“The House held a hearing yesterday on bills to delist grizzlies and gray wolves, an attempt to destroy the safety net the Endangered Species Act provides.”
An article on wyofile.com said a Wyoming state Fish and Game official, Brian Nesvik testified in support of a bill sponsored by U.S. Representative and Trump-devotee Harriet Hageman to delist federally protected grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area. At the hearing in front of a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee Hageman said “environmental litigants have been holding farmers, ranchers and the government hostage to their demands and for the purpose of protecting their own pocketbooks….Wyoming is done waiting on the federal government when the science has said for a long time that it’s time to act.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Boebert, another Republican fascist U.S. representative known for spreading lies about Biden’s “stolen election”, hate toward gay people and Black politicians in public comments, spreading anti-Covid vaccine BS, trying to eliminate the separation of church and state, and attacking the Paris agreements to combat climate change, has brought forward HR 764.
Boebert has in typical Orwellian doublespeak fashion, deemed this the “Trust the Science Act”. It would reinstate a Trump regime decision delisting wolves throughout the U.S.
Leaving aside for a second that Boebert and other fascists of her ilk wouldn’t recognize, understand or act based on actual science if it bit them on the butt, what is the point of these GOP attacks on endangered species and their eschewal of climate science and efforts to recognize and combat the extinction crisis?
Some ask, in part correctly, “are they just hateful of any living thing unless it’s a Bible toting, gun-loving, Trump-adoring, white supremacist”. Yes, part of the point is to spread hatefulness toward the very things most of the people who have compassion and love in their hearts for others and for the natural world cherish. Yes, part of the picture is to try to generate hate, resentment and a passion for revenge among the fascist base of the GOP and to appeal to and bring in segments of the white population in the west especially -state’s rights thinkers, , anti-government types, hunters and ranchers, right wing Christians, etc. At the same time to advance an agenda aimed at overcoming any efforts to protect the environment and its species.
A big part of the reason for this is to defend the interests of, and fight to attain a society where there are no limits or regulations governing expansion of corporate power and profit-making, and no limits or government regulations restraining unmitigated feasting on earth’s resources. Part of the point is to try to further unleash a gleeful bloodlust toward any forces such as progressives, radicals or environmentalists, or even government officials who would stand in the way of achieving this type of “human dominion” over nature.
More overarchingly, the point is to channel and mobilize this resentment toward achievement of a fascist society where white people are dominant over non-white, immigrants suppressed, women are subservient to men, where “liberal” ideas, thought and movements such as teaching the history of racial oppression in the U.S. or environmental defense or opposition to white-supremacist/Christian fascist rule, are thoroughly suppressed if not outright crushed.
Some may so, “oh, Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, etc. are too stupid to have such a thought out agenda”. Their intelligence or lack there-of isn’t the point. They do have a mobilizing passion for such a society and world and are out to try to achieve it in connection with the whole Republi-fascist GOP. People also said Hitler was a buffoon and crazy fool.
The full picture of the ACTUAL science and history, and current situation of wolves and grizzly bears and the importance of their role as apex predators in natural ecosystems, is beyond the scope of what I can do here, though I hope to dig more into this in future pieces.
Just to say briefly, according to a Montana Public Radio report, grizzly populations declined from 50,000 to 1,000 until they were protected by the ESA in 1975. Their habitat had shrunk to 2% of it’s original extent.
For wolves, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, “By the 1960s gray wolves were finally protected under the predecessor law to the Endangered Species Act. They’d been exterminated from all the contiguous United States except Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park and part of Minnesota.” There has been an important and significant comeback of wolves under federal ESA protections in many areas and states. The story of the battle over wolves is long and complex, but the CBD says despite this recovery, “Yet today wolves occupy less than 10% of their historic range and continue to face persecution.”
Reinstituting state control over decisions on endangered species has proven a means to unleash a bloodbath wiping out predators. In Wyoming, Utah, and Montana state control over wolf hunts in 2021-22 resulted in slaughter of 500 wolves, including 20% of the wolves that sometimes ranged outside Yellowstone National Park. Allowed to make decisions on these type of decisions, would mean the almost complete, or possibly complete, extinction of these species which are so wondrous and crucial to functioning natural ecosystems. They would go the same way they were headed, toward elimination, before the ESA stopped it.
As Earth Justice’s tweet concludes, “In #ESA50 anniversary, we must restore and strengthen the ESA to confront the extinction crisis.”
I haven’t written in a while. Wondering frankly, what good will any of it do?
I’ve been focused on restoration and forest research work. Putting efforts towards being connected with the earth and nature, and trying to give back whatever I can to try to make things better, if not right. To live and experience life in the places I cherish and hold most dear. And it’s been glorious and fulfilling in many ways.
But of course the wheels keep spinning in my brain. Again I’ve started thinking more about what can be done to make any contribution, even if small, to actually meaningful change to the preservation of the natural world, and to humanity. Which afterall, is basically the whole shooting match.
The environmental questions confronting us as humans today on earth, are so big, and often overwhelming. Yes, but they are what they are and there’s no good that not paying attention will do.
All kinds of restoration and protection projects all over the globe are being done, with tremendous value. So much good work, effort, sweat and blood, and thought, mountains of time put in to protect and restore nature by so many people across the globe, millions. And I think it matters, tremendously and has accomplished some really crucial things. Things to be proud of. To extol. And alongside that, a growing awareness and desire is developing among millions, tens of millions, to protect, and not lose life on our planet. To preserve, to protect, to advance natural beauty and wonder. I feel real connection with all those working for this.
And yet up against all of that, is the continual, relentless grinding and rapaciousness of this system of capitalism going about its business…. of exploitation, profit-making, expansion- causing ruination, destruction of plant life, trees, animals, microbes, habitat. A climate crisis that continues and isn’t abating, and in fact continues to worsen as even now, global emissions continue to rise despite all the blather from the world’s most powerful governments and politicians. A biodiversity and extinction crisis.
A few clicks of my computer reveal this. 31% of tree species threatened with extinction globally. A die-off of insects that are central components of ecosystems, threatening a collapse of nature , caused by habitat destruction, toxic pesticides, and climate change. Bird populations plummeting- three billion lost in North America since 1970. A few more clicks would find me more pages of the great elimination being undertaken at the hand of human society as now constituted.
The wiping out of so much natural beauty and amazing wonder, jaw-dropping adaptations, miracles if you will, of evolution over hundreds of millions of years. How could one exist on a planet where there are no more magnificent Redwood forest trees and ecosystems? Or the elimination of polar bears that hunt the Arctic icelands and can swim tens of miles across ocean water, formerly rich off of Arctic sea life, and now being found starving to death. Tens of thousands of other species-amphibians, mammals, reptiles, conifers, sharks, cycads, lichens threatened with extinction.
In all this, it’s crucial to understand that no species exist as separate entities, they are connected-independent yet often bound together through rich relationships of feeding, predation, decomposing, nutrient recycling, mutualistic interactions, neutrality or competitive interactions in interwoven ecosystems. All interacting with each other, and with the landscape, climate, geography, soils. Even making, and sometimes remaking each other.
As my Forest Ecosystems textbook by David Perry says, “any specific relationship among organisms within an ecosystem is embedded within and interacts with a hierarchy of interactions that encompass whole communities, landscapes and ultimately most (or perhaps even all) living things on earth.”
Removing especially keystone species, and degrading species presence or populations can impact and subvert whole ecosystems. It can even impact larger ecosystems regionally and globally. Living, healthy natural ecosystems are what provide life and the basis for life, to humans on this planet. Furnishing the oxygen we need to breath, clean water and air, providing food, shelter, nutrients, and controlling climate, providing a rich cultural life to indigenous populations who are themselves under assault. And natural ecosystems, of all kinds, are a source of inspiration and amazement to all who are open to life.
Without healthy ecosystems, we as a species, are not long for this planet. Life in some forms will no doubt continue and eventually flourish again, if human society succeeds in wiping much out, (that’s my opinion at least). We may not.
Will we, or the next generations be the ones to witness the destruction of the natural basis of our lives, and hence human existence? Even our own tremendous works of beauty, of language, poetry and prose, of art, of science, sports, of love and compassion, all of our great accomplishments as human beings left to ruin? Or not.
So feeling the need to do what I can do-at least write to indict and to impact what is happening in whatever way I can. To speak to the need for us all to wake up, to realize and confront what is rolling out in front of our eyes. We must stop this.
As these thoughts are crashing and weaving through my brain, I reflect briefly on the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change 6th assessment report and a report from CNN on its principal findings.
I quote extensively below from CNN’s Laura Paddison. (all bolded emphases are my own)
“The world is rapidly approaching catastrophic levels of heating with international climate goals set to slip out of reach unless immediate and radical action is taken, according to a new UN-backed report.
‘The climate time-bomb is ticking,’ said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a statement to mark the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s synthesis report on Monday. ‘Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast,’ he added.
‘This report is the most dire and troubling assessment yet of the spiraling climate impacts we all face if systemic changes are not made now,’ Sara Shaw, program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, said in a statement.
The impacts of planet-warming pollution are already more severe than expected and we are hurtling towards increasingly dangerous and irreversible consequences, the report says.
While the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels is still possible, the report noted, the pathway to achieving it is rapidly closing as global production of planet-heating pollution continues to increase – emissions grew by nearly 1% last year.
Concentrations of carbon pollution in the atmosphere are at their highest level for more than two million years and the rate of temperature rise over the last half a century is the highest in 2,000 years.
