Renewable energy costs are in freefall. What that could mean for Canada

Renewable energy costs are in freefall. What that could mean for Canada

Renewable energy costs are in freefall. What that could mean for Canada
Renewable energy costs are in freefall. What that could mean for Canada

The writing’s been on the wall for coal for awhile, and in 2020, it just couldn’t compete with renewable energy when it came to new installations.

That’s according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which found that 62 per cent of renewable energy capacity that came online last year cost less to install than the cheapest fossil fuel option. In real terms, that’s a total of 162 GW that was cheaper to install than coal, around double what it was in 2019.

The costs of individual types of renewables fell as well. IRENA reports concentrating solar power fell 16 per cent, onshore and offshore wind by 13 and 9 per cent respectively, and solar photovoltaic cells (PV) by 7 per cent. Operating costs continue to undercut coal as well, and IRENA expects 2020’s renewables installations will save US$156 billion (C$195 billion) in emerging economies over the course of their lifespan.

That drastic fall in both installation and operating costs bodes well for the fight against climate change, IRENA’s director-general, Francesco La Camera, said in a release from the group.

Solar Farm Andreas Gucklhorn Unsplash
Solar Farm Andreas Gucklhorn Unsplash
Some six in 10 new renewable energy projects cost less than the cheapest fossil fuel option in 2020, IRENA says, which will save operators almost $200 billion over the course of the new plants’ operating lives. (Andreas Gucklhorn/Unsplash)

 

“Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth, and meeting climate ambition,” he said. “I am encouraged that more and more countries opt to power their economies with renewables and follow IRENA’s pathway to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”

2020’s renewable costs continue the downward trend that’s been the norm for the past decade. Since 2010, solar PV costs have fallen an astounding 85 per cent, onshore wind by 56 per cent, and offshore wind by 48 per cent. IRENA says solar and onshore wind auction prices can be as low as 3 cents per KWh in some cases, even without financial support from governments — bargain prices against which coal just can’t compete.

CANADA: ‘MORE POTENTIAL THAN WE COULD EVER HOPE TO USE’

Canada already boasts one of the world’s cleanest energy grids, at least in terms of generation, with three quarters of it made up of nuclear and hydro. Non-hydro renewables such as wind and solar make up only around 7 per cent, with the rest a mix of fossil fuels, including coal.

That small share notwithstanding, new wind and solar installation costs have plummeted in Canada just as they have in emerging markets.

Robert Hornung, president and CEO of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, told The Weather Network that he sees new wind contracts in Alberta and Saskatchewan signed for prices below $40 per MWh, and $48 per MWh for new solar contracts in Alberta — and says prices will keep on declining through the remainder of the decade.

Hornung says electrification is accelerating as governments move toward net-zero, pointing to studies suggesting wind and solar could make up as much as 95 per cent of all new installations across North America by mid-century.

“Canada has massive untapped wind and solar energy resources in every part of the country — more potential than we could ever hope to use,” he says. “This will be critical as we move toward net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.”

‘PERFECT OPPORTUNITY’: THE RIGHT SPOT FOR LARGEST SOLAR POWER OPERATION IN CANADA

A large part of wind and solar competitiveness, Hornung says, is their flexibility and drastically lower capital costs when compared to zero-emission heavies such as hydro and nuclear. It’s also not uncommon for new nuclear and hydro to have lead times in excess of a decade.

“Wind and solar can be deployed quickly and at whatever scale makes sense,” he says. “The economics remain favorable at multiple scales. They are decentralized and can be sited where it makes best sense to do so.”

Those advantages relative to fossil fuels have prompted provincial governments to take renewables seriously: so far, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Nova Scotia have signed agreements for new wind and solar, or plan on releasing tenders for them.

The corporate world is also taking notice: Hornung says Alberta has seen a surge of big corporate names such as TD, Amazon, and Budweiser, signing agreements to purchase power from those sources.

As fast as wind and solar have been rising, Hornung adds there are additional things governments can do to boost them further. Chief among them are hard de-carbonization targets, strategies for electrification and the use of green hydrogen, continued carbon pricing, and market reforms that allow consumers greater choice over their energy supply.

‘We’re f—ed’: Dems fear turnout catastrophe from GOP voting laws

Politico

‘We’re f—ed’: Dems fear turnout catastrophe from GOP voting laws

 

ATLANTA — After Georgia Republicans passed a restrictive voting law in March, Democrats here began doing the math.

 

The state’s new voter I.D. requirement for mail-in ballots could affect the more than 270,000 Georgians lacking identification. The provision cutting the number of ballot drop boxes could affect hundreds of thousands of voters who cast absentee ballots that way in 2020 — and that’s just in the populous Atlanta suburbs alone.

It didn’t take long before the implications became clear to party officials and voting rights activists. In a state that Joe Biden carried by fewer than 12,000 votes last year, the new law stood to wipe out many of the party’s hard-fought gains — and put them at a decisive disadvantage.

Democrats in other states where similarly restrictive voting laws have passed are coming to the same conclusion. Interviews with more than three dozen Democratic elected officials, party operatives and voting rights activists across the country reveal growing concern — bordering on alarm — about the potential impact in 2022 of the raft of new laws passed by Republican legislatures, particularly in some of the nation’s most competitive battleground states.

“I’m super worried,” said Max Wood, founder and CEO of Deck, a progressive data analytics company that analyzes voting behavior. “I try to be optimistic, and I do think there are times when this kind of stuff can galvanize enthusiasm and turnout. … But I don’t know that that will be enough, especially with how extreme some of these laws are.”

Democratic efforts to model midterm turnout under the new laws remain in their infancy. But even without a sophisticated understanding of the practical effect, there is widespread fear that the party isn’t doing enough to counter these efforts, or preparing for an election conducted under, in some instances, a dramatically different set of rules governing voter access.

“If there isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re f—ed,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project. “We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. We’re trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well.”

Since Jan. 1, at least 18 states have passed laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center’s voting laws tracker, ranging from voter I.D. requirements to provisions making early and absentee voting more difficult.

In Michigan, voting rights activists are fighting a push by Republicans to require voters who cast ballots without a photo I.D. to take additional steps to verify their identity within six days of voting. In 2020, about 11,400 voters cast ballots without a photo I.D. — a tiny proportion of the electorate, but almost exactly the margin by which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016.

“If you make all of those people vote by provisional ballot and you make them go back to their clerk’s office, some number of people are not going to take that extra step,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a Michigan-based ballot initiative which has shifted its focus from redistricting to voting rights.

Republicans, Wang said, are “trying to peel away Democratic-leaning voters wherever they can. … It’s sort of death by 1,000 cuts.”

Georgia Democrats are rushing to develop a strategy to work around their state’s voting law, which GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in March, on the heels of unexpected Democratic victories. It has been widely viewed as a blueprint for similar measures in other states.

The state Democratic Party aims to confront the law by building on their voter education program established after the 2018 midterms. They are training county chairs, volunteers and voters on the law’s terms in Zoom and in-person sessions. The goal, according to one party official, is to train volunteers on how to obtain a voter I.D. in all 159 of Georgia’s counties. The party also brought on three new deputy political directors for Black, Latino and Asian American outreach.

This November’s mayoral election in Atlanta represents a test-run of the law and how its requirements will impact voters. While Democrats aim to apply lessons from this election to next year’s midterms, they recognize that the heavily Black, safely Democratic city is a far cry from a statewide race.

