Conservation

Conservation

Fried Fish

  • By: Ted Williams
conservation fall 2012_fmt.jpg

MY FISHING BUDDIES AND I ARE BLIGHTED BY SEVERE GOUT. When we hobble into the offices of local doctors they tell us it results from our drinking habits. But we don’t believe that Ripple wine, which we never touch before 9 a.m., has a thing to do with our affliction. What’s more, we’ve consulted the sewer commissioner, the building inspector and the managers of five liquor stores. They all confirm what we suspect—that our diagnoses result from an abstinence cult among the medical profession, which opposes anything that feels or tastes good and which, in an effort to drum up business, is always trying to panic the public.
In our defense I should note that the preceding paragraph is fiction. But it’s important fiction because it provides a high-res snapshot of how global-warming deniers think and argue.
The evidence for anthropogenic climate change (denied by almost half of all Americans, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press) is no less compelling than the evidence for evolution (also denied by almost half of all Americans, according to the latest Gallup Poll).
Without a single exception scientific institutions dealing with climate, ocean and/or atmosphere warn that dangerous global warming is under way and that it is caused by burning fossil fuels. In agreement are between 97 and 98 percent of the top 1,372 climate researchers, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
Devout deniers have three mantras, the first two of which contradict each other: 1. The earth is cooling; and 2. Solar activity is what’s warming it. The first fails unless you work in decades instead of centuries and cherry pick your decades. The second fails because if the sun had anything to do with global warming both the top, colder part of our atmosphere (the stratosphere) and the lower, warmer part (the troposphere) would be heating up. Instead the stratosphere is cooling and the troposphere is warming. The third mantra—climate change is cyclical—is correct; it just ignores the duration of natural cycles. In the past 100 years of intense fossil-fuel burning our planet has warmed roughly eight times as fast as it did in the entire 12,000 years between the last glaciation and 1912.
While virtually every model indicates that this trend will continue and accelerate, there is only circumstantial evidence that current damage is caused by global warming. However, when you combine all the climate-related catastrophes, each unprecedented in magnitude, the case becomes compelling. As Thoreau observed about circumstantial evidence, some “is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk [that you suspect has been watered down].”
“Climate change is a problem of the future,” says Trout Unlimited’s senior scientist, Dr. Jack Williams. “But it’s also a problem of today.” As an example he cites the droughts and subsequent megafires that in recent years raged through the Southwest. Nothing like them had previously been seen. “Last year record fires devastated Apache trout in Arizona and Rio Grande cutthroats in New Mexico,” says Williams. “Combined with habitat fragmentation it’s a deadly one-two punch. These fish have always had to contend with wildfires, but never to this extent.”
To save threatened Gila trout from ash plumes, in the spring and summer of 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evacuated them from New Mexico streams that drained burned watersheds. Some trout have been transferred to native habitat recently cleared of mongrels. But because of fire and other watershed damage elsewhere most are being held in hatcheries. It’s a shame, because recovery had been succeeding spectacularly.
Adding to the fire hazard are bark-beetle infestations that are killing western forests. Historically beetle populations had been held in check by winter cold.
Scientists from Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado State University and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group surveyed 9,890 sites, and with the data built a model predicting that by the 2080s unchecked global warming will have reduced habitat for all trout species in the interior West by 47 percent, cutthroat habitat by 58 percent. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This from Ed Perry, an aquatic biologist who retired in 2002 after 30 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “The middle 70 miles of the Susquehanna was one of this nation’s great smallmouth fisheries. For 25 years my two sons and I floated the river, camping, wading, and casting flyrod poppers; we’d catch at least 80 bass over 15 inches per weekend. That fishery is gone. In 2005, the hottest year on record, we saw hundreds and hundreds of fingerling smallmouths floating belly-up. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were witnessing what would be an annual smallmouth kill by a common soil and water bacterium called Columnaris. It has always been in the river. But heat stresses fish and makes them more susceptible to disease.”
When skeptics blame Columnaris kills on pollutants like pharmaceuticals and phosphates, Perry asks: “Exactly what pollution has been added to the river since 2005 that hasn’t been there before? The only thing that has changed is it’s getting hotter.”
Now, with water temperatures occasionally hitting 95 degrees Fahrenheit, Columnaris—a natural part of the ecosystem that had never before limited smallmouths—is wiping them out in rivers like the Allegheny, Delaware, Schuylkill, Potomac and Shenandoah.
And it’s not just fresh water and its fishes that suffer. The oceans are in peril, too. Seawater acidifies as the ocean sucks up CO2. In a study to be published in the journal Biogeochemical Cycles, Dr. Richard Feely, senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and his co-researchers show that the acid layer off the coast of the Pacific Northwest rose through the upper 2,000 feet of water at three to six feet per year between 1991 and 2005. If the trend continues, the team estimates that by 2050 more than half the near-shore waters governed by the California Current will be too acidic to support many species of shellfish, the building blocks of marine ecosystems.
In 2008 a team of scientists discovered methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times as potent as CO2) belching from the seabed off Russia’s northern coast. The ocean was actually foaming. Sub-sea permafrost, which had acted like a methane-containment lid, had apparently melted.
Of 50 marine fish species populating inshore waters of the United Kingdom, 36 have been judged to have shifted their range because of climate change. Inland, the situation is so dire that managers are planning to move Lake District fish to cooler waters in Scotland. Similar damage is occurring in France, where researchers have found populations of warmwater fish proliferating in formerly coldwater rivers.
In 18 Pacific island countries and territories the number of ciguatera poisoning cases caused by algae blooms (exacerbated by warming water) increased 60 percent from the period between 1973 and 1983 to the period between 1998 and 2008.
Ongoing temperature increase could depress remaining cod stocks by 20 percent in the North Sea and 50 percent in the western North Atlantic, according to a study published in the journal Fish and Fisheries. The researchers found that marine species may shift their distribution toward the poles by 40 kilometers a year.
The International Panel on Climate Change predicts that ocean-water temperatures are likely to rise between 1.5 and 4 degrees Celsius during the remainder of the century. As with reptiles, sex of some fish species is determined by temperature. In the journal Public Library of Science, Natalia Ospina-Alvarez and Francesc Piferrer report that “even small changes of just 1 or 2 degrees Celsius can significantly alter the sex ratio from 1:1 (male-to-female) up to 3:1 in both freshwater and marine species.”
When Ospina-Alvarez and Piferrer increased water temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius they found that the next generation of pejerrey (the native South American fish whose habitat is being usurped by alien trout) was 98 percent male. If climate change does result in a rise of 4 degrees, Piferrer warns that for species unable to adapt or migrate “we’re looking at extinction.”
 
