Amongst the day to day news of who is going to challenge for the dubious honour of leading a political party, stories of government inaction, fires, pestilence and so on, you might have missed the March for Science; held the weekend before Anzac Day in up to 54 countries across the world. As reported on Fairfax websites
Thousands of scientists and their supporters, feeling increasingly threatened by the policies of US President Donald Trump, gathered on Saturday in Washington under rainy skies for what they called the March for Science, abandoning a tradition of keeping the sciences out of politics and calling on the public to stand up for scientific enterprise.
And they have cause to be concerned.
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a "band of climate conspiracy theorists" to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.
Sure, there is probably an element of concern about the unknown, however, Trump’s Administration has form in this area. They are the ones that appointed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
"They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It's not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. "There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared … Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle."
To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team has said that the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. The transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But some scientists aren't taking any chances.
Scott Pruitt woke up Friday morning as Oklahoma’s attorney general, a post he had used for six years to repeatedly sue the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts to regulate mercury, smog and other forms of pollution. By day’s end, he had been sworn in as the agency’s new leader, setting off a struggle over what the EPA will become in the Trump era.
Before you suggest the scientists protesting in Washington DC were the usual ‘ragtag’ bunch of ‘professional protestors’ who are still upset that Trump is the President rather than someone progressive like Senator Bernie Sanders, have a read of this article in The New Yorker. Clearly, they aren’t.
Pruitt begins what is likely to be a controversial tenure with a clear set of goals. He has been outspoken in his view, widely shared by Republicans, that the EPA zealously overstepped its legal authority under President Barack Obama, saddling the fossil-fuel industry with unnecessary and onerous regulations.
Blogmaster of The Political Sword, Ad Astra recently looked at Trump’s record to date in respect to environmental matters in his own inimitable style. The article is entitled The face of wilful ignorance and is well worth a read if you haven’t already done so.
Turnbull, who has also overseen severe budget cuts to the CSIRO, clearly has similar objectives to Trump. You might remember last year that South Australia had a state-wide blackout after a severe storm caused the physical destruction of some high voltage pylons carrying power from various power generators within the state, which coincided with planned maintenance for one of the interconnectors to the Victorian section of the National Grid. In essence, the South Australian power system ‘shorted out’ to protect itself. South Australia’s power generation facilities are fuelled by gas, wind and solar energy. The last plant using coal, Port Augusta, closed in May 2016.
Turnbull, despite knowing the facts, sheeted the blame for the state-wide blackout to a high usage of renewables.
Despite a number of experts claiming that the use of renewable power was not related to the type of fuel used for generating power (and here), Turnbull came up with a fake connection between the two events. As the News.com.au sub-editor for a Malcolm Farr article on the politics of climate change in Australia suggested
SOUTH Australia has copped a battering from gale-force winds over the past week. The last thing they needed from Malcolm Turnbull was a load of hot air.
Malcolm Farr observed in the same article
But somehow, in the Prime Minister’s public musings, the impression was it could all be explained by the fact South Australia had 41 per cent renewable energy output.
It was a great story for the usual luddite cheer squad led by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and ‘One Nation’ Senator (elected on 77 personal votes) Malcolm Roberts. Meanwhile, in a part of the world that seems considerably more realistic about climate change, Britain confirmed late in April 2017 that it went for a day without burning coal to generate power, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. While
In his first comments, Mr Turnbull praised emergency workers but appeared to have little sympathy for the casualties of the power failure. The priority was the political attack.
On Thursday morning, Mr Turnbull, speaking to reporters, sprinted through the “immediate cause” of the blackout — “an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets, knocking over towers and lines”.
He then saluted emergency workers, before abruptly getting to his priority with the words, “Now, turning to the issue of renewables …”
“There is no doubt that a heavy reliance on intermittent renewables — by which in South Australia we’re mostly talking about wind, there’s also solar but intermittent renewables — does place very different strains and pressures on a grid, than reliance on traditional base load power, whether it is fossil fuel or of course hydro, which of course as long as the water is in the dam is very reliable as well,” Mr Turnbull said.
“So these intermittent renewables do pose real challenges.”
Demand for electricity tends to be lower in the spring, when homes and offices turn off their heating and normally do not yet have a need for air-conditioning. It tends to be particularly low on a Friday and during the Easter holiday period.
Interestingly, Vermont and Idaho in the USA also routinely don’t consume coal for electricity and California is close behind.
But the trend away from coal as a source of electricity is structural, officials say, with coal-free days likely to become more common. Since 2012, two-thirds of Britain's coal-fired power generating capacity has been shuttered. Some plants have been converted partially to burn biomass, such as wood pellets. Last year, the share of coal in total power generation dropped to 9 per cent, down from 23 per cent in 2015 and 40 per cent in 2012.
Some countries have already left coal behind in power generation. In Switzerland, Belgium and Norway, "every day is a coal-free day", Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, a coal analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris, pointed out.
Clearly, Turnbull is as clueless as Trump – and the comparisons in other areas are just as odious. Trump has a ‘Buy American and hire American’ policy which as The New Yorker points out
was nearly entirely one of theatrics and not of substance. He held his talk in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at Snap-on Tools, a firm that buys Chinese and hires Chinese, Argentinian, Brazilian, and Swedish. Seventy per cent of Snap-on’s sales are in the U.S., but many of its plants are in other countries.
Turnbull supports an ‘Australia first’ policy that, according to various sections of the community including the union movement, are ‘a rebrand of a wildly unpopular policy’ that allows those from other countries to work in Australia under the 457 Visa system.
Trump will apparently risk a US Federal Government shut down over the funding for his ‘wall’ between the US and Mexico insisting that
he would “make Mexico pay” for the wall, which is estimated to cost billions.
Turnbull meanwhile stands by while his Immigration Minister who (illegally in PNG) incarcerates thousands of people in detention camps on foreign soil whilst claiming that Australia has no direct control over the outcomes. Dutton, in the words of Fairfax media ‘stooped to a new low, even as he seeks to impose higher standards on prospective Australian citizens’, by attempting to link an attack on the detention camp on Manus Island (PNG) to an unsubstantiated claim in relation to refugees and a local boy.
“Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” the president tweeted, without offering a plan or timeline.
Both Trump and Turnbull are independently wealthy men who, for reasons best known to themselves chose to enter politics. Both of them seem to have problems in understanding community expectations and the concept of the greater good. They also seem incapable of taking robust advice for the future good – rather they look for the populist short-term view.
It may appeal to certain sectors of the community to accept unfettered use of coal rather than sustainable alternatives, persecute immigrants who don’t arrive in the country with wads of cash in their pockets and similar views and looks to the majority of citizens. Generally, those who have spent many years researching and developing skills in economics and science will counsel against the short-term view. Instead, they look for evidence that is gained through exhaustive testing and then reviewed by their peers prior to them publishing their assertions.
Over the past few hundred years, science has a demonstrated track record in backing winners – examples include the device that you are using to read this article, (Wi-Fi was developed by the CSIRO). Scientists probably have a better view of what is likely to affect our ability to live and work on this planet in the future than those with a financial interest in industries that may have an unsustainable effect on our shared future. How many people died needlessly in the 50 or thereabouts years that it took for politicians to accept the indisputable scientific findings that smoking tobacco was actually bad for you? The international tobacco lobby is alleged to have used bribes, subsidies, tax revenue, specious arguments and attacks on scientific findings, along with doctored statistics of their own to minimise the case for any regulation or restriction.
Rightly, there seems to be considerable Australian concern regarding the future with Trump in power in the USA, however, Turnbull’s actions in Australia should be generating equal concern. Truly, they are peas in a pod.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.
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