EPA: From Obama’s Protection to Trump’s Destruction to the Emergence of Resistance

EPA: From Obama’s Protection to Trump’s Destruction to the Emergence of Resistance 

Using the Wayback Machine, we can keep watch on some aspects of the Environmental Protection Agency website now that Trump and his EPA pick for Secretary of the EPA, Scott Pruitt are in charge. Trump wants to cut the EPA, and Pruitt, with ties to the coal, oil and gas industry, and champion litigator against the EPA while he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, is no friend of Earth’s environment, other than helping those who take from the Earth what ever they want.

On January 24, one of the first things the Trump administration did was to demand that the EPA take down all of its Climate Change pages. Then they were told to hold off, then told to remove them, and then to put them back.  As of this writing the Climate Change page is still on the website.  But the fact that the White House actually ordered the page to be taken down set in motion a lot of resistance.
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Climate Change: Are We In Trouble?

This is a reblog from the Moyers & Company website. It’s an article written by John Light that I’ve reblogged here as a follow up the May 7th post entitled Extreme Earth: Coming to an Environment Near You.

The National Climate Assessment Says We’re in Trouble. This Chart Shows Why. (via Moyers & Company)

This animated chart from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences shows the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Note the spike? Measuring CO2 in parts per million (ppm), the chart shows, first, how the amount of the gas…

Continue reading “Climate Change: Are We In Trouble?”

A Heads Up: Smoking is to Cancer as Greenhouse Gas Emissions are to Climate Risks

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On March 5, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed the state’s budget into law.  The bill has a footnote that prohibits the Department of Education from spending any funds to check or revise the state’s science standards.

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The reason this footnote was added to the Wyoming budget is because it satisfied some members of the legislature and citizens who believe in objectivity and neutrality in science education! To get to the point, they are opposed to the teaching of “unproven theories,” most notably with those topics in science that deal with climate change and evolution.  Phil Plait, who writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog, provides an excellent discussion of why some in Wyoming are denying global warming, and don’t want educators to teach about it.

I won’t take on evolution here, as I’ve done that in recent posts.

But let’s look at climate change.

According to some in Wyoming (and in most any state you might want to mention), if we teach climate change, or more specifically if make a link between human activity such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, then we are teaching children that some of the state’s key industries are harmful to the earth.  Some Wyoming citizens add that we shouldn’t teach about global warming because it is not settled science.

Ah, settled science.

The term settled science was used by the tobacco industry when they were fighting against scientists who had shown conclusively that there was a link between the consumption of tobacco products and cancer.

Now, we see the term settled science being used in the context of discussions of global warming.  The problem is that using the phrase, “the science isn’t settled” is an oxymoron. In discussions of any scientific theory, we are missing the point if we try to claim that someday the science will be settled.  It won’t.  It will never be.

But there is evidence that can be used to support or refute a scientific theory.  We should be looking for evidence of climate change, and then ask if the evidence supports the idea that greenhouse gasses might be contributing to the rise in earth’s temperature.  We should be asking if there is evidence to support human-caused climate change.

What We Know

On March 19, the American Association for the Advancement in Science (AAAS) published a report entitled What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change. The report provides evidence that climate scientists (97%) do agree that climate change is happening, here and now.  There is also evidence in the report that we at risk of pushing the climate system toward “abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.”  The report also says that the sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost.

How confident are writers of the report about the link between human activity and climate change.  In the following passage, the writers ask to think about the link between smoking and cancer.

The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer.  And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real.

A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.  The National Academy of Sciences, for example, says that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Extreme Earth

The report cites evidence that climate change is happening now, and explains that extreme weather is no longer an abstract concept.  How can any of us ignore the extreme weather that we have seen over the past few years.  And, indeed, it is reported that two out of three Americans said weather in the U.S. has been worse over the past several years.  And I can assure you, because I travel to England several times per year, that the British people would clearly agree with Americans on severe weather risks.

In Extreme Earth, an eBook published in 2012, the importance of understanding extreme weather is explored, and related to teaching.  As you will see ahead, there is a lot of evidence to support the connection between human activity and climate change.  But, there are those who work to obscure the evidence.  It was put this way in Extreme Earth:

In a Science Progress article, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway suggest that the science of climate change has been distorted, and at the same time science is evoked as a defense. They describe how a handful of scientists obscured the truth, not only about climate change, but issues related to tobacco and to the government’s “star wars” strategic defense system. As they point out, the climate change deniers use the same “play book” that big tobacco firms used to try to convince the public that smoking tobacco did not cause cancer.  (Hassard, Jack (2012-07-09). Extreme Earth: The Importance of the Geosciences in Science Teaching (Kindle Locations 128-132). Kindle Edition.)

