Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country

Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country

Casa Grande, Arizona-July 21, 2021- Nancy Caywood stands beside the corn that her son Travis Hartman farms using leased land that has water rights. The family hopes the profit from the corn (feed) will help pay the taxes and water dues they own on their own land Caywood Farms. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angels Times)
Nancy Caywood stands beside the corn that her son Travis Hartman farms using leased land that has water rights. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

The cotton’s gone.
The alfalfa barely exists.

“Can you even call this a farm?” asked Nancy Caywood, standing on a rural stretch of land her Texas grandfather settled nearly a century ago, drawn by cheap prices and feats of engineering that brought water from afar to irrigate central Arizona’s arid soil.

The canals that used to bring water to the fields of Caywood Farms have gone dry due to the drought.
The canals that used to bring water to the fields of Caywood Farms have gone dry due to the drought. In Arizona, 99% of the land is undergoing a years-long drought. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

On the family’s 247 acres an hour south of Phoenix, Caywood grew up tending to cotton and alfalfa, two water-intensive crops that fed off melted mountain snows flowing from a reservoir 120 miles away. She grew up understanding the rhythms of the desert and how fields can blossom despite a rugged, sand-swept terrain where sunlight is a given but water is precious.

Now more than ever. Looking out at her farmland recently, Caywood held back tears.

The eastern Arizona reservoir that provided much of her water was drying up, leaving empty the canals and ditches that surround her property. Bigger-than-usual summer rains did not prove ample to rescue dead fields. The drought was at her door.

Across the U.S. West, shifting climate patterns are wreaking havoc. An early start to fire season is scorching rural Oregon and parts of Northern California. Record temperatures have led to deaths of hundreds of residents of Seattle and Portland, Ore. Lake Mead, the massive Colorado River reservoir outside Las Vegas, is at its lowest point since its 1935 federal construction, threatening water supplies to Arizona, Southern California, Nevada and Mexico.

Saguaros, which are native to the desert, are still susceptible to damage under extreme conditions.
Saguaros, which can naturally withstand drought better than non-native plants, are still susceptible to damage under extreme conditions. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

In Arizona, 99% of the land is undergoing years-long drought that has accelerated. Large swaths of the region are now in extreme distress and the picture may well get worse, with less reliable mountain snowfall to feed streams and a morphing monsoon season that has only proved a temporary reprieve and even led to flooding. The state, where more than a third of all water can trace itself up the Colorado River to Lake Mead, will also be forced to make do with less beginning next year because of the lake’s dwindling supply.

“Arizona is pretty much an irrigated state and we’ve managed our water resources generally well,” said Stephanie Smallhouse, a fifth-generation cattle rancher on the far outskirts of Tucson who is the president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “But it’s near impossible to manage yourself out of a drought.”

The history of Arizona is the history of water. Before European colonizers and American settlers moved in, Indigenous people relied on the Gila, Salt and Verde rivers outside Phoenix. The Colorado River flowed on what’s now the state’s western edge, while snowmelt from New Mexico’s Black Mountain Range formed the Gila River that came from the east to meet the Colorado, creating a lifeline for tens of thousands of subsistence farmers in Native American communities.

But as technological advances led to the construction of dams and reservoirs in the early 20th century to divert rivers for new residents — like Caywood’s grandfather — Native land went fallow, leading to sickness and poverty. As cities such as Tucson and Phoenix and farmlands between them grew over the decades, they were aided by another feat in water engineering when construction on the Central Arizona Project launched in 1973. Today, the intricate canal system carries Colorado River water hundreds of miles from Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border to taps and irrigation ditches across central Arizona.

The Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct, fed by the Colorado River, runs through Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct, fed by the Colorado River, runs through Scottsdale, Ariz. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

It’s a history that informs who wins and loses amid drought. The state has dozens of irrigation districts that tax customers in exchange for regulating water flow from different sources. The map they form can at times resemble gerrymandered congressional districts, with it not unusual for neighboring farms to get water from canals that lead to mountains and reservoirs in opposite directions.

Longevity also goes into the equation.

“Water policy in Arizona is also rooted in the idea that a person who comes and diverts water for a beneficial use should have higher priority than the next one who comes along if there is a risk for shortage,” said Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.

