Call for Action on Climate Change by Renown Chemistry Professors’ Bell and Shakhashiri

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In the March 17, 2014 Issue of Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 92 Issue 11, two renown educational scientists decided to co-author an editorial in the prestigious magazine to alert the public and politicians about the facts, causes, implications, and yes, the danger of unmitigated acceleration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the need for immediate action to stem the growing changes to the earth’s climate. Their names are Jerry A. Bell and Bassam Z. Shakhashiri .

Dr. Bell is an emeritus professor in the department of chemistry at Simmons College, Boston, and chair of the American Chemical Society’s Presidential Working Group on Climate Science. After deciding on a career in science, Bell earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry followed by a PhD in Chemistry, both from Harvard University. During his time at Harvard, he worked as volunteer tutoring students in math and science.

Dr. Bell went on to hold teaching and research positions at colleges across the country, including UW-Madison, the University of California-Riverside, Brandeis University and Simmons College. He served at the National Science Foundation as director of the Division for Teacher Preparation and Enhancement (1984-1986), as director of the UW-Madison Institute for Chemical Education (1986-1989). He was director for Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1992-1999), and was a senior scientist with the Education Division at the American Chemical Society (1999-2009) where he continues to serve as a consultant. He is widely recognized for his outstanding contributions to science education by many major awards including the ACS George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education (2000), the ACS James Flack Norris in Chemistry Education (1992) and the Chemical Manufacturers Catalyst Award (1977), and he travels to Wisconsin to work on programs of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL), founded by Dr. Shakashiri in 2002 who serves as its director. Bells work on behalf of the WISL in the Washington, DC area includes activities with educational groups and laboratory research in the chemistry department at the University of Maryland-College Park.He lives in Silver Springs, MD, with his wife, Mary Ann.

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri is the first holder of the William T. Evjue Distinguished Chair for the Wisconsin Idea at UW-Madison. He is well known internationally for his effective leadership in promoting excellence in science education at all levels, and for his development and use of demonstrations in the teaching of chemistry in classrooms as well as in less formal settings, such as museums, convention centers, shopping malls and retirement homes. The Encyclopedia Britannica sites him as the “dean of lecture demonstrators in America.” His scholarly publications, including the multi-volume series, Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry, are models of learning and instruction that have been translated into several languages. He is an advocate for policies to advance knowledge and to use science and technology to serve society. He promotes the exploration and establishment of links between science, the arts and the humanities, and the elevation of discourse on significant societal issues related to science, religion, politics, the economy, and ethics. Professor Shakhashiri was the 2012 president of the American Chemical Society, and will serve a one-year term as immediate past president in 2013.

A native of (Anfe, El-Koura) Lebanon, Professor Shakhashiri is the son of the late Dr. Zekin A. Shakhashiri, a pioneer in public health at the American University of Beirut, and the late Adma N. Shakhashiri, an alumna of what is now Lebanese American University. The Shakhashiris — father, mother, son and two daughters, Amal and Maha — came to the United States in 1957 when Bassam was 17 years old with one year of college (at the American University of Beirut) behind him. He completed undergraduate work at Boston University (Class of ’60) with an A. B. degree in chemistry, served as a teaching fellow at Bowdoin College for one academic year and then earned M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry at the University of Maryland (’64 and ’68, respectively).

After a year of post-doctoral research and two years as a junior member of the chemistry faculty at the University of Illinois-Urbana, Professor Shakhashiri joined the faculty of the UW-Madison in 1970, a position he still holds. In 1977 he became the founding chair of the UW System Undergraduate Teaching Improvement Council, now called the Office of Professional and Instructional Development. In 1983 he founded the Institute for Chemical Education (ICE) and served as its first director. His work with ICE inspired the establishment of the Center for Biology Education, the Merck Institute for Science Education, the Miami University (of Ohio) Center for Chemical Education, the Sacred Heart University SMART Center, and others. In 2002 he founded the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL) and continues to serve as its director.

