Keenly interested rural observer Don Carr smells bull-fudgery in Senator John Thune's faint signal of sensibility on climate change. Carr says Senator Thune should get serious about science for the sake of agriculture:

If Senator Thune actually believed what scientists and the U.S. military tells us about our dire climate future, he would be compelled to act immediately and with force. He’d have to stop pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline and questioning the economic impact of climate change solutions.

...[W]hat South Dakota farmers urgently need now from Senator Thune is leadership that drives immediate action on mitigating and adapting to a volatile climate, not this incremental, cynically motivated, glacial-pace acceptance.

Continued inaction puts a sector that generates $25.6 billion of economic activity a year for South Dakota at severe risk [Don Carr, "Loos Science Tales: Senator Thune's Science Problem," Republic of Awesome, 2014.11.20].

Carr has a direct stake in saving agriculture from global catastrophe: he's managing his family's farm in South Dakota. Carr notes that Senator Thune is maddeningly capable of acknowledging scientific consensus when it serves his image and corporate backers. Carr even agrees that science says GMOs are safe to eat, showing that he's not some GMO-free corn flake crier (sorry, it's an inside blog joke). Carr is serious about science and agribusiness; Senator Thune should be, too.

34 comments

John Thune is running for President. How else can we explain our soon-to-be-senior Senator's seemingly sensible statement on climate change on Fox News Sunday?

Asked about the overwhelming agreement among experts on the cause and trajectory of global warming, Thune began with a familiar GOP climate-change dodge: “Climate change is occurring, it’s always occurring.” But then he said this: “There are a number of factors that contribute to that, including human activity. The question is, what are we going to do about it and at what cost?” [Stephen Stromberg, "Top Republican Bows to Scientists on Climate Change," Washington Post, 2014.11.17]

Amidst a science- and fact-averse Republican Party, Stromberg takes Thune's seemingly innocuous and wide-wiggly phrase as a "glimmer of hope." We should take it as a sign that he's thinking about how he sounds to people outside South Dakota. Democrats should take it as a sign that there's going to be another open Senate seat for which to contend in 2016.

And who better to contend for it than Rick Weiland? Weiland's latest public statement shows him swinging at the powers that be, including the Senate Democrats he wanted to join this year:

The only crock bigger than the Keystone Pipeline is Senate Democrats dumping on our environment to try to save one of their own.

Talk about business as usual, talk about midterm lessons unlearned, talk about just plain stupid!

You've already lost the Senate. Polls show that Mary Landrieu, whose runoff election you hope to influence, has absolutely no chance of winning. So what do you do, backstab your president, our Native Nations and the entire environmental community on behalf of a pipeline that will not only not create jobs or any energy security, but will pour additional billions in profits into the hands of the big money special interests who just spent a fortune to crush your party at the polls.

That's genius, DC Democrat style. And it is the reason my campaign is not over. In fact, it has just begun [Rick Weiland, campaign e-mail, 2014.11.17].

What what? Campaign not over?

For 18 months we ran for Senate with little more than my videographer son Nick, myself, a lot of shoe leather, and the help of a handful of friends with more passion and skill than common sense.

I want to keep that team together, retire our small debt, and get back into the fight, right now. If the DC Democrats selling us out on Keystone XL doesn't show why we can't wait, what will?

Please, send just a few bucks and stay tuned. We may have gotten washed over by the same wave that drowned so many Democrats. But unlike them, we're not rolling over, belly up and bloated, we're fighting on.

We are going to make South Dakota a demonstration project, and a nationwide beacon for the fight against big money.

And if you don't think that matters to you, think about this. Does Elizabeth Warren's voice matter beyond the boundaries of Massachusetts, or Bernie Sanders beyond Vermont, or did Paul Wellstone make any difference outside of Minnesota? [Weiland, 2014.11.17]

Demonstration project? Warren, Sanders, Wellstone? I said Sunday South Dakota Democrats should elect a liberal leader like Warren to chair the party back to victory, and here's my fellow Bulldog Debate alum Rick sounding very much as if he's answering that call.

