Monday, April 17, 2017

U.S. at crossroads: free science from politics and join the March for Science

The complacency by too many Americans while their government is gutting science harkens back to those onerous days in the 1850’s when our fragmented country tried tooth and nail to hold on to slavery—despite the evil. Russia (1723) and the British Empire (1808) had abolished slavery. New York State had made slavery illegal in 1827.

Yet, at the federal level: “Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers”(Wikipedia). Though most people believed that slavery was truly evil by the 1850’s, most of the public still sat on the sidelines until they were forced into the fray with their very lives, the Civil War, where 600,000 people perished.

The war was terrible; it wasn’t inevitable; it could have been prevented had it not been part of our compromised Constitution. We could have given into our better angels. But we didn’t.

The Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution, which reads: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. (Wikipedia)

Those in the middle, those who stayed quiet while slavery raged on, were forced off the sidelines anyways with a war that might have been prevented if more had spoken up sooner.  The Abolitionists did get off the sidelines, but these relative few were accused of causing violence instead of trying to right a wrong. (What if everyone had joined the Abolitionists early on? What if everyone just got off the sidelines at crucial moments in human history?) 

We are at a crossroads again.

This time it’s about not so much a great divide on the value we place on people’s lives as how we shall govern at all. Will science form the backbone of our country or will we succumb to a relatively small group’s ideology? Will our government base its decisions on our accumulated knowledge and science, or cherry-pick fact and fiction to suit a minority’s agenda? Will science be the priority it has been for two centuries in this country, or will we give up and condemn future generations to hell?

Those in the middle now, those staying quiet while science is being gutted are going to be affected whether they think so or not. There may not be a war, but we will be much inconvenienced by a planet warming up far quicker than our species has ever experienced. There are no sidelines in science.

The Fugitive Slave Act was an attempt at compromise on an issue where there was (and is) no compromise. This law placed the Northern states in the impossible position of sending free Americans to a region of the country where they would be returned to slavery. With the growing turmoil, our country in the 1850’s was finally having to face our original sin: How could we promote our country around the world as a free nation when we were enslaving millions of our people? We couldn’t. It was one or the other. No middle ground. Our founding ideals was either true, or they were a lie.  

Sitting home and doing nothing on Earth Day to stop the federal government from muzzling scientists is akin to allowing the Fugitive Slave Law to stand. Because powerful ideologies in Washington really want to rip out science by the roots, all of us must now #StandUpForScience:

Scott Pruitt Faces Anger From Right Over E.P.A. Finding He Won’t Fight When President Trump chose the Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, his mission was clear: Carry out Mr. Trump’s campaign vows to radically reduce the size and scope of the agency and take apart President Barack Obama’s ambitious climate change policies. In his first weeks on the job, Mr. Pruitt drew glowing praise from foes of Mr. Obama’s agenda against global warming, as he moved to roll back its centerpiece, known as the Clean Power Plan, and expressed agreement with those who said the E.P.A. should be eliminated. His actions and statements have galvanized protests from environmentalists and others on the left. But now a growing chorus of critics on the other end of the political spectrum say Mr. Pruitt has not gone far enough. In particular, they are angry that he has refused to challenge a landmark agency determination known as the endangerment finding, which provides the legal basis for Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other global warming policies. (April 12, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Pruitt hasn’t done enough damage to our county? Please. EPA boss: US should exit Paris climate agreement, April 13, 2017 Climate Home)

We must free Science from Politics

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL nails it: A country as large and complicated as ours must get on the same page on science. 

Nelson, near Trump’s Palm Beach resort, calls for end to attacks on climate science  Three years after he held a field hearing in Miami Beach to draw attention to a region at ground zero for climate change, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson convened a second hearing in West Palm Beach on Monday with a new target: the Trump administration’s attack on climate science. Held just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s vulnerable island retreat, the hearing highlighted worsening conditions — and the need to free science from politics. “There are people trying to muzzle scientists. I’ve seen it in Washington. I’ve seen it here in the state of Florida,” said Nelson, a Democrat and the state’s former insurance commissioner. (April 10, 2017) Miami Herald [more on Climate Change in our area]

The essential problem

How far will the ideologues get before the public stands up? Science, however powerful a discipline, does not automatically motivate humanity. For example, how many freaking times does your river have to catch on fire before you act?

