Why beef is the new SUV

The word sickening just dropped out of my mouth, involuntarily…Then I puked!


CNN columnist John D. Sutter is reporting on a tiny number — 2 degrees — that may have a huge effect on the future. He’d like your help. Subscribe to the “2 degrees” newsletter or follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He’s jdsutter on Snapchat.

Lexington, Texas (CNN)This is the story of a giant pile of beef.

Well, 1.27 pounds (0.58 kilos) of brisket, to be exact.

But before I get into the business of explaining where this meat came from, and why eating this stuff has a massive, unexpected effect on climate change, I feel the need to confess something: That huge slab of brisket, which came to me by way of Snow’s BBQ, a delightful shack of a place out here in the heart of Texas beef country, easily was one of the most food-orgasm-y things I’ve tasted.

The phrase “OHMYGOD” dropped out of my mouth, involuntarily.

And I don’t eat much meat.

A colleague of mine had a better line.

“I mean, f— Al Gore, right?”

I write about climate change for a living and appreciate what the former U.S. vice president has done (or has tried to do, in his own wooden way) to raise awareness about what I consider to be one of the most critical issues facing the planet and people. But, in that moment, I had to laugh and agree with my co-worker.

Forget the climate.

This stuff was too good

Daniel Vaughn, BBQ editor at Texas Monthly, and the No.1 carnivore I know — this is a man who has developed white bumps on his tongue, apparently from failing to eat nonmeat food groups — helped me dissect the meal. Note the salt-and-pepper “bark” at the edge of the meat, the red tree rings where the smoke that cooks the beef, slowly, overnight, has left its artistic mark. The cloudlike strips of beef were so tender locals insist you peel them apart with your fingers, not a fork and knife.

Knowing the beef’s backstory only adds to the experience.

The barbecue “pitmaster” at Snow’s is 80-year-old Norma Frances Tomanetz. White hair, red apron. Everyone calls her “Tootsie.” Tootsie’s shift starts at 9 p.m. and ends the next day after about 600 pounds of beef have been served. Her recipe is simple: salt and pepper. And, in addition to working here — again, at age 80 — she also serves as a middle-school custodian, helps manage a cattle ranch and takes care of two sick family members. (They could use your prayers, by the way.)

Texas beef people are lovably tough.

You want to root for them.

But there’s “an inconvenient truth” about beef consumption, too, as I would discover on a trip through the supply chain of that meal: Beef is awful for the climate.

Don’t blame me alone for bearing the bad news. In a Facebook poll, thousands of you overwhelmingly voted for me to report on meat’s contribution to climate change as part of CNN’s Two° series. You commissioned this highly personal topic over more widely feared climate change bad guys such as coal, deforestation and car pollution.

Cattle and climate?

They’re not often used in the same sentence.

But eating beef, as I’ll explain, has come to be seen, rightly, in certain enviro circles, as the new SUV — a hopelessly selfish, American indulgence; a middle finger to the planet. It’s not the main driver of global warming — that’s burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation — but it does contribute significantly.

Globally, 14.5% of all greenhouse gas pollution can be attributed to livestock, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the most reputable authority on this topic. And a huge hunk of the livestock industry’s role — 65% — comes from raising beef and dairy cattle.

Take a look at how beef compares with other foods.

The world is faced with the herculean task of trying to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, measured as an increase of global temperature since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels. That’s the point at which climate change is expected to get especially dangerous, leading to megadroughts, mass extinctions and a sea-level rise that could wipe low-lying countries off the map. That one little number — 2 degrees — is the subject of international negotiations in December in Paris, which are critical if we’re to avert catastrophe.

We’ve already warmed the atmosphere 0.8 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution; and the World Bank says we’re locked in to at least 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming based on the pollution we’ve already put into the atmosphere.

It will be hard to meet the 2-degree goal no matter what; it will be impossible if livestock pollution isn’t part of the mix, said Doug Boucher, a PhD ecologist and evolutionary biologist who is director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We can’t hit that goal without it,” he told me.

In Texas, as in most places, however, no one seems too worried.

“Everybody here in Central Texas goes for beef,” Tomanetz told me. “People are gonna eat what they wanna eat — what their appetites call for.”

Any vegetarians around?

None she’s knows, personally.

“They won’t eat their beef,” she said with a grin, “so somebody else will.”

70-mile meal

It wasn’t long before I wished somebody else had.

The night after I ate at Snow’s, it felt like a grapefruit was trying to climb out of my esophagus. I ate 0.61 pounds of the beef I was served, leaving 0.66 pounds of the stuff on my tray. I gave the leftovers to a guy at the hotel desk because I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. I felt so crazy-uncomfortable, so full.

The next morning, over a decidedly small, vegetarian breakfast, I calculated the climate change pollution associated with my massive meal. I did so with the help of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and from Anne Mottet, livestock policy officer at the FAO.

Result: Nearly 29 kilograms of CO2-equivalent gases.

O'Brien Meats in Taylor, Texas, supplies high-quality beef to Snow's BBQ.

