President Recruits Climate Skeptics for Climate Panel

The White House is planning to create an ad hoc panel to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and examine whether climate change impacts national security, according to a leaked White House memo.

The memo dated February 14, 2019 reveals that the White House has drafted an Executive Order to create a 12-member committee called the “Presidential Committee on Climate Security.” The memo states that recent scientific and defense reports that conclude that climate change poses a threat to national security “have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.”

The committee will examine the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, a report that found that climate change will adversely impact more Americans, particularly low-income communities, cause significant financial losses, damage infrastructure, and debilitate social systems. The panel would also reexamine a recent report by the Pentagon on the impact of climate change and sea-level rise on low-lying military installations.

White House adviser, Dr. William Happer, who has said that carbon dioxide pollution is not dangerous but beneficial to the planet, will join the panel. Happer is a Princeton physicist who serves on the National Security Council as the President’s Deputy Assistant for emerging technologies. Steven Koonin, a New York University professor and former Undersecretary for Science in the Department of Energy, is a leader in the effort to recruit members for the panel. Koonin and Happer had previously worked with former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to advocate for a “red team, blue team” climate debate at the agency.

Researchers who are being considered for the committee include Judith Curry, a former professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, who has often testified to Congress on climate change and highlighted the uncertainties of climate science; Richard Lindzen, a retired professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has referred to people worried about global warming a “cult”; and John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a member of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Federal scientists defended the National Climate Assessment during a recent House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on climate science. Dr. Michael Freilich, Director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, and Dr. Neil Jacobs, the new Acting Director of NOAA, defended their agencies’ science and peer review process. “On the time scale of the next couple of centuries, what we do in terms of putting fossil fuel carbon into the atmosphere and removing and constraining carbon levels in the atmosphere will be the most important thing for defining our climate,” said Dr. Freilich.

Fourteen Democratic Senators led by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) have sent a letter to President Trump. “Allowing a fossil fuel industry-funded climate change denier and other climate skeptics to conduct an ‘adversarial peer review’ of recent climate science will create an environment of inaction that needlessly threatens our national security,” warned the lawmakers.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has announced that Democratic lawmakers in the Senate are planning to introduce a climate change joint resolution endorsed by all 47 members to counter the efforts by the Republican party to divide them over the ‘Green New Deal’— a non-binding resolution to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years. The measure was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and in the Senate by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). The concept has been endorsed by several Presidential candidates, including Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Some Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have expressed reservations about it, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that he would bring the measure to a vote in the Senate.

The joint resolution from Democrats would acknowledge three things — that climate change is real, that it is caused by human emissions, and that Congress needs “to take immediate action to address the challenge of climate change.” Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) said, “Democrats may not agree on how to solve climate change, but we agree on three things.” Senator Schatz noted that Republican opposition to the ‘Green New Deal’ might be “good news for the climate debate because we’re now in a back-and-forth with the Republicans over climate policy.” Senator Schumer said, “One of the great but positive ironies of Leader McConnell’s stunt to put the ‘Green New Deal’ on the floor is that it’s inspired members of both parties to talk about climate change more than ever before under the Republican leadership of the Senate.”

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Congress Passes Public Lands Package Renewing LWCF

Congress has passed a bipartisan public lands package which would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The President is expected to sign the legislation.

The Natural Resources Management Act, or S. 47, passed in Senate by a vote of 92-8 on February 12, after which the House of Representatives voted 363-62 to pass the measure on February 26.

LWCF was established in 1964 to use revenues from offshore oil and gas to support the conservation of land and water resources. Authorization for LWCF expired on September 30, 2018 but Congress had appropriated $487.6 million ($425 million in discretionary funds and $62.6 million in mandatory funds) for the program in fiscal year (FY) 2018. Congress has allocated $435 million in discretionary funds towards LWCF for FY 2019.

The package includes more than 100 land and water bills that designate more than 1.3 million acres of new wilderness in California, New Mexico and Utah; create four new national monuments; add more than 367 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System; add more than 42,000 acres to national parks; and provide improvements to the national volcano monitoring and early warning system. The measure also includes expansions for hunting, fishing, and recreation on federal lands.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers highlighted the contributions of outdoor recreation and public lands to the national economy. The Outdoor Industry Association has estimated that the outdoor recreation economy generated $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs in 2017.

Conservation groups generally celebrated passage of the bill. “This is the most sweeping public lands protection bill in a decade and a testament to the nation’s commitment to conservation,” said Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society. “Passage of this bill provides a hopeful sign that the new Congress can and will step up to meet our nation’s pressing environmental challenges.”

