As he refuses to take action to combat the climate crisis, which scientists say is making extreme weather events more intense and devastating, President Donald Trump reportedly suggested deploying America’s vast nuclear arsenal to stop hurricanes from reaching the United States.
Axios reported Sunday that Trump asked, “Why don’t we nuke them?” during a hurricane briefing in the White House.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” Trump said, according to Axios, which cited sources who heard the president’s remarks.
“Trump also raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration official,” Axios reported. “A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it does not contain the word ‘nuclear’; it just says the president talked about bombing hurricanes.”
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump called Axios‘s story “fake news” and said he never raised the idea of bombing hurricanes, which commentators described as “dangerously moronic” and “absolutely nuts.”
Donald J. Trump
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a page on its website dedicated to addressing the question, “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?”
“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms,” the page reads. “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.”
“Needless to say,” NOAA concludes, “this is not a good idea.”
Environmentalists were quick to ridicule the president’s reported suggestion and demand action to confront the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities from extreme weather events.
“We cannot believe we have to say this but elected officials should get their climate policy recommendations from frontline communities and science, not the movie Sharknado,” tweeted 350.org. “What if instead of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes we just passed a Green New Deal and made fossil fuel billionaires pay for the devastation of climate disasters?”
A group of top hurricane experts, including several federal researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published striking new research Thursday suggesting that hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean have grown considerably worse, and climate change is part of the reason why.
The study focused on rapid intensification, in which hurricanes may grow from a weak tropical storm or Category 1 status to Category 4 or 5 in a brief period. They found that the trend has been seen repeatedly in the Atlantic in recent years. It happened before Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and before Hurricane Michael pummeled the Gulf Coast with little warning last fall. Hurricane Michael, for example, transformed from a Category 1 into a raging Category 4 in the span of 24 hours.
The study, published in Nature Communications, describes its conclusion in blunt language, finding that the Atlantic already has seen “highly unusual” changes in rapid hurricane intensification, compared to what models would predict from natural swings in the climate. That led researchers to conclude that climate change played a significant role.
“Natural variability cannot explain the magnitude of the observed upward trend,” they wrote. The research was led by Kieran Bhatia, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
“There’s just a whole host of issues that come along with rapid intensification, and none of them are good,” said Jim Kossin, one of the study’s authors and also a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kossin said that more rapidly intensifying storms means both that there are more strong storms overall, but also that there are more risky situations near land.
“Rapid intensification is exceedingly dangerous because people, they’re not warned adequately, they’re not prepared, many of them don’t evacuate,” he said.
The findings come in the wake of two of the most damaging years for hurricanes and other extreme events. In 2017, according to NOAA figures, the United States saw $306 billion in disaster losses, largely driven by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma. In 2018, Hurricanes Florence and Michael were major factors in a $91 billion damage total.
Rapid intensification is generally measured by comparing the strength of a hurricane over a 24-hour period. A change in storm wind speed of greater than 35 mph in 24 hours is generally the cutoff.
By this measure, the five most destructive Atlantic storms of the past two years all went through rapid intensification:
Chris Mooney/The Washington Post
In the new study, the researchers used two separate data sets of storm behavior to analyze changes in the tendency of hurricanes to rapidly intensify. They looked at the globe and also at the Atlantic region specifically, but had less confidence in global figures, given that record-keeping of storm behavior is less reliable in other regions than in the carefully studied Atlantic.
Over a 28-year period from 1982 to 2009, the percentage of Atlantic storms that rapidly intensified had tripled, the study found. This was true of both data sets used, one of which records official hurricane statisticsfrom global monitoring agencies, such as the National Hurricane Center, and one of which uses satellite imagery to estimate storm strengths.
The researchers then used a model that can reliably simulate hurricanes to determine whether the rates of rapid intensification found in the study are significantly greater than seen in a version of the model that did not include human-caused climate change. One obvious inference is that warmer ocean temperatures, which provide the fuel for hurricanes, are probably driving explosive storm strengthening.
Kossin said that if hurricanes have the potential to achieve higher intensities because of warmer ocean conditions, they’ll also probably rapidly intensify more frequently, since they have more “headroom” to grow in strength. That could explain the results.
And Kossin noted that the study only went through 2009, due to limitations in the satellite data set. That means it did not include multiple recent rapidly intensifying storms — if it had, the findings might have been even stronger.
“We’re finding trends even without including what we’ve been seeing in the last few years,” Kossin said.
