The EPA Resides In An Orwellian Limbo

By: Marshall Kesterson

The Trump Administration released a climate report last Friday, November 23, that warned against the damage being done across the country as a result of increasing temperatures.

The authors of the report said they are confident that climate change poses a severe threat to American’s health, economy, infrastructure and natural resources. The report sounded alarms about the future of the United States, but it was quickly downplayed by the lack of policy changes being made by President Trump and his administration.

Environmental Protection Agency HQ Credit: Washington Business Journal

When asked outside the White House about the climate report’s findings, President Trump responded: “I don’t believe it.”

However, the world’s leading scientists all agree that climate change is human-induced and is becoming worse with human activity, casting a shadow over the Trump administration’s dismissal of the report.

Following the release of the report, CNN had prominent climate denier Rick Santorum on their AC360 show. He proceeded to suggest, with no evidence, that the scientists behind the report were driven by money.

This comment was quickly and widely criticized on social media, and people were outraged at CNN.

It was recently reported by The Daily Beast that a co-author of the U.S. National Climate Assessment was supposed to have a pre-taped appearance be released on AC360, but it was replaced by Santorum after the show went live.

On November 28 it was reported that Trump’s EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, wanted to distance himself from the National Climate Assessment that involved 13 federal agencies and hundreds of scientists.

The EPA released a “fact-check” that cited the conservative American news and opinion website The Daily Caller.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Andrew Wheeler should be more involved in preparing the next version of the National Climate Assessment.

Wheeler stated that there was “no political review” by the Trump administration done for this report.

On November 27, The Daily Beast reported that the morning show Fox & Friends fed interview scripts to former EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. This led Fox News to discipline the staffers involved in feeding the scripts.

Scott Pruitt was allowed to approve show scripts and dictate interview questions, an action reminiscent of state-owned media.

Natural Climate Solutions Are Great, But Some Could Pose Unforeseen Consequences

By: Marshall Kesterson

A recent study published in the Journal of Science Advances identified a number of promising natural strategies to mitigate human influences on climate change. These strategies included things such as replanting trees on degraded lands and sequestering more carbon in farmland soils through agricultural techniques.

Trees lining a city road provide shade. Credit: mentatdgt via Pexels

Joseph E. Fargione, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy and lead author of the study, told the New York Times, “We’re not saying these strategies are a substitute for getting to zero-carbon energy; we still need to do that too.”

Fargione also alluded to how forest thinning practices could have lead to an increased risk to the wildfires that are currently raging in California. The risk could be decreased with restoration projects that bring back vegetation to the forests.

It has also been proposed that city centers reintroduce vegetation throughout their city. Some cities, like Louisville, Kentucky, have already started programs to plant trees throughout their city.

Not only does this process reduce carbon emissions, but it has also reduced heat within the city by providing shade throughout the city. Louisville has successfully planted nearly 100 thousand saplings since 2011.

However, the introduction of trees into Louisville hasn’t been as successful as once thought. William Fountain, a University of Kentucky professor of arboriculture, observed a number of empty tree wells throughout the city.

“Empty trees wells are the mark of a failed arboriculture program. We don’t know what was once planted here,” Fountain said about one of them, “but the weeds are doing fairly well.”

Introducing vegetation into cities that haven’t been designed to nurture them causes a substantial amount of issues when trying to grow and develop trees.

One other means of curbing climate change has been to trap carbon dioxide in the soil. In 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted an assessment that found 36 regions across the country to have the proper conditions for storing between 2,400 to 3,700 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide underground.

Shovel stuck in the dirt. Credit: Lukas via Pexels

This process, known as geologic carbon sequestration, could successfully reduce the carbon air pollution that is one of the driving factors of climate change. The idea also provides a very effective untapped resource for reducing human-lead climate change. The Obama administration even included it in their climate change plan.

Geologic carbon sequestration has come back into the public eye with the introduction of a new study published in Nature that observed bacteria and fungi n the soil has become more active with increasing global temperatures. These microbes feeding on dead plants and leaves are releasing carbon dioxide that has been trapped in the soil.

Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts said that the uncontrolled microbes are speeding up climate change.

Carbon derived from microbes has been found by researchers to have significantly increased since the 1990s. This puts the long-term effectiveness of geologic carbon sequestration in doubt.

Simplistic Visual Media Is The Best Way To Show Climate Change Data (To Non-scientists)

By: Marshall Kesterson

For the average citizen, understanding the intricacies climate change can be difficult. Especially when media outlets fail to construct articles with them in mind.

