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:


  1. nyck170 says

    How often does Prof. Myers drive in a petroleum-burning car to the Minneapolis airport to fly in a petroleum-burning airplane?

  2. Lofty says

    nyck170, as often as is necessary, until a suitable alternative is available. How will building the pipeline help fund the alternative?

  3. unclefrogy says

    nyck are you trying to say that only if you do not use carbon fuel in any way you have a non-hypocritical stance to complain about how we obtain and use carbon base energy?
    this is what I find so childish in the “debate” with reactionaries it is almost always stated in an either or argument black and white. In the energy use area it is always been like that just look at the trouble it was to get the oil companies to get rid of lead or the auto companies to increase mileage standards.

    To require anyone to change would end life as we know it , destroy businesses and we should go back to how we did things in the 50″s

    I have a hard time believing that there is no less destructive way to do these things.
    If there is no less destructive way then what we are doing in the end is ultimately self-destructive. Then why are we doing it and why does anyone advocate continuing in the same way as we have been doing it?

    uncle frogy

  4. nyck170 says

    Mr. Clarke: I’m pro-science and believe in anthropogenic climate change. My position is that it is hypocritical for someone with the carbon footprint of Prof. Myers to criticize methods of obtaining the petroleum he depends on to get to his frequent conferences and conventions, and I do not believe this to be some sort of logical fallacy. Prof. Myers says he would rather spend the billions the pipeline would cost on conservation efforts, but it is always easier to say these things when someone else is doing the sacrifice. Presumably, the alternative energy sources that you and Prof. Myers would rather see funded largely include solar and wind. I would be more sympathetic to your view if you did not recently post your disdain for a solar project in the Mojave; I suppose solar is ok, so long as it affects other people’s decentralized rooftops.

  5. says

    I would be more sympathetic to your view if you did not recently post your disdain for a solar project in the Mojave; I suppose solar is ok, so long as it affects other people’s decentralized rooftops.

    yeah, amazingly enough rooftops aren’t sensitive habitats with endangered species, like the Mojave.

  6. davidhart says

    Nyck: I recommend you check out a recent talk by PZ Myers in which he explicitly states that he doesn’t like having to drive to the airport and wishes the trains were still running.

    Hey, if there were enough of a workable train system, not only would that cut down the need to drive, it would cut down the need to fly as well.

    He is doing a considerable public service by going all over the place being a cheerleader for science and rationality, and getting people excited/riled up about the status quo – if enough people can be persuaded to put science and rationality at the forefront of public policy, then we stand a chance of being able to wean ourselves off our current fossil fuel diet. It’s a bit of a gamble, I suppose, adding to the total of fossil fuels used in order to do that, but I think most well-meaning people would agree that it’s worth a go.

    What are you doing that is comparable?

  7. neutrinosarecool says

    I’m pro-paganda, right, nyck?

    Which is to say, given the obvious scientific reality of fossil fuel-driven increases in atmospheric CO2 leading to global warming and climatic destabilization, and the equally valid technological capacity of renewable energy to completely replace fossil fuels as a global energy source, vested interests who depend on fossil fuel cash flows have a clear interest in promoting false claims, i.e. “global warming does not exist” and “renewable energy simply cannot replace fossil fuels”?

    That would be a lot closer to the truth, correct?

    Really, that “I am pro-science” bullshit really gives it away. The only people who say things like that are propaganda monkeys.

  8. neutrinosarecool says


    Ummm, wouldn’t more solar plants in deserts lead to an elimination of demand for coal-fired power in these regions? Isn’t that in line with California state plans to increase reliance on renewable energy and eliminate coal-fired electricity from the in-state energy mix?

    And, technically and ecologically, solar panels on desert land provide sufficient energy to eliminate coal-fired electricity, as well as not polluting their environs with mercury and sulfur, correct? Yes, utility companies will be involved, but coal companies and coal-hauling railroads will be cut out of the loop. Is that really such a bad thing?

  9. kraut says

    I am totally against the key stone pipeline but wholeheartedly support the Enbridge pipeline to bring heavy crude to the pacific wets coast.
    We also will soon be exporting natural gas from shale gas fields to liquification plants on the west coast.

