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Narragansett Bay is Being Impacted by Climate Change; Scott Pruitt’s EPA Says Scientists Can’t Talk About it

Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who was tapped to head the EPA by a similarly myopic Trump Administration now appears to be wielding the powers of that government agency to suppress the voices of climate scientists.

A report out of the New York Times yesterday found that three scientists scheduled to discuss the impacts of human-caused climate change on the sensitive environment of Narragansett Bay were barred from speaking in a panel discussion today. The scientists are employees of the EPA and contributors to a 400 page report on the health of Narragansett Bay. The study found numerous climate change related impacts to the Bay region — which is a vital economic resource and home to more than 2 million people.

The study found that:

“Climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.”

The EPA, presently headed by Scott Pruitt, gave no reason why the scientists were barred from sharing their climate change related findings at the panel. An agency charged with protecting the clean air and water of the United States, the EPA has likely never housed an administrator so at odds with its institutional mission. Pruitt has opposed numerous agency actions and has worked throughout his career to undermine both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Laws that aim to protect American citizens and wildlife from the harmful health impacts of polluted water and damaging particulates in the air.

Pruitt has also received criticism recently for spending $25,000 for a sound proof booth to mask his communications with who knows who, using considerable government funds to pay for round-the-clock personal security, and individually spending more than $58,000 for private charter jet flights.

(Scott Pruitt’s numerous ties to climate change denial and fossil fuel industries. Image source: Desmogblog.)

Pruitt was also one of a number of lawyers who directly challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses in an effort to protect the U.S. from the harmful impacts of climate change during the Obama Administration. Pruitt has received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and is the direct beneficiary of strong political support from climate change denial promoting agencies like the Heartland Institute.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) stated his opposition to this week’s nonsensical censoring of EPA funded scientists stating:

“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer. Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.”

Links:

EPA Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

Furor Erupts over EPA Decision to Pull Scientists From Panel Discussion

Desmogblog

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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37 Comments

  1. Erik Frederiksen

     /  October 23, 2017

    I’m running out of words, just as we seem to be running out of time.

    Why do I bother? I know we have a choice about how bad we make things, but our best case scenarios seem to me to be beyond the ability for our civilization to adapt.

    Taking just one impact, sea level rise, Eric Rignot said recently that one of the more important discoveries of the last decade in the paleoclimate record is that it says that by raising temperature just 1.5-2 degrees C above pre-industrial temps we are committing the system to 6-9m of sea level rise.

    Just one meter puts a lot of major airports out of commission. And we’re likely headed north of 3C which would mean tens of meters eventually.

    Start to add in decline of fisheries and agriculture and the many other impacts and I just don’t see how we’re going to tackle this one.

    I often try to present some hope in my posts, but I’m feeling fresh out.

    Reply
    • Human civilization can survive sea level rise. It’s not going to be pretty, though. And, of course, the more we can prevent, the better off we are.

      I find that, generally, those who are hopeless tend to lack the imagination, the energy, or the aspiration to work for a better future. We have means to reduce the harms of climate change. Let us now deploy them as rapidly as possible. Focus on hopelessness is counter productive. The enemy, as it were, is upon us and it is time to fight for all that is dear and precious and worth saving.

      Reply
      • Erik Frederiksen

         /  October 24, 2017

        I appreciate the importance of optimism, just not feeling it lately. eg, “Human civilization can survive sea level rise” but by the time we’re hit with large, fast SLR we’re likely to be experiencing severe drought impacting agriculture while concomitantly fisheries decline significantly, so we’ll be trying to move hundreds of millions of people in a vastly weakened state.

        When was the last time you had to clean bugs off of your windshield? So many things going off the rails . . .

        Reply
        • I’m going to go ahead and let this one through. But we’ll agree to stop here, OK?

          The risk of systemic failure increases as the incidents of insult multiply. We don’t have a direct measure for how resilient civilization will be to impacts. Or how civilization may morph or become warped as a result. Recent pandering to fear by politicians like Trump shows that the opportunity for exploitative behavior does increase. But actions by other more responsible agencies provides some cause for hope that responses will tend to be more cooperative. These are life and death choices. All the moreso as things become more dire.

