Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • 49% of major industrial facilities in Texas released illegal amounts of pollution into waterways between 2015 and 2017, a new report says, and they often face no penalties or fines. Texas had the most illegal chemical dumps of any state, 30% higher than the state with the second most (Texas Tribune).
  • Phytoplankton populations have dropped by about 40% in the last century. Phytoplankton are important consumers of carbon dioxide and they compose a large part of the base of the marine food chain (Scientific American).
  • Prior to public review of several National Monument boundaries, an email was sent by the office of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to the Department of the Interior suggesting how to open up all oil and gas deposits in Bears Ears for development. Following Zinke’s review of the monuments, the suggested changes in that email were followed almost exactly. However, Zinke stated that the main reason was to give back lands to the state, focusing on the 90,000 acres that were returned to the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to help fund the state’s public schools (New York Times).
  • A new study found that pesticide-free farms with regenerative practices have 10x fewer pests than pesticide-treated farms. Companies such as Annie’s, General Mills, and Dannon are responding by investing in regenerative practices (PeerJ, Mic Network, PR Newswire).
  • Accurately measuring CO2 output by region could be accomplished through monitoring CO2 absorbed by the oceans. However, this effort is limited by funding (Nature).
  • The Hikurangi subduction fault is a major earthquake and tsunami risk to New Zealand. A five-year international research project seeks to better understand the risks through drilling and installation of observatories (Nature).
  • In partnership with a private firm, MIT is developing technology to produce energy from nuclear fusion. They hope to complete their project within 15 years. (Nature).
  • Walmart recently applied for six patents for innovations that could automate farming. In one, they aim to make robotic pollinators (CB Insights).
  • Following the creation of a new U.S. advisory board in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the ban on imports of such African elephant, lion, and rhino trophies was lifted. Supporters state that trophy hunting creates jobs and injects hundreds of thousands of dollars into conservation. Opponents state that trophy hunters often target the strongest individuals, weakening the already endangered species. Critics of the advisory board state that it is stacked with trophy hunters (AP News, CBC).

Congressional Committees

  • Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), head of the House Science Committee, published an opinion piece about climate change on Fox News, arguing that people should ignore climate “alarmists” and listen to “both sides of controversial issues”. He states that the House Science Committee follows the scientific method unlike alarmists who label the other side as deniers and refuse to listen to evidence that challenges their views (Fox News).

Federal Agencies

  • Congress has started discussions regarding funding for federal science agencies. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is asking researchers to ask our representatives to support funding for science. Action: Fill out this form to write to your representative.
  • The EPA is withdrawing a provision of the Clean Air Act requiring a major source of pollution to permanently be regarded as such. To decrease regulatory burden, “major sources” can be downgraded to “area sources” if they limit emissions (Reuters).
  • In a closed-door meeting at the Heritage Foundation, Pruitt allegedly discussed a new plan for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which would require that all new rules are based on publicly available data. Supporters of the new regulation agree with such transparency because they claim that scientists often falsify data. Opponents state that the new rule aims to limit the law-making capacity of the EPA, as it would be impossible to obtain raw data from many older studies and it would be extremely costly to obtain and store other data (Scientific American).

Public Health

  • The Trump Administration is vetting Robert Redfield, an HIV/AIDS researcher, for the new director of the Center for Disease Control. The last director had to step down because she traded in Tobacco stocks while serving as director (Politico).

City of Austin

  • The City has demanded $22 million in repayment from the construction firm tasked with building the Waller Creek Tunnel. The tunnel’s capacity to control floodwater is said to be greatly diminished due to structural flaws and imperfections (Fox 7 Austin).
  • A Democratic primary for the Texas 21st Congressional District advanced to a runoff between Mary Wilson, a former math professor, and Joseph Kopser, who has an engineering background. Meanwhile, Jason Westin (a clinical oncologist) lost in the 7th Congressional District, and Jon Powell (retired geologist) lost in the 36th (Science).

Climate Change

  • Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in his opening address at CERA (Cambridge Energy Research Associates) Week in Houston last week that moving away from fossil fuels denies people economic opportunity. He argues that energy security is important for economic development (Houston Chronicle, The Energy Advocate).
  • The city of Corpus Christi is hoping to get its ship channel deepened to accommodate the largest oil tankers and the second shale boom to supply the increasing global demand for oil (Houston Chronicle).
  • At a global energy conference in Houston this week, differences between the American and European energy companies were stark: Europeans believe oil demand will peak within 20 years and consequently are pushing development of renewables, while American oil companies believe the oil market will only continue to grow (Houston Chronicle).
  • Texas is expected to lose 1 to 1.5 oil and gas jobs for every steel or aluminum industry jobs saved by Trump’s tariffs (Houston Chronicle).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • A perspective on how to combat climate change suggests that part of the reason culture isn’t changing as fast as we need it to is because climate change is scary and it paralyzes us from action with fear. The author suggests that to begin this change we must speak about the future with hope and focus on solutions, not problems (Global Eco Guy).
  • A group of scientists are now using a computer-learning algorithm from Intel to predict the future of our oceans. Although these scenarios are akin to “science fiction”, there is an established link between other tales becoming science fact. The directors of the effort suggest that these narratives may be powerful ways to engage the public and counter other narratives (Nature).
  • An open-source college-level course based on the International Panel on Climate Change synthesis of climate science research is available online. The course takes a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to education (Kim Nicholas).
  • A study on the spread of news on Twitter found that robots equally spread both true and fake news while humans tended to spread fake news faster and further than true news. The authors hypothesize that fake news spreads more easily because it tends to be more novel and evoke more emotion than true news. They also found that users who tended to share accurate news tended to have more followers (Science News, The Atlantic, Washington Post).
  • New biometric face scanners have been installed at several international airports in the US. The effort aims to streamline immigration processes; critics suggest that the scanners are less able to identify ethnic minorities because they are trained with faces of the majority ethnic group and that there are no privacy protections (NPR).
  • A new study on public perception of leaders observed that both men and women tend to then of leaders as male. They also found that female assertiveness did not contribute to their status as a leader, even though assertiveness is a leadership skill (New York Times).
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