<img alt=”O'Brien Meats in Taylor, Texas, supplies high-quality beef to Snow's BBQ.” class=”media__image” src=”http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/150924120934-03-two-degrees-beef-large-169.jpg”>

From the atmosphere’s perspective, that’s about the same as burning enough fuel to drive an average American car 70 miles, or 113 kilometers.

A 70-mile meal.*

That’s San Antonio to Austin, Texas.

Granted, this is a beyond-ridiculously-oversized portion of meat. And, depending on how you calculate beef’s climate footprint (Mottet, from the FAO, provided me with her organization’s estimate for beef cattle raised in feedlots in North America), you could arrive at very different results.

Regardless of the exact mileage, however, this is illustrative of an indisputable fact: Beef contributes to climate change in a substantial and outsize way.

More: http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/29/opinions/sutter-beef-suv-cliamte-two-degrees/index.html


Shell Won’t Drill in the Arctic After All

September 28, 2015

Faced with ongoing and rather clever protests, brutal conditions and mounting costs, Shell has announced that it is abandoning its efforts to cause the largest and most unstoppable oil spill in history to drill for fossil fuel in the Arctic Ocean:

Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.

The company expects to take financial charges as a result of this announcement. The balance sheet carrying value of Shell’s Alaska position is approximately $3.0 billion, with approximately a further $1.1 billion of future contractual commitments. An update will be provided with the third quarter 2015 results.

In other words, Shell blew $4.1 BILLION dollars, and has exactly diddly squat to show for it. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving company. Even more importantly, this debacle will serve as a warning to other greedy oil companies that perhaps they should steer clear of the Arctic until they know what they hell they’re doing.

More: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/09/28/shell-abandons-plans-to-drill-in-the-arctic/

Why We Can’t Compromise With the Whale Killers

A whale's eye peeks out of the sea.

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Response to Arizona State University News Article

A Professor at the University of Arizona wants save the whales by advocating the killing of whales.

Just another one of these wishy-washy, self-proclaimed academic experts pandering to the whaling industry by posing as a conservationist. The same kind of mind-set as Texas big game hunter Corey Knowlton who justifies killing rhinos because he calls himself a conservationist.

Leah Gerber is a marine conservation biologist and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. She wants a compromise with the whale killers.

She is one of those academics who seem to know everything about whales except for what is really important. She has advocated “culling” (killing) whales to increase fisheries which in my opinion is a very ignorant approach to ocean ecology. She has also advocated placing a value on whales saying that conservationists should be willing to buy their lives. In addition she tends to use other utilitarian wordage like “take” and “harvest instead of kill and “stocks” instead of population. She most definitely lacks empathy for the whales themselves or an understanding of the true value of the whales to the oceanic eco-systems. Leah Gerber boasts of being a sushi lover and is an advisor to the seafood industry which explains her commercially oriented viewpoint on whales.

This is my point-by-point response to this “expert” on whales who lives in that “maritime” state of Arizona.

Arizona State University

ASU: Is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling?

Captain Paul Watson: Why is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling? Because a professor in Arizona says so.

ASU: The three-decade international moratorium on commercial whaling isn’t working. Animal-rights activists insist the ban remain absolute, while the three rogue nations still pursuing the world’s largest mammals refuse to quit hunting.

Captain Paul Watson: Yes they are rouge nations and they should be dealt with like rogue nations. Japanese whaling has already been condemned by the International Court of Justice. When nations violate international agreements the solution is not to simply legalize their activities because they refuse to stop. Gerber reveals her bias here by referring to whale conservation activists as animal tights activists. This is the mindset that sees only animal rights activists as opposing whaling. Gerber works with WWF, NOAH and other utilitarian groups that see whales as a commodity and thus they see conservation as management, that includes lethal exploitation.

ASU: Leah Gerber, a marine conservation biologist, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and founding director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, floated the idea of a compromise in the September issue of scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Captain Paul Watson: She may have floated the idea but it’s an idea that needs sinking.

ASU: Rebounding whale populations, the predominance of other threats, and stubborn stakeholders make the moratorium a “failed management system,” Gerber said. The past 30 years of the International Whaling Commission’s conversation has been stalled by disagreement on the ethics of killing whales.

Captain Paul Watson: The laws to enforce the moratorium exist. There is simply a lack of political and economic will to do so. The moratorium needs strong leadership from the conservation oriented majority members of the International Whaling Commission. The USA should invoke economic sanctions as provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce specifically to uphold the moratorium. This is like saying it is illegal to rob a bank but the bank robbers continue to rob banks despite the law therefore we should allow them to rob some small banks to satisfy their greed.

ASU: “It really boils down to an ethical argument: that it’s not right to kill a whale,” Gerber said. “Personally I don’t like the idea of killing a whale, but that’s my value, and other people have other values. Insisting on our values in discussions about whaling has resulted in a global stalemate.”

