Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Posts Tagged ‘conservation

Science Policy Around the Web – November 01, 2016

leave a comment »

By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: pixabay

Climate Change

Nations, fighting powerful refrigerant that warms planet, reach landmark deal

Over 170 nations agreed to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the key climate change-causing pollutants found in air conditioners and refrigerators. This deal reached in Kigali, Rwanda could help prevent a 0.9°F rise in temperature by the year 2100. Although the negotiations did not produce the same publicity as the climate change accord in Paris of last year, the outcome may have an equal or even greater impact on the efforts to slow the warming of our planet.

Adopting an ambitious amendment to phase down the use and production of HFCs is “likely the single most important step that we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Kigali, in remarks before the passage of the agreement. President Obama called the deal “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis.”

Total global HFC emissions are still far less significant contributors to climate change than the combined emission of other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. However HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide on a pound-per-pound basis, making them an obvious target for international efforts to combat climate change.

Many experts still believe that international efforts have moved too slowly as research continues to show significant effects and large scale of global warming. Scientists say 2016 will top last year as the hottest year on record with some months showing a temperature rise close to the 3.6°F benchmark. (Coral Davenport, New York Times)

Wildlife Conservation

Nations agree to establish world’s largest marine reserve in Antarctica

Twenty-four countries and the European Union agreed to establish the world’s largest marine sanctuary in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. This area is home to “50 per cent of ecotype-C killer whales (also known as the Ross Sea orca), 40 per cent of Adélie penguins, and 25 per cent of emperor penguins,” according to a statement from the United Nations Environment Programme.

“The significance of this is that most of the marine protected area is a no-take area,” acknowledged the State Department’s Evan Bloom, head of the U.S. delegation to the meeting. More than 600,000 square miles of the Ross Sea around Antarctica will be protected under the deal. This means that an area about the size of Alaska will be set aside as a no-take “general protection zone”.

No-take areas are zones set aside by authorities where any action that removes or extracts any resource is prohibited. These actions include fishing, hunting, logging, mining, drilling, shell collecting and archaeological digging. (Merrit Kennedy, NPR)

Science Funding

Budget cap would stifle Brazilian science, critics say

Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer proposed a constitutional amendment to limit public spending growth for up to 20 years as a solution to curb a rise in public debt. The proposal, known as PEC 241, would prohibit all three branches of Brazil’s government to raise yearly expenditures above the inflation rate. This would essentially freeze spending at current levels for two decades. The effect of the bill, if passed, would put Brazilian science in a budgetary straightjacket. “It will be a disaster,” says Luiz Davidovich, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2016 federal budget for science, technology, and innovation was approximately $1.5 billion, the lowest in 10 years when corrected for inflation. (The National Institutes of Health in the United States currently has a budget of about $30 billion.) Agencies have been reducing scholarships and grants to adjust for the lack of funding. For example, the Brazilian Innovation Agency has slashed funding for national programs and is delaying payments on research grants. This has led to consequences such as finding money to pay for electricity bills. “There is no way we can survive another 20 years like this,” says Davidovich, who is also a physicist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

“Smart countries increase funding for science, technology, and innovation to get out of a crisis,” says Helena Nader, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science in São Paulo. “We are doing the opposite.” (Herton Escobar, ScienceInsider)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 1, 2016 at 9:14 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 13, 2016

leave a comment »

By: Daniël P. Melters, PhD

Giraffe by Muhammad Mahdi Karim through Wikimedia

Conservation Policy

There are four species of giraffe – right?

Recent work published in Current Biology by Axel Janke’s group at Göthe University in Frankfurt, Germany looked at seven genes to determine the genetic relationship between different giraffe found throughout Africa. Previously, giraffes had been grouped in sub-genera based on their coating pattern, but the study of genetic relationships showed that over the last 1 to 2 million years, four distinct groups of giraffes have evolved. The authors argue that their findings represent four distinct giraffe species.

This finding has profound implications for our understanding of African bio-geography and subsequently conservation policy, especially after the latest report that states that in the last two decades 10% of earth’s wilderness has been destroyed. But using genetic data to guide conservation policy is a poorly developed area in part because of our limited understanding of how genetic variation can tell us if two groups of animals are indeed two distinct species. Genetic analysis showed that the forest and savannah elephant are indeed distinct from each other, but they can form hybrids if they do meet. To prevent conservation limbo, the International Union of Conservation of Nature still considers the African elephant as a single species. With regards to the giraffe study, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote a critical note on his blog in response to Janke’s article and subsequent media coverage. In short, the geographical dispersion of giraffes limits the potential for hybrids to be formed; yet zoo giraffes can form hybrids without much trouble. (Chris Woolston, Nature News)

US Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Blue Ribbon Report lays out wishlist for moonshot against cancer

Vice-president Joe Biden proposed a moonshot to cure cancer last year after his son died from brain cancer. In the last State of the Union, President Obama vowed to accelerate 10 years worth of scientific advances in five years. To create a framework, a blue ribbon panel of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) consulted 150 experts and reviewed more than 1600 suggestions from researchers and the public. This culminated in a list of 10 recommendations.