When it comes to water, one city or farm is not always equal to the other in the state where the $23-billion agriculture industry uses up more than 70% of irrigated water, a large chunk of it on crops the federal government encourages with subsidies, such as cotton. In central Arizona, city dwellers and tribal lands tend to get first dibs on water before farms. Still, nearly everyone is preparing. Cities are raising water prices. The state is locked in a battle with hundreds of lush golf courses over demands that they cut back on water.

Yuma, a major farming region known as the “Salad Bowl” for growing broccoli, lettuce and leafy greens that are shipped across the country each winter, is in many ways spared. It has priority over water from the nearby Colorado River in part because irrigated agriculture has taken place there for more than a century. Vegetables also need significantly less water than crops that are popular inland.

A worker moves irrigation tubes on a farm in Pinal County.
A worker moves irrigation tubes on a farm in Pinal County. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

It’s farmers in the center of the state who are most worried as shortages loom. Among the hardest-hit are those in Pinal County, a largely rural patchwork of farms and cattle and dairy ranches nestled between Phoenix and Tucson where family farmers live alongside exurbs that are rapidly expanding as agriculture recedes.

Along Interstate 10, typically green farms have turned brown, skinny cattle are left with little grass to graze and saguaros lie dead. “For sale” signs advertise desperate owners looking to sell their land at discount for solar power panels and housing developments.

“There’s nothing nefarious about how the water is divided,” said Paul Orme, an attorney who represents several irrigation districts in the county. “But because of agreements that have been negotiated and where these farmers have fell in those, you could see up to 30% of farmland in Pinal County no longer irrigated over the next few years.”

For those like Caywood, that time has already come.

Casa Grande, a city of 55,000 founded in 1879 as a mining town that’s named after a structure built by the ancient Hohokam people, is one of those places at the center of the water crisis. Home to dozens of alfalfa, cotton, wheat and corn farms and as well as dairy and beef ranches, it’s long been sustained by a mix of rains, aquifers and canals drawing on the Colorado River, among other reserves.

Caywood stands in what used to be an alfalfa field.
Caywood stands in what used to be an alfalfa field. It went fallow after her family lost access to irrigated water from the San Carlos reservoir because its water levels were too low. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

The Caywood farm has a different source. When Caywood’s grandfather, Lewis Storey, established it in 1930, he agreed to pay for water from canals connected to the San Carlos reservoir 130 miles away. Storey thought the reservoir, formed on the Gila River, would be plentiful for generations with its 19,500 acre-feet supply. An acre-foot covers the amount of water that could seep a foot deep across a football field.

The family had long used that water to grow cotton that made up towels and sheets found in big-box stores. The seeds went separately for cattle feed. Alfalfa was cut and baled for ranches across the Southwest.

This summer, the San Carlos reservoir hit zero acre-feet.

“If you want to eat ice cream, you need people like us growing the feed,” Caywood said recently as she sat in the small, wooden shed on the property where she keeps a digital slideshow of the once-lively green and white fields to show kids who still come by on field trips. All that survived now were old mesquite and cottonwood trees on the edges of the land.

“We’re wiped clean,” Caywood said. “You can’t grow.”

Cattle go up for sale at Marana Stockyards in Marana, Ariz.
Cattle go up for sale at Marana Stockyards in Marana, Ariz. “If you can’t grow grass, you buy it. But the hay is too expensive because there’s less water to grow it and less water expected down the line,” said Clay Buck Parsons, who runs the auction house with his father, Clay Parsons. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Emaciated cattle are often sold at Marana Stockyards.
Emaciated cattle are often sold at Marana Stockyards, which has seen an increase in sales amid the decreased feed availability that the drought has caused. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

An hour south of the the Caywood property at the Pinal County line, the ranchers who show up each week at Marana Stockyards are feeling the trickle-down effects of the drought. The Parsons family has auctioned cattle here for 25 years. Business is picking up.

Dozens of men in cowboy hats and leather boots arrive each Wednesday to watch their bulls, cows and calves sold off. Clay Buck Parsons, a third-generation rancher and auctioneer, ushers cattle into holding pens outside the red barnyard-like building while Parsons’ dad mans a computer as locals in the stands make bids and buyers log in online.

“We’ve sold 12,000 more head this year already than last year,” said Parsons, 29. Most go to Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“You can’t feed the animals without grass,” he said, looking out at dozens of black Angus mother cows whose shoulders and ribs jutted out from grazing on dying fields.