Still, the study did include some major devastating storms, such as 2005′s Hurricane Wilma, which rapidly intensified from a strong tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane in just 24 hours.
“It is fortunate that this ultrarapid strengthening took place over open waters, apparently void of ships, and not just prior to a landfall,” the National Hurricane Center wrote in a post-season analysis of the storm.
Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at MIT, said the new results make theoretical sense — that storms are intensifying faster as the climate warms.
“One theoretical prediction, backed up by modeling results, is that intensity change should increase faster with global warming than intensity itself,” he said by email.
Emanuel added that rapid intensification creates a major emergency response problem — since rapid intensification is so hard to forecast, “important decisions, like whether not to evacuate a region, may have to be delayed.”
“Rapid intensification is a nightmare for hurricane forecasters especially for storms nearing land,” added Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with Weather.us. “As the climate warms, some ocean regions may disproportionately see more intense and rapidly intensifying storms.”
“This study uses an advanced climate model to determine if a climate warming signal has already emerged in recent decades. Their initial results suggest just that.”
Benjamin Strauss, chief executive and chief scientist at the research organization Climate Central, said the study seems in line with a growing body of research identifying the fingerprints of climate change in extreme weather events.
“This is a case where science seems to be following common sense. We’ve had so many badly destructive hurricanes strike the U.S. over the last 15 years that it’s hard not to feel something is amiss,” Strauss said.
“The intuition is easy: If you turn up the heat under a pot of water, it can shift quickly from simmer to boil,” Strauss added. “But the science of attributing hurricane characteristics to climate change has been difficult and requires a lot of computing power. This team has done important work, and I suspect it foreshadows a great deal more findings in the same direction.”
A powerful hurricane in the eastern Pacific washed away an 11-acre island in the French Frigate Shoals, part of a national monument in the remote northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Approximately a half mile long and 400 feet wide, East Island was the second-largest islet in French Frigate Shoals ― an atoll some 550 miles northwest of Honolulu ― and a key habitat for the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the threatened Hawaiian green sea turtle and several species of seabirds.
The island’s dramatic vanishing act was first reported by Honolulu Civil Beat and confirmed by HuffPost. Satellite images distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show the spit of white sand almost entirely erased, scattered out onto the reef to the north. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
East Island was destroyed by storm surge from Hurricane Walaka, which roared through the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a powerful Category 3 storm this month. Seven researchers, including three studying green sea turtles on East Island, were forced to evacuate from French Frigate Shoals before the storm.
Charles Littnan, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s protected species division, told HuffPost it will likely take years to understand what the island’s loss means for these imperiled species.
The biggest concern, he said, is the persistent loss of habitat, which has been identified as a significant threat to monk seals and green sea turtles. Nearby Trig Island was also lost beneath the surface this year, not because of a storm but from high wave activity.
“These small, sandy islets are going to really struggle to persist” in a warming world with rising seas, Littnan said. “This event is confronting us with what the future could look like.”
French Frigate Shoals is the nesting ground for 96 percent of the Hawaiian green sea turtle population, and approximately half lay their eggs at East Island. Historically, it has been the “single most important” nesting site for the turtles, he said.
All nesting females had left by the time Walaka hit, so the storm likely had little if any impact on the adult population. But NOAA scientists estimate that 19 percent of this year’s nests on East Island had not yet hatched and were swept away by the storm. And 20 percent of the turtle nests on nearby Tern Island, the largest island in the French Frigate Shoals, were lost.
The island was also a critical habitat for the federally protected Hawaii monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet. Roughly 80 percent of the population of just over 1,400 seals live in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a remote archipelago that is surrounded by the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
In a typical year, 30 percent of monk seal pups are born at East Island. In 2018, 12 pups were born there, and NOAA said it believes that all but maybe one had been weaned before the storm hit.
Littnan said that monk seals are known to move into the water to ride out storms but that scientists won’t know if there was significant mortality until they are able to return to the area to survey the population next year.
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Athline Clark, NOAA’s superintendent of Papahanaumokuakea, described the satellite images as “startling” and said that while the long-term implications are not clear, the island’s loss will have significant effects on future nesting and pupping cycles.
Before disappearing, East and Trig islands accounted for 60 percent of the monk seal pups born at French Frigate Shoals, according to NOAA.
Chip Fletcher, an associate dean at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, told HuffPost that after an initial “holy shit” moment, he realized the island’s disappearance makes sense.
“This is not surprising when you consider the bad luck of a hurricane going into that vicinity and sea level rise already sort of deemed the stressor in the background for these ecosystems,” he said. “The probability of occurrences like this goes up with climate change.”
