Thursday, August 17, 2017

How Is Our Environment (Climate, etc.) Becoming Politicized?

There are a 'few bad apples' in every basket one might say regarding any group of people.  This seems to be true of our current administration under President Trump.  Right about now, you may be asking the following question:

Mike, why are you going after President Trump and his administration over their positions on funding basic research and climate science?

To start to answer the question, I offer you the first few paragraphs which arrived in my 'inbox' on Monday morning from 'Politico Energy' shown below:

A NEW CA-vs.-EPA SHOWDOWN: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is the latest Democratic official from the Golden State to take on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt - this time with a public records lawsuit alleging he has failed to promptly hand over documents related to his ethics arrangements. Becerra filed the suit Friday, Pro's Alex Guillén reports . Pruitt, a prolific litigant challenging the Obama-era EPA, has agreed to stay away from lawsuits over the various rules he challenged in court, such as the Clean Power Plan or Waters of the U.S., although he says he is not barred from working to roll back the rules themselves. Becerra asked for documents outlining Pruitt's "compliance with federal ethics regulations and obligations" as well as agency "policies and procedures for determining who (if anyone) can assume the powers of the Administrator if he is recused or disqualified from participating in a matter."
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said agency staff had reached out twice to Becerra's office to say they were working on a response. "It's unfortunate that California is suing the Agency, draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment - rather than working with EPA's career staff, as they can gather all the information requested," she said in a statement.
A few hours after Becerra filed his suit, the New York Times dropped a big report documenting limits on access to EPA - for both the public, press and even agency staff. Citing interviews with 20 current and former staffers, the Times reported that EPA employees now must leave their cellphones before meeting with Pruitt and must have an escort to see the administrator, who is accompanied by his armed security staff even at agency headquarters. ("None of this is true," Bowman told the Times. "It's all rumors.")
Pruitt's tactics aren't just controversial at agency headquarters. He's frequently met with tightly-screened industry groups and opted for interviews with friendly media figures. It was three such closed events in North Dakota that earned Pruitt a rebuke from Republican Sen. John Hoeven. "I think (meetings) should be open," he said, according to The Bismarck Tribune. "I guess I saw no reason not to have it open," he said.
But Pruitt isn't shifting approaches either. He leaned into a brewing controversy over a major federal climate change report blaming human activity for climate change, promising he and his staff would gauge the "accuracy" of its findings. It's a bizarre promise, Pro's Emily Holden reports , given Pruitt's concern over so-called politicization of science and the fact the report has already undergone "rigorous" peer-review by a 14-person committee at the National Academies with 132 pages of suggestions from the reviewers already incorporated into the final version. "It's a much more extensive process than a usual peer review, which does not typically come out as a paperback book," said Bob Kopp, a lead report author and climate scientist at Rutgers University.
The administrator also dismissed the discussion over the role of human activity in climate change during a Texas radio show last week as "political" and a "wedge issue." "Why aren't we celebrating what we're achieving with respect to CO2 ... why do we continue to engage in this political football?" he said. Multiple science organizations have sought meetings with Pruitt to discuss why he doesn't acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is driving climate change.

In a daily e-mail from 'Politico Energy' I might find the daily briefings/meetings which are being held on capitol hill with links.  Additionally, a few controversial items that are being entertained by congress to pay attention to.  Lately though, I find that these e-mails are filled with a common theme regarding decisions being made at the federal agency level:

The Trump Administration has filled or not filled top federal agency positions with 'non-scientist' and has disregarded science altogether.

The above realization is absolutely astounding to say the least.  I am amazed that the position of 'Office of Science and Technology' still has no director.  I would at least expect President Trump to fill the position with someone with a science background.  The filled position does not in any way mean that the advice will be listened to by the President himself.

On the other hand, you have the Environmental Protection Agency filled with a director whose previous job it was to sue the EPA?  How does that work out?

The President is authorized to nominate any one person who he/she feels is fit to fill the position of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Furthermore, the position does not necessarily need to be filled with a person whose background involved a career in science.  Although, one would expect the director of the EPA to maintain an 'open mind' when entertaining problems and solutions.  Keeping an 'open mind' does not mean ignoring scientific data.

Recently, congress sent Director Scott Pruitt a request for information regarding a 'climate change' debate which he wants to hold in the future.  Congress has an issue (and rightly so) with Scott Pruitt's lack of understanding of the proven scientific data.  Just before the letter was sent, congress recently debated the incorporation of words like 'climate change' or 'climate science' into the budget books of the Department of Defense.  Luckily, congress was level headed and rejected the motion to remove any language associated with climate change.  The result of which could have been catastrophic in future funding toward a sustainable future.