The impacts of the climate crisis continue to fall hardest on poorer, vulnerable countries that have done least to cause it.
Despite the International Energy Agency saying in 2021 that there can now be no new fossil fuel developments if the world is to meet climate commitments, governments are continuing to approve oil, gas and coal projects.
The Biden administration has just greenlit the hugely controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. Once operational, it is projected to produce enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year – equivalent to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads.
Staving off the worst impacts of the climate crisis will require radical shifts across every sector of the economy and society, according to the report.
It called for deep cuts to planet-heating pollution by moving away from fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, global levels of planet-heating pollution must fall by 60% by 2035 compared with 2019, according to the report.”
“Immediate and radical action”, “radical shifts across every sector of the economy and society”. These are the words of the world’s best minds on the state of our climate today on planet Earth and what is required to stabilize it. Do we think any of the powers that be on this planet are going to undertake any of this? No chance. And if you think so, stop deluding yourself.
Planetary life faces a yawning gulf. We are at a precipice. A precipice which has been known about for decades, has been researched deeply, documented voluminously, and presented by scientists to every government on earth. No one who is thinking and paying attention is unaware.
There is a way out, if we act urgently, as human people and civilizations to combat this crisis, it could be done so large portions of life, and ourselves are saved, even at this late date. But those in power of the world’s most powerful capitalist countries especially only continue give lip service while not taking any actually meaningful steps that can truly address the scale of this problem, which is afterall, about whether major parts of life, and ourselves, will continue for very much longer.. Instead, they continue apace to maneuver and battle for power, control, profitability and position over their competitors. New crises, like the war in Ukraine, are seen as necessities and opportunities for more exploitation of fossil fuels, even as they do develop more “green technology” which is also a sphere for competition.
We can decide to wrest power away from them. No, it’s not easy and would require tremendous sacrifice. By what do we have to lose? What do we have to gain, to save? Think it over.
We are in a dangerous moment, facing the possibility of a stolen election orchestrated by Donald Trump.
Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election clearly and convincingly. As of today, Biden has 279 electoral votes to Trump’s 217, with only 270 required to win.* Biden is on track to win 306 electoral votes, with leads of 14,000 in Georgia and 13,000 in Arizona, where more than 98% of the votes have been counted. 306 would be the same number Trump won in 2016, which he called a “massive landlslide”.
Biden won Wisconsin by 20,000 votes, the same margin Trump won by in 2016. Despite this the Trump campaign is demanding a recount. In Pennsylvania, Biden is winning by 54,000 votes, more than Trump’s 2016 totals. In Michigan, Biden won by 150,000 votes, 40,000 more than Trump in 2016.
Biden is also ahead in the popular vote, leading by 5 million votes. Trump famously lost the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million.
Despite these facts on the ground, Trump has refused to concede. Instead he is leading the GOP in a naked attempt to undermine and delegitimize the election. It has to be said, though couched in terms of “challenging the election” and investigating election fraud”, that’s not what is taking place. What is taking place is an attempt to create and spread disinformation alleging election fraud in order to lay the groundwork for Trump to steal the election. At the very least, this campaign is spreading distrust and building resentment among millions of Trump’s supporters, thus fueling fascist interests going forward.
How far this will go and get is hard to predict. What the ultimate goals behind it are only partly revealed. But it must be said that this attempted steal has gained momentum since the declaration of Biden’s win and is further building. Whether it succeeds or not, and it could, it’s is an extremely dangerous move to undermine democracy and boost the position and strength of fascism/authoritarianism.
Donald Trump has been saying since 2016 that the only legitimate election is one where he’s elected. Remember when he alleged without a shred of evidence, that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win in 2016 was the result of votes by millions of “illegal immigrants”? He even launched an investigation that turned up nothing, of course, and was disbanded.
For months before the 2020 election Trump repeatedly declared he would refuse to accept the results of the vote if he wasn’t the winner, and that the only way he could lose an election would be if it was rigged. He waged a relentless campaign to de-legitimize mail-in ballots as fraudulent, despite election officials debunking this. Trump knew that especially in a time of the global coronavirus pandemic, those who vote Democratic would vote disproportionately by mail. It was also basically guaranteed that Republican voters wouldn’t, believing Trump’s lies.
Thus Trump created a pretext for claiming a fraud if he lost by attacking mail-in voting, even though it is completely legal and has been widely used since the Civil War, though expanded in recent years. Then Trump’s toady postmaster General Louis DeJoy orchestrated a slow down of the mail, which disproportionately impacted ballot delivery especially in large urban centers like Philadelphia and Detroit that would be key to turning out Democratic vote in “battleground states”. These GOP obstructions added to other tried and true methods of voter suppression-removing polling places particularly in Black and brown population centers, removing voting drop boxes such as was done in Texas, etc.
As the votes were still coming in but counts far from finished, Trump agitated via Twitter that he had “won” and “claimed” states into his column, etc. Then as the mail-in votes continued to come in and turn the tide against him he tweeted “Stop the count”. We were then treated to the charade of Trump supporters trying to burst into a Detroit polling center chanting “Stop the count” where mail-in votes were pushing Biden past Trump. But on the other hand in Maricopa County Arizona where mail-in ballots were helping Trump catch up to Biden, his supporters chanted “Count the votes”. Trump’s base had the message clear-“only votes for me or the Republicans are legitimate and should be counted”.
As Biden’s victory became almost inevitable, Trump held a press conference that was such a string of lies about Democratic voter fraud and false claims about his wonderful victory, that MSNBC chose to stop the broadcast because of the dangerous falsehoods it spread. More clever heads in the GOP got to Trump apparently to advise him his strategy of “stopping the count” and alleging a Democratic conspiracy were too obviously anti-democracy and should be situated within the context of “protecting election integrity”. So GOP strategy switched to claims of some amorphous “election fraud” and saying only “legal votes should be counted not illegal ones”, which of course is what the election process already does. This has all been presented without a shred of evidence of illegal votes, either by Trump or any of his mouthpieces. Instead, what exists is actually overwhelming evidence of an election carried out within the regulations outlined by states with transparency and overseen by representatives from both parties. And in fact the lawsuits brought by Trump’s campaign, up to this point at least, have been almost entirely dismissed as without merit or have achieved nothing to change the election outcome.
Trump’s steal has been joined by top GOP leaders. Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell have backed Trump casting doubt on the election results, McConnell saying Trump is “within his rights” to legally contest the vote. Graham let the mask slip however when he admitted, ““If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again. President Trump should not concede.” What Graham is arguing for is even a much more thorough disenfranchisement and suppression of Democratic voters-especially of Black people, Latinos, and young people. The attack on Biden’s victory in general drips with racism. Trump in his rant on national TV after the election said, “Philadelphia and Detroit” couldn’t be allowed to decide the election.
The administrator of the General Services Administration, a Trump appointee Emily Murphy , has refused to ascertain the Biden victory, preventing funds, services and government building access to Biden’s transition team. The GSA decision also means Biden’s team cannot interface with other government institutions to begin setting in place a new administration or be apprised of crucial information. After meeting with McConnell, Attorney General Bill Barr has also given new power to a steal attempt. A memo from Barr told federal prosecutors they can investigate “substantial” claims of voter fraud. This violates previous DOJ policy that the department should not enter into investigations which could taint an active election. The Barr announcement caused the head of the election crimes division at DOJ to resign in protest.
It’s not clear if such “investigations” would lead to much, if anything. But some legal experts have pointed out Barr’s memo can be used by prosecutors supportive of Trump to search for “irregularities”. The Barr memo fits with the fanning of disinformation created by Trump and his GOP abettors, where now phony and often already discredited “revelations of fraud” are setting fire to right wing news and social media.
Trump also has fired Mark Esper, Defense Secretary by tweet, furthering fears of either attempts to involve the military in a coup attempt or some dangerous military attacks in the world. Other DOD officials have also quit and are being rapidly replaced by Trump acolytes. There are rumors that Trump may also fire the heads of the FBI and CIA. Now, none of these figures are on the side of justice or the people. CIA head Haspel for example, was a prime figure in the CIA’s torture and rendition program. But nonetheless Trump’s moves could be part of an escalating attempt to hold onto power by removing those he considers not pliant enough to his demands. To explain these firings as preparation for a coup can’t be rejected out of hand, and in fact might provide the most reasonable explanation .
On Tuesday 11/10, Secretary of State Pompeo then said at a CSPAN news conference when asked about acceding to a smooth transition to a Biden administration that, “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration”. It was also reported that the White House has told federal agencies to go ahead with plans for Trump’s February budget, signaling they may be planning to succeed in staying in power. Election officials, even Republican ones, have come under attack from Republican senators and right wing nuts, basically for not delivering the election to Trump. Dangerously, there is increasing pressure on state and local election officials by the most powerful GOP officials to come up with something to invalidate the election.
All kinds of arguments are being made from various perspectives to explain what is going on with this whole situation. Debates continue over whether this represents a serious attempt at a coup or not. Some are arguing these moves, even if real, are bound to fail because the election was so clearly won by Biden and/ or that the law won’t allow this. Some commentators are saying that GOP backing from Trump is simply to assuage his bottomless ego and give him time to come to an acceptance of his loss. Some are saying Republicans in Congress are quietly congratulating them on the Biden win but can’t speak out. There are reports that White House officials recognize the foolhardiness of Trump’s legal case and are trying to influence him to realize Biden’s win. Some are saying Trump’s refusal to accept the results is dangerous to democracy, but Trump is merely using the election fraud ruse to keep his rabid social base or fundraise. Others who know him personally are saying he is desperate like a caged animal, that he is attempting to burn down the house with him because he’s incapable of accepting being a loser.