“Certainly, the city of Atlanta is very different than other parts of Georgia,” said Saira Draper, voter protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party, pointing out that Fulton County is Georgia’s most populous. “The fact that they’re going to have this opportunity to go through the process, that’s a good thing. And the problems that they encounter, if they encounter problems, it might be a way for us to steer other counties away from these problems.”

What’s missing, however, is an overarching tactical plan to counter the restrictions in the states where they stand to wreak the most harm on Democratic chances. The party and its affiliated interest groups are preparing to spend millions of dollars litigating against restrictive voting laws and bolstering turnout operations, but Democrats have been largely splintered in their response. One reason: widespread hopes and expectations that Washington or the courts will provide some remedy.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party as a whole is prioritizing this issue and its potential damage in the way that they should,” said Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “We just went through an insurrection that was stoked by voter fraud lies, and the reaction to that from the Republican Party is to restrict the voting process so severely that only their voters can participate. And I don’t understand the lack of fierce resistance to that from Americans and Democrats.”

The restrictions advanced by Republicans affect so many facets of voting that Democrats cannot agree on which provisions are the most problematic. Some Democrats cite signature-matching laws. Others point to fewer drop boxes or shorter time frames for early voting. Still more consider voter identification requirements especially crippling.

Aneesa McMillan, Priorities USA’s deputy executive director, who runs the group’s voting rights program, said the “most ridiculous thing we’ve had to sue over” was a Michigan law that prevents hiring people to transport voters to the polls.

Yet it’s difficult to project the effect of various laws on 2022 turnout because the rules are so new — and because the last election was held under pandemic conditions that are unlikely to be as severe in 2022. On top of that, even if Democrats can get their voters to the polls, stricter I.D. requirements and other restrictions in some states could make it easier to disallow their votes.

Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said that in addition to portions of laws seemingly designed to curb turnout, “what is even more nefarious is what happens once people, if they can get through all the hurdles that they’ve set up, what happens to their vote once it has been cast?”

Citing a provision of the law in Georgia giving Republican lawmakers more power to intervene in local elections operations, he said, “That is not America, that’s Russia. I mean, that is some straight-up dictator-type stuff.”

Vice President Kamala Harris this month announced a $25 million expansion of the DNC’s “I Will Vote” campaign to bolster voter registration, turnout and election protection programs. Harrison said the DNC in 2022 will have the largest voter protection program it has ever had, doubling the size of its staff, including embeds in states.

“Over the last 3 decades we have witnessed the Republican Party, especially at the state level, put up enormous roadblocks to the freedom to vote for every citizen and part of the problem is that there is one party that believes every American citizen deserves the freedom to vote while the other party erects barriers to the ballot box,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair.

Some statewide elected officials expect a possible blowback effect on Republicans, saying that once Georgia Democrats understand the new rules in place, they will be even more motivated to turn out.

“That may incentivize more voters to turn out and do what needs to be done, to ensure that their ballot is cast,” said state Rep. Sam Park, whose district includes suburban Atlanta’s populous Gwinnett County, the state’s most diverse. “When you see politicians coming after your ability to cast your vote, it’s a reminder of how much power you really have, how powerful the vote really is.”

Harris met with a group of voting rights activists at the White House in mid-July to discuss protecting ballot access, particularly among Black voters. Veteran civil rights leaders have also pulled the president’s ear on the issue, suggesting a number of filibuster workarounds to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or For the People Act.

But even the White House’s heightened attention isn’t enough to erase the pessimism among many on the left.

“I’m pretty well convinced that it’s going to hurt Democrats significantly in the long run,” said Brian Fallon, co-founder and executive director of Demand Justice, which supports Supreme Court reform. “There’s definitely no combination of lawsuits or Biden remaining popular or voter registration that’s going to overcome that, so I think it’s pretty bleak.”

Congressional Democrats have yet to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore a requirement that certain jurisdictions receive approval from the Justice Department or D.C. district court before making changes to voting laws.

Senate Democrats used a first-in-two-decades field hearing last week in Atlanta to draw attention to voting rights and say they plan to continue holding field hearings in other places where state lawmakers are considering or passing legislation that limits access to the ballot.

Yet they did not provide a clear strategy for how Democrats could counter Georgia’s law and the nearly two dozen newly passed laws like it.

“Hope is quickly turning into frustration,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder of the Georgia-based voting rights group Black Voters Matter. “Constantly, we are showing up to protect democracy. When in the hell are those who claim that they are committed to democracy going to show up to protect those that protect democracy?”

Brown and Ufot pointed to Texas, where statehouse Democrats vacated the state in protest of its voting bill, as one example of the heights they would like to see other Democrats go to in pushing back against punitive voting measures in other battleground states.

“Texas Democrats were out of moves, and the only thing they could do to deny quorum was to take their families and leave the state in the middle of the night,” Ufot said. “That’s the kind of response and leadership that this moment requires, and I am waiting for the administration to match the energy of state and local Democrats across the country who are fighting these fights.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

Parts of Middle East at breaking point with power cuts and water supplies running out

Parts of Middle East at breaking point with power cuts and water supplies running out

A Lebanese man smokes a cigarette by candlelight in the capital Beirut on July 10, 2021 - ANWAR AMRO/AFP
A Lebanese man smokes a cigarette by candlelight in the capital Beirut on July 10, 2021 – ANWAR AMRO/AFP

 

Record temperatures have plunged parts of the Middle East into an energy crisis marked by 23-hour power cuts, failing healthcare systems and fuel-related protests.

Years of warnings being ignored, resource mismanagement, corruption and climate change – combined with destabilizing economic crises – have led to collapsing power grids and fuel shortages that are leaving businesses, hospitals and citizens in despair.

Lebanon has been dealing with a minimum of three-hour power cuts a day since the end of the civil war in 1990. But now, in the midst of economic collapse and unable to afford fuel to power the electricity network, the power cuts from the national grid can last up to 23 hours a day.

Food that people can already barely afford is spoiling in fridges, the lights have gone off in the airport and hospitals are rationing air-conditioning.

The whole country is now effectively run by back-up generators, whose owners are struggling to find black market diesel. Increased rationing of generator use has left residents living outside of affluent neighborhoods with little more than a few hours of power a day.

Temperatures have been soaring

Lengthy blackouts have also become common across much of Iraq, where temperatures have already surpassed 50C this year, with parts of Syria also facing increasing cuts due to fuel shortages.

Between sanctions, attacks on power grids, chronic mismanagement and a lack of investment in renewable energy, first and foremost, “it’s a lack of energy planning” across the region, said Marc Ayoub, an energy and security expert at the American University of Beirut.

“They didn’t believe the impact of climate change would be this fast-tracked. If you look around the region, each [affected country] has its own story of demand mismanagement and resource mismanagement.”

Iraq and Lebanon appeared to try to exchange their crises on Saturday, signing a deal that allowed Iraq to sell Lebanon one million tons of fuel oil for its power plants in return for healthcare services. The Iraqi oil is incompatible with Lebanese power stations, so it will be used to purchase usable fuel, Lebanon’s energy minister said.

Both countries are struggling to provide enough fuel to power their healthcare facilities.

According to Mr Ayoub, sanctions on Iran have heavily impacted both Iran and Iraq’s electricity supply, with the former not having access to the fresh funds needed to maintain existing power plants and the latter having relied on Iranian gas for years.

“There is an 11,000 megawatt shortage in Iran this summer,” Mr Ayoub said.

“While they have invested in solar and wind heavily, they can’t create a new source overnight,” he added.

Water supply may run out

Over the weekend Unicef warned that with the failure of the Lebanese power grid, the country’s water supply could collapse within a month, highlighting how tightly entwined the water and fuel sectors are in energy demand without investment in renewable energy for water pumping.