Captain Paul Watson: It is both an ethical argument and an ecological argument. Plankton has been diminished by some 40% since 1950 and this has happened in part because of the removal of a very large part of whale biomass. When you consider that one Blue whale defecates 3 tons of iron rich, nitrogen rich feces every day and we removed some 300,000 Blue whales since 1946 alone and whale feces provides a nutrient base for plankton, what whaling has done is to diminish these farmers of the sea. Lower whale populations means lower plankton populations means lower oxygen production and diminished carbon sequestering by plankton. We need to revitalize bio-diversity in the sea and to do that we need to bring back whale populations to pre-exploitation levels.
And there is an ethical argument. Slavery was abolished and was no acceptable compromise that allowed some people to own slaves so that other slaves could be freed. Whales and dolphins are highly sophisticated, intelligent social, self aware, sentient beings. They communicate on a very high level and they have their own cultural units. There cannot be any justification for killing whales or dolphins by any group of humans for any reason, anywhere. The very idea of a compromise is unethical when you consider that to a great many people the idea of killing a whale is simply murder. There is no global stalemate. Commercial whaling is illegal. It just needs to be enforced.

ASU: Changing course and allowing Iceland, Japan and Norway to legally hunt under regulations and monitoring might break the current stalemate. Currently Japan whales under a loophole allowing for scientific research. The other two countries hunt whales commercially in protest of the ban

Captain Paul Watson: Since 1974 my course has been set on 100% abolishment of the slaughter of whales and dolphins. I have no intention of changing course because a professor in the desert somewhere has decided that Japan, Norway, Iceland and Denmark should be allowed to kill whales.

ASU: “If our common goal is a healthy and sustainable population of whales, let’s find a way to develop strategies that achieve that,” Gerber said. “That may involve agreeing to a small level of take. That would certainly be a reduced take to what’s happening now.”

Captain Paul Watson: I have a major problem with anyone who refers to killing as taking. You don’t take a whale’s life, you kill an intelligent sentient being. A so-called “small level of killing” simply keeps an industry alive that should be tossed onto the dustbin of history. Whaling needs to be abolished 100% by everyone, everywhere for any reason. Sea Shepherd has seen to it that the Japanese kill quota has been substantially reduced.

ASU: Since the moratorium was declared in 1982 and begun in 1985, whale populations have rebounded across the board, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: First Gerber says the moratorium in not working then in the same breath she says the moratorium has caused whale populations to rebound. Whale populations are indeed slowly recovering but there is still a long way to go before returning to pre-industrial whaling levels. We need more whales to address climate change and the health of the Ocean. We do not need whale meat on anyone’s plate. Economically whales are more important alive than dead both to what the contribute to the ecology of the Ocean and in terms of the revenue generated by the whale watching industry which is far more lucrative than commercial whaling.

ASU: “Overall the whaling that’s happening is not threatening any population,” she said.

Captain Paul Watson: I disagree. The loss of every whale is a loss to the planet in a world where whales and dolphins are dying from pollution, reduced fish populations and habitat destruction.

ASU: “With the exception of the J stock (a population that lives in the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea) of minke whales, current levels of take are fairly sustainable.”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber has not provided any evidence to back this ridiculous statement up. To say that Bowheads, Southern and Northern Right whales, Humpback whales, Fin whales, Blue whale populations can be sustainably slaughtered is absurd. The Icelanders want Fin whales. The Greenlanders want to kill Bowheads, Humpbacks, Fins and Minke’s.

ASU: The appetite for whale meat has been on the decline in Japan. An April 2014 poll by Asahi Shimbun,Japan’s newspaper of record, revealed that 14 percent of respondents occasionally or rarely ate whale meat. (Thirty-seven percent said they never ate it.) Consumption in Japan peaked in the 1960s and has steadily decreased; today, whale-meat consumption is about 1 percent of its peak, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Captain Paul Watson: Having stated this, it is a puzzle as to why Gerber feels there is a need to allow a legal return to whaling.

ASU: The Japanese have argued that it’s part of their cultural heritage. They also call American protests hypocritical because Alaskan Inuit tribe members hunt whales every year.

Captain Paul Watson: Whaling is not part of Japanese culture historically. It was an activity that took place in a few isolated communities. It was never a national traditional activity. 95% of Japanese people never ate whale meat until General Douglas MacArthur introduced the modern whaling fleet in 1946 to provide cheap protein for post war Japanese populations. Whaling was part of Ainu culture but Japan passed laws to ban whaling by the Ainu. It is hypocritical of Gerber to compare Inuit whaling allowed by the U.S. government to Japan where aboriginal Ainu whaling has been banned.

ASU: Norwegians have eaten whale meat since medieval times, but that habit has slowed in more recent times. Whale was served in school cafeterias and as military rations during the 1970s and 1980s, making it the mystery meat for a generation who won’t touch it anymore. It’s seen as something your grandparents ate. (Oddly, it’s enjoying a renaissance among young Norwegian foodies.)

Captain Paul Watson: Norwegian whaling is a blatant violation of IWC regulations and the global moratorium and economic sanctions should be invoked against Norway, Japan and Iceland by the signatory members of the IWC.

ASU: The 2015 catch netted about 700 tons of whale meat, while the Norwegian market won’t bear much more than 500 tons.

