Combined UCS Blogs

President Trump Just Put America’s Workers at Risk

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Every day, men and women across this country go to work with the expectation that they will come back to their homes and families at the end of the day—healthy and in one piece.

From fields to factories and mines, from hospitals and nursing homes to schools and stores, from office buildings and construction sites to fishing vessels and fire stations—workers are the real engines of our economy. (Not to mention the irreplaceable place they hold in our hearts as our partners, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children, and friends.)

Earlier this week, President Trump decided that one way to make America great again was to order federal agencies to identify for elimination two regulations for every new one they might propose in fulfillment of their statutory responsibility to protect our health, safety, and environment.

Aside from questioning the legality of such a directive, let’s take a look at what this means for working men, women, and even children in this country.

Think you’ve had a hard day at work?

Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths still take a grave toll on our nation’s workforce.

In 2015 (the last year for which data are available), 4,836 workers died after sustaining an injury at work. That’s 13 people every day. In America. Another 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers and an estimated 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported among state and local government workers.

The economic burden is immense, over $250 billion annually in medical and productivity costs.  And cost estimates cannot begin to capture the pain, suffering, and loss experienced by these workers and their families.

Two for one: Who would you protect?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), have been given the authority and responsibility to help protect our nation’s workforce.

President Trump has now sent them a chilling directive. If you find a new hazard or new exposure that threatens the health and safety of workers, and want to require employers to control or eliminate then, then repeal two existing rules.

Which protections would you eliminate?

  • Rules requiring personal protective equipment  such as hard hats, respirators, and safety goggles to avoid head injuries, lung damage, burns, cuts, or blindness?
  • Ventilation to ensure air quality and prevent exposure to harmful dusts and chemicals?
  • Noise control or ear protection to avoid hearing loss?
  • OSHA’s new beryllium standard rule  that offers protection to many thousands of workers in construction, shipyards, and general industry (like electronics, telecommunications, and defense). (Beryllium causes lung cancer and chronic beryllium disease.)
  • Protection from needle stick injuries and the transmission of blood-borne disease?

This kind of across the broad directive defies common sense. It essentially forces the agencies to pick which workers will be winners and losers when it comes to safety on the job. Or, as my friend Celeste Monforton so aptly said, “one step forward, two steps back is never a good thing.”

What message is President Trump sending?

Well, that’s pretty clear.  He wants to chill, halt, and stop the use of a critical tool in the public protection toolbox.

Here’s what he said:

“If you have a regulation you want, number one we’re not going to approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms. But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two. But it goes way beyond that.” 

Yes, it sure does.  The same Executive Order set a budget of exactly $0 for the total incremental cost of any new regulations in 2017.

While nobody loves the abstract idea of government regulation, I think we can all agree on the need for rules that keep our nation’s working men and women safe and healthy. They, after all, are what has and will continue to make America great.

President Trump is sending a clear message. It’s time to send a message right back. Let him and your representatives in Congress know that this new policy puts our nation’s workers at risk and is not acceptable.

Standing Up for Science: Notes from the Field

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The February issue of San Francisco Magazine on shelves today is titled “Resistance,” and features stories of politicians, lawyers, activists…even scientists who are involved in challenging some of the early actions of the Trump administration. My colleague, Jimmy O’Dea, and I are both featured with other scientists who attended the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). With approximately 24,000 attendees, AGU’s annual meeting is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world — but the 2016 conference was different. Faced with an incoming administration that has demonstrated disrespect for science and denial of climate change, hundreds of the scientists left the meeting halls to protest on the streets.

Below, are the interview questions sent to me by San Francisco Magazine (in italics) and my responses:

What specifically inspired you to take action and protest?

I was at AGU to present my research on the impact of climate change on California’s groundwater. I was approached by a fellow scientist who was passing out fliers about the protest. I was immediately intrigued. I have been to several AGU conferences over the years and I have never seen any kind of protest take place.

As my colleague, Peter Frumhoff, who spoke at the protest stated: “Science and evidence is at risk. It is on us to ensure it is protected.” In my lifetime, I have never seen the scientific community as politically organized as it is now. Scientists are rightfully concerned about what it means to live and work in a “post-truth” or “post-science” society.

I think people rarely think of scientists as politically active in that way…tell me why that is a misconception.

Scientists are typically focused on researching specific, technical questions, but in almost all cases these questions are connected to public policy in one way or another. Scientists care deeply when research, facts, and evidence are misstated or ignored. That’s actually what led to the creation of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In 1969, scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were concerned about the misuse of science by the U.S. government. Senior faculty members, including the heads of the biology, chemistry, and physics departments, drafted a statement calling for scientific research to be directed away from military technologies and toward solving pressing environmental and social problems.

The statement began: “Misuse of scientific and technical knowledge presents a major threat to the existence of mankind…The concerned majority has been on the sidelines and ineffective. We feel that it is no longer possible to remain uninvolved.” We remain true to that founding vision. The Union of Concerned Scientists has followed the example set by the scientific community: we share information, seek the truth, and let our findings guide our conclusions.

What are some of your biggest concerns/political flash points concerning the forthcoming Trump administration?

My biggest concerns revolve around transparency and democracy. As a single party takes the presidency and both houses of Congress, the normal oversight system of checks and balances is weakened, as evidenced by the recent attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Watchdogs  like non-profit organizations and journalists will take on an even more important role in holding the incoming administration accountable. Transparency is a key ingredient to build accountability and trust, which are necessary for the functioning of democracies and market economies.

Are you planning on taking future action in response to the Trump administration? Anything specific planned?

My hope would be that we can find constructive ways to work with the administration, though I am very concerned about some of the early statements and proposed appointments that point to a lack of understanding of the role, principles, and practices of science.

Responding to the misuse of science is in the very DNA of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Union of Concerned Scientists was formed during a time of political upheaval, it was founded by people who believed that the ethical use of science and knowledge could help build a better and safer world.

It is more important now than ever for scientists and citizens to work together, engage in our democratic processes, and push for reforms to ensure that our policies are informed by science and evidence – our Center for Science and Democracy was specifically established to advance these goals. Together, we will continue to stand up for science.

Half-Not: 8 Things We’d Rather See the Trump Administration Cut in Half

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President Trump’s new directive to cut two regulations for every new one makes as much sense as the call from the former head of his EPA transition team to cut our lead environmental agency in half: zero. If Mr. Trump and his team are really in a cut-stuff-in-half mode, there are a whole lot of much better targets for those societal scissors. Here are a few of them.

What we want more of: blue skies, clean water, time with family. At least two of those things require good regulations and a strong EPA. (Photo: J. Rogers)

Mr. Trump’s ill-conceived proclamation on regulations is an idea that Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, has rightly called “reckless”, “absurd”, and “illegal”. With the many (many) ways government agencies and regulations make our lives better, safer, healthier, it seems clear that this proposal hurts us all, from our children on up.

The new executive order echoes a statement by Mr. Trump’s erstwhile EPA transition head and vocal climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who recently advocated for cutting the EPA in half as a starting point: “Let’s aim for half and see how it works out, and then maybe we’ll want to go further.” Better idea: Let’s not.

What should we really target?

There is something appealing, though, in applying that 50% idea to the real ills that plague us in 2017, including in the energy and environment spaces, and particularly related to the EPA, as near-term targets. Here are just a few ideas of where that could work:

Smokestack at coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio

One of those half-this targets (Photo: justice.gov)

  1. Half the air pollution – In the power sector alone, we’ve got a range of pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and mercury to worry about. We’ve made a lot of progress since Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970, but we’ve still got a way to go—and any improvements will require a robust EPA.
  2. Half the water pollution – While we’re at it, let’s cut down on bad stuff going into the lakes, rivers, and streams that we count on for so much in our daily lives. That includes thermal pollution from power plants that haven’t kicked the water habit. We know how to help. But we’re going to need the EPA, and the Clean Water Act.
  3. Half the carbon emissions – A 50% cut would be a terrific down payment on our long-term need to cut emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. UCS has actually looked at much deeper carbon reductions in the power sector, based on ramping up low-carbon options like wind, solar, and nuclear power. A strong tool for achieving real reductions over the next dozen years, the Clean Power Plan, resides with… wait for it… the EPA.
  4. Half the natural gas risk – While renewables like wind and solar have made incredible gains in US electricity production in recent years, low natural gas prices have had a lot of states doubling down on that one fuel. That means that some states are pretty exposed to the risks of natural gas overreliance, with potentially bad implications for their consumers. There are plenty of ways of reducing those risks as we’ve laid out for the incoming head of… well, the Department of Energy.
  5. Half the oil use – If we’re talking energy, let’s not forget petroleum. My colleagues working on transportation practically invented the cut-stuff-in-half genre, with a terrific campaign for just these occasions. Half the Oil shows the way to get there through efficiency and innovation. Who has enabled efficiency standards for cars, trucks, and big rigs? Yup: the EPA.
  6. Half the inequity – While we’re fixing all these other things, we need to keep a strong eye on how the benefits get spread around, and make sure that we’re attacking head-on the unbalances that persist. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by power plants, and by climate impacts. Environmental justice doesn’t just happen, and we have plenty of reminders that addressing it’ll take smart choices all around—starting with who we get to head the EPA.
  7. Half the monkeying with science – As more than 5,000 scientists (and counting) have declared in an open letter to Mr. Trump and Congress, “…people benefit when our nation’s policies are informed by science unfettered by inappropriate political or corporate influence.” Let’s cut the monkeying—including at the EPA (and including with really important stuff like climate science).

And, as a bonus:

  1. Half the ill-considered tweets – While we’re at it. I’m not actually on Twitter, but somehow each of those 140-character gems from on high keeps wheedling its way into the public consciousness, inciting international and domestic firestorms. I’d be okay with 50% less of that—either half as many tweets or each only half as long. (How much trouble can you possibly get into in 70 characters…?)

The list could go on. This half-it-now methodology could be good in other sectors UCS focuses on—nuclear weapons risks, for example, or unhealthy food policies.

What should be clear is that, in each of the above areas, a 50% cut would be only the next step. We have the tools to go much further.

What should be equally clear is that Mr. Trump’s proposed approach—“using a bludgeon when a scalpel would work better,” in the words of Ken Kimmell—won’t cut it. (Though it could mangle it beyond recognition.) Government regulations play a key role in our society, and we’re going to want them to continue to do that, no matter who’s sitting in the White House.

So, how about it? If Mr. Trump is truly of a mind to cut stuff, how about weighing in with more suggestions about what more could we usefully add to his 50%-off chopping list?

The Navy Understands Climate Change is a Grave National Security Issue – Will the Nominee for Secretary of the Navy?

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As the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Bilden will lead and manage the hundreds of thousands of sailors, Marines and civilians and oversee the under secretary, four assistant secretaries, and a general counsel. In his role as Secretary of the Navy, Bilden will be stepping into a now well-established record of the Navy leading the Military on climate change science and action.

Phil Biden, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Navy

A Snapshot of The Navy’s Climate Leadership Demonstrates Smart Action

Climate action by the Navy dates back to 1990 when the U.S. Navy War College published a report on their climate change research and analysis entitled Global Climate Change Implications for the United States. Since then, civilian and military defense leaders alike have taken climate change seriously (chronological list can be found here) because they recognized it as a matter of national security.   Today, the thinking is found across all branches of the military, for good reasons, but the Navy maintains an important leadership role in ensuring our military is preparing for the threat of climate change

Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the longest standing Secretary of the Navy who served throughout President Barack Obama’s administration and led the Navy’s climate change actions, stated in his farewell speech that climate change is a grave national security issue.