Or does Weiland just sound like the Tea Party? WaPo's Dana Milbank finds a herd of liberal protestors on Senator Landrieu's front step talking a lot like Weiland and sees a no-compromise parallel:

One of the speakers, a young woman named Maria Langholz, argued that liberals must stop Democrats from “compromising on the promises they have made.” I pointed out that her message sounded like the tea party.

“I know,” Langholz said with a laugh. But she had just returned from working on the Senate race in Iowa, where Democrat Bruce Braley, “kind of middle-of-the-road,” lost to conservative Republican Joni Ernst.

“Ernst was sticking to her guns, saying, ‘This is what I stand for,’ ” Langholz concluded, “and that really inspires people” [Dana Milbank, "Purity Politics, Democrat-Style," Washington Post, 2014.11.17].

Senator Thune says today's Senate vote on Keystone XL is just a "cynical" political ploy to throw Senator Landrieu a lifeline in her December run-off election. It won't rescue Landrieu or build the pipeline. Senator Thune will still vote for the pipeline, on false pretenses, and in contradiction to his hint of concern about climate change.

And Rick Weiland says he will keep fighting Keystone XL, Big Money, and even Senate Democrats. But Milbank's column makes me wonder: are Rick and I looking for the South Dakota Democratic Party's Elizabeth Warren, or are we really looking for an SDDP Joni Ernst... or Sarah Palin?

41 comments

I don't spend much time arguing about climate change here—on Keystone XL, for instance, I can think of numerous reasons the tar sands pipeline will be bad for South Dakota (eminent domain, higher gasoline prices, bogus job numbers, ongoing pollution threat) before I even get to the acceleration of our need to lash our pontoon boats together at Harney Peak and sprout Kevin Costner gills.

But for those of you concerned about greenhouse gases, I happen upon a paper by SDSU dairy professor Alvaro Garcia that contends that today's beef and dairy cattle may not be producing more carbon dioxide and methane than North America's pre-colonial buffalo herd.

Methane emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern beef and dairy herds

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Carbon dioxide emissions, precolonial buffalo herd and modern dairy herd

TG = teragram (1 teragram = 1 billion kilograms ≈ 1.1 million tons). Source: Alvaro Garcia, "How Responsible Are Modern Cows for Greenhouse Gases" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 2, December 2013.

Note that one only finds our modern domesticated ruminants underfarting the mighty tatanka if one assumes the upper-end buffalo population estimate.

Dr. Garcia further contends that the corn our modern herds eat sequesters more carbon dioxide than the grasses old-time buffalo and cattle ate. He also contends that producing more milk per cow uses inputs more efficiently and results in less greenhouse gas output.

In other words, the mega-dairies Mike Rounds promoted with EB-5 visa investment are fighting climate change.

For what it's worth, the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is one of dozens of publications of the American Research Institute for Policy Development. It promises review of submitted papers in two weeks or less and publication within another two weeks, for a fee of $220. Four weeks is crazy-fast turnaround time for real research review and publication. University of Colorado Denver research librarian Jeffrey Beall questions ARIPD's credentials and includes ARIPD on his list of suspected predatory academic publishers. Beall found the peer review report issued for another ARIPD submission appallingly inadequate. ARIPD's address—40 Monticello St., Monticello, NY 12701—appears to be a residential apartment building.

So the journal publishing this information could be as shady as the information our Senator-Elect peddles. Read carefully!

11 comments

The South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems July newsletter offers a trio of articles that might make conservatives think that liberals have taken over the water works. Or maybe providing the most basic need to thousands of South Dakota homes simply requires our rural water providers to ignore ideology and stick with facts.

SDARWS first shares a report from Media Matters refuting conservative attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of rules under the Clean Water Act. Apparently Fox and friends have been broadcasting false assertions that the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule is some evil land grab, imposing expensive regulations on every drop of water as well as farm drain tile and ditches. Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem have fallen for this pro-polluter propaganda. Media Matters neatly dispenses with those myths and more, pointing out, among other things, that the clarified rules give the EPA less authority over less territory than it did under President Reagan; that the rules do farmers favors with exemptions for normal agricultural practices; and that the rules produce net economic benefits through cleaner water, recharged groundwater, reduced flooding (by protecting wetlands!), and more outdoor recreation.