“If you can’t grow grass, you buy it. But the hay is too expensive because there’s less water to grow it and less water expected down the line. So the ranchers are cutting down on their herd to maintain smaller numbers where they can still make a profit.”

Clay Parsons owns Marana Stockyards, which he runs with his son.
Clay Parsons owns Marana Stockyards, which he runs with his son, Clay Buck Parsons. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Rancher Mike Mercer, left, regularly buys and resells cows at Marana Stockyards.
Rancher Mike Mercer, left, regularly buys underweight cows at Marana Stockyards. He feeds them for a few months before reselling them for profit. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

Buck said it costs up to $4 a day per cow for hay, four times more than grazing on grass. The cost of raising beef can be several thousand times more than some vegetables, such as lettuce. But ranchers here said family history — and profits — had until recently seemed worth holding on to.

One of the regulars to come that day was Mike Mercer. At 54, he has been ranching since his teens. For many years, his land in Mammoth, a village of 1,650, provided for 700 mother cows. Now, he can’t have more than 100 at a time as grass disappears.

“You can’t run cattle. It’s just — everything’s gone,” Mercer said. “A lot of guys are switching into copper mining or welding or trucking.”

These days, Mercer buys skinny, sickly cows, feeds them for a few months on hay in a covered feedlot, and resells them at a profit. On that day, he sold 88 to buyers in Texas and Oklahoma.

The Parsons family's auction house has sold 12,000 more cows this year than last year.
The Parsons family’s auction house has sold 12,000 more cows this year than last year. Many ranchers can no longer afford to feed their cattle because of the drought. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

A Christian who believes God is responsible for the drought, he prayed for a change.

“You just keep saying we can’t have another year this bad and then we have another year even worse…. Leave it in God’s hands. Because I don’t know what else to do. You pray for rain. Oh, God, yeah. Pray for rain.”

Caywood, a former farming teacher at the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources Division in El Centro, Calif., also questions those who say climate change is to blame for her struggles.

I don’t believe in it. I believe things are cyclical. But I can’t believe that it’s happening so quickly,” said Caywood, who has a master’s degree in agricultural education.

Nancy Caywood, left, and her grandson Thomas Hartman, age 14.
Nancy Caywood, left, and her grandson Thomas Hartman, 14, stand at the office of Caywood Farms. Hartman is learning to farm, raising steer and chickens. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

Her son, Travis, built a home on the farm where he lives with two sons. She is thankful that he has continued in the family tradition. But she is more thankful that he is also a firefighter and EMT, a job that provides a stable income. Her `14-year-old grandkids Thomas and Cameron are learning to farm, raising steer and chickens. She has encouraged them but also told them to consider backup plans.

In the good years, the farm would easily make tens of thousands of dollars in profits, more than enough to cover $22,000 in annual property taxes. This year, Caywood, who had hoped to retire, may dip into savings to cover the bill.

Recently, her son leased two 80-acre plots in different irrigation districts that have access to canal water from the Colorado River. Just a few miles from Caywood Farms, corn stalks reach 5 feet into the air. They’ll be chopped up for dairy cow feed.

The family didn’t want more farming land but found it necessary to cover the taxes on its dying historic property.

Except there’s one problem.

Because of the drought, Arizona will have 18% less water from the Colorado River next year. Farms like Caywood’s son’s will be hit hardest because of rules governing how water is divided in the state.

"We have no cotton. It's gone. It's dead. The alfalfa barely exists," Caywood said.
“We have no cotton. It’s gone. It’s dead. The alfalfa barely exists,” Caywood said. She may be forced to use her savings to cover taxes on the farm, which isn’t making money anymore. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

“It seems there’s really no way out of drought,” Caywood said the other week, browsing old photos of her parents and son standing by cotton bales.

Sometimes, she felt as though it wasn’t just a farm but a family and way of life slipping away. Her father, Tommy, died in January at 98. Her 94-year-old mother, Sammie, was in and out of the hospital.

All around her, farms were disappearing. Next door, the Wuertzes sold much of theirs for solar panels. Down the street, an abandoned construction project stood where alfalfa once grew. Caywood had gotten offers from buyers too. She rejected them.

She looked at the barren fields where her grandfather taught her how to examine the changing color of a cotton blossom to tell where the plant was in its life span. She thought back to when water flowed freely in the dried-up irrigation canals where she would sneak away to swim as a kid.

Days like those seemed long gone. She prayed for them to come back again.