The scientist behind much of the steadfast climate change efforts was Rear Admiral David Titley, the former Oceanographer and Navigator of the US Navy, who led Task Force Climate Change (TFCC).  Created in 2009, this task force addressed the naval implications of a changing Arctic and global environment. In this interview, Rear Admiral Titley underscored that the military ‘would prefer to plan for something that doesn’t happen than to be taken by surprise.’

In 2010, the Navy released “A Navy Energy Vision for the 21st Century” that committed the Navy to both reducing climate pollution and mitigating climate impacts.

Rand’s assessment of the Navy, compared to the Department of Defense efforts on climate change resiliency and adaptation, found that compared to other military branches the Navy’s roadmap was structured particularly well and the implementation plan had actionable items, responsibilities and timeframes.<

The Impacts of Rising Seas on the Navy Are Already Being Felt NS Norfolk is located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, a region where natural subsidence, low-lying topography, and changing ocean circulation patterns contribute to above-average rates of sea level rise. Much of the station is less than 10 feet above sea level. With between 4.5 and nearly 7 feet of sea level rise expected later this century, land loss is foreseeable.

At Naval Station Norfolk, located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, rising seal levels between 4.5 and nearly 7 feet is expected later this century.

It is no wonder that the Navy’s efforts to address climate change impacts are ahead of those of other branches. Navy installations tend to be at sea level and therefore are more vulnerable to rising seas and storm surge.

The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted analysis of how sea level rise will impact 18 military installations along the East and Gulf coasts. The results of this analysis can be found in the US Military on the Frontlines of Rising Seas report.  We found that over the next 100 years, all of the sites we studied will be at risk of more frequent and extensive tidal flooding, loss of land to flooding, and more impacts from storm surge.

Of the sites studied, Naval Air Station Key West (NAS Key West) faces the starkest risks. Located in the low-lying Florida Keys, NAS Key West will experience rising sea level between 3.8 and 6.2 feet over the course of this century.

By 2100, our analysis found that between 70 and 95 percent of NAS Key West will be inundated by daily flooding.

Global sea level has risen about eight inches since 1880 and while this affects all of the world’s coasts, the East and Gulf coasts of the United States have seen some of the fastest rates and highest absolute increases of sea level rise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released a new sea level rise study and found that the East Coast and parts of the Gulf Coast will experience even higher sea levels than the world average. This means the seas could rise 8 feet higher than it is now by the end of the century (a foot and a half higher than predicted in the latest assessment, in 2014).

While the Navy has a strategic road map for climate action, there’s a long way to go to ensure its infrastructure and operations are resilient to the changes ahead. The Navy needs a strong leader at the helm.

NAS Key West is Expected to Lose Currently Utilized Land to Sea Level Rise.

If Confirmed, Will Bilden Continue the Navy’s Leadership on Climate Change?

The short answer is we don’t know. There is little information on the nominee. But here’s what we do know. First, if you have been following my colleagues’ blogs on the Administration’s nominations for Secretary of State,  the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, and the Secretary of the Department of Interior, then you know that batting average of nominees who believe in climate change isn’t good.  They all say that climate change is real but obfuscate about the human contribution.

Second, we know that according to Breaking Defense, Bilden has less relevant experience than any of his nine predecessors since 1980. Bilden also became the frontrunner above Representative Randy Forbes (R – VA) who had been the lead candidate.

Here are a few relevant things we do know:

According to the US Naval Institute News, Bilden is originally from Rhode Island, having returned just three years ago after spending twenty-one years in Hong Kong, where he founded and led the Asian branch of a private equity firm HarbourVest Partners, LLC. During his tenure there, the Washington Free Beacon reported that he opened a Beijing office in 2012 where he was in charge of large investments in Asia and served on advisory boards of several large hedge funds. Bilden’s two sons served under former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus under the Obama Administration, who as mentioned earlier implemented many climate change initiatives.

Having lived in Hong Kong for two decades, its likely Bilden experienced firsthand the storm and flood risks that are increasing and becoming more frequent due to climate change. Southeast Asia is considered a disaster hotspot due to the region’s climate hazards (floods and typhoons) and to the inability to adapt to these threats. Provided his time in the region gave Bilden experience with such events, he may appreciate the need to ensure that the Navy stands prepared to protect its sailors, Marines and civilians and the infrastructure that they depend on.

The Navy Needs a Strong Leader at the Helm to Continue to Lead on Climate Change

The Navy’s role in leading on climate change is crucial to ensuring that our national defense is addressing climate change head on. Consider that in 2016, North America suffered 160 disaster events, its largest number of disasters since 1980 indicating the unrestrained effects of climate change.  Zurich’s global ranking of the likelihood of a specific risk occurring globally within the next 10 years, extreme weather events are first for likelihood and second for impact (after weapons of mass destruction).

The Senate panelists must ask is this the leadership we need in such an important position at this moment in time? It’s a sure bet they will likely ask why Phil Bilden should be put ahead of the military-backed Randy Forbes (R – VA), who has extensive Military and government experience. While Representative Forbes has a poor track record on the environment (5% score by the League of Conservation Voters), he did support legislation on flood insurance reform, clean energy, and Gulf Coast restoration. Bilden lacks military and governing experience and has no track record on the environment. He only adds to President Trump’s “wall-street” cabinet, most of whom have little to no government experience or expertise in the mission of the agencies they are being appointed to lead.

USNI Photo: Ian Swoveland The Union of Concerned Scientists

Five Reasons Rex Tillerson Should Not Be Confirmed as Secretary of State

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The nomination of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, is on the Senate floor this week. Tillerson is a weak nominee at a time when the United States desperately needs skillful, experienced diplomacy to assert continued leadership on vital global affairs. His confirmation process confirmed one thing: he is ill-equipped to deal with the chaotic consequences of President Trump’s “America First” agenda and the risks it poses for our relations with other nations and our status as a world leader.

Over the past six weeks, we’ve gotten to know Rex Tillerson as he seeks to transform himself from head of the largest US-based oil and gas company to America’s top diplomat. Here are five reasons why the Senate should block his confirmation.

Women’s Marchers this month called for ExxonMobil to be held accountable for its role in climate change and climate disinformation. Photo: Kathy Mulvey

1. Tillerson lacks understanding of refugee and human rights issues

The actions taken this past weekend to enforce President Trump’s executive order on refugees, immigrants, and Muslims have rattled me to my core.

As a human being I’m appalled at the lack of compassion for people who have suffered devastating losses in the face of wars and repression. As a believer in our Constitution, I’m horrified at the application of a religious test to those seeking refuge in our nation. As an American I’m angered to learn about people holding valid visas or green cards detained and/or denied entry into the United States. As the spouse of an immigrant I’m alarmed by the stories of families separated at airports. As a citizen I’m grateful that elected officials like Representative John Lewis and Senator Elizabeth Warren are opposing the ban (and disappointed that so few members of the party in power have done so). As someone who has spent my entire working life in civil society organizations I’ve cheered on the ACLU and other legal advocacy groups, and felt proud of the statement issued by UCS President Ken Kimmell.

Tillerson’s inexperience and lack of knowledge of refugee issues is deeply troubling. Not only do we face the immediate crisis brought on by President Trump’s executive order targeting Muslims and refugees, but we as a nation and a world also face the growing threat of climate-driven displacement: of people driven from agricultural lands, coastal communities, mountain villages—their homes—by drought, crop and livestock loss, flooding, wildfires, disease, and other impacts.

The role of climate change and extreme weather in creating scarcity, generating conflict, and displacing people is increasingly well understood by our own military, to say nothing of the international development community. Indeed some experts believe the war in Syria has its roots in the extended drought the country has faced. Such precarious international threats demand the most considered American response.

In response to questions from Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson repeatedly stated that he does not have “a comprehensive understanding” of the US Refugee Admissions Program, but that he “will work to further his understanding” if confirmed. Given the state of conflict in the world and the refugee crisis in Europe—something Trump is hoping to avoid in the US—shouldn’t the nominee have studied up on the program before his Senate appearance?

Refugees, their families, the US public, and our global allies deserve a Secretary of State who is already up to speed on US refugee programs and our international obligations and can hit the ground running.

2. Tillerson has failed to address conflicts of interest

I’ve studied Steve Coll’s Private Empire in light of Tillerson’s nomination. Coll paints a picture of a corporation so large and powerful—operating in some 200 nations and territories—that it really has its own foreign policy. The book provides examples of how Tillerson managed that foreign policy and represented ExxonMobil’s interests—sometimes at odds with US national interests—in his dealings with leaders of Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, and other countries where the company does business.

It is not a pretty picture.

For his part, President Trump has faced widespread criticism for his cavalier attitude about potential or actual conflicts between his business interests and the US national interest. In the most recent example, his executive order targets seven nations where he does not have business interests, but omits other majority-Muslim nations where the Trump Organization does business—even though many of these countries also face terrorism concerns.

(The White House denied that Trump’s business ties had any influence over the countries selected for the travel ban, saying that they were initially identified as “countries of concern” under the Obama administration.)

Tillerson, however, appears not to be concerned about potential conflicts between President Trump’s overseas business interests and American interests in any particular country. In response to a question from Senator Jeff Merkley, Tillerson expressed his “understanding that [President] Trump has separated himself from his family’s business in such a way that this matter would not come up at all.”

Meanwhile, Tillerson has received preferential treatment from ExxonMobil that could be seen as “a pre-payout for advancing ExxonMobil’s interests at the State Department.” As Secretary of State, Tillerson could, for example, intervene on the side of his former employer in legal proceedings related to human rights abuses, including a longstanding case alleging that ExxonMobil was complicit in murder and torture in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Yet he refuses to recuse himself from matters involving ExxonMobil for the duration of his term as Secretary of State.

3. Tillerson doubts and downplays climate change

One issue on which the US national interest runs counter to ExxonMobil’s business interests—and to the company’s fundamental business model—is climate change. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil “acknowledged” the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement when it took effect last November, but stopped short of saying it agreed with or would work toward the goal of keeping warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

While Tillerson called for US leadership in other arenas of foreign affairs, on climate change he is content with just having “a seat at the table.”

Somewhat perplexingly, Tillerson testified that climate change can only be solved by international action, yet downplayed the urgency of action and the evidence of climate risks and impacts.

The vast majority of climate scientists, of course, disagree with many of the claims Tillerson made during his testimony and in his written responses, as my colleague Rachel Cleetus blogged last week. He told the Foreign Relations Committee, for example, that “The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.” In his written responses, he followed up by asserting:

“I agree with the consensus view that combustion of fossil fuels is a leading cause for increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I understand these gases to be a factor in rising temperatures, but I do not believe the scientific consensus supports their characterization as the ‘key’ factor.”

Perhaps Tillerson is referring to the discredited research of Dr. Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon, funded by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests as recently as 2012, which broadly overstated the role the sun plays in climate change?

Tillerson also stated “I do not see [climate change] as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.” Those “others” include the Department of Defense, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and military leaders.

Tillerson has been credited with shifting ExxonMobil’s posture on climate change—saying that the company would no longer fund groups that deny climate change and publicly stating its support for a carbon tax. However, the company’s actions do not yet match its words.

