The Fish Are On Anti-Depressants: The Great Lakes, Harvey, and Our Weird Global Climate Experiment

Image result for bangladesh monsoon

Storm’s coming…

 

A few years ago, I read this cool report out of Northwestern University about an old, hidden, forgotten cemetery near downtown Chicago, underneath some of the most expensive and tony property in the city. This boneyard was the final resting spot of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, before it was forgotten, paved over, and built upon. Skyscrapers and artisanal donut shops linger with a sneering assumption of permanence over a Potter’s Field.

It’s weird, the things our civilization leaves behind. The past, when it burbles up like poltergeists, give us this disconcerting shudder, a weird hollow dread mingled with our awe. I think that comes from twin recognitions: the first is the Ozymandias-like knowledge that we’re all going to be just dirt in the ground one day, and our buildings won’t last forever. The bodies in the ground remind us of that.

But they also remind us that we leave traces. We have an impact not just on our lives, but on the future. And as a species, we have an impact on an entire planet, in sometimes positive but mostly weird and disturbing ways. We’re changing the ecology of our home in a grand experiment to which no one really consented, but in which we’re all both participants and experimenters.

Harvey is a sign of this. Fish on anti-depressants is a far weirder, but no less profound one. In fact, it might be the most damning and on-the-nose verdict on our society I can think of. Let me explain.

Continue reading

Advertisements

A Scattering of Summer Thoughts on the Orange-Moon Night of August 8th

This post has like, zero politics, and is just discursive and recursive and indulgent ramblings, so feel free to skip. 

 

Related image

This wasn’t tonight, but that’s what it looked like!

 

You set out on an eastward walk as darkness begins to stretch a light blanket over the sky and crickets warm up their chittering symphony.  You’d say it is still light out when you leave the door, but by the time you’re a few blocks away from the lake, where the air takes on a subtle sweetwater perspiration, cars have their lights on and faces are indistinct until they pass you, barely preceded by snatches of conversation.

“If there was going to be a rule about where to stand, there should have been a sign.”

“We have enough space, but we don’t have enough room.”

You don’t know the signs or the rule, and you can’t help them with their space issues. The conversations are all couples right now, older than you, settled in, comfortable in the minutia of their observations. Relaxed and unhurried as they disappear into the strengthening night. But you’re unsettled.

Continue reading

The Coming Assaults on the Environment

Image result for but her emails

The Russia investigations are a grand opera, and there is a strand of thinking among the clever set that it is a Distraction from the real evil of the Trump campaign. To that, as part of the meta-clever set (and we’re just as irritating), I say: very true! But also: nonsense.

It’s nonsense because the Grand Guignol corruption, of which the Russia element is a key part, is a direct threat to our democracy.  That this is making an already deeply-ignorant and hair-trigger dumb President even more unhinged is an enormous issue. Trump’s respect for the mechanisms of our republic are already paper-thin, if that (witness the CinC telling active-duty service members to call their Congressmen in support of GOP policies); if he feels his misdeeds threaten his power, who knows what he’ll do. To say this is a distraction is to say an earthquake is a distraction from your looming heart attack. Both things are bad!

Because, yes: we do get distracted from the day-to-day awfulness of this administration, and the GOP in general. Perhaps the longest-lasting impact will be on the environment, or what is left of it.

Regulations Are For Chumps

 

Mulvaney: As you can see, freedom is dead. 

 

Last week the WaPo did a deep dive on the administration’s dismantling of the regulatory state. This has little to do with Trump, except for his self-sworn and entirely self-centered belief that businesspeople (businessmen, really) would do great if they were just left alone, because they are geniuses and don’t need any interference or help from Uncle Sucker, except when it comes to bankruptcy protection. And patent protection. And the police that protect the interests of the monied class. But still.

It’s mostly gnome-standard GOP stuff above and beyond Trump. The stated philosophy is to unleash the power of the market. The sub-philosophy is that government has no role and that any regulation is bad. The underlying idea is that there is no common good and the rich should be able to plunder.  That’s why they want to dismantle any worker and environmental protections.

