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Researchers are using food waste to produce biofuels and reduce emissions

Developed countries (and the US especially) wastes an enormous amount of food. Now, a group of researchers has found a possible solution, developing technologies that can convert food waste into renewable fuel that could be used to power vehicles while tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

Food waste could be turned into something useful. Image credit: Flickr / WMaster

The US is the ignoble global leader in food waste, with Americans discarding nearly 40 million tons of food every year. That’s around 80 billion pounds of food (219 pounds per person) — and between 30 and 40% of the US food supply is wasted. Most of this food is sent to landfills. In fact, food is considered the single largest component taking up space in US landfills. A survey showed 94% of Americans throw away food regularly.

Food waste happens for many reasons, and at every stage of the production and supply chain. It can arise from problems during drying, milling, transporting, or processing, for example with food exposed to bacteria. At the retail level, the equipment can malfunction and lead to food loss. Consumers also contribute, buying or cooking more than they actually need.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been working for decades to efficiently produce fuels derived from plants or animal wastes rather than petroleum. So far they managed to create biofuels from feedstock such as agricultural residues, algae, forest byproducts, sewer sludge, and manure.

Now, they’ve decided to take it a step further and tackle food waste, successfully converting it into an energy-dense biofuel that could complement today’s fossil fuels. While further research is still needed, early results already show that food waste could be transformed into biofuel efficiently at a large scale, delivering economic and environmental benefits, the researchers explain.

The process starts by blending the food waste. The researchers used a piece of customized equipment known as the Muffin Monster that grinds everything, including wrappers and packaging. They obtain a mush and warm it so it can be continuously pumped into a reactor and converted into fuel. Still, they want to further improve the process by testing different types of food waste.

Thanks to its higher fat content and lower mineral content, more gallons of biofuel could be produced per ton of food waste than with other feedstocks, according to Steven Ashby, the director of Northwest National Laboratory. Food waste can be made into a pumpable slurry, simplifying biofuel production and reducing the pre-processing cost needed with the other feedstocks.

The researchers also believe that food waste could be obtained much cheaper than other feedstocks, which have higher cultivation and harvesting costs. Food waste is generated in abundance across the US and people are willing to pay for its disposal. Using it instead of growing crops also prevents arable land to be used to fuel rather than food.

At the same time, turning this waste into fuel would prevent it from going to landfills. When waste decomposes, it generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) that drives climate change if it’s not captured. A United Nations report estimated that global food waste generates annually 4.4 GtCO2 eq or about 8% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions.

The researchers are now specifically assessing the resources available near Detroit, Michigan, so to establish the mixture of food waste, sewage sludge, and fats, oils, and greases that could be consolidated and used to produce biofuel. They estimate that the production of biofuel plants could be 10 times larger in urban areas by including food waste while tackling emissions. Still, in order to use this method at a large scale, a hefty amount of infrastructure needs to be built.

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Meet NASA Astronaut & Artemis Team Member Christina Koch [Video]

NASA Astronaut Christina Koch

Official portrait of NASA astronaut Christina Koch. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Christina Koch is a member of the Artemis Team, a select group of astronauts charged with focusing on the development and training efforts for early Artemis missions.

Christina Hammock Koch was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2013. She completed astronaut candidate training in 2015. Koch graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. She most recently served as flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 59, 60 and 61. Koch set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with a total of 328 days in space.​

Koch’s career prior to becoming an Astronaut spanned two general areas: space science instrument development and remote scientific field engineering. Her career began as an Electrical Engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Laboratory for High Energy Astrophysics, where she contributed to scientific instruments on several NASA space science missions.

Koch then became a Research Associate in the United States Antarctic Program from 2004 to 2007. This included a yearlong stay with a winter-over at the Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station and a season at Palmer Station. While in this role, she served as a member of the Firefighting and Search and Rescue Teams. From 2007 to 2009, Koch returned to space science instrument development as an Electrical Engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Space Department. She contributed to instruments studying radiation for NASA missions, including Juno and the Van Allen Probes.

In 2010, Koch returned to remote scientific field work with tours including Palmer Station in Antarctica and multiple winter seasons at Summit Station in Greenland. In 2012, Koch continued work at remote scientific bases with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She served as a Field Engineer at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division Baseline Observatory in Utqiagvik, Alaska and then as Station Chief of the American Samoa Observatory. Throughout her career, she was involved in in technical instructing, volunteer tutoring and educational outreach.

Koch participated in the NASA Academy program at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in 2001 and worked as an Electrical Engineer at GSFC from 2002 to 2004. Koch was selected in June 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class. Her Astronaut Candidate Training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station (ISS) systems, plus training and certification in spacewalking, ISS robotics, T-38 and T-6 aircraft flight, and Russian language. In 2018, she was assigned to her first space flight, a long duration mission on the International Space Station.

Koch was a part of ISS Expeditions 59, 60 and 61. She launched on March 14, 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz spacecraft with NASA Astronaut Nick Hague and Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. She returned to Earth on February 6, 2020, on a Soyuz spacecraft with ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov. The crews she served on contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. Some of the scientific highlights from her missions include improvements to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which studies dark matter, growing protein crystals for pharmaceutical research, and testing 3D biological printers to print tissues in microgravity. Koch conducted six spacewalks, including the first three all women spacewalks, totaling 42 hours and 15 minutes. She has spent a total of 328 days in space.

Through the Artemis program NASA and a coalition of international partners will return to the Moon to learn how to live on other worlds for the benefit of all. With Artemis missions NASA will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon in 2024 and about once per year thereafter.

Through the efforts of humans and robots, we will explore more of the Moon than ever before; to lead a journey of discovery that benefits our planet with life changing science, to use the Moon and its resources as a technology testbed to go even farther and to learn how to establish and sustain a human presence far beyond Earth.

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The Sounds Of Mars: NASA Releases First-Ever Audio From Another Planet

For the first time ever, NASA has recorded audio on another planet ― and it’s got a pretty solid beat. 