SDARWS then cites Rich Widman and Chris Hesla of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, who urge us to contact Senators Thune and Johnson and tell them to put the Prairie Potholes over politics:

Over the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings that emphasized the need to clarify language that protects the safety of our drinking water supplies, wetlands and headwaters streams. Knowing they needed to clear things up and provide certainty for farmers, the EPA and Corps of Engineers last month posted the draft “Waters of the U.S.” rule for public comment.

But now – with a bit of political maneuvering – some politicians are attempting to derail this clean water rule that would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections to some of the nation’s most important waters and wetlands.

When final, the rule will maintain exemptions for regular farming activities while re-establishing Clean Water Act protections for the wetlands and streams that provide drinking water for one in three Americans.

As a bonus for sportsmen and anglers, these same wetlands and streams provide critical habitat in our Prairie Pothole region for ducks, pheasants and fish, thereby helping to sustain the strong hunting and fishing economy of South Dakota.

Whether you enjoy clean water for drinking, or wildlife habitat for hunting and fishing, I urge you to join me in supporting the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. And I ask South Dakota U.S. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson to do so, as well. All policy-makers should [Rich Widman and Chris Hesla, "Clean Water Critical for South Dakota Outdoors," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.28].

Finally, SDARWS spotlights concerns in Nevada that global warming is intensifying drought conditions that are draining Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam, to its lowest level. The decline of that reservoir is just one of multiple pressures on water supplies exacerbated by climate change that will force the Southwest to change regulations and water-use practices made back in the day when water seemed plentiful:

"We've seen changes in river flow timing because of losses of snowpack in the western U.S., in California and the Rocky Mountains as snow disappears faster and faster because of higher temperatures," said Peter Gleick, a water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. "Those are all examples of some of the impacts we thought we would see and are now seeing from climate change."

..."Adding climate change on top of a system that's already out of balance makes all of our problems more difficult," Gleick said. "We have to realize that there are limits, especially in the dry Southwest. We can't just pretend that we can grow our cities forever and somehow find new resources for them, new water for them. We have to change the way we do planning. We have to change the way we manage water. And if we don't, changes are going to be forced on us" [Ian James, "Vanishing Water: An Already Strained Water Supply, Threatened by Climate Change," Desert Sun, 2014.06.14].

Water is precious, and with rising population, industry, and temperatures, it is not as plentiful as when we got here. The Waters of the U.S. rule is one attempt to keep the water we have left clean.

The federal portal for submitting comments on the Waters of the U.S. rule is here. The more immediate way to protect your drinking water, your fishing holes, and that hidden slough where you always bag your duck limit is to turn off Fox News and listen to your local experts on our water supply.

Related Reading: Midland, Texas, is dealing with drought and dwindling aquifers by tapping water sources 67 miles away and by raising marginal water rates fivefold. The latter worked really well: higher water bills got folks to cut water usage 35%. But less usage means less revenue for Midland to spend on repairing and upgrading its water system.

3 comments

The word of the day: variability... as in climate variability... as in the thing we now say to keep from flipping denialists' lids by saying global warming or climate change.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Rural Water, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are hosting a two-day workshop next month on "Water Sector Emergency Response, Extreme Event, and Climate Variability Planning" in Fort Pierre. The workshop's raison d'être:

South Dakota communities, including drinking water and wastewater utilities, have been impacted by multiple natural disasters over the past several years. Physical security also remains a concern. While many utilities have taken steps to improve preparedness and response to extreme events, a new pattern of more frequent and intense extreme events, likely exacerbated by climate variability, is forcing a new approach to short-term and long-term “all hazards” planning [HorsleyWitten.com, workshop announcement, downloaded 2014.06.26].

