Grizzly Bears Are Now the Victims of the Trump Administration’s Climate Denialism

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2017/06/we_can_t_trust_this_administration_s_climate_decisions.html

We can’t trust this administration to make science-based decisions.

A female Grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek October 8, 2012 in the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
A female grizzly bear exits Pelican Creek on Oct. 8, 2012, in Yellowstone National Park.

Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will no longer be listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act. The grizzly’s population has rebounded and it now “stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” he crowed.

A species being removed from the ESA is rare and, in normal circumstances, should be celebrated. It means that a population has recovered enough to no longer require extra protections, which should be considered a good thing. And the grizzly bear has: When the species was listed in the 1970s, it was estimated that a mere 150 existed. Today, there are about 700 individuals.

This decision, however, seems unlikely to be met with applause. As the New York Times reports, environmental organizations are already lining up to sue to stop it. And 125 Native American tribes have banded together to oppose the delisting because they weren’t consulted in the decision-making. Also, any good feelings animal lovers get from the words “conservation success story” are likely to be squashed by the fact that the delisting means the bears could now be hunted. People really don’t like it when charismatic megafauna get killed.

Should the grizzly bear be delisted—or this just yet another awful environmental move by the Trump administration, divorced from science and decency? One political litmus test is to check what the Obama administration thought of the grizzly bear’s fate. In March 2016, Dan Ashe, then the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defended the delisting. And the recovery numbers do look strong (700 sure sounds small, but Yellowstone grizzlies are a top-of-the-food-chain predator living in a small land mass—what matters more is the populations’ stability, not its size).

But scientists have dramatically different opinions about how to read those numbers. Luke Whelan over at Wired has a good rundown of how the two sides of the debate see the issue. One school of thought says that because the bears’ populations have plateaued, that means they’ve hit the carrying capacity, or the number of animals the habitat can sustain, and are in good shape. Under this logic, delisting makes sense. The counterargument suggests that the carrying capacity is lower than it should be because its habitat and food sources have changed since the bear was listed in the ’70s, primarily due to climate change—which means that the bear needs to stay protected. In fact, most of the environmental groups planning to sue over the move basically want to keep the bear listed because of the threat climate change will increasingly pose. And climate change does pose a threat—warmer temperatures are causing white pine beetles to move further and further into grizzly habitat, killing pine trees and hurting a critical food source.

Who’s right? It’s hard to say definitively—it depends on how you read the science, and how you think the ESA should be applied based on that science. Arguing that climate change is going to pose a threat to an animal and therefore warrants (somewhat) proactive listing is a tough sell—honestly, on a long enough scale, climate change and the cascading food chain and habitat problems could justify listing most animals on the ESA. That would be an interesting precedent to set. It’s also unclear how ESA protection could help address the pine beetle problem. The ESA has limited resources and offers limited protections—indeed, many conservationists think it is actually most successful when wielded as a stick to inspire (or coerce) proactive solutions before a species requires listing, rather than as a real way to solve environmental problems. And through that lens, it’s clear that what the grizzly bear really needs is for climate change to be taken seriously, and minimized. The ESA can’t force that—it’s not equipped to.

When the government is this bad at accepting basic truths, it makes it hard to have faith that their decisions are good ones—even decisions that seem positive or reasonable. It also creates a world in which we have to fight to keep species listed on the ESA because we know we’re not going to do much else to stop climate change from screwing them over in the long run. It is exhausting and demoralizing to live in a world like this.

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We Were Right about Snow Geese and We’re Right about Ross’s Goose, Too

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=6342&more=1#more6342

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

Published 03/16/18

Ross's GooseRoss’s Goose
Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay

In front of me is a small booklet with the catchy title, A Critical Evaluation of the Proposed Reduction in the Mid-continent Lesser Snow Goose Population to Conserve Sub-arctic Salt Marshes of Hudson Bay. It was published by the Animal Protection Institute (now Born Free USA) and the Humane Society of the United States in 1998, and co-authored by biologist Vernon Thomas and me.

The arguments we made failed to stop the U.S. and Canada from enacting an absurd increase in bag-limits and open seasons and the use of electronic decoys for hunters after the “lesser” snow goose, which breeds in the mid to western arctic. The geese had undergone dramatic increases in numbers. For reasons too complex to address here, it was feared they’d damage large parts of the arctic ecosystem by their habit of “grubbing” – pulling plants out by the roots when feeding. They were called “overabundant,” a term that is entirely in reference to subjective value systems.

What bothered me then, and what bothers me now, is the lack of scientific rigor in the documentation presented to defend the vast increases in hunting kills proposed and enacted. References to previous high numbers of snow geese were misrepresented or ignored.

We made several predictions, and in the two decades since then, we’ve been proven correct. Put simply, one prediction was that the proposed hunting increase wouldn’t work. It didn’t. We predicted that the real threat to arctic and subarctic ecosystems came from global climate change. That is proving to be true, too.

