Archive | activism

Academic scientists and NIMBY: unionization, sexual harassment, “aspirational peers,” and other regressive 2015 moves

Academic scientists: Not in my backyard!

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2015 was an exciting and activist year in the USA, with campuses alive once more with students and faculty campaigning against racism, and for divestment of endowments from fossil fuel companies and from the Occupied Territories.

But with progress comes pushback and regression. Science is a conservative behemoth, and while academics are generally considered to be liberal, academic scientists and clinicians are often the most socially conservative members on campus.

How discouraging to see how few scientists see themselves as citizens of the world, but rather as individuals out of an Ayn Rand novel.

The University of Washington: no union for us.

One example is the unionization campaign going on the at the University of Washington, where the 750 or so faculty are debating the pros and cons of joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). As universities have relied more and more on adjuncts and other non-tenured faculty (tenure and tenure track make up less than 25% of university faculty ) , and have ignored the input of university members in favor of the desires of donors and trustees, the need for unionization and collective bargaining has become more and more apparent. Non- academic university workers, students, postdocs, and faculty members at universities all over the country have unionized or are considering unionization as a way to weather the current climate of corporatization .

Some of the 42 campuses that have unionized the last couple of years are Georgetown University, Howard University, and the University of Chicago…..but the University of Washington anti-union movement says that  “No premier research-intensive university in the U.S.- no true peer of the University of Washington, and no institution of a quality to which we aspire- has a unionized tenure track faculty.”  And they refer to the lack of unions among their “aspirational peers” of further proof that unions are not a good idea.

Led by spokespersons Paul B. Hopkins (Chemistry) and Ed Lazowska  (Computer Science and Engineering), the anti-union campaign is heavily, heavily weighted with basic and medical science signees of the Statement of Opposition .

There are several recurring threads running through the Statement of Opposition – entitlement, exceptionalism,  and not- in- my -backyard (NIMBY) being the most obvious. Basically, the statement complains that SIEU, the Service Employees International Union, represents caregivers in hospitals, janitors, bus drivers,etc,  not people with the same cares that we have. There is no evidence that our salaries would be higher with unionization. And unions in general try to get better salaries across the board and if that happens, we the signers, won’t have the money to attract great faculty and it won’t be a good university any more. We would have to follow union rules, such as limited out-of-cycle raises.

“Many of the undersigned recognize the positive role played by labor unions in our country. But…..”  Yes, unions are, in principle, a great idea, but we don’t think it helps us right now- and us is a small, special group. There is no mention that some faculty are profiting by the lack of benefits, pay, and security that others function under.

The statement of opposition ends with a fantastic thought- that unions are historically associated with the Democratic Party in the USA, and many of the signers are not democrats and don’t want to be to be part of this political activity.

A comprehensive view of the pros and cons of unionization with a focus on the perspective for unionization from Amy Hagopian (Public Health) can be found here.

The University of Maryland: more postdocs at less pay for us.

Another regressive move spearheaded by scientists this year took place at the University of Maryland, College Park (incidentally, the most militarized university in the USA). Norma Andrews ( Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Iqbal Hamza ( Animal and Avian Sciences ) wrote a letter which was signed by 131 tenured/tenure-track life science faculty) to explain why some postdoc positions should not come with the same benefits of other postdoc positions- that is, to allow lab heads to pay less so they could have more postdocs . At a time when many senior scientists are trying to help postdocs, the University of Maryland faculty, as are the University of Washington faculty, are trying very hard to better themselves at the benefit of others.

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Of course, they don’t put it that way, but explain that it is better for Science, you see. And, interestingly, the bizarre phrase “aspirational peers” that appeared in the University of Washington letter made an earlier appearance in the University of Maryland letter as a reason to not better fund all postdocs…because it is not done by their “aspirational peers”.  Jonathan Dinman’s (chair of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) reiterated the aspirational peer defense at a University Senate meeting. Postdocs, seeing that faculty will not help them, may look to the success of postdoc unions  to find fair labor treatment.

Mike the Mad Biologist has an interesting blogpost on postdoc pay, with comments from postdocs- and you can see how against the grain the faculty at the University of Maryland are going in their quest to take care of themselves, first.

The University of California at Berkeley: He is ours, he is famous, and what he is doing isn’t that bad.

Through the years, women complained of harassment by Geoff Marcy (Astronomy), colleagues turned a blind eye , and while the University of California investigation of sexual harassment claims declared Marcy guilty, it also determined that Marcy’s actions warranted only a warning and strong parameters.

Social media from faculty, postdocs and the public started a wave of judgement, and finally, Marcy was forced to resign .

It was a victory, but it was a disturbingly hard-won victory. For at least 20 years , first at San Francisco State and later at Berkeley Marcy felt entitled to do what he wanted, and the silence of his colleagues, and the powers that be at San Francisco State and Berkeley protected him only until public and academic outcry made his forced resignation inevitable.

Harvard University: More recognition for me.

Being able to stand up for yourself is an important part of being a successful person and scientist. But when your reverence for yourself becomes your main task, it might be time to advocate for others. George Church tried to correct the mistake of the world in not giving enough recognition to- George Church.  Petty, and pathetic, to see a well-known and well-awarded scientist scrabble to get more for himself.

Perhaps Church is politicking to be one of the probably CRISPR Nobel laureates. His case is certainly one of the lighter cases of  2015 regressive scientist behavior, and won’t need to inspire the wonderful activism that is associated with unionization, reduction of post doc benefits, or sexual harassment.

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Academia is twitching with activism

Campuses are coming alive. Finally.

 

It’s been happening all along, but almost 5 years after Occupy, several years after protests against college endowment investments in fossil fuel companies and spirited boycott and divestment programs against Israel and its occupation of Palestine, and less than year after Black Lives Matter went from a hashtag to a movement, 

students and faculty at colleges and universities are moving to change harmful and racist behavior.