We can argue about which regulations are needed and which go too far. We can argue about the role of government. But they truly believe there is no role. And they believe that because workers and the environment are the fodder of capital for other people. They go in, get churned up, and money comes out and into the pockets of the rich.

Congress Takes on Pipelines and Conduits, With Expected Results

Congress is involved too. Last week, a couple of bills passed the House and were sent on to the Senate.

One, HR 2786 seems noncontroversial (and indeed was almost unanimously passed). This makes it easier to build hydroelectric conduits. The good people at Circle of Blue, who flagged both of these bills, explain.

The bill amends the Federal Power Act to encourage the development of small hydropower projects. Currently, a hydropower project installed in a conduit — a pipeline or canal, generally — is exempt from the licensing process if it is less than five megawatts. The bill eliminates the five-megawatt cap. The bill also shortens the time frame for issuing a licensing exemption from 45 days to 30 days. There have been no national assessments of hydropower potential from adding turbines to conduits, but it is assumed to be far less than adding turbines to dams without them. Conduit projects, however, can have significant local benefits.

I admit I don’t know much about this. This might be very needed, and very good. It might be completely insignificant. But it is part and parcel of a desire to step back, to regulate less, to have less interference by experts. Maybe it will turn out great. But when we mess with water, when we alter it, it has a way of coming back to bite us. Dams break down. Cities flood. I think, as we enter an era of water instability, we shouldn’t make moves that make it easier to tamper with the flow.

The second one is less ambiguous and more immediately insidious. H.R.2883 is known as the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, so you know it is going to suck. And it is a doozy.

This bill prohibits any person from constructing, connecting, operating, or maintaining a border-crossing facility for the import or export of oil, natural gas, or electricity across an international border of the United States without obtaining a certificate of crossing.

Great! Totally approve. Seems uncontroversial so far. Who wants Canadian companies to lay pipelines willy-nilly?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with respect to oil or natural gas pipelines, or the Department of Energy (DOE), with respect to electric transmission facilities, must issue a certificate of crossing for the border-crossing facility within 120 days after final action is taken under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, unless it is not in the public interest.

120 days doesn’t really seem like a lot, to me. These are huge, often continent-spanning pipelines. The impact they have on natural resources is enormous and hard to judge. I don’t think I like this.

No presidential permit as required under specified executive orders shall be necessary for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of an oil or natural gas pipeline or electric transmission facility, including any border-crossing facility.

This is where the bill really kicks in. While this seems like it is taking away power from Trump, what it is really doing is taking these enormously impactful pipelines out of the realm of public dispute and accountability. It is depoliticizing them in the truest and worst sense. The decision, say, to let bitumen in leaky pipes flow under the Great Lakes will be shunted off to a bureaucracy.

While you could say: good! Let the experts decide without political considerations, what this is really doing is making sure that the decisions are made without scrutiny, and without the negative political ramifications that come with posioning the aquifers. And this isn’t a coincidence. They want this bill passed so that the decisions ultimately are in the hands of this guy.

 

Image result for rick perry gun

I know he’s like the least-objectionable person in the admin. He’s still really objectionable. 

 

Rick Perry believes very strongly in pipelines and in “energy independence”. He believes not very strongly in climate science or environmentalism. This bill is a way to greenlight the pumping of Canadian posion into America.

WHAT TO DO?

Call your Senators. Tell them you oppose HR 2883, because you think decisions that can impact the water we drink and the land we farm on should be decided in the open, and not by unelected bureaucrats. It’s ok that it seems hypocritical. They’re being hypocrites about it, and we’re in the right on this one. Call often.

This is a bill that can be easily overlooked thanks to the “distractions”. Which means it is one that a concerted effort can stop. If not, the whole issue of pipelines in this country will be altered, and citizens will have nearly no say in what happens to our land. Which, again, is just the way they want it.

 

Some Good News About Asian Carp…For Now (Or: Why Trump’s Budget Ruins Everything)

In this 2012 photo, an Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jumps from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill., during a study on the fish’s population.

So, the Great Lakes actually got some good news this week, when it turned out that the canal leading up to Lake Michigan was free of Asian Carp. There had been a two-week monitoring of the area following the discovery of a carp in the Calumet River.

