ESA Policy News: March 8

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: AGENCIES IMPLEMENT SEQUESTRATION AS POLICYMAKERS WRESTLE WITH DEBT Congress’ failure to address budget sequestration by coming up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction has federal agencies trimming investment priorities and beginning (reportedly in some cases already implementing) employee furloughs as budget sequestration went into effect March 1. As enacted by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) and modified by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (P.L. 112-240), sequestration includes across-the-board cuts of 7.9 percent for defense discretionary spending programs and 5.3 percent to non-defense discretionary spending programs. It is estimated that for the current Fiscal Year of 2013, which began on Oct. 1, the non-defense discretionary cuts will actually total about nine percent while the defense cuts will total about 13 percent for the remainder of the year to compensate for the five months of spending that have already occurred for the current fiscal year. For federal agencies, the 5.3 percent sequester for non defense amounts to the following monetary decreases: Environmental Protection Agency ($472 million), Department of Energy ($1.9 billion), Department of Interior ($883 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($271 million) and the National Science Foundation ($361 million), according to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget released March 1. The Interior cuts include the National Park Service ($153 million), the US Fish and Wildlife Service ($127 million), US Geological Survey ($54 million) and the Bureau of Land Management ($75 million). Department of Defense (DoD) research and development programs would decrease by 7.9 percent, roughly $6 billion. (A House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government would cut an additional $2.5 billion to DoD research and development). In an effort to reduce partisan tensions over the budget, President Obama held several meal discussions with lawmakers this week at the White House. On March 6, the president met with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), Lindsey Graham (SC), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ) and Pat Toomey (PA). During the meeting, President Obama said that lawmakers must reach agreement on a comprehensive bipartisan debt reduction plan by the end of July, which coincides with when the federal debt ceiling will need to be addressed. The White House has released a plan for addressing the sequester that would cut defense and non-defense discretionary spending equally by a total of $200 billion below pre-sequestration levels, cut healthcare costs by $600 billion and include $580 billion...

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US industry: saving energy is good business

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs As someone who is mostly immersed in the world of science and environmental policy, either sharing ecological research related to climate change or tracking congressional efforts (or lack thereof) to develop policy to mitigate and adapt to global warming, it came as an eye-opening and pleasant change of pace to me this week to learn about US business and federal agency actions already underway. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was invited to be a supporting partner of the 2013 Climate Leadership Conference. With the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the headline sponsor, the meeting drew some 500 leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to share their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve energy, water, and waste, and think about new opportunities. Too often, I find myself caught up in the frustrations felt by many in the scientific community in regard to congressional non-action in the arena of climate change.  A topic that often comes with some pessimism was instead cast in a much more positive light—well-known industries—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, IBM, Hershey, Ford Motor Co.—taking positive steps to help address the problem, sharing best practices and ideas to continue to save energy, improving the efficiency of their operations and thereby also enhancing their bottom line. For example, Steve Tochilin, General Manager, Environmental Sustainability, with Delta Airlines, talked about the “elephant in the room for Delta and other airlines,” namely that about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from airlines, a figure that is expected to grow as aviation increases in Brazil, India and China.  “Fuel is killing us,” he said, referring to skyrocketing costs.  Since, so far, there is no viable alternative energy source for planes, every airline is looking to increase fuel efficiency, said Tochilin. Delta is working to reduce how much fuel it uses by some common sense steps to reduce the weight its planes must carry, including: moving to more fuel efficient jets, offering more direct flights (to avoid circling), ripping the “kitchens” out of planes (many routes no longer serve food so why fly around with the extra weight?), installing lighter seats, hauling only the water (water is really heavy) needed for a given flight, etc.  Delta was recently added to the Dow Jones sustainability index. Staples Inc., the office supply store and world’s second largest e-commerce site, has focused on reducing the carbon footprint of its buildings and vehicles, according to Mark Buckley, Staples’ Vice President for Environmental Affairs.  But while it’s had success in reducing its energy use in these areas, Buckley conceded that because the bulk of its carbon...

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UNEP stakeholders’ conference prioritizes sustainability issues

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  Last week’s  United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation in Washington, DC focused on how to implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past June.  It was noted during the meeting that – in the time since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio 20 years ago – countries, NGOs and private corporations now recognize that the environment is critical to sustainable development. The meeting’s keynote speaker, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, spoke on the connection between climate change and economic development. He discussed how record droughts have adversely affected the quality and quantity of crop yields. Sachs also talked about the pressures on natural resources and promoted the need for better public health access including empowering women to make family planning choices.  Sachs stated that gender equality is a vital part of the solution to mitigating poverty and fostering environmental sustainability. He also said that the private sector has a big role to play in producing new energy technology that will be part of achieving “sustainable cities.” The need to link environmental stewardship to economic development was among the major themes discussed during the UNEP meeting. This includes acknowledging that we have a finite quantity of natural resources and should work on practices that help to sustain these resources for the long-term. Water, oil, coal, natural gas, phosphorous and rare earth elements have all been cited as vital resources that the world’s burgeoning population will have significantly reduced within the next 50-200 years.  Global oil and natural gas reserves would be depleted closer to the half century mark, according to information from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In fact, UNEP, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University last month released a book  that looks at how improving management of our dwindling natural resources may prove critical in deterring armed conflicts over these resources. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has a website, which outlines measures to help Americans manage resources more efficiently and reduce the amount of waste we produce. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service works with farmers, landowners and nonprofits on techniques to help to make the most of their land and soil and to indentify natural resource concerns in accordance with improving management of the environment. This includes helping farmers and ranchers manage agriculture in times of extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, droughts or flooding. From a fiscal perspective, continued investment in these...

