I noticed an appalling news item in the Scab-Intelligencer last week. Entitled “Skagit salmon nests ruined,” and written by Scab-veig Torvik, it told the gruesome tale of how Puget Sound Energy nearly destroyed the Skagit River’s annual chum salmon run over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Bill McMillan, a field biologist who lives on the banks of the Skagit River, noticed a sudden and enormous drop in the river’s water level on Thanksgiving Day that exposed at least 66 chum nests along 100 yards of the riverbed. That’s just what he could see from his home; the total damage was obviously worse than that, because the river runs another 50 miles beyond his home. Said McMillan, who knows a lot about salmon biology: “Conservatively, over half the chum redds were dewatered, maybe as many as three-quarters.”
McMillan noted that U.S. Geological Survey measurements showed that the river had been running at 3,000 cubic feet per second just two days before Thanksgiving, but dropped to only 125 cubic feet on Thanksgiving Day. “The river was virtually dewatered,” he said. This time of the year–the four weeks from mid-November to mid-December–is the most crucial time of year for developing salmon stocks in local rivers.
Why the drop in water levels? Puget Sound Energy drew enormous amounts of water out of the Baker and Skagit Rivers to refill the Baker River reservoir behind the Baker River dam. PSE representatives explained that rainfall for November was down 30 to 40%, and the reservoir was falling low.
Welcome to a world governed by global warming and privatized utilities.
This year, public utility managers have been in a panic over the rise in energy costs. You may have noticed a big jump in your electricity rates. Well, the deregulation and privatization of the California energy market has led to skyrocketing rates all along the west coast, because Pacific Northwest generating stations have contracts to sell their “excess” power to California. When we need that extra power here, our utility companies can’t buy it from our own, local generating stations, we have to buy it on the wholesale market and pay a higher price for it. That wholesale price is going up by leaps and bounds, because California’s deregulation has thrown its own energy market into chaos and forced California utilities to rely more and more on the wholesale market: a bigger demand drives the price up.
And so Puget Sound Energy feels the pinch, and takes it out on the local environment.
And then there’s global warming. We have, in fact, had the driest November in memory. Meanwhile, the news broadcasts show floods in Europe. The polar icecaps continue to melt; this summer, ships were able to sail right over the north pole, which was open water for the first time in recorded history. Small island nations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are disappearing under rising tides. In Venice, with its canals, and in The Netherlands, with its dikes and dams to keep out the rising sea, the panic is palpable.
This is why many of the European governments have already begun to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They’re miles ahead of the U.S.
Last week, the U.N. Climate Conference in The Hague collapsed, after U.S. negotiators refused to back down on their proposal that existing forests and farms be recognized as “carbon sinks” that absorb greenhouse gases. These carbon “credits” would then be subtracted from the amount of emissions that the U.S. needs to cut to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.
Once again, the U.S. is not on the same page as the rest of the world. Dominique Voynet, a negotiator for the European Union, said that the U.S. is injecting free-market ideology into climate negotiations, which European nations rightly view as “the law of the jungle.” G-77 nations from the developing world also condemned the U.S. position.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Frank Loy, a key negotiator at the conference, responded with a lie, naturally: “Sure, we may be the world’s biggest polluter, but that does not tell you how we are making important progress in reducing our growth of emissions, which is now moving at a rate below that of most European countries.” In fact, most European countries are taking at least some steps to reduce emissions, while the U.S. is not taking even the most obvious one: requiring new automobiles (particularly SUVs and trucks) to meet reasonable emissions and fuel efficiency standards. And while emissions are decreasing in northern European nations, U.S. emissions have grown by 11% in the past decade.
Our goose-stepping U.S. press is lambasting those “European greens” and “radical environmentalists” for not accepting the U.S. negotiators’ position. Editorialists are bludgeoning us with a future scenario of Bush Jr. slicing holes in the Kyoto Protocol. But the U.S. position simply can’t go any further to the right from where it is now. Said Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund: “Instead of accepting a protocol that would increase emissions into the atmosphere, the rest of the world said no.”