Censorship

Of all the strange and worrisome things that took place in Washington this year perhaps the worst was news earlier this month that the Trump Administration had provided the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a list of seven words or phrases that it does not want used (click here to read the article). In essence, those words and phrases are being censored. Learning this reminded me about deceased comedian George Carlin’s bit about Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV, but nothing, of course, about news that our government has censored scientific words or phrases is funny. In fact, censorship is dangerous.

Personally, 2017 has been a remarkable year that I will never forget. I graduated from high school and late this year finished my first semester at the University of Miami while being selected as an Intern in Dr. Hammerschlag’s renowned Shark Research and Conservation Lab. In between, I was awarded the Miami Herald’s Silver Knight Award for Social Science and the Inaugural National Geographic Teen Service Award, among other honors.

Over the summer I helped enact Florida’s first solar mandate law that made The Sunshine State only the second in America with such a progressive step towards sustainability. And I traveled to New York twice, once for the amazing, humbling, honor to address the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme and the Everglades National Park on World Oceans Day, and the second time to work with MTV and former Vice President Al Gore in support of his new book and movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. And speaking of books, my work with The Sink or Swim Project was mentioned in two important books: Truth to Power and Utilizing Innovative Technologies to Address the Public Health Impact of Climate Change.

I was also honored to lecture to thousands of young people this year in elementary, middle and high school, as well as various colleges in Central and South Florida. And this fall I was named a member of the Board of Directors of the CLEO Institute.

But of all the things that I did this year, perhaps the most important in my view was helping conceive, organize and then hosting the inaugural March for Science Miami in April with a group of incredible women. Evidence based, peer reviewed science is the very foundation of discovery and innovation and, thus, the news earlier this month that our federal government would censor the use of scientific phrases is somewhere between sick and scary.

In a democracy where free speech is embraced and cherished as a core, founding value of our country, it is impossible to understand how our government could dictate that these, or any, words or phrases (vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based) be outlawed and this should alarm every American no matter their political affiliation.

But, of course, this does not completely surprise those of us here in Florida were our Governor, Rick Scott, himself a close ally and confidant to President Trump, has outlawed phrases such as global warming, climate change and sea level rise from his administration. And he’s doing this knowing well and good that communities all over our region are being forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to begin fighting the exact threats the Governor pretends to overlook. Censorship is not ‘normal politics’, it’s unethical and immoral and it must stop.

So, as the sun sets on 2017 here on No Name Key here’s hoping that science and scientists will be embraced by every American in 2018 and that censorship of any type will never be tolerated.IMG_6756

Santa Told Me He’s Concerned About Climate Change

Traditions are important to my family and me.

That’s certainly true during the holidays, especially Christmas.

How we decorate our home each year. Walking to church for candlelight service on Christmas Eve. How my brother Owen and I wait for each other to go downstairs together on Christmas morning with dad always at the foot of the stairs filming our first few minutes of excitement. These traditions and countless others help define our family and are childhood memories that I will never forget and, I am sure, one day share with my own children.

Writing a letter to Santa over the years and then visiting him at our local mall only to find that he had received those letters, that he had them in that little mailbox that sat next to his chair and knew our names and what we’d asked for are especially vivid memories and, I dare say, part of the magic of the holiday that we hold dear in our hearts.

And speaking of those memories and that magic, something new and remarkable happened yesterday that I want to share with you. It’s part tradition and also has a bit of magic blended in but is also a sign of our times and the importance that no matter who you are, or where you live, that our warming climate is a concern to just about everyone.

You see, just as we were about to leave our home for the theater to see the Nutcracker ballet (another annual tradition) my cell phone rang with a Facetime request from a number I’ve never seen. Mom and dad encouraged me to answer it and I was then surprised to be looking at the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus, who with a robust Ho Ho Ho announced that he was calling to wish Owen and me a Merry Christmas.

OK, I have to admit that at first I was surprised and a bit speechless.

And while I was trying to wrap my mind around the call, what I was seeing and how much he knew about Owen and me, the next thing I knew Santa was telling me how concerned he is about climate change and its impact on the North Pole. One second we were talking about school and Christmas and the next he was asking what they can do to protect his homeland from melting, from disappearing, how solar power is a good start and how easy it is to store the power of the sun in batteries over those long winter nights we’ve all read about.

Santa talked with Owen and I about some other things including his reindeer, Owen’s singing and acting and such but what I can’t get out of my mind was his concern over our environment. It seems that even legendary, mythical figures are concerned about our warming climate and how we solve this crisis before it’s too late. And that call, and especially his concern, just goes to further define the term Christmas Magic.