For example, the Washington Post released an article in April in which they did very little to simplify the science behind climate change. The article, titled “Global temperatures have dropped since 2016. Here’s why that’s normal.”, is very well constructed, and as accurate as it can be, but uses visuals right out of scientific articles to draw its points across.

confus graph
This plot of high and low-pressure systems using data from the NOAA is one of many used in the Washinton Post’s article, and people unfamiliar with science, or even those not well versed in graphic representation might be confused by what this represents. Credit: NOAA

This isn’t to say that the Washington Post is “bad” at creating articles with simple graphics, they have plenty of articles that prove otherwise, as shown specifically by this one. However, it does point out an inconsistency in the way journalists report climate change, presumably because they’re trying to reach different audiences. This inconsistency can cause confusion among a large group of readers.

In contrast, the New York Times released a tool that allows readers to see how much hotter their hometown has gotten since they were born because of climate change. The tool is very effective at showing individuals the change in the climate they are most familiar with.

This use of media is effective at showing an audience the way in which climate change has affected them directly, even if they hadn’t noticed it. It also uses a scientific model to show how much the climate will have changed by the time the user is 80 years old, which can be terrifying to some people.


nyt tool
A representation of Parkersburg, WV climate since 1997. The database includes data from a wide variety of United States towns with birth years as far back as 1920. Credit: New York Times

These personalized tools are simple to use and effective at representing scientific data. Linear graphs are also a great way to show the rate at which temperatures are rising.

Other examples of effective graphics include heat maps and statistical maps. The New York Times has used both of these in the past to convey messages.

An effective heat map can be seen in this article by Kendra Pierre-Louis of the NYT:

The graphic used in Pierre-Louis’ article is in the form of a gif image in which ocean temperature can be seen getting hotter over time. Videos and gifs like this are fantastic for representing time-lapses.

An effective statistical map can be seen in this article by Nadja Popovich of the NYT:

Statistical maps provide a quick glimpse into the data being represented. It is most effective when discussing social differences or surveyable data, and the colors used make for a quick understanding of the data.

Although journalism that represents the raw scientific data is necessary, especially for the scientific community, it might be beneficial to label the articles with the audience they are supposed to resonate with. This would reduce confusion among average citizens and help scientists select the data they want to be shown.

Washington Could Be The First State To Implement A State Tax On Carbon Pollution… If The Oil Industry Allows It

By: Marshall Kesterson

The state of Washington is introducing a ballot measure to be the first state to impose a state tax on carbon pollution.

Initiative 1631 has attracted a lot of attention from big corporations and donors, as the fight for, or against, the implementation of the bill carries on. This has garnered a nationwide conversation about the need for carbon taxes in each state.

Factory against a blue sky. Credit: Pixabay

The anti-initiative campaign hit a spending record of $25.87 million, with many of the donors being major oil companies. Supporters of the initiative raised nearly $12 million, with some of the biggest donors being Microsoft and the American Lung Association.

BP owns some of the major oil refineries in the state and has spent a whopping $12 million in an attempt to stop the initiative. However, this move goes directly against a move made by BP in which they supported a carbon tax.

Although we can see that the oil industry is investing massive amounts of money into the fight against Initiative 1631, there are also small groups in Washington that oppose it. Local ironworkers at the Local 86 office in Tukwila, Wa. are worried about the slow industrial investment that the carbon tax might create.

“We’re concerned that less developers will move into the area, and that means less future jobs will be available for our members,” said Chris McClain, the Local 86 union’s business manager.

However, supporters of the initiative disagree with this analysis citing that 70 percent of the revenue raised in the first five fiscal years would be spent invested in clean energy infrastructure. This has been estimated to be nearly $2.3 billion.

It’s unclear how the citizens of Washington will vote on Initiative 1631, but a lot of groups are banking on the vote going their way.

The Turning Tide Against Climate Change Denial Is Getting Larger

By: Marshall Kesterson

New York has filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, claiming that they purposefully downplayed the risks climate regulations would have on its business. The company deceived its investors, and the general public, on the matter by concealing the financial risk that the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions presented. This lawsuit has brought fossil fuel companies’ role in climate denial to the forefront of the news, again.

An offshore oil platform Credit: Zukiman Mohamad

Investigative reporting done by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times showed that Exxon knew the science of global warming and spent millions to promote misinformation. The evidence prompted the attorney generals in New York and Massachusetts to subpoena the oil giant.

It’s no secret that fossil fuel corporations, and big donors like the Koch Brothers, have used their money to promote organizations like The Heartland Institute, CFACT, and Americans for Prosperity, in order to block government policies aimed at curbing climate change. Legislators, such as James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, have received millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry in political contributions.