Time and time again, over the last 7 months, the current administration is determined to undermine credible (and peer-reviewed) data which supports the emerging effects of climate change.  In the excerpts above (specifically excerpt 2), an EPA spokesperson Bowman suggests that the current lawsuit is using up critical funds which typically is spent on resources to protect our nations infrastructure.  From what has been reported, the funds were never going to be spent on protecting the nation's water and environmental issues.  The money would be spent on legal battles trying to reverse the much needed forward momentum which President Obama has made over the last 8 years.

Here is a thought to leave you with.  I was listening to a podcast recently where an oil executive was interviewed about his position on the laws enacted in the last 8 years under the Obama administration.  Specifically, about the transition of changing coal and power plants to emit 'cleaner' emissions -- i.e. scrubbing technology.  The executive was rather annoyed with the current administrations (Trump administration) effort to tie up the courts with trying to reverse the "Clean Power Plan."  This surprised me to say the least.  The reason why the executive was annoyed with the legal battle which was ensuing was because the executive's company had already spent a few million dollars on changing the plant to emit 'cleaner emissions'.  Now, with the possibility of winning a legal battle under the "Clean Power Plan" these plants would not have to change.  Who cares?

The situation described with the legal battle on behalf of the Trump administration really did not matter.  The oil executive stated that the changes are already instated and why would he change the plant configuration from 'clean emissions' back to 'dirty emissions'.  Doing so would make little sense at all.  This story seems to resonate with power plants which have already transitioned over the last few years toward emitting 'cleaner emissions.'  Basically, the measures which President Trump is claiming to help industries are making little gain for them.

What we are left with is the current situation in the Trump administration.  One where the absence of science (and reason) is replaced with politics.  Politics which make little sense.  The story of the environmental changes on behalf of the oil executive above illustrate this point.  Which leaves the component of 'politics' clearly in play in the current situation.  There is a bipartisan effort to help the Trump administration understand that scientific data supports that 'climate change' is real and needs to be dealt with.  How to do so correctly heading into the future remains to be decided upon.  Currently, there is momentum toward a better future.  The change has already occurred -- toward a greener/sustainable future.  We should continue this forward momentum.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Universities Are Jumping On Board With States To Pick Up Paris Climate Slack

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that there was outrage at President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  Specifically, the response from various governors was to pick up the slack left behind by the President in his decision.  I showed the agreement to bring to light what exactly such an agreement would look like.  In the current blog post, I ran across an e-mail from my university which stated that 109 other universities are willing to ensure that change is still in a positive direction.  Below is the letter stating the case.

Universities Join The Pack

Here is the letter from the website 'Second Nature' and signed by various leaders (Governors, Mayors, College and University leaders) regarding their undeterred commitment to meet the goals outlined by the Paris Agreement:

We Are Still In
Open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S.state, local, and business leaders
We, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, investors and businesses are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.
In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them.
In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.
The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.
In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years. Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.
In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities and businesses representing a sizeable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.
It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses. Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.

Letters such as the one above have been emerging over the last few months since President Trump announced his desire to withdrawal the United States from the Paris Agreement.  We should not be surprised at letters of support, but should still welcome them as a sign of undeterred support given the science is real regarding climate change and the need to move toward a more sustainable future.

Earlier in the year, just after the inauguration of President Trump, there was news that he would seek to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  He came into office with a desire to rid federal agencies of the words "climate change" and "climate science" along with drastically censoring the access to scientific research results which are funded by tax-payer money (yes, you are paying for research and are restricted from seeing the results -- which is wrong).

This news led to a series of letters from scientists in the academic arena regarding the President's opposition to climate change.  First, university officials wrote the President a letter (230 university officials).  Second, in an article, the same university officials were quoted on the adverse impact that opposing climate change could have on their university and the world at large.  The letters and public comments seem not to deter President Trump on his position regarding the validity of climate change.

As a result, the closer the G7 talks approached in Taormino, large corporations started to be concerned that there was a large possibility of losing out on trillions of dollars worth of investment with the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accord.  I wrote a blog which contained two letters from gigantic corporations (Apple, Microsoft, Google, General Mills, BP, Shell, etc.) to encourage President Trump to stay in the Paris Agreement.  This letter along with others went unnoticed (it seemed) since there was no real effect -- especially regarding restoring America to the great place in the past.  One would think that investing in 'green' / 'sustainable' energy would be attractive -- seeing how other countries and businesses are offering trillions of dollars in investment opportunities.  Guess not?