 

It has been easy for mainstream press to dismiss Occupy, as there haven’t been national policy changes that can easily be attributed to Occupy. But the local movements were hugely empowering, and participants have become committed and skilled members of other campaigns. For example, scientist Jess Spear of Occupy Seattle was successful as head of a campaign for the implementation of a $15.00 minimum wage, a movement that is itself now sweeping the country.

 

Over the past few years, more and more campuses protested environmental problems

 This April, for example, there was a standoff at Washington University against Peabody Oil and a week-long sit-in at Harvard to call for disinvestment of the endowment from fossil fuel companies. Students at Stanford just began an indefinite sit-down protest against the slow pace of its divestment of its 22.2 BILLION dollar endowment fund from fossil fuel companies. 13 universities or their foundations have divested from fossil fuels.

Black Lives Matter  is started as a hashtag in protest of brutal police actions against African Americans, and is now a movement with 26 chapters in the USA, and protests about racism on campus are growing.

 

Students at Occidental College are asking that the president step down as part of their demands to counter sexism and racism on campus, and students at Amherst have delivered a list of demands to administration to deal with racism. Protests have led to resignations. The dean of Claremont McKenna College resigned this month after students protested treatment of low-income and minority students , as did the President of the Univeristy of Missouri for racist policies. Protests at Yale as well as the University of Missouri have led to mixed reactions, of course. 

It’s happening.

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Design winner human-organs-on-chips helps rationalize the end of animal research.

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It will if Harvard cell biologist and engineer Donald Ingber and University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Don Dongeun Huh, designers of Human Organs-on-Chips, have their way.

Every year, the Design Museum in London holds a competition for the Best Design. The winner this year is Human Organs-on-Chips. A microchip perhaps the size of a domino and containing miniature wells with connections like rivers between the wells is lined with a polymer on which human cells can be grown. The experimenter can, for example, add drugs to one set of cells and measure the effect on the cells in other wells. Organ systems, using cells from individuals, can then be mimicked, and tested.

Human Organs-on-Chips had some tough competitors, in the categories of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product (the category for Human Organs-on Chips), and Transport.  I saw the exhibit early in June, and was thrilled by the many science-based entries among the 76 entrants. A project that uses a 3D printer to make arm and leg protheses was an emotional favorite of the crowd, but the beauty and simplicity of the Human Organs-on-Chips display took my breathe away. I’d read about them, but seeing them displayed, with the implications boldly stated- “A way to research drugs without testing on animals”- was a thrill…beautiful science done with a stated purpose of being an alternative to animal research.

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Human-organs-on chips is only one example of the many products  being developed to improve in vitro testing on human systems.

There are 3 main reasons scientists say they would like to cut down or eliminate animal testing: animal upkeep and experimentation is expensive, animal models do not adequately represent humans, and there are ethical issues with animal experimentation.

That there are ethical issues with animal treatment is definitely the minority reason given, and even when it is, what is meant is that other people have ethical issues with animal experimentation and that makes it more difficult for animal experimentation to be done. All those rules! And the protesters!

Drug testing is only one of many, many ways animals are used in labs. But anything, whether moral, financial, or convenience-based, that leads scientists to stop assuming that animal experimentation is a given, is good.

Meanwhile, scientists and activists are directly addressing the ethical issues of animal research. For example, physician and lawyer Ruth Decker has been working relentlessly to stop experimentation on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, starting an on- line petition against Ned Kalin, who studies rhesus macaque monkeys removed from their mothers and raised in isolation. Recently, when Ned Kalin spoke at the Univeristy of California-Davis on his research, scientists and activists, members of UCDavis Primates Deserve Better, demonstrated at the lecture to protest the cruelty of his experiments.

In March, a European Citizens Initiative with 1.17 million signatures proposed phasing out animal research. While it was rejected by the European Commission, the commission did say it would seek to speed up the development and use of alternative methods of research.

Many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research. As pointed out by the pro-animal experimentation group AnimalResearch.Info, 91 of 105 Nobel Prizes awarded for Physiology or Medicine were dependent on animal research. It is hard to change the paradigm. But every aspect of alternatives to animal testing will bring change to the culture of science. The collaboration of scientists and citizens, which brings new perspective, is vital in changing the insular and often conservative nature of science.

One nascent change is that biomedical scientists and physicians can question animal use without appearing to be “unprofessional,” an accusation and judgement that held many scientists from actually considering the morality involved in working on animals.

 

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Japanese academics say no to military research. Please sign their letter!

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There are academics over the world who don’t believe that militarism and war serve humanity, and do not want their institutions or their own work to be guided by military needs or funding.

War is absolutely not inevitable. As with climate change activism, with calls for divestment of university funds from fossil fuel companies, and increased collaborations between scientists and other citizens, scientists can speak out and act on their abhorrence of being part of killing others. We can change the culture of militarism by not participating in it.

This campaign is an effort by Japanese academics, who have noted increased military involvement in universities, to bring awareness of this issue to other academics and scientists. The website, given here in English, gives their rationale. If you agree, please sign.

PREFACE-THE GOAL OF THIS ONLINE CAMPAIGN

Ever since the end of the World War II, Japanese academics have renounced military research. This is consistent with the peaceful principles of the Constitution of Japan, in which Article 9 renounces both war as a sovereign right of the nation and the maintenance of military forces that could be used for the purpose of war. Recently, however, the Japanese Ministry of Defense has been eager to involve academics in joint research and to fund civil scientists to develop dual-use technologies that can be used in military equipment. Such a trend violates academic freedom and Japanese scientists’ vows not to take part in any research tied to war again. The goal of this online campaign is to help scientists and other people become aware of this issue so they may join us in putting a stop to military-academia joint research. Thank you for visiting our website, and we sincerely welcome your signatures to approve our appeal.
APPEAL AGAINST MILITARY RESEARCH IN ACADEMIA

Military research includes the development of arms and technologies that can be used as military equipment and strategic research to gain military supremacy, linking directly and indirectly to war. During World War II, many scientists in Japan were involved in military research to a greater or lesser extent and took part in a war of aggression. College students were conscripted into the army against their will, and many of them lost their young lives. These experiences were matters of deep regret for many scientists at that time. Soon after World War II, scientists made vows to promote science for peace, never for war. For example, the Science Council of Japan, which officially represents the collective will of scientists in Japan, made the decisions to ban military research in 1949 and renewed this commitment in 1950 and 1967. Development of anti-nuclear and peace movements in Japan encouraged scientists and students to establish their own peace declarations at universities and national research institutes. Peace declarations were finally resolved at five universities (Otaru University of Commerce, Nagoya University, Yamanashi University, Ibaraki University and Niigata University) and at 19 national research institutes in the 1980s.

