The Tempests of Change

It has been difficult to watch the reporting of natural disasters this summer without feeling a sense of dread that dramatic climate change is not a resigned future for some unknown progeny, it has begun.

The forest fires burning across the West reflect the damage already visited upon the forests by years of drought and the pine bark beetle. While the total number of acres burned this year is less than in some previous years such as 2012, the acres burned are greater than the ten-year average.

Forests across the west have burned every summer. But for many in places like Puget Sound they were always happening elsewhere – eastern Washington or Idaho or Montana. But this year, a different wind pattern brought smoke and ash from fires in British Columbia, Oregon, and eastern Washington. And that smoke and ash came to an area experiencing 90 F weather.

When I came to this area in the early eighties, summer temperatures were in the mid seventies; a day in the eighties was an exception and remarked upon. Now, in the last twenty years, eighties and nineties have become common.

Western Washington went from the wettest winter on record (2016/2017) to a summer of drought and setting a record for days without rain. The wet winter fed the rapid growth of brush that became dry tinder as the summer progressed. A number of homes near Grand Mound were destroyed in late summer from a fire that spread from near Interstate 5. Similar fires closer to Seattle were stopped before homes were destroyed.

As we move into the first of the autumn storms, it can be hoped the worst of the fire threat here has passed. But sooner or later, a tossed cigarette, fireworks, careless burning, or other causes will ignite a fire that spreads out of control into forested hillsides and into housing communities. With a prolonged drought and the right winds a fire similar to the Oakland firestorm of 1991 may only be a matter of time.

Hurricane Harvey dumped up to four feet of rain on the Houston area. It was difficult to watch without feeling a sense of empathy for the population who watched the literal drowning of their homes and communities.

Efforts to recover have begun but the fetid waters will bring disease, further threatening a population suffering from mental and emotional exhaustion. This recovery is going to take months to years for many. And the television crews have already moved on to other storms (see below) and news stories.

No one – understandably – during the deluge commented on the irony of a hurricane made worse by climate change dumping on the Emerald City of the petroleum industry. But much like the fabled wizard of Oz who admonished Dorothy and her crew not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, Scott Pruitt, the director of the “environmental protection”agency, is another phony who doesn’t believe climate change should be mentioned, as it’s insensitive to those who lives are being wrecked by climate change.

While the administration doesn’t want to talk about climate change, its supporters in the petroleum industry already knew it was real. Exxon for one knew about the effects of climate change as early as 1977, having funded a good deal of its own scientific research – research it then concealed.

And for the last forty years, the rest of the petroleum industry and its supporters and stooges have claimed the science isn’t settled or that it’s just a figment of imagination. Worse, they’ve spent millions of dollars working to prevent any public discussion of it.

Unfortunately for them, nature doesn’t rely on donations from the Koch family. And it provided a second hurricane in Irma.

I had a personal interest in Irma. I had lived in Tampa many, many years ago and was concerned about the friends I had had who I assume still live there. And more than that, I have a brother who lives in Miami.

Fortunately, both Miami and Tampa were relatively spared. In my brother’s case, he and his family spent the storm in a shelter, and came home to find no damage to their house and the power still on (his trees and fence didn’t fare as well).

The Florida Keys were hammered as was parts of southwest Florida – not to mention the many islands in the Caribbean as well as the coast of Cuba. Again, it’s difficult to watch television and see the devastation and havoc created for the residents of those areas.

And now there is another hurricane – Maria, now strengthening and on a path that will take it over many of the Caribbean islands savaged by Irma.

It may be insensitive to Scott Pruitt, but there needs to be not only mention, but discussion and action on climate change now.

We may be out of time, and will certainly be if dramatic action is not taken immediately.

Trout At Risk – The Canaries in the Coal Mine

Two recent reports have provided an alarming view of the future of trout in this country. Taken together they should also serve as a warning to us about our future.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the last week released a report (Climate Change in the U.S. – Benefits of Global Action) on climate change that concluded by 2100 there will be only one small trout population east of the Mississippi River (and that in the northeast corner of Vermont). In addition, with unmitigated climate change there will be an overall 62% decline in cold water habitat across the country.

This report follows another recent study by Trout Unlimited, called the State of the Trout. This study was not limited to climate change, but included looking at the impacts of energy development, non-native species, and water demand (other uses).

Consider the following highlights from the Trout Unlimited study.

The United States historically had 25 native trout species. Now, three are extinct. Of the remaining 22 species, half occupy less than half their original habitat. Each of those 22 species also has at least one moderate or major risk factor.

Those are looking at the overall patterns. The regional patterns – in terms of the areas that might interest here in Washington are as troubling.

The Pacific Coast region, including western Oregon and Washington (and roughly half of the eastern parts of each state – and western California faces threats in climate change, non-native species, and water demand. They classify the coastal cutthroat population – near and dear to us in Puget Sound – facing only moderate risks in climate change and water demand. Other species including Dolly Varden and bull trout are classified as having major risks in multiple categories.

