Climate Roundup: So Hot, And That's All For The Fish
Whenever I write about climate, I'm always careful to emphasize that climate scientists largely agree not only that climate change is real, but also that it's not too late: Urgent action is needed to prevent the very worst effects of global warming. Very bad things are already happening, but it's far too early to give up and play "Nearer My God To Thee" as humanity slips beneath the waves.
We just don't have time to waste on climate despair. Besides, nihilists are so boring. There's still time to act, and for that matter, building a green energy economy can also be the driver for creating a fairer, more equitable economy as well. The "Green New Deal" idea, remember, is every bit as much about environmental justice, equity, and jobs as it is about solar panels and wind turbines.
I want to foreground that goal before getting into today's climate roundup, because there's definitely some not-cheerful stuff to talk about. Climate change is here and it's slapping us in the face to get our attention.
Fish Should Be Cooked In Kitchens, Not Rivers
The prolonged drought in the West, exacerbated by the "heat dome" that brought record high temperatures to the region a month ago in Seattle and Portland, and that's squatting over the middle of the country now, has been playing hell with wild populations of wild chinook salmon in California and trout in Montana. That's bad news for the fish and the ecosystems that depend on them, and for people who make their living on the fish, too.
The Los Angeles Times has some excellent (if depressing as fuck) coverage of the salmon crisis here, explaining that the fish have been "dying by the thousands" in the Klamath River in northern California due to low water levels caused by the drought. That's led to a parasite that's wiping out the fish. And the Sacramento River may lose its entire "winter run" of salmon due not only to water that's too warm for the fish to spawn in, but also, as an infuriating editorial explains, due to terrible river management decisions made by the Trump administration but then, inexplicably, by the Biden administration and by state regulators under Gov. Gavin Newsom. Says the editorial, "Those decisions are still reversible. It's very late to save one of the remaining marvels that make California what it is. But it's not too late."
If you don't have enough free LA Times reads this month to read both stories, read the editorial, which is passionate and explains some genuinely cool salmon facts, like how the four different "runs" of chinook salmon in the Sacramento river are "genetically, behaviorally and ecologically distinct," and evolved to fit the conditions for the time each starts migrating up the river to spawn.
Salmon need cold water to live. The fish in the Sacramento River used to spawn way high in the Cascade mountains, but the construction of the Shasta Dam in the 1930s meant the fish had to start spawning further downstream, in warmer water, which is not good for salmon eggs and babby fishies. To keep the water cool enough for the fish, the US Bureau of Reclamation keeps Lake Shasta deep enough that cold water from the lake can be released in the summer to prevent the salmon from dying out.
Yep, here comes Trump! And, bizarrely, the people who should be doing better:
As president, Trump scoffed at those practices, saying all the stored water should go to orchards and farm fields. To use water to prevent extinction, he said, was just "shoving it out to sea." His Interior Department pushed aside its biologists and got new ones, who issued new guidelines calling for much less cold-water storage.
The Biden administration is adhering to the same weakened and scientifically suspect biological opinions. This year, to its discredit, the California Water Quality Control Board, made up of gubernatorial appointees, signed on to the low storage requirements for cold water in Shasta and the release of water to almond orchards and rice fields.
That means likely extinction for the winter run if the policy continues, and probably the spring run as well. Goddamn it, make noise about this.
Our other Fish Story comes from Montana, where a whole bunch of factors have combined to imperil the rainbow and brown trout that have made the state, and the Rivers that Run Through It, a destination for bejillions of fishing folk. New York Times:
Trout thrive in water between 45 and 60 degrees. Temperatures in some rivers have hit the low-70s much earlier than usual. At those temperatures the fish are lethargic because there is less oxygen in the water and they quit feeding; the stress of being caught by fishers in that weakened state can kill them. Around 75 degrees can be lethal to trout.
Montana's rivers and streams are wild trout fisheries, which means that unlike in most states, rivers there are not stocked with hatchery-reared trout. If populations crash, the state's wild trout would have to rebound on their own, which could take years or might not happen at all.
At least there's one nice thing coming out of all the wildfires in the West this year: The smoke from the fires "may be keeping the rivers from getting even warmer by reducing the amount of direct sunlight." Hooray.
You could probably use some good news, huh? For starters, in northwest Washington state, the Whatcom County Council voted unanimously this week to put in place "permanent land-use policies prohibiting new fossil fuel refineries, coal plants, transshipment facilities, piers, and wharfs in the Cherry Point industrial zone." This is a HUGE effing deal, since two of Washington's five oil refineries are already located there, and if tribal activists (the Lummi Nation) and the local community can work with elected leaders to say no to more fossil fuel development, then isn't THAT a hell of an encouraging for green energy elsewhere?
Finally, there's this inspired weirdness, from Rep. Sean Casten (D-Illinois), who's doing all he possibly can to make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sexy, or at least goofy enough to get people to pay attention to what the commission does (about which more in a moment). Just glory in the dad-jokey cheesiness of it!
I rise to continue our celebration of hot FERC summer. As climate activist Fergie would certainly say, "the FERC-alicious definition is to make our planet cooler."
Having a well air-conditioned home when it's 'hot, hot,' that's FERC-alicious, getting your electricity from the lowest cost reliable source — FERC-alicious — an electric transmission system that keeps everything from electric vehicles to steel mills running with zero-carbon electricity, FERC-alicious.
Turns out, that was a sequel to an earlier floor speech playing off Megan Thee Stallion (who we understand is not in fact a character in this fall's reboot of My Little Pony), because why not use social media nuttiness to make people aware that there's an opening on the commission that Joe Biden has, strangely not yet appointed anyone to fill. Once that happens, FERC will finally have a Democratic majority, which means the regulatory body can start making serious changes — again, more about that after the completely serious goofball video:
Today, I declared the start of #HotFERCSummer. Why? Well, to paraphrase @theestallion — because now that @FERC has… https://t.co/mk04YzZBxb— Rep. Sean Casten (@Rep. Sean Casten) 1626796952.0
Clean energy maven and Vox alumnus David Roberts explains why this is so FERCing important:
the fastest way to decarbonize the US economy is through clean electrification — decarbonizing the electricity sector and shifting energy use in other sectors like transportation and buildings over to electricity.
How can the federal government help that process along? Most control over power utilities and markets lies at the state level. There's only one federal agency with real jurisdiction over electricity: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. [...]
FERC has lots of big decisions to make — about transmission, electricity rates, and markets — with potentially transformative consequences. But the agency moves slowly, with rulemakings taking months or years, and it only has three and a half years to get everything done. Biden needs to get someone in that seat.
For you energy geeks, Roberts and Rep. Casten sat down and talked for a good hour and some about what FERC does and why it's so important. I bet it's pretty good, although I'll confess I didn't listen to it last night, because the salmon stories just kind of left me in an icky depressed puddle.
I'm going to have to do a future piece on "climate anxiety," which is a real thing, but may also be a white-privilege distraction we can't allow ourselves to get tripped up in. There's work to do, so let's be serious, yes, but get the goddamned work done, with maybe some goofy dad jokes to help along the way.
[ DW / LAT / NYT / LAT / Re Sources / Volts / Scientific American / Image: Painting by Samuel Kilbourne; digital enhancement by Rawpixel. Creative Commons license 2.0.]
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