The City of Boston is seeking a partner to help design its first urban forest plan, according to a request for proposals (RFP) issued last week.
City officials said they want to partner with a group that will “develop strategies to promote growth, longevity, and protection of Boston’s urban canopy over the next 20 years,” and also provide a roadmap toward expanding the city’s tree canopy and understanding where that canopy is being lost.
Potential partners will be required to support communities and neighborhoods that have been historically underserved and are disproportionately affected by climate change. Partners will also be required to work with local small and minority-owned businesses. The RFP closes to applications on Oct. 28.
For over a decade a company called Twin Metals has been seeking permission to build and run an underground copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum mine there. Opponents, including local residents, conservation groups and outdoor businesses, argue that this operation could release toxic contaminants that would wash into the Boundary Waters and adjoining parks, poisoning wildlife and contaminating soils.
The Obama administration opposed the project and declined to renew expiring leases for Twin Metals in 2016. But the Trump administration granted new leases in May 2019. As a scholar who studies public land management, I see this controversy as a classic debate over environmental protection versus job creation, with a twist: There’s a compelling economic argument for conservation.
Short- and long-term benefits
U.S. national forests are managed with multiple uses in mind, including logging, livestock grazing, biodiversity, air and water quality and recreation. Designating part of a national forest as wilderness is a big step that prohibits some of those uses. It means, in the language of the 1964 Wilderness Act, that “there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area,” nor any motorized vehicles that would mar the land’s “primeval character,” its “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”
The Boundary Waters first received protection as a roadless wilderness area in 1926 at the recommendation of the Forest Service’s first landscape architect, Arthur Carhart. “There is one outstanding feature found in the Superior National Forest which is not present in any other nationally owned property,” Carhart asserted. “This is a lake type of recreation. The Superior is unquestionably one of the few great canoe countries of the world.”
A 2016 study estimated that the Boundary Waters alone accounts for 1,000 jobs and $77 million in annual economic output. “Outdoor recreation is an export industry for northeastern Minnesota, providing for stable employment and sustainable jobs year after year,” the report observed.
A 2012 study of 15 U.S. sulfide-ore copper mines, published by the environmental advocacy organization Earthworks, found that 14 of the projects experienced accidental releases that resulted in significant water contamination. Since the Boundary Waters exists within a vast network of interconnected lakes and streams, toxic mining pollution upstream could be disastrous for fish, wildlife and wilderness values.
In 2016, after analyzing the mine’s potential impacts, the Forest Service refused to consent to the lease, and the Obama administration imposed a 20-year moratorium on mining near the Boundary Waters. But things changed a year later, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, when his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner rented a District of Columbia mansion from a Chilean businessman named Andrónico Luksic.
Luksic was the chief executive officer of Antofagasta, a Chilean conglomerate that owned Twin Metals. Within weeks, senior U.S. officials were meeting with Antofagasta leaders and reexamining the leases. Company representatives and a spokesperson for the Kushners said there was no link between the rental and action on the mine, but ethics experts said even the appearance of a conflict was troubling.
Administration officials have sought to weaken the Forest Service’s authority over mineral leases across its 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. On June 12, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, whose agency includes the Forest Service, issued a memo that directed the Forest Service to “streamline processes and identify new opportunities to increase America’s energy dominance and reduce reliance on foreign countries for critical minerals.” And the agency has signaled its willingness to do so.
Trump has claimed credit on the campaign trail for saving Minnesota’s mining economy from stifling environmental regulation. “Our miners are back on the job and wages have increased by as much as 50%…. But if Biden wins the Iron Range we’ll be shut down forever, you know that,” he told an audience in Mankato, Minnesota, on Aug. 17.
Ironically, just a few days later the Trump administration hit the pause button on another large mining project: the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, which critics assert would pollute Bristol Bay, the site of several lucrative wild salmon fisheries. The administration reportedly reversed course after Donald Trump Jr. and other prominent conservatives who are avid hunters and anglers objected to it.
While jobs and economic impacts loom large in this debate, they aren’t the only issues at stake. At an international biodiversity summit on Sept. 30, United Nations officials issued a call to action to protect nature from degradation. With biodiversity declining “at rates unprecedented in human history, with growing impacts on people and our planet,” they specifically pointed out that some 85% of global wetlands have been lost to development, with 35% of that total disappearing between 1970 and 2015.
That makes the Boundary Waters, with its 1,000 glacier-gouged lakes, both a relic and an opportunity for Minnesotans, Americans and the planet.
Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false – recycling and reuse are the only strategies that can work.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does have the legal authority to implement a carbon price, legal experts agreed during a Wednesday technical conference on carbon pricing.