Extreme earth events are piling up.  People around the world live in areas where these extreme events are common place.  Here is a list I compiled from the AAAS report.  If you live in Wyoming, why would enable your legislators to deny these facts, and pass a bill that prevents educators from doing their professional work.

  • The CO2 level of 280 parts-per-million was stable for thousands of years, but in the last 150 years has increased to 400 ppm.
  • Sea ice has been shrinking and according to researchers, the rate of loss is accelerating.
  • Ice sheets and glaciers are melting at increasing levels and contributing to sea-level rise.
  • Oceans are acidifying due to the absorption of CO2 from smokestacks and tailpipes.
  • The earth has gotten warmer.
  • Plants and animals have moved toward the poles.
  • In some cases, species are moving up mountain sides and marine species are moving deeper and to higher latitudes.
  • Sea level rise has accelerated, and to the researchers, this is affecting storm surges by making them higher and bringing salt water into aquifers.
  • Floods, heat waves and drought patterns have changed and increased in intensity.
  • Wildfires have increased, especially in the western U.S.
  • Effects on health and well-being can be traced to changes in climate, including droughts, floods, heat, severe storms.  The CDC has studied effects of climate change on infectious diseases.  Also, since life cycles and the distribution of disease carrying insects has changed, increasing the chances for these diseases affecting human society.

The AAAS report suggests that its paper is not to explain the disconnect between the science of climate change and the public perception of climate change.  Instead they provide American citizens with information about climate change.

That said, the report will probably not seem on the top ten list of what to read over the weekend for people who support the action of the Gov. of Wyoming who signed a bill preventing educators from making decisions about the nature of science in the school curriculum. The report will probably creat more controversy. I suppose ignorance is bliss.

What do you think?  Tobacco causes cancer.  Do you think human activity contributes to climate change?

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons Attribution.  Hot shot firefighters prepare to cut a fire line near Colorado Springs to help battle several fires in the area in June, 2012. 

Part II: Will the Debate over Evolution End Soon?

We introduced this topic yesterday and referred to an Associated Press story, in which Richard Leakey suggests that the debate over evolution will end sometime over the next 15 to 30 years.  Leakey’s thesis was:

If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive,” Leakey says, “then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.

We also introduced research completed at the University of Michigan entitled When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions by researchers Brendan Nyhan, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, and Jason Reifler, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. This study, although in the realm of political behavior, has strong implications for science education, especially in the teaching of science-related social issues—-namely the evolution debate, and climate change.

As these researchers reported, pre-existing beliefs are preserved even with contrary information. The first mechanism that they shine a light on is that individuals may “engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs. A second mechanism is called the “backfire effect.” In this case, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly—i.e.–the backfire effect.

So when Dr. Leakey suggests that with knowledge and a persuasive argument, people may come around to believe that evolutionary theory is a valid explanation for the creation and development of life on the earth, we have to wonder how Nyhan and Reifler’s research findings play into this prediction.

For example, the Figure 1 shows views people belonging to different political parties have on climate change and evolution.  The study was conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in the Fall of 2011.  In their study they found that 57% of Americans believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, compared to 38% who say humans and other living things have existed in their present form since creation.  Nearly 70% of Americans believe there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, compared to only 26% that disagree.

Figure 1. Views on Climate Change and Evolution. Source: Public Religion Research Institute, Extracted 5/28/2012

Since we are interested in why people have a particular view, we looked at the results by people’s political party affiliation.  According to this survey, there are differences in views of these two issues based on party affiliation and religious group affiliation. The majority of Republican and Tea Party members disagree with Democrats and Independents that the earth is warming up, and that evolution is due to natural selection.  Less than 20% of Republicans and Tea Party members think that human activity has caused earth warming.

White evangelical Protestant (33%) were more likely than other religious groups to believe that created within the last 10,000 years.  And they are significantly less likely to believe the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, while mainline Protestants (43%), catholics (50%), or the unaffiliated (52%).

One’s world view is influenced by many factors including political party affiliation or not, and religious identity or not.  Republicans, Tea Party and White evangelical Protestants were more likely to disagree with the science that supports evolution and climate change.  Why do these three groups hold these views, when Democrats, Independents and mainstream Protestants and Catholics have clearly different views?

