Despite Pope's Call to Climate Action, Churches Still Hold Millions in Fossil Fuels
Pope Francis’ bold call to tackle climate change and save the planet appears to be in conflict with U.S. Catholic churches' millions of dollars of investments in fossil fuels industries, including fracking, a new Reuters report shows.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 9, 2015
Journalist Richard Valdmanis combed through church disclosures and portfolios and found: "Dioceses covering Boston, Rockville Center on Long Island, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota have all reported millions of dollars in holdings in oil and gas stocks in recent years."
"The holdings tend to make up between 5 and 10 percent of the dioceses' overall equities investments," Valdmanis noted, "Similar to the 7.1 percent weighting of energy companies on the S&P 500 index, according to the documents."
Furthermore, the investigation finds that, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides ethical guidelines discouraging investments in firms related to contraception, abortion, pornography and war, it does not issue similar warnings about fossil fuels stocks.
This is despite Pope Francis's 180-page Papal Encyclical, a formal letter to Catholic bishops released in June, underscoring the moral imperative to take aggressive steps to address climate change. "This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor," he wrote, adding: "The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system."
The Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledged to Reuters the contradiction between the pope's message and its over $100 million worth of fossil fuel investments. "We are beginning to evaluate the implications of the encyclical across multiple areas, including investments and also including areas such as energy usage and building materials," Betsy Bohlen, chief operating officer for the Archdiocese, told Reuters.
In response to growing grassroots campaigns across the globe, over 300 institutions worldwide have committed to divest from fossil fuels, roughly a quarter of them faith-based organizations. The United Church of Canada announced Tuesday it will be the latest religious institution to divest and the Catholic institution Georgetown University voted in early June, two weeks before the encyclical, to halt its direct investment of its endowment funds in coal mining companies.
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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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