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Whether posting and debating about the coronavirus and public health, the environment and the catastrophic consequences of global warming and climate change, the threats to America’s Democratic institutions, politics, voter suppression and intimidation, Veterans advocacy, fair labor practices or a long list of vital social and economic issues, truth tellers become a target for those who would like to silence public debate and speaking truth to power. We will not be silenced. Please stay tuned.
“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates. What is COP26 and how will it affect the future of climate change? Glasgow, Scotland called COP26.
The Biden administration on Wednesday released a report that predicts climate change will force “tens of millions” of people around the world to be displaced in the next few decades. The report echoes the findings of a number of previous studies that suggest worsening climate impacts — sudden disasters like fires and storms, plus more gradual problems like rising seas and drought — could displace as many as 200 million people before 2050.
Climate change affects the whole world, but the citizens of certain low-income countries everywhere from Central America to sub-Saharan Africa are especially vulnerable to climate-related displacement. Beyond the harm of millions of people being forced from their homes, climate migration could threaten the stability of resource-strained countries and increase the risk of conflict between nations, according to a separate national security assessment released this week.
While estimates paint a particularly dire picture of the future, some of the effects of climate displacement are already being felt around the world. The United Nations estimates that an average of 21.5 million people worldwide are displaced by sudden disasters every year. Droughts and storms in Central America are believed to be one of many reasons for an influx of migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. The Syrian civil war, which has created a devastating humanitarian crisis and displaced more than 13 million people over the past 10 years, has been partially attributed to a drought that forced rural farmers to flood into urban areas.
Why there’s debate
As worrying as some forecasts of the future are, a range of experts say that with the right preparation and investment, climate migration can be managed to limit suffering and prevent countries from falling into chaos.
A key step, most experts argue, is for rich countries like the U.S. to do everything within their power to prevent people from being forced to migrate in the first place. That starts with limiting greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Doing so would reduce the potential severity of storms, droughts and other factors that drive people from their homes. Rich countries also need to offer aid to poorer countries to adapt to climate change — for example, helping low-income countries build infrastructure to handle higher sea levels and stronger storm surges and dealing with major population shifts within their borders, since most climate migrants relocate to new areas of their home countries.
Many also argue the U.S. will need to update its immigration system to prepare for the unique challenges of managing climate migration. Some immigrant rights activists say climate displacement should be added to the list of reasons a person can qualify for refugee status. That’s controversial on both the left and the right. There’s broad agreement among experts, though, that a more permissive immigration system — with less focus on aggressive border enforcement and more pathways to enter the country legally — could not only prevent unnecessary suffering, but also create benefits for the U.S. economy.
Climate migration is expected to be one of many important issues discussed by world leaders at the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Representatives from nearly 200 countries will meet over the course of two weeks in hopes of reaching an agreement on an emissions reduction strategy to avert the worst potential impacts of climate change.
Strict immigration enforcement isn’t the answer
“States that have grown addicted and accustomed to solving problems with walls and weapons are acting to news of climate-linked mobility by trying to repel people, hoping to insulate themselves. … Not only will this cause ever more human suffering, it will fail on its own terms.” — Todd Miller, Independent
Fear-inducing rhetoric about the threat of climate migration must end
“When most people think of ‘climate’ and ‘immigration,’ they think at the global scale — which can be scary. The idea that a changing, increasingly inhospitable climate will drive mass migration is frightening. … But migration is, and has always been, a form of adaptation — and it can be a major benefit to receiving communities.” — Claire Elise Thompson, Grist
Immigration laws need to be updated to recognize climate displacement
“A lack of lawful migration opportunities forces many of those moving for climate-related reasons to do so without authorisation and at risk of exploitation and abuse. But solutions are within our grasp.” — Tamara Wood and Edwin Abuya, Thomson Reuters Foundation
With the right planning, climate migrants can help the U.S. thrive
“Migration can bring great opportunity not just to migrants but also to the places they go. As the United States and other parts of the global North face a demographic decline, for instance, an injection of new people into an aging work force could be to everyone’s benefit.” — Abrahm Lustgarten, New York Times
The U.S. must provide extensive support for vulnerable countries
“The best deterrent to migration is hope. We must provide the leadership that allows the people
in our own hemisphere the chance to survive and prosper at home.” — Cecilia Muñoz, The Hill
Climate shouldn’t be treated as the only reason people leave their homes
“In general, illegal border crossings can be traced to any number of factors: job opportunities, drug trafficking, political shifts, and, yes, climate change. There’s nothing wrong with bringing attention to these issues by examining them in print. But to solve a problem, you have to properly define it first. We can and should address the border crisis and climate change at the same time. But conflating the two only makes that task more difficult.” — Sean-Michael Pigeon, National Review
Limiting climate change will reduce the need for climate migration in the first place
“The most useful thing that the developed countries of the West can do to help endangered societies elsewhere is to rapidly limit our own carbon emissions — for if we fail to do so and temperatures rise uncontrollably, then weak states around the world will assuredly fail.” — Anatol Lieven, Foreign Policy
We should start helping people relocate before their situation becomes desperate
“Real change — like relocating entire neighborhoods and communities out of harm’s way — would be far better handled not in times of crisis, when the displaced must weigh complex decisions in the midst of chaos and loss, but before a crisis hits.” — Alexandra Tempus, New York Times
Climate migrants can be an enormous asset if given the right opportunities
“The easier we make it for the young to move to places where they can contribute productively, such as by building more sustainable housing and irrigation systems, the better our odds during the turbulent decades ahead.” — Parag Khanna, National Geographic
Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Guilt, grief and anxiety as young people fear for climate’s future
Natalie Thomas, Barbara Lewis, Jonathan Shenfield October 22, 2021
Environmental campaigners march ahead of the COP26 climate summit, in London.