          Just because you are unable to concieve how a society can survive multiple impacts of the kinds you describe does not mean that capability does not exist. Various resiliencies including more cooperative and inclusive behavior, resource sharing, more efficient use of farmland, more resilient infrastructures designed to manage mobile populations, increased distributed renewable energy capacity, widespread indoor vertical farming, and other adaptations could allow civilization to survive these kinds of impacts (2-5 C warming). That said, such a survival response will have to be both planned and deliberate. Simple reaction would probably not be enough.

          You are definitely looking at very severe disruption regardless. Some civilizations will almost certainly collapse and require outside aid — if that is still available. Other forms of systemic collapse are also likely. But a complete loss of civilization with stresses in this range is not a given. At around 5 to 6 C, in my opinion, there is a high likelihood that half or more of the present civilizations will experience collapse. At around 2 C, collapse pressure is certainly higher and impacts are quite a bit more damaging. My opinion is that 1 in 10 civs might not make it in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 C.

          I’ve said this many times and, perhaps, I’ve just lost patience. But I would prefer it if people on this forum, especially when talking about the future, did not paint it in terms of absolutes. The future is not a fixed object. A scenario based understanding is far more helpful and useful as a learning object.

      • I agree with both of you but I am lost for words at the moment, perhaps I will find my voice soon. I just don’t understand the Trump administration, I’m glad I live in the UK and not America though.

        Reply
        • So I think it’s important to consider how we react to bad news. Because unfortunately there is a lot of it on the way. If the reaction is simply to just give up, then news and information has lost its usefulness. Unless human beings can openly and hopefully engage in problem solving, in working on a systemic level toward solutions, on putting pressure on and leveraging institutions, leadership, businesses and governments to do the right thing for everyone, then there really is no point. In other words, nihilistic pessimism becomes, at a certain point, a self-fullfilling prophecy.

  2. Greg

     /  October 23, 2017

    Erik,

    Take a few hopeless dollars and send them to Robert’s blog. He’s got a link with that cute bird. He won’t ask for money but it certainly is well spent and he’s very efficient. One or two meals likely is enough to fuel the production of a single article. Also, Elon’s Boring venture offers some fresh hope for all. Buy a hat and expand electrified transport:
    https://www.boringcompany.com/hat

    Reply
    • Targeted, considered anger towards deniers, coupled with practical Planet care from each of us. Use things you do in the latter to give you the strength to fight the former. Nihilism is a loser’s path.

      Reply
    • We’ve just had some bad hits recently. So I can understand some people’s honest concern. Erik’s particular take is in the minority, in my view. Just more doom-peddling it appears to me. Don’t really understand why I attract these guys. Perhaps it’s the more realistic assessment or just the fact the GM (not the auto company) has basically been trolling me now for, oh, four+ years.

      We certainly have a number of options. And mother nature does have a little bounce back if we respond effectively. But, yeah, things are getting worse fast and we need to respond fast. No time for pining and whining, though. Time to do that bootstrap thing and get to work 😉

      Reply
      • Erik Frederiksen

         /  October 24, 2017

        I see a comment of mine is awaiting moderation. As to whether or not i am “Just more doom-peddling” I am merely expressing my views. But go ahead and censor them, it’s your web site and once you praised my contributions.

        Reply
        • Well, some comments are helpful and some have been very harmful. I like to discourage the latter and encourage the former. I have absolutely valued your communications in the past. But this, unfortunately, does not carry forward to your present communication. If the point is to talk about how it’s all hopeless and we shouldn’t do anything and to keep repeating it endlessly, then, yes, I’m going to moderate it out.

          It’s not like this is an original view. Or that it contains anything useful or unique. Nor is it that you are entitled to keep repeating essentially the same harmful view again and again here as you please. You said it once, which was more than enough. If you wish to elaborate without doubling down, then be my guest.

          As for censorship, you’ve got to be kidding me. This forum has been censored by people who endlessly repeat these same kinds of views in a form of intellectual bullying for at least the past five years. It’s akin to climate change denial in that it has no basis in fact and is entirely an emotional appeal and it histrionically crowds out reasonable discussion by sucking up air time. And yes, if it does not take into account the rational opinions of others to the contrary, then I will hold it in moderation in order to allow space for a more cogent and inclusive dialogue to move forward.

