From the community: ESA annual meeting in the news

Last week at the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 95th Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, scientists presented research on the foraging behavior of bushbabies, the effects of RoundUp herbicide on amphibians, the benefits of microbial communities inside the human body and the global issues surrounding invasive species, pollution, global warming, elevated nitrogen and hypoxia, among others. Here is just some of the research from ESA’s annual meeting.

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ESA Policy News: July 16

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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ESA Policy News: July 2

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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Nonlinear risk and the limitations of democracy: Academic cross-training as a partial remedy

This post contributed by ESA Science Policy Analyst Piper Corp. It isn’t surprising that climate legislation is stalling in Congress. In tough economic times, an emissions cap—like any other major investment—is a tough sell at best, requiring US households and industry to swallow added costs in the short-term for projected savings down the road. What’s more, the current symptoms of rising temperatures don’t reflect the magnitude of changes to come. Like many other contemporary challenges, climate change is nonlinear—policymakers have to draw from scientific models, not current observations, when making decisions. But climate-related struggles in Congress suggest a larger dilemma: Can our legal system adequately address nonlinear processes? Legislative priorities reflect the concerns of constituents—concerns dominated by the most immediate demands. When time and funds are short, the squeaky wheel almost always gets the oil, and ecological risks are often comparatively silent until they reach a tipping point. Once we experience the magnitude of change necessary to elicit widespread public response, much of that change may be irreversible. According to scientist James Lovelock, best known for proposing the Gaia Theory, democracy is not cut out for addressing climate change. In a recent interview, Lovelock said: We need a more authoritative world. We’ve become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It’s all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can’t do that. You’ve got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course. But it can’t happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What’s the alternative to democracy? There isn’t one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while. Obviously, this is an unlikely scenario. So what do we do? As in previous discussions of science and policy, it seems that taking a successful integrative approach doesn’t just mean listening to both science and other parts of society; it means rethinking the ways we design experiments and approach policymaking. Integration, in other words, must happen from the get-go—a somewhat lofty requirement to be sure. In environmental policy, most scientists don’t fully understand the political implications of their work, just as most lawmakers don’t fully understand the science behind their decisions. Rather, individuals from both groups research the issue on their own, consulting experts as...

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ESA Policy News: March 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/02262010.php.

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ESA Policy News: Feb 12

  Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.  Read the full Policy News here.    WHITE HOUSE BUDGET REQUEST FOR 2011 SHOWS STRONG COMMITMENT TO SCIENCE–President Obama’s $3.834 trillion 2011 budget request shows continued support for science, in spite of the three-year freeze on nondefense discretionary spending that he has proposed. The budget is now headed to Congress where many of the cuts are likely to face opposition from both parties. Last year, the legislative branch supported roughly 60% of Obama’s proposed reductions, rejecting cuts to fossil fuel subsidies. This year, though, Obama promised to use his veto power if Congress fails to rein in spending. Highlights from the request: NSF: The National Science Foundation would receive $7.424 billion—8% above 2010 levels.  All accounts would see at least modest increases; Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction (MREFC) would receive a boost of more than 40%.  Research and Related Activities would see an 8.2% increase; Education & Human Resources, 2.2%. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is slated to begin construction under the MREFC budget, with $20 million proposed for the first of a five-year project, which will build 62 sites across the country.  U.S.  Global Change Research Program: USGCRP—a multi-agency program—would receive $369.9 million (a 16% increase) for basic research, comprehensive observations and integrative modeling related to temporal and spatial climate variability, terrestrial and marine ecosystems and human contributions and responses to climate change.  Forest Service: $5.38 billion (a $60 million increase). The budget request would refocus the agency’s resources on watershed and ecosystem improvement efforts and would launch a pilot program for long-term, landscape-scale restoration activities.  USGS: The US Geological Survey would receive $1.1 billion, an increase of $21.6 million.  The agency would see some cuts, most notably to the National Maps Partnership, which would be suspended.  Scientific efforts would remain well-funded.  NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $5.5 billion—a 17% boost—with a strong emphasis on climate change and fisheries sustainability.  EPA: $10 billion (a proposed $300 million cut from 2010 levels). Observers were not surprised by this cut given that the Environmental Protection Agency received a considerable boost in 2010 compared to previous funding levels. ENERGY DEPARTMENT (DOE): $28.4 billion (an almost 5% increase from 2010 levels), which includes significant boosts for nuclear power and energy research.  AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT (USDA): $132 billion. Federal farm subsidies would see substantial cuts as would some farm bill conservation programs. The Department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture competitive grants program would see a 63% increase, to $429 million, much of it focused on bioenergy research. FUTURE OF...

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Ups and downs: climate change in January 2010

This post was contributed by Piper Corp, ESA Science Policy Analyst, and Katie Kline A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks when it comes to climate change: 2009 was tied for the second warmest year on record, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and China joined several other rapidly industrializing nations in agreeing to submit plans to cut emissions by the end of the month. Here is an overview of recent climate change issues: 2009 listed among second warmest years in recorded history According to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) research, the average global temperature in 2009 was only a fraction of a degree cooler than in 2005, the warmest year on record; it joined five other years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007—as second warmest. Map showing increase in 2000-2009 average temperature compared to 1951-1980. Image Credit: NASA/GISS Data were gathered from more than 1,000 weather stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface temperature and measurements from Antarctic research stations. A NASA video describes the analysis and implications of the data, and the possible causes of the temperature hike. And according to GISS and analyses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last decade was the warmest on record—average global temperatures have risen about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade over the last thirty years. James Hansen, GISS director, says in the NASA article: There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point. There’s substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated. Murkowski introduces resolution to prevent EPA action To keep EPA from moving forward with plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a “disapproval” resolution, which would retroactively veto the agency’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health. Murkowski’s resolution has little chance of succeeding—even if it makes it through Congress (Murkowski decided to use a disapproval resolution because it requires 51 Senate votes rather than 60, as an amendment would require), President Obama would still have the option of vetoing it. Senate Climate Bill Chances of a climate law in 2010 are slim. With unemployment at 10 percent, a still-weak economy and midterm elections on the way, the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress will likely focus almost entirely on creating jobs. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says...

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ESA Policy News, Oct. 23: Kerry-Graham Op-Ed

ESA’s Policy News for Oct. 23, written by ESA’s Policy Analyst Piper Corp, gives an in-depth look at the New York Times opinion piece written by John Kerry and Lindsey Graham meant to aid in the passage of a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate.  Read more below, and read the Policy News in its entirety here. A joint New York Times op-ed from Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may pave the way for a bipartisan climate bill in the Senate. The senators use their military service as common ground, focusing on the impact that climate change and energy could have on national security and the economy. The op-ed, which was welcomed by climate legislation advocates and undecided moderates alike, outlines a broad bipartisan agreement aimed at securing the 60 votes necessary for the bill to pass. Graham has not committed his support to the draft bill (S 1733) released by Kerry and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) earlier this month, but has pledged to play a major role in working out a compromise. Observers speculate that the senator’s move could help win the support of three other undecided Republicans: Senators John McCain (AZ), Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME), all past supporters of cap-and-trade legislation. The Kerry-Graham op-ed suggests a number of key compromises: Nuclear power: The senators propose measures to increase investment in nuclear waste management research and to streamline the permit system, maintaining “vigorous safeguards while allowing utilities to secure financing for more plants.” Several Republicans have indicated that a strong nuclear title could help win their support, although this would likely entail provisions beyond those discussed in the op-ed (many want nuclear projects to receive the same treatment as wind and solar power, including comparable tax cuts and inclusion in a national renewable electricity standard.) Offshore drilling: Graham is pushing for a drilling deal similar to the one proposed by last year’s “Gang of 10.” The bipartisan coalition of senators wanted to allow drilling within 50 miles of the coasts of Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, as well as the gulf coast of Florida. Under the proposal, states would have final say in whether to permit drilling, but would receive a cut of the revenue from any projects they did allow. The op-ed maintained that “any exploration must be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner.” Many wonder if expanded drilling could drive current supporters away. Several senators, including longtime drilling opponents Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), have reiterated their opposition to drilling, although no one has said it would be a deal breaker. Border taxes: The senators said they would consider...

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