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.

<img alt=”O'Brien Meats in Taylor, Texas, supplies high-quality beef to Snow's BBQ.” class=”media__image” src=””>

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.


Marine population halved since 1970 – report

Northern bluefin tuna. File photoImage copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The report analysed more than 1,200 species of marine creatures in the past 45 years

Populations of marine mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined by 49% since 1970, a report says.

The study says some species people rely on for food are faring even worse, noting a 74% drop in the populations of tuna and mackerel.

In addition to human activity such as overfishing, the report also says climate change is having an impact.

The document was prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London.

A sea cucumber feeds on algae. File photoImage copyright PA
Image caption Sea cucumbers – seen as luxury food throughout Asia – have seen a significant fall in numbers

“Human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce while also destroying their nurseries,” said Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International.

The report says that sea cucumbers – seen as a luxury food throughout Asia – have seen a significant fall in numbers, with a 98% in the Galapagos and 94% drop in the Red Sea over the past few years.

The study notes the decline of habitats – such as seagrass areas and mangrove cover – which are important for food and act as a nursery for many species.

Climate change has also played a role in the overall decline of marine populations.

The report says carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the oceans, making them more acidic, damaging a number of species.

The authors analysed more than 1,200 species of marine creatures in the past 45 years.

“I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take This Any More!”

Many of you may recognize that title as a line from a movie. It was one of the two great movies I’ve seen in the past few days, which seem to go together yet are completely different in style and content.

The first was an excellent documentary, Cowspiracy, which just came out in streaming1442633447556 Netflix form, in addition to DVD as well as a downloadable version on their website. This absolutely-must-see is not just an expose of the kind of cruelty that the human species is capable of and complicit in toward animals on a daily basis (as if that weren’t enough). It mainly focuses on the massive carbon footprint of animal agriculture (51% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions) and the fact that no one—not the powers that be, not the industry chiefs and spokesmen, not the current cattle flesh-food purveyors, not even the heads of major corporate environmental, household-name, supposed green groups, like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, NRDC or the rainforest action group—is willing to take a stand on or even acknowledge it. They were all too busy laying the blame for climate change on unstoppable oil companies, pinning all their hopes on renewable energies for everyone—all 7.4 billion and counting.

But as one interviewee pointed out, those energy sources won’t see the light of day in a big way for at least 20 years (sorry, we don’t have 20 years, people) and not until after 43 trillion dollars have been invested. Yet all we have to do, as this movie shows us (through the words of ex-rancher Howard Lyman and others) is stop eating animals today. (And stop breeding, I might add.) Problem solved. Then we just have to wait for the feed-back loops to play themselves out and hope that Mother Nature forgives us for our avariciousness in reducing all other animal life to fodder for our one-species-takes-all, suicidal free-for-all.

The issue of hunting was quickly laid to rest with the statement that back when humans may have been “sustainably” killing other species for their sustenance, there were only around 10 million people. Now there’s over 500 million on this continent alone. This is no time for a resurgence in popularity of the mindset that got us into this mess in the first place. We need to move forward, not back.

Meanwhile, a mouthpiece for the fishing industry tries to deny the ongoing collapse of fisheries across the globe by invoking a feeble economic analogy, hoping we’ll believe that every time they kill thousands of fish, they are replaced by even more new fish as if by some miraculous, infinite, deep-sea upwelling—like they’re only taking the interest, not the principal. The fact is, climate change is already warming ocean waters so fast that toxic algae blooms are rapidly replacing the traditional, edible phytoplankton—the basis of the ocean’s food chain. At the same time, run-off from animal agriculture is creating dead zones wherever once-fresh water meets the sea.

The other movie I saw recently (although it came out in 1977), Network, was also inspirational, in its own way. It summed up how I felt after watching Cowspiracy. Worked into the middle of the script were the lines of a newscaster run amok, who was trying to get the brain-washed, brain-dead sleepwalkers riled up by telling it like it is. It was the kind of shaking into reality that people need about what’s really going on nowadays.

Here are is a sequence from the movie wherein Howard Beale, a network anchorman played by Peter Finch (in an Oscar-winning performance), has mysteriously disappeared before he’s scheduled to go on the air with the evening news. He shows up just in time, stepping in from the pouring rain, wearing only his pajamas under a raincoat………………………………..

Still of Peter Finch in Network (1976)Still of Peter Finch in Network (1976)Still of Faye Dunaway in Network (1976)Still of Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch in Network (1976)

“—and, suddenly, the obsessed face of Howard Beale, gaunt, haggard, red-eyed with unworldly fervor, hair streaked and plastered on his brow, manifestly mad, fills the monitor screen.

