I like the plan, let’s get going

I think it would be a fine idea to shut down amoral, exploitive companies, like the oil and gas industry, and while we’re at it, the tobacco companies, and we should do it soon before they metastasize any more. The question is…how? Tumbrels and guillotines are so passé, and they aren’t at all effective against abstract legal entities. We also can’t just, say, blow up their pipelines and processing plants, because that doesn’t provide for a gentle, gradual transition that won’t kill people — and as someone looking at an onrushing Minnesota winter, I can assure you that just shutting off the gas will kill lots of us. Another problem is that these companies are using their ill-gotten profits to diversify, buying up other companies that will keep them fat and happy even if we do demolish the petroleum industry, so it’ll be hard to satisfy the lust for vengeance.

OK, tumbrels and guillotines it is, then!

No, wait, here’s an article that makes some productive suggestions about shutting down the petro fuel industry. Shucks, I guess we could try this first.

Pro-abolition groups say this process would entail putting elected officials – not corporate executives – in charge of fossil fuel assets. The US government would slowly stop drilling or buying leases as it prioritizes lowering emissions and investing in clean energy. Nationalized ownership would allow the US to leave oil and gas reserves in the ground while simultaneously shrinking the fossil fuel company’s grip on the nation.

Such public intervention would also prevent oil companies from simply shutting down operations, laying off their workers and leaving behind devastated towns and counties, as coal companies have done, Skandier said. “We need to consider that a lot of these communities are highly dependent on fossil fuel revenues, so we need to plan how we’re going to build community wealth and diversify their economies to make sure they’re not only economically stable but resilient to climate impacts in the future.”

The US could take the land or reserves currently owned by the fossil fuel industry via eminent domain, the legal right governments have to seize land or infrastructure for the public interest. The federal government has done this before to create national parks and even to convert a private energy company in Tennessee into the now publicly owned Tennessee Valley Authority during the Great Depression.

All in favor, say “AYE”.

The article admits that it won’t be easy and there will be pitfalls.

Any movement to break up big oil, however, will inevitably face enormous headwinds. The industry benefits from being deeply ingrained within American society, and it’s expected that oil and gas interests would push back hard in courts. Nationalizing profitable industries would also take an unprecedented amount of political will, which has yet to materialize.

Law expert Sean Hecht warns that breaking up energy companies may lead to unintended ripple effects. History suggests that simply erasing a company’s existence may make it easier for them to ignore their financial responsibilities when they’ve caused harm.

Hecht, the co-executive director of UCLA Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, saw this firsthand in Los Angeles, where he lives. When the Department of Justice shut down Exide Technologies in 2015 for illegally poisoning neighborhoods with lead for decades, the company filed for bankruptcy and left taxpayers to foot the cleanup bill.

This is going to hurt, and there are a lot of lawyers who will savagely fight back. Of course there will be unexpected and deleterious side effects — but will they be worse than rising seas, out-of-control wildfires, gooey black muck in our water supplies, or vast tracts of land rendered uninhabitable by lethal summer temperatures? I think not.

I need those bugs to feed my spiders!

GrrlScientist reviews a book, Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse by David Goulson, and it looks like this is another one I have to add to my pile.

In this book, we learn that insects have already declined recently by as much as 75% — which is probably not news to those of us whose automobile windscreens and grills lack the typical ‘bug spatter’ of yesteryear, particularly after long-distance drives at night. This dearth of insects translates into far fewer insectivorous birds for birders and nature photographers to chase. Yet weirdly, most people — even many birders, who should be aware of and alarmed by this steep decline in birdlife — remain blithely oblivious to these dramatic changes. This is thanks to two errors in human perception: first, shifting baselines, where we mistakenly think that the current state of the world is normal. Second, this is also attributable to a peculiar form of gaslighting where we downplay the extent of the changes that we experience around us. (Self-gaslighting?)

Up until a few years ago, I would have classified myself as a lab rat, a denizen of an environment defined by air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, but then I decided I needed a radical change and started going outdoors (!) and walking around in empty fields and woods (!!) looking at spiders. My first project (which remains unfinished because of the damned pandemic) was justified as an attempt to use measurements of spider populations as a proxy for the larger and more complex populations of insects, so this book is right there in my interests.