Quickly after the G7 talks, a video surfaced in which President Jeane-Claude Juncker of the European Commission said that President Trump did not really understand the way that these negotiations really worked (no surprise there).  I included the video in a blog post which can be found here.  Before that video surfaced here in the United States, I should highlight the outrage of the world at President Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement.  First, the citizens of the U.S. were outraged as noted in the following blog post.  Second,

Furthermore, with just under a month remaining until world leaders would gather at the G20 in Hamburg (Germany) to discuss world issues - one of which would be the Paris Agreement.  One was left to ask - what good could come out of the Hamburg G20 summit with the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement?  Frankly, not much without leadership from our President with an open ear regarding the world and the future direction of the majority of the world represented by their respective leaders.  A sad situation existed to say the least.

Looking Toward The Future?

Over the last six months, the leadership (President and Congress) has been headed toward reversing every environmental step forward accomplished by the previous administration.  This in of itself is astounding.  Congress has managed to pass the "HONEST Act" which makes the incorporation of scientific data more difficult due to privacy laws.  A real "Dishonest Act" as it should be known.  The President has taken us down a road headed for the past (60 years ago) when regulations were not put in place to protect the citizens and the environment in which we live.  But all is not lost.

In the last few months, Congress has stepped up and made a couple of stances on "climate science" which are notable.  Recently, while trimming down President Trump's outrageous budget for the fiscal year, cuts were being made to basic science.  Amazingly enough, there was a bipartisan defense of basic research (thank goodness).  On top of that amazing defense to save basic research funding, a republican senator tried to rid the Department of Defense of the words "climate change" to defund any such research in support of the atmosphere (in general).  I wrote a blog post regarding the amazing stance that republicans took to "shoot down" their colleague in order to keep these words in the official documents -- meaning that republicans do believe in Climate Change -- Thank goodness.  Funding is a different issue.  For the time being, I can live with this.

Heading into the future, the responsibility lies on each of us to write our respective elected representatives and express concern regarding voting positions taken when crucial issues (i.e. our environment) emerge.  Keep speaking out on important issues which could adversely impact not just you or me but the world in general.  After all, the planet is shared by all of us.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Future Outlook By New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman

With all of the events that have transpired over the last seven months in the world, one cannot help but wonder what will happen next?

Where are we headed as a nation (USA)?

Where is the world headed without the USA?

These are logical questions which do not have any immediate answers.  Although, reporters whose job is to predict based on prior reporting have a reasonable outlook -- some of the time.  At the very least, there is no harm done in entertaining questions and concerns raised by the front line reporters whose job is to keep us informed on such matters.

The other day, I ran across an article by Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times" titled "Climate Shifts Aren’t Limited to the Weather" in which he proposes that the word climate is not just limited to the scope of the weather and science -- which is huge to begin with.  Other contributors (some which operate behind the scenes) are extremely important and should be incorporated into our thinking about the future.  Here are two excerpts to think about:

Here is what I mean: We are in the middle of a change in the climate of the climate. We are going from “later” to “now.” In the past you could fix any climate/environmental problem later or now. But today later is officially over. Later will be too late. At some point, the deforestation of the Amazon is not reversible.
We are the middle of a change in the “climate” of globalization. We are going from an interconnected world to an interdependent one, and in such a world your friends can hurt you faster than your enemies: Think what happens if Mexico’s economy fails. And your rivals’ falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals’ rising: We will be hurt a lot more by China’s economy tanking than its putting tanks on islands in the South China Sea.
And lastly we’re in the middle of a change in the “climate” of technology. We’re moving into a world where machines and software can analyze (see patterns that were always hidden before); optimize (tell a plane which altitude to fly each mile to get the best fuel efficiency); prophesize (tell you when your elevator will break and fix it before it does); customize (tailor any product or service for you alone) and digitize and automate just about any job. This is transforming every industry.

The above shifts in "climate" are extremely important to consider in theory.  In practice and implementation, how do these shifts in "climate" appear in governing and technological development?  For China, Thomas Friedman states:

Which brings me to China. China takes governing seriously — in a cruel way and in an impressive way. Its leaders wake up every morning and ask themselves two questions. First, how do we stay in power? Their answer, which I find reprehensible, is: We’ll use technology to repress our people. I think in the long run depriving China’s people of freedom, a basic human right, will undermine their ability to realize their full potential.
But it has worked better than expected, up to now, because China’s leaders are just as focused on asking a second question: What world are we living in? Which leads to: What are the biggest forces shaping this world? And what kind of national strategy do we need so our people can get the most out of these forces and cushion the worst?
They know we’re in the midst of these three climate changes and have formulated a strategy — “Made in China 2025” — to thrive within it. It’s a plan for building the infrastructure, investments, education and regulations that will enable Chinese companies to lead in supercomputing, new materials, computer-controlled machine tools, industrial robotics, space and aviation equipment — including drones — clean cars, clean energy, biomedicine and next-gen medical devices.