Anyone can call himself a “scientist,” and many of the degree-free deniers do. To them “peer review” means swallowed and regurgitated by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. But what of the real scientists who don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming—that two-point-something percent? In response to a January 27, 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” 38 of the world’s leading climatologists write that there are contrarians “in every field of science,” citing as an example “a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS.”
But the views of contrarians have a way of meshing with those of their funders. Take the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, the go-to source for deniers. He’s got all kinds of credentials—a PhD in ecological climatology, and he’s led the American Association of State Climatologists as well as the Committee on Applied Climatology of the American Meteorological Society.
But when Michaels was scheduled to appear as an expert witness for the auto industry in its lawsuit against the EPA for new emission standards, the judge ordered him to reveal his clients. Rather than allow him to be undressed in public, plaintiff attorneys made the nearly unprecedented move of yanking him from the witness list. According to Naomi Oreskes and Erick Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury, 2010), Michaels has worked for the Edison Electric Institute, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, the German Coal Mining Association, the western mining company Cyprus Minerals and the Western Fuels Association.
Among the more prominent groups denying global warming are Michaels’ Cato Institute, the Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Committee for Economic Development, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for American Communications, Frontiers of Freedom, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation and the Heartland Institute. Every one of them is funded by Exxon.
But at least Exxon doesn’t deny global warming; it just denies that it’s a problem. All Americans have to do is get used to stuff dying. “We have spent our entire existence adapting,” declares Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson. “We’ll adapt. It’s an engineering problem, and there will be an engineering solution.” Meanwhile, he added, we have to educate the “illiterate” masses and resist environmentalists who “manufacture fear.”
Professional deniers expend much gas and wind attacking the authors of Merchants of Doubt, who thoroughly vet their credentials and funding sources. The current tactics of carbon-polluter hirelings in denying the link between fossil fuels and global warming are strikingly similar to the past tactics of tobacco-industry hirelings in denying the link between cigarettes and cancer. That’s not surprising, note the authors, because the two industries hired the same people.
Consider Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, both genuine scientists (though they never did a lick of genuine climate science), both prominent global-warming deniers, and both associated with the polluter-funded George C. Marshall Institute. Separately, they were paid by the tobacco industry to assist in its effort to deny the cancer link, an effort that imploded after a federal judge found the industry guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. From 1979 to 1985 Seitz worked for R.J. Reynolds, spewing $45 million worth of “research” grants as if he were a piñata—part of the company’s effort to develop what it called “data useful in defending the industry against attacks.”
In 1989, after Seitz helped write a report pooh-poohing global warming, President George H. W. Bush invited him and his two co-authors to the White House to brief the administration. Mainstream media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Newsweek, repeated Seitz’s fiction as if it were “the other side” of a legitimate debate.
For his part, Singer helped prepare a major report attacking EPA for its warnings about secondhand smoke (funded by the Tobacco Institute). The report claimed that EPA rigged the medical research as part of an elaborate plot to expand government control over all aspects of American life.
In 1991, Singer published a paper entitled What To Do about Greenhouse Warming: Look Before You Leap in which, according to Oreskes and Conway, he grossly manipulated the message of his dying co-author Roger Revelle, Al Gore’s mentor at Harvard. Singer’s absurd claims were parroted almost verbatim by George Will.
In 2007 the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 aired The Great Global Warming Swindle, a film written and directed by denier Martin Durkin. It elicited 265 complaints to Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, and a 176-page letter from scientists accusing Channel 4 of “seriously misleading viewers.” Ofcom found that the film broke impartiality guidelines and, in the scene with Singer, misrepresented statements by British scientist David King.
 
