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Which Way for Science?

By Editorial Team - Science for the People, April 18, 2017

On April 22, 2017, the March for Science will pull several thousands of people into the streets to stand up for science and resist funding cuts proposed by the current US administration. Our organization, Science for the People, sees this development as a mostly positive step in the right direction. The scale of the political and economic crises facing people across the world is enormous and will require mass movements to resist and organize for change. However, we believe there is a need to advance radical solutions to face these crises. As such we have been interested in how the March for Science has developed since its inception around January 25, 2017. Our members have been taking measured approaches to engaging with the March for Science–nationally and locally–with the overall goal of putting forward a politics capable of both taking seriously the multitude of contradictions that define scientific enterprise and accounting for the people affected by and disaffected with the pursuit, uses, and abuses of science.

For radicals and revolutionaries, unearthing and addressing the burning questions of the latent social movement for science is an urgent and primary task:

  • What’s happening to U.S. Science?
  • Who will March for Science? Who will not?
  • What is Science for the People?

Zapatistas Reimagine Science as Tool of Resistance

By Sophie Duncan - Free Radicals, April 5, 2017

As scientists grapple with what it means to march for science and defend an apolitical and ahistorical vision of science “safe” from identity, the Zapatistas have put forth the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship between science and social justice. Between December 26 and January 4th, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN or the Zapatistas) facilitated an interdisciplinary conference in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, México: “L@s Zapatistas y las ConCiencias por la Humanidad”. [1] As part of an armed indigenous resistance, EZLN responds to the long history of Spanish invasion, indigenous genocide and slavery.

The conference title, Las ConCiencias, combines the Spanish words for science and awareness. This wordplay captures two of the conference’s themes: an interrogation of science as an oppressive force and the potential, through this awareness, to harness the power of science on behalf of indigenous communities. [2]

read more

Hope Below Our Feet: Soil as a Climate Solution

By Anne-Marie Codur, Seth Itzkan, William Moomaw, Karl Thidemann, and Jonathan Harris - Global Development and Environment Institute (Tufts University) - April 2017

Web editor's note: we include this report to provide general knowledge about natural carbon sequestration methods, but we do not vouch for their effectiveness. Further, we note that this report speaks positively about Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), which many front line communities, indigenous people, and nations in the Global South convincingly argue is a capitalist greenwashing scheme which simply shifts the burden from the Global North and capitalist class to the Global South and working class. Neither the IWW nor the IWW EUC support REDD or REDD+.

Can the world meet the ambitious goals necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change? A major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is clearly needed, but there is increasing scientific consensus that even if achieved, this will not be enough. In addition to a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, carbon must be removed from the atmosphere. An important solution is beneath our feet – the massive capacity of the earth’s soils to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.

Soils hold about three times more carbon than the atmosphere, and an increase in soil carbon content worldwide could close the “emissions gap” between carbon dioxide reductions pledged at the Paris Agreement of 2015 and those deemed necessary to limit warming to 2o C or less by 2100. To meet this challenge, several international efforts to build soil carbon have been launched, with similar measures underway in the United States.

Proposed policies include reforestation and innovative farming, ranching, and land management approaches that will enhance degraded soil and restore its carbon stock.

Read the report (PDF).

Will science go rogue against Donald Trump?

By John Steele - Socialist Worker, February 6, 2017

IN THE age of Trump, the person writing those words has much to teach us about the impending scientific struggles of our own time.

So spoke Salviati on day two of his debate with Sagredo and Simplicio in a hypothetical discussion imagined by the great scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, for his book Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632.

In the Dialogue, Galileo puts forward his heretical view that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun in opposition to the Catholic Church-sanctioned Ptolemaic system in which everything in the universe revolves around the Earth.

Galileo hoped that by adopting a conversational style for his argument, it would allow him to continue his argument about the true nature of the universe and evade the attentions of the Inquisition, which enforced Church doctrine with the force of bans, imprisonment and execution.

However, Galileo's friend, Pope Urban VIII, who had personally authorized Galileo to write the Dialogue, didn't allow sentimentality to obstruct power. Galileo was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his days under house arrest--the Dialogue was banned by the Inquisition, along with any other book Galileo had written or might write.

Typically portrayed as the quintessential clash between religion and science, Galileo's conflict with the Papacy was, in fact, just as rooted in material considerations of political power as it was with ideas about the nature of the solar system and our place within it.

