The Gristle

As Below, So Above

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

AS BELOW, SO ABOVE: Are we witnessing a real-time extinction of southern resident killer whales?

The question was raised multiple times in meetings by the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, which two weeks ago released a draft report of findings and recommendations for public comment.

Resident orcas in the Salish Sea approached a high of 98 in 1995, according to the report. However, between 1995 and 2003, the population dropped by 16 percent, down to 82 orcas, and prompted their listing as an endangered species. These orcas were classified as endangered in Washington and surrounding waters under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2005 and in Canada under the Species at Risk Act in 2003. Their numbers continue to decline, however, and of particular concern is the recent loss of several healthy breeding females.

The 45-member task force, representing diverse groups from throughout the state, expressed concern the orcas may be entering a death spiral toward extinction. The root cause? Increased human activity, and chemical changes in Northwest waters wrought by anthropogenic climate change.

“The extinction of these orcas would be an unacceptable loss,” task force members noted in their report. “If these creatures—the mammals who inhabit the top of the food chain in our Salish Sea—are unable to survive, it portends trouble for the rest of the inhabitants of this region. Action is required immediately to help not only these whales, but also the entire ecosystem we depend upon.”

Their report eerily augured that of one released by a scientific panel of the United Nations that paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, released this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass ocean die-off as soon as 2040—a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

With more than 6,000 scientific references, the 728-page document details the impacts of a 0.5ºC increase in average world temperatures and urges revised policy based upon this target, rather than the 1ºC increase established in international climate agreements. The report is the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

Of course, current climate policy sets us on a path to blow well past even the 1º increase agreed to in the Paris Accords. Even that goal was considered unachievable without a dramatic reordering of the impacts of human behavior.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group, in a press release.

“I think the biggest takeaway is the urgency. We’re at a critical juncture. We really only have a few years to turn things around,” Kirsten Zickfeld, an associate professor in geography at Simon Fraser University, said in an interview in the Canadian press. Zickfeld was one of two Canadians selected to author the report, along with dozens of experts around the world.

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, the authors noted, estimating that damage from failure to do so would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

For instance, the report says heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions—perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100—would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China and the European Union, have enacted carbon pricing programs. The United States has not.

Washington could be the first in the nation to adopt a carbon price by ballot, the ambitious goal of Initiative 1631. The initiative would enact a carbon emissions fee on large emitters of carbon based on the carbon content of fossil fuels sold or used in the state and electricity generated in or imported for use in the state. And, yes, those costs will be passed on to consumers and ratepayers.

Its passage in November could telegraph public support for increased measures to respond to the threat of climate change; its failure would no doubt signal the opposite to politicians—that staving off $54 trillion in future damages and global mass extinctions is not worth a nickel to voters.

Early polling indicated public support for I-1631, but the measure is under heavy siege by the Western States Petroleum Association and the conservative Association of Washington Business.

To date, petroleum interests have raised more than $21.3 million to defeat the I-1631, according to filings with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, and only a fraction of that amount has been spent. Of the amount raised, $17.9 million has arrived from contribution by the owners of the three largest refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

It is no particular feat to connect the dots between the plight of the apex predator of Salish Sea and that of the human species, also dominant in its ecosystem. In their essence, these reports call upon us to care about those connections and they warn that we will pay the costs—whether today by weal or tomorrow by woe.

Past Columns
As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

A Civil Disagreement

October 3, 2018

Zombie Pipeline

September 26, 2018

Too Little, Too Late

September 19, 2018

Open Secret Disclosed

September 12, 2018

Consent of the Governed

September 5, 2018

Let the People Decide

August 29, 2018

3-in-1 Oil

August 22, 2018

A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018


July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bellingham at Home Informational Meeting

1:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Endangered Species Curator's Tour

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Prosecutors race is a referendum on reform


Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Where the sidewalk ends


Walking to the End of the World

7:00pm|Village Books

Brian Dean Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Climate Change and Forests

7:00pm|Sustainable Living Center

Modified documentary and Panel Discussion

7:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Trove Web
Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Camber Exhcange

5:30pm|1820 Scout Place

Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Challenge

6:00pm|Jansen Art Center

Squash Celebration

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Chuckanut Radio Hour

6:30pm|Whatcom Community College

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Nooksack River Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

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Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Cider Days


Fall Family Weekend

12:00pm|Western Washington University

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Spaghetti Feed

5:00pm|Ferndale Senior Center

Bread and Puppet Theater

5:00pm|Laurel Park

Paper mache and politics


Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

7:00pm|Blaine High School

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Pride and Prejudice

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

A Night with Miguel de Hoyos

7:00pm|Kennelly Keys

Laura Read and Friends

7:00pm|Village Books

Daily Dying

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:30pm|McIntyre Hall


7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Teton Gravity Research

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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