Obama asks congress for $$$ to fight Zika

President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika at home and abroad and pursue a vaccine, the White House said on Monday, but he added there is no reason to panic over the mosquito-borne virus.

Zika, spreading rapidly in South and Central America and the Caribbean, has been linked to severe birth defects in Brazil, and public health officials’ concern is focused on pregnant women and women who may become pregnant.

Obama’s request to Congress includes $200 million for research, development and commercialization of new vaccines and diagnostic tests for the virus.

Read more from Reuters here.

Lots of science discussion in the #SOTU #ThanksObama

Last night, Obama gave his final State of the Union (SOTU) address. As one would expect, there was a lot of discussion about the economy and national security, but Obama also made sure to bring up scientific topics as well! YAY! Here are some highlights:

-Obama announced that VP Joe Biden will spearhead an initiative to cure cancer.  We all know that cancer is not just ONE thing that can be cured, but it’s nice to have people in the Oval office concerned with battling this deadly disease. Here’s Biden’s current “moonshot to cure cancer

-Obama also pushed for solar and other renewable forms of energy while also alluding to penalizing the use of fossil fuels. Climate ftw!

-Also on the climate front, Obama again solidified his stance on climate change

“If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it,” stated President Obama. “You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

-Obama also commented that he will be pushing congress to fund efforts to end HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

-You can’t discuss scientific topics without bringing up Space! Obama referenced recent efforts of private spaceflight (for example, SpaceX) and also asked to reignite the spirit of innovation in America. It’s been almost 50 years since we’ve been on the moon, after all.

It’s always nice to see science in politics, and we are especially excited that Obama always has scientific research, development, and innovation on his agenda. To see the complete list of science topics in the SOTU, check out the list at Popular Science.

Obama rejects building of the Keystone XL oil pipeline! #climate #change #YesWeCan

Making this decision has been on Obama’s plate for almost as long as he’s been president… and finally today, Obama has rejected construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that proposed to run from Canada into the U.S. Supporters of the bill said that this would create jobs and help decrease our dependency on middle east oil. Opponents of the bill argued that this would be a terrible idea for the environment (among other reasons). This is a major win for environmentalists and also a huge positive step to curb climate change!!

For more info, check out the New York Times article

Obama to reveal new rules on clean power plan TODAY! #StayTuned #ClimateChange

From the Guardian:

Obama’s clean power plan hailed as US’s strongest ever climate action

Hundreds of businesses including eBay, Nestle and General Mills have issued their support for Barack Obama’s clean power plan, billed as the strongest action ever on climate change by a US president.

The rules, being announced on Monday, are designed to cut emissions from power plants and have been strengthened in terms of the long-term ambition as originally proposed by the president last year, but slightly weakened in the short-term in a concession to states reliant on highly-polluting coal.

White House adviser Brian Deese said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules represented the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution that is fuelling climate change”. The US is the world’s second biggest carbon emitter after China.

The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power. Republican presidential hopefuls moved quickly to voice their opposition, saying they would be economically damaging.

But 365 businesses and investors wrote to 29 state governors to strongly support the rules, which they said would benefit the economy and create jobs.

Other signatories included Unilever, L’Oreal, Levi Strauss, L’Oreal, Staples, renewable energy company SunEdison and Trillium Asset Management, which manages $2.2bn in assets. It is the largest group of businesses to support the rules so far.

The final rules propose a 32% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels, up from the initial proposal of 30%. However states will only have to comply by 2022 rather than 2020 as originally proposed, and will be able submit their plans on meeting the targets by 2018 instead of 2017.

Monday’s version of the rules also gives an explicit boost to wind and solar power, angering the natural gas industry which will still be a large beneficiary of the switch from coal to gas-fired power plants, which produce much lower emissions.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a trade body, said it was “disappointed and discouraged” by the rules. The Solar Energy Industries Association, on the other hand, said they were “historic” and “critically needed.”

The new rules will give a “give a head start to wind and solar deployment”, according to a White House fact sheet. “Drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30 % more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy,” it said.

Barack Obama, in a video address, emphasised the health benefits of reduced air pollution from coal plants, and a duty to future generations as reasons for the clean power rules.

“Power plants are the single biggest source of the harmful carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. But until now there have been no federal limits on the amount of that pollution those plants can dump into the air. Think about that,” he said.

Obama’s plan to bring in the rules to cut emissions from power plants – which account for a third of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions – date back to 2009 when the EPA declared carbon emissions a public danger, the first step towards regulating them.

The final rules are likely to be welcomed by the United Nations, which is hosting a climate summit in Paris at the end of the year to agree on deal on post-2020 curbs on emissions, as well as financing to help poorer countries deal with global warming.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Washington DC-based thinktank the World Resources Institute, said: “The clean power plan should reassure international partners that the US administration is determined to deliver the 26-28% emissions reductions promised for 2025.

“Our analysis suggests that this rule can be implemented without technical or financial impediment, and in a manner that is likely to promote more, not less, economic prosperity.”

Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s administrator, said she believed the agency was on strong legal grounds for defending the rules from the legal challenges they are almost certain to face.

“Over the next few days we will hear the same tired old plays from the old special interests playbook,” said McCarthy.

The White House appreciates the value of basic research #ScienceFTW!!!

