Saturday, December 20, 2008

To Invest in Things Unseen

In his Saturday YouTube (above)/radio address, PE Barack Obama talked about the role of science and named important members of his science team. (Full transcript here.)

He praised "leaders who not only invested in our scientists but respected the integrity of the scientific process. Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us."

Obama announced energy and climate physicist John Holdren as his White House Science advisor, and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both are climate experts. Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research." (NYT)

Obama concluded:

"I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity."

Dead World #3

Mars. This year, planetary probes suggest that water was probably present, and some scientists believe that outcroppings like those in the bottom photo hide glaciers of frozen water just beneath the surface near the poles--perhaps a lot of water. This makes life on Mars more of a possibility, at least in its past. Right now, all indications are that it is another dead world.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dead World #2

The hot and forbidding planet Venus, with a dense atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide, currently increasing in Earth's atmosphere, in an image from a NOAA satellite.

The Green Team

PE Barack Obama winds up a final week of Cabinet and White House appointments on Friday with picks that further demonstrate his commitment to address the Climate Crisis and create a green energy economy.

He will announce his Secretary of Labor today as California Rep. Hilda Solis, who in addition to winning strong labor support, is a green energy advocate who wrote a measure that authorized $125 million for work force training programs in areas such as energy efficiency retrofitting and "green building" construction." That precisely an item that Obama has said will be part of his economic stimulus/rescue package.

Obama is expected to also make two science appointments--Harvard physicist John Holdren as science advisor and Oregon State marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) are well-known advocates for strong action on the Climate Crisis. The Washington Post calls their appointment "the strongest signal yet that he will reverse Bush administration policies on energy and global warming."

The Green Team now includes Energy Secretary Steven Chu (another strong advocate for Climate Crisis action), Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson (another strong advocate for a green energy economy as well), White House advisor Carol Browner (former EPA Sec. and close to Al Gore), and EPA appointee Lisa Jackson, as well as two appointees with particular expertise on water issues--sure to be important as the Climate Crisis advances: Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar and Nancy Sutley, new head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Even Budget Director Peter Orszag has strong interest in the Climate Crisis. VPE Joe Biden and his office will be vital contributors to the Green Deal, and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton is on the same page as Obama on both the green energy economy and the Climate Crisis.

Though they are all committed to action on the Climate Crisis and in creating the Green Deal, the Green Team is a healthy mix: scientists with strong views, seasoned administrators and elected officials with a record of bridging differences and getting things done. Also a gender and ethnic diversity that is especially important because everyone needs to feel included in the Green Deal, and feel the urgency of the Climate Crisis. For too long, the environmental movement has been mostly white and upper middle class. We're all in this together.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dead World #1

A flyby image (colored later) and a surface detail of the planet Mercury, taken by the space probe Messenger in January of this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Guess Which Boomers Weren't Watching

Captain Strong of the United Worlds Space Patrol explaining policy to Mercurian Commander: "There is no such thing as a preventive war--attacking another country because that country might attack first. Differences between peoples are settled by negotiation, and in peace."
--"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," broadcast on CBS in October 1950.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Climate of Crisis

Depending on who and what you read, the just-concluded climate summit in Poland was either successful (a unified Europe backing both strong economic stimulus and strong Climate Crisis goals) or not so much ("The conference enabled us to make real progress on every topic," or "There has been disappointingly little progress...")

A little progress (an "interim climate pact" that postpones tough negotiations) might be enough for now, but it won't be once the Obama administration takes office. Science writer Seth Borenstein sets the table: "When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid.

Since Clinton's inauguration, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since Clinton's second inauguration. Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it."

(This is only emphasized by a new report in which scientists say they now have unambiguous evidence that the warming in the Arctic is accelerating.)

Obama not only says he knows it, but his appointments show it. There are some controversies concerning the records and backgrounds of his "Green Team" picks announced this week (Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu as Sec. of Energy, Lisa Jackson at EPA, Carol Browner as White House coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head White House Council on Environmental Quality), but one thing they have in common stands out: they are all passionate about addressing the Climate Crisis.

Another promising sign: though powerful industries will oppose real Climate Crisis and green energy action (even as they advertise to the contrary), there is increasing support in the business sector for strong actions. This is going to be important in getting universal health care, and it will likely be important here. One prominent recent example, according to the Wall Street Journal last month: "More than 130 leading investors, representing assets worth $6.4 trillion, today warned world leaders that any global agreement on climate change must be strong and binding to guarantee necessary financing for global emissions reduction and adaptation efforts, and that the financial crisis should not delay efforts to address rising global temperatures. "

Among other measures, the group is looking for binding global target for reducing greenhouse gases, real participation by developing countries, clear measures to reduce deforestation, and a commitment to prepare for dealing with Climate Crisis effects (the "fix it" or "consequences" part of the crisis, in the Captain's nomenclature.)

The Climate Crisis will be addressed directly, but probably in the first instance through the economic stimulus/recovery packages. When real money and attention starts to flow into energy conservation and particularly into new green energy, some old and inaccurate thinking is going to be corrected. That's a future topic, so watch this space.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Long Term Virtues

"The smoke from the Saar Valley may pollute half a dozen other countries, depending on the direction of the wind. We all know that, but it must be seen to make an indelible impression, to produce an emotional impact that makes one argue for long-term virtues at the expense of short-term gains...Anyone who has viewed our planet from afar can only cry out in pain at the knowledge that the pristine blue and whiteness that he can still close his eyes and see is an illusion masking an ever more senseless ugliness below." [NASA photo.]
--Astronaut Michael Collins

The Oncoming Storm

We face an oncoming storm of economic and other troubles, deep and wide as the world, which will only become more obvious when the glitter of the holidays fades.

But there is another storm building, also big, and it will begin coming on fast in the new year. Its name is Barack Obama.

The new administration is taking shape, impressive and muscular. The proposals are being created, and they are big, including a major economic rescue package that may top a trillion dollars.

Already Obama is working behind the scenes, on the auto company rescue for instance. "Mr. Obama has been pulling on the levers of power far more than any president-elect in memory, using his new stature to influence events in Congress and the real White House of President Bush..." says the New York Times. This analysis of his emerging executive style says he sets broad goals and delegates to others on details but knows those details as well as anyone, and "Mr. Obama has shown no hesitance in stepping into disputes between the more experienced Democrats who run the House and Senate to forge the united front he will need in coming years to pass his ambitious agenda. "

Obama and his staff are also gathering the forces behind his election, with community organizing and setting up His Saturday radio /YouTube addresses signal how he will redefine communications from the White House, speaking "of the people, to the people," says a Washington Post article.

In this nervous period of waiting--hoping that the Bushite administration and the Hooverites in Congress don't screw things up any more in the few days before the holidays and the new Congress--the American people are unwavering in their hopes and support. Not even a nasty Illinois statehouse scandal has dented Obama's sky-high approval rating--much higher than any recent incoming president.

That's because America needs this incoming President to be an oncoming storm, big and bold enough to face down disaster. Of course we'll need patience and compassion and sacrifice before long. But we can look forward to a forceful beginning. It's looking good.