Captain Paul Watson: Norway’s whaling operations are illegal under international conservation law. The killing of these whales is not only illegal but ecologically senseless and economically unnecessary.

ASU: “Good catch is all very well, but we have challenges in the market,” Åge Eriksen, CEO of a seafood supply company, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK last year. “We’ve got more meat on land than we can sell, and it is not a desirable situation.”

Captain Paul Watson: Unfortunately that is the situation with the commodity market over all – over production resulting in huge wastage.

ASU: Minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere have such a large population that taking a few wouldn’t be a big deal, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber lacks the data to make such an assumption. In fact in a paper she wrote Minke whale populations are not as large as they need to be. We need a great increase in whale populations in order to repair the ecological instability in the Ocean, Also from an ethical point of view, killing (not taking) of a highly intelligent sentient being should not be allowed. In one of her papers she stated that the moratorium failed to increase whale populations and now she contradicts herself.

ASU: The media perception of whaling is often that it’s evil, but there are worse threats to the whales’ livelihoods, Gerber said. For instance, she said that whale mortality numbers are also driven by the mammals being hit by ships. For instance, blue whales off the coast of Long Beach, California, simply didn’t know to get out of the way of ships, according to a Stanford University study released in April. Because they are the biggest creatures in the sea, they’ve never had to avoid threats.

Bycatch entanglement, where whales are snagged in nets, and contaminants in seawater are two other serious threats.

Captain Paul Watson: To say that there are worse threats is like saying that murder is not the worst evil because more humans die in auto accidents so we should allow for a few murders. Stopping ship strikes is something that must be worked on and there is the technology to address this threat. There are many other threats to the whales like radiation, chemical and plastic pollution, climate change and diminishment of plankton and fish. These other threats to the survival of the whales cannot be used to justify the slaughter of whales.

ASU: “For most populations, whaling actually makes up a pretty small fraction (of whale deaths),” she said, pointing out that International Whaling Commission members know this. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but let’s take some baby steps.”

Violent action by animal-rights groups has not had an effect, either.

Captain Paul Watson: Baby steps may be fine for the whalers but the whales need abolition of whaling now. The prejudice of Gerber can be seen in her reference to “violent action.” There has been no violent action by anti-whalers. Not a single whaler has ever been injured by a whale defender. Japanese whalers have violently attacked whale defenders and have caused injury. Sea Shepherd may be aggressive but certainly not violent. You cannot describe the saving of the lives of whales from harpoons as violent. Whaling is violent, saving whales is not. Blocking a weapon of violence is a non-violent act.

ASU: “A lot of the (non-governmental organizations) like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd raise a lot of money in advocating for saving whales by chasing whaling vessels in the open ocean,” Gerber said. “What success has that had?”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber needs to do some research. Over 6,000 whales saved in the Southern Ocean is what I call success. The Japanese have failed to get their quotas every year since 2007 and in most years they took less then 30% and sometimes as low as 10% and in the last season (2014/2015) they took zero whales. The ICJ ruled against them. The IWC ruled against them. The campaign has been quite successful Leah Gerber, thank you very much. As for collecting money, Sea Shepherd has raised a fraction in donations to oppose whaling compared to the profits that whalers made before Sea Shepherd intervened.

ASU: Japanese whaling delegates have said they’re open to compromise arrangements, Gerber said.

“The animal-rights groups, on the other hand, are like, ‘Nope. My deal or nothing.’ To me, it’s not the best way to lead to change.”

Captain Paul Watson: You do not compromise with lives. We will not compromise on the lives of whales. One position is to kill whales. The other position is to not kill whales. The only possible compromise is to allow the killing of some whales which means killing whales, but if our position is against killing whales how can that be justified? To get what they want in a compromise the whalers can agree to accept lower profits. However we cannot morally agree to accept lower deaths. Whales are not a commodity to us. They are distinct individual living sentient beings. It would be extremely cold hearted for us to barter their lives in exchange for allowing whalers some profit.

My position is clear I cannot respect any scientist who advocates the killing of whales or dolphins. There is nothing scientific about killing whales. Advocating lethal exploitation benefits only those who profit economically. It does not benefit the species and it does not benefit science. All my life I have had to battle these scientists who act as apologists for the exploitation industries. Many years ago I coined a name for them. Biostitutes, the appeasers of those who profit from inflicting cruelty, death and diminishment.

Wildlife managers assessing fire impacts


Scorched landscape threatens many animal species

By Ann McCreary

For a second consecutive year, state wildlife managers are scrambling to assess the damage caused by massive wildfires that scorched four state wildlife areas in north central Washington, including the Methow Valley.

Since mid-August, this year’s record-setting wildfires in Okanogan County have burned more than 505,000 acres, destroyed about 200 residences, and killed three firefighters.