The above are pretty typical of China given its history.  The overarching principle is domination through intimidation throughout history.  Although, China has been creeping up and starting to lead in developing clean energy (mass production) -- which I will write about soon -- based on a documentary.

Where does this leave America?

According to the article above, the following course is stated which seems likely given the events of the past few months:

By contrast, Trump hasn’t even named a science adviser. He pulled out of the Paris climate accord without any input from scientists, and he proposed a budget for fiscal 2018 that eliminated the Department of Energy’s innovation lab (the “Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy”) and slashed funding for all of our key national science and medical labs, which provide the basic research for the very next-gen technologies in which China is now massively investing.
He’s spending the money instead on a wall against Mexico. Is there anything more stupid?
And then you watch the health care debate. And then you realize that in addition to the executive branch, one of our two parties has gone nuts. For seven years the G.O.P. made replacing Obamacare, which needs improving, its top goal, and when it finally controlled all the levers of power, it was clear that it had done no homework on a better plan or built any intraparty consensus for it. It was all a fraud.

One could argue that the content above is from a so-called "fake news" source as a small base of this country likes to call the New York Times.  I choose to be open minded about the inputs from a variety of sources online.  I admit that I have a subscription to the New York Times which I receive daily -- as a disclaimer.  Nevertheless, the questions and comments regarding differing definitions of "climate" are valid and should be entertained by citizens of the world.

Take a minute or two and ponder the events that have transpired over the last 7 months and think about (from your perspective) where the world is going.  How far off are you from Thomas Friedman?  Are you in sync with him as I tend to be?  Regardless, he raises legitimate concerns about the future that each of us should start to educate ourselves on for future decisions which cross our paths.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Risks To The World By Activist Ralph Nader

Lately, with the world moving forward and the United States in a "holding pattern" with regard to creating useful legislation, I have been wondering what dangers this "stagnation" might lead to.  After completing and election cycle last year to elect President Trump along with the first 7 months in office completed, surely, the world must have thought that much more would have  been accomplished in terms of the economy and national security along with health care.  As it stands, we are still facing the same dangers which are compounding as time moves forward.

Every few days, I receive updates from various news sources and activists like Ralph Nader.  I enjoy receiving his updates simply due to the wonderful work which he has accomplished over the years.  Many of US citizens feel somewhat "helpless" or "unimportant" in dedicating time toward promoting change on the planet that is meaningful for not just the current situation, but the future outlook too.  I try to read as widely as possible to gain insight into many perspectives.  Perspectives offered by Ralph Nader fit in nicely with my doubt about the world and progress in it moving forward.  I have offered "his call to action" in a previous post on this site.  In the current post, I include a few "risks" to the world outlined by him which are good food for thought to consider as we move forward as a nation.  Understanding the threats that loom over this nation can help us start to promote change within and around the world.

Without further ado, here are a few risks that are looming to the world from Activist Ralph Nader shown below:

Here are some warnings about rising and looming risks.

1) The opioid epidemic is here now, and poised to become further exacerbated. It is the US’s deadliest drug overdose crisis ever, taking over 1000 lives a week. Even that figure is underestimated, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These fatalities, many of them affecting people in the prime of their life, stem from legally prescribed drugs taken to relieve chronic pain. Tragically ironic!
Congress is figuring out how to budget for many billions of dollars to combat this toll – much greater than the deaths by traffic crashes or AIDS. Republican and Democratic state officials are suing the drug companies for excessive, misleading promotion for profit. Still, the awful toll keeps rising.

2) Cyberattacks and cyberwarfare are increasingly becoming a facet of daily life. Although IBM and other firms are trying to develop more effective defenses, the current scale of cyberattacks is “crazy”, according to specialist Christopher Ahlberg. As he said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, “If you told anybody 10 years ago about what’s going on now, they wouldn’t believe it.”

Negotiations are not even underway for a cyberwarfare treaty among nations. The sheer scale and horrific implications of this weaponry seems to induce societies to bury their heads in the sand. Former ABC TV host of Nightline, Ted Koppel, discusses this emerging threat in his recent, acclaimed book, “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared”:

“Imagine a blackout lasting not days but weeks or months. There would be no running water, no sewage, no electric heat, refrigeration, or light. Food and medical supplies would dwindle. Banks would not function. The devices we rely on would go dark. The fact is, one well-placed attack on the electrical grid could cripple much of our infrastructure. Leaders across government, industry and the military know this…yet there is no national plan for the aftermath.”

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, says Koppel’s book is “an important wake-up call for America.” Yet neither he nor the enormous military-industrial complex, of which he remains a supportive part, are doing much of anything about this doomsday threat to national security. The big manufacturers are too busy demanding ever more taxpayer money for additional nukes, aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry of an increasingly bygone age.

