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climate change

UW Professor Researching Animals’ Adaptability to Climate Change

in News/University of Wyoming
On climate change and cattle
11532

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor is part of an effort to determine how animals change their habitats to deal with changing weather conditions.

Michael Dillon, an associate professor in the zoology and physiology department, was part of a research group that found animals’ ability to adapt to changing conditions likely depends on how well they modify their habitats, such as nests and burrows.

Dillon co-authored a paper, titled “Extended Phenotypes: Buffers or Amplifiers of Climate Change?,” that was published Tuesday in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, which publishes commissioned, peer-reviewed articles in all areas of ecology and evolutionary science.

The lead author of the paper is Arthur Woods, a biological sciences professor at the University of Montana. Other contributors to the paper were from the University of Tours in France and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The researchers found that birds build nests to keep eggs and baby nestlings warm during cool weather, but also make adjustments in nest insulation in such a way the little ones can keep cool in very hot conditions.

Mammals, such as rabbits or groundhogs, sleep or hibernate in underground burrows that provide stable, moderate temperatures and avoid above-ground conditions that often are far more extreme than inside the burrow.

The study investigated extended phenotypes, modifications that organisms such as birds, insects and mammals make to their habitats.

“An extended phenotype can range from simply a hole in the ground occupied by an animal to leaves rolled into cavities by insects, to nests of all shapes and sizes built by birds and mammals, to termite mounds and bee colonies,” Dillon said.

These modifications are important because they change the conditions the organism is living in, which is called a “microclimate.”

Because extended phenotypes are constructed structures, they often are modified in response to local climate variation and, potentially, in response to changing conditions. This process is called plasticity of the extended phenotype.

“One example might be a bird nest that is well insulated to protect eggs or young birds from cold. As climates warm, if the bird does not adjust insulation in the nest, it may, in fact, cause the young to overheat,” Dillon said. 

In another example, termites build mounds that capture wind and solar energy to drive airflow through the colony, which stabilizes temperature, relative humidity and oxygen levels.

Microclimates inside the dwelling of an animal or insect typically differ substantially from the climate outside, which means that the climate in an area may provide little information about what animals actually experience in their microhabitats.

As an analogy, although a weather station might tell the public that the temperature in Laramie is 90 degrees, simply by moving from the south to the north side of a building, one can experience microclimates that are strikingly different and often not captured by the weather data, Dillon said.

The same is true of animals of many different sizes.

For example, a moose can move from an open sagebrush landscape to a shaded river corridor to cool off, a snake can move from its hole to a sunny rock to warm up and an insect shuttling between the top and bottom of a leaf can experience temperature differences of more than 20 degrees.

“So, animals use microclimates, both by simply moving but also by building structures, such as nests, burrows, mounds and mines,” Dillon said.

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Cheney: Wyoming Will Lose Jobs By U.S. Rejoining Paris Climate Accord

in Energy/News/Liz Cheney
8924

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney on Monday said Wyoming will lose jobs because the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord.

“The Paris Accord is a bad agreement based on flawed science,” Cheney said in a statement. “It subjects the United States to unattainable requirements that will destroy jobs in Wyoming and across the country, while allowing other nations with terrible environmental track records to continue to operate without consequences.”

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties in Paris in December 2015 and took effect in November 2016.

Its goal is to limit global warming during this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius — and preferably 1.5 degrees — compared to pre-industrial levels.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2017, a controversial move that received mixed response.

When President Joe Biden was sworn into office in January, he signed an executive order to rejoin the agreement, which became official late last week.

“President Biden’s decision to rejoin this deal is entirely motivated by politics, which provides no comfort to the American people who will lose their jobs or pay higher energy bills as a result of today’s action,” Cheney said.

According to CNN, under the Obama administration, the U.S. had pledged to slash carbon emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Biden plans to hold a climate summit of world leaders in April, where he will present the nation’s goal for reducing carbon emissions by 2030.

