Breaking News
Home » Environment » Due West: By Dan Whipple (page 2)

Due West: By Dan Whipple

Global Warming Report: Less Winter in the West?

The climate research community expelled a long collective breath last week as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fourth “Summary for Policymakers,” a condensation of the most recent reliable scientific research on the warming earth. The global take-home message from this effort was that, yes, the earth is getting warmer, and it will be between 1.8 degrees C (3.25 degrees Fahrenheit) and 4.0 degrees C (7.2 degrees F) warmer on average by the end of the 21st century than it was at the end of the 20th century. The actual temperature change will depend on how much greenhouse gas is pumped into the atmosphere. In addition to the global message, though, there is news for the American West tucked away in the report. As computer model simulations have gotten more sophisticated, they are able to take a closer look at regional impacts that result from the changing climate.

Read More »

The Wolf’s At the Door

John B. Kendrick was a classic rags-to-riches western story. A penniless, half-educated, Texas orphan, he moved to Wyoming, rising in the livestock industry until by the beginning of the 20th century he was one of the region’s biggest cattleman, with nine separate ranches in two counties in Wyoming and four counties in Montana. In 1910, Kendrick was elected to the Wyoming state Senate. He became governor in 1914 and the first popularly elected U.S. Senator in 1916. He served in the Senate until 1933, when he died of a brain hemorrhage. Like other ranchers of that era, Kendrick was plagued by wolves. In 1912, Kendrick paid a trapper $10 for dead pups and $20 for killing grown wolves, according to Cynde Georgen’s biography, One Cowboy’s Dream. His records indicate he paid out about $1,000 a year -- somewhere between 50 and 100 wolves annually removed from the gene pool. Monday, in a widely expected action, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing the timber wolf in the Rockies from its list of threatened and endangered species. (This process is usually called “delisting,” but those of us attuned to the music of the English language have a hard time employing the word.) The outcry from the cattle and sheep producing states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming when the wolf was reintroduced was shrill. The reaction to the “delisting” (sigh) proposal is nearly as shrill, though spread a little more evenly among the population.

Read More »

You Can Always Blame Coyote

Poor Coyote. He gets blamed for everything. The Crow say Coyote created the world. The Wasco say Coyote left two grizzly bears and two wolves in the sky to form the Big Dipper. The Colville say Coyote dug a hole in the Cascade Mountains to create the Columbia River Several tribes claim that Coyote brought the world fire, like Prometheus. Coyote’s most popular role in tribal stories is as Trickster, the rebel against authority, the breaker of taboos. He is the sacred clown, buffoon, lecher, poacher, cheater. He’s also very crafty at destroying his enemies. So Coyote was at it again last week, making the town of Baker, Montana and the organizers of an annual coyote hunt look foolish with his antics. Billed as a tourist attraction, organizer Jerrid Geving also wrapped the event in the rural flag when he offered the hunt up as an effort predator control: “they do a lot of damage to livestock."

Read More »

Does A Hot 2006 Seal the Deal for Global Warming Debate?

2006 was the warmest year on record, according to data released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We can proudly boast that the interior West led the charge with average temperatures “much above normal” in every Western state from Mexico to Canada. California, Oregon and Washington were only “above normal.” Hah! New Jersey was the nation’s hottest spot, setting a record for average warmth. Not a single state in the entire U.S.A. was near normal or below for the year. The average temperature for the nation was 55.01 degrees Fahrenheit. This is 2.2 degrees F above the mean average for the 20th century and a little warmer than the previous warmest year, 1998. Now for those of us already convinced of the reality and importance of climate change, this comes as no surprise. We were ready for it, and fully expect 2007 to be warmer still. But what about those diehards who are atheistic or agnostic about global warming? Is this the smoking gun? Will they finally throw up their hands and say, “Don’t shoot, sheriff. Ya’ got me.” Does it mean that global warming is real?

