Cattlemen fed up with fires

Capital Press

Published:November 19, 2015 8:12AM

Courtesy of Nicole Kuchenbuch
Rancher Casey Kuchenbuch herds cattle toward his home field during the Okanogan fire on Aug. 18. Ranchers in Washington are critical of how state and federal officials fought summer fires.



Washington cattlemen blame state and federal agencies for their livelihoods being jeopardized by large wildfires.


CLE ELUM, Wash. — A panel of ranchers at the Washington Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting unloaded frustration and anger at state and federal agencies, saying their land management practices and inept fire fighting are to blame for massive losses of rangeland, cattle and fencing in the last two years.

The losses threaten the cattle industry, particularly in Okanogan County where more than 1 million acres burned in the last two summers.

That totals one third of the entire acreage of the county which, at 5,315 square miles, is larger than some states. Millions of dollars of public and private timber have been lost. About 1,000 head of cattle died in the Carlton fire last year in Okanogan County while the tally so far this year is under 300. Hundreds of miles of fencing were lost both years but probably the biggest impact is loss of grazing on thousands of acres for several years causing ranchers to buy more hay and sell off cattle.

“There’s got to be some change or this will ruin our industry,” said Vic Stokes, a Twisp rancher, who lost 250 head of cattle and 90 percent of his grazing in the Carlton fire.

The convention panel, Nov. 12 at Suncadia Resort, faulted the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies for not thinning forests and not allowing grazing which would reduce fire fuel loads.

The ranchers said local firefighters do good work but are restrained when state and federal agencies take over. The panel cited multiple examples of state Department of Natural Resources and USFS-led interagency fire teams refusing to attack fires last summer, watching them burn and in two cases backburning private timber and pastures without permission of the landowner or in direct defiance of their pleas not to do it.

Contacted later, USFS and DNR spokespeople said those agencies are working to reduce fire loads by thinning and prescribed burns.

Cathy Dowd, a USFS Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokeswoman, said when the USFS doesn’t attack a fire its because there is no safe place from which to do so.

“Folks may not think we are doing anything, but we are definitely managing and monitoring from the air and in other ways and looking for ways to engage and suppress it,” Dowd said. “All this year’s fires were suppression fires, meaning the goal was to put them out,” she said.

DNR Northeast Region Manager Loren Torgerson said it was the toughest fire season the state has experienced, that firefighters risk their lives daily and three died doing so. “We saved many people, homes and ranches and earned their heartfelt thanks,” he said.

He said DNR needs more resources for preventative thinning and fire fighting and urged the Cattlemen’s Association to support that request.

Traditional fire suppression slowly begins behind fires and fire lines are built along flanks, Jim DeTro, Okanogan County commissioner and a smoke jumper from 1967 to 1973, said at the meeting.

“Eventually, the beast wanes. They encircle it and claim victory but only when nature allows. But the dragon takes its toll. Firefighters earn overtime and hazardous duty pay and they accept failure and loss with no regard to how the loss could be prevented on the next event,” DeTro said.

In Pine Creek, Gerald Scholz and other ranchers built a fire line with bulldozers that held, but agencies wanted to backburn the area, including private ground, DeTro said. They did so even after they promised not to in response to Scholz’s pleas, he said.

The next day DeTro confronted the official who said he wouldn’t backburn and he “said I didn’t understand the difference between backburn and backfire,” DeTro said.

A backburn is suppose to be relatively small, but the area was not tied together by fire lines, he said. “We warned them about the wind, but they did it anyway and it got away from them,” he said.

“Guys are getting way to happy with their drip torches (for backburning). If these agencies have that kind of attitude they might as well backfire to the Pacific Ocean,” DeTro said.

One third of the 600,000 acres burned this year in the Okanogan, Tunk Block and North Star fires was caused by backburning, he said.

Craig Vejraska, an Omak rancher and former Okanogan County commissioner, said agencies burned his private timber, which is his bank account, without asking permission and just a week ago burned what grass he had left to complete a blackened area.

“It could have saved our bacon and now we have 700 cattle looking for a home,” he said.