The Perseverance rover contains two microphones, an experimental mic and a scientific one, to record sound as it explores the Jezero Crater in search of evidence for ancient microscopic life. Last week, the rover picked up the sound of wind after it landed on Mars

The space agency released two versions of the recording, both of which are best heard through a decent set of headphones. (If you’re listening via computer speakers, you may need to crank up the volume.)  One features noise from the rover filtered out so everything you hear is purely the sounds of a breeze on Mars:

The other includes mechanical audio from the rover to give that breeze a little extra ambiance: 

NASA also released audio from its InSight lander, but those clips were captured as vibrations from a seismometer rather than microphones and were not technically sounds. Two other microphones sent to Mars had issues: The Mars Polar Lander mission failed and the mics on the Phoenix Lander never turned on.  

The space agency said the sounds on Mars would be a little different because of the atmosphere, which would lead to “a quieter, more muffled version of what you’d hear on Earth” as well as higher pitches fading or even disappearing.

“Some sounds that we’re used to on Earth, like whistles, bells or bird songs, would almost be inaudible on Mars,” the space agency said. 

In addition, NASA released audio clips of what common Earth sounds would be like on Mars, which you can check out here. Some do sound like muffled versions of Earth sounds. But others, like ocean waves, take on a more ominous tone.

Also on Monday, the space agency released high-quality footage of Perseverance’s entry into the Red Planet and landing on the surface: 

…as well as a panoramic photo of the Martian landscape stitched together from six images:

Perseverance



Perseverance

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Rep. Deb Haaland Fends Off Republican Attacks At Contentious Confirmation Hearing

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), President Joe’s Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, kicked off her confirmation hearing Tuesday by acknowledging the “historic nature” of the moment, as she stands to become the nation’s first-ever Indigenous Cabinet member. But she also tried to head off opposition from Republicans who have painted her as an “extreme,” “radical” threat to fossil fuel production and the American “way of life.” 

“I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us,” she told lawmakers.

Haaland, 60, vowed to be “a fierce advocate for public lands” and consult all stakeholders to strike the right balance between natural resource development and conservation. She also said she’d “work my heart out for everyone,” including fossil fuel workers, ranchers, communities suffering from legacy pollution and “people of color whose stories deserve to be heard.” 

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” Haaland said. “I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nominatio



Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to run the Interior Department.

It didn’t take long for the mudslinging to start. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s ranking Republican, told Haaland he is “troubled by many of [her] views,” which he described as “squarely at odds with the responsible management” of public lands. He also questioned Haaland about one of Biden’s early executive orders on climate, which he falsely said “bans all new oil, coal, gas leases on federal lands.”

“He didn’t ban new leases,” Haaland responded. “He didn’t put a moratorium on new leases. It’s a pause to review the federal fossil fuel program.” 

Experts told HuffPost last month that the temporary pause will not have a significant immediate impact on the industry, which stockpiled federal leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters toward the end of the Trump administration. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) read off a number of Haaland’s previous statements voicing opposition to new pipeline projects, hydraulic fracturing and new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands. 

“I’m just concerned about proceeding with this nomination,” Daines said. “The track record, the ideology in the past, I think, will perpetuate more divisiveness and will certainly harm Montana’s economy.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.



Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.

Haaland largely fended off the attacks. She reminded Republicans that she is being tapped to help carry out Biden’s agenda and stressed that she would follow the law. 

“If I’m confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would be moving forward,” she told Daines. Many of the policies Haaland will be tasked with implementing are popular among voters nationally, according to a survey released earlier this month by Data for Progress.

The secretary post is a “far different role than a congresswoman representing one small district in my state,” she added later. “I understand that role: It’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.”

Haaland is by all standards a qualified choice to lead Interior, an agency of some 70,000 employees that manages 500 million acres of federal land — roughly one-fifth of the U.S. The agency is in charge of the 63 national parks, the Bureau of Indian Education, and upholding the government’s trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations. She is currently a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and chairs its subcommittee with oversight of the Interior Department, and is co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. 

If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary
of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.

Rep. Deb Haaland, speakign at her confirmation hearing Tuesday

Democratic and Republican House colleagues have said Haaland has a strong record of working across the aisle; in 2019, she introduced 13 bipartisan-cosponsored bills, which was more than any House freshman. She maintains a 98% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. 

Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna who made history in 2018 as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, has broad support among elected tribal leaders, intertribal organizations, and green and progressive groups. Last week, nearly 500 organizations signed onto a letter to Senate leadership calling for Haaland’s speedy confirmation.

Yet Haaland has emerged as one of Biden’s most contentious Cabinet picks. Two weeks before Tuesday’s hearing, GOP lawmakers, including many who have received large sums of money from the oil and gas industry, began signaling they’d vote against her confirmation. Daines and Barrasso dismissed her as “radical,” citing, among other things, her support for reining in fossil fuel development on federal lands. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Haaland’s confirmation “would be disastrous for western states, including her home state of New Mexico.” 

Tribes, tribal groups and environmental organizations have voiced disappointment and disgust with the Republican senators’ campaign to sink Haaland’s nomination before she’d been given a chance to answer questions in public. 

“People are going to use her to complain about Biden’s policies,” Gerald Torres, professor of environmental justice at the Yale School of the Environment, told HuffPost ahead of the hearing. “They need to look at her record.” 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint th



Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint the nominee as a “radical.”

Democrats repeatedly came to Haaland’s defense on Tuesday. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Haaland it felt like her nomination has become “a proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels.” And Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) pushed back at Republicans’ assertions that Biden’s executive orders have cost thousands of oil and gas jobs in his home state.

“We have not lost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector in New Mexico because there is no ban, and because the industry stockpiled an enormous number of leases under the fire sale that Secretary [David] Bernhardt had at the end of the last administration,” he said. “However, I want to say, we do recognize that we will need to move to a fully decarbonized economy and, frankly, pretending that isn’t going to happen is not going to serve any of our workers well.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who introduced Haaland to the committee and urged senators to vote for her confirmation, highlighted her bipartisan record. He praised Haaland as a friend who has reached across the aisle, and said that while he and others might not always agree with her, they can count on her to listen and hear their concerns. 

