Scientists agree that human activity is at the root of global warming. As more international protests bring the consequences of a warming planet to the mainstream media, presidential candidates are announcing how they would deal with the crisis. But will any of their plans actually work or go far enough in stemming the problem?
The Democratic National Committee recently held a 7-hour climate change town hall with presidential candidates. While we have many more months of debate and a crowded Democratic field, I’m going to grade the climate action plans of two frontrunners based on how effective I believe the plans are. We’ll start with two candidates who have been involved in politics for decades: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Joe Biden: C
While good ‘ol Joe introduced one of the first-ever climate bills to the Senate in 1986, I give his current proposal a solid C because it lacks major policies needed to combat the worst consequences of climate change. What trended on Twitter in May as #NoMiddleGround in response to campaign statements looking for climate policy compromises, his plan has very few relevant and actionable policies. Instead, Biden’s proposal seems to wait for investment in R&D to improve carbon capture technology.
The main goal in this proposal is 100% clean energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, a much later deadline than proposed by other candidates. Biden plans to accomplish this by implementing tax credits to incentivize clean energy, like expanding electric vehicle tax credits, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and regulating methane emissions (a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). However, these actions are not unique to Biden’s platform and are pretty standard for many Democratic candidates. The Biden plan calls for congressional legislation that will establish “an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than his first term in 2025.” While gaining Congressional support is necessary, this plan shows lack of substantive climate policy.
Interestingly, Biden’s plan is the first, in my knowledge, to use foreign policy to help solve the climate crisis. For example, Biden says he will not allow other countries to become destination economies for polluters, meaning polluters in the U.S. would not be able to move and pollute elsewhere, like China, which would undermine American efforts. Any effective climate strategy must be global; however, I’m not sure the U.S. can force China, or even underdeveloped nations still industrializing, to do or not do anything. Why would these countries give way to their own development just to further cultivate American riches? To note, China invested three times as much in renewable energy as the U.S. in 2017.
The Sanders plan is best described as a “$16.3 trillion microcosm of his entire ethos.” Extremely ambitious and encouraging, I give this plan a B- because it has some merits but is not completely realistic. In particular, it oversteps electrifying the transportation sector and is misguided about safety and reliability of nuclear energy.
However, Bernie goes above and beyond other candidates in demanding accountability from fossil fuel industries. If elected, Sanders says he will ensure that the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission bring criminal and civil suits for any wrongdoing. Similar to the actions the tobacco industry participated in, Sanders argues that the fossil fuel industry poured billions into denialism, hired lobbyists to fight government oversight, and contributed to politicians who would put the industry first over the safety of the planet.
Sanders’s electricity plan calls for a 100% renewables grid by 2030 without the use of nuclear energy, which some have criticized as unrealistic. While wind and solar are important contributors to the grid, these technologies alone won’t be able to succeed in complete decarbonization. Why? Well, tough challenges await during weeks or months of inclement weather due to seasonal factors or prolonged weather fronts, which result in a decline of energy output available to consumers. Nuclear energy is one possible way to help stem away from fossil fuels, but Sanders has been an opponent of nuclear energy, even calling for a moratorium on license renewals for existing plants. However, last year, nuclear energy accounted for 55% of U.S. carbon-free electricity and many energy experts argue nuclear energy is necessary for reducing carbon emissions from electricity.
The biggest problems with Sanders’ plan are how he plans to electrify the transportation sector. By 2030, he would require zero-emission vehicles, so say good-bye to typical combustion engine vehicles. Since storage is still an issue for electric vehicles, it seems optimistic that this could be solved by 2030, considering larger trucks would require a longer battery life compared to passenger vehicles without charging more frequently.
While there is no A+ climate proposal from any Democratic candidate, in all seriousness, we need action now. No matter who wins the 2020 election, the president will need to make some serious decisions about how the U.S. leads the world in this crisis. To stay informed about climate voting issues in this next election, I recommend checking out environmental groups like the Sierra Club and following scientists on Twitter like Leah Stokes (@leahstokes), climate policy researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara, and Kate Marvel (@DrKateMarvel), climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA.