3) “The World is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” headlined a recent Time Magazine article. The authors note that the “US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic – an infectious disease outbreak that goes global.” They predict the disease could claim "tens of millions" of lives.
In between his Twitter-tantrums, President Trump approved an insanely myopic proposed budget cut of over $1 billion in the CDC’s programs used to predict and combat rising pandemics from China, African countries and elsewhere. Fortunately cooler heads may prevail in Congress, backed by some private foundations.

The number of new diseases per decade, Time reports, has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years. Antibiotics are being overridden by adaptive mutations of bacteria. Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Gates Foundation, asserts, “There’s just no incentive for any company to make pandemic vaccines to store on shelves.” That profit-driven rejection is exactly why government must act to produce the drugs, as the Department of Defense it has successfully done with new anti-malaria drugs in the seventies and eighties.

University of Minnesota Professor Michael Osterholm, one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases, warns that for all our world-class scientists and high-tech isolation units, the US health care system is not ready for the stresses of a major pandemic. Not even close.

4) It isn’t just Elon Musk, founder of the Tesla company, who is warning that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.” In 2015, hundreds of other scientists, like renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, and technologists, like Steve Wozniak, signed a public letter that was a one day story, instead of an alarmed world turning it into a galvanizing event. Professor Hawking warns us: “Success in creating Artificial Intelligence would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets.” We humans, Hawking adds, “are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded by AI” In short, the robots race out of control, become self-actuating and are not held back by any moral boundaries. 

From Lincoln to Einstein, we have been counseled that new situations require new thinking. A massive reversal of our world’s priorities toward reverence for life and posterity, toward diplomacy and waging peace, toward legal and ethical frameworks for exploding science and technology (including biotechnology and nanotechology) must receive our focus, from families nurturing their children to the philosophers, ethical specialists, engineers and scientists pausing from their exponential discoveries to ponder the serious adverse consequences of their creations.

Our present educational systems – from Harvard Law School, MIT to K-12 – are not rising to these occasions for survival. Our mass media, wallowing in trivia, entertainment, advertisements and political insults, is not holding the politicians accountable to serious levels of public trust and societal safety. Time for new movements awakening our best angels to foresee and forestall. Do any potential leaders at all levels want to be first responders?

The stated 4 risks above are nothing new.  Over the last few years, we have dealt with risks to various populations which required intervention on behalf of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.  Remember the Ebola virus?  How about the looming Zika virus still being examined across the United States?  Both of these potentially lethal viruses require extensive investigation which comes from funding out of Washington D.C.  With a supposed reduction cut by the Trump Administration, how does the nation stand to overcome a serious outbreak in the near future?

Cybersecurity has been a hot topic item with the ongoing Saga of the Russian investigation into the Trump Administration.  This only serves to highlight the potential threat the nation might face in the near future.  Already, news accounts emerge daily detailing small and non-lethal cybersecurity attacks on various businesses around the US.  Not enough reporting is done on this important issue.

Last but not least, addiction is an enormous problem here in the United States.  Not to mention other countries.  Although, if we focus (which we should for the moment) on the opioid crisis among other addictive substances, there is plenty of room for improvement.  The amount of growth in terms of solutions and jobs to conquer this crippling crisis is enormous, but requires action on all fronts.  Law enforcement must weigh in on what is happening in the "field".  Physicians must weigh in on the occurrences seen in the medical community.  Substance recovery groups can also offer information (data) which remain anonymous but can help guide the politicians into searching for a solution.

And finally, family members can reach out and provide indirect testimony of problems as they occur to there elected officials (through written letters or emails) to inform them on a "constituent" level.  Combined efforts of successful reporting and programs which are successful is a first major step toward overcoming this epidemic.


These are issues which impact us all.  Whether that impact is felt daily or monthly or yearly depends on a number of factors.  I have written about my involvement in alcoholics anonymous briefly on this site.  I have been in recovery for over 4 years now and have a completely different (better) life.  Although, part of the growth process of returning to a normal state of mind is accepting that there is a problem.  Followed by action to improve and fix the source of the issue.  The principles laid down in the program (treatment programs like A.A.) could be used to solve the pressing problems listed above.

I can only imagine how more powerful addictive drugs like the opioid class of drugs must be to overcome.  My hat is off to those who seek treatment and family members who are honest about issues affecting the family as a whole.  Too often, as citizens, we get caught up on big ticket news items like cybersecurity or ebola or zika virus and search to see what we can do to help.  At the same time, we could be dealing with other local risks that impact our community and start moving toward a solution.  With our help, politicians are given more time to seek solutions to larger 'big ticket' items like cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence.  The risks laid out by Ralph Nader impact us all at some level.  Like I mentioned above, understanding the risks listed above is the first step in searching for a long term viable solution.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Who Is In Charge Of The Department Of Energy?

