Category: Climate Change

Is Bobby Kennedy Really the "Anti-Science" Choice for EPA Head?

By Melissa Lafsky | November 20, 2008 4:51 pm

Now that the worldwide euphoria over Obama’s victory is abating, it’s time to look at some dismal facts: The air is still thick with pollution, the globe is still warming, and the science community is in a frenzy over who the president-elect will choose to head up the battered, broken EPA.

The short and distinguished list of candidates includes include former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection head Kathleen McGinty; California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection head Ian Bowles; Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius; New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson; and, finally, environmental lawyer, activist, and prolific blogger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

While all are talented and have the potential to breathe life into the foundering agency, the one receiving the biggest pounding is Kennedy. Across the Internet, science writers have lambasted the longtime environmentalist for his alleged “anti-science” views—in particular, his public criticism of vaccines.

There’s no question that Kennedy has been vocal in his campaign against the CDC, particularly regarding its stance on Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. In 2005, he published a controversial piece in Salon charging that the government had concealed data showing that Thimerosal-containing vaccines were harmful. Critics excoriated the article, and Kennedy has since been labeled a traitor to science and affixed with the anti-vaxer label.

Still, the reality isn’t quite so simple. While Kennedy has indeed pointed accusatory fingers at certain vaccine practices—and has fallen victim to the “hand-picked studies” effect on at least one occasion—the charges that he’s a full-on anti-vaxer are incorrect and arguably irrelevant.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Energy, Health Care

Let's Get It Started! Obama Plans Reverse of Bush Science Policies

By Melissa Lafsky | November 10, 2008 2:51 pm

None too soon, the experts have begun weighing in on what President-Elect Obama should do regarding climate and energy policy. Even better, Obama’s transition team has put together a list of around 200 Bush policies to be kicked to the curb ASAP. They include gems like reversing the limit on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and ditching a rule that stops U.S. aid-receiving family planning groups from informing women about the availability of abortion.

The biggest slashes, so far anyway, have been saved for Bush’s environmental policies. As the Washington Post reports, Obama has announced his intention to “quickly reverse the Bush administration’s decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.” There’s also the undoing of the executive order that opens public lands to oil drilling, as well as social/economic moves like closing Guantanamo and tossing a life preserver to GM (though whether that’s a good idea remains to be seen).

RB: Obama & McCain Answer DISCOVER’s Questions on the Environment
RB: What Must the Next President Do to Save Science? DISCOVER’s Science Policy Project 2008

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Climate Change, Energy, Stem Cells
MORE ABOUT: Bush, obama, sanity

Weekly News Roundup: The Election Is Over, the Real Work Begins

By Melissa Lafsky | November 7, 2008 12:59 pm

• A new administration, a new direction, and maybe—just maybe—a clean divorce between science and political ideology.

• And of course, the debate has already started: Who will Obama pick to head up the EPA?

• Meanwhile, we’re zooming straight into a “health care perfect storm.”

• Which makes it all the more admirable (or crazy, or excessively symbolic) that Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Steve Kagan has elected to go without health insurance as a gesture of solidarity towards his uninsured constituents. Stay healthy, Steve!

• China demands international action on climate change—let’s just hope they practice what they preach.

• And not to judge or anything, but videos like this one certainly don’t inspire confidence.

• The “net energy” debate gets serious. Is the whole thing a load of bull? We’ll leave it to the experts to decide.

Bush Tries to Do Good for the Environment; Cheney Smacks Him Down

By Melissa Lafsky | November 6, 2008 4:50 pm

Yesterday we noted that dear old (and still around) President Bush was working overtime to pass environmental regulations—many of which would harm, not help, said environment—before he’s shown the proverbial boot. But to be fair, not every rule he’s looking to enact is bad: The Washington Post reports that one in particular may even be crucial in conserving some our most vital underwater ecosystems. The plan is to restrict or ban fishing and mineral exploitation in two huge areas of the Pacific.

No surprise, his attempts to do some good are being met with resistance, to the point where the scope of the original plan, which included the preservation of four potential “marine monuments” has already been whittled down. And leading the anti-conservation charge is none other than friend-to-corporations-everywhere Dick Cheney, who argues that the restrictions will hurt the economies of nearby regions like the Northern Mariana Islands.

The ocean areas in question, called “treasure troves” of biodiversity, are described by the Post as follows:

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Renowned Sci-Fi Novelist and Global Warming Skeptic Michael Crichton Dies

By Melissa Lafsky | November 5, 2008 4:33 pm

dinosaurMichael Crichton, one of the world’s most popular authors and a pioneer of modern science fiction, died yesterday at age 66 following a long battle with cancer. His ubiquitous books, including Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, helped elevate science to a new status in pop culture, and ushered new technologies such as cloning into the mainstream. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he also brought medicine to the forefront of entertainment by creating the TV show “ER,” which won him an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a Writer’s Guild of America Award.