“Unicef estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks”, said Yukie Mokuo, a Unicef representative in Lebanon, adding that four million people, including one million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water.

A man walks near a burning fire blocking a road during a protest against mounting economic hardships in Beirut last mont - Issam Abdallah/Reuters
A man walks near a burning fire blocking a road during a protest against mounting economic hardships in Beirut last mont – Issam Abdallah/Reuters

With climbing temperatures and years of over-extraction, severe water shortages have led to droughts in eastern Syria and Iran, with experts now claiming the latter is “water bankrupt”. Iraq’s marshes in the south of the country are also starting to dry out.

Protests have spread across Iran over the last week with demonstrators taking to the streets to cry “I’m thirsty” over severe droughts that have caused electricity blackouts and devastated agriculture and farming.

Florida tops the nation in new COVID cases. As they spike in its rural Big Bend, many still fear the vaccine more.

Florida tops the nation in new COVID cases. As they spike in its rural Big Bend, many still fear the vaccine more.

 

BRISTOL, Florida – The calls haven’t stopped.

For the last week, paramedic Melissa Peddie has fielded them back-to-back for cases of COVID-19.

Peddie runs the only ambulance in Liberty County, a sprawling, sparsely populated community in Florida’s rural Big Bend, where as of last week just 23.9% of residents were fully vaccinated. The county has seen a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases during July, mirroring other communities across the nation where many people have not gotten the shot.

Peddie, 51, is among the small minority. For her, vaccination was a “no-brainer.”

“I knew I would get the vaccine,” she said. “Every day I climb in the back of that truck is a risk.”

As the highly contagious delta variant rapidly spreads, Liberty County is a hot zone in a state on fire. Florida leads the nation in new cases, recording more this week than California, Texas, New York and Illinois combined. And like elsewhere, the unvaccinated make up nearly all of the hospitalized and the dead.

With the lowest population of all 67 Florida counties according to Census Bureau estimates, Liberty’s rate of new COVID-19 cases during the week ending Thursday is in the state’s top 15 highest, alongside four other rural Big Bend counties, Florida Department of Health reports show.

That includes neighboring Calhoun County, where vaccination rates last week were similarly low, at 23.6%. It’s seeing an even bigger surge, with the fourth highest rate of new cases in the state. With two ambulances and a population of about 14,000, the county saw its number of new COVID cases jump in three weeks from four to 19 to 62.

“This mess is crazy,” Peddie said. “It’s not if – it’s going to spread.”

Melissa Peddie, Liberty County, director of emergency medical services in Liberty County, Florida, stands in front of the county's only active ambulance to transport patients Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
Melissa Peddie, Liberty County, director of emergency medical services in Liberty County, Florida, stands in front of the county’s only active ambulance to transport patients Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

 

Peddie and other paramedics often must transport patients to larger, better equipped hospitals. The closest is an hour-drive away, in the state capital, Tallahassee. A worsening or prolonged surge could further strap the counties’ one small hospital and emergency staff.

“I am concerned with the resources and what we’re going to do if it continues in the route it’s heading now,” she said.

More: The fourth wave of COVID-19 cases is here. Will we escape the UK’s fate? It’s too soon to know.

The ambulance director hasn’t had time to replenish essential supplies amid the nonstop calls. On Wednesday afternoon, a rare day off, Peddie was at the office ordering airway kits and disinfectant when her daughter-in-law texted. The unvaccinated mother of three was exposed to the virus by a cousin at a gathering.

“This surge is bringing back a lot of fear in people,” Peddie said. “And it should.”

‘Turn a blind eye’

Low vaccination rates aren’t the only thing putting the counties’ residents in danger of COVID-19. Widespread chronic conditions threaten severe complications from the virus that causes the disease.

Bristol, Liberty’s county seat, has one grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly. Between Liberty and Calhoun, there are only three groceries, making nutritious food hard to access in the vast rural counties. A new Dollar General is under construction.

State health department data shows more than a third of Liberty and Calhoun residents suffer from obesity, a major risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

Cars pass by as American flags that line the highway in Blountstown, Florida fly in the wind Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
Cars pass by as American flags that line the highway in Blountstown, Florida fly in the wind Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

 

Dr. Laura Davis is a fifth-generation resident of Blountstown, Calhoun’s county seat. She grew up in the country town and returned to practice there as a family physician at a Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Physician Partners clinic.

Many of her patients have chronic kidney disease, which often accompanies high blood pressure and diabetes, making them vulnerable to the virus and complications.

Davis has dealt first-hand with the frustration of people avoiding the shot, and seen the consequences.

More: People with kidney failure are at high risk from COVID-19: Dialysis clinics are doling out vaccine doses to protect them

“We’re a small community. We all know people who passed away from COVID. When someone passes away, it’s people we know,” Davis said. “But I still don’t feel like that overrides what people have seen on social media.”

Davis has heard it all – from the myths that the vaccine will turn people magnetic to the virus being a hoax. She ties to quell fears, countering the false claims with research and data but patients often shut the conversation down.

She recalled one who was angry staff tested for the virus, upset the health department would “have his information” and he’d have to quarantine.

“It’s frustrating when sometimes people don’t seem like they care, and not that getting the vaccine is them caring, it’s just the, ‘We’re going to turn a blind eye,'” Davis said. “In some aspects, it feels like we’re exactly where we were a year ago.”

More: Biden said COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on social media is ‘killing people.’ These are the biggest myths spreading online.

The county’s numbers are on par with those of last summer, before vaccines were available.

Edna Francois, 42, of Bristol, was one of those infected before. Last week, she again tested positive for COVID-19. This time she and her whole family fell ill. She said they’re all having trouble breathing, and it “knocked” her out.

“I feel terrible because I do think I gave it to my mom,” Francois said by phone, her voice raspy and breathless. “The elderly are so vulnerable. It’s really hard to know that I possibly gave it to my mom.”

Her mom has chronic health problems and on Thursday remained hospitalized but Francois said the unvaccinated woman is expected to be “fine.” Only about 58% of seniors in Calhoun and 63% in Liberty were fully vaccinated as of last week.

Francois said her family – mother, sister, brother, boyfriend – are all “on the same team” and still don’t want the shot.

“I don’t regret not getting the vaccine,” Francois said, pausing to calm her fussing 4-year-old grandson, who isn’t eligible for a shot. “The vaccine hasn’t been around long enough and I don’t know what they put in it and everything. I want to know more about it.”

Health care workers wary of shot

On Burns Avenue in Blountstown, Calhoun Liberty Hospital is the only hospital serving both counties, where about one in five residents live in poverty, and about 80% voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election.

The small 10-bed facility is tucked off a curving road lined by once dense forest decimated by Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018. It’s a few miles past the Trammell Bridge, which stretches over the winding Apalachicola River that separates the two counties where many livelihoods are linked to the nearby state prison and area psychiatric hospital, as well as agriculture, timber, retail and construction.

The emergency room entrance at the Calhoun Liberty Hospital located in Blountstown, Florida on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
The emergency room entrance at the Calhoun Liberty Hospital located in Blountstown, Florida on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

 

Housed in a 60-year-old building that’s seen few improvements over the years, the hospital almost closed after a controversial patient death in 2015, embezzling by its former CEO a few years later, then severe damage from the hurricane. It had just begun to turn things around when the pandemic hit.

More: Struggling to stay open, this rural hospital remains ‘the difference between life and death’ after Hurricane Michael

The lone hospital is one of the counties’ few health resources. It had one ventilator at the start of the pandemic. Recently, it received two more.