President Trump's appointee for the secretary of energy is truth telling to say the least.  His pedigree speaks volumes to the course that our nation is headed down toward the ever changing demands of the world with regard to the energy landscape.  Below is a brief exploration of how he achieved the status of Secretary of Energy and how potentially dangerous this might be for the United States of America's energy future.

Secretary's Stance on Climate Change?

As a Secretary of Energy, one would hope that the appointee would have knowledge about the department which he is heading.

Furthermore, I receive the "tip sheets" from the news site "Politico" daily which have summaries of the daily political events occurring in Washington D.C. in the Capitol daily.  Here is the summary I received nearly a month ago in an e-mail:

PERRY V. CLIMATE SCIENCE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry has set himself up for a fierce grilling before a House Appropriations subcommittee today after he said Monday - contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus - that he doesn't think carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the main driver of climate change. Greens quickly pounced, with the Sierra Club saying that "Rick Perry's outrageous comments are the latest indication that this administration will do everything in its power to put polluter profits ahead of science and public health." Remember EPA Scott Pruitt faced weeks of criticism and a scientific integrity probe when he made similar remarks about CO2 on the same show, CNBC's "Squawk Box." Following his comments, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer sent Perry a host of educational materials outlining the basic established science of climate change.

This is both Perry's first public appearance on Capitol Hill since his nomination hearing in January as well as the first hearing in 2017 of Rep. Mike Simpson 's energy spending subcommittee, so there's plenty to discuss. Simpson doesn't support a lot of the deep cuts Trump's 2018 budget suggests for DOE, but he has also said that the proposal is "Mulvaney's budget" rather than a document with buy-in from the Cabinet secretaries so don't expect him to call on Perry to defend the funding decisions made by the White House. Democrats, on the other hand, will likely needle Perry over funding cuts for renewable energy programs, climate-related work and the elimination of ARPA-E. There aren't any big climate hawks on the panel but issues further afield, like Perry's comments Monday that carbon dioxide emissions aren't the primary "control knob" of climate change, are almost certain to squeeze their way into the discussion. The hearing starts at 1 p.m. in Rayburn 2359.

To hear the entire hearing, click here to access the webcast of the hearing which around 2 1/2 hours in length.  Here is the video below:

On that particular day on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Defense did reasonably well in the 'House of Representatives' by giving vague answers.  Which is to say, he states that money will be diverted and moved around to satisfy deficits and budget cuts.  Furthermore, Secretary Perry assures representatives that money does arise which will cover the deficits.  Overall, his performance was accepted as satisfactory at the time to the representatives of the house.

Whereas, in the senate, Secretary Perry did not fare so well.  Here are two clips below which show how the Secretary performs under pressure with respect to funding.  The first video is an interaction between Senator Al Franken and Secretary Perry on the validity of 'climate change':

Wow.  Next, a video of the interaction between Secretary Perry and Senator Angus King finally shows the secretary's behavior when called out on the absurdity of the budget funding in President Trump's bill:


Over the last 3 months, Secretary Rick Perry has evolved to narrow down the mission of the Department of Energy.  He believes as stated in the hearing above that the mission of the Department of Energy is:

"the core mission is to promote innovation and technology..."

Fair enough.  How that will be achieved with the significant funding reductions proposed by the Trump administration remains to be seen.  The hearing in the 'House of Representatives' revealed that major reductions are proposed from the Trump administration in order to reduce the cost burden on the government.  What is disappointing (of many points) is that important agencies like ARPA-E are being proposed for massive cuts (greater than 75% reductions) - near shut down reductions - which is very problematic.  In the hearing, Secretary Perry stated that 'fundamental research' is vital to the mission of the Department of Energy.

What About ARPA-E?

Before concluding the blog post, the issue of closing or defunding ARPA-E should be briefly expanded upon.  The agency 'ARPA-E' stands for "Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy" and is introduced on 'Wikipedia' as:

ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is a United States government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Pretty detailed right?  Lets look to the introduction to the 'Wikipedia' page for the parent project agency "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency" shown below:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
Originally known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), the agency was created in February 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Since its inception, the agency’s mission is ensuring that the United States avoids further technological surprise.[3] By collaborating with academic, industry, and government partners, DARPA formulates and executes research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science, often beyond immediate U.S. military requirements.[3]
DARPA-funded projects have provided significant technologies that influenced many non-military fields, such as computer networking and the basis for the modern Internet, and graphical user interfaces in information technology.
DARPA is independent of other military research and development and reports directly to senior Department of Defense management. DARPA has about 240 employees, of whom approximately 15 are in management, and close to 140 are technical staff.

