Business, Environmentalist, Green

EPA Boots Scientists Off Scientific Review Board

At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA's Board of Science Counselors.
At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA’s Board of Science Counselors. Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock.com

At least five academic scientists have been dismissed from a major review board, according to the New York Times.

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries that are supposed to be regulated by the EPA. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said.

This isn’t a surprising move, given that Pruitt is a former oil company executive who has questioned human-caused climate change—something that has been agreed on by at least 97 percent of the scientific community—and has been tasked by President Trump to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean water protection and climate change.

The scientists were dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews and evaluates the research conducted by the EPA’s scientists.

“We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai of the University of Michigan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member commission that advises the EPA on areas on where it should conduct research and evaluates the scientific integrity of EPA regulations. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

On the other hand, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the SAB had become nothing but a rubber-stamp organization that approves all of the EPA’s regulations. He wrote a bill designed to restock that board with more members from the business world.

“The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” Smith said. “The conflict of interest here is clear.”

“Today I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”

“I believe this is political,” said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, said of the dismissals from the Board of Science Counselors. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”

Conservation, Green, Sustainability

China’s Forests Are Shrinking Despite Reforestation Efforts

China’s forests are facing a crisis as the economy continues to grow and consumes wood for construction and manufacturing. Despite reforestation programs China continues to import wood from other countries, which does solve problems related to wood use and carbon sequestration, it just moves them to another country.
China’s forests are facing a crisis as the economy continues to grow and consumes wood for construction and manufacturing. Despite reforestation programs China continues to import wood from other countries, which does solve problems related to wood use and carbon sequestration, it just moves them to another country. Photo: Province of British Columbia | FlickrCC.

Since the beginning of the 21st Century, China has been engaged in a massive reforestation project. It is a large part of the government’s plan to develop clean energy sources and reduce their carbon footprint.

The reforestation project has taken on several forms, from banning logging to replanting trees. According to researchers at Michigan State University, those efforts have been paying off.

Since the program’s inception, 1.6% of China’s territory has seen a significant gain in tree growth. That may not sound like a lot, but remember that China is a huge country, and that 1.6% amounts to almost 61,000 square miles, which is bigger than the state of Georgia.

Compare that success to the ongoing loss and it’s revealed a falling short of the promised results. Nearly .38% of their territory, about 14,400 square miles, has experienced significant loss, so it’s not a total gain. While these efforts are good for China, that country is still using a lot of lumber, and they’re importing and exporting it at about the same rate as before.

Other countries like Vietnam or Indonesia are shouldering some of that burden, cutting their own forests in order to sell wood to China. This essentially means that the problems of forest loss, namely a drop in biological diversity and in carbon sequestration, are happening elsewhere.

China hasn’t ceased cutting down trees, and they’re still exporting lumber and wood products, but that wood is simply coming from other parts of the country, which are hopefully well managed and grown for that specific purpose.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe if other countries can adopt some of the Chinese reforestation practices, we can make some more significant gains around the world. The problem remains though, of how to manage lumber and meet needs for wood, without damaging the environment.

Environmental Hazards, Nature, Science

Honey Bee Crisis Threatens Crops, Plants, Food Supply

Honey bees arrive at a hive entrance. Bees are approaching a critical population size called the Allee Effect.
Honey bees arrive at a hive entrance. Bees are approaching a critical population size called the Allee Effect. Photo: Björn Appel | Wikimedia.

A new study on the collapse of beehive colonies proposes a new culprit: the Allee Effect. The collapse of numerous beehives around the world has led to a crisis in agriculture and other sectors. Bees are essential to the pollination of crops and other plants. Their absence would lead to critical food shortages. Scientists have become concerned about the issue.

Colony collapse disorder has been attributed to a number of factors, such as pollution, parasites, viruses, fungi, and compromised nutrition. As those factors continue to be investigated as potential causes, two researchers from Idaho have discovered another important factor: critical population size.

The hive life of bees is so intertwined that should a hive suffer a significant loss of workers the whole community collapses. The queen cannot produce enough eggs to keep the colony functioning, and there aren’t enough workers to tend the eggs find food. The result is hive collapse, where bees either die off or leave to find a new home.

That’s where the Allee Effect comes in, named for an ecologist working in the 1930s who suggested that there could come a point for any species where it reaches a critical population size.

At this size, the population is too small or too spread out to survive. Individuals cannot mate, group predators cannot hunt, and the loss of that species becomes inevitable. This is what seems to be happening to bees. When an infection or some other problem hits a hive, bees are rapidly affected and workers die, the hive drops below its critical population.

