National Parks

When I visited Grand Tetons National Park this summer with my family, we took a float trip down Snake River, lazily admiring the view as the guide taught us about the surrounding environment. To our right, impossible to miss, were the Tetons themselves, a part of the Rocky Mountain Range, uniquely jutting out of an otherwise nearly flat environment. The difference in the elevation of the mountains and the surrounding environment is stark. The sheer size gives you a feeling of insignificance and the beauty threatens to take your breath away.

Through the slightly hazy air (due to a nearby forest fire), it was still easy to make out what is known as The Middle Teton Glacier, a white patch on the grey mountains. After pointing the glacier out, our guide explained that in the past 60 years, the glacier had shrunk by 25%. While glaciers are a relatively insignificant part of the beauty of this particular park, their retreat shows one of the many effects that climate change is having on National Parks.

In fact, climate change is threatening all of our country’s National Parks to varying degree, leading to the unfortunate truth that our National Parks are going to change. An article by Oliver Milman, an environmental reporter for The Guardian, explains what changes are occurring and how they are transforming parks. Milman highlights the shrinkage of glaciers, the increase of wildfires, and sea level rise as pressing issues for the maintenance of parks as we know them.

As climate changes, it is only to be expected that National Parks change too, with highly interdependent ecosystems struggling to adjust to single changes that have giant impacts. Glaciers are melting across the US, affecting parks ranging from the Grand Tetons to Yosemite to Glacier National Park itself. It is hard to imagine exactly what to do with a park named for its glaciers, when those glaciers are likely going to disappear by the middle of the century. In the Everglades, rising sea levels bring rising levels of salt to the marsh, threatening the lives of various species of plants and animals. Wildfire season is expanding, shorter winters are causing an increased threat to plants from bugs whose populations remain stronger even through the colder months, and warmer weather is pushing certain species of plants and animals up to higher elevations. Certain parks, such as Glacier National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, see a high level of threat to the very objects the parks are named after.

These changes are significant and multi-dimensional. One single change can spread across an entire food chain, and the changes caused by the climate aren’t small. Even if emissions were cut back, the damage done to existing environments is unlikely to reverse, and with the Trump administration refusing to acknowledge climate change as a significant (or even existent) issue.

However, just because parks are changing, there will still be beauty in the nature that will exist in the future. An article for National Geographic by Michelle Nijhuis describes what the role of directors of these parks in adapting to change, maintaining traditional environments, and protecting threatened landscapes/species. Since first forming in 1916, the National Park Service’s mission has been to: “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” (Source)

Michelle Nijhuis explores exactly what is meant by “unimpaired” in her article, “How the Parks of Tomorrow Will Be Different.” Originally, parks made the effort to keep landscapes the same as they had been historically, through actions such as preventing wildfires. As knowledge expanded, this mission changed to allow the environment to adapt on its own, through actions such as allowing wildfires to keep burning and reintroducing extinct wolf populations in Yellowstone in the hope that the ecosystem would be able to support itself.

Now, climate change is leading to a new question about the role of the National Park Service. Historic landscapes are going to change, and the idea of simply letting parks be does not seem like the proper solution. A consensus has not quite been reached, but park rangers are attempting to mitigate damage to certain species by transporting them to more favorable environments with warming weather.

Climate change poses a significant danger to parks, but it does not mean the end of beauty of nature. While these parks are changing, both nature and park rangers are making an effort at resilience. Even if Glacier National Park no longer includes glaciers, it will still be home to magnificent mountains and stargazing.

The Environmental Protection Agency

Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in trouble. A newly proposed budget would cut spending on the EPA by 31%, and Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, does not believe that humans are the reason for any change in climate patterns. As such, his belief is directly opposing scientific findings by the EPA itself and agreement of top officials around the world. Pruitt has also expressed doubts about the Paris Agreement which set standards for almost 200 countries in order to put climate change in check, showing ample reason for concern about what direction he might take the EPA.

The proposed budget cut to the EPA would eliminate all spending on climate change initiatives, and it would decrease spending on protecting air and water quality—with the idea of removing regulations to help businesses. As climate change is already an incredibly pressing issue that will only get harder to stop and quite possibly impossible to reverse as it continues, these actions are a threat to the health of our planet and individuals in our country. As it stands, regulations from the EPA lead to economic growth, and save billions of dollars in health costs through policies such as the Clean Air Act.

