Risky geoengineering research deemed safe, blocked by US

March 25, 2019 by  
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New study conducted by Harvard, MIT and Princeton claims that releasing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to cool the climate could be safe, only if gas injections are limited to only cooling temperatures by half of what is needed to stop global warming. About two weeks later, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia blocked a United Nations proposal to commission further research on the emerging technology— called geoengineering — a move that both supporters and opponents of the technology see as blatant protection of the fossil fuel industry at the potential peril of the world. What is geoengineering? Geoengineering is a term used for a collection of technologies to artificially alter the earth’s climate. Other climate engineering technologies include ocean fertilization , carbon dioxide removal , marine cloud brightening , cirrus cloud thinning  and ground-based albedo modification. These strategies are incredibly controversial both because of the unprecedented and unknown risks at a global scale, but also for ethical reasons of how humans should intervene in the earth’s climate. The concept of injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere mimics the gases naturally released by volcanoes. The gases block the sun’s rays and cool the earth’s climate. Millions of tons of cooling aerosols would need to be released to limit temperatures to the recommended 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Related: Man-made climate change now at the level scientists call ‘five-sigma’ What are the risks? Most geoengineering technologies have not been deployed in large scale experiments and therefore the risks can only be predicted with computer modeling. Previous studies concluded that injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere might alter rain and storm patterns and decrease water availability. There are also concerns that geoengineering would disproportionately impact certain regions, such as increasing cyclones in Asia and drought in Africa. What does the new study reveal? The Harvard-led study used computer simulation to reach a radical new conclusion: that blocking only half of the temperature increase would not have the risks typically associated with sulfur dioxide injection. In fact, their university-funded study – revealed that only 0.4 percent of the earth might experience worsened climate impacts. Alan Robock, a geophysics professor at Rutgers University,  warned The Guardian that Harvard’s study only looked at a few of the potential consequences. Robock’s own study lists 27 reasons against geoengineering, including its annual price tag of billions of dollars, the disruption of stratospheric chemistry, ice formation and increased UV exposure, as well as ethical questions of whether people have the right to see blue sky. US and Saudi Arabia block proposal to continue research In a controversial move at the United Nations, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Brazil rejected a Swiss proposal to commission further research on geoengineering. The proposal called for the assemblage of an expert committee to oversee geoengineering research and governance. Given the technology’s potential benefits and global-scale risks, most countries agreed the U.N. should oversee research as well as establish rules for future deployment. “I think governance is an incredibly vital component of geoengineering,” Shuchi Talati of the Union of Concerned Scientists told E&E News . “Even if you’re opposed to geoengineering, you need a governance mechanism to be able to enforce that.” The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are two of the world’s largest oil producing countries. They rejected the proposal over language stating that geoengineering should not be explored as an alternative to mitigation – in other words, they opposed the idea that reducing carbon emissions should still be the priority. The U.S. also leads the way in geoengineering research and resisted any oversight on its ability to independently implement its discoveries instead of curbing its carbon emissions . Currently, no international law explicitly prohibits countries from deploying large-scale sulfur dioxide injections, despite profound global-scale impacts. Controversy, ethics and impasse Many environmentalists argue geoengineering does not address the causes of global warming – carbon emissions – and that once the injected gases dissipate, they will have to be re-injected every year. Many also argue that even investment in research sends a message that countries may not need to keep to their Paris Agreement commitments of curtailing emissions since a back-up fix may be approved. Current predictions show that even if countries keep their ambition commitments, the earth will reach a disastrous 3 degrees warmer. “It seems to me inconsistent to say, on the one hand, that global warming is the biggest problem that humanity faces, and then go on to say, on the other hand, but we shouldn’t even do research on [solar radiation management] because it may pose risks,” Daniel Bodansky, an expert in international climate agreements from Arizona State University  told E&E News . “Either climate change is the biggest problem we face or it’s not. And if it is, then it’s all hands on deck.” Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Risky geoengineering research deemed safe, blocked by US

Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

March 25, 2019 by  
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This week, Toronto citizens learned that wheat bran is good for more than enhancing digestive regularity. An innovative Polish company displayed its disposable, biodegradable tableware made from unprocessed wheat bran at Toronto’s Green Living Show. While an ordinary disposable plastic plate could take 500 years to break down, Biotrem’s tableware biodegrades through composting within a single month. They’re made from compressed wheat bran, a by-product of the cereal milling process. Biotrem can make up to 10,000 biodegradable plates and bowls from one ton of wheat bran. Related: Shellworks upcycles leftover lobster shells into biodegradable bioplastics The wheat bran tableware can handle hot or cold food, liquid or solids and is microwave-safe. From picnic spots to barrooms, the new biodegradable cups and plates could decrease landfill -bound garbage. Wheat farmer and miller Jerzy Wysocki devised the process of turning wheat bran into plates. Every time he milled wheat, Wysocki found himself with excess wheat bran. Through trial and error, he discovered that mixing the bran with water, then heating and pressurizing it resulted in a sturdy material. He started what would grow into Biotrem with a single machine that he built on his farm . Biotrem’s production plant in Zambrow can currently produce about 15 million biodegradable bowls and plates per year. They also make disposable cutlery, which combines wheat bran with fully biodegradable PLA bio-plastic. So far, Biotrem products are available in a dozen European countries, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Lebanon. Transform Events & Consulting, based in Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island, distributes Biotrem products to the Canadian market. The event company introduced more consumers to wheat bran plates at this month’s Green Living Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. “As event organizers, we see just how much plastic waste is generated at events of all kinds, especially festivals,” said Mark Carr-Rollitt, owner of Transform Events & Consulting. “We are thrilled to partner with Biotrem to offer a well-designed, viable alternative to single use plastics.” Via Biotrem Images Biotrem

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Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

Students around the world join climate strike on March 15

March 13, 2019 by  
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On Friday, March 15, tens of thousands of high school and middle school students in more than 70 countries plan to walk out of their classrooms and protest at town and city halls. Young people are uniting around the world in a coordinated demand for their leaders to take radical action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the impacts of climate change. How did the climate strikes start? The international youth climate strike movement began in August 2018 when 16-year-old environmental activist, Greta Thunberg skipped school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament. Since August, her actions caused a ripple effect throughout the world and snowballed the movement to include teens throughout the world. Related: 8 women leading the change for a better world Since Thunberg’s protest, students have similarly skipped out on school to hold up “Youth Climate Strike” and “School Strike for Climate” signs outside government buildings in the U.K., U.S., Japan, Uganda, Germany, Thailand, Switzerland and France, among others . Frustrated by inaction— or insufficient action— from politicians throughout their young lives, these students are panicked about the scientific predictions for the future and unwavering in their call for change. In New York, for example, 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor has forgone her classes for the past twelve consecutive Fridays in order to sit outside the U.N. headquarters and protest. On Friday, March 15, thousands of others will join what the young people have virally hashtagged as #FridaysForFuture . Find a Climate Strike near you To date, there will be over 700 strikes in 71 countries, however the number continues to grow as rallies are added to the map. Check out this world-wide map  to see the incredible number of strikes across the globe. This U.S. climate strike map  is tracking all of the registered climate strikes in the U.S. Students are rallying around the hashtags #FridaysforFuture and #YouthClimateStrike , in honor of Thunberg and other student activists who have skipped school to protest for climate action in the past months. The strikes are supported by outspoken environmental groups such as the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion. Climate Strike leaders are calling on students to walk out of their classes on Friday, March 15, to protest outside of the nearest town or city hall, and of course post a photo on social media. Not all students get a free pass Many of the U.S. climate strikes will take place at local House or Senate representatives’ offices where the youth plans to push for acceptance of the Green New Deal, a radical environmental proposal championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Similar protests have already met with dismay by representatives such as Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein, both Democrats from California, who feel the students are naively confident in the Green New Deal without understanding the complexities of politics and party relations. Related: Rep. Ocasio Cortez releases green new deal In the U.K., the Prime Minister condemned the climate strike as wasteful of teachers’ time. In Australia, despite support for the protests by labor unions, the Minister of Education announced that all students and teachers who leave school on Friday will be punished— to which Greta Thunberg quickly tweeted back “we don’t care.” Isra Hirsi, daughter of freshman Representative, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), is one of the young leaders of the behind U.S. climate strikes, but she also expressed concern about the movement’s lack of intersectionality– in other words its lack of recognition and inclusion of climate leaders from many different, overlapping and often disadvantaged, demographic groups. Early this week, Hirsi tweeted about the importance of recognizing that indigenous leaders, not young white students, have been leading climate activism long before these hashtags. What are the students asking for? The strikes are largely a response to a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report, which indicates that the world has less than 12 years to implement radical change or the impacts of global warming will be devastating and irreversible. Mark Hertsgaard from The Nation wrote of the students: “They grasp what many of their elders apparently never learned: The climate struggle is not about having the best science, the smartest arguments, or the most bipartisan talking points. It is about power — specifically, the power that ExxonMobil and the rest of the fossil-fuel industry wield over governments and economies the world over, and their willingness to use that power to enforce a business model guaranteed to fry the planet.” While students around the world have different demands from their respective leaders, they are united in their call for swift and decisive action to curtail carbon emissions and for politicians to adopt firm environmental platforms. Such platforms, though, might look drastically different in each country. Columnist for The Guardian , George Monbiot, argued that the students must develop and articulate a clear position, or else he fears they will be divided, co-opted or worse– ineffective at ultimately influencing the actual legislation that will save their futures. Via The Nation Images via Mike Baumeister , niekverlaan

