Editor’s Note: The Galactic Sandbox editors are taking a two-week deep breath, and plan to exhale with new material on April 10th. Don’t forget to catch up with any issues you’ve missed by visiting our archive links at the right-hand side of this page. – Agnett Bonwit, Managing Editor
Honest To Pete’s Sake
The more I read about the latest anti-science legislation grinding through our compromised political process, and the more I learn how Trump keeps “ordering” the removal of planet and life-saving environmental laws, I am left with a hideous image in my brain. It entails a screaming, privileged, ignorant spoiled baby throwing a tantrum, flinging an I-phone, screeching like a banshee in order to get his way. And his way is anything that will produce more money for him, personally — not for the American people — be it through fracking, drilling, dumping, habitat takes for a new grotesque luxury hotel, and subsequent defilement of waterways or the poisoning of the planet’s air. And he has plenty of Congressional stooges only to happy to appease him.
The War on Science is now terrifyingly real, my friends, more real than most of us realize, and a lot closer to becoming a permanent reality. I’ll explain later on why it could be lasting.
During the Obama years, there were a slew of insane and outrageous bills that the gerrymandered Republican majority in Congress constantly threatened to shove down our throats, much like they are trying to do with their (anti)-Health Care bill now. They wanted to out-and-out abolish the EPA, and knee-cap the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) simply because it gleaned real science about the health of this planet through Earth and climate studies. We all know the real reasons they wanted to destroy our environmental safeguards: because these so-called representatives are beholden to the Dirty Energy Industry due to the millions they have taken from those planet-rapers in contributions for re-election. They shroud their crusade in slogans like “jobs jobs jobs for Americans!” and “let the market regulate itself!”
Ask the folks in Oklahoma and many other toxified states what their rivers look like since Congress recently abolished the Stream Protection Rule and the Methane and Natural Gas Waste Prevention Rule, the latter which would have required oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks from fracking sites. Obama enacted these laws in the last days of his presidency. The SPR prevented coal-burning plants from dumping coal ash into waterways, but under the rarely used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review and overturn federal regulations recently enacted (within 60 legislative days), Congress indeed dumped both of them. What’s worse, the CRA prevents the laws from ever getting enacted again. Once the Stream Protection Rule was shredded, coal burners are going hog-wild with their ash dumping into any waterway close to a plant.
Obama kept this all at bay with his veto pen. But since the Tantrumer-in-Chief is holding the pens and signing Executive Orders, we are in real trouble. Using another stupidly written Order, Trump plans to command his stooge, new EPA head Scott Pruitt, to dismantle two more Obama-made planet-savers: the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Waters of the United States Rule. Does anyone remember back before Congress abandoned the Flint, MI, lead poisoning of that city’s water, when Trump bellowed how he was going to protect all the nation’s water? What a big fat liar.
Now the neo-conservatives are again dusting off a pair of particularly heinous acts, and the sponsor leading the charge is none other than that Tin Foil Hat Hogger supreme, the head of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Perdition). Smith has re-launched the Orwellian-named Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. Combined, they would significantly change how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science to create rules that protect the health of all creatures, including humans. “HONEST” – putridly-named – is a rehash of Smith’s notorious Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would have required the EPA to only use scientific studies for which all data is publicly available and the results are easily reproducible. This new bill would effectively throw out any data the EPA has worked years on, which is yet to be published since it is ongoing. The evil twin law paired with this idiocy is “SAB,” which lays out the rules by which a new board decides what is “relevant” science or not. SAB bars any scientist who has been awarded an EPA grant from serving on this board and mandates that Big Polluter Industry paid “experts” serve on this board – as long as they disclose that they have an “interest” in any new regulations. Gee, that sounds like a really good transparency test!
Oh but there’s more. The HONEST Act requires that any “science” the EPA uses in its recommendations and enforcement MUST BE ABLE TO BE DUPLICATED by a third party. So the notion of peer review, used by the scientific community for 300 years as other scientists read the results of a new discoveries and critique them as they see fit, is no longer germane to the Republican way of thinking. As New Republic writer Emily Atkin reminds the backers of these new laws, how do you repeat a ten-year study of the effects of lead-poisoning on children and pregnant women? And how do you reproduce the catastrophic BP oil rupture throughout the Gulf of Mexico? The point is you don’t. So – surprise! – you can not use data from the sad but scientifically true results of those tragedies.
“I’ve always had a hard time understanding why members of Congress like to tell scientists how to conduct their research,” said Democratic Representative Bill Foster, one of only two scientists in Congress. “Scientists should set the standards for research. Not politicians.”
Congress and the Baby-Rattler-in-Chief all know how suicidal – to their careers — it would be to blow up the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, outright. So they are doing it in a much sneakier way. “It would be unpopular to attack these laws directly, but you can go after the way the EPA administers those laws,” says Yogin Kothari from the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Too bad there aren’t more scientists serving as politicians. We need them sorely. These bills, which we will call Clump and Lump, have already passed the House. Thanks Lamar. Thanks Baby Huey.
