Monday, December 26, 2016
Coral adaptability again
Easily able to cope with a bit of warming
Gene expression plasticity as a mechanism of coral adaptation to a variable environment
Carly D. Kenkel & Mikhail V. Matz
Local adaptation is ubiquitous, but the molecular mechanisms that give rise to this ecological phenomenon remain largely unknown. A year-long reciprocal transplant of mustard hill coral (Porites astreoides) between a highly environmentally variable inshore habitat and a more stable offshore habitat demonstrated that populations exhibit phenotypic signatures that are consistent with local adaptation. We characterized the genomic basis of this adaptation in both coral hosts and their intracellular symbionts (Symbiodinium sp.) using genome-wide gene expression profiling. Populations differed primarily in their capacity for plasticity: following transplantation to a novel environment, inshore-origin coral expression profiles became significantly more similar to the local population's profiles than those in offshore-origin corals. Furthermore, elevated plasticity of the environmental stress response expression was correlated with lower susceptibility to a natural summer bleaching event, suggesting that plasticity is adaptive in the inshore environment. Our results reveal a novel genomic mechanism of resilience to a variable environment, demonstrating that corals are capable of a more diverse molecular response to stress than previously thought.
Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0014 (2016).
The coming battle between the Trump team and economists over the true cost of climate change
The "social cost of carbon" is entirely imaginary: Assumption piled upon assumption
As we learn more and more about the tenor of the Trump transition, a key part of its regulatory rollback strategy on climate change is coming into focus.
It seems increasingly likely that the Trump administration would either alter, or attempt to stop using entirely, an Obama-era metric known as the "social cost of carbon" in its federal rule-making processes. And that could have have major effects on the way environmental policies are written (or unwritten) in the coming years.
A recent, highly controversial questionnaire the transition team sent to the Department of Energy requested a list of all "employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings," as well as emails and other materials associated with those meetings. It also asked a variety of questions about the assumptions that went into calculating the social cost of carbon.
Meanwhile, a document written last month by Department of Energy transition leader Thomas Pyle and recently obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, suggested that "during the Trump Administration the [social cost of carbon] will likely be reviewed and the latest science brought to bear. If the [social cost of carbon] were subjected to the latest science, it would certainly be much lower than what the Obama administration has been using."
But experts have countered that attacking the social cost of carbon may not hold up under scientific, or even legal, standards. If anything, many scientists believe that its monetary value should be set even higher.
The cost of climate change
Scientists agree that climate change could cause a wide variety of damages to human communities, including natural disasters, harm to human health, reduced agricultural output and lower economic productivity, all of which result in monetary costs to society. The social cost of carbon, then, refers to the cost of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
A U.S. government working group first convened in 2009 to develop a method for quantifying the social cost of carbon, and the value has since been used to help create a variety of federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. The cost is currently set at about $36 per ton of carbon dioxide.
For an administration that has promised to reduce regulations on oil and gas operations and revive the coal industry, doing away with - or at least reducing - the social cost of carbon is an obvious priority. The higher the cost is set, the more harm the government assumes will be caused by greenhouse gas emissions, which would generally justify more, rather than less, stringent regulation of the fossil fuel industry.
Yet many climate experts now believe the social cost of carbon should actually be even higher than the current estimate. The old models used to calculate the value rely on dated research, they've argued, and there are certain climate-related damages that may not be adequately factored in.
Another good target for EPA reform
Europe gives Trump Administration excellent tutorials on how not to regulate pesticides
With reform-minded folks in charge of the Executive and Legislative Branches, unelected, unaccountable, un-removable bureaucrats may soon be exerting far less power over our policies, regulations, lives and livelihoods. Energy and climate are high on the fix-it list. Another important topic is insecticides.
The European Union and Canada have provided object lessons in how not to regulate these important chemicals. Scott Pruitt and his new team over at EPA will certainly want to avoid their malpractice.