A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed to be on the American Geophysical Union podcast, called Third Pod from the Sun! The episode is all about "famous" smog or air pollution events in the mid-20th century that paved the way for some of the first air quality legislation like the Clean Air Act. I was interviewed to explain the meteorology that helped influence some of these air quality events.
The first event is the 1948 Donora, PA smog event, which killed 20 people and caused respiratory problems for thousands more. The second event is termed the Great Smog of 1952 in London. Both of these events are discussed from an epidemiological perspective given by Dr. Devra Lee Davis, who was raised in Donora. These events were exacerbated by a stagnant high pressure system, or anticyclone.
This interview was my very first scientific interview and I was pretty nervous. However, I learned that it's common to see many if not most of the questions beforehand, which made the interview less stressful. In future interviews as my scientific career continues, I have a much better idea on how to prepare and what to expect.
To hear the podcast, go to:
My year as an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Voices for Science advocate has come to an end. At the beginning of this program, I had never contacted my policymakers about any topic, let alone science. I was also uncertain about balancing my work as a graduate student with more regular science outreach activities. As the year draws to an end, I wanted to reflect on my involvement in science policy due to this program and encourage others to become involved, either with this program or on your own.
Voices for Science (VFS) is a year long program sponsored by AGU starting in 2018 with two different tracks: Science communication and science policy. The goal of VFS is to grow and foster a network of talented science-communication and science-policy advocates in the United States in order to amplify and strengthen the voice of science. By building relationships with communities, journalists, policymakers, and stakeholders, this program differs from many others due to regular involvement with experts at AGU. By committing to the program, advocates agree to carry out 1 science policy or science communication outreach activity a month. After a multiple day orientation in Washington, D.C. in April, advocates conduct monthly telephone calls with AGU staff and other advocates in their region to help support these outreach activities. I found I was often completing 3-5 outreach activities a month.
My 2018 VFS class included 30 scientists from 27 different institutions across 16 states and 23 congressional districts. From April until November 2018, we collectively completed 350 individual outreach activities and engaged more than 5,500 people. At the beginning of VFS, my science policy outreach activities started small. I started this blog (yay!) and made a YouTube video about my research. Using my connections I made while visiting my policymakers on the Hill with AGU, I also sent the representative's offices new studies I thought may be of interest. In July, I wrote an op-ed about a new study linking poor air quality with diabetes and sent it to my decision makers. I was really excited when my senator's office called me to thank me for sending the editorial and to talk about air quality in my state.
After this interaction, I realized how impactful my actions were. I was always worried about "bothering" or "annoying" my policymakers, but this contact made me realize how important it is for people to share their experiences and expertise with the men and women who represent them. This may seem a little obvious to some, but I lacked the confidence to make this step before. Since then, I have contacted my representatives a lot--about science related bills I want them to support, like the Hidden Figures Congressional Medal Act, and other issues I think are important, like education. In fact, earlier this week, Maryland's Senator Ben Cardin visited the University of Maryland to talk with students about his Strengthening American Communities Act and the upcoming Higher Education Act reauthorization. I was fortunate to be involved in the student discussion and asked about the Senator's support for students in STEM given the need for 1 million more graduates in these fields over the decade. It has been pretty exciting to be a resource for my policymakers and involved in conversations about making change based on science. As the year wraps up, I am happy to announce the start of a new graduate student science policy organization at the University of Maryland called Graduate Science Policy at UMD (GSPatUMD). We do not have a website or anything yet, but I am excited to help lead this group in science policy.
I will miss the monthly calls and regular interaction with AGU and other advocates, but I am so proud of all our accomplishments. At the beginning of VFS, I was not sure what to really expect over the year. I never thought I would host a congressional letter writing breakfast about science funding in the congressional budget at the university, or write about my research and involvement for a variety of organizations, including Women in Aviation International, the American Meteorological Society, and the Journal of Science Policy and Governance (JSGP). Looking forward, I am eager to continue my involvement in science communication and science policy. Best of luck to the 2019 Class of VFS!