This month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading United Nations consortium of researchers studying human-caused climate change, issued a dire warning about the threats the world now faces. Failing to overhaul the global economy and rein in carbon emissions would come with devastating, perhaps irreversible effects, the IPCC found.
Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane expert at Colorado State University, said the central Pacific is one area where a lot of models forecast that climate change will trigger more frequent and stronger hurricanes. He said Walaka rapidly intensified at an “impressive rate,” from a tropical storm with 40 mph winds to a major hurricane with winds of 120 mph in just 30 hours.
After reaching Category 5 strength, it weakened as it made its way north toward the national monument.
“The complete loss of the island is very impressive,” Klotzbach said after viewing the photos.
From satellite imagery and observations during a flyover of East Island and Tern Island, Littnan said, NOAA scientists expect that all the islets in French Frigate Shoals were completely washed over by the storm surge. It’s unclear if any others experienced significant damage.
There’s no telling if East Island will return. An islet named Whale-Skate Island, also once an important habitat for Hawaiian monk seals, vanished from French Frigate Shoals in the 1990s and has not reappeared.
Clark, Fletcher and Littnan said scientists are already exploring what, if anything, can be done to intervene to protect these vulnerable habitats and increase the resilience of the affected species. Those efforts could include pumping sand back above the ocean’s surface to restore islets.
“We’re going to have to look at really creative ways to help support these species to persist into the future,” Littnan said.
Deputies in Bay County, Florida, who are working in Hurricane Michael’s shattering aftermath, have arrested about 10 suspected looters each night since the storm made landfall a week ago, according to authorities.
Bay County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jimmy Stanford told the News Herald in an article published Tuesday that the looters have targeted businesses and homes. They are almost always armed.
“Most our officers lost their homes, have been working 16- to 18-hour shifts with no sleep, no shower; and now they’re encountering armed individuals,” Stanford told the publication. “It’s a stressful time for everyone in Bay County.”
The county is home to Florida’s Mexico Beach, a small town on the Gulf Coast that was in the bullseye of Hurricane Michael. It is also home to Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base, which suffered “widespread catastrophic damage” from the storm.
In Callaway, a Panama City suburb, resident Victoria Smith said her purse was snatched out of her hands while she was sleeping. The front door to her home was open to let a breeze come through. With the breeze came burglars.
“I must’ve been so exhausted from everything in the past days I didn’t hear them come in,” she told the News Herald. “They just snatched my purse out of my hands and ran.”
“It was all we had,” she added.
Pictures showed police detaining people on suspicion of looting and a sign warning people.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this week that he surveyed the hurricane damage in Bay County with FEMA Administrator Brock Long “so he could see firsthand the damage and total loss suffered by our Gulf Coast and Panhandle communities.” Scott said in a news release that “so many families have lost everything.”
FEMA has approved Transitional Sheltering Assistance for county residents, allowing eligible storm survivors to get short-term lodging in motels or hotels with costs covered by FEMA. Those eligible are people who can’t return to their homes for an extended period because of disaster-related damage or an inability to get to their communities, Scott’s office said.
Breached swine lagoons. Overflowing coal waste ponds. Sewage in the streets. The hellish aftermath of climate-fueled Hurricane Florence.
By Hayley Miller and Chris D’Angelo
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Florence’s rain came down in sheets ― unrelenting, and for days on end.
The water inundated homes, many still boarded up from Hurricane Matthew two years earlier. It swallowed farm operations, killing millions of chickens and turkeys and overflowing open pits full of hog feces. It flooded coal ash ponds, sending the toxic byproduct of burning coal into area waterways. The smell of human waste tainted neighborhoods; in the small town of Benson, 300,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into the streets.
On Friday, Charlotte-based Duke Energy reported that a dam containing a lake at one of its power plants in Wilmington had been breached by floodwaters, potentially spilling coal ash from a nearby dump into the Cape Fear River.
Many parts of North Carolina are still unnavigable, with entire stretches of highway turned to rivers. Rural roads have been washed out.
From a bridge in east Fayetteville on Monday afternoon, residents watched as a plastic barrel, basketballs, fishing gear and a decapitated duck decoy floated down the swollen Cape Fear River toward the Atlantic Ocean, some 80 miles away. Along the bank, mattresses, a dog kennel, a frying pan and scores of garbage bobbed among the trees.
Mitch Colvin, the mayor of this inland city of more than 200,000, spoke with members of the media and law enforcement officials on the bridge Tuesday and marveled at the height of the river. By that point it had reached the bottom of a railroad bridge, causing trees and debris to pile up behind it.
