Selected category: Science

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Also posted in Extreme Weather, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Healthier, safer summers – brought to you by EPA

This weekend is Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer. That means kids across the country – and adults too – are counting down the days until summer vacation.

Whether your plans include going to a beach, visiting a national park, or just letting your kids play outside in the sprinklers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plays an important role in making your summer healthier and safer – in ways you might not realize.

Here are four examples of how EPA improves summers for all Americans:

  1. Reducing deadly smog

Smog comes from pollution emitted from cars, power plants, and other sources. It can lead to asthma attacks, heart attacks and even deaths.

The summer smog season has already started in most parts of the country. A number of “code orange” days – the terms for days when the air may be too dangerous for some people, like children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions, to be outdoors – have already been issued.

Los Angeles in 1948 USC Libraries Special Collections – Los Angeles Examiner

Smog has improved significantly in recent decades, thanks to EPA and state leadership, but air quality in the U.S. continues to be a serious problem that can jeopardize public health and limit many individuals’ freedom to spend time outdoors. The American Lung Association estimates that more than a third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of smog.

EPA has worked for decades to reduce smog, most recently when the agency issued new standards for smog in 2015. Once they're in effect, those standards will prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children every year. That doesn’t include the benefits for California, which EPA calculated separately – the smog standards will prevent another 160,000 asthma attacks among children in that state alone.

Los Angeles nowAlamy

Unfortunately, smog standards are under attack in Congress. Several bills to delay and fundamentally alter how these and other air pollution standards are set are now moving through the Senate. Additionally, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 cuts funding for the air monitoring that warns families about “Code Red” and “Code Orange” days – the days when air quality reaches unhealthy levels – by almost one third. 

  1. Safer, cleaner beaches

Many of us look forward to summer for the opportunity to spend time on the beach.

Last year, U.S. beach attendance was almost 360 million (more than the entire U.S. population!).

Unfortunately, beaches can be shut down by pollution – including raw sewage, which can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called “pathogens” that can make people sick.

An analysis done by the Natural Resources Defense Council a few years ago looked at water samples from 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches – and found that 10 percent of them were above EPA’s benchmark for swimmer safety. The analysis also notes that an estimated 3.5 million people are sickened every year from contact with raw sewage.

EPA – in partnership with states, local governments, and others – works to protect our nation’s beaches. The agency enforces laws and administers programs that regulate sources of water pollution at beaches, conducts leading scientific research on pathogens and sets national standards and criteria, funds grants to states and local governments to help protect our beaches, provides information to the public about water quality, and more. This work helps ensure that America’s beaches stay safe, clean, and open for visitors.

Here are a few examples of beach monitoring and cleanup grants distributed by EPA:

  • Lakeview Beach Green Infrastructure Project in the Great Lakes. The City of Lorain, Ohio got a $250,000 grant to construct a “green” stormwater treatment system at the city’s Lakeview Park, located on Lake Erie. The new system will reduce the E. coli bacteria in stormwater from being directly discharged into Lake Erie at Lakeview Beach, and will reduce the frequency of bacteria-related beach closures.

President Trump’s proposed budget for EPA would eliminate the beach monitoring grants program, among many other things that could impact the health of our nation’s beaches.

  1. Cleaning up the air in our national parks

Shenandoah National Park on a clear day and a hazy dayNational Park Service

National parks are a popular destination for summer vacationers across the country.

According to the National Park Service, there were over 307 million visits to our national parks last year and those visitors spent $16.9 billion in surrounding communities. This spending supported 295,000 jobs and contributed $32 billion to economic output nationally.

EPA and other agencies monitor visibility at 155 national parks and wilderness areas across the country. Unfortunately, many national parks suffer from haze – a form of pollution – that can tarnish scenic vistas and create health problems for visitors.

EPA’s program to reduce haze and other pollution harming our parks has led to measurable improvements in visibility. However, according to the National Parks and Conservation Association, three out of four of our most iconic national parks struggle with unhealthy air, and visitors miss about 50 miles of scenery because of haze.

EPA’s work to reduce the pollution affecting our parks is under threat by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued EPA over a plan to reduce haze when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma.

  1. Reducing the pollution contributing to climate change

Climate change affects virtually every facet of our lives and can exacerbate all of the problems listed above – more smoggy days, rising sea levels and more pathogens potentially spreading at beaches, and worse haze in our parks.