There may be some truth in several of these arguments. But some of the arguments seem to dispute out of hand the possibility that Trump, who has spent four years tearing up norms and the rule of law and clearly considers himself the only legitimate president, would try to launch a coup to steal the election to maintain power. Given the evidence and the momentum being generated by all of Trump’s machinations, it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of an actual coup or serious election steal, despite having an uphill battle. Such efforts include trying to fabricate legal justifications to try to make something stick, to generate public opinion including developing more massive protest and assault by the fascist right on “enemies”, pressuring officials, etc. It’s also not beyond the realm of belief that recounts could be used to fabricate or change vote totals.
At the very least, Trump and the GOP are creating and spreading an entirely false narrative of Trump as the “victim” of a stolen election. This is likely to fuel rabid opposition to Biden and democracy itself among millions of Trumps “true believers”, and give more power to a violent fascist movement for years to come.
The moment is dangerous and it’s crucial that right now we are extremely vigilant. It’s also very important that election officials, officeholders, the media, opinion makers and masses of ordinary people, speak up and resist these dangers, including with mass nonviolent protest in public spaces. We poured out in celebration after the announcement of Trump’s loss. That energy is greatly needed to continue.
* It’s important to make the point that the electoral college is a completely undemocratic way to elect a president, as opposed to direct popular vote. It preserves the shameful white supremacist legacy where slave states were apportioned a greater share of the electors based on counting Black slaves as 3/5 of a person. Though obviously the form through which the Presidential election is carried out, it’s important to say that this shameful legacy remains at the heart of the Presidential election.
Around the world people are suffering and dying in the tens of thousands from in the SARS-CoV-2 virus global pandemic. This virus is novel, meaning it’s never been experienced before by humans and therefore humans don’t have any developed immunity to it. It is transmitted via droplets from coughing or sneezing and perhaps aerosols, and quite likely via surface contamination from person to person. The disease it causes has been named Covid 19. A pandemic like this hasn’t been seen in the world since the 1918 so-called “Spanish flu” pandemic that killed approximately 50 million people.
As I write this April 4th , the worldwide number of confirmed Covid 19 cases stands at 1.2 million according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus dashboard . 65,000 people have died, 15,000 of them in Italy where hospitals have been overrun and 11,000 in Spain. By tomorrow these numbers will be out of date. The increase in new confirmed cases yesterday, April 3rd, was the largest increase of any day, over 100,000.
The U.S. is now the global epicenter of the disease and the main driver of increases worldwide. Confirmed cases in the U.S. have skyrocketed to over 312,000, now approaching twice as many as the country with the second highest number, Spain. The largest increases of confirmed cases daily of any country to date are now occurring in the U.S., 33,000 on April 3rd. Over 8500 are dead in the U.S.
After downplaying the danger for two months, the White House on March 31st announced their “best case” scenario was that 100-240,000 people will die in the U.S. from Covid 19. Just weeks ago, Donald Trump, the person most singly responsible for this magnitude of this crisis, repeatedly dismissed the danger, telling people that it was no worse than the flu, that the virus would “disappear”, that the numbers would soon “drop to zero”. The virus didn’t care though about Trump’s lies or attempts to cover up the truth. Now, confronted with an exploding caseload and massive deaths, Trump who just a a little more than a week ago chortled about how the U.S would be “open and raring to go” by Easter with “churches full”, has been forced by circumstances to partially admit the level of disaster, though not his responsibility.
Sickeningly, in his March 31st press conference Trump said “many people” in his ruling class circles were counseling to just “ride it out”, in other words, do nothing to shut down business and just let people die in the millions. The cold debates in the Trump inner circles have been over what’s best for Trump and the economy-do nothing and hope despite millions dying the economy can still function, or put in place some measures to “limit” the deaths to up to 240,000 because that would ultimately be less disruptive. Trump then lauded himself for choosing against doing nothing. Now he tries to present the absolutely horrific prediction of as many as 240,000 deaths that his regime is largely responsible for, as amazingly good, a “job well done”.
From the start, the Trump regime’s response to the Covid danger has been disastrous. It’s been completely framed by Trump’s personal interests vis a vis maintaining power and the elections, and relatedly, trying to keep the stock market afloat and economy spinning. It’s also stamped by Trump’s particular brand of disregard of reality. The federal agencies responsible for medically dealing with the disease-the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health and Human Services (HHA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were sluggish and flat-footed in rolling out testing. Early and massive testing, as was done in South Korea and Singapore for example, helped track the disease so people could be quarantined to help squelch the virus. Instead in the U.S., more than a month was lost, the virus exploded. With the horse already out of the barn, the U.S. has now finally ramped up testing which is beginning to track closer to the actual case numbers. Undoubtedly though, these are still way short of actual numbers as little or no effort has been aimed to track people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Data from China indicates both are able to transmit the virus. Even now many are still having difficulty getting tests in a timely manner, despite Trump’s lie that “everyone who wants a test gets a test”.
Tens of millions of Trump’s backers, including governors in many of the “red states” have refused, and some even continue to refuse, to engage reality, as Trump has modelled. Schools, businesses, sporting events, bars, churches and gathering places continued to operate as the virus was allowed to infect more people and spread. In Florida, Governor DeSantis, a Trump acolyte, refused to shut down spring break and beaches, allowing thousands of youth to gather, exposing each other to the virus, and likely spreading to others. Religious fanatic and Trump devotee Jerry Falwell Jr. re-opened Liberty University in late March.
Each day this crisis brings deeper sadness at the suffering and death worldwide, and anger over the disaster of the U.S. federal government’s response. Healthcare workers battle this disease without enough essential protective gear, having to disinfect masks they use day after day. Exhausted and strained, they plead online for gloves, masks and ventilators. Medical workers, particularly in New York City, are getting sick. Some have died. One nurse who along with his partner has contracted Covid 19 told the New York Times, “I feel like we’re all just being sent to slaughter”. Protests of nurses are spreading across the country, as are beautiful balcony outpourings of support for health workers. Sirens sound repeatedly all day and night in New York City where there’s been an explosion of tens of thousands of cases and more than 2300 deaths. Bodies stack up in hospitals and are loaded into fleets of refrigerated trucks to be taken away.
Heartbreaking stories fill social media of previously healthy people, particularly elderly, but not only, developing symptoms, ending up in ICU’s gasping for breath and dying separated from loved ones. People are losing the dearest people in their lives, decades stolen from their lives, and sometimes not even being able to say goodbye. Nationwide hospital beds, trained ICU staff, supplies, and ventilators, are running out. The strains on hospitals are just beginning. Millions are unemployed as the virus shut down the economy. Tens of millions are under social distancing and stay at home orders. Trump has refused to do what other countries have, put in place a national stay-at home order.
Governors in states like Washington, California and New York and Michigan have forged emergency responses-stay-at home orders, shutting businesses, mandating social distancing. Many of these efforts are crucial and may in certain cases at least, be playing a role in at least slowing the spread of disease States have had to battle the Trump regime for necessary equipment and materials. Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, yet Trump has states in a market-driven bidding war with each other to pay the most for life-saving supplies. Trump said he told Mike Pence, head of the coronavirus task force to not even call Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, because they haven’t expressed enough appreciation of what a great job he’s doing. Thousands are dying, people are suffering and scared, ventilators, hospital beds and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are running out. Instead of setting up a nationally coordinated effort to allocate and rush supplies to hotspots, Trump demands fealty and lets states fight over them.
He then had the unmitigated audacity to accuse healthcare workers, who are risking their lives, at times without basic equipment, of misusing or stealing masks. Trump’s daily press conferences are a mix of lies, misstatements and half-truths, and primarily about making it appear as if things are under control, and to further the laughable claim that he and his government’s efforts are so amazing they’ve “never been seen before”. He’s trying to turn a national debacle into a bouquet of flowers. When reporters even just read back his own words to him to point out his actual statements, he interrupts them, accuses them of being hostile and tries to shut them down.
This past week #TrumpGenocide began trending on twitter. In fact this is not hyperbole in the least. Trump is furthering a catastrophe that is still unrolling. No-one knows where it ends. Further, there is great responsibility of all countries to stop the spread of the disease, in particular because of the possible impact on the poor countries in the global south where health care systems and supplies are often much less available than in the rich countries. Nowhere is this reality of possible mass death more acute than in detention centers where immigrants are locked and packed into unsanitary conditions without basic sanitation. As of April 6th, there are at least 8 documented positive Covid 19 cases reported in immigrant detention facilities. Immigrant women in detention in Lousiana made a protest video detailing the lack of protection they are receiving and their fear. Covid is already spreading as well in jails. In Rikers Island in New York City as well as Cook County jail, hundreds of inmates are already sick with the coronavirus.
Capitalism and the Trump “Logic”
There is a link between the emergence of pathogens in wild animals, as is likely with Covid, and the functioning of capitalist industrial production and its destruction of the natural world. Further, the spread and devastation caused by this pandemic is also intimately linked up with the workings of capitalism in other ways-the lack of planning and preparation for such disasters, inequities in health care systems in almost every country, as well as the disparity between rich and poor. Capitalism as a system is incapable of preparing ahead for such eventualities due to its short term horizons and its demand to focus on immediate profit-making and winning out vis a vis competitors. Health care, to capitalism, is another market-driven, profit-producing operation. This is a subject beyond the scope of this article, but sets the context for what we’re seeing.
