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Current Events from a Science Perspective

Bits and Pieces

This article contains bits and pieces, usually short comments on recent science  articles and issues. Other bits and pieces will be added with the newest at the top.

The High Cost of Doing Nothing: A  report by the National Academy of Sciences details the high economic cost of inaction on environmental legislation (2). It’s relatively easy to figure the cost of regulations to protect the environment, but relatively hard to keep from inflating the cost for political purposes.  As a Republican, I am a little ashamed that Republicans have adopted the grossly inflated annual figure of $3200 per  household. That is useful for sticker shock and propaganda, but totally inaccurate. The CBO has estimated that it would cost around $300 and that there would be added savings that would reduce the deficit.

The cost of regulations  should  be compared to the cost of doing nothing. Estimates by the World’s top economists such as Britain’s Nicholas Stern or the US’s Paul Krugman are that right now it would cost about 2% of the worlds GDP to mitigate environmental damage – but if delayed, that amount could rise to 20% or more. That also doesn’t take into account intangibles such as clean air,  clean water, and a more sustainable economy.

Ocean Acidification is Serious: Since preindustrial times, the concentration of CO2 in the air has risen from 280 ppm to 385 ppm, a 38% increase.   As the amount of CO2 in the air increases, the amount that  dissolves in the ocean increases proportionately.  When the CO2 dissolves in seawater, it makes it more acidic, just as adding CO2 to soda makes it acidic. The pH of sea water has  been measured to be  more acidic by 0.1 pH unit than a century ago. Since the  pH scale  is logarithmic, the decrease of 0.1 unit means the oceans are now over 20% more acidic than a century ago and the cause is most certainly CO2.

To put that in perspective, human blood has a  carbonate buffer system similar to that of the oceans.  Normal blood pH is from 7.45 to 7.35 , and a blood pH less than 7.1 would require emergency treatment. Increasing the carbon dioxide in the blood by 38% will decreased the blood pH to about 7.25, not critical, but surely a sign that something is wrong. If the oceans get much more acidic, the coral, the fisheries, the shellfish, and the oxygen-producing plankton that give life to the oceans are threatened.

Complaints about the “scientific secrecy” are disingenuous: There is very little secrecy in science. Scientific papers are presented and openly debated at meetings where anyone can attend. The peer reviewed papers include the data, the results, and the reasoning and are available at public libraries and many are now online. Also:

Researchers are required to keep records of their research so that any other scientist with comparable training and skills could reproduce the research. The “reproducibility” of the research is an important factor in the reviewer’s evaluation of the research. The public has a right to information produced by publicly funded research and that may be requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Usually a “Gatekeeper”, such as the project’s director, is designated to handle FOIA requests. That Gatekeeper has a responsibility to see not only that the public’s rights are upheld, but also to see that the FOIA process is not abused and that the scientists are protected. (1)

Only a few things are kept confidential to preserve the integrity of the peer review process.  The main barriers preventing a better understanding of science by the public is not “secrecy”, but poor science education, the lack of responsible and informative reporting by the media, and an ongoing campaign to spread misinformation by those who find the conclusions of science inconvenient to their ideological or financial interests.

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  1. Barb Says:

    Thanks for doing the short articles–easy to read, good info and something to think about! ( my + for the “High Cost of Doing Nothing” )

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