As of early this week the largest fires included the Tunk Block Fire, burning 10 miles northeast of Omak and listed at 167,840 acres and 79 percent contained; the North Star Fire, 25 miles north of Coulee Dam, which had consumed 215,406 acres and was 47 percent contained; and the Okanogan Complex Fire, west of Omak and Okanogan,Featured Image -- 10312which was 133,142 acres and 85 percent contained. The Twisp River Fire, fully contained, burned 11,211 acres in August.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimates that wildfires have scorched more than 25,000 acres of wildlife lands maintained by the department for wildlife and outdoor recreation in Okanogan and Chelan counties.

That exceeds the amount of state wildlife land burned by last year’s massive Carlton Complex Fire by about 1,000 acres, said Jim Brown, WDFW regional director for north central Washington.

“Several wildlife areas are completely burned over,” Brown said. “The vegetation that supports deer, sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife is gone. I’d call it déjà vu, except that this year’s fire took a different path and has aggravated the problems we’ve been working to address since last year.”

This year’s damage to WDFW lands was concentrated in the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, east of Conconully; the Methow Wildlife Area where the Twisp River Fire burned; the Chelan Wildlife Area, primarily around Chelan Butte; and the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area between Loomis and Conconully, Brown said. In some areas, trained department staff worked alongside regular firefighters to control the blaze.

Those four wildlife areas support thousands of deer, many of which will seek food outside the areas scorched by wildfires, said Matt Monda, WDFW regional wildlife manager. Like last year, the department plans to work with landowners to protect their crops from deer displaced by the fire, he said.

“We are looking at the carrying capacity of habitat for wintering deer,” Monda said. “We know we need to take additional steps to align the herds with available habitat. That effort will involve allowing the habitat to recover and minimizing conflicts between deer and agricultural landowners.”

Drought having impact

The statewide drought, one of the most severe on record, is both causing and compounding the wildfire damage, Monda said. “The drought is going to have an effect on vegetation recovery. That’s why we had the big fires and it’s going to make things more difficult for wildlife.”

Hunting seasons for archers are now underway, and WDFW may draw from its existing list of special-hunt applicants to increase the number of modern-firearms permit hunts in October, Monda said.

Brown said WDFW encourages hunters to take advantage of those hunting opportunities, but recommends that they check local access restrictions before they leave home. Key contact numbers are included on the state governor’s website at www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/washington-wildfire-resources.

In the months ahead, the department will consider setting up localized deer-feeding stations and other measures to protect agriculture crops on a case-by-case basis, Brown said.

“There are a lot of good reasons not to feed wildlife, but we’ll assess each situation on its merits once we have a better idea of the environmental conditions in fall and winter,” he said.

In the meantime, the department will continue to update its damage assessment as a first step toward qualifying for federal disaster relief. Besides burning thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, the fire has destroyed 90 miles of WDFW boundary fencing, several outbuildings, and hundreds of informational signs.

“This fencing serves two purposes: to keep livestock where they’re supposed to be — either on or off wildlife areas — and to identify the boundaries of wildlife areas,” Monda said.

It is very important — and expensive — to restore the lost fencing, he said. “A mile of fence costs many thousands of dollars to replace,” he said.

Also damaged were two of the three pastures in Okanogan County that WDFW leased to livestock producers displaced by last year’s fires.

“We want to help our neighbors whenever we can, but I don’t know whether we’ll have any grazing areas available this year,” Brown said.

Looking ahead to the fall rains, Brown recommends that area landowners promptly assess their own properties to determine whether fire damage has clogged culverts, destabilized slopes, or created other dangerous situations. If so, landowners may qualify for an emergency permit — called a Hydraulic Permit Approval (HPA) — to address risks in or around state waters.

Landowners in north central Washington seeking more information on emergency HPAs can contact WDFW at (509) 754-4624.

“These record-breaking fires will have a major impact on both the wildlife and the human residents of north central Washington for years to come,” Brown said. “The vegetation will eventually grow back and the wildlife will return, but we all need a break from these massive fires.”

“America Is Not a Planet”: The Only Accurate Thing Said About Climate Change at GOP Debate



Unlike last month’s GOP primary debate, where climate change was not mentioned at all during the prime time debate and only briefly mentioned in the so-called “happy hour” debate, the topic finally received some airtime at last night’s debate. Held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the debate was hosted by CNN. Over the course of the three-hour debate, there was one question on climate change. It lasted about four minutes, which is only slightly longer than the amount of time devoted to candidates picking out their secret service names.

“We received a lot of questions from social media about climate change,” says CNN moderator Jake Tapper. One group, NextGen Climate pushed very hard ahead of the debate for the candidates to talk about climate change. They rolled out a three-figure ad campaign ahead of the debate, invoking Ronald Reagan’s “Common Sense” speech to urge CNN moderator Jake Tapper to ask candidates how they would address climate change—specifically what their plans are to get the country to 50 percent renewables by 2030.

More: http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/america-is-not-a-planet-the-only-accurate-thing-said-about-climate-change-at-gop-debate

Ocean warming puts fish, orcas in peril

It’s too early to say for certain, but this year’s warm weather could have a big impact on future salmon runs as well as the animals that rely on the fish for food.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — Oregon and Washington will experience two big El Niño-like events in combination this year, scientists and fishery managers say. This has never happened before and the events could have major impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries — and ocean species from salmon to orcas — for years to come.