          I think you need to look at yourself and whether you are venting emotionally or whether you are actually engaged in an active discussion. My experience is that when I find people getting in that loop where they keep asserting the same thing over and over again and telling other people what to think and feel and that these assertions lead to what amounts to apathy, or worse, full-blown depression without any support or basis in fact as you just did is that either they are ranting, they’re a troll, or they’re a bot. All require moderation. If it’s not something that comes from that person (unlikely in the first case and not going to happen in 2 or 3), then that’s exactly when the moderator needs to step in.

          If it’s a case that you’re afraid of what might happen, then I suggest that you try a less assertive and more intellectually inclusive approach. But basically saying everyone has no choice but to drink what amounts to nihilistic hemlock and spamming it over and over again is not an acceptable form of communication here.

  3. Greg

     /  October 23, 2017

    “There is no going back on the fight against climate and the innovation prize is enormous,” Moniz said. “We are talking about multi-trillion-dollar markets. The real issue is that the U.S. needs to capture a big part of that market to keep its innovation edge.” And every other country that wants to move forward in its leadership. Yes, we will have to rebuild most of our infrastructure using electrons and do it with resiliency, but we will do it, and will simply have to do it well to thrive.
    https://climatecrocks.com/2017/10/23/were-heading-to-a-low-carbon-future-no-administration-can-save-coal/

    Reply
  4. You know, in some of my borderline paranoid moments, I’m beginning to wonder if the wacky conspiratorial rumors that went around years ago about alien lizards disguised as humans may not have had a core of truth to them. According to the whispers, these aliens came to our planet years ago with the mission of turning it into one suitable for them and their original home planet’s flora and fauna–and, in the process, making it unliveable for us and the rest of Earth’s creatures. Why else would a real human being muzzle all talk of the realities of climate change and the deadly consequences of pollution of all kinds? (I envision a Twilight Zone episode in which someone pulls a reverse Hallowe’en stunt–pulling the “human masks” off of these cabinet members faces and revealing the lizard-like underneath…)

    Reply
    • Well, it’s amazing how many of those alien lizards a few greenbacks can buy these days. Pruitt’s just like those same heartless guys who went to bat for the cigarette industry some decades ago. Smoking cancer denial and climate change denial — basically the same animal. Just did a little rebranding.

      Reply
    • bostonblorp

       /  October 24, 2017

      It’s a movie few remember but The Arrival with Charlie Sheen is more or less that plotline. Aliens disguised as humans set up CO2 factories to terraform earth.

      Reply
      • Have seen it. Pretty freaky. Although you could replace the aliens with actual human beings in this case who have just as much to lose as the rest of us even though they don’t know it or won’t admit to it. Makes the plot even freakier.

        Reply
        • bostonblorp

           /  October 25, 2017

          The world is an endlessly fascinating place. Rats infected with toxoplasmosis will seek out the smell of cat urine as the parasite can only reproduce in the gut of a cat. Studies with humans show the same infection leads to behavioral changes.

          Could the willful ignorance of some to the perils of climate change be the result of some foreign agent? There’s a non-zero chance! Though good old greed and identity politics are more in line with Occam’s Razor.

        • I think if you were to look at it another way, you could well say that greed is the parasite.

  5. Greg

     /  October 24, 2017

    Lets see how these folks vote now that they will be able to!

    Reply
  6. This is shameful. It’s basically pure censorship and control of scientists like you would get in any ideologically-driven, totalitarian regime (all must obey the leader and paint a picture he likes to see, regardless if it completely contradicts reality). So much for that thing called “science” in our nation’s government. It’s frustrating but I guess the best we can do is work to make progress on the local and state level, and bide our time until there is an opportunity to actually act in a mature way at the national level.

    Reply
  7. oldmoses

     /  October 24, 2017

    But what we need to say is, “oil is pretty much done for.” No new pipelines would be a start.