Global Climate Strike of the movement Fridays for Future, in Berlin
Ice sculptures of children by Sand in Your Eye at New Brighton Beach
LONDON (Reuters) – Overwhelmed, sad, guilty are some of the emotions young people say they feel when they think of climate change and their concerns world leaders will fail to tackle it.
Broadly referred to as climate anxiety, research has stacked up to measure its prevalence ahead of the U.N. talks in Glasgow, which begin at the end of the month to thrash out how to put the 2015 Paris Agreement on curbing climate change into effect.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-0/html/r-sf-flx.html
One of the biggest studies to date, funded by Avaaz, an online campaign network, and led by Britain’s University of Bath, surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16-25 years in 10 countries. It published its results in September.
It found around three quarters of those surveyed considered the future frightening, while a lack of action by governments and industry left 45% experiencing climate anxiety and distress that affected their daily lives and functioning.
Elouise Mayall, an ecology student at Britain’s University of East Anglia and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, told Reuters she had felt guilty and overwhelmed.
“What I’d be left with is maybe the sense of shame, like, ‘how dare you still want lovely things when the world is ending and you don’t even know if you’re going to have a safe world to grow old in’.”
She spoke of conflicting emotions.
“You might have sadness, there might be fear, there might be a kind of overwhelm,” she said. “And maybe even sometimes a quite like wild optimism.”
Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and lecturer at the University of Bath and one of the co-authors of the research published in September, is working to help young people manage climate-related emotions.
“They’re growing up with the grief and the fear and the anxiety about the future,” she told Reuters.
“SENSE OF MEANING”
London-based psychiatrist Alastair Santhouse sees climate change, as well as COVID-19, as potentially adding to the burden, especially for those pre-disposed to anxiety.
For now, climate anxiety alone does not normally require psychiatric help. Painful as it is, it can be positive, provided it does not get out of control.
“Some anxiety about climate change is motivating. It’s just a question of how much anxiety is motivating and how much is unacceptable,” said Santhouse, author of a book that tackles how health services struggle to cope with complex mental issues.
“The worry is that as climate change sets in, there will be a more clear cut mental health impact,” he added.
Among some of the world’s communities that are already the most vulnerable, extreme weather events can also cause problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.
Leading climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, 18, has experienced severe climate anxiety.
“It’s a quite natural response, because, as you see, as the world is today, that no one seems to care about what’s happening, I think it’s only human to feel that way,” she said.
For now, however, she is hopeful because she is doing everything she possibly can.
“When you take action, you also get a sense of meaning that something is happening. If you want to get rid of that anxiety, you can take action against it,” she said.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)
‘This stuff won’t go away’: PFAS chemicals contaminate Wisconsin’s waterways and soil
Tom Perkins October 22, 2021
Last year, residents in Campbell, Wisconsin, a four-square-mile island city in the Mississippi River, learned disturbing news: toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” used in firefighting foam at a neighboring airport had probably been contaminating their private wells for decades.
As state and local leaders search for a solution, residents now use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth. Yet the situation represents more than an enormous inconvenience. Some strongly suspect that the seemingly high rate of cancer, Crohn’s disease and other serious ailments that have plagued the island’s residents stem from the dangerous chemicals.
“It’s emotionally draining,” said Campbell town supervisor Lee Donahue. “People are angry that it happened, they’re angry that they had no control over it, and they’re angry that their well is contaminated for no fault of their own.”
Campbell isn’t alone. Across the US similar stories of water contaminated with PFAS are emerging.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products water, stain and heat resistant. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, and they persist in the environment and accumulate in humans’ and animals’ bodies. The compounds are linked to cancer, decreased immunity, thyroid problems, birth defects, kidney disease, liver problems and a range of other serious diseases.
Between July and October, officials in nearby Eau Claire in Wisconsin shut down half its 16 municipal wells over PFAS contamination, and across the state PFAS have poisoned drinking water supplies, surface water in lakes and streams, air, soil and wildlife like deer and fish that are eaten by the state’s residents.
As municipalities and residents wrestle with the water crisis, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has killed legislation and blocked funding meant to address the problem, which is likely much larger than currently known: only about 2% of the state’s utilities have tested for the chemicals, and those that have check for no more than 30 of the approximately 9,000 PFAS compounds that exist.
“We’ve had difficulty just testing water to get a handle on the scale and scope of PFAS contamination,” said Scott Laesar, water program director with the Clean Wisconsin advocacy group. “We are asking for some really basic information about what’s in people’s water, and if we can’t even get that, then we’re in a difficult spot.”
Wisconsin’s troubles aren’t unique. States around the US are contending with similar difficulties, as increased testing has revealed that drinking water supplies for more than 100 million people are contaminated with PFAS, and the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed 120,000 sites across the country that may expose people to the chemicals.
The compounds’ ubiquity makes it difficult to determine sources of contamination, but Wisconsin airports and military bases that use PFAS-laden firefighting foam have often been identified as the culprit, including in Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Campbell.
The state’s combined groundwater standard for six types of PFAS is 20 parts per trillion (ppt), and the chemicals were detected at levels up to 70 ppt Eau Claire. Madison, a city of more than 250,000 and Wisconsin’s capital, found PFAS in all of its 16 drinking water wells in May 2020, but only at levels that exceeded health standards in one of them, which had been shut down months before.
Meanwhile, the lakes and streams around Madison are contaminated at startling levels. Officials have recorded counts for multiple compounds as high as 102,000 ppt, and levels in fish from nearby Lake Monona reached 180,000 ppt. Wisconsin department of natural resources signs posted along the region’s riverbanks warn residents against eating fish.
