Author Archives: KimberHoltzmann

These fired air pollution experts just did the job the EPA didn’t want them to do

Most people don’t show up to a job after getting fired — but that’s exactly what former members of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee did last week.

The group of air pollution and public health experts reconvened to review the latest science and offer recommendations for new air quality regulations, one year after they were fired by then-acting head of the EPA Andrew Wheeler. After days of discussions, the newly renamed Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel issued a letter on Tuesday warning that current regulatory limits pose a threat to public health and urging stricter standards to limit particulate pollution, which has been linked to increased risk of a host of heart and respiratory diseases.

“We wanted to put on the record, here’s all the things that should have happened, had we not been disbanded,” Christopher Frey, the head of IPMRP, told Grist. “And here’s the science advice that the agency would have gotten from us.”

Frey, an environmental engineer and the previous chair of the EPA committee that provides science-based recommendations when the EPA is making air pollution rules, said there was little doubt about the need for stricter regulations. “The evidence is just so strong, it’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Frey.

Federal science has never been perfect — elected officials have always balanced political motivations with government scientists’ findings, and the current administration isn’t the first to pick and choose evidence that supports its agenda. But the state of science is a lot worse than that under Trump: A bipartisan report earlier this month found that federal science is at a “crisis point” due to unprecedented measures that include the EPA’s replacement of panels of experts with researchers affiliated with the industries they regulate.

The IPMRP isn’t just trying to sound the alarm about the Trump administration’s alarmingly anti-science decisions. In addition to raising public awareness, Frey and other members of the panel want their scientific expertise on the record to support any legal cases against the EPA’s new regulations. “No matter what this agency does in terms of rulemaking on particulate matter, given all of the things they’ve changed to the review process, I’m sure they’re going to be challenged in court for making arbitrary and capricious changes to the process itself,” said Frey.

And if you’re still not convinced: The committee within the EPA currently responsible for making scientific recommendations on air pollution wants input from the experts who went on to form IPMRP. In a letter to Andrew Wheeler this April, they suggested that he reinstate the fired scientists, “or appoint a panel with similar expertise.”

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These fired air pollution experts just did the job the EPA didn’t want them to do

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Ocean temps rising faster than scientists thought: Report

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Ocean temperatures are rising faster than scientists previously concluded, according to an alarming report released Thursday.

The research, published in the journal Science, said that scientists found several inaccuracies with the way ocean temperatures were previously measured and that warming levels for the past few decades were actually greater than what scientists found in 2013.

“Recent observation-based estimates show rapid warming of Earth’s oceans,” read the report, which used four independent studies to track ocean heat content from 1971 to 2010. The report also found that the warming rate has accelerated since 1991.

Oceans are warming primarily because of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by human activity. Emissions in the United States jumped 3.4 percent last year from 2017 — the second-largest annual increase in more than two decades, according to a preliminary estimate by the economic research company Rhodium Group.

The Science report linked the warming to more rain, increased sea levels, coral reef destruction, declining ocean oxygen levels, and declines in ice sheets, glaciers, and ice caps in polar environments.

“The fairly steady rise in OHC [ocean heat content] shows that the planet is clearly warming,” the report stated, adding that rising sea levels and temperatures should be concerning, “given the abundant evidence of effects on storms, hurricanes, and the hydrological cycle, including extreme precipitation events.”

The report calculates two scenarios depicting significant warming this century. The first scenario falls in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the average global temperature from rising no more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels. The second scenario assumes no change in emissions and projects warming that could severely affect ocean ecosystems and sea levels.

In October, a United Nations report warned that the world is running out of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before seeing potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Diplomats from all over the world reached a deal in December to adopt rules to implement the Paris pact and track countries’ emissions.

The U.S. joined the deal last month despite President Donald Trump’s 2017 pledge to withdraw the country from the Paris accord. The U.S. may not withdraw from the agreement until 2020.

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Ocean temps rising faster than scientists thought: Report

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This American Company Is Finally Getting Out of the Cluster Bomb Business

Mother Jones

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The CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon first saw combat in the early months of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On April 2, 2003, an Iraqi tank column was advancing toward a Marine unit in southwest Baghdad. The marines had no tank support, but a new weapon was on its way. A B-52 bomber dropped two CBU-105 cluster bombs aimed at the leading edge of the Iraqi armor. “The entire first third of the Iraqi tank column was decimated,” said Air Force Col. James Knox. “The Iraqis in the back of the tank column immediately stopped and surrendered to the Marines.”