So from our home to you and your family and friends, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanza. And remember, Santa is not only watching all of us to see if we are naughty or nice but to see how we each treat this special place where we live, planet earth, so that his home in the North Pole, like mine here in South Florida, will be around for future generations of children to love and cherish.

Portugal. The Man: Trust the Native Alaskans

My friend John Gourley is, by his own admission, not a scientist. He is, however, a Native Alaskan and is today the lead singer of one of the most popular alternative rock bands on the planet: Portugal. The Man.

I had the opportunity to hang out with John after his recent set during Riptide Music Festival on Ft. Lauderdale Beach and I think his comments are some of the most important that I’ve ever shared with readers of my blog and am pleased to share part of my interview with you.

Before becoming the lead singer of a world famous rock band, John spent his childhood in rural Alaska. His childhood in the 80’s and 90’s was much different in many ways than for kids growing up in a big city like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. While he did not have internet or Netflix or other modern devices, he filled his time skateboarding, snowboarding, exploring the outdoors, and tending to his family’s pack of Iditarod racing (mushing) sled dogs.

John knows and loves the Alaskan outdoors, but he is deeply concerned that it is disappearing before his and his friends very eyes because of climate change.

Alaska is a challenging state because it is filled with so much abundant nature and as John says, “it’s easy to overlook the impact of climate change while there is still so much rural environment remaining”.  It’s also challenging because the oil industry has a significant stake in producing and then transporting their products, but John knows that the Alaska that he loves is melting away and he told me that he worries about what will be left of that magnificent place when his daughter grows up as “more of the coastline melt[s] away”. Speaking of coastline, the state of Alaska has the largest amount of coastline of any state in the United States and Florida, including that beach where John’s band performed, has the second most coastline.

John’s message is a strong one and includes the suggestion that we listen to people in places like Alaska who are living with the impact of climate change right now, people like John and his friends, and especially indigenous people like Native Alaskans. As John explained, “It’s easy to be ignorant to this stuff or naive and just not see it, but trust somebody who’s been around it and grew up in a place that you think is cold. It’s not cold year-round anymore. Alaska’s not cold anymore. Trust the Native Alaskans. People who have been there for thousands and thousands of years.”

Almost two years ago I had the honor of giving a keynote address at the Florida Atlantic University Sea Level Rise Summit: Alaska to Florida after which I received a standing ovation and later learned that some in attendance actually cried while listening to my comments. At that time I could not fully understand the reaction or the emotion from the several hundred esteemed professionals that were in attendance – scientists, educators, and policy makers including many who had flown in from Alaska for the symposium. That is until yesterday when John portrayed so vividly what he has been seeing and explained it as if it were one of his songs.

John talked, for example, about the city of Shishmaref, Alaska and how climate change there is obvious to the naked eye; I mean that’s where you really see the effects of climate change. That’s where you see the permafrost melting, you see the island melting… it’s just an island and you see it melting away into the water and you see houses falling into the water.”

Like John said, he’s not a scientist but that does not mean that he doesn’t have eyes or want to see the climate change crisis addressed for himself, his daughter, and future generations. When asked about climate change and sea rise, Florida’s governor Rick Scott also says that he’s not a scientist but he does this to avoid talking about what’s happening to our state. And yet non-scientist Governor Scott leads a state where places like Miami Beach ($450 million) and the City of Miami ($200 million) are spending huge sums of money to begin addressing the sea level rise problems caused by our global climate change crisis that people all over South Florida – most of which, I might add, are also not scientists either – see with their own eyes and leads me to ask and wonder why ‘leaders’ like Governor Scott avoid this so very important issue. It can only be because of politics and that, in my view, is terribly shortsighted given that the climate change crisis is likely the biggest issue that my generation will ever face.

Pretending to not see what’s happening does not solve the problem, because climate change is not about donkeys or elephants, red states or blue ones, it’s much more important than politics.

As John said about what he’s been seeing and why we must set politics aside and focus on solutions before its too late, “It’s not normal. It’s something that we’ve all seen. Just leave the political views aside and just look at science and just trust it. Science is based on fact. Politics are based on the guy down the street that paid me to give a speech. Don’t let politics be a part of it.”

As I said at the end of my interview with John, I can’t say it any better than that, nor agree more. Rock on Portugal. The Man, and thanks again, John, for being so passionate and public about this important topic.

To learn more about Portugal. The Man, please check out the Miami New Times article      and while you at it consider listing to some of their most excellent music.

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