Category Archives: Governance

Politics tops science under Trump

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

If you don’t like the news, then suppress it − because politics tops science in the US today, researchers are finding.

LONDON, 20 August, 2019 − When the news is bad, punish the messenger, as in today’s United States it’s increasingly the case that politics tops science.

This, according to a top scientist formerly working at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is what’s happening to government employees involved in climate change research under the administration of President Trump.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist who has worked for more than 20 years at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), recently resigned his post, saying department officials had not only questioned the results of a peer-reviewed research paper he was involved in on the adverse impact of climate change – they had also attempted to minimise its coverage in the media.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this (the ARS) is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”, Ziska tells the Politico website.

“That’s so sad – I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Research ‘not sidelined’

The paper in question is a collaboration involving Ziska and other researchers at the ARS and various academic institutions in the US, Japan, China and Australia.

Published last year in the journal Science Advances, it analysed how increasing levels of climate-changing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might affect various nutrients in rice, a crop on which hundreds of millions around the world depend.

The paper not only confirmed earlier research on rice losing proteins and minerals in a more carbon-rich environment; it found, for the first time, that levels of key vitamins in rice can also drop significantly as a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A USDA spokesperson said the department’s failure to promote the paper was due to disagreement over the study’s claim that millions would be affected by falling nutritional levels in rice; the spokesperson said USDA’s actions had nothing to do with politics and denied that climate research was being sidelined under the Trump administration.

Trump has in the past dismissed climate change as a hoax and has announced that the US will withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement on meeting the challenges of a warming world.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views”

There have been persistent reports of administration officials resigning or being sacked for highlighting the dangers posed by climate change.

Ziska and others say a pattern is emerging in which policymakers identify “good science” as studies which agree with a certain political agenda; if the science doesn’t agree with the politics, then it’s flawed.

Ziska told Politico he’s concerned that the politicisation of science is a threat to the future of agriculture both in the US and overseas.

“You have farmers who are looking at climate and weather that they’ve not seen in their lifetimes. It’s not your father’s climate – it’s changing…this is a fundamental change across all aspects.

“To ignore it, to dismiss it and say, ‘Oh that’s political’ – I don’t have the words to describe that. It’s surreal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.”

In June this year additional research into carbon dioxide’s impact on vitamin levels in rice published in the journal AGU100 confirmed the findings of the study Ziska and others were involved in. − Climate News Network

Only a climate revolution can cool the world

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

Climate change blamed as Chennai runs dry

The monsoon’s failure and government mismanagement in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu are being blamed as Chennai runs dry.

CHENNAI, 1 July, 2019 − Some of the poorest people of India’s sixth largest city are having to spend half their weekly income on water as Chennai runs dry: its four reservoirs lie empty and the government’s relief tankers cannot keep up with demand from citizens.

Despite government claims that there is no water crisis, the taps are empty and many of Chennai’s nine million people are queuing from early morning, awaiting what water the tankers can deliver.

Monsoon rains have failed for the last two years, leaving the city enduring a heat wave with no water. The government is delivering 10 million litres daily by train from 200 kilometres away in a bid to provide enough water for the poor to survive. In the richer areas private water tankers are maintaining supplies, charging double the normal rate to fill a roof tank.

Businesses, particularly restaurants, have been forced to close, and children are not attending school because they are spending all day queuing for water for their families.

Although it is clear that climate change is affecting the monsoon’s pattern and it may be October before Chennai gets enough water to restore supplies to normal, government mismanagement is also being blamed.

Contrasting views

The city’s plight has been highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio, the American actor and environmentalist, who is a UN climate change ambassador.

His message is in stark contrast to that from Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. He told the media he uses only two pots of water every day, and that his government is taking good care of its citizens. This was after local media reported that his house in Chennai was receiving two truckloads of water a day.

A senior official in the Chennai metro water board said that efforts had been made since early June to ensure residents’ minimum water needs were met: “The government has initiated plans to bring water from nearby districts. Since the monsoon rains failed consecutively for the third year, we couldn’t store any water.”

He said sources in use now included water from stone quarries, two desalination plants in the city, a local lake and some borewells in the suburbs.

The government is trying to suppress demonstrations. When a voluntary organisation, Arappor Iyakkam, sought permission from the Chennai police commissioner for a protest about the water crisis, he refused, citing what he said was the need to protect law and order and the effect on peace and tranquillity at a time when the government was already striving to provide water. So the protestors approached the Madras high court for permission to go ahead.

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst’’

According to Arappor Iyakkam’s co-ordinator, Jayaraman, the court said public awareness about the crisis was important, and granted permission. Iyakkam said: “Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu are facing an acute water crisis, and this has arisen due to continuous neglect of water bodies, and maladministration and corruption by the ruling governments.

“The present government has been in a denial mode, acknowledging the level of water shortage and its failure to work on solutions. Our campaign would emphasise the need for action on a war footing.”

Social activist Arul Doss argues that the government is losing its focus on seeking long-term solutions and is instead spending money on desalination plants. “The rich can afford to buy water for double the price. But the poor workers are now forced to spend half of their salary for water. What kind of development are we heading to?