Temperatures challenge all-time records in Europe as wildfires rage in Greece, Turkey

Temperatures challenge all-time records in Europe as wildfires rage in Greece, Turkey

 

Relief from intense and record-setting heat in southeast Europe is still days away, and AccuWeather meteorologists warn the prolonged warmth will continue to fuel dangerous wildfires across parts of the parched continent.

Fires have scorched large portions of southwest Turkey during the end of July and the start of August. At least eight people have been killed by the flames, while many others have suffered injuries, according to Reuters.

Among the dead are two firefighters who were killed on Saturday, CNN reported, citing Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Ministry.

Over 100 fires across Turkey during the past week have already been contained, though a number of fires in southwestern parts of the country remain out of control.

One of the fires burned near the popular resort community of Bodrum, which led to the evacuation of over 1,000 people by boat as the flames neared the coast.

A satellite image of the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Friday, July 30, 2021, shows smoke from wildfires across southwest Turkey. (Photo/NASA/WORLDVIEW)

Fires have also charred parts of southern Italy, Greece and Cyprus as intense heat and dry conditions remain in place across the region.

A wildfire near an industrial part of Athens quickly spread on Tuesday which disrupted rail travel and closed a portion of the national motorway, Reuters reported. According to local media, 80 children were safely evacuated from a camp near the fire. The fire was the worst of 81 wildfires that broke out in Greece within the span of 24 hours, The Associated Press reported.

The setup that led to the intense heat across southeast Europe included a strong area of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere that has remained over the Balkans, allowing a heat dome to form, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer.

Much of eastern Europe had temperatures average 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit (3-6 degrees Celsius) above normal for the month of July. During this time, parts of southern Greece and southwest Turkey reported no rainfall.

“A deficit in rainfall from dry weather earlier in the summer exacerbated the temperatures further as the dry surface heated up much more easily than what moist soil would,” Smithmyer said.

Temperatures in parts of Athens neared 110 F (43 C) on Tuesday. The current record for continental Europe stands at 118.4 F (48 C); that temperature record was set in Athens on July 10, 1997, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Due to the extreme heat, authorities in Greece closed the Acropolis and other ancient sites during afternoon hours, the AP reported. The closures were in effect from noon to 5 p.m., which is typically the hottest part of the day.

The high temperature in Trikala, Greece, was able to rise into the mid-110s F (~46 C) on Monday.

Temperatures can soar to near 116 F (47 C) across the hottest parts of central Greece.

Even during the second half of the week as temperatures abate slightly, it will still be dangerously hot for outdoor activities.

“Conditions look to remain very hot for much of the week, and will continue to rival record-high temperatures,” said Smithmyer. A break from the intense heat won’t occur until late this week and into the weekend, she added.

The storm bringing the relief in temperatures will also bring much-needed showers and thunderstorms to the central and northern Balkans.

Unfortunately, no rainfall is expected across Greece and southern Turkey through at least the end of the week and potentially through the middle of August. AccuWeather forecasters say this will keep the wildfire threat very high and can lead to additional rapidly spreading and large fires.

“Conditions for the second half of August may still remain hot and above normal, but patterns hint towards slightly above-normal temperatures rather than the extreme heat being experienced currently,” said Smithmyer.

Covid patient goes from ‘invincible’ to hospital-bed vaccine advocate

Covid patient goes from ‘invincible’ to hospital-bed vaccine advocate

 

An unvaccinated Virginia man who’s been hospitalized with Covid-19 is using social media to urge others to go out and get the shot.

Travis Campbell, 43, has been in the hospital for more than a week with complications from the virus, which also infected his wife and two of their children.

Image: Travis Campbell has been making Facebook videos and posts asking people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 after testing positive and being hospitalized for the virus. (Travis Campbell)
Image: Travis Campbell has been making Facebook videos and posts asking people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 after testing positive and being hospitalized for the virus. (Travis Campbell)

 

“We just thought we were invincible and we weren’t going to get it,” said his wife, Kellie Campbell. “And we’ve just been so busy, and we just moved, and we prolonged getting the vaccine.”

Kellie Campbell said her husband tested positive on July 22 and got progressively worse. Eventually, he was hospitalized. She worries that he will be placed on a ventilator to help his breathing.

“I mean, he couldn’t catch his breath … had fever, just lethargic, he ached, just one thing after another,” she said. “He started in a regular room, and then he went to a Covid ICU room, and now he’s in the pulmonary ICU.”