On Wednesday morning, chief nurse Paige Tolley received a call from the clinic across the street, where Davis works, about rising COVID-19 cases.

“Are y’all seeing multiple daily, too?” Tolley said on the phone. “Keep sending them if y’all need to. We’ll be here.”

Tolley said cases have “really picked up in the past couple weeks,” mostly among unvaccinated people.

“I hate to see the infection rate like it is,” she said.

Paige Tolley, chief nursing officer at Calhoun Liberty Hospital, stands outside the emergency entrance at the hospital Wednesday, July 22, 2021.
Paige Tolley, chief nursing officer at Calhoun Liberty Hospital, stands outside the emergency entrance at the hospital Wednesday, July 22, 2021.

She and her staff print information on the vaccine from the CDC to give to patients. She encourages them, especially those with health conditions, to get vaccinated “if they think it’s the right thing to do.”

She empathizes with those who refuse. “I’m not going to push anything on anybody,” said Tolley, who hasn’t been vaccinated.

“I don’t know what the virus would do to me, I don’t know how it would affect me, because everybody’s different,” she said. “I also don’t know what the vaccine would do.”

Her coworker, risk control nurse Janna Martin, a mother of three, also hasn’t gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. She’s afraid of unforeseen fertility ramifications. While experts say such claims are unfounded, Martin said her doctor suggested she hold off.

More: Fact check: A false post on social media claims COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility in women

Tolley said she knows the pros and cons of the vaccines authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration but considers them “just experimental right now.”

“And I don’t know that I’m comfortable with that yet,” she said. “But I think it’s great, and it (the vaccine) does make a difference.”

‘I just want it to go away’

A mile across town at Fiddler’s Oyster Bar, where the heads of two alligators caught in nearby rivers decorated the counter, unmasked diners, including health care workers in scrubs and local law enforcement officers, filled the booths during the lunchtime rush.

Sitting at a table in the bar area, owner Randal Martina recalled how one of his kitchen workers almost died from COVID-19 last year. But he too remains leery of the shot.

“I’m not vaccinated. I’m not getting the vaccine,” he said. “It was made too quick.”

Randall Martina, owner of Fiddler's Oyster Bar & Steamhouse located in Blountstown, Florida, shares his views on the COVID-19 vaccine and his experiences of living through a pandemic Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
Randall Martina, owner of Fiddler’s Oyster Bar & Steamhouse located in Blountstown, Florida, shares his views on the COVID-19 vaccine and his experiences of living through a pandemic Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Martina said his wife, a nurse for 14 years, told him the vaccines hadn’t been studied enough. “She hasn’t taken it either.”

Patti Brake, 58, is manager of the Calhoun Liberty Ministry Center thrift store. She’s had several family members and friends infected with the virus who’ve “pulled through it.”

“Some barely. Some OK,” she said, hanging up colorful second-hand women’s clothes on wire racks. “I just want it to go away.”

Brake, who hasn’t gotten a shot, said she read about the increasing cases and the area’s low vaccination rates in the morning’s newspaper but remained skeptical of vaccine’s effectiveness. She and others pointed to recent reports of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated as another reason to avoid the shot.

More: Those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can be infected, but serious illness is rare: ‘Nothing in this world is 100%’

“There’s just so much misinformation out there that you really don’t know what to think,” she said. “They tell you one thing, they tell you something else.”

Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Brake has no plans to be vaccinated.

“I’m a fairly healthy person,” she said.

Her husband, Billy Beck, 59, and her 18-year-old daughter, also aren’t vaccinated. Beck said the barcode detector on the phone of his stepdaughter’s friend lit up after the friend got a shot.

His wife called across the store asking if was true that they knew older folks who’d gotten vaccinated.

“Yep,” Beck replied. “I say, ‘In a few years from now y’all going to be dead.’ And they say, ‘No, you’re the one going to be dead.’ ”

Beck said he prays, and remains optimistic the virus won’t hurt him.

Patti Brake, 58, store manager at the Calhoun Liberty Ministry Center thrift store, wipes away tears Wednesday, July 21, 2021 as she says her faith has held her up during hardships.
Patti Brake, 58, store manager at the Calhoun Liberty Ministry Center thrift store, wipes away tears Wednesday, July 21, 2021 as she says her faith has held her up during hardships.

Brake, who started volunteering at the thrift store shortly after her former husband died in 2007, said faith is her anchor.

“Not too much scares me,” Brake said, her eyes brimming with tears. Crying, she recited the 27th Psalm.

“‘He is my strength and my rock. Of whom shall I be afraid?'”

The virus included, she said.

Data editor Mike Stucka contributed to this report.

Letters to the Editor: What climate deniers and COVID anti-vaxxers have in common

Letters to the Editor: What climate deniers and COVID anti-vaxxers have in common

Vehicles are stranded after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city, central China's Henan province on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Heavy flooding has hit central China following unusually heavy rains, with the subway system in the city of Zhengzhou inundated with rushing water. (Chinatopix Via AP)
Vehicles are stranded after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city in central China’s Henan province on July 20. (Associated Press)

 

To the editor: The recent climate-related catastrophes in Germany, China and the United States should be enough to end lingering doubt that our planet is heating and, in turn, wreaking havoc as a result of our continued spewing of greenhouse gases.

Scientists have warned of these horrendous outcomes. But, like the doubters of the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety and efficacy, climate change deniers, many of whom are elected to leadership positions in this country, ignore facts and science as proof stares them in the face.

Hearing the regrets of many unvaccinated hospitalized COVID patients — now gasping for breath — makes for an ominous analogy. Will climate change deniers come around before civilization takes its last gasp in a man-made hostile environment?

Vaccine mandates may be coming, and so should stiffer mandates to end fossil fuel burning.

Gloria Sefton, Trabuco Canyon

..

To the editor: Thank you for another insightful article on climate change. However, one primary driver of climate change conspicuously absent from the article was human overpopulation, something that scientists have been warning us about for years.

Earlier this month, the group Scientists Warning Europe stated unequivocally that climate change is being driven by both overconsumption and overpopulation, and that there is no hope of assuaging the ravages of climate change, let alone our planet’s nascent mass extinction event, unless we can reverse our 220,000-person-per-day growth. The group says this planet should have no more than 3 billion people on it; now, it has almost 7.9 billion.

If we are serious about mitigating climate change, we will soon need to break the taboo that prevents us from addressing overpopulation.

Robert Johnson, Santa Barbara

..

To the editor: We have wildfires, floods, pandemics and rising homicides with more and more guns available —and yet there are billionaires having fun and escaping to space.

What is wrong with this picture? It’s like “The Twilight Zone” of my youth come to life.

I want to feel hopeful for the future, for my granddaughters. My family and I do our best in conserving. When will the tide turn and deniers wake up and come back to Earth?

Esther Friedberg, Studio City

‘The air is toxic’: how an idyllic California lake became a nightmare

‘The air is toxic’: how an idyllic California lake became a nightmare

 

Just to be safe, Noemí Vázquez keeps inhalers in almost every room of her house. She stashes them in her kitchen cupboard, a couple in her purse, one in the bathroom, and, of course, by her bedside.

And then there’s the large, black Puma knapsack where she keeps her nebulizer, several inhalers, and the montelukast pills she takes to treat her wheezing. Her four-year-old granddaughter has her own asthma kit – a neon pink and purple Trolls-themed lunch box that holds a small, child-sized nebulizer and a few inhalers. “She’s smart! She knows: this is her bag,” Vázquez said.