But, governments and the public trust wildlife management types have made something out of a career out of alarmist rhetoric about the population “explosion” in these geese, and in the Ross’s goose. Sadly, they are believed. Ross’s goose is a smaller version of the snow goose and was apparently once reasonably abundant (it’s hard to know as early observers tended not to distinguish it from the snow goose), but had become endangered by the early 20th century, and is now again common, perhaps more so than ever before. The Americans have already been shooting extra numbers of this species and, although we were able to slow Canada down, years ago, now it has again proposed an increased bag limit for Ross’s goose.

I have written to the Canadian government in opposition to increasing bag limits for this small goose. Beyond a “natural” tendency people attracted to wildlife management have to “manage,” to control, nature, what I think was behind the original concern two decades ago can be seen here. Numbers of hunters were in freefall, and it’s hunting that justifies so much of the wildlife management profession and pays the expenses and salaries of wildlife management professionals.

But, not only are increasing numbers of people taking pleasure from viewing and photographing – but not killing – wildlife, even many who dohunt refuse to kill more than they can eat, and, as we predicted, just knocking the top off the population curve allows high numbers of these species to continue.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,
Barry

Burning coal may have caused Earth’s worst mass extinction

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/mar/12/burning-coal-may-have-caused-earths-worst-mass-extinction?CMP=share_btn_fb&page=with%3Aimg-2#img-2

New geological research from Utah suggests the end-Permian extinction was mainly caused by burning coal, ignited by magma

Fossil of a Galesaurus, a cynodont that lived during the Permian period.
 Fossil of a Galesaurus, a cynodont that lived during the Permian period. Photograph: Iziko Museum of Natural History

Earth has so far gone through five mass extinction events – scientists are worried we’re on course to trigger a sixth – and the deadliest one happened 252 million years ago at the end of the Permian geologic period. In this event, coined “the Great Dying,” over 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species went extinct. It took about 10 million years for life on Earth to recover from this catastrophic event.

Scientists have proposed a number of possible culprits responsible for this mass extinction, including an asteroid impact, mercury poisoning, a collapse of the ozone layer, and acid rain. Heavy volcanic activity in Siberia was suspected to play a key role in the end-Permian event.

Recently, geologist Dr Benjamin Burger identified a rock layer in Utah that he believed might have formed during the Permian and subsequent Triassic period that could shed light on the cause of the Great Dying.

Sheep Creek Valley, Utah
Pinterest
 Sheep Creek Valley, Utah. Photograph: Benjamin Burger

During the Permian, Earth’s continents were still combined as one Pangea, and modern day Utah was on the supercontinent’s west coast. Samples from the end-Permian have been collected from rock layers in Asia, near the volcanic eruptions, but Utah was on the other side of Pangaea. Burger’s samples could thus provide a unique perspective of what was happening on the other side of the world from the eruptions. Burger collected and analyzed samples from the rock layer, and documented the whole process in a fascinating video:

Pinterest
Dr Burger’s ‘Rocks of Utah’ episode documenting his investigation of the Permian-Triassic Boundary geologic samples.

Earth turned into a toxic hellscape

Burger’s samples painted a grim picture of Earth’s environment at the end of the Permian period. A sharp drop in calcium carbonate levels indicated that the oceans had become acidic. A similar decline in organic content matched up with the immense loss of life in the oceans during this period. The presence of pyrite pointed to an anoxic ocean (without oxygen), meaning the oceans were effectively one massive dead zone.

Bacteria ate the oversupply of dead bodies, producing hydrogen sulfide gas, creating a toxic atmosphere. The hydrogen sulfide oxidized in the atmosphere to form sulfur dioxide, creating acid rain, which killed much of the plant life on Earth. Elevated barium levels in the samples had likely been carried up from the ocean depths by a massive release of methane.

The culprit: burning coal

Levels of various metals in the rock samples were critical in identifying the culprit of this mass extinction event. As in end-Permian samples collected from other locations around the world, Burger didn’t find the kinds of rare metals that are associated with asteroid impacts. There simply isn’t evidence that an asteroid struck at the right time to cause the Great Dying.

However, Burger did find high levels of mercury and lead in his samples, coinciding with the end of the Permian period. Mercury has also been identified in end-Permian samples from other sites. Lead and mercury aren’t associated with volcanic ash, but they are a byproduct of burning coal. Burger also identified a shift from heavier carbon-13 to lighter carbon-12; the latter results from burning fossil fuels.

The Permian was the end of the Carboniferous period, which means “coal-bearing.” Many large coal deposits were created in the Carboniferous, including in Asia. Previous research has shown that the Permian mass extinction event didn’t coincide with the start of the Siberian volcanic eruptions and lava flows, but rather 300,000 years later. That’s when the lava began to inject as sheets of magma underground, where Burger’s data suggests it ignited coal deposits.