It was the perfect unveiling for the CBU-105, which quickly became the United States’ go-to anti-armored vehicle munition. But in the past decade, cluster munitions have become known not for deadly accuracy but indiscriminate carnage and civilian casualties. And now, after sustained international pressure, the internationally-banned weapon will no longer be made in the United States—at least for now.

On Tuesday, Textron Manufacturing Systems announced that it is ceasing production of the controversial CBU-105, citing reduced orders, a volatile political environment, and international weapons treaties that negatively affect the “ownability” of its shares. “Historically, sensor-fuzed weapon sales have relied on foreign military and direct commercial international customers for which both executive branch and congressional approval is required,” Textron said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “The current political environment has made it difficult to obtain these approvals.”

The announcement comes three months after Textron’s CEO defended the weapon in a Providence Journal op-ed amid ongoing protests at the company’s Rhode Island headquarters. Around the same time, the Obama Administration blocked the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia in a rare display of unease over the growing civilian death toll in the Saudi Arabia-led war against Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Cluster bombs, which are dropped from aircraft or launched from the ground, contain submunitions, or “bomblets,” that spread over a wide area before exploding. They’re intended to target military convoys or installations, but can kill or injure anyone who happens to be nearby. Bomblets that fail to detonate can become de facto landmines, laying in wait for anyone unfortunate enough to come across them. The CBU-105 cluster bomb contains 10 canisters, each of which disperses 4 explosive bomblets, called “skeets,” which can spread out over an area the size of a football field before detonating.

In 2008, the United States came up with a policy to end its use and export of all cluster munitions by 2018 except for those whose failure rates are less than one percent. In lab settings, the CBU-105 meets the criteria, blowing up 99 percent of the time they’re deployed. But many observers and activists question whether that’s been the case on the battlefield after documenting numerous cases of unexploded skeets.

Morgan Stritzinger, a Textron spokesperson, defended the CBU-105 in a statement to Mother Jones. “The Sensor Fuzed Weapon is a smart, reliable air-to-ground weapon that is in full compliance with the US Defense Department policy and current law,” she wrote.

According to the 2016 Cluster Munition Monitor, civilians made up 97 percent of cluster-bomb casualties in 2015. More than a third were children. Since the beginning of 2015, Syrian government forces have dropped 13 types of cluster munitions in at least 360 attacks, resulting in 248 deaths. And the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has used cluster munitions in at least 19 attacks, killing more than 100. Casualties from cluster munition remnants have also been documented in six other countries.

Under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, more than 100 countries have banned the CBU-105. Yet major arms-supplying nations, including United States and Russia, have refused to sign the treaty. Former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stated that eliminating cluster munitions from US stockpiles “would put the lives of our soldiers and those of our coalition partners at risk.” The last known time the United States used cluster bombs was in 2009, when it sent a Tomahawk missile armed with cluster bombs at an alleged Al Qaeda training camp in Yemen. The attack killed 35 women and children and as many 14 militants.

“Textron has taken the right decision to discontinue its production of sensor fuzed weapons, which are prohibited by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Mary Wareham, the arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch told Mother Jones in an e-mail. “This decision now clears the path for the administration and Congress to work together to permanently end US production, transfer, and use of all cluster munitions. Such steps would help bring the US into alignment with the international ban treaty and enable it to join.”

How likely that is remains to be seen. This week, states parties and advocates meet in Geneva for the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. But as former Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer turned public radio reporter John Ismay notes, the United States doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to arms treaties. “We haven’t signed the land mine treaty. We still have nuclear weapons. We still have napalm bombs in the inventory,” he says. “I have a feeling these are things we’ll hang on to.”

Plus, they’re still legal under US law. While Textron Systems is ending its cluster bomb program, the Pentagon could turn to a different manufacturer. Or Textron may be willing to license its technology to other defense contractors. On that point, the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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This American Company Is Finally Getting Out of the Cluster Bomb Business

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