On the EPA’s website, the mission is described as, “to protect human health and the environment,” a simple and noble goal. You can see the full list of purposes on the website, but they essentially encompass the above, along with ensuring all individuals have access to information about the environment and that the United States is a leader in protecting the global environment. The means through which the EPA accomplishes its mission are simple: regulations, grants (for research and cleanups and everything in between), studying the environment, and making sure information about the environment is available. It does all of this on about 0.2% of the total US budget.

Limiting the functions of the EPA and reducing funding threatens the balance of the environment. Proposed cuts threaten not only all climate change initiatives, but also greatly reduces the amount of money going into cleaning up the environment and enforcing the regulations set forth by the EPA. Rationale for these cuts lies behind the fact that the environment has become a heavily bipartisan subject. Many republicans recognize the importance of clean air and water but think regulations threaten the economy, dismantling jobs and hurting companies in the process. Many democrats think of these regulations as necessary and prioritize the environment over decreased revenue for leaders of companies. Additionally, belief in human caused climate change has become heavily bipartisan as well.

The EPA has been criticized as inefficient, which can be attributed to the fact that a bipartisan organization that is being fought over between the two parties and is facing a constant battle over funding will struggle to follow the initial purpose of all its actions. The actions of republican presidents often attempt to diminish the actions of the EPA, which renders it inefficient. At the same time, completely getting rid of the EPA isn’t really an option, and the original purpose of the EPA was supported by all. The clean air act, when first put into place, was nearly unanimously voted in, with only one representative voting against it. While no one is against clean air, there is a debate about where regulations should be put in.

The problem with gutting the EPA is that in order to gut the EPA, more resources are necessary to ensure that all files are straight and in place to avoid legal battles. So, decreasing the budget for the EPA by 31% and the resulting cut in staff would make getting rid of regulations extremely difficult. The EPA already faces a multitude of legal challenges in court and needs staff to keep these matters straight. Getting rid of or even simply diminishing the EPA is not something that can simply be done by laying off workers. Ignoring the impact to the environment, this plan is still not sustainable.

And the environment isn’t something that can be ignored. Through its inefficiencies, the EPA is doing what it’s name enlists it to do—protecting the environment. With a changing climate and continued warming, the need is going to grow, and the costly procedure of shrinking the EPA is most likely going to need to be reversed by future administrations. At the same time, there is a greater economic benefit to keeping regulations that protect people’s health. Clean air and clean water are important whether or not you believe in human caused climate change, and the scope of the EPA is far wider than just these issues.

Deliberation Reflection

On Wednesday, February 22nd, I went to a deliberation entitled “Affirmative Action: It’s Not So Black and White.” The deliberation was very informative as we discussed different approaches for affirmative action, and whether it was morally viable. As I recently went through the college application process, the issue was very relevant to my own life.

The three approaches included allowing each college to decide on whether or not to include affirmative action in their admissions and basing affirmative action off of socioeconomic status rather than race. One of the major ideas brought up was whether affirmative action was unfair to students who possibly had better grades and test scores but weren’t being allowed into the university because minority students were put in their place. There have actually been court cases about affirmative action which have ended in the supreme court which ruled that generally quantitative measures (such as a quota system or adding extra points for minorities in a point based system) were unlawful, but other forms of affirmative action were allowed. However, this makes affirmative action a very grey subject.

We ended up deciding that a university should look to accept more students of minorities, especially if diversity is one of the values of the university. This way, other students can also benefit from being educated with a more diverse populous. Admissions offices are often looking at students “holistically” rather than just analyzing their scores, although this is not always the case at big schools. At Penn State, getting into the actual university is mostly based on SAT scores and GPA, but getting into Schreyer is based to a much greater degree on other activities. In order to create a more diverse student body at Penn State in a nonquantitative manner, Penn State needs to ensure it advertises to minority high school students and ensures they know they can apply.