Researchers suggest that steps be taken to support beehive populations by making sure they have access to food and aren’t impacted by pesticides. Keeping bees safe from environmental threats could go a long way towards keeping their hives from collapsing.

Business, Conservation, Sustainability

Turning Sewage Water Into Something Drinkable

At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California.
At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California. Photo: Mechanoid Dolly | FlickrCC.

Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont Co., two American chemical industry giants that are 118 and 213 years old, respectively, recently announced a $130 billion merger deal that would take two years to complete. Led by activist investor Dan Loeb, hedge fund Third Point LLC suggested Dow Chemical split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. As part of the deal, the merged company will split into three separate entities—focused on agriculture, specialty chemicals, and materials.

In the midst of this landmark deal, Dow is continuing to solidify its place as a leader in the industry—this time on behalf of California. As California continues to deal with one of the most severe droughts on record for the fourth year in a row, Orange County—with the help of Dow Chemical—is doubling down on its unusual strategy for drinking water.

Bloomberg recently toured the facility with Snehal Desai, Dow Chemical’s global business director of the water division. It’s the largest facility in the world that practices “toilet-to-tap” technology—a complex filtration system that transforms raw sewage into an end product that’s fresher than some bottled waters. The plant, located next to the county’s water treatment facility, pumps out 100 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to supply almost 1 million Orange County residents. The county plans to increase the output of its groundwater replenishment system by approximately 50 percent.

“Recycled wastewater will probably be the single largest source of water for California over the next quarter century,” says executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies Tim Quinn. This goes for many other water-strapped regions of the world, including Australia, China, India, Israel, Spain, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, where they have developed recycled wastewater systems for irrigation. Many areas are beginning to convert their systems to create fresh drinking water. San Diego also recently announced plans to generate 33 percent of its water from recycled sewage by 2035.

Dow Chemical has been a dominant player in advanced materials engineering for more than 100 years, generating $57 billion revenue a year in 180 countries in the world. “If not Dow, then who?” asks Desai. “The future water supply is a big-ass problem. We’ve got growing urban populations, growing industries, and dwindling resources. Who can tackle something of this magnitude? You need patience and horsepower to come up with solutions and to scale them. You can’t do that without big-boy company money.”

Ultimately, Desai believes that the same technology could accommodate individual households. Every city in the world will have to start rethinking the foundation of its water supply. “Not every city has an ocean, not everyone has good lakes and rivers,” Desai says. “But everybody’s got sewage.”

Business, Conservation, Sustainability, Uncategorized

The Nature Conservancy Works to Preserve Brazil’s Natural Diversity

The Nature Conservancy works to protect the Pantanal the world’s largest wetland
The Pantanal consists mainly of a savanna steppe in southern Mato Grosso and northwestern Mato Grosso do Sul states of Brazil. It is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Photo: silvioassuncao | FlickerCC.

Brazil is the largest country in South America and home to one in every four plant species on earth. As one of the first developing countries to pledge a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Brazil is leading the way toward a sustainable energy future.

Brazil is supported in their conservation mission by a variety of regional organizations dedicated to preserving the vital biosphere in Brazil. Working from a global perspective, The Nature Conservancy has identified Brazil as a country of key importance to the overall health of our planet. They have facilitated a variety of projects in Brazil, and their efforts are supported by a variety of leaders in science, industry, and finance, such as Martin Escobari, a member of their advisory board and Managing Director of General Atlantic’s Sao Paulo office.

The landscape of Brazil is rich in diversity and features a vast array of regions, climates, and plant and animal species. The Nature Conservancy works to protect each unique region in the combined role of educator, activist, and scientist. They continue to support projects in the following areas:

The Amazon

Home to the greatest expanse of rainforest left on Earth, the Amazon provides shelter and sustenance to almost one-third of the animals and plants on the planet. The Nature Conservancy helps to manage the impact of the region’s growing needs for conservation, energy, mining, and transportation along the Tapajos River. The Conservancy is working to reduce the impact of 124 dams planned along the river.

The Atlantic Forest

The Atlantic Forest has suffered years of loss and is under threat of further encroachment. Despite these challenges it’s still one of the richest forests in the world when it comes to biodiversity and is home to 200 rare species of birds. The Conservancy is working to restore 30 million acres of the forest by creating long swaths of planted lands that will allow genetic exchange between various populations of plants, animals, and insects.