Asthma and allergies are a part of life here in Imperial county, California. A way of life, even, in a region shrouded by a grey-beige dust that haunts Vázquez’s days and nightmares. A few years ago, when the air was particularly thick, she awoke in the night unable to speak or breathe. Her skin was purple. “If my husband wasn’t sleeping next to me that night, I would have passed away,” she said. “I think about all those people who don’t have anyone sleeping next to them. About the kids who don’t know how to talk yet.”

Here, in California’s far south-east, there’s no escaping the noxious air. The haze that hovers over Imperial is a peculiar blend – incorporating pesticide plumes, exhaust fumes, factory emissions, and something curious: vaporized dust rising from the nearby Salton Sea.

The glimmering blue basin that stretches across the desert is either starkly beautiful or grotesque – depending on whom you ask. Formed more than a century ago by a breached canal, the Salton Sea is many things. It is California’s largest lake, an ecological oasis, a former mecca for famous vacationers, and a muddy sink for agricultural runoff. For decades, it has been shrinking, exposing a powdery arsenic-, selenium- and DDT-laced shoreline that wafts into the atmosphere.

Near the sea, hospitalization rates for children with asthma are double the state average, and one in five kids have the condition. Many of the mostly Mexican American farm workers and outdoor laborers who live and work in Imperial, one of the state’s poorest counties, breathe in a dangerous mix of Salton Sea dust and pesticide on a daily basis as well. In Calipatria, Brawley and Westmorland and other towns around the lake, adult asthma rates are among the highest in the state.

It can be a punishing place to live, said Amor García, 31, who moved to the area four years ago. “No one warned us it would be so bad for our health,” she said. On muggy mid-summer days, temperatures here creep up to 120F and the desert streams with a brown vapor. The hot, grimy air clings to hair and creeps under fingernails. The sea steams up a sulfurous stench.

García worries that in the coming years, if nothing is done to address the pollution crisis, the area will become almost unlivable. An unprecedented drought amplified by the climate crisis and growing demand for water in southern California are both hastening the Salton Sea’s decline. Researchers predict that the sea could lose nearly three-quarters of its volume by 2030. By some estimates, the declining water level could expose an additional 1000,000 acres of playa.

“All that dust that gets exposed would mean even more breathing problems and more allergies and asthma for the people who live here,” said Shohreh Farzan, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Southern California who has been analyzing how the dust around the Salton Sea is affecting children.

A resort for celebrities and presidents

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River breached an irrigation canal and filled up an ancient basin in the desert, creating an oasis for migratory shorebirds and, by the middle of the 20th century, for celebrities and dignitaries. Developers dotted the shores with palm trees and built up luxury resorts around its perimeter, and the area became a destination for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Beach Boys. President Dwight Eisenhower used to come by the golf course.

Working-class families like Steve Johnson’s would also come and visit. His grandfather bought a small property by the beach, and as a kid Johnson would fish and swim in the lake during his summer vacations. “We didn’t really mingle with the celebrities – though Zeppo Marx, of the Marx Brothers, I did meet once,” Johnson, 59, recalls, as he nurses a Miller High Life at the Ski Inn, the best – and only – dive bar in Bombay Beach, a once-bustling vacation community by the sea that now houses a handful of mostly artists and anarchists. He moved here two decades ago. “It is just beautiful,” he said. And then he paused. “Well. It’s complicated.”

Related: Severe drought threatens Hoover dam reservoir – and water for US west

Johnson still swims in the lake sometimes – but nowadays he’s an exception. After the breached canal that created the lake was mended, it was mostly sustained by runoff water from nearby farms – water that was full of pesticides and nitrates, which blended with salt deposits in the lake bed to create an increasingly salty sea. By the 1990s, the sea had started getting even smaller, and saltier, killing off masses of fish and birthing noxious algal blooms. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of migratory birds around the lake have died of either starvation or poisoning.

“And then came the odor,” said Miriam Juárez, 37, who has lived near the sea for most of her life. “It’s repugnant.” Her parents used to take her and her brothers to fish in the sea as well, she said. But her kids have only ever known the lake as a toxic void that periodically spews up fish bones and poison dust. On a searing summer day, as the mercury crept past 120F (48.9C), Juárez’s kids huddled into their air-conditioned bedrooms, her eight-year-old son occasionally popping out to grab a popsicle from the freezer. It’s often too hot and too dusty to play outside – so many local kids opt to get their exercise at the Crossfit gym nearby.

For many families – including Juárez’s – the pandemic has been especially traumatizing. Imperial county has been one of the hardest-hit regions in California, and the residents’ high rates of respiratory issues has made them especially vulnerable to complications from Covid-19. But it has come with a small silver lining for some: staying indoors and wearing masks for the past year and a half has ameliorated asthma and allergies. “We’re probably going to keep our masks on, even after the pandemic,” Juárez said. “To wear against the dust.”

The masks will be one more addition to the elaborate rituals the Juárez and others have adopted to survive in this dusty valley. She never opens her windows and stuffs towels under the doors of her home in Salton City, just west of the lake. Her kids’ schools have a system of raising green, yellow and red flags to indicate how bad the air pollution is on a given day – but even on so-called good days, many of the kids at her youngest daughter’s schools stay indoors for recess, to avoid aggravating their asthma.

Vázquez, 52, who runs her daycare out of her home, switches out her air filters every week, mops a few times a day, and requests that visitors wear disposable shoe covers – the kind they use in sterile operating rooms – to avoid tracking in dust. Out of the 10 or so kids currently under Vázquez’s charge, five use inhalers for asthma. Over the years she’s seen some really severe cases: kids that could hardly go outside without getting winded, two- or three-year-olds who couldn’t stop wheezing. Most children come to daycare carrying their own medical bags stocked with inhalers, creams and pills for allergies, saline nasal sprays for perpetually blocked noses and a change of clothes in case of nosebleeds, which kids in this neighborhood get constantly.

Seven-year-old Derek, whom Vázquez watched when he was a toddler, had it so bad he was constantly in and out of the hospital and urgent care. He was born prematurely, his lungs a bit underdeveloped, his mother, Melissa Fischer, said. She still has videos on her cellphone from the various times he was hospitalized as a baby and toddler – he’d be hooked up to an IV, and she’d sing to him to keep him calm and cheer him up. He’s doing better these days; he still wheezes on windy days, but his inhaler usually fixes him up.

“I don’t think he remembers being in the hospital,” said Fischer. “But I think it was traumatic.” He’s always exceptionally cautious about new places and experiences, Fischer said, looking over as her son played on the couch. “I think it instilled a fear in him.”

Generations have been harmed and traumatized by the pollution, Vázquez said. She, her 27-year-old-daughter and her four-year-old granddaughter all have severe asthma. The dust has been making generation after generation sick, she said. “And hardly anything has changed.”

A string of broken promises

In 2003, the local water authority in the region signed the largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer agreement in US history with San Diego. Imperial Irrigation District (IID) agreed to start selling much of its massive allotment of water from the Colorado River to city-dwellers and suburbanites along the coast. As part of the deal, IID agreed to send some water to the Salton Sea for 15 more years, buying it and other local authorities time to find a solution for the shrinking lake.

“And for 15 years, everyone just sat there and did a lot of nothing,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comité Cívico Del Valle, a health and social services organization in Brawley, just south of the Salton Sea. A $8.9bn proposal in 2007 to rehabilitate the lake fell through as the Great Recession took hold. In 2015, local authorities broke ground on a project at Red Hill Bay, intending to flood the desiccated lakebed to the south of the lake with water from the sea and the nearby Alamo River, to keep down the dust and create wetlands for birds. Today, it remains flat, dry and dusty – the project has been derailed by budget issues, local politics and “just a lack of will”, said Olmedo. “They keep doing these ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and nothing happens.”