    We loose at present 100s of millions of taxes due to the lack of transportation of oil to markets other than the US. The US gets about 30% discount of our Canadian crude because of lack of access to overseas markets. That has to stop.
    The oilsands support tens of thousands of Canadian jobs, comapnies are refining the methods to eliminate the necessity of huge sludge ponds (subsurface steam extraction) and dealing with the residues.

    There is at present and in the near future no supply of a mobile primary fuel source to replace oil based hydrocarbons. Hydrogen is a wet dream, inefficient and low energy density with the need of excessively heavy tanks, a secondary source only, biodiesel is robbing food sources, not an alternative.

    As baseload energy sources there is hydro – also doubtful in a world of climate change, combustion of coal (there are clean burning sandbed and other methods out there, including gasification) and nuclear.
    Wind and solar will never be able to apply for baseload duty, can only be an accessory.
    Anybody not realizing that is really living in LaLa land.

  10. says

    Solar power does not need to be centralized, and it doesn’t need to have the inefficiency caused by loss from moving it hundreds of miles.

    Why is the plan to spend all of that money on solar in deserts instead of city-wide rooftop installations and installation of systems where the electrical substations are, in every neighborhood in the country?

    To preserve utility companies.
    Less efficient, more environmentally damaging, but nice and centralized so that we don’t end up in that horrible situation where no one entity controls everyone’s power.

    And the other reason of course is “the desert is empty and useless, let’s put it there!”

  11. Lofty says

    Solar thermal power is perfectly capable of producing base load power as heat energy can be stored in molten salts. The economies of scale make large (desert based) solar thermal installations much more profitable. Rooftop solar needs batteries or similar storage to provide base load power. Not impossible but much dearer. There are arguments favouring both energy sources.
    Pumped hydro is a good energy storage when coupled with wind energy, so where both are available they can replace coal fired base load power.
    From my reading the “renewables can’t do base load” is a myth brought to you by the fossil fuel providers.

  12. krubozumo says

    Can’t seem to find the actual source study but this appeared on Monday last:

    The source is U of Delaware.

    New graphene based solar cells developed at M.I.T

    New battery technologies that do not use expensive and relatively rare elements.

    Very simple changes to transmission tower construction that allow long distance electrical transmission with much reduced energy loss via higher transmission voltages

    The list of emergent and promising technologies is long and diverse. Yes there are tradeoffs with renewables but they are not as bad as the tradeoffs and externalized costs of current fossil carbon based models.

    Kudos to the SICB.

  13. kraut says

    Kraut @17: 35% of British Columbians agree with you, 61% disagree

    The funny thing is: those who disagree rely on the funds (taxes, royalties etc) created where I live. In the centre of BC gas and oil production. Every single one of those disagreeing BC residents NOT in their majority residing in the North want to have:
    Free education
    Affordable gas for heating
    affordable fuel for driving their RVs and vehicles.

    Where the fuck do they think those benefits will come from? BC is over 80% mountainous land, the “prairie” areas not arable, we have very little secondary manufacturing because the raw material we extract pay high wages, not being matched usually in the manufacturing industries. So there is no labour or place incentive to produce here – we export and do it well.
    Things will have to change – but watch the outcries of those tree huggers when the next manufacturing plant goes into construction utilizing the locally (BC wide) extracted material.
    BC relies on:
    Mining – anything from copper to coal to oil. BC has some logging, also relying too much on the american market.

    As to baseload – again, I have seen nothing that is feasible in the near future. Those molten salt energy stores where talked about in europe already thirty and fourty years ago; if they were feasible – where are they?
    Wind energy – talk about hypocrites. The usually same people who froth at the mouth at hydrocarbons – usually from the lower BC mainland – froth at the same mouth when it comes to wind energy or even hydro power.
    And hydropower is a land grab, a long term destruction of sometimes valuable agri sites or forestry area, wildlife habitat. So not so benign after all, but still (pending climate changes) a real base load supply.
    We have ridges plastered with wind generators, but how often are they NOT moving, what are the maintenance cost? Are they really in the long run an alternative?
    At 1$/megawatt construction cost and a live expectancy of maybe ten – fifteen years, wind does not look good compared to a dam project at about 2.5$/MW for roughly 100 years or more, depending on silting.