Amid parallels to today's conflict between Donald Trump and the scientific community over funding, research, unimpeded freedom of speech and the kind of international collaboration required for effective scientific endeavor, neither situation exists solely in the realm of ideas.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change

Edited by Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Don Duggan-Haas, and Robert M. Ross - Paleontological Research Institution, 2017

The subject of climate change has become so socially and politically polarizing that it may be awkward to bring it up in polite conversation if one is not already sure of where others stand on the issue. But climate change is happening, and it’s essential for all to have an accurate understanding of the findings and implications of climate science: climate change is one of the most critical issues of the 21st century. Indeed, in the context of school curricula, it is difficult to imagine a subject that is not in some way affected by climate change or the processes of mitigating or adapting to it, so there are potentially myriad connections of this subject to just about everything that goes on in the classroom.

Despite this importance, even the basic science of climate change has until recently appeared much less in K-12 education than might be expected. Its presence is now accelerating, however, facilitated in part by its integration into the Next Generation Science Standards, and there are many existing books on climate change and some excellent online resources for teachers to help with integration of climate change into curricula. Yet there exist few user-friendly books on climate change, written for teachers, that include both the basics of climate change science and perspectives on teaching communities of learners across the polarized spectrum. That is a need we seek to help fill with this volume.

This book was written for teachers who could benefit from a “teacher-friendly” resource on climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

An Ecologically Sound and Socially Just Economy

By Fred Magdoff - Monthly Review, September 2016

Two weeks ago I returned from my fiftieth class reunion at Oberlin College in Ohio. The brief discussions I had there with environmental faculty and students left me feeling a bit dazed. So many good and intelligent people, so concerned, and doing what they think and hope will help heal the environment—this college has one of the best environmental education programs in the country. However, I was left disappointed and profoundly discouraged by the lack of discussion—or even interest in having a real continuing discussion and debate—regarding the root causes of our environmental disasters. Not just climate change, but also pollution of the air, water, soil, and living organisms, the loss of biodiversity both aboveground and in the soil, the extinction of species, and the overuse and misuse of both renewable and nonrenewable natural resources.

It is as though there is a flat tire with perhaps a thousand holes and people are working on the best way to patch this hole or that one. No one there seems to consider that the problem might be the tire itself—that the design and materials utilized are not appropriate to the way it is being used. And, if that is the case, then no amount of patching can solve the flat tire problem. It is of the utmost importance to be able to distinguish between symptoms (that most people call “problems” or “crises”) and underlying causes.

I ran into this confusion between symptoms and underlying causes time and time again in agricultural science and farming practices. Soils may be prone to erosion, store little water, grow crops that are susceptible to diseases and insect attack, become compacted, or have low fertility. Farmers (and extension specialists), usually think of and deal with these as individual problems—using pesticide applications, lots of commercial fertilizers, irrigating more frequently, using heavier equipment, and so on. In fact, I spent a significant portion of my career as a soil scientist helping to deal with the negative side effects of one of these responses—excess fertilizer use, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.

(As an aside, as I was preparing this talk, an unbelievable thirty-five tons of nitrogen in the nitrate form, worth approximately $35,000, flowed down the Raccoon River past Des Moines, Iowa, on the way to the Mississippi and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. This flushing of nitrate out of the soil by prolonged spring rains, partially the result of nitrate left over after last year’s drought [2012], was mainly a consequence of an ecologically damaging, but profitable, emphasis on growing corn and soybeans without an ecologically sound crop rotation.)

However, what I learned over time was that in reality these are symptoms of an unhealthy soil and a simplified approach to soil and crop management. The same is true of never-ending unemployment, inequality and poverty, the systemic necessity of perpetual growth, and pollution of air, water, soil, and organisms. As harmful as each of these is, they are all only symptoms—of an economic system that is essentially unmanaged. Of course large corporations and politicians that represent them try to manage national and international laws, regulations, and markets in such ways that it becomes easier for them to make more money. But with individual corporations and other private capital making decisions which consider only their own interests, the system as a whole alternates between periods of growth (that nowadays are pretty lackluster) and periods of recession. Addressing individual symptoms alone is not sufficient for the tasks we need to undertake—either to create healthy soils or to create an ecologically based and humane society.

One of the neglected issues regarding thinking and acting about the environment—perhaps the most critical of all—is, to borrow a phrase from the first President Bush, the vision thing. The environmental movement is lacking any kind of meaningful vision as to what a truly ecologically sound and socially just society would look like and how it might operate. I am not talking about a blueprint with all sorts of details, but rather an agreement on essential characteristics of such a system. Without a vision—including some conception of the essential parts of such a system, the chances of actually getting to such a society are essentially zero. Or, as James Baldwin put it in a commonly cited but still very appropriate passage, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is my contention that we are not facing the root cause of our problems, and until we do, there is no hope of solving the social and ecological problems confronting the world.