“It’s my job to convince her she’s not always right, and her job is to convince me I’m not always right,” said Young, the longest-serving member of Congress.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), who along with Haaland made history as one of the first Native American congresswomen, said her colleague was a “fierce advocate and organizer in Indian country” and a “champion of the environment” long before being sworn into Congress. There is no one more qualified or prepared to lead the agency, Davids said.

“The attacks that have been waged against her have been waged by some of the closest allies of Big Oil,” she said. “It’s really nothing more than an attempt to protect their bottom line, their special interests. These senators know that Congresswoman Haaland, soon-to-be secretary, will stand up to Big Oil and it scares them. It terrifies them.” 

Haaland’s loudest opponents have indeed been bankrolled in no small part by the oil and gas industry, as HuffPost previously reported. If confirmed, Haaland will succeed David Bernhardt, a former oil and agricultural lobbyist, and take over the agency after the Trump administration dismantled environmental safeguards and prioritized energy development over land and species conservation. 

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, echoed that opposition to Haaland is driven by industry influence and a resistance to changing the status quo of repeatedly failing to confront climate change. 

“It has been all about the extraction industry for the last four years, with [the Bureau of Land Management] practically turning into a real estate department under Trump and giving away public land right and left to the industry and to polluters, with no consequences and no accountability,” Grijalva said on a press call Monday. 

“Deb’s going to do something about it,” he added. “And they know it.” 

Haaland will appear again before the committee for a second round of questions on Wednesday.

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Q&A: Parachute Science in Coral Reef Research

Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines are home to the lion’s share of coral reefs, but most studies on these ecosystems are done by researchers based in the US, Australia, and the UK. This mismatch points to parachute science, whereby scientists from high income nations conduct fieldwork in another, often low-income country without engaging local researchers, says Paris Stefanoudis, a marine biologist at the University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation in Oxford, UK. “It’s about not creating space for host country scientists to participate and actively get involved,” adds Sheena Talma, a marine biologist at the Nekton Foundation.

To understand the extent of parachute science in coral reef biodiversity research, Stefanoudis, Talma, and their colleagues compared countries’ research output with the amount of coral reef habitat in those countries. The findings, published this week (February 22) in Current Biology, indicate that local scientists are often excluded from coral reef research.

Talma and Stefanoudis spoke with The Scientist about why parachute science is a problem and how coral reef researchers can avoid this practice to enjoy the benefits of engaging with local scientists.

The Scientist: What are some of the problems with parachute science, or conversely, what are some of the advantages of involving local scientists? 

Sheena Talma: First and foremost, a lot of the work that is done by foreign scientists in host countries will have global impact, which is a good thing, but a lot of the work needs to relate to the people that live in those regions. For example, I’m from the Seychelles, and we rely on fisheries and coral reefs. [If local people aren’t involved in research], then it becomes really difficult for the people that live within those countries to become engaged but also to fully understand and actively be involved in the solutions, whether it’s conservation or better management. But it also comes from a level of power and hierarchy because local people need to be involved in decision making, so they also need to be part of the scientific process.

By being more inclusive and collaborative, you actually get better science at the end of the day.

—Paris Stefanoudis, University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation

Paris Stefanoudis: We also get benefits by being more inclusive and doing truly collaborative work, so that’s something that probably a lot of scientists don’t necessarily take into account. They may think ‘Okay, this is the ethical thing to do,’ and tick a box. But actually we do also get benefits from it because there is a lot of knowledge within those nations’ scientists, from practical skills or on-the-ground knowledge of these ecosystems—coral reefs, in this case. By being more inclusive and collaborative, you actually get better science at the end of the day, which also benefits the people that need it the most.

ST: With regards to benefits of true collaboration, I think one of the biggest things is being able to collect data over a long period of time, because if you have a local scientist, a host nation scientist, involved, it means that a researcher who’s up in the UK doesn’t have to come to the Indian Ocean all the time to collect that data set, which means that something like COVID won’t inhibit how we do science. 

TS: What inspired this study on parachute science in coral reef research? 

PS: If we go back to 2020, we had a lot of discussions regarding the protests following the killing of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement. . . . We had a lot of discussions within our group about our own potential biases, about the way we conduct studies . . . and parachute science is one aspect of it. . . . It ties in with several other important topics, not necessarily directly including the Black Lives Matter movement, but it relates to how we conduct science and how we can be more just. Parachute science is something that a lot of people are aware of. Maybe they didn’t think that it was a bad practice, maybe they thought it’s part of the system to behave in this way, or maybe even if they thought that it wasn’t a good thing to do, maybe they didn’t know the extent of it. Because of that, we thought to try to quantify this phenomenon in our field of work, which is coral reefs, but I’m sure the results are applicable to other fieldwork-based studies as well. 


TS
:  What were the main findings from your study?

PS: First of all, we tried to see how many coral reef biodiversity studies were published in general throughout the globe and tried to compare it against how much coral reef does each country actually have. Does it match? The top ten countries with the most coral reef biodiversity output were usually high-income nations, and it wasn’t because they necessarily had a lot of coral reefs—it’s just because they have more resources for fieldwork. And in many cases, it could be parachute science–related. One thing we found was that there was this mismatch between area and research output. And then we wanted to look specifically using authorship patterns as a proxy of parachute science. It’s not necessarily the only way of looking at parachute science, but [it’s] the one that we chose. 

Paris Stefanoudis

Robert Carmichael (Global Sub Dive)

If a study had fieldwork in a country, were there any scientists from that country included? If there weren’t any, that was a sign of parachute science. We focused on Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia because they have the most coral reefs in the world in terms of area. We saw that when you were looking at lower- to middle-income nations such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the exclusion of host nation scientists was twice as common compared to Australia.