Again, the introduction of the two agencies is limited in its scope.  Here is an excerpt from an article titled "The Energy Department is reportedly denying funds for already-approved grants" stating the reductions and the significance of ARPA-E:

Brad Townsend, associate director for energy innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project, told ThinkProgress that it’s not uncommon for DOE or other federal agencies to reevaluate programs when they come in, especially when the government is operating under a continuing resolution like it is now for fiscal year 2017.
“FY’17 funds being withheld is less than ideal but doesn’t raise any flags for me,” Townsend said. “What concerns me more is if you look at some of the FOAs [funding opportunity announcements] for FY’16 programs, there are funding announcements that have yet to be made and are already overdue… Those are dollars that have been appropriated and have to be spent.”
ARPA-E was a bipartisan initiative modeled on the Department of Defense’s Department of Advanced Research Agency. The agency was designed to focus on helping the United States gain a competitive advantage in science and technology and look at ways to develop technologies that would provide economic, security, and environmental benefits.
The agency is focused on “high-impact, high-risk and high-reward” projects, Townsend noted, and he agreed with the former program director that these are areas in which the private sector likely would not invest. For example, researchers for a group called Makani Power created a wind turbine project, funded by ARPA-E, that sends airborne kite-like wind turbines high into the air where they harness a more consistent and powerful wind source than earthbound wind turbines. Makani Power designed the drone kites to automatically take off and adjust themselves to the windstream to maximize energy production.
ARPA-E awarded Makani Power a $3 million grant in 2009 for the project. In 2013, Google X, the search engine company’s research and investment arm, acquired Makani Power, turning the research project into a success story for ARPA-E.

The government should make cuts where possible.  What is not clear in the current budget proposal is where the increase in funding for the 'Department of Defense' will go to?  Agencies like ARPA-E and DARPA are research arms for the Department of Defense.  Is it the desire of the Trump administration to outsource to industry all of the research for the United States?  According to the proposals and testimony of Secretary Rick Perry, that appears to be the case.

Why is this problematic?

Research conducted by grants to universities from agencies like ARPA-E and DARPA advance knowledge which may or may not contribute to a marketable item down the line (in the future).  That is not to say that the research is worthless or not worthy of funding.  I can speak from experience during my graduate education.

I was working off of a grant funded by DARPA to explore the area of Quantum Information Processing or Quantum Computation (i.e. Quantum Computing).  The field of my research is chemistry.  I am a physical chemist.  Although, I build electrical circuits (NMR probes) to further the study of molecular systems via Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy.  Without going into laborious detail regarding my project, the money (from a grant) for research actually resulted in improvements to the broad field of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy in general.  Why is this important?

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy is the predecessor behind 'Magnetic Resonance Imaging' -- meaning -- improvements to one field could potentially result in improvements to the other.  MRI technology needs to be pushed forward - just ask anyone who has had an MRI taken lately in the hospital.


Secretary Rick Perry might turn out to be a good Energy Secretary in the end.  Recent announcements in the news suggest that President Trump might move him to the Department of Homeland Security to deal with our borders.  This is a typical example of the lack of experience that is required to run the Department of Energy.  Moving politicians around to head departments with which they have no experience is not fair to the Department of Energy and the United States citizens in general.  We (USA citizens) expect to have leaders who have a vision which involves pushing technology further to create a better world.

By the sound of the answers above, leadership at the Department of Energy is lacking.  Especially with the supposed suggestion in the current budget of closing extremely important programs like ARPA-E.  What confuses me is that the current administration would like to increase defense spending.  How is that consistent with 'defunding' the ARPA-E program?  Makes little sense to me.

In the end, the large question with the current administration is the following:

Who will fund research?  Government or the private sector?  What is the argument for a shift in either direction?

In the coming months to years, the answer should become apparent.  Hopefully, in that time, the United States does not fall too far behind in leading technologies for the future of the planet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

There Is No Climate Debate -- Scientific Facts Have Settled The Issue?

One of the hot topic issues surrounding any discussion of politics is "climate change."   Historically, the democrats have been big believers of climate change caused by human activities.  Whereas, republicans have been labeled as 'climate deniers' of man-made climate change.  Recently, I posted a blog in which I showed that, republicans, in fact, do believe in climate change.   In that post, I showed an excerpt from the news site 'Politico' which was a brief regarding including (or keeping) the language of "climate change" in the Department of Defense language -- which has huge budget implications.

With these thoughts in mind, the ranking members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology sent the Environmental Protection Agency director a letter requesting more information regarding a 'so-called' scientific debate which he plans to have regarding the issue of climate change.  Here is the excerpt describing the request from Politico:

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH EPA'S CLIMATE 'DEBATE'? Three senior Democrats on the House Science Committee - Eddie Bernice Johnson, Don Beyer and Suzanne Bonamici - sent a letter to Pruitt Friday seeking details on his proposed "red team-blue team" debate of climate change science. "Your efforts seem to be divorced from reality and reason," they wrote, while asking for information on the format of the review, a timetable for its execution and how participants in the exercise would be selected.