It's been a while since I have written! Between the holidays, submitting an abstract for an(other) international conference, and receiving a paper rejection, my days have been pretty hectic. I am definitely ready for some warmer weather and to be no longer cooped up with my snuggie and hot chocolate in my cold office.
I received my first paper rejection. While paper rejection rates are quite large in atmospheric science (many reject between 25-60% of submitted manuscripts), it was still disappointing. I had spent countless hours writing and editing, coding and perfecting figures, and checking all my calculations. All this time seemed wasted when I received the review. The reviewer brought up many valid and important questions my manuscript did not address and I understand the reviewer's concerns. However, the editor encouraged resubmission and the reviewer offered many helpful suggestions, so I have spent the previous weeks making changes and doing my best to make the paper even better. Hopefully I will resubmit by the end of the month!
Graduate school is stressful and there's always a million things to do. While I have had some setbacks, it's really meaningful for me to reflect how much I have learned and grown over the past several years that led me to this point. Mistakes are inevitable. But being able to learn from my mistakes and move on is what makes this learning experience really rewarding. There are times when I think to myself: Is this worth it? But at the end of the day, I'm curious to learn more about my field of research and share my findings with others.
A government shutdown destabilizes federal agencies that are essential for national security and safety, public health, and economic stability. On day 20 and counting of the federal shutdown, the damage on U.S. science has continued. A lot of attention has been focused on several science stories, such as:
What will the larger implications be once the shutdown ends? It is hard to say until we know exactly how long the shutdown will go, but each day is growing more and more expensive.
The shutdown is already having real-time consequences in 2019. Over 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay, many of whom are researchers at agencies like NIST, NOAA, NSF, and USDA. Since employees are banned from working, let alone opening emails, all work has stalled.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it is one small example how the shutdown is affecting the scientific integrity of data collection. I hope that an agreement is made soon so people can get back to work and science progress will no longer be stalled.
After years of schooling, I figured I knew how to manage academic stress. However, as I spent the last month preparing for candidacy, I encountered a new kind of stress: preparing for my prospectus defense.
For those not familiar, the prospectus is the transition from Ph.D. student to Ph.D. candidate. The exact requirements depend on program and university; for my candidacy, I wrote a paper outlining the work I've completed, the research I aim to do in my dissertation, and the timeline to complete the work. I presented this research plan in front of a 5-member committee and then answered any questions regarding my research or anything I have learned in graduate school coursework.
At this point in my research, I know what I don't know. While I prepared exhaustively, the perfectionist in me was never completely satisfied with my preparation. However, I did eventually figure out how to better take care of myself during this period in my life. I hope these methods will work for me again when I defend my dissertation in a few years and maybe for a few others who are learning to manage their own stress while in graduate school.
1. Make time for friends and family.
A few days before my defense, a friend I had not seen in years was visiting Baltimore. I drove 45 minutes in the snow to go see her. At the time, taking so much time out of my day from studying caused a little anxiety, but once we were hanging out, I'm so happy I made time. I am so thankful for all my friends and family who were so supportive during this time for me--from those who helped to edit and listen to my presentation to my family praying for me to do well. I am lucky to have such considerate and understanding people in my life. Find your cheerleaders and tell them how you feel! Many people who have not been to graduate school do not understand what you are going through, so share your story.
2. Adjust your schedule.
Normally, I go to the gym during lunch or after the workday. During the preparation for my prospectus defense, I found myself skipping the gym altogether. Exercise has been shown to relieve stress and boost endorphins, so I knew it was important to not completely forgo physical activity. Instead, I decided to go to 7:15 AM fitness classes (note: this is something I did twice throughout ~3.5 years of graduate school). While this is seemingly small, exercise has been the best way for me to manage my stress and anxiety and necessary for me. Figure out what you need to do to manage stress and make it a priority.
3. Believe in yourself.
Imposter syndrome is something many graduate students deal with, including me. No one knows your research better than you, so take ownership and pride in the work you have done! It is easy to be overly harsh with yourself, but think of where you were on day 1 of graduate school. While there are certainly things you may wish you did differently, the knowledge you gain from doing something wrong improves your knowledge and defines your journey. After all, we're all human and learning from our mistakes is the best way to improve.