We also looked at another metric, which we termed research leadership. Even if you include host nation scientists, are they sandwiched somewhere in the middle in terms of coauthors or are they the first author or the last author? Because those two spots in the authorship indicate that there was some sort of leadership. Again, if you were comparing Australia, a high-income nation, with Indonesia and the Philippines, you have more [local] authors not leading studies [in these latter countries]. So that was another indication that you have more parachute science in lower-income nations. 

The top ten countries with the most coral reef biodiversity output were usually high-income nations, and it wasn’t because they necessarily had a lot of coral reefs.

—Paris Stefanoudis, University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation 

ST: One of the things that surprised me was being able to see that in numbers. I think we have these conversations around parachute science and what it means, but being able to see it quantified was really interesting—and also the aspect of leadership. Whilst there is change that is happening if you look at the past and now, we still have a lot of work to do within our scientific field to ensure that it’s not just inclusion of scientists from host nation countries, but it’s also leadership. How do we mentor those leadership skills and leadership within research? It’s essentially getting in touch with scientists that are working already within those nation countries and collaboratively coming up with research projects. 

TS: Looking at the trends in the study, it seemed like parachute science had maybe decreased over the last few decades. Was that the case?  

PS: Looking at absolute numbers, it did seem that the direction of the trend is positive. Parachute science is getting less common as we move on, and that’s probably related to attitudes hopefully changing. Or if we’re being more cynical, in some cases it might be a prerequisite of your grant, that you actually have to engage with researchers from a host nation. Probably because of both of those things, it has been decreasing. But it’s still there. And even if it happens at a very small percentage, or smaller than in the ’70s or ’80s, it still shouldn’t be there. 

TS: What are some recommendations for scientists to avoid parachute science? 

PS: The first thing that is really important is to actually try to . . . engage with local researchers. And you can do this by engaging with local governments, and they can tell you which researchers might be most suitable for your work. And once you have identified those [people], it’s really important to sit down together and try and actually frame the research agenda together so that you have questions that are interesting for you but also for the people that are actually living there. . . . It’s also really important not to only focus on established scientists from that nation, but also the younger generation as well, because ultimately they will be the ones taking marine science forward in the decades to come. So it’s really important to engage with them and in many cases try to establish some sort of exchange initiative where they will be conducting research at your institution and vice versa. 

There is another issue of high paywalls in terms of accessing literature, so sometimes that can be prohibitive depending on where you go. If you have literature that you can share with host nation scientists, then that’s really useful. And vice versa, they will probably have information and access to a lot of literature that might be in local journals or technical reports that might not necessarily be available in Google Scholar. And finally . . . the regulatory landscape, being always sure to know what the regulations are where you go. We saw that only one out of four studies mentioned research permits.

Sheena Talma

Sarah Hammond

ST: I think it all comes down to: when you’re actively conducting science, it needs to be done in a collaborative way, which means that you have to have the spirit of partnership at the forefront. Being able to mentor people from the host nation if that is needed, especially younger scientists, or creating the space where you can amplify other scientists’ voices, but also enabling host nation scientists to be part of the decisions with regards to what kind of research is going to take place. Personally, I’ve had situations where a researcher will approach me, but they’ve already applied for the funding, they’ve already put down the questions. And essentially you become a token on that application. Oftentimes it isn’t done in a harmful way, but it does have harmful repercussions. So I think those are some of the main points from my perspective. Parachute science is complex. It’s multilayered, it’s historical. [The solution] is more than just including scientists in publications or on part of a project; it’s about actively building your partnerships and building your relationships, not just with the host country, but with the scientists who live there. And it’s most of all about enabling skill sharing and investing in up-and-coming talents. 

See “Steps to End “Colonial Science” Slowly Take Shape

TS: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to discuss?

[The solution] is more than just including scientists in publications or on part of a project; it’s about actively building your partnerships and building your relationships.

—Sheena Talma, the Nekton Foundation

PS: Sometimes it’s what we do next which is interesting. This is a discussion-setting piece and the hope is that going forward we will be able to have a more serious discussion about best research practices and eliminating parachute science, not only in terms of recommendations to researchers and recommendations to publishers that we have in our paper, but also to try and have some sort of framework within academic institutions, within funding institutions, within ethics committees, to actually have those checks and balances in place that make sure [that parachute science doesn’t happen]. Because right now this is allowed to happen at an institutional level and this should ideally be stopped.  

ST: Accessibility is a huge issue, the way we publish. Sometimes work is done within a country, yet the scientists that work within that country have no access to those papers that were produced using the data from that country. So it’s institutional, it’s multilayered. We just have to tackle one aspect of it at a time, and we have to be proactive about it.  

P.V. Stefanoudis et al., “Turning the tide of parachute science,” Curr Biol, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.029, 2021.

Editor’s note: The interview was edited for brevity.

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The Sounds Of Mars: NASA Releases First-Ever Audio From Another Planet

For the first time ever, NASA has recorded audio on another planet ― and it’s got a pretty solid beat. 

The Perseverance rover contains two microphones, an experimental mic and a scientific one, to record sound as it explores the Jezero Crater in search of evidence for ancient microscopic life. Last week, the rover picked up the sound of wind after it landed on Mars

The space agency released two versions of the recording, both of which are best heard through a decent set of headphones. (If you’re listening via computer speakers, you may need to crank up the volume.)  One features noise from the rover filtered out so everything you hear is purely the sounds of a breeze on Mars:

The other includes mechanical audio from the rover to give that breeze a little extra ambiance: 

NASA also released audio from its InSight lander, but those clips were captured as vibrations from a seismometer rather than microphones and were not technically sounds. Two other microphones sent to Mars had issues: The Mars Polar Lander mission failed and the mics on the Phoenix Lander never turned on.  

The space agency said the sounds on Mars would be a little different because of the atmosphere, which would lead to “a quieter, more muffled version of what you’d hear on Earth” as well as higher pitches fading or even disappearing.

“Some sounds that we’re used to on Earth, like whistles, bells or bird songs, would almost be inaudible on Mars,” the space agency said. 