Extreme summer heat can also cause illness and death, and climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of those potentially deadly heat waves.

EPA has provided essential leadership to address climate change – including setting standards that would reduce pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, oil and gas operations, and more. Actions underway by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and severe budget cuts in President Trump’s proposed EPA budget could significantly harm the progress we’ve made and delay urgently needed protections for public health and our climate.

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have indicated they will seek to unravel numerous climate protections, including the Clean Power Plan. Their proposed budget for EPA and other agencies undermines climate research and policies, including by zeroing out the U.S. Climate Action Plan.

Protecting the things that we love about summer

EPA’s work protects our air, our water, our beautiful beaches and parks – and most important, the health and safety of our families. As you enjoy your summer, please remember how important it is to protect the qualities that make summer great.

We need a strong EPA – now and all year long. More than just our summers are at stake.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Take these first steps to lower your impact on climate change

Happy Earth Day

The average household in the United States emits almost 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. That is about the same weight as 10 adult African elephants.

Earth Day is tomorrow, and at this time of the year, many of us are thinking about those kinds of facts. We wonder how we can personally help the climate by reducing our individual impacts.

A simple internet search will yield a laundry list of actions that may be overwhelming, and often will be far less than satisfying. You may find suggestions that are not indicative of the actual size of your impact (turning off your lights versus not flying from east to west coast, for example – they are not equivalent). You may also find information that is irrelevant to your specific lifestyle (for example, the recommendation to cut out meat when you are already a vegetarian).

Because each of our lives is unique (click here to see how carbon footprints vary by zip code), we really need to have a good understanding of our personal and professional impacts on the climate before we can determine good actions to take, and choices to make, to reduce those impacts.

Here is a table with some great resources, to help you get started:

 

PERSONALPROFESSIONAL
Calculate your carbon footprint AND determine specific actions you can take to reduce your impactUse this calculator to:

1. Determine your personal carbon footprint (broken down by travel, housing, food, goods, and services)

2. Develop your unique action plan tailored to your personal impacts (includes emissions saved, dollars saved, and upfront costs)
Use this calculator to:

1. Determine your business carbon footprint (broken down by travel, facilities, and procurement)

2. Develop your unique action plan tailored to your business impacts (includes emissions saved, dollars saved, and upfront costs)
Make better choicesLearn how to save energy and money at home, on the move, at the store, in the yard, at the curb, and at work
Learn how to be more energy efficient at home, in buildings, and in plants, and to buy more efficient products and new homes.
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

Putting profits over our children’s health

By Sarah Vogel

The same week President Trump signed an Executive Order aimed at undermining crucial climate and health protections, the House Science Committee held a hearing that had no purpose other than to flaunt the latest in industry funded pseudo-science on climate change. This committee has a track record of lacking scientific rigor, and with the Chairman literally questioning whether Science Magazine or the industry-funded Heartland Institute was more reliable as a source, this hearing was no different.

These events are part of a long term, unrelenting effort on the part of well-funded, entrenched fossil fuel interests to fight climate safeguards at every turn, prioritizing polluter profits above the health of the American people. Make no mistake; there are serious human health consequences to ignoring the facts on climate change, including more asthma attacks, the expansion in disease migration, heatstroke, and increased mortality.

How in the world—after decades of research and overwhelming scientific evidence—could these peddlers of pollution have such a prominent voice in this Congress and Administration? Simple: they’re selling a surprisingly effective product: doubt. Selling doubt has been used for decades to keep deadly products on the market.

We’ve seen this game before.

The tobacco lobby denied smoking caused lung cancer for decades

By the 1950s, the strong link between smoking and lung cancer had become increasingly well identify in the scientific literature. Additional research and growing pressure from prominent health associations led to the 1964 declaration by the Surgeon General that smoking causes lung cancer and presents significant health risks, including emphysema and heart disease.

The tobacco industry knew better than anyone the state of the science. And for nearly fifty years, the industry skillfully seeded and manufactured scientific doubt and effectively spread propaganda to delay and slow a global public health response to a deadly and addictive—not to mention highly lucrative— killer. In 1994, the chairman of a major tobacco company, came before the U.S. House of Representatives and still declared that he did not believe that nicotine was addictive. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that smoking bans in public and private spaces in the U.S. finally took hold, however tobacco use continues to be a global health epidemic.

