The Return of the Sagebrush Rebellion, or …

(or, there is no sagebrush in Florida, yet)

In 1976, the Sagebrush Rebellion began (again) as western Americans began to try to reclaim their supposed constitutional rights (Wald and Temkin 1982). It was quashed largely by the election of Ronald Reagan and appointment of James Watt, but still led to many acts of civil disobedience but also violent anti-government acts (see this review from High Country News). But thanks to Bundy “Patriots” and their supporters, including those who support the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA), Sovereign Citizens, skinheads, and neo-Nazis, they are back in a big way. The 2014 showdown on Federal land near the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) are just two notable examples.

The effort to put Federal public lands into state (or private) hands is not new, but is more problematic now because of recent developments, not the least of which is its adoption in the 2016 platform of the Republican National Committee. This effort, first supported politically on the national stage by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah shortly after his election to the US Senate, has now reached vitriolic proportions and has garnered a rabid national following among staunch conservatives. Their arguments for it are patently ridiculous on their face. Among them:

  • Too much public land in our state is in Federal hands so we don’t get to generate any tax base. [but…transferring to state ownership also does not put them in taxable status]
  • The Feds don’t manage public lands properly [but … how could the states be expected to manage these lands any differently? They have their own land management rules (well, some do, anyway) and laws that must conform to Federal policy]
  • Our state should run air, water, and land the way we see fit [but – things move. Land erodes (dust, sediment), water and air move across state boundaries – regulating from within a single state is inefficient, impractical, and unscientific]
  • We ought to be able to cut timber, graze, and mine the way Americans always have [but…in the 1800s things were different. Those who argue this also don’t like to see price increases for these rights on Federal lands, where typical rates run 5-10% of “market-driven” rates on private lands. Aren’t they the real laissez-faire proponents or is that saying too French for them?
  • We need to return the land to the original inhabitants’ and let them use it the way they feel [but, westerners of European heritage were not here first; American civilizations go back thousands of years before Leif Erickson, Christopher Columbus, or Vladimir Putin]

No matter how you feel about civil liberties, the Constitution, or politics, all of us benefit from rational management of Federal lands. Surely the government has mismanaged the lands in some cases. And private users have also abused the privilege and should be held to account (thinking Bundy here, and others!). But in Harney County, Oregon, citizens and government officials all got together and created a cohesive management plan over time that worked out and was destined to do great things, but for a few known troublemakers who ended up being supported by the Bundyites. On the Malheur NWR, invasive species were set to be removed by managing carp and loss of vegetation/water quality to help restore the inland part of the Pacific flyway for migratory birds, and the occupation by the Bundys and others set back wetland restoration for years, most likely, by allowing the problematic fish to expand their boundaries.

Politicians who supported these people like Michelle Fiore, Ted Cruz, and others, helped to put them into the national spotlight, and some law enforcement leaders (CSPOA again) even supported their efforts in Nevada and Oregon. This also gets into 2nd Amendment issues and the NRA, which would be an entirely different discussion (not for today), but is also quite problematic given the recent horrendous gun violence against private citizens and law enforcement officers.

And lest any of you think that this is just a problem for us to sort out in the west, water wars and land wars are found in the east, too! I worked on drought in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin when my sciencing was happening at FSU, and the water wars in that and some other basins have been going on in the courts for 30 years already. Thanks to Governor Rick Scott of Florida, the notion of parks in that state is now changing as well, to including hunting, mining, and timber harvesting in novel ways that boggle the mind. Florida’s parks were gems and many still are, but as water gets fouled with nutrients and springs die off and effluent spills and nutrient-laden waters from Lake Okeechobee and Fenholloway River (to name a few) are forced into the Atlantic and Gulf waters, all coastal residents and visitors can now see first-hand the environmental catastrophe (short-term for now) that is on the horizon. With climate change, there could be sagebrush growing in Florida as the land dries out and precipitation regime changes.

Is there anyone who thinks that this situation will improve when a party platform and politicians of that party tout local/state/private takeover of lands, when science shows how public protection is vital to public health in terms of land (soil), water, and air quality, and our future climate? Yet we have Governors, Senators, and their supporters who deny science from its foundational core as black and white. “You have not proven it to me yet” [I supposed I plagiarized this quote from somebody but don’t know who] is the attitude expressed. Well, I say to you it is time to turn in your membership card as a thinking person.

So come and enjoy your Federally-managed lands! You pay for them! And you don’t need a RNC or NRA membership card, to come inside (outside)!