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Students around the world join climate strike on March 15

This Brazilian beach house is made from locally-sourced natural materials

March 13, 2019 by  
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The architects at MNMA Studio have created a natural beachy oasis made of eco-friendly elements in the region of Pontal do Cupe, Pernambuco of northeastern Brazil. Head architects Andre Pepato and Mariana Schmidt used natural materials such as eucalyptus, certified wood, calcium carbonate rocks and even twigs to complement the concrete structure. The people of the Pontal do Cupe region have limited access to building materials and methods, so the beach house helps to symbolize an innovative and rewarding new period of architecture for the area. The building site is located on an old coconut farm, and construction was completely primarily by workers from the surrounding communities. Not only did the architects use environmentally-friendly materials for building, but they also gave the local area an opportunity to learn about sustainable building since some of the project workers (a portion of which came from families of fishermen) had never used cement or concrete before. Related: Minimalist tiny cabin is a secluded retreat in a Brazilian forest It’s clear that the entire project revolved around choosing eco-friendly materials that would reduce the need for environmental energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. For example, a portion of the structure was designed in certified eucalyptus wood. Perhaps one of the most unique and striking portions of the home is the ceiling, which is made from reused twigs and brings a particular brightness into the interior. The furniture and interior decoration are by Sergio Rodrigues and Cariri Fair. The designers used whitewash to add pigment to the concrete, a natural painting process using a non-toxic solution of calcium carbonate rocks, slaked lime and water . The whitewash on the walls and stairs make an eco-friendly statement and fight humidity while adding a textured bright-white color to the open-aired interior and exterior. As a result, the entire beach house is presented with beautiful natural colors. A dark mustard-colored concrete slab serves as a base for the home and contrasts nicely with the light brown wooden columns that help to hold up the roof terrace. The roof patio was fitted with lovely stone slab flooring of faded natural colors and opens up with an unobstructed ocean view. Via Archdaily Images by Andre Klotz 

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This Brazilian beach house is made from locally-sourced natural materials