In addition, NASA released audio clips of what common Earth sounds would be like on Mars, which you can check out here. Some do sound like muffled versions of Earth sounds. But others, like ocean waves, take on a more ominous tone.

Also on Monday, the space agency released high-quality footage of Perseverance’s entry into the Red Planet and landing on the surface: 

…as well as a panoramic photo of the Martian landscape stitched together from six images:

Perseverance



Perseverance

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Rep. Deb Haaland Fends Off Republican Attacks At Contentious Confirmation Hearing

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), President Joe’s Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, kicked off her confirmation hearing Tuesday by acknowledging the “historic nature” of the moment, as she stands to become the nation’s first-ever Indigenous Cabinet member. But she also tried to head off opposition from Republicans who have painted her as an “extreme,” “radical” threat to fossil fuel production and the American “way of life.” 

“I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us,” she told lawmakers.

Haaland, 60, vowed to be “a fierce advocate for public lands” and consult all stakeholders to strike the right balance between natural resource development and conservation. She also said she’d “work my heart out for everyone,” including fossil fuel workers, ranchers, communities suffering from legacy pollution and “people of color whose stories deserve to be heard.” 

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” Haaland said. “I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nominatio



Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to run the Interior Department.

It didn’t take long for the mudslinging to start. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s ranking Republican, told Haaland he is “troubled by many of [her] views,” which he described as “squarely at odds with the responsible management” of public lands. He also questioned Haaland about one of Biden’s early executive orders on climate, which he falsely said “bans all new oil, coal, gas leases on federal lands.”

“He didn’t ban new leases,” Haaland responded. “He didn’t put a moratorium on new leases. It’s a pause to review the federal fossil fuel program.” 

Experts told HuffPost last month that the temporary pause will not have a significant immediate impact on the industry, which stockpiled federal leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters toward the end of the Trump administration. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) read off a number of Haaland’s previous statements voicing opposition to new pipeline projects, hydraulic fracturing and new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands. 

“I’m just concerned about proceeding with this nomination,” Daines said. “The track record, the ideology in the past, I think, will perpetuate more divisiveness and will certainly harm Montana’s economy.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.



Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.

Haaland largely fended off the attacks. She reminded Republicans that she is being tapped to help carry out Biden’s agenda and stressed that she would follow the law. 

“If I’m confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would be moving forward,” she told Daines. Many of the policies Haaland will be tasked with implementing are popular among voters nationally, according to a survey released earlier this month by Data for Progress.

The secretary post is a “far different role than a congresswoman representing one small district in my state,” she added later. “I understand that role: It’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.”

Haaland is by all standards a qualified choice to lead Interior, an agency of some 70,000 employees that manages 500 million acres of federal land — roughly one-fifth of the U.S. The agency is in charge of the 63 national parks, the Bureau of Indian Education, and upholding the government’s trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations. She is currently a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and chairs its subcommittee with oversight of the Interior Department, and is co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. 

If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary
of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.

Rep. Deb Haaland, speakign at her confirmation hearing Tuesday

Democratic and Republican House colleagues have said Haaland has a strong record of working across the aisle; in 2019, she introduced 13 bipartisan-cosponsored bills, which was more than any House freshman. She maintains a 98% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. 

Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna who made history in 2018 as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, has broad support among elected tribal leaders, intertribal organizations, and green and progressive groups. Last week, nearly 500 organizations signed onto a letter to Senate leadership calling for Haaland’s speedy confirmation.

Yet Haaland has emerged as one of Biden’s most contentious Cabinet picks. Two weeks before Tuesday’s hearing, GOP lawmakers, including many who have received large sums of money from the oil and gas industry, began signaling they’d vote against her confirmation. Daines and Barrasso dismissed her as “radical,” citing, among other things, her support for reining in fossil fuel development on federal lands. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Haaland’s confirmation “would be disastrous for western states, including her home state of New Mexico.” 

Tribes, tribal groups and environmental organizations have voiced disappointment and disgust with the Republican senators’ campaign to sink Haaland’s nomination before she’d been given a chance to answer questions in public. 

“People are going to use her to complain about Biden’s policies,” Gerald Torres, professor of environmental justice at the Yale School of the Environment, told HuffPost ahead of the hearing. “They need to look at her record.” 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint th



Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint the nominee as a “radical.”

Democrats repeatedly came to Haaland’s defense on Tuesday. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Haaland it felt like her nomination has become “a proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels.” And Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) pushed back at Republicans’ assertions that Biden’s executive orders have cost thousands of oil and gas jobs in his home state.

“We have not lost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector in New Mexico because there is no ban, and because the industry stockpiled an enormous number of leases under the fire sale that Secretary [David] Bernhardt had at the end of the last administration,” he said. “However, I want to say, we do recognize that we will need to move to a fully decarbonized economy and, frankly, pretending that isn’t going to happen is not going to serve any of our workers well.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who introduced Haaland to the committee and urged senators to vote for her confirmation, highlighted her bipartisan record. He praised Haaland as a friend who has reached across the aisle, and said that while he and others might not always agree with her, they can count on her to listen and hear their concerns. 

“It’s my job to convince her she’s not always right, and her job is to convince me I’m not always right,” said Young, the longest-serving member of Congress.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), who along with Haaland made history as one of the first Native American congresswomen, said her colleague was a “fierce advocate and organizer in Indian country” and a “champion of the environment” long before being sworn into Congress. There is no one more qualified or prepared to lead the agency, Davids said.

“The attacks that have been waged against her have been waged by some of the closest allies of Big Oil,” she said. “It’s really nothing more than an attempt to protect their bottom line, their special interests. These senators know that Congresswoman Haaland, soon-to-be secretary, will stand up to Big Oil and it scares them. It terrifies them.” 

Haaland’s loudest opponents have indeed been bankrolled in no small part by the oil and gas industry, as HuffPost previously reported. If confirmed, Haaland will succeed David Bernhardt, a former oil and agricultural lobbyist, and take over the agency after the Trump administration dismantled environmental safeguards and prioritized energy development over land and species conservation. 