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst,’’ he said.

“Instead of spending money on recycling water and de-silting all the water bodies before the monsoon season, the government is working hard on opening new desalination plants in Chennai. It is hard to believe this is the same city that suffered flash floods in 2015.

Getting worse

“At least by now the government should have cleaned up water bodies and ensured grey water usage in high-rise apartments in the city,’’ Arul Doss told Climate News Network.

The plight of ordinary people is growing more extreme. A Chennai resident, K Meena, a student, has to fetch water. “We have to depend on the tanker supply, because the taps in our streets have dried up. Ours is a family of five. My parents and siblings take turns to collect water for bathing and cooking. I skipped classes and went late to college because I had to wait for the lorry,” said Meena.

Cab driver A Logeswaran uses the toilet facilities at petrol stations and sleeps in his car every other night to avoid using precious water supplies at home, which are kept for his wife and three-year-old child.

“Some of my neighbours sent their children and wives back to their native villages due to the water crisis. This is a very sad state for our city. Water is a basic need and I feel the government has failed completely,’’ he said in despair. − Climate News Network

The monsoon’s failure and government mismanagement in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu are being blamed as Chennai runs dry.

CHENNAI, 1 July, 2019 − Some of the poorest people of India’s sixth largest city are having to spend half their weekly income on water as Chennai runs dry: its four reservoirs lie empty and the government’s relief tankers cannot keep up with demand from citizens.

Despite government claims that there is no water crisis, the taps are empty and many of Chennai’s nine million people are queuing from early morning, awaiting what water the tankers can deliver.

Monsoon rains have failed for the last two years, leaving the city enduring a heat wave with no water. The government is delivering 10 million litres daily by train from 200 kilometres away in a bid to provide enough water for the poor to survive. In the richer areas private water tankers are maintaining supplies, charging double the normal rate to fill a roof tank.

Businesses, particularly restaurants, have been forced to close, and children are not attending school because they are spending all day queuing for water for their families.

Although it is clear that climate change is affecting the monsoon’s pattern and it may be October before Chennai gets enough water to restore supplies to normal, government mismanagement is also being blamed.

Contrasting views

The city’s plight has been highlighted by Leonardo DiCaprio, the American actor and environmentalist, who is a UN climate change ambassador.

His message is in stark contrast to that from Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. He told the media he uses only two pots of water every day, and that his government is taking good care of its citizens. This was after local media reported that his house in Chennai was receiving two truckloads of water a day.

A senior official in the Chennai metro water board said that efforts had been made since early June to ensure residents’ minimum water needs were met: “The government has initiated plans to bring water from nearby districts. Since the monsoon rains failed consecutively for the third year, we couldn’t store any water.”

He said sources in use now included water from stone quarries, two desalination plants in the city, a local lake and some borewells in the suburbs.

The government is trying to suppress demonstrations. When a voluntary organisation, Arappor Iyakkam, sought permission from the Chennai police commissioner for a protest about the water crisis, he refused, citing what he said was the need to protect law and order and the effect on peace and tranquillity at a time when the government was already striving to provide water. So the protestors approached the Madras high court for permission to go ahead.

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst’’

According to Arappor Iyakkam’s co-ordinator, Jayaraman, the court said public awareness about the crisis was important, and granted permission. Iyakkam said: “Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu are facing an acute water crisis, and this has arisen due to continuous neglect of water bodies, and maladministration and corruption by the ruling governments.

“The present government has been in a denial mode, acknowledging the level of water shortage and its failure to work on solutions. Our campaign would emphasise the need for action on a war footing.”

Social activist Arul Doss argues that the government is losing its focus on seeking long-term solutions and is instead spending money on desalination plants. “The rich can afford to buy water for double the price. But the poor workers are now forced to spend half of their salary for water. What kind of development are we heading to?

“The government does not stop supplying water for multi-national companies when its own people are struggling to quench their thirst,’’ he said.

“Instead of spending money on recycling water and de-silting all the water bodies before the monsoon season, the government is working hard on opening new desalination plants in Chennai. It is hard to believe this is the same city that suffered flash floods in 2015.

Getting worse

“At least by now the government should have cleaned up water bodies and ensured grey water usage in high-rise apartments in the city,’’ Arul Doss told Climate News Network.

The plight of ordinary people is growing more extreme. A Chennai resident, K Meena, a student, has to fetch water. “We have to depend on the tanker supply, because the taps in our streets have dried up. Ours is a family of five. My parents and siblings take turns to collect water for bathing and cooking. I skipped classes and went late to college because I had to wait for the lorry,” said Meena.

Cab driver A Logeswaran uses the toilet facilities at petrol stations and sleeps in his car every other night to avoid using precious water supplies at home, which are kept for his wife and three-year-old child.

“Some of my neighbours sent their children and wives back to their native villages due to the water crisis. This is a very sad state for our city. Water is a basic need and I feel the government has failed completely,’’ he said in despair. − Climate News Network