No one could have exactly predicted this pandemic, but actually many epidemiologists and others have warned of such a situation of this kind for years.
In fact previous administrations and the Trump administration itself studied the dangers of an emerging pandemic, (despite Trump’s lie that no-one could have predicted this.) Yet little or nothing was done to prepare. No stockpiling supplies like PPE and ventilators, no plans for training millions of back up healthcare workers that would be needed, no actual game-planning for extreme scenarios. Few new weapons systems or war materiel are left unexplored or developed in America, but when it comes to PPE, life-saving medical equipment and staff, forget it.
The Covid 19 disaster is a capitalist disaster. But on top of this it’s in particular a disaster of Trumpian fascism. Many reporters and news agencies have rightly skewered Trump for the debacle of a response. And yet most still don’t understand how it’s entirely rooted in who Trump is, has always been and always will be, in his worldview, what he values, and what he’s out to do. So after not only this but everything horrific Trump has done-caging children, unleashing violent racism, eviscerating the rule of law, his sexual predation, destruction of the environment and bone-deep corruption-they say the federal government must “get its act together”. “The White House must take charge, why such a confused response?” they say. Or “it’s time for government to speak with one clear voice”.
The truth is Trump’s response has a twisted and sick logic and he and his regime are incapable of the type of response needed.
Trump’s project and outlook is a fascist one that is all about gaining and maintaining power, worship of money and advancement of profit-making without normal rules. It’s about xenophobia and racism-eg. Trump calling Sars Co-V2 the “Chinese virus”. It’s why his inclinations are to shut down travel to other countries, and even quarantine states despite there being no medical reason justifying this. And most deeply, fascism’s and Trump’s logic is all about power. Truth isn’t something that exists objectively, it’s whatever the fascist leader says it is at any one moment, and that can change literally from moment to moment. Fascism eschews (abstains from) truth and evidence. (This is one reason it so neatly fits with right wing Christian fundamentalism.) In fact, it defines truth as whatever is in the interests of the leader. This is why Trump constantly and repeatedly was incapable of accepting basic facts about the virus’ spread in the U.S.
Fascism demands obedience from the masses and suppresses and even crushes political opponents. Yes, it gives out sops- hospital ships to LA and New York, certain PPE and ventilators though nowhere near what’s needed. But its essential heartbeat is consolidating power, maximizing profit-making and vicious nationalism. This is why the stock market’s performance and its centrality to Trump’s re-election has been much more vital than a few hundred thousand deaths to him.
And in this crisis too, the fascists in the ruling class are employing the logic of not letting “any serious crisis go to waste”. So they are seizing on it to ram through draconian new rules and laws, outlawing abortion as “non-essential” in three states so far, suspending enforcement of environmental rules by the EPA, and dangerous new charges in certain Republican led states to be leveled in the event of protest vs. fossil fuel projects, now defined as “essential infrastructure.”
As days pass, Trump’s press conferences increasingly play a role of gleefully trying to crush people’s hopes and humanity with the spectre of massive death allowed by increasing dictatorial power. Trump is now using this crisis to bludgeon the political terrain in the best possible terms for consolidating fascist power through the November elections. The situation is very dangerous and getting more so.
It’s crucial now that all who care about creating a better world find all possible means to stand up, to expose this regime, to spread massive outrage at the criminal mass murder this regime is responsible for. Walls physically and virtually could be established that become living monuments to the people who have died from Covid and to condemn this regime that is responsible. Protests incorporating social distancing ethos must build and spread. It’s critical that people speak out together to demand support for health care workers, an end to immigrant detention and of jailing people in dangerous conditions, for needed medical supplies and equipment, and to join all these efforts to demand Trump, the fascist at the center of this crisis, to resign now.
Moved by a moral obligation to “tell it like it is,” more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries have released a statement warning humanity of the “catastrophic threat” we face as the climate emergency continues apace. Without transformative changes to save the biosphere, they warn, there will be “untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” Since the statement was published on November 5, thousands more scientists have signed on to it.
The statement in the online journal BioScience pointed out that, despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, the world has “generally conducted business as usual and largely failed to address this predicament,” with only minor exceptions. As a result, they say, global temperatures have reached crisis levels and climate disruption is accelerating faster than most scientists expected, now “threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.” The danger includes potential climate tipping points that could lead to a “hothouse Earth” beyond any ability for humanity to control and that could even make “large areas of the Earth uninhabitable” according to the warning.
The fix that’s needed is not simply one of everybody doing their own small part, personally, to solve the problem. In the statement’s conclusion, scientists say that “mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.” The scientists call on those in power and all of humanity to respond to the emergency warning and act to “sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.”
The statement vividly brings to life the key trends of changing climate through a suite of “graphical vital signs” of human activity over the last 40 years. The basic scientific data of these changes is presented simply and with great clarity: a 5 percent rise every 10 years in carbon emissions; a 3.65 percent rise of another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, every 10 years; a global surface temperature rise of .183 degrees Celsius every 10 years; a decline of Arctic sea ice at a rate of 11.7 percent every 10 years; significant drops in the ice mass of Greenland, Antarctica and world glaciers; an increase in ocean acidity and temperatures; an increase of 44 percent in the amount of area burned by wildfires in the U.S. every 10 years; and an 88 percent rise in extreme weather events per 10 years.
The scientists make clear that wealthy, Western countries are primarily responsible for the build-up of these greenhouse gases, and also, in general, have the highest per capita emissions. They link these trends to a number of factors, including an increase in world gross domestic product (GDP) and total institutional assets, a rise in ruminant livestock and meat production, a rise in human population, an increase in tree cover loss, and air transport.
There are certain positive trends, such as a decrease in fossil fuel subsidies and the global total fertility rate, as well as in the rate over the past two decades of Brazilian Amazonian forest loss, for instance. Still, the scientists also point out that even some of these positive trends are beginning to reverse or flatten out. One concrete positive they point to, however, is the surge of concern about the climate crisis, including youth climate strikes around the world.
The illustration of reality portrayed in the statement deserves thorough examination by all people who care about life on the planet and who are trying to figure out why this planetary death spiral continues, despite all the decades of warnings and the growing awareness of the problem.
But it’s still not too late to save large portions of planetary life, they say. The scientists outline steps in six critical areas that human society could take to significantly address the danger:
Fossil fuel stocks must be left in the ground, and the world must quickly “implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices” while replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
Short-lived climate pollutants like methane need to be promptly reduced.
Humanity must move to protect and restore Earth’s ecosystems — coral reefs, forests, savannas, wetlands, soils and marine habitats — to stop habitat and biodiversity loss. Forested lands must be enhanced at enormous scales.
Plant-based foods need to increasingly replace such a massive consumption of meat.
Economic extraction of materials and exploitation of ecosystems driven by economic growth need to be quickly curtailed and replaced by maintenance of long-term sustainability of the biosphere.
Population must be stabilized, and ideally, reduced by making family-planning services available to all people and achieving full gender equality.
“Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality” the statement reads.
These steps are profoundly rational and achievable. They provide a basic road map humanity could follow to save our planet, transforming major aspects of how we relate to nature.
Of course, the problem is that those in power remain deeply entrenched in running a system that is doing the opposite. Capitalism, as a system, precludes the possibility of prioritizing calculations and decisions on such rational and well-founded arguments about what’s needed to sustain planetary life, and instead is continually driven by what is most profitable and beneficial to the economic/political interests of the world’s ruling classes.
In some of these countries are the Trumps and Bolsonaros of the world who are actively accelerating the climate and extinction crisis by expanding fossil fuel extraction, wiping out regulations and protections for humans and other species, and mowing down rainforests. In the countries of “enlightened” capitalists, leaders pay lip service to the problem, but are prevented by the workings of the systems they head to do what’s necessary to deal with the crisis, and so continue with “business as usual.”
All this continues despite the clear, repeated warnings pointing to a global extermination of species, increasingly powerful storms (especially devastating the poorest on the planet), and the specter of complete climate catastrophe.
The question for all of us, for humanity as a whole, is: Will we rise to wrest control from the hands of a system that is destroying planetary life? Will we transform human social relations, or succumb to the inexorable death spiral capitalism has wrought?
I wrote this today to MoveOn in response to a petition they sent me to demand an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee and Justice Department Inspector General of William Barr’s Justice Department, after the announcement they will seek a reduced sentence for Roger Stone.
Respectfully, the time for petitions has passed. These are not stopping Trump. We need to be in the streets-from here forward. MoveOn should be calling for this now. If not, you are failing in your mission. I’m sorry to say it and I’m not condemning your work, and know you work hard. But the simple truth is the only thing that will stop this escalating fascism concentrated in Trump and his government is non-violent, mass on-going protest in streets. To concentrate on petitions, occasional protest and voting-when Trump is ripping up the rule of law and has repeatedly shown willingness to steal elections by any means, and continues to get away with it and becomes strengthened, almost comes down to collaboration with this.
At the very least it suffers under a very dangerous illusion-that democracy and legal channels will still stop this. He will work to steal the election, to further suppress the vote even more than already has, to strip provisional ballots to steal vote, to use social media with help from foreign countries to manipulate public opinion and the vote, use various other means, (some I’m sure blatantly illegal to manipulate or steal the vote), mobilize fascist sentiment in the streets, possibly invade another country, even delay or cancel the vote if other means fail. Or he may simply declare the election null and void, saying it was a fake election, making up phony justifications of bussed-in immigrants or whatever to cover up and justify his clampdown.