And here is the actual letter taken from the a link provided by Politico shown below for the request:

Dear Administrator Pruitt,
We are concerned about recent reports that you will be engaging in a "red team-blue team" exercise at the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.  On July 17, 2017 Reuters reported that,
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the early stages of launching a debate about climate change that could air on television -- challenging scientists to prove the widespread view that global warming is a serious threat, the head of the agency said."(1)
In defending the idea of engaging in this odd choice of a format for a supposedly serious scientific debate, you stated that, "There are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered (about climate change."(2) This vague justification for a wholesale litigation of the current scientific consensus regarding climate change is deeply concerning.  Given you well known and long-standing personal beliefs on climate change (3) that run counter to the mainstream scientific community, it is hard not to view this proposed initiative with some skepticism.  
 The scientific community has spoken clearly and forcefully on the issue of climate change.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly convened thousands  of the world's foremost scientists to assess and report on the state of the art in climate science.  Their assessments have included a good number of so-called out-of-the-mainstream climate researchers, and in addition, have evaluated these researchers' claims in the IPCC process.  The IPCC has, with ever increasing confidence, affirmed the scientific consensus of human-caused climate change.(4)  Moreover, the national academies of sciences in virtually every major country on earth have all affirmed the scientific underpinnings of human-caused climate change.(5)  This includes our own prestigious National Academy of Sciences here in the United States.  In addition, many of our country's top scientific societies have also affirmed the basic understanding of human-caused climate change. (6)  
 In the face of this overwhelming agreement on the basic fact of human-caused climate change by the world's scientists, your efforts seem to be divorced from reality and reason.  This only reinforces our skepticism of your motives in engaging in a clearly unnecessary, and quite possibly unscientific, red team-blue team exercise to review the climate science.
Despite our deep skepticism about the legitimacy of your planned efforts, it is not possible to evaluate such a review based solely on your vague public statements.  To assist us in better understanding your proposed review, please provide us with the following information:
- Description of the format and procedure of your climate science review;
- Timetable for any such review;
- Purpose for conducting such a review of climate science;
- Description of the selection criteria and process to select members of the intended review teams;
- Description of what type of end-product you expect from such a review: and,
- Description of how you intend to use the products of the review.
Please provide this information no later than August 11, 2017.  If you have any questions about this request, please feel free to contact Priyanka Hoogham, Subcommittee on the Environment at (202) 225-6375.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Eddie Bernice Johnson             Don Beyer                        Suzanne Bonamici
Ranking Member                      Vice Ranking Member     Ranking Member

Wow!  I wonder what EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was thinking when he opened the letter from the ranking members of the committee.  This letter might not have a detrimental impact on his ability to try to hold a debate regarding the science of climate change.  Although, the letter certainly raises red flags that such a debate might be overstepping boundaries set by the government -- which is great.  Why?

One of the many problematic aspects of the current administration is that a widely held belief among various groups in Washington D.C. is that there is a serious lack of 'experience' in critical positions.  Compound this with the fact that certain positions (i.e. Administrator of the EPA) is filled with a former Attorney General who went after the EPA to side with coal power plants in a lawsuit.  The lawsuit and the position of Scott Pruitt were discussed at his nomination hearing, but with a republican majority, there was no stopping the warning signs - which were over turned by the majority.

Therefore, we (as U.S. citizens) are left with an EPA Administrator who is challenging all avenues of science to accomplish his goal (which coincides with President Trump) to roll back all environmental regulations which have resulted in a cleaner and healthier environment over the last few decades.  The current control in the EPA is dangerous and should be watched for future actions.


The information requested by the ranking members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is reassuring along with the letter composed.  Requests like these have the potential to expose hidden agendas by the current administration.  Furthermore, keeping track of the type of debate that is going to be conducted is critical to ensuring a democratic process.

The information obtained from the debate is also of crucial concern to law makers as that data will inevitably be used in the future to promote proposed budget allocations to Federal agencies.   How future funding is distributed could depend on the data collected from such a debate.  Which means that congress should be aware of the exact details of a debate where science has already established that there needs to be no debate.

What seems to be the current situation is that the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is bent on diminishing scientific data which shows clearly (and overwhelmingly) that climate change is real.  The exact contributors might not be narrowed down to specific moving parts at this time, but there is not debate that the presence of technology developed by humans has definitely had an impact on the environment of the Planet Earth.  Stay tuned for more to come on this issue and others surrounding science.