As an aside…did we as educators really do that bad a job in school teaching people about what science is? Maybe, but I doubt it. There mu$t be $omething el$e going on here.

Paul Ruscher, Eugene, Oregon • 20 July 2016


High Country News, 2016: Forty years of Sagebrush Rebellion. High Country News, 4 January 2016, cited from

Wald, Johanna H. and Elizabeth H. Temkin, 1982: The Sagebrush Rebellion: The West Against Itself — Again. UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Public Policy, 2 (2), cited from

When is enough enough?

When is enough enough? It’s confession time, I guess. News this week is full of killing of Muslims, killing of young black men by police officers, killing and raping of women, mistreatment of gays and lesbians. But it’s not just this week. I’m so sick of ‘Murica. And partisan politics does not make any of this any easier to take. But for me, it’s deeply personal. And that will seem strange to many, who probably could rightfully accuse me of being a “victim” of white, male privilege.

You see, I’m the father of 11 children and 3 foster kids. But it is deeper than that. I grew up as the eldest son of a racist father who paid his sheet metal factory workers rather poorly – they were mostly blacks from the Bronx as well as Portuguese immigrants. I worked alongside them as a teenager and saw how they were (mis)treated, and said nothing at the time. Not until my break with my father occurred in the late ‘60s. He and I recovered from that break, but only in the last few years before his life ended tragically as cancer ravaged his body. I feel guilty about that late healing, but I also feel guilty about how I turned my back on what I viewed at the time as injustice, but what could I do as a 12 year old summer factory worker (being paid under the table)?

Now I read the morning news and find the same stories, over and over, and our political leadership doing nothing about it. The guns. The racism. The jingoism. Criticizing leaders of #BlackLivesMatter for their vitriol. Are you fucking kidding me? How many lives must be lost before ‘Murica understands the targeting that is going on, whether explicit or implicit? If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck.

My ancestry is French, German, English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh (or so I’m told). 6 of my kids share that ancestry, along with my beloved wife, whose ancestry is Italian, Polish, English, Scottish, and Irish. We are all white-privileged, I suppose. But there are 8 others. Two of our adopted kids hail from India; one died before he reached 30, a victim of drugs, and a health (and probably parental) system that failed him, taking his life from AIDS-related lymphoma. Three of our kids were adopted as BUFA babies (Babies Up For Adoption – abandoned by their Moms at birth in hospitals). Unwanted because of their race, by anybody, apparently. But loved by Mom and Dad, and even some of their siblings. These are the children I worry most about in these times of racial profiling. We’ve tried to raise them up right and two are still teen-agers of whom I’m proud, but they are proud, outspoken, and garrulous. Just the sort of “uppity” that probably will get them in trouble at some point – I just hope it is not at the butt of a white police officer’s gun.

Three other foster kids have spent countless months and years in our home, and one still does. I worry about these young black children, too, none of whom have yet reached their teen-age years. What will our future America look like to them as they gain their voice, independence, and right to pursue life, liberty and happiness? Have you had enough yet?

And on top of all of this – I daily find on my social media feeds people who I call or used to call friends calling out violence in the name of Islam as emblematic of the entire faith. “Let them all just kill each other off.” – I cannot understand how young men and women of faith can be hoodwinked by the charlatans who have hijacked a major religion into cult status, calling for executions of all infidels. And lest you think it only happens in the Islamic faith, check out what the Southern Poverty Law Center and other social justice organizations say about the religious orientation of many American hate groups. But why do you ask is this so troubling to me? Bear with me.

You see, each of my married white kids has chosen to embrace multiculturalism, too! I could not be prouder of my Trinidadian, Korean, St. Lucian, and Bangladeshi children-in-law, and our multicultural grandchildren. What scares me is that my now Muslim daughter, her husband, and her kids are and will continue to be targeted in this intolerant ‘Murica that we are becoming. And I don’t just blame the media, or Donald Trump and his followers. Have you had enough yet?

I’m the father of six wonderful daughters and one beautiful foster daughter. Every one of these young women has or will experience overt sexual harassment by pricks with dicks and no brains. I say that stereotypically, because we all know stories of pricks with dicks that run science labs that do the same thing to their colleagues and students, so it could be argued that they have brains. But a lack of mutual respect, independent of sexuality, is also rampant in ‘Murica. And is tacitly allowed to continue in a fashion like organized crime. Have you had enough yet?