So once again, all I can do is inform you, our friends, on what is really happening. And urge you all to, please, March for Science on April 22! – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large
While the Trump cabal’s Budget of American Devastation is not nearly as vindictive toward NASA as it is for the EPA, the State Dept., Education and so many other vital agencies that used to keep U.S. citizens safer and smarter, our space agency still got a machete taken to some of its hallmark programs – with little to no explanation. We shudder to imagine how such cavalier and arbitrary decisions to hack out whole programs like this blows up peoples jobs, let alone lifelong dreams. Specifically, Trump has carved out $19 billion for NASA, close to what it got last year, but the Bannon bean counters red-lined, of course, a number of Earth science and weather satellite programs, including the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) program, formerly slated for 2022. The PACE sat would have measured the health (and sickness) of our oceans. Gee, hope they’re not eating too many fish courses in the White House. Also chopped was the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 mission, which would have been piggy-backed on the space station. Another head on the chopping block is a current satellite program, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (a joint project between NASA and NOAA) that is orbiting Earth at this moment.
Of course, Baby Trump wants to kill the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), the concept which Congressional Republicans furrowed their brows at for the past two years. ARM would have sent a crewed spacecraft to a nearby asteroid, pluck up a boulder and place it lunar orbit for further study. Gee, hope we don’t get any incoming Alabama-sized asteroids plowing through our atmosphere any time soon.
And finally, President Bannon has his bony finger on the delete button for NASA’s Office of Education, which has operated on a mere $115 million per year. How many bombs will that buy? Sigh. All we can say is, “♪ Thank You Republicans! ♫” (sung to the tune, “Eve of Destruction”)
Flashes in the Pan: Climate Change Say What?
17 Congressional Republicans Regrow Their Brains: We know this is hard to swallow but we got this one from Reuters, so there’s nothing “fake” about it, no matter what Bannon tells the Twitterer-in-Chief. Seventeen congressional Republicans actually signed a resolution (non-binding, of course) in defiance of the immoral stupidity of their Fearful Leader der Trumpenfuhrer who still believes global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese. The resolution, pledging to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute, was introduced by Republicans Elise Stefanik of New York, Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania. Apparently, Curbelo, whose district includes Miami, could no longer deny the fact that seas are rising since his constituents see it every day in their downtown streets at high tide. It is interesting to note that 17 Republican members of the last Congress did this same thing, and nearly all lost their re-election bids. Galactic Sandbox believes that will not be the case this time, since the nation seems to be feeling decidedly pissed off right now at anti-science politicians. Unless, of course, the Democrats do a clean-sweep in 2018 and wipe out all incumbent GOP members. Could happen!
Honey We Shrunk The Horse: Scientists now believe global warming, in addition to giving the planet a host of other biological catastrophes, will also shrink animals. It has happened twice before in Earth’s past when carbon dioxide levels spiked and temperatures sweltered naturally, says University of New Hampshire researcher Abigail D’Ambrosia. Some 54 million years ago a species of “compact horse” shrunk down smaller than it already was to the size of a cat. Another creature, a lemur-like animal known as our earliest primate, also got smaller under high heats. Farmers and scientists have long known that during prolonged heat waves some cows get smaller and do not give as much milk.
Bullets Over Doomsday: Trump’s Defense Secretary, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis – yeah, not known for his liberal stances on anything – told Democratic senators during his confirmation hearings that climate change is a threat to national security and “can be a driver of instability.” This isn’t a new notion, but certainly one the Cheeto-in-Chief et al would never consider, let alone say out loud. Mad Dog may turn out to be the greenest member of the Trumpian Administration. Oy vey.
White Heat: Leading climate scientists let the world know this week that the only thing that can save the world’s coral reefs from severe bleaching is to stop the rising temperatures of the world, hence the sea. And it better be done fast, they said in a paper published in the journal Nature. The Australian government, in a double whammy, also announced just a week earlier that the Great Coral Reef off their shores is suffering the worst mass bleaching two years in a row now, in fact, back-to-back high temperatures. Conservationists were hoping a curb in pollution along the 1,400-mile long reef would help reverse the bleaching. But C. Mark Eakin, coordinator of the Coral Reef Watch program at NOAA and a co-author of the paper, said, “At the level of heat stress that was seen during this event, it just didn’t matter.” Time’s awasting.
Returning to the Fold
NASA just came out with videos of its new Origami-like mini-rovers, called PUFFERs – Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots – which look more like those remotely operated model hot wheel toys. But these little rovers are designed to do a big job on alien worlds, particularly Mars or icy Europa, where the plan is to have them disembark off a “mother rover” (more the size of a kid’s tricycle) and explore the crevices, nooks and crannies of the Red Planet’s harsh landscape. PUFFERs can turn on a dime, survive 3-meter falls, fold down to the size of a cell phone, and they are equipped with their own tiny microscopes. They were created through an 18-month long joint program between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UC Berkeley, and the Distant Focus Corporation in Champaign, Illinois. NASA will test the little bots in the Mojave Desert later this year.
Music of the Spheres
What else would we call this one? French astronaut Thomas Pesquet got a birthday surprise on-board the International Space Station when the crew presented the musical spaceman with a carefully stashed saxophone, Feb. 27th. The sax was brought to the station Feb. 23 on a Space X cargo ship. But it’s not the first time a sax has been played in space; astronaut Ronald McNair took one up in the shuttle in 1984, two years before we lost him in the Challenger disaster. And other musical astronauts have brought up everything from an electric keyboard to an Australian didgeridoo. Pesquet, a former Air France pilot, has been on board the ISS since November and has three months more to go. He revealed the B-day surprise on Twitter this week.