The coal ignition triggered the series of events that led to Earth’s worst mass extinction. Its sulfur emissions created the acid rain that killed forests. Its carbon emissions acidified the oceans and warmed the planet, killing most marine life. The dead bodies fed bacteria that produced toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, which in turn killed off more species. The warming of the oceans produced a large methane release, which accelerated global warming faster yet. As Burger put it,

Things went from bad to worse, and you can now begin to understand how life nearly died out. Global warming, acid oceans, anoxia, not to mention a toxic atmosphere. We are lucky to be alive at all!

Eerie similarities to today

Scientists are observing many of the same signs of dangerously rapid climate change today. There’s more lighter carbon-12 in the atmosphere because the increase in atmospheric carbon levels is due entirely to humans burning fossil fuels. There are an increasing number of dead zones in the oceans. Burning coal was causing acid rain, although we largely solved that problem through Clean Air Acts, and in the US, a sulfur dioxide cap and trade system implemented by a Republican administration.

We’ve had less success in tackling carbon dioxide pollution, which continues to rise. As a result, the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, and temperatures increasingly hot. Scientists today also worry about potentially large releases of methane from the ocean floor and Arctic.

These are some of the similarities between the climate change that nearly wiped out life on Earth 252 million years ago and the climate change today. Both appear to have largely been caused by burning coal. A 2011 study found that over the past 500 years, species are now going extinct at least as fast as they did during the five previous mass extinction events.

It’s enough to make you think; maybe coal isn’t so beautiful and clean after all.

How plant-based diets can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent

https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/how-plant-based-diets-can-help-reduce-greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-70-percent/70004227

By Jennifer Fabiano, AccuWeather staff writer

Vegan and vegetarian diets are not just the latest trend. According to climate experts, these diets could actually help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“From a greenhouse gas standpoint and a climate standpoint, there are many advantages to a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet,” Rob Jackson, chair of the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford, said.

Transitioning towards a more plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Agriculture fast facts

The agriculture industry has major anthropocentric impacts, which are impacts originating in human activities. Reduction of greenhouse gases is the most prominent effects of vegan and vegetarian diets; others include reduced destruction of rain forests, increased efficiency of food production and cleaner, more abundant water.

Reduction of greenhouse gases

Methane is generated in the guts of animals, according to Rob Jackson. The livestock sector of agriculture emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report.

The livestock sector is also responsible for 64 percent of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

Agriculture’s effect on land

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land. Livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.

According to Jackson, the most extreme example of animal agriculture’s effect on land is tropical deforestation. Chopping down forests, and especially rain forests, releases carbon dioxide from the trees and soil into the atmosphere.

The greatest amount of deforestation is occurring in Latin America, where 70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, according to the FAO. About 20 percent of these pastures and rangelands have been degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion created by the livestock sector.

MethaneEmissions

A bull stands in its paddock in Neu Anspach, Germany, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Cattle produce methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Efficiency of food production

This effect boils down to the logic that we can feed the animals the food we would have eaten or we can eat that food directly, which saves resources and reduces emissions during production.

In addition, a plant-based diet would reduce the amount of land used and the amount of food needed to be produced.

Cleaner, more abundant water

According to the FAO, freshwater shortage, scarcity and depletion are becoming an increasing world problem. Accounting for over 8 percent of global human water use, the livestock sector plays a key role in increasing water use.

In addition to water use, the livestock sector also is a huge source of water pollution. Pollutants come in the form of animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides and sediments from eroded pastures.

In the United States, livestock are responsible for an about 55 percent of erosion and sediment and 37 percent of pesticide use, according to the FAO.

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“Even as we green up our energy use, which we’re doing with solar and wind, one area where we are going to massively increase both greenhouse gas emissions and water use is from our diet,” Dana Hunnes, assistant professor in the Community Health Sciences Department, said.

Some argue that other dietary changes, such as purchasing only locally sourced food, can reduce one’s carbon footprint but only to some extent.

According to a Carnegie Mellon study, greenhouse gas emissions associated with food are mainly created by the production phase which contributes 83 percent of a U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents on 11 percent of life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.

The authors of the study suggest that a plant-based diet can be a more effective dietary shift compared to “buying local.”

“Shifting less than one day per weeks’ worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food,” the study says.

“People are better off eating meat if they can’t get what they need from a vegan diet, but certainly in a country like the U.S. that’s not really the issue,” Jackson said.

Earth’s overpopulation exasperating climate change

https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/letters_to_editor/earth-s-overpopulation-exasperating-climate-change/article_c811b4f6-1c1a-5083-9420-24afcbf82792.html

Every social and environmental issue is exacerbated by overpopulation. Fifty years ago, there were 3.4 billion people living. Now that number is 7.6 billion. Human population has grown more in the last several decades than in the past three million years. We add 80 million mouths to feed every year. At that rate, world population will grow to 12 billion by 2050.