I have. We, the Silent Majority, who don’t speak up or otherwise support those who are powerless, are often chastised for not doing enough. That is often deemed by us to be offensive. We must support the powerless. I left the church a long time ago, when my church abandoned its most Christian of principles, again, as a teenager when I lost my love of guns and church and committed (at least personally, internally) to a future where racism would play no part. I have left the Democratic Party for the last time. I will not rejoin just so that I can “play” in the primary. I don’t know who I’ll vote for in November. It will not be Donald Trump. But the partisan two-party system no longer interests me. It is inevitable I suppose that that system will force me on a practical basis to vote for Ms. Clinton, because of the Electoral College.

What must happen is this – first – embrace the idea that all politics is local. The ultra-right-wing of the Republican party has figured this out and across American is seeding school boards, county officialdom, state legislatures with their brand of conservatism, much of it rooted in Christian fundamentalism. Wake up, and realize this is a great game plan, but one fanatical group does not own it. Wake up! Libertarians, Greens, Progressives, yes, even Socialists can do the same thing. Start with local grass roots efforts may be the only way to make a change; thanks Sen. Sanders for waking so many up to the possibility here. Next – it is time to abandon the Electoral College. This antiquated system perpetuates a ridiculous primary/caucus system that draws out an election campaign in a two-year cycle that just so happens to correspond to a Congressional term. This will effectively end the two-party system once and for all, and will create temporary chaos in Congress as new partnerships are formed. You can argue that this would be worse. Worse than what? A Congress that won’t pass any bills? The present Congress has the worst record by far of any post-Civil War Congress in terms of passing effective legislation. One-person one-vote is how most of the civilized world votes. Do you know what will happen if no candidate this November gets an electoral majority? The House votes for our next President. We’ve already had the Supremes decide one election because America could not decide.

Finally, everyone must vote! The young in particular complain loudest on social media about how the system is rigged and how lousy it is. And then they don’t show up at the polls. The system is in fact rigged against many of them. The League of Women Voters has rational ideas in place to fix a rigged system, from anti-gerrymandering to voting rights restoration. Check them out. Help them if you can.

Most of all – it is a time I think for self-reflection. “Am I doing enough to make America less ‘Murican?” Today, I still don’t think I’m doing enough. Typing this poorly written screed is a small start. I will do all I can to convince young people to vote. I will question my local candidates and government officials. I will champion a free and fair public education for all. I will call out racism, nativism, homophobia, and sexism when I see it.

Scientists and educators, I apologize for this interruption in what is usually an intellectual visit to environmentalism and fairness in science. But because so many of you have very powerful voices and I urge you to speak up about injustice outside of your professional sphere of influence as well. We have lots of work to do to inform public policy professionals and the general public about science and education, but there is so much more to do, as well. We are all players.

July 4, 1776, a true watershed moment

They did not get things completely right 240 years ago.  The primary author, Thomas Jefferson, certainly had his faults, as do all of us.  But it behooves us, I think to remember what tyranny did to upset the apple cart in the 13 colonies.  We would do well to extend the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness to all Americans and visitors, and also to our environment – our lands, our airshed, and our watersheds.  Take time to read our charters of freedom, and honor them by understanding their value in today’s world.  Happy Independence Day, everyone.

—- The Declaration of Independence —-

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

There are environmental whackos out there…

The new environmentalism…

My last post took on interference with rational government regulation, and corporate denial of its importance. But to be fair, there is much to think about, too, in terms of what the environmental movement itself is doing wrong.

Here I focus on the science denialism that exists on the “left” as well. If our nation is ever to take environmental responsibility seriously, we must work to blunt the voices of the environmental movement who spout irrational propaganda in support of ideas that just don’t pass the smell test.

Many of these ridiculous ideas are indeed related to proposed geoengineering solutions out there to solve some of Earth’s crises that are seemingly ridiculous on their face. As a scientist in Florida I actually had to evaluate some of these. For example, claims that dropping atomic weapons on hurricanes, or adding absorbent (think Pampers lining) material to the ocean, would diminish hurricane intensity. But the widespread implementation of them is just not happening. I won’t dignify the public web sites out there that tout environmental harm, but among them are the patently false claims related to:

  • Chemtrails – by spraying chemical aerosols that are probably harmful, the government is reducing solar radiation, combatting global warming – see for good debunking material here
  • Iron fertilization of the oceans to forestall ocean acidification – a useful summary of the lack of benefits to this and other similar “solutions” is found here.
  • HAARP – Blamed for causing many natural disasters, and basically closed down, it still gets amazing attention from environmental whackos (yes there are many out there and they show up at public meetings and grab microphones, etc.). HAARP is closed, and had some interesting purposes, but not weather modification!

