Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners
Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The State Department has continued to send delegations to the Arctic Council, which works to protect the rapidly-warming region, and to talks drafting the rules for the Paris agreement. Representatives from other nations involved with those talks and organizations told Reuters they had been pleased with the work of U.S. officials.
"We really don't detect any change with the Americans," Finnish Arctic Council chair Aleksi Härkönen told Reuters.
Similarly, Nazhat Shameem Khan, Fiji's top negotiator at the Bonn Climate Change Conference who also lead the talks, told Reuters that the 40-member U.S. delegation was "constructive and helpful."
Only one U.S. action at the conference, convened to write the rulebook for implementing the Paris agreement, raised hackles. That was a U.S.-sponsored talk on "clean coal," that some delegates felt distracted from a focus on renewable energy.
The U.S. cannot leave the Paris agreement until 2020, but some had still anticipated U.S. delegates would reflect Trump's rhetoric at international talks.
There has been some criticism from Trump supporters of this surprisingly agreeable approach.
"I am concerned that much of our climate policy remains on autopilot," Trump's former energy adviser and Competitive Enterprise Institute research director Myron Ebell told Reuters.
Further, Reuters pointed out that these delegations were sent by a State Department still controlled by Rex Tillerson, who supported the Paris agreement. It is unclear what his ouster and replacement by Mike Pompeo, who has criticized the accord and questioned climate science, will mean for the department's policy going forward.
Climate advocates hope Pompeo will be too busy with North Korea and Iran to alter climate policy, Reuters reported.
But even if the State Department changes its tune, there are other federal agencies still making progress on climate change. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues to work domestically and internationally to research and publish on climate science. In addition, in 2017 The Overseas Private Investment Corporation doubled its funding for solar-power-related businesses abroad.
U.S. scientists also told Reuters they had not been prevented from working with international colleagues on reports like one for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scheduled for an October release.
"I've not seen any indication that the climate denialism from Trump and other members of the administration has had any influence ... on the alignment of the U.S. scientific community with the scientific consensus around the world," Stanford environmental science professor Christopher Field told Reuters.
When it comes to domestic policy, the Trump administration has done more damage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, for example.
There is also indication that the some federal agencies are preventing climate information from reaching the public and restricting the efforts of the scientists who work for them.
A January study found evidence that government websites, particularly the EPA's, were being altered in ways that made it harder for the public to access climate change information.
And in July 2017, a former scientist at the Interior Department filed a whistleblower complaint, alleging that the department had reassigned him to an accounting position as retaliation for his efforts to publicize the impact of climate change on Alaska Native communities.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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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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