One recommendation that stands out is the push for clinical trials for immunotherapy, a promising approach to harness the bodies’ own immune system to fight against the disease. Another recommendation is the creation of a new national network that would allow patients across the country to have their tumors genetically profiled and included in the new database. This latter recommendation overlaps with another health initiative that recently came out of the White House, the Personalized Medicine Initiative.

This leaves one question unanswered: will Congress fund the moonshot. So far lawmakers have not included money in the draft-spending bill and inclusion in another bill remains uncertain. With the release of this Blue Ribbon Report, the NCI NCAB hopes it will implore Congress to fund the moonshot. Nevertheless, co-chair Dinah Singer suggests that even without new funding, NCI could begin funding some projects in the report on a small scale. (Jocelyn Kaiser, Science Insider)

Drug Policy

Public libraries frequently used for drug use

Libraries are an ideal location for studying and reading, with its public access, quiet corners, and minimal interaction with other people. An unforeseen consequence is that people who abuse heroin are using public libraries more and more.

The problem of heroin and painkiller resulting in overdoses is a growing epidemic. This was further exemplified by a recent controversial picture, made public by Ohio’s East Liverpool police, that has made world wide head lines, as it depicted two adults unconscious as a result of a heroin overdose and their 4-year old son in the backseat. Public libraries are especially exposed because everyone can walk in freely and linger around if they please. No transaction or interaction is required. As a result, public libraries are turning to strategies to limit their space being used for drug-abuse. The American Library Association encourages libraries to get training on interacting with special populations, such as drug users and the homeless. In addition, librarians are partnering with the police and social workers. Altogether, the role of a librarian now includes that of a mix of first responders and social workers. (Kantelo Franko, Stat News)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 13, 2016 at 9:06 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 3, 2015

leave a comment »

By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

photo credit: Pangolin via photopin (license)

Animal Conservation Policy

Poaching brings another creature to the brink of extinction

Ever heard of the pangolin? Me neither, but recent media coverage of this critically endangered creature places a spotlight on the impact humans are having on their environment. The pangolin, also known as the spiny anteater, is a nocturnal mammal that lives in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that subsists on ants and other small insects. Asian pangolins are threatened by loss of habitat, as land is increasing cleared for agricultural and other human use, but are most severely in danger due to poaching. Pangolin meat is prized as a delicacy in China, and its scales composed of keratin are used as a traditional medicine for skin and other disorders. Demand for the animal has increased in the past decade resulting increased illegal shipments disguised as other goods. According to the NY Times, “officials in Uganda said they had seized two tons of pangolin skins packed in boxes identified as communications equipment. In France a few years ago, more than 200 pounds of pangolin scales were discovered buried in bags of dog biscuits.” Because the animals are endangered, most countries have laws against hunting pangolin. However, the laws are either weakly enforced or poachers make enough from the animal carcass to incentivize the activity anyway. There is some question as to how endangered the animals are. Because they are nocturnal and shy, little is known about population levels in the wild. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has the pangolin categorized in Appendix II; species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Chinese pangolin as critically endangered and all other species of pangolin as threatened. Some conservation groups are hoping to increase the endangered status of the pangolin and make all trade of the animal illegal. (Erica Goode, NY Times; www.savepangolins.org)

Resource Conservation Policy

Record drought forces increased water conservation in California

After a record low snowpack was recorded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on April 1st, the governor of California issued an executive order mandating cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent. This conservation amounts to approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water saved over the next nine months. KQED and NPR compiled an infographic to show just how severe the decline in snowpack has been over the past few years of drought; the water content of the Sierra Nevada range was just 6% of the average in 2015. The impact of the loss of mountain snow will be great. Millions of people depend on the water that melts and flows downstream during the summer and fall months, including the farmers of the agriculture-rich California Central valley. In addition to general water conservation, the governor also ordered millions of acres of lawns throughout the state to be replaced by drought tolerant landscaping and the prohibition of new developments from using potable water for irrigation. Increased conservation and enforcement measures will help, but it is small consolation to the already parched fields that account for the overwhelming majority of produce on US shelves, including 90% of all broccoli and 95% of all celery and garlic; hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland was fallowed or lost in 2014 due to insufficient water supply. Although Americans have yet to really feel the pinch (with the exception of citrus fruit; both drought and disease have been driving up prices in the past couple years), experts predict the price of fresh fruits and vegetables will rise this summer.      (Craig Miller, KQED Science and NPR; http://www.ca.gov/drought; Brian Palmer, Slate)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 3, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – December 26, 2014

with one comment

By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

Federal Science Policy

New recommendations to tackle seafood fraud

Do you know what’s on your plate? The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, has released its recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The term “seafood fraud” includes all manner of seafood misrepresentation, including mislabeling or substituting one fish for another. There are many steps in the supply chain in which this can occur, including at the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging facility. It can occur deliberately, when high-quality fish is exchanged for a less desirable, cheaper, or more readily available species. Fraud hurts legitimate fisherman and fisheries, as sustainable fishing tend to be more expensive and labor intensive. It also hurts the consumer. “Seafood is one the most traded commodities in the world. Consumers should be able to have confidence their seafood was legally and sustainably harvested,” said Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. And finally, IUU fishing and seafood fraud negatively impacts the environment when illegal over-fishing strips the ocean of necessary resources. The recommendations are open to public comment on the Federal Register until Jan 20th 2015.  (Media Note, www.state.gov; www.federalregister.gov; Andrew Sharpless and Ted Danson, HuffingtonPost)