Other acronyms that seem to get peoples’ goat: EMFs – ElectroMagnetic Fields do exist in nature, and much of today’s technology does relate to advances in their applications (such as WiFi networks, Bluetooth technology, smart power meters, etc.). Many so-called environmentalists like to tout the research that supposedly supports the idea that harm has been proven. The reality, however, is that most studies have not shown any affect, and at best a weak connection has been found to impacts on laboratory animals, in studies that are difficult to replicate or have extremely small sample sizes.

GMOs – I’m no biologist or chemist but I realize that even though I eat pretty healthy food in general, probably more than 50% of what I consume has been genetically modified. I like labeling to know what I eat, too, given that I have two very serious food allergies (gluten and sulfites) that severely restrict what I can eat. To me the GMO controversy is ridiculous, because most of the laws being proposed exclude certain agricultural products (like meat and dairy), but specifically go after plant-based foods – if it has anything to do with Monsanto, it must be evil, right? If you are going to be honest, label all GMOs, and let the chips fall where they may – let consumers decide what to buy. Perhaps we can take a lesson from California where you can’t go into any place in public without seeing this familiar warning sign.

CO2 as plant fertilizer – Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a so-called greenhouse gas – but because plants ingest it through photosynthesis, increasing it is nothing but a good thing – see this meta-analysis for more information on reality.

Environmental whackoism is probably doing as much harm to the environmental movement as science denialism which based on pure capitalism, or political denial. These ideas do sow seeds of doubt into people who may be curious and engaged in learning more. If you are at an environmental meeting, try some time to explain the science to a person who spouts these views – you are likely to get very frustrated with the close-mindedness in evidence. Move on, it’s not worth it. As an educator, in a class setting or public talk, you can engage by teaching, but too often you are also confronted, and there are good strategies out there (see this article from Yale for some tips).

Fortunately these people rarely rise to prominence, the Food Babe, Donald Trump, and Dr. Oz notwithstanding.



On the importance of environmental monitoring…

Time for some truthiness…watershedmoments has been on hiatis, but it is back and will continue…

There are those in power in government who deny critical scientific information that comes their way, because it does not suit their own agenda, or belief system. These people, including powerful national and state legislators who run committees that determine funding for science agencies, are a real danger to progress and public health.

There are serious battles ahead of us related to funding for monitoring of environmental conditions, particularly when degradation is likely due to mining, drilling, land use changes, transportation of materials, and lack of oversight of commercial or other use of public resources in our lands, watersheds, and airsheds.

Cases in point

  • Congress recently tied important funds for Puerto Rico’s insolvency problem to a monitoring program at the United States Geologic Survey #USGS (see Washington Post article). This monitoring program provides important and lifesaving information to the general public about the health of our waters.
  • for a decade, those who have been reaping the harvest of fracked gas and oil have not had to disclose the process chemicals used, as special privilege was granted to exempt them from the Safe Water Drinking Act and its amendments. Yes, one could argue we’ve all reaped benefits in terms of cheaper fuels, but at what cost to our environmental health?
  • methane emissions from oil and gas operations are only estimated or spot-checked and EPA is not allowed access to carry out monitoring of air quality for toxics including gases and particulates. Residents near these sites in states as varied as Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota are left with little recourse.  See this article for background.
  • my former home state of Florida has a governor (who shall not be named) who refused to allow his state’s scientists to refer to climate change in any of their presentations on threats that Florida faced. He also spent incredible resources dismantling progressive environmental regulations to ensure Floridians’ access to safe water and air – these same regulations were put in place by his predecessor, also a Republican who left the party because of the political turn of his former home. Florida DEP lost a few good scientists and environmental educators as a result.
  • NOAA climate scientists have been harassed by a Congressional committee chair for their correspondence and data supporting research, and even when it was provided, his staff effectively asked for more (presumably they could not understand why what was provided was a real response to the questions) – and this one really hit home because he attacked the credibility of many of my former students here.
  • trains carrying volatile oil from the Bakken oil shale fields move through the Columbia Gorge and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and oil companies do not have to disclose these shipments, nor does the Oregon government demand company responsibility with sensible regulation (as do the neighboring states of Washington and California) because lobbying by the rail and oil & gas industries won the day last session. The recent derailment and spill at Mozier had a greater response on the Washington side of the Columbia than that of  Oregon. [edited for grammar]
  • our environmental satellite program is in jeopardy and Congress is refusing to fund replacements of deteriorating satellites that are ready for launch or those need to be built to replace our aging fleet. These satellites provide a complete view of the Earth and its atmosphere, oceans, glaciers and ice caps, and our opportunity to have continuous monitoring is in jeopardy.
  • National Science Foundation budget oversight includes paralyzing efforts designed to reduce funding on important climate change science, renewable energy utilization, and monitoring efforts that have long-term impacts.