    Reply
  8. Abel Adamski

     /  October 24, 2017

    Interesting battery development referred to on Oil Price, of course they are spinning the need for a mix of energy sources including oil and gas (notably didn’t mention coal)

    A efficient cheap flow battery for utility storage from MIT

    http://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(17)30032-6

    Air-Breathing Aqueous Sulfur Flow Battery for Ultralow-Cost Long-Duration Electrical Storage

    Chemical cost analyzed for 40 rechargeable couples developed over the past 60 years

    Aqueous sulfur/sodium/air system identified with ultralow chemical cost of ∼US$1/kWh

    Air-breathing flow battery architecture demonstrated at laboratory scale

    Techno-economic analysis shows installed cost is comparable with PHS and CAES

    Wind and solar generation can displace carbon-intensive electricity if their intermittent output is cost-effectively re-shaped using electrical storage to meet user demand. Reductions in the cost of storage have lagged those for generation, with pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS) remaining today the lowest-cost and only form of electrical storage deployed at multi-gigawatt hour scale. Here, we propose and demonstrate an inherently scalable storage approach that uses sulfur, a virtually unlimited byproduct of fossil fuel production, and air, as the reactive components. Combined with sodium as an intermediary working species, the chemical cost of storage is the lowest of known batteries. While the electrical stacks extracting power can and should be improved, even at current performance, techno-economic analysis shows projected costs that are competitive with PHS, and of special interest for the long-duration storage that will be increasingly important as renewables penetration grows.

    Summary

    The intermittency of renewable electricity generation has created a pressing global need for low-cost, highly scalable energy storage. Although pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS) and underground compressed air energy storage (CAES) have the lowest costs today (∼US$100/kWh installed cost), each faces geographical and environmental constraints that may limit further deployment. Here, we demonstrate an ambient-temperature aqueous rechargeable flow battery that uses low-cost polysulfide anolytes in conjunction with lithium or sodium counter-ions, and an air- or oxygen-breathing cathode. The solution energy density, at 30–145 Wh/L depending on concentration and sulfur speciation range, exceeds current solution-based flow batteries, and the cost of active materials per stored energy is exceptionally low, ∼US$1/kWh when using sodium polysulfide. The projected storage economics parallel those for PHS and CAES but can be realized at higher energy density and with minimal locational constraints.

    Reply
    • The cost of a lithium battery has dropped from approx 800 dollars per kwh to approx 190 dollars per kilowatt hour during the past six years. Lowest-cost lithium is presently in the range of 120 to 140 dollars per kwh. Forecasts call for further price reductions through 2023 in the range of 60 to 80 percent given present economies of scale. This extrapolates to 115 dollars per kwh average and as low as 60-80 dollars per kwh for lowest cost systems.

      Economies of scale, therefore, are bringing lithium batteries into competitive ranges with PHS and CAES now. The time necessary for deployment of laboratory battery systems is likely to exceed the five year time horizon in which these further cost reductions will be realized.

      Reply
  9. So, it’s important that we adapt to reality, and this sort of scientific censorship gets in the way. The end result is a political system that is generally kept stable through feedback of information, denied that feedback So, it’s like trying to drive a car with the windows painted over…sooner or later we’ll crash. We’re actually crashing now, Trump and his minions just share a widespread flight from reality, or pretend that they do for money, or some combination of the two.

    It’s important that we learn the right lessons from the Santa Rosa fires, too.

    Looking at some of the drone videos, the houses burned while the trees survived. People don’t generally have dead trees in their neighborhoods and live ones seem relatively fire resistant.

    It looks like the main source of fuel was the human built structures.

    This is bad, and has bad implications for the future. More and more, cities are starting to burn, Human structures burn hotter and longer, and appear to be a bigger source of embers than grasslands, or perhaps even forests.

    We’ll have to wait for the official investigation, but it is starting to look like human cities are firetraps in this era of global warming. More firestorms in cities may be coming unless we learn this lesson and act proactively to lessen the danger.

    Reply
    • So the fires came from forests and brushlands. In other words, the source of wildfires is not structures. However lack of human structure resiliency to fire is noteworthy.

      Reply
      • Yes. the fuel is in the forests and brushlands….until the fire reaches the suburbs. Then the main source of fuel is the suburbs, I think.