Colvin told HuffPost he’s no expert on climate change, but the frequency and magnitude of recent storms have made it clear that “something has happened.”
“You know, this is our second 500-year storm in two years,” the 45-year-old mayor said as he leaned against the bridge’s concrete railing. “We need to reassess the classification of these storms. But we also need to plan as a community and as a region for how to prepare for this.”
Hurricanes like Florence aren’t simply natural disasters ― they’re catastrophic events made worse by anthropogenic climate change, events that threaten human health and safety long after the storm has passed.
As it happened, industries that are among the biggest contributors to the climate crisis were some of the hardest hit in Florence’s aftermath.
Livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of global human greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the agricultural sector, including livestock and crop production, is responsible for 9 percent of all carbon emissions in the United States.
North Carolina is the second-largest pork producing state in the country, behind Iowa. Nearly 9 million hogs are raised for slaughter on the state’s 2,100 hog farms, where the animals’ waste is dumped into massive open-air cesspools called lagoons.
By Friday, flooding had caused structural damage to at least six of the state’s 3,300 hog waste lagoons. Three of these damaged pits were breached and another 30 had overflowed, causing swine fecal matter to spill into and potentially contaminate the surrounding waterways with toxic hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.
One hog farmer in Duplin County reported the flooding resulted in a “total loss” of at least 2.2 million gallons of waste from a single lagoon, according to North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.
“It’s yet another problem that is posed by this industrial model of production,” Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Will Hendrick told HuffPost. “It should be the case that we can produce food without putting our people in jeopardy.”
The North Carolina Pork Council has downplayed the significance of the lagoon overflow.
“While we are dismayed by the release of some liquids from some lagoons, we also understand that what has been released from the farms is the result of a once-in-a-lifetime storm and that the contents are highly diluted with rainwater,” the hog farm advocacy group said in a statement Wednesday.
But the increasing frequency of severe weather events in the last few years due to climate change suggests Florence is in no way a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm. And since most of the state’s hog farms sit on coastal plains, and climate change is producing bigger, wetter storms, it’s likely these swirling cesspools of hog waste will continue to pose a threat to waterways and their surrounding communities for years to come.
“This industry has shown its vulnerabilities in terms of these weather events for decades and has still resisted the need for change,” Hendrick said. “They continue to prioritize profit over people who are affected by their operations.”
The storm has also wreaked havoc on North Carolina’s energy sector, causing coal ash containment ponds in at least two sites to swell. The ash, which is the residue left behind by burning coal, contains toxic elements like arsenic, mercury and lead and is often doused with water and left in containment ponds for years.
In 2017, coal accounted for 69 percent of all carbon emissions from the U.S. energy sector.
Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest utility companies, has 31 coal ash basins across North Carolina, holding 111 million tons of waste. It has decommissioned several of its coal power plants in the last few years, and earlier this month announced plans to shutter its remaining seven by 2048.
Many of those coal ash ponds are dangerously positioned next to rivers and lakes and are highly vulnerable to flooding in an event like Florence. Like hog waste lagoons, heavy rains can cause these coal ash landfills and ponds to overflow into waterways ― and Florence did just that, even as Duke downplayed the risk in advance of the storm.
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Duke Energy reported last Saturday that 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash had poured into Sutton Lake from an adjacent coal ash pond. The lake, constructed by Duke Energy in 1972 as a cooling pond for its power plant, has also been designated as a recreational boating and fishing area by the state.
On Friday, the company said floodwaters breached a dam containing Sutton Lake and that it could not rule out that coal ash was flowing into the Cape Fear River.
Spillage from three inactive coal ash ponds was also reported at the H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro on Monday. Duke Energy said visual inspections suggested low-hanging vegetation allowed only “a small amount” of coal ash to be displaced. But Waterkeeper Alliance pushed back on the company’s assessment after visiting the site.
“Floating coal ash is clearly visible because flood waters have eroded the vegetative cover and are steadily washing ash downstream,” Donna Lisenby, global advocacy manager for Waterkeeper Alliance, shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Duke Energy is falsely telling news reporters and the public that the tree cover on the ash ponds at Lee are preventing ash releases.”
Frank Holland, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said this was an entirely unnecessary catastrophe that could have been prevented by evacuating the coal ash ponds and moving its contents uphill.
“Duke could have greatly reduced the risk to North Carolina and its rivers during Hurricane Florence if it had spent years removing the ash from these sites rather than spending years spending money on lawyers and lobbyists,” Holland said.