I could go on and on (and probably already have too much).  Are 8 examples sufficient here?

Many scientists also profess to not need the in situ observations that have been so important in the development our knowledge. Some in the satellite community think that we should improve our remote sensing technology at the expense of direct measurements. Others in the computer modeling community often minimize the importance of observations, as well. Funding for environmental monitoring needs to be substantially increased to support new technologies as well as people in the field doing this important work, and the work of independent scientists who process and analyze these data. It is natural for all scientists to value their own work over others’, I suppose.

The data provided by objective technicians and scientists in the field are crucial for ground-truthing of remotely-sensed data, and validation of models. They also provide the direct answers needed and can provide long-term ecological records of critical help to answer critical questions. The answers that the data and scientists who work with them provide are often providing shocking results, and they can change scientists’ minds about processes. That is part of the scientific process – but many “experts” who write or legislate about these issues seem to lack the scientific perspective to process this information in anything but a political lens. And since so much of this important environmental information has now become politicized in the last ten years, and so many tactics deployed by stakeholders like chemical and tobacco companies are now being deployed to shunt environmental progress, there are powerful voices influencing decision-makers (if I can call them that).

Climate change, environmental protection, water quality are all public health issues that must be protected for all of us and to benefit the environment, which provides tangible environmental services to us all. By restoring wetlands, preserving native species and removing invasives, and removing barriers to connected habitats of important native plants and animals, we are restoring our planet and acting as sensible stewards.

But in removing funding for monitoring (and restoration) programs, we remove the opportunity for technicians and scientists to get the important data they need to answer important questions and ask new ones. Science is an evolving process of information-gathering and knowledge development. We must continue to support the labor-intensive and technology rich environments that facilitate environmental data collection for the betterment of society and our public health. Some movements are afoot to use a legal argument call the public trust doctrine for protection of lands, air, and water.

It is time for sensible scientific leadership in state and Federal government. I don’t know if a cabinet level “Department of Science”, where USGS, NASA, NOAA, EPA and Energy and other science-based agencies could collaborate better and provide better organized support for scientific research. But something has got to give. The election in November should be about science, at least in part. There are many other issues that are critical to our nation, too. But science denialism appears to be rampant in and around Washington DC and around many state capitals. That is as dangerous a threat as any terrorist, in my opinion.

This column took on corporate objections to reasonable regulations and political sabotage of these rational environmental efforts.  Environmentalists – you may not be off the hook either; stay tuned.  I’ll try to write weekly until the end of days 2016, at least.

Paul Ruscher • Eugene, Oregon

Throwing community college faculty under the bus

Diane Ravitch posted about President Obama’s forthcoming initiative to propose free tuition for responsible community college students.  An interesting idea.  She followed up with a post with some interesting ideas on why we should not be all excited about it, from a faculty member at the apparent elitist math department at the University of Memphis, who equates his state’s public community colleges with low quality (read it here:

When I taught at Florida State University’s Meteorology Department, we had students who learned their math in classes of up to ~115 (including differential equations).  Introductory calc-based meteorology in classes of up to 80.  Freshman biology was taught in a concert hall to over 1000 students.  At the community college across town, students were taught by dedicated teachers who spent time with them in smaller classes, with good support systems in place for their writing and development of their quantitative skills in math and computers.  My wife and kids all started at the community college.  They’ve received an excellent education.  Not low quality.  As many as 1/3 of our BS majors for meteorology transferred there from Florida or other community colleges, and generally had no performance differences or abilities; many went on to successful professional careers with their BS or pursued graduate study at FSU or elsewhere.

I now teach at a community college after more than 25 years at a University.  I like it here.  My students like it here.  They are engaged learners.  It is a diverse population to be sure, including some who are trying to return to the workplace / educational system after numerous setbacks.  I have smaller classes and time to teach them; many are engaged in field research with me.  These students are not often welcome at the University, where faculty members often hold no office hours and see students (other than those in their research labs) only 3 hours per week.

Regardless how I feel about the President’s new proposal (have not read it or thought it through yet), I would hope that the students in Tennessee who are at the community college now strongly consider NOT transferring to the University of Memphis, if the opinion expressed by one math professor is indicative of how the STEM faculty there feel about their transfer students.