A dust-coated sign staked at the Red Hill site still optimistically promises: “Estimated construction in 2016.”

And still, consulting companies, advocacy groups and local officials have been dreaming up bigger, more creative plans to solve the problem. One idea was to pipe in water from the Sea of Cortez, desalinate it and pump it into the lake. Some local residents have wondered: why not pipe in water from the Pacific? “I mean, maybe that’s wild, but why not?” said Johnson. “We have to try something.”

In recent years, the state’s energy commission has become increasingly interested in the prospect of investing in lithium extraction from the area. It has doled out millions to energy companies to explore mining the element used in the batteries that power cellphones and electric cars. If one small-scale demonstration plant being developed by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy goes well, the company envisions that the Salton Sea region could produce a third of the world’s lithium, revive the region’s stalling economy and rev up the country’s ambitious plans to decarbonize transportation.

“It’s all just speculation,” sighs Olmedo, shaking his head at the oozing mud pots near one of the region’s existing geothermal energy plants. “While various companies are biding their time waiting for this lithium thing to take off, where does it leave the community? We’re still breathing the toxic air.”

Robert Schettler, a spokesperson for the irrigation district, said: “At IID, we, too, are frustrated with the progress at the Salton Sea, but we continue to work on things there.” The water agency’s leaders have pointed to various dust suppression projects they’ve undertaken in recent years, including planting vegetation to tamp the soil down and “surface roughening” – basically, digging ridges in the dried mud to break the wind and keep the playa from flying up.

The state has also started up a $206m project to restore habitat for fish and birds at the south-west edge of the lake. “Make no mistake, this is a challenging endeavor,” said Arturo Delgado, the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. But, he said in a statement to the Guardian, “progress is happening”.

Nancy del Castillo, 42, who lives with her husband and two kids in Salton City, said she had trouble trusting such reassurances. She’s been trying to save up for years to move to a different neighborhood, with better air. There’s still pollution from pesticides, and from diesel fumes up in Riverside and Coachella, to the north – but it’s not as bad.

“The earth has been raising toxic dust for years,” she said. “It seems ugly to me that officials keep deceiving people, telling us they’re going to fix it.”

Castillo and a group of her neighbors have been faithfully attending community meetings, local hearings and even bigger meetings on how to improve the Salton Sea situation for years, she said, and have grown increasingly frustrated.

Once, after she spoke about the air pollution in Imperial county at a meeting in Sacramento, California’s capital, Castillo said, she overheard a man dismiss the crisis: “Yeah, but there’s just a few people living there.” Many families in the region are Mexican immigrants, she said, people who work in the fields or in construction, who can’t afford to move somewhere else, who breathe the toxic air because they have no other choice. But to this man, she said, “it’s like we don’t even count”.

Meanwhile, many local residents worry that time is running out. “With more climate change and more desertification and drought,” the environmental and health issues are going to keep getting worse, said Ryan Sinclair, a professor of public health at Loma Linda University who has been mapping the sea’s decline. The current, unprecedented drought gripping the western US has only put more pressure on the shrinking Colorado River, which feeds 30 farms and cities up and down the region, further complicating the calculus and politics of how and where to send its waning waters. By 2045, researchers estimate that the sea could someday become 10 times as salty as the Pacific Ocean, making it completely uninhabitable for fish. Its receding shores could expose nearby communities to as much as 100 tons of dust each day.

Versions of the same apocalyptic vision are unfolding across the world. Utah’s Great Salt Lake has been shrinking and spitting up arsenic as well. Iran’s Lake Urmia is just about 10% of its original size. The ecological crisis at Kazakhstan’s diminished Aral Sea has become a perverse tourist attraction.

“Still, I don’t want to leave here,” said Juárez. “I want to stay. I want to fight.” Her kids do, as well. She brings out a folder full of drawings and letters that her younger kids and their friends made at school. Her daughter Lisette’s appeal to local officials included a drawing of a stick figure in goggles swimming in the lake, while another stick figure lounges by the shore, under a striped umbrella, sipping a cold beverage. “Dear Sir or Madam, please help us save the Salton Sea,” she wrote above the picture. “Thank you!”

For 27 years, Florida Democrats have done a great job helping Republicans get elected | Editorial

For 27 years, Florida Democrats have done a great job helping Republicans get elected | Editorial

 

Florida Democrats can’t stop losing.

 

Florida might still be considered a “purple” state, but Democrats’ inability to pull off more than one statewide win in almost a decade tells a different story.

Not only did Donald Trump win Florida twice, he increased his margin threefold in 2020 — thanks, in part, to his improved performance with Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County. And, who would’ve thought Georgia and Arizona are looking more blue than the Sunshine State these days?

If Democrats don’t win in the 2022, it will become harder to continue to call Florida a swing state. National donors will flee the party if they believe they can get more bang for their buck somewhere else.

With less than 18 months to next year’s elections, we’re wondering: What’s the Democratic message that will convince enough Florida voters to vote blue?

So far, we have heard crickets.

While Republicans have been forcefully pushing an agenda full of red-meat issues that appeal to their growing base, Florida’s Democrats are playing catch-up, crying foul every time Gov. Ron DeSantis ignores the COVID-19 pandemic or signs an egregious law in a made-for-Fox-News ceremony.

Trust us, we get their frustration. DeSantis and the GOP, emboldened by wide majorities in the Florida Legislature, pushed through a slew of bad legislation this year, from adding barriers to voting by mail to banning cruise lines and other businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Accused of being ‘socialists’

Unless Democrats get their act together, we will see worse legislation every year.

Democrats have yet to shake off the “socialist” label the GOP throws at whatever candidates have a “D” next to their name. That likely cost Democrats two congressional seats in Miami-Dade last year.

“For a lot of Democrats, they didn’t consider [the socialist label] be to an actual threat,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the Editorial Board. “It almost seemed like a joke.”

Yes, it’s a joke to think someone such as Joe Biden, a moderate, is a socialist, but the truth doesn’t matter as long as enough people believe in it.

Where’s the strategy to punch back?

If Democrats had one, the recent protests in Cuba were a great opportunity to test it, but, again, the party fumbled its response and allowed the GOP to own this issue. Instead of calling for the end of a repressive communist regime, some state Democrats, including Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, blamed the U.S. embargo for food and medicine shortages, taking a page straight out of the enduring Castro playbook and making it too easy for the GOP to brand all Democrats communists.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz, a former Miami mayor, has a tough job.

Elected in January to revive a party left in financial disarray after last year’s elections, Diaz has made progress. With more than $1 million of unpaid debt, employees’ health insurance was canceled and the party drew national ridicule after applying for, and later returning, a taxpayer-backed federal pandemic relief loan.

‘Tired of losing’

Diaz has steered the party toward financial health. That debt is being paid off, thanks to a bailout from large donors, and he has assembled a team of experienced field directors focused on different regions of the state. Diaz told the Editorial Board he wants to create the statewide apparatus that the party lacks, register voters and stay engaged with them instead of popping into communities weeks before an election, as Democrats are notorious for doing.

“The bottom line is, I got tired of losing,” Diaz said. “I got tired of seeing what was going on. And I decided that I needed to do something about it.”

Many Democrats have noticed the state party has become more organized. But in Florida’s largest county, they still face a baffling leadership vacuum. On July 19, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair announced he will resign at the end of the month from his volunteer post to focus on professional and personal duties.