ExxonMobil maintains leadership roles and affiliations with trade associations and industry groups that spread disinformation on climate science and policy and has been criticized for not consistently supporting a carbon tax, and as CEO Tillerson repeatedly disparaged climate science and overemphasized humanity’s ability to adapt to a changing climate.

A demonstrator in Albuquerque opposed Rex Tillerson’s nomination. Photo: Kathy Mulvey

4. Tillerson has repeatedly evaded questions of accountability

Tillerson emphasized “accountability” in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Yet he evaded questions about ExxonMobil’s positions and actions under his leadership.

Notably, Tillerson dodged a question from Senator Tim Kaine about ExxonMobil’s role in spreading climate disinformation. When Kaine followed up, asking whether the 40-year ExxonMobil employee who had spent more than 10 years as CEO lacked the knowledge or was refusing to answer, Tillerson replied, “A little of both.”

Moreover, under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil attacked public officials, scientists, and civil society organizations attempting to hold the company accountable for its actions. The company is suing the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York and attempting to block their investigations into whether ExxonMobil violated any laws in misleading investors and the public about climate change.

ExxonMobil has also subpoenaed UCS, other nonprofit organizations, and scientists in relation to this investigation.

These examples run counter to Tillerson’s “Boy Scout” image.

5. Tillerson lacks bipartisan support

Tillerson came out of the Foreign Relations Committee on a narrow, party-line 11-10 vote. In announcing his position before the vote, Ranking Member Ben Cardin said:

“However, after long and careful consideration, I believe Mr. Tillerson’s demonstrated business orientation and his responses to questions during the confirmation hearing could compromise his ability as Secretary of State to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years. I will therefore not be supporting his nomination with my vote in Committee or on the Senate floor….

“While I was pleased that Mr. Tillerson said that he would support the laws I have written to hold accountable human rights abusers globally and in Russia specifically, and that America should have a seat at the table when discussing climate change with the international community, merely being willing to uphold the law or being willing to participate in global diplomacy are simply the necessary prerequisites for the job, not sufficient cause for confirmation.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has come out in opposition to Tillerson’s nomination, and says senators deserve to know where he stands on executive orders targeting refugees and immigration before being asked to vote him up or down.

The US public and our elected representatives should be asking tough questions about the capacity of President Trump and his cabinet to preserve, protect, and defend the diversity that makes America great—especially since they are almost all white men, many of them billionaires and generals. These concerns are particularly pertinent in light of the elevation of Presidential adviser Steve Bannon, with his ties to white nationalists, to the National Security Council.

Rex Tillerson is unfit to be Secretary of State. If he is confirmed, the nation—and the world—will be dealing with the consequences of Tillerson’s lack of foreign policy experience, failure to address conflicts between his personal interests and the national interest, and equivocation on climate change in the months and years ahead.

President Trump Just Put Your Child’s Safety at Risk

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My guess is that most parents are far too busy to be following what President Trump did yesterday with the stroke of a pen. But his hot-off-the press Executive Order (EO) has serious and long-term implications for keeping your infants and toddlers safe and healthy.

President Trump has ordered federal agencies to identify for elimination two existing regulations for every new one the agency may propose. The EO also sets a budget of exactly $0 for the total incremental cost of any new regulations in 2017.  While the order exempts the military and national security from this policy, let’s see how this might play out for the agency that we all count on to ensure the safety of our consumer products.

Like car seats? Baby cribs?

Don’t take for granted the childhood safety protections brought to you by our nation’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), like these safety requirements for cribs.

Don’t take for granted those childhood safety protections brought to you by our nation’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

If the CPSC finds that a new toy or other new product poses a safety risk to your child (or to you for that matter), such that it warrants regulatory protection, President Trump says that two existing rules have to go. Like what? Safe cribs? Or the rules that say crib mattresses and kids’ pajamas must be non-flammable? Or how about the rules that set safety standards for the car seat you strap the child into when you’re running errands?

Any one of these safety protections could be on the chopping block if the CPSC wants to protect your children from a new toy whose eyes might fall off or is made with something you wouldn’t want in your child’s mouth.

Setting the clock back

One way this new order is likely to play out is that new rules simply won’t be made. CPSC will be presented with new products that have caused problems –such as a baby bottle or pacifier made with an unsafe new material—but because CPSC will not want to give up essential existing regulations, it will be hard pressed to  regulate new products.

That could expose our babies and toddlers to more dangerous products over time.

What value do you place on your child’s safety?

When it comes to your kids’ health and safety, what would you trade off?  President Trump’s Executive Order means that our consumer protection agency—and other agencies that provide health and safety safeguards—will be given this onerous  responsibility, overseen by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

This kind of across-the-board 2 for 1 directive defies common sense. Trading off one childhood protection for another is a Sophie’s Choice that no parent would want to make. More than short-sighted, it is downright dangerous.

Nobody loves the abstract idea of government regulation, but we can all agree we need to have rules to keep consumer products safe. The administration would have you believe that these rules come about by some bureaucratic process run amok, but in fact rule-making is a deliberative process, ideally informed by the best available science.

Congress has given the CPSC authority to issue rules to protect our families from unsafe products. CPSC scientists study products, gather information from stakeholders, and monitor products on the market. We rely on this process and this agency for the safety of the products we provide for our children and for recalling them when the products put them at risk.

Throwing out this careful approach will undermine the very purpose of these safety standards to protect our families. Let the White House and your representatives in Congress know that this new policy puts our children’s safety at risk.

Ford Backpedals on Promises, Could Harm American Consumers

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Last Tuesday, the CEOs of General Motors (Mary Barra), Ford (Mark Fields), and Fiat-Chrysler (Sergio Marchionne) met with President Trump to discuss the auto industry. On Thursday, we finally got some more details about what they discussed, and it’s pretty bad for everyone.

Ford signed on to rules and is now trying to back out of its commitment

Ford CEO Mark Fields recently met with President Trump to weaken federal oversight of the industry, including the vehicle efficiency regulations that have sparked investments in jobs and are already saving consumers millions of dollars in fuel. Photo: Wikimedia

As part of an overall deal on regulation of the industry, Mark Fields is seeking to weaken the federal vehicle efficiency standards finalized in 2012. These standards were supported at the time by all three Detroit manufacturers, as well as nearly all other automakers.

Included in those rules was a mid-term review of the EPA’s regulations. That comprehensive review was completed by the Obama administration two weeks ago, and its results surprised no one—those rules finalized back in 2012 are easier to achieve than anticipated and at reduced costs to automakers…so sayeth not just the EPA but the Department of Transportation and California Air Resources Board; the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine; UCS; and countless others.

Now, Mark Fields is jumping at the opportunity to stick it to the American public and back out of that agreement, despite Ford seeing record profits in 2016. And he wouldn’t just be harming the environment with this decision—he’d be harming American workers and American consumers.

Vehicle standards are good for American workers

Ford invested $1.1 billion in the Kansas City assembly plant for its F-150. With the all-aluminum truck continuing to maintain its position as top-selling vehicle in the United States, it’s clear that investments in fuel economy are good for American workers and American consumers.

Since bottoming out in the recession, the US auto industry has added nearly more than 300,000 jobs in manufacturing and assembly. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many of those jobs are related to efficiency standards, but a recent report from the Department of Energy noted that nearly half of all auto manufacturing and assembly jobs are in technology that improves the fuel economy of the vehicle.

Ford themselves know quite well how these investments pay off—their best-selling vehicle is the F-150, and they just invested $1.1 billion dollars to its Kansas City Assembly plant to manufacture the new aluminum-bodied F-150, adding 900 workers in the process. Alcoa, just one of many suppliers to the F-150, added 200 jobs to provide the aluminum for the new truck. And this is just one of many examples—suppliers around the country are creating jobs as automakers invest in new technologies at unprecedented rates.

Instead of pointing out just how good these standards have been for jobs, providing certainty for the industry and sparking a series of strong investments in the United States, Mark Fields took a cue from the President by providing his own “alternative fact,” repeating a previously debunked claim that these standards could cost 1 million jobs.

(Please see here, here, and here for why this number is fundamentally flawed.) In fact, previous analyses have shown that these standards will lead to more than 50,000 jobs in automotive manufacturing alone.

Beyond the jobs impacts, there is also analysis that these standards help make the industry, and particularly the Detroit automakers, more resilient to shifting market trends. That benefits the workers directly, particularly under the profit-sharing agreements that many UAW workers enjoy. And it also insures the industry against a repeat of the disastrous plummet in sales that led to the bailout of GM and Chrysler and nearly bankrupted Ford when consumers turned away from pricey, inefficient trucks and SUVs and towards more efficient cars.

Should this situation repeat itself (and with gas prices such a volatile commodity, it no doubt could), fuel economy standards would help, leading to profits for the domestic automakers no matter what; if Mark Fields helps scuttle those standards by focusing on the short term, it could cost the Detroit Three about $1 billion annually in the long run.

Vehicle standards are good for American consumers

In addition to protecting workers, these standards protect consumers. More fuel efficient vehicles protect consumers from volatility at the pump. This is especially important for lower income individuals who purchase vehicles on the used car market—their choices are dictated by more affluent individuals who can afford to care less about fuel economy and generally spend more of their money on the vehicle versus the fuel. For low-income households, this is flipped: for this reason, fuel economy standards benefit lower-income individuals disproportionately.

This is one of the many reasons why fuel economy standards are so critical during times of low gas prices.

Moreover, saving money on fuel means more money that can be spent elsewhere in the economy—and that means more jobs for everyone. Taken together, we estimate that the 2012-2025 standards will add $25-30 billion to the economy by 2030, which means about 650,000 total new jobs across the economy.

Regulations aren’t “out of control”—they’re protecting Americans and holding companies accountable

On the same day as the Trump-Detroit Three meeting, Volkswagen approved a settlement with dealers over its Clean Air Act-violating diesel cars. One week before that, Fiat-Chrysler was served notice that some of their vehicles are in violation of the Clean Air Act, too. A month before that, General Motors appealed to the Supreme Court to try to wriggle out of some of the responsibility for an ignition switch defect that led to 124 fatalities.

Over the past few years, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, and Mercedes have all been forced to adjust their fuel economy labels because they were misleading to consumers. And obviously there is the disastrous Takata airbag scandal enveloping Honda, Toyota, Ford, and basically the entire industry, which has resulted in at least 11 dead.

All of this is to say that it’s pretty darn clear why the auto industry is regulated. And, frankly, it’s appalling that the CEO of Ford is trying to use a new administration to undermine government watchdogging of an industry with quite the history of skirting and combatting regulation.

Maybe Mark Fields would be better served using this as an opportunity to engage more constructively, as it appears his counterpart Mary Barra at GM may be:

“We had a very constructive and wide-ranging discussion about how we can work together on policies that support a strong and competitive economy and auto industry, one that supports the environment and safety. The U.S. is our home market and we are eager to come together to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing. We all want a vibrant U.S. manufacturing base that is competitive globally and that grows jobs. It’s good for our employees, our dealers, our suppliers and our customers.”

Let’s hope GM is true to their word and Ford changes their tune. Our health, safety, and economy may very well depend on it.

Photo: Wikimedia

Why Immigrants Are Vital to Science in the U.S.

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Immigrants are central to advancing science in the United States. An estimated 4.6 million college-educated, foreign-born scientists and engineers comprised over a quarter (27 percent) of the entire science and engineering workforce in the U.S. in 2013.

