If you have a vital research project that needs continued funding, what do you do in the face of an administration hostile to science?
Keep calling research into climate change what it is? or find another euphemism that gets you by the reality police?
Scientists increasingly choosing option 2.

Baby steps to a new Dark Age.

All the more reason to support Dark Snow Project and Crowd funded science.

NPR:

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term “climate change” in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase “climate change” in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term’s use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as “extreme weather” appears to be rising slightly.

The change in language appears to be driven in part by the Trump administration’s open hostility to the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, and the President’s 2018 budget proposalsingled out climate change research programs for elimination.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been systematically removing references to climate change from its official website. Both the EPA’s leader, Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry have said they do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to get warmer.

As a result, many scientists find themselves in an uncomfortable position. They are caught between environmental advocates looking to recruit allies and right-wing activists who demonize researchers and denigrate their work.

Read the rest of this entry »

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gradstudents

Economics 101 tells us that if you tax something, you tend to discourage it.
Hence, taxes on things like tobacco, liquor, etc.

Climate change, and the necessary transition to a zero carbon economy, represent the greatest challenge to civilization at the moment.
A Carbon tax, for instance,  would be an elegant and laser-focused signal to markets that would, if applied in the US, instantly shoot this country back to the front of the line in development and deployment of the renewable energies that are creating the industrial revolution of this century.

The Republican response?
Don’t tax carbon, tax knowledge, tax curiosity, tax ambition, tax the passion to learn how the world works and create the products and services that will allow us to survive and prosper.  And choke off the World’s greatest educational system, that keeps producing those pesky scientists who tell us things billionaire donors do not want to hear.

Current tax reform bill includes language to penalize, if not extinguish, higher education in America.
It’s not a bug – it’s a feature. They really mean it.

Andrew Dessler in the San Antonio Express-News:

A tax on graduate school is an attack on our economy

One of the most foolish parts of the tax bill currently being debated in Congress is a large, new tax on graduate school. The new bill implements this through taxing what is known as “tuition waivers.” At most schools, graduate students do not pay tuition (it is waived).

This is done because grad students, who typically get paid around $25,000 per year, can’t afford tuition that in some cases can exceed $50,000 per year.

In the new tax bill, the value of the waived tuition is counted as if it were money the students are actually getting (their earned income, of course, is already taxed). Thus, a grad student who makes $25,000 would have to pay taxes as if they made $75,000.

This would be a terrible policy because it would hurt one of America’s most prized and valuable possessions: excellence in advanced university research. Graduate students form the backbone of research done at universities in the U.S. When professors proudly talk about the amazing work their lab is performing, the odds are that the critical contributions were made by an army of smart, hardworking grad students.

This research is one of the primary sources of innovation in our economy. Research carried out at universities, as well as research that graduate students do after they graduate, has transformed every aspect of the world around us. Medical research has significantly lengthened and improved our lives. Agricultural research keeps us fed.

Military research keeps us safe by ensuring that our soldiers have better equipment than their opponents. The internet is built on technologies that emerged from research anchored by our universities.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Climate Risks, Money Talks

November 29, 2017

I’ve often pointed out that, as much as climate deniers want to skirt around the impacts of global change, insurers and financial services with real money on the table can’t afford to play games.

Wake up call for cities.

Washington Post:

Last week, Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration has asked for $12 billion to help communities fight climate-change-related flooding — a request that might seem surprising, given Trump’s stance that climate change is a hoax and his administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Of course, we don’t know whether Trump has actually come to agree with the scientific consensus that humans have caused a drastic change in Earth’s climate.

Bloomberg:

Coastal communities from Maine to California have been put on notice from one of the top credit rating agencies: Start preparing for climate change or risk losing access to cheap credit.

In a report to its clients Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. explained how it incorporates climate change into its credit ratings for state and local bonds. If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.

“What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure,” Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s, said in a phone interview. “That’s taken into your credit ratings.”

coastalfloodtweet

In its report, Moody’s lists six indicators it uses “to assess the exposure and overall susceptibility of U.S. states to the physical effects of climate change.” They include the share of economic activity that comes from coastal areas, hurricane and extreme-weather damage as a share of the economy, and the share of homes in a flood plain. Read the rest of this entry »

Michigan Radio:

“Since about 1990 there has been this hypothesis in the field of ecological sciences that the modern rates of species extinction, which are about 1000 times faster than normal, is going to affect the productivity of the ecosystems,” Cardinale said.

This hypothesis spawned hundreds of studies, but, while 90% of the studies supported the hypothesis, they were all on a small scale and skeptics doubted the results would hold up outside of small samples in the lab.

Cardinale’s study changed that by synthesizing data from 600,000 locations in the real world. Cardinale called it “the true test of whether biodiversity actually matters.”

On the results of this study

“We found that biodiversity matters, and it matters a whole lot more than we had expected,” Cardinale said.

“We found that biodiversity is important for sustaining humanity. One of the key points of this study is that biodiversity seems to control the production of biomass in most of the world’s ecosystems.”

Cardinale said that biodiversity seems to be more impactful on biomass, or “living tissue,” production than any other factor, including carbon dioxide, nutrients, and temperature.

Biodiversity not only contributes to the amount of natural resources we have available and the quality of our air, but it also seems to work as natural disaster prevention. Organic biodiversity can help protect against things like hurricane flooding and climate change. Cardinale called it an “insurance policy.”

“So, if biodiversity, and our loss of biodiversity, affects the production of biomass, it’s going to affect people’s ability to live,” Cardinale said. Read the rest of this entry »

John Oliver has set up a link where you can comment directly on FCC’s well hidden comment page, with the brilliant URL –
gofccyourself.com

New York Times mentions Oliver’s efforts as particularly effective in boosting comments on this critical issue.