Caatinga

A semi-arid scrub forest, the Caatinga is rich in natural resources and located in the northeast of Brazil. Its habitats are unique to Brazil yet only 1 percent of them are protected. Some parts of the region are facing desertification. The Conservancy has partnered with the government to create 20 refuge areas in the region. Their support has been a key force in the establishment of the 66,000-acre Sao Francisco Natural Monument.

Cerrado

A savanna with over 10,000 species of plants the Cerrado supplies three of South America’s major water basins. It provides a home to several endangered species including the Cerrado fox, giant anteater, jaguar, maned wolf, and marsh and pampas deer. During the 1960s the region was developed as an agriculture center and became one of the largest soybean growers in the world. The Conservancy is working with local farmers, agribusinesses, and government agencies to introduce sustainable farming and ranching practices.

Pantanal

The Paraguay River and its tributaries regularly flood the Pantanal. It’s the world’s largest wetland and is 20 times larger than the Everglades covering 68,000 miles. It is home to 260 species of fish and regularly attracts birds and other animals. The area is threatened from development by agriculture, cattle ranching, mining, and increased transportation. The Conservancy has helped a local preservation organization purchase 148,000 acres of threatened land.

Business, Climate Change, Nature, Uncategorized

Ice in Northwest Passage Thicker than Expected

Russian ice breaker traveling through the Arctic
A Russian ice breaker traveling through the Arctic. Photo: Christopher Michel | FlickrCC.

Recent information has told us that this year is the fourth lowest on record for Arctic ice coverage, but the news isn’t all bad. Scientists studying ice thickness in the Northwest Passage have reported similar findings, but are confident that the region won’t be suitable for year round travel for decades still, if then. That may sound odd, but what that means is that the ice is still too thick, and isn’t melting at a catastrophic rate.

The Northwest Passage is a series of gulfs, rivers, and canals that connect Beaufort Sea in the west and Baffin Bay in the east. During the summer, when those waters are navigable by ships, it is a much shorter route between the Pacific and Atlantic than going through either the Panama or Suez canals. It is named for the legendary passage sought by early explorers of North America, who both underestimated how wide the continent is, and persisted in believing a hypothesis with no proof whatsoever.

The Northwest Passage also allows us to study ice thickness, which is an important indicator of how much ice is melting in a given year, but is significantly harder to determine than ice coverage, which can be ascertained with satellite photographs.

In the first study of it’s kind, scientists measured the Northwest Passage ice thickness, and were surprised at what they found. The measurements were taken in the winter, but they were following several summers of greater than average open water for the region. Ice breaks up and is more easily navigable in the summer, hence the use of the passage then, but since there’s been more breaking and more open water of late, the assumption was that the ice wasn’t going to be as thick as it is.

The thickness of the ice will allow scientists to better predict how much ice will break up over the coming summer, allowing them to better predict how ships can travel through the region.

Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, Sustainability

Presidents of U.S. and China Make Climate Change Vows

 A truck transporting coal in Beijing, China. Will a carbon cap and trade improve air quality around the world?
A truck transporting coal in Beijing, China. Will a carbon cap and trade improve air quality around the world? Photo: Han Jun Zeng | FlickrCC.

On Friday, September 25th, as part of a state visit to Washington D.C., President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China met with President Barack Obama to discuss climate change in front of a new summit in Paris this December. Both politicians have taken climate change seriously, and have committed their respective countries to doing something about the issue.

Amidst discussion about a number of other issues, Xi announced nationwide implementation of a carbon cap and trade system in China by 2017, based on a system already in place in several regions. This system would reduce emissions by setting a cap on carbon emissions, but would also allow manufactures to buy and sell the rights to produce carbon emissions.

A carbon cap and trade system would allow industries that find they don’t need to produce as many emissions to sell off their share to other industries that need to produce more, allowing for a more flexible system than simply capping how much carbon a given factory can produce. A similar plan was suggested in the United States in 2010 but failed to make it through Congress.

China is still considered a developing nation and, as such, has largely been left to produce carbon as it sees fit, while other countries, like the U.S. or Britain, face much more resistance from the United Nations.

President Obama would like to see more restrictions on developing nations, which still produce huge amounts of emissions.

China and the U.S. actually produce the most emissions of any countries in the world, but with both stepping up to reduce those emissions, climate change talks might be a little less tense this time around. In fact, President Obama stated that, if the U.S. and China can come to an agreement to limit their own emissions, it should be possible for other countries, developed or otherwise, to do the same.