We should not be smug in western Washington. As this summer reminds us, high heat can impact our streams and surface waters too, and forest fires destroy habitat for all species, including salmon.

The northern Rockies, including the hallowed ground of fly fishing – Montana, face risks to their native populations (e.g., western cutthroat and bull trout) in terms of non-native species and climate change. I suspect that many people don’t recognize that the prized trout of Montana – the brown and rainbow – are non native species.

While their future was not examined in this study as they are non-native, other Trout Unlimited studies in the past looked at the risks of stream warming. As might be expected, they are in trouble too.

Combined these reports add to the growing list of publications and studies that highlight the threat of climate change. For climate change is happening in spite of the efforts of the fossil fuels industries, their paid agents, and useful idiots to deny it.

And water demand – and supply – is not an issue for only fish.

Forks, Washington – on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula and one of the wettest places in the country – has imposed water restrictions this summer due to the water levels in the wells dropping. Water rationing may become a future we all will learn to live with.

Denial of the problem may be easy for some; thinking those problems will occur long after they’re pushing up daisies in some boneyard.

But no one knows when exactly the tipping point will occur and rapid climate change commences. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter if we are alive when the apocalyptic events begin. We have children or grandchildren, or know of people who are younger than us. We owe it to them to fight the future that appears inevitable if we do nothing.

You can read the reports at the following links:

EPA Report

Trout Unlimited Study

The Lucky Molecules

Earthrise

Yesterday was Earth Day 2015.

It passed, with the expected of flurry of speeches by politicians “demanding action” on climate change – who will now do absolutely nothing to push such action.

I expect little from self-serving political cynics such as Obama (co-conspirator with the one percent) and Kerry (member of the one percent) who talk about climate change, then work to push through the Trans Pacific Partnership.

ABC News, in keeping with the primary duty of the “major news networks”, to serve business, ran a story on the Earth Day “freebies” and deals available to consumers. FOX News continued its role as propaganda ministry for the lunatic right-wing of this country by reporting everything is just dandy and there’s no need to worry about anything related to the environment – so let’s just go bomb another country.

Contrast all of that to an essay written by Robert Parry (Consortium News). Robert Parry is an independent investigative reporter; the type of journalist so desperately needed in a world self-promoting court jesters passing themselves off as reporters and anchors.

He writes of the vast reaches of space and the unknown numbers of molecules that result from the novemdecillion (10^80) atoms in the observable universe. And in all of those untold numbers of molecules – a relatively few came together as life on Planet Earth.

It is the Pale Blue Dot that Carl Sagan spoke so poetically of so many years ago. And now, only in the last 25 years of the Hubble telescope, we do know how much larger the universe is and how unique our Dot seems to be.

I recall from Cosmos when Sagan reflected on whether other civilizations in other star systems or other galaxies had come to their own existential crisis point and failed to pass through successfully – whether due to loss of control of their technologies or failings of what we might call their value systems. We have time left – only barely I think – to avoid that same failure.

Near the end of his essay, Parry recalls a speech John F. Kennedy gave on June 10, 1963: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” Enough said.

You can read Parry’s essay here.

Climate Change: A Time to Act

I came across a timely article in Conservation Hawks. Called “A Time to Act”, it was written by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Craig Matthews (Blue Ribbon Flies), Tom Rosenbauer (Orvis), and Todd Tanner (Conservation Hawks). Conservation Hawks is a non-partisan group of hunters and fishers united by a desire to pass on a healthy world for sportsman.

The authors add their voices to the millions of others that see the impact of climate change on our planet. For every one of us, whether as fly fishers or fellow travelers on planet Earth, the time to act is now – both at an individual level by our daily actions as well as by working together to force change.

You can find the article here.

National Geographic Article on Warming Streams

Climate change is claimed by some to be pseudo-science, as if belief in magic, cynicism, and ignorance represent sound scientific thinking; yes, I’m talking about religious conservatives; paid flacks of the fossil fuel industries; and corporations planning revenue streams based on climate change.  They represent a toxic mix that stifles any serious debate about the seriousness of the climate crisis and the steps necessary to minimize the inevitable changes underway.  The public is left confused, in spite of the increasing evidence of radical weather (think Hurricane Sandy and the floods in Colorado) and the ongoing drought in the Midwest.

Now National Geographic has written an excellent, if disturbing, article on the impacts of climate change on fishing streams across the country.  Many of us may be dead or decrepit before many of the worst impacts are felt – or maybe not. But our children and grandchildren will live in a world unknown to most of us.  And our hopes and dreams about passing on our love of fishing (whether fly or gear) may be dashed.  To quote only item from the article, a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation said, “The science is telling us that in the lifespan of a child born today, 50 percent of the habitat suitable for cold-water species of fish will no longer be suitable for them.”

The article can be found here.