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Pickett touts importance of stewardship and a diverse, collaborative ecological community

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst When sharing science with diverse publics representing a broad swath of cultural, ethnic, ideological and socioeconomic interests, it certainly helps when those doing the sharing are themselves representative of a diverse cross-section of society. In a recent The Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, Ecological Society of America (ESA) President Steward Pickett (2011-2012) notes that the science of ecology is strengthened when a wide variety of individuals are engaged in it, bringing a diversity of values to the table. Pickett refers to science as a system consisting of three parts: 1) engaging in discovery 2) nurturing a diverse community that carries out the act of discovery and 3) connecting the science to the larger society. “This diverse community, that’s part of the mechanism by which science works, but this diverse community is also the mechanism that connects the science, the discovery and the understanding, to the larger society…science is a system. It requires all three of those things and the community that does this complex job needs to be mutually supportive and to really understand what all this does and ESA is uniquely positioned to promote all three of the parts of the scientific process.” says Pickett. In the podcast, he also discusses ESA’s Earth Stewardship Initiative and the Society’s efforts to advance sustainability. Pickett emphasizes that ecologists need to function as a partner amongst a network of groups and disciplines working towards a common goal.   These can include religious groups, landscape designers, natural resource managers and social scientists.   A diversity of people and perspectives play just as important role in advancing environmental sustainability, says Pickett, as biological diversity does in sustaining an ecosystem. This commitment to fostering human diversity in the ecological community underscores the importance of ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, which seeks to nurture interest and development in ecology among traditionally underrepresented communities. Increasing minority participation in the sciences has been a priority at the US Department of Education and was cited in a National Academies report as key towards sustaining the nation’s global competitiveness in innovation. As Pickett notes, promoting diversity internally should complement external outreach by scientists beyond the traditional ecological community. Science investment enjoys support in part because of the broad cross-section of the nation that benefits from it, including education and research institutions in virtually every state. Sharing science beyond the scientific community is a critical part of the scientific enterprise.   To maintain critical investments in science and education as well as further public understanding of the natural world, it is essential that this outreach continue....

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Easter Island’s quiet message

Ahu Tongariki, the largest platform on the island, features fifteen restored Moais. The Moai in the foreground was likely damaged in transit and never erected. Credit: Brian Wee. This post contributed by Brian Wee, chief of external affairs for NEON, Inc. The July 2012 edition of National Geographic features Easter Island – known also as Isla de Pascua in Spanish and Rapa Nui by the local population.  Rapa Nui is famous for the silent stone statues called Moais that are scattered around the island.  In late May of 2012, my partner and I spent four days exploring Rapa Nui.  A remote speck of land no larger than Washington, DC in the Pacific and accessible by a five-hour flight from Santiago, Chile, Rapa Nui is often referred to as one of the most isolated, inhabited areas.  One skillful (and probably lucky) Polynesian expedition discovered it sometime in the 8th century.  Given the Pacific’s expanse, you have to wonder about the probability of finding such a small island in the vast ocean, and accordingly, how many other expeditions did not quite make it. Most of the Moais are located along the island’s coast, although some are also found inland.  Moais are stood on ceremonial stone platforms called Ahus, and visitors are reminded not to clamber on top of the Ahus at the risk of heavy fines.  A guidebook advocated gently shooing horses off these platforms if you come across an animal browsing on an Ahu.  Yes, horses.  They roam freely on the island.  Like the two that were wandering around the parking lot of the Rapa Nui airport after our flight landed on Monday evening.  Our Bed &Breakfast host had picked us up at the airport, but I resisted the temptation to tap his shoulder and ask “Say…. did you see those HORSES walking around in the airport PARKING LOT?”  Given that he deftly maneuvered the vehicle around the animals and didn’t say anything about them, I figured that he must have seen them.  Oh well. One of Rapa Nui’s many horses and her foal at the Ahu Tepeu site. Credit: Brian Wee By some reports, the number of horses on the island is greater than that of the roughly 5000 full-time residents.  It wasn’t long before I thought of the effects of unchecked herbivory on the structure and function of the island’s plant community.  Trees are sparse on the island, and there is some evidence that Rapa Nui once supported more trees before the human population expanded to what is thought to be unsustainable levels.  The island’s last indigenous tree – the Sophora toromiro – died in the 1950s, but...

