Earth Matters: Orca that lost calf 2 years ago has another; green groups fund Democratic candidates

  • Published on September 11th, 2020

”Tahlequah” adds a calf to the Southern Resident orca population: Staff at the Center for Whale Research, who believe the new calf was born Sept. 4, hope it is as healthy and robust as it appears. Named J57, it is just one of 73 Southern Resident orcas. Tahlequah, also known as J35, caught the nation’s attention in 2018 when she carried a dead calf for 17 days and 1,000 miles. Failed pregnancies are extremely common in the endangered species, with some 40% of newborns dying. “With such a small population … every successful birth is hugely important for recovery,” wrote Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research in a press release. “Studies by our colleagues at the University of Washington have shown that these reproductive failures are linked to nutrition and access to their Chinook salmon prey, so we hope folks on the water can give the Southern Residents plenty of space to forage at this important time.”

Orca mother and calf
(David Niewert Photo)

By Meteor Blades

  • Communities struggle to cover the cost of wildfires: 50% of increasingly dry and flammable vegetation in the Western U.S. is because of climate change, according to this study. The resulting fires have put major financial strains on local government budgets. Consequently, in California, Colorado, and other states, at least 20 city and county governments have filed climate liability suits against Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Citgo, ConocoPhillips, and other fossil fuel companies. The suits allege that companies have known for decades their products cause climate change but deliberately hid the truth from the public to protect their profits. Some suits have run into judicial difficulties but others are moving forward. Isabella Zizi, a 23-year-old member of Idle No More SF Bay and a member of the Northern Cheyenne, Arikara, and Muscogee Creek Nations says she’s not surprised at the corporate mindset. “Business as usual has continued through the pandemic, and it continues through the wildfires,” said Zizi, who was motivated to become a climate activist after Chevron’s Richmond refinery exploded in 2012, leading to thousands in her community needing medical treatment for respiratory issues.
  • Despite the coronavirus lockdown, greenhouse gas concentrations hit record: In a report entitled United in Science 2020, the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says concentrations of greenhouse gases soared to a record high this year even in the face of the massive economic slowdown precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Said WMO chief Petteri Taalas in a foreword to the report: “Greenhouse gas concentrations—which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years—have continue to rise, reaching new record highs this year. Meanwhile, large swathes of Siberia have seen a prolonged and remarkable heatwave during the first half of 2020, which would have been almost impossible without anthropogenic climate change. And now 2016–2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated.”
    Arctic sea ice extent headed for second-lowest level: As measured by satellites since

    Blue line shows Arctic sea ice extent as of Sept. 10, 2020, dotted line the record low in 2012. 
    Blue line shows Arctic sea ice extent as of Sept. 10, 2020, dotted line the record low in 2012.

    1979, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean at the end of summer has been trending downward for years. But after hitting a record low in 2012, there were predictions the Arctic would soon be ice-free in summer. When that didn’t happen, it gave climate science deniers ammunition to make claims, as they were still doing not that long ago, that Arctic ice was actually expanding rather than dwindling, and “alarmists” were just trying to scare people into draconian restrictions on fossil fuels. Scientists have repeatedly explained that the extent of summer melting isn’t on a linear path of less ice each and every year but that over the long haul climate change will have that effect. And what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. For instance, higher temperatures there mean more wobble to the jet stream, which can create unusual extremes in weather deep in the temperate zones. This year, with a week or so to go before the annual freeze begins again, the extent of the summer ice is already the second lowest on record, as the graph shows. A small chance exists that it could break the 2012 record. One important note: It’s not just the extent that matters but volume. Sea ice volume depends on both ice thickness and extent, which tells us more about climate forcing than extent alone. Thicker ice is older ice and over the past few years, ice has been thinning in much of the Arctic. Last year, volume was just slightly higher than the record low of 2012.