Five results from overpopulation are: 1) hunger and starvation; 2) squandering natural resources until we run out; 3) landscalping and the loss of land fertility; 4) cultural, economic, and political upheaval; and 5) harm to wild things. 

In about 300 years, the acreage needed to feed humans has gone from less than 10 percent to nearly half of Earth’s land acres—more than a five-fold rise. Earth’s atmosphere, seas, and forests can’t soak up our industrial, transportation, and agricultural emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases.

Between 1990 and 2003, U.S. per capita greenhouse gas emissions went up by 3.2 percent. But overall U.S. emissions went up 20.2 percent! How can this be? Our population rose 16.1 percent. So, unless we get a handle on population, we’ll never succeed in reducing greenhouse gas production. 

Economist Edwin S. Rubenstein recently wrote “The impact of U.S. population growth on global climate change.” He concludes that, “Over the long run, U.S. population growth is the most important factor in CO2 emissions emanating from this country.”

Experts writing in the Lancet say that “Prevention of unwanted births today by family planning might be one of the most cost-effective ways to preserve the planet’s environment for the future.”

 Norman A. Bishop

Bozeman

Trophy Hunting May Drive Extinctions, Due to Climate Change

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/wildlife-watch-trophy-hunting-extinctions-evolution/

According to a new study, hunting the most impressive animals weakens a species’ ability to survive in the face of environmental changes.

 VIEW IMAGES

Big tusks on an elephants indicate well-being, which in turn signifies that they have high-quality genes that help them adjust to a changing environment. Elephants with big tusks are also the target of trophy hunters, but removing those genes from their populations could lead more quickly to extinction.

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID CHANCELLOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Trophy hunters, as well as poachers who “harvest” the big males—antelopes and deer with the largest horns and antlers, elephants with the longest tusks, or lions with the most impressive manes—are putting those species at greater risk of extinction with climate change.

That’s the finding of a new study published today by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, England, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. “Trophy” animals tend to be the most evolutionarily fit and possess the high-quality genes a population of animals need to adapt quickly to a changing environment, says evolutionary ecologist and lead author Robert Knell. “They also father a high proportion of the offspring. But if they’re killed before they can spread their ‘good genes’ around, this reduces the overall fitness and resilience of that population.”

When environmental conditions change—a shift in seasonal rainfall or warmer temperatures—the risk of extinction increases dramatically, even with a healthy population of animals apparently unaffected by trophy hunting, Knell says.

“The results were very, very clear.”

This can happen even with an annual harvest rate as low as 5 percent of the high-quality males. With environmental change now a reality across the globe, the study shows that some animal populations facing even relatively light hunting pressure are more vulnerable to extinction than is generally believed, Knell says.

This also means poachers are even more of a threat since they target big males but also indiscriminately kill any individual they believe will profit them, he says.

The study also shows that restricting the take to older trophy males means that they will have had time to spread their good genes around, which should help populations adapt to environmental changes.

“When properly regulated, trophy hunting can be a powerful force for conservation, which is why we’re suggesting a different management approach as opposed to calling for a ban,” Knell says.

In an email Rosie Cooney, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which sets the conservation status of species, called the study interesting, “with obvious relevance to trophy hunting management, highlighting that there may be a need under climate change scenarios to shift to age restrictions as a basis for management.”

“This study matches up with the empirical work we’ve done on bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountains,” says David Coltman, professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta. Coltman’s studies have shown that decades of trophy hunting have resulted in a 20 percent decline in the size of ram’s horns in today’s sheep.

We also know that sheep with the biggest horns produce the largest offspring, and losses of them all contribute to a decline in the fitness of the overall population, Coltman says.

Horns aren’t ornaments. They’re a signal of fitness. The biggest horns that trophy hunters crave are likely found only on the highest-quality individuals, he says. This is an example of human selection leading to artificial evolution.

Hunters argue that the funds from their hunts—estimated to be anywhere from $132 million to $436 million in Africa annually—gives local communities an incentive to protect wildlife as well as fund conservation efforts and community development. Many conservation groups, on the other hand, argue that oftentimes the fees trophy hunters pay are actually siphoned away by corruption and mismanagement.

The latest trophy hunting controversy came on November 14, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would be lifting the ban on trophy imports of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia. There was an intense backlash, and within three days President Donald Trump tweeted that the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, would reevaluate the decision. In a follow-up tweet he wrote, “[The department] will be “hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of elephants or any other species.”

Sustainable sport hunting is important for raising conservation revenue in many areas, but this study tells us we must be mindful of our evolutionary impact, said Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, England, in an email. “As always, conservation is more complex than it can appear.”