These millions of scientists and engineers are helping create a healthier, safer society – especially in the area of cancer research. According to a 2013 survey, 42 percent of the researchers at the top seven cancer research centers were found to be foreign-born and the influence of foreign-born researchers at some of the leading U.S. cancer institutions was found to be even higher. At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, 62 percent of the cancer researchers were foreign-born and at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, 56 percent of the researchers were considered immigrants.

Immigrant scientists and engineers tend to be exceptional

Aside from cancer research, the scientists and engineers making the largest impacts in their fields frequently come from immigrants. A study published in Science found that the individuals making exceptional contributions to science and engineering in the U.S. are “disproportionately drawn from the foreign-born.” Moreover, all six of the 2016 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with American universities were foreign-born. Speaking in reference to Brexit, an editor for the London-based Times Higher Education thought the 2016 Nobel Prize class should “serve as a serious warning to those politicians, most notably in the U.K., but also of course in the U.S. and elsewhere, who would seek to place major restrictions on the free movement of international talent.”

And Nobel Laureates

Analysis by George Mason University found that 42 percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2015 went to individuals working in the U.S., and that 31 percent of all U.S. Nobel laureates were born outside the U.S. — a figure that’s more than double the highest proportion of immigrants in the general population during those years. Absent immigrant scientists and engineers, the U.S. would have missed out on Nobel Prizes for: (1) figuring out the ribosome (Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, born in India), (2) discovering femtochemistry (Ahmed Zewail, born in Egypt), (3) linking chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) to the depletion of the Earth ozone layer (Mario J. Molina, born in Mexico), and many others.

Immigrant scientists and engineers come for the education and stay for the career

Data suggests that over half of the foreign-born recipients of doctorate degrees in the U.S. remain in the U.S. workforce to pursue their careers, becoming part of the multicultural milieu that has made, and will continue to make, America great.  Let’s not forget the contributions that immigrants have made in advancing science, or the potential contributions to come.

As my colleague Michael noted, many scientists are taking the fight out of the lab and onto the streets. They are organizing marches, preparing to run for office, and joining watchdog teams to monitor and respond to activity. If you’re a scientist and you haven’t signed our letter outlining expectations for the Trump administration, including the promotion of diversity, do so here.

Thank a Government Scientist Today. Their Work—and Our Health and Safety—Is Under Attack.

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Today President Trump signed an executive order mandating that for any new rule issued from an agency, two would have to be revoked. Such a proposal is absurd, illogical, and threatening to our public health and safety.

Last week, the Trump administration also issued a government-wide hiring freeze, instituted a far-reaching gag-order, and stopped the normal flow of grants and contracts issuance at federal agencies. All of these actions were major hindrances to government employees’ ability to do their jobs.

But actions like these affect us all. When it comes to science-based agencies and the scientists that work there, it is worth reminding ourselves of the crucial role they play in in our daily lives.

Here are six reasons you should thank a government scientist today:

Did you check the weather forecast today?

Did you thereby know how cold it was? Or if it would rain? Or whether there were hurricane force winds outside? You can thank a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration!

Scientists at NOAA’s National Weather Service work across the country and around the clock to monitor weather conditions and warn you about life-threatening severe weather events, protecting life and property. And how do they get their information?

It is NOAA and its supercomputers that run complex atmospheric models to predict future weather at all points on the globe and it is NOAA that makes the model results publicly available. It is NOAA and NASA that work together to launch weather satellites that provide real-time information on weather patterns day and night and again, this information is publicly available.

Where do you think your weather app gets its information?  It is this freely available data from the government that allows your app, that TV station, and any private forecasting company to produce weather forecasts. Did you think you think your app was running atmospheric models? There’s not an app for that.

Did you eat something today? Did you avoid food poisoning?

You can thank a food scientist at the US Department of Agriculture! Scientists at the USDA inspect meat, poultry, and eggs at plants around the country. Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do the same for our fruits and vegetables and dairy products.

These scientists work to make sure the American public doesn’t get sick from contaminants in food. And when food-borne illness does happen, they work quickly to find the source and stop its spread. Remember that time you had to read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and learn about the horrible conditions inside industrial agricultural operations at the start of the 20th century? Luckily we don’t have this kind of nightmare of a food system anymore because scientists at the USDA and FDA maintain standards that keep us safe from foodborne illnesses.

Did you take any medications today? Did they work? And did they not kill you?

You can thank a doctor at the US Food and Drug Administration! Scientists at the FDA carefully review new drug applications from pharmaceutical companies and use all available scientific information to determine if the drugs are both safe and effective. Only if drugs are proven to be both by FDA experts and their scientific advisory panels do they reach the market.

Remember when some governments thought giving pregnant women Thalidomide was a good idea? It wasn’t. And thankfully the US FDA didn’t approve thalidomide for use in the US, preventing countless babies from being born with debilitating birth defects. Thanks, FDA scientists!

Did you use any products today?

You know, everyday items like a hair dryer, a couch, a door, a swivel chair, a TV, a bicycle, a jacket, a coffee mug. Were you able to use such products without them catching on fire, choking you, cutting you, or otherwise harming you?

You can thank a scientist at the Consumer Product Safety Commission!  Scientists at the CPSC study product safety. They make sure that products can be used safely and don’t create unintended dangers, especially for babies and children who can more easily choke, be strangled, or be crushed by products meant for adults.

When CPSC scientists notice major problems associated with products, they can issue recalls and rules to prevent products from harming more people. You might not often think about the potential for your desk lamp to burst into flames or for your coffee mug to lacerate you (both of these recalls were issued this month!), but that’s exactly the point. CPSC scientists are working to keeping the products in our homes safe for us and our families before they cause widespread harm.

Did you go outside today? Were you able to breathe easily?

You can thank a scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency! Scientists at the EPA study air pollution, its sources, and its impacts on human health and the environment. They look at the vast amount of scientific literature to determine what air pollutant standards are protective of the public, especially vulnerable populations, like the young, the old, and those with respiratory diseases.

Remember that time the air pollution was so bad that you hacked up a lung and couldn’t see your neighbors house? Me neither. That’s because the US has science-based air quality standards that have been phenomenally effective.

This country has enjoyed decreasing air pollution levels, and thereby death and sickness, for the last half century. Do you think that energy companies have decreased their stack emissions and car companies have decreased tailpipe emissions out of the goodness of their heart? Of course not. It is the EPA’s strong air pollution standards that have led us to develop technologies like the catalytic converter and power plant scrubbers that save us money and energy and also cut pollution emissions. It is all thanks to the EPA and its scientists.

Did you spend your day not thinking about the potential for a global pandemic and how you might avoid catching it?

You can thank an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Scientists at the CDC closely monitor the spread of infectious disease around the world. They know that we need to stay a step ahead of any virus or bacteria that stands to take down or at least weaken the human population. They study diseases in the lab so we will know how to react, they track mutations to existing infectious diseases, and they maintain facilities and infrastructure that work to produce vaccines from emerging threats.

Do you think it’s annoying that you have to get a flu shot every year?  Do you know what would be more annoying? Any global pandemic. And it wouldn’t even have to be at the scale of the monkey in the movie Outbreak or the fever in Contagion to cause widespread panic and inconvenience. Remember how much we freaked out about SARS, Bird Flu, and Swine Flu. Nature can do much worse. Thankfully, CDC scientists are ready and watching to react to the next global threat.

When we talk about cutting back on “regulations,” these are the kind of public protections we’d lose. President Trump’s 2-for-1 regulations proposal would force government scientific experts to choose between which public health and safety threat to prevent and which to allow to cause harm.

When we talk about hiring freezes, these are the federal scientists affected. We need to remind ourselves of the tireless and often thankless jobs that countless federal scientists do every day to benefit the American public.

I want to be clear: Thank you, government scientists!

PS This is not an exhaustive list. Do you know other federal scientists who are working to keep us safe and healthy every day?  Let me know in the comments!

President Trump and the New China Challenge

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Some said it would come by sea. Others worried it would come from outer space. But the most serious Chinese challenge to US leadership is happening on what used to be America’s home court: the court of global public opinion.

Three days before US President Donald Trump told the world in his inaugural address “that from this day forward it is only going to be America first,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that China was committed to developing “an open global economy, where the opportunities and benefits of openness are shared, where mutual interests are realized and everyone wins.”

After the inauguration, President Trump also made it clear that global concerns about climate change are no longer a concern of the US government. Xi, on the other hand, called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “a responsibility to our children, grandchildren and future generations we must shoulder.” Optimistically, Xi noted that addressing climate change is “in accord with the trend of global development.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, told the Washington Post, “I think it’d be good if people compare Xi’s speech at Davos and President Trump’s speech in his inaugural.” It’s a suggestion he may come to regret. The world’s reaction to President Trump’s inaugural was decidedly negative. Xi’s defense of an environmentally sustainable and integrated global economy was well-received in China and internationally.

Xi makes the case for economic globalization

China’s president spoke for nearly an hour and in great detail about economic globalization and its pitfalls. He described globalization as “the inexorable result of objective needs and scientific progress.” He argued it “accelerated the circulation of commodities and capital, the progress of science and culture and the interaction of people from every nation.”

But Xi also admitted that international economic integration is “a double-edged sword” that globalizes economic difficulties along with economic benefits. Xi acknowledged there were “anti-globalization voices” that raised important questions “we should ponder and take seriously.”

The three major problems Xi identified suggest he believes the United States bears the lion’s share of the burden for globalization’s shortcomings, although he never mentions the United States explicitly.

The first is the slowdown in economic growth and international trade that followed the US financial crisis.

The second is what Xi called a “lag in global economic governance.” Developing nations now account for a larger share of the global economy and are the largest drivers of global economic growth. Yet a few large developed nations still dominate international economic institutions, which, according to Xi, makes it “difficult to adapt to new changes in the global economy.”

Xi argued inequality is the third and most serious flaw in a global economy where “the wealth of the richest 1% of the global population exceeds the combined wealth of the other 99%.” Xi emphasized this final point, saying:

“More than 700 million people live in the midst of extreme poverty. For many families, having a warm and safe place to live, sufficient food and steady work is still a kind of extravagant hope. This is the greatest challenge facing the world today, and an important reason for the social turmoil in some nations.”

Citing Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, Xi said that “Our real enemies are not neighboring countries, but hunger, poverty, ignorance, superstition and prejudice.”

And Xi drew a sharp contrast between China’s hopeful approach to these problems and the defeatism of unnamed others:

“Human history tells us the presence of problems is not to be feared. What is to be feared is the unwillingness to face problems directly, to search for and find a train of thought that resolves problems. In the face of the opportunities and challenges of economic globalization the correct choice is to fully utilize every opportunity, to cooperate in confronting every challenge and to shepherd the direction of economic globalization.”

President Trump responds

President Obama was fond of telling the Chinese that history was on the side of the United States. President Trump used his inaugural address to present a grim rebuttal:

“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; And spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

President Trump depicts US global leadership as a debilitating burden. The gains of global trade, heralded by his Chinese counterpart, were, according to the new US president, “ripped from the homes” of middle class Americans and “redistributed across the entire world.” The President cannot seem to imagine the possibility that global trade created new wealth in the United States and the rest of the world at the same time.

President Trump argued that decades of US-led global integration led to an “American carnage” he would end with “a new vision” of America’s role in the world that will effect “every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration and on foreign affairs.” It is a zero-sum vision supported by new US policies that “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.” Trump’s “America first” policies are intended to make sure that the United States is “winning again.” Although Trump hopes to preserve and cultivate allies, he described the core of his protectionist vision as “a total allegiance to the United States of America.”