“The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. It has caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868, including this blaze in 1952 which caused over $1.3 million in damages.” HOW A BURNING RIVER HELPED CREATE THE CLEAN WATER ACT (April 14, 2016 The Alleghany Front)

We can depend on science for a lot of things. In fact, it was science that helped lift humanity out of the Dark Ages and moved us into the Age of Enlightenment. But obviously, we cannot depend on science to overcome our Janus-faced tendency towards the love truth and also an inclination to revert back to our gut reactions—fear and mysticism. To do that we need everyone out in the streets this Earth Day to March for Science, Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Act

We cannot wait for public opinion to someday reach a tipping point; the time is now to right our course. For the March for Science in Rochester:


ROCHESTER MARCH FOR SCIENCE Marchers will gather at Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Park at Manhattan Square at 9:30AM on April 22nd. At 10:30AM, we will begin marching towards the Hyatt Regency. Upon arriving at the Hyatt, you are cordially invited to attend the first Rochester Science Expo. Please visit our facebook page to RSVP to the event!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Not so easy to be green, especially since Trump

(This is an update of my 2008 article: Not So Easy To Be Green.)

It should be easy being green. That is to say, it should be easy to live sustainably. It should be easy to work and play and move from place to place and keep ourselves warm (or cool) and eat and breathe and allow our children and those in the future to do the same without crashing our life support system. But unless you are living in Ashton Hayes, England, “a well knit community of about 1000 people that is aiming to become England's first carbon neutral community”1, you’re probably going to find being green tough. 

Fossil fuels, which Trump is trying to resuscitate and reinvigorate, are so ensnarled into our way of life that even the best of efforts to go green are still going to have a significant carbon footprint. If you travel, what you drive is either power by fossil fuels or made with them. Even if you walk, that involves fossil fuels because sidewalks are made with machinery made from burning fossil fuels. If you eat, fossil fuels in some way probably got that food to your table. If you heat or cool your building, most likely fossil fuels make that possible. 

I could go on, but you get the idea. Our lives are so riddled with burning fossil fuels, which are warming the planet, it is almost inconceivable to quickly rid ourselves of this energy source. But we have to do so and we have to do so soon.

Since Trump

Trump has allowed the very convenient (although wrong) position that business as usual is not only desirable but sustainable. Polluting our collective natural resources, by continuing to burn fossil fuels and ratcheting down environmental regulations only allows us the delusion of growth, especially for those already benefitting from these outdated practices. But this way of existence is truly delusional because it threatens everyone, including those doing well, only a short time longer. Just about the time Trump leaves office, we will have blown our carbon budget:

Analysis: Just four years left of the 1.5C carbon budget Four years of current emissions would be enough to blow what’s left of the carbon budget for a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C. That’s the conclusion of analysis by Carbon Brief, which brings the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) carbon budgets up to date to include global CO2 emissions in 2016. Our infographic above shows how quickly the budgets for 1.5C, 2C and 3C will be used up if emissions continue at the current rate. For 1.5C, this could be a soon as four years’ time. (April 5, 2017) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]

Trump is allowing too many of us to give into our worst angels just when the doors to hell are opening for our arrival. The American dream is not going to happen if we’re all cooking in our own juices.

Hope

Just after our Civil War, when Reconstruction was but a dream, many former slaves risked life and limb informing authorities about violence from the white community. These former slaves expected justice beyond all evidence to the contrary that they would get it. But these people who had been beaten and abused for decades believed that our country could be the place where all people are created equal. They didn’t just pine away and dream; they attempted to conduct their lives as if the reconstructed country was actually going to practice what they preached. This took an incredible amount of faith in humanity, a faith that someday a people thrown into slavery would someday be treated as equals, get an education, and own businesses themselves.

They kept their eyes on the prize. Their struggle provides a beacon of hope that humanity can change, and do so quickly.

It can be easy to be green if we envision what a sustainable existence can be and move inexorably towards that goal. Once accomplished, once we have rid ourselves of burning up dead animals and plants and redesigning our way of existing as fair and sustainable, it will be easy. Being green will be easy because it will be built into the very fabric of our existence.

A beacon of hope:   

Check out one of the major environmental events this Earth Month 2017, by the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club. The president of the national Sierra Club, Aaron Mair, is going to be speaking on Intersectionality and Building a Strong Climate Movement:

“This year, your Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club is bringing a distinguished advocate for environmental justice to Rochester. He is Aaron Mair, the President of the Sierra Club and a powerful speaker who can inspire our community. Our hope is that this can be a ground breaking event for Rochester bringing together the white progressive community with the communities of color. Aaron has a long history in working for environmental change. He succeeded in shutting down a dirty incinerator plant in Albany, NY by revealing how pollution was causing sickness in the people of color who lived around it. ”2:

More details:

“Thursday, April 20th from 7-9 PM at the New Bethel CME Church located at 270 Scio Street, Rochester, NY 14605. Come early to visit tables of local environmental groups to find out what they are doing in our area from 6-6:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public. He will also be addressing classes at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. You can find a schedule on our Facebook page early April. We are very excited the opportunity has arrived to join forces with the communities of color on the issues that affect us all.”3.