    I have professionally looked into hydrogen as a source, having at one time run a conversion shop for NG vehicles – it does not look good, regarding infrastructure, storage capacities per kg/tank weight, transportation costs etc. More a dream – or nightmare – than reality.
    Electricity is like bio fuels nothing but a wet dream of those not close coupled to reality. Think 60% added electrical production capacity at present US vehicle counts and hydrocarbon usage – where the fuck should that added capacity come from? Any real, and I mean real world suggestions?
    What about the distribution network that is already close to at or at capacity – mor power lines, masts etc? More transformations. Who bears those costs?
    Nuclear power anybody? Only when the waste stream cam be cleaned up, and the remains do not need to be stored for the next 10 000 generations.
    Who really thinks the production of all that steel is really in anyway less carbon intensive? The concrete for the dams, the streams to be blocked, the coal to be burned.
    That reminds me of those bullshit electric cars – the shipping of the parts for those vehicles eats up any benefit re: carbon footprint they supposedly had.

    Solar – give me a break, the most costly source so far at about 5 – 10$/watt, and only reliable in dry areas where the sunshine is predictable, utilizing again steel (thought about the carbon footprint of steel and aluminum production lately?) and aluminum for transmission. And some here think that pipeline are ugly?
    What has aesthetics to do with energy transmission. Who gives a flying fuck about the looks as long as energy transmission can be done cost effective?

    Stop dreaming – the only way to be carbon neutral is a hydrocarbon production that is based on bio generation – waste, production of source crops on marginal lands with limited input, utilizing algea and bacteria to remove carbon and produce hydrocarbons utilizing photons to close the carbon cycle.
    The only other option is: stop driving, stop heating, stop flying.

  14. cm's changeable moniker says

    Solar thermal power is perfectly capable of producing base load power as heat energy can be stored in molten salts. The economies of scale make large (desert based) solar thermal installations much more profitable. [..] Pumped hydro is a good energy storage when coupled with wind energy, so where both are available they can replace coal fired base load power.
    From my reading the “renewables can’t do base load” is a myth brought to you by the fossil fuel providers.

    A long time ago, I grew up near Dinorwig and Trawsfynydd.

    “desert based” solar thermal seems unlikely …

    Now I live near Dungeness. (At least close enough that if it blows, I’m probably toast.)

    And yet, my electricity is part-generated by gas plants on the Thames. And partly from hydro in Scotland. So goes energy trading.

  15. Lofty says

    Only with a shit ton of costs externalized.

    I don’t disagree with that. Intact desert land has a much higher value that power companies wish to give it. My point was that large scale concentrated solar thermal is much more profitable than small scale. Suitable locations for large scale installations are a big question.

  16. says


    I see. Needs to be profitable.

    That reflects in no way on my my claim that the intent is to preserve utility companies. Not at all.

  17. krubozumo says

    Ah yes the concept of profit. Anyone care to take on explaining how that idea works with the second law of thermodynamics?

  18. says


    My point was that large scale concentrated solar thermal is much more profitable than small scale

    I should give a half dram of rat piss about the power companies’ profits why exactly? The question is what the cleanest and most efficient way of getting electricity to people is. Something more profitable to the power companies is definitionally less efficient for me, because I wind up paying more for no actual benefit.
    You’re an idiot who’s full of shit. Provide a citation for anything you said in post 24, if you can.

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    *raises hand*
    dues-paid card-carrying member of SICB.
    Did my postdoc with one of the signatories.
    Full support.

  20. kraut says

    You’re an idiot who’s full of shit. Provide a citation for anything you said in post 24, if you can.

    Since apparently you speak only insult: You are a fucking arsehole.
    Their purpose is to excrete – and that is all you seem to do. Go fuck yourself.