These marbled Bluetooth speakers are made from non-recyclable plastic waste

March 13, 2019 by  
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This plastic was said to be incapable of being recycled, but U.K.-based company Gomi found a way nonetheless. Each Gomi speaker is made from about 100 non-recyclable plastic bags of multiple colors, creating a unique, individualized look. The sustainable design company won a 10,000-pound grant from the Environment Now Programme in January 2018 to kick-start the project and were funded further by the Santander Big Ideas Competition later that year. Co-founded by Brighton-based sustainable designer Tom Meades, Gomi’s intention is to use plastic waste that would otherwise be considered non-recyclable (and therefore would end up in a landfill) to create electronic products. The U.K. throws away 300 kilos of flexible plastics that are not accepted for recycling by local councils each year. This includes plastic bags, pallet wrap and bubble wrap. Meades said the company was inspired to target the challenge of flexible plastics to show that these types of materials can be made into usable objects. Related: Simple tips to reduce single-use plastic Because the design is modular, every piece of the speaker can be taken apart and recycled into a new one, so the company urges consumers to return the products for free recycling after use instead of throwing them out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these speakers won’t sound good because of their unconventional materials, either. “Our components are made from 100 percent non-recyclable plastic ,” Meades said. “We have worked with audio professionals and electronics engineers over the past 12 months to ensure the product is not only aesthetically desirable but also sounds great.” The company intends to only grow from here. Gomi is planning strategies to increase storage capability and produce on a larger scale in the future. It also unveiled a portable power bank and charger for smartphones made from the same material back in January. Check out the  Kickstarter page to support the project or learn more. + Gomi Via Dezeen Images via Gomi

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These marbled Bluetooth speakers are made from non-recyclable plastic waste

Green-roofed NY home taps into passive solar with contemporary style

March 13, 2019 by  
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New York-based design firm Slade Architecture has reconciled a client’s need for privacy with their desire for connection with the landscape in the Link Farm House, a contemporary home that splits the public and private areas into two perpendicular volumes. Located on a 220-acre organic farm in Dutchess County, New York, the expansive home engages the bucolic surroundings with a glass public-facing volume balanced atop a grassy knoll and a lower, private-facing volume built of locally sourced stone. The two volumes are optimized for passive solar benefits and heavily insulated, from the lower volume’s thermal barrier-like stonewalls to the upper volume’s triple-glazed facade. Built for a couple with three children, the Link Farm House serves as a family retreat from Manhattan. The home’s two perpendicularly intersecting volumes are positioned so that the lower volume is hidden from view in the entry sequence and only reveals itself in close proximity. The conspicuous upper volume is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glazed walls and topped with a flat roof with overhangs that shield the walls of glass from unwanted solar heat gain in summer. Geothermal wells power the home’s heating and cooling and are complemented with radiant floors heated with a geothermal heat pump-driven forced-air system. Remote solar cells are tapped for electricity.   “The building uses the site and the unique characteristics of the two volumes opportunistically maximizing the passive benefits of the two conditions as well as the active potential of the site for energy conservation,” the architects explain. “In terms of passive thermal strategies, the upper volume engages the exterior conditions and the lower volume insulates against the exterior environment. The triple insulated glass walls and roof overhang of the upper volume leverage summer and winter sun angles to shade the interior in summer and maximize solar penetration and heat gain in winter. The lower volume uses super-insulated walls and windows to create a thermal barrier. In addition, the stone flooring throughout this lower volume creates a thermal flywheel, stabilizing the temperature.” Related: LEED Gold home celebrates Utah’s brilliant light and beauty To reduce the home’s embodied energy footprint, the architects sourced wood from the client’s farm property for use throughout the house from the solid cherry paneling in the mudroom and study to the locally sourced timber used for the cabinetry and ceiling of the master bathroom. The lower volume, which contains the private areas, consists of five bedrooms, a family room, mudroom, and a study. The upper level comprises an open-plan living room, dining room, kitchen and family room that opens up to a green-roofed terrace. + Slade Architecture Images via Tom Sibley

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Green-roofed NY home taps into passive solar with contemporary style