However, recent strides have been made to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in denying climate change. 2017 and 2018 have been big years for climate change accountability.

Oil filling station Credit: Markus Spiske

On 17 July 2017, San Mateo County, Marin County, and the City of Imperial Beach in California all filed a lawsuit against 37 fossil fuel companies. This move stoked many other waterfront cities and states to contemplate going to court with the fossil fuel industry.

In 2018, Rhode Island became the first state to sue oil companies over the effects of climate change, and the city of Baltimore sued 26 fossil fuel companies to hold them to account for rising tides. Baltimore invested billions of dollars into its waterfront over the past half-century and is preparing for the worst.

These companies being sued, which includes BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Shell and Statoil, have made many moves in an attempt to dodge, or slow, potential legal troubles. They have even asked that the matters be transferred to federal courts, but a US District Court denied this request, a big win for state governments.

These lawsuits will continue to progress as more fossil fuel corporations are put under the spotlight. The developments discovered in the courts will likely lead to even more cities and states suing the companies for damages.

People Care More About Beer Than Climate Change, And Scientists Are Using It To Their Advantage

By: Marshall Kesterson

Many media outlets seized on an opportunity to persuade people into caring about climate change… by relating it to beer.

News dropped that a study by researchers from UC Irvine and other institutions claimed that beer prices could double because of the price of a malted barley. The study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Plants, showed that barley yields would decrease by an average of 17 percent due to climate change. One of the scientists even posted the results to Twitter:

Of course, caring more about beer than the impact of climate change is a bad thing, but it is plainly obvious that people love beer so much that they’re worried about a price increase.

There was a wide variety of support for beer, paired with rage against climate change, ranging from political talking points to joking calls to ban all fossil fuels:

The subject was even covered by The Daily Show, in which Trevor Noah said, “If you tell American’s in 10 years the Marshall Islands will be underwater, no one cares, but tell them Corona will cost more? Now they’re marching in the streets.”—america-s-projected–1-trillion-deficit

The use of beer as a talking point on climate change has given the research more attention than it normally would have gotten. Steven J. Davis noted this fact:

Google analytics show that “beer” is a more common search term used in Google’s search engine than “climate change”. This could be a potential reason for the increased viewership.



beer v climate change
Search term interest over time comparison between ‘beer’ (in blue) and ‘climate change’ (in red). Credit: Google Trends

This opens up an abundance of new positions of attack scientists can use to get the general public to care about climate change, but there will always be skeptics:

Hurricanes Are Becoming Stronger Than Ever, And The Government Isn’t Taking Combative Actions

By: Marshall Kesterson

Hurricanes have made U.S. news a lot recently. Whether it be the destruction they have caused, the location they are damaging, or criticism of the government’s response, they have undeniably been a big issue over the past two years.

The United States is currently in the middle of hurricane season, which starts in the Atlantic on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30. There have been five hurricanes so far this season, with Hurricane Michael being the most recent as it is currently impacting the U.S.

Home destroyed by Hurricane Irma Credit: paulbr75 / Pixabay

In 2017, three major hurricanes, Irma, Harvey, and Maria, struck the United States. In 2018, there have been two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael.

Located below is a map that details where the hurricanes made landfall and the paths they traveled:

Hurricanes have gotten stronger, slower, and wetter in the past few decades than they have historically been. This is likely the result of climate change. The New York Times released an informative video on the issue:

The United Nations released a special report on Monday that laid out a path that all societies must take in order to combat the effects of man-made global warming. Currently, most societies aren’t close to meeting the requirements that have been set out.

Although the world is on the verge of an environmental crisis, the U.S. government isn’t changing its course.

When asked about the U.N. report, President Donald Trump responded with, “It was given to me, & I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it, because I can give you reports that are fabulous & reports that aren’t so good.”

This response received a wide array of criticism, prompting the #DrewIt hashtag as an attempt to mock the terminology President Trump used to describe scientific data:

Although the situation is humorous to some, the response of the President to environmental concerns matters.

Former Trump adviser Myron Bell was asked if there was any way the U.S. administration could be persuaded to take climate change more seriously. He responded with a simple, “No, I can’t.”

We have yet to see the Trump administration take direct action to combat climate change and potentially reduce the occurrence of hurricanes.

The Latest Weapon Being Used Against Climate Change Science: Cynicism

By: Marshall Kesterson

Climate scientists have struggled to make their voices heard in the realm of politics. The past few weeks have demonstrated this struggle, leaving many scientists disheartened by the lack of progress. To add fire to the already warming world, the Trump administration displayed a cynical view of the environment that has rarely been seen before.

