The Case of the Street that Wasn’t: The Week in Review (April 9-16, 2017)

 

A view of the London Eye and Westminster from the Waterloo Bridge. Taken on Easter Sunday, 2017.

This last week has been eventful! It began with an early morning return to Dallas from Connecticut, fighting the beginning of an annoying cold. After a couple of days at home, I was on a plane again, this time to London to spend 13 days working with colleagues at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) on software development for the ATLAS H->bb analysis. Easter weekend is a 4-day affair in Europe, so after a couple of days of jet lag and a bad cold I had a little welcome down time… which turned into serious down time when I lost my voice. I closed the week with a nice stroll around London on a Sherlock Holmes-themed Easter Sunday. Now, rested, I am looking forward to the next week of work and engagement in London.

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Signs and Portents: The Man Behind the Mask

The mask comes off. Scott Pruitt only partly covered his true feelings at his recent Senate confirmation hearing. Now he’s dropping all of the pretense he used to get confirmed and revealing himself as a real science denier.

The Environmental Protection Agency is home to a large number of scientists who have tried to contribute to the understanding of many issues affecting Americans: the health and safety of water sources and supplies, the contamination of air and its effects on our quality of life, and the changing of the climate and its threats to inland and coastal Americans. For decades, the EPA has been at the front lines of these issues, working to save us from economic policies that fail to include human health and quality of life as part of the economic equation. One day, economists will figure out how to price such concerns into the market; or maybe people will figure it out for them. But that is not the world we live in now. We live in a world where agencies have to step in to Spackle the cracks in the free market as it presently operates.

Now the EPA is threatened from the top – from within. Its head, Scott Pruitt, managed to cloud his true feelings during his Senate confirmation hearing, saying only vague things about having to study the climate more. Now that he holds the reins of power within EPA – an agency likely facing huge budget cuts intended to cripple its core missions and pit military spending against all other discretionary non-defense spending – the mask is coming off. As reported by the New York Times [1], Pruitt recently dropped the pretense during a CNBC interview he gave on March 8, in which he said the following.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

“But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.” [1]

Of course, scientists have measured the climate with incredible precision for decades. Just look at this CO2 data from the Mauna Loa observatory (a NOAA project [2]):

This is just one of thousands upon thousands of actual measurements. Scientists will continue testing ideas and making measurements. But Pruitt is supposed to be making policy based on the best conclusions. By bucking the consensus, he’s using a long-establish strategy used by the tobacco industry to hide the truth about their product: deny the science, ask for more, and refuse to make a decision.

Pruitt disagrees with a scientific consensus. In science, “consensus” means something very specific. It is not a bunch of people who get together in a room and just make a decision that is pleasing to all at the table. Rather, “consensus” in science is really “consilience” – where all lines of evidence intersect, there lies the most reliable conclusion. The intersection of thousands of lines of investigation in chemistry, geology, geochemistry, physics, biology, ecology, space science, and many other scientific disciplines has been, for decades, the simple following statement:

The burning of fossil fuels by human beings places heat-trapping gases in larger and larger quantities into the atmosphere of the earth, which holds in  more solar radiation, increasing the heating of the land, air and ocean, and resulting in changes to the climate that in turn alter long-stable weather patterns.

This is the long way to say: humans change climate with fossil fuels. I thought it would be useful to list some links to some of my own perspectives on these issues. Physicists have a specific view on climate change related to how one fingerprints the carbon to establish it as human-induced; how energy balance works in a system like the earth (which is NOT a closed system, free from influences outside the atmosphere – which is the root of the energy we are trapping); and how one measures past climates and compares the causes of past climate change to current climate change. Physics make a clear assessment of all of these: climate is changed by heat-trapping gases, at this point those gases fingerprint to fossil fuels as the source, and humans are the primary cause of the current cycle of change on earth.

Enjoy these reads. They will help you understand why Pruitt stands at odds with the scientific community, which uses science – the best way of establishing reliable information about the natural world – to define consensus on an issue. To stand against the science of climate change is to stand as an enemy to the American people, since the American people’s lives are served best by reliable information. Denying the scientific assessment of climate and its changes is acting against the best interests of the American people, and all the peoples of the world.

[1] E.P.A. Chief Doubts Consensus View of Climate Change. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/09/us/politics/epa-scott-pruitt-global-warming.html

[2] https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/obop/mlo/

Anti-Steve: The Weeks in Review, Feb. 6 – 18

This sign hangs on the door of an office not far from my own office at CERN. Seeing it was a delightful moment of science humor on a walk back to work.

I am on an approved leave from teaching and university service this semester so that I can focus on research. While I’ve had a number of things going since before the New Year, the last two weeks have been the start of the “traveling” phase of my semester. For me, it’s “Phase 1” – I’ll be in Dallas for much of March while Jodi is away at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Now that this part of my semester has begun, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the last couple of weeks of “HEP Life.”

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Astrophotography Sunday

I awoke to the buzzing of my wristwatch. It was 4:30am. The telescope and all its accessories were already in the car. I only needed to get out of bed and dress myself. Jupiter waited. In the night sky above Allen, I was sure it was clear and that Jupiter waited. So I put on warm clothes, a hat, and a scarf. I put coffee in a thermos. I hit the road for a nearby hill.

Jupiter waited. But so did something far more extraordinary.

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