“We should take the incident command away and give it and the money to the Riverside Fire Department. They put out a hell of a lot more fire than DNR,” he said.

He yelled at two USFS officials for being part of the problem. Earlier they talked about forest management and they responded that was their arena, not fire fighting.

Dowd, of the USFS, didn’t know anything about Scholz and Vejraska’s claims. DNR spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser said DNR staff contacted Scholz but he was unable to provide any names or details about his claims. Scholz could not be reached for comment, but his wife, Bobbi, said she’s not aware of DNR contacting him. The fire had been stopped, then DNR backburned in the wind despite their pleas not too, destroying their timber and shed full of hay, she said.

“We can blame USFS all we want. USFS is dysfunctional, but who makes it so?” asked state Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, and a rancher. He said Congress has to change forest management.

“We are in a critical situation right now where virtually every rancher is burned out. We need every inch of WDFW land made available for grazing to maintain an industry,” Vejraska said.

While state agencies are asking for more money to fight fires, Kretz said they shouldn’t get any until they perform.

In the 2014 Carlton fire, “huge (public) resources sat in town,” Brewster, while Gebbers Farms bulldozers and 180 Gebbers orchard sprayers with water saved the town, Kretz said.

“If you look at a map of that fire, you see a big green donut hole in the middle. Part of it was private (Gebbers) and part of it was public that had been thinned. But the big difference was Gebbers crews got in there and actually fought fire,” Kretz said.

“I went up on the fire with Gebbers folks. We saw occasional state rigs looking at maps and smoke and when they did see any smoke they headed for town. Gebbers headed toward the fire,” he said.

“What you hear from the state is that it’s catastrophic. That they can’t fight them. They talk safety. You can’t go in when its crowning out (in tree tops) at 40 mph winds, but watching Gebbers they didn’t go into the teeth of the fire but got ahead of it and didn’t put in scratchy thin fire lines but two D-8s (Caterpillar dozers) side by side,” Kretz said.

“I saw a complete and utter inability (by fire officials) to make a decision. They would say you can put in a fire line but can you use a D-4, not a D-8? They’re worried about environmental impacts, but it’s a fire,” he said.

DNR officials have a “smug” attitude when questioned later, saying they’ve heard stories and will have to run them down to see if they are true, he said.

Local residents had a fire line around the Cougar Flat fire, which became part of the Carlton fire, but were waived off by the DNR which then let it get out of hand, Alex Thomason, a Brewster attorney has said.

The DNR is directed by state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark who is also an Okanogan rancher. There’s “a lot of sentiment against him” in Okanogan over politics, DeTro said.

“We have the crown jewel of initial attack in our backyard, the North Cascades Smoke Jumper base in Winthrop, but it’s under-utilized because of too much bureaucracy,” DeTro said.

He has audio tapes, he said, proving smoke jumpers on their way from the base to Oregon spotted the starts of the Carlton fire from the air but were told to keep going to Oregon by interagency dispatchers in Wenatchee.

Kretz said he passed a bill in the Legislature last year that allows people to fight fires on public lands.

“We have to get back to locals grabbing their tools and fighting fires. I had a bill to let counties opt out of (the state) fire suppression tax and use it for their own resources. We will run more bills this year,” he said.

Doug Grumbach, a Ferry County rancher near Curlew, said a decision was made to let large portions of the Colville National Forest burn, including 33 percent of his grazing allotment. He said he’s suspicious but doesn’t know if proposals to designate the area as wilderness had anything to do with letting it burn.

He said he lost 21 cows and miles of fencing.

“You do everything you can to save these animals and to lose them is devastating. There needs to be a change. I don’t ever want to go through this again. It ages you real fast,” Grumbach said.

Neil Kasyer, a Centerville rancher near Mt. Adams in southcentral Washington, said he was moving cattle out of the way of fire for four days before he saw anyone trying to put it out.

“DNR and tribal were bickering over who was in charge. Neither wanted to step up because they didn’t know if they would get reimbursed until it was big enough,” he said.