Several conservation groups and Democratic lawmakers are now expected to seek mandatory funding for LWCF in addition to the permanent reauthorization. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that securing mandatory funding would be their “next big lift.” The authorized funding level for LWCF is $900 million, but only about half that amount has been appropriated to it in recent years.

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Journals Express Concerns Over European Open-Access Initiative

Publishers of high-profile journals, such as Nature and Science, have indicated that they will not be able to comply with Plan S, an open-access publishing initiative led by European funders.

In September 2018, a group of European research funding organizations, with support from the European Commission and the European Research Council, launched cOAlition S, an initiative built around Plan S and dedicated to open-access publishing. The group includes 18 research funders. In November 2018, cOAlition S released a guidance for implementing Plan S, requesting feedback from the community and stakeholders.

According to the guidance, starting 2020, researchers supported by cOAlition S funders will be required to either publish their research in open-access journals or make a copy of their accepted publication or near-complete manuscript publicly available in a “Plan S compliant repository.” Additionally, researchers could publish in hybrid journals, which publish some papers behind a paywall but charge a fee to make others openly accessible, only if they are covered by a “transformative agreement” that has a “clear and time-specified commitment to a full Open Access transition.” However, funders would not cover the cost of publishing in hybrid journals.

The implementation plan also states that the group will commission an independent study to determine a “fair” processing fee that publishers can charge and establish a potential cap on the costs involved in quality assurance, editing, and publishing.

In order to comply with an open-access model, publishers of selective journals would need to drastically modify their approaches. Robert-Jan Smits, Open-Access Envoy European Commission, said that prestige journals need to develop new business models, Nature News reported. “This has happened to the music industry and the film industry, and now it is happening to academic publishing,” he says.

In response to the request for feedback, several publishers expressed disagreement with the details of the implementation plan and concerns that the timeframe allowed for the transition was too short. Prestige journals argued that their internal costs of publishing were very high as they employ in-house editors and complying with the fully open-access model would compromise the quality of their publications.

Nature News reported that Springer Nature estimated the cost of publishing one article in a Nature journal averages around €10,000 to €30,000, which would be difficult to recover from the fully open-access model. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which publishes the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), indicated that in order to publish an open-access article, it would need to charge around $6,000 and the journal would still need to spend millions of dollars to transition to a fully open access model. “I do not know of many scientific societies, including the NAS, that have financial reserves of that magnitude to transition their journals to full [open-access],” NAS President Marcia McNutt wrote in their feedback.

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Read About AIBS's Policy Achievements in 2018

The AIBS Public Policy Office has released its annual report for 2018. The report documents our achievements in science policy.

Highlights include:

  • Helped 165 scientists become more effective advocates for science after they completed an AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp or Science Policy Training course.
  • Increased awareness of the needs of the biological sciences community by facilitating 102 meetings between scientists and lawmakers.
  • Successfully opposed Administration-proposed cuts to research funding.
  • Helped secure Arizona State Board of Education rejection of proposed science standards removing climate change science and important aspects of evolution science from the high school curricula.
  • Informed Department of State negotiating position on genetic sequence sharing under the Nagoya Protocol.
  • Provided comments to Environmental Protection Agency urging that the agency reconsider a proposed rule change that would have limited the use of scientific studies in the regulatory rulemaking process.

Read the 2018 Public Policy Office Annual Report: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/PPO_2018_Annual_Report_upload.pdf

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Learn to Communicate and Influence like a Pro: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’s highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on March 25-26, 2019.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $55 discount on registration.

If you would like us to bring the course to your institution, we are happy to come to you. We are able to offer a substantial discount per person from the DC workshop rate. Please contact Robert Gropp at rgropp@aibs.org or 202-340-4281 for more information.

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communications_boot_camp.html.

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Short Takes

  • The Senate has confirmed President Trump's nominee and Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler to be the next EPA chief. He previously served as a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staffer and an energy lobbyist.

  • Dr. Neil Jacobs, formerly the chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corp. and a proponent of weather data privatization, has been named the next Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He replaces former Acting Administrator Dr. Tim Gallaudet.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has replaced 14 Principal Investigators (PI) who had received NIH grant funding, disciplined or fired 21 PIs, and removed 14 people from participating in peer-review panels, after investigating allegations of sexual harassment at more than two dozen institutions in 2018. This follows a September 2018 announcement that NIH will create a centralized system for reporting harassment by the agency's employees. NIH Director Francis Collins also said that a special independent advisory group would make recommendations for NIH anti-harassment policies at its next meeting in June.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers. The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution and the Botanical Society of America. AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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