One of these events is a true El Niño — a big one — and brings with it the likelihood of less precipitation and warmer temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

The other event, the “Blob,” is a warm expanse of water that has persisted off the West Coast for more than a year and only resembles El Niño.

It is an anomaly, a mystery. Formed by a completely different set of circumstances, it has brought about similar results as an El Niño. Scientists believe it could be one reason why Washington has experienced such unusually mild weather since spring 2014. It has certainly warmed the water off the West Coast, driving various ocean species farther north in search of cold water and drawing tropical species to the area.

So there is what everyone knows: The ocean is unusually warm right now and has been for the last two years. When El Niño arrives in full force, the ocean will likely continue to be warm. And warm water is never good for salmon.

Then there are the questions no one can answer yet.

Oregon and Washington are already beginning to see the effects of this big El Niño cycle, though the event itself has yet to arrive in full here in the North Pacific. When the Blob and El Niño meet — as scientists believe they will — what will happen?

And, after this year’s drought, record-breaking heat, massive toxic algal blooms off the West Coast and no snowpack in the mountains, what will life in the ocean look like next year?

Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, has a guess: “It’s going to be a nightmare, is what I suspect we’re going to see. … It’s kind of beyond our experience and all we can say is it’s not going to be good.”

Delicate chains

Heat up the ocean and many West Coast species begin struggling almost immediately.

Coho salmon, for example, have been “acting strange” this year, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He and others believe the fish are staying out in deeper water, waiting until the very last minute to enter Washington’s river systems where they will spawn. They are waiting for cooler water.

Sockeye, among the first salmon to run from the ocean to rivers and streams, were in trouble early on this season.

In July, more than a quarter million sockeye, approximately half of the 500,000 sockeye expected to return from the ocean, were dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warm water temperatures.

Meanwhile, salmon that were ocean-bound this spring and the ones that will head out next spring will face unknown conditions when they return several years later, but biologists say they are going into conditions that do not favor their survival; warm temperatures mean the salmon’s regular food sources may not be thriving either. The fish leaving next spring, reared in these conditions, may be even worse off. As for fish laid as tiny eggs in stream and river beds this year — no one knows.

Young salmon were certainly in trouble this summer, though. The warm temperatures led to outbreaks of bacterial diseases in hatcheries, killing off hundreds of thousands of young fish in Washington, Oregon and California.

Trouble for orcas?

Beyond salmon, biologists worry what this all could mean for the ocean species that rely on these fish for food.

Orcas often visit the communities near the Columbia River, but this year it seemed like people were spotting them constantly — NOAA wildlife biologist Brad Hanson says the number of sightings are probably not much higher than any other year; people are just paying more attention.

But, he added, salmon are an important part of an orca’s diet, likely one big reason why orcas flock to the region.

“With this year, with the drought occurring coastwide, it certainly is going to have an impact down the road. If not in the next couple of years, certainly in three or four years,” said Hanson, who was the chief scientist for a NOAA killer whale research cruise this spring. “… We are going to enter a period here in the not too distant future where we’re going to have reduced (salmon) run sizes. So the question is: How will the whales respond?”

Orcas must eat continuously. They can’t starve for extended periods of times the way other ocean mammals can, such as gray whales, living off fat reserves.

Orcas eat many kinds of fish, so Hanson and other biologists believe the large mammals could travel elsewhere for food. As the salmon change where and when they travel, the orcas might follow.

Still, Hanson added, if orcas are eating fish other than salmon, as the data suggests, how abundant is this other prey?

“It’s going to be critical for us to monitor that as best we can in the coming years,” he said.

Inland troubles

In the meantime, salmon fishing has been strong this summer. The Buoy 10 sport fishery near the mouth of the Columbia River ended with record catch rates, surpassing last year’s total catch within the opening weeks. Commercial fishing on the ocean has been brisk and conditions near shore have been normal, or as normal as the ocean, a shifting, swirling black box, ever is.

“When I look at this, I don’t see the warning signs I saw in the ’90s,” Milward said.

In the early ’90s, it was quickly becoming obvious that they were fishing on a very small pool of fish and that there were issues in the wide world beyond: climate shifts and damaged freshwater habitat.

“It’s been a wonderful fishing year in the ocean where I manage,” Milward said.

But it is in the areas beyond his management where he begins to worry.

From a human point of view, communities in Oregon and Washington had a beautiful spring and summer, the best longtime locals can remember.

For many, though, the summer’s beauty was marred by massive wildfires and drought. And with no snowpack to fuel streams and rivers in Washington and little rain, streams and rivers are running at an all time low. In June, the Washington Department of Ecology reported that the state’s snowpack was at zero percent of normal. Though there was still snow at higher elevations and in the glaciers, rivers and streams did not receive the boost they’d normally get from melting snow high in the mountains.

State and tribal fishery managers went into the summer worried about the effects of low-flow conditions on salmon-bearing streams and rivers in the Columbia Basin, conditions that can hamper fish passage and lead to high water temperatures (adding another stress on fish already stressed from their migration inland from the ocean). High temperatures and low flow can lead to less oxygen and put salmon more at risk of bacterial or fungal infection.