Many of Biden’s executive orders regarding energy in the United States have drawn harsh criticism from Wyoming officials from its congressional delegation to even Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

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Ignorant Food Zealots Reject Agriculture

in Uncategorized/Cat Urbigkit/Column
2749

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Hollywood’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony made the news for its climate-change awareness with much ado about its meat-free dinner.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which organizes the event, made the decision to serve an entirely plant-based meal out of concern for climate change.

That was apparently the extent of the climate change concern, since thousands of flowers that decorated the ballroom were flown in by jet from Ecuador and Italy.

I haven’t seen an estimate of how many Italian flowers were used this year, but 10,000 blooms came from Ecuador, and last year, 20,000 tulips were flown in from Holland.

It seems odd that such extravagance is necessary when all the luxuries needed to stun attendees could be harvested right there in California.

Organic meats are raised in natural grazing systems throughout the state, and California also happens to be the largest cut-flower producing state in the nation. If HFPA wanted to have a positive impact on the environment and the climate, it could simply reduce its impact by buying local.

The awards came during the strange month of Veganuary, in which people are encouraged to go vegan for the month – omitting all animal products from their diets, as if animals are the worst things for the planet.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot certainly thinks so. His view is that food farming and fishing “are the most environmentally damaging of all industries.”

He’s predicted the end of food farming (not just animal farming) within a few decades, claiming that the world’s population should soon be fed on food created in labs from bacteria, and all we would need to grow is some fruit and vegetables. He claims commercial fishing is a worse threat to the world’s oceans than plastics. And he gets paid to write this stuff.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions include agriculture’s 9% share. Of agriculture’s 9%, only one-third is due methane emissions from livestock.

Take a look at EPA’s emission’s pie-chart and then try to explain why animal agriculture is receiving so much negative attention as the cause of the climate crisis by the jet-setters.

Even on a global scale, agriculture (all agriculture, not just animal ag) is responsible for only 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, so the assault on ag seems all far of proportion to its impact.

Yet the notion that animal agriculture has a huge negative impact on climate has taken hold: Note the hypocrisy of an actor (Joaquin Phoenix) flying to the nation’s capital for one of Jane Fonda’s Friday climate change protests so he could urge people to not eat meat. He actually flew across the country to deliver the anti-meat message.

The New York Times recently published a column on Effortless Environmentalism, suggesting consumers should eat less meat and fewer dairy products, and that we can also pay for our sins by buying carbon offsets for air travel.

Curious about how one could pay money to offset air travel emissions, I found that the money goes to projects such as this one “by protecting land from conversion to agricultural, a rich ecological habitat is maintained.”

But the land is already agricultural: a working cattle ranch in Colorado. The money to “offset” emissions simply goes to fund a conservation easement so the land can continue to be operated as it has in the past.

Another project on the same site was also for a conservation easement – paying the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania to not allow commercial timber harvest within its confines.

Other projects simply provided further protection for land that was already under some level of protected status, or to fund monitoring and management of these protected areas, or to expand national park borders in other countries.

Since I have a few United Airlines flights in the coming weeks, I checked into buying carbon offsets for those flights directly from the airline. And learned that my sin-money would then be passed to Conservation International.

I checked out Delta’s program, and found: “Donations support forest conservation and restoration efforts while empowering local communities to transition to sustainable livelihoods.” Delta’s carbon offset funding apparently goes to The Nature Conservancy.

While many of these carbon-offset programs simply fund environmental groups, I suggest that if you really want to pay to offset your air travel emissions, you might want to examine where your money will be spent.

I found great projects coordinated by terrapass, including those that enable farms to make better use of animal waste, and landfill gas capture projects turning garbage into energy.

England’s vegan activist/columnist Monbiot fronted a show called Apocalypse Cow in which he put forth the argument that farming is the ruin of the world, and food farming needs to be replaced by factories producing food from bacteria. Yes, to save the world, food farming must be wiped from the face of the earth.

What these anti-animal-ag activists tend to ignore is that across large swaths of the world, livestock are grazed in areas that are otherwise unsuitable for food production; and all food production has an environmental impact. The planting of monocultures (row crops) for vegetable production is not really known an environmentally friendly method of food production.