For nearly a decade, manufactured controversies have raged around a relatively new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These advanced systemic crop protectors are absorbed into the plant itself and thus target only pests that suck or chew on crops, particularly during the plants' early growth phases.
That minimizes impacts on beneficial insects - like crop-pollinating bees. domesticated and wild bees are barely exposed and thus unlikely to be harmed when neonic seed or soil treatments are used, in contrast to what can happen when manmade or "organic" chemicals are sprayed on crops. But despite this minimal risk, anti-pesticide activists have tried for years to blame neonics for recent honeybee health problems.
In 2013, their well-funded advocacy campaigns played a major role in causing the EU's decision-making European Commission to impose a "two-year" ban on using neonicotinoids with bee-attractive crops.
Not surprisingly, almost four years later, there is no sign that the Commission will reconsider its position, despite accumulating evidence that managed bee populations are not now and never were in any danger of collapse or extinction. As my longer article on MasterResource.org explains, that evidence includes the EU's own 2014 and 2015/16 studies, and nearly a dozen large-scale field studies around the world.
Going even further, the European Food Safety Authority now says bees are at grave risk from neonics used on European crops that do not attract bees, such as winter cereals, beets, potatoes, leafy vegetables, maize (corn) and sorghum - whether the neonics are seed treatments, foliar sprays or soil applications. There may be no actual evidence of harm, the EFSA says, but a risk to bees "cannot be excluded."
Just as crazy, the agency's 2013 Bee Guidance Reference Document lets bureaucrats decide which studies and data can be accepted and deemed relevant - and which can be ignored. It also means chemicals that can control crop pests may never be approved; and only ineffective chemicals will be approved (along with chemicals that are or could be dangerous for bees, but are deemed to be "natural" or "organic").
That explains why EU member nation governments for three years have refused to approve the BGRD. However, in the wacky world of EU regulations, the mere fact that member governments have refused to approve a guidance document doesn't prevent unelected Eurocrats from using it to advance their agendas.
The BGRD specifies a three-tier scheme for evaluating potential impacts on bees. At Tier 1, extremely low laboratory test thresholds pretty much automatically force evaluations under more complex, costly and time-consuming second and third tiers. At the highest tier - full field testing - the guidance specifies wide spatial separation requirements between test fields and control fields, where beehives are located.
To ensure experimental integrity, the BGRD requires that neonic test areas must be free of other pesticide-treated, bee-attractive crops, and far enough away from such areas that tests are not affected. But that means scientists need areas four times larger than Paris, France. That's virtually impossible in densely populated Europe. Catch 22!
To pass the "no risk" test, evaluators must then prove the pesticide being tested doesn't produce more than a 7% fluctuation in a beehive's populations. But natural fluctuations can easily reach 15% from frigid cold snaps, infestations by Varroa destructor mites, or even beekeepers applying chemicals to hives to control mites or other pests and diseases. So it's impossible to show that population changes greater than 7% were not due to neonic use on crops. Catch-22 again! But it gets even worse.
Euro regulators even ignored some of the best available data: large-scale field studies done under Good Laboratory Practices. Nearly a dozen such studies consistently demonstrate that no observable adverse effects on honeybees result from field-realistic exposures to properly applied neonic pesticides.
But instead of accepting these studies, EU bureaucrats rely on laboratory studies that other researchers have shown consistently overdose bees with pesticides. That lets regulators focus on adverse neonic impacts that can justify bans, but under conditions that bees would never encounter in the real world.
In another case, five carefully conducted, inter-related studies published in the journal Ecotoxicology covered a large-scale 2013-14 northern Germany field study of honey bees, bumble bees and solitary red mason bees that forage in oilseed rape (akin to canola) fields treated with the neonic Clothianidin.
The elaborate, sophisticated studies assessed neonic residues from bees and hives under actual field conditions. They found that the residues were well below levels that can adversely affect bees - and that neonics "did not cause any detrimental effects on the development or reproduction" any of the three species. Enter Joseph Heller, yet again.