How have tobacco companies succeeded in expanding the market for this deadly product when the science has been so clear for so long? The strategy was succinctly captured in a 1969 memo by a tobacco executive: “doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” (See Merchants of Doubt for more on the connections between the tobacco and climate doubters.)

The lead industry fought against the link between lead and childhood poisoning for a good sixty years

When the story of lead in Flint’s water supply finally gained national attention, Americans were dismayed, and knew there was a problem. This is because the public trusts the best science including that being done by the Centers for Disease Control which called lead poisoning “the most common and societally devastating environmental disease of young children in the United States,” and declares that there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood.

This, however, was not always the case. Lead was once commonly added to gasoline and paint and used in the pipes that deliver water to homes. Lead poisoning in children was a national issue by the 1940s and 1950s, and yet lead-based paint continued to be used to cover the walls of most American homes and was aggressively marketed to families through the late 1970s. Lead-based paint continues to be the primary source of children’s exposure to this chemical. Major policies to limit the use of lead in paint, gasoline, and food cans were enacted in the late 1970s, and we’ve seen levels in children’s blood decline ever since (see EDF’s interactive graph of the impacts of lead policies on lead exposure in children.)

Despite decades and decades of clear and ample scientific evidence of lead’s toxicity, this industry expanded its market in the U.S. and globally. Using similar tactics of manufacturing scientific doubt, lobbying, and propaganda, the industry stayed focused on protecting its profits and in the process robbed millions of children of healthy and prosperous lives.

We won’t be fooled

You wouldn’t know it from looking at Washington these days, but not only is the House Science Committee vastly out touch with science – which now clearly indicates that human are causing climate change– they are also at odds with the American people who overwhelmingly say climate change is happening.

They are also working against the tide of the American economy; there are now over 3 million Americans working in clean energy, well past the number employed in coal, with many of these jobs in Republican districts. Over 1,000 top businesses have also committed to staying on a low-carbon path, stating that addressing climate change is good business.

Some polluters and their well-paid lawyers (including firms that literally worked on the tobacco fight) continue to manufacturer doubt and pedal in climate denial propaganda, and the House Committee gave them a prominent platform to do so last week. Such boldfaced efforts to put profits over our children’s health—as was done with tobacco and lead—must be confronted by the truth. To call out these lies, to demand integrity and truth in the face of deceit, is what we all must do.

Please help us fight back>>

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health| Read 2 Responses

How Do We Know That Humans Are Causing Climate Change? These Nine Lines of Evidence

While most Americans acknowledge that climate change is happening, some are still unsure about the causes.

They are often labeled “climate skeptics,” but that label can cause confusion or even anger.

Isn’t the nature of science to be skeptical? Isn’t it good to question everything?

Yes, but —

Here’s what is getting lost in the conversation:

Scientists have been asking these questions for nearly 200 years. The scientific community has been studying these questions for so long that collectively they have amassed an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to a clear conclusion.

A similar situation is smoking and cancer. Nowadays, no one questions the link between smoking and cancer, because the science was settled in the 1960s after more than 50 years of research. The questions have been asked and answered with indisputable evidence.

We can think of the state of human activities and climate change as no different than smoking and cancer. In fact, we are statistically more confident that humans cause climate change than that smoking causes cancer.

Our confidence comes from the culmination of over a century of research by tens of thousands of scientists at hundreds of institutions in more than a hundred nations.

So what is the evidence?

The research falls into nine independently-studied but physically-related lines of evidence, that build to the overall clear conclusion that humans are the main cause of climate change:

  1. Simple chemistry that when we burn carbon-based materials, carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted (research beginning in 1900s)
  2. Basic accounting of what we burn, and therefore how much CO2 we emit (data collection beginning in 1970s)
  3. Measuring CO2 in the atmosphere and trapped in ice to find that it is indeed increasing and that the levels are higher than anything we've seen in hundreds of thousands of years  (measurements beginning in 1950s)
  4. Chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 that reveals the increase is coming from burning fossil fuels (research beginning in 1950s)
  5. Basic physics that shows us that CO2 absorbs heat (research beginning in 1820s)
  6. Monitoring climate conditions to find that recent warming of the Earth is correlated to and follows rising CO2 emissions (research beginning in 1930s)
  7. Ruling out natural factors that can influence climate like the Sun and ocean cycles (research beginning in 1830s)
  8. Employing computer models to run experiments of natural vs. human-influenced “simulated Earths” (research beginning in 1960s)
  9. Consensus among scientists that consider all previous lines of evidence and make their own conclusions (polling beginning in 1990s)