‘Single-use’ is announced as the Word of the Year 2018

November 8, 2018 by  
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Collins Dictionary has announced its choice for 2018 Word of the Year — single-use. This term describes items, often plastic, that are made to be used just once before they are thrown away. The frequent use of these items has been blamed for damaging the environment and negatively affecting the food chain. Since 2013, use of the word has increased fourfold with a rise in public awareness thanks to news stories, images of plastic items adrift in oceans and the global campaign to reduce the proliferation of single-use items, including the infamous plastic straw. Collins Dictionary selects the word of the year after its lexicographers monitor the 4.5-billion-word Collins Corpus, which is an analytical database that contains written material from websites, newspapers, magazines and books published around the world. The Collins Corpus database also includes words from spoken material on TV and radio, plus everyday conversations. Related: Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future? After the lexicographers monitor the Collins Corpus, they create a list of new and notable words that reflect our ever-changing culture. Things that rose to the top this year included environmental issues, political movements, dance trends and technology. Other words on the shortlist included ‘floss,’ a dance where you twist your hips in one direction while swinging your arms with fists closed in the opposite direction, made popular by the game Fortnight; ‘VAR,’ or video assistant referee, which became popular in 2018 after being used in the FIFA World Cup; ‘gammon,’ a red-faced, angry person who is the opposite of a “snowflake”; and ‘plogging,’ or picking up litter while jogging, which has become successful following the increase in awareness of humanity’s impact on the environment. Collins ended up choosing single-use because of the global movement to kick the addiction to disposable products and the increase in awareness of how people’s habits and behaviors impact our world. + Collins Dictionary Image via Jonathan Chng

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‘Single-use’ is announced as the Word of the Year 2018

Eco-friendly geodomes provide a luxurious stay in an idyllic Quebec forest

November 8, 2018 by  
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Tucked into the picturesque countryside in a remote area outside of Quebec City, the Dômes Charlevoix are three dome-shaped eco-retreats that offer luxurious stays for guests wanting to reconnect with nature. In addition to their swanky accommodations, the geodomes, which were designed by Bourgeois / Lechasseur Architects , are open year-round thanks to the numerous passive features that make them resilient to Canada’s strong winters. Perfectly integrated into the quaint landscape of Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, the canvas-covered domes offer guests all the amenities of a top-rated hotel. The structures are set on large wooden patios, which are elevated off the ground on large supports to reduce their impact on the land. The decks are installed with hot tubs, offering a serene place to take in the incredible views. Related: Explore the world’s driest desert at these eco-friendly geodomes Erected on the sloped mountainside, the domes are orientated to make the most of not only the breathtaking vistas but to also offer maximum exposure to natural light . For a resiliency that withstands the bitterly cold months, the domes were built with radiant concrete floors, which help maintain a comfortable, uniform temperature indoors. The luxurious domes sleep up to four adults, with a large queen-sized bed on the ground floor and a second queen-sized bed on a mezzanine level. Guests will enjoy a full kitchen with a dining table, a spa-like bathroom and a large chimney with ample firewood supplied to keep the living space warm and cozy. Large windows enable guests to take in the views from the comfort of the interior, or on a nice day, they can enjoy the surroundings from the outdoor deck. All of the basic amenities such as linens are provided. Guests just need to bring their own food and plenty of energy for exploring this beautiful location. + Dômes Charlevoix + Bourgeois / Lechasseur Architects Photography by Maxime Valsan  

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Eco-friendly geodomes provide a luxurious stay in an idyllic Quebec forest

Is there enough water and land on Earth to meet global food demands?

