Twenty Years of Warming
Nov18

Twenty Years of Warming

This post is part of a series by guest bloggers Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block, senior chemistry students attending the COP16 conference in Cancun under the sponsorship of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement. Dr. Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, is one of the most recognized names among climate-change skeptics.  I attended his recent lecture at York College on November 11.  Unfortunately, I found his presentation to be lacking in recent scientific data.  No relevant data was presented from the last ten to twenty years.  When confronted with this fact during the question and answer session, he became irritated and said that the data was statistically insignificant. We hope that the discussion on our blog will be about what scientists know and don’t know about climate change based on scientific data.  Since recent climate change data was not presented during Dr. Lindzen’s lecture, I had to obtain this information from outside sources after his lecture.  The years 1998 and 2005 have been documented to be the warmest years on record.  And, even though 2008 was the coldest year of the decade, it has been shown through models and collecting data that each decade is on a continuous warming trend since the 1970s.  2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record.  This data contradicts what Dr. Lindzen responded to the audience member’s question about the last two decades. During the lecture, Dr. Lindzen seemed to deliberately talk over the heads of the audience.  He barely mentioned rising carbon dioxide.  When one audience member questioned him about the missing Keeling curve in his lecture, he did not even allow the person to finish asking a question, interrupting and stating that it is so well known it didn’t need to be presented. The Keeling curve documents the steady rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1958.  Dr. Lindzen made clear that he believes the environment is changing by a degree or two, but that it cannot be linked to people causing this.  At the start of his lecture, he listed three main topics he would discuss. However, the only point he addressed was the “alarm” associated with the current issue. I emailed him to ask for a copy of his power point to ensure that I present the correct information from his lecture; however, he did not respond back to me.  He had stated at the end of his talk that he would be willing to share his power point with anyone who requested it.   He resembled a politician who did not want to directly answer specific questions.  He merely danced around the current...

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Richard Lindzen: Skepticism and Unprofessional-ism
Nov15

Richard Lindzen: Skepticism and Unprofessional-ism

This post is part of a series by guest bloggers Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block, senior chemistry students attending the COP16 conference in Cancun under the sponsorship of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement. Small debates, frustrations, and sophisticated arguments, from both sides, are all expected when discussing the topic of climate change.  But did you think you would ever hear a speaker use the word “stupid” to criticize his audience? Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT and a climate change skeptic, presented a seminar at York College of Pennsylvania and did just that.  Lindzen was asked about certain facts that were missing from his presentation and why they were not present.  As a questioner from the audience was giving background on his question, so that the speaker would fully understand, Lindzen proceeded to use the power of the microphone and talk over the audience member.  As an intense argument broke between the two individuals, the audience started to show frustration. One member shouted out, “Let him finish the question!”  At that point, both stopped shouting and the questioner was able to continue asking his question.  As the tension was rising in the room between Lindzen and the questioner, it was clear that the question being asked was not about to receive an answer.  The shouting match broke out again and in the end, it was answered by Lindzen saying, “This is a stupid question.” Lindzen’s presentation criticized scientists around the world.  Global warming models, data, and scientific phrasing were the main criticisms. He stated in the beginning of the seminar that the global warming debate is about three questions: How much warming is present? How dangerous is the warming? What is dangerous about the warming? In the end, Lindzen only addressed “How dangerous is the warming?” The present “alarm,” he said,  is due to the scientific phrasing, not the data; the justification for this argument was hypocritical.  Lindzen stated that scientists specifically phrase statements so that society believes what the scientists want them to believe.  But in turn, Lindzen did the same thing by re-arranging the words to make the statement seem less of a concern, and prove his point. This argument was the basis of Lindzen’s presentation.  The climate change debate is more about scientific phrasing than it is about data.  In the one instance when it was about the data, Lindzen described how climate models are wrong because they are all based on positive feedback.  His argument was that we need to create negative feedback models to show the truth behind the argument.  When describing why such a model has not...

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Climate Change Through The Eyes of Undergraduate Chemistry Majors
Nov09

Climate Change Through The Eyes of Undergraduate Chemistry Majors

This post is part of a series by guest bloggers Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block, senior chemistry students attending the COP16 conference in Cancun under the sponsorship of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement. From the sixth floor of the American Chemistry Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., we are undergraduate reporters posting our first blog from the home of C&EN.  Our names are Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block and we are honored to receive such significant credentials--UN accreditation to attend an international climate conference as well as press credentials from C&EN.  We are both senior chemistry majors at York College of Pennsylvania (YCP) and we will be reporting about the issues and events leading up to and at the UN COP16 climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. As undergraduate reporters, the journey to receive UN accreditation has already been an incredible experience, one that we treasure greatly.  Being from a moderate-sized college in the small city of York, we never dreamed that this opportunity would be presented with such vital and unique potential.  In essence, the purpose of our blog will be to assist our readers in understanding what is being presented at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 16th Conference of Parties (COP16), through the eyes of an undergraduate chemistry major.  We will be reporting on the events that occur at the conference, as well as interviewing scientists, official delegates, policy makers, climate change activists, and perhaps even climate change skeptics on their inputs and concerns related to the environment and sustainability.  We also plan to observe civil society and other NGO’s who are not officially accredited by the UN.  In attending this conference, our main efforts will be to explore the facts and stated interpretations from scientists, policy makers, and others in order to present them to you, the readers. We invite you to join us on this journey and encourage you to participate by posting your comments on this blog.  Think on these things; chemistry...

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It’s Not The Money, Stupid!