He is capable of anything, and if not stopped, we may well be looking at a Nazi Germany type scenario-or possibly a Putin/Erdogan/Duterte/Bolsonaro type fascism. So we, the people generally, must recognize this and act accordingly. To rise repeatedly in mass non-violent protest now, is our only hope. Yes it will be scary and will cause much upheaval. People may even die, but without this there is little to no hope of preventing even more catastrophe from Trump and his people. What we’re already seeing is small compared to what this regime is capable of if fully consolidated.
Please respond to this historic challenge we face as thinking people.
The Trump administration’s recent announcement of rule changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will blow a hole through protections that have been crucial to preventing extinctions and to helping the recovery of many threatened species. The changes, announced by the Interior Department’s, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service, will take effect in September.
About 1,600 plant and animal species in the U.S. are listed under the ESA. It’s been estimated the ESA has prevented 227 species from going extinct. It has a 99 percent success ratio, meaning only 10 species ever listed have gone extinct. According to a recent study, 77 percent of once-endangered marine mammals and sea turtles protected by the ESA are now recovering. Without the ESA, it is very likely many iconic as well as many lesser-known species would have disappeared forever. Among others, the ESA is believed to have saved the bald eagle, the monk seal, the leatherback sea turtle, the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, the California condor, the snowy plover, and humpback and gray whales. It is also protecting plant, insect and other species that are vital parts of natural ecosystems.
These changes to the ESA will damage the act’s ability to protect species in a number of ways.
First, a blanket rule automatically extending endangered species protections to newly designated threatened species has been torpedoed. Only threatened species that have special rules set up for them will now receive the greater protections given to endangered species. States could now open hunting or trapping seasons or allow other means that kill off threatened species. Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), told Truthout that there is currently a backlog of around 500 species before the FWS under consideration for threatened status. As a result of the changes he said, “Threatened species really won’t have any protections at all” making threatened status an “almost meaningless designation.”
The new rules change the establishment of critical habitat that is crucial for the survival of threatened species.
If a species is impacted by climate change but not primarily by habitat destruction, the new rules won’t designate critical habitat, even though climate change-threatened species need more habitat protection, not less, Greenwald said. “The rules also make it harder to designate unoccupied habitat. So both of these things are very bad for climate change-impacted species because there’s a decent chance they’ll have to move.”
Without the ESA, it is very likely many iconic as well as many lesser-known species would have disappeared forever.
Unoccupied habitat is habitat not yet occupied by the species but that would be beneficial to a species and could help it survive if a species were forced to move, by say, climate change. Scientists have already documented the migration of species northward and to new habitats as a result of climate change, so the need for critical habitat designations isn’t just theoretical.
Greenwald pointed up the example of the wolverine. Only about 300 wolverines are estimated to be left in the wild in the U.S. They are dwindling, particularly as a result of climate disruption lessening mountain snowfall. Wolverines are currently up for a listing decision and are likely to be given threatened status but no designated physical habitat under the new rules. Greenwald says wolverines are affected by winter sports and things like ski resort development because they rely on spring snowfall at high elevations for denning. But since it’s hard to predict exactly how various habitats will be impacted by climate change, the animals are unlikely to be given critical habitat designation now by the FWS rule changes.
Environmental groups are also condemning the ESA changes because they remove language requiring that decisions on protecting species be based solely on science “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination.” The new rules allow economic calculations to be made in considering protection of species. This could open the door to weighing those costs against protecting a species. For instance, when deciding whether protecting a certain species threatened by logging of old growth forest is outweighed by the economic benefit of logging. FWS Assistant Director Gary Frazer insisted science would remain the sole basis of determining protections, but the whole attempt to weaken the ESA for many years (mainly by Republicans) has always sought to open the door to overrule protecting species in favor of big capitalist business interests like logging and fossil fuel extraction.
Trump officials are trying to cover over their true intentions by speaking of “updating” or even “improving” the Act. Interior Department head David Bernhardt, a longtime ESA opponent and advocate for coal and oil interests, now claims to just make the ESA more “clear and efficient” to “ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species.”
Jacob Malcom of Defenders of Wildlife doesn’t buy it. “They’re going to make these arguments because that’s the only way they’re going to have any traction in trying to defend them, but they’re simply not true,” he told Truthout.
“Threatened species really won’t have any protections at all” making threatened status an “almost meaningless designation.”
Greenwald concurs. “They say they’re going to rely on the best scientific information in making their decisions but what’s the point of doing the economic analysis?” he told Truthout. Greenwald said these changes will also create pressure by large monied interests to list species as threatened instead of endangered, because they will get less habitat protection. Republicans in Congress like John Barrasso, who have conducted a years-long attempt to undermine and do away with ESA protections, also see these changes as a “good start” and a gateway to even more drastic gutting of the Act, while claiming to “update” and “strengthen” it.
Facing criticism for the rule changes, Trump officials have simply doubled down on their assault on species, denying endangered protections to six more species on August 14.
CBD, Earthjustice and the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts have announced they will go to court to stop the rule changes.
Extinction and the Larger Ecological Crisis
The assault on the ESA happens at a moment of global mass extinction and climate crises. It will further that crisis unless prevented.
“When we’re seeing this kind of crisis … we should be strengthening laws we know are effective at saving species,” Malcom told Truthout. “Instead, the Trump administration is doing the opposite. They are weakening the rules, making it easier for harm to happen to these species and ultimately to drive species closer to extinction.”
In May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction. The report said “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.”
Scientists have already documented the migration of species northward as a result of climate change, so the need for critical habitat designations isn’t just theoretical.
According to the report, three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66 percent of the marine environment have now been significantly altered by human actions, and land-based habitats have fallen by 20 percent. Approximately 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-forming corals and a third of all marine mammals are threatened. Scientists have also been finding evidence of a collapse of insects in certain places, leading to fears of an apocalypse at the base of the food chain.
About one-fourth of the global land area is “traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous Peoples.” And areas with large concentrations of Indigenous Peoples and many of the world’s poorest people are now “projected to experience significant negative effects from global changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to people.” IPBES Chair Robert Watson said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The gutting of the ESA happens against a backdrop of other human-caused catastrophes that has been escalating with shocking rapidity and scope, this summer especially.
This July ranked as the hottest month ever recorded. An intense heat wave scorched the northern hemisphere, causing between 12 and 24 billion tons of Greenland’s ice to melt in a single day. Scientists said the melt was reaching levels climate models hadn’t predicted until 2070. In the Arctic, extremely hot temperatures and resulting drought set off massive wildfires that are visible from space. In vast regions of Siberia, the smoke got so bad that, mixed with dark clouds, it caused the sun to “disappear,” as also happened last summer. Now residents talk about this as the sun “going off.” Waters are so warm in some Alaskan rivers that salmon are literally being killed off.
The increased warming of the Arctic is causing a feedback loop releasing even more greenhouse gases by melting frozen permafrost. “Arctic permafrost isn’t thawing gradually, as scientists once predicted,” reports National Geographic. “Geologically speaking, it’s thawing almost overnight.”
The new rules allow economic calculations to be made in considering protection of species.
If fossil fuel burning isn’t dramatically altered, in a few decades, emissions of carbon and methane from melting permafrost will contribute as much to greenhouse emissions as that of China, currently the world’s largest emitter. Meanwhile, in the Bering Sea, warming ocean waters are triggering ecological disaster, killing off seabirds, seals, walruses and whales at rates not seen before. Rick Thoman, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said at a public forum in Nome, Alaska, “We’re not approaching the cliff. We’ve fallen off it.”
Trump’s Multileveled and Criminal War on Nature
Given the cataclysm already engulfing the globe, emergency measures are needed to address the crisis.
Nothing like this is occurring, and in the U.S., Trump is instead barreling ahead in ways that will further destroy species and ecosystems to increase profitability for capitalism with what could rightfully be called life-destroying criminality.
A report in Scientific American details how the Trump administration is “torpedoing climate science.” Another report reveals that after meeting with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Trump personally intervened with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force a withdrawal of opposition to the proposed Pebble Gold and Copper Mine that will likely devastate the habitat of the world’s richest and most pristine remaining salmon run, in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Trump’s Interior Department is also being exposed for suppressing science in an environmental assessment of drilling plans in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. Government scientists warning of the likely damage to caribou, polar bears and Native communities are being disregarded.
And on another front, Trump’s EPA has continued to refuse to stop the use of dangerous pesticides that are killing endangered plants and animals, including important pollinators. In the case of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause neurological and developmental damage to humans and animals, the EPA reversed a ban on its use even though the agency knew it could jeopardize the existence of almost 1,400 endangered plants and animals.
In July, Trump gave a speech on what he claimed were the great achievements of his government on the environment, including how under him, the U.S. has the world’s cleanest air and water. However, as Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity told Truthout, “Since he’s been elected, the air has gotten dirtier, the water has gotten dirtier, the amount of enforcement of our environmental laws has dropped off a cliff so polluters are getting away with much more, and they’re cutting the science and the staff to do the basic research to monitor the air and water.”