Unfair Trade: US Beef Has a Climate Problem

Growing global demand for beef is hindering efforts to combat climate change, scientists say

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and industrial agriculture have been linked to the overuse of antibiotics, pollution of ground and surface water, as well as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Go to any US city and you’ll spot Americans gorging on Big Macs and Whoppers at McDonald’s and Burger King. Visit Japan, and you’ll see folks slurping down gyudonbeef bowls, an incredibly popular dish featuring rice, onion and fatty strips of beef simmered in sweet soy sauce. Culture, tradition and geography might divide us, but a love for fast, cheap food that’s rich in beef definitely unites us.

But that growing demand for beef has immense environmental repercussions, especially regarding a stable climate – a fact not addressed by global trade agreements.

Back in January, one of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), a multi-country trade deal that would have ramped up commerce with Asian countries — and opened Japan to a flood of US beef.

But Trump’s move slammed the door on the US beef industry’s designs for the lucrative Japanese market, the top export market for American ranchers, thanks partly to dishes like gyudon.

What lies ahead for the industry now that TPP is off the table is unclear. But no matter what transpires, environmentalists fear for the planet’s future if trade deals like TPP don’t start taking climate change into account, instead of encouraging more consumption, production and harm to the Earth.

Japan is hooked on beef

Japan wasn’t always sold on red meat, or any meat at all. But today, you need only look at how beef-bowl outlets have conquered Asian city streets to see how that has changed. Yoshinoya, the Japanese fast-food chain, can now be found in US cities. The company only uses US beef, and this allegiance is so strong that the Yoshinoya beef bowl became a pork bowl in 2003 when Japan banned US beef imports for 20 months over fears of foot-and-mouth disease.

Japan’s demand for beef doesn’t look like it will slow down any time soon. Its government is looking to attract 40 million tourists every year by 2020, when it hosts the Olympics, and with tourists come a whole lot of mouths to feed. “It’s pretty exciting,” Philip Seng, CEO of the US Meat Exporters Federation, says. “If you have that many tourists, they’re going to want to eat… We see that consumption is going to increase for the foreseeable future in Japan.”

The same beef boom is playing out across Asia, with increasing wealth and disposable income driving demand in previously meat-light countries. In South Korea, a new appetite for craft burgers is just the tip of a beefy iceberg: in 2007, the US exported 25,000 tons of beef to South Korea; last year that figure reached nearly 180,000 tons.

The Chinese beef market is expected to grow by as much as 20 percent between 2017 and 2025, and is part of a wider trend toward meat eating; in 1982 the average Chinese person ate around 13 kilograms (28.6 pounds) of meat per year, and today it’s around 63 kilograms (138.8 pounds). McDonald’s plans to open 2,000 more restaurants across the country by 2025 — signs that beef consumption is only going to grow.

Asia is clearly fertile ground for those looking to plunge deeper into the market.

What’s the beef with beef?

While all of that growth may be good for the market and profits, beef continues to be the most climate change-intensive foodstuff in the American diet, says Sajatha Bergen, policy specialist in the Food and Agriculture Program at the National Resource Defense Council. And with the beef habit now catching on across Southeast Asia, that problem is only deepening.

But defining the range of that problem is tricky. US beef industry carbon dioxide “emissions are actually coming from a few different places,” Bergen says. In the industrial production model, grain is grown to feed cattle, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and that requires a lot of fossil fuels. Next, the cow’s digestive system turns some of what it eats into methane — over 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, according to scientists. And finally, cow manure is either spread or stored in lagoons, and that can produce additional methane emissions. Taking all this into account, Bergen believes that it’s not unfair to describe cows as “mini-greenhouse gas factories.”

Renée Vellvé, a researcher at GRAIN, an international NGO, believes that we have to expand our vision to include the entire industrialized food system in order to get a true sense of just how staggeringly costly beef, and agriculture in general, is to the environment. She notes that, in addition to the obvious impacts, meat must also be packaged, refrigerated all along the supply chain, transported — usually over long distances — and stored in supermarket and home refrigerators.

Every step contributes to climate change, says Vellvé, from fertilizing seedling crops all the way to your dinner plate. Thinking about the “food system at large,” not just how the food is produced, is essential, she says: “If you isolate agriculture it’s not enough.”

Research by GRAIN in 2014 found that when using this comprehensive approach, our food system accounts for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions — with much of that meat-related. In the US, the EPA currently estimates that agriculture contributes around 9 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions; of that, livestock takes up around 5 percent.

For Gidon Eshel, research professor of environmental physics at Bard College, New York, the direct climate impact of beef production isn’t the worst of it. “Beef is responsible for the lion’s share of land use [in the US],” he says. And by overusing fertilizers the industry is also responsible for the release of massive amounts of reactive nitrogen into water supplies, which can undermine water quality in lakes, rivers and estuaries. By spurring algae growth, which can in turn lower oxygen levels when bacteria feed on it, the release of nitrogen can suffocate bodies of water, creating so-called dead zones. Just this year the largest dead zone ever recorded hit the Gulf of Mexico — a calamity tied to meat production.

