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“Something Called ‘Volcano Monitoring’ ”

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[cross-posted at Daily Kos [2]]

“[The Democrats’ stimulus] legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes . . . $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” —Bobby Jindal [3], Governor of Louisiana, Feb. 24, 2009

Remember Bobby Jindal’s celebrated response [3] to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009? It included some, uh, noteworthy moments [4], not the least of which was his sneer at such “wasteful spending” as “something called ‘volcano monitoring [5].’” Some speechwriter was probably pleased with that line, but this was a contemptuous display of ignorance on the level of Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculing “community organizer—what’s that? [6]” (6:08) at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and just as deserving of a reality-based comeuppance.

The $140 million for the U.S. Geological Survey was partly intended to provide warnings of impending volcanic eruptions in the U.S. and around the world where American military bases [7] are located. The Americans at Ramstein Air Base [8] in Germany probably appreciate that monitoring equipment right about now.

With international air traffic to Europe disrupted for a second straight day [9] following a massive volcano eruption in Iceland (some 17,000 flights were canceled Friday), we have to use the occasion to poke this over-ambitious governor in the eye and say: “Now do you get it?” Jindal the boy genius used to be respected for his intelligence (Rhodes Scholar) and precocious grasp of complex policy, but those days are over. He is not serving his state or the nation—and not his own career, either—by his know-nothing, anti-science statements and decisions. (See our earlier posts “Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition [10]” and “From Rising Star to Black Hole [4].”)

Suffering under an Ambitious, Anti-Science Governor

This mocker of investments in volcano monitoring is the same governor who (along with senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter) filed objections with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson [11] against proposed regulations to limit greenhouse gases, claiming that the Supreme Court–mandated standards “will certainly have profound negative economic impacts on the state of Louisiana, as well as the entire country.” Not true. Actually, an analysis [12] by the Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute found that Louisiana stands to gain billions in revenue and tens of thousands of new jobs. As reported at ThinkProgress [11]:

Louisiana could see a net increase of about $2.2 billion in investment revenue and 29,000 jobs based on its share of a total of $150 billion in clean-energy investments annually across the country. This is even after assuming a reduction in fossil fuel spending equivalent to the increase in clean-energy investments.

This is the same governor who also, to his shame, signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 [13] (SB733) that opened the door for teaching creationism and intelligent design alongside the theory of natural selection (Darwinian evolution). Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made adjustments [14] strengthening the pro-creationist provisions. Back to the pre–Scopes “Monkey” Trial [15] era with Bobby. The CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote to Jindal [16] urging him to veto SB733 and reminding him that in 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court in declared unconstitutional a Louisiana “creation science” law.

[17]The way we’re going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science . . .” —Bobby Jindal, Face the Nation [17], June 14, 2008

The Science Education Act of 2008 [13] (SB733) was spoon-fed to Louisiana state senator Ben Nevers [18] by the Louisiana Family Forum, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. The Louisiana Coalition for Science [19] notes that SB733’s phrase “academic freedom and inquiry” is “well-documented creationist code language.” After this bill was signed, science groups including the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology [20] notified the governor’s office that as long as this law remains, they will no longer hold their conventions in New Orleans (much to their members’ dismay, we’re sure). The group’s president wrote to Jindal, “It is the firm opinion of S.I.C.B.’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana.”

The SICB’s convention in Boston in 2009 attracted more than 1,800 scientists and graduate students for five days, the New York Times reported [21]. How is SB733 working out for the Louisiana economy, Governor? How many tourism and tax dollars were lost just with this one foregone conference? You’re concerned enough about the “profound negative economic impacts” of EPA regulations that are designed to reduce carbon emissions and thereby curb global warming [22] > hurricane ferocity [23] > sea-level rise [24]—but how about the economic impact of lost conventions?

Something Called “Science”

Governor Jindal, we know that you know better. Again, your political ambition overtakes your better judgment. (We have said before that, with the mentality of today’s GOP, a Republican governor with presidential ambitions is a curse [10] that we would not wish on any state.) Now, just to refresh your memory, there is something called “science” (it’s in most dictionaries) that involves impartial investigation of natural phenomena through observation, formulating and testing hypotheses for objective results—regardless of what the investigator hopes to find, or believes should be found. We know you’re aware that the southernmost reaches of our beloved state of Louisiana is imperiled by subsidence, encroaching sea levels, intensified hurricanes, and desperately needs both reinforced flood protection systems (hard infrastructure) and coastal restoration in the form of replanted wetlands, river diversions, and shoreline protection including rebuilt barrier islands. (See the Multiple Lines of Defense [25] plan drawn up by John Lopez and colleagues at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation [26]; see also the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana [27].) All of this work depends on science—and on elected officials who believe in the value of testing, experimentation, and hard data, not wishful thinking.

Governor, we don’t have time to mess around with junk science and placating the evangelicals. Every year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day. About 1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—more than 25 times the land area of Washington, D.C. The land loss is not only killing species of wildlife, but is taking away the buffer that protects human settlements such as the city of New Orleans and Acadiana—Cajun country—from hurricanes and the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Valuable oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also endangered, exposed to violent storms. Experts say if a serious, all-hands-on-deck, fully-funded federal effort is not mounted within the next five to ten years, New Orleans and Acadiana will be lost. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands. Your attempts to block the EPA regulations may please industrial interests, but surely not all of them: you all must realize that oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also imperiled, just like everything else along the southern coast of the state.

One more question, Governor Jindal: Do you think your Exxon engineers want their children going to Baton Rouge area schools where they’re taught “young Earth” theories that humans and dinosaurs may have coexisted 4,000 years ago (as Sarah Palin [28] seems to believe)?

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