But while his career was unparalleled and his brilliance unquestionable, Crichton inspired a good deal of controversy concerning a crucial issue: global warming. His skepticism over the threat of climate change was so great that it culminated in a novel, State of Fear, published in 2004. The book, a typical Crichton-style thriller, revolves around an evil environmentalist mastermind who commits terrorist acts to center attention on climate change. It features footnotes, graphs, and other references culled from the three years the author spent researching the topic—all reflecting Crichton’s view that the current rising global temperatures aren’t necessarily a result of human action.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Health Care

It's Not Over Yet: Bush Sneaks In Harmful Pollution Laws

By Melissa Lafsky | November 5, 2008 1:37 pm

Nothing puts a damper on an historic world-mobilizing event like a steaming heap of pollution. As 80Beats reports, the nation’s current and least favorite—no, really, we’re not just saying that—president is using his last days in office to enact a virtual bonanza of legislation aimed at letting industries like coal-mining and commercial fishing wreak (even more) havoc on the environment.

Via the the Natural Resources Defense Council, here’s a description of one of the proposed rules, which exempts factory farms from requiring permits that limit water pollution:

Creates a loophole allowing facility operators to avoid permits by claiming they won’t have a discharge.

Adopts a scheme that allows facilities to avoid certain environmental enforcement. For instance, if an operator certifies that the facility won’t have a discharge, environmental authorities will ignore enforcement action, even if the facility discharges to the nation’s waters.

Rejects improvements in technology that would reduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens contained in animal waste, missing an opportunity to prevent water pollution and threats to public health.

Well, guess he figures he’ll drink only bottled water after leaving the White House. (Good luck with that one.)

Obama Wins; Science Rejoices

By Melissa Lafsky | November 5, 2008 12:32 pm

The new president-elect promises to usher in a “new era of scientific innovation” (of course, exactly how much funding that will entail/receive remains to be seen).

Alternative-energy industries, shrug off your wounds—there may yet be hope on the horizon.

Stem cell researchers, re-start your engines.

Another huge winner last night: The Internet.

Also consider it a huge win for academia: The president-elect, his vice president, and both their spouses have all worked in higher education.

The Senate and the House didn’t do so badly either.

And we hate to do this, but here’s the bad news.


Weekly News Roundup: Special Halloween Edition

By Melissa Lafsky | October 31, 2008 3:57 pm

• Get in touch with your inner polar bear—and kick some climate change a$$.

• Attention: Cruddy voting machines = cruddy news for voters.

• The Economist smacks down pretty much the entire science journalism establishment. Don’t worry, we won’t mention how you weren’t exactly first in line to predict the financial crisis.

• We love voter databases (even if they don’t love us). Unfortunately, Ohio’s might not even make it through a single fraud check. Ask us how shocked we are.

• Man v. the Internet: Did the Web hinder (or help) the financial crisis?

• Obama’s groundbreaking Web campaign: “Controlled chaos” (that looks like it’ll work).

• And if you’re looking for last minute Halloween costume ideas, look no further.

Let's Save Science! Inside the Innovation 2008 Science Policy Conference

By Melissa Lafsky | October 29, 2008 11:57 am

For the past few weeks, we’ve been posting thoughts from some of the biggest names in science regarding what the next U.S. president needs to do to promote/engender/rescue science in this country. And luckily, we’re not the only ones hammering away at this issue. Last week, scientists, business leaders, and policymakers gathered in Minnesota to discuss the future of science at the Innovation 2008 Conference. Here’s a report on what went down, from guest blogger and conference participant Darlene Cavalier.

“Everybody supports science, motherhood and apple pie, but when it comes to funding, it’s a different story,” IEEE-USA President Russ Lefevre told a national audience last week at Innovation 2008: Renewing America through Smarter Science & Technology Policy.

The event was co-hosted by Science Debate 2008 and the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. It presented public sessions on critical issues facing the next United States president, including: Innovation and Competitiveness; Renewing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education; Health Science Policy; Integrating Science and Technology in America’s Artistic and Civic Culture; and Energy Security and Sustainability.

“Energy and broadband are two critical fields where more attention is warranted,” Lefevre stressed. So what’s the sharpest thorn in these areas? Access.

The first step, the experts agreed, is to create Smart Grid technologies that can help manage the delivery of electricity better, and a national transmission grid to help open access to wind and solar resources.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Energy

Weekly News Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | October 24, 2008 2:23 pm

• Check your state’s voter-machine-hackability rating (chances are, it’s high).

• It was only a matter of time: The official “Palinisms” video game launches.

More on the “What exactly is a ‘green job’ anyway?” question.

• For that matter, why not throw in a “Green New Deal” to save the economy (and the planet, while we’re at it)?

• While we’re on the subject of good news—aka the planet and the economy—it’s worth asking: Does the rise of one necessarily mean the fall of the other?

• A rundown of autism myths—though at this point, there are almost too many to count.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, The 2008 Election
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