They’ve also forgotten the precaution about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Centralizing food production into industrial settings is trending, but we know that disease outbreaks in such facilities can cause catastrophic loss.

Just look at China’s current pig crisis – the world’s largest animal disease outbreak. The same concern applies to food crops: Remember the Irish potato famine? The blight hitting potato crops ending up causing the death of about one million people.

Advocating the mass-production of food in laboratory or industrial settings is pushed by zealots who fail to recognize the tremendous risk to humanity’s food security. When we look at food production on a global scale, we find inequality, with food insecurity, hunger, and poverty. That we would take action to cause further harm is appalling.

Efforts to have giant food-technology businesses monopolize the world food supply should be rejected. Instead, grow local, buy local, eat local. Don’t adopt a system of industrial ag over regenerative farming techniques that sequester carbon and improve soil health.

In all our discussions about global meat production, we rarely mention the significant pillars of the foundation of animal agriculture. One is the religious beliefs that tie people to domestic animals, and the rich cultural heritage of tending to animals throughout human history (in various ethnic groups around the globe and over time).

We neglect the importance of the second part of the word: agriculture. Agriculture is based on culture, which means to cultivate or grow, but also includes “the concepts, habits, skills, art, instruments, institutions, etc. of given people in a given period; civilization.”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Legislators on dwindling state revenues: ‘It’s real, it’s bad’

in Energy/News/Taxes
Silhouette of a Pump Jack
2450

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

As coal, oil and natural gas revenues decline, state legislators could have some hard decisions ahead, according to information generated by a strategic planning effort created by Gov. Mark Gordon. 

Dubbed “Power Wyoming,” the planning effort forecasts several scenarios for mineral-based state revenue streams during the next five years, all of which predict a deficit in coming years. 

The information compiled by Power Wyoming was presented to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee on Nov. 11. 

“The best projections in this model are very unlikely, and the worst are the most likely,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, the Senate committee’s chair. “That’s very scary.”

Case worked on Power Wyoming with Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the House Revenue Committee. Also on the team were members of the executive branch and economists familiar with the state’s energy sector such as Rob Godby, the University of Wyoming director for Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and a College of Business associate professor. 

Zwonitzer said the planning effort is the starting point to prepare for diminishing mineral revenues. 

“Power Wyoming is just the first step of saying, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen to Wyoming,’” he said. “The group was formed to get the message out there: ’It’s real, and it’s bad.’”

Renny MacKay, Gordon’s policy adviser, said Power Wyoming was not established to be a group of individuals working on potential solutions to the state’s revenue problems, but rather a group of experts working to gather to analyze data.

“This is a cone of different scenarios for both revenue and energy production,” MacKay said.

In its current iteration, Power Wyoming provides insight by compiling information from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, among others.   

“Energy production is declining … and if there is production decline, the traditional jobs we have in Wyoming would be impacted,” MacKay said. “Information gives us power. The more we look at it, the more we talk about it, we can figure out what our opportunities are as a state.”

Worst case scenarios

While the coal industry’s struggles are being felt across the state, Case said Power Wyoming illuminated potential problems with the natural gas sector as well.

“I did not realize the issues with natural gas were as serious as they are,” he said. “Everybody else is thinking natural gas is doing great, and it’s not.”

The planning effort’s initial simulation results highlight some scenarios where the state’s total mineral revenue drops by 10 percent as early as 2020-2022 before a potential partial recovery by 2024. Some scenarios show a full recovery to expansion in revenues, but Power Wyoming reports they are the least likely cases within the current market conditions and expectations.

Most scenarios predicted a decrease in both Wyoming’s total employment and population, but in the worst case scenarios, the state’s total employment could decrease by about 20,000 jobs by 2024, followed by a similar decrease in population.

“In the next five years, there’s no way to absorb those (lost) jobs,” Zwonitzer said. “That means we’ll either have to have an increase in taxes, or a decrease in government services.”

In the worst case scenarios, he said the state would most likely need to pursue both. 

“We’ve lived a certain way in this state for 100 years with minerals paying the taxes,” Zwonitzer said. “That major revenue source is going away. So what does that look like for our future, and what do we want to do about it?”