In case you're interested, here are a few resources I came across:
Palmer, K. (July 2017) Is it still taboo to take a mental health sick day? BBC News.
Harrington, K. (May 2017). Being proactive about mental health during your PhD: a very short guide. NatureJobs Blog.
What will you be doing on Nov. 6, 2018? If you answered, “Voting in the midterm elections,” you can skim the rest of this article.
For everyone else, read on! It’s important to understand why it is important vote, where you are registered to vote and how to request an absentee ballot, if needed.
While in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I always voted absentee because I wanted a say in local elections in my hometown of Oshkosh, WI. I was particularly interested in participating in local elections because of ongoing education reform in Oshkosh and how it would affect my younger sibling’s education. Now, as a graduate student in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UMD, I vote because it is one of the easiest ways to be involved in civic engagement.
In 2008, 1.7 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 were not registered to vote—mostly because they did not know how to register or missed important deadlines. In particular, students, new to voting and to college face additional hurdles like understanding how and where to register and if identification is needed to vote or not.
Young adults ages 18-29 comprised about 21 percent of the eligible voting population in 2014, but only 17 percent of those eligible voters actually voted. Although voter turnout is typically higher in years of a presidential election, voting in local elections has a larger impact on your day-to-day life. For example, local policies such as income tax, reproductive rights and education reform are decided at the provincial level. All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats of the U.S. Senate will be contested. Additionally, 39 state and territorial governorships and other state and local elections will be decided on. In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is up for reelection, as well as Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.
Additionally, local elections are more likely decided by a margin. Even in the June 2018 Maryland primary, multiple elections were close. For example, in Prince George’s County, Rodney Streeter beat out Krystal Oriadha by 31 votes in the District 7 council race and Sydney Harrison won by 55 votes in District 9 over Tamara Davis Brown. The line “my vote does not count” is not true in local elections.
In order to vote in Maryland, you need to be a Maryland resident who has lived in Maryland for at least 6 months and registered by Oct. 16, 2018. If you register to vote with your University of Maryland address, your assigned polling place is STAMP Student Union, open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Election Day. To check if you are registered in Maryland, visit: https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch. To request a Maryland absentee ballot, your request needs to be received by the state by Oct. 30 if you want a mail or fax ballot, or by Nov. 2 for a downloaded ballot.
If you are from out of state, you will need to register for an absentee ballot. The deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot vary state to state.To check your state’s guidelines, visit Rock the Vote or Vote411.org.
As an international student, your voting opportunities are more limited in the U.S., but you can still express your right by participating in university elections, such as voting for student government association representatives or other leaders in student organizations. Additionally, noncitizens are allowed to cast ballots in municipal elections in College Park. The next City Election will be Nov. 5, 2019.
Additional resources are available through the University of Maryland’s Terps Vote coalition at http://umddepartments.orgsync.com/org/terpsvote/home. Terps Vote has resources about candidates, other dates and deadlines to keep in mind, as well as TurboVote, an online system allowing college students to easily register to vote in any state. Additionally, as part of the Freedom to Vote Act, all state universities including the University of Maryland has a direct ‘Register to Vote’ link on the registration website.
I urge everyone, and particularly students, to vote this upcoming midterm election. Casting a ballot is the best way to have a say in who will represent you and how they will address issues that matter to you. As President Lyndon Johnson said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”
Please, make your voice heard this November.
On the first day, the special guest speaker was Prof. Yuan Lee, the first Taiwanese to win a Nobel Prize in 1986 in Chemistry, and spoke about the achievements and challenges of atmospheric chemists. He quoted Sherwood Roland, another Nobel Prize recipient famous for his work understanding how chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) deplete stratospheric ozone:
I think this quote motivates scientists to continue to work hard explaining their research to the general public and policymakers. While the ozone hole is well on its way towards recovery, new environmental problems such as global warming necessitate atmospheric chemist's attention. Scientists need to be able to effectively communicate the importance of their research to properly inform decision makers whether that be in congress, at school, at home, or at work.