From 1984 to 1990 Professor Shakhashiri served as Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Science and Engineering Education. As the NSF chief education officer he presided over the rebuilding of all the NSF efforts in science and engineering education after they had been essentially eliminated in the early 1980’s. His leadership and effectiveness in developing and implementing national programs in science and engineering education have helped set the annual NSF education budget at its current level of over $900 million. His NSF strategic plan launched the systemic initiatives and most of the other NSF education programs of the last two decades.

Professor Shakhashiri has given over 1400 invited lectures and presentations in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and South America. He has been featured in newspapers, magazines, national and local radio and television; these include the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, the German-language Business Week, NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio, CNN, and the Larry King show. He appears as a regular guest on the Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Professor Shakhashiri is the recipient of over 35 awards, including Outstanding Lecturer of the Year in General Chemistry, University of Illinois (1969 and 1970), the 1977 Kiekhofer Distinguished Teaching Award from UW-Madison, and the 1979 Manufacturing Chemists Association Catalyst Award. He is the youngest recipient of two of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) most coveted recognitions — the James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry (1983) and the ACS George Pimentel Award in Chemical Education (1986); he has been a member of the ACS since 1962. In 1982 he was given the Ron Gibbs Award of the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers for “outstanding contributions to science education at the local, regional, national, and international levels.” In 1987, he was cited for distinguished public service by the District of Columbia Science Education Association, the National Science Teachers Association, the South Carolina Academy of Science, and the Boston University General Alumni Association.

He received the 2002 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, “for his tireless efforts to communicate science to the general public, and especially children.” In 2004 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the national chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma. In 2005 he received the Madison Metropolitan School District Distinguished Service Award for a Citizen, the Chemical Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists, the ACS Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach for “lifelong accomplishments and for explaining and demonstrating science with charisma and passion.”In 2006 he received the Rotary Senior Service Award from the Rotary Club of Madison. In 2007 he received the National Science Board Public Service Award and was cited for “extraordinary contributions to promote science literacy and cultivate the intellectual and emotional links between science and the arts for the public.” In 2008 he received the inaugural Emerson Science Advocacy Medal from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and was cited for “distinguished, sustained, and lasting contributions in the development of the sciences.”

Professor Shakhashiri is an elected fellow of the South Carolina Academy of Science, the Alabama Academy of Science, the New York Academy of Science, and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. He is the recipient of honorary doctoral degrees from George Washington University, Illinois State University, Ripon College, University of Colorado, Grand Valley State University, University of South Carolina and Lebanese American University. He is a national and international consultant to government agencies, academic institutions, industry, and private foundations on policy and practice matters related to science and to education at all levels. Professor Shakhashiri and his wife, June, live in Madison.

In the March 17, 2014 Issue of Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 92 Issue 11, the two renown educational and chemical scientists decided to join forces and co-author an editorial about the urgent need for climate action. A reproduction of that editorial follows.

“Action On Climate Change”

By Jerry A. Bell, Bassam Z. Shakhashiri

In Chemical and Engineering News

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are increasing. The well-known greenhouse effect caused by these gases traps solar energy, warming Earth’s atmosphere, land, and oceans and melting its ice. Thermal expansion of ocean water and liquid from melting land ice are raising sea levels, and dissolution of more carbon dioxide is lowering ocean pH. These observed changes are largely caused by human activities. The burning of fossil fuels drove the Industrial Revolution, which enormously raised the standard of living of much of the world, but it is also changing the climate.

Large increases in the amount of energy in Earth’s climate system of necessity produce changes, such as more water vapor in the air and more intense storms. The extent of these effects is not yet well characterized. But, as the system gains more energy, climate changes are likely to be larger and more lifestyle disruptive. Because the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases are responsible for the buildup of energy in the climate system, actions to reduce emission of these gases are needed now.