Which message has greater appeal?

If the United States turns its back on the world, the world could respond in kind. The consequences of the new US administration’s ideological atavism—Bannon called it “Jacksonian”—are impossible to predict. But President Trump’s bet against the continuation of economic globalization pits 5% of the world’s population against the other 95%. Left to fend for itself, without the US direction they’ve experienced for decades, the rest of the world may decide it is better off without it.

That does not mean the world must or will follow China. And Xi, despite US characterizations of his speech as an act of political opportunism, told the international audience in Switzerland, after extolling the successes of China’s economic development, “Many paths go through Rome. None should take their own development path as the only one, much less force one’s own development path on others.”

Xi does not appear to be contesting US global leadership. He is contesting the idea that the world needs a leader.

Global apprehensions about China, combined with global respect for the United States, has obscured much of what Xi has been saying about the state of the world and its future since he assumed office in 2012. While many may remain skeptical about Xi’s commitment to the ideas he discussed at Davos, his speech—especially when compared with President Trump’s inaugural address—should, at the very least, ensure China’s views on global governance get a more careful hearing in the court of world opinion.

Xi could help China’s case by being as broadminded at home as he was in Switzerland. International anxieties about China are rooted in concerns about the way the Chinese government handles domestic disagreements. A more benevolent and trusting approach to its own citizens—a greater willingness to allow them to express their opinions and participate in public life—would go a long way towards convincing the rest of the world the Chinese government is now strong and confident enough to comprise when considering disputes with its neighbors and the rest of the world.

Will Electric Cars Thrive, Survive, or Die Under President Trump?

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President Trump just dropped his “America First” energy plan and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t include renewable energy or electric vehicles. It does, however, mention the importance of protecting clean air and clean water though it also encourages the very energy sources that pollute both of these public goods. Weird.

President Trump’s beachhead teams are swiftly infiltrating the federal agencies meaning that the policies that helped electric vehicles during the Obama years could soon get scaled back or dismantled altogether. The electric car has already been killed once, will it be killed again?

(TL:DR – probably not, given the demand for clean transportation outside of the U.S. and the declining cost of electric vehicle batteries).

Federal support for EVs has been important

Electric vehicles (EVs) have needed federal support to compete in a market that has been dominated by the gasoline engine and a reluctance from automakers to invest in new technologies like seat belts or fuel efficiency. Aside from the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for buying an EV, the Obama Administration enacted a series of initiatives that helped EVs to gain a finger hold in the national vehicle market. The Department of Energy provided low cost capital to Tesla, Ford, and other automakers seeking to develop EV manufacturing plants, the Department of Transportation began to make on-the-go charging easier by identifying highway corridors ripe for EV chargers, signage, and investment, and our national laboratories helped cut battery costs from over $1,000 per kilowatt hour to around $200 per kWh.

Battery costs have continued to fall, helping meet the increased demand for electric vehicles. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

State support has been critical too

State-based policy has also been instrumental in helping EVs succeed. The California Zero Emission Vehicle Program, for example, requires automakers to sell EVs in California or obtain credits from other automakers that sold EVs in the Golden State (see: Tesla’s business model). In 2018 this program will require automakers to sell EVs in 9 other states that have adopted the California program, and which collectively make up about a quarter of the national vehicle market. Other states have EV policies too, and mayors, governors, and other elected officials across the country have pledged to continue state and local support for EVs.

Thanks in part to federal and state policy, consumers are now able to access many more electric vehicle options compared to 2011. More EV offerings from more automakers are planned in the next couple years, which will help the EV market continue to grow. Note that all BMW i3s were considered BEV, though some were the range-extender models that are PHEVs. Source: ucsusa.org

How President Trump can affect the electric vehicle market

Maybe President Trump will try to undo all of this policy support, maybe he won’t. I can’t find any mention of his possible stance on EVs, though I’m encouraged that he met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other automaker CEOs in his first week in office. I’m also discouraged by recent comments from Ford’s CEO on his hope that the President will ease fuel economy standards.

In theory, President Trump and Congress could not only dismantle federal EV support – through repealing the federal EV tax credit and halting federal EV programs – they could also attempt to repeal the sections of the Clean Air Act that both grant California the unique authority to set its own pollution limits and allow other states to follow California’s lead. There’s been no indication that the President or Congress will take this route, but lawmakers have taken swipes at the Clean Air Act in the past and it’s important to recognize the power of the federal government to impede state authority to combat climate change.

Don’t get too worried, though. The UCS #geeksquad is keeping a close eye on Congress and the new Administration and are always ready to help you join the fight against efforts to stop the progress our country has made toward reducing oil use and climate change pollution. Interested in finding out how you can get alerts for future engagement opportunities? Head on over here.

EV sales continue to rise even as gasoline prices decline. Sources: InsideEVs.com and U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The electric vehicle market can survive even without U.S. policy support

Join me on Hypothetical Avenue for a moment, won’t you? Assuming that U.S. policy support for EVs is put on hold, there are several indications that the global EV market will continue to grow.

First and foremost, EVs are simply a great product. The Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, and Tesla Model S are among the highest rated vehicles on Consumer Reports, and GM’s Chevy Bolt has already been anointed as Motor Trends’ 2017 Car of the Year. I’ve driven many different EV models and am certain that once you get into an EV and press your foot on the accelerator, you’ll be hooked too. They are too much fun to drive to ever want to go back to a gas engine.

Second, driving and owning an EV will save you money. Even though gas is cheap, driving on electricity remains cheaper – by about half. All-electric vehicles, like the Nissan LEAF or Chevy Bolt, also have fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes or other types of periodic maintenance, meaning that their maintenance costs are forecast to be 35 percent lower than a comparable gasoline car. Overall, owning an EV can save you thousands in fuel costs over the vehicle’s lifetime.

Driving on electricity is still cheaper than gasoline. Source: egallon.gov.

Third, they pollute considerably less than comparable gasoline vehicles and, when charged by energy sources other than coal, can help abate the heavy air quality pollution that plagues many cities around the world. As I type I’m listening to a news report from London where a recent spike in air pollution was the highest level recorded since April 2011. Cities in China, India, and other densely populated areas also experience poor air quality due, in part, to transportation emissions. Since all-electric vehicles don’t produce any tailpipe emissions, many leaders outside the U.S. recognize the great potential for EVs to make air cleaner and safer – especially for children and the elderly in urban areas who are more vulnerable to air quality-related health impacts.

Fourth, car companies – both newcomers like Tesla and Faraday Future, and also incumbents like GM and BMW – have heavily invested in EVs and staked their part of their reputation on EVs succeeding. The U.S. vehicle market accounts for only a fifth of global vehicle sales and other regions with fast-growing vehicle markets, persistent air pollution problems, and a commitment to combat climate change will continue to generate demand for EVs. While U.S. momentum on fuel economy and EVs may well slow under President Trump, any automaker that considers itself a global player won’t be able to – or won’t want to – simply stop work on next-generation vehicles because the global demand for vehicles that are cheaper and cleaner to drive will persist.

Of course, to generate true mass appeal an EV’s sticker price needs to be at least competitive, if not less than, a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle. Today, the upfront cost of an EV in the U.S. is partially offset by the federal tax credit and any additional state tax credits. EVs are generally more expensive that a similar gasoline-powered vehicle because (a) EVs are not made at the same scale as conventional vehicles and (b) lithium-ion batteries remain somewhat costly to produce. So, as the global vehicle market demands more EVs and they are made at bigger scales, costs will come down to some extent.

But the larger potential cost reduction comes from reducing battery costs, which have fallen 70 percent in the last 18 months and which the National Academies of Science forecast to be cut in half by 2020. In addition, there could be more breakthroughs in battery chemistry research (also applicable to cell phone batteries and other electronics, which are driving investment in battery R&D too) that could make EV batteries even cheaper. These two factors have led some auto industry analysts to forecast that EVs will be cheaper to own than conventional cars by 2022.

But the electric vehicle market will thrive if the U.S. continues to lead the way

Given the rising global demand for vehicles that cut tailpipe emissions and the potential for battery costs to come down to the point at which an EV is either the same price or even cheaper than a similar gas vehicle, EVs will likely remain on a path to success under President Trump – even if he does his best to dismantle those pesky government regulations that protect our health and environment.

However, the optimist in me thinks the President can recognize the potential for the U.S. to seize the opportunity to be the leader in the emerging clean transportation economy and continue producing clean vehicles (and jobs) here at home.

There’s a strong case to be made for why EVs can and should be an American export. Tesla – an American company – may become a global leader in EV sales and will soon begin producing lithium-ion batteries from its “gigafactory” in Nevada. The Nissan LEAF, one of the most popular EVs for sale, is made in Smyrna, Tennessee along with its batteries. And General Motors has not been shy about investing in EVs, with its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and all-electric Chevy Bolt both coming from assembly lines in Michigan.

But foreign automakers are just as keen to win the race to electrify the global vehicle market. BMW, the VW conglomerate, and Chinese automaker BYD, for example, have all poured billions into EVs and would gladly become the primary supplier of EVs for households across the U.S.

Tesla’s are being made in Fremont, California, and their battery production is set to ramp up from the Tesla “gigafactory” in Nevada. Source Wikicommons.

Ultimately, the automaker that becomes the dominant EV supplier will likely be the one that operates in a supportive and stable policy environment. Under President Obama, domestic automakers were not only bailed out, but they were given great incentives to make the U.S. the global leader in clean transportation technology. Now it’s up to President Trump to decide whether to continue the hard won progress some U.S. auto companies (notably GM and Tesla) have made toward becoming the dominant EV exporter and leader, or become just another customer.

Droughts and Floods: How Climate Change is Affecting California’s Water Supply

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The beginning of the new year brought massive amounts of precipitation to the northern half of the Golden State. So much rain, in fact, that some rivers have flooded over their banks, damaging property and endangering lives. And today, the U.S. Drought Monitor estimates that only about 60% of the state remains in drought, with a very small portion of the state experiencing “extreme” drought conditions. Yet, a quarter of the state remains in “severe” drought, which includes some of our largest cities and dying forests. And year after year, we are using more water than we receive, causing long-term groundwater overdraft (we use about 1 million acre-feet more groundwater than is replaces, annually).

Thus, some areas of Southern California may continue to experience water shortages this year, particularly if warm weather melts much of the snow that has accumulated in the Sierras to-date. The risk is real given that scientists recently named 2016 as the hottest year on record (the third record-breaking year in a row). This spells trouble for snow.

Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists held an informational briefing at the Capitol to discuss how climate change is at the root of more extreme weather  – both floods and droughts. And scientists have been warning us about this for years.

Back to the Future

Back in 1988, Discover magazine ran a cover article on “The Greenhouse Effect.” The article examined how California’s water may be affected by climate change, featuring an image depicting more rain, less snow and flooding in the winter paired with hot, dry conditions and empty reservoirs in the summer. Sound familiar?

While snowpack levels look great right now, it’s simply too soon to say whether that snow will stick around through the spring to melt into reservoirs when water demands are the highest in the hotter months. Just last year, we had above-average snowpack at this time of the year. But a warm spring meant that the state’s crucial snowpack melted much faster than in the past, creating a false sense of security before running out. So although snowpack was near normal on April 1, 2016, only six weeks later it was down to just 35 percent of normal. And you know the rest, a hot summer brought continued drought stress and water shortages.

