How Many More Dead Whales?

How Many More Dead Whales?

By Carl van Warmerdam

In the last few years whales stranded on the beaches of the East Coast have become common. In just the past two months there have been over a dozen. And that does not include the whales who have died in that time and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Fishermen blame industrial wind farm surveys, the wind industry blames climate change, and the vessel strikes of the global supply chains of civilization will not slow down. All the while mainstream “environmental” groups have become PR people for industrial energy. That stance is mutually exclusive from their professed goal to protect wildlife like desert tortoise, sage grouse, bats and to Save The Whales. 

NOAA declared an official “unusual mortality event” for humpback whales in 2016, when the number of deaths on the East Coast more than doubled from the average in previous years. Coincidentally that is the same year when offshore wind development began, which coincides with the huge jump in NOAA Incidental Harassment Authorizations. The claim that this huge jump in mortality predates offshore wind preparation activities is patently false. This strong correlation is strong evidence of causation, especially since no other possible cause has appeared. It also seems odd that dead whales are now showing up on the west coast just as wind development is starting up there as well.

If what we are seeing is what happens during the surveying process for an offshore wind farm, we can only imagine what will happen when major construction begins. If vessel strikes are a leading cause of death, why on earth would you diminish habitat and increase vessel traffic with the construction of wind turbines? Yet in the recent denial of a vessel speed reduction, NOAA said it was “focused on implementing long-term, substantive vessel strike risk reduction measures.” Hopefully that will include the cancellation of any further wind farm construction. We certainly should not be increasing vessel traffic at this time, we should be restricting it. Vessel strikes and ocean noise from these extra ships and their sonar mapping is killing whales. 

Noise interrupts the normal behavior of whales and interferes with their communication. It also reduces their ability to detect and avoid predators and human hazards, navigate, identify physical surroundings, find food and find mates. Such effects make it difficult for whales to avoid ships. It is one of NOAA’s four threats, along with vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglements and climate change.

Sound travels farther and four times faster in water than in air (at a speed of almost 1,500 meters per second). The noise produced by humans can therefore spread considerable distances underwater. These sounds can be relatively constant, such as the noise produced by a ship’s engine and propeller, or sudden and acute in the case of naval sonar and seismic air guns. The sound produced by a seismic air gun can cause permanent hearing loss, tissue damage and even death in nearby animals.

Evidence for the lethal effects of noise can be hard to document in the open ocean, but seismic surveys have been linked to the mass mortality of squid and zooplankton. In 2017, research revealed that a single air gun caused the death rate of zooplankton to increase from 18% to 40–60% over a 1.2 kilometer stretch of the ocean off the coast of southern Tasmania.

Examination of the dead whales revealed they had suffered trauma similar to decompression sickness. This was believed to have been caused by sudden changes in their deep diving behavior following exposure to sonar. The wind companies are using sonar in the geotechnical and site characterization surveys. There is also the detonation of unexploded ordnance (UXO) items from ship wrecks at this time, accidental and intentional.

Noise increases animals’ physiological stress. Research found that a reduction in shipping following the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to a six decibel drop in noise levels in the Bay of Fundy on Canada’s Atlantic coast. This coincided with lower levels of physiological stress detected in North Atlantic right whales when researchers measured stress hormones from floating whale feces.

During construction of the turbines, high-duty cycle impact pile driving (one strike every ~two seconds) will be used. And the pile driving is expected to occur for approximately four hours at one time for monopile installation, and 6 hours per pile for piled jacket installation.

This takes us to the biggest threat to whales and the ocean ecosystem that they live in: climate change. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. These are created by industrial development. So climate change is a symptom of industrial development. That is the extractive industries of mining, deforestation, agriculture, factory fishing and dams which provide — through production, manufacture, transport, installation and operation — the current conveniences of a modern way of human life. 