Cities like Milwaukee that draw drinking water from Lake Michigan on the state’s east side face less of a threat because the chemicals are diluted by the large body of water, but many private well owners who aren’t connected to municipal systems have recorded dangerous levels.
In Marinette, just north of Green Bay along Lake Michigan, a massive 10-sq-mile PFAS plume grew from a firefighting foam testing ground owned by manufacturer Tyco Fire Products. The plume hasn’t contaminated the municipal system at high levels, but levels in nearby private wells have reached 254,000 ppt, and alderman Doug Oitzinger said rates of thyroid disease and testicular cancer in young men in the region are “off the charts”. The plume has contaminated the city’s sewage sludge, which now has to be shipped to a specialized facility in Oregon.
“This stuff is in the groundwater and won’t go away,” Oitzinger said.
Polluting the lake still has wider consequences. PFAS have been found in a range of Great Lakes fish, and the DNR issued an advisory to limit the consumption of rainbow smelt.
Though residents across the political spectrum are being exposed and PFAS legislation has had at least some bipartisan support, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership last session killed the Clear Act, which would have established drinking water standards and funded cleanup, among other measures. The bill is once again stalled in the Republican-controlled legislature. Democratic governor Tony Evers’ last budget proposed $22m for statewide PFAS testing and cleanup, but that money was stripped away. The state legislature is expected to kill new limits on PFAS being developed by the DNR.
In Campbell, town officials are demanding that the Federal Aviation Administration stop using firefighting foam with PFAS, as is now required by law, but the airport continues using it, town supervisor Donahue said. The city of La Crosse, which owns the airport, has sued PFAS manufacturers for allegedly hiding the foam’s danger.
The cleanup effort is also meeting resistance from an unlikely source – water utilities, which say they don’t have money to filter the chemicals. Meanwhile, one of the few actions taken by the DNR that would require testing and cleanup faces a legal challenge from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce trade group, which represents some of the state’s PFAS polluters. Should the case go to the state’s supreme court, it will be heard by a pro-business, Republican-controlled judge panel.
“We have an industry that would rather not know what’s out there and is engaged in a pretty cynical effort to maintain the status quo,” Laeser said. “This legislature has had numerous opportunities to invest in addressing PFAS and they have elected not to do so.”
‘We don’t have water’: South American dam faces energy crunch as river ebbs
South American dam faces energy crunch as river ebbs
By Daniela Desantis October 20, 2021
HERNANDARIAS, Paraguay (Reuters) – The giant Itaipu hydroelectric power plant, wedged between Paraguay and Brazil on the Parana River, is facing an energy crunch amid record low river and rainfall levels that experts say could last into next year.
The Itaipu dam, which supplies around 10% of the energy consumed in Brazil and 86% of that used in landlocked Paraguay, has recorded its lowest output since the hydroelectric plant began operating at full capacity in 2005.
Downstream, the Argentine-Paraguayan Yacyreta plant produced half the normal level of energy in September, an example of how severe droughts are complicating the shift away from fossil fuels by drying up rivers and reservoirs.
“We have available power, what we don’t have is water to sustain that power for a long time,” Itaipu’s Operations Superintendent Hugo Zarate told Reuters, adding that the plant was “meeting the demand but for short periods of time.”
Zarate estimated that production at Itaipu would be between 65,000 and 67,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) this year.
“That’s about 35% of the maximum value of 2016 and 15% less than in 2020,” he said in his office at the plant, located between the cities of Hernandarias in Paraguay and Foz do Iguacu in Brazil.
The low production levels hit power output as well as impacting royalties the countries receive for the use of the water.
The drought, one of the worst in the last century, has led Brazil’s government to ask its citizens to reduce their consumption of electricity and water and raised the specter of possible power rationing.
Itaipu has a normal average inflow of about 11,000 cubic meters per second (m3/s), while that of Yacyreta is 14,500 m3/s, according to their technicians. Both rely on the flow of the river and have limited storage capacity.
Production is impacted heavily by the flows upriver in the Parana basin, regulated by about 50 dams upriver in Brazil, which have seen water stores dwindle since 2019 amid declining rainfall levels.
The average flow in Itaipu so far this year is 6,800 m3 per second, a level similar to that of the 1970s, according to Zarate. Average monthly inflows for Yacyreta are between 6,000-9,500 m3/s, said Lucas Chamorro, its head of hydrology.
“The useful volumes of the reservoirs are reaching their historical minimums… while the extreme trends of the El Nino or La Nina are becoming more acute,” said Chamorro, referring to cyclical climate patterns that can bring both heavy rains and drought to South America and elsewhere.
But relief does not seem to be around the corner. Despite a recent improvement, below normal rainfall seems likely for southern Brazil for the rest of the year, said Refinitiv Senior Weather Research Analyst Isaac Hankes.
“Plenty more rain is needed to ease drought concerns,” he said.
The Itaipu dam “totally relies on the improvement of the water flows,” said Zarate. “And if that doesn’t happen, this energy crisis is going to persist for at least next year.”
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien)
How a Small Blog Became a Thorn in the Side of Corporate Climate Denial
With just six members of staff in its UK office, DeSmog has become a world-leader in rectifying environmental shithousery.
By Tristan Kennedy October 20, 2021
The email landed in Rachel Sherrington’s inbox just four days before Christmas. More than 2,000 words long and seething with passive aggression, it accused her of peddling conspiracy theories and promoting a smear campaign. The sender was a spokesperson from the right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), and the message threatened dire consequences if Sherrington – who’d only recently joined the climate news blog DeSmog as a reporter – didn’t make amendments to a story she’d published.