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ESA Policy News: May 18

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 NOAA, RESEARCH INITIATIVES On May 10, the House passed H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other agencies. The bill passed by a vote of 247-163 with 23 Democrats joining all but eight Republicans in supporting the measure. Democrats supporting the measure included House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D-WA) and House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA). In total, the bill provides $51.1 billion in funding for FY 2013, $1.6 billion below FY 2012 and $731 million below the president’s FY 2013 budget request. The White House has released a statement of administration policy declaring that President Obama will veto the bill, if it is presented to him in its current form. The administration asserts that the bill’s overall funding level violates those set by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), agreed to in August of last year, and says  that the cuts included in the bill will be a detriment in furthering “economic growth, security, and global competitiveness” for the nation. While applauding the funding for the Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the $7.3 billion funding level for NSF, the White House says that significant funding cuts to NOAA would adversely affect the agency’s ability to implement the nation’s fisheries and oceans stewardship programs. The House bill must be reconciled with the Senate CJS bill approved in committee last month.  For additional background on the House and Senate CJS appropriations bills, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News. To view the full White House statement of administration policy on the House CJS appropriations bill, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE CONSIDERS POTENTIAL OF OIL SHALE DEVELOPMENT On May 10, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened for a hearing entitled “American Jobs and the Economy through Expanded Energy Production:  Challenges and Opportunities of Unconventional Resources Technology.” “The amount of energy under own soil is striking.  With continued technological advances and the right policies to enable access to these resources, America could become the global leader in energy production for the next generation and beyond,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD). “The Green River Basin, located in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, may contain up to three trillion barrels of oil, more potential oil than the rest of the world’s current oil reserves...

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ESA Policy News: May 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. SENATE: APPROPRIATORS APPROVE ENERGY AND WATER, AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS The week of April 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its Energy and Water Development and Agriculture Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. Energy and Water The Energy and Water Appropriations Act for FY 2013 is funded at $33.361 billion, $373 million less than FY 2012. The bill is primarily responsible for funding the Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The legislation’s funding overall is slightly more than the $32.1 billion approved by the House in committee. For additional information on the House Energy and Water bill, see the April 20 edition of ESA Policy News here. Unlike the House measure, the Senate Energy and Water bill does not include funding for the controversial nuclear waste site under Yucca Mountain, which is opposed by the Obama administration. The Department of Energy would receive $27.128 billion, $1.38 billion more than in FY 2012 to boost research related to clean energy technologies. Agriculture The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act for FY 2013 includes $20.785 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2013, an increase over the $19.565 billion FY 2012 enacted amount. For additional information on the two bills, click here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS LOCAL EFFORTS ON STEM EDUCATION On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing in Madison, Alabama to review science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs and partnerships at the local level and their impact on the economy. The hearing was entitled “STEM Education in Action: Local Schools, Non-Profits, and Businesses Doing Their Part to Secure America’s Future.” Among the subcommittee leadership, there was consensus on the important role STEM education can play in boosting the economy. “Our commitment to STEM education is exemplified by contributions to STEM programs in the community by the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Propulsion Research Center and related scholarships and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s educational programs, as well as many other local initiatives supporting STEM programs for students ranging from elementary school through high school,” stated Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) noted that fewer than 40 percent of college students who start in a STEM-related field obtain a degree in that field, leading to a shortage of qualified employees to fill positions in science and technology, for which there is growing demand in the economy. Additional information on the...

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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields
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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 Programme for the International Student Assessment results showed the United States ranking 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries. Following this news, President Obama announced a $250 million proposal to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As he stated in his budget message, “In a generation, we’ve fallen from first place to ninth place in the proportion of our young people with college degrees. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.” The following post, contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, graduate student at University of Illinois-Chicago and recent recipient of ESA’s 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award, tells how diversity in environmental fields shows promise for the future of science. The student diversity was astounding, beautiful brown faces with shining eyes sat attentive and hanging on every word of the career panelists. This was the scene at last year’s Green College and Careers Fair organized by the Ecological Society of America and The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal was to diversify environmental and ecological careers by reaching out to underserved communities: The hope is to change the face and fields of environmental careers by providing opportunities to those who traditionally lack access. The career fair was hosted at The New School in New York City—over 100 high school students (from 9 schools around the New York-New Jersey area) were treated to a highly professional career fair, including structured school-to-college workshops. The event was made possible with support from the Toyota USA Foundation. Students received information about environmental and natural resource careers and topics such as research ethics, laboratory work tips, resume guidelines, reference letters and tips on being successful in college. Other sessions included exhibitor presentations, a financial aid workshop, mock job interviews and a career panel. The career panelists—Victor Medina, Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, Charlee Glenn and Ann-Marie Alcantara— were young professionals and alumni of both the LEAF and ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. They addressed more than just traditional college talk—they got to the heart of being minorities in fields where they are underrepresented. Glenn, a panelist and SEEDS alumna, shared her story of how ecology became an interest, which subsequently developed into her current position as Diversity Programs Assistant for ESA’s SEEDS program. Medina, a LEAF alumnus, discussed how he uses his educational and personal success to influence others within his community to do better—not only for themselves but for the environment as well. Alcantara, also a LEAF alumna, talked about her goals of being...

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