Category Archives: Resources

Trump’s climate war evokes shades of a dark past


When science stands opposed to the greed of the powerful, witch hunts can result.

To understand the threat posed by the Trumpsters, a look at past conflicts provides some informative and thoroughly chilling insights.

From Paul N. Edwards, Professor of Information and History at the University of Michigan, writing for the open source academic journal The Conversation:

President-elect Trump has called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax.” He has promised to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate treaty and to “bring back coal,” the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel. The incoming administration has paraded a roster of climate change deniers for top jobs. On Dec. 13, Trump named former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another climate change denier, to lead the Department of Energy (DoE), an agency Perry said he would eliminate altogether during his 2011 presidential campaign.

Just days earlier, the Trump transition team presented the DoE with a 74-point questionnaire that has raised alarm among employees because the questions appear to target people whose work is related to climate change.

For me, as a historian of science and technology, the questionnaire – bluntly characterized by one DoE official as a “hit list” – is starkly reminiscent of the worst excesses of ideology-driven science, seen everywhere from the U.S. Red Scare of the 1950s to the Soviet and Nazi regimes of the 1930s.

The questionnaire asks for a list of “all DoE employees or contractors” who attended the annual Conferences of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – a binding treaty commitment of the U.S., signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992. Another question seeks the names of all employees involved in meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, responsible for technical guidance quantifying the economic benefits of avoided climate change.

It also targets the scientific staff of DoE’s national laboratories. It requests lists of all professional societies scientists belong to, all their publications, all websites they maintain or contribute to, and “all other positions… paid and unpaid,” which they may hold. These requests, too, are likely aimed at climate scientists, since most of the national labs conduct research related to climate change, including climate modeling, data analysis and data storage.

On Dec. 13, a DoE spokesperson told the Washington Post the agency will not provide individual names to the transition team, saying “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.”

Energy’s interest in climate

Why does the Department of Energy conduct research on climate change? A better question might be: How could any Department of Energy fail to address climate change?

Established in the 1940s under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the US national labs’ original assignment was simple: Design, build and test nuclear weapons and atomic energy. Since nuclear bombs create deadly fallout and reactor accidents can release radiation into the air, weather forecasting and climate knowledge were integral to that mission. Therefore, some labs immediately began building internal expertise in “nuclear meteorology.”

When high-flying supersonic transport aircraft were proposed in the late 1960s, the labs used climate models to analyze how their exhaust gases might affect the stratosphere. In the 1970s, the labs applied weather and climate simulations developed for nuclear weapons work to analyze urban smog and the global effects of volcanic eruptions. Later, the labs investigated whether nuclear war might cause dangerous climatic effects, such as catastrophic ozone depletion or “nuclear winter.”

The newly formed Department of Energy took over the labs in 1977. Its broadened mission included research on all forms of energy production, efficiency, pollution and waste. In the late 1970s, for example, Pacific Northwest Lab sampled aerosol pollution with research aircraft, using instruments of its own design.

By the 1980s, when man-made climate change became a major scientific concern, the labs were ready for the challenge. For example, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has run the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center since 1982, one of many DoE efforts that contribute crucially to human knowledge about global climate change.

An ideologically driven purge?

The Trump questionnaire harks back to the McCarthyist “red scare” of the early 1950s, when congressional committees and the FBI hounded eminent scientists accused of communist leanings.

A principal target of suspicion then was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who led the Los Alamos atomic bomb project, but later opposed nuclear proliferation. Oppenheimer chaired the General Advisory Committee to the AEC, direct ancestor to the DoE – and saw his security clearance unjustly revoked following humiliating hearings by that same AEC in 1954.

Many other physicists were also “repeatedly subjected to illegal surveillance by the FBI, paraded in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, charged time and again… with being the ‘weakest links’ in national security, and widely considered to be more inherently susceptible to communist propaganda than any other group of scientists or academics,” according to a history by author David Kaiser, on suspicions of atomic scientists in the early days of the Cold War.

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Climate science fears as the Trumpsition™ nears


American climate scientists and their colleagues in other countries are living in fear, given today’s appointment of climate change denier Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy, a man who once described the President-elect as “a barking carnival act.”

Given Donald Trump’s own record of climate denial and his appointment of Scott Pruitt, climate-denialist and Oklahoma Attorney General, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, they have good reason to fear.

And now the scientists are taking action.

From the Washington Post:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

Energy Department refuses to provide a list

Republicans are always brandishing lists of government employees they deem subversive to their goals, most infamously the alleged list of communists in the State Department and military branished by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the paranoid Red Scare of the 1950’s.

And now the Trumpsters are demanding a list, but one government agency is refusing to hand it over.