The piece was a detailed exposé showing the crossover between free-market think tanks with a history of promoting climate skepticism, and the people advising the government on trade deals. The IEA, which first became known in environmental circles for publishing papers questioning climate science, was one of the organizations named. In 2018, the think tank admitted to having taken donations from oil giant BP for more than 50 years. As recently as 2013, the founder of its Environment Unit was arguing that the link between growing greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts was “hard to prove”. Environment
For Sherrington, the timing of the IEA’s email couldn’t have been more difficult if they’d tried. DeSmog’s staff were scattered and working remotely. Like many people, Sherrington’s editor – who she’d met just twice in person because of the pandemic – had left for his Christmas holidays. But the oddest thing about the email’s arrival on the 21st of December was that she had been waiting for the IEA to answer questions about her story for weeks.
In the run-up to publication – as is standard for journalists – she had sent several ‘right to reply’ emails requesting comment on the article. But instead of the straightforward written answers reporters would normally expect, she received a bizarre invitation to interview the IEA’s director general, Mark Littlewood, live over Zoom – with the added terms that the video would then be posted on the think tank’s YouTube channel.
Effectively, said Sherrington, “it was an invite to a very high profile public debate with very little notice. It didn’t seem to be about them giving a comment on the article itself”. She politely refused, and asked again for the standard written response, only for Littlewood to post a screenshot of himself “waiting” for her to join the call on Twitter. Then, three weeks after publication, the email came. “It felt really like an attempt to intimidate,” said Sherrington, who describes the whole experience as “very stressful”.
These targeted tactics, it turns out, are not uncommon at the IEA. The think tank was recently accused by one of its own advisors of spending more time “trolling” its detractors than it does actually formulating policy. In January of this year, the organization asked VICE to take part in a similar YouTube debate, instead of providing comment on an article. Meanwhile, Littlewood can be seen on Twitter challenging his critics to “interview me”.
Unfortunately for Sherrington, the impromptu invitation to a verbal sparring session wasn’t the end of it. She acknowledged the IEA’s points, and amended the article on the 23rd of December, but the think tank persisted. Two months later she received another lengthy email, informing her that the IEA would be filing a formal complaint with the media regulator IMPRESS. The message also contained a more explicit threat: “In the coming weeks the Institute of Economic Affairs will begin filming on a YouTube video documenting this episode, exploring DeSmog’s funding sources, and addressing the journalistic practices not just of DeSmog but you personally.”
The fact that such an established think tank, which traces its origins back to 1955, would go so far out of its way to pursue a reporter for a small, grant-funded climate news site suggested Sherrington’s story had, in some way, touched a nerve. When VICE asked the IEA for comment on this incident, their spokesperson dismissed DeSmog, labelling its reporters “political campaigners” who “fixate on activist conspiracy theories,” rather than journalists.
They didn’t directly answer VICE’s questions about the YouTube video they said they would release about Sherrington. But they justified offering video calls instead of written responses to “activist outlets” like DeSmog because, they said, their answers were often taken out of context, and that “any response we give is treated as further evidence of mal-intent and conspiracy”. Citing, among other things, DeSmog’s lack of interest in the material the IEA publishes on “free market environmentalism,” they said: “We regard organizations like DeSmog […] as being in the business of activism rather than journalism”. World New
Others see it differently, however. “DeSmog perform an essential service in holding companies, government and other organizations to account,” Fiona Harvey, the Guardian’s environment correspondent, said in an email. She recently worked with Sherrington’s colleagues to break a story about the UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s meetings with fossil fuel companies. Far from being activists, she wrote, “they’re great journalists,” adding: “Their investigations are in-depth and high quality, their revelations impactful, their writers skilled, and their attitude invincible.”
What’s undoubtedly true is that DeSmog – which employs just six full-time members of staff in the UK, and 10-15 freelance editors and contributors in the US – punches well above its weight in terms of breaking stories and digging out scoops. In recent years, it has grown to become a persistent thorn in the side of the climate denial industry, exposing the toxic web of front organizations, PR companies and lobby groups that fossil fuel companies (among others) pay to do their dirty work in spreading disinformation about the climate crisis.
Founded by Jim Hoggan, a successful Canadian PR man who was nearing retirement age in 2006, DeSmogBlog (as it was known) initially concentrated on malpractice in the PR industry. “[Hoggan] didn’t want his industry sullied by what he called ‘the Darth Vader PR firms’,” explained Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog’s executive director, over video call from Seattle.
“He had three bits of advice for clients,” DeMelle says. “One: Do the right thing. Two: Be seen to be doing the right thing. And, three: Don’t get number one and number two mixed up.” Perhaps more crucially, he had the insider knowledge to spot when the powerful, psychologically persuasive techniques behind modern marketing were being used for more nefarious purposes.
If the blog’s early work – almost entirely funded by Hoggan himself and his business partner John LeFebvre – was slightly scattergun, it became more tightly focussed from 2010 onwards, when DeMelle was handed the reins, moving it to its current, grant-funded model. In 2012, he scored a major scoop when DeSmog published internal documents from the Heartland Institute – a notorious US think tank, listed by Greenpeace as a Koch Industries climate denial front group, that has attempted to cast doubt on the dangers of both climate change and smoking. In one leaked memo, marked “Confidential”, the Institute offered details of its “fight to prevent the implementation of dangerous policy actions to address the supposed risks of global warming.”
The UK arm of DeSmog, founded in 2014, has gone from strength to strength. Earlier this year, Rich Collet-White, DeSmog UK’s Deputy Editor, helped uncover the fact that contractors working on the hugely controversial new Cambo oil field were being charged with bribery and corruption (a charge that’s subsequently led to a guilty plea); that both David Cameron and Theresa May had personally lobbied for the company in question; and that the Conservative Party received L420,000 in donations from companies with an interest in North Sea extraction in the run-up to a crucial government review earlier this year.