  • Legacy of racist city policies worsens heatwaves:

Cars are getting bigger, drivers are going faster, roads are getting wider, Angie Schmitt about her new book Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in Americaand more people are moving to transit-lacking suburbs and Sun Belt cities. But as Schmitt, a former editor at Streetsblog, clearly argues, while the flaws of vehicle design, bad roadways, and lack of investment would seemingly fail Americans at equal rates, the pedestrians who die are disproportionately Black, brown, low income, or over 65. “It’s a lot about power,” she says, “and whose needs are being prioritized — the guy who is driving to work or to Walmart to spend money, not the lower-income folks who are waiting for the bus. When their interests come in conflict with the people in power, they won’t be prioritized.” […]

There are solutions that might prevent such crashes: better designed crosswalks, median islands where pedestrians can safely pause, and so-called road diets that narrow lanes of traffic. […] But infrastructure is only part of the solution. The bigger challenge, Schmitt argues, is addressing the systemic racism built into cities: “a legacy of segregation, housing segregation, and implicit bias” that infiltrates every aspect of transportation planning, from engineering to law enforcement.

  • Green groups put up money for Democratic candidates: The political arm of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has approved an initial $1.15 million to pay for environmentally oriented ads for three first-term congressional Democrats in battleground districts. The LCV Victory Fund is backing Democrats Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Andy Kim of New Jersey, and Anthony Brindisi of New York. In 2018 the three won in districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016. The seats are viewed as some of the most competitive in the nation. EDF Action Voters, the political arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, has announced it will spend about $300,000 on TV ads on state legislative races in Virginia, focusing on Senate district 31 as well as House districts 37, 45, 74, and 82. It will also target $274,000 for an ad opposing GOP state legislator Nick Freitas, who is trying to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. The two green organizations have also joined to provide $3 million for a 30-second spot designed to help Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana by tying Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana to the billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks. The brothers are among the top private landowners in the U.S., with more than 708,000 acres in Montana alone.
  • Sen. Tom Udall reportedly on Biden’s short list for interior secretary: The New Mexico senator announced last year that he wouldn’t run for a third term in 2020, but he said at the time he wasn’t retiring from politics. Others—including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee—are on the list, but sources say Udall is on top. Six decades ago, President John F. Kennedy picked Udall’s father, Stewart Udall, to serve as interior secretary, and he is widely viewed as having been exemplary in the post he held for eight years. Sen. Udall was also considered for the job in 2013 when Ken Salazar resigned. Sally Jewell was chosen instead.
  • Top Democrats call for NPS records on Republican National Convention: In a letter from Sen. Tom Udall of Mexico and Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota to National Park Service official Margaret Everson, Democrats are seeking information regarding the use of government resources spent on the Republican National Convention. The two wrote: “We are deeply disturbed that the President continues to use our nation’s park system—sites that include some of our country’s most iconic symbols of freedom — to advance his partisan political agenda. Most recently, the Republican National Convention hosted several political campaign events on federal property that raised significant ethical concerns, may have been in contravention of the Hatch Act, and used federal resources inappropriately or possibly even illegally.” Udall is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and McCollum chairs the subcommittee in the House.
  • Q&A with authors of new book on how women leading climate movement are underappreciated: The book, All We Can Save, is an anthology of essays, poetry, and original illustrations edited by Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. They start out by noting the American scientist Eunice Newton Foote theorized in 1856 that atmospheric carbon dioxide could generate global warming. That was three years before Irish physicist John Tyndall published similar research—research that is typically cited as the beginning of climate science. In their preface, the two women write: “The climate crisis is not gender neutral. Climate change is a powerful ‘threat multiplier,’ making existing vulnerabilities and injustices worse. Especially under conditions of poverty, women and girls face greater risk of displacement or death from extreme weather disasters.” Ilana Cohen interviewed them for Inside Climate News.
  • Denmark-based offshore wind farm company plans big move into solar: Ørsted, the 50.1% state-owned energy company that installed the world’s first offshore wind farm 30 years ago and now is the planet’s largest such company with a 16% market share, is moving into solar farms even though it hasn’t built a single major solar project yet. Currently under construction are its two solar farms in Texas and Alabama, totaling 700 megawatts; enough to power about 115,000 average homes. The larger operation is the 460-megawatt Permian Energy Center in West Texas, which will sell its electricity to ExxonMobil and includes a 40-megawatt battery system. Five years ago, that would have been the ninth largest solar farm on Earth. When it comes online in 2021, however, it will only rank 25th. Ørsted wasn’t even a serious player in the U.S. wind market in 2018, but that year it paid more than $1 billion to buy Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind developer, and Lincoln Clean Energy, a builder of onshore wind farms.

Earth Matters is a Daily Kos compendium of wonderful, disturbing, and hideous news briefs about the environment.

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.

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