Despite his condition, Travis Campbell is adamant about making videos to share on Facebook encouraging others to get vaccinated now, his wife said.

“I’m testifying to all my bulletproof friends that’s holding out, it’s time to protect your family, it’s not worth getting long term lung damage or death please go get the vaccine,” Travis Campbell wrote in a July 25 Facebook post.

Kellie Campbell said her husband is “all about other people” and doesn’t want others to have to deal with what he’s going through.

“He just doesn’t want anyone to have to endure the pain that he has, and if a vaccine will help them, that’s what they need to do,” she said.

In a video posted from his hospital bed Tuesday night, Travis Campbell asked followers to consider whether they’d rather plan their own funerals and goodbyes or get vaccinated.

“I hope to God that all my friends and family would not say, ‘Somebody hand me a piece of paper and a pen.’ That’s a sobering thought, of which I have done,” he said.

As her family and doctors take her husband’s condition day by day, Kellie Campbell said her advice to others is to go out and get vaccinated immediately.

“If you have to take time off work, if you have to miss out on something, you need to go get the vaccine, because we didn’t, and look where we are now,” she said. “I mean, that should be your top priority. Especially not just for you, but your family members.”

Record-smashing heat extremes may become much more likely with climate change – study

Record-smashing heat extremes may become much more likely with climate change – study

(Reuters) – Cyprus. Cuba. Turkey. Canada. Northern Ireland. Antarctica. All recorded their hottest-ever temperatures in the last two years, and according to a new study, more such extremes are coming.

In the next three decades, “record-shattering” heat waves could become two to seven times more frequent in the world than in the last 30 years, scientists report in a study published Monday https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01092-9 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Beyond 2050, if current greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, such record-breaking heat waves could be three to 21 times more frequent, the study found.

Even with the records seen in 2021, “we haven’t seen anything close to the most intense heat waves possible under today’s climate, let alone the ones we expect to see in the coming decades,” said co-author Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich.

For the study, the researchers used climate modeling to calculate the likelihood of record-breaking heat that lasted at least seven days and far surpassed earlier records.

Communities preparing for climate change need to be preparing for such extremes, he said.

“Every time record temperatures or precipitation go well beyond what we’ve experienced during our lifetime, that’s usually when we’re unprepared and the damage is largest,” Fischer said.

Last month’s Canadian heat wave killed hundreds of people and reached 121 Fahrenheit (49.6 Celsius) – an eye-popping 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.6 degrees Celsius) above the country’s previous record, set in 1937.

“We should no longer be surprised if we see records smashed by large margins,” Fischer said.

If greenhouse gas emissions are aggressively cut, the likelihood of heat waves would remain high but the chances of exceeding records would eventually fall over time, the study suggests.

The new research shows that “we must expect extreme event records to be broken – not just by small margins, but quite often by very large ones,” climate scientist Rowan Sutton at the University of Reading’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science said in a statement.

“This highlights the huge challenge to improve preparedness, build resilience and adapt society to conditions that have never previously been experienced,” Sutton said.

The study was released as scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change begin two weeks of virtual meetings https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-change-ipcc-idUKKBN2EW0CK to finalize their next global climate science assessment.

(Reporting by Andrea Januta; Editing by Katy Daigle and Dan Grebler)

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

Associated Press

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

 

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — With his cattle ranch threatened by a deepening drought, Jim Stanko isn’t cheered by the coming storm signaled by the sound of thunder.

“Thunder means lightning, and lightning can cause fires,” said Stanko, who fears he’ll have to sell off half his herd of about 90 cows in Routt County outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado if he can’t harvest enough hay to feed them.

As the drought worsens across the West and ushers in an early fire season, cattle ranchers are among those feeling the pain. Their hay yields are down, leading some to make the hard decision to sell off animals. To avoid the high cost of feed, many ranchers grow hay to nourish their herds through the winter when snow blankets the grass they normally graze.

But this year, Stanko’s hay harvest so far is even worse than it was last year. One field produced just 10 bales, down from 30 last year, amid heat waves and historically low water levels in the Yampa River, his irrigation source.

Some ranchers aren’t waiting to reduce the number of mouths they need to feed.