One possible issue with affirmative action is allowing students into schools who will not perform well. The purpose of competitive admissions is to make sure the students are up to the rigorous academic standards of a school. Retention rates are an important part of ranking universities, so accepting students who did not perform as well in high school is a risk. In my own experience, I know that Penn State acts as the community college for State College Area High School, and accepts more students from our school than they would from other populations. At the same time, we have a much higher dropout rate and tend to be less successful in college. This can lead to college being a drain on resources as students will not end up with degrees. Universities still have to make sure the students they accept are going to be able to succeed and give them extra resources if necessary.

We also looked at the idea of basing affirmative action on socioeconomic status rather than race. While the education gap is decreasing between races, there is still a strong education gap among different socioeconomic groups. In doing this, there would still be more diverse students from different backgrounds, and hopefully minorities would also increase in number. However, due to our country’s history of institutionalized racism and lingering inequalities, it may be important to continue affirmative action for minorities and instead do some hybrid system.

Overall, this deliberation taught me a lot about possible solutions to the issue of affirmative action. I do believe affirmative action should be continued until it’s no longer necessary, that is until students of all racial groups are equally as successful and colleges populations represent the population of the area they are serving.

A Public Distrust of Science

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

–Isaac Asimov

If you read my last post, you would have seen me leave off with a link to a proposed March for Science in Washington DC. In the two weeks since, this march has caught wind and turned into a movement, with a planned date of Saturday, April 22nd, otherwise known as Earth Day. The first Earth Day in 1970 was a celebration tied with the government’s changing policies on the Environment and acknowledgement of science.

The opposite is true for this march. Many are concerned about the direction the country is moving in terms of Environmental policy, especially with a climate change denier appointed as head of the EPA and other actions outlined in my previous post. However, this march has much deeper roots than just the environment, as scientists see the current administration as an outright threat to scientific discovery and understanding.

An article posted by the Scientific American just over a month before the election graded the presidential candidates on how they utilized scientific discoveries in their policies. On each of the 20 questions, Donald Trump received the lowest score of the four candidates, showing a complete lack of knowledge surrounding science. Overall, his scores added to a whopping 7 out of 95 possible points (each question rated out of 5, with grades not given for the question about immigration), compared to Clinton’s 64.

One section of this article, discussing policy about Scientific Integrity, notes: “Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy.” However, an increasing number of Americans do not trust science as a basis for public policy, or for just about anything.  Concerns about growing distrust in science have led to fear in the scientific community.

A commencement speech delivered at Cal Tech and latter printed in The New Yorker highlights the benefits scientific inquiry have had on our society (spoiler alert: there are a lot of them), alongside how individuals are still inclined to mistrust science. It lists examples where this is true, ranging from vaccines causing autism to the reality of climate change. Then, it goes to say that trust is continuing to decrease, as “In 1974, conservatives with college degrees had the highest level of trust in science and the scientific community. Today, they have the lowest.”

This distrust isn’t just along party lines. In fact, certain gaps between Democrats and the scientific community on supporting using animals in research, use of nuclear power, and benefits of GMOs are larger than their Republican counterparts. And again, evidence shows that this distrust in science is growing:

So where does this distrust come from? One study attempted to discover just that, and results showed again that it wasn’t only a divide between the right and the left. The study outlined more specific reasons why individuals fail to trust science, and the results showed biblical literalism and a distrust in the government itself as key factors. Therefore, this issue stems more from culture than from political leaning.

Living in a country that does not trust science is a huge threat to the climate, as denying climate change will not make it any less real. Despite significant evidence that climate change exists and is caused by humans, a climate change denier was elected as President, and his policies will have an effect lasting for generations. Ignoring other scientific proof will cause an abundance of challenges, and many issues could be resolved using science.

There is some hope in ending this distrust. A study that presented participants with the simple fact that, “97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening,” resulted in participants acknowledging to a greater extent the consensus among scientists. Additionally, this statement even changed actual beliefs on the existence of climate change and the influence of humans.

Until society begins to trust in science, it’s unlikely that significant and necessary movements to reduce climate change will be made. Hopefully the March for Science can bring some recognition to the important role science should play in public policy. A parallel movement called “314 Action” is directly focusing on getting scientists to run for office so government can actually include experts on scientific matters. A future where all matters of science, and especially climate change, shape the government of our country, might be around the corner.