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, echoed that opposition to Haaland is driven by industry influence and a resistance to changing the status quo of repeatedly failing to confront climate change. 

“It has been all about the extraction industry for the last four years, with [the Bureau of Land Management] practically turning into a real estate department under Trump and giving away public land right and left to the industry and to polluters, with no consequences and no accountability,” Grijalva said on a press call Monday. 

“Deb’s going to do something about it,” he added. “And they know it.” 

Haaland will appear again before the committee for a second round of questions on Wednesday.

Categories
Science

Q&A: Parachute Science in Coral Reef Research

Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines are home to the lion’s share of coral reefs, but most studies on these ecosystems are done by researchers based in the US, Australia, and the UK. This mismatch points to parachute science, whereby scientists from high income nations conduct fieldwork in another, often low-income country without engaging local researchers, says Paris Stefanoudis, a marine biologist at the University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation in Oxford, UK. “It’s about not creating space for host country scientists to participate and actively get involved,” adds Sheena Talma, a marine biologist at the Nekton Foundation.

To understand the extent of parachute science in coral reef biodiversity research, Stefanoudis, Talma, and their colleagues compared countries’ research output with the amount of coral reef habitat in those countries. The findings, published this week (February 22) in Current Biology, indicate that local scientists are often excluded from coral reef research.

Talma and Stefanoudis spoke with The Scientist about why parachute science is a problem and how coral reef researchers can avoid this practice to enjoy the benefits of engaging with local scientists.

The Scientist: What are some of the problems with parachute science, or conversely, what are some of the advantages of involving local scientists? 

Sheena Talma: First and foremost, a lot of the work that is done by foreign scientists in host countries will have global impact, which is a good thing, but a lot of the work needs to relate to the people that live in those regions. For example, I’m from the Seychelles, and we rely on fisheries and coral reefs. [If local people aren’t involved in research], then it becomes really difficult for the people that live within those countries to become engaged but also to fully understand and actively be involved in the solutions, whether it’s conservation or better management. But it also comes from a level of power and hierarchy because local people need to be involved in decision making, so they also need to be part of the scientific process.

By being more inclusive and collaborative, you actually get better science at the end of the day.

—Paris Stefanoudis, University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation

Paris Stefanoudis: We also get benefits by being more inclusive and doing truly collaborative work, so that’s something that probably a lot of scientists don’t necessarily take into account. They may think ‘Okay, this is the ethical thing to do,’ and tick a box. But actually we do also get benefits from it because there is a lot of knowledge within those nations’ scientists, from practical skills or on-the-ground knowledge of these ecosystems—coral reefs, in this case. By being more inclusive and collaborative, you actually get better science at the end of the day, which also benefits the people that need it the most.

ST: With regards to benefits of true collaboration, I think one of the biggest things is being able to collect data over a long period of time, because if you have a local scientist, a host nation scientist, involved, it means that a researcher who’s up in the UK doesn’t have to come to the Indian Ocean all the time to collect that data set, which means that something like COVID won’t inhibit how we do science. 

TS: What inspired this study on parachute science in coral reef research? 

PS: If we go back to 2020, we had a lot of discussions regarding the protests following the killing of George Floyd in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement. . . . We had a lot of discussions within our group about our own potential biases, about the way we conduct studies . . . and parachute science is one aspect of it. . . . It ties in with several other important topics, not necessarily directly including the Black Lives Matter movement, but it relates to how we conduct science and how we can be more just. Parachute science is something that a lot of people are aware of. Maybe they didn’t think that it was a bad practice, maybe they thought it’s part of the system to behave in this way, or maybe even if they thought that it wasn’t a good thing to do, maybe they didn’t know the extent of it. Because of that, we thought to try to quantify this phenomenon in our field of work, which is coral reefs, but I’m sure the results are applicable to other fieldwork-based studies as well. 


TS
:  What were the main findings from your study?

PS: First of all, we tried to see how many coral reef biodiversity studies were published in general throughout the globe and tried to compare it against how much coral reef does each country actually have. Does it match? The top ten countries with the most coral reef biodiversity output were usually high-income nations, and it wasn’t because they necessarily had a lot of coral reefs—it’s just because they have more resources for fieldwork. And in many cases, it could be parachute science–related. One thing we found was that there was this mismatch between area and research output. And then we wanted to look specifically using authorship patterns as a proxy of parachute science. It’s not necessarily the only way of looking at parachute science, but [it’s] the one that we chose. 

Paris Stefanoudis

Robert Carmichael (Global Sub Dive)

If a study had fieldwork in a country, were there any scientists from that country included? If there weren’t any, that was a sign of parachute science. We focused on Australia, the Philippines, and Indonesia because they have the most coral reefs in the world in terms of area. We saw that when you were looking at lower- to middle-income nations such as the Philippines and Indonesia, the exclusion of host nation scientists was twice as common compared to Australia.

We also looked at another metric, which we termed research leadership. Even if you include host nation scientists, are they sandwiched somewhere in the middle in terms of coauthors or are they the first author or the last author? Because those two spots in the authorship indicate that there was some sort of leadership. Again, if you were comparing Australia, a high-income nation, with Indonesia and the Philippines, you have more [local] authors not leading studies [in these latter countries]. So that was another indication that you have more parachute science in lower-income nations. 

The top ten countries with the most coral reef biodiversity output were usually high-income nations, and it wasn’t because they necessarily had a lot of coral reefs.

—Paris Stefanoudis, University of Oxford and the Nekton Foundation 

ST: One of the things that surprised me was being able to see that in numbers. I think we have these conversations around parachute science and what it means, but being able to see it quantified was really interesting—and also the aspect of leadership. Whilst there is change that is happening if you look at the past and now, we still have a lot of work to do within our scientific field to ensure that it’s not just inclusion of scientists from host nation countries, but it’s also leadership. How do we mentor those leadership skills and leadership within research? It’s essentially getting in touch with scientists that are working already within those nation countries and collaboratively coming up with research projects. 