Our reality is changing. We can no longer rely on the type of infrastructure we currently have to deliver reliable water supplies. Global warming is changing our precipitation patterns and we need to change how we store, manage, and consume water if we are to have water security in the future.

It’s Time for Solutions

It’s not all bad news. There are solutions. First, California has been a leader when it comes to reducing heat-trapping emissions that create many of these problems in the first place. Secondly, our underground aquifers have about three times the storage capacity as all of our above-ground reservoirs. These underground reservoirs are located throughout the state and are a great place to put water that comes in the form of rain, rather than snow.

Groundwater is key to adapting to climate change in California since heavy rains can be captured underground and stored for use during drought periods. The only problem is that groundwater has been virtually unregulated in the state. That all changed a few years ago when California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is the first statewide requirement to manage our shared groundwater resources.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has been tracking the implementation of this law and is a part of the new Groundwater Collaborative webinar series all about how you can get involved in better local groundwater management (click here to find out more).  We hope you will join us.

Resist this: The Trump Administration’s Control+Alt+Delete Strategy on Climate Change

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The first days of the Trump Administration have caught many of us by surprise with the volume of contestable statements, controversial orders, and provocative media appearances. Amidst this, the Administrations attacks on science are now fully underway.

At least, though, we’re clearer now what their climate change strategy is going to be, and can more effectively organize to fight it.

Tactic 1: CONTROL

If one’s goal is to undermine climate science and create an environment where the public is too uncertain to demand federal action (action that today a majority of Americans say they want), then the first thing you need to do is silence the relevant scientists under your purview.

This control is coming down swiftly in the new Administration’s first few days. First, an emboldened Congress revived a rule on January 3rd allowing them to reduce federal employee’s salary to $1. Shortly after taking control on January 20th, the Administration began ordering federal agencies to cease communication with the public. First reported were restrictions at the Department of Interior and its National Parks Service. On Monday, January 23rd, the EPA received similar orders. On Tuesday, USDA scientists joined their ranks. though outlets report that order was rescinded later in the day. By Wednesday, news broke that EPA work may be subject to review by political appointees. Bewildered scientists and citizens are watching and waiting for what comes next.

These orders can affect scientists working on a range of vital scientific inquiries and areas of public interest. But based on other of the Administration’s policy priorities, like fossil fuel development and regulatory rollbacks, control of scientists working on climate change appears to be the target.

Why?

With scientists muzzled and the flow of tax-payer-funded data, information, and science halted, it becomes difficult for the public to access solid, accessible, publicly-translated information on climate change. It also weakens our ability to check and verify an alternative narrative on climate that the new Administration might put forward.

In essence, control the science and you can begin to control the public narrative or conventional wisdom around climate change. Just when that appreciation of the climate threat is finally gelling, will they seek to dissolve it?

Tactic 2: Offer an ALTernative Reality  and ALTer science-based policy

On a recent drizzly Friday, the clouds suddenly parted and “it became really sunny” for President Trump’s inaugural speech. The rain “stopped immediately” and “a million, a million and a half people” stood on the mall to take in his speech, making this “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period”. This didn’t actually happen; anyone watching can attest, and both crowd scientists and meteorologists would support them. But when the nominal leader of the free world tells you green is blue, you can be forgiven for missing a beat. It is still not.

Why the Administration is still investing in pointless lies now that Donald Trump is installed as President, others can speculate. But doing so is only preposterous of them if we take note each time and call it out. If we stay silent or get falsehood fatigue then it’s perfectly strategic and their Alt-reality eventually wins.

This tactic is being showcased, though more subtly, in the confirmation hearings for the President’s cabinet nominees. Rex Tillerson (nominated for Secretary of State), Scott Pruitt (for EPA administrator), Rick Perry (for Secretary of Energy), and Ryan Zinke (for Department of Interior), among others, have all acknowledged the reality of climate change but insisted in one way or another that we don’t really know why it’s happening or the degree to which humans are responsible. In the face of such uncertainty, the logic goes, inaction is the only reasonable approach. This is a brilliant new way of winding down the clock on climate action and watching the window of opportunity close—and it’s dangerous as hell.

The facts are the facts. There are no alternatives. In the media, those are called falsehoods; on the street, lies.

Under the threat of gag orders, some federal employees have gone rogue on social media, setting up mirror (but unfettered) profiles to keep speaking truth to power.

Tactic 3: DELETE

Next up, if you’re trying to roll back the clock on climate progress, you make things disappear. On day 1 of the new administration, the White House climate pages disappeared. No surprise, really; a new administration gets to start fresh with some new content. But people (like those of us here at UCS) have been watching other sites with trepidation. More recently, much of the State Department’s climate change policy content vanished. And on Thursday, the Department’s entire senior management team resigned.

What is next to go? And who else will decide they have to bail?

Today, Americans own a wealth of vital climate information, made accessible on federal websites. Data.gov/climate provides users, including local communities, with rich datasets for use in analyzing climate risks and adaptation options. The resilience toolkit organizes and connects users to the large array of resilience planning tools in an accessible, manageable platform. The EPA’s climate change web content alone covers climate change science and indicators, emissions reduction tools, climate justice, and climate adaptation training for local governments.

Because of resources like this, we’ve become a country with the means to assess and plan for climate change and to reduce global warming emissions at the local, state, and national level.

Conflicting reports have been circulating about the impending removal of additional federal climate web pages. Interviewed around the time of this posting, Myron Ebell, until recently Trump’s EPA transition lead, spoke of the Administration’s goals for deep cuts to EPA staff numbers.

A key effect of taking sites down and, more broadly hobbling the science capacity at these agencies is a populace with diminished access to climate change expertise and information—and perhaps motivation to act. The benefits of this accrue only to those interested in a fossil-fuel, business-as-usual future. The costs on the other hand—a diminished ability to address climate change—are paid by all of us.

As my colleague, Alden Meyer, said recently, “Any legitimate analysis shows that the costs of climate impacts to communities and businesses are huge and mounting, while the benefits of the clean energy revolution that offers a major part of the solution to the climate crisis are clear. The agenda being pursued by the Trump Administration is designed to benefit the fossil fuel industry and other polluters, at a tremendous cost to the rest of the economy and to the health and well-being of all Americans.”

The EPA is one of several federal agencies that, together, house the bulk of our federal climate change resources and information.

The Resistance:

Many Americans clearly don’t want to take it. This administration is finding itself facing resistance (and scrutiny) like no other.

Just a couple of examples :

Climate change impacts everyone—black, white, gay, straight, Democrat, Republican. It's time for action. #resist https://t.co/O86UeUaOkC

— Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) January 26, 2017

Stand Up for Science

Each of us can help resist the attacks on science, scientists, and those immutable but easily suppressed facts. These attacks are likely to grow. In addition to this helpful list, some suggestions:

Show up:

Pick up the phone:

  • Call your legislator and urge them to help safeguard federal scientific research, datasets, tools, reports and websites. Read my colleague’s blog for more background. As he says “It’s important that your elected officials hear your voice directly about what’s at stake in your state or local community, especially since in a few days confirmation votes for cabinet positions will be coming up. Follow our guide below to get contact information for your Senators, and tips for a successful call with their staff members: http://www.ucsusa.org/action/phone-calls.html”
  • Ask your Senators, specifically, to question Pruitt on the EPA scientist gag and science review orders. Political appointees shouldn’t decide what science gets published and whether federal scientists can speak to tax-payer funded science. Does Pruitt commit to supporting the flow of EPA science, including climate science, and the public speech of scientists?
  • Tweet or otherwise share your support for government agencies (specifically, today, EPA, NPS, USDA, and NIH) and the freedom of federal scientists to be transparent about their work with their colleagues and the public.
  • Know a federal scientist? These may be difficult times for many. Reach out in some way and let them know you’ve got their back.

Stay up-to-date and engaged. This is a fast moving environment. There will be LOTS TO DO and the priorities will shift. UCS and other organizations can help keep you informed and supplied with actions. If you’re an expert, you can sign up for the UCS Science Network. If you’re a concerned citizen, you can join our Action Network.

Wherever you go for updates and to-dos, thank you for staying informed and engaged. We all need each others’ sustained energy, ideas, and action in the coming months.

Our Democracy has always depended on science; it does as much now as ever. And with science under assault, we need to stand up. To paraphrase a popular chant from recent marches: this is what patriotism looks like.

Scott Pruitt and Anti-Science Activity at the EPA

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The first week of the Trump administration is underway and, suffice to say, it has been a bad week for science. Scientists at several federal agencies have been told they can no longer speak to the media or use social media; staff at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified that scientific work will be reviewed by political appointees, that climate web content was being removed, and that all contracts and grants by the agency were on hold.

It seems relevant to ask President Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator if he supports these actions. To that end, I sent the following letter to the Senate this afternoon.

Dear Senators,

As you review EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt’s written answers to numerous questions for the record and consider whether or not to support his confirmation, you should be aware that over the past several days, the Trump administration has attempted to undermine science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Specifically, the news media reported the administration ordered:

  • Removal of Web content on climate change
  • Vetting of scientific work by political staff before public release
  • A freeze on many grants and contracts

These actions are very concerning, and if Mr. Pruitt supports them, that should disqualify him as administrator. Each of these actions directly undermines the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.

Orwellian demands to shut down informational websites and prevent the release of scientific findings don’t change the reality of climate change: seas will keep rising, more communities will be flooded more often, storms will be stronger, and wildfires will be more likely and more damaging when coupled with higher temperatures and more frequent droughts.

While it appears that exposure by the news media has prompted the administration to at least temporarily rescind its order to remove Web content on climate change, there is no guarantee that new orders will not emerge unless we have pledges from Mr. Pruitt to safeguard public access to scientific information about climate change and other issues. Indeed, several climate change–related Web pages and reports have been removed from the State Department website.

Public servants should be free to state simple scientific facts. Americans have the right to see and benefit from taxpayer-funded research, and scientists have the right to share their findings openly and honestly, without political pressure, manipulation, or suppression. Political staff should never be in charge of deciding what scientific conclusions the public is allowed to see.

Freezing grants and contracts would almost certainly increase health risks for children and other vulnerable people in our country. American taxpayers would not receive the science-based information we all invest in to protect public health and our environment. This freeze means, for example, that the community grant program for safe drinking water may be delayed, increasing health risks in those communities that need help the most. It also means that the EPA’s AirData website, which provides access to air quality data collected from outdoor air monitors around the nation, is no longer collecting and posting data, jeopardizing the health of children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness. Parents, families, communities, and research institutions that rely on this information to make health-related decisions (everything from letting children play outside on a bad air day to developing municipal plans to improve air quality) would be in the dark. And it means student interns and young researchers may lose opportunities in the STEM education fields that are so critically important. These are just a few of the consequences of this reckless decision.

Without research and monitoring, it becomes harder for states and communities to hold polluters accountable, and unfairly penalizes the majority of businesses that play by the rules and care about the health of their communities.

The Senate needs a clear answer about whether Attorney General Pruitt was aware of these actions and approved of them—and whether he’ll actually enforce the EPA’s scientific integrity policy. To ensure that Mr. Pruitt is intent on upholding and advancing the mission of the EPA to protect Americans’ health, he must commit to preserving and honestly presenting scientific information and defending the right of government scientists to do their work unimpeded. If he is unwilling to do so, that is all the more reason to vote no on his nomination.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Kimmell

President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA (Flickr)

Science Must Trump Politics at the USDA, Especially During Turbulent Times

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It has been a rough week for scientists at federal agencies. As the administration has changed over and new leadership is beginning to find its footing, there has been a flurry of emails and directives coming down to agency staff. There are critical democracy concerns with some of the calls seen at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services to halt communication with the media, suspension of social media accounts at the Department of Interior, and hiring and grant and contract freezes at EPA. But what is especially concerning for us here at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is the impact that these actions would have on scientists’ freedom to conduct their research and discuss their findings with the public.

