Solar Power Matters To Letterman In His Retirement

I noted last year that David Letterman would be dealing with climate change in his first major post-retirement television gig.  As part of the second season of Years of Living Dangerously (now on the National Geographic channel), Letterman went to India to talk energy.  His episode will premiere on October 30, and there are now some video clips.

This first one focuses on Letterman’s interview with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.

The second clip is about solar panels and reflects Letterman’s previous work in late night.

The program typically airs two ‘stories’ in each episode.  In addition to Letterman’s story, the October 30 premiere will include Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong investigating the adoption (or not) of solar power in the United States.  Continuing the late night trend, Aasif Mandvi, former correspondent for The Daily Show, is part of another episode in Season 2, focusing on how changes in drought patterns affect wildlife populations.

Disproving Star Trek Can Be A Good Thing, At Least Where Whales Are Concerned

While this week marks the 50th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode on television, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the fourth Star Trek film – The Voyage Home.  The shorthand for this film is ‘the one with the whales.’  Kirk and company travel back to Earth and find it suffering from the emanations of a probe seeking to talk to humpback whales.  In the history of Star Trek, that species of whale went extinct in the 21st century, so a time travel adventure ensues.

While we still have some time to screw things up for the humpback whales, things seem to be headed in a better direction.  The U.S. government has removed most of the humpback whale species from the endangered species list (H/T ScienceInsider).  NOAA Fisheries listed the species as endangered in 1970, and the International Whaling Commission has protected the species since the 1960s.

As part of a reconception of how to protect the species, NOAA Fisheries has identified 14 distinct populations of humpback whales.  Of those 14 populations, it considers 9 of them to have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the endangered list.  Four of the populations remain endangered and one is considered threatened.  FWIW, the whales in the film were in captivity, but were released in a part of the oceans where some of the populations that feed remain threatened or endangered.

Can we continue on this trend for at least the rest of the century?  I sure hope so.  As much as I’d like us to be as far along in space as the 21st century history of Star Trek suggests we are, I’m happy to have avoided various wars and at least one extinction.  May the humpbacks continue to live long and prosper.

UN Environment Programme Hosting First Science-Policy Forum

The second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is in Nairobi, Kenya from May 23-27.  The UNEA is the biennial meeting of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and preceding the main assembly UNEP has organized a Science-Policy Forum for May 19-20.  Consistent with the agenda of the UNEA, the focus of the forum will be on the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Specifically, the presentations will focus on the scientific and other knowledge necessary for informed decision making in support of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

There is a draft agenda available that lists some more specific desired outcomes for the event:

  • Better understanding of the Science-Policy Interface
  • Proposed actions for strengthening the Science-Policy Interface
  • Strengthened partnerships between the science community and UNEP
  • Policy-relevant assessment findings provided by the science community to policymakers
  • Increased focus on the importance of data for reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Increased networking among scientific organisations
  • Awareness raising of the science behind emerging environmental issues
  • Identification of frontier issues for UNEP 2017 Frontiers Report

Save for a keynote session, the first day will have tracks covering various development-relevant sectors of science.  The second day presentations are focused on identifying challenges and other items for inclusion in the Frontiers Report.  Sir Peter Gluckman, Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), will give a keynote and be part of a panel including several current or former governmental officials involved in science advise and/or the environment and science and environment writer Andy Revkin.

 

Newest Medal Of Freedom Recipients Include Figures In Science And Science Policy

President Obama recognized the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier today in a ceremony at the White House.  It’s the highest civilian honor a president can bestow for services to the country, and this year’s group include two people recognized for their contributions to science or science policy.

