The Environment 2020 Elections Inequality

President Trump’s four year long war on science needs to come to an end

The past four years have been irreversibly affected by efforts from the Trump administration to limit the use of science in policy making. During this administration’s tenure all of the progressive climate reforms made by its predecessors have been reversed – the United States removed itself from The Paris Agreement and the wildfires raging across the West Coast have doubled in size causing the forced evacuations of more than 90,000 residents. To make matters worse, these fires show no sign of slowing down as increased emissions from heat-trapping gases have led to warmer and drier conditions in the area. The flames which have torn across the West Coast thus far in 2020 indicate the most active fire season on record. As the climate warms, the wildfires will continue to grow larger and more frequent. Still, President Trump denies the enormity of the threat presented by climate change. Our nation cannot afford another four years of his environmental inaction.

Both presidential debates last month included questions regarding climate change, prompting the candidates to speak on their plans to rectify the situation. But here’s the thing—there is no rectifying it. Global warming has worsened with every passing year since at least 1950. The only viable option left—apart from laying in the grave which has been dug for all living beings—is to try to slow down the progress of global warming and not allow the earth to become entirely unlivable for the future generations. Perhaps this is a classic case of too little, too late.

Since taking office President Trump has invalidated the well-known fact that carbon dioxide emissions are caused by human activities, labeling it “alarmist.” Instead, he has held onto the American coal industry as well as domestic oil production for dear life, therefore accelerating fossil fuel development. On the debate stage a few Thursday’s ago, the president proudly stuck up his faux green thumb and proclaimed that his fervent solution to save the environment is to plant more trees.

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s plan is only a little less ashy. His campaign promises a strict reduction of net carbon emissions through the creation of new energy-efficient homes and electric vehicle charging stations—but there is a big discrepancy. The former vice president cites support of the promotion of clean energy while simultaneously assuring voters that the jobs associated with natural gas production will remain secure. So, he must be lying to someone. A real transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energy will inevitably result in the elimination of the oil and coal industries. At the rate in which the world is warming, this elimination might need to come sooner than we’d expect, leaving millions of working class Americans out of work. But, at least it’s a step away from immediate and total destruction of the earth.

The hottest year ever recorded was in 2016, with 2019 coming in a close second place by less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. Right now, there is an increased urgency to implement real change because doom is impending. Whoever winds up in the Oval Office next must plan for the economic pitfalls that will come along with such a change—but nonetheless ensure that the change happens, and fast. That is why it is imperative that all U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote do so today. In more ways than one, we hold the fate of the world in the palms of our hands. 


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The Environment Tech Science Now + Beyond

The solution to climate change depends on CO2 emissions

It’s hard to imagine what a world not powered by fossil fuels would look like.

Sure, generations of humans have navigated the world without factory plants emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the skies and air-polluting cars weren’t at their disposal. And yet, the disbelief and delay to enact change doesn’t stall the climate change effects shown in the high-tide flooding resulting from rising sea levels or the rampant wildfires. And how many times must we witness the video of the starving polar bear, before we realize that melting sea ice is not just a human problem?

But what if we didn’t have to revert to our modest beginnings and instead were able to keep doing what we’re doing while siphoning CO2 emissions from the sky? A team of scientists from Harvard University and Carbon Engineering have reimagined a world where CO2 is the answer and are aiming to counter human’s carbon footprint by 2021.

Carbon Engineering announced in June that they have found a method to cheaply extract CO2 pollution out of the atmosphere. The process consists of making liquid fuel from the CO2 that’s been extracted out of the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen from water. Essentially, this would mean the Canadian companywho are backed by Microsoft Founder Bill Gatesrecycling emissions back into the fuels that generated it.

 Pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air isn’t new. The idea of extraction has been a part of the climate change policy over the past five years in terms of geo-engineering and direct air capture, also known as DAC. However, Carbon Engineering scientists have made it more realistic and attainable by cutting down the costs of such a process.

According to Klaus Lackner, the director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions and a professor in School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University, “the [company] has taken a ‘brute-force’ approach to drive down costs using known technologies.”

He goes on to say in the interview with Nature, “They are coming within striking distance of making this interesting economically.”

Until this past year, the costs of CO2 extraction was considered to cost upwards to $600 per ton. The number has dropped exponentially, estimating below $100 for each ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere according to the company. The cut in costs makes CO2 extraction realistic for major countries like China a realistic method to curb their emissions output, which in the past two years saw an increase in carbon dioxide emissions despite the country’s increased in 2017, according to a report from Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy. It also, makes the method more realistic for countries like Syria or Nicaragua who signed the Paris Agreement in the past year.

As it currently stands, the United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the Paris Agreement when President Trump withdrew it’s pledge to the reduce country’s carbon footprint in June of last year. This is in spite of the United States ranking 11th when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, according to The World Bank report.

Though it would seem almost obvious that the answer to the world’s climate problem is to not emit CO2 into the atmosphere or at the very least, reduce our consumption.  Of course, we wouldn’t be able to reverse the clock back to before we were callous to the earth’s decay And yet, the modest and cheapest solution of the two is not on the table.

It’s almost as if we learned nothing from Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth documentary or even the squirrel from the Ice Age franchise. It’s critical to sustain the environment and the planet we have now because the alternative is unimaginable.

Science Now + Beyond

Here’s why you should worry about Rick Perry running the Department of Energy

In case you haven’t heard, President-Elect Trump has named former governor of Texas Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.

Once upon a time, during the 2012 Presidential Election, Rick Perry was reaching for the Republican nomination. Perry named three departments he would eliminate if he were President. Or, he named two (Education and Commerce) and then forgot the third. The embarrassing gaffe ended Perry’s Presidential hopes. But lo! Five years later the Orange Fairy descended upon Rick Perry and bestowed upon him the chance to head up that third department that he would have eliminated had he remembered its existence. The Department of Energy!