Actions by individuals and society as a whole, which includes scientific professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society (ACS), are required. Individuals, for example, can use more efficient lighting and appliances, make greater use of public transportation, drive low-emission vehicles, teleconference more and travel less, support efforts to mitigate the undesired consequences of climate change, and encourage government representatives to do the same. ACS has implemented approaches such as these in its headquarters buildings, which have been awarded platinum certification by the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Chemists and other scientists can reinforce their knowledge of climate science by using the ACS Climate Science Toolkit. The tool kit provides scientists with the background and incentive to engage others in discourse on the issues raised by climate change and the need to take action. Individual actions have small effects on energy consumption, but inaction has zero effect.

Individuals acting collectively—that is, society working through the social contract—can implement even more effective measures to mitigate climate change. But because the effects of collective action are larger and may affect individuals differently, these actions are more controversial, even when based on sound scientific and economic principles. An example of such a measure is a revenue-neutral carbon tax imposed at the source—the wellhead, mine, or port of entry. As the cost of the carbon is passed along, individuals have an incentive to lower their carbon footprint. As they do so, the value of their share of the tax proceeds that are distributed is maximized, and overall energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. In practice, the political will of the collective is required to enact any such approach, as is agreement that continued climate change will result in the severe consequences that climate scientists expect.

A responsibility of ACS is to further support and fortify its members in their efforts to communicate the science and effects of climate change. ACS has done this with its Climate Science Challenge Grants that local sections have received. ACS must continue to promote the ACS policy on global climate change developed by the Committee on Environmental Improvement and approved by the ACS Board of Directors. The policy provides credibility for members as they interact with others, including elected representatives, about the consequences of climate change. ACS should energize its members and affirm its commitment as a leader among scientific professional associations to advocate for local, national, and international actions that reduce the effects of climate change for the benefit of Earth and its people.

Chemical & Engineering News

ISSN 0009-2347

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

emperor-penguins

Despite the excellent presentation of the facts and the implications by these renown scientists, our U.S. Congress, state Legislatures and governors, and the governments of other countries have been taken little or no timely action to meaningfully attack the source of this growing world calamity.

Putting off expensive measures to curb climate change will only cost the United States more in the long run. “Each decade we delay acting results in an added cost of dealing with the problem of an extra 40 percent,” said Jason Furman, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.”We know way more than enough to justify acting today,” Furman told reporters, drawing her conclusions from 16 recent economic studies that modeled the costs of climate change. The report was being released as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held public hearings on its plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants – the centerpiece of Obama’s climate action plan, in June 2014.

It’s not just the Obama administration that has been issuing these dire projections to detail the likely results of continuing the status quo of “business as usual” societal practices.

In June, a bipartisan report commissioned by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and environmentalist Tom Steyer forecast a multibillion-dollar price tag for climate costs, such as property losses from storms, declining crop yields and soaring power bills during heatwaves. Their jointly prepared report Risky Business found the U.S. faces significant economic risks from climate change. Former HHS Sec. Donna Shalala and Johns Hopkins Dean Emeritus Dr. Alfred Sommer: “Imagine if we experienced multiple Chicago heat waves every summer, in cities all across the country. That is the direction we are headed unless we change course and take strong, decisive action to curb climate change.” “Everything that is challenging about producing more food for a world that is more populous, more urban and more affluent becomes more so when faced with a changing climate”, said Greg Page, executive chairman of Cargill Inc., the company headquartered in suburban Minneapolis that provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services throughout the world in his article “Agriculture must engage in climate change discussion” in the August 10, 2014 Des Moines Register. We’ve already seen what climate change has brought to the most populous state in the country: California.

The following is by Ian James, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun (in USA Today)
main02tdsdroughtsituation-12 (1)  Cracks spread across the dry bed of parched percolation pond one at the Whitewater Groundwater Replenishment Facility near Palm Springs on Wednesday. / Crystal Chatham/The Desert Sun

In California, record heat is adding to extreme drought. The first half of 2014 was by far the hottest in California in 120 years of record-keeping, and that heat is exacerbating one of the most devastating droughts in state history along with massive, too numerous to count major wildfires.