Climate Change Graphic Credit: Pete Linforth / pixabay

Sometimes, climate science is stifled by bureaucracy and foreign relations that lead scientists to be disheartened by the lack of progress. This is best demonstrated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s governing body on climate change.

The job of the IPCC is to promote the climate goals set by the world’s governments, such as those that were set by the Paris climate agreement, but the panel has no direct control over the choices governments make. In order to help enforce the rules, the IPCC must be able to inform governments about why the rules are necessary, which can be a difficult task.

Drew Shindell, a climate expert at Duke University and one of the authors of the IPCC report, said, “The pledges countries made during the Paris climate accord don’t get us anywhere close to what we have to do. They haven’t really followed through with actions to reduce their emissions in any way commensurate with what they profess to be aiming for.”

At other times, important science is hidden in stacks of unnecessary paperwork. For example, the Trump administration’s EPA recently released a 500-page environmental impact statement in which it was projected that the planet would warm a disastrous 4 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

The latest move of the Trump administration has been to use climate data as a way to argue against environmentally-friendly policies. The administration used the 500-page report to take an anti-environment stance. Instead of issuing the 4 degrees Celsius projection as a warning against climate change, the Trump administration used it to make the argument that the fate of the planet is unchangeable.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration issued a draft statement that justified President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020, citing that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that the standards would cause isn’t enough to save the planet.

This “unstoppable” view of climate change is dangerous. NASA has stated that some of the effects that can be expected from climate change are the loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.

Other organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have noted further effects of climate change on life. WWF noted that the impacts of climate change vary in different kinds of forests, with Sub-Arctic boreal forests being put in the most danger. The EDF took a different route, arguing that climate change can have a significant impact on human life: damaging agriculture, polluting the air and destroying transportation infrastructure.

The WWF has also released climate change ads focused on protecting wildlife from its impacts:

The IPCC states, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.”

People Are Angry About The Changes The EPA Announced This Week

By: Marshall Kesterson

On Thursday news broke that the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to remove its Office of the Science Advisor. The science advisor serves as a counsel to the EPA administrator to update them on scientific research focused on health and environmental regulations, and to make sure the highest quality science is integrated into the agency’s policies. The decision has not officially been made public.

President Trump took longer than usual to nominate a person to lead the Office of the Science Advisor, but eventually nominated meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier in August. Kelvin has already gone through the Senate Confirmation process, but the latest plans by the EPA put his position in limbo.

John Konkus, a spokesman for the EPA, emailed the New York Times a statement from the current science adviser, Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, in which she said that the decision to dissolve the office would “combine offices with similar functions” and “eliminate redundancies”.

Many people took to Twitter to disagree with the proposed plans:

On Tuesday the EPA placed Dr. Ruth Etzel, the head of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health, on administrative leave. Etzel was asked to give up her badge, keys and cellphone. The EPA has declined to comment on personal matters.

Ruth Etzel, the head of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health, speaking in Alaska in 2016. Alaska Community Action on Toxics via YouTube / Via

In an email obtained by BuzzFeed, Etzel said, “I appear to be the ‘fall guy’ for their plan to ‘disappear’ the office of children’s health. It had been apparent for about 5 months that the top EPA leaders were conducting ‘guerrilla warfare’ against me as the leader of OCHP, but now it’s clearly official.”

Dr. Etzel has received an abundance of support, including calls to reinstate her to her position:

Experts, such as University of California at San Francisco professor Tracey Woodruff, are also worried about the future of the Office of Children’s Health following the removal of Etzel.

FEMA Chief Brock Long Is Facing Charges Detailing Misuse Of Government Vehicles, And People Are Mad

By: Marshall Kesterson

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long has come under fire today for using government-issued vehicles and staff on 40 trips for personal reasons. An internal investigation on Long’s trips found that the trips included a family vacation to Hawaii.

Long was also said to have been involved in a crash when riding in a government-issued vehicle, but his name was excluded from the collision report, according to people familiar with the incident.

Many people were mad, calling the actions corrupt and crooked:

While others found time to poke humor:

Today’s revelations come after the initial announcement on September 13 that Long and Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen clashed with each other over Long’s travel home to North Carolina. Long was the target of an ongoing DHS inspector general investigation into Long’s potential misuse of government vehicles when traveling to his home from Washington.

FEMA faced a lot of scrutiny in the days leading up to Hurricane Florence, and it is continuing to face it.