If you believe that global warming denial is promoted by a few industry flacks and private crackpots, you’re only half right. It’s promoted by lots of them. But they are far outnumbered by ethical and rational souls who have been duped by a torrent of disinformation. And it’s getting worse. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, only 57 percent of Americans now believe that global warming is happening—down from 77 percent in 2006. This is mainly the result of an aggressive PR campaign by carbon polluters and their apologists.
Aiding and abetting this campaign is the mainstream media’s addiction to what it misidentifies as the “fairness doctrine.” It will typically interview a genuine climate scientist and then, to insert what it wrongly perceives as “balance,” offer equal space to some whacked-out denier utterly bereft of credentials, such as Lee Duigon of the Chalcedon Foundation, who cites global warming and evolution as the two “most preposterous and malignant notions ever dreamed up in this poor, sin-laden world.” Or Alan Caruba, the polluter-funded founder of the National Anxiety Center who, in screeds with titles like “Climate Nazis and Their Lies,” rails against what he calls “warmists” and warns that global warming is “a massive fraud” gotten out by the United Nations the better to “turn CO2 into a commodity [carbon credits]” that can be traded on the world market.
It grieves me to report that my fellow Republicans frequently dismiss alarm about global warming as liberal dogma. In fact, denial is close to being a plank in the GOP platform. In June 2011, Mitt Romney informed America that he believed “the world is getting warmer” and that “humans contribute to that.” But, after being scolded by party Pooh-Bahs, he announced in October that “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”
It also grieves me to report that denier ranks are well populated by my fellow sportsmen. As a group, sportsmen tend to be conservative; and they are generally ill served by their media, which, more often than not, tells them what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. For every sentence of environmental reporting from journalists like Hal Herring they get a paragraph of opinion from ideologues like Tom Remington, administrator of three hook-and-bullet blogs and managing editor of U.S. Hunting Today, a national online magazine picked up by affiliates in 40 states. Remington complains of a “cultist obsession with global warming” that “made billions of dollars” for environmental groups. “Carbon dioxide…is not a pollutant,” he asserts.
Aquatic biologist Ed Perry, who now serves the National Wildlife Federation as its Pennsylvania outreach coordinator, told me this: “Our fellow sportsmen are generally in denial about global warming. If you hold an event to put in stream improvements, you might get 30 guys. If you ask them to send a letter on climate change, you’d be hard pressed to get two or three.”
When Perry asked NWF’s affiliate, the 100,000-member Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, to sign a letter asking legislators to do something about greenhouse-gas emissions it refused. And the letter so infuriated the Lackawanna County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs that it unsuccessfully petitioned the state federation to sever all ties with NWF. Ann Marie Banks, Lackawanna County delegate to the state federation, was quoted in The [Lehigh Valley] Morning Call as saying: “I really don’t believe in global warming. To me, weather runs in cycles . . . . Don’t talk to me about global warming.”
With summer heat having turned trout belly-up across the nation and with water temperatures in classic streams like Penns Creek hitting 80 degrees Fahrenheit, one might suppose that Trout Unlimited chapters would jump at the chance to push climate legislation. But 25 of the 50 TU chapters in Pennsylvania refused to sign NWF’s letter.
Instructing the public on anthropogenic global warming is the shrillest denier in Congress—Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), author of the book The Greatest Hoax: How the global warming conspiracy threatens your future. “Get this,” says Dr. Douglas Inkley, NWF’s senior science advisor, “Inhofe’s a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus! For him to so vehemently deny climate change yet claim to support sportsmen is a huge contradiction, given the negative impact climate change is having and will have on sportsmen’s interests.”
But Inhofe doesn’t “deny” climate change; he just blames it on God. Citing climate data from Genesis 8:22, he proclaims: “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
Recently I was speaking with friends in the environmental community about their efforts to educate Americans on the dangers of global warming. I knew they had excellent material because what I hadn’t read online they’d e-mailed to me. They work hard for abominable pay. With them around there’s hope. I was feeling almost pumped; and my mood improved further because I was heading to my camp in New Hampshire.
Then I switched on the truck radio and heard a talking head from a Worcester, Massachusetts radio station. He spent maybe 20 minutes ranting about the “absurd” claim by the liberal mafia that global warming somehow threatens polar bears (placed under Endangered Species Act protection by the George W. Bush administration because the pack ice they hunt on is melting). “The poor, poor polar bears have to swim in the ocean,” he intoned, his voice rising like that of a pileated woodpecker. “That’s bad? Polar bears eat fish and seals, right? Where do you think fish and seals live? They live
in the ocean!”
 
 
Ted Williams has covered the environment for Fly Rod & Reel for almost three decades.