Monthly Archives: February 2017

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Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.

Wastewater from a hog farm in Duplin County, North Carolina, is pink from bacteria. Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.

Colleagues remember Steve Wing as a different kind of scientist — one who believed advocacy and participation should be at the heart of scientific research.

“Community participation was central to the approach [Wing] believed in,” says Phil Brown, a member of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council. “[He believed] community residents were usually the most reliable discoverers of problems.” Wing was an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill until he died in November 2016. As a public health researcher, he advocated the use of community-based participatory research (CBPR) and sought to involve communities threatened by environmental hazards in every step of the research process. Brown says that Wing’s dedication to CBPR serves as an example to other researchers who see their advocacy and research as intertwined.

For 20 years, Wing worked with the people living near large farming operations in North Carolina’s hog country. With more than 2,100 hog farms, North Carolina is one of the largest pork-producing states in the country. Farms are concentrated in the eastern portion of the state, where most divert pig waste to open-air lagoons. When hurricanes hit, the lagoons overflow, spilling untreated hog waste into rivers, lakes, and backyards. When they’re working as intended, the lagoons contain the waste in deep pits that turn pinkish-purple from bacteria, emit toxic gases, and seep into groundwater.

Hog manure is poisonous stuff, but prior to Wing’s studies in the area, not much research had been done on the impacts of pig waste on human health. “People living around animal operations were seeing changes in their well water and smelling odors,” says Naeema Muhammad, co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN). Locals felt their concerns were ignored by area officials with ties to industry, says Muhammad. So they approached Wing to design a study on the health impacts of the farms.

To help build trust, community members were treated as co-researchers. That research partnership produced studies that found pollution from large hog operations was associated with increased blood pressure, respiratory symptoms, and stress. Another study found Black, American Indian, and Hispanic North Carolinians were more likely than White residents to live within 3 miles of an industrial hog farm.

Collaboration didn’t end once the study results were published. Wing brought the data back to the community. “People became more aware [of the health risks],” says Muhammad. “This was information that could help them.”

In a 2015 interview for North Carolina Health News, Wing explained why he believed collaborative research is important: “The research questions we choose and the studies we conduct respond to the needs of government or industry — basically, the organizations that have money to spend on research,” he said. “I became interested in the idea that there are problems that wouldn’t be identified by the authorities, that we could learn about if we just listen to the people who are exposed.”

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Madeline Ostrander – YES! Magazine – Issue 81, Spring 2017

It’s time to look up, look around, and take note because the planet and democracy need you

Up against the White House’s “alternative facts” and attempts to hide climate data, can new allies—citizens and science—prevail against politicians and corporations?

After he moved to London in his early 20s, Luke Howard became obsessed with the weather. Howard had a day job running a pharmacy business in the 1790s and early 1800s, but he spent a lot of his spare time staring at the sky. He collected a set of makeshift weather instruments—glass thermometers; a hygrometer (to measure moisture in the air) cobbled together from a wire spring and a strip of whalebone; and a barometer attached to an old astronomical clock that he bought secondhand and repaired himself. He and his business partner, William Allen, started a science club of a dozen or so members, all men, who met in each other’s houses to give talks about a range of subjects like chemistry, astronomy, and mineralogy. When he was 30, Howard presented to the group three names he had come up with for different types of clouds—cirrus (from the Latin for “curl of hair”), cumulus (referring to a pile), and stratus (a “horizontal sheet”). The talk was a hit, and he published a version of the lecture a year later in a science magazine. And the names stuck: Howard’s cloud categories are still used by professional meteorologists.

This was science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries—a buzzing world of nerds and amateurs trying to document the workings of the world in their spare time. It was less an institution than a labor of love, like sculpture or poetry. London was a kind of hub, full of scientific societies and clubs—they were like the maker faires, the do-it-yourself collectives, the hack-a-thons of the Enlightenment. In the United States, there was a flurry of interest in collecting plant and animal specimens and documenting the natural history of North America. The barriers of the time kept certain people out of science. (There were few scientists of color, although women managed to push their way into influential scientific circles in Europe and America, and Black inventors made important technological contributions in the United States.) Still, the technology for making scientific observations was cheap, much was unknown, and nearly anyone with the means available could make a major contribution.