Unreliable oil

Some of the scenarios, including those in the best case category, relied heavily on increased oil production balancing decreased coal and natural gas production. But Case warned against putting faith in the oil market.

“I think oil is very susceptible to environmental and carbon risk,” he said. “Changes in policy from Washington, D.C., and from other states could make it impossible to grow petroleum.”

A low-carbon policy consideration was also provided for the Revenue Committee as part of the Power Wyoming data package. Case said the presentation offered a more realistic outlook of oil than the initial simulation results put together by Godby.

In the policy consideration, Shell Global estimates a high usage of liquid hydrocarbon fuels, such as gasoline, in 2020 by about 25 million barrels a day. After the peak, however, the oil company predicts a gradual decrease down to 10 million barrels a day in 2060 and about 2 million barrels in 2100 as part of its strategy to comply with the Paris Climate Accord.

Most scenarios presented by Power Wyoming indicate the mineral sector is going to take a significant hit in the next five years, but even if the best case scenarios come true, Case said the future of energy is moving away from Wyoming’s traditional mineral offerings.

“This will tell you that the bad times are here,” Case said. “This is not just a tool for the Revenue Committee, but it’s also a tool for us. If you’re an employee in the coal industry, it’s probably time for you to get your own house in order.”

MacKay said Gordon is already working on the next steps of the planning effort. 

“We are bringing folks from the private industry now,” he explained. “Power Wyoming will definitely stick around for the foreseeable future.”

Climate Change? Faulty Sensors, Less Rigorous Standards Could Be Skewing Data

in News/weather
WYOMING EXTREME WEATHER
1971

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few would disagree the West is getting warmer, but how much warmer is a matter for debate and temperature sensors play a key role in the discussion, according to Cheyenne meteorologist Don Day.

Automatic Surface Observation Systems (ASOS) started replacing human weather observers in the U.S. around the 1980s and by the 1990s, they made their way to Wyoming.

“In the last 20 to 30 years, the process of observing and recording weather has gone to these automated systems,” Day explained. “The sensors usually set out at the end of the (airport) runway or somewhere close in order to get the information that is going to be most critical for aviation.”

Jared Allen, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said an array of people and businesses use weather data, but the aviation industry is a major player in the market.

“The majority of your National Weather Service offices across the country are co-located at airports,” said Allen, who serves as a liaison between the weather service’s Weather Forecast Office and the public. “And about 99 percent of the time, (the ASOS sensors) are going to be at airports.”

The weather service collects data from 15 ASOS sensors across Wyoming, and all but one are at airports, he added.

While data collected by sensors at airports is adequate for pilots and their instruments, Day said it falls short of creating a full picture of climate change.

A recent article in the Washington Post, provides a map, which highlights Cheyenne as a center of extreme climate change. A big, red blob covers the southeastern portion of the state indicating temperatures rose about 2 degrees Celsius from 1835 to 2018.

The weather did get warmer, Day said, but what the map does not take into account is the ASOS recording some of those changes is located in the center of a growing urban area at an airport surrounded by miles of concrete and tarmac. Additionally, the sensor is recording weather data for aviation, not climatology.

“If you’re piloting a (Boeing) 747, you don’t care if it’s 49 degrees or 50 degrees — you want to know what the visibility and the wind are doing,” Day explained. “But if you’re trying to track climate and are going to argue over a one-tenth degree temperature change, it is a big deal.”

Prior to the proliferation of ASOS sensors, Day said weather data collection was subject to rigorous standards and protocols.

“The temperature sensor off the ground had to be a standard height,” he said. “The shelters that housed the weather instruments had to be painted white, had to be certain dimensions and had to have a certain amount of airflow.”

The list of requirements goes on. Nowadays, Day said those standards have fallen by the wayside.

One extreme example of how far the standards have dropped was reported by the New York Times in 1991. An early-stage electronic thermometer consistently recorded temperatures at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than actual, creating a new all-time high for Tucson, Arizona. The faulty readings became part of the official climate record and still stand today on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

“What has happened with the automation process — it’s not nefarious,” Day said. “As technology was developed and airports started getting away from having to pay somebody to make the observations by installing these systems, that international standard really got washed away.”

