6 Reasons to Thank a Government Scientist
By Gretchen Goldman
President Trump signed an executive order Monday 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.
7 Ways Trump’s First Week in the White House Was a Complete Disaster https://t.co/duLPKZYst7 @BusinessGreen @GreenCollarGuy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485728106.0
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:
1. 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 (NOAA).
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 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (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.
2. Did You Eat Something Today? Did You Avoid Food Poisoning?
You can thank a food scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 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 food-borne illnesses.
3. Did You Take Any Medications Today? Did They Work? And Did They Not Kill You?
You can thank a doctor at the U.S. 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 U.S. FDA didn't approve thalidomide for use in the U.S., preventing countless babies from being born with debilitating birth defects. Thanks, FDA scientists!
4. 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 (CPSCI)! 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.
5. Did You Go Outside Today? Were You Able to Breathe Easily?
You can thank a scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 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 U.S. 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.
6. 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 (CDC). 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!
P.S. 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!
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- California Wildfires Destroy Condor Sanctuary, at Least 4 Birds Still ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years - EcoWatch ›
- Latino Voters Worried About Climate Change Could Swing 2020 ... ›
- Climate Crisis Could Change Permafrost Soil Microbes, With ... ›
- Zombie Fires Could Be Awakening in the Arctic - EcoWatch ›
- The Arctic Is on Fire and Warming Twice as Fast as the Rest of the ... ›
By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
Scientists are on the brink of scaling up an enzyme that devours plastic. In the latest breakthrough, the enzyme degraded plastic bottles six times faster than previous research achieved, as The Guardian reported.
- Mutant Enzyme Recycles Plastic in Hours, Could Revolutionize ... ›
- Scientists Find Bacteria That Eats Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Plastics: The History of an Ecological Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Accidentally Develop 'Mutant' Enzyme That Eats Plastic ... ›