Since taking office more than a year ago, President Trump has racked up an extensive list of attacks on climate science, from signing an executive order to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, to auctioning off new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, to pulling the United States out of the historic Paris climate agreement.
While other countries (and some U.S. cities and states) have pledged to continue upholding the agreed-upon cuts to emissions, measuring any progress made may have just become a lot more difficult.
According to Science magazine, the Trump administration quietly cut funding for NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year project which synthesizes data from remote monitoring instruments to generate models of the global flow of carbon. Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, told the magazine that ending the program “is a grave mistake,” as it puts the ability to monitor emission reduction targets for other countries in jeopardy.
The CMS has funded 65 projects over the last eight years, including using laser-imaging technology to quantify the carbon stored in the forests of Alaska and monitoring changes in tropical forests as part of the United Nation’s REDD+ program, which aims to reduce emissions by preventing deforestation.
The Trump administration has also taken to culling the words “climate change” from government communications altogether. In addition to scrubbing the words from government webpages, a 2016 draft Defense Department report obtained by The Washington Post shows that 23 mentions of “climate change” were pared down to just one in the final version published in February. The report, which focuses on “climate-related risk” to U.S. military infrastructure, still acknowledges the threats posed by drought, wind, and flooding, but is less direct about the link to human-driven climate change and the issue of sea level rise in particular.
The final report also omits a map showing “sites that indicated possible effects could occur due to increased mean sea level between 0-3 feet.”
Aware of the impending changes back in January, more than 100 U.S. Representatives signed a letter to Trump, urging him to reconsider removing climate change from his administration’s national security strategy, as sea level rise and other landscape changes increasingly threaten to put military operations and civilians at risk.
Also in the news:
• According to a comprehensive study published this week in Nature Climate Change, tourism’s global carbon footprint is around three times greater than previously thought — and accounts for 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Previous estimates of the tourism industry’s footprint had it accounting for around 3 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions, but neglected to include those associated with hotel construction and maintenance, or tourists going out to eat and shop. The new analysis examined the carbon flows among 160 countries between 2009 and 2013. “Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism,” said Arunima Malik, a lecturer at the University of Sydney and lead author on the new study, in a press release. “It’s a complete life-cycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring we don’t miss any impacts.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, high-income countries are driving much of the increase. The U.S. tops the list, followed by China, Germany, and India. (BBC)
• A University of Delaware Ph.D. student responded to some unsolicited — and stereotype-laden — advice from a follower on Instagram this week by publicly challenging popular conceptions of what a scientist is supposed to look like. After being admonished by a follower that her “glamorous” images on Instagram undermined her credibility as a budding scientist, wildlife biologist Imogene Cancellare took to Twitter with an image of herself “modeling” on a cliff where she traps foxes for research, adding the hashtag #StillAScientist. Fellow researchers from around the globe subsequently embraced the rubric, and have since been busy sharing images of themselves bedecked in high-heels, sporting mohawks and tattoos, or professing interests in video games, cosplay, roller derby, and ballet. “It’s important to challenge these kinds of stereotypes,” Cancellare told one news outlet, “and, whether dressed down or made up, I’m still a scientist.” (The Irish News)
• Cities across the United States are replacing trees and other oases of greenery with concrete structures at an astonishing rate, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Forest Service. The researchers estimated a loss of 36 million trees a year between 2009 to 2014, representing a total of 175,000 acres. Co-authors David Nowak and Eric Greenfield of the forest service’s Northern Research Station reported that the most rapid loss of green space was in three southern states — Georgia, Alabama, and Florida — with both Georgia and Florida losing more than 18,000 acres a year. Alaska, Minnesota, and Wyoming were the only three states that showed no measurable loss. The scientists pointed out that urban trees help moderate temperatures, reduce pollutants, and provide areas of relief from overcrowded cities. While the loss is troubling on all those counts, the authors note, green areas are largely being replaced with impervious parking lots and other materials that inhibit replenishing of ground water. The scientists warn that unless development policies change, the pattern of tree disappearance is likely to continue and even accelerate in the future. (The Guardian)
• A new Ebola outbreak has hit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization announced this week, just as President Trump asked Congress to pull back $250 million the U.S. had set aside to combat the disease. That money was left over from the $5.4 billion Congress approved to fight the 2015 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people. Since Tuesday, the DRC has reported 11 cases of hemorrhagic fever, including one death. While just two of those cases have been confirmed to be Ebola so far, more seem likely to come. In the northwestern part of the country, at least 17 people have died since December after showing Ebola-like symptoms. This is the DRC’s ninth outbreak since the virus was discovered in the mid-1970s. While Trump characterized the leftover $250 million as “excess funds,” Ron Klain, who was in charge of the U.S. Ebola response under former president Obama, said earmarking that money was intentional to allow for a quick response to future outbreaks. (The Atlantic)
• Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, resigned on Monday after four women accused him of physical and emotional abuse. While his downfall struck a blow for the #MeToo movement, it may have also done collateral damage to the environmental movement: Schneiderman, a Democrat, has been one of the nation’s leading antagonists of the fossil-fuel industry and the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations. Three years ago, he began an investigation into whether ExxonMobil lied to the public and its shareholders about the risks of climate change; this year he spearheaded lawsuits by more than a dozen states against administration policies on auto emissions and methane pollution. Still, other attorneys general called the resignation a temporary setback. “Schneiderman was very influential; smart and dynamic,” Brian Frosh, his counterpart in Maryland, was quoted as saying. “But this has been a collaborative effort from the beginning, and I expect it will continue.” (InsideClimate)
• And finally: Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have demonstrated that “adversarial” commands for Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant can be embedded into music and spoken recordings in a way that is imperceptible to the human ear, but detected and executed by the increasingly popular speech-recognition personal assistant systems. In a paper to be presented at the 1st Deep Learning and Security Workshop in San Francisco this month, Nicholas Carlini and David Wagner showed that slight changes made to audio files enable third parties to launch adversarial attacks on the devices by accessing them remotely and prompting them to follow instructions that are issued without their primary user’s knowledge. The authors believe that hidden, malicious instructions will become more common, and require device makers to develop better ways to protect against them. (New York Times)