On Tuesday morning, BuzzFeed reported that the chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), had sent out an email to department staff ordering ARS scientists not to communicate to the public: “Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

Here at UCS, we were immediately taken aback because of the directive’s contrast with the spirit of the department’s own strong scientific integrity policy, mandated under the Obama administration and revised this past December. The policy includes provisions to protect staff scientists from political interference, empower them to share their research with the public, and ensure their freedom to review documents based on their research before public release, as well as their ability to participate fully in the scientific community, even outside of agency capacity. There are now 24 executive-branch departments and agencies that have developed scientific integrity policies, including the USDA, which is one of the few departments that have a dedicated full-time staffer to ensure the policy’s implementation.

While UCS has in the past had certain concerns about the strength of the USDA’s policy, as well as its enforcement, the latest policy is significantly improved in the protections it provides for USDA scientists. A directive effectively suppressing the research of agency scientists would be completely opposed to the intent of the policy to “encourage, but not require, USDA scientists to participate in communications with the media regarding their scientific findings (data and results)” and to “facilitate the free flow of scientific and technological information.”

The Center for Science and Democracy’s director, Andrew Rosenberg, said, “Both the EPA and the USDA have developed scientific integrity policies that, among other things, protect scientists’ right to speak out about their work. The American people deserve to know the results of taxpayer-funded research.” And as UCS President Ken Kimmell stated, “It’s simple: public servants should be free to state scientific facts. Americans have the right to see and benefit from taxpayer-funded research, and scientists have the right to share their findings openly and honestly, without political pressure, manipulation or suppression. Political staff should never be in charge of deciding what scientific conclusions are acceptable for public consumption.”

After similar backlash from multiple news sources and the scientific community, ARS administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young sent an email hours after the aforementioned email that “hereby rescinded” the previous order and told researchers that it should never have been issued. Our own communications with USDA officials on Tuesday indicated that scientist communications will not be prohibited as the email suggested, but will instead go through an extra layer of review from top officials according to a USDA interim procedure.

To be clear, it is perhaps unsurprising that a new administration would be interested in managing communications on policy-related matters at federal agencies, but strictly scientific communications shouldn’t be subject to political vetting. The extent of this review and the fact that it will likely slow down communication of science is of concern, especially since political appointees should not have a say in whether the findings of taxpayer funded research are seen by the public. The USDA’s own scientific policy reads that “scientific findings and products must not be suppressed or altered for political purposes and must not be subject to inappropriate influence.”

Why the USDA’s research matters for us all

With all of the reporting on the process issues, it’s easy to forget about the real-life consequences of suppressing government science. The USDA and its thousands of scientists and other experts are central to the advancement of knowledge about the nation’s farming and food system. In particular, the long-term research conducted by USDA-ARS scientists and staff feeds into a network of public universities and agricultural extension agents working in every state to translate science for practical application and provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers. On behalf of farmers, ARS scientists conduct research on issues such as animal diseases, soil erosion, and crop productivity.

ARS also plays a role in protecting the public’s health, with research projects to assess Americans’ food consumption, provide the scientific basis for federal dietary guidance, and keep the food supply safe. It is critical to the health of the nation that this work remains unrestricted and accessible.

While it appears that one individual at ARS made a sweeping statement that wasn’t consistent with the agency’s operating guidelines, Tuesday’s events revealed the USDA’s general lack of organization amidst a changing administration. But perhaps this is not a huge surprise, considering that President Trump’s nomination of his agriculture secretary, Governor Sonny Perdue, was the final cabinet position left unfilled, and that he will not likely have a confirmation hearing before until mid-to-late February. All signs point to the fact that the USDA is not the highest priority agency for the Trump administration, which is disheartening considering the importance and wide scope of the USDA’s authority, ranging from the lunch menu at a school in New York City to the crop insurance coverage received by farmers in Montana. And surprising, given that farmers and rural voters overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in November.

USDA must fully implement and uphold its shiny new SI policy

While the USDA adjusts under new leadership, it is incredibly important that it continue to abide by its own scientific integrity policy, which was just updated at the end of 2016. It has been substantially strengthened since my colleague Gretchen Goldman last wrote about the concerns we had with USDA’s 2013 scientific integrity policy. One of the major issues was that the USDA had not explicitly given its scientists the ability to express their personal views, whether or not they clarified they were not speaking on behalf of the USDA. We were pleased to see in their most recent policy, released late last year, the inclusion of a personal views exception, which states:

When communicating with the media or the public in their personal capacities, USDA scientists may express their personal views and opinions; however, they should not claim to officially represent the Department or its policies, or use the Department or other U.S. Government seals or logos.  Personal or private activities may not violate Federal ethics rules.

Overall, the new policy clarifies procedures in greater detail and offers more flexibility for scientists for whom the policy applies, and you can see the policy got a top grade in our new report, Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking. We hope the USDA continues to fully enforce its new policy and to look for ways to improve upon it, especially considering any findings from an ongoing audit by the USDA Office of the Inspector General on scientific integrity within the agency. In the meantime, we will continue to be vigilant and to hold the USDA accountable for its intent to foster a culture of scientific integrity within the agency, under all circumstances, no matter how chaotic. Because silencing science is never okay.

 

The Native Peoples of Standing Rock Haven’t Given Up, Nor Should We

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Last September, I wrote about the important role that science and scientists could play in supporting the battle of the Lakota Nations in North Dakota to protect their sacred land and water rights. The Dakota Access Pipeline project at that time appeared to be moving forward without a full analysis of the impacts on Native people, their cultural heritage, and the environment. I believed, then and now, that scientists should support the call for that full analysis because decisions on a matter that is so important should be made in light of the science, along with many other factors. The Obama Administration, in response to the coming together of tribes from all across the country, decided that indeed a deeper analysis of options was needed.

On January 18, the Army Corps of Engineers announced their intent to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement. That is the deeper analysis including consideration of alternatives as I discussed at length in my September blog. And right now, until February 20, the Corps are asking for comments on that notice of intent.  In other words, they are asking for input from the public in scoping out the environmental impact statement. To quote from the Corps:

“The proposed crossing of Corps property requires the granting of a right-of-way (easement) under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), 30 U.S.C. 185. To date, the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant the easement pursuant to the MLA. The Army intends to prepare an EIS to consider any potential impacts to the human environment that the grant of an easement may cause.”

“Specifically, input is desired on the following three scoping concerns:

(1) Alternative locations for the pipeline crossing the Missouri River;

(2) Potential risks and impacts of an oil spill, and potential impacts to Lake Oahe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water intakes, and the Tribe’s water, treaty fishing, and hunting rights; and

(3) Information on the extent and location of the Tribe’s treaty rights in Lake Oahe.”

There are important science questions in at least the first two of these topics. So scientists with specific expertise might want to comment. And those scientists who are not necessarily specialists in this area or these topics still might want to comment on the importance of preparing a full analysis of the impacts of the proposed pipeline. Comments in response to the notice are in no way restricted to only these three concerns.

Underscoring all of this is the fact that the tribes who have been fighting long and hard to protect their lands and water are also asking for our support.

This call for support is all the more urgent given the Presidential Action this week by President Trump to expedite permitting for the pipeline. That doesn’t mean that an analysis of environmental impacts is off the table. And it is unclear in fact what will happen under the new order. At the least there is likely to be a court battle.

So it is more important than ever for scientists to speak up. I know, there are many, many issues that are confronting us all every day in this new political reality.  But now is not the time to be overwhelmed. Now is the time to be re-energized. Our democracy—and at Standing Rock the health and safety of native people—depend upon it.

Click here to email your comments to the Corps of Engineers before February 20, 2017.

Or go directly to the request for comments page on the Federal Register.

 

Communicating Science: Breaking Through Our Comfortable Silence to Form Meaningful Connections

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Those who knew me prior to age of 17 probably anticipated I’d become a scientist. I held all the stereotypical personality traits of being weird, antisocial, and a tad eccentric back then. With my hombre highlights and loud persona, few new people I casually encounter today at, say, the grocery store suspect I enjoy spending at least eight hours examining microbial sequence data, synthesizing predictive models, and writing grant applications. It’s meditative. And though I’ve become a go-to socialite in my circles, I still wouldn’t label myself as an extrovert. To me I’m simply doing my job, being open and approachable to promote information accessibility.

A festive spread of international dishes, paired with live music from visiting artists in the evening where everyone is welcome – a common event for our housemates.

A festive spread of international dishes, paired with live music from visiting artists in the evening where everyone is welcome – a common event for our housemates.

During the past few years, I’ve put a lot of self-reflection into why I’m viewed as an extrovert when I consider myself to be quite awkward and introverted. Need someone to lead a project? Ask Sabah. Need someone to pop in and get things organized? Ask Sabah. Upcoming dinner party or do-it-yourself concert? Sabah probably has something to do with it. More and more often, I find myself in these roles – why? As any good scientist would ask themselves, what was the reason for transforming from the kooky 17-year-old I once was to becoming the town socialite?

Listening to different perspectives is critical for communication

People don’t take much of a stance on an issue until it directly involves them. Take, dare I say it, climate change as an example. Many are unswayed by the evidence until experiencing the negative impacts of climate change firsthand. Perhaps that’s the reason why I’ve moved further away from my introvert core and closer towards a perceived extrovert—the realization that a disregard for others and their issues is, by default, a disregard for myself and my issues.

Being an academic is a luxury we often forget we have. I didn’t notice it until arriving at the University of California, Merced as a doctoral student where more than 60% of the students we serve are (much like myself) coming from low-income, first generation college families and/or first generation households. The town of Merced also reminds me a great deal of the neighborhood where I grew up. It is a privilege to be at a university still at a stage of being influenced by its surrounding community in contrast to the (more common) other way around. The ability to talk to and interact with people who face issues completely different from my own as an academic keeps me grounded in my perspective, especially in our presently polarized political climate.

One example of listening as a critical aspect of communication is when our house finally decided we’d bring in some experts to help clean our yard. We refuse to water our lawn with California being in a drought, so things were looking a bit wild. A local friend of ours brought two landscapers to the scene, both from the Merced area. I was home that day and it was hot outside. I asked them if they wanted to take a break from the sun and take a snack break together. Somewhat skeptical, the two walked in and expressed this was the first time someone had treated them “like a human” on the job. We started talking and their skepticism soon faded. I was not the naïve UC student they had presumed me to be and they were hard working people with valuable insight. These interactions remind me of where I come from; why my voice is an important microphone for others aiming to better connect higher education with their communities, and the value in being an extrovert.

Science communication for a more inclusive future?

Science communication has become a topic at the forefront of conducting research, and for good reason. Funding for research on national and global levels is under the threat of undergoing drastic cuts, but discussion of science being made available to all instead of limited to the narrow, Aristocratic few of yester-century is increasing. Having scientists who proportionally represent the demography of the surrounding population is not only logical in terms of equity, but also in terms of ensuring science itself continues to grow and thrive. We are limiting ourselves by telling instead of asking and communicating—fostering dialogue. The future is in communicating, rather than the one-dimensional dichotomy of lecturing or staying quiet.

