Government Accountability Office Urges Trump to Act on Climate Change
President Trump might think that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's nonpartisan auditing arm, is urging the administration to craft a plan to confront climate change or else it will have to deal with its massive economic consequences.
According to a new report released by the GAO, the U.S. government has already spent more than $350 billion over the past decade on dealing with natural disasters and losses from flood and crop insurance. The tally does not even include the economic toll from this year's horrific West Coast fires and successive hurricanes, which is estimated to cost at least $300 billion.
Costs will also soar—as much as $35 billion per year by mid-century—if global emission rates are not reduced, the study warns.
"The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses," the study states. "By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks."
The report, which features interviews with more than two dozen scientific and economic experts and 30 studies, was requested by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
"The Government Accountability Office—if you will, the chief bean counter—is basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money," Cantwell told the New York Times. "We need to understand that as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue, and the fact that it's having this big a fiscal impact on our federal budget needs to be dealt with."
The Senators hope that the study will prompt Congress and the administration to move towards a bipartisan solution to fight the effects of a warming world.
"My hope is the administration will take a look at this report and realize there is an economic impact here that is significant," Collins told the Times. "We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that's going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change."
Trump, however, has notoriously pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations designed to address climate change, including the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The president's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has close links to the fossil fuel industry and once said that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming.
Robert N. Stavins, an economist at Harvard University, cast doubt the study would convince the government to act.
“The GAO study is conservative, it's not alarmist, it's realistic and balanced and they go out of their way to point out all of the uncertainties involved," Stavins told the Times. “I don't see any likelihood it's going to be taken seriously."
Indeed, the price tag from the GAO's study is drastically lower than estimates from other recent reports. The non-profit Universal Ecological Fund found that extreme weather and public health issues related to burning fossil fuels could cost the U.S. up to $360 billion annually—nearly half of annual U.S. economic growth—within the next ten years.
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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