Month after month, the red and burgundy patches on the California drought map have been spreading, with 82 percent of the state now classified as being in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor website.

Reservoirs have been shrinking, aquifers have been declining, and an estimated 5 percent of the state’s irrigated farmland, from the Central Valley to Southern California, has been left dry and withering.

The increasingly dire water situation across California is being compounded by unusual heat. Long-term weather records maintained by the National Climatic Data Center show that California had its warmest January-June period since record-keeping began in 1895, with the average temperature 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average and more than 1 degree warmer than the previous record, set in 1934. July figures have yet to be released.

“In the business of climate science, this is a shattering of a record,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences and co-director of the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment. “We are fairly certain that the unusual warmth is mostly due to human-caused global warming.”

For climate scientists, it can be difficult to trace the influence of climate change in the weather patterns of a year or two. But after decades with average temperatures on the rise, Overpeck said the extraordinary heat during this drought makes it a “global warming drought” that is indicative of the hotter dry spells expected in the future.

While California and the West is naturally prone to drought and have experienced long-lasting mega-droughts in the past, scientists say the long-term trend of rising average temperatures is now packing an extra punch. Hotter temperatures worsen droughts by reducing mountain snowpack and causing more evaporation from streams and reservoirs. Heat also draws more moisture from plants and the soil, and increases the amounts of water needed to irrigate crops and vegetation.

Meteorologist Richard Heim, a drought expert with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, said he has been amazed as high temperature records have been blown away this year in California.

“I’m just, ‘Wow,’ looking at these trends. Can it get any worse? Well, the models say yeah,” Heim said. “But how much more can we take as a society, as individual people? And how much more of this can the infrastructure and policies that have been put in place to deal with this at the state level, federal level, local level, how much more of this can you guys take?”

High pressure turns up heat

The main weather feature behind the drought and record temperatures has been a persistent high-pressure ridge over the West and the eastern Pacific Ocean. It has been called the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” since Stanford University graduate student Daniel Swain coined that term on his California Weather Blog last year, and the ridge has been keeping storms away from the region.

There is also a two-way relationship between the drought and heat, Heim explained. While the hotter temperatures are contributing to drier conditions, those same dry conditions are in turn amplifying the higher temperatures a bit. This occurs because dry ground tends to heat up faster than wet ground, adding more heat to the air.

In Sacramento as well as Washington, lawmakers have been debating measures that proponents say are aimed at coping with the drought and helping the West become more resilient to face growing water scarcity.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Rancho Mirage, for instance, has recently backed legislation focused on addressing the drought and the impacts of climate change.

“As far back as 1995, climate scientists have predicted that increasing global temperatures would lead to more severe droughts in some regions of the world. We know that climate change is linked to the type of intense, record-breaking droughts that we are experiencing in California,” Boxer said by email. “The intensity and frequency of droughts will continue to worsen unless we take steps to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution.”

In addition to promoting President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, Boxer touted the recently-passed Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which she said will help California respond to the deepening drought. The law will enable communities to obtain financing for projects such as water recycling, desalination and repairs of old water infrastructure.

Boxer, who leads the Environment and Public Works Committee, recently introduced another bill that would back local investments in water recycling and groundwater management, expand grants and rebates for water conservation, invest in water-related research, and create an open water data system. She said the measure would “help local communities take steps to become better prepared for drought.”

El Nino reprieve unlikely

Earlier this year, predictions of an El Nino raised hopes that a strong warming of the tropical Pacific could lead to drought-ending rains in California and the West. But in the past week, the National Weather Service updated its forecast and said the chance of an El Nino forming has decreased from about 80 percent to 65 percent during the fall and early winter.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson said, however, that an El Nino wouldn’t necessarily mean relief because both the wettest year and the driest year in the past 60 years were El Nino years.

“For Northern California, El Nino by itself is not a strong predictor,” Anderson said. “So we’ll have to look elsewhere.”

One wet winter could go a long way toward refilling many of the state’s dwindling reservoirs. But the depletion of the state’s aquifers is a much deeper problem.