Despite being new to this field, and despite only paying attention in the last 5 years, even I am noticing the changes. It used to be that if I were walking home at night, there’d be a cloud of flying insects around every streetlight, and you’d hear the happy clicking of bats flitting around their hunting ground. Now we’ve only got silent dead lights. There is a crabapple tree near the walkway home, and every Fall I’d be annoyed because the rotting fruit would attract swarms of yellowjackets…but this year, nothing. In fact, I used to dread that path home because it was surrounded by trees that blocked the wind, and vast clouds of midges and mosquitos would accumulate there. Not this year, though. I’m still seeing house spiders, though, I would guess that if you’re adapted to human environments, you’re still doing OK, but I’m finding fewer, and smaller, orbweavers outside.

To GrrlScientist’s list of excuses, I’d add that we expect some natural variation. This has been a summer of drought, so maybe it’s just a temporary situation — if we get good rains next year, maybe they’ll bounce back. Maybe it’s also a targeted attack. A few years ago I learned that the university employs a pesticide company, which was specifically called in when those harmless, bumbling grass spiders would dart into university offices, looking for mates (to no avail — the ladies were outside, fellas), and so the shrubbery would get sprayed, to my horror (sorry, fellas, the ladies are all dead). While prowling around buildings looking for spiders, I noticed piles of dead yellowjackets, which tells me what happened to the insects that usually feasted on rotting crabapples. They’ve been murdered.

Will people stop spraying insecticides all over farm country? I doubt it.

Fortunately, the book provides some solutions.

Although our current situation is serious, it can still be reversed, Professor Goulson maintains, because insects reproduce extremely quickly. All we need to do is support them as their populations recover. Some of the actions that we all can take include: reduce the space occupied by lawn and replace it with flowering plants, mow the remaining grass less often and allow a corner of your garden to “grow wild” and “get messy”; incorporate a wide range of native plants that flower throughout the season into your garden, along road verges and in roundabouts to attract beneficial insects; avoid pesticide use whenever possible by giving predatory insects a chance to take care of a problem first; create your own “insect hotels” and clean them periodically to reduce the accumulation of mites and fungi that can harm bees, and reconsider beekeeping as a hobby because of the many threats that domesticated European honeybees, Apis mellifera, pose to native bees. Professor Goulson also proposes a number of actions that farmers, city dwellers, and politicians can take or enact to support the recovery of local insect populations.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got a lawn, and I hate it. It’s not exactly thriving, anyway — the drought has killed big patches of it. My wife has created a couple of native plant patches in the back, and I wouldn’t mind expanding them. We have a sort-of vegetable garden that has been neglected and is overgrown with weeds, and maybe we can pretend that’s intentional. We don’t use pesticides. Of course we encourage predatory spiders to take care of any insect problems, and even transplanted a few spiders from other locales to our home.

Previous owners of our place were much more meticulous in maintaining the traditional American monoculture of boring grass in our lawn. We even have vestiges of an automatic underground watering system, a network of pipes and sprinklers connected to a fancy-ass timer system in our garage. That died a few years after we moved in, when a break in the water mains meant the city brought in a backhoe and dug a trench across the lawn. It might be a good project to finish the job, go in and dig out the PVC pipes in part of the lawn, tear out the grass, and plant prairie grasses and forbs and encourage more wild insects to move in, before they all die off.

A happy picture

They’re bringing back the chinook salmon in Washington state rivers, where the populations have been destroyed by hydroelectric dams, among other things.

Conor Giorgi, Anadromous Program Manager at the Spokane Tribe of Indians, coaxes one of 51 Chinook salmon into the Little Spokane River, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Spokane Tribe of Indians, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy released the adult Chinook salmon from the Wells Salmon Hatchery into the river. Salmon have not been in the Little Spokane in 111 years. This is part of a larger effort to reintroduce sustainable salmon populations above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams.

Although, I have to ask, did they really have to bring up the Program Manager’s sexuality in the text? I say that as someone entirely sympathetic with the anadromous lifestyle, and who would be swimming back to the sea myself if I weren’t so darned timid and straight-laced (I’d probably call myself diadromous, actually, I’m open-minded about which way you swing).