Allen agreed some deviations exist.

“There certainly can be some slight discrepancies,” he said. “There can be an urban heat island affect. If you have an ASOS that is directly inside the city, surrounded by houses, concrete or asphalt, that might read, temperature-wise, a touch warmer.”

But Allen said the weather service still uses standards for installing the sensors.

The placement, typically in the middle of an airfield or nearby the runway, is tested to ensure jet exhaust won’t affect temperature readings and trees won’t distort precipitation gauges.

“There should be a half-mile radius of nothing around the ASOS, so the tarmac temperatures don’t fully influence the temperature readings,” he explained.

Previously, temperature readings were recorded in the shade and at a specific height, Day said. But that’s not always the case with ASOS sensors, which can skew previously recorded temperatures to appear cooler than current temperatures. 

“You are putting a temperature sensor in an environment that deviates from well-known and established standards,” he said. “Right off the bat, that’s not rigorous scientific protocol.”

To compensate for the discrepancies, Day said climatologists use varying formulas, depending on what they are extrapolating from the data. 

“There is a lot of statistical analysis and equations put on the data to try to ‘account for the deficiencies of temperature measuring,’” he explained. “It makes it very ripe for people to take the data and make it whatever they want it to be.”

The climate change debate often hinges on temperature variances of less than 1 degree, many of which are determined after being processed through corrective equations, Day said. 

“Very hard political decisions are being made around the world based on what people think is happening,” he said. “People need to tread very lightly and have an understanding of the sausage-making process. Everyone loves a hot dog, but no one wants to know how it’s made.”

Wyoming socialist Democrat says Trump supporters unsure of what is happening Washington

in News/politics
1931

A self-described socialist Democrat seeking one of Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seats said she believes Wyoming residents who supported the campaign of President Donald Trump are now not sure what to think of what is happening in Washington.

Yana Ludwig, a Laramie resident running for the seat to be vacated with the retirement of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, compared her positions on many issues to those espoused by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, particularly in the areas of providing Medicare coverage for all American citizens and stopping climate change.

Ludwig told the Cowboy State Daily that her positions do not necessarily put her at odds with Wyoming’s generally politically conservative residents.

“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t quite know what to do with what’s happening in Washington right now,” she said. “My feeling is we have a lot of working class people in this state who thought they were going to get a really good deal out of Donald Trump and are not getting a good deal out of it. I think they’re just not sure what to do.”

Among Ludwig’s campaign issues is what she said was inequity in the salaries paid the heads of American companies and their employees. One survey she cited showed that CEO compensation in the 1950s was 20 times that of the average employee, a number that increased to 360 by 2018.

“In what universe is that fair?” She said. “I am strongly in favor of moving our economy toward worker ownership. Worker-owned cooperatives are more successful in general and they’re much more democratized.”

Ludwig is also opposed to the construction of a wall along America’s southern border to stop the influx of immigrants.

“I’m very curious why we’re all about building a wall on the southern border where brown people are coming in and not on our northern border where white people are coming in,” she said. “So I think racism has a lot to do with why the border wall has gotten the traction it has gotten.”

In the area of gun control, Ludwig said she is reluctant to pursue any action without first addressing the root causes of violence in society.

Ludwig, who said she will not take any campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, also said she believes Wyoming’s public lands should be protected from mineral development.

On Climate Change & Cattle Production

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
On climate change and cattle
1796

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The latest report coming from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is focused on climate change and land, but something must have been garbled in the translation from Geneva because much of the U.S.-media translation emphasized that people should eat less beef and quit wasting so much food. That unfortunate result comes from reporters unwilling to make the time and effort to read the report itself, which – at hundreds of pages and still in draft form – makes for an interesting but not-pleasant task.

The report has some important findings, such as this: “Policies that operate across the food system, including those that reduce food loss and waste and influence dietary choices, enable more sustainable land-use management, enhanced food security and low emissions trajectories. Such policies can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, reduce land degradation, desertification and poverty as well as improve public health. The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action.”

