It's been a big week for secretive lobbying group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), although not the kind of big week they'd probably prefer.
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This week, Google, followed by Facebook and Yelp!, announced that they were dropping out of the organization, which signs up corporations, nonprofits and legislators to support "model legislation" intended to benefit big business above all. And Google CEO Eric Schmidt specifically took a shot at ALEC's climate change policies saying it was "just literally lying."
ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson shot back with an indignant statement that said, “It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial. In the case of energy generation, ALEC believes renewable energy should expand based on consumer demand, not as a result of a government mandate. Google’s renewable energy commitment—as well as those found throughout private industry—is completely consistent with ALEC policy because the companies in question chose renewables absent a mandate."
But in fact, ALEC promotes many policies, programs and pieces of legislation contingent on denying climate science. Environmental advocacy group Forecast the Facts, which has organized campaigns to pressure companies like Google to drop ALEC, and the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors p.r. spin, helpfully provided five ways ALEC does this.
1. ALEC invites climate deniers to its annual meetings to provide legislators with misinformation. At its most recent meeting, groups like far-right thing tank the Heartland institute and nonprofit Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, which promotes unregulated development, armed with talking points, including that there is no need to reduce carbon emissions and that in fact they are healthy, that there is no scientific consensus about human-caused climate change, and that the likely benefits of man-made global warming (which doesn't exist) exceed the likely costs.
2. ALEC's "model legislation" on climate says that while human activity has led to climate change and global warming, this could be beneficial. It suggests establishing a commission to do more research, even though the research has been done and confirmed, thus delaying action indefinitely.
3. ALEC's "model legislation" on science education promotes the "teach both sides" approach favored by anti-evolution types when there is no scientific debate on climate change. Its so-called "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" requires that a range of perspectives be offered and that students be encouraged to explore even erroneous contentions to form their own opinions. Tennessee, Texas, South Dakota and Louisiana have all passed nearly identically worded bills, crafted by ALEC, opening the door to bringing climate denial into science classrooms.
4. Prominent ALEC leaders are climate deniers. Its incoming national chair, state rep. Phil King (R-TX) has said,"I think the global warming theory is bad science" and has accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of pushing "unproven" technologies intended not for the "stated objective of combating climate change" but to crush the coal industry. Its current chair, state rep. John Piscopo (R-CT), claims, "There are ice ages and periods of warming throughout Earth’s history. We could be in a period between ice ages. It’s not human-induced, not catastrophic. It’s nothing to panic over. I think it’s a move by government to take over and tax our energy system." And Ohio state senator Bill Seitz, an ALEC board member, was the prime mover behind Ohio's recent move to freeze its renewable energy standards, the first state in the U.S. to do so. He has referred to the standards as "some Stalinist government mandating" and is pushing for permanent total repeal.
5. ALEC has a long history of denying climate science, including a 2005 report called "Top 1o Myths about Global Warming," which appeared on its website for many years. Among the "myths" it purported to debunk: that human activity causes global warming, that extreme weather events are caused by global warming, that there's been any significant warming at all in the last century and that what it calls "carbon reduction schemes" will be relatively inexpensive.
Ultimately, it's not about whether ALEC really believes that climate change is happening or that it's human-caused. It's about promoting legislation embodying "free market principles" that benefit its members, which include many major polluters such as Peabody Energy, ExxonMobile, Chevron and TransCanada, impacts be damned.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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