TS: Looking at the trends in the study, it seemed like parachute science had maybe decreased over the last few decades. Was that the case?  

PS: Looking at absolute numbers, it did seem that the direction of the trend is positive. Parachute science is getting less common as we move on, and that’s probably related to attitudes hopefully changing. Or if we’re being more cynical, in some cases it might be a prerequisite of your grant, that you actually have to engage with researchers from a host nation. Probably because of both of those things, it has been decreasing. But it’s still there. And even if it happens at a very small percentage, or smaller than in the ’70s or ’80s, it still shouldn’t be there. 

TS: What are some recommendations for scientists to avoid parachute science? 

PS: The first thing that is really important is to actually try to . . . engage with local researchers. And you can do this by engaging with local governments, and they can tell you which researchers might be most suitable for your work. And once you have identified those [people], it’s really important to sit down together and try and actually frame the research agenda together so that you have questions that are interesting for you but also for the people that are actually living there. . . . It’s also really important not to only focus on established scientists from that nation, but also the younger generation as well, because ultimately they will be the ones taking marine science forward in the decades to come. So it’s really important to engage with them and in many cases try to establish some sort of exchange initiative where they will be conducting research at your institution and vice versa. 

There is another issue of high paywalls in terms of accessing literature, so sometimes that can be prohibitive depending on where you go. If you have literature that you can share with host nation scientists, then that’s really useful. And vice versa, they will probably have information and access to a lot of literature that might be in local journals or technical reports that might not necessarily be available in Google Scholar. And finally . . . the regulatory landscape, being always sure to know what the regulations are where you go. We saw that only one out of four studies mentioned research permits.

Sheena Talma

Sarah Hammond

ST: I think it all comes down to: when you’re actively conducting science, it needs to be done in a collaborative way, which means that you have to have the spirit of partnership at the forefront. Being able to mentor people from the host nation if that is needed, especially younger scientists, or creating the space where you can amplify other scientists’ voices, but also enabling host nation scientists to be part of the decisions with regards to what kind of research is going to take place. Personally, I’ve had situations where a researcher will approach me, but they’ve already applied for the funding, they’ve already put down the questions. And essentially you become a token on that application. Oftentimes it isn’t done in a harmful way, but it does have harmful repercussions. So I think those are some of the main points from my perspective. Parachute science is complex. It’s multilayered, it’s historical. [The solution] is more than just including scientists in publications or on part of a project; it’s about actively building your partnerships and building your relationships, not just with the host country, but with the scientists who live there. And it’s most of all about enabling skill sharing and investing in up-and-coming talents. 

See “Steps to End “Colonial Science” Slowly Take Shape

TS: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to discuss?

[The solution] is more than just including scientists in publications or on part of a project; it’s about actively building your partnerships and building your relationships.

—Sheena Talma, the Nekton Foundation

PS: Sometimes it’s what we do next which is interesting. This is a discussion-setting piece and the hope is that going forward we will be able to have a more serious discussion about best research practices and eliminating parachute science, not only in terms of recommendations to researchers and recommendations to publishers that we have in our paper, but also to try and have some sort of framework within academic institutions, within funding institutions, within ethics committees, to actually have those checks and balances in place that make sure [that parachute science doesn’t happen]. Because right now this is allowed to happen at an institutional level and this should ideally be stopped.  

ST: Accessibility is a huge issue, the way we publish. Sometimes work is done within a country, yet the scientists that work within that country have no access to those papers that were produced using the data from that country. So it’s institutional, it’s multilayered. We just have to tackle one aspect of it at a time, and we have to be proactive about it.  

P.V. Stefanoudis et al., “Turning the tide of parachute science,” Curr Biol, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2021.01.029, 2021.

Editor’s note: The interview was edited for brevity.

Categories
Science

The Sounds Of Mars: NASA Releases First-Ever Audio From Another Planet

For the first time ever, NASA has recorded audio on another planet ― and it’s got a pretty solid beat. 

The Perseverance rover contains two microphones, an experimental mic and a scientific one, to record sound as it explores the Jezero Crater in search of evidence for ancient microscopic life. Last week, the rover picked up the sound of wind after it landed on Mars

The space agency released two versions of the recording, both of which are best heard through a decent set of headphones. (If you’re listening via computer speakers, you may need to crank up the volume.)  One features noise from the rover filtered out so everything you hear is purely the sounds of a breeze on Mars:

The other includes mechanical audio from the rover to give that breeze a little extra ambiance: 

NASA also released audio from its InSight lander, but those clips were captured as vibrations from a seismometer rather than microphones and were not technically sounds. Two other microphones sent to Mars had issues: The Mars Polar Lander mission failed and the mics on the Phoenix Lander never turned on.  

The space agency said the sounds on Mars would be a little different because of the atmosphere, which would lead to “a quieter, more muffled version of what you’d hear on Earth” as well as higher pitches fading or even disappearing.

“Some sounds that we’re used to on Earth, like whistles, bells or bird songs, would almost be inaudible on Mars,” the space agency said. 

In addition, NASA released audio clips of what common Earth sounds would be like on Mars, which you can check out here. Some do sound like muffled versions of Earth sounds. But others, like ocean waves, take on a more ominous tone.

Also on Monday, the space agency released high-quality footage of Perseverance’s entry into the Red Planet and landing on the surface: 

…as well as a panoramic photo of the Martian landscape stitched together from six images:

Perseverance



Perseverance

Categories
Science

Rep. Deb Haaland Fends Off Republican Attacks At Contentious Confirmation Hearing

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), President Joe’s Biden’s pick to lead the Interior Department, kicked off her confirmation hearing Tuesday by acknowledging the “historic nature” of the moment, as she stands to become the nation’s first-ever Indigenous Cabinet member. But she also tried to head off opposition from Republicans who have painted her as an “extreme,” “radical” threat to fossil fuel production and the American “way of life.” 

“I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us,” she told lawmakers.