Especially under the hawkish Abe administration, the peaceful principle of the Constitution of Japan has been severely violated. For example, although the export of arms and the related technologies had long been strictly restricted, Abe administration removed this ban in 2014. The Japanese government and various industries have been promoting military-academia joint research for the production of dual-use technologies. In total, as of 2014, more than 20 joint research projects have been initiated since the early 2000s between the Technical Research and Development Institute, the Ministry of Defense, and academia. The Abe administration approved the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2014 and beyond in December 2013 to further develop dual-use technologies by funding research projects to be conducted in universities and research institutes. This trend should be viewed as governmental counterattack against scientists’ vows not to take part in military research again after World War II.

It is highly inevitable that the achievements of military-funded research will not be open to the public without the permission of the military. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which was forced through the Diet in 2013 and came into effect in 2014, will strengthen control of academia by the military and state power. In addition, scientists who speak of their research may now be accused of leaking confidential information because of this new law.

What are the consequences of military-academia joint research? It is evident that academic freedom will be severely violated. One must only refer to the case of the United States, where the military-industrial-academic complex is already firmly established. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students’ right and conscience will be violated by being forced to take part in military-academia joint research in their university education program, and given their lack of experience, may be accepted without criticism. Is it ethical for professors and principle scientists to involve their students in military-academia joint research? Such research is linking to war, destruction, and murder, and will inevitably result in the devastation of higher education.

Universities should deal with universal values, such as the development of democracy, the welfare of human beings, nuclear disarmament, the abolition of poverty, and the realization of a peaceful and sustainable world. In order to ensure such activities, universities, including national universities, of course, should be independent from any governmental or political power and authority, and they should pursue the goal of human education to encourage students to aspire to truth and peace.

We are responsible to refuse to take part in war through military-academia joint research. Such research is not consistent with the principles of higher education and the development of science and technology for a better future. We are concerned that military-academia joint research will distort the sound development of science, and that men, women, and children alike will lose their trust and faith in science. Right now, we are at the crossroads for the reputation of science in Japan.

We sincerely appeal to all the members of universities and research institutes, including undergraduate and graduate students, and to citizens, not to take part in joint research with military personnel, to refuse funding from the military, and to refrain from educating military personnel.

Organizers

Satoru Ikeuchi, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics, Nagoya University,

Shoji Sawada, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Nagoya University,

Makoto Ajisaka, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Kansai University,

Junji Akai, Professor Emeritus of Mineralogy, Niigata University,

Minoru Kitamura, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Waseda University,

Tatsuyoshi Morita, Professor Emeritus of Botany, Niigata University,

Ken Yamazaki, Professor of Exercise Physiology, Niigata University,

Teruo Asami, Professor Emeritus of Soil Science, Ibaraki University,

Hikaru Shioya, Communication Engineering and Reliability Engineering,

Kunio Fukuda, Professor Emeritus of International Trade Theory, Meiji University,

Kunie Nonaka, Professor of Accoundancy, Meiji University,

and other 47 scientists.

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Shell, Scientists, and Seattle: If not now, then when?

 

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The image of Seattle kayakers protesting the Arctic-bound Shell oil drilling rig has inspired great excitement as well as derision: It is obvious to supporters and deriders alike that this action will not stop the drilling for gas and oil needed to halt global warming, or even to prevent drilling in the Arctic. It seems to be a token action, then…..but what, exactly, would work?

There is great consensus that drilling in the Arctic doesn’t make sense. If it goes well, more oil is extracted and burned, pushing the 2 degree temperature world even closer. If it doesn’t go well, if there is a spill or leak, the effect on the ocean, on deep currents, microbial and mammal ian survival could be catastrophic.

For scientists, the repercussions of drilling in the Arctic are even more straightforward.

In January, Nature article “The geographical distribution of fossil fuel unused when limiting global warming to 2 degrees C”, by Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins, said that most coal, oil, and gas must be left in the ground as using it will send the temperature higher, and the specific reserves to be reserved were listed: all of the Arctic oil and gas, the authors concluded, should be left untouched.

In April, PNAS article (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming,“  lead author Jong-Yeon Park from the Max Planck Institute of Metoerology and colleagues reported on the central importance of the Arctic in the warm-induced blooms of phytoplankton. The fragility and importance of the Arctic to world climate was underscored.

Also in April, Science published two hopeful articles about the USA’s newly started position as chair of the Arctic Council, an 8-nation group with borders in the Arctic. Both articles- “One Arctic“, by new chair Fran Ulmer , and “U.S. lays out its ambitions for leadership in the Arctic”, by Carolyn Gramling, emphasize cooperation and research. However, while Gramling implies this will be directed at global warming, chair Fran Ulmer mentions the need to balance global warming issues with the demand for resources.

And indeed, in May, the Obama administration approved Arctic drilling , and gave Shell- despite its record of spills and bad management, conditional approval to drill in the Arctic.

So if we had a brief belief that politicians might actually promote effective actions and policies, we soon had a reminder that neither science alone or politics alone would be effective.

What can be done? What should scientists do? Anything they can. This is why scientists, activists, environmentalists, and local politicians came together in Seattle to oppose the staging of the Shell oil drilling rig in the Port of Seattle/Foss Maritime- because they realized that, if not now, then when?