Scientists Are Planning the Next Big Washington March
The March for Science is Set to Happen on Earth Day
Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.
Grading the Presidential Candidates on Science
The Mistrust of Science
Americans’ increasing distrust of science — and not just on climate change
This is where distrust of science really comes from — and it’s not just your politics
How to Combat Distrust of Science
Professor Smith Goes to Washington

Climate Change & The Presidency of Donald Trump

If you’ve been following the headlines over the past few days, it’s likely you’ve seen that Donald Trump has signed executive orders about two different pipelines in the United States. One of these orders calls for TransCanada to resubmit a proposal for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It does not, however, specifically call for the pipeline to be build or even for the proposal to be approved, because that is beyond the scope of power of an executive order.

The second of these orders calls for the review of the environmental impact of the Dakota Access Pipeline to be expedited. Once again, this order makes no claim that the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline will occur, but opens a faster road to this outcome.

These two pipelines have been important symbols for climate action, leading to distress about the Executive Orders by climate activists. However, at the same time, the environmental impact of these pipelines would be relatively small. In fact, the completion of these pipelines would result in a less than 1 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Climate change activists are far more concerned about what these executive orders represent than the damage they will actually do. They show that Donald Trump will be relentless with removing environmental protections in order to create jobs.

Of course, these orders also come as no surprise. The President is the same man who once tweeted:

During his entire candidacy, it was well known he was a climate change denier. Climate activists urged for individuals to consider the environment in their vote and as such vote for Hillary Clinton, but ultimately lost in their battle. Trump ignored science and called to remove previous policies about climate change.

Trump’s first 100 days plan released at the end of October made it clear that he had no tolerance for climate change action that got in the way of American jobs. The plan outlines the following as actions to be completed on his first day of office:

* FIFTH, I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

* SIXTH, lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward

* SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure,”

These plans have the noble goal of protecting American workers, but represent an extreme threat to current climate change legislation that is responding to a very immediate and real danger. Creating the Keystone XL Pipeline would likely only lead to 35 permanent jobs.

The executive orders on these pipelines are only one of a number of motions by the President that worry individuals concerned about climate change. An EPA media blackout paired with the disallowing of any future grants or contracts has lead to fear about what could come next.

Concern about Donald Trump’s presidency and its effects on climate change have been expressed since his election. Although he has not yet gone through with all his promises on canceling current climate change legislation, it seems like efforts are imminent. Upon becoming president, the Trump Administration removed the climate change page on, replacing it with “An America First Energy Plan.”

Speculation on the wide reaching effects of Donald Trump’s proposed policies result in a bleak outcome. It is predicted that a lack of climate action during the next four years could result in dangerous amounts of warming. Due to the dependency of other countries on funding from the United States to follow the protocol under the Paris Agreement, it is likely other countries would back out of the agreement if the United States refused to comply. Cutting regulations made by the EPA on clean energy would also lead to huge amounts of greenhouse gas emission. Donald Trump is currently the only world leader who denies climate change entirely.

In response to the President’s lack of awareness to the detrimental effects of further climate change, some individuals are experience a strong depression at what is being lost. Eric Holthaus, a climate scientist and journalist, tweeted the following earlier in January:

He is not alone in this response, but other individuals still hope a call to action will help.

A movement to host a March for Science in Washington DC has recently emerged, with a goal to bring awareness to the necessity of acknowledging modern science in politics. Among the many issues these scientists will march for, the climate is perhaps the most prolific and important. A date has not yet been proposed, but more information will be announced on Monday.

It is important to know how climate policies or lack thereof may hurt our environment in irreversible ways. According to current science, climate change is not something that can be ignored. Immediate action is needed to take care of the environment. Unfortunately, Trump’s Presidency may contribute to altering our planet beyond repair.


Further Reading/Sources:
What President Trump Will Mean for Earth’s Climate
Trump issues EPA media blackout and suspends agency’s grants
Donald Trump and the Order of the Pipelines
Trump Revives Keystone Pipeline Rejected by Obama
In Davos, Bracing for a Shifting U.S. Stance on Climate Change
A Bad Day for the Environment, With Many More To Come
Here Is What Donald Trump Wants To Do In His First 100 Days
An America First Energy Plan
Our Existential Climate Fears
March for Science

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