The CBD has filed 151 lawsuits to date challenging the Trump administration’s moves that would cause damage to the environment, species and people. The scope of the CBD lawsuits is remarkable, and reviewing them is an excellent way to take in the awful reality of what the regime is attempting to do and the legal attempts to stop this. Hartl said that a number of the lawsuits and legal actions filed by CBD and others have met with success; for instance, blocking Trump moves to open up Arctic waters for drilling, stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline for a time, stopping construction of an open-pit copper mine in Arizona, and winning protected status for a number of species.
The Trump regime is not only a threat to endangered species, but to all species — including our own. Preventing mass extinction and addressing the climate crisis is a global imperative, and time is short.
Curtis Johnson is a research scientist, freelance writer, and a revolutionary and environmental activist. He has reported and written on the Gulf oil spill, the battle to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, Western wildfires, the threat to orcas and wild salmon, the extinction and climate crisis, as well as the fight for justice for families of those murdered by police and to stop Trump’s fascism. He’s a hiker, fisherman, and lover of Northwest forests, the redwoods, wildlife, nature and humanity. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.
This week Saira Rao, a former Congressional candidate in Colorado posted a mulit-tweet commentary on the topic of plantation tours in the American south. Rao, who is Indian-American said, “Having grown up in Virginia, I’ve visited many plantations. Every time it’s been the same. White guide humanizing slaveowners, how kind so & so was to those whom they enslaved.” She went on to say she had been on a recent tour that was completely different. On this tour the guide, who was white, told of the actual history of slavery, including the brutal oppression by slaveowners of the people they enslaved. When some of the white visitors “bristled” and questioned whether it was “really that bad”, and one of the white tourees commented, “bet they stayed in line because they were treated so well.”, the tour guide turned to her, “finger pointed up and said: ‘These white people were terrorists. Just like white people today shooting everyone.’”
Rao said a number of reviews of the tour online complained the tour was “disappointing”, hadn’t shown enough of the plantation grounds or quarters, was too “agenda-driven” and even “racist”. When this came out on twitter after Saira’s posts, the tour complainers were excoriated by Black people and others as well. One Black woman tweeted, “Who goes to a plantation and then gets angry about hearing about slavery? Do you know what a plantation is m’am?” Another person tweeted, “While black people are practically weeping during plantation tours, this woman is looking for an enjoyable plantation tour. Next stop: an enjoyable trip to concentration camps”.
It makes you ask yourself, what is really wrong with many white people and what can be done about all of this?
What it caused me to reflect on, was the unbroken line in the history of this country from the horrors of slavery down to the horrors of today. This line begins in the founding days of this country, with its part in the deaths of millions of Africans in the kidnapping, murder, and death by disease of the transatlantic slave trade. This horror was followed by two hundred and forty years of sanctioned and legalized brutality; family separation, overwork, starvation and sexual exploitation of 4 million in the “peculiar institution” of American slavery that built this country. The line weaves through the legalized oppression of the Jim Crow south, the night rider terrorizing of Black communities, the thousands of lynchings of Black people up into the 1960’s that traumatized the entire population of African-American people. And now to the new Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of disproportionate percentages of Black people, the routinized police murder of disproportionately black and brown people in today’s America, regardless of what administration is in power. The routine stigmatizing, oppression, and humiliation of millions of Black people, present throughout this nation’s history, continues today, as so concentrated in the pictures this past week of police on horseback in Galveston Texas leading a Black man through the streets by a rope.
The unbroken line goes through the wiping out of Native peoples in America and throughout the continent through disease, war and the annihilation of their means of survival. It encompasses the stealing of their lands for westward expansion of capitalism, and the continued disenfranchisement, poverty and assaults on indigenous sovereignty to today; from the police assaults at Standing Rock to Trump’s stealing of large portions of Bear Ears national monument with its architectural treasures and rich indigenous culture for oil and gas exploitation. The line wends to the anti-Chinese immigrant laws in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the exploitation of imported Mexican labor, and yes to the racist slaughter of El Paso. And this line branches out from America worldwide, to the invasions by the U.S. of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries, to the mass annihilation of millions by the U.S. military in Southeast Asia, to the U.S. backing of death squads and genocide in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s, to two invasions of Iraq resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands at least and the displacement from their countries of millions.
This is America, and now it’s Trump’s America. This is an America where Trump’s racist tirades appeal to and whip up a “nostalgia” among some of its white citizens for the “good old days”, despite how awful they were for non-white peoples, for women, and for many of the exploited immigrant and poor white laborers. These “good old days” were days of terror, misery and yes genocide for oppressed nationality peoples, and exploitation for the poor as a whole, most especially worldwide. And this is what Trump is seeking to restore and take further, under a new American fascism. This is a capitalist/corporate fascism, which is being allowed and supported by big businesses which find Trump’s tax and regulation cuts richly profitable and for some at least, enhancing of their competitive edge over others.
Trump’s recent racist tirades, including against “the squad” has further stoked his white supremacist base. A young white bigot, pumped up by Trump rants about America being “invaded” by Central American migrants, and white supremacist theories of white people being “replaced” by immigrants, unleashed his murderous resentment in El Paso, killing twenty-two people. His online manifesto justified the upcoming slaughter saying, ““if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Think about it, these words of the El Paso shooter could literally have come out of the mouth of Donald Trump. Essentially, they have.
Evan as Trump sickly posed for photo ops in El Paso complete with smiles and a thumbs up while Melania Trump held the baby of parents who died shielding him in the shooting, I.C.E., the Trump regime’s official arm of ethnic cleansing, rounded up 680 immigrants at their jobsites in Mississippi. The children of those detained were left abandoned, crying and terrorized.
Amanda Armstrong-Price, assistant professor at Fordham University connected the shooting and I.C.E. round-up very well on Facebook, saying, “the mass raid … is the state affirming the El Paso shooter and encouraging others.” And the El Paso shooting, along with killings, assaults, and insults large and small by an increasingly mob-like Trumpian base, has become the unofficial arm of state policy enforcing cruelty and the terrorizing of whole sections of brown peoples.
Trump’s imposition of fascism, with a racist genocidal edge, is intensifying and straining the fabric of things. Outrage and resistance to all this is growing on the people’s side too, and things could break open in a positive way for stopping this as well. Mass resistance is needed now, to this racist genocidal thrust and to putting an end through mass non-violent action a la Puerto Rico, to the whole fascist regime. Having something positive emerge from these horrors is going to be hard, but only people in their millions, acting in common, can make this happen. It is possible.
Curtis Johnson is a research scientist, freelance writer, and a revolutionary and environmental activist. He has reported and written on the Gulf oil spill, the battle to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, Western wildfires, the threat to orcas and wild salmon, the extinction and climate crisis, as well as the fight for justice for families of those murdered by police and to stop Trump’s fascism. He’s a hiker, fisherman, and lover of Northwest forests, the redwoods, wildlife, nature and humanity. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.
Of course, Donald Trump is a racist. His tweet attacks telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back to their broken and crime infested” countries are only the latest ugly examples of a consistent, unbroken pattern. As Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson rightly noted, Trump’s comments to Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are not different from the white segregationists screaming “Go Back to Africa” at Black students as the U.S. integrated public schools in the 1960s.
And then it got even uglier. It could have been taken from a Nazi rally at Nuremberg: Trump singled out Ilhan Omar for special attack at a North Carolina rally and the crowd responded, chanting, “Send her back! Send her back!” After unleashing this viciousness, Trump pretended to be unhappy with the chants the next day, only to reinvigorate and heighten his assaults on the four the day after.
Racism is woven into Trump’s worldview and his political brand. In 1989, Trump took out ads in all four New York City dailies calling for reinstating the death penalty right after the arrest of innocent Black youths in a vicious rape and beating. After the ad, the “Central Park Five” were coerced and beaten by police into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. Trump told Larry King in an interview at the time, “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.” Trump would become a leading advocate of the “birther” movement that claimed Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. After the far-right Charlottesville rally in 2017, Trump gave political cover to the white supremacist assaults, claiming there were very fine people on “both sides.” Trump ranted about why it was always immigrants from “shithole countries” coming to the U.S., instead of white majority nations like Norway. He referred to undocumented Mexican and Central American migrants as criminals, rapists and “animals.” Now his regime is acting on this rant, viciously stealing migrant children from their parents at the border and locking them in cages to suffer without proper food, sanitation and care. Yes, this is all racist, and the list could stretch to pages. People with minds that think and a sense of justice and history have known this for a long time.
Trump’s “Make America White Again”
But the problem is deeper than Trump’s personal racism or even that these types of things are now being said and done from the highest office in the land, as dangerous as that is. In the wake of the House vote condemning Trump’s tweets, Trump and his defenders deny he’s a racist and say “the Squad,” as the four congresswomen have been named, are vicious anti-Americans who “hate our country” and should “just leave.” Never mind that all of “the Squad” are citizens of the U.S., duly elected representatives, and three of the four were born in the U.S. The Trumpian project is seeking to redefine those who deserve the right to stay in the U.S. and remain citizens as those who swear unquestioning allegiance to Trump and his vision of the country and the world. A central part of Trump’s program involves slamming back people of color and women, and interning or expelling people from other countries, particularly poor, oppressed countries comprised of mainly non-white peoples. To Trump and his ilk, “Make America Great Again” is about returning to a past where whites were openly dominant without apology, where women “knew their place,” and where (white) people of “good will” didn’t have to suffer to hear Spanish being spoken around them. Trump’s speeches and tweets are appealing to and cohering the most backward sections of society into a force, including those that harbor deep resentment at having to worry about being confronted for spouting racist belief. Many of these people have a deep fear about “losing our America” to “foreigners,” “socialists” or Black people. This is Trump’s base; many who want simple answers find their “truth” in conspiracy theories, and harken back to a mythical time of peace and harmony without the need for a lot of complicated thinking or debate about evidence; a past where the “white Christian” identity of the U.S. stood unchallenged.