The studies were paid for by Bayer CropLife, because EU agencies generally don't fund such studies (though they do give millions a year to environmentalist groups). Voila! Anti-pesticide activists can challenge and dismiss the well-documented experimental results - and the EFSA can ignore the results in reaching its latest conclusions on risks to bees that are not attracted to neonic-protected crops. All because of a guidance document that EU member states never approved!
Unfortunately, bad science and regulatory policy are not confined only to the other side of the Atlantic. HealthCanada recently imposed a phased-in ban on another relatively new neonic pesticide. It did so using an EU-like Catch-22 approach, despite any actual evidence of real-world harm - and without considering insect infestations, crop losses, the absence of safe alternative pesticides, or the fact that other insecticides actually are harmful to bees and/or aquatic life.
All this suggests there is ample reason to worry about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's own inbred inclinations. A late 2014 EPA study/memorandum contends that neonic pesticides were ineffective in controlling soy crop pests. It was refuted by scientists who had better data and repudiated by the US Department of Agriculture. But EPA did not withdraw or cancel the 2014 soy efficacy memo.
A 2015 preliminary EPA assessment essentially exonerated neonic seed treatments, as posing virtually no risk to bees. But another one said neonics on citrus trees are potentially dangerous, even though neonics as the only solution for "citrus greening" disease that is decimating lemon, orange and grapefruit trees.
These EU, Canadian and EPA actions offer important lessons for Trump-Pruitt pesticide regulators.
* Stick to risk-based standards embedded in U.S. legislation, and avoid any drift toward the "precautionary principle," which looks only at alleged or inflated risks from using chemicals - never at the risks of not using them, and never at risks that could be reduced or eliminated by using the chemicals.
* Focus on replicable, evidence-based, field-tested science. Don't let agenda-driven activists pressure EPA (or the Agriculture Department) into excluding the best and most relevant available data.
* Revise or eliminate standards, policies and regulations that were based on less than defensible, real-world data and analyses; that do not fully consider the costs and benefits of using (or not using) available chemicals; or that fail to balance demonstrated agricultural, consumer and environmental considerations.
EPA policies on neonics and other issues would be a perfect place to begin changing the way Washington works.
Kill wind and solar tax credits as part of tax reform
By Natalia Castro
President elect Donald Trump wants Americans to have a tax code they can understand and that benefits them, unlike the current code. Trump won the election as a business man for the common man, and the first thing he can do to retain that image is to begin to put an end corporate cronyism that runs rampant through the political system.
A perfect target are corporate tax credits, including those enjoyed by green energy industries wind and solar, subsidies the Obama administration has put in place for these industries while the EPA's regulatory war on coal has helped cripple our economy.
Currently, the American Wind Energy Association touts their two luxurious tax credits. The group explains, "The Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) are meant to keep wind energy attractive for the investors who finance new wind farms as demand for low-carbon fuel sources continues to increase. The PTC is currently worth 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated for the power grid."
Despite wind energy consistently not reaping economic returns and proving an inefficient means to energy sustainability, in 2015 Congress agreed to continue these subsidies through 2020.
But wind energy is not the only ineffective government tax credit which is draining our economy and complicating our tax code, solar energy is receiving the same subsidies.
In fact, the federal government allows for tax credits of up to 30 percent for solar electric property, solar water-heating property, fuel cell property, small wind-energy property, and geothermal heat pumps. In 2015, these credits were extended through 2021.
In order for Trump to follow through on his promise to eliminate this corporate power over federal money, he must work on removing these credits for the tax code; and with Republicans dominating the House and Senate, now is the time to begin.
As William Gale, a co-director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and a former economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush told the New York Times in Nov. 2016, "Tax reform is the thing that always unites Republicans. I would guess that that's Item 1 on the congressional agenda."
As House Republicans push legislation into Trump's first 100 days, including tax reform, all legislation that allows for corporations to institute ineffective and inefficient policy must be removed. Trump has held strong on his aim to bring competition back to the energy sector, which he cannot do with these policies in place. When tax reform comes up to the table, Trump can kill two birds with one stone.