“It will probably take a number of wet years,” Anderson said, “to make up some of the groundwater deficits that have been incurred.”

Groundwater vanishing

In many areas of California and the Southwest, groundwater levels have been declining for years as water has been heavily pumped for farmland and expanding development. The drought has added significantly to those strains.

In a new study, NASA and UC Irvine scientists used satellite data to track changes in the Colorado River Basin and determined that since late 2004, the region has lost nearly 53 million acre-feet of water. That’s almost double the volume of water that can be held in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. The researchers also found that more than three-quarters of the water extracted was groundwater.

“That really forces you to raise your eyebrows and think about how long we can keep doing this, how long we can keep depleting groundwater at that rate,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the study’s authors.

Famiglietti said the era of abundant water is clearly over in the West, and that the rapid declines of many aquifers point to a need for better management and additional studies to determine how much groundwater remains.

“We can see that we’re using a lot of it and so now we need to figure out how much is left,” Famiglietti said. “We need to do these explorations that need to be done – as if it were oil.”

Dramatic declines in the level of Lake Mead offer a glimpse of larger changes in water supplies taking place underground and across the region. The reservoir last month dropped to a record low, driven down by a 14-year drought that scientists say is one of the most severe to hit the Colorado River in more than 1,200 years. The lake, which supplies water to about 25 million people in three states, now stands about 39 percent full.

Rising costs

In the Central Valley, the heart of California’s $45 billion agriculture industry, water tables have declined dramatically for years – in some areas so much that the ground has been sinking by nearly 1 foot a year. And in times of drought, farms have been relying more heavily on groundwater to make up for diminished flows of water from the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A recent study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences estimated that the drought is costing the state $2.2 million this year, including $1.5 billion in direct costs to agriculture. That includes losses of farm revenues as well as higher costs to pump water.

Those costs are likely to gradually climb as the drought persists. And with aquifers declining in many areas, there have been increasing calls for regulation of groundwater.

Unlike nearly all other Western states, California doesn’t have a statewide program for managing groundwater. The lack of statewide oversight has meant that owners of private wells can often pump as much as they wish, while some local water districts have permitted their aquifers to decline dramatically.

State lawmakers are now considering groundwater proposals that would strengthen local management procedures while giving the state new authority to step in when necessary as a “backstop” to safeguard water supplies.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also been debating proposals for a state water bond to go before voters. An $11.1 billion water bond is on the November ballot, but Gov. Jerry Brown has instead called for a “no-frills” $6 billion plan that would support projects ranging from water recycling to water efficiency improvements. Some of the money would also go to projects to protect and restore water habitats.

Water restrictions

As the drought persists, the effects on wildlife are also likely to grow more severe. Already, researchers in some parts of Southern California have been finding that birds of prey such as hawks seem to be reproducing less because they are finding less to eat.

“We’ve been seeing raptors that have not been breeding successfully, some of them showing signs of starvation, and that’s an indicator,” said Michael Lynes, director of public policy for the National Audubon Society in California.

The latest Monthly Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service predicts that in the coming weeks, the drought will likely persist or intensify across California and much of the West, with the heat also continuing. That will probably lead to increasing calls from the state and local water districts for Californians to cut back on water use.

The State Water Resources Control Board last month announced mandatory water restrictions, barring the washing of driveways and yard watering that creates runoff, among other things, and calling for fines of up to $500.

The state also instructed local agencies to activate water shortage contingency plans and restrict outdoor watering. Drought-plagued California set the record for the warmest first seven months of the year since records began there in 1895. The National Climatic Data Center found that the statewide average temperature was 60.9 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

This beat the previous record warm January-to-July period by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a huge margin in the climate data world, where records are often set or missed by tenths of a degree.

Cracked earth is visible on what used to be the bottom of the Camanche Reservoir on August 8, 2014 in Ione, California. As the severe drought in California continues to worsen, the majority of the State’s major reservoirs are at or below 50 percent of capacity.

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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