  21. says

    < sigh >
    Ok, Kraut, let me be more detailed: You claim that the cost of wind is $1/MW while a dam costs $2.5/MW (Did you mean MWh? Cost per MWh or KWh is the standard measure for utility-scale generation. Or possibly you meant per watt, which would accord more closely with the costs you list.) Can you provide a citation for those figures? Here is an example of what such a citation might look like. According to U.S. DOE, the current average costs are $96/MWh for wind, and $88.9/MWh for hydro. So, can you provide a reference for your numbers? Any of them? Or are you only good at making shit up?

  22. says

    Only an anecdote, but…
    Couple of years ago my 89-year-old mother (in a small town, back in the UK) had four solar panels fitted to the roof of her house.
    It cost her a few thousand pounds (don’t know if it was subsidised), but she figured out that it was a good investment for money she wasn’t otherwise doing much with.
    She now gets money from the utility, and gleefully reports each quarter how she’s just got a cheque (UK remember :-) ) for two or three hundred pounds, and is doing a little bit for a future she probably won’t see that much of, and has made herself happy to boot!
    Anyone can do a little and everyone should.
    (I rent so I can’t do this myself :-) ).

  23. jnorris says

    If the tar sand oil is so important and valuable then the oil companies can use their tens of billions of dollars in profits from last year to build refineries in Canada and keep the toxic sludge out of the USA.

  24. eveningchaos says

    I am an Albertan strongly opposed to this pipeline being built. I think PZ is correct to encourage funds to be used in alternative energy research. I work for the National Research Council of Canada, and although I am not a researcher, I can assure you that solar power is reaching parity with fossil based energy sources. I have had lengthy discussions with researchers involved in alternative energy research, and the main struggle is acquiring funding for these projects. Other groups have no problem acquiring funding for bitumen extraction and making the process less water intensive. Our government’s stance on Canada hewing wood and drawing water for sale on the world market is only going to leave us in the dust if we don’t focus on research for alternatives. I hope the US puts the stop on this pipeline.

  25. says

    Rooftop solar doesn’t need batteries, if it were part of the grid, even.

    While I disagree that the pipeline is being built safely (because their record is atrocious, their system flawed and self-serving), and that’s a good enough reason to stand against it…

    …Why does anyone think this one pipeline will change the CO2 output of the fossil fuel industry? That part I’m a little hazy on.

  26. says

    Re: 37 Dalillama, Schmott Guy 7 February 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I don’t mean to interrupt, but generally, the installation cost is usually listed in MW and the operation cost in MWh, so you’re probably picking at apples and oranges that really do belong in the same salad.

  27. says

    I allowed for the possibility that kraut meant installation cost per watt; if they meant megawatt, that shoots their own argument neatly in the foot, as $1/MW installation cost is not just competitive, it’s an order of magnitude cheaper than anything else on the market.

  28. Laurence A. Moran says

    Some of you might be interested in my take on the role of scientific societies: The Proper Role of Scientific Societies.

    I wasn’t alone in adopting this position. Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers also think that scientific societies should keep their nose out of areas that are outside of their mandate. We are united when it comes to opposing accommodationism.

    That’s why I was so disappointed to see PZ Myers praising a press release from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB).

  29. Fred Magyar says

    Chris Clarke @28,

    Solar Done Right. NICE!

    Unfortunately very few of our current leaders, politicians, economists, CEOs, bankers, etc… seem to fully understand the concepts of energy, emergy and enthropy.They also haven’t quite figured out that all economies are wholly owned subsidiaries of the ecosystem. Here’s a short review of Ecosystem Thermodynamics.

    What we should be doing with our fossil fuel inheritance is using it to bootstrap our current industrial civilization into a sustainable post carbon fuel based paradigm. If that were the intent behind building the Keystone Pipeline, I would wholeheartedly support it. As it is it is just another attempt at kicking the can down the road in an attempt to maintain business as usual.

    The Myth of “Saudi America”
    Straight talk from geologists about our new era of oil abundance.

    By Raymond T. Pierrehumbert

    That title is all the more interesting because Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, was a lead author of the IPCC Third Assessment Report and is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. He writes episodically for