Under sections 206 and 205 of the Federal Power Act, FERC has the authority to actualize such a policy through the regional transmission operators (RTO) and independent system operators (ISO), six panelists spanning academia and industry law told commissioners. But a slightly murkier question is whether the commission has the power to implement such a tariff unilaterally — an issue Commissioner James Danly was particularly interested in.
If FERC were to establish a record, there is no “inherent jurisdictional bar” to prevent the commission from issuing a carbon price without a direct request from grid operators, Ari Peskoe, director of Harvard’s Electricity Law Initiative, said. Others said it was possible, but tricky without a legislative mandate.
The head of the organization that runs the New England power grid on Friday called for “net carbon pricing” of electricity in the region as the best way to develop the massive amount of clean energy needed to decarbonize the region’s economy.
In 2007, I served as a consultant for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ deliberations about the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. As a result, I was invited to attend the Nobel ceremonies. Staying at the Grand Hotel with all the awardees, I got to see how scientists – excellent but largely unknown outside their fields – suddenly became superstars.
As soon as they’re announced annually in early October, Nobel laureates become role models who are invited to give seminars all around the world. In Stockholm for the awards, these scientists were interviewed on radio and television and hobnobbed with Swedish royalty. Swedish television aired the events of Nobel week live.
As a chemist who has also investigated how science is done, seeing scientists and their research jump to the top of the public’s consciousness thanks to all the Nobel hoopla is gratifying. But in the 119 years since the Nobel Prizes were first given out, only 3% of the science awardees have been women and zero of the 617 science laureates have been Black. The vast majority of those now-famous role model scientists are white men.
This is a problem much larger than simply bias on the part of the Nobel selection committees – it’s systemic.
Nobels still reflect another time
Five Nobel Prizes were established according to inventor Alfred Nobel’s will. The first prizes in chemistry, literature, physics and medicine were awarded in 1901. Each prize can be awarded to no more than three people, and prizes may not be awarded posthumously.
Just as with the Oscars for the movie industry, there is pre-Nobel buzz. Scientists try to predict who will be awarded the year’s chemistry, physics and medicine prizes. In the days and weeks following the announcement of the awards, there is a thorough analysis of the winners and their research, as well as sympathizing with those who were overlooked.
It doesn’t take a very detailed investigation to see that women and Black scientists are not proportionally represented among the laureates, that the United States is home to more winners than most countries and that China has surprisingly few science Nobel laureates.
Nomination to receive a Nobel Prize in science or medicine is by invitation only, and information about the nomination and selection process cannot be revealed until 50 years have passed. Despite this confidentiality, based on the list of laureates it’s clear that nominations tend to favor scientists working at elite research institutions, famous scientists who are good at self-promotion and those well known to their peers. Predictably, these tend to be older, established white men.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute are in charge of selecting the Nobel winners for chemistry and physics, and for medicine, respectively. They’re aware that they have a “white male problem,” and starting with the 2019 nominations have asked nominators to consider diversity in gender, geography and topic. One year in, it hasn’t yet been reflected on the dais. There were no Black or female award recipients in physics, chemistry or medicine at the December 2019 Nobel ceremonies.
So what’s going on? Why does the list of Nobel laureates seem to mirror the scientists of Alfred Nobel’s day more than the world in 2020?
STEM is more diverse than Nobels, but….
A 2017 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics report shows that while white men make up only one-third of the U.S. population, they constitute at least half of all scientists.
There’s no good reason students from underrepresented groups wouldn’t start out aspiring to careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields at the same rates as their nonminority peers. But minorities, who comprise 30% of the U.S. population, make up only 14% of master’s students and just 6% of all Ph.D. candidates. In 2017, there were more than a dozen areas in which not a single Ph.D. was awarded to a Black person, and these are primarily within the STEM fields. Only 1.6% of chemistry professors at the top 50 U.S. schools are Black. This gap hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years. There are not enough Black full professors in the sciences at elite universities where the networks and reputations critical for winning a Nobel are made.
Though women make up more than half of the general population, they too count as an underrepresented group in many STEM disciplines. Just three women out of 213 physics Nobel laureates is obviously a disproportionately low number. Only five women have won in chemistry, and 12 in medicine. It’s hard not to think that many distinguished and immensely qualified female scientists must have been overlooked over more than a century of prizes.
The list of STEM Nobel laureates since 1901 sends the wrong message to young people, funding agencies, editorial boards and others about who does noteworthy science. Perhaps much more important, it is indicative of many biases and inequities that plague women and minorities in science. Colleges and universities host programs to support underrepresented groups in the sciences, but they are just Band-Aids on much bigger systemic issues in society. Without economic equity and educational parity, it will be hard to achieve Nobel diversity.