None of this has left DeSmog short of enemies. DeMelle has had his personal details – including his home address – shared online. Shortly after I met him for coffee, Collett-White messaged to ask if I could keep any description of the location vague. “We’ve luckily not been subject to this ourselves, but colleagues know others doing similar work who’ve had letter bombs/threats to their premises,” he explained. And for a couple of months, the first thing Sherrington thought about each morning when she logged in was the IEA’s threat. “I was thinking, ‘Is there going to be a video?’ or ‘What exactly might they do?’”
In the end, the IEA didn’t follow through with their threat to make a video about Sherrington. They did, however, take the dispute about her article to IMPRESS. On 20th July 2021, after taking written submissions from both parties, the press regulator issued its verdict: The IEA’s complaint was dismissed. DeSmog, IMPRESS concluded, had taken “all reasonable steps to ensure accuracy”.
Sherrington felt vindicated. “We felt that the ruling would come down in our favor, but there was definitely relief across the team when it did,” she said. More importantly, she feels the whole unpleasant experience made her more determined than ever to keep going. To keep holding organizations like the IEA and others to account, and to keep shining a light on the aspects of their climate record that they may not want the public to see.
Untaming a river: The stakes behind America’s largest dam removal
Doug Struck October 18, 2021
They have been waiting for three years, growing fat and long in the tumult of the Pacific Ocean. Now the salmon turn, inexorably, driven by some ancient smell, into the mouth of a river along the wild Northern California coast.
For millennia, Native Americans watched the fish enter the Klamath River. The tribes celebrated them as a gift from the gods, but the fish numbers dwindled. Once the water teemed with millions of fish; last year, only 46,000 chinook salmon migrated successfully.
Huge dams, proclaimed by newcomers to the region as wondrous monuments to their dominance of nature, and promoted by the U.S. government as a way to open the West to settlers, blocked the fish from their upstream spawning grounds and slowed the Klamath in torpid reservoirs.
Now humanity is set to surrender much of the river back to nature. Four large dams on the Klamath River are due to be torn down in what is called the largest dam removal project in American history.
“It’s massive. It’s huge,” says Amy Cordalis, a legal adviser to the Yurok Tribe, of which she is a member, as she watches a heron lumber along the Pacific coast. “For the tribes and for the Yurok, it’s the beginning of healing. We remove those dams, the river runs free, and the salmon can go home.”
The removal will mark a major victory for environmentalists in their campaign to restore once-wild rivers in the United States by tearing down unneeded dams. It will be a historic victory for Native Americans who were promised eternal fishing rights, only to see fish blocked from their rivers. And it promises to help salmon, once a massive driver of the natural life cycle here in the Pacific Northwest.
But it could be too late. Environmentalists already see fish migrations dwindling in tributaries of the Klamath – a warning of further decline to come – and tribes no longer can count on fish as a source of food and a central part of their culture. Farmers upriver, meanwhile, who depend on irrigation, will continue to lay claim to their share of water from the river system. All of which means that the contentious issues that have swirled around the mighty Klamath for decades won’t vanish with the removal of four massive walls of earth and concrete.
“We are in a race with extinction,” says Michael Belchik, a senior biologist for the Yurok Tribe, of the declining salmon stocks. “And we are losing.”
The dams have foreshortened the ancient fish migration and slowed the Klamath River’s fast and wild run. Drought has stolen water. Climate change has warmed the river, now steeped with toxins and disease.
The Klamath River once strode unimpeded from southern Oregon through Northern California. Its kingdom is an overlooked corner of America, an untamed swath of rugged land and insular people. America knows the legends the area has spawned: the American Indian wars drenched in treachery and blood. The relentless gold rush miners who ravaged salmon streams. The broken treaties. The Bunyanesque loggers felling centuries-old trees. And, in modern times, the environmentalists chaining themselves to hemlock and fir in the name of a small, spotted owl.
“There are layers of culture, of history, of biology,” says Mr. Belchik. “All put together.”
Mr. Belchik, wind whipping at his words aboard a fast jet boat, is following the start of the salmon’s route from the cold waters of the Pacific. To trace the salmon’s journey inland is to see the challenges facing the river, the fish, and the people who depend on both – and how it might all soon change.
The salmon turn from the ocean into a choppy estuary at the ancient Yurok community of Requa, California, beside the town of Klamath. The place is a busy depot: Waves of chinook and coho salmon face upriver for their last brutal trip to spawn and die, meeting young salmon swimming seaward with new silver scales broadcasting a readiness for ocean life. They swim alongside steelhead trout, ropy lamprey eels, and even some massive green sturgeon. Seals prowl. Anglers prey. All mix in the estuary briefly, then go their own ways.
The adult salmon swim toward the continent as the estuary narrows. They dart under the tall slender bridge of Highway 101, the sinuous coastal traffic vein of California.
“From here, the salt water stops. And the salmon will not eat again,” says Mr. Belchik, as the shadow of the bridge passes overhead.
Five miles upriver, the Klamath River becomes shallower. At the helm of the jet boat, Hunter Mattz reads the ripples on the surface. He cuts and weaves like a matador. It seems reckless – rushing forward in a boat with a V-8 engine above shallow rocks. But speed is necessary, the pilot explains. Backing off the throttle would cause the craft to settle in water. He needs it to skim the surface. “I had to learn to press forward, not to hesitate,” Mr. Mattz says.
The struggle over fish is a family matter for Mr. Mattz, as it is for many tribal members. His grandfather, Raymond Mattz, was arrested 19 times in the 1960s as authorities tried to force the Native Americans to stop fishing. He finally invited California game wardens to take him away, and eventually won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the Yurok’s tribal rights to fish in their ancestral waters.
