SICB opposes "drill baby drill"

It's always gratifying to see a scientific organization step up and use their collective expertise to make a clear statement on a political and economic issue. The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) has published an open letter to President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline is a ghastly stopgap that hinders the promotion of better, cleaner alternative energy sources by encouraging ever more desperate and destructive efforts to harvest marginal energy sources…efforts to keep us on our petroleum addiction until the last drop of oil is wrung out of the earth, at any cost.

How about taking the billions that would be squandered building a big ugly pipe and instead invest it in research and conservation?

6 February 2013

From the Presidents of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

An open letter to President Barack Obama,

Members of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology are biologists from throughout the U.S. with the broadest possible perspectives—from microbes to whales, from molecules to ecosystems. The undersigned current and past presidents of the Society have watched with increasing dismay the deterioration of the life support system of our planet, threatening all life as we know it. It has long been known that one product of burning fossil fuel, carbon dioxide, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and more recently that this gas has been associated with drastic climate variations in Earth’s past. Consequently, it is no surprise that prodigious worldwide burning of fossil fuel is creating large-scale climate change with increasing disruption of life on the planet. While many in the western developed nations still enjoy relative prosperity – despite the horrific storms experienced in the U.S. in recent years – it is in poor nations around the world that the impacts of climate change are currently most destructive. Pacific Island nations are disappearing beneath the tides as sea level rises. Desertification is destroying agriculture in northern Africa and massive floods have devastated Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand in the last two years.

It is too late to avoid substantial disruption, but further damage can be reduced if we act immediately to keep remaining fossil fuel deposits in the ground, out of the air and sea. A most immediate decision is yours: whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. More important than the fact that the pipeline itself will endanger aquifers and life along its length, the pipe will deliver the dirtiest, most CO2-producing petroleum source known to the refineries of the Gulf Coast. Additionally, the Athabasca tar-sands mine is destroying vast regions of northern Alberta that have been home and hunting and fishing grounds for First Nations peoples for thousands of years.

Even before fossil fuels are burned, releasing climate-altering greenhouse gases, the extraction phase itself produces environmental disasters, including toxins in water supplies due to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, degradation of watersheds by mountain-top coal mining, and the loss of marine life from offshore drilling. Permits for all of these activities lie in the hands of agencies of your administration.

Alternative sources of energy are at hand. We do have the individual and collective intelligence and technology to see the urgently needed transition through to better times. What we require is sufficient political will on a global scale to meet the challenge. The U.S., for the last three federal administrations, has been a major impediment to ratification of international climate treaties. Clearly, the future demands that we – through your administration – reverse this pattern and join with leaders of other nations to ratify agreements that will quickly and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. President: you are arguably the most powerful person in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the globe. To be clear: change will come, one way or another. Your task is no less than to steer the course of history away from its current devastating trajectory toward a sustainable existence for humankind.

Signed by:
Billie Swalla, University of Washington* President, 2013-2014
Peter Wainwright, University of California, Davis*
President-elect, 2013-2014
Ken Sebens, University of Washington* Past President, 2010-2012
Rich Satterlie, University of North Carolina, Wilmington*
Past President, 2009-2010
John Pearse, University of California, Santa Cruz*
Past President, 2007-2008
Sally Woodin, University of South Carolina* Past President, 2005-2006
Marvalee Wake, University of California, Berkeley*
Past President, 2001-2002
Alan Kohn, University of Washington* Past President, 1997-1998
Mike Hadfield, University of Hawaii* Past President, 1995-1996
David Wake, University of California, Berkeley*
Past President, 1992
* Affiliations for identification only and do not represent endorsement by the organization".
Lynn Riddiford, University of Washington* Past President, 1991
Albert Bennett, University of California, Irvine*
Past President, 1990
Stephen Wainwright, Duke University* Past President, 1988
William Dawson, University of Michigan* Past President, 1986
Patricia Morse, University of Washington* Past President, 1985
Edwin L. Cooper, University of California, Los Angeles*
Past President, 1983
F. John Vernberg, University of South Carolina*
Past President, 1982
Mary E. Rice
Past President, 1979

Approved by the Executive Committee of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, 5 February 2013, as was the Society’s Resolution on Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, which was approved on 1 March 2012:


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what do you think of this story:

The Placental Mammal Ancestor and the Post–K-Pg Radiation of Placentals ?

I find it astonishing that did they did not use the molecular clock for this study.

It seems that this group makes a lot of assumptions based on morphology.

To declare that that the origin of the common ancestor of all placental mammals is almost exactly 200 000 to 400 000 years after the ending of the Cretaceous based on such a comparative study sounds fishy. I mean such precision is almost beyond belief!

Fossils and molecular clock combined has proven valuable. There are many exemples where molecular clock predicted the finding of an earlier fossil and was proven right. Before tossing the molecular clock in favor of subjective comparative morphology I would like to see more evidence.

What do you think?