“I mean, those fish in the ocean now have no idea that we had no snowpack in the winter and no rain in the summer,” Milward said. The salmon are headed toward areas where “their native stream looks more like a creek than river.”

Red light, green light

Each year, Peterson and other NOAA scientists gather information that informs how fisheries will be run in the next season. They look at more than a dozen different indicators of ocean and fish health. They look at what is in the water, and they note what is missing. For each indicator, they put a red light or a green light next to it. Just like with traffic signals, green light means go. In the 1998 El Niño, all the indicators were red: Stop! In 2008, everything was green. In years where there’s a mix of red and green, it means, Peterson said, “basically we don’t know what’s going on (in the ocean).”

This year, he and state and federal fishery managers are ready for everything to come back red.

“I’m guessing redder than anything we’ve seen before,” Peterson said.

But the ocean is vast, he added, and scientists’ predications have been wrong before. “This could be an environmental disaster, or a blip on the screen that we forget in a couple of years.”

This year, sockeye — the salmon that had half of its total run wiped out by warm water when returning to the Columbia River and its tributaries — found other places to spawn. They ran up streams they’d never used before, streams where the water was still cold, where their young might survive.

To Peterson, salmon are a metaphor for resiliency.

“If you think about what they’ve put up with for the last 50 years and we still have them,” he said. “… They will find a way.”

A Giant Glob of Deadly Algae Is Floating off the West Coast


From the air, the Pacific algal bloom doesn’t look like much of a threat: a wispy, brownish stream, snaking up along the West Coast. But it’s causing amnesia in birds, deadly seizures in sea lions, and a crippling decline in the West Coast shellfish industry. Here’s what you need to know about it, from what this bloom has to do with the drought to why these toxins could be a real threat to the homeless.

“These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says one expert.

What’s causing it? The culprits are single-celled, plant-like organisms called pseudo-nitzschia, a subset of the thousands of species of algae that produce more than 50 percent of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis. They’re a hardy variety usually found in cool, shallow oceans, where they survive on light and dissolved nutrients, including silcates, nitrates, and phosphates. “They’re sort of like the dandelions of the sea,” says Vera Trainer, who manages the Marine Biotoxin Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “They’re always there in some low numbers, just waiting for nutrients to be resupplied to the ocean’s surface.” In most years, blooms in the eastern Pacific are contained near “hot spots” that dot the West Coast—relatively shallow and sheltered places like California’s Monterey Bay or the Channel Islands. They usually flare up in April or May as trade winds cycle nutrient-rich waters from offshore depths to the coast in a process called “upwelling,” but they fade after only a few weeks.

Why is it sticking around so long? The jury’s still out, but scientists are beginning to get a clearer idea. These past few years have been “incredibly weird” in the northeast Pacific, says Nate Mantua, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz. He points to the same “ridiculously resilient ridge” of high pressure that’s been causing the historic drought in the western United States: This pressure also resulted in a pool of exceptionally warm water in the Pacific (known as “the blob”), with little weather to disperse it. Those conditions, along with prevailing winds and colder currents that ferry nutrients back to the coast, seem to be supplying the algae with a seemingly endless feast.

That makes the source of this bloom different from its cousin in the Gulf of Mexico, where fertilizers flowing from as far as Iowa are feeding a zone of algae that’s as large as New Jersey. “We’re seeing them in relatively pristine waters of the US West Coast,” Trainer explains, though she adds runoff and sewage discharge may be playing some role in the blooms off Southern California.

So just how big is this thing? Bigger than researchers have ever seen: a patchy stream that stretches from Southern California up along the Alaskan coast. The hot spot blooms that appear each spring are merging for the first time, Trainer explains. Though the combined mass has ebbed and flowed over the past four months, it hasn’t let up; her team finds algae each time they journey out to sea, with no signs of abatement soon. And it’s also unusually potent. “These are the highest levels of toxicity we’ve ever seen,” says Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “It’s a truly extraordinary phenomenon.”

Levels of chlorophyll, viewed from space, indicate where algae is present in the waters of the Pacific. NOAA

How deadly are these “dandelions”? The algae produce a compound called domoic acid, a type of amino acid that leads to a condition commonly known as “amnesic shellfish poisoning” in humans. Shellfish and some small fish, like sardines and anchovies, feed on the algae and concentrate the toxin in their flesh. When animals further up the food chain—like birds—eat those fish and shellfish, the domoic acid seeps into the bloodstream and eventually the brain, where it attacks cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s command center for memory and learning. The result: amnesia-stricken birds that will repeatedly fly into windows, and sea lions that writhe on the shore, plagued by seizures. Both are symptoms of rapidly firing neurons in the hippocampus, which will eventually burn out and kill the animal. Beaches have been littered with dead fish, birds, and sea lions up and down the Pacific coast since May—all the way up to Alaska, where NOAA is investigating the deaths of fin whales in connection with the toxin.

