Saturday, October 24, 2009

Securing Ecosystem Services

Stream in Julian Price Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

One more gem from Ken Burns' National Parks documentary that applies to our backyards as well as to a nature park:

"Consecration to the task of adjusting ourselves to the natural environment so that we secure the best values from nature without destroying it is not useless idealism, it is good hygiene for civilization."

---George Melendez Wright, National Park Service Biologist

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Steve Forbes and Al Gore Agree!

Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, New Hill, NC, September 2006

In his recent editorial in Forbes Magazine, Steve Forbes berates the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ("This obsession with carbon dioxide is misplaced."), yet many of the actions he recommends do precisely that. Building nuclear power plants, developing carbon capture and sequestration, using white roofs and roadways, easing access to wind power, and improving the efficiency of energy transmission all are good things BECAUSE they reduce carbon dioxide emissions by reducing our use of fossil fuels! So if we judge by what he says we should do, the emphasis on reducing carbon IS a good thing. Mr. Forbes goes on to conclude his comments with this statement, "The idea that there must be a trade-off between growth and green is pernicious and false." Have not Al Gore, President Obama, and many others been saying for some time now that going green will not have to harm the economy, that there is money to be made in switching to more renewable forms of energy? So Steve Forbes agrees with Al Gore and President Obama that green forms of energy can actually improve the economy! This is great news indeed.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why Preserve a National Park

Sunrise at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, July 24, 2007

From Ken Burns' National Parks documentary, Episode 5:

"Science embraces mystery...It says '...we need to hold onto these places [National Parks], and I can't give you a precise reason why, but the reason will come along later, and if we don't have them we'll never be able to explore the answers to the questions we'll be asking.' So they hold the answers to questions we have not even yet learned to ask."

---Kim Heacox, writer

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Skeptics Spin, Scientists Study

While the skeptics spin, scientists survey and scrutinize how the natural world is already responding to climate change. From polar bears to plankton and fish, from birds to arctic shrubs, many animals and plants show the effects of recent and current climate change in their abundance, health, and phenology. Such ecological indicator species integrate the impacts of climate change across scales of time and space our measurement instruments cannot match.

Now citizen scientists everywhere can join professional scientists in helping us all better monitor and understand what our co-inhabitants on spaceship Earth are telling us about the pace and magnitude of climate change. The USA National Phenology Network recently began registering individuals interested in helping monitor the timing of recurring life cycle changes in plants in North America. Future plans call for similar efforts to include animals and physical phenomena such as when ice melts on ponds.

My environmental science students will be adding their observations from Raleigh this fall and spring. Consider joining up and adding information from your backyard or neighborhood.

This flowering dogwood, in a picture taken in Raleigh, NC on October 11, 2009, shows signs of the early fall season in reddening leaves and mature fruits.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

See Scientia Pro Publica #13!

The letter to George Will below appears in Scientia Pro Publica #13! Visit this blog carnival for lots of other interesting science writing!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A letter to George Will

I just emailed this letter to George Will ( in response to his inane October 1 article about global warming.
- - - - -
Mr. Will,

Just a brief note to let you know that, in my humble opinion, you are a danger to the human race. You have let your political philosophy so infuse your intellect that you cannot look at anything objectively.

I received a Ph.D. in biology, for research on air pollution, in 1981, and have followed air pollution and climate change issues closely ever since. Your misrepresentation of science, and of atmospheric and climate science, is astounding. You must have no capacity for shame. Of course, it is easy to let one's firm, absolute beliefs shield one from petty things like shame and honor and honesty. After all, if you are right, you cannot be wrong.

My concern with climate change is first and foremost for my three daughters. I wish that you and other climate skeptics turn out to be correct, as I would not wish the unpleasant consequences we seem headed for on anyone. But the evidence has reached the point where
significant action to avert serious problems is past due. We are foolish to delay.

As a supposedly intelligent observer and writer, you have every right, and even obligation, to critically evaluate and comment upon alternative courses of action we might take to address the
climate-change challenge facing us. You even have the right in a free country to misrepresent the scientific evidence. However, when you misrepresent the scientific evidence, you do yourself, your children, and the rest of us, serious harm.

Risk assessment is the job of trained scientists. The folks doing the risk assessment have spoken, not with one voice, but with many. You ought to try to listen to them, rather than listen so intently to a few critics and ignore the consensus. Yes, consensus is valuable and important. That does not mean the consensus is always correct, just most likely to be so, especially the longer it exists and grows in strength.

Risk management is the job of politicians, that is, all of us. You confuse risk management and risk assessment at our peril. What if you are wrong this time? And even if you end up being correct, you have greatly damaged the understanding of the difference between science and politics. Science is about finding out why things work the way they do, not about supporting your political views. Cloud that difference and you put us back in the dark ages where those who knew they were right ruled knowing they were right and others were simply wrong.

---Denis DuBay.
Science teacher
Raleigh, North Carolina