The fire burned some 55,000 acres around the base of the mountain for 20 days until rain put it out, he said.

He’s still looking for some of his 700 head of cattle, he said. A lot of riparian wildlife habitat has been destroyed for years by the wildfires, he said. 
“More money (for fire suppression) won’t help. What will help is controlling the fuel load, changing forest practices and getting locals back on initial attack,” Kasyer said. “Sitting there watching it for four days, deciding which way it will go and how big you want it to get is not the answer.”

Excerpt from: Will Paris Climate Talks Be Too Little, Too Late?

By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report

The faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.

During the first week of December, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate conference. It has been billed, like the last several, as the most important climate meeting ever. The goal, like that of past COPs, is to have governments commit to taking steps to cut carbon dioxide emissions in order to limit planetary warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial temperature baseline.

Yet this is a politically agreed-upon limit. It is not based on science.

Climate Disruption DispatchesRenowned climate scientist James Hansen and multiple other scientists have already shown that a planetary temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial baseline temperatures is enough to cause runaway climate feedback loops, extreme weather events and a disastrous sea level rise.

Furthermore, the UK meteorological office has shown that this year’s global temperature average has already surpassed that 1 degree Celsius level.

Well in advance of the Paris talks, the UN announced that the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere has locked in another 2.7 degrees Celsius warming at a minimum, even if countries move forward with the pledges they make to cut emissions. Hence, even the 2 degree Celsius goal is already unattainable. However, similar to the way in which national elections in the United States continue to maintain the illusion that this country is a democracy, and “We the People” truly have legitimate representation in Washington, DC, illusions must be maintained at the COP21.

Thus, the faux goal of 2 degrees Celsius continues to be discussed. Meanwhile, the planet burns.

Japan’s meteorological office announced that this past September was, by far, the warmest September on record, and records now show that October has also become the hottest recorded October. As a whole, 2015 remains easily on course to become the hottest year ever recorded.

As if to place an exclamation point on all of this information, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit a new milestone in excess of 400 parts per million in early 2015 – a 45 percent increase over preindustrial levels.

Extreme weather events propelled by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) abound in this month’s dispatch.

Hurricane Patricia tore into the West Coast of Mexico, becoming the strongest hurricane ever recorded, with sustained winds of 200 miles per hour.

Yemen was struck by its first hurricane in recorded history, dumping what is normally a decade’s worth of rain in a matter of merely two days. As if that is not enough to show how intensely ACD is ramping up global weather events, less than a week later the second hurricane in Yemen’s recorded history made landfall, bringing fresh hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, flash flooding and death.

ACD is, quite literally, extinguishing oceanic life across the planet.

An ACD-driven El Niño brought October storms that wreaked havoc across southern California. Record storms in the high desert and mountains of the southern part of that state brought massive mudflows across major highways, which trapped hundreds of vehicles in mud that was 20 feet deep in places, stranding motorists overnight. The rainfall from the storm, which in one area fell at a rate of 1.81 inches in just 30 minutes, was described by the National Weather Service as a “1,000-year event.”

Meanwhile, a recent report shows that marine food chains are at risk of collapse due to ACD impacts, overfishing and pollution. ACD is literally erasing species from coral reefs, the open ocean, Arctic and Antarctic waters, and the tropics.

Moreover, another recent report reveals that bleaching and disease are combining to destroy the largest coral reef in the continental United States, a 150-mile reef found off the coast of Florida. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem on the planet.

Read more:


Have Denialists Reached Their Carrying Capacity?

by Jim Robertson

Denial seems to be the fallback position for those who don’t understand a particular science and/or have a political motive not to believe said science. Lately we’ve been hearing much about the denial of anthropogenic climate change, but willful ignorance can be employed for everything from evolution to overpopulation.

Generally speaking, denialists want to hold humans harmless of something they’re clearly responsible for, whether it’s having a carbon footprint—or a literal footprint. But no one is innocent of the ultimate crime of being born a human. (An aberration. An abnormality. An irregularity. A meat-eating monkey.)