May 21, 2018 by  
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According to the United Nations, there are 7.6 billion people living on Earth today. Of those 7.6 billion, 815 million people are already going hungry . And, on top of that, the UN expects the global population to jump to 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. These figures raise a troubling question: will it be physically possible to feed the world’s population as it continues to grow? Do We Have Enough Resources? Currently, we already produce more food than we need to feed the existing global population. According to Gordon Conway, author of One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?, an equal division of all the food on earth would provide every person with 2,800 calories a day , which is more than enough for a healthy diet. In fact, recent analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicated that it would be technically feasible to feed the 2050 population with available land and water. However, that prediction comes with significant caveats. Having enough food doesn’t mean no one will go hungry, as evidenced by the current global situation. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can feed the world sustainably. So, while it may be technically feasible, what needs to happen to truly meet global demand for food without destroying the planet? Overall, there are three main changes we should focus on. 1. Increasing Efficiency While we could potentially clear more land to use for agriculture, it would be better to avoid doing so. The tactics we’ve used to increase yields and farmland in the past have caused severe environmental damage, such as increased erosion and pollution. However, we now know more about farming practices’ environmental impacts and have developed new, high-tech ways to increase farm productivity without damaging the environment. For example, precision farming delivers water and fertilizer to plants much more efficiently. Advanced sensors, automated tractors and more can also help reduce crop loss and increase yield. Organic farming plays a vital role as well, as it reduces the use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Related: Less fertilizer, greater crop yields, and more money: China’s agricultural breakthrough These changes will likely have to be implemented in developed countries, since farmers in poorer countries typically have fewer resources and, as a result, focus primarily on their own operations. 2. Changing Diets Different diets require vastly different amounts of land, water and other resources. The most resource-intensive are those of wealthy nations, which tend to eat more animal products. For example, if the entire world followed the same diet as the United States, we would need 138 percent of the world’s habitable land to feed the global population. In other words, it would be impossible. We also tend to waste food by feeding livestock. Livestock consume 36 percent o f crops grown around the world, and their caloric intake far outstrips the calories that humans receive from the resulting animal products. For every 100 calories of grain that we feed to livestock, we can get 40 calories of milk, 12 calories of chicken or just three of beef. If developed countries around the world committed to reducing the amount of food they consume, or if more people removed meat and animal products from their diets, these actions could help save both food and resources. 3. Reducing Waste Reducing food waste is a simple yet crucial way to help feed the world. At present, approximately 25 percent of all of the food calories we produce  – enough to feed every hungry person in the world – is lost or wasted. Surprisingly, one of the most effective strategies for reducing food waste doesn’t have to do with food directly. Instead, it involves societal changes such as reducing poverty, improving access to education and promoting equal rights. In general, quantity of food isn’t the problem, but rather access to the food itself. When people can escape poverty, society as a whole can afford to pay farmers more for their crops, meaning farms can sell their produce domestically rather than export it. Increasing small farms’ profits also enables them to access the resources they need to farm sustainably and further increase yields. So, as it turns out, the earth likely does have enough natural resources to meet our growing demand for food, but it’s not quite as simple as just growing more food. We need to start making some fundamental changes in the way we think about food, agriculture, poverty and hunger to make sure everyone has enough to eat. Images via Unsplash and Pixabay (1) , (2) ,  (3)

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Is there enough water and land on Earth to meet global food demands?

The EPA wants to limit what science can be used to create regulations

April 25, 2018 by  
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Just weeks after this year’s March for Science ,  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt is taking a shot at science — “secret science,” in his words . Pruitt recently proposed a rule that would limit the kinds of research the agency could draw on in crafting regulations. Reuters described the move as “an apparent concession to big business” which has angled for the restrictions for a long time. Pruitt’s proposal would mean the EPA wouldn’t be able to use scientific research based on confidential data. That means the agency would only be able to draw on studies that make all their data publicly available for everyone to scrutinize, according to NPR . The administrator said in a statement, “The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an end. The ability to test, authenticate, and reproduce scientific findings is vital for the integrity of rulemaking process. Americans deserve to assess the legitimacy of the science underpinning EPA decisions that may impact their lives.” The EPA’s statement said the proposal is consistent with scientific journals like Nature and Science ‘s data access requirements. Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science But some scientists are worried — the move could place crucial data off limits. NPR quoted Sean Gallagher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science ‘s senior government relations officer, as saying, “Our concern with this is they are quite literally limiting the best available science that can be used by the EPA.” Epidemiological studies are often utilized in the agency’s regulatory decisions, and Gallagher said, “Those studies involve people like you and me, signing confidentiality agreements that the scientists doing the studies won’t reveal my personal health information, like my vital statistics, or my death certificate, if I die during the course of the study. This is the kind of science that the EPA relies on, whether it looks at chemicals or particulates and their mortality or health effects. It involves private data.” The proposal won’t enter into force yet; Reuters said there will be a 30-day comment period and the proposal would need to be finalized. + Environmental Protection Agency Via Reuters and NPR Images via Gage Skidmore on Flickr and NRDC pix on Flickr

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