        Reply
        • So here’s a map of the Tubb’s fire. Start point is indicated by black circle. Structures by red dots.

          Primary extent of the blaze is over land devoid of structures. In other words, the fire burned increasing concentrations of structures in smaller areas near the fire’s end point/boundary. The fire started in wooded/brush areas, moved over wooded/brush areas into neighborhoods, and primary area burned was wooded/brush.

          No evidence to my eye from this map indicates that structures were primary fuels for the fires. In other words, the fires would have probably burned through those areas just as well had they been covered in trees and grass. In fact,fires appear to have halted following encountering structures. Although this may also be due to intensification of firefighting efforts.

        • Hi Robert-

          You could be right that this was a wildfire, and Santa Rosa just got in the way. That’s the model I’ve been using up until this point, but now I’m starting to doubt it. We’re all just trying to understand, at this point, I think. Thanks for providing this space, as always. Thanks for everything you do.

          But some of the video taken by drones recently seems to show direct transmission of the fire from structure to structure, with buildings burnt down surrounded by intact trees. These drone videos are full of disinformation and conspiracy theories about Serbian (?) attacks, but they do seem to show things that at least to an untrained eye look anomalous. The lesson I get from this is that well watered urban trees aren’t very combustible, and aren’t like the wild lands, full of dry grass and brush and dead trees.

          The Young Turks recently discussed the possibility that the hotter, longer burning urban structures might create more embers than wildfires do. That sounds reasonable to me. Looking at where the combustible fuel is, it would be in the wild lands grass, brush, and trees (especially dead trees), in the lumber in the houses and boundary fences, and in the natural gas supplied to houses, I think.

          These are testable hypotheses, and it’s going to be interesting (kind of like watching a train wreck) to see what the fire experts and modelers come up with.

          This article talks about how these fires resemble those in the L.A. area driven by the Santa Ana winds, Everyone in California has heard of the hot dry Santa Ana winds and the fires that they exacerbate, but I have never heard of the Bay Area Diablo Wiinds, myself. But the 1991 Oakland Hills Tunnel fire, and the recent wine country fires, seem to be associated with these Bay Area Diablo Winds.

          http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-fire-north-south-20171016-story.html

          “”And typical Northern California wildfires die down at night as temperatures drop and humidity levels rise, Stephens said. The Tubbs fire, he said, did not act that way.

          “I had a friend and colleague in Santa Rosa who measured relative humidity at 10% early Monday morning. The temperature was in the 70s and the winds 50 mph.”

          Stephens said he has noticed the same conditions at other Northern California blazes in recent years.

          “In Southern California, there is no [letup] at night when you have the Santa Anas,” he said. “The winds are dry and hot. That seems to be happening more here… People have asked, is it climate change? And to be honest, I cannot say.””

          We Santa Rosa residents can’t do much about the Diablo Winds, at this point, other than fight climate change in general. But we could try to make sure that the new houses built have noncombustible roofs, that the urban boundary privacy fences are non-combustible, that fire fighting strategies and equipment are updated. We could banish natural gas from urban neighborhoods, if that was implicated in the fires, depending on the investigation. We could make sure that there is an investigation, and make sure that commercial interests don’t dominate the investigation.

        • Well, if the thesis is that densely packed urban structures burn well once lit, then you’ll get no dissent from me. Once a wildfire transitions into an urban fire, the opportunity for firestorm like conditions does appear to be enhanced due to a multiplication of fuels. That said, I don’t agree with the supporting notion that the primary source was not a wildfire. Not sure if enhancement is the right word either. But I absolutely think it’s worthwhile to point out the difference between a well-watered tree and a drought dessicated one. Of course the one will be more resilient than the other.

          I guess what it boils down to is the fact that this fire was a climate change enhanced wildfire that burned into an urban setting and then did things like light off propane tanks and burn rapidly through wooden, particle, resin, and petroleum-based materials.

    • Should have said that it looks like in some of he neighborhoods and shopping areas shown in the drone videos the buildings were the main source of fuel and flying embers, that’s what I meant.

      Reply

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