But that’s not what made the headlines last week.

As the Sustainable Food Trust points out, “Contrary to some of today’s headlines that are calling for a shift to exclusively plant-based diets, the conclusions of the report actually find that balanced diets should include animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-greenhouse gas emission systems, and that these present major opportunities for climate adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.”

“As the report highlights, diverse, locally appropriate mixed farming, which counters the damage done by years of continuous arable cropping reliant on chemical inputs, will have a transformative effect on the environment, climate and public health.”

The problem with a global report is simply that it’s global, and each locality/county/state/nation has its own issues that add to the global situation. When it comes to livestock emissions, the IPCC report notes: “All estimates agree that cattle are the main source of global livestock emissions (65–77%). Livestock in low and middle-income countries contribute 70% of the emissions from ruminants and 53% from monogastric livestock (animals without ruminant digestion processes …), and these are expected to increase as demand for livestock products increases in these countries.”

Most (90%) of the world’s cattle are not located in the United States. India has the largest cattle inventory in the world, at more than 300 million, or 30% of the world’s cattle population (domestic water buffalos are included in India’s statistics). While it’s legal to send buffalos to slaughter for human consumption, across majority-Hindu India (which views cattle as sacred) the slaughter of cattle is illegal and the country has enacted numerous cow protection laws. Poor people unable to afford to continue feeding and caring for unproductive livestock are unable to sell the animals, so many are simply abandoned.

Brazil is the number-two country for its cattle inventory, and has been widely criticized for its clearcutting of forest to accommodate more grazing, but that widespread practice has been substantially curtailed in the last decade.

Increasing cattle productivity, as we’ve been doing in the United States, has brought great gains in reducing GHG emissions. Although the cattle inventory in the United States declined over the last 40 years, cattle productivity has increased at the same time (providing more pounds of beef), and most importantly, total methane emissions from the nation’s cattle decreased during that same time. 

Cattle producers in the United States will continue to provide leadership in mitigating the impact of their animals through genetic improvements and selection for feed efficiency, and overall improvements in animal health, reproduction, and reproductive lifespans.

So while we should all strive to eat healthy foods, you don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying American beef – especially beef that comes from the western range {See Figure1: Livestock methane emissions}.

From “Discrepancies and Uncertainties in Bottom-up Gridded Inventories of Livestock Methane Emissions for the Contiguous United States”, Environmental Science & Technology, 2017512313668-13677, Publication Date: November 2, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b03332.
Figure 1.* Gridded (0.1° × 0.1°) livestock methane emissions (Mg/yr/km2) for the contiguous United States: enteric fermentation, cattle (panel A); manure management, cattle (panel B), manure management, cattle, swine, and poultry [panel C; swine and poultry emissions are presented on a county level for the top 5−6 producing states (see text) and on a state level for the remaining states], and cattle enteric and livestock (cattle, swine, and poultry) manure management (panel D, which is the sum of panels A and C). 

As the IPCC reports: “In contrast to the increasing trend in absolute GHG emissions, GHG emissions intensities, defined as GHG emissions per unit produced, have declined globally and are about 60% lower today than in the 1960s. This is largely due to improved meat and milk productivity of cattle breeds.”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

* Note on Figure 1: From “Discrepancies and Uncertainties in Bottom-up Gridded Inventories of Livestock Methane Emissions for the Contiguous United States”, Environmental Science & Technology, 2017512313668-13677, Publication Date: November 2, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b03332.

Words Matter: Manipulative Messaging

in Energy/Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
1220

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Congressional members DeFazio and Gaetz hosted a “briefing” session in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, aimed at educating their colleagues of the need for policy reform for USDA’s Wildlife Services, the federal agency charged with animal damage control. Invited to give presentations to educate congressional members were a family from Idaho whose dog was killed by a M-44 device, and representatives from the following organizations: Predator Defense, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Western Watersheds Project. The goal of the session was to gain support of a bill that would ban lethal poison devices.