Time passes.  

Monday, April 03, 2017

Trump’s anti-science experiment is unethical and unprecedented in U.S.

One of the problems in conducting risky experiments are the ethical problems highlighted by the infamous USPHS Syphilis Study. It was called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male" and was conducted between 1932 and 1947. When the study of syphilis in poor black sharecroppers began, there was no known cure for syphilis. But “When penicillin became the standard treatment for the disease in 1947 the medicine was withheld as a part of the treatment for both the experimental group and control group”:

“While the panel concluded that the men participated in the study freely, agreeing to the examinations and treatments, there was evidence that scientific research protocol routinely applied to human subjects was either ignored or deeply flawed to ensure the safety and well-being of the men involved. Specifically, the men were never told about or offered the research procedure called informed consent. Researchers had not informed the men of the actual name of the study, i.e. "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," its purpose, and potential consequences of the treatment or non-treatment that they would receive during the study. The men never knew of the debilitating and life threatening consequences of the treatments they were to receive, the impact on their wives, girlfriends, and children they may have conceived once involved in the research. The panel also concluded that there were no choices given to the participants to quit the study when penicillin became available as a treatment and cure for syphilis.” (About the USPHS Syphilis Study, Tuskegee University)

As you can imagine, all hell broke loose when the details were made public. A panel looking into this case determined that the experiment was "ethically unjustified." Yeah, no kidding.
Similarly, although we are existing in a free society where we can attend to the media we wish and vote as we choose, the vast majority of Americans never expected to be forced to engage in an experiment involving dismantling of science-based safety regulations. This experiment could be called, ‘What would be the effect if the world’s most powerful and influential nation abandoned science?’ Like the sharecroppers in the study, it would never have occurred to us that those running the experiment would hold to their ideology even if it meant a craven disregard for our lives.

The science behind gravity, flying jets, public health, ecosystems health, and climate is all the same science. When a country that once based public policies on sound science suddenly reverts to a pre-science stance, it can only be called an experiment. It’s one thing to want the world to reflect your ideology; it’s quite another thing to challenge the very science that provides the foundation of all governmental policies—and life itself. That’s not only dumb, it’s unethical. It’s unethical in the same way that denying known treatment to subjects of an experiment is unethical. (Although, the consequences in our present experiment will be far more extensive.)

The editorial board of the New York Times recently tried to characterize the unrivaled hubris and recklessness now rampant in our government:   

President Trump Risks the Planet That didn’t take long. Only 10 weeks into his presidency, and at great risk to future generations, Donald Trump has ordered the demolition of most of President Barack Obama’s policies to combat climate change by reducing emissions from fossil fuels. The assault began with Mr. Trump’s pledge in Detroit to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, continued with a stingy budget plan that would end funding for climate-related scientific programs and reached an unhappy apex Tuesday with an executive order that, among things, would rescind the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s clean power strategy, a rule that would shut down hundreds of old coal-fired power plants and freeze the construction of new ones. None of this was unexpected from a man who has described climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese to destroy American industry and who has surrounded himself with cabinet officers and assistants who know or care little about the issue of global warming and its consequences — and who, in many cases, owe their political success to the largess of the oil, gas and coal companies. (March 28, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

One can be on the sidelines on almost any issue. From your TV set (or wireless device), you can watch thousands protesting on issues like race, gender, justice, worker rights, and do nothing. One shouldn’t do nothing to stop evil, but one can. That is, one is physically able ignore the plight of others. 

However, with Climate Change, you cannot be on the sidelines. If you and your neighbor live on shoreline properties and the ocean is rising, both of your properties are affected. This will occur whether you like it or not.

You can deny the science behind Climate Change (and gravity for that matter), but you’d be wrong. 

You’d be wrong morally (because you’d be doing nothing at a time when something needs to be done), and you’d be factually wrong because eventually our environment will be unlivable unless steps are made on a level and time frame that will matter to us.

You can sit on the sidelines when scientists are being dismissed by their government. But you cannot sit on the sidelines of science itself. In other words, you cannot exist outside the laws of physics. You cannot start flapping your arms and fly to another planet.

Let’s face it. It’s one thing for folks to hold climate denial as their abhorrent opinion at this point in human history; it’s quite another for our government to be run this way.

We should not allow ourselves to be unwilling victims to this anti-science experiment. Earth Month is now happening in Rochester. ACT!


Time passes.  #ScienceMatters