To date, three Republican presidential candidates—Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio—have released energy plans and policy priorities. Note that these three candidates are considered more in the “mainstream” and not on the fringe of their party, like, say, Sen. Ted Cruz. That said, their plans might have as well been written by Donald Trump’s policy team—which I believe is himself.
The candidates’ plans also make little-to-no reference to the booming clean energy economy powered by solar and wind. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Every single one of these purportedly reasonable Republican candidates has released a plan which makes no reference to the climate crisis. That’s aside, of course, from Marco Rubio’s advocacy for killing an international climate agreement in Congress, as well as all the candidates’ opposition to safeguards like the Clean Power Plan—which would finally work to start cutting carbon pollution at the national level. During the most recent Republican debate, Rubio made his opposition to any form of climate action even clearer by eloquently asserting that we can’t have any impact because “America is not a planet.”
The candidates’ plans also make little-to-no reference to the booming clean energy economy powered by solar and wind. In fact, the plans look largely identical. They seem to be copied from the same pages of every fossil fuel CEO’s playbook, each giving dirty fuel conglomerates everything they’ve ever dreamed of. Oil, gas and coal executives can check off every item on their wish list with these candidates, including the Keystone XL pipeline, dangerous offshore drilling in the pristine Arctic and elsewhere, an end to the ban on exports of crude oil and a straightforward gutting of the vital protections which safeguard the air and water that all American families breathe and drink.
By ignoring both climate action and the clean energy revolution that’s creating thousands of jobs, these plans demonstrate that when it comes to energy policy, there is a complete and total disconnect between the “mainstream” Republican presidential candidates and the reality unfolding across America and around the world. And that’s without even getting into front-runner Donald Trump’s absurd comments and conspiracy theories.
You wouldn't know it from a look at these Republican plans, but Iowa, the first state to weigh in during both the Republican and Democratic primaries, is a clean energy powerhouse where wind is rapidly emerging as "the new ethanol.” In 2014, Iowa generated more than 28 percent of its electricity from wind power—first in the nation (remind you of anything?)—and within five years the state could meet 40 percent of its energy needs from wind power. Already, wind has brought more than 7,000 jobs to Iowa. And it's not just Iowa where clean energy is popular.
At the same time, both corporate America and Wall Street—the Republican Party’s traditional patrons—have evolved on climate action. Three weeks ago, six of the America’s largest banks, including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, signed a joint letter of support for “financing climate solutions.” These business leaders also noted that their actions can only accomplish so much alone, saying, “We call for leadership and cooperation among governments for commitments leading to a strong global climate agreement.”
On Oct. 19, momentum kept on rolling when 81 major corporations, including Best Buy, Target, Hershey’s, AT&T, GE, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors, HP, Starbucks, Cargill, Xerox, Walmart, UPS, Sony, Siemens, Nike, McDonalds, Kelloggs, IBM, Nestle, Ikea, Intel, Apple, Coca Cola, Pepsi-Co, Procter & Gamble and scores of others announced that they have signed onto a major “Act on Climate” pledge calling for a strong global agreement at international negotiations in Paris later this year, while also offering their own carbon reduction and renewable energy commitments.
You don’t need to look further than Pope Francis to see that the level of advocacy on behalf of our “shared home” and its climate is rapidly increasing in the religious community. During his visit to the U.S. last month, the Pope made a sustained, crystal-clear call for climate action and protecting the global environment during historic addresses at the White House, United Nations and in Congress. Earlier this year, the Pope was joined by other Christian leaders, including the heads of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches, who co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times on “Climate Change and Moral Responsibility.” Other religious leaders are also speaking out. In just the latest example, last week the Dalai Lama called for action on climate, saying, “This is not a political matter, not a religious matter, but ultimately [about] the survival of humanity.”
Even among Republican voters, there is a clear understanding that the world’s climate is changing and that mankind is playing a role in that change. Even more significant, a large majority of conservative Republicans agree that we should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that America can have cleaner, healthier air and less pollution at home, and agree that such acceleration would also create economic growth and jobs. While more than eight in 10 registered voters nationwide (84 percent) favor “taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States,” that includes 72 percent of Republican voters and even 68 percent of self-identified conservative Republican voters.
Traditionally, Republican politicians have relied on the canard that the U.S. can’t act alone while China—the world’s biggest carbon emitter—keeps on polluting. But that argument is headed for the incinerator, now that China joined the U.S. in leading the way forward on climate with historic commitments to curb its carbon pollution and install unprecedented amounts of wind, solar and other renewable energy capacity. In fact, the clean energy capacity China plans to add is equivalent to that of the entire U.S. electric grid—and they aren’t alone. More than 150 countries, including more than 100 developing countries, have submitted plans for cutting and limiting their carbon pollution while ramping up clean energy.
Overall, it couldn't be clearer that the Republican presidential candidates’ mix of silence, befuddlement and discomfort on climate action increasingly resembles a flat-Earth society conspiracy convention that’s staked out its fact-free, vehement opposition to the entire word. Everywhere you look, from New York’s Wall Street to Iowa’s Main Street, from China to the Vatican, from the corporate board room to world capitals, from Progressive Democrats to Conservative Republican voters, everyone is ready for real climate action and the clean energy revolution—except if you are a Republican running for president.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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