I never met him, but still feel the loss

In the mid-70s, as a young undergraduate at the University of Washington, I got involved in orca watching. It wasn’t a big deal, I had these identification cards for the J, K, and L pods, and on weekends I’d either go to lookouts on the Puget Sound coast, or on a couple of occasions, took thrilling rides on a university oceanographic vessel. It was long, long ago, and it feels like it. How did I end up in the Midwest, I dunno.

Anyway, this makes me sad. The Puget Sound orcas are not doing great, with their stocks of their favorite food, salmon, diminishing. Who’s responsible for that, I dunno. Now one of the charismatic killer whales, K21 Cappuccino, has died.

K21 Cappuccino was a gregarious, curious, and kindly orca. He liked to engage in play behaviors—breaching, spyhopping, slapping his pectoral fins. And he was generally quite fearless about approaching human boaters who were in his waters. He seemed to always be curious about the crazy monkeys.

The 35-year-old male, sadly, has now joined the procession of endangered Southern Resident killer whales who have been dying at precipitous rates over the past five years, reducing the entire population now to 74 whales. He was last seen a week ago in a badly emaciated state, struggling against the tidal currents on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, far behind the rest of his clan; it is presumed that he has since died.

I never even knew this whale — he was born after I’d left the West coast and was living in Utah, of all places. Whole generations of orcas have lived and died (mostly died, it seems) since I abandoned the Pacific shores, and now I’m sad for what never was and will never be.

AMOC running amok may cause havoc

Hooray for physics! It keeps the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) churning.

The AMOC is the product of a gigantic, ocean-wide balancing act. It starts in the tropics, where high temperatures not only warm up the seawater but also increase its proportion of salt by boosting evaporation. This warm, salty water flows northeast from the U.S. coastline toward Europe — creating the current we know as the Gulf Stream.

But as the current gains latitude it cools, adding density to waters already laden with salt. By the time it hits Greenland, it is dense enough to sink deep beneath the surface. It pushes other submerged water south toward Antarctica, where it mixes with other ocean currents as part of a global system known as the “thermohaline circulation.”

This circulation is at the heart of Earth’s climate system, playing a critical role in redistributing heat and regulating weather patterns around the world.

As long as the necessary temperature and salinity gradients exist, AMOC is self-sustaining, Boers explained. The predictable physics that make dense water sink and lighter water “upwell” keep the circulation churning in an endless loop.

The AMOC moderates our climate and is also essential for things humans like, like the North Atlantic fisheries and the pleasant beaches of the Atlantic coast of the US. You want the AMOC to keep whirling. Seriously, don’t fuck with the AMOC. The bad news, though, is that we fucked with the AMOC.

Human-caused warming has led to an “almost complete loss of stability” in the system that drives Atlantic Ocean currents, a new study has found — raising the worrying prospect that this critical aquatic “conveyor belt” could be close to collapse.

In recent years, scientists have warned about a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which transports warm, salty water from the tropics to northern Europe and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. Researchers who study ancient climate change have also uncovered evidence that the AMOC can turn off abruptly, causing wild temperature swings and other dramatic shifts in global weather systems.

We know very well the consequences of disrupting the AMOC. The last time it happened was caused by the abrupt draining of Lake Agassiz into the Atlantic

It’s happened before. Studies suggest that toward the end of the last ice age, a massive glacial lake burst through a declining North American ice sheet. The flood of freshwater spilled into the Atlantic, halting the AMOC and plunging much of the Northern Hemisphere — especially Europe — into deep cold. Gas bubbles trapped in polar ice indicate the cold spell lasted 1,000 years. Analyses of plant fossils and ancient artifacts suggest that the climate shift transformed ecosystems and threw human societies into upheaval.

The Polar Vortex was bad, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

If this critical part of ocean circulation collapses in our lifetime, then can we drag out all the climate-denying Republicans and hang them? It would be more helpful to do it before, but I guess we have to wait until they complete the destruction of human civilization before taking action.

I blame Canada

In addition to being hot and humid (but less so than it was yesterday), the whole of Morris is hazy and smells of burning wood. Canada is on fire! Also, Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, and Idaho. Minnesota, at least, is not on fire, we’re just downwind from the conflagration. I woke up this morning wondering if the house was on fire, but no, stepping outside was enough to show me that this is a shared misery.

So how are all you Westerners holding up? I half-expect to see screaming citizens wreathed in flames to come staggering across the Dakota border.