Remove wind and solar tax credits to force the market to stand on its own and allow room for effective energy production that Americans need. It is time for these corporations to stop feeling the benefits, and time for the American people to receive some for a change.
Horror: Government websites may soon tell the truth about climate
Google "climate change" and the top two hits are websites that are part of NASA's online climate portal, followed by a Wikipedia entry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's climate website.
Websites maintained by the federal government are among the first online stops for the general public - from students, local policymakers and everyone else - to learn about climate change. There is rising concern among scientists and climate communications experts that those websites may be among the first to be deleted, politicized or degraded with inaccurate climate information after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, all of which would impact the public's understanding of the science and urgency of climate change.
Trump is populating his cabinet with appointees who reject established climate science and have pledged to overturn nearly all of the government's climate regulations and pull the United States out of the Paris climate pact.
EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt has falsely said that scientists disagree about the human connection to global warming, and debate about it should be encouraged. Pruitt, currently Oklahoma's attorney general, says on his official website that he is "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda."
Trump's NASA transition team leader, Chris Shank, has said he wonders if scientists' "rhetoric" about carbon dioxide emissions - the chief driver of climate change - is "really about some neo-Malthusian discussion on population control."
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom Trump has tapped to run the U.S. Department of Energy, which conducts extensive climate research, said in 2014 that calling carbon dioxide a pollutant is a "disservice to the country."
Scientists worry that the Trump administration will neglect or delete critical climate data on government websites, and researchers are scrambling to download the data to ensure it is preserved. But there is fear that Trump's cabinet officials will also remove or distort basic climate information that the general public often relies on for its understanding of global warming.
"The first indications we've seen are you're putting a transition team in place that have spent their career attacking the science, dismissing this information and spreading misinformation," said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There's a real risk they'll push aside and hide that information."
The climate change doubters and denialists in Trump's transition team and cabinet have significant authority within the agencies they lead, strongly suggesting that the climate information the public sees on federal websites is at risk, said Susan Hassol, one of the co-writers of the three U.S. national climate assessments and now the director of Climate Communication, a nonprofit climate science outreach organization.
"If we are to take their public statements and writings at their word, the threat is acute," she said.
In addition to maintaining critical - and continuous - datasets on weather and climate, federal agencies provide a trove of basic information designed to educate the general public about climate change.
Websites such as Globalchange.gov and NASA's "Vital Signs for the Planet" offer basic facts and data on global warming for a mass audience. The EPA's website is full of basic information about U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions. The National Park Service has a website that can answer questions about why climate change is melting Glacier National Park's namesake glaciers and the role of global warming in threatening the Everglades.
"Many of these sites have been developed to provide clear and concise expressions of the evidence and their uncertainties," said Rachael Shwom, a Rutgers University sociologist who studies how people make sense of and respond to climate change. "These sites are used in classrooms and by citizens searching to answer their questions and talk to others in an informed way."
Americans could be misled about the world's scientific consensus on climate change if the information on government websites is removed, watered down or distorted, she said. People looking for basic information could seek it from sources that may not be as vigilant about the accuracy of the information they present.
Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said federal government websites providing basic information on climate change serve as primary sources of information for the general public. They are also used by journalists to find climate facts when federal agencies such as NASA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration make major announcements about alarming climate trends.
Policymakers also rely on federal government websites focusing on climate change, she said.
"When a topic comes into news or policy debates, policymakers know there's a trusted source," Jamieson said. "Take those down, and you lose the ability to inform policymakers about those issues. You diminish the issue of its importance."
There is precedent for government officials who disagree with the importance or accuracy of established climate science removing politically inconvenient information from government websites, Hassol said.
"In the past, some of this government information has been altered by partisan actors to serve their agenda," Hassol said. "An example is oil industry lobbyist Philip Cooney who was hired by the George W. Bush administration. Cooney changed the language in government science reports, altering them to exaggerate the uncertainties and downplay the risks and the scientific consensus."
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Posted by JR at 1:34 AM