The source of all this harm can be found in the industrial model of agriculture, says Ben Lilliston, director of corporate strategies and climate change at the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy. “In many ways, it’s been fairly disastrous for the environment.”

The industrial system, he explains, is based on producing far more product than is needed and then exporting that product around the globe – an incredibly inefficient system. It has, however, created a global market for really cheap meat, while externalizing all the environmental costs of production to nation states and communities, Lilliston said. “Of course, we’ve expanded that model around the world to other countries.”

Bergen agrees: “Even if we export the beef, we still keep the water pollution, the air pollution… is it really fair for US communities to bear the brunt of environmental damage?”

Enter TPP, or exit it

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the US after taking office, would have offered another boost for the industrial agriculture model, Lilliston said. The negotiations, which were highly influenced and dominated by big business, “facilitated a fairly serious expansion of this industrial model of agriculture where you produce way more than you need.”

And that is to be expected. For decades trade deals have been designed to benefit business and make goods flow more smoothly between countries in order to open up new markets. To do this, the deals reduce tariffs (designed to protect local industries) and remove or weaken trade-limiting regulations, including public health and environmental standards.

What was really at stake for the US beef industry with TPP was deep access to Japan.

Japan used to be a “controlled market,” says Seng, one that always looked after its domestic production first, at the expense of imports. That’s why it’s been a tough nut to crack for beef exporters like those in the US. But over time exporters have penetrated the market, to the point that today about 60 percent of Japan’s beef is imported. In 2015, Japan imported nearly 500,000 tons of beef, around 200,000 tons of it from the US.

TPP would have progressively whittled tariffs on frozen beef from 38.5 percent down to 9 percent by 2032 — a boon for the US. A report released by the US International Trade Commission prior to Trump’s decision to pull out of TPP estimated the value of beef exports to be worth $876 million per year by the end of the 16-year tariff reduction period.

Trump’s actions represent a “clear loss” to the industry, according to Andrew Muhammad, associate director of the USDA’s Economic Research Service Market and Economics Division.

KORUS, a free-trade agreement between the US and South Korea that was signed in 2012 (which included tariff reductions and the removal of “government-imposed obstacles” to trade, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) resulted in a 42 percent jump in US beef exports over a five-year period there, and an 82 percent rise in annual sales.

So it’s easy to see why Trump’s TPP decision wasn’t popular with the US agricultural sector. With his thumbs down, expanded access to the Japanese market was put out of reach for US beef exporters.

The problem for the American cattlemen and beef processors didn’t end there. Now Australia has managed to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with Japan, gaining improved market access, while US beef still is at the mercy of high Japanese tariffs. In August, the tariffs on frozen beef from countries without economic partnership agreements with Japan were raised from 38.5 percent to 50 percent, an increase triggered by a built-in emergency system to guard against spikes in imports.

That’s why the US beef industry is now desperate to thrash out a trade deal with the Japanese. “Our organization, NCBA [National Cattlemen’s Beef Association], will work with [the Trump] administration on bilateral trade deals, if that’s the way to go,” NCBA president Craig Uden told agriculture.com. “We know that our trade partners want our product, and if we don’t fill the demand, someone else will.”

However, speaking from 45 years of experience working with the Japanese, Seng says it will be very difficult to get a bilateral deal that comes close to the benefits TPP would have provided. He explains that there was a “tremendous amount of political capital put on the table” by the Japanese to come down to 9 percent. This included overcoming the doubts of their own agricultural sector who feared an influx of cheap beef would damage their own market share. From Seng’s viewpoint, the objective now is to figure out a way to get back into TPP.

In November, the remaining 11 member nations committed to the TPP agreement are due to restart negotiations and plow ahead without the United States. But it looks as if TPP-11, as it has been dubbed, could be tweaked only slightly to encourage the US to enter later.

Vellvé isn’t ruling this out. She believes that in the next three or four years the US could well join the TPP, with or without Trump in office, as the business voices calling for it are influential: “The [beef] industry is pushing very hard and is very creative at getting what it wants.”

Lilliston, of the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy, echoes this and says that TPP saw beef-producing multinational corporations, like Cargill, JBS and others, come together to form a “beef alliance” and push their agenda. “They are real forces in these trade negotiations and it’s not the same as seeing things through a national agenda.”

Climate change, meet trade; trade, meet climate change

But even as TPP moves forward, with or without the US, another important constituency has not been invited to the negotiating table: Nature, and the NGOs and national environmental agencies that represent her.

In a 2009 report, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme said free trade agreements (FTAs) “most likely” lead to increased CO2emissions.