Some still cling to the denial that tobacco (or meat) can cause cancer. Others just don’t care. Many would probably balk at the analogy that humans are a cancer to the Earth.

Historically, it was deniers of the obvious–gravity, astronomy and evolution (literal flat-Earthers)—who we heard the most from. Today’s deniers still include a few who question the “theory” of gravity, evolution and other realities.

But few have gone so far as to call for a de facto book ban as Laurie Mazur did recently in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled, “China drops its ‘one-child’ policy, now let’s ban the ‘population bomb’,” featuring the irrational statement, “Let’s be clear: slowing population growth is not a panacea for the challenges of the 21st century.” I’m sure biologist Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book she attacks in her article, would challenge that statement. Let’s be real: slowing our population growth is the only lasting remedy, assuming we care about the rest of life on Earth at all.

Has Ms. Mazur ever heard of the term carrying capacity? In Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s 1996 book, Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, they write in answer to the naïve notion that there is no overpopulation:

“To understand how fallacious this statement is requires recognizing that overpopulation can be reached very quickly by exponentially growing populations in situations of seeming abundance. There is overpopulation when organisms (people in this case) become so numerous that they degrade the ability of the environment to support their kind of animal in the future. The number of people Earth can support in the long term (without degrading the environment)—given existing socioeconomic systems, consumption patterns, and technological abilities—is called the human carrying capacity of the planet at the time. And carrying capacity can be exceeded without causing immediate effects obvious to the untutored observer. ‘Overshoots’ commonly occur in nature with all kinds of organisms. A population has an ‘outbreak,’ grows far beyond its carrying capacity, consumes its resources (for animals, usually food), and crashes to a size far below the previous carrying capacity.”

Homo sapiens has never been a light-touch or low-impact type of creature. Once you realize that, it’s easier to believe they’re overpopulated and have been actually changing the planet’s climate. Whether or not our species has peopled the Earth to the point of saturation, the denialists have undeniably reached their carrying capacity.


Global warming could be melting ancient greenhouse gases under Oregon coast

This sonar image captured bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast, where global warming has raised water temperatures and possibly caused gases frozen underwater for millennia to melt. ( Brendan Philip / University of Washington)

by  Kelly House

Greenhouse gases 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide are bubbling up from beneath the ocean along Oregon and Washington, fueling global warming and contributing to changes in water chemistry that have devastated the northwest shellfish industry.

Scientists with the University of Washington believe abnormally warm water off the Pacific Coast is causing the gaseous plumes by vaporizing methane that had been frozen for thousands of years in deep ocean sediments.

The vapors are dissolving into the water and bubbling up into the atmosphere, potentially causing problems in both.

The scientists published their findings in the American Geophysical Union’s journal, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

“We’re not predicting an apocalypse, but we are saying global warming is coming to the marine waters off Oregon and Washington,” said H. Paul Johnson, the University of Washington oceanography professor who led the study.

PlumesMap.jpgThis map pinpoints 168 methane bubble plumes researchers located off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

Johnson worked on the study along with oceanography professor Evan Solomon, doctoral student Marie Salmi and research assistant Una Miller. The study builds upon research a University of Washington and Oregon State University team conducted last year.

In that study, scientists found that water 500 meters below the ocean surface has warmed by three-tenths of a degree Celsius over the past four decades – enough to melt methane frozen in ocean sediment.

Their work joins a growing body of research suggesting climate change might not happen in a slow and steady fashion. Rather, the earth’s warming could allow trapped greenhouse gases to escape, creating a snowball effect in which the earth could warm faster over time.

Other researchers have discovered methane plumes along the Atlantic and Norwegian coasts and in the Arctic tundra.

Under cold, high-pressure conditions, methane interacts with water by crystallizing into an ice-like solid. As temperatures warm, it takes more and more pressure to produce crystals. Under lower-pressure conditions, chemical bonds break and the methane reverts to its gaseous state.

When it shows up in the air, methane prevents solar energy from leaving earth’s atmosphere. Over time, this heats the planet in a process known as the greenhouse effect. Left unchecked, the release of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is expected to cause catastrophic changes in the planet’s climate.