This is good news because if the Asian Carp get into the lake, they’ll be able to get into all the Great Lakes. They have no natural predators around here, and are expected to be able to out-compete local species for food and resources. They could potentially change the entire ecosystem of the lake, ruining commerical fishing (there isn’t much of a market for them right now), and having huge repercussions both environmentally and economically.

If you aren’t familiar, these are big suckers that jump out of the water when they hear a baot, and can do serious damage to boats and people. They fly around and can break your nose. They hurt when they hit you.

They were brought to America for fish farms, but then during a flood escaped into a river, and have worked their way up. Parts of the Illinois, for example, are completely choked with these monsters. Check this out.

It’s super unpleasant. Even if you don’t care about the ecological ramifications of them dominating the Great Lakes (and you should, what’s wrong with you?) just imagine the havoc it will wreak on boating, on the lakes and their tributaries. It’s a nightmare.

That’s why the US has spent a lot of money to keep them out of the Great Lakes, especially on the the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Calumet River. and the Sanitary and Ship Canal, where there is an electronic fence south of the city. And everyone agrees that’s a good thing. Who could be against it?

Oh, for the love of god

The alarming discovery of an 8-pound, 28-inch adult silver carp comes as President Donald Trump is proposing a federal budget that would gut funding for efforts to block Asian carp and other invasive species from the world’s largest body of fresh surface water.

The Trump administration also has refused to release a government study on new proposals to prevent carp from moving upstream from the Illinois River, where the fish already have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

Seriously, what the hell? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of everything? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of this? If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have even imagined there could be a wrong side. I didn’t think there was a pro-Asian-carp-in-the-Lakes contingency.  Especially not from someone so concerned about keeping America safe from foreigners!

But then, they manage to be on the wrong side of everything, especially when it comes to the Great Lakes. They are trying to gut the Great Lakes Research Initiative, even though it will hurt their white working class base the most.  They even manage to be against making sure ballast holds don’t bring any more invasive species, which is almost impressive. You think they spend their whole days on operatic evil like ending health care or suppressing the vote, but nope: they take time to block common-sense ballast measures.

There’s been some talk about closing the Sanitarity and Ship  Canal. As most of you know, these were built in order to use lake water to wash the filth of the city down the Des Plaines and Illinois toward the Mississippi, and on to St. Louis, which: haha, screw St. Louis. The great shipping and sanitation channels changed the flow of the water, an audacious move, and the biggest diversion in Great Lakes history (which now could be a casus belli). 

But it did more than that. It erased the divide between the Mississippi Basin and the Great Lakes Basin, which means that invasive species in Arkansas can make their way up the vast river system into the greatest body of freshwater in the world. That’s why some people are advocating closing them down.

It’s an equally audacious plan, to be sure, and I doubt it will ever happen. But that’s the kind of big thinking that is needed to prevent a catastrophe. And that is what makes it equally catastrophic that we are being led by the smallest thinkers in the world, a whole party of petty, short-sighted, gleefully-destructive fools who inevitably take the most destructive possible course on every issue.

Protecting the Great Lakes smacks of environmentalism, and so they won’t do it. It’s pure nihilism. May they all be forced to paddleboard through a swarm of madly agitated carp.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: Even The Boring Stuff Is Made Terrible by Republicans

 

I admit this image from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is boring. But check out below! Monsters! 

 

Odds are you rarely think of ballast water tanks from ocean-going ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway. God knows I rarely do, and I spend 18% of my waking hours thinking about the Great Lakes. But the water from the ballast, which is scooped up in the ocean or the weird and frigid depths of the Black Sea, contains critters. And when it is dumped to balance out the lightened load from taking off the cargo, those animals escape.

And they kill the whole damn Great Lake system.

See, for thousands of years, the Lakes lived in virtual isolation. Niagara Falls served as a natural barrier from the ocean, which meant any species that somehow made it up the St. Lawrence river, with it’s punishing ocean-going rapids, would hit a wall. That changed with the canal system, and then was blown away when the Seaway opened up and the canals were dredged for oceanic freighters.

 

Image result for great lakes sea lamprey

Lamprey! Ahhh!