The “trading regime in general, and the United States led [FTAs]… are in tension with the policies for aggressive climate action,” Kevin Gallagher wrote in “Trade in the Balance: Reconciling Trade Policy and Climate Change,” a report released in 2016 by Boston University.

“Trade is intrinsic to the success and robustness of the industrial system” of food production, Vellvé says. But trade agreements “very much drive climate change coming from the food system, insofar as the [deals] create demand for cheap commodities,” she explains. For instance, an influx of cheap American beef has made it possible for gyudon chain stores like Yoshinoya to offer their beef bowls to Japanese consumers for around $3 a pop, in the same way that cheap beef has allowed McDonald’s to sell its Big Macs for $4.79 in the States.

Those low prices create more consumption, demanding higher industrial production, with bigger environmental costs. But nowhere in the industrial food chain, or in global trade treaties, are allowances made for the mounting environmental harm. This is a dangerous blind spot that, ignored for long enough, is going to bite back with increased climate and weather instability, more severe heatwaves, droughts and hurricanes, rising sea levels and increased ocean acidity — all of which will directly impact food security.

Vellvé argues that to reach our climate goals, countries will need to overhaul the way our food is grown. To do so, we’ll need to get rid of large-scale monocrop cultivation, big plantations and the current model of big trade.

“That’s a huge shift,” she acknowledges.

Vellvé points to other systems of agriculture as models, like small-scale farming, that could replace industrial-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This “small is better” approach would not only be less harmful from an environmental point of view, but could also be beneficial for farmers, cheaper to run and involve less labor in some cases.

But bridging the disconnect between an agribusiness industry focused on profit, global trade agreements that primarily serve business, and escalating climate change impacts, certainly won’t be easy. A mention of climate change didn’t even appear in the final TPP draft agreement, at the behest of Washington, despite it appearing in some initial drafts. The Paris Agreement also didn’t acknowledge TPP, or any other trade deals for that matter.

“By having an [industrialized food economy] like the US – one of the biggest [carbon] polluters – say we don’t care about the Paris Agreement – we’re going to negotiate trade agreements as if climate change doesn’t exist – that’s very problematic,” Lilliston says. The issue is being discussed in places like the WTO, he adds, but those people who matter, the trade negotiators, are proceeding as in the past, and acting as if environmental concerns didn’t exist.

As it stands, he says, strict trade rules furnish global markets with cheap goods that can price out local producers, and those treaties deregulate in a way that almost always favors industrial farming, making it impossible for smaller-scale operations to compete.

Lilliston argues that unless we change trade agreements to nurture local and sustainable food producers, allowing them to grow and participate on a level playing field in global markets, or at least put climate-friendly policies in place, we’ll soon be in a tough spot economically and environmentally.

Take drought, for example: it has deepened significantly over the US Midwest and West in recent decades, and severely impacted cattle herds and curtailed industry profits. And severe drought, like that seen in 2012, is projected to only worsen in future years as climate change escalates, further affecting the beef industry.

The good news: moves are being made by the beef sector to encourage sustainability, cut waste and decrease its climate impact. Seng at USMEF says that the beef industry is “working tenaciously to reduce any kind of greenhouse gases.” Jude Capper, an agricultural sustainability consultant, suggests the US beef industry has already made advances along this road in past decades: “US beef is considerably more productive and has a lower carbon footprint per unit than in many less efficient countries,” she says.

But others, like Vellvé, question whether these baby steps will be nearly enough. She acknowledges the efforts of the industry, but describes that work as little more than “eye shadow”.

“It’s not going to get us where we need to [go, to] stay within the [emissions] targets that were set at the Paris Agreement,” she says.

NRDC’s Bergen agrees. There are a lot of ways to cut the environmental costs of beef production, but the rapidly rising demand for beef worldwide will negate any positive effects: “Ultimately we need to reduce the amount of beef we eat.”

The decision by Donald Trump to back out of TPP has halted, at least for now, the beef industry’s drive to gain Japanese market share. But what is truly needed now is not the same old type of treaty, but a new deal — a TPP that acknowledges and addresses the deep links between industrial food production and climate change.

With the US now out of TPP, will the other 11 countries work climate change back into the agreement? It’s possible, and would be a big step forward, says Lilliston, but only on one big condition: “If TPP was to include climate considerations, how does the enforcement work on that?”

It’s pretty simple what needs to be done, Lilliston concludes: Future trade deals in the US, and around the world, must explicitly assure that trade and profit do not override climate policy: “That’s a fairly radical idea and would be a major change in trade agreements,” he says. “But at some point we are going to have to make that decision.”

Ranchers brace for ‘astronomical losses’ due to B.C. wildfires

Cattle ranchers in B.C. are bracing for massive damages to their land and
livestock as wildfires continue to rage across the Interior.

Kevin Boon, the general manager for the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association,
visited two areas this week in the ravaged Cariboo region.

“We know there’s going to be some astronomical losses,” Boon said.