DeFazio and Gaetz call M-44s “cyanide bombs.” But M-44s are not bombs. Rather, they are spring-activated ejector devices that are staked to the ground and deliver a dose of cyanide powder (an EPA restricted-use pesticide) from the capsule holder when the holder cover is triggered by the bite-and-pull motion of a canid. In contrast, a bomb is a device designed to explode on impact, or when detonated by a time mechanism, remote control, or lit fuse.

The renaming of this predator control device as a “cyanide bomb” originated with animal activists, but some members of the media have adopted the term, and members of congress are using the same messaging framework. It’s one in a recent cascade of “reframing” examples I’ve noticed, as marketing tactics have expanded from products to influencing general public opinion in the last few decades, and media organizations become willing participants.

See Image 1: Both Wyoming Public Media and WyoFile use the term “cyanide bombs” in reporting.

Maya Khemlani David, a professor of language and linguistics, has studied the use of rhetoric to maintain political influence, and wrote: “By way of an indirect manipulation of language, skillful speakers have traditionally been able to influence the preconceptions, views, ambitions and fears of the public, to the extent of causing people to accept false statements as true postulates, or even to support policies conflicting with their interests.”

We see manipulative messaging examples every day. In food production it ranges from the use of terms such as factory-farmed animals or organic products, to the clean meat and meatless burgers (which are neither meat nor burger, and by the same token, just as milk comes from an animal with mammary glands, not nuts or beans).

Another recent example comes from people opposed to the winter feeding of elk in western Wyoming. Elk are fed pelleted or loose hay at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, as well as 22 elk feedgrounds operated by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. Originally established to keep wintering elk from starving to death, and to keep the elk out of ranchers’ stored hay, the state elk feedgrounds were started after the creation of the elk refuge in 1912. Wildlife advocates concerned about disease transmission from congregating elk have called for the closure of the state’s elk feedgrounds, but have taken to calling them “feedlots” in an explicit attempt to cast the feedgrounds on par with livestock feedlots. While feedlots are confined animal feeding operations, elk feedgrounds are not feedlots – the elk come and go at their own desire, and consume native vegetation in addition to the supplemental food provided by wildlife managers.

See Image 2: Wyoming Public Media adopts the use of the term feedlot in reporting.

The introduction of new words or phrases into the public lexicon is nothing new. Linguist George Lakoff writes in the journal Environmental Communications: “Introducing new language is not always possible. The new language must make sense in terms of the existing system of frames. It must work emotionally. And it must be introduced in a communication system that allows for sufficient spread over the population, sufficient repetition, and sufficient trust in the messengers.”

Recently retired from wolf watching for Yellowstone National Park, Rick McIntyre wrote a piece for Outside Online last month that describes the history of a wolf pack. But he cleverly interchanged the word pack with “family”: “He died from the wounds they inflicted, but he had saved his family,” “Her family is carrying on,” and “I did it for her family.”

Cognitive science and psychology are used to develop effective messaging that is used in political, cultural, and economic contexts. Messaging attempts to influence not just what brand of product you may buy, but how you feel about an object, person, or industry, with the goal of prompting you to take action.

For example, we don’t hear much about “global warming” anymore – it’s been reframed as “climate change.” A group called ecoAmerica is at the forefront of climate-change messaging, identifying our moral foundations, the emotions and virtues associated with those morals, and suggesting messages that apply to each audience.

See Image 3: From Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication

Robert Brulle is a professor of sociology and environmental science who warns against such widespread messaging efforts to manipulate the public. Brulle writes: “To mobilize broad-based support for social change, citizens cannot be treated as objects for manipulation. Rather, they should be treated as citizens involved in a mutual dialog.”

Instead, we hear anti-fossil fuel advocates calling permits to drill natural gas wells “fracking permits,” oil and gas leases have become “fracking leases,” and drilling rigs are “fracking rigs”– whether hydraulic fracturing technology is used or not.

See Image 4: Environment News Service has renamed gas drilling as fracking.

Language can be used to manipulate, but it can also just be a reflection of personal experience. I’m involved in agriculture, so when you hear me refer to bull markets, and diversified stock, it’s within a completely different context than someone on Wall Street using the same words. Same words, different meaning – but no manipulation.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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