Haaland, 60, vowed to be “a fierce advocate for public lands” and consult all stakeholders to strike the right balance between natural resource development and conservation. She also said she’d “work my heart out for everyone,” including fossil fuel workers, ranchers, communities suffering from legacy pollution and “people of color whose stories deserve to be heard.” 

“There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” Haaland said. “I know how important oil and gas revenues are to critical services. But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nominatio



Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) speaks Tuesday during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to run the Interior Department.

It didn’t take long for the mudslinging to start. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee’s ranking Republican, told Haaland he is “troubled by many of [her] views,” which he described as “squarely at odds with the responsible management” of public lands. He also questioned Haaland about one of Biden’s early executive orders on climate, which he falsely said “bans all new oil, coal, gas leases on federal lands.”

“He didn’t ban new leases,” Haaland responded. “He didn’t put a moratorium on new leases. It’s a pause to review the federal fossil fuel program.” 

Experts told HuffPost last month that the temporary pause will not have a significant immediate impact on the industry, which stockpiled federal leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters toward the end of the Trump administration. 

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) read off a number of Haaland’s previous statements voicing opposition to new pipeline projects, hydraulic fracturing and new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands. 

“I’m just concerned about proceeding with this nomination,” Daines said. “The track record, the ideology in the past, I think, will perpetuate more divisiveness and will certainly harm Montana’s economy.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.



Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) questions Haaland at a committee hearing on her nomination.

Haaland largely fended off the attacks. She reminded Republicans that she is being tapped to help carry out Biden’s agenda and stressed that she would follow the law. 

“If I’m confirmed as secretary, it is President Biden’s agenda, not my own agenda, that I would be moving forward,” she told Daines. Many of the policies Haaland will be tasked with implementing are popular among voters nationally, according to a survey released earlier this month by Data for Progress.

The secretary post is a “far different role than a congresswoman representing one small district in my state,” she added later. “I understand that role: It’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.”

Haaland is by all standards a qualified choice to lead Interior, an agency of some 70,000 employees that manages 500 million acres of federal land — roughly one-fifth of the U.S. The agency is in charge of the 63 national parks, the Bureau of Indian Education, and upholding the government’s trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations. She is currently a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources and chairs its subcommittee with oversight of the Interior Department, and is co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. 

If an Indigenous woman from humble beginnings can be confirmed as Secretary
of the Interior, our country holds promise for everyone.

Rep. Deb Haaland, speakign at her confirmation hearing Tuesday

Democratic and Republican House colleagues have said Haaland has a strong record of working across the aisle; in 2019, she introduced 13 bipartisan-cosponsored bills, which was more than any House freshman. She maintains a 98% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. 

Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna who made history in 2018 as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, has broad support among elected tribal leaders, intertribal organizations, and green and progressive groups. Last week, nearly 500 organizations signed onto a letter to Senate leadership calling for Haaland’s speedy confirmation.

Yet Haaland has emerged as one of Biden’s most contentious Cabinet picks. Two weeks before Tuesday’s hearing, GOP lawmakers, including many who have received large sums of money from the oil and gas industry, began signaling they’d vote against her confirmation. Daines and Barrasso dismissed her as “radical,” citing, among other things, her support for reining in fossil fuel development on federal lands. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said Haaland’s confirmation “would be disastrous for western states, including her home state of New Mexico.” 

Tribes, tribal groups and environmental organizations have voiced disappointment and disgust with the Republican senators’ campaign to sink Haaland’s nomination before she’d been given a chance to answer questions in public. 

“People are going to use her to complain about Biden’s policies,” Gerald Torres, professor of environmental justice at the Yale School of the Environment, told HuffPost ahead of the hearing. “They need to look at her record.” 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint th



Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) speaks at a hearing in June. She defended Haaland this week after Republicans tried to paint the nominee as a “radical.”

Democrats repeatedly came to Haaland’s defense on Tuesday. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Haaland it felt like her nomination has become “a proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels.” And Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) pushed back at Republicans’ assertions that Biden’s executive orders have cost thousands of oil and gas jobs in his home state.

“We have not lost thousands of jobs in the oil and gas sector in New Mexico because there is no ban, and because the industry stockpiled an enormous number of leases under the fire sale that Secretary [David] Bernhardt had at the end of the last administration,” he said. “However, I want to say, we do recognize that we will need to move to a fully decarbonized economy and, frankly, pretending that isn’t going to happen is not going to serve any of our workers well.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who introduced Haaland to the committee and urged senators to vote for her confirmation, highlighted her bipartisan record. He praised Haaland as a friend who has reached across the aisle, and said that while he and others might not always agree with her, they can count on her to listen and hear their concerns. 

“It’s my job to convince her she’s not always right, and her job is to convince me I’m not always right,” said Young, the longest-serving member of Congress.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), who along with Haaland made history as one of the first Native American congresswomen, said her colleague was a “fierce advocate and organizer in Indian country” and a “champion of the environment” long before being sworn into Congress. There is no one more qualified or prepared to lead the agency, Davids said.

“The attacks that have been waged against her have been waged by some of the closest allies of Big Oil,” she said. “It’s really nothing more than an attempt to protect their bottom line, their special interests. These senators know that Congresswoman Haaland, soon-to-be secretary, will stand up to Big Oil and it scares them. It terrifies them.” 

Haaland’s loudest opponents have indeed been bankrolled in no small part by the oil and gas industry, as HuffPost previously reported. If confirmed, Haaland will succeed David Bernhardt, a former oil and agricultural lobbyist, and take over the agency after the Trump administration dismantled environmental safeguards and prioritized energy development over land and species conservation. 

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, echoed that opposition to Haaland is driven by industry influence and a resistance to changing the status quo of repeatedly failing to confront climate change. 

“It has been all about the extraction industry for the last four years, with [the Bureau of Land Management] practically turning into a real estate department under Trump and giving away public land right and left to the industry and to polluters, with no consequences and no accountability,” Grijalva said on a press call Monday. 

“Deb’s going to do something about it,” he added. “And they know it.” 

Haaland will appear again before the committee for a second round of questions on Wednesday.