 

Lampreys, gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels: all of these have come from ballast, the terrible price of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. There have been heroic attempts to save the Great Lakes from invasive species, and they have largely worked. It’s still uphill, but there has been legislation that regulates ballast to try to keep other unknowns out.

So, of course

The Commercial Vessel Act would eliminate existing legal protections against aquatic invasive species discharged in the ballast water of big ships, according to the letter. In particular, the legislation seeks to preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources, while doing away with existing federal laws that safeguard the nation’s waters against harmful pollutant discharges from vessels, the letter said.

The attorneys general also blasted the legislation as an attempt to jettison the Clean Water Act, the federal law that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scientifically develop and regularly improve uniform minimum pollution treatment standards, and then incorporate them as discharge requirements in permits that are renewed every five years.

“The Commercial Vessel Act takes the radical step of eliminating these vital Clean Water Act protections and relegates EPA — the federal agency with the greatest knowledge and experience in addressing water pollution — to an advisory role,” they said in the letter. “The Commercial Vessel Act vests primary responsibility for controlling vessel pollution with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency mainly focused on homeland security that has little water pollution expertise.”

Between this and the attempted dismantling of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would hurt Trump’s beloved working white class the most, it is like they want to destroy the Lakes. All in the fetishistic lust for letting industry control their own regulatory regimes. It’s madness.

There’s nothing in this world that the GOP doesn’t want to make worse.

(Fun fact! If you were to drain Lake Michigan, you could walk from top to bottom without ever touching the ground. It’s all covered with mussel shells from invasive species over the last half century. Don’t, though. You’d cut your feet to ribbons. Pro tip.)

EPA Replaces Scientists With Industry; Embraces Cartoon Villainy

 

Image result for polluted river america

“Yeah, but those regulations were super onerous…”

 

The phrase “you can’t make this up” is overused, since these days, all you have to do is imagine the worst possible idea being enacted by the worst possible people, and you have a pretty close approximation of reality. Right, NY Times?

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

What’s interesting here is how they don’t even pretend to be talking about citizens anymore. Normally, they say things like “those egghead bureaucrat scientists in Washington DC don’t understand the kind of water that we enjoy here in Mudville. Our citizens are just fine with a little bit of cadmium in their soup.” But that’s not even what J.P. Freire is saying. He’s talking about the “regulated community”, i.e., the businesses themselves. It might be a different definition of “community” than you or I understand, but remember, my friend: corporations are people.

There’s not even anything to unpack here; there’s not even the tribute vice pays to virtue. They are straight-up saying that any regulations will be vetted by the people whose profits are impacted by regulations, and how that is the only concern.

It’s a pretty clear baseline. What matters is the impact regulations have on the bottom line of the company. The baseline isn’t what deregulated pollutions has on the humans who lives around the company. That is, at best, secondary. That’s not the impact that matters.

So it doesn’t matter, just to take a quick jaunt around recent headlines, that:

None of that matters (the attack on indigenous rights might actually be a bonus for these jackals). What we need are fewer regulations, and they should be vetted by the industries themselves.

It’s easy to see the counterarguments. More regulations are job-killing, and these plants and factories and industries are the lifeblood of the community, and if those science pinheads continue to ram their globalist climate-hysteric ideologies down our throats, we’ll be forced to close shop and go pollute Mexico. And why should the Mexicans get all our good pollution?

It’s a seductive argument, except it is also a completely phony one. The choice isn’t between “pollution and jobs”; it is between “pollution or slightly reduced profits.” It’s always been a lie that a company can’t follow simple environmental regulations. They made the same argument when smokestacks were regulated to reduce deadly smog, and industry didn’t collapse. It’s a choice made by companies to chase greater profits by moving to deregulated countries.

Reducing or eliminating regulations doesn’t actually help anyone. There will always be a place that cares even less about its citizens, that slashes regulations, that lets you dump paint right into the well. That the US is rushing to join these countries isn’t pro-worker; it is showing absolute contempt for the worker. It’s saying “you can keep your job, but only if we can lower wages, kill your collective bargaining rights, and poison you and your family, working you until you die young or are too broken to be of use.”