Katherine Johnson is a mathematician whose work for the government included service at NASA and its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).  Her 33 year career at both agencies included calculations critical to every human spaceflight program from Mercury through the Space Shuttle.  As one of the first African American women who worked for NACA and NASA, Johnson has also worked hard to encourage other women and minorities to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Also recognized this week is William Ruckelshaus, a two-time Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  He was the first to head the agency, serving from 1970-1973 under President Nixon.  Ruckelshaus instituted the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT.  He returned to the agency as President Reagan’s second EPA Administrator from 1983-1985.  Ruckelshaus also served as Deputy Attorney General and Acting FBI Director during the Nixon Administration, and was involved in environmental protection matters during the 1960s in Indiana.  Now living in Washington state, Ruckelshaus has kept active in local and national ocean and environmental matters, being appointed to various panels by both President Clinton and President George W. Bush.

Congratulations to both Ruckelshaus and Williams, and the other medal recipients.

Tell The Government How To Update Its Biotechnology Regulations

Back in July the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that it would be leading an interagency effort to review and update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (Framework). Part of the effort would include soliciting public input on both updates to the Framework and the development of a long-term strategy for dealing with emerging biotechnologies.

Last week the OSTP published a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register seeking that public input.  The submission deadline is 5 pm Eastern time, November 13.

Here are the questions listed in the RFI (the product areas and agency roles are summarized in the RFI and available in the Background section of the memorandum sent to agencies on this effort):

  1. What additional clarification could be provided regarding which biotechnology product areas are within the statutory authority and responsibility of each agency?
  2. What additional clarification could be provided regarding the roles that each agency plays for different biotechnology product areas, particularly for those product areas that fall within the responsibility of multiple agencies, and how those roles relate to each other in the course of a regulatory assessment?
  3. How can Federal agencies improve their communication to consumers, industry, and other stakeholders regarding the authorities, practices, and bases for decision-making used to ensure the safety of the products of biotechnology?
  4. Are there relevant data and information, including case studies, that can inform the update to the CF [Coordinated Framework] or the development of the long-term strategy regarding how to improve the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory system for the products of biotechnology?
  5. Are there specific issues that should be addressed in the update of the CF or in the long-term strategy in order to increase the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory system for the products of biotechnology?

While submissions can be submitted by regular mail, electronic submission is preferred.  Please see the Federal Register notice for additional information.

BBC And PBS Collaborate On Live Nature Television From The Monterey Bay

Big Blue Live is a co-production of BBC Worldwide and PBS that will air in the UK starting next Sunday, and in the U.S. starting August 31.  The live broadcasts will focus on the Monterey Bay area and the aquatic life that usually travels through the region at this time of the year.  As befits a live event in this era, there will be opportunities to watch online and comment on the action via social media.  But with the staggered broadcast schedules (the event will end in the UK the night before it starts in the US), it won’t be quite as global as it could be.

The Monterey Bay is part of the eponymous National Marine Sanctuary, so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be part of the program, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.  Parts of the program will air live from the deck of a NOAA research vessel as well as the aquarium.

Big Blue Live will air in the UK on August 23, 27 and 30.  In the U.S. it will air August 31-September 2, with live feeds for both the East and West coasts.

Nominations Sought For Sustained National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has produced three national climate assessments since 2000.  The program is also developing a sustained assessment process to provide a more robust climate change information source.  It would inform both the quadrennial assessments and other elements of the USGCRP.

To assist in that end, there will be an Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has chartered the Committee, and will forward its work to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  The Committee would provide advice on the engagement of stakeholders and on sustained assessment activities and the quadrennial National Climate Assessment report.

NOAA is seeking nominations for the committee, which will close on September 14.  The call for nominations says that the committee should have people with the following areas of expertise:

  • Communications, engagement, and education;
  • Risk management and risk assessment;
  • Economics and social sciences;
  • Technology, tools, and data systems; and
  • Climate change and variability, including impacts and societal responses

Individuals can self-nominate or nominate another individual.  An application package is required, which includes the individuals contact information, institutional affiliation, area of expertise, short description of qualifications and a résumé (no longer than four pages).  Consult the call for nominations for how to submit this information.