects of climate change that are more polarized, namely the 60 percent of carbon emissions generated from energy production, said Foley. He suggested mitigating global warming through a focus on the 35 percent of carbon emissions that come from agricultural production. Addressing human diets, biofuels and food waste would put a significant dent in what we need to grow, putting a dent in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. He noted that China, India and the United States contribute 60 percent of the world’s nitrogen oxide from fertilizer and make up 77 percent of irrigation water use. Foley called on scientists to “get out of your bloody cage” and interact with individuals with different areas of expertise, such as people in the business community or governance. He applauded the work of ESA and other scientific societies to engage their members in policy, referencing the work of the Leopold Leadership program in helping scientists gain skills to better share their scientific information with the media and decision-makers.  Referencing author Barbara Kingsolver, he reminded attendees not to forget to hope: “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.” Foley’s message was a refrain on 2013 ESA Regional Policy Award recipient Ellen Anderson, Energy and Environment Senior Advisor to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. She touted the role scientific understanding has in helping us as a society gain understanding and wisdom so we can “fear less” and asserted there is hope for the future, given that a majority of millennials when surveyed, stated that they are unlikely to support a candidate who does not believe the scientific consensus regarding human-influenced climate...

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ESA Policy News: July 26
Jul26

ESA Policy News: July 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect. For additional information on the bill, click here. EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped...

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Federal research investment and its benefits for society
Jul19

Federal research investment and its benefits for society

In seeking to improve fiscal restraint through a federal budget that has burgeoned over the past decade (largely due to expansion of mandatory spending coupled with decreased revenue intake), lawmakers have been eyeing numerous areas of discretionary spending, including scientific research due to the fact that cutting spending in these areas is more politically feasible than addressing the growth of entitlement programs or revenue-raising tax reform. When reviewing scientific research investments, some lawmakers have set their sights on research with no immediately apparent applied benefit as well as on research they perceive as politically-motivated. Regarding the latter, much criticism among House Republicans has been leveled at government efforts to fund research on environmental issues like climate change or hydraulic fracturing, partially out of concern that these efforts are  at the expense of industry and economic development. During a recent meeting of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coaltion with a Member of Congress in a district where hydraulic fracturing (also called “fracking”) is practiced, the Congressman asked the scientists with whom he was meeting why additional research is necessary given that existing information suggests that the practice is safe. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Carlos Silva discusses his response to this question. Carlos suggested continued research into fracking could benefit the industry in the long-term by uncovering new methods that ultimately improve efficiency or validate the safety of the practice and expand acceptance of its commercial use. Carlos noted that it was National Science Foundation research in geology that contributed to the technology. In the podcast, he also discussed past meetings he’s had with the Maryland delegation and the bipartisan support for research to understand algal blooms and to remedy water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay, which provides a multitude of local commercial and economic benefits to surrounding communities in the region. While researchers seem to agree that the process of hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes, evidence suggests a connection to the wastewater disposal process In addition, communities are concerned about possible contamination of their drinking water.  Research on this evolving energy extraction process can lead to better strategies and show if some concerns are unwarranted. Scientific research improves our knowledge with regard to how to better cope with changes to the environment in a more cost-effective way. One of the central themes of this year’s Climate Leadership Conference outlined how coping with the various aspects of climate change can save businesses billions of dollars in insurance through investing in extreme weather-resistant infrastructure and energy-saving initiatives. In another example, research into understanding how floodplains work, provides us with knowledge on how...

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ESA Policy News: July 12
Jul12

ESA Policy News: July 12

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL CUTS SCIENCE INVESTMENT On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice and Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, which includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key science agencies for the coming fiscal year. In total, the CJS bill includes $47.4 billion for FY 2014, $2.8 billion below the FY 2013 enacted level and $350 million below FY 2013 when accounting for implementation of sequestration. House Republicans have been drafting legislation under the assumption that sequestration will continue through Fiscal Year 2014. Coupled with the fact that they are simultaneously seeking to boost Department of Defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending programs are set to undergo even further spending declines if their bills are enacted. For the first time in years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would see a significant reduction in funding under the bill compare to the enacted level in the previous fiscal year. NSF would receive $7 billion in FY 2014, $259 million below the enacted level in 2013 pre-sequestration and $631 million below the president’s budget request.  Other key science agencies under the jurisdiction of the bill include: • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.9 billion, $89 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $16.6 billion, $928 million below the FY 2013 enacted level. For additional information on the bill, click here. DOE: REPORT LINKS CLIMATE CHANGE TO ENERGY SECTOR RISKS On July 11, the US Department of Energy released a report entitled US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather.” The report comes on the heels of President Obama’s climate speech last month and highlights detrimental effects climate change is having on US energy production. Among its findings, the report notes coastal energy infrastructure is particularly susceptible to violent storms and sea level rise and that drought could negatively affect hydraulic fracturing efforts. The report cites that heat waves have led to shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The report also points to threats to oil and gas production in the Arctic from infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost. It also notes that violent storms in recent years have on several occasions led to massive power losses across several states. Among suggested methods of adapting to climate change, the report calls for “the deployment of energy technologies that are more climate-resilient, assessment of vulnerabilities in the energy sector, adaptation planning efforts, and policies that can facilitate these efforts.” View the...

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ESA Policy News: June 28
Jun28

ESA Policy News: June 28

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.   CLIMATE CHANGE: OBAMA OUTLINES PLAN TO REGULATE GREENHOUSE GASES On June 25, President Obama announced his plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The plan seeks to implement federal action on addressing climate change in lieu of  Congress that has not passed comprehensive legislation  to reduce carbon emissions throughout the president’s first-term. “Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants.  But here’s the thing:  Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air,” said President Obama. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free.  That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.” The president asserted that rising sea-levels over the past century have contributed to more damaging hurricanes and that temperature changes have caused more severe droughts and increased the duration and reach of wildfires. Implemented largely through the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the plan would set carbon limits on coal-fired industrial plants and invest in renewable energy usage on public lands. To brace for the continued impacts of climate change, the plan utilizes strategies developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to help communities guard against flooding and extreme weather events. It also intends to apply scientific knowledge to help farmers, ranchers and landowners manage droughts and wildfires and improve forest restoration efforts. Recognizing that mitigating climate change is a global effort, the White House plan also increases federal government involvement in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and sets guidelines for how foreign assistance is spent. For additional information on the plan, click here. To read President Obama’s full remarks, click here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES PASS ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS This month, the House and Senate appropriations committees move forward on legislation to fund federal energy and water development programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Such programs are implemented largely through the Department of Energy (DOE) and US Army Corps of Engineers. The $30.4 billion House energy and water bill slashes funding for a number of renewable energy and research programs at DOE. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be cut by 40 percent compared to existing sequester level funding. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would be cut by 80 percent below the sequestered funding. The...

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