Friday news roundup: climate action and water wars


Not all environmentalists have recognized their starvation for fiction depicting climate doom, but when they do, Paolo Bacigalupi has a book for them, “The Drowned Cities.” Bacigalupi told his friend and former High Country News editor in chief Greg Hanscom, in a recent Q&A, about his befuddlement regarding the lack of “ecocollapse” parables in popular culture. (You’re welcome for the plug, Mr. Bacigalupi.)

Well I got some ecocollapse stories for you, and they’re featured, like the downward spiral of a reality TV show, in this week’s Roundup.

Climate change

Washington State believes in climate change. The state Department of Ecology released a response strategy on how to adapt this week. From anticipatory actions like infrastructure changes to responding to more flooding, fires and landslides, the state has to adapt, says department director Ted Sturdevant. Part of this strategy involves better water management in light of declining snowpacks. Inaction could cost the state $10 billion a year by 2020, says Sturdevant.

For those of you hedging human survival on the brains of the omnipotent smart people who develop graceful technology to remedy all our problems, “back of the envelope calculations” by scientists Colin Axon and Alex Lubansky, suggest that the geoengineering feat of filtering enough CO2 to matter out of the atmosphere by enhancing weathering of the rock olivine, would require an industry “1000 times larger than any existing industry.” In the words of geographic storyteller Aesop Rock, “Save yourself.”


Let’s take a moment of peace to ponder butterflies. Stanford biologist Stuart Weiss led a group of volunteers into the Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve in central California to reintroduce 46 copper-and-cream checkerspot butterflies. That adds to the total of 4,000 the group’s released in the preserve since February, where nitrogen emissions from cars have fertilized and boosted Italian rye, while native forbs, which the checkerspot depend on, have been squeezed out. The group is optimistic their efforts will help the endangered butterfly rebound.

Peace of mind can’t last, however, in the world of environmental news. Sage grouse are struggling to survive in northeastern Wyoming. Energy development and the West Nile virus are decimating their numbers. Revered as “sages” for the health of the high plains habitat, researches from the Bureau of Land Management say the fabled bird is one outbreak or weather event away from extinction in the Powder River Basin.

If your gut hasn’t gone sour yet, a fire management officer for the Nez Perce National Forest, Josh Bransford, is receiving death threats over photos depicting him posing in front of a wolf struggling with a leg trap in a circle of crimson snow. Angry enviros say a group of onlookers taking potshots at the animal violates laws against animal cruelty. The Center for Biological Diversity wants an investigation, but Idaho Department of Fish and Game say that no laws were broken.

Environmental Justice

A tidbit for the investigator in us all, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has opened its environmental monitoring data to the public. Visitors can find up-to-date surveys of the air, soil and water affected by the lab’s nuclear activities.

There’s a Texas billionaire seeking environmental justice of another kind. Harold Simmons is dumping $15.9 million into super PACs and the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney to overthrow Obama in November. Simmons sees a Republican president as friendlier to his plans to sink nuclear waste into a disposal facility in West Texas. The market for that type of work is in the billions, but it will take a rule change by Nuclear Regulatory Commission before Simmons can offer up his disposal site to radioactive remnants.


Things aren’t getting any better in Arizona, especially for convicts. Amnesty International has accused the state’s prisons of human rights violations, finding inmates held in solitary confinement for months or years. The report found that 14 children, ages 14 to 17, have endured confined conditions similar to adults in the maximum security Rincon unit at Tucson state prison. Arizona has the highest suicide rate among inmates in the country.

The lunacy tracks all the way back to the state house. Arizona’s Tea Party, assisted by Republican Senator Judy Burges, have introduced SB 1507, which would bar states, counties and cities from “adopting or implementing the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.” The infamous Agenda 21 conspiracy theory has riled Tea Party activists against development planning, some of which help businesses and residents become more energy efficient. The bill has passed the Arizona Senate and House Committee, and now it heads to the House floor.


Spring looks like summer in areas of the West. Ninety-eight percent of Colorado is already in a drought, and tension is rising as energy companies and farmers bid against each other for water in northeastern Colorado. In a recent auction, an acre-foot of water in the energy-rich Niobrara region went for about $28. That’s a 28 percent price hike for ranchers competing for those water allocations. Cities like Greeley, Colo. have profited from the increased water demand, pulling in $1.6 million from selling water, mostly to the oil and gas industry.

And so it goes.

Neil LaRubbio is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy Flickr user Ricardo Wang.

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