Ep. 23: Scientists Need Not Apply?

 Ep. 23: Scientists Need Not Apply?

As originally seen on Trump on Earth

Image: Sam Clovis has been tapped to be Head Scientist at the USDA.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is often at odds with scientists, and his recent agency nominations continue to reflect that. Sam Clovis is Trump’s pick for Chief Scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Clovis has been many things —  Air Force fighter pilot, conservative talk show host, defeated U.S. Senate candidate, co-chair of Trump’s presidential campaign. But one thing not on his resume? Scientist.

If confirmed, Clovis would oversee USDA’s $3 billion research budget, which includes research to help farmers and ranchers adapt to climate change. Clovis has called global warming “junk science” despite 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that climate-warming trends over the past century are “extremely likely” due to human activities. “I’ve looked at the science and I have enough of a science background to know when I’m being boofed,” Clovis told Iowa Public Radio in a 2014 interview.

Congress placed some pretty strict guidelines – actual laws –  that make this job hard to fill. But what happens when those laws are overlooked, even ignored, by the President?

Our guest in this episode of Trump on Earth, Mike Lavender, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program, says that’s exactly what is happening with the Clovis pick.

“In 2008, Congress wrote into law that this specific position, the Chief Scientist at the Department of Agriculture, needs to have significant training and experience in agricultural research, education in economics. And when you look at Mr. Clovis’s background, there is literally no degree or no work experience that qualifies him for this job. It’s a key position that is often behind the scenes and doesn’t get much attention, but it really goes to investing taxpayer money into things that can keep our food safe, that can keep farmers productive and profitable, and that can keep our water clean.”

A number of farm groups, the American Farm Bureau among them, have sent a letter in support of Sam Clovis’s nomination. They say there are plenty of scientists at the USDA, and what American agriculture needs is a strong advocate. And that’s what they see in Sam Clovis. Valentine argues that those two things don’t have to be separate.

“There are dozens of qualified individuals who can fill this role very capably. And if you look back over 20 plus years in Republican and Democratic administrations, there’s always been a qualified individual in this position. So the argument that passion and advocacy is Mr. Corvis’s strongest suit — we would argue that that isn’t enough.  When you’re investing $3 billion of taxpayer money, passion isn’t enough to get the job done. You have to know what you’re talking about.You need to have a solid understanding of the background of our food and farm system to make those investments work in a strategic way that actually helps people.”

More than 60% of top science posts in the federal government that require Senate confirmation do not have a nominee, according to an analysis by the  Washington Post. And Valentine argues that there are significant consequences to losing “scientific voices in the room.”

“When you have more political voices, and in some cases only political voices, speaking up when there’s a need for science, and a need for science-based governance ,that’s a problem because there are so many questions…We’re not going to get cleaner air. We’re not going to get cleaner water. We’re not going to get safer through by making calculations that are other than science based.”


Mentioned in the episode:

This episode was hosted by Julie Grant. Follow her on Twitter. Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front, a Pittsburgh-based environmental reporting project, and Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism program.


2017 Multimedia Workshop

October 27-28th – Register Here

Point Park University’s second annual Environmental Journalism Multimedia Workshop is a free event that focuses on teaching storytelling through hands-on multimedia training. The two-day workshop will occur at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation. Participants will work in teams, paired with professional mentors, to produce a 3-5 minute multimedia project on a provided story-opportunity.

The completed media projects will be shared at a public presentation, Saturday evening, October 28th, at the Center for Media Innovation.

Learn basic interview skills, composition and how to produce a video-package in Adobe Premier.

Last year students had to chance to interview representatives at Garfield Community Farm, Blackberry Meadows, Allegheny Land Trust, and Penn Future. This year we are revisiting some of those same groups, as well as adding some new and exciting story opportunities to the list!

FRIDAY, October 27th

9:30 am: Meet team and professional leader at The Center For Media Innovation.

11am-3pm: Students will have the opportunity to connect with one of the following, willing, green-initiative participants to create their multimedia projects. Tentative participants include:

  1. Allegheny Land Trust: Helping Local People Save Local Land
  2. Penn Future & Clean Water Action: Air Quality Expo in Squirrel Hill
  3. GASP: Group Against Smog and Pollution
  4. Allegheny Goatscaping
  5. “Pay As You Throw”
  6. Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum

6-8pm: Speaker series

SATURDAY, October 28th

9:30 am: Edit! Edit! Edit! Students meet with their groups to put the final touches on projects.

6pm: Pittsburgh to Paris contest winner announced & winning video shown

6:15-7:15pm: Speaker series

7:15pm: Finished multimedia projects screened

To see last year’s projects please follow this link. The projects were published on our website, the Environmental-Report.org, as well as shared via our Facebook page.

Pittsburgh to Paris Contest

CMU, Point Park challenge Pittsburgh-area college students to create videos on raising awareness about climate change

The Steinbrenner Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University are collaborating on a multimedia competition to raise awareness about climate change. Entrants will have a chance to win a pair of round-trip tickets from Pittsburgh to Paris, courtesy of WOW Airlines.

When President Trump announced the United States’ exit from the Paris Climate Accord earlier this year, he said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s response was that “we stand with the world and will follow the agreement.”

The Steinbrenner Institute and the Center for Media Innovation are issuing the “Pittsburgh (not) to Paris Climate Multimedia Challenge” to students of colleges that are part of the Higher Education Climate Consortium, part of the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative. The goal is to raise awareness about climate change by making a video that answers this question: What does this mean to you in a world where climate change is not an alternative fact?

