Be arrested for science

JOSHUA DAUSENER, Staff Writer

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“This is not only the crisis of our lives, it is the crisis of our species’ existence,” Sandra Steingraber said to her audience during a lecture last Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Steingraber’s lecture, “Be Arrested if Necessary: The Case for Science in Action,” focused on the influence of science in public policy, and the role science and political activism can play in creating informed public policy that works for the greater good.

The title of the lecture was inspired partly by a column in “Nature” titled as such, and partly because Steingraber herself was arrested for protesting a natural gas storage plant at Seneca Lake in 2013.
The lecture, organized by the Center for Energy and Environmental (CEEE), is part of an effort from scientists such as Steingraber to inform citizens of the role of science in government, and what citizens can do to organize and have their voices heard.

Sandra Steingraber is a biologist, author and environmental activist.

Steingraber described what she believed to be impending environmental disaster that will impact the entire planet.

She said since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 180 years ago, levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere have increased 40 percent, and methane levels have tripled. The results, according to Steingraber, are very concerning.

The consequences of additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are numerous, but most concerning to her was the acidification of the ocean. Steingraber stated that the ocean had become 30 percent more acidic in the last 150 years, and that increasingly acidic oceans would prove devastating to the ocean’s plankton population. Plankton are small marine creatures who are a food source to many marine animals, and produce 50 percent of the world’s oxygen. A decrease in their numbers would prove problematic. Increasing levels of acid in the oceans are also dissolving the calcium carbonate shells of marine creatures.

Steingraber spent a large portion of the lecture elaborating on what she believed to be the massive gap between science and government. She used examples such as the United States’ continued use of Atrazine on crops– a pesticide that is banned in the European Union due to links to preterm birth, cancer and delayed puberty.

She also cited continued construction of fossil fuel burning plants, and the construction of oil transportation pipelines such as the Dakota Access Pipeline as evidence the United States was not taking science into account when making policy.

“We have to de-carbonize in 20 years, and yet we’re building coal plants with a 40-50 year return of investment,” Steingraber said.

The lecture did produce positive news.

Steingraber applauded Iowa’s efforts in moving to renewable energy. Iowa currently gets 30 percent of its energy needs from wind power. 
Additionally, the Iowa Utilities Board has recently approved a massive wind farm project. The new wind farm consisting of 1,000 turbines is expected to provide 85 percent of Iowa’s energy needs by 2020.

Leslie Fink, who attended the lecture to obtain certificates in environmental health and sustainability, was interested in the focus on “turning science into action.”

Sophomore Brenna Wolfe said Steingraber raised some major concerns.

“I’m concerned about the acidification of the ocean, how it affects the plankton, and how that affects the global ecosystem,” Wolfe said. She said she walked away with new knowledge of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

To conclude the lecture, Carolyn Raffensperger, friend of Steingraber and fellow activist, gave an update on the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline is being constructed by Energy Transfer Partners to transport crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, and runs through South Dakota and Iowa in between. The pipeline is extremely unpopular with environmentalists, and many present at the Lang Auditorium had been at Dakota Access Pipeline construction sites protesting.

A book signing was held following the lecture where Steingraber spoke with attendees and signed copies of her book.

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