Previous models from University of Washington and Oregon State University scientists estimated present ocean warming trends are melting 100,000 metric tons of methane each year off the Washington coastline alone. Johnson said the same warming effect is happening from northern Vancouver Island down to Mendocino, California.

Only some of that gas leaves the sediment to alter ocean and air chemistry.

The research published last week backs up those models. Of 168 methane plumes discovered off the coast within the past decade, a high number originated at 500 meters below the surface. That’s the upper limit of depths at which methane could crystallize under cold, high-pressure conditions. As the ocean warms, methane requires deeper water to crystallize.

Solomon said it’s likely there are more plumes out there, yet to be discovered.

“Every time we go out on an expedition, we discover new seep sites,” he said.

Most of the resulting gas bubbles chemically react with water to create ocean-born carbon dioxide that contributes to the acidic seas that have plagued the Northwest shellfish industry. It’s unclear how significant that contribution might be, Solomon said.

A tiny fraction of the gas bubbles up to the surface, where it contributes to the greenhouse effect.

Although the research suggests seawaters warmed by global climate change are causing the plumes, more work is needed to know with certainty. The researchers’ next step is to analyze the plumes’ chemical makeup to find out.

If their hypothesis checks out, Johnson said, it’s reasonable to expect the methane melt to accelerate in the coming years. Arctic sea water that has warmed by as much as 2 degrees Celsius is heading for Oregon, but will take years to get here.

“That warming is already in the bank,” Johnson said. “We’re just waiting for it to reach us.”

Humans: Uniquely Unique or Chronic Rationalizers?


As far as the rights and welfare of all other species of animals are concerned, human arrogance—narcissistic notions of human supremacy over nonhumans—is the root of all evil.

Ever since my youngest days, I’ve always instinctively known that the “us and them” cultural given was wrong-headed, and that having two sets of laws, one for our species and one for all others, is absurd at best.

This has been backed up by much that I have read over the years. In an effort to counter centuries of long-accepted dogma intended to instill anthropocentric attitudes, philosophers like Peter Singer, with his Animal Liberation, and scientists like Jared Diamond and Richard Leaky, in The Third Chimpanzee and The Sixth Extinction respectively, have devoted sections of their books to debunk outdated beliefs of human preeminence and superiority.

To further put humans in their rightful place, the following is something I happened on last night in the late John A. Livingston’s 1994 book, Rogue Primate:

“Few exercises in rationalization have involved quite so much intellectual pretzel-bending as the task of demonstrating absolute human uniqueness. Our obsession with this is revealing. It’s not enough that every individual, and every species, is a unique, one-time-only, event. Fanatical humanism demands more. All species are unique, we may acknowledge, but one species is uniquely unique. Which reveals a good deal more than bizarre English usage.

“Thanks to studies in ethology and behavioral ecology, the religion of human uniqueness has sustained a series of notable setbacks in our lifetime. We have had to abandon a substantial list of ‘unique attributes’: tool using, tool making, language, tradition and culture, abstraction, teaching and learning, cooperating and strategizing, and others, less inflammatory, such as caring and compassion. There’s not a lot left. But the ultimate fallback position, the central jewel in the human imperial crown, hadWashoe_chimpanzee always been self-awareness. Then along came little Washoe.

“Washoe, a chimpanzee, was raised by humans, Allen and Beatrice Gardner. She became famous as the first non-human being to learn the hand-sign language of the deaf and mute, a mode of communication seen by the Gardners as more useful to a chimpanzee (because of its anatomy) than human sounds. While still very young she became extraordinarily adept at signing, which of itself generated concern in some quarters. An ape was not only ‘speaking,’ but also, apparently carrying on conversations with her human mentors. But Washoe’s historic bombshell was kept in abeyance for a time. She had been supplied with various toys and other miscellaneous items, and had also become used to all manner of human household hardware, such as mirrors. One day, while she was looking into a mirror, she was asked ‘Who is that?’ ‘Me, Washoe,’ she signed back.