In the fall of 2014, the Port of Seattle decided in secret meetings to lease a terminal to Foss Maritime, who would allow Shell to berth its rig at the Foss Maritime facilities in the Puget Sound, after an “intensive industry and labor lobbying effort”  to to use Seattle as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

When the contract to lease Terminal 5 of the Port  to Foss Maritime for the berthing of the Arctic Drilling rig was finally publicly disclosed in the new year, citizens swung into action.

Seattle activists and environmental groups began organizing in February . First came legal attempts . A coalition of environmentalists went to court to ask that the Port of Seattle’s lease with Foss Maritime be vacated because staging arctic drilling is opposed to the intent of the the Port to be a distributor of cargo and goods, and violated the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council tried a similar strategy and declared the Port’s contract with Foss to be possibly inappropriate. The Port asked Foss to wait until there could be an investigation of the lease. Foss simply said no.

Saturday, May 16th, was a family-friendly kayak and shore event near the rig. Signs, singing, chanting on the Puget Sound.

The mass day of protest and civil disobedience ended peacefully on Monday, May 18th, when police refused to engage with the protesters blocking the Port’s Terminal 5, at the request of the Port. The protests had been well organized and communicated, and the Police and the Port no doubt decided to avoid bad publicity for themselves and to downplay the protests. Since the year had marked public outrage in response to 2 videos of disturbing Seattle police action (high school teacher Jesse Hagopian was pepper-sprayed while talking to his mother on the phone after the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and an older African American man was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer for using a golf club as a walking stick), it’s easy to understand why arresting peaceful kayakers and other activists might not go well.

And also on the 18th, the City of Seattle declared that Shell and Foss Maritime lacked the proper permit to host the drilling rig, that the rig must be removed, and that proper permits must be obtained by June 4. Foss and the Port of Seattle are appealing the earlier determination that Foss could not use Terminal 5 for the rig.

Using a technicality to obtain a result seems opposed to the scientific method- but it is an important part of politics and the legal system. Scientists should learn to use the legal system, and find the collaborators that can help and provide expertise.

Scientists are taking a variety of approaches to fight climate change. For example, March 24th letter signed by climate scientists and biologists urged museums to not accept funding from the Koch brothers and from other associated with fossil fuel companies. (Signatures to the letter are still being accepted.)

Scientists were part of the planning and protests against the Shell drilling rig. Sarra Tekola is part of ShellNo!, a coalition of environmental and activist groups, and is a School of Environmental and Forest Sciences student at the University of Washington, where she is also involved with convincing the University of Washington to divest its investment portfolio of stocks in the fossil fuel industry. Tekola was advised, as many scientists have been, that science and activism could not be combined, but is proving that to be a conservative fallacy.

Susan Crane Lubetkin, with a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management, studied bowhead whales in the Arctic, testified at the Port meeting on the secrecy of the Foss contract, and has commissioned a musical piece on climate change. A Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship gave her the start on learning the advocacy techniques that could help science have an impact on environmental change.

Six environmental activists from Greenpeace climbed the drill rig mid-Pacific as it headed toward Seattle as a protest against drilling the Arctic. Australian Zoe Buckley Lennox is studying Environmental Science in Brisbane, and with American Aliyah Field, joined with the Backbone Campaign and other organizations to plan the days of activism. Lennox also testified at the Port meeting on May 12 about the damage that could be caused by Shell in the Arctic. For Lennox, research needs to be balanced with action through activism, in order to protect the world we share.

Protecting the world is a good reason to practice science, but data alone won’t save it. Find your people.

————

Update May 24rd

Environmental justice student at Western Washington University, Chiara D’Angelo remains attached (so far, for almost 2 days)  to the anchor chair of Shell ship “Arctic Challenger,” in Bellingham in protest of Arctic drilling. Activist Matt Fuller, who had joined her, asked for help to come down: the conditions are extremely uncomfortable. Kayakers rallied from Cornwall Beach in Bellingham in support of the activists.

Oh, and the Navy is planning war “games” in the Arctic.

Contributions welcome and needed for the sHELLNo! campaign!

–Update September 29, 2015

From Popular Resistance!

Major Victory: Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling
Greenpeace activists rappel off the St Johns Bridge, and join people in kayaks in the Willamette river to protest Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic. Shell’s Fennica ship is being repaired at Vigor Industrial, on July 29, 2015. Mike Zacchino/Staff
RESIST! ARCTIC DRILLING, SHELL, SHELLNO!
By Terry Macalister, www.theguardian.com
September 28th, 2015
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The Social Movement for Economic, Racial and Environmental Justice played huge role in the result: “Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.”

Note: The movement has done an incredible job over the last three years protesting Shell’s arctic drilling culminating with the #SHellNo campaign this summer. The stock of Shell was dropping, its public image was taking a major hit and the company was going to see an escalation of protest against it. This was always a risky and foolish invesment. 1shell3

An important lesson for the movement, one we have seen repeated in our experience on a wide range of issues: you never know how close you are to victory. It looked like the protests had failed to stop Shell. They got their equipment into the Artic and began drilling. There were no indications of Shell giving up even last week. This should hearten all of those fighting what seem like impossible campaigs. You may be closer than you think. Keep fighting, never give up!

Of course, this is not over. There is still a rapacious desire for oil and we need to continue to push for an end to all licenses for drilling in the Arctic. We are urging people to take action to finish the job.

Send an email to President Obama today urging him to ban arctic drilling.
Tell President Obama No More Drilling In The Arctic
READ THE PETITION
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Oil giant’s US president says hugely controversial drilling operations off Alaska will stop for ‘foreseeable future’ as drilling finds little oil and gas

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition.

Its decision, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, follows disappointing results from an exploratory well drilled 80 miles off Alaska’s north-west coast. Shell said it had found oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities.

The move is a major climbdown for the Anglo-Dutch group which had talked up the prospects of oil and gas in the region. Shell has spent about $7bn (£4.6bn) onArctic offshore development in the hope there would be deposits worth pursuing, but now says operations are being ended for the “foreseeable future.”

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”
The new cold war: drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic
Read more
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat. They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won.

“The Save the Arctic movement has exacted a huge reputational price from Shell for its Arctic drilling programme. And as the company went another year without striking oil, that price finally became too high. They’re pulling out.

“Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licenced to drill in the American Arctic.”

Related Posts:

Protests Against Shell Arctic Drilling Will Continue, sHELLno! June 1, 2015
Shell Oil Faces Long Odds With Arctic Drilling August 18, 2015
Shell Leaves Climate Project It Helped Set Up Amid Arctic Drilling Row September 11, 2015
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Faces Setback As Ship Forced Back To Port July 9, 2015
Kayactivists Across The Country Protest Arctic Drilling July 21, 2015
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Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers? Sometimes!

Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers?

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Discussion on the health and environmental damage of fracking, initiated by scientists, journalists, and activists, is moving fast. Will it matter? It did in New York state, where scientists and activists working together convinced the governor to ban fracking. Scientists have not yet been as effective in Oklahoma in getting the message out about the dangers of fracking, and fracking continues although it has been linked to recent earthquakes. (See update at the end of this post.)

You wouldn’t think fracking was a problem from today’s New York Times. Energy and business correspondent Clifford Krauss’s article, “New Balance of Power,” gives cursory mention of the environment in his fracking-happy discussion.

The US is now responsible for 10% of global production of oil, and oil from the fracking of US shale fields since 2008 accounts for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth. The US is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in oil production, weakening OPEC’s control (the goal of most US energy businesses and politicians) of the price of oil. But rather than reduce oil outout to keep demand (and price) high, OPEC has maintain production in order to retain market share- and the price of oil and gas has plummeted. Krauss sees the marginalization of OPEC and the lowered oil and gas prices as excellent outcomes. He also seems quite delighted that oil-producing “foreign foes” like Venezuela and Russia have been weakened by the drop in oil prices.

What about the environment?

Oh, well, there is some distant discussion of the environment. Krauss mentions that environmentalists believe the low oil and gas prices will drive consumption up. He says that “President Obama has applauded the drop in gasoline prices, but he still straddles the interests of environmentalists with those of the oil companies when it comes to hot-button issues like offshore drilling and expanding exports of United States oil and natural gas.”

And Krauss does say that hydraulic fracking is “still considered risky by many environmentalists because of the escape of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during exploration, production and transport, along with potential seepage of toxic fluids into water supplies.”

But this completely misrepresents the dangers of fracking. He writes off damage to people and to the fracking areas as an example of the “interests of environmentalists.”  He alludes to “potential” seepage of toxic fluids. He says nothing about the many scientific studies that have linked health and environmental damage to the technique of fracking. The article is an excellent description of what activists and scientists are facing when the health and environmental issues of oil and gas production are pitted against business and political issues.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of pumping large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure into a well and surrounding rock formations to extract deep reserves of gas or oil. Its use increased in use in 2003, and more so after 2004 (when the FDA found that fracking did not harm underwater drinking water and 2005 (when fracking was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act by the Bush Administration).

It is a messy, dirty process, and problems just keep coming.

Problems such as earthquakes, fires, contaminated water, and radon generation. Problems scientists have been documenting for years.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins recently found that fracking may cause the release of radon. Uranium occurs naturally in soil and bedrock and decays to radium-226, which then decays to radon, an inert, odorless, and carcinogenic gas. It is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Indoor radon levels in Pennsylvania were correlated with fracking, as well as with well water (and with weather and a rural versus a town location).

NBC news reported flammable tap water in homes located near fracking sites in Portage County, Ohio. The injection sites themselves are dirty and dangerous. A few days ago, a fracking waste-water injection site in Greeley, Colorado exploded in flames, not far from the site of an injection well that had been linked to earthquakes  in 2014. The stored oil and gas wastewater that is used for injection contained hydrocarbons that can vaporize and it is thought that a lightening strike caused the the explosion.  On and on, in scientific publications and on the media, the problems of fracking are described and decried.

But it is the earthquakes associated with fracking that perhaps have been best documented and are drawing the most attention from the scientific and environmental world.

In November, 2011, several earthquakes- including one of 5.7 magnitude- struck Prague, Oklahoma, destroying more than a dozen homes. The quakes were located near wells where fracking has been ongoing for 20 years.

The mainstream press  reported on studies showing that a 2011 earthquake in central Oklahoma was linked to fracking. One of these was a March, 2013  paper in Geology by scientists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the United States Geological Study (USGA),  examined the  correlation between wastewater injection and the 5.7 magnitude earthquake.

A more recent article in the NY Times, online titled as “As Quakes Rattle Oklahoma, Fingers point to Oil and Gas Industry,” gives a bleak and excellent description of the interplay between scientists, citizens, the oil industry, and local politicians.

It mentions some to the earthquakes seen associated with fracking in other states, such as Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Kansas. Nowhere though, have the earthquakes approached the number and scope of Oklahoma’s, and scientists believe this is because Oklahoma’s main waster disposal site is a bed of porous limestone thousands of feet underground that lies close to the hard and stressed rock that contains faults. The soaked limestone expands and gets heavier, and impacts these faults directly or indirectly, by nearby pressure.

Scientists are speaking out in Oklahoma and elsewhere, but many are unable to hear or deal with the implications of the dangers of fracking. The oil and gas wells bring money to Oklahoma, to corporate owners but also royalties to farmers and landholders and taxes to the state. The oil and gas industry gives millions to Oklahoma universities, a situation that may be an incredible conflict of interest for academic scientists and administrators. Another conflict of interest is that the oil and gas industries are major political contributors to Oklahoma legislators, and to all three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees many regulatory aspects of fracking. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 jobs in Oklahoma are dependent on the oil and gas industry. It is not a good atmosphere in which to examine and act on data.

Thumb aafracking quote copy 1024

Governor Mary Fallin has named a council to “exchange information” about the tremors.

Activists have been working in Oklahoma to point out the dangers of fracking, but Oklahoma law enforcement has come down hard. In a widely publicized case, activists protested fracking at Devon Energy headquarters in Oklahoma City, and two were charged for enacting a terrorism hoax after hanging two banners with glitter (That’s right! Could have been bioterrorism!) and two were arrested for trespassing.

