Judge Orders Historic Hearing on Climate Science
If you turn on the news, you might think that climate science has been on trial for decades. But now a San Francisco judge will give it an official day in court.
U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who is hearing a suit brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against five big oil corporations, ordered a historic tutorial in which both parties will have a chance to present their view of the science behind climate change, the McClatchy Washington Bureau reported March 7.
"This will be the closest that we have seen to a trial on climate science in the United States, to date," Michael Burger, head of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told the Bureau.
The hearing marks the most recent novel development in an already groundbreaking lawsuit. As EcoWatch reported, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change when it filed with Oakland against the five largest fossil-fuel producing corporations in September 2017.
The cities claim the companies named in the suit—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—"have known for decades that fossil fuel-driven global warming and accelerated sea level rise posed a catastrophic risk to human beings." They are therefore suing the companies for the costs of adapting to the climate challenge, such as the building of sea walls.
Alsup scheduled the hearing for March 21, and has asked each side to prepare a two-part presentation.
According to Alsup's order, "The first part will trace the history of scientific study of climate change," while "the second part will set forth the best science now available on global warming, glacier melt, sea rise, and coastal flooding," the Bureau reported.
EarthRights International General Counsel Marco Simmons said the hearing was a positive development. "The court is forcing these companies to go on the record about their understanding of climate science, which they have desperately tried to avoid doing," he told the Bureau.
Still, Alsup's ruling was not entirely favorable to the cities, who had filed a motion to have the case tried in California courts, which have developed precedent around "public nuisance" law.
Alsup instead held that the case belonged in federal court. "[A] patchwork of fifty different answers to the same fundamental global issue would be unworkable," the court ruled, according to the Columbia Law Blog.
The California cities' suit isn't the only historic climate case that will be decided in federal court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Wednesday that the Trump administration could not halt a suit brought by 21 children and teenagers against the federal government for failing to act on climate change, The Washington Post reported.
These suits brought by cities, municipalities and children represent creative legal ways in which ordinary citizens are trying to hold powerful interests accountable for man-made climate change. And an accurate understanding of climate science is key to their success.
"We're looking forward to putting the federal government on trial on climate science and its dangerous fossil fuel policies," Julia Olson of Our Children's Trust, the head lawyer in the children's case, told the Post.
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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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