“I’ve spent a lot of my time here, fishing,” says the young Mr. Mattz, his long ponytail dancing in the wind.
The salmon wend past the rocks, expending precious power. Eagles patrol the sky. Black bears visit at night. All await the salmon.
Sixteen miles upriver is the first turnoff. The salmon are drawn, in ways humans still do not fully understand, to the place of their birth. A few thousand veer into Blue Creek, whose headwaters lie far up in the Siskiyou Wilderness.
As he chats at the juncture of the creek, Mr. Belchik is distracted. Suddenly the water churns with leaps and splashes. A cloud of fish has brought a harbor seal upstream for a banquet. “Did you see that?” Mr. Belchik exalts. “I just saw a big 20-pound salmon like right there. Big 20-pounder! Wow.”
Mile after mile upriver the salmon swim, past ancient redwoods that somehow evaded the sawyers’ saws, towering Douglas firs, alders, and cottonwoods. The wet air of the coast rises with the land, and drops its rain – more than 100 inches per year – feeding the temperate rainforest.
The fish leave the territory of the Yurok, who have been here for thousands of years. They move forward in the Klamath through deep, spectacular gorges that crease uplifted granite mountains.
Sixty-six miles upriver, the Salmon River bustles in to join the Klamath. The river used to be famous for its surfeit of thousands of chinook each spring. This year biologists counted 95 fish.
In what can be a race of days or a hesitant swim of weeks, the salmon have labored their way more than 100 miles upstream. They reach Happy Camp, California, which flies the three eagle-feathered flag of the Karuk Tribe. The river at the center of the town – and at the tribe’s cultural heart – is tired and foul. The flow of water this far up is weak and the shallow currents intolerably warm for the cold-loving salmon. Blooms of toxic algae threaten the river as well.
Russell “Buster” Attebery, chairman of the Karuk Tribe, rarely eats fish from the river anymore. Mostly, he says, the fish are not there. It is an honored tradition for young men to catch and present salmon to their elders. But the tribe ended the practice four years ago. For its age-old ceremonies celebrating the return of the salmon, the tribe now gets fish from the Yurok on the coast.
“My saddest day as chairman was to tell our elders that we can’t bring them any [local] fish,” says Mr. Attebery, who has headed the tribe for 11 years. “I think the happiest day will be when I tell them that we can.”
The struggling salmon seek shady water in the day, and move at night when the river is cooler – and alive. On a fierce windy night, the Klamath, lit by the moon, turns silver. Its usual gentle shush swells to a thousand voices, and the willows on its banks flail their branches in wild genuflection.
The fish leave the green folds of the Klamath Mountains and enter high steppe plains of volcanic rock. After 175 miles, they reach the Shasta River tributary. In the 1930s, fish counts put the number of chinook salmon in the Shasta at 80,000. Last year, volunteers who walked the river recorded 4,000.
Eventually, as it nears the Oregon border, the river begins to flatten. RV parks, with fat vehicles parked on concrete pads, line its banks. The current picks up, and the fish plunge forward, oblivious of human rafters who float past them on inner tubes.
The fish turn a corner, 190 miles from the ocean where they began. But here, straddling the river, is an imposing red-clay and concrete barrier – the Iron Gate Dam.
There is no ladder, no passage for fish. The wall, 740 feet wide, is the end of the line.
Six dams were built on the Klamath River between 1918 and 1962. The Iron Gate Dam is 173 feet tall. Sluice pipes wind down the face of the dam from the reservoir behind it, ejecting water through two turbines to create hydroelectricity and providing the Lower Klamath a ration of lake-warmed water. Three shorter dams further upriver – the Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and John C. Boyle – also were built to bring kilowatts to a rural land.
“This is so easy to be done, the benefit so great, and the cost so little, that it cannot fail to meet with the approval of every citizen,” gushed the Klamath Evening Herald when the dams were proposed in 1901.
The tribes say they were promised a fish passage around or over the dams, but that did not happen. Instead, a hatchery was built at the Iron Gate Dam to insert juvenile salmon into the river, obliterating the ancient spawning pull of more than 400 miles of river and tributaries upstream.
But the dams pool the river in reservoirs, interrupting its pace, and trap sediment. In this drought, the river is low, warm, and slow. That has fueled a disease called Ceratonova shasta, spores released from host worms that thrive in the slower warm current. It can kill young fish. It has claimed, by some estimates, 95% of the juvenile salmon released from the hatchery recently.
Tribal leaders and biologists say the river – once the third most fertile salmon river in the West – may soon have no more salmon.
For 20 years, the tribes argued for restoration of the tributaries that were ravaged by logging and for removal of the dams, or the installation of working fish ladders. It has been a tortured fight. They were bolstered by the 1973 Supreme Court decision that overturned the arrest of Mr. Mattz’s grandfather. The tribes were further empowered by state and federal protections of endangered species, including the Klamath’s coho salmon.
But the fight still got ugly. In 2001, nearly 15,000 farmers, demanding more water for irrigation, mounted a “bucket brigade” protest, symbolically moving 50 pails of water from the river into an agricultural irrigation canal. The administration of George W. Bush then ordered water diverted to the farmers, which contributed to a massive die-off of tens of thousands of fish. Native groups still talk about it with a hushed tone of horror.
This year, in a reversal, federal authorities have cut off the irrigation water to farmers, as the drought has endangered the fish. That has brought an outcry from farmers that they are being sacrificed for salmon.
It’s a “disaster,” says Ben DuVal. Mr. DuVal farms far above the Iron Gate Dam, southeast of Upper Klamath Lake. He runs a 600-acre spread and raises 1,700 cattle on land his grandfather won in a homestead lottery in 1948. The grandfather of his wife, Erika, also secured acreage in the lottery. They hope to pass the farm down to their daughters, Hannah and Helena – “if that’s what they want,” the couple add in unison.
