Energy, Environment, and Conservation
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) has been re-introduced in the US House. The bill would provide $1.3 billion in funding to states to proactively prevent species from requiring listing as an Endangered Species. States are required to put together conservation plans for their at-risk species, but those plans are currently not funded. This bill would fund those plans with existing federal revenue, meaning no new taxes would be required (KXAN).
- The Trump Administration has announced they are changing the way the Endangered Species Act will be implemented, including considering economic factors in whether or not a species should be listed. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the Endangered Species Act is an “unnecessary regulatory burden” on companies. The new interpretation also makes it easier to remove a species, weakens protections for species listed as “threatened,” and allows the government more discretion in interpreting the scope of the “foreseeable future” term which has consequences for projections under various climate change scenarios (New York Times).
- India’s wild tiger population has doubled to 2,967 since 2006, four years ahead of the goal set for conservation in 2010. Conservationists say the tigers’ range remains constricted in India, as the animals are increasingly dense in protected areas that face pressure from development and pose lethal risk to the tigers who stray outside the boundaries. About 20% of reported tiger deaths in the last decade have been from poaching (IndiaSpend).
- The largest municipal trash incinerator in the US has been shut down after decades of protest from the surrounding majority black neighborhood in Detroit. The incinerator burned waste from several southeastern Michigan counties that are mostly white to create electricity, but residents near the area have seen a spike in respiratory health issues since the incinerator opened in 1986, leading to protests (Energy News Network).
- An unusually high mortality event of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) this summer adds to a population decline of the endangered whale that began in 2010. Several reproductive females were among the six dead whales found, and necropsies are consistent with blunt force trauma due to ships or entanglement in fishing gear. The species consists of only about 400 whales; so far this year seven births have been documented (Mongabay).
- Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are cutting ties with the Plastics Industry Association, a lobbying group for the plastics industry. Coca-Cola says that associating with the industry group appears to run counter to their new sustainability measures; PepsiCo claimed they had joined the association to learn about plastic recycling, but is ending its membership nonetheless. Coca-Cola alone produced 3.3 million tons of plastic in 2017 (CNN).
- The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) has been relisted as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In the 18th century, there were an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears in the contiguous US; the number had dropped to fewer than 1,000 when they were originally listed in 1975. The US Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the grizzly in 2017, citing increased interactions with humans as evidence of population recovery. In their suit against the delisting, the Sierra Club argued that a drop in food availability due to invasive species competition among trout has led the bears to hunt in human-populated areas and that the number of adult female grizzlies is stagnant (Sierra Club).
Higher Education and Academia
- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has announced it will fund up to six research institutions to initiate a diversity program based on the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which encourages minority students to attend graduate school in STEM by giving them financial aid, tutoring, support networks, and a summer bridge program. The program is expensive but has been successful at the University of Maryland (where it was developed), Penn State, and the University of North Carolina (Science Mag).
- A new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to follow proper procedures for selecting members of two expert advisory boards. The report finds that the EPA selected members from the list of potential candidates, rather than the shorter list of EPA staff-recommended candidates. Financial and ethical disclosure forms were also often found unsigned. The number of scientists on the advisory boards has dropped 27% since 2017 (GAO Report).
- The Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its opposition to the Pebble Mine project, a controversial proposed copper mine in Pebble Bay, Alaska. The proposal had been blocked by the Obama Administration because scientists found it would result in the “complete loss” of the fish habitat in the bay. The EPA changed its position on the project one day after Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy met with President Trump in June. EPA staff scientists say they were “shocked” by the decision which disregards the scientific assessment of the project (CNN).
- A new once-per-year implant to prevent HIV infection demonstrated no adverse effects and high stability in its first test on humans. The implant acts similarly to birth control implants that are placed under the skin and release drugs slowly. Researchers say an effective annual implant may work better than daily pills such as PrEP (Science Mag).
- The German government has proposed a bill that would make the measles vaccine mandatory for all children before attending school. Parents would face fines of $2,800 if they fail to vaccinate their children. The move comes after hundreds of people were diagnosed with measles in Germany this year so far (CNN).
- A US appeals court has ruled against the Trump Administration’s Justice Department which had sued to allow employers to receive exemptions from covering contraception under their insurance plans if they had religious or moral objections to contraception (Reuters).
- A federal judge temporarily blocked abortion restrictions in Arkansas, which would have caused the closure of the only clinic that provides abortions in the state. The restrictions included requiring providers to be board-certified and banning abortions due to Down Syndrome or after 18 weeks of pregnancy (NPR).
- A California judge slashed the amount awarded to a couple who sued Bayer for causing their lymphoma from $2 billion to $86 million. Monsanto produced the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) before it was purchased by Bayer and the plaintiffs presented “clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto made efforts to impede, discourage, or distort scientific inquiry and the resulting science” on whether the herbicide was carcinogenic, according to the judge. However, she found that awarding the plaintiffs $2 billion was excessive and unconstitutional (Reuters).
- In 2007, the state of Texas rejected a proposed mandate to vaccinate adolescent girls against HPV. Today, the state has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the US, on par with some developing nations. This is in contrast to Australia, which has roughly a similar size population and economy to Texas. In 2007, Australia began giving out free HPV vaccines to schoolchildren and is now on track to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer (Texas Tribune).
- An unprecedented number of wildfires have burned in the Arctic this summer, more than 100 within the Arctic Circle. The fires have released an estimated 100 megatons of carbon dioxide between June 1 and July 21. Additionally, the smoke particles make snow and ice less reflective and therefore absorb more heat from the sun, further warming the area (CNN).