New York Times:

In the week since the Federal Communications Commission released a plan to scrap existing rules for internet delivery, more than 200,000 phone calls, organized through online campaigns, have been placed to Congress in protest. An additional 500,000 comments have been left on the agency’s website. On social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, the issue has been a leading topic of discussion.

At the center of the debate is whether telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon should be able to charge internet sites for delivering their data to consumers’ homes. In 2015, the F.C.C. voted to prohibit those charges, in a policy often called net neutrality.

But Mr. Pai, a Republican nominated for the chairmanship by President Trump, said the regulations were heavy-handed and prevented telecom companies from pursuing new business models. His proposal, by stripping away the existing rules, would allow telecom companies to charge websites to deliver their data at higher speeds.

In a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Pai addressed some of the concerns that have been voiced since he released his proposal, pointing specifically to comments by celebrities like Cher and Kumail Nanjiani of “Silicon Valley.” He said their tweets warning that his rules would lead to authoritarianism and a handout to big cable companies were “utterly absurd.”

“I’d like to cut through hysteria and hot air and speak in plain terms about the plan,” Mr. Pai said, adding that the plan would bring back the regulation-free policy that helped the internet thrive. He said big tech companies might be a bigger threat to online speech than telecom companies.

The proposal is expected to be approved at a meeting of the five F.C.C. commissioners on Dec. 14. The two other Republican commissioners have already expressed their support for Mr. Pai.

The 2015 rules also elicited strong interest. The F.C.C. site was overwhelmed with comments after a monologue from the late-night host John Oliver went viral online. Some people who wanted the stronger rules blocked the driveway of the chairman at the time, Tom Wheeler, to try to persuade him to change the agency’s plan.

Big web companies like Google and Netflix played activist roles as well, supporting the stronger rules. They argued that telecom companies should not be able to split sites into fast lanes and slow lanes, because that would allow them to become a sort of gatekeeper for information and entertainment. In addition, they say, it would hurt start-ups without the money to pay for the faster lanes.

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Let’s Talk Tillerson

November 28, 2017

As a recurring actor in the climate debate, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil has figured prominently in shaping the international conversation over the past decade or so.
His close relationship with Vladimir Putin is well known, as is his half trillion dollar plan for Exxon to work with Moscow in moving Russian gas out of the arctic.

For that reason, when he was named as Secretary of State, it seemed to a lot of people to be as clear an indicator as any of the close coordination between the Trump White House and the oil-soaked mafia oligarchy ruling Putin’s Petrostate.
Still, some held out hope that Tillerson, who is on record as favoring a carbon tax, might be a moderating influence on the climate deniers in Trump’s circle.  I had some small hope myself.
I think we can discount that hope at this time.
Meanwhile, Tillerson’s management of the US State Department, one of Washington’s Crown Jewels of professional knowledge and expertise, has been stunningly inept, if not deliberately destructive.

The most charitable interpretation of those actions is incompetence.
A darker view is that this is a Putin inspired initiative to deliberately hamstring and cripple the United State’s ability to act in the wider world, and create a power and influence vacuum for the Russians and Chinese to fill. See Rachel Maddow’s take on that below.

Former Diplomats Nicolas Burns and Ryan Crocker in the New York Times:

The Foreign Service, our country’s irreplaceable asset for understanding and interacting with a complex and dangerous world, is facing perhaps its greatest crisis. President Trump’s draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great foreign service just when we need it most.

The United States is facing an extraordinary set of national security challenges. While we count on our military ultimately to defend the country, our diplomats are with it on front lines and in dangerous places around the world. They are our lead negotiators as we work with our European allies in NATO to contain growing Russian power on the Continent. They are our lead negotiators seeking a peaceful end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Our diplomats are assembling the coalition of countries in East Asia to counter the irresponsible regime of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

But we are concerned the Trump administration is weakening the Foreign Service by a series of misguided decisions since taking office. It has proposed a 31 percent budget reduction for the State Department that would cripple its global reach. It has failed to fill the majority of the most senior ambassadorial positions in Washington and overseas. It is on track to take the lowest number of new officers into the service in years.

It has even nominated a former officer with a scant eight years of experience to be the director general of the Foreign Service, the chief of its personnel system. The nonpartisan American Academy of Diplomacy (of which we both are members) advised Congress that this would be “like making a former Army captain the chief of staff of the Army.”

As a result, many of our most experienced diplomats are leaving the department. Along with the senior diplomats who were summarily fired by the Trump team early this year, we are witnessing the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations. The drop in morale among those who remain behind is obvious to both of us. The number of young Americans who applied to take the Foreign Service officer entry test declined by 33 percent in the past year. This is particularly discouraging and will weaken the service for years.

The recent decision by Mr. Tillerson to downsize the Foreign Service by up to 8 percent of the entire officer corps, however, is particularly dangerous. The Foreign Service, which has about 8,000 officers who do core diplomatic work, is a fraction of the size of the military. The service is already overwhelmed by the growing challenges to the United States on every continent. In our view, Mr. Tillerson has failed to make a convincing case as to why deep cuts will strengthen, rather than weaken, the service, and thus the nation. This is not about belt tightening. It is a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service.

The Hill:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously turned down multiple meetings with the department’s chief of security, forcing the chief to invoke the law’s requirement that he is allowed to meet with the top U.S. diplomat, according to The New York Times.

The chief, Bill Miller, has since resigned from his position.

Former senior officials at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security told the Times that for nine months Tillerson turned down multiple briefing requests, including urgent requests, from Miller.

Miller was eventually granted a meeting, according to the report, but only after demanding it in according with the law. The meeting reportedly only lasted five minutes.

The Hill has reached out to the State Department for comment. Read the rest of this entry »