“The largest local party in the biggest swing state in the nation should not be led over lunch, after work and on weekends,” Chair Steve Simeonidis said in a statement, the Herald reported.

It’s a no-brainer that the party chair in a crucial battleground county should be a paid, full-time job.

One-party rule

The Democrats’ problem is a problem for Floridians.

America is at its best when there’s a balance of power. Decades-long dominance by one party can inflict significant harm on a state where one sides gets virtually all it wants without moderation.

Republicans control both Florida legislative chambers, the governor’s office and two out of three Cabinet positions. The exception is Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s running for governor in the Democratic primary against former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before Fried’s election in 2018, the last time Democrats won statewide was in 2012 when President Obama and former U.S. Bill Nelson were on the ticket. Nelson later lost to Rick Scott in 2018.

The last time Florida elected a Democratic governor was in 1994, when Lawton Chiles beat Jeb Bush.

Twenty-seven years. Talk about a losing streak.

Republicans have created a formidable statewide machine that’s efficient at registering voters and recruiting candidates, in particular Hispanic women.

There are some newly elected Democrats who show promise: for example, Miami-Dade School Board members Lucia Baez-Geller and Luisa Santos, both elected last year in competitive nonpartisan races. We can’t forget Fried and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who’s challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and faces Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell for the Democratic nomination. Demings was Orlando’s first Black female police chief and one of seven managers in Trump’s impeachment trial.

In addition, the party presented some impressive legislative candidates in 2020, including attorney Maureen Porras, Annette Collazo, David Williams and Jessica Laguerre Hylton among them. The state party needs to nurture and support such smart Democrats who are steeped in the concerns of the people they sought to represent.

Democrats challenging the GOP’s dominance in Florida are in a David-versus-Goliath situation. Their party should not make their lives harder by continuing to shoot itself in the foot.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to say that Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell is running for the U.S. Senate.

Thousands of Central Valley farmers may lose access to surface water amid worsening drought

Thousands of Central Valley farmers may lose access to surface water amid worsening drought

TULARE, CA - APRIL 21: A worker sets up irrigation lines to water almond tree rootstocks along Road 36 on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Tulare, CA. A deepening drought and new regulations are causing some California growers to consider an end to farming. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A worker sets up irrigation lines to water almond tree rootstocks along Road 36 in Tulare, Calif., in April. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

As California endures an increasingly brutal second year of drought, state water regulators are considering an emergency order that would bar thousands of Central Valley farmers from using stream and river water to irrigate their crops.

On Friday, the State Water Resources Control Board released a draft “emergency curtailment” order for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed. The measure, which was first reported by the Sacramento Bee, would bar some water rights holders from diverting surface water for agricultural and other purposes.

The proposed regulation underscores just how dire matters have become as drought squeezes the American West.

“It says that this drought is really severe,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s Division of Water Rights. The water board will consider the order’s approval on Aug. 3. If approved, it would go into effect about two weeks later at the earliest, Ekdahl added.

“This is probably the first time the board has contemplated curtailment orders for the entire bay delta watershed,” Ekdahl said. Some notices of water unavailability were sent out to water rights holders in the delta watershed during the 2014-15 time period, but this type of sweeping, formal order was not utilized, he said.

If approved, the order would be implemented first with junior water rights holders, then more senior water rights holders, and then the most senior. According to Ekdahl, the board believes that more than 10,000 water rights holders would be affected, with their water largely being used for agricultural irrigation purposes. Some municipal, industrial and commercial entities could also be affected.

The proposed regulation would carve out an exemption for health and human safety purposes, meaning that water for drinking, bathing and domestic purposes wouldn’t be subject to the curtailment. In mid-June, the board issued a notice of water unavailability — which urges, but does not order, people to stop diverting water — to many rights holders.

The proposed emergency regulation comes at a time when the primary Northern California reservoirs that feed into California’s lakes and streams are at about 30% of capacity, Ekdahl said. Unusually warm temperatures and dry soils have contributed to reductions in runoff from the Sierra snowpack. The water board has characterized the reductions as “unprecedented.”

According to a water board presentation, projections for this year’s conditions degraded significantly between April and May, when watershed runoff decreased by nearly 800,000 acre-feet — an amount that is nearly equivalent to the entire capacity of Folsom Reservoir.

“We’re in an extreme drought that’s come on extremely fast,” said Felicia Marcus, water policy expert and former state water board chair. According to Marcus, the proposed emergency regulation shows that the water board is working as it should to allocate water during the shortage.

“In theory, it’s a math thing. You’re looking at how much water is in the water course and if there’s not enough to meet all the water rights, then you issue curtailment notices and orders,” Marcus explained. “That’s the way the water rights system is supposed to work.”

Canadian farmers brace for new heat wave as scorching summer leaves crops baking in fields

Caroline Anders, Washington Post                      July 18, 2021 

 

Cherries have roasted on trees. Fields of canola and wheat have withered brown. On the shores, shellfish have popped open, broiling by the millions

As devastating heat waves sweep swaths of the globe, farmers in Canada are facing a crippling phenomenon: crops are baking in fields.

Cherries have roasted on trees. Fields of canola and wheat have withered brown. And as feed and safe water for animals grow scarce, ranchers may have no choice but to sell off their livestock.

“It will totally upend Canadian food production if this becomes a regular thing,” said Lenore Newman, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

A heat dome roasted Canada in late June, leading to hundreds of “sudden and unexpected” deaths, according to officials, and sparking fear among Canadian farmers and climate experts. A village in British Columbia claimed the nation’s highest recorded temperature, clocking in just shy of 46 degrees. This weekend, another scorching wave is expected return to the nation.

Newman said farmers are resilient and have been planning for slow, constant climate change. But no model predicted this summer’s spike, which she characterized as a “thousand-year” event that cannot become the norm.

“We can’t farm like this, where there’s a giant disruption every year,” she said. “Or we’re going to have to really rethink how we produce food.”

The climate stress is especially unwelcome at a time when the pandemic has put pressure on supply chains and food production. Floods, early freezes, droughts, pests and other emergencies have also strained Canada’s farming industry over the past several years. Multiple municipalities have declared states of agricultural disaster because of the heat and drought.

On the shores, shellfish have popped open, broiling by the millions. “You could smell the destruction,” Newman said.

Early this month at a news conference about the heat wave, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the nation needs to reduce emissions and be a global leader on climate change.

“Extreme weather events are getting more frequent, and climate change has a significant role to play in that,” he said.

The heat waves are challenging all aspects of farm life.

Laborers can’t stay out in the fields when temperatures get so oppressive. Peak blueberry and cherry season should be approaching, but some farmers are already pulling workers from the fields for the season, Newman said. Others are turning livestock loose into growing fields, hoping to make some use of the toasted grains.

Farmers speak to a crop insurance field inspector (left) during a drought on a grain farm near Osler, Saskatchewan, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Farmers speak to a crop insurance field inspector (left) during a drought on a grain farm near Osler, Saskatchewan, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. PHOTO BY KAYLE NEIS /Bloomberg

 

The outlook seems especially grim to many livestock farmers facing feed and clean water shortages for their animals.

“The damage is done,” Manitoba farmer Jason Bednarek told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “The only solution is to stop the bleeding and slaughter the cows.”

Some cattle ranchers are asking grain farmers whose crops have been devalued by the heat to consider using some of their yield as cow feed.

“The cow herd is in jeopardy in Manitoba for this winter,” Andre Steppler, a district director for a nonprofit that represents beef producers across Manitoba province, said in a video posted to Twitter.