It’s still too early to peg the total cost of damages – a question Boon says
he has been fielding from many ranchers – but the expenses are quickly
adding up.

“There’s hundreds of miles of fence out there that have been burnt up,” he
said.

“That’s all a huge cost when you stop and figure it costs somewhere in the
neighbourhood of $15,000 to $20,000 a kilometre of fence to replace.”

Costs will also be incurred in destroyed grass and hay, he said.

Volatile conditions

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association has been liaising with RCMP to get ranchers
access through checkpoints so they can transport or tend to their livestock.

Boon is also calling on the province to keep tourists and recreational users
out of the backcountry because of the volatile conditions. Even ranchers are
restricting use on their own lands, he said.

“We’re recommending our guys take their horse shoes off their horses just so
they don’t create a spark of the shoe on the walk,” Boon said.

Boon estimates there are about 30,000 head of cattle in the wildfire
regions. Death tolls won’t be as high as ranchers anticipated, but he
expects it will affect the calf population next spring.

“A lot of these cattle are in their breeding season right now,” he said.
“They might be miscarrying those calves and aborting them naturally because
of the stress.”

Greg Nyman, a rancher who lives south of Clinton, B.C., has so far found 60
of his 120 cattle. They’re in varying degrees of health, he said.

“I saw quite a few that have burned feet,” he said. “They’ve been in a
burning fire for a week and heavy smoke for close to a month now.”

“More often than not, their lungs are scorched,” he added. “So they’re no
longer productive.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ranchers-brace-for-astronomic
al-losses-due-to-b-c-wildfires-1.4233525

Climate change playing a role in growing list of species at risk

‘The North is one of the areas facing the greatest potential risk from climate change,’ officials say

By Nicole Riva, CBC News <http://www.cbc.ca/news/cbc-news-online-news-staff-list-1.1294364> Posted: May 10, 2017 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: May 10, 2017 5:00 AM ET

One herd of the Atlantic walrus is already extinct and two other herds could have the same fate, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. <https://i.cbc.ca/1.4107280.1494368091%21/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/atlantic-walrus.jpg>

One herd of the Atlantic walrus is already extinct and two other herds could have the same fate, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. (J. Higdon/Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)

The list of species at risk of extinction in Canada has grown to 751, and the effects of climate change may put those species even more at risk — especially the 62 species in the North.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recently completed a meeting on at-risk species — which include animals, plants and lichen — adding another five to its list <http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=03E6BEA6-1> , and reassessing the status of several others.

“The North is one of the areas facing the greatest potential risk from climate change, many of these species are already behind the eight ball,” according to committee chair Eric Taylor.

Two species that live in the North that Taylor highlighted are the Atlantic walrus and eastern migratory caribou, both of which reside in the North and have had “significant changes” in their populations.

“Particularly the caribou,” Taylor told CBC News. “Part one of the large herds, the George River herd, that one had a precipitous decline up to about 99 per cent over three generations.”

The Eastern migration caribou, has seen a 99 per cent decline in its population in three generations, the committee reports. (Submitted by Katrina Noel)

The massive decline is partly from hunting and also because of a destruction <http://cbc.ca/1.4038199> of habitat in part because of climate change.

The walrus population in the Atlantic has already lost one herd to extinction, Taylor said, while the two others are listed as special concern, which means if things don’t improve they are also at risk of becoming extinct.

The committee identifies species at risk and advises the Canadian government on what needs to be added to the official list <https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/index/default_e.cfm> , which brings protective measures and recovery plans, Taylor said, but it all takes a long time.

‘That could take years’

It can take years for a species to land on the official list, he said, which is concerning for species with fast population decline such as the caribou.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the time it takes to actually consider their listing and design a recovery strategy that could take years,” Taylor said.

He acknowledges that there are many challenges such as resources and Canada’s vast landscape in helping at risk populations, but “we’ve got to get moving.”

“The longer we delay doing something about these plants and animals the greater is the risk that what we do won’t be effective,” he said.

Climate change adds an element of the unknown for the protection of these species, he said.

“Climate change presents sort of a moving target. It’s hard to know what the extent will be and how that might impact our recovery actions right now.”

Another big unknown is how different species will adapt to changes in climate, especially if climate changes or other activities destroy a species’ habitat, Taylor said.

“It’s all intertwined, which adds to the enormous complexity,” he said.

The five newly identified at-risk species, not all of which live in the North, are the Ord’s kangaroo rat, some populations of lake sturgeon, the butternut tree, Harris’s sparrow and shortfin mako sharks.

Harris’s Sparrow <https://i.cbc.ca/1.4107282.1494366195%21/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_620/harris-s-sparrow.jpg>

Harris’s Sparrow, a northern songbird breeding only in Canada, was among the new species added to the committee’s list. (G. Romanchuk/Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/cosewic-climate-change-at-risk-species-1.4107238