From Ars Technica:

The Trump transition team’s request for the names of all staffers who attended meetings about the social cost of carbon, as well as any Conference of the Parties hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, suggested to DOE staffers that the team could be looking to fire staffers for their work on climate change or to marginalize their role at the department.

According to the Washington Post, DOE officials sent an e-mail to employees this morning assuring them that no individual names will be provided to the Trump transition team:

The Department of Energy received significant feedback from our workforce throughout the department, including the National Labs, following the release of the transition team’s questions. Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled. Our career workforce, including our contractors and employees at our labs, comprise the backbone of DOE and the important work our department does to benefit the American people. We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.

We will be forthcoming with all publicly-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.

Exxon Mobil boss named as Secretary of State


American diplomacy has always been focused, at least in part, on the control of foreign oil resources.

Alan Greenspan, then head of the Federal Reserve who consulted with George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq, stated the case quite clearly:

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

And our President-elect has made clear that he intends that military actions in oil-rich regions could well result in American oil companies seizing the resources.

In a 25 October 2015 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, commenting on Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Donald Trump said this:

I was totally against Iraq, but we shouldn’t have left the way we left. And if you remember — and I told you very early on, if we’re going to leave, take the oil, because, right now, you know who has the oil.

And now Trump is putting a man in charge of American diplomacy who is himself all about the oil, Secretary of State-designate and Exxon Mobil Rex Tillerson.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Despite a dining with 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and courting former Gen. David Petraeus for the nation’s top diplomatic post, Trump went with Tillerson, who has served as Exxon CEO since 2006 and worked for the oil giant for over four decades.

Tillerson will face confirmation hearings in the Senate.

The CEO, who made $27.3 million in salary last year, has some policy differences with the President-elect.

Tillerson believes in man-made climate change and supports the Paris climate agreement, but Trump has indicated he will pull out of the agreement when he assumes the presidency.

Exxon has been criticized for denying climate change in public while privately preparing its oil infrastructure for rising sea levels during the 1980s and 1990s, although the company called for a carbon tax starting in 2009.

Trump can be congratulated for one thing: Removing the veil of hypocrisy from American imperialism.

Greece grants relief to its poorest; Troika is furious


Syriza Party leader Alexis Tsipras lead his party to victory in Greece two years ago on a promise to end the austerity imposed on his nation by the financial oligarchs of the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Their reign had deepened the nation’s staggering unemployment, forced massive pay, healthcare and benefits reductions, raised taxes, and forced the selloff of many of the nation’s resources and infrastructure to foreign investors.

But as prime minister he failed to deliver, delivering his nation over to yet more rounds of austerity and sending his party plunging in popularity.

But now his government has offered a modest measure of relief to those most deeply affected by the diktat of the Troika, and the oligarch are furious.

To Vima reports on the relief measure:

The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Thursday evening that 617 million euros will be distributed to 1.6 million low income pensioners, while the scheduled VAT hike on the islands of the north Aegean Sea – which are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis – will be suspended. As he explained in his statements, these actions were possible thanks to exceeding the primary surplus targets.

“It has been the government’s pledge to redistribute every euro of surplus from available sources to our weaker citizens. Today, staying true to this pledge, we decide the immediate redistribution of the outperformance of 2016 revenues to low-income pensioners” the Prime Minister explained in his televised proclamation via ERT. Pensioners on less than 850 euros will receive the benefit, which will be at least 300 euros.

Specifically 10% of pensioners (about 270,000) will receive 500 to 850 euros, 20% (about 570,000) will receive 300 to 500 euros and 30% (about 750,000) will receive 300 euros. These benefits will be paid out along with January’s pensions, which are due on the 22nd of December. The Prime Minister added that these benefits are 4.7 times more than the EKAS benefit that was suspended in 2016.

Regarding the planned VAT [Troika-mandated sales tax] hike, the PM stressed that it will be implemented “but though when our fellow citizens are bearing the weight of the whole of Europe due to the refugee crisis. It is time that Europe recognized this”, the PM explained.

And the reaction, as expected

From a second To Vima story:

The Greek Prime Minister’s decision to distribute 617 million euros among pensioners, while the second bailout review has yet to conclude, appears to have ‘surprised’ Brussels.

A European officer noted that the EU had not been informed and estimated that they will make the negotiations between Europe and the IMF for the surplus targets of 2018 and beyond harder.

Sources from the European Commission also reported that it appears that there will be serious difficulties in the implementation of the recent Eurogroup decision.

So reducing Greece to the status of a Third World nation isn’t enough.

In a reverse Oliver Twist ploy, the Troika is demanding, “Please, sir, can I have some more.”

Troika agrees to modest debt relief for Greece


Greece, the European nation hardest hit by the Wall Street-sparked Great Recession, has been granted some modest debt relief, but conditions set the Troika [the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission] mandate that the regime of austerity continue.