 Going outside of her comfort zone and communicating with individuals different from herself since 1996.

Sabah Ul-Hasan: Going outside of her comfort zone and communicating with individuals different from herself since 1996.

If we truly care about inclusion of underrepresented anything in any realm, accessibility or funding or showing that our scientific evidence for issues such as climate change are indeed real and should be taken quite seriously by all of us, then we first must consider the communities we come from and the communities where we live. We can conduct our science in a way that’s mindful of all these communities. A good place to start is with our families. My family was skeptical of the value in studying marine systems for years, especially because pursuing school for too long (i.e., doctoral degrees) can culturally be viewed as an economic waste of time in first generation American families. These days, after much patience and constant non-condescending conversations on all sides, my family is quite proud of my work as a scientist. They understand and stick up for its significance, they take their Seafood Watch booklets with them everywhere and make it a point to recycle. In exchange I continuously improve the communication of my work, a win-win for all of us. Science communication isn’t another line on a resume, it’s us.

We will mess up, but just like with any experiment—we’ve got to be okay with troubleshooting and trying again. We need to persevere. That’s the difference between a scientist and a good scientist, right? I’m not sure, but maybe being an extrovert is worth a shot.

 

Bio: Sabah Ul-Hasan is a Quantitative & Systems Biology Eugene-Cota Robles Doctoral Fellow at the University of California, Merced co-advised by Dr. Mark Sistrom and Dr. Tanja Woyke. A first generation American born in Salt Lake City, Sabah holds B.S. degrees in Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental & Sustainability studies from the University of Utah and an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of New Hampshire. Today, Sabah’s research interests lie with host-microbe symbioses in venomous animals. Sabah enjoys spending her free time on short films creatively promoting science knowledge accessibility, rock climbing, partaking in philosopher banter, and talking to strangers. You can find her on Twitter @Sabah_UlHasan

 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

President Trump’s Attacks on Immigrants Impoverish Science and Weaken America

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The severe and racist changes to immigration imposed on the United States by President Trump should be denounced and resisted by all who care about science and democracy.

Science thrives on diversity. Immigration is the foundation of America’s unparalleled scientific leadership. It also enriches our lives across the board, from culture and the arts to entrepreneurship to reducing the federal deficit.

All six of the American science Nobel Prize winners in 2016 are immigrants. The free flow of individuals and information is fundamental to both economic growth and our ability to respond to urgent public health and environmental challenges.

Further, research demonstrates that diverse groups are more innovative and creative than uniform groups. Being around people who are different from us stretches our minds and makes us work harder. I work with an increasingly diverse group of colleagues at UCS. Their perspectives make me a more effective advocate and a better person.

Data also show that refugees are less likely to be terrorists than natural-born citizens. Quoting my own post from 2015:

The United States became a great country because it embraced people from all over the world. We are a land of immigrants. Many of our nation’s greatest scientists were foreign-born. Before they came to our country, they were students, doctors, and pharmacists. With them came children and supportive spouses. They built their lives here, contributed their talents, settled into communities, and grew our nation…

It’s tragic and embarrassing to see so many American leaders heading in the opposite direction, with many governors, members of Congress, and presidential candidates scoring political points by declaring that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states, or that Christians should be accepted but Muslims turned away. We don’t have to sacrifice security for doing our global duty.

The consequences are also personal. Dr. Kurt Gottfried, one of my heroes, is a founding member of UCS and former chair of our Board. He is not only an accomplished Cornell physicist, but is also largely responsible for the work that UCS did to strengthen our democracy by calling out political interference in science during the Bush administration. His work helped lay the groundwork for the ongoing, widespread efforts to defend the role of science in our democracy.

He is also an immigrant, one who fled Europe for Canada as the Nazi occupation grew.

Denying entry to people like Kurt is not who we are. We are better than this.

President Trump is targeting “sanctuary cities.” Being a sanctuary city is a choice local communities have the right to make, and scores of American communities have chosen to do so. Yet as is too often the case, the conservative principle of allowing local governments to determine their own destinies appears not to apply when their choices are deemed objectionable.

Yet just as many municipalities are moving forward on climate change regardless of what happens with the federal government, dozens of cities have already signaled their intent to resist the president’s actions on immigration. “We will defend everybody—every man, woman and child—who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state,” said California Governor Jerry Brown in his state of the state address (aquí en Español). 

Many scientists, too, are planning their own resistance to attacks on science and scientists. They are are organizing marches, preparing to run for office, and joining watchdog teams to monitor and respond to activity. If you’re a scientist and you haven’t signed our letter outlining expectations for the Trump administration, including the promotion of diversity, do so here.

Defending Science Is Not Only for Scientists—It’s for All Who Care About Clean Air, Water, and Soil

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is committed to watchdogging the Trump administration’s attacks on science and the safeguards that keep our water, soil, and air clean.  Since the inauguration of President Trump, we have seen how the administration has fired all cannons on deck to gut protections from the ravaging effects of climate change as well as from air, soil, and water contaminants. For example, a few minutes after the inauguration, all mentions of climate change from the White House’s website were taken down (but were archived here). This week, the Environmental Protection Agency has been effectively gagged and immobilized under orders to suspend all social media contacts, and freeze grants and not talk about it.

It’s critical that all members of society oppose this. I have many friends and family members who don’t consider themselves “political” and thus do not raise their voice to oppose these assaults. I understand why—many don’t want to open themselves to attacks or be labeled as “radicals”; others may think that this is the job of the political class or of people who do this for a living (like me!). Others may not think it is as bad as it looks. But let me be clear: it is as bad as it looks. Don’t take my word for it, though. The majority of scientists who work on climate agree that climate change is caused by humans and that it requires immediate action to avoid catastrophic consequences. More importantly, there’s nothing radical about wanting clean air and water to breathe and drink, is there? There’s nothing radical about our children’s right to live in a world without major weather disruptions due to climate change.

I know many people have concerns about the frontal assault of the administration on health and environments and the institutions that protect us. It’s important that your elected officials hear your voice directly about what’s at stake in your state or local community, especially since in a few days confirmation votes for cabinet positions will be coming up. Follow our guide below to get contact information for your Senators, and tips for a successful call with their staff members:

http://www.ucsusa.org/action/phone-calls.html

In general, this can help you be more effective when talking to congressional staff:

  • Make your message clear and concise—just a few sentences
  • Let them know that you’re a constituent—and share any affiliations with local institutions
  • Make a very concrete ask ( e.g. “vote no”)
  • Very briefly, let them know why you care and what the implications are for his/her state and constituency
  • Thank them for their time

Do you have any other tips or resources for people making calls to Congress? Share them in the comments section below.

You Can’t Delete Climate Change

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And so it continues… today brought news that the Trump administration had directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change web page and clamped down on any public communication from agency staff.

As of now, key EPA sites are still online and there is news that there is, at least temporarily, a ‘stand down’ of the order to scrub the web page. Is this a sign that scientists calling attention to this quickly caused a change of mind? (Meanwhile, another related update: a news story (paywall) and a google search of the Department of State’s website indicate that much of the climate-related information seems to have been removed.)

I am stunned that we Americans should even have to be concerned about these types of edicts: Are we in the Middle Ages again?

Why are President Trump and his administration afraid of science?

There’s no getting around the facts of climate change

Despite these Orwellian attempts to remove climate change from agency websites, prevent staff from speaking up, and generally slow or stop federal climate action, there’s no getting around the facts. Climate change is real, our carbon emissions are causing it, it’s already having a costly and harmful effect on our lives, and those risks will grow if we fail to act.

That’s why everyone from the US Department of Defense to the World Economic Forum is taking the risks of climate change seriously.

The president has previously called climate change a “hoax.” His cabinet nominees (including Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry) used talking points at their recent hearings that basically amount to a dangerous new type of climate denial. They acknowledged that climate change is real but continued to sow doubt about its human causes, setting up yet another reason to avoid taking serious action now to curtail our carbon emissions.

Lest there be any doubt, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening AND that the primary cause is carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. America’s premier scientists at the National Academy of Sciences agree, and this is the near-universal consensus of scientists around the world.

We also know that if we make deep cuts in our carbon emissions, we can slow the pace of climate change and limit its harmful impacts. But we have to act quickly.

There’s only one reason for this dangerous censorship of science: Pandering to fossil fuel interests, and putting their profits ahead of the health and well-being of all Americans. And then there’s that padding of the cabinet with appointees with strong links to the industry.

Science is stubborn

As my colleague Alden Meyer put it:

“President Trump and his team are pursuing what I call a ‘control-alt-delete’ strategy: control the scientists in the federal agencies, alter science-based policies to fit their narrow ideological agenda, and delete scientific information from government websites.”

But science and facts have a way of coming out on top despite the best attempts of politicians to duck inconvenient truths and distort reality. As President John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Meanwhile these insidious attempts to undermine climate science are causing us to lose precious time in our response to it, slowing down our transition to a clean energy economy and impeding our efforts to protect communities from climate impacts.

The EPA and climate science 

So what’s at stake at the EPA? Along with other federal agencies like NOAA (part of the Department of Commerce), the EPA is on the front lines of our nation’s response to climate change. Some of the crucial work the EPA does includes, among other things:

Widespread support for tackling climate change

There is widespread support from businesses, labor, faith groups, health professionals, environmental justice groups, environmental groups, and scientists on the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Poll data repeatedly points to strong bipartisan support for renewable energy, including wind and solar power. Yet, ironically the new administration’s America First Energy Plan simply perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels and completely avoids any mention of renewable energy. Hopefully, the administration’s big infrastructure package will include investments in grid modernization and renewable energy.

With the costs of wind and solar dropping dramatically, now is the time to double down on these clean, homegrown forms of affordable energy. Else we will cede leadership to China and other nations that are stepping up to act on climate.

Yes, we also have to ensure that our transition to a clean energy economy includes policies to help coal mining communities and other communities that depend on fossil fuels for their livelihoods. And clean energy and clean energy jobs should also be available in low-income communities and communities of color.

But we can’t avoid dealing with climate change.

Part of a larger trend of anti-science rhetoric from the Trump administration

The anti-science rhetoric from the new administration is dangerous and without precedent.

Scientists are alarmed. They are working together to preserve critical datasets and research that are at risk of censorship from the Trump administration. They’ve held protest rallies at scientific meetings and sent letters to the administration.

They are also concerned about budget and staffing cuts at key agencies charged with providing data critical for our economy (including weather and tide forecasts), and crucial for our understanding of how our climate is changing.

Amidst it all, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross has emerged as a beacon of hope, asserting in his hearing and in a letter to Senator Bill Nelson that he would support the work of NOAA scientists.

The letter says:

I believe science should be left to scientists. If confirmed, I intend to see that the Department provides the public with as much factual and accurate data as we have available. It is public tax dollars that support the Department’s scientific research, and barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public. To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter.

President Trump and the other agency heads he appoints should take a similar approach. What’s at stake are core values—including freedom of speech, scientific integrity, and the importance of basing our policies on sound science. These are not partisan issues, and neither is climate change.

What’s your plan for climate change, President Trump?

The new administration should take the climate threat seriously and propose solutions, not pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. These solutions could look different from those of the Obama administration but simply overturning all our existing climate policies and undermining climate science at federal agencies is not a plan.

President Trump, what is your plan to protect us and our children and grandchildren from climate change?

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