HOWARD (on monitor):

I don’t have to tell you things are bad…shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the streets, and there’s nobody anywhere that seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breath and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit and watch our tee-vees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything’s going crazy. So we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we live in gets smaller, and all we ask is, please, at least leave us alone in our own living room. Let me have my toaster and my tee-vee and my hair dryer and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman. Because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and inflation and the defense budget and the Russians and crime in the street. All I know is first you got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more. I’m a human being goddamn it. My life has value.’ So I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window. Right now, I want you to go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!’

[This is going out live to 67 stations across the country.]

HOWARD: (on monitor)

Get up from your chairs. Go to the window. Open it. Stick your head out and yell and keep yelling—First, you have to get mad.

(They’re yelling in Baton Rouge.)

HOWARD: (on monitor)

Things have got to change. But you can’t change unless you’re mad. You have to get mad. Go to the window, stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Right now.

(A distant thunderclap crashes somewhere off and lightning shatters the dank darkness. In the sudden hush following the thunder, a thin voice can be heard shouting.)

THIN VOICES: (off screen)

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!

HOWARD: (on TV set)

…Open your window…

(An occasional window opens and from his apartment house, a MAN opens the front door of a brownstone—)

MAN: (shouting)

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!

(OTHER SHOUTS are heard.)


I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”


Now, substitute Howard Beale’s name for mine and exchange whatever he’s mad about for the issue we should all be talking (SHOUTING) about: the selfless message of animal rights and the conspiracy of silence that keeps 70 billion cows and other animals captive, as slaves, constantly bred and butchered as products of an industry that won’t even fess up to their enormous carbon footprint. To paraphrase Howard Lyman, it’s time to change—or else.

But first, you may have to get mad. If you’re not already mad—as hell—watch Cowspiracy.


How to Save the World? James Cameron says Go Vegan


Oscar-winning director James Cameron is promoting the best way to fight climate change—eliminating animal meat and dairy from one’s diet.

James Cameron is a famed director, a well-known climate change activist and he has a message for the masses: go vegan to fight climate change. Cameron spoke at the US-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles on 15th of September. During the summit, leading cities from both countries will share city-level experiences with planning, policies, and use of technologies for sustainable, resilient, low-carbon growth.

Cameron conducted his talk titled “Food for Sustainable Nations”, with Sam Kass, the former White House senior nutrition policy adviser. Cameron, who went completely vegan four years ago along with his family, focused on food systems (consumption and production) and the relationship between food and climate change. He explained how cutting out meat and dairy products can help lower carbon emissions in an interview with Fortune.

The thing that became abundantly clear to us when we met with the experts who are working in nutrition and energy sustainability and climate change is that we can’t actually meet our emission goals if we don’t address animal agriculture, and that’s the thing that’s been left out of the conversation. Everybody’s focusing on the energy sector, which of course is huge, and to a lesser extent the transportation section, but they’re missing the second biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This is a thermostat that we can turn down just by our personal choices. We can do it instantly.
— James Cameron

This message is crucial because many people who care about the environment still have no idea that raising animals for food is so incredibly destructive. Animal agriculture is actually responsible for a much higher amount of global greenhouse gas emissions than what is most commonly quoted. At the 2014 UN Climate Summit, startling new estimates by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) put the estimates of agriculture being responsible for 43-57% of global emissions.

It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. Agriculture operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans. Farmed animal production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet. 80% of land deforested in the Amazon is for raising cattle. The rapid deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is actually causing a drought in many major urban communities in South America.


Our world is in a big feedback loop where climate will effect food security among many things because of drought, desertification, saltification, loss of acreage and deltas, which are some of our most fertile areas because of sea water rise. It’s going to negatively impact our food supply and our food security at exactly the same time that we need to increase our food production by 70%. By 2050 we’re supposed to have 9 billion people on this planet. These two things are moving in the wrong direction and yet the second biggest way we can control climate change is by reducing our reliance on animal meat and dairy.

While the outlook may look grim, James Cameron’s advice echoes that of many people:

The simple resounding message is you can be healthier and your planet can be healthier based on a very simple thing that you can do today. It’s cheaper to produce plants. It’s less carbon footprint, less water footprint, less money footprint and better for you.

Wildlife managers assessing fire impacts

Scorched landscape threatens many animal species

By Ann McCreary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drought having impact

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

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

Brown said WDFW encourages hunters to take advantage of those hunting opportunities, but recommends that they check local access restrictions before they leave home. Key contact numbers are included on the state governor’s website at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Then there are the questions no one can answer yet.

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

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

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

Delicate chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble for orcas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inland troubles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red light, green light

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

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

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

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

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

To Peterson, salmon are a metaphor for resiliency.

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


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