That means that cutbacks in pay, pensions, healthcare, and other social programs will continue, along with privatization of national resources and higher taxes on necessary consumer goods.

But the conditions set also require that the government maintain a high surplus, a measure ensuring that austerity pains will continue.

From Ekathimerini:

Monday’s decision at a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels to approve short-term debt relief measures for Greece was a “decisive step towards stabilizing the Greek economy and restoring trust,” the government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Speaking to the press, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that the government will continue negotiations with its eurozone partners for longer-term measures to reduce Greece’s huge debt pile, but stressed that Athens will “under no circumstances” agree to more belt-tightening once the bailout program is complete.

Tzanakopoulos was referring to the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded more structural measures in order to join the Greek program.

“The IMF cannot pressure the Greek government for new measures and not its European partners for lower primary surplus targets,” Tzanakopoulos said, referring to a demand that Greece maintain a primary fiscal surplus of 3.5 percent after 2018, a factor considered crucial by the IMF.

His comments echoed those of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who warned international creditors, including the IMF, on Monday not to pressure Athens to implement measures it had not previously agreed to.

But the IMF isn’t as happy with the deal as Tzanakopoulos indicated and has called for a halt to further austerity measures, as well as a lower GDP surplus, reports To Vima:

The International Monetary Fund welcomed the short-term debt relief measures that were announced at the Eurogroup, however it noted that they are not sufficient.

An IMF officer reportedly told Bloomberg that the Fund insists that the primary surplus targets after 2018 must not exceed 1.5% of the GDP, since anything higher is unrealistic.

As the officer commented, the targets set must not require austerity and argued that the fewer years the high targets are maintained, the lesser the impact will be on the country’s growth, since the 3.5% GDP target will require additional reforms in the pension and tax system.

The officer also called Athens and Brussels to present measures to be taken, should the primary surplus target of 3.5% be maintained after 2018.

The Troika’s official statement is posted here.

Ever more marine creatures imperiled by plastics


Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

The 20th Century is notable for four major technological innovations, each problematic: Nuclear power/weapons, antibiotics, the digital computer, and plastics.

Nuclear gave us the threat of planetary genocide and environmental degradation, antibiotics gave rise to resistant strains of bacteria, the computer gave rise to the panopticon surveillance state, and plastics have proven to cause a host of afflictions and threaten the oceans from which we all draw life.

It’s this last threat that is the subject of a sobering new report.

From the United Nations News Center:

Marine debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species and causing serious losses to many countries’ economies, according to a United Nations report launched Monday.

The report, Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity found that the number of species affected by marine debris has increased from 663 to 817 since 2012. It also warned that this type of waste, which is mostly made of plastic, is an increasing threat to human health and well-being, and is costing countries billions of dollars each year.

“I hope that this report will provide governments and other stakeholders with the information needed to take urgent actions to address marine debris, one of the most prominent threats to marine ecosystems, and support healthy and resilient oceans as a critical aspect of achieving sustainable development,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The report was launched in Cancun, Mexico, on the sidelines of the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Convention, known as ‘COP13,’ where governments and private sector delegations have been gathered since 2 December to discuss, among others, how to integrate biodiversity into policies relevant to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors. The meeting wraps up on 17 December.

Marine debris is usually defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Three-quarters of all marine debris is plastic, a persistent and potentially hazardous pollutant, which fragments into microplastics that can be taken up by a wide range of marine organisms.

The most common types of marine debris are: food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, grocery bags, beverage bottles and cigarette butts. Five of these items are made of plastic.

Marine and coastal species – fish, seabirds, marine mammals and reptiles – are affected by marine debris mostly through ingestion or entanglement. According to the report, 40 per cent of cetaceans, and 44 per cent of seabird species are affected by marine debris ingestion. The effect of ingestion is not always understood, as many ingest microplastics – little pieces or fragments that are less than five millimetres in diameter.

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Headline of the day: Finally, some really good news


At least until Trump takes office, that is.

From the London Daily Mail:

Victory! Dakota Access protesters WIN as the feds block oil pipeline that was to be built next to Native American land – kicking off wild celebrations in Standing Rock

  • Dakota Access Pipeline protesters cheered as the news emerged and cried ‘Mni Wiconi’, or ‘water is life’
  • Corps of Engineers said they would not be granting an easement for the DAPL to cross Lake Oahe
  • Federal agency said on Sunday afternoon that they would explore alternate routes for the pipeline
  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council Chairman Harold Frazier told DailyMail.com that he was ‘shocked’
  • Thousands of veterans arrived this weekend to support the protests as temperatures hovered around 30F
  • Clashes were thought to intensify after evacuation was ordered and area was to be shut down on Dec 5