At the Loma Livestock auction in western Colorado, sales were bustling earlier this month even though its peak season isn’t usually until the fall when most calves are ready to be sold. Fueling the action are ranchers eager to unload cattle while prices are still strong.

“Everybody is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it while the price is up before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Moab, Utah who was selling 209 cow-calf pairs, or about 30% of his herd.

Bates decided to trim his herd after a fire set off by an abandoned campfire destroyed part of his pasture, curbing his ability to feed them.

Weather has long factored into how ranchers manage their livestock and land, but those choices have increasingly centered around how herds can sustain drought conditions, said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If it rained four inches, there wouldn’t be a cow to sell for five months,” said George Raftopoulos, owner of the auction house.

Raftopoulos says he encourages people to think twice before parting with their cows. Having to replace them later on might cost more than paying for additional hay, he said.

Culling herds can be an operational blow for cattle ranchers. It often means parting with cows selected for genetic traits that are optimal for breeding and are seen as long-term investments that pay dividends.

Jo Stanko, Jim’s wife and business partner, noted her cows were bred for their ability to handle the region’s temperature swings.

“We live in a very specialized place,” she said. “We need cattle that can do high and low temperatures in the same day.”

As the Stankos prepare to shrink their herd, they’re considering new lines of work to supplement their ranching income. One option on the table: offering hunting and fishing access or winter sleigh rides on their land.

The couple will know how many more cattle they’ll need to sell once they’re done storing hay in early September. They hope to cull just 10, but fear it could be as many as half the herd, or around 45 head.

Already, the family sold 21 head last year after a disappointing hay harvest. This year, the crop is even worse.

“With the heat, it’s burning up. I can’t cut it fast enough,” Jim Stanko said of the hay crop.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment.

 

Arizona ER Doctor Visibly Stunned By Video Of Trump Rally: ‘Dangerous And Stupid’

Arizona ER Doctor Visibly Stunned By Video Of Trump Rally: ‘Dangerous And Stupid’

 

An emergency room doctor described the behavior of the people who attended a crowded, indoor rally for former President Donald Trump as extremely dangerous and stupid amid soaring COVID-19 case rates in the area.

“If you make a dumb decision about your own health, on one level you could say, ‘Well, it’s your life,’” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, who works on the COVID-19 frontline with Valleywise Health in Phoenix. “But when it’s infectious disease that’s this contagious and affects so many people, you’re not just affecting yourself, you’re affecting everybody around you.”

Akhter made the comments after viewing footage of the packed “Protect Our Election” rally held at the Arizona Federal Theater over the weekend. Thousands of mostly maskless people crowded together as Trump and right-wing figures took the stage to continue his “stolen election” fiction and push anti-mask, anti-science rhetoric.

Footage on CNN showed MAGA merch-clad supporters yelling at the camera, “No masks! No masks! Take off the masks!”

Akhter said he had no doubt that there would be an increase in cases following the event.

In Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, just 42% of people have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. New daily cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks as the highly infectious delta variant rapidly spreads around the state and country, predominantly infecting and causing serious illness to unvaccinated people.

Drought-Stressed Chile Is Reining In Its Privatized Water Model

Drought-Stressed Chile Is Reining In Its Privatized Water Model

Alejandra Salgado and Valentina Fuentes           July 28, 2021

 

(Bloomberg) — Chilean senators approved a decade-old bill to reform the country’s water code, including setting horizons on entitlements and enshrining access as a human right.

In a unanimous vote late Tuesday, lawmakers pushed through a package of changes that include capping currently unlimited water rights at a maximum of 30 years and empowering regulators to suspend rights that aren’t being used or if supplies are at risk. Agriculture accounts for most water consumption in Chile, which is a major exporter of fruit and wine as well as copper and lithium.

Born in the 1980s Pinochet dictatorship, Chile’s water system relies heavily on private enterprise and market forces to allocate rights and deliver services. Water is expected to be one of the topics of discussion among delegates chosen to draft a new constitution as Chile looks to address lingering inequalities amid a decade-long drought exacerbated by climate change.

The package of changes, which still requires votes on individual articles, establishes water as a national good for public use and sets greater protections for supplies in indigenous communities. Private sector holders of water entitlements will be able to obtain extensions if they’re deemed to be making good use of rights.

“This bill reinforces the priority of human consumption and adds priority to safeguard ecosystems,” Public Works Minister Alfredo Moreno said. “It allows us to advance in the task of facing climate change.”

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