Their community of Tulelake, California, was a government project. It was created when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drained swamps, dammed Upper Klamath Lake, and promised irrigation water forever to veterans of World War I and II who would homestead and farm the land. The government also promised fishing rights and water forever to the tribes. That duplicity burdens all of their descendants today: There is not enough water for both.
Outside the DuVals’ home, a 35-foot-high stack of hay bales awaits a buyer. Eventually, a tractor-trailer will haul them to Seattle, where they will be shrink-wrapped and shipped to Japan, South Korea, China, or Saudi Arabia.
“Believe it or not, it’s cheaper to ship it to China than to North Dakota,” says Mr. DuVal. About 1,200 farms in the area grow grain and alfalfa, potatoes and onions with water from Upper Klamath Lake.
But this year, the DuVals and their neighbors feel their livelihoods are endangered. Without the irrigation water, they cannot survive long, he says. Ms. DuVal motions out her sunny kitchen window to a fallow field. “You would not see brown out there; you would see green” in any other year. Their neighbor is sharing his well water, and many farmers are drilling deeper, even though they know the aquifer cannot support them all. “We’ve done a lot of things to get by this year that just aren’t going to work next year,” says Mr. DuVal.
“If we can’t get by for another year,” he adds, “it could very well be the end of our operation.”
“Finding the water is one thing,” Ms. DuVal says at her kitchen table, “but dealing with the mental and emotional struggles as well can … can break a person.”
The water cutoff has set the overwhelmingly white farmers – “irrigators” – against the defenders of the Klamath River and the Klamath River Indians. Mr. DuVal says he is not opposed to the dam removals – two remaining dams will control the lake level. But he believes the fish will not recover, given the warm and polluted waters.
“We’re putting farms out of business in order to continue doubling down on a theory that’s not working,” he says.
Don Gentry, the white-maned chairman of the Klamath Tribes, headquartered an hour north in Chiloquin, Oregon, acknowledges the dam removals will not be a panacea. Salmon may have to be reintroduced. They have not been seen in Chiloquin, on Upper Klamath Lake, for more than 100 years. But he is also concerned about two other endangered fish.
Known to the tribe as C’waam and Koptu, and called suckerfish by others, the species live in the lake. The adults are hardy and produce millions of juvenile fish each spring. But the young fish cannot survive the warm and polluted waters of Upper Klamath Lake, a shallow basin fouled by nutrients and often choked with toxic blue-green algae. Each year for nearly three decades, all the juvenile fish died by August.
Mr. Gentry frets about hydrology and biology, but it is the cultural loss he feels most keenly. He recalls the traditional catch of the C’waam and presentation to elders.
When he was a teenager, at a time of overt prejudice against Native Americans, the practice “affirmed that I had a place in our community and a purpose,” he says. “It made me the person I am today.”
The tribal members say they are not trying to deprive farmers of all their water, but, in a historical irony, the government is now on their side. State and federal laws say endangered fish must have enough water to survive.
In “normal” years, the removal of four dams downstream would not affect Upper Klamath Lake. Its two remaining dams, with fish ladders, would still control the farmers’ allocations. But climate change is altering normal expectations, and the farmers worry that the government will cut them off again to bolster water supplies for the endangered fish.
And nearly 4 million wild birds that stop on the historic ponds and marshes on their migration are “the last in line for water,” notes Bill Lehman, executive director of the nonprofit Klamath Watershed Partnership. He argues that water allocations must sustain the wetlands that support migrating birds.
In the end, the decision to remove the dams was simply a matter of business. The hydroelectric plants are now owned by the energy company PacifiCorp, which is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The owners looked at the requirements for modernizing the old dams – including a court order that they install fish ladders – and concluded the modest electrical power produced by the plants no longer justified their upkeep.
“We won because Warren Buffett decided it was too expensive” to keep the dams, admits Mr. Attebery of the Karuk Tribe.
The dams will be turned over to a legal entity called the Klamath River Renewal Corp., backed by the California and Oregon governments. Earthmovers are scheduled to begin dismantling the dams in two years.
But tensions remain ragged. Mark Bransom is chief executive officer of the new entity, and sometimes meets hostility as he explains the project in local communities. He recalls being confronted in a parking lot one night after a public meeting by two burly men who warned him never to return to the county. They added that they were armed.
“Oh, really?” Mr. Bransom says he told them. “What do you shoot? I carry my Glock .45 everywhere I go.” He offered to show them a shooting stance. “I can hit a 2-inch [target] at 30 feet every single time.” He says the men shuffled away.
Mr. Bransom, who grew up in rural Colorado, says he understands the distrust. “Your grandparents may have worked on these dams,” he tells people at public meetings. “Your ancestors came here to mine and they lost mining. And then they turned to logging and they lost logging – the spotted owl came along. Now agriculture is under assault, because we’re using too much water to grow hay and killing the salmon. So, you know, I understand what you’re saying.”
But Jeff Mitchell, an elder of the Klamath Tribes, says his people also are fighting for their way of life, their culture, and religion.
“We are fish people and we are water people,” says Mr. Mitchell. “We have a few laws that we believe the creator passed down to us, from generation to generation, and one of those is it is our responsibility to protect these fish. If for some reason these fish go away, the creator has told us we will go away. I believe that.”
Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals
Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang October 17, 2021
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.
The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.
People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health.
Brown said he suspects there are far more sites than even those on the EPA list, posing long-term health risks for unsuspecting people who live near them.
“Once it’s in the environment it almost never breaks down,” Brown said of PFAS. “This is such a potent compound in terms of its toxicity and it tends to bioaccumulate … This is one of the compounds that persists forever.”