One of Canada’s main agricultural provinces, Saskatchewan, recently changed its crop insurance regulations to encourage growers to give unsellable crops for use as livestock feed.

“I want to encourage grain producers to work with neighboring livestock producers to make feed available,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit said in a statement.

You could smell the destruction

LENORE NEWMAN

Steppler told The Washington Post it’s the first time in his farm’s century-long history that wells and springs have dried up. He considers himself lucky because his farm also grows grain, so he’s less concerned about his herd than many other ranchers. But feeding his cattle that grain will be economically damaging, and he anticipates having to sell off a quarter to 30 per cent of the herd.

“For us, this is historic,” he said of the heat wave.

As a livestock producer, Steppler said it’s upsetting to have to sell cows whose genetics his family has been fine-tuning for decades. But Steppler’s main concern, he said, is the mental health of other producers. He said it’s crucial for federal and municipal governments to act swiftly to help farmers avoid financial ruin.

“We’re just coming out of COVID, people are already stressed, and now this is just another blow to their gut,” he said.

On the crop front, losses are especially tough on farmers working with perennials who have spent years nurturing them to ensure they will bear fruit summer after summer.

Jocelyn Zurevinsky, president of Canadian Cherry Producers, said in an email that while her cherries in Saskatchewan saw rain in June, one of her orchards has been dry since May.

“The cherries bloomed well and the fruit set was fair, but the cherries are not filling,” she said. “We expect our entire harvest will go to juicing rather than the ingredient market for pies, spreads and syrups.”

While Newman doesn’t anticipate massive food shortages from the heat, she said consumers should expect a short-term spike in food prices.
Even as the heat has waned slightly, other threats have risen; most notably, wildfires ravaging parts of the nation.

Wildfire burns above the Fraser River Valley near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, on Friday, July 2, 2021.
Wildfire burns above the Fraser River Valley near Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, on Friday, July 2, 2021. PHOTO BY JAMES MACDONALD/BLOOMBERG

 

“Fire is the great enemy of farming,” Newman said. “It’s the last thing you ever want to see on the horizon.”

Smoke can damage crops, and wildfires can burn out slow-to-recover pasturelands, making it even more difficult for ranchers to bounce back. Fires are an especially frightening prospect in the prairies, where the land is checkered with farms.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement Thursday she’s monitoring the drought drying out some of the nation’s farmland.

“My heart goes out to those farmers and ranchers feeling the impacts of the extreme heat wave and drought conditions,” she said. “Our Government is ready to assist and we will do what we can to make sure our programs are adequately responding to the crisis.

Bibeau promised to leverage government programs to support producers affected by extreme weather and droughts. One program, called AgriStability, functions like an income insurance program to protect farmers who are about to see a large dip in income after years of even averages.

Bibeau is also encouraging provinces to trigger the agricultural sector’s disaster relief program to help farmers with additional costs caused by the extreme heat and wildfires.

In Newman’s view, the only thin silver lining to the apocalyptic feel of this summer is that for some, it’s fast-forwarded the discussion on addressing climate change to preserve the food system. Even more conservative voices are now sounding the alarm, she said.

After the seemingly perpetual drought, Newman saw reason for a sliver of hope Saturday morning: A drizzle of rain was falling.

The biggest win for the working class in generations is within reach

The Guardian – Opinion

The biggest win for the working class in generations is within reach

Bernie Sanders         

If our budget passes, it would be one of the most important pieces of legislation since the New Deal. But we must fight for it.

Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders<br>epa09341205 Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders speaks to members of the news media regarding his meeting at the White House with US President Joe Biden, after arriving on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, USA, 12 July 2021. President Biden and Sanders discussed a budget resolution that would allow the Senate to move forward with a massive infrastructure plan. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
‘This legislation will create millions of good paying jobs as we address the long-neglected needs of working families and the planet.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA.
Now is the time.

 

At a time when the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, when two people now own more wealth than the bottom 40% and when some of the wealthiest people and biggest businesses in the world pay nothing in federal income taxes, the billionaire class and large profitable corporations must finally start paying their fair share of taxes.

Now is the time.

At a time when real wages for workers have not gone up in almost 50 years, when over half our people live paycheck to paycheck, when over 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, when working families cannot afford childcare or higher education for their kids, when many Americans no longer believe their government represents their interests, the US Congress must finally have the courage to represent the needs of working families and not just the 1% and their lobbyists.

Now is the time.

At a time of unprecedented heatwaves, drought, flooding, extreme weather disturbances and the acidification of the oceans, now is the time for the US government to make certain that the planet we leave our children and future generations is healthy and habitable. We must stand up to the greed of the fossil fuel industry, transform our energy system and lead the world in combating climate change.

As chairman of the US Senate budget committee I fought hard for a $6tn budget which would address these and other long-neglected needs. Not everyone in the Democratic caucus agreed with me and, after a lot of discussion and compromise within the budget committee, an agreement was reached on a smaller number. (Needless to say, no Republicans will support legislation which taxes the rich and protects working families.)

While this budget is less than I had wanted, let us be clear. This proposal, if passed, will be the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930s. It will also put the US in a global leadership position as we combat climate change. Further, and importantly, this legislation will create millions of good-paying jobs as we address the long-neglected needs of working families and the planet.

Why is this proposal so significant?

We will end the days of billionaires not paying a nickel in federal income taxes by making sure the wealthy and large corporations do not use their accountants and lawyers to avoid paying the massive amounts that they owe. This proposal will also raise the individual tax rate on the wealthiest Americans and the corporate tax rate for the most profitable companies in our country. Under this proposal, no family making under $400,000 a year will pay a nickel more in taxes and will, in fact, receive one of the largest tax cuts in American history.

We will aggressively reduce our childhood poverty rate by expanding the child tax credit so that families continue to receive monthly direct payments of up to $300 per child.

We will address the crisis in childcare by fighting to make sure that no working family pays more than 7% of their income on this basic need. Making childcare more accessible and affordable will also strengthen our economy by allowing millions more Americans (mostly women) to join the workforce.

We will provide universal pre-kindergarten to every three- and four-year-old.

We will end the international disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave as a right.

We will begin to address the crisis in higher education by making community colleges in America tuition-free.

We will address the disgrace of widespread homelessness in the United States and the reality that nearly 18m households are paying over 50% of their incomes for housing by an unprecedented investment in affordable housing.

We will ensure that people in an ageing society can receive the home healthcare they need and that the workers who provide that care aren’t forced to live on starvation wages.

We will save taxpayers hundreds of billions by having Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and use those savings to cover the dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses that many seniors desperately need.

We will rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater treatment plants, broadband and other aspects of our physical infrastructure.

We will take on the existential threat of climate change by transforming our energy systems away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

This effort will include a nationwide clean energy standard that moves our transportation system, electrical generation, buildings and housing and agriculture sector toward clean energy.

Through a Civilian Climate Corps we will give hundreds of thousands of young people good-paying jobs and educational benefits as they help us combat climate change.

We will fight to bring undocumented people out of the shadows and provide them with a pathway to citizenship, including those who courageously kept our economy running in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

In the midst of the many long-ignored crises that this legislation is attempting to address, we will not have one Republican senator voting for it. Tragically, many Republican leaders in Congress and around the country are just too busy continuing to lie about the 2020 presidential election, undermining democracy by suppressing voting rights, denying the reality of climate change and casting doubts about the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.

That means that the 50 Democrats in the US Senate, plus the vice-president, will have to pass this most consequential piece of legislation alone. And that’s what we will do. The future of working families is at stake. The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake.

Now is the time.

Bernie Sanders is a US senator, and the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont, and is the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress