State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility
Jan21

State of the Union 2015: Obama calls out climate skeptics, urges expansion of educational opportunity, civility

A common refrain from skeptics of the severity of humanity’s contribution to climate change over the past year is “I’m not a scientist.” During his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama responded to that sentiment head on, suggesting climate skeptics should actually get to know some scientists and suggested a few places they could go to find them, including institutions within their own communities. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities,” said President Obama.  “And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.” The president used the Oct. 2014 Department of Defense report on climate change to reaffirm the urgency of tackling the issue and the various actions he’s taken to protect public lands and waters and build international support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it,” he said. President Obama also called for Congress to find common ground on how to pay for federal investments that stimulate innovation and job creation, including scientific research. “Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.” The president suggested Congress increase federal revenue by closing tax loopholes that disproportionately benefit large corporations. The president also touched on his plan to expand access to community college, which he stated is the route that 40 percent of college students have taken when they pursue higher education. “Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” said the president. In a more somber and reflective moment, President Obama acknowledged that he hadn’t lived up to his 2008 presidential campaign pledge to foster more unity and break the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill. Even still, citing recent cases where Americans have remained optimistic in the face of adversity, he challenged lawmakers to “better reflect America’s hopes.” “If...

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ESA Policy News July 11: Report urges US military to improve climate planning, House DOE, Interior spending bills advance
Jul11

ESA Policy News July 11: Report urges US military to improve climate planning, House DOE, Interior spending bills advance

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  DEFENSE: GAO REPORT CONCLUDES MILITARY NEEDS TO IMPROVE CLIMATE PLANNING On June 30th, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding the Department of Defense (DOD) can improve infrastructure planning and processes for climate change impacts. DOD manages a global real-estate portfolio that includes over 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land with a replacement value of close to $850 billion. Within the US, the department’s extensive infrastructure of bases and training ranges, which is critical to maintaining military readiness, extends across all regions, as well as Alaska and Hawaii. The GAO noted that the government currently lacks a shared understanding of strategic priorities and adequate interagency coordination to adapt to a changing climate. The report found that while many military planners are noting the impacts of climate change on their installations, they are not always certain about how to proceed with adaption efforts. The report recommends that the military formulate a climate change adaption plan setting firm deadlines to assess which of its military bases across the globe are vulnerable to climate change impacts. DOD has begun to assess installations’ vulnerability to potential climate change impacts and directed its planners to incorporate consideration of climate change into certain installation planning efforts. Additionally, it is a DOD strategic goal to consider sustainability, including climate change adaptation, in its facility investment decisions. View the full report by clicking this link. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE APPROVES FY 2015 ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL On July 10th, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015. The $34 billion bill includes $10.3 billion funding for the US Department of Energy (DOE) and $5.5 billion US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill over its many provisions to curb the enforcement of environmental regulations. The bill would block funding for enforcement of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to clarify federal jurisdiction in the Clean Water Act. The House rejected several conservative amendments that sought to sharply reduce funding in the bill. One that was rejected from Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) would have cut all FY 2015 funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It failed by a vote of 110–310. For additional information on specific funding levels in the bill, see the June 13th edition of ESA Policy News by clicking here. To view the White House Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 4923 click this link. APPROPRIATIONS: INTERIOR, EPA SPENDING BILL WOULD...

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Federal scientist, defense officials join forces to relay how the US is “losing ground” in combating climate change
May23

Federal scientist, defense officials join forces to relay how the US is “losing ground” in combating climate change

A panel of domestic federal agency personnel and military officials discussed the various impacts of climate change in the Southeastern United States (US). Each entity is currently working to address climate change impacts. Entitled “Losing Ground: Managing Climate Risks in the Southeast,” the congressional briefing was sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Representing the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Chief Scientist for Global Change Virginia Burkett referenced three key findings from the recently released third “National Climate Assessment” report for the Southeastern US: 1) Sea level rises poses widespread threats to ecosystems, infrastructure and the regional economy 2) Increasing temperatures will increase in frequency, intensity and duration in ways that will affect public health, infrastructure, energy and agriculture 3) Decreased water availability exacerbated by population growth and land-use change will increase water competition, affecting the region’s economy and ecosystems. Her presentation included visuals of coastal areas that are now largely underwater that were not several decades ago. Roger Natsuhara, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy for Installations and Environment with the Department of Navy discussed his experiences at Camp Pendleton, a military base in California. He noted that due to water shortages and increasing dryness in the region, military resources are more frequently used to aid in regional wildfire suppression efforts. He also mentioned an interesting residual effect of climate change from the drought. Natsuhara relayed how dried cropland that attracts insect life also attracts birds that feed on the animals. The increase of bird populations and the possibility of bird strikes have consequently disrupted flight training programs at the military base. Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety, and have caused several accidents with human casualties. Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, Deputy Oceanographer of the Navy discussed climate change impacts on warfare. As an example, he cited how the conflict in Syria is spurred in part by drought the country is currently experiencing. He also stated that the US is currently partnering with allied nations to improve their response capacity to climate change. With respect to tackling climate change, he wanted briefing attendees to know “The navy is acting!” He asserted, however, that support is needed from Congress. Robert Kafalenos, Environmental Protection Specialist with the Federal Highway Administration elaborated on techniques his agency is taking to adapt to climate change, which include helping communities identify roadways, bridges and other infrastructure points that are most vulnerable to extreme weather events caused by climate change. He stated that climate change exacerbates maintenance cycles for infrastructure and leads to higher repair costs.  He asserted that improving infrastructure resiliency to climate change and implementing “proactive strategies vs. reacting...

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Health, ed, enviro, sci communities prep for fiscal cliff #NDDUnited

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Yesterday’s second town hall meeting of the Non Defense Discretionary (NDD) coalition, drew an audience of 400 and featured two representatives from the Obama Adminstration.  Jon Carson, who does public outreach for the White House and Robert Gordon, Acting Deputy Director of the White Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The two reviewed the Administration’s position on the upcoming fiscal cliff.  Many in Washington, DC refer to the pending expiration of the 2001 Bush tax cuts plus the planned federal budget cuts as the “fiscal cliff” and unless Congress takes action, it will occur on January 1, 2013. Carson’s overall message to the assembled group was to encourage them to continue to demonstrate the value of federal programs and their connection to local communities across the country. Gordon noted that the upcoming OMB transparency report related to the budget sequestration and scheduled to be released still this week, would be an enormous but not surprising document; it will not “change the fact that cuts will threaten national security and critical investments here at home.” Some in the large audience–which included represenatives from the public health, education, environmental and science communities, asked that the Obama Administration encourage federal agencies to supply more information about how they would be affected by the pending cuts. When asked if the President would veto a bill that would delay the sequester, Gordon declared that he would. While there are many scenarious, no one knows how Congress and the Administration will ultimately deal with the national debt crisis. All everyone seems to agree on is that it will not be dealt with until after the General Election. As anyone following the news is well aware, the two parties have been in gridlock and have starkly different visions of the best way to address the nation’s debt crisis.  The NDD Coalition continues to push for a “balanced” approach that would avoid further cuts to NDD programs, which have already taken large cuts; NDD funding is at historically low levels not seen since the 1950s. Yet even so, word on Capitol Hill is that Members of Congress and their staff continue to hear from the Defense community and from constituents encouraging them to continue to slash NDD programs.  They are still not hearing much from those of us in the NDD community. A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to our respective members, urging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives.  To date, only about 1300...

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From the Community: fish-mimicking octopuses, aquanauts and the evolution of ecology

An octopus that mimics toxic sea creatures, the tobacco plant sends out an SOS when attacked, the genetic differences between ant social castes, unusually high records of jellyfish swarms this summer and Simon Levin discusses the evolution of ecology and where it is headed next. Here are stories in ecology wrapping up the month of August.

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How fence lizards got their shimmy

Eastern Fence Lizards are rampant across the American southeast but, in recent years, they’ve begun to coexist with invasive red fire ants from South America. Because the lizards and the ants have similar requirements (terrestrial areas with abundant sunlight), they often find themselves occupying the same space. And the ants don’t like it. Tracy Langkilde of Penn State University studies the interactions of these territorial animals in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama. She’s found that fire ants will attack lizards not just when they’re near the ants’ territory or their mound, but also when they’re simply wandering by. The opportunistic ants will swarm a lizard, roaming its body and stinging it by pulling up the lizard’s spiny scales and stinging the soft skin underneath. Twelve ants can kill a three-inch lizard in under a minute. So how do the lizards defend themselves against such ambushes? “Lizards do pretty much what we would do. They shake the ants off using this big body shimmy, and then they run away from the mound. “ Langkilde also found that the longer a population has coexisted with the introduced ants, the more common is this behavior. Further, these lizard populations have longer legs than populations that don’t coexist with fire ants, which may improve their shimmy shake and allow them to live another day. Langkilde talks about how this adaptation is indicative of rapid evolution in this month’s edition of ESA’s podcast series Field Talk, titled “Lizard Evolution and the Ants In Your Pants Dance.” Listen above or on ESA’s podcast...

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