Read More »

Water Quality Prediction for the Complete Idiot

Few of us are very good at predicting the future. Just ask any bookie. But no matter how cloudy your crystal ball is, you can take comfort in the fact that the predictive abilities of Western hard rock mining companies are even worse. A report released in December, 2006, by the natural resources consulting firms Kuipers and Associates of Butte, Mont., and Buka Environmental of Boulder, Colo., for the environmental group Earthworks looked at the water quality predictions made by Western mining companies for environmental assessments prior to their mining operations. They then compared these predictions with what the actual water quality was after mining was under way. And guess what? Nearly all the time, the mining operators predicted that there would be no impact or minimum impact to water quality as a result of their operations. But about three-quarters of the time, these predictions were wrong, resulting in either surface or groundwater quality deterioration in excess of established water quality standards.

Read More »

Waiting for Godot in The Colorado Snow

At a daily newspaper, reporters dive under their desks when the editor comes around looking for somebody to do the weather story. Stories about the weather are boring. You’ve got to call up an “expert” and get her to tell you the same things you can see by looking out the window. A meteorologist must be roused from his customary torpor to describe the ninety-mile-and-hour wind howling through town, something the reporter can see himself from the patio by the parking lot. The second problem with being assigned the weather story is the inherent implication that the reporter to catches the duty is too incompetent to do anything else. At the morning editorial meeting, the city editor says, “There’s a blizzard coming in. We’re gonna need somebody to cover the weather story.” And the managing editor says, “Give it to Oscar. He couldn’t cover a dead dog with a blanket.”

Read More »

Is War An Environmental Issue?

What’s an environmental issue? Roger Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, says, “If you spend money on water security in sub-Saharan Africa, its certainly has environmental benefits. You have avoid policies that are too narrowly focused Take things like reducing conflict. The two Gulf Wars have had tremendous environmental consequences, but few people consider conflict reduction an environmental issue.” In the 2006 book How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place, edited by the Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School, a group of economists considered the costs and benefits of attempting to reduce civil wars. In their priorities of spending that $50 billion -- better world and so on -- the panel of experts were unable to decide whether reducing civil wars was a good idea or not.

Read More »

Sweetheart, Get Me a Climatologist

I was about to mail the $300,000 check for our membership in the Yellowstone Club, which would get us access to our own private ski mountain, a Tom Weiskopf golf course and lord knows what all, when I stopped to think: I’d better check with a climatologist about this. It seems pretty clear that global warming is going to change snowfall patterns in the West. In fact, it will change the snowfall patterns around the world. This is something the ski industry is keenly aware of. Shelling out three hundred grand for a ski hill without snow seems a little profligate. Much as I like Tom Weiskopf, I can buy a lot of golf for 300 Gs.

Read More »

Climate Change and Barbara Cubin: Chasing the Conservative Hobby Horse

In the spring of 1994, Wyoming Republican Congressman Craig Thomas decided he was going to run for the U.S. Senate. This set off a scramble among the state’s Republicans to secure the party’s nomination to Congress, and the accompanying right to trounce whichever Democrat that hapless party produced as election fodder. At the time, I was city editor for the Casper Star-Tribune. Barbara Cubin, a state representative whose chief legislative distinction up to that point had been distributing cookies shaped like penises to some male legislators, came into the paper on one media errand or another. Our chief political writer, Hugh Jackson, called out across to her across the cavernous newsroom, “Hey, Barbara, are you going to run for Craig’s seat?” In the 12 years since she swept into Congress, Cubin has lived up to every expectation. Her career as a congresswoman has been, if anything, less distinguished than her service in the state legislature. An incident as creative as penis cookies would be a welcome sign of independence from a legislator who has trailed along in the back of the nattering pack. Cubin has loyally supported, then reliably abandoned, every paleoconservative hobby horse from the Contract with America to term limits to the balanced budget amendment to WMDs. I’d like to examine Cubin’s misguided dedication to received wisdom by deconstructing her position on a single issue -- global climate change. I have covered climate change science for the last five years. A constituent recently wrote to Cubin urging action on this issue. Cubin responded in a letter full of misinformation and error.

Read More »