There you go: at least at our DENR, South Dakota state government affirms the notions that the climate is changing, that we are getting more damaging storms than we used to, and that utilities and public agencies need to adapt their practices to repair and protect vital infrastructure amidst such increased threats from volatile Gaia. Real change, real costs.

Eight years ago, Governor Mike Rounds agreed that human activity contributed to global warming. Ask candidate Rounds about climate change, and within 15 seconds, he'll tell you we need to burn more coal.

I wonder: at what point will Republicans crying about the "war on coal" start hearing retorts from local officials asking them to stop wagon war on our water and sewer plants?

65 comments

When it comes to climate change, Republicans are like our drunk uncle: he won't admit he has a drinking problem, but he sure likes us to spend our money bailing him out when his drinking wraps his car around a tree and puts him in jail.

Rep. Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune are both pleased that the Farm Bill directs more resources to the Black Hills to fight the pine beetle. But the pine beetle epidemic is brought to us in part by climate change:

Scientists say climate change is to blame: Winters haven’t been cold enough to reduce beetle populations. The average U.S. temperature has increased as much as 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (1.06 Celsius) since 1895, with most occurring since 1970, according to the National Climate Assessment issued in May by the Obama administration.

The warming let beetles proliferate at higher elevations and latitudes, and resulted in more generations per year in some areas, according to a 2011 Forest Service report [Jennifer Oldham, "Pine Beetles Ravaging Forests Strain Budgets in U.S. West," Bloomberg, 2014.06.02].

Climate change is causing problems the cost South Dakota and Uncle Sam money. Yet Rep. Noem and Senator Thune have both supported legislation that prevent us from addressing or even studying climate change. When President Barack Obama tries to tackle the cause of climate change, Senator Thune cries "Energy tax!"

Listen to the Republicans, and we'll end up with ears full of sand and Hills full of dead trees as we treat the symptoms but ignore the disease of climate change.

70 comments

I've tried not to get too hawkish with climate change talk. I know that a majority of my readers, who April sunshine be darned still have their snow shovels at the ready by the front step, would likely vote for global warming.

But ag columnist Alan Guebert says farmers and ranchers should get serious about climate change, for the simple reason that it's going to make it hard to farm and ranch. Guebert pulls grim prognostications from the latest U.N. report on climate change. More drought, declining water supply and water quality, lower crop yields... but we know that since the U.N. says those things, it's just a plot to take over our land and put it under the control of foreign dictators (kind of like Keystone XL... oh, wait...).

Guebert finds Iowa State University agronomy professor Eugene Takle offering similar, science-based warnings:

Currently, Takle and ISU colleague Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Lab for Agriculture and Environment, are lead authors of the ag chapter of the mandated 2014 National Climate Assessment. The report, due later this month, "will paint a sobering picture of climate change globally and its impacts on the U.S.," Takle related when interviewed last fall for a campus publication.

"One of the key messages of the report," Takle said "is that the incidence of weather extremes will continue and will have increasingly negative effects on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded."

At least someone at a respected American agricultural institution believes climate change will be the 21st century farm and ranch game changer. Too bad it's not an actual farm or ranch group [Alan Guebert, "Climate Change an Ag Game-Changer," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.04.09].

Part of the policy problem here is that even if South Dakota's ag producers pay attention to climate change, they can't single-handedly stave it off. They can reduce their reliance on industrial pesticides and fertilizer. They can turn to local markets to reduce their reliance on long-distance transport. But much of what would need to be done to stave off climate change caused by human activity won't happen in their fields. It will happen in the voting booth, where they have to stop voting for candidates like Kristi Noem and John Thune who tell them the Environmental Protection Agency is their enemy, and who promote short-term corporate profit (which bears some relationship to political contributions) over long-term stewardship.

Maybe it's just easier to believe that one's own actions, in the field and at the ballot box, don't really cause anyone else harm. Maybe it's just easier to believe that we either don't have to change or that any changes we make won't do any good anyway.

But will farmers just let the storms and droughts come, let more cattle and corn be lost, let more land wash and blow away, without even having a conversation about what's changing the climate and looking for policies that might stanch that change and preserve their livelihoods?