More: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/08/heres-everything-you-need-know-about-deadly-algae-california-coast





Climate change denier Rupert Murdoch just bought National Geographic, which gives grants to scientists


The National Geographic magazine has been a nonprofit publication since inception in 1888, but that ends today. The long-running American publication becomes very much for-profit under a $725 million dollar deal announced today with 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company controlled by the family of Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch is a notorious climate change denier, and his family’s Fox media empire is the world’s primary source of global warming misinformation. Which would be no big deal here, I guess, were it not for the fact that the National Geographic Society’s mission includes giving grants to scientists.

Or had you forgotten? Here’s a refresh for you, a fun little interview with Murdoch on his climate change views.

From today’s deal coverage in WaPo:

The partnership, which will also include the National Geographic cable channel and the National Geographic Society’s other media assets, will be called National Geographic Partners. Fox will own 73 percent of the partnership, and Washington-based National Geographic Society will own the balance. Fox will pay $725 million to the Society for its stake in the partnership. This will push the Society’s endowment to more than $1 billion.

Let the “National Geographic Covers Designed by Rupert Murdoch” Photoshop Wars begin.

More coverage: New York Times, Variety.

20-year Nat Geo vet Declan Moore becomes CEO. Gary Knell, president-CEO of the Society, will serve as the first chairman. Buried in the press announcement:

“The value generated by this transaction, including the consistent and attractive revenue stream that National Geographic Partners will deliver, ensures that we will have greater resources for this work, which includes our grant making programs that support scientists and explorers around the world,” Knell said. “As media organizations work to meet the increasing demand for high quality storytelling across multiple platforms, it’s clear that the opportunity to grow by more closely aligning our branded content and licensing assets is the right path. We now will have the scale and reach to continue to fulfill our mission long into the future. The Society’s work will be the engine that feeds our content creation efforts, enabling us to share that work with even larger audiences and achieve more impact. It’s a virtuous cycle.”

So Rupert Murdoch will be to some large extent controlling a $1 billion organization whose stated mission includes giving grants to scientists.

Rupert Murdoch is a raging asshole, but he is also a very much on-the-record climate change denier. A climate change denier with now even more power and influence over science grants in the United States.


Letter on The Gila River

Rosemary Lowe
Jeff  Sussmann’s comments opposing the Gila River Diversion make sense. This diversion proposal is  an ecological nightmare waiting to happen.
One of the major supporters of this anti-environmental scheme  is the grazing industry lobby, which not only vehemently opposes wolf reintroduction in the Gila bio- region, but also has a long history of demanding the slaughter of wolves, coyotes,  mountain lions and other native wild animals, for  livestock. The livestock associations  want wild & scenic rivers like the Gila excluded  from any further wilderness designation discussions.
Ecologist, author,& grazing activist, George Wuerthner, said: “Livestock production, which includes irrigation of livestock feed crops, accounts for the greatest consumption of water in the West. Such a water intensive industry is poorly suited to the arid West…and is a major cause of species decline throughout the region.”
The Gila River is a desert river, increasingly  under stress due to human-caused climate change, and public lands grazing. The  birds, mammals,  & other native species depend upon the Gila for their continued existence. Are we going to allow tax-payer- subsidized public lands ranchers to decide the fate of this ecosystem? We taxpayers will foot the bill, but the flora and fauna, & the  fragile river system, will pay the ultimate price: A dead river, and species extinctions.

Obama Is a Climate Hypocrite. His Trip to Alaska Proves It.

By Eric Holthaus

The dangerous gulf between Obama’s words and actions on climate change is growing wider. Above, a home in the the Alaskan village of Shishmaref is destroyed by beach erosion in 2006. The entire village is facing evacuation because of global warming.

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday morning President Obama headed to Alaska—the front lines of climate change—for a trip the White House is calling “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is being driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.”

Problem is, those words fall flat when compared with Obama’s mixed record on climate. The widely publicized trip comes at a delicate moment for the president. Barely two weeks ago, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell final approval to drill for oil offshore Alaska’s northwest Arctic coast—not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who professes to be “leading by example.”


The leases that allow Shell to drill in the Arctic were awarded by the George W. Bush administration, and the president had limited options to block them. Still, as ThinkProgress notes, Obama could have outright canceled Shell’s lease, or begun a process to declare the region a marine protected area, making future leases nearly impossible. Neither of these actions would be easy to do, but either would have sent a powerful message to industry: Starting now, climate change concerns trump energy exploration, period.

Climate activists vociferously opposed the approval of Shell’s permit: Last month a group of protesters in kayaks briefly blockaded an Arctic-bound Shell support ship while it was in a Portland, Oregon, port. In recent days Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, has also voiced her opposition.

One progressive activist group, Credo Action, has called the unfortunate juxtaposition of Obama’s words and actions his “Mission Accomplished” moment, in reference to Bush’s declaration of victory in the Iraq war. I agree.

…  For many environmental activists, Obama’s approval of Shell’s Arctic drilling permit is the icing on an extremely hypocritical cake.

More: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/31/obama_trip_to_alaska_stark_difference_between_rhetoric_and_action_on_climate.html


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