April 24, 2017
I marched for science on Saturday, in Santa Cruz, CA, and it was emboldening and comforting to realize how many Americans realize what the Trump Cabal is doing to hard science and “facts” in this new age of nationalism and greed. My guesstimate is that there were a good 8,000 people marching through downtown Santa Cruz, from City Hall to San Lorenzo Park, carrying signs and feeling good to be among like-minded folks. There were Marches for Science in all major cities of the Bay Area in California this weekend.
If you read the Sandbox regularly, you will be aware of the bludgeoning that scientists and their hard-found facts have taken in this first “100 days” of this white supremacist/pro-corporate Bannon presidency. Agnett Bonwitt has written a lovely story this week about the chilly reception oil lobbyist and new EPA head Scott Pruitt got in Texas at an Earth Day event. It was not pretty. (See the story below!)
Congressional Republicans are all too eager to assist Trump in trashing and obscuring scientific information from the American people. Witness how Texan Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Hell), head of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, is unraveling our 300-year-old scientific process by proposing that the EPA abide by only repeatable scientific results, ruled by a board of Big Oil polluters. Already Trump – whom we all know is afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder – and Pruitt have frozen all EPA pollution clean-up projects and are hoping to slash the agency’s budget by a third of normal (Not to mention that the EPA was always underfunded in the first place.) Earth scientists are leaving long-established careers in federal agencies — where they once served the public interest with honesty and accuracy — by the droves.
And while Earth Day and the March for Science has come and gone, we cannot let it escape our consciousness, nor our political activism.
You may have determined by now that I am vociferously clamorous about keeping this planet alive and healthy. Predictably, I created a sign that read, “They Deny Global Warming, and we say: Not Today, Mother-F&#*#+%er.” At least it had a lot of pink glitter on it. As I was marching with my dear friend Wendy, a refugee amateur astronomer herself now retired from working at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in San Jose, I expected to get arrested at any moment for public profanity and sedition… though there was very little police presence and no police harassment. Every time someone tapped me on the shoulder I thought, “Here it comes,” but it was always a fellow marcher wanting to snap a photo of the sign!
At this point, I believe our only hope is to elect a pro-environmental, pro-science candidate in 2020. The Liar-in-Chief very possibly could be impeached before then, but then we are stuck with VP Mike “What, Me Worry?” Pence, who is intentionally ignorant regarding anything scientific. Next in line is Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, who wants to jail or drown all poor people, so let’s not even imagine how he feels about other species on this planet.
Tell your representatives you won’t stand for environmental pollution or laws made on hunches that guarantee re-election, not science. Insist on real science and real facts. – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large
On the eve of Earth Day last Friday, comedian Bill Maher poured a bucket of ice water on the recent manifest destiny mantra that Red is now the new green and that we can become Martians while ditching our own home planet. “Everyone has to shut up about Mars and how cool it would be to live there,” Maher groused during the New Rules segment of his weekly Real Time show, as he scolded the Trump administration, gazzillionaire space entrepreneurs, the news media, and even Hollywood for spreading the notion that Mars is”the party planet right next door.” “If we’re going to overhaul a planet,” Maher said, referencing Trump’s proposed budget to scrap Earth observation science and pour $450 billion toward landing humans on Mars by 2033, “let’s do this one.” Maher criticized the recent Mars mania that the Red Planet “is a reasonable planetary back-up” (including human look-alike Elon Musk’s claim that we should be an interplanetary species and colonize Mars with a million people within 50 years) as a “stupid fantasy” and a “dangerous idea that our culture is already too taken with – that we can keep on trashing Earth.”
Before donning a rip-off of Trump’s red topper emblazoned with the turn-of-phase “Make Earth Great Again,” the “politically incorrect” comic had these parting shots:
You want to explore something cold and hard? How about facts – facts that confirm climate change is killing us but completely do-able policies could reverse it. Stop looking for the Goldilocks planet, this is it.