Whether or not we want to talk about it, climate change will bring changes to agriculture. The difference between thriving and perishing lies in changing our talk and our actions in response.

16 comments

Rep. Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) plagiarizes sloppy science from The New American's Alex Newman. Compare Kopp's letter in Sunday's Rapid City Journal with Newman's writing from December 18:

Kopp, 2014.01.12 Newman, 2013.12.18
In 2007, Al Gore hysterically warned the world that the North Pole would be “ice-free” by the year 2013. Joining this song and dance with Gore, and citing “climate experts,” the government-funded BBC hyped the mass hysteria, along with other major media outlets with the dire warning: “Arctic summers ice-free by 2013.” In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Gore publicly and very hysterically warned that the North Pole would be “ice-free” by around 2013 because of alleged “man-made global warming.” Citing “climate” experts, the government-funded BBC hyped the mass hysteria, running a now-embarrassing article under the headline: “Arctic summers ice-free ‘by 2013’.” Other establishment media outlets did the same.
Well folks, 2013 has come and gone; as for arctic ice, it increased in size and mass by about 50 percent during 2013. In fact, it was the largest, single year increase in arctic ice since records have been kept. Well, 2013 is almost over, and contrary to the alarmist “predictions” by Gore and what critics refer to as his “doomsday cult,” the latest satellite data show that Arctic ice cover has actually expanded 50 percent over 2012 levels. In fact, during October, sea-ice levels grew at the fastest pace since records began in 1979.

Kopp's plagiarism is typical of the talk-radio karaoke that Kopp and his willfully slow-witted ilk embrace: Don't look deeply into an issue, just parrot the squawking that you think sounds so manly and patriotic between gold-coin and male-enhancement ads.

Alas for Kopp, he lies about his authorship and his science. Newman cites this BBC article, but ignores this better, bigger-picture science therefrom:

"Although the recovery of Arctic sea ice is certainly welcome news, it has to be considered against the backdrop of changes that have occurred over the last few decades," said Prof Andy Shepherd of University College London, UK.

"It's estimated that there were around 20,000 cu km of Arctic sea ice each October in the early 1980s, and so today's minimum still ranks among the lowest of the past 30 years," he told BBC News [Jonathan Amos, "ESA's Cryosat Sees Arctic Sea-Ice Volume Bounce Back," BBC, 2013.12.16].

Newman similarly ignores the hold-your-horses from the non-Cato Institute hack in this Daily Tech article. Newman and Kopp also ignore the date; Newman says it refers to this year's ice change rate, when in fact it refers to 2008:

Bill Chapman, a researcher with the Arctic Climate Center at the University of Illinois, says the rapid increase is "no big deal". He says that, while the Arctic has certainly been colder in recent months, the long-term decrease is still ongoing. Chapman, who predicts that sea ice will soon stop growing, sees nothing in the recent data to contradict predictions of global warming [Michael Asher, "Sea Ice Growing at Fastest Pace on Record," Daily Tech, 2008.11.07].

Kopp and Newman ignore other scientific observations that suggest sea ice cover does not indicate what they want to believe it indicates:

Moreover, the mere extent of sea ice does not necessarily say something about the volume of the ice, because that also depends on the thickness of the frozen layer. And the vast majority of the Antarctic ice mass is located on the Antarctic continent – and there the ice has decreased in recent years as a whole, particularly in West Antarctica.

But why the sea ice is increasing is a mystery. Scientists suspect that a change in the air currents could explain to a great extent the increase in Antarctic sea ice in recent decades. Other speculations are that ocean currents carry cooler surface water to the Antarctic or that the melting water, which flows through massive channels in the ice, decreases the temperature of the surface sea water [Anthony Watts, "NASA Announces New Record Growth of Sea Ice Extent," Watts Up with That?, 2013.10.22].

But hey, it's going to be 48°F in Rapid City today and 53°F on Wednesday. That's 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the average January temperature in Rapid. Must be global warming caused by Kopp's plagiarized hot air!

36 comments

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