In 2014, a drainage pipe burst at a Duke Energy coal ash pond in Eden, North Carolina, causing 39,000 tons of the contaminant to flow into the Dan River. It was the third-largest such spill in U.S. history and resulted in Duke Energy pleading guilty to criminal negligence. The company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution, the largest federal criminal fine in state history.
But Holland said Duke Energy has continued to drag its feet in cleaning up other coal ash basins, pushing back on demands from the state and environmental activists to evacuate its toxic ponds and landfills.
“This is a danger nobody should have to worry about,” Holland told HuffPost. “The only reason this ash is sitting in these unlined pits next to these rivers is because Duke Energy … made a choice to flush this ash downhill and create water pollution and a public safety hazard purely for their own convenience and to save some marginal dollars.”
Hurricanes Matthew and Florence have highlighted the urgency of removing coal ash from Duke Energy’s ponds as quickly as possible, Lisa Evans, an attorney for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, told HuffPost.
“If the water level rises sufficiently ― and it doesn’t have to rise very much in [Sutton Lake] ― it’s going to flood the ponds that hold 2.1 million cubic yards of coal ash,” she said. “It’s a huge danger.”
Scientists have also revealed there’s been a marked slowdown in hurricanes’ speed over both water and land, which increases the risk of heavy rain, flooding and storm surges. And a 2016 study found that climate change has caused hurricanes in the North Atlantic to migrate farther north ― a trend that is expected to continue as temperatures rise.
Most scientists are careful not to attribute any single storm to our changing climate. But Florence, in many ways, exemplified hurricane behavior in a warming world.
The storm slammed into Wilmington, North Carolina, last Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, pushing storm surge up Pamlico Sound and into connecting rivers where it devastated cities like New Bern and Washington. The damage could have certainly been less extensive if not for sea level rise brought on by climate change. (In 2012, conservative North Carolina lawmakers chose to ignore the threat of sea level rise, passing a bill that barred policymakers and developers from using up-to-date climate science to plan for rising waters on the state’s coast.)
“There is simply more water filling these rivers because of the duration of these storms,” Evans said. “What we’re seeing ― what we saw in 2016 with Matthew and what we’re seeing right now with Florence ― is that this is having a tremendous impact on the storage of toxic waste in basins.”
“The injustice is that climate change was, in part, caused by these industries ― but who pays? It’s the communities whose drinking waters are contaminated and harmed by these spills,” she added. “It’s an unjust situation when these communities bear all the risk and all the harm.”
Broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat) are the top agricultural commodity in North Carolina. In 2015, 823 million broiler chickens were raised in the state. (Photo credit: North Carolina Department of Agriculture)
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd tore through North Carolina, killing 74 people and causing $6.5 billion in damage. But it didn’t just destroy towns and claim human lives; it also claimed the lives of millions of farm animals. The images are impossible to forget: lifeless pigs floating in flood water, thousands of dead chickens inside a factory farm and a few live pigs huddling on top of a barn almost completely submerged under water.
Hurricane Floyd also caused 55 pig manure lagoons to flood, pushing out hog waste into nearby estuaries, which killed fish and caused algae blooms.
While natural disasters can spotlight and heighten the risks of factory farming to public health, the environment and animals, we’ve long known about the dangers it poses, which raises the question: Why are we raising and killing animals for food in the first place?
From overuse of antibiotics, which could render our own antibiotics ineffective, to leaking manure lagoons, to high saturated fat and cholesterol in meat, eggs and milk, animal farming is one of the most pressing global public health risks.
That’s why last year, more than 200 public health experts, environmental scientists, ethicists and others signed an open letter — featured in The New York Times — calling on the World Health Organization to take concrete steps to mitigate factory farming’s harmful effects. Some of those steps include banning growth-promoting antibiotics, stopping factory farm subsidies, educating consumers on the health risks of meat consumption and financing research into plant-based alternatives to meat.
What’s more, it’s extremely cruel. North Carolina’s more than 850millionfarmed animals — mostly chickens raised for meat — experience short, brutal lives filled with constant misery and deprivation. Nearly all of these chickens are bred to grow so large, so fast, that many cannot even walk without pain. They live in their own waste, packed into dark, windowless warehouses. And North Carolina’s pig population — about 9 million — is almost as high as its human population. Mother pigs in the pork industry are confined for virtually their entire lives in crates so narrow the animals can’t even turn around.