The state of New York is listening a bit better.

New York state and Governor Cuomo’s administrations’s decision to ban fracking at the end of 2014 are a blueprint for scientists and activists to modify for their own towns and areas. New York was the first state with significant natural gas resources to ban fracking.

New York state under Governor Paterson had a virtual ban on fracking for 6 years while the state studied the health effects of fracking that were being brought up again and again. But communities, worried the state would give in to pressure from energy companies, used zoning laws to ban fracking: this was upheld by the Court of appeals in June, 2014.

When the decision to ban fracking was announced, Dr. Howard A Zucker, the acting state health commissioner, not only said his department had found insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking (itself an unusual decision in a business in which health dangers have to be proven before a ban would be issued), but that he would not want his family to live in a community in which fracking was taking place. His words as a scientist and a community member were quoted widely.

But none of the science would have been acted upon without the many members of activist groups who have been researching, educating, and protesting for the past 6 years. Some see this as a bad thing, a dilution of the science. For example, as described in “Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking  in Popular Resistance, Tom Wilber, who writes Shell Gas Review  said, “Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don’t make these kind of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics + policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.”

Ecologist and activist Sandra Steingraber, speaking at a victory party after the inauguration of Governor Cuomo talked of the synergy between scientists and activists that was so effective. She described the 400+ peer reviewed scientific articles that documented the danger of fracking, and the citizen activism that brought the data to the public.

“First, you issued invitations to scientists to come into your communities—into your church basements, town halls, middle school gymnasiums, chambers of commerce, and Rotary Clubs. Thus, for a couple years running, some of us PhDs and MDs spent a lot of Friday nights and Sunday afternoons in one small town or another in upstate New York, giving Powerpoint presentations and laying out the data for audiences of common folks and town board members.

“Every church and town hall became a seminar. This cadre of traveling scientists and health professionals included Tony Ingraffea, Bob Howarth, Adam Law, Bill Podulka, Larysa Dyrszka, Kathy Nolan, Mary Menapace, Sheila Buskin, and Yuri Gorby, among many others.

The second way science was disseminated to and by the people was through the public comment process. Do you recall the 30 Days of Fracking “Regs? Remember those days? A few of us laid out the science like a trail of breadcrumbs, and you all followed. In these and other ways, we sent 204,000 well-informed, scientifically grounded comments to Albany. They spoke very loudly.

“Science alone is just a lot of black dots on white mathematical space. Like a musical score that sits on a shelf, it doesn’t become a song until someone picks up the score and sings it. And you sang it! You informed your friends and neighbors about the science and so pushed the needle on public opinion. You changed providence itself.”

Other states are trying to emulate the successful model of the New York State fracking ban. The model must be modified for each state- New York, for example, may not have the shale reserves of other states such as Oklahoma, and resistance by those who profit by the oil and gas industry might be more difficult in more oil-rich states. But it is a useful and inspiring model for scientist citizens.

A list of worldwide bans against fracking, as well as activist tools, can be found at “Keep Tap Water Safe.”  Not all countries are as hesitant as the US in acting on the dangers of fracking. France and Bulgaria have banned it,  as have Wales and Scotland , and Germany has signed off on a draft law to do so .

Of course, the bottom line is that fracking and conventional extraction methods must be sharply minimized, even if they weren’t immediate dangers. British scientists Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins recently published paper in Nature early this year that strongly suggested that 1/3 of the world’s oil reserves, and half of its gas reserves (as well as over 80% of the coal) must be left in the ground until 2050 to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting earth warming of 2 degrees Celsius.

It is vital that scientists who either investigate fracking, see the dangers of it through other’s data, or take part in citizen activism, do not accept the judgement of those who deem activism to be contrary to science. Scientists working as citizens with activists are powerful- and that is why criticism is so passionate.

Kathy Barker

April 23, 2015

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Update April 24, 2015

Yesterday, the USGA released its first comprehensive analysis of the link between oil and gas operations and thousands of earthquakes in the U.S. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/us-maps-areas-of-increased-earthquakes-from-human-activity.html?ref=topics ). 17 areas were identified in 9 states, and Oklahoma was determined to be the hardest hit. Interestingly, though fracking itself garners most of the press, it is the injection of water to dispose of the waste from drilling or production that is the greatest contributor to earthquakes.

2 days before the report was released to the public, the Oklahoma state government acknowledged the scientific data saying that wastewater disposal linked to oil and gas drilling was to blame for the hundreds-fold (!) increase in earthquakes there.

Update May 5, 2015

An analysis of drinking water from 3 homes in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, found  organic compounds used in shale gas development in wells. The PNAS paper, “Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development,” was published on May 4 by scientists from Penn State University, the Leco Corporation, and the Appalachia Hydrogeologic and Environmental Consulting, and used instrumentation not commonly available in commercial labs. This was not an anti-fracking paper: authors suggested that better analysis and management could prevent contamination of aquifers.

 

 

 

 

 

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We are so past TALKING about global warming

 

Ocean ad

The data on climate change are in, folks. And in again. And again.

Today, January 16, 2015, a front page article in the New York Times by Carl Zimmer discussed the probability of catastrophic changes in the ocean animal species resulting from global warming. Based on data from the Science paper, “Marine definition: Animal loss the global ocean” (Science 347:6219, p 248, McCauley et al.,)  the article quoted McCauley- “There are a lot of tools we can use. We’d better pick them up and use them seriously” – and semi-concluded that we can halt the damage to the ocean.

Stephen Palumbi, another author of the paper, was also quoted with another equivocation:

“If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are on now, I honestly feel that there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean. But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple decades more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”

Scientists, perhaps it is time to stop hedging if you want to world to act on your data.