Then, somewhere between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, science took a turn. As it became more powerful, sophisticated, complicated, and better funded, it disappeared behind the walls of ivory towers and corporate labs. Since the 1970s, support for science has become a partisan issue in the United States, as conservatives’ faith in science keeps declining. Fifty-eight percent of Europeans say they can’t trust scientists because they are too influenced by corporate money. Science culture is now elitist, say its detractors.

Have we forgotten what science is actually for?

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Jonathan Foley, Christine Arena – February 27, 2017 – Scientific American

Here are five meaningful steps you can take

President Trump’s decision to constrain and muzzle scientific research signals an important milestone. The War on Science has shifted into high gear. This is a fight for our future, and scientists as well as citizens had better prepare for what is coming next.

At his confirmation hearings last week, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled the new language of this war—a subtle, yet potentially damaging form of science skepticism. Manmade climate change, he says, is “subject to continuing debate.” There is reason to be concerned about methane released by fracking, but he’s “not deeply concerned.” And research on lead poisoning is “not something [he has] looked into.”

These might sound like quibbles compared to the larger cultural and political upheavals happening in America today, but collectively, they add up to something big.

The systematic use of so-called “uncertainty” surrounding well-established scientific ideas has proven to be a reliable method for manipulating public perception and stalling political action. And while certain private interests and their political allies may benefit from these tactics, the damages are something we will all have to face.

Make no mistake: the War on Science is going to affect you, whether you are a scientist or not. It is going to affect everything—ranging from the safety of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the kind of planet we live on. It will affect the kinds of diseases we get and the medicines we can use. It will determine our safety and security, and the privacy of our data and personal lives. It will dictate what our kids are taught in our schools, what is discussed in the news, and what is debated in the halls of Congress. It will affect the jobs we have, the kind of industries that thrive here, and what powers our economy.

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Jayme Fraser, The Missoulian.com – Feb 20, 2017 Updated Feb 22, 2017


HELENA — Dustin Monroe held up an old Gatorade bottle filled with orange, oil-contaminated water and implored Montana legislators to approve a bill that would ban fossil fuel pipelines from crossing under rivers and lakes.

“How many of us in this room would drink this?” Monroe, CEO of Native Generational Change, asked the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee during a hearing for House Bill 486 on Monday.

The measure would ban pipelines with a diameter of 10 inches or greater from going under navigable water bodies and establish construction requirements for them to cross above ground, including rules on casings and leak detection. The new regulations would apply to fossil fuels such as crude petroleum, coal and their products.

The bill’s introduction comes after several major spills into Montana rivers over the last decade, ranging from Glendive to Billings. And it comes as the nation debates the best methods to transport crude oil, what risk to water sources is acceptable, and how far tribal sovereignty extends when projects cross aboriginal lands that are no longer tribally owned, as was the case outside Standing Rock where thousands have gathered for months to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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By Stan Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency
Dec. 20, 2016 — Unedited copy — Reproduced with permission from here.

At EPA, we can’t protect the environment alone. Environmental protection belongs to all of us, and participating in environmental science is one way that members of the public can have an impact. Citizen science broadens environmental protection by enabling people to work together with government and other institutions toward shared goals.

In citizen science, members of the public participate in scientific and technical work in a variety of ways, including formulating research questions, conducting experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and solving problems. In particular, community citizen science addresses questions defined by communities and allows for community engagement throughout the entire scientific process, empowering people to ask their own questions, collect their own data, and advocate for themselves.
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Friday, February 24, 2017 – Jeremy BrecherCommon Dreams.org

Why ‘Climate Kids’ vs. Trump is no ordinary lawsuit

Two days after the election of Donald Trump, 21 plaintiffs aged 9-20 won a court ruling that may be just as important as that election in determining our future. As the world hurtles into climate catastrophe, the decision by Judge Ann Aiken in the federal district court in Oregon sets the stage for a momentous trial of our right to a stable climate – and the constitutional obligation of the United States government to protect that right. 