Yet Nature, seems to be endorsing said pipeline, go figure!

"Second, regarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it. As Nature has suggested before (see Nature 477, 249; 2011), the pipeline is not going to determine whether the Canadian tar sands are developed or not. Only a broader — and much more important — shift in energy policy will do that. Nor is oil produced from the Canadian tar sands as dirty from a climate perspective as many believe (some of the oil produced in California, without attention from environmentalists, is worse).Tar-sands development raises serious air- and water-quality issues in Canada, but these problems are well outside Obama’s jurisdiction."

We live in interesting times!

By Fred Magyar (not verified) on 07 Feb 2013 #permalink

Huh. Has something triggered moderation?

Part 1:

I find it astonishing that did they did not use the molecular clock for this study.

That was the whole point: we know what molecular data say on this question, what do the morphological data say?

Besides, molecular divergence date analyses need to be calibrated by fossils. That is easier said than done. Many published molecular analyses are miscalibrated, and their dates most likely wrong.

It seems that this group makes a lot of assumptions based on morphology.

Oh no. It's a phylogenetic analysis of about ten times as much morphological data as ever before.

I'll read the paper and come back.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

Part 2:

Yet Nature, seems to be endorsing said pipeline, go figure!

Saying "it's not quite the worst of several evils, and the worst part happens in Canada anyway" isn't what I'd call an endorsement. :-)

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

Apparently the link was the problem. What the vertical gene transfer?

Part 3 of 3:

Please write an article about this:

PZ almost never reads the comments here. Go to the other Pharyngula (the one on Freethoughtblogs) or e-mail him.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

David Marjanović@9,

"the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it."

I think one might be forgiven for possibly misconstruing those words as an endorsement of sorts, wouldn't you say?

As long as environmental standards are met, of course.

Though some might argue that simply extracting oil from tar sands for the purposes of providing fossil fuel to be burned by members of our industrialized civilization and thus adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere might conflict with environmental standards... if we had any worth mentioning, that is. But I digress.


By Fred Magyar (not verified) on 08 Feb 2013 #permalink

We are told that this pipeline is needed to contribute to the "energy independence" of the USA. But since the USA is already a net exporter of gasoline It's difficult to see how this pipeline actually does anything more than contribute to export sales of US refineries. Rest assured that if refiners can't get the price they want for their products domestically they'll simply export to China and India.

By sailor1031 (not verified) on 09 Feb 2013 #permalink

Some really superb posts on this web site , regards for contribution.

I think one might be forgiven for possibly misconstruing those words as an endorsement of sorts, wouldn’t you say?

Out of their context? Sure...

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Feb 2013 #permalink

I wrote:

I’ll read the paper and come back.

I'm only half done, but that's because the paper has 131 pages.

The really important thing about it is that the "paper" behind the paywall is, in reality, just an extended abstract. On its 6 pages it presents the showiest results and has all the pretty pictures, but that's it. The entire "materials and methods" section is in the allegedly supplementary

In a comical turn, this "supplementary" information has its own supplementary information ("appendices S1 to S4"), which isn't even hosted on, but on!

Do you realize what all this means, dear colleagues, laddies and gentlewomen?

It means this is an open-access paper!
Go here, cackle madly, and click on "download supplement"!

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 11 Feb 2013 #permalink

David Marjanović@14,

It is an endorsement nonetheless.

As far as being out of context, they sound to me as if they are supporters of the current business as usual paradigm.

To be clear, I agree that the pipeline will be built regardless and that it would be nice if it didn't leak. Though I think that misses the real point. Which in a way, they do sort of weakly pay lip service to... Namely that we, the benefactors of western style industrial civilization must come up with a completely new paradigm.

I would have preferred if they were more clear on the what, why and how of the path that must be taken, sans the pussyfooting.

Something more along the lines of : The Myth of “Saudi America” Straight talk from geologists about our new era of oil abundance. By Raymond T. Pierrehumbert…

By Fred Magyar (not verified) on 11 Feb 2013 #permalink

I couldn't agree more. If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved it will only lead to more of these energy sources. By saying the Keystone XL pipeline is acceptable we are denying further research and usage of alternative energy source that have a much smaller effect on the environment. People find the smallest problems with alternative energy sources in order to rule them out, but when it comes to nonrenewable ones we are more than willing to over look their huge impressions on the environment. The denial of alternative energy sources is a major problem in the US and we need to accept change.

By Shannon Hartley (not verified) on 12 Feb 2013 #permalink

I believe the Keystone XL pipeline is a good thing on many levels. The Obama administration is on a clean energy mission and this is a very large step in their mission because the amount of natural gas in the Marcelus and lower shale layers is huge. Natural gas is a cleaner burning and more efficient fuel than petroleum and oil. The pipeline is also a huge employer in the region as i have many friends working on the pipeline, and most of the area is supportive of the gas line, so it is a win win for the area.

By Joshua D Wilson (not verified) on 13 Feb 2013 #permalink