This guest editorial is by Allen J. Bard, a chemistry professor and director of the Center for Electrochemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. The culture of academic research has shifted over the past 50 years from research evaluation based on teaching, creativity, and productivity to one based simply on the amount of money (often now called “resources”) raised. A number of factors have played a role in this change: the “business model” for universities, an increased willingness to accept greed as a virtue in our society and as a measure of success, and a desire for an easy “objective” measure of something that is otherwise difficult to quantify. As a result, we have reached the point where faculty members are judged more by the amount of research funds they have raised, primarily from government agencies, than by the accomplishments that flow from the funding. Obtaining high levels of funding is considered not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, and I’ve been party to tenure discussions that have centered on this (for example, on the need for “scoring two major grants”) rather than on the quality of work. It is possible to rationalize this attitude by saying that funds raised are a measure of how one is evaluated by one’s peers. The fact is, however, that the final decision to fund really comes from project officers who have often become remote from the frontiers of research and often fall prey to the fad of the month. It is also true that the best grant-swingers are those who are willing shamelessly to hype their research and their field—truth and modesty be damned. The result of this cultural shift, as we have heard over and over from colleagues, is that one spends 70% of one’s working time writing proposals and seeking funding. Thus, not only do we operate under a model where highly trained scientists are almost immediately removed from direct hands-on research upon arriving at a faculty position, but now are also largely removed even from close research supervision of students. As the system develops, the probability of being funded on any given project gets smaller and smaller, so one must keep writing and sending in proposals that have to be processed and evaluated by a growing number of project officers, but, alas, by a fixed number of peers. The agencies, forever seeking more funding from the government, also keep inventing an alphabet soup of new programs. These come with an increasing bureaucratic burden of accepting the funds, thus guaranteeing an ever-increasing time commitment by investigators. A more recent and potentially even more damaging trend is a growing expectation by universities...

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U.S. Chemical Industry Must Convert Barriers Into Bridges

This guest editorial is by Greg Babe, president and chief executive officer of Bayer Corp. and Bayer MaterialScience, who serves on the American Chemistry Council’s executive committee and board of directors. Major chemical plants that cost $1 billion or more are now almost exclusively being built overseas. Many think the decline of the U.S. chemical industry is inevitable, as countries such as China and India beckon with cheap labor and fast-growing domestic markets. But that’s far from the whole story. If it were, we’d see declining public and political support for other U.S. industries, such as the automotive industry, that have seen their jobs going overseas. We haven’t. As chemical production has moved to other countries, so have high-paying jobs. U.S. chemical industry employment has declined by more than 20% in the past two decades. In 1990, our industry employed 1 million people. Today, we employ 780,000. These jobs, in turn, support nearly 4 million supplier and other expenditure-induced jobs. Why aren’t Americans shouting, “Keep the chemical industry jobs here!”? I think the answer is that there’s a chasm between our industry’s own expectations and what the public expects of and knows about the industry. And unless we act, the U.S. chemical industry could become irrelevant on the world stage in a decade or less. More than 96% of all manufactured goods, including products essential to our national security, are directly touched by our industry. Dependence on foreign chemical manufacturing, like our dependence on foreign oil, is not a sustainable model for our country. Three barriers stand in the way of success: communication, politics, and behavior. Most people don’t understand the chemical industry. Many fear it. Nonetheless, our industry has a good safety record. On average, chemical companies that follow the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care initiative are four times safer than the rest of the manufacturing sector. However, the Responsible Care program, now nearly 25 years old, has yet to capture our nation’s awareness. Worse yet, a recent ACC survey shows that four out of five chemical plant line workers are completely unaware of Responsible Care. So it’s hardly any wonder that the vast majority of the public and their federal and state representatives are unaware of the program. We need to start a conversation and keep it going. Every chemical company must act to build mutual understanding among its many stakeholders and with opinion leaders of all kinds, including elected officials, regulators, nongovernmental organizations, plant communities, critics, and employees. We must listen to them, act on what we hear, and use every communications channel available. These channels must include the Internet and social media, which allow direct and...

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Advancing STEM Education

This guest editorial is by Ted Kaufman, Democratic senator from Delaware. This is a critical moment in our nation's history, with great opportunities that require innovative solutions. Engineers and scientists will be at the center of revolutionizing our approaches to deciphering these crucial issues: how we produce and consume energy, revitalize our health care system, and maintain our nation's security. I am honored to be a U.S. senator at this time in our history, but even more so to be a U.S. senator who is an engineer. That's because I believe the key to the future of our country—and the world—rests on our ability to use science, technology, engineering, and math, the four STEM subjects, to solve the biggest problems we face. Solving those problems, of course, will in turn create the jobs of tomorrow. We don't know where the next generation of innovation will come from. That is the nature of innovation. But we must have a national innovation policy, one that generates greater interest in STEM and actually leads to the training and graduation of more scientists and engineers. The numbers state loudly and clearly why this need is more pressing than ever. In 1985, for example, 77,572 individuals received bachelor's degrees in engineering—the highest number ever recorded. In 2007, however, that number had fallen to 68,274. This precipitous decline occurred at the same time that the total number of undergraduate degrees rose to 1,541,704 from 990,877. This trend must be reversed. There are four things the federal government can do, and is doing with bipartisan support, to promote STEM education. First, we can build a new generation of engineers through policies that promote STEM education. To help see this through, in February I joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Engineering Education for Innovation Act—or the "E-Squared" for Innovation Act. This legislation authorizes the secretary of education to award competitive planning and implementation grants to states for the purpose of integrating engineering education into K–12 instruction and curriculum. Second, we can promote policies that encourage women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in engineering. Women earn 58% of all bachelor's degrees, but they constitute only 18.5% of those awarded in engineering. African Americans hold only 4.6% of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering, and Hispanic Americans only 7.2%. We can and must do better. Last year, another bipartisan group of 13 senators joined me in asking the Appropriations Committee for more funding to help increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in STEM fields. The Agriculture Appropriations bill, which was signed into law last October, includes $400,000 to fund research and...

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