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin, scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, are not mitigating their words or the implication of their data for the future of the world.  Nor does Naomi Klein mince her words when writing about their data in “This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate.” Anderson and Bows-Larkin suggest that wealthy countries need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 8-10 percent, now, in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius and protect poorer countries. An 8-10 percent cut in emissions, every year, is almost unimaginable: only after the stock market crash of 1929 did emissions drop by more than 10% for several years. Yet it must be done, and managed carefully, and it must be done with new economic rules. It cannot be done as capitalism, with its dependence on continual growth, is constructed.

Beautiful and strong language from Naomi Klein:

“Interestingly, Anderson says that when he presents his radical findings in climate circles, the core facts are rarely disputed. What he hears most often are confessions from colleagues that they have simply given up hope of meeting the 2 degree temperature target, precisely because reaching it would require such a profound challenge to economic growth. ‘This position is shared by many senior scientists and economists advising government,’ Anderson reports.

In other words, changing the earth’s climate in ways that will be chaotic and disastrous is easier to accept than the prospect of changing the fundamental, growth-based, profit-seeking logic of capitalism. We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of their own research. Most of them were quietly measuring ice cores, running global climate models, and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that in breaking the news of the depth of our collective climate failure, they were ‘unwittingly destabilizing the political and social order.’” Klein, 2013

Still, data just keeps rolling in.

Today, January 16, 2015, NASA released a video showing that  Unknown 2014 was the warmest year for the earth since 1880.

And the National Climatic Data Center at NOAA announced that 2014 was the 34th warmest year for the contiguous USA http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/summary-info/national/2014/12 with eight weather and climate disasters that exceeded 1 billion dollars in damages.

The solutions won’t just be in the science.

 

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Scientists for Global Responsibility- YES!

Scientists for global responsibility

How could one not be thrilled to find (via a message from activist and friend Linda Jansen) to find the UK- based group Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), whose priorities are so relevant to the needs of world citizens, and so on target with the protests going on all over the earth?

Here is a list of project categories from the website:

Corporate Influence on Science and Technology

Military Influence on Science and Technology

Nuclear Weapons Threat

Ethical Careers

Other projects- Population, Climate, Peace, etc.

What’s not to love?

There are currently about 900 members in SGR, and though the organization is UK centered, international members are welcome, according to Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director since 2003. Parkinson earned his bachelors’ degree in physics and engineering, but so many applications were military, with deep ethical implications, and he did his PhD work in climate change modeling. Even here there were ethical problems for Parkinson, as much funding for environmental work was from corporations, and their need to turn a profit was in conflict with preservation of the environment. SGR was a place where he could discuss these ethical issues with other scientists, something that unfortunately doesn’t occur in most scientific workplaces or training grounds.

To demonstrate the various pathways a scientist could choose to imbue life and work with ethical integrity, SGR put out a booklet, “Critical Paths: 12 inspiring cases of ethical careers in science and technology.”  The booklet can be downloaded as a pdf, or purchased as hard copy. Below is the list of scientists in the booklet, which the varied issues they’ve embedded in their life’s work. It would be great to have this booklet distributed in undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs, to be used for inspiration and discussion of options.

Critical paths

Contents

Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Elizabeth Martin………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Discipline: geography
Issues: sustainable development; politics; corporations

Annie Brown……………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

Disciplines: mechanical and civil engineering
Issues: sustainable building; sustainable energy; corporations

Laurence Kenney …………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

Disciplines: mechanical engineering; biology Issues: the military; health

Dave Harper ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 10

Discipline: psychology
Issues: mental health; social justice; the military

Emily Heath …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12

Disciplines: environmental and geo-sciences
Issues: environmental protection; politics; social justice

Caroline Smith…………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

Disciplines: chemistry; plant biology Issue: sustainable agriculture

Yacob Mulugetta……………………………………………………………………………………… 16

Disciplines: environmental sciences; environmental management Issues: international development; sustainable energy; corporations

Birgit Völlm ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 18

Discipline: medicine
Issues: animal experiments; health

Karl Brazier……………………………………………………………………………………………… 20

Disciplines: mathematics; IT; physics
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice; corporations

Steve Dealler …………………………………………………………………………………………… 22

Discipline: microbiology Issues: food safety; politics

Wendy Maria Phelps………………………………………………………………………………… 24

Discipline: electrical engineering
Issues: the military; sustainable energy; social justice

Sue Mayer……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26

Disciplines: biological and veterinary sciences Issues: the military; genetics; politics 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Biochemist Lynne Quarmby arrested at Burnaby Trans-Mountain pipeline

Q lab

Scientist and activist Lynne Quarmby mixes her research life (at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia) and her civic life straightforwardly, as shown on her website . A video of her labs’ work with Chlamydomonas is side by side with her Twitter posts (@LynneQuarmby) on the Burnaby protest against a tar sands pipeline. Quarmby, with dozens of other community members, was arrested today in the ongoing protests against the proposed Trans-Mountain pipeline from Calgary through Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan (KM), based in Texas, proposed a doubling of the oil sands pipeline that already runs under Burnaby, and wanted to test the feasibility of building a tunnel under the mountain.  Not only would this immediately disturb the local mountain environment, but the bigger picture- that the extraction of oil from tar sands and the burning of that oil contribute to carbon dioxide production and so, to global warming- was even more controversial. (This connection of government actions with the science of climate change is a message that Quarmby constantly communicated.) The announcement was met by protest by First Nations and other Burnaby citizens and then by a constitutional challenge by the town.

The National Energy Board (NEB) ruled the City of Burnaby couldn’t impede the project, and protests on Burnaby intensified after that October 24th decision.

Quarmby had been working with her community: marching, writing letters, contacting politicians, and protesting in the Burnaby park. She was, with others, arrested on October 25th.

On October 30, KM named 6 residents, including Quarmby, in a 5.6 million dollar lawsuit, saying that they were losing money every day of protest. Quarmby believes she was targeted because she was dangerous from a PR perspective as an outspoken professional willing to stand up and protest, not just about the pipeline, but about the link of the destruction on the mountain to climate change.

“”Maybe it’s because I’m reasonable and level and just speaking about the scientific realities of climate change,” she said . “I am writing and speaking at rallies, and maybe they feel like I’m starting to get people’s attention about this issue. They don’t want people to pay attention to climate change, that’s for sure.”