Conservative and Progressive World Views

We might be able to gain some insight into why political party and religious affiliation might affect people’s believes in various issues such as climate change, evolution, by comparing progressive world view to conservative world views.

In order to understand how world-views can be used to examine these issues, we are using the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff. Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent. The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent’s is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

In Lakoff’s research he has shown that this conceptual metaphor produces two very different models of families: a “strict father” family and a “nurturant parent” family. In his view this creates two fundamentally different ideologies about how the nation should be governed. I am suggesting that these two views can teach us why people would have such different views on controversial issues such as evolution and climate change.

Progressive View.  In Lakoff’s view, the progressive world-view is based on the nurturant parent family. He suggests that nurturing has two key aspects: empathy and responsibility. Lakoff explains that nurturant parents are authoritative but with out being authoritarian.

If we apply the nurturant parent model to politics, Lakoff suggests that what we get is a “progressive moral and political philosophy. The progressive world-view then is based on these two ideas:

  • Empathy: the capacity to connect with other people, to feel what others feel, to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others.
  • Responsibility: acting on that empathy—responsibility for yourself and for others. (Lakoff, George (2006-10-03). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Kindle Locations 827-830). Macmillan. Kindle Edition)

Conservative View. The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”.

In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we examine schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control (therefore it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

How do these two world views helps us understand people’s views on evolution and climate change.

Beliefs about Evolution & Climate Change

In the conservative world view, hierarchical rules are established abiding by the notion of a strict father family, and children would be brought up to accept with out questioning views that the “father” held, with no questions asked.  In conservative religions, there is little acceptance of a questioning attitude, and people’s views are often limited to what they have been told, and over time, come to believe.  This is not to say that people’s ideas can not change as they get older.  But the important point is that authority and discipline are core values in a conservative view.

In the progressive world view, ones political views would emerge from a nurturing parent family model in two-way communication is respected, in a context of building open relationships.  In the progressive view inquiry would be seen as a fundamental way to acquire knowledge of science, and religion, and thus views on issues would be different than views from an authoritarian source or background.

Beliefs, however, can change.  Winslow, Staver and Scharmann (JRST, 2011) report that in a mid-Western Christian university biology course for undergraduates, students, who had been raised to believe in creationism, came to accept evolution through evaluating evidence for evolution, discussing the literalness of Genesis, and understanding that evolution was not a salvation issue.  They were also influenced by their Christian professors as role models who accept evolution.

Beliefs about evolution and climate change have become highly charged in recent years with these two issues being entwined with each other as politically motivated groups work to effect the teaching of these topics in K-12 public schools.  Conservative groups such as the Discovery Institute, and the Heritage Foundation have worked with state legislatures around the country to influence the way science is taught by insisting that topics like evolution, climate change, and global warming be treated differently than other scientific ideas such as gravity, plate tectonics, and light.

Although conservative right-wing overtures have been pushed back by the courts, the latest wedge of slipping legislation into the books has been making progress in quite a few states such as Louisiana and Tennessee.

We return to Dr. Leakey’s view that the debate about evolution will end over the next 30 years.  Because scientific ideas such as evolution and climate change have become politicized, its difficult to see that more knowledge and data will change the debate.  There has been veracious attempt to influence the public’s thinking about issues such as evolution and climate change.  We only need to think back to 1962 when a famous book was published by a woman who had spent years studying the effects of pesticides on the environment.  And then we should be reminded of what the tobacco industry did to claim that the science on the risks associated with tobacco use was not settled, and indeed much of the research was simply junk science.

What do you think?  How do you see people’s views being influenced by the type of family that were raised in, as well as their religion, culture and race?  Let us hear from you.

 

Part I. Will the Debate over Evolution End Soon?

 

Richard Leakey says that looking at the past the way paleontologists and anthropologist do can teach us much about the future.  He points out that extinction is one of the most common types of phenomena observed in nature, and that extinctions are related to environmental change.  He suggests that environmental change is controlled by climate change, and now, humans are at the center of accelerating, indeed creating the kind of changes in climate that we see on Earth today.

 

 

His concern, which is shared by many scientists and science educators, is that fewer and fewer people, especially in the U.S. accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the development of life on Earth.  Leakey goes as far to say that some groups are spreading the word that science is nonsense.  And as he puts it, how can we really solve the great problems we have today without looking to science for reliable and truthful knowledge?