{submitted to but declined by The Oregonian).  The Oregonian‘s recent announcement that climate change will not be on its editorial agenda ( in 2015 is disappointing, if not a complete cop-out as some scientific colleagues have mentioned to me. While noted climate change “deniers” like Charles Krauthammer and George Will will continue to populate the pages of your paper with their misinformation pieces on climate, voices of scientific reason will likely now be even more muted at a critical juncture in our history. This is a global issue, for sure, but it reaches down to every individual household and business as well. The editorial board is correct in its assertion that there are global manifestations to climate change that are important and that actions of we little Oregonians have little influence on the energy budget of the planet. But by minimizing the problem that a lot of your readers obviously have on their minds, you are indeed participating in a whitewash that lets scientific denialism proliferate. The 4th estate should be where we go to avoid the musings of our three official branches of government, and a place where good journalism can point out when government is wrong (or right), and when society is taking turns that are self-destructive or imaginative.

The scientific debate over human influence on climate is not over, as is sometimes touted by the so-called “alarmists”, only because research is still ongoing to calibrate the proportion of human causation. Yet, it is unequivocal that humans are playing the dominant role through our use of fossil fuels and changing land use practices. We are changing the energy, mass, and water balance of the planet in ways that our planet’s flora and fauna do not have sufficient time to make adjustments. And the change is not just evident in the temperature at thousands of weather stations across the planet. It is happening on the ice caps and glaciers, in the oceans, and in our biosphere and soils. These changes are almost universally detrimental to a healthy, diverse ecology.

Oregonians are facing some tough decisions ahead as climate change is affecting us here and it is likely to accelerate, clearly making this a state issue. As the National Climate Assessment ( and its northwest component ( clearly show, our forests and hydrological resources are particularly at risk, as wildfire and insect infestations are likely to increase and streamflows are likely to continue to change under more rapid snow and ice melt, and with periods of heavier, warmer and earlier precipitation in mountainous regions. Our anadromous fish populations already suffer from water that is too warm or moving in streams in the wrong time of year.   By accelerating the time scale of environmental change, human impacts are devastating ecological diversity and augmenting species extinction. Choices made from individuals to states can make an impact on economic and energy aspects of the mix, as well.

Oregon also is one of the few states to adopt the new Next Generation Science Standards, a teacher-driven effort (not the Common Core) which highlights an understanding of the Earth system as a hallmark, with climate and climate change as its cornerstone. Yet, across the K-12 curriculum, teachers often express frustration that there is little support available for them to be trained adequately to provide useful instruction at the elementary, middle, and high school level in Earth science. There is no teacher certification in Earth Science, and little professional development funding available for existing teachers to obtain further experiences. State geology programs have recently been tossed on the trash heap (SOU, EOU), and students in Oregon cannot find a solid undergraduate major in atmospheric science or climate science. Oregon’s natural beauty includes all of nature’s biomes, and is the perfect state to explore them in field settings in ecology, Earth science, environmental science programs, but the state’s spartan educational budget offers little support for expansion of science programs which are often (and incorrectly) deemed too expensive. This impacts what students can learn at the K-12 level, but also in college, and then at the graduate level, where we are training our future scientists and educators.

But thanks to the Oregonian, much of this will now no longer be displayed in their editorial pages (except perhaps in an occasional op-ed), because climate change is just not an Oregon issue. I beg to differ.


Paul Ruscher is a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society and faculty member/coordinator of the Lane Community College Watershed Science and Earth & Environmental Science programs. He lives in Eugene.

Lovely snow, isn’t it?  The 7″ of snow received so far in the South Hills amounts to about 0.5″ of water content (melted down).  Snow may be much deeper than forecast because the National Weather Service typically uses a 10:1 (snow depth:rain depth) ratio.  Our snow is quite fluffy around Eugene today.  Enjoy the break from the grind…

Last vestiges of snow are now gone from my neighborhood a mere 15 days after we got 8.5″ in the South Hills!  And a finals week to remember for sure.


A watershed view of the US

Hi, all – I’m not so sure I agree with the mapping here of Oregon and Washington on this map, and I don’t care for that particular map projection, either, but a h/t to colleague Gary Mort for sharing this great attempt at reorganization of the US geopolitical map following the recommendations of Major John Wesley Powell, whose views on the arid west and the lack of water were very inspiring to a lot of hydrologists … but apparently not to a lot of planners and politicians.

In any case, kudos to Ben Schiller of Co.Exist for a good first effort!