That’s Scott Pruitt’s vision of the future. It’s another reason why this administration has to be resisted at every step. Everything they do is carcinogenic. That’s unfortunately too often literal.

Yukon River Rerouting Shows Sudden Impact of Climate Change; Is Bonkers Crazy

 

This river is younger than, say, “Lemonade”

 

There are few things that can change the course of a river suddenly. The New Madrid earthquakes in 1811-1812 briefly reversed the course of the Mississippi by suddenly shoving millions of tons of water in northward, but that was temporary. Normally, (unless like in Chicago you do it intentionally) rivers change directions or reroute their course very slowly, through generations of erosion as it pokes and prods and tries to find the easiest way to flow, a grinding process that eventually levels everything in its path, though never on the mere scale of a human lifetime.

Thanks to climate change, that might not always be the case. Times?

In the blink of a geological eye, climate change has helped reverse the flow of water melting from a glacier in Canada’s Yukon, a hijacking that scientists call “river piracy.”

This engaging term refers to one river capturing and diverting the flow of another. It occurred last spring at the Kaskawulsh Glacier, one of Canada’s largest, with a suddenness that startled scientists.

A process that would ordinarily take thousands of years — or more — happened in just a few months in 2016.

Much of the meltwater from the glacier normally flows to the north into the Bering Sea via the Slims and Yukon Rivers. A rapidly retreating and thinning glacier — accelerated by global warming — caused the water to redirect to the south, and into the Pacific Ocean.

Last year’s unusually warm spring produced melting waters that cut a canyon through the ice, diverting more water into the Alsek River, which flows to the south and on into Pacific, robbing the headwaters to the north.

Think about that. If you lived there (or, I guess, if you are a tremendous liar), you could say “I remember the days when these waters flowed north, onward to the Bering Sea”, and you’d be talking about last summer.

Now, to be fair, this was a perfect confluence of conditions: the way the land was shaped there didn’t have to be too much melt and erosion for the higher ground to make its way to the lower; the channels cut my newly melted water didn’t have far to go. We’re not going to wake up one day and see that the Ohio is charging back toward Pittsburgh. But it is still a stark and terrifying reminder that climate change isn’t something happening in the distant future. It is happening now, and it is really unpredictable.

In essence, we’ve decided as a species to enter a vast generational experiment where we see what happens when we accelerate natural processes and introduce unnatural ones. The earth heats and cools, glaciers advance and melt, rivers change their courses. These things happen on unimaginable time spans. They don’t happen over the course of a century, or the life of a summer. But, thanks to our desire to turn nature into capital, that’s what’s happening.

We don’t know how it will turn out. Things will happen that we can barely even guess. But it seems short-sighted to say it won’t be enormous.

I’ll leave this with an example of what retreating glaciers mean. We all know that the glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and completely wiped out the landscape that came before them. And we know it was cold as hell. But I don’t think it is generally understood how much their immensity impacted geology, and not just topography.

They pressed down on the earth’s surface, slowly impacting it under their enormity. And as they retreated, the surface slowly started to rebound. This is a process that, tens of thousands of years later, is still happening. The impact of this can be felt right around here, in Chicago. When the glaciers first retreated, and the lakes took their present form, the ground was low enough that Michigan (and Lake Chicago before it) flowed southwards, toward the Mississippi Basin. But as the land rebounded, and glaciers cut more channels, eventually the whole Lakes basin made its way to the ocean.

Until, of course, the city of Chicago, disgusted with and sickened by the filth of its residents, reversed the course of the Chicago, turning southern Lake Michigan into an extension of the Mississippi Basin. That happened in a geologic instant. The reversal of the Yukon rivers was even quicker. It was instant.

Our impact on the planet might mimic the planet’s own cycles, as somewhat more sophisticated climate deniers claim, but that’s wildly misleading. It’s a gruesome imitation, at high-speed, a janky cassette player that suddenly turns your music into a screeching cacophony, with little regard for the consequences. It’s like jumping off the Empire State Building and saying you’re imitating the gentle swaying of a leaf on the wind. Same general direction maybe, and with the same end point, but brother, you’re fucked.