Sen. Whitehouse Calls Out ALEC for Role in Funding Climate Deniers
Despite the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in helping billionaires, Big Oil, Coal, Tobacco, the gun lobby and other dubious corporate interests to infiltrate our state lawmaking processes, it’s not every day you hear U.S. Senators name-drop ALEC during hearings.
This week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) took a swing at ALEC’s role in helping the fossil fuel lobby deny the science of climate change, during his weekly "Time to Wake Up" speech in the Senate. This comes at an interesting time, as climate denier Willie Soon has been exposed for promising “deliverables” in the form of Congressional influence to coal utility giant Southern Company, to billionaire Charles Koch and to ExxonMobil that paid for Dr. Soon’s climate denial “research.”
With climate deniers on the defense, Sen. Whitehouse has reminded us that Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and their lobbying organization, the American Petroleum Institute, have funded scientists like Willie Soon and front groups like ALEC to peddle climate misinformation to the public. Here’s a transcript of highlights from this climate call-out, which earned a favorable fact-check from PolitiFact.
“Chevron, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil also support something called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ‘ALEC.’"
“ALEC is an organization which works to undercut climate science and undermine climate progress at the state level, interfering in our state legislatures. ALEC has tried to roll back state renewable fuel standards and has handed out model state legislation to obstruct and tie up the President’s Clean Power Plan.”
“Major companies like Google, eBay, Facebook, Yahoo and believe or not even Occidental Petroleum, have disassociated themselves from ALEC because of its destructive position on climate. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said of ALEC, quote ‘they are literally lying’ end quote. They are literally lying about climate change but they keep getting funding from Chevron, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil.”
These fossil fuel giants certainly have ALEC busy—with help from the other front groups that affiliate with ALEC through the “State Policy Network.”
Koch-funded university departments at Utah State University and Suffolk University are cranking out debunked studies to justify attacks on clean energy incentives in Kansas. Koch’s State Policy Network tried this before, and repeatedly failed. This year, they are trying again to get Charles Koch what he wants: to leave incentives for Koch Industries alone while attacking support for his clean energy competitors.
As Sen. Whitehouse mentions, while ALEC and the State Policy Network attack clean energy competition to Koch, Exxon, and other fossil fuel giants, they are simultaneously creating red tape for states trying to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan – our first ever national effort to curb carbon pollution at coal plants, the top sources of emissions that cause global warming.
Richard Berman, aka Dr. Evil, is lending a hand to ALEC and SPN, living up to his promise to oil executives to funnel their money anonymously into the groups that are attacking environmental protections.
Senator Whitehouse called attention to the broader influence of money in politics, which the Koch brothers and their billionaire allies have pushed for decades in an effort to increase their own influence and ability to make money (they call it “freedom”). From his speech:
“The effect of Citizens United has been particularly clear here in the Senate. There once was an active heartbeat of Republican activity on climate change. Senator [John] McCain ran for president on an active, robust program of addressing climate change. Senator [Susan] Collins did a bipartisan bill on climate change. Senator [Mark] Kirk voted in the House for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Senator [Jeff] Flake wrote article supporting a carbon fee as long as the taxes were reduced elsewhere to offset the increased revenue from the carbon fee ... and on and on. My first exposure to this was the Warner-Lieberman bill, and the “Warner” was a Republican Senator, John Warner.
“Well, that’s been a while. Since 2010, the year that Citizens United was decided, this honest debate about how we address this problem for the benefits of the American people has flatlined. Now since 2010, the evidence of climate change has only become stronger.”
This is why Greenpeace has worked to expose the secretive coordination of these dirty companies. It turns out that sunshine is both the best disinfectant in a struggling democracy, and it’s a business threat to the companies still extracting 20th Century energy at the expense of our health and our climate.
Courtesy of InsideClimate News, whose recent reporting on Dr. Willie Soon has been second to none, here is an image of some other members of Congress who chose to ignore their colleagues like Sen. Whitehouse, instead doubling down on debunked denial coming from the likes of Dr. Willie Soon and ALEC.
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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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