A recent poll reported that very few people in the US accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on Earth. According to the National Center for Science Education, in a 24-country poll, 41% of the respondents identified themselves as “evolutionists” and 28% as “creationists”, and 31% indicating they don’t know what to believe. In the US, 28% were “evolutionists”, with the “creationist” view held by 40%.  The evolution view was most popular in Sweden, with the U.S. ranking 18.

In the most recent polling on evolution, only a bare majority of New Jersey residents (51%) believed in evolution.  Democrats and independents, males, college graduates were likely to answer yes; Republicans, females, those with only a high school education or less were more likely to answer no.

Leakey’s point of course is deeper than peoples’ belief in evolution, but peoples’ view of the nature of science.  Do people understand science in a way that they can evaluate information and use it to make decisions on problems such as climate change?  Do people understand how science works enough to interpret findings and reports by science writers, and scientists themselves.

This is not a simple matter.  Science teachers, who work to provide a bridge between the world of science, and the world of youth, have had to grapple with the meaning of what is the kind of scientific literacy that is most beneficial for citizens today.  For some scientists, and science educators, the orthodoxy of science is what should be taught in schools, while for others, science literacy should be entwined with the lived world of students.

Whether we teach science from a traditional or a progressive paradigm, students come to our class with scientific perceptions that have been built up and learned over time.  Students arriving in 9th grade biology have constructed ideas about inheritance, genes, cells, traits, and the relationship between natural selection and environment.  Because these ideas overlap with their religious beliefs and their family’s political beliefs, there is often a conflict for them about evolution, and other controversial ideas in science.  The important notion is that students enter courses in science with beliefs about evolution, climate change, and global warming, and each of these ideas has become politicized by various advocacy groups, and of course the press.

So when we do polling in the U.S. on evolution beliefs, and beliefs about whether global warming is associated with human industrial and growth activity, we have to consider the context.  In many cases, the science that has led to the theory (or law) of evolution, or the theory of climate change (there are several) has been subject to derision by groups in whose interest it is to negate the scientists and their work.  Ever since Darwin published his 1859 work on evolution, he and his ideas about natural selection have been front and center in science education, especially beginning with the famous Scopes Trial.  There are lots of folks that would like to give equal time to religious beliefs about origins.

Climate change has also hit the buttons of what appears to be the same groups of people that don’t “believe in evolution.”  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading network of climate change scientists, has clearly shown that the Earth’s average temperature is on the rise, and it is due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.  And of course we’ve all heard of “climategate,” which to some proves that climate change is nothing more than a scam made up by scientists.  I still do not know why leading scientists, who publish their work in established and vetted journals, would want to perpetuate such misleading ideas, but there are lots of people who think they are doing just that.  And the world is flat; astronauts did not go to the moon; and the Earth is 10,000 years old.

But here is the thing.

Scientific Perceptions Persist Even with Facts & Teaching

There was a very interesting study completed at the University of Michigan entitled When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions by researchers Brendan Nyhan, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, and Jason Reifler, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. This study, although in the realm of political behavior, has strong implications for science education, especially in the teaching of science-related social issues—-namely the evolution debate, and climate change.

In their abstract (which follows), Nyhan and Reifler point out that even when individuals are provided with corrective knowledge about a particular issue, some respondents actually increase their misperceptions:

An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions. Can these false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics be corrected? Previous studies have not tested the efficacy of corrections in a realistic format. We conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

One of the key aspects of this study for me is the authors discussion of why pre-existing beliefs are preserved even with contrary information. The first mechanism that they shine a light on is that individuals may “engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs. A second mechanism is called the “backfire effect.” In this case, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly—i.e.–the backfire effect.

So when Dr. Leakey suggests that with knowledge and a persuasive argument, people may come around to believe that evolutionary theory is a valid explanation for the creation and development of life on the earth, we have to wonder how Nyhan and Reifler’s research findings play into this prediction.

Simply laying out the “facts” will not change people’s views of controversial ideas like the origin of life, or whether humans are contributing to changing the Earth’s climate.

For example, it may be that ones world view may play a more important role in determining how one accepts new information and uses that information to construct ideas that might be different than when one began discussing or learning about them.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss world view, and how it might help us with Dr. Leakey’s prediction that the evolution debates will fade away in the next 30 year.

In the meantime, what do you think?  Will the debate on evolution fade away soon?