Particularly notable during this conference was the emphasis in encouraging early career scientists. From special talks, catered lunches, and other special events, IGAC/iCACGP strengthened our science communication skills and provided valuable resources in meeting both other early career scientists as well as established scientists in the field. I found the early career lunch with established scientists exceptionally useful. I find it hard to speak to established scientists on my own and having a space to do so with other students was a fantastic opportunity. It was also helpful to receive career advice about post-doc opportunities and learn about other atmospheric chemistry programs across the globe.
Another highlight of the early career scientist program was the early career special talk by Prof. Lee. Speaking candidly, he told us stories as a kid when he chose to play baseball in Taiwan so he could get out of school earlier or talks with his mother about becoming a Nobel Laureate before he became one. Lastly, he encouraged us to make the world a better place and to "dare to be different."
While I do not have time to discuss all what I have learned at IGAC/iCACGP, I will leave you with some of my takeaways:
Talk after talk, speakers during IGAC/iCACGP always thanked their students and peers who contributed to their work. Science is not done alone and you need a strong and supportive community to help you along. In a time of increasing environmental dilemmas, I believe this is especially true.
Attending IGAC/iCACGP has definitely been the highlight of my graduate career thus far. I am thankful for the travel support I was awarded through the University of Maryland Graduate School and my department. While international conferences are expensive, I think participating as a student helped me to gain potential career perspectives as I come closer to graduating and (hopefully?) finding a job/post-doc.
I spent last week at the 2018 joint 14th international Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution (iCACGP)/15th International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC) conference in Takamatsu, Japan. I'll post more about the conference at a later date, but wanted to give an update on Category 2 Typhoon Trami currently affecting Japan.
I am very thankful that the iCACGP/IGAC conference regularly updated attendees about the status of the typhoon. We had several days to think about changing our travel plans, contact airlines or railways, or extend hotel reservations. These regular updates were very appreciated as I considered altering my personal travel plans after the conference.
After leaving Takamatsu on Saturday, Sept. 29, I arrived in Hiroshima. The original plan was to visit the Itsukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima, but I decided to stay in Hiroshima since a ferry ride did not seem smart or fun in high winds. Hiroshima was expected to experience less severe weather than Kyoto or Tokyo.
Saturday night in Hiroshima was extremely dark and rainy. I walked around the Peace Memorial Park and was absolutely drenched by the time I returned to the hotel. However, it was not windy at all and did not observe any flooding in the areas I walked.
Hiroshima on Sunday, Sept. 30 was much more windy and rainy. At times, I needed to close my umbrella or it would have been blown away. However, I still was able to visit two art museums during the day, including Hiroshima Museum of Art and the Hiroshima Prefecture Museum of Art.
By the afternoon, winds began to pick up and rainfall was more heavy. Japan Rail suspended services so I decided to stay another night in Hiroshima. I will depart early tomorrow for Kyoto once the trains resume service.
Hiroshima will continue to experience high winds and heavy rain over the next several hours. However, compared to islands in Japan or areas in the direct path of the storm, the potential for severe damage is less. I'm hoping Typhoon Trami or other severe weather will not affect the rest of my trip.
With the end of the fiscal year looming, appropriators have made fast progress, with eight bills approved by the House and nine by the Senate. However, none of these bills have been finalized by legislators from both the House and the Senate.
Science funding is essential for supporting basic scientific research that makes scientific and technological advances possible. In an effort to engage my community at the University of Maryland with elected representatives, I hosted a congressional letter writing event asking representatives for strong support for science in FY19.
Undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of departments attended the event in the STAMP Student Union. In total, 40 letters to 8 different state's congressional representatives were written about science funding in FY19 including Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
It was really exciting to see University of Maryland students participate in contacting their congressional representatives since many had never done so before. Students wrote about how basic science has impacted their life, as well as important data sources influential in his/her own research. Participants also learned about the federal budget process.
Special thanks to University of Maryland's Graduate Student Government and the American Geophysical Union for support that made this event possible.