Now President Donald Trump has been named lead defendant in the suit. Trump has not only denied the reality of climate change, he has also defied the authority of the courts to enforce other rights of persons – witness his claim in court that his travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries is “unreviewable.” The “climate kids” case Juliana v. United States is shaping up to be not only a historic trial of the culpability of the U.S. government for destruction of the earth’s climate, but of the power of courts to protect our rights.

“No ordinary lawsuit”

 As Judge Aiken emphasized, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” The youth’s suit, supported by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, challenges decisions “across a vast set of topics” — decisions like “whether and to what extent to regulate C02 emissions from power plants and vehicles, whether to permit fossil fuel extraction and development to take place on federal lands, how much to charge for use of those lands, whether to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, whether to subsidize or directly fund that industry, whether to fund the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines at home and abroad, whether to authorize new marine coal terminal projects.”

The climate kids assert that government decisions on these topics over many decades “substantially caused the planet to warm and the oceans to rise.” They draw a “direct causal line” between the government’s policy choices and “floods, food shortages, destruction of property, species extinction, and a host of other harms.”

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Since Trump’s election, scientists have been scrambling to save climate change data sets. And one Michigan graduate student thought the more copies, the better.

It wasn’t long after President Trump took office that chaos took hold at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to rid mostly the country of the agency, leaving just “little tidbits left.” He wasted little time.

Out of the gate, Trump’s transition team was set to remove former President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and other climate data, reported InsideEPA on Jan. 17. Trump officials told EPA staff on Jan. 24 to remove the agency’s climate change page from its website, according to Science. The next day, EPA staffers were told to hold off. Then, two days later, the words “climate change” were erased from the EPA site altogether. Then they were back.

Many scientists didn’t wait to find out what was up, what was down, or what was going which way. At risk was years of data on greenhouse gas emissions, temperature trends, sea level rise, and shrinking sea ice – data essential to our understanding of the enormous environmental shifts our planet is undergoing. Worldwide, they scrambled to capture the information from the websites of the EPA, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Geological Survey. Hackathons were organized to download the data to university servers and sites like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive for the fear that Scott Pruitt would be confirmed as head of the EPA; he was confirmed by the Senate on Friday.

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SierraClub.org – February 15, 2017


…What can environmental groups and all people who care about the environment and public health do in response? 

States, governments, and the EPA aren’t the only ones who have the power to protect the environment. Citizens can take action, too. The nation’s environmental statutes have citizen suit provisions such that aggrieved citizens can bring enforcement actions—essentially stepping into the shoes of the federal government. 

“The citizen suit provisions have two prongs,” says Richard L. Revesz, the Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at New York University School of Law, where he directs the Institute for Policy Integrity. “Citizens can sue polluters for violating the environmental standards that apply to them. If the EPA or a state doesn’t bring enforcement actions against a polluter [that is] emitting more air pollution than is permitted under the regulation, some affected individual can bring a suit to compel a source to comply with its regulatory obligations. The second is that EPA under the statute has various non-discretionary duties. That is, it’s required by statute to take certain actions, and if it doesn’t do them, that’s another possible reason for citizen litigation. Citizens can then sue to compel EPA to carry out a non-discretionary duty under the statute.” 

Should Pruitt, if confirmed, try to reverse years of advances in environmental protections, the nation’s environmental advocacy groups stand ready to act, says Pat Gallagher, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.

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Christian Science Montor — February 20, 2017

Faced with the possibility of cuts to research agencies and fears about suppression of data, attendees at Sunday’s rally added their voices to a growing chorus of concerned scientists.

FEBRUARY 20, 2017 —As temperatures climbed above the 50 degrees F., on Sunday, many Bostonians enjoyed the February weekend outdoors on the city’s bike trails and waterfronts. But for those who gathered in Copley Square downtown, the unseasonable warmth was just the latest evidence of their cause for concern.

“Climate change is not a controversy,” read one sign at yesterday’s “Rally to Stand Up for Science,” which drew hundreds to the historic downtown plaza. Other slogans were more lighthearted, arguing that “Trump’s team are like atoms – They make up everything.”

Whether the signs provoked laughs or stoked outrage among onlookers, the rally’s attendees shared a sense of concern for the future of scientific research in the United States – particularly climate science – under President Trump. Sunday’s protest added to the growing movement of scientists across the country who are voicing activist views on the Trump administration’s emerging policies.

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