 

Conservation Policy

A tough sell to protect endangered corals and fish in Florida

Biscayne National Park is in southern Florida, between Miami and Homestead. The park preserves Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. However, conservation of this public habitat, one of largest reef tracts in the US, is being hampered by arguments over how best to execute it. On one hand, federal officials want to ban fishing in 10,522 acres of the park to replenish the dwindling populations of snapper and grouper and rehabilitate the deteriorating seabed. On the other hand, state officials and the marine industry favor incremental fixes and toughening of existing rules. Saltwater recreational fishing accounts for $7.6 billion for Florida’s yearly economy.

A common thread throughout the debate is the idea of fairness and consistency in the execution of federal preservation policies. Strict rules designed to protect resources and animals on national lands – such as no hunting in Yosemite – are proving more difficult in the country’s largest marine park. “Biscayne is a national park,” said Brian Carlstrom, the park’s new superintendent. “If this were national park land” — as opposed to national park water — “there would be no question of what resources can be extracted from here.”  (Lizette Alvarez, NY Times)

 

Federal Science Policy

New report questions the strength of the FBI’s case in 2001 anthrax attacks

Beginning on Set 18th 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets and two U.S. senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. The resulting FBI investigation, called Amerithrax, one was largest and complex in U.S. history. In 2008, the FBI concluded that Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist working for the U.S. Army, was responsible for the anthrax attacks. Ivins committed suicide before the FBI findings were released. Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their analysis of the FBI investigation and concluded that the investigation could not rule out the possibility that someone other than Ivins committed the crime, similar to a previous report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The GAO report cites that contractors hired by the FBI used poor sampling techniques and statistical methods when evaluating the anthrax spores. Additionally, the GAO report chastises the FBI for failing to understand genetic variation in bacteria over time; the genetic similarity of four of the attack samples to samples found in Ivins lab was key to the FBI’s case. The GAO recommended that the FBI develop a framework for validation and statistical approaches for future investigations and the FBI agreed to these recommendations.  (http://www.gao.gov, David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

 

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 26, 2014 at 11:01 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 16, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Lani S. Chun

Marijuana Policy

Congress takes first step to federally decriminalize cannabis programs in states where they are legal

Despite its status as a Schedule I drug (defined as a substance with “no currently accepted medical use”), compounds derived from cannabis have been shown to have potential medical uses (e.g. PTSD, epilepsy, pain, spasticity, movement disorders, and urinary dysfunction). In addition, there has been increasing support from the public to legalize marijuana, which has resulted in the legalization of marijuana for various uses in 26 states. Responding to public sentiment and the conflict between state and federal laws, the Congress passed a spending bill that prevents prosecution by the Department of Justice for state-legal marijuana activities. How this bill affects future marijuana policy is yet to be seen, but it has the potential to further free up resources to study the compounds present in marijuana and is undoubtedly recognition of the need for better drug regulation and enforcement. (Matt Ferner, Huffington Post; Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Washington Post; Barbara Koppel, et al., Neurology; Denise Lu, Ted Mellnik, and Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post; Whitehouse.gov)

 

Environmental Health Policy

ICCM to meet this week on the regulation of hazardous chemicals which may persist in the environment

From Dec. 15-17, the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) will have its fourth annual meeting to discuss the implementation of a set of policies adopted in 2006 called the Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management (SAICM). The goal of the SAICM is to ensure that “by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.” Funding for the SAICM is provided by a mix of countries and inter-governmental agencies, and provides for the development and application of policies enacted under the SAICM. Policy discussions at the conference in Geneva will include subjects such as lead paint, nanotechnologies/nanomaterials, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), and a new proposed issue: environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants. These subjects are of particular interest because of the real-world effects seen in both human and non-human populations such as the progressively younger onset of puberty in girls, lead paint poisoning, colony collapse disorder, and EDC-linked cancer. (SAICM.org; KUOW.org; Megan Allison, Boston; Eric Mack, Forbes; Damian Carrington, Guardian)

 

Environmental Policy – Conservation

Scientists attempt to forecast species extinction rate, warning a sixth mass extinction may be imminent

While the debate on climate change and what to do about it rages on, there is no doubt that human activity is leading to the accelerated rate of species extinction. Current estimates now put the possible occurrence of mass extinction (defined as a >75% species loss) anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years from now. The top causes of extinction include exploitation, habitat degradation/loss, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and disease, with climate change expected to take up a bigger part of the pie as time goes on. Scientists are calling for the development of better computer models to better detect and understand current and future threats to species survival. This will aid conservation efforts by giving scientists the ability to stave off possible causes of extinction and rebuild endangered populations. (David Shukman and Matt McGrath, BBC News; Richard Monastersky, Nature; Robin McKie, Guardian)

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 16, 2014 at 9:00 am