Along with Carnegie Mellon and Point Park, eligible educational institutions include the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Carlow University, Chatham University, Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, La Roche College, The Penn State Center, Robert Morris University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Neil M. Donahue, director of CMU’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, has been studying climate change for almost 40 years. He notes that the 1979 Charney Report to the National Research Council warned that “a wait-and- see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.” “The causes and severity of climate change described in that nearly 40-year- old report have been

“The causes and severity of climate change described in that nearly 40-year- old report have been verified. We do see the effects and we hope that it is not too late,” Donahue said. “Pittsburgh has a

“Pittsburgh has a vibrant community from scholars to blue-collar workers making efforts to understand climate and poised to deploy solutions, and we have elected representatives who understand the problem and who are proactively working to solve it. This is a global problem, and Pittsburgh, Paris and all of their sister cities can solve it together.”

Submissions should be videos of any style, but cannot exceed 60 seconds in length and personal
statements are limited to 250 words. They must be relevant to climate change with a compelling
presentation and production. Videos must be uploaded with a hashtag of #P2PClimateChallenge to https://p2pclimatechallenge.pgtb.me/Qg4wkZ between noon Sept. 9 and 11:59 p.m. Oct. 2.

Online voting will run until Oct. 18 to determine 10 finalists. An expert panel will review the finalists and pick one winner, who will be announced at Point Park’s Multimedia Workshop, to be held Oct. 27-28 at the Center for Media Innovation.

“As our society actively debates climate change, I think about the world we are leaving behind for future generations,” said Christopher Rolinson, director of Point Park’s Environmental Journalism Program, which is conducting the workshop. “It is our responsibility to protect the air, water and land. While the responsibility to preserve the climate and environment begins locally, global climate change must be taken seriously from Pittsburgh to Paris, and worldwide.”

Svanhvit Fridriksdottir, vice president of Communications at WOW Airlines, said the company was proud to play a role in the competition, given WOW’s dedication to issues impacting the environment.

“We use brand-new airplanes that are very fuel efficient and environmentally friendly and also support various environmental initiatives in Iceland, including Landvernd, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring Icelandic nature. WOW also recently opened solar-powered bicycle sharing stations in Reykjavik,” Fridriksdottir said. “We hope this initiative will succeed in promoting a healthier lifestyle for the benefit of the environment.”


Lou Corsaro
Point Park University

Ken Walters
Carnegie Mellon University

Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 17-19th 2017

“The Climate Reality Project announced today that the organization will hold its 36th Climate Reality Leadership Corps activist training in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from October 17-19, with the generous support and partnership of The Heinz Endowments. Over the course of three days, world class scientists, communicators, and climate experts will join former US Vice President and Climate Reality Founder and Chairman Al Gore to train citizens to become Climate Reality Leaders, who organize their communities for action on the climate crisis.”

“Pittsburgh has taken a leadership role in fighting against climate disruption, but we need to fight even harder. The Vice President’s Climate Reality training is just what our residents and advocates need in this critical time, and I thank The Heinz Endowments for their commitment and generosity,” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said.

Learn More Here

Wine to Water Reflection Video

From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

The video is a reflection of Georgia Fowkes personal experience. Fowkes is a student of Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management studies at Point Park University and has recently accepted an internship at Abrams Artist Agency in the Arts & Entertainment industry of West Hollywood, California.

Georgia Fowkes captures a sunrise video for her multimedia project via her cell phone. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.

Does the Water Mafia Exist?

Factory owner Radhames Carela holds a newly fired ceramic water filter, explaining to the group how the filtration process works through a combination of locally sourced clay, sawdust and outsourced silver. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.
From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

Written by Erica Schey

When you hear about the Dominican Republic what do you think? Many think of it as a vacation spot with white sandy beaches and blue waters. But, outside the walls of the resorts, is a lot of poverty and a real need for clean water.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I had the pleasure of working with an organization called Wine to Water to distribute ceramic water filters to surrounding areas. Many families don’t have access to clean drinking water, which causes many health issues like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and even death. Every 20 seconds a child dies of a waterborne illness and 443 million school days are lost each year from water related illnesses. Common sources for drinking water range from contaminated water wells, river and streams, and rain water. Some are fortunate enough to have the money and access to purchase large water jugs for their drinking water.  This is the part that brought the question to mind, is there a “water mafia” that controls people’s access to clean drinking water?

When following up with people in Bonagua, many of the households mentioned that the water filters were saving them a great deal of money. Anywhere from 300 to 1,000 pesos a month. This was all because they don’t have to buy the jugs of clean water anymore.

However, some households mentioned that they have only cut back on how many jugs they buy because they didn’t want to tell the people that sell them that they didn’t need them anymore. Is this because of fear or is it because those people lively hoods depend on the sales of clean water?

While we know, we are doing good by building and distributing water filters so that families can have less health issues and save money. It brings up the question, could these filters be having an adverse effect on the people that distribute these water jugs? It is believed that it is a big enough business that if a few families in the community stop buying jugs of water it wouldn’t impact the bottom line of the business. But as we do more and more work in these communities and hand out more and more filters, when will it impact the bottom line? When does our good work become bad for others?

Erica Schey is a recent graduate of Point Park University’s Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering & Technology M.S program. Schey is pictured above (right) sculpting a ceramic water filter.

Methane Mitigation Takes Off

Methane Mitigation Takes Off

Environmental Journalism Graduate Student Rebecca Lessner helped the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in shooting and editing the following video on methane mitigation in the state. More and more Pennsylvanians are finding work in the growing methane mitigation industry, helping to find and fix natural gas leaks that drive up energy costs and contribute to global warming.

CH4NGE is curated by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), highlighting the economic and environmental benefits of addressing methane emissions, and how Pennsylvania’s policies and practices compare to other gas producing states.

PEC is a partner with the Center for Responsible Shale Development.