- A new study estimates that carbon emissions from China may peak five years earlier than targeted in the Paris Agreement. Researchers suggest increasing wealth in urban areas drops per capita emissions in China, leading to the trend. At the G20 summit in June, China and France issued a joint statement pledging that they would increase the aggressiveness of their emissions targets, likely at the upcoming UN Climate Summit in New York in September (Carbon Brief; UN).
- A new study projects future weather patterns for cities by comparing them to current cities. Most cities in the Northern Hemisphere will have climates similar to current climates in cities more than 620 miles south. For example, New York will be more like Virginia Beach and Austin will be more like Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Some cities, such as Washington, DC, have no good comparisons as the climate conditions will be “unprecedented” and “novel.” These predictions are under a conservative projected increase of 1.5-2.0 degrees C, much lower than the “business as usual” increase of 3-4 degrees C that could occur without carbon emission reduction (National Geographic; see your city here).
- A State Department analyst has resigned after the Trump Administration blocked his congressional testimony on climate change as a national security threat. The testimony included a description of climate change as “potentially catastrophic,” which does not match the official stance of the Administration (The Hill).
- Automakers Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW have struck a deal with the state of California that would undercut the emission regulation rollbacks put in place by the Trump Administration. The manufacturers sought a deal in order to gain regulatory certainty and predictability in contrast to federal policies. The Trump Administration called the deal a “PR stunt” and said it would do nothing for American consumers. The agreement is that manufacturers will increase fuel efficiency by 3.7% annually, regardless of who is in the White House (Washington Post).
- A new study finds that the majority of climate change-related videos available on YouTube promote views in opposition to the scientific consensus, primarily touting chemtrail conspiracy theories. 8% of the videos outright denied human-caused climate change. Nearly 2 billion logged-in users access YouTube every month (EOS; Frontiers in Communication).
- People in Ethiopia planted 353 million trees in 12 hours, a new world record. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy” campaign aims to reverse deforestation in the country which has gone from 35% to 4% forested in one century (Complex).
Science Communication / Miscellaneous
- A new device has been invented that uses solar panels to purify or desalinate water and generates electricity. The device can purify seawater or contaminated water to World Health Organization drinking water standards through condensation. Researchers hope the device will be widely adopted in communities lacking access to clean water (The Guardian, Nature Communications).
- Protests over the Thirty Meter Telescope, which is the 14th telescope planned to be built on the summit of Mauna Kea, have suspended the project. The land originally was taken from the Hawaiian Monarchy, given to the federal government when Hawaii became a state, and were meant to be held in trust for Native Hawaiians. The state government now leases the land, which is sacred to Native Hawaiians, to the University of Hawaii. Protesters say the land has been mismanaged and damaged. Over 900 scientists wrote a letter against criminalizing the protesters. Some scientists advocate moving the telescope’s location to Spain’s Canary Islands (Vice).
- Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson will remain in his role as director of the Hayden Planetarium and continue to host shows on Fox and Nat Geo after investigations into separate accusations of sexual assault or misconduct from four women were closed without further comment from the institutions. One woman accused Tyson of raping her while they were both graduate students at UT Austin, and the others said he made inappropriate advances that caused them to feel uncomfortable or leave their jobs. Tyson denies the rape allegations and said the other actions were misunderstandings (The Grio).
- The United Kingdom has scrapped a plan to charge people to sequence their genomes as part of their Accelerating Detection of Disease program. The UK sequenced the genomes of people with rare genetic diseases for free and had planned to sequence healthy people’s genomes for a fee, with a goal of 5 million human genomes by 2024. After concerns were raised that this would skew the data towards people who had an ability to pay and create a two-tiered public health system, the program dropped the fees (BioNews).
- After New UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson assumed office, he appointed a new minister for universities and science: Jo Johnson, his brother. Jo Johnson has previously held this office from 2015-2018, and is popular with scientists, having campaigned to remain in the EU and increased funding availability for science. However, many British scientists are concerned that hardline position of other cabinet members could lead to a “no-deal” Brexit, which would be catastrophic for UK research institutions (Nature).
- So far in 2019, for the first time Texas used more wind energy than energy from coal, according to the Electric Reliability Council. 21% of energy in Texas was from coal, while 22% came from wind energy. 38% of energy comes from natural gas, 11% from nuclear, and 1% from solar (KUT).
- The state of Texas recently doubled state funding of an anti-abortion program called Alternatives to Abortion to $80 million. The program was created to “promote childbirth” and pays counselors to discourage women from seeking abortions. Eighty Republican state lawmakers wrote to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission asking them to increase funding for one particular contractor, the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, without considering competitive bids from other contractors which are normally allowed to apply for funding (Texas Tribune).
- Former University of Texas System chancellor Bill McRaven was the highest paid public university leader in the US in 2018, at $2.58 million, followed by Texas A&M President Michael Young at $1.89 million. A UT System executive claimed the chancellor’s compensation was primarily funded by private contributions(Texas Tribune).
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott has requested that the Mexican government complete its investigation of several natural gas pipeline projects and allow them to be completed and begin transporting excess natural gas out of Texas. The Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador called the contracts “an abuse of public finances” and requested return of payments for the $3 billion projects, which have not yet begun transporting fuel (Houston Chronicle).
- The Texas Tribune has published the rates of nonmedical vaccine exemptions for kindergarteners in all school districts and private schools in Texas. Overall, the nonmedical vaccine exemption rate in Texas is growing, current at 2.15%, with a top rate of 53% at a small private school in Austin (Texas Tribune).