Make no mistake, the Trump project intends to make white supremacy, white nationalism, misogyny, and unbridled American chauvinism the basis of what rules in this country and what it inflicts on the rest of the world. When Trump pardons and extols a war criminal like Michael Behenna, an Army first lieutenant convicted by a military court of executing a bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoner during an interrogation in 2008, this is a sign of what’s to come.
The Fascism at the Heart of Trump’s Program
In the wake of Trump’s tweets and the House vote, many liberal pundits and Democrats are condemning his tweets, but saying either Trump is just trying to fire up his base for the 2020 election, or distract from other things. In a press conference, the four Democratic Congresswomen rightly condemned Trump’s racism and xenophobia, but also echoed the view that Trump’s tweets were meant to distract from issues of “larger concern to the American people,” including the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border.
What is being missed is that there is a logic at play in Trump’s tweets. The racist tweets and attempts to marginalize and turn hatred toward “the Squad” is connected to the devastation his regime is imposing on innocent asylum seekers driven to escape their home countries. It’s connected to his attacks on the press as the enemy of the people, his regime’s refusal to cooperate with congressional subpoenas to testify, his flouting of the law and attempts to destroy it by executive order, and turning the Justice Department into a tool of presidential protection and prosecution of political enemies. It’s connected deeply with all of the rest of Trump’s racist attacks on professional athletes and public figures. And it’s connected to a broader Republican agenda to outlaw abortion, and positioning to again suppress the vote to guarantee victory in 2020. It’s connected to his slash-and-burn destruction of the environment at a time of global crisis. It’s also connected to Trump openly preparing his base to come out into the streets in the event of a move to impeach him or if Democrats would win the 2020 election. It’s connected to Trump’s lovefest with dictators around the world and floating out maybe he should indeed be president beyond two terms. Sure, there is diversion involved in Trump’s moves and tweets at times, but what is not being confronted is that all these things, including diversions, are elements of and in service to, an overall fascist program.
Trump and his allies in the Republican Party and at powerful levels of the ruling class are hammering into place a transformation of American society and rule from an already oppressive capitalist “democracy,” to an openly authoritarian or fascist society where obedience and allegiance — especially to “the leader” — are demanded, and where opponents are crushed. This is a nightmare future with potentially genocidal implications. Right now, many are beginning to get a sense of this, but it needs to be fully confronted by many more. Then, people’s actions must flow from this understanding.
Any regime where it is legitimate and right to characterize whole nations as shitholes and entire peoples as rapists, murderers and animals; to lock up children with no regard for their health, or the terror and harm it inflicts; and then double down on this even when children die in their custody — is headed toward fascism. Any regime that whips up hatred and fascist mobs to verbally threaten and even attack the regime’s political opponents, as Trump has done repeatedly, is a regime seeking to cement fascist rule.
After the “Send her back!” chants in Trump’s North Carolina rally, Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, tweeted, “I am not easily shocked. But we are facing an emergency. Journalists must not get away with sugar coating this. This is the face of evil.” In his book, The Anatomy of Fascism, author Robert Paxton says fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of “mobilizing passions that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism” and a conspiratorial view of history as a fight between good and evil “in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim.” This would be an accurate description of any Trump rally speech. Paxton says, “Fascists need a demonized enemy against which to mobilize followers, but of course the enemy does not have to be Jewish. Each culture specifies the national enemy.”
In Trump’s U.S., the enemy started as Muslims and immigrants from oppressed countries. Now it’s spread to include other non-white people, and political opponents the fascists call “anti-American,” even those who believe in the U.S. but just oppose Trump. It’s very important to recognize the Nazi elements being given life and scope by Trump. We would fail to heed at our own peril, for example, the murders of 11 people carried out by an anti-Semite at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh who targeted the temple for its support of immigrants, using Trumpian language about the immigrant caravan “invaders.” This is one reason it’s heartening to see Jewish groups and movements like Bend the Arc and #NeverAgain Action building protests to shut down Immigration and Customs Enforcement concentration camps and defend immigrants, saying, “Never Again is Now” and “Never Again Means Never Again for Everyone.”
These ugly comments by Trump from the highest office in the land are a disgrace, and an exposure of the true character of American democracy. Trump is attempting to cement an unbridled white supremacy, a nativist and fascist form of rule. But this is built on the bloody and ugly history of the U.S., from its establishment in slavery, to its genocide of Native people, down to today with the routinized murder of Black, Brown and Native people, the caging and family separations of migrants and denial of legal rights, the mass incarceration of millions of overwhelmingly people of color, the genocidal wars in southeast Asia, the mass slaughter in Iraq. For the U.S., violence is, as H. Rap Brown famously said in the 1960s, “as American as cherry pie.”
What Way Forward?
We have been counseled by leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and liberal TV pundits like Rachel Maddow to first put our hopes into Robert Mueller, then to throw all into the 2018 blue wave, then to rely on the federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, then to wait with bated breath the outcome of hearings in the House, all in hopes of stopping Trump. These hopes — illusions — have fallen, one after another. People will vote, and probably they even need to in these circumstances, but relying on this to stop Trump and fascism is a fatal mistake. The only “out” in this situation, given the seriousness of the threat and the antagonism Trump has for Constitutional norms, is for people to mobilize, connect with each other and increasingly build up our organized, collective resistance, in the streets and every sphere of society. It’s time to confront the fact that the Democrats will not stop this, especially if left to their own devices. They have neither the will nor the audacity to do so. They are another ruling class party, more invested in maintaining the social order than weathering all the upheaval involved in really confronting Trump. And this is the case despite the fact that they themselves will likely be sacrificed by Trumpian fascism. But a massive uprising by the populace could break the inertia, and even potentially impact the vigor with which sections with power oppose fascism.
There are some hopeful signs of increasing resistance, in the protests against concentration camps; in global student strikes to address the climate crisis; in the Extinction Rebellion movement worldwide, including the U.S.; in the resistance to Trumpian thugs; and in the Refuse Fascism movement. But all this and much more is needed, and it needs to be taken to an entirely different level. People of conscience in the arts and sciences, entertainment, in the medical and legal realms, religious communities and people broadly, who still deeply care about justice, could be drawn in. Links need to be made, political unity hammered out to the advantage of all, and new forms created so that millions eventually get drawn into the streets and all parts of society, in ongoing protest that doesn’t stop until Trump and his dangerous regime is pushed aside. Time is short.
Orca whales are iconic natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Powerful and joyful, they are honored and cherished by coastal Indigenous peoples and many others. People travel from around the world to see them, particularly the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Typically each summer, the J, K and L pods that comprise the population gathers in the waters of the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The pods reunite here in the summertime after a winter of ocean foraging, to gorge on Chinook salmon as the fish congregate to run into area rivers to spawn.
The orcas are intelligent and unique. Their society is matrilineal, grouped around older females, often grandmothers and great grandmothers that male and female offspring stay with throughout their lives. The Southern Residents have their own distinct dialect, a language particular to them. They communicate through calls and sounds that can travel 10 miles under water.
To see the whales is unforgettable. Once, when I stood with others on San Juan Island watching an orca pod very close to shore, a large whale came out of the water and looked directly at us, then vigorously slapped its tail twice as if to say, “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Now this wondrous species is facing an emergency threat to its survival. From 98 whales in 1995, they have declined to only 75 today. The Southern Residents are apex predators, a keystone species of the region’s marine ecosystem. They’re fish-eaters, distinguishing them from the transient orcas that eat marine mammals, and the offshore orca populations with a more generalist diet that includes sharks, fish, etc. For tens of thousands of years, these whales have lived by preferentially eating the biggest and fattest salmon, the Chinook, which historically filled the nearby seas and rivers. Supporting a body weight of anywhere from 3,000-12,000 pounds requires eating a lot of salmon.
But the workings of the capitalist system has now decimated the great natural bounty of salmon. The orcas are suffering food stress, even being starved to death. They are not reliably reproducing. And the Chinook salmon, like the orca, has become an endangered species.
Whale scientists were thrilled in July when the female orca Tahlequah, also known as “J-35,” gave birth to a calf in waters near Victoria, British Columbia. They rushed to document the new baby whale, which, if it survived and thrived, would have been the first for the endangered Southern Resident population in three years. But by the time they got there, the little calf was already dead. Over the past two decades, 75 percent of newborns have not survived.
For the next 17 days, Tahlequah carried and pushed her dead baby on her rostrum in a heartbreaking act of public mourning. For hundreds of miles around the Salish Sea in waters between Washington and British Columbia, even out to the ocean and back, Tahlequah pushed the calf while traveling with her pod.
“It was like a tour of grief,” Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research, told Truthout. One resident of San Juan Island reported to the Center that at sunset on the night of the new calf’s death, “a group of five or six female whales gathered at the mouth of the cove … in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly two hours” in moonlight, as if in ceremonial ritual.
Scientists say displays of grief and mourning are common among many different whale species worldwide. Given the intelligence and social bonds among various whale populations, it’s not surprising.
Yet in no other known case has such a display continued for as long as Tahlequah’s.Whether by design or not, Tahlequah was sending a message to humanity.