Quarmby and I were supposed to talk Thursday afternoon, but she asked if we could postpone the talk, as a call had gone out for supporters to come to Burnaby Mountain, where the police were arresting protesters in the park. Best reason to postpone I’ve ever heard!

And this morning, after a short and stirring speech, citizen and scientist Lynne Quarmby walked up the hill to the police line and was arrested again. She did not mince words before she left. She blamed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the present conservative government of Canada for suspending environmental regulation in 2012. She linked the madness of expanding a pipeline in the face of the surety of climate change. She expressed her horror at the Canadian government for its dismissiveness to the First Peoples of the region, who were not even consulted about the pipeline project. She emphasized that the act of civil disobedience she was about to commit was the act of a citizen whose votes, testimonies, and data were ignored. Her three minute speech is a marvel of clear intention and love of community.

The court costs to face Kinder Morgan in the civil suit court are huge, and though Quarmby is prepared to lose her house, funds are being raised by two crowd-funding groups.

http://www.gofundme.com/gkxn9o  GoFund Me campaign

https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/legal-support-for-burnby-mountain-defenders  Legal support for Burnaby Mountain Defenders

 

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Running for office as scientist and socialist

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“My name is Jess Spear.

I am a member of Socialist Alternative.

I am a climate scientist.

And I was the organizing director for 15Now.”

So Jess Spear, who is running for the Washington State Legislature, began her debate on October 7 with the mainstream Democratic and  20 year incumbent, Frank Chopp.

15Now was a successful charter amendment for a $15.00 minimum wage in Seattle, a success that is galvanizing similar initiatives all over the country. For, although she is a scientist, environmental and economic justice are her motivations, and science is a tool to address that activism.

Not that Spear doesn’t love science- but from the beginning, she saw the problems science could address. She was first inspired by Carl Sagan as a teenager to want to do something about climate change, way before it became a common concept. Thrilled by a biology class, Spear switched from anthropology to biology, and applied to work on a climate change problems for her senior year project- only to be told by her project advisor that climate change wasn’t a surety. As a student, Spear listened and worked on red tide- but a belief that authority, scientific or political, was necessarily correct did not take, and she found her way back to climate change as soon as possible.

It was not an end to her disappointment with scientists. Not with her mentor: while not as activist as Spear, he was civic-minded and involved and supportive of Spear. But her fellow students, even those working on climate change, were not engaged beyond their own work. Graduate students often have a laser focus only on their areas of study, but Spear thinks, sadly, that it was cynicism about the future that prevented students from working with the bigger picture.

Few senior climate scientists were speaking out, as speaking publicly led to questions about the scientists’ integrity and objectivity. Then, perhaps more than now, scientists in general were schooled to believe that their role is not to be part of policy, but only to provide the data for the policy, seeming to still believe that the research they are doing isn’t already influenced and caused by policy. Michael Mann and Jim Hanson have strongly acted and spoken out, and have written about the need for scientists to speak out, and public involvement is no longer completely damning.

Spear’s personal discontent with the approach to climate change and injustice took a big change in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring, public protest in Wisconsin against the budget and restrictions on collective bargaining, and the Occupy Movement. Though Occupy! Seattle, she heard speakers from Socialist Alternative, with whom she then learned the links between climate change and the economic system.

Science and research are integrated into economics, but are generally seen only through the lens of capitalism in US training. Spear recommends that scientists read Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (2000) by John Bellamy Foster, who has written several books integrating ecology and economics, and who warns readers about the ineffectiveness of spiritual approaches to saving the environment. Frederick Engel’s The Dialectics of Nature, written in 1883  and published in 1939 with a forward by evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, analyzes the revolutions of science and their parallels with revolutions in society, a larger perspective useful for the scientist and activist.

Socialism provides the philosophical and practical links between science and environmental activism, and economics and social policy. For example, while many scientists and organizations agree that we must decrease reliance on fossil fuels to limit climate change, socialists are also concerned with the resulting human needs and in finding job alternatives for those in industries that might be abolished though activism or government regulation. A major mistake of environmentalists, believes Spear, is that they are coming head to head against ordinary working people. Socialism and Marxism have been very helpful to her in framing the issues, in putting problems in a social context, and have made her more more effective on a range of environmental issues.  Spear says, “I now understand how ludicrous it was for me to rail against individuals for their lifestyle choices. People shouldn’t be asked to choose the environment over their families.”

As a member of Socialist Alternative, Spears is not working as an individual, but as the member of a collective. Decisions about policy and actions are made collaboratively. There is a non-hierarchical perspective. This may be difficult for the scientists who believe in themselves purely as individuals to understand. But even with the inspiration of individuals, it is the power of an organization that creates social change.

After 2011, Spear spent more time on political campaigns, working first on the successful Seattle City Council election campaign of Kshama Sawant before leading the also successful 15Now minimum wage campaign. When she and Socialist Alternative decided that it made sense for her to run for Legislative office in 2014, she left behind for now her career as an oceanographer to focus on the election. She marches for political and environmental causes, has been arrested for stopping oil trains going through Seattle, gives interviews and talks, and leads a very different life, for now.

One of the biggest challenges for Spear has been learning a different way of public speaking than she had been trained in as a scientist. There was no effective formula for a political speech. It was usually not possible to use notes or other aids. Instead, Spear had to learn to make herself vulnerable, to listen and respond to the crowd, to improvise. Having let go of the notion of control that is drilled into science, she feels much better when giving a speech.

The election is November 4. Even without the corporate money poured into the campaign of the incumbent, Spear made a good showing in the primary, and well may win this election…if not this one, then the next. People may be shy about socialism, but are understanding that business-as-usual will not solve anything. As a person, scientist, and politician, Spear gives enormous hope that we have the capability to overcome fear and lassitude and make a better world.

The photograph used for the illustration found at the Vote Spear! website. http://www.votespear.org/jess_spear_arrested_protesting_oil_trains_in_seattle.

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