At this point it’s safe to assume that anyone Trump has picked as a Cabinet member is probably going to be almost comically unsuited to the job, and Perry is no different.

Put yourself a solid ten steps ahead of Perry and learn what the Department of Energy actually does and why it’s important. These are the things the Department of Energy does, the things that Rick Perry will control come January.

1. Nuclear weapons

That’s right, the Department of Energy is responsible for the nuclear weapons arsenal, including maintaining the aging warheads, testing them, and keeping the labs clean. This actually takes up the majority of the budget. This also includes cleaning up sites that were contaminated by nuclear waste, usually due to Cold War testing. Think about it: do you really want nuclear bombs to lay untouched an un-monitored in a warehouse somewhere? Of course not!

2. Research

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science describes the research it does like this:

Advancing a clean energy agenda through basic research on energy production, storage, transmission, and use; advancing our understanding of the Earth’s climate through basic research in atmospheric and environmental sciences and in climate modeling; supporting DOE’s missions in national security.

Basically looking into clean energy and understanding how the environment works. The DOE manages laboratories, gives out grants, and even sets efficiency standards for appliances. Perry himself is a climate change denier, while Trump himself apparently wants to know which staffers have attended events where climate change is discussed in terms other than “it’s a hoax.” Perry and many other conservatives seem to support nuclear energy technologies, but we need more than “some nuclear and wind energy is fine” in an Energy Secretary.


ARPA-E, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy, funds energy technologies that aren’t really there yet. It looks into methods that aren’t ready to be pitched to the private sector but are still worth researching. ARPA-E falls under the DOE’s purview.

While “long shot” technologies may sound vague, every technology we have now started off as vague and uninteresting to private investors. Think about it. Didn’t everyone think the idea of personal computers was crazy just a few decades ago? I personally remember thinking smartphones would never be popular among people who weren’t using them for work. We need someone to bridge the gaps and make sure that we aren’t overlooking a possible path towards clean energy.

4. Bonus: the Dakota Access Pipeline

While the DOE doesn’t directly deal with DAPL, Rick Perry is part of the board of directors for Energy Transfer Partners, which is (you guessed it!) the company trying to build the pipeline. Perry started lobbying for Energy Transfer Partners only a month after leaving the governor’s office. This puts Rick Perry a conflict of interest for obvious reasons. But it also means that there is yet another high-ranking official who doesn’t have the best interests of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe at heart and who is committed to continuing our dependence on fossil fuels.

As the appointments continue to roll in, make sure you keep abreast of the developments and what they’ll mean after Trump’s inauguration. You can’t make a difference if you aren’t informed. Call your representatives, cast your votes, and pay attention.

If you know the science, you know what’s at stake.

Science Now + Beyond

Scientists just converted CO2 into something amazingly useful

Global warming is not going away, but scientists might have discovered a way to put all of those dangerous CO2 emissions to good use. This month, researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee announced their discovery of a catalyst that can transform CO2 into ethanol. That’s taking a greenhouse gas and turning it into a new source of energy. There must be some catch, right? So far no. The Oak Ridge catalyst works cheaply and effectively!

Why exactly, you might ask, is this announcement so exciting? Lots of reasons, but here are the main ones:

1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Many of us remember that moment when we realized how dangerous CO2 can be. For me, it was during my first viewing of An Inconvenient Truth when Al Gore demonstrated how rapidly CO2 levels are rising. In case you don’t remember that moment as vividly as me, CO2 is a greenhouse gas responsible for most of the climate changes we’ve seen in recent years. In a normal ecosystem, animals breath in oxygen and breath out CO2 while plants breathe in CO2 and release oxygen — keeping the world nicely balanced. But, when things besides animals start breathing out CO2 (like cars), then the atmosphere becomes much less balanced.

The Oak Ridge team’s announcement that they had successfully transformed CO2 into Ethanol was especially exciting because it suggests that there might be some use for all the extra CO2 emissions in our atmosphere. As Rondinone explained, “We’re taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backward with very high selectivity to a useful fuel.”

2. Ethanol

One of the most exciting parts of the Oak Ridge team’s announcement was not only that they managed to get rid of some CO2, but that they transformed it into ethanol.

Ethanol is a biofuel or energy source made out of organic matter. It’s especially valuable these days because it’s a cleaner form of energy than fossil fuels. Ethanol is typically produced from corn and sugar, but apparently, you can also make it from carbon dioxide. The Oak Ridge team was just as surprised as we were when they discovered that they had created Ethanol. Adam Rondinone, a member of the Oak Ridge research group, announced in a press release that, “Ethanol was a surprise – it’s extremely difficult to go straight from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a single catalyst.”

3. Future Developments

Though the Oak Ridge catalyst is exciting all by itself, it’s even more exciting when you think about what it could mean for the future. Scientists beyond the Oak Ridge team have commented on this, including Dr. Jeremy Martin of the Union of Concerned Scientists. During an interview with Al Jazeera, Martin explained, “This work is building the foundation for a chemical industry that runs on electricity and CO2, which can help us build a zero-carbon economy. Improving yield and efficiency and developing catalysts that do not require rare elements is critical to scaling these processes up cost-effectively.” As building blocks go, the Oak Ridge catalyst is a pretty amazing step towards clean energy.

So how exactly did the Oak Ridge research team stumble upon this awesome catalyst? Apparently, by luck. The research team has said that they “serendipitously” discovered the catalyst during their research.

What an awesome accident.