But the factory farm industry is inured to the abject cruelty that millions of sentient beings must endure under their watch. In a press release, Sanderson Farms described the estimated 1.7 million chickens who perished in their factories as being “destroyed as a result of flooding” — as if they were merely inanimate objects. What’s more shocking is that in the same press release, the company states, “We are fortunate that Sanderson Farms sustained only minimal damage and no loss of life as a result of the storm.” No loss of life? The company completely ignores the fact that those chickens were even alive, let alone thinking, emotional individuals, each with their own unique personalities and social systems, just like humans, dogs, cats and other animals.
But unlike companion animals, who are required by law to be part of government evacuation plans during natural disasters, farmed animals are not afforded such legal protections. Far from being protected, factory farmed chickens are arguably the most abused animal on the planet. And most people probably aren’t even aware of chickens’ incredible cognitive abilities, which rival that of dogs and cats, or that pigs are the world’s fifth-most intelligent animal.
North Carolina lawmakers have fought tooth and nail to protect factory farming corporations over their fellow citizens — often rural communities of color — who have long suffered serious health problems because they happen to live near hog or chicken farms.
Instead of protecting the factory farm industry, lawmakers should instead strengthen — not restrict — citizens’ ability to file nuisance lawsuits against polluting factory farms. Because water and air regulations on factory farms in North Carolina are so lax, suing these facilities for harming people’s quality of life and health is often their last resort. And as public health experts urged the World Health Organization to fund research into plant-based alternatives to meat, so should our federal government.
We take precautions to minimize the harm of natural disasters, but we should also proactively accelerate alternatives to our broken and inhumane food system, rather than wait for it to collapse. We hold the power to do so — now the question is, will we act?
Dead, decomposing animal carcasses that drown and laid in water for days are accepted in North Carolina to be rendered and sold as pet feed ingredients.
One of you wonderful pet owners out there sent me a serious concern. She read a story in the Charlotte Observer that stated “So far 3.4 million chickens and turkeys, and 5,500 hogs are dead in North Carolina from Hurricane Florence wind and floods. The numbers are expected to increase this week.” She was very worried “where all these dead animals will end up.”
Her worry was justified.
Hurricane Florence came ashore on September 14, 2018 according to an ABC News timeline. The next day – September 15, 2018 – “Florence is expected to dump another 14 to 20 inches of rain on southern and central parts of North Carolina into far northeast South Carolina. This will continue to produce “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the National Weather Service said.”
The “catastrophic” flooding has resulted in the death of at least “5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens” according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – published in the Charlotte Observer newspaper September 18, 2018. The animals drowned.
The FDA told me the following (regarding disposal of drowned livestock in North Carolina):
FDA doesn’t “approve” the disposal method in these circumstances. As stated in the mass mortality guidance, “Owners may choose to dispose of their mortality from storms and may do so, but catastrophic loss mortality must be reported to the State Veterinarian and the proposed method of disposal must be approved prior to disposal.” Evaluating and potentially approving a proposed method of disposal would fall under the NC Department of Agriculture/State Veterinarian’s purview.
North Carolina tells the livestock industry that “when flooding is an issue” the primary options to dispose of millions of drown animals are (in order of NC Dept of Ag preference):
Rendering North Carolina Department of Agriculture states (bold added): “Rendering is a preferred off-site option with some limitations due to timing challenges and access to carcasses during flooding events. It is low cost and results in a product of value from rendered carcasses.”
North Carolina landfills – per their documents – accept pigs and chicken carcasses…but will North Carolina landfills accept decomposing carcasses of pigs and chickens that have been laying in flood waters for days?
Composting “Composting is the best on-site carcass disposal option. Site allowing for heavy equipment to form the compost pile and move carcasses.” Will flooded farms be able to compost the millions of dead animals?
Will those decomposing animal carcasses become rendered pet food ingredients? Chances are – they will.
And worse yet – no pet owner will know which pet food will contains rendered decomposing drowned animals from Hurricane Florence.
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The record-breaking rains that started with Hurricane Florence are continuing to strain North Carolina’s hog lagoons.
Because of the storm, at least 110 lagoons in the state have either released pig waste into the environment or are at imminent risk of doing so, according to data issued Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. That tally more than tripled the Monday total, when the department’s count was 34.
When a pig in a large-scale farm urinates or defecates, the waste falls through slatted floors into holding troughs below. Those troughs are periodically flushed into an earthen hole in the ground called a lagoon in a mixture of water, pig excrement and anaerobic bacteria. The bacteria digest the slurry and also give lagoons their bubble gum-pink coloration.