From the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House:

The Value of Basic Research

People’s appreciation of game-changing new technologies frequently ignores the long, often twisting path that transforms an idea from fundamental discovery to practical application.  Those who pay for the national research agenda may not always be aware of the early and fundamental work that makes today’s technologies possible.  For example, it was basic research presented in a then-obscure scientific paper by Albert Einstein in 1917 that ultimately translated into the invention of laser technology four decades later.  The development of similarly groundbreaking technologies that promise to transform and improve our lives hinges on our investments in fundamental, curiosity-driven research today.

But basic science has long been under fire. Between 1975 and 1987, the “Golden Fleece Award” was established and bestowed upon projects they deemed “the biggest, most ridiculous or most ironic example of government spending or waste.” Often, the “winners” were Federally funded scientific research projects taken out of context and cited without explanation.

For instance, Golden Fleece Awards were given to:

  • Federal grants awarded to scientists seeking to determine why rats, monkeys, and humans clench their jaws.
  • A Government study on alcohol and aggression in fish and rats.
  • A Government-sponsored project to investigate the mating habits of the screwworm, an agricultural pest.

It was easy to call out these examples based on title alone. But, in an ironic (yet predictable) twist, each of these projects ultimately resulted in important and useful discoveries.

  • The jaw-clenching research helped NASA and the Navy address problems associated with confining humans to small spaces for extended periods in space and underwater.
  • Examining the effects of alcohol on aggression in fish and rats led to scientific insights about how alcohol affects people.
  • Understanding the mating habits of the screwworm led to the ultimate eradication of the pest through the use of sterile insects, saving the U.S. cattle industry approximately $20 billion.

The heyday of the Golden Fleece Award has passed, but misunderstanding of the value of basic research and its ties to valuable applications, products, and knowledge survives today.

This is particularly true in the area of social science, where discoveries are often less tangible and developed though unexpected paths. Game theory, for example, had its roots in an analysis of gambling behaviors in 1713. Subsequent work supported by the Federal Government generated far-reaching applications that have profoundly influenced predictions about economics, human behavior, and biological systems. Basic research on game theory enabled the Federal Communications Commission to design complex auctions of the Nation’s telecommunications spectrum, netting tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. treasury.

These examples underscore one of the most exciting features of scientific research: the process of exploring the natural world in pursuit of fundamental understandings can often deliver surprising new insights. Sometimes knowledge contributes to our understanding of the world around us; other findings may lead to practical applications now, or many years in the future.  One of the hallmarks of science is that the path to knowledge is often indirect, and that in addition to rigorous investigation, discovery is often shaped by serendipity, human curiosity, and sometimes even heroism.

That’s why President Obama has staunchly supported both curiosity-driven and mission-oriented research investments across his Administration, including $146 billion for R&D overall in his proposed FY 2016 Budget —  an $8 billion or 6 percent increase from 2015 enacted levels. The Administration is alsospeaking out against efforts to gut funding for Earth science research and the social sciences, and is similarly opposed to placing increased administrative burdens on scientific agencies that fund the kinds of fundamental research that keeps America on the cutting-edge.

The road to many of the next great scientific or technological advances will start with basic science. I encourage you to share your favorite examples of basic research that led to unexpected insights or game changing applications on social media using #BasicResearch

Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Climate Change Fantasy Tournament #SassyObama

Alright guys, time to weigh in on who you think is the biggest denier of climate change!  Thanks to Mr. Obama, you can participate in the Climate Change Fantasy Tournament (it’s a different kind of March Madness).  First round is now. Is this funny, or all too real?

Despite the overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is real and man-made, these sixteen members of Congress prefer to live in a fantasy world, refusing to accept the basic facts. You can learn more about their denial here. Help us pick the worst of the worst. Vote now!

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Obama vetoes keystone XL pipeline bill

Reported in the NYTimes:

President Obama on Tuesday rejected an attempt by lawmakers to force his hand on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, using his veto pen to sweep aside one of the first major challenges to his authority by the new Republican Congress.

With no fanfare and a 104-word letter to the Senate, Mr. Obama vetoed legislation to authorize construction of a 1,179-mile pipeline that would carry 800,000 barrels of heavy petroleum a day from the oil sands of Alberta to ports and refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Environmentalists are applauding the decision:

In recent months, the environmental activists — who have spent years marching, protesting and getting arrested outside the White House in their quest to persuade Mr. Obama to reject the project — have said they are increasingly optimistic that their efforts will succeed.

“Hopefully the ongoing legislative charade has strengthened his commitment to do the right thing,” said Bill McKibben, a founder of the group 350.org, which has led the campaign to urge Mr. Obama to reject the pipeline.

The debate began in 2008, when the TransCanada Corporation applied for a permit to construct the pipeline. The State Department is required to determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest, but the last word on whether the project will go forward ultimately rests with the president.

Mr. Obama has delayed making that decision until all the legal and environmental reviews of the process are completed. He has said a critical factor in his decision will be whether the project contributes to climate change.

Last year, an 11-volume environmental impact review by the State Department concluded that oil extracted from the Canadian oil sands produced about 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventionally extracted oil.

But the review said the pipeline was unlikely to contribute to a significant increase in planet-warming greenhouse gases because the fuel would probably be extracted from the oil sands and sold with or without construction of the pipeline.

This month, environmentalists pointed to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency that they said proved that the pipeline could add to greenhouse gases.

The question of whether to build the pipeline comes as Mr. Obama hopes to make climate change policy a cornerstone of his legacy. This summer, the E.P.A. is expected to issue sweeping regulations to cut greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, a move experts say would have vastly more impact on the nation’s carbon footprint than construction of the Keystone pipeline.

While the pipeline may still not be 100% shut down, this is an environmentally friendly step in the right direction!