(Editor’s note: While we think Bill Maher is right about fixing the environment on Earth, we feel this should not rule out at the same time an intelligent and sober approach to voyaging to Mars and beyond.)
With Friends Like These…
EPA chief and Trump hatchet man Scott Pruitt, who like some creepy Freddy Kruger stalking a doomed teenager, showed up for Earth Day celebrations in Dallas Saturday where he felt the heat from some disgruntled green celebrants. According to the Dallas Morning News, Pruitt’s “fireside chat-style” event with Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton was interrupted by protestors not feeling the love from the corporate crony who is deep-sixing environmental protections as fast as he can find them. “You’re gutting the EPA!” shouted a man from the crowd, adding “How much have you been paid to do this? You’re a monster!” After the third person who talked down the EPA head was ushered out of the room, Sitton joked with Pruitt, Oklahoma’s former attorney general: “I told you that OU (Oklahoma University)-Texas rivalry was quite intense.” (Yuk, yuk! Someone please pass the beer and tortilla chips!) Pruitt on the other hand, stuck to his script, basically explaining that polluters are the best ones to determine what should be regulated. Accusing previous administrations of continually raising the bar or changing environmental requirements, Pruitt explained his philosophy of taking “the long view,” allowing industry time to innovate methods to meet current standards. “Certainty and a long-term view are key,” he said. “Those who are regulated want to know what’s expected of them.” (Yuk, yuk! Someone please pass the cyanide tablets!)
Long March to Orbit
China’s first unmanned space taxi successfully docked with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab on Saturday, completing the next major step toward that country having a fully-functioning space station by 2022. According to Zeenews, the Tianzhou-1 cargo craft, which will be tested two additional times, is 10.6 meters long and can carry over six tons of supplies, satellites, and/or experiments. China’s ever-expanding space program currently includes plans to land a probe on the far side of the moon by 2018, as well as a goal to launch its first Mars probe around 2020, to be followed by a second mission that would include collecting soil samples on the Red Planet.
While the Cassini spacecraft comes closer to its final swan dive into Saturn this September, the venerable probe continues to take spectacular pix of the planet’s icy ring system and moons, as well as a recent shot of our own pale blue dot 870 million miles away. According to NASA, while too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing Cassini on April 12 was the southern Atlantic Ocean. (To the right is a cropped, zoomed-in version of the photo with our Moon just visible to the left.
Kiwis in Space
While the US is nonchalantly staring down a potential government shutdown this week, New Zealand lawmakers are busy zipping through new legislation that will define that country’s future commercial space activities. “Space launches are a new activity for New Zealand, and it’s important that we provide a regulatory framework that allows companies to operate safely and securely, while encouraging innovation and industry development,” Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges told the Scoop Independent News. The “Outer Space and High-Altitude Activities Bill” — expected to be passed late this year — will cover a wide range of endeavors that include celestial as well as terrestrial research. “New Zealand’s interests in space extend beyond rocket launches and we have the potential to be a niche player in other parts of the industry such as space research, materials development and testing, weather and atmospheric research,” Mr. Bridges said, adding that “New Zealand has advantages that make it an attractive location for space launches – clear seas and skies, access to valuable launch angles for rocket launchers, a skilled workforce, and an innovation friendly business environment.”
Taking a swipe at the Trump administration’s recent attempts at a travel ban covering several Muslim nations as well as its aggressive illegal alien deportation campaign, an editorial last week in the Lansing (Michigan) Star titled, “Don’t Deport Aliens (From Outer Space)” muses over the latest discoveries of potential Earth-like planets and how we would treat hypothetical “aliens” visiting us from these (cosmically) close star systems. “The chances of encountering aliens from outer space are fairly low.,” writes the author of the piece who adds, “If aliens ever do make it to Earth I hope we’ll treat them better than we are currently treating the Terran variety. After a trip that long the only polite thing to do is to offer them a drink. And maybe a doughnut. Because deporting someone back to their home planet 54,000 years away is just plain rude.”