North Carolina has 9.7 million pigs that produce 10 billion gallons of manure annually, mostly on large-scale farms and primarily in low-lying Sampson and Duplin counties. Both counties were affected by Florence.
When storms like Florence hit, lagoons can release their waste into the environment through structural damage (for example, when rains erode the banks of a lagoon and cause breaches). They can also overflow from rainfall or be swept over by floodwaters.
Whatever the cause, the result when a lagoon leaks can be environmental trouble. If the untreated waste enters rivers, for example, algal blooms and mass fish die-offs can happen, as they did in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. That year, many animals drowned in lagoon slurry.
Hog lagoons and the associated large-scale farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, have been a sore spot in the eastern part of the state, where residents say that the operations harm their health and well-being.
“Life expectancy in North Carolina communities near hog CAFOs remains low, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors that are known to affect people’s health and life span,” Dr. H. Kim Lyerly, a professor of cancer research at Duke, said in a statement. The Duke study stops short of drawing a causal link.
Last week, Andy Curliss, chief executive of the North Carolina Pork Council, said that the pig producers had learned a lot from Hurricane Floyd. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused 14 lagoons to flood but none breached, according to the pork council.
“A lot of the farms that were flooded were bought out and closed,” he said. “That’s why you didn’t see the same impact in Matthew — we had maybe 15 floods, no breaches.”
The North Carolina Pork Council said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that while most of their 2,100 hog farms were resuming normal operations, a small number of farmers have had to take extreme measures like using boats to reach their barns.
As Florence approached, farmers tried to free up more space in lagoons by spraying manure onto fields, said Heather Overton, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Agriculture Department.
Will Hendrick, a staff attorney with the environmental nonprofit group Waterkeeper Alliance, said that manure sprayed on fields could run off into rivers, streams, and groundwater supplies if the fields flooded.
A livestock farm in eastern North Carolina photographed by Waterkeeper Alliance on Monday. Credit Rick Dove/Waterkeeper Alliance
Excess nitrates in groundwater, such as those associated with pig manure, are linked with health problems like blue baby syndrome. In some cases of the syndrome, nitrogen binds to the hemoglobin in a baby’s blood and makes red blood cells unable to carry oxygen. The syndrome’s name comes from the fact that the lack of oxygen causes the baby’s skin to take on a bluish tint. The syndrome can also be caused by heart defects
Part of the problem, said Alexis Andiman, an associate attorney with the environmental nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, is that storm standards for pig lagoons currently date from the 1960s.
As part of a settlement in a lawsuit that Earthjustice levied against the state, “the storm standard will be tied to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration standard from 2006,” Ms. Andiman said. “But that’s still kind of old.”
As for the animals, most of them were relocated before the storm. As of Wednesday the North Carolina Department of Agriculture reported that an estimated 5,500 pigs had died because of Florence. Chickens and turkeys, however, weren’t so lucky. An estimated 3.4 million birds were killed. The poultry producer Sanderson Farms said in a news release that they’d lostan estimated 1.7 million broiler chickens.
The Department of Environmental Quality’s data is self-reported by farmers, many of whom may have left their farms to avoid the storm surge and floodwaters. The number of spills reported could increase as more farmers make their way back to their farms. But luckily, in a region that has struggled with too much rain, the rest of the week’s forecast is mostly sunny.
investors Monday that at least 1.7
million of its chickens had perished in N.C
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence have killed at least 1.7 million chickens in N.C.
Yahoo News Video
About 3.4 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs have been killed in flooding from Florence as rising North Carolina rivers swamped dozens of farm buildings where the animals were being raised for market, according to state officials.
The N.C. Department of Agriculture issued the livestock mortality totals Tuesday, as major flooding is continuing after the slow-moving storm’s drenching rains. Sixteen North Carolina rivers were at major flood stage Tuesday, with an additional three forecasted to peak by Thursday.
The Department of Environmental Quality said the earthen dam at one hog lagoon in Duplin County had breached, spilling its contents. Another 25 of the pits containing animal feces and urine have either suffered structural damage, had wastewater levels go over their tops from heavy rains or had been swamped by floodwaters. Large mounds of manure are also typically stored at poultry farms.
North Carolina is among the top states in the nation in producing pork and poultry, with about 9 million hogs at any given time and 819 million chickens and 34 million turkeys raised each year.
The N.C. Pork Council, an industry trade group, said the livestock losses from the storm should be taken in the context.