A radical critique of science: writing the next chapter

By Gabriel Levy - People and Planet, April 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Social and labour movements need a coherent critique of science and technology, it was argued at a meeting in London on Saturday.

On a practical level, battles against damaging technologies have often been waged separately from each other, and cover1could do more to reinforce each other, it was pointed out.

This includes technologies deployed by corporate power in an anti-natural, anti-human way (e.g . “extreme energy” or genetic engineering of people or crops), technologies of social control (e.g. anti-crowd hardware or electronic surveillance), and technologies that harmed workers’ health and/or reinforced their exploitation (e.g. hazardous chemicals or building practices).

The use, misuse and abuse of science in developing these technologies is crucial. And the meeting highlighted the history of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS), that in the 1970s and 80s successfully mobilised scientists to work with labour and protest movements. It considered the lessons of this experience for activists today.

The gathering (title: Radical Science and Alternative Technology) was organised by the Breaking the Frame group, and featured talks by veteran BSSRS activists and by present-day campaigners. Here are my impressions of an inspiring day’s discussion. (Stuff will be posted on the Breaking the Frame site and the BSSRS archive site, and I’ll update this post when I hear about that.)

The Environmental Crisis

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005

The world is facing a very serious environmental crisis. Key environmental problems include air pollution, the destruction of the ozone layer, vast quantities of toxic waste, massive levels of soil erosion, the possible exhaustion of key natural resources such as oil and coal, and the extinction of plants and animals on a scale not seen since the death of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago. We think that this crisis is likely to have catastrophic effects in the future. Even today, the negative effects of the crisis are evident in the form of growing deserts, increased rates of cancer, and the loss of plant species which could hold out cures for diseases for diseases such as AIDS etc.

What caused the crisis?

We disagree with those environmentalists who blame the crisis on modern machine production. Many dangerous, environmentally destructive technologies and substances (for example, coal power stations, non-degradable plastics which do not rot in the ground) can be replaced with safer and sustainable industrial technologies (for example, solar technology, starch-based plastics). We think that modern forms of production have many potential advantages over small-scale craft production. Such as greatly increasing the number of essential products like bricks produced, and freeing people from unpleasant toil. We also disagree with the argument that says that workers and peasants cause the crisis by consuming “too many” resources. Most goods consumed in the world are consumed by the middle class and ruling class.

Instead, the real blame for the environmental crisis must be laid at the door of capitalism and the State. These structures create massive levels of inequality which are responsible for much ecological devastation. How? The accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of the few is associated with excessive and unjustifiable high levels of consumption by the ruling elite. The poverty caused by the system also creates environmental problems. For example, by forcing the poor to cut down trees for firewood, exhaust the tiny bits of farm land that they own in a desperate attempt to provide food, pollute rivers because they lack proper plumbing facilities etc.

The Environment

By the Workers' Solidarity Federation - January 1, 2005 [PDF File Available]

1. General Introduction

1. The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result wil be the extinction of human life on the planet.

2. We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognize that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten its survival.

3. The main environmental problems include:

3.1. Air pollution: destroys the ozone layer that filters out dangerous rays from the sun; creates a general increase in planetary temperatures (the greenhouse effect) that will severely disrupt weather patterns; turns rain water into acid that destroys plant and animal life; causes respiratory and other diseases amongst humans.

3.2. Solid waste: the sea and the land environments are poisoned by the dumping of dangerous industrial wastes (such as mercury and nuclear waste); the use of materials that nature cannot break down in packaging and in other products, particularly disposable products, have turned many parts of the world into large rubbish dumps as well as wasting resources; poisons and injures people.

3.3. Soil erosion: this takes place in both the First and the Third World, and is the result of factors such the (mis-)use of chemical fertilizers, dangerous pesticides etc, as well as inappropriate land use, land overuse, and the felling of trees. For these reasons, soil is eroded at a rate faster than that at which it is being produced; contributes to rural poverty [1].

3.4. Extinction: plants and animals are being made extinct at a faster rate than any time since the dinosaurs died out, 60 million years ago; results in the loss of many species, and undermines the ecosphere on which all life depends.

Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays

Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays - By Eunice Foote as read before the American Association of Science and Arts, August 23, 1856

Irish physicist John Tyndall is commonly credited with discovering the greenhouse effect, which underpins the science of climate change.  However, it was (in fact) a woman, named Eunice Foote who actually deserves the credit (as this article describes). Women often do much of the work in this world, and, under the patriarchical capitalist system we seek to overthrow, they rarely receive proper credit (until much later, if ever).

Read her summary, here (PDF).


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