A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.
In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil.
‘Permeating all industrial sectors’
The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly.
The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)
PFAS chemicals are a group of more than 5,000 man-made compounds used by a variety of industries since the 1940s for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware. People can be exposed through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with PFAS.
The EPA acknowledges there is “evidence that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health outcomes in humans”. But the agency also says that there is only “very limited information” about human health risks for most of the chemicals within the group of PFAS chemicals.
EPA officials have started taking steps to get a grasp on the extent of PFAS use and existing and potential environmental contamination, as independent researchers say their own studies are finding reason for alarm. Last year, for instance, scientists at the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued a report finding that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water at worrisome levels.
The EPA is expected to announce a broad new “action plan” addressing PFAS issues on Monday. The list of facilities handling PFAS is one part of the larger effort by the agency to “better understand and reduce the potential risks to human health and the environment caused by PFAS,” EPA deputy press secretary Tim Carroll told the Guardian.
“EPA has made addressing PFAS a top priority,” Carroll said. “Together we are identifying flexible and pragmatic approaches that will deliver critical public health protections.”
Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS, said the EPA compilation of more than 120,000 facilities that may be handling PFAS and other recent moves shows the agency is taking the issue seriously, but more work is urgently needed.
“Unfortunately, where PFAS are used, there is often local contamination,” Birnbaum said. And while the EPA appears to be trying to get a handle on the extent of exposure concerns, progress “seems very slow”, she said.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) asserts that PFAS concerns are overblown.
Major manufacturers have backed away from the PFOS and PFOA-related chemicals that research has shown to be hazardous, and other types of PFAS are not proven to be dangerous, according to the chemical industry organization. “PFAS are vital” to modern society, according to the ACC.
But public health and environmental groups, along with some members of Congress, say the risks posed to people by industrial use of PFAS substances are substantial.
Four US lawmakers led by Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote to the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, on 6 October about their concerns regarding PFAS contamination of air and water from industrial facilities, saying: “For too many American families, this exposure is increasing their risk of cancer and other serious health problems.”
More than 150 advocacy groups also sent a letter to Regan calling for urgent action to address industrial discharges of PFAS chemicals, noting that many of the chemicals “have been linked at very low doses to serious health harms”.
One of the sites on the EPA list is the Clover Flat landfill in Calistoga, California, a small community in the Napa Valley area that is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The landfill sits on the northern edge of the valley atop the edge of a rugged mountain range.
Clover Flat has taken in household garbage, as well as commercial and industrial waste since the 1960s, but over time the landfill has also become a disposal site for debris from forest fires.
Though the EPA list does not specifically confirm Clover Flat is handling PFAS, the community has no doubt about the presence of the toxic chemicals. A May 2020 water sampling report requested by regional water quality control officials showed that PFAS chemicals were present in every single sample taken from groundwater and from the leachate liquid materials around the landfill.
Close to 5,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the landfill, and many fear the PFAS and other toxins taken in by the landfill are making their way deep into the community.
Geoffrey Ellsworth, mayor of the small city of St Helena in Napa county, said multiple streams cross the landfill property, helping rains and erosion drive the chemical contaminants downhill into creeks and other water sources, including some used to irrigate farmland. He has been seeking regulatory intervention but has not been successful, he told the Guardian.
A small group of Napa Valley residents have been working on a documentary film about their concerns with the landfill, highlighting fears that exposures to PFAS and other contaminants are jeopardizing their health.
“The water is full of foam and looks soapy and smells funny,” said 69-year-old Dennis Kelly, who lives on a few acres downhill from Clover Flat. His dog Scarlett has become sick after wading through waters that drain from the landfill into a creek that runs through his property, Kelly said. And for the last few years he has suffered with colon and stomach cancer.
Kelly said he fears the water is toxic, and he has noticed the frogs and tadpoles that once populated the little creek are now nowhere to be found.
“Pollution is going to be what kills us all,” Kelly said.
Our water usage has shrunk by 62%, saving more than 919,000 gallons of water and about $6,000 in Los Angeles Department of Water and Power charges since 2009. I like that.
I don’t like knowing that one of the roughly 120 golf courses in the Coachella Valley blows through our entire 12-plus years of water savings in about nine hours, every single night.
In one part of the permanently drought-stricken four-fifths of Australia called “outback,” golf course fairways are dirt and “greens” are compacted black sand. People play on them daily. Coachella Valley golfers and golf course owners, state water resource managers, water drinkers: Are you listening?
Chuck Almdale, North Hills
To the editor: I have been bothered for a while about how California has been underutilizing the scant water we do have by growing snacks (almonds) and wine, and now I find out that millions of gallons daily are going to golf courses from a water source that is recharged by the imperiled Colorado River.
So there’s plenty of water for snacks, wine and golf. Welcome to the hedonistic California Republic.
Jim Sangster, Ojai
To the editor: As the members of the senior generation who moved to and developed the desert’s golf resorts age and die off, what will be the need for these huge, useless expanses of green?
Details: Two-thirds of Americans say extreme weather events in the U.S. have been occurring more frequently than in the past, while only 28% said they’ve been taking place about as often, and just 4% perceiving a dropoff in frequency.
When it comes to extreme weather events in their backyards, 46% of U.S. adults say the area where they live has had an extreme weather event over the past year.
The area with the greatest number of people reporting an extreme weather event was the South Central Census Division. It includes Louisiana, a state hit hard by Hurricane Ida and heavy rainfall events.
Yes, but: Even on perceptions of extreme weather events, there is a partisan split, the survey found, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents more likely to report experiencing extreme weather than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
The survey of 10,371 Americans took place from Sept. 13–19, 2021, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.