As Tahlequah grieved, a young female whale in her pod, J-50, was also in trouble. J-50 was having problems keeping up with her pod, especially falling back when swimming against strong currents. She appeared to be starving and sick, possibly close to death. The loss of another whale, particularly a female, to an endangered population with only 27 females of breeding age and another seven juvenile females, would be devastating.
Scientists from the University of Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others went out to try to determine J-50’s condition. Deborah Giles, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, said that despite being almost four years old, J-50 was the size of a typical 1-year old whale. After collecting and analyzing breath samples and scat, the researchers decided to try to treat J-50 with an antibiotic and also a de-wormer to counter parasites.
In August, the NOAA and the Lummi Nation teamed up to try to feed J-50, releasing Chinook salmon in her path. It wasn’t clear if their efforts were successful. Hereditary Chief Bill James told the The Seattle Times the Lummi felt they couldn’t just let J-50 die.
“We are both fishing creatures; we both live for the salmon. And in our community, we come together when someone is hurting. We come together when someone needs help,” James said. “It is the same with the Salish Sea, and with the orcas. She is part of the web that connects us all … We each belong to the Salish Sea.”
As of August 20, the NOAA reports that J-50 was seen socializing with the rest of her pod and may be improving slightly, yet her condition is still very serious. Tahlequah, meanwhile, is no longer carrying her baby. The Center for Whale Research says she seems in good physical condition, and was seen vigorously chasing a school of salmon with her pod-mates. While this is slightly encouraging news, it doesn’t address the deeper extinction threat to the Southern Residents.
Threats to Orca Survival
In the 1960s and ’70s, 50 Southern Resident orcas were cruelly captured for aquarium and marine park displays. Historically around 140 individuals, the population was reduced to 71 by the year 1976.
At the same time, Chinook salmon numbers have plummeted and some runs have been eliminated entirely, and the orcas are suffering other threats caused by a human society that puts profit before all else. They’re being poisoned by toxic chemicals that accumulate in their blubber and are released when the whales are food stressed. Noise from vessels interferes with the fine-tuned echolocation the orcas use to locate prey. And now, escalating climate change is disrupting and killing off salmon and ocean life.
The orcas are also threatened by plans by the Canadian government to vastly increase oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea. Importantly, a Canadian court recently ruled that the Canadian government did not properly assess the impact that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, a controversial fossil fuel pipeline extending across Canada to the Pacific Coast, could have on the survival of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, including the threat posed by a seven-fold increase in oil tanker ship traffic through whale habitat. The court also ruled that Indigenous people in British Columbia were not properly consulted before the project was approved. This represents a significant setback for the embattled pipeline project.
In 2005, as a result of a petition and then a suit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Southern Resident orcas were listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and 2,500 miles of critical habitat essential for protecting the whales was designated in the Salish Sea waters. But since the ESA protections were established, the orca population has continued to decline.
Catherine Kilduff, who is a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity and works in the Center’s Oceans Program, told Truthout that whales are dying more often in the winter and early spring, when they’re dependent on salmon in Pacific coastal waters. Photographs show the whales in a more emaciated state at this time, indicating the need for more salmon and protecting the ability of orcas to forage successfully. In 2014, the Center filed a petition to expand critical habitat along the Pacific coast. Kilduff says this would require the federal government to consult experts about management rules to protect whales before permitting commercial and military activities, which can disrupt foraging.
Despite the NMFS agreeing in 2015 to expand critical habitat, the Trump administration has failed to implement protections for the whales. Instead, the administration is pushing for expanding drilling offshore, which could prove devastating for marine life, including orcas. So this August, the Center filed suit against the federal government to expand habitat protections their own agency agreed are needed. The Center’s lawsuit says better habitat protections would reduce “the principal threats” to the whales of “starvation, contamination from toxic pollution and harassment from noise and vessels.”
A 2017 study in the journal PLOS One found that the main factor limiting population growth and reproductive success among the Southern Residents was lack of proper nutrition, especially lack of Chinook salmon. Ken Balcomb documented that in the first decade of the Center for Whale Research’s orca survey, from 1976-1986, the interval for viable calf births for a female in the population was a little over one every five years. Now it is more than every nine years. Females are still getting pregnant, but at least two-thirds of pregnancies seem to result in miscarriages. And the calves that are born often die.
Restoring Wild Salmon and Removing the Snake River Dams
If the whales are to be saved, immediate large-scale efforts must be taken to increase salmon for the orcas to eat. While evidence shows the orcas depend on many different Chinook runs, especially important to restoring wild salmon are the historically massive runs in the Fraser River in British Columbia, and the Columbia River and its largest tributary, the Snake. Fraser River Chinook are depleted and in serious trouble.
Historically, the mighty Columbia River was host to 10 to 16 million wild salmon every year, with 4 million headed for the Snake River watershed. Wild spring-summer Chinook salmon returns in the Snake River alone were 2 million.
Rick Williams, fisheries ecologist at the College of Idaho, told Truthout that the number of salmon in the Columbia system today is only about 10 percent of historical levels, an about 85 percent are hatchery fish. So the wild fish numbers today are only about 1.5 percent of what existed before Europeans arrived. Williams said wild fish are much more genetically fit than fish produced by hatcheries, as they are “evolutionarily adapted to do well in the environments where they live.” Fisheries scientists measure that fitness with what they call the “Smolt to Adult Return Rate,” or SAR. Williams says Chinook SARs measured over the last 15 years in the Snake River are around 1 percent, meaning for every 100 smolts traveling to the ocean, 1 adult returns to spawn. This compares to historic SAR estimates of 8-15 percent for wild fish in the Pacific Rim.
Human activity has decimated the wild salmon throughout their range, including deforestation, overfishing and now climate change. In 2015, 475,000 mostly wild sockeye salmon passed the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River headed for the Okanogan River system. The fish were coming back not due to hatcheries, but because of restoration measures enhancing oxygenation and flow in Osoyoos Lake where the fish spawn. But of these huge numbers of fish, only about 10,000 made it back. They were killed off by extremely warm waters they encountered in the Columbia River due to its lack of flow and the drought that year, fueled by climate change.
In the Columbia system, the building of hydroelectric dams has devastated the runs. Dams kill many juvenile fish in their journey to the ocean and are a significant barrier for adult fish to pass on their spawning runs. They vastly reduce flow, causing waters to warm. The Snake River has eight dams on it, which form a serious block to thousands of miles of prime spawning habitat upriver in Idaho.
Whale researchers, fisheries biologists and environmental groups are pushing for the removal of the lower four Snake River dams and restoring the river. This could help in increasing wild salmon runs, and in saving the orcas from extinction. Proponents of these dams argue they produce enough green energy to sustain Seattle for a year. But studies show these old, inefficient dams could be replaced by other forms of sustainable energy, and combined with conservation, would cost customers essentially the same they are currently paying.
Williams argues that other dam removals have shown the ability of fish to rebound faster than scientists often expect.
“The salmon evolved in a large Pacific Northwest landscape that was dominated by ice sheets and glaciers, so they’re readily adapted to move into newly opened habitat, even when that habitat is still in flux … and make a go of it,” Williams said.
Removing the Snake River dams would help orcas. Still, this would take some years, and more must be done immediately. The Wild Fish Conservancy in the US and the David Suzuki foundation in Canada have proposed a closure of Chinook salmon fishing and whale watching, at least short-term, as the best emergency, scientifically supported actions to save the orcas.
Clearly, the existing framework is not working in the interests of wild fish or orcas. For many decades, fisheries managers have tried to restore salmon runs by pumping out more hatchery fish through what amounts to an industrial production system, spending billions and repeatedly failing. Williams is a co-author of an important article titled, “Wild Pacific Salmon: a Threatened Legacy.” It details this history of failure, and faults a conceptual approach where salmon are privatized as a commodity, and technology—especially hatcheries—are seen as the solution. The result has been a continuing decline in the abundance of salmon, extinction of many populations and a deteriorating fitness of the salmon population as a whole, as the wild salmon are pushed to the brink.
What is needed, the article argues, is a completely different approach and methods flowing from it. This starts with “a new conceptual foundation that links the salmon to their habitat and key ecological processes, and includes recognition of the value of wild salmon as a public trust and a legacy for future generations.”
Williams and his co-authors advocate developing a salmon national park as an important step to protecting wild salmon and treating them as a public trust instead of as a commodity.
Saving the Southern Resident Orcas at a Time of Mass Extinction
Balcomb described how, when the fish were plentiful around the San Juan Islands in summer, the Southern Resident pods would come together in one super-pod “like big extended families coming to an annual picnic reunion … Everybody with food and reproduction on their mind, touching and rolling around each other … Now, you don’t see much of that.” Instead, the orcas are searching everywhere for food, using up more energy. Even their society is being devastated.
Orcas are in a crisis. Saving them requires emergency action. Many measures are needed: removing the Snake River dams, enhancing wild salmon habitat, expanding critical habitat for orca foraging, shutting down or curtailing commercial fishing, an emergency moratorium on all new fossil fuel tanker traffic, and other measures. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has launched a task force to address orca survival, but the orcas can’t wait for more years of discussion and pledges.
The paradigm of making small, ineffective changes guided by “business as usual” and commodity relations must end if orcas and wild salmon are to survive and recover. This is a moment of widespread species extinction worldwide and impending climate catastrophe brought to us by a destructive, profit-driven system. We must mobilize people to resist, to bring forward change before it’s too late and we lose so much of the planet’s natural heritage.
Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.