“Our farmers took extraordinary measures in advance of this storm, including moving thousands of animals out of harm’s way as the hurricane approached,” the group said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We believe deeply in our commitment to provide care for our animals amid these incredibly challenging circumstances.”
The industry lost about 2,800 hogs during flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Sanderson Farms, a major poultry producer in the state, said it lost about 1.7 million chickens after flooding at more than 60 of the independent farms that supply its poultry processing plants. The company said its facilities suffered no major damage, but supply disruptions and flooded roadways had caused shutdowns at some plants.
In addition, about 30 farms near Lumberton have been isolated by flood waters, hampering the delivery of feed to animals. The lack of food could cause additional birds to die if access isn’t restored quickly, the company said.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, said its plants also suffered no significant damage and are operating at limited capacity. The company said it would ramp up production as roads become passable.
An environmental threat is also posed by human waste as low-lying municipal sewage plants flood. On Sunday, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority reported that more than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage had spilled into the Cape Fear River after power failed at its treatment plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that 16 community water treatment facilities in North Carolina are unable to supply drinking water and that seven publicly owned sewage treatment works are non-operational due to the flooding.
Duke Energy is continuing cleanup operations Tuesday following a weekend breach at a coal ash landfill at its L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington.
Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said a full assessment of how much ash escaped from the waterlogged landfill is ongoing. The company initially estimated Saturday that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced, enough to fill about 180 dump trucks.
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and replaced with a new facility that burns natural gas. The company has been excavating millions of tons of leftover ash from old pits there and removing the waste to a new lined landfill constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Photos from the site provided to AP by Cape Fear River Watch, an environmental advocacy group, show cascades of gray-colored water spilling from at least two breaches at the landfill and flowing toward Sutton Lake, the plant’s former cooling pond which is now used for public recreation, including fishing and boating.
Sutton Lake drains into the Cape Fear River. Sheehan said Duke’s assessment is that there was minimal chance any contaminants from the spill had reached the river.
At a different power plant near Goldsboro, three old coal ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River. Duke said they had no indication those dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant were leaking ash into the river.
Duke’s handling of ash waste has faced intense scrutiny since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge. The utility later agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. It plans to close all its ash dumps by 2029.
In South Carolina, workers with electricity provider Santee Cooper erected a temporary dike in hopes of preventing flooding of an old coal ash dump at the demolished Grainger Generating Station near Conway. The dump is adjacent to the Waccamaw River, which is expected to crest at nearly 20 feet (6 meters) this weekend. That’s nine feet above flood stage and would set a new record height.
Just like on land, damage caused by Hurricane Irma varied throughout the waters surrounding the Florida Keys and one of Monroe County’s most profitable industries: Commercial fishing.
The Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 10 delivered a blow to the Keys spiny lobster harvest about a month into the most economically important season for the commercial fleet.
Billy Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said on the bayside, lobster traps moved an average of 3.5 to 5 miles during the storm. On the oceanside, traps moved 8 to 15 miles on average and the greatest movement of a trap was 18 miles, from Key Largo to southwest Matecumbe Key.
Initial estimates show 43 percent of the 350,000 lobster traps in Monroe County waters were lost or displaced, he said, adding about 17,500 have been recovered. The Middle Keys took the hardest hit with about 80 percent of traps lost or misplaced.
“As soon as guys had recovered their personal lives, they were able to get out there and on Oct. 6, the stone crab season kicked in,” he said.
They deployed stone crab gear with the first pull on Oct. 15 and were looking for displaced lobster traps at the same time, he said.
Production for stone crab season, which runs through May 15, is expected to be fair, Kelly said. The lobster season ends March 31.
“Lobster season’s not totally over. There are lobster to be caught, but you have to be geared up for it,” said James Platt of Marathon. He owns both a charter business, No Slack Sportfishing, and a commercial fishing business, Marathon Crab and Lobster Co., and said both sides of the business have taken a hit. Thankfully, the majority of his traps are for stone crabs.
“But some of my friends that have a lot of lobster traps have lost as many as 75 percent of traps or more. Some were able to recover a few and build a few new ones and some of the guys fishing in deeper water are actually doing pretty well,” he said.
Still, the yield for spiny lobster this year is going to be down considerably, Kelly said.
“You can still go to the fish market and get them at a good price, we just won’t have as many as we caught last year,” he said.
Crab claws rank second only to spiny lobster in importance to the Florida Keys commercial fishing industry. All 1,071,544 commercial stone-crab traps in Florida, a number limited by state law, require a state-issued tag.