“Washoe was ‘self-aware.’ This was flabbergasting. And for many people it was deeply unsettling. We seem to be witnessing the collapse of the last bastion of human uniqueness. Something had to done about Washoe. Human brows furrowed in thought. Then came the answer. Of course! How blindingly obvious! Washoe was not aware that she was self-aware. One can almost feel the collective sigh of relief. We could not know this, of course, but it was fundamental to the shoring-up of the collective self-esteem that we asserted. Now if it were somehow demonstrated that a non-human animal was, in fact, aware of its self-awareness, then no doubt, the claim would be made that it was not, like us, aware of its awareness of its self-awareness. This could go on forever, and probably will.

“The problem of self-awareness (or rather, the problem of our unrepentant claim, in spite of Washoe and others, that beings who are not human do not have it) confuses a number of issues pertaining to the human treatment of other animals. It appears consistently in defense of vivisection, for example. ‘Sentience’ is much used as a synonym for self-awareness, or, sometimes, consciousness. Non-human animals are not sentient (consciously self-aware); therefore, it is ethically permissible to do as we please with them. Such reasoning is mystifying. Even if the living, captive individual beings (both wild and domesticated) upon whom the vivisectors visit their incomprehensible acts were not self-aware, how would that justify cruelty? No one denies that they have central nervous systems (that is one of the important reasons they are used) that they feel pain (another reason), that they entertain fear (still another). Fear without self-awareness is gibberish.

“Vivisection has its own strange ethical code, but it is not the only such structure to depend ultimately on the concept of self. Ethics rests on moral philosophy. Moral philosophy rests primarily on the individual. Presumably the concept of the individual rests ultimately on the concept of self. It used to be generally assumed that non-human beings were incapable of thinking or behaving ethically because, among other limitations, they lack the concept of self. That was pre-Washoe.

Many humanists attempt to handle the problem of self-identity in a chimpanzee by asserting that the animal lacks the capacity for reason, and therefore could never conceive of moral or ethical rights and obligations. That the animal lacks reason could be debated (there is ample evidence in many species of problem solving, which could only be conceptual). What animals very probably do lack is the power of rationalization, which would appear to be a uniquely human attribute.”


It seems, while our technological advancements and mechanical understandings may be growing rapidly, if not hastily, our acceptance of non-human awareness, and in fact, our own moral evolution, is still crawling at a snail’s pace. As it is for global warming, denialism about animal awareness is an agenda-driven form of rationalization.

KOKO-C-02AUG00-MN-HO--Koko the gorilla and her kitten. PHOTO CREDIT: RON COHN/GORILLA FOUNDATION Ran on: 02-18-2005 Koko the Gorilla seems to smile as she looks at a kitten. Koko has had many pets during her years at the Gorilla Foundation. Ran on: 02-18-2005 Koko and friend Ran on: 02-26-2005 Koko is shown in 2000 holding a kitten, one of many pets the gorilla has had in her years at the Gorilla Foundation. Ran on: 12-02-2005 Koko the gorilla is claimed to have a nipple fetish.


Petition: 2015 UN Climate Conference must address the impact of animal agriculture on climate change

2015 UN Climate Conference must address the impact of animal agriculture on climate change

There is irrefutable evidence that animal agriculture is a key cause of climate change. It is a leading cause of greenhouse-gas emissions, water waste, water pollution, ocean dead zones, deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction that each significantly impacts the climate. Any global policy that claims to address climate change without addressing the catastrophic impact of animal agriculture is neither honest nor effective. While awareness about the fossil fuel industry is gaining momentum, the impact of animal agriculture on the climate has not received the same global attention.
We call on Ban Ki Moon and the leaders of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference to ensure that the impact of animal agribusiness on our global climate is comprehensively addressed, and that an urgent action policy be created and made effective immediately.


Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans


MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report) – Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

More worryingly, Logsdon said, “As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

While reaffirming the gloomy assessments of the study, Logsdon held out hope that the threat of fact-resistant humans could be mitigated in the future. “Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, or oxygen,” he said.

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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.

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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.



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.


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.