Energy, Environment, and Conservation
- Reductions in travel during the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns have led to a reduction in air pollution for several major cities, with concentrations of PM2.5 air pollutants (fine particulate matter) decreasing by 60% in Delhi, 54% in Seoul, 32% in São Paulo, and 31% in Los Angeles (Bloomberg).
- A new study found a significant drop in industry-associated noise pollution in the ocean between January 1 and April 1, 2020. Noise power dropped by approximately 15%, and scientists are keen to investigate the effect of the reduction on marine life. Ship noise has been shown to be associated with chronic stress in whales, who primarily interact with their environment through sound (The Guardian).
- The US House has passed a new coronavirus relief package, called The Heroes Act. If passed into law, the bill provides for $3 trillion in spending, including for coronavirus-related research and funding to offset costs associated with reductions in lab productivity due to the pandemic. The National Institutes of Health would receive $4.721 billion, the National Science Foundation would receive $125 million (including $1 million to study COVID-19-related disinformation), $40 million would go to the US Geological Survey, $50 million for the Environmental Protection Agency in environmental justice grants, and $8.4 billion for institutes of higher education to assist with the transition to online learning and defray the costs of the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) characterized the bill as a “totally unserious effort” (AIBS).
- The Heroes Act also includes the Scientific Integrity Act, which was passed out of the House Science, Space, and Technology committee in October 2019. The bill would require federal agencies to adopt and enforce clear scientific integrity policies and prevent the political suppression of governmental scientific findings (AIBS).
Higher Education and Academia
- A new survey conducted by the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) and other scientific societies found that 96% of natural history collections were unavailable for use in April 2020, less than 30% of collections are being monitored for pests, and about half were concerned about their funding. Complete survey results available on BCoN.
- The Trump Administration has cut off National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for a study on how coronaviruses spread from bats to humans after reports linked the study with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where some conspiracy theorists believe the novel coronavirus originated. President Trump was asked about the connection in a press briefing and stated that the grant funding would be stopped. The non-profit EcoHealth Alliance has been conducting the study for the past five years, receiving $3.7 million and publishing 20 papers on the subject. They said they have not shared funding with researchers in Wuhan on this project, and would like further explanation from the NIH on why the funding was abruptly cut (Politico).
- A new study has been released that surveyed over 63,000 federal scientists from 16 federal agencies on their perception of scientific integrity under the Trump Administration in 2018. Scientists at the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency felt incompetent and untrustworthy leadership were the top barriers to evidence-based policymaking. However at the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration they felt the leadership was more positively associated with scientific integrity. At the Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service, scientists reported higher levels of political interference and adverse work environments (PLoS One).
- A new model from the University of Texas at Austin predicts the likelihood that each state and metro area in the US is past the peak of coronavirus cases. The analysis uses geolocation data from cell phones to determine how socially-distanced people are in each area. Researchers said that because COVID-19 can last weeks, it takes about a month to see results from social distancing (UT Austin).
- Researchers at Texas A&M University are testing the effects of the tuberculosis vaccine in improving immunity against coronavirus on healthcare workers. The vaccine is already used in bladder cancer treatment to boost the immune system in fighting off cancer cells. About 1,800 healthcare workers are needed in the trial, which is estimated to cost $2.5 million and is being paid by the A&M Chancellor’s Research Initiative fund. This initial phase of the trial will last six months, after which, if participants are healthy, a trial to compare the vaccine to a placebo will begin (Texas Tribune).
- A new report is available to help spot coronavirus conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theorists often use contradictory language that suggests nefarious intent against a persecuted victim and express overriding suspicion that something must be wrong that is immune to evidence even if associations are random. Hysteria stoked by conspiracy theories during pandemics has historically led to violence (Climate Change Communication).
- More electricity was generated from renewable sources than coal in the United States each day of April 2020, a new report finds. Lower gas prices, warmer weather, and more renewable availability have all moved the grid away from coal generated power, and this shift was further accelerated by reduction in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic (Newsweek).
- A new study finds that communities of color in Texas have less access to coronavirus testing than white communities. The disparity is highest in Dallas where whiter areas have triple the number of testing locations compared to less white areas. Access to testing is considered vital to identifying outbreaks and warning communities about risk of infection (NPR).
- The Texas Railroad Commission decided against reducing oil production from the Permian Basin, and the three commissioners were split on the decision: Christi Craddick and Wayne Christian voted not to reduce production and instead rely on the free market and Texas’ history of becoming “stronger, richer more successful and better off” after disasters, according to Commissioner Christian. Commissioner Ryan Sitton, who will be leaving after losing the primary election for his seat, voted for the cut after many oil producers asked for quotas and warned that the industry needed long term regulation and guidance from the commission (Texas Tribune).
- Austin Community College has announced they will power two campuses with 100% renewable energy starting June 2020. They are the first community college in Texas to switch campuses entirely to wind and solar power, but also have nine total campuses powered with solar energy systems (Environment Texas).
- The last day to register to vote for the July 14th runoff election is June 15th. Early voting runs June 29 through July 10. Check out votetravis.org to verify your registration in Travis County and download a sample ballot.