Head of PA Dept of Environmental Protection Is Scientifically Illiterate: the wrong choice

I applaud the York Daily Record staff for declaring  E. Christopher Abruzzo the “Wrong choice for DEP chief by governor” in its Dec. 12, 2013 Editorial.  Gov. Tom Corbett chose Abruzzo to head the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.  The State Senate approved his nomination by a 42-8 vote.

Abruzzo is the wrong choice because he is—by his own assessment—scientifically illiterate.  During his confirmation hearings, he stated, “I have not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change.”

What planet does this guy live on?

We can only conclude that Abruzzo was really saying, “I don’t read any scientific literature about climate change that assesses impacts on humans, animals, or plants.”  And, this is the guy who will be heading the department that is responsible for protecting our air, water, and natural resources.  This is the guy who will need to make decisions about energy, natural gas, petroleum, coal, mining, waste, radiation, and even education.

A 2008 seminal article in Nature stated that “Significant changes in physical and biological systems are occurring on all continents” as a result of human induced climate change.”  The Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change stated in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, “Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.”

Let’s see.  Is Pennsylvania on one of these continents?

The IPCC statement comes from its Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Summary for Policy Makers.  This is the Summary that Abruzzo should—at the very least—be reading.  This IPCC Working Group assesses the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and social aspects of vulnerabilities linked to climate change.  That sure sounds like a job requirement for the head of the PA DEP.

There are literally thousands of scientific studies reporting adverse impacts due to climate change on humans, animals, and plant life.  Rather than speaking in generalities, let me provide just a few.  Most of these I have previously addressed on my blog.

  • Golden toad:  This is the first species level extinction linked to climate change.  The last lonely golden toad ever seen was in 1989 as it emerged from the forest rubble of the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica seeking a mate.
  • Harlequin frogs:  The first scientific article linking mass species level extinction to climate change was published in January 2006.   Two-thirds of Central and South America’s 110 brightly colored harlequin frog species vanished during the two-decade study period. Lead author Alan pounds stated, “Lethal disease may be the bullet, but climate change is pulling the trigger.”
  • Ticks and Lyme Disease:  Ask someone in York County who is suffering from Lyme Disease if (s)he feels any adverse impacts.  Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that is principally transmitted by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis).  Due to climate change, Lyme Disease is headed northward.  It is already in New Hampshire and Maine and will soon cross the border in to Canada.
  • Mosquitos, Malaria, and Dengue Fever:  Infectious borne diseases are on the move due to climate change.  Mosquitos are expanding their territory, carrying diseases with them.  Malaria is moving to higher elevations.  Dengue Fever is headed northward from Mexico into the southern US states.
  • Cherry trees in Washington DC:  Due to our global warming, DC’s cherry trees will be blossoming in early March instead of early April by 2080.
  •  Coffee:  There is a lot more to that morning cup of Joe you are drinking than just a caffeine jolt.  I visited the birthplace of coffee in the remote Kaffe region of Ethiopia in July 2011.  In Ethiopia, as elsewhere, climate change is changing the hydrological cycle (water cycle) and this is significantly adversely impacting the coffee crop.  I’ve observed a similar adverse impact to coffee in Costa Rica where it is called “flora loca”.  Coffee is one of the most widely traded global commodities.  Climate change impacts dramatically affect the social, economic, and ecological integrity of communities around the globe.
  • Polar bears:  Polar bears are an iconic climate change symbol.  I traveled to Churchill, Canada—the Polar Bear Capitol of the World—in February 2006 to participate in an Earthwatch Expedition: Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge.  Yep, it was cold…really cold.  Scientists agree that climate change is the biggest threat facing polar bears.
  • The list goes on…

I recommend that Corbett, Abruzzo, and our 42 State Senators who voted to approve the new DEP Secretary do a minimal amount of homework on climate change.  They don’t even need to use scholarly search engines.  They can simply Goggle the following phrases:

  • Adverse impacts of climate change humans:  This gives 56.4 million results.  Fortunately, many of the top listings are links to scholarly articles and respected scientific web sites.
  • Adverse impacts of climate change animals:  This gives 29.7 million results.  Again, scholarly articles and respected scientific web sites are right at the top.
  • Adverse impacts of climate change plants:  This gives 30.7 million results.  Many scholarly articles and scientific web sites are right at the top.

Google is not the best way to access the scientific literature.  However, since Abruzzo has not “read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts “, this is a least at start.

The YDR is correct in stating that “we need a new generation of political and business leaders committed to this issue.”  We need leaders who can make decisions and a plan of action based on the known science.

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