(You can also see these nine lines of evidence illustrated in the graphic below)

Skeptics sometimes point to the last two supporting lines of evidence as weaknesses. They’re not. But even if you choose to doubt them, it is really the first seven that, combined, point to human activities as the only explanation of rising global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and the subsequent climate changes (such as ice melt and sea level rise) that have occurred due to this global warming.

The science is settled, and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can work together towards addressing the problems caused by climate change – and towards a better future for us all.

 

(Click here for a pdf version of the graphic)

 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 39 Responses

Climate Confusion in the Age of "Alternative Facts"

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

A very familiar type of ad recently appeared in the New York Times. It was the sort of fact-free manifesto normally found only on the fringes of the Internet, until someone with enough money decides to buy a full page in a newspaper.

These kinds of public declarations can be about anything from ancient nationalist grudges to fad nutritional theories. This one, by an obscure South Korean firm called Samsung Chemical Coating Company (no apparent relation to the electronics company), declared that carbon dioxide pollution isn’t causing climate change and that global warming will end in 2060 and be replaced by a destructive ice age, among other similarly oddball assertions.

Usually this kind of claim is barely worth refuting, as it is flatly contradicted by the consensus of the international scientific community. But one important detail made this ad different, and more dangerous.

First, let’s be clear about the substance of the ad and the real scientific facts.

There is absolutely no scientific basis or merit to the claims being made in the ad. No actual climate scientist takes seriously catastrophes in movies like The Day After Tomorrow becoming reality, or strange theories like the idea that creatures mutated from sunlight at the end of an ice age. No information about their “study” is available on the Internet, nor in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. There is no explanation about how they arrived at their conclusions, or any discussion of the information or data that served as the basis for their claims. And if you try Googling information about the authors, you’ll come up empty.

Even the more nuanced statements in the ad about the relationships between Earth’s precession, glacial cycles, and sea level rise are unsubstantiated. The authors use these unsupported claims as “proof” that carbon dioxide emissions do not cause global warming — an argument that should not be taken seriously given the lack of any supporting data. Their claims also demonstrate a profound ignorance of established physics. And the direct “certainty” throughout the ads about specific events – such as the disappearance of Earth’s magnetic field – adds to the characteristically unscientific approach.

All of these are hallmarks of the Crazy Full Page Ad.

Here is the truth:

  • The fact that carbon dioxide and other pollutants are changing our climate in dangerous ways has been established by decades of scientific research and mountains of data – from ice core samples, satellites, and other monitoring and analysis.
  • It is a conclusion strongly endorsed by the National Academies of Science, the scientists at NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and all major American scientific organizations.
  • These climate pollutants, which have the known physical property of trapping heat, have been building up in our atmosphere since the world started burning lots of coal for the Industrial Revolution, and global average temperatures have risen right along with that accumulation.

So if all of this is nonsense, why protest so much?

Because at this moment in history, we have – amazingly, shockingly, dangerously – an Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who makes similarly outlandish claims. In an appearance on CNBC last week, Scott Pruitt said:

I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.

In essence, he said he doesn’t know if the greatest environmental challenge of our time, his biggest responsibility, is real. It’s like having a surgeon general who doubts the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Or an attorney general who doesn’t consider the drug cartels to be dangerous organizations.

The result of Pruitt’s statements was a flood of outrage, reportedly locking up EPA’s switchboards like never before. (The agency had to set up an impromptu call center, according to leaks from employees.) Commentators on the left and right were stunned, even in an era when it’s a challenge to say something crazy enough to make the front page.

So what could normally be dismissed as a fringe ad cannot be ignored. We must, unfortunately, remind Americans who instinctively assume an EPA administration would know basic environmental science of the real facts. We must stand up and calmly explain what is at stake for our children and grandchildren. At EDF, we will continue to do that.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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