The Research Is In: Regulations Alone Won’t Save Us From Climate Disaster
We are convinced that any serious attempt to address climate change means that a large portion of the natural gas, oil and coal currently locked underground must remain unexploited. Unfortunately, rather than aggressively deploying renewable energy resources, the Obama administration has opted to allow polluters to continue burning these dirty, polluting fossil fuels. Case in point: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to soon release rules to regulate methane leaks from natural gas production and transportation. But two new reports released this week underscore the importance of keeping fossil fuels where they belong—underground.
This week, Nature published a peer-reviewed paper estimating the percentages of fossil fuels that must remain unburned. This came on the heels of our own analysis of how much natural gas, specifically, should not be exploited.
The Nature researchers based their numbers on a scenario prioritizing the cheapest fossil fuels, weighted (or penalized) by a selected measure of their contribution to global warming. The authors found that in order to have only a 50-50 chance of remaining below a 2-degree (Celsius) temperature increase and avoid catastrophic climate change, about 80 percent of coal reserves, 30 percent of oil reserves and 50 percent of natural gas reserves must remain underground.
However, these percentages were calculated before accounting for “technically recoverable resources,” meaning, that most of the shale gas the industry expects to extract by fracking, was not considered.
Food & Water Watch’s analysis calculated a more conservative “budget” that would provide a 75 percent chance of remaining below the 2 degrees Celsius warming line. Even with ambitious plans for ramping down coal and oil use, this budget is busted by the CO2 emitted from burning fracked natural gas.
In both studies, there’s an implicit budget for methane emissions too, but widespread drilling and fracking would likewise break that limit. The EPA plans to issue regulations for methane leaking due to drilling and fracking, but this industry cannot be regulated properly. Simply put, the Obama administration’s methane regulations are equivalent to putting lipstick on a pig—they address the problem, but they don’t exactly fix it.
Policymakers would like to pretend they can have their cake and eat it too, appeasing the industry’s desire to continue producing, while also saving the climate. But as the research shows, you can’t have it both ways. Food & Water Watch’s analysis looked at what the world can afford in terms of climate change, not dollars. The U.S. is poised to become a world leader on curbing climate change, but for that to happen, we need to implement real solutions, rather than pandering to special oil and gas industry interests and their powerful lobbyists.
In short, both sets of research demonstrate that policies encouraging fossil fuel development and production are bankrupt. The only responsible path forward is to keep coal, oil and natural gas underground. The time has come to aggressively overhaul our nation’s energy system, incentivizing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Rather than supporting conventional fuels through tax breaks and subsidies, we need our leaders to have the courage to forge a real path toward energy security and independence.
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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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