Industrial development destroys ecosystems. More industrial development, by the installation of thousands of offshore wind turbines, will not solve the problem of climate change. There’s one inescapable truth about the headlong rush to cover vast swaths of our countryside and oceans with 800-foot-high wind turbines: the more turbines that get built, the more wildlife will be harmed or killed. And no amount of greenwashing can change that fact. So it is distressing to see the numbers of whales washing up on our beaches. NOAA also says there is no proof that offshore wind is killing the whales. We must remember the onus isn’t on whales to prove guilt, it’s on industrial development to prove their innocence.

The production of the materials as well as the manufacturing processes for wind turbines and associated infrastructure of the extracted energy storage and transmission are made possible by burning fossil fuels. To obtain the raw material used in wind turbines, habitat is destroyed through open pit mining and mountaintop removal. The raw materials are then transported to processing plants to be turned into the component parts. It will take a tremendous amount of energy to mine the materials; transport and transform them through industrial processes like smelting; turn them into wind turbines, batteries, infrastructure and industrial machinery; install all of the above; and do this at a sufficient scale to replace our current fossil-fuel-based industrial system. In the early stages of the process, this energy will have to come mostly from fossil fuels, since they supply about 80 percent of current global energy. Added to current use emissions. After manufacture, the turbine parts need to be transported to the project location. The construction and operation of offshore wind farms increase boat traffic, also leading to more greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. All of which adds to a non-existent carbon budget and thus increasing climate change. Not to mention the increased risk of marine mammal vessel strikes.

All of that energy use has a carbon payback period to plan, build, maintain and decommission the processes involved in an offshore wind turbine and its required infrastructure amounting to many years. This could be up to a quarter of its expected lifecycle. But this does not take into account the wildlife loss and habitat destruction from those processes. And then in 20 years the process must be done all over again. So this is not renewable. Also there are not enough metals on the planet to produce even the first generation of a total electric energy extracting transition, even if we mine the deep sea as we are starting to do. 

Currently only 20% of our energy is electric. The other 80% is fossil fuel, the bulk of which is used by industry. The industrial advantage of fossil fuel is that it is stored energy that is extracted rather than an energy extracting device that requires storage and transmission infrastructure.

The paradox of “renewables” is that they need unprecedented volumes of non-renewable mined materials. Increasing “renewables” means large upticks in battery metals such as copper, cobalt, lithium and nickel. Wind turbines need rare earth metals such as neodymium of which there are scarce amounts. But the work wouldn’t stop there.

Closed mines themselves are a huge source of devastation. If all mining stopped today there would still be an area at least the size of Austria with degrading and, in some cases, dangerous levels of heavy metals. Mining brings materials that have been locked up in concentrations underground and lets them out into the world. Mines usually operate at depths below the water table — they need to be constantly dewatered using pumps. When a mine is abandoned, the ground water gradually re-floods underground passages and mineral seams over many months, creating acidic reservoirs of water. Above ground there are tailings ponds and piles of low-grade ore with traces of heavy metals. All of this material is exposed to oxygen and water. Exposing such elements wreaks havoc on ecosystems, soils and water supplies through acid leaching. A mine that is abandoned can have chronic pollution for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Cleaning up a mine consists of reducing water acidity, detoxifying the soil and treating waste before reintroducing flora and fauna to the site. It’s a lengthy, expensive process and can cost billions for a single large mine. Avoiding an environmental catastrophe and cleaning all the world’s mines at once would cost hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars. So mining the materials needed for renewable energy will increase the threats to biodiversity. These threats will surpass those avoided by “renewable” climate change mitigation.

The concept of material footprints, in addition to carbon footprints, should be taken into consideration by governments. If not, the planet’s scarce non-renewable resources will continue to be destroyed. These factors will more than offset BOEMs calculations for climate change in the DEIS.

During their operation wind turbines create a disturbance in the air that can have far-reaching effects on the environment. The turbulence created is known to warm up the surface temperature around them by up to 2℉. This will change the climate by taking away the cooling breeze. Wind turbines will change weather patterns and currents which will create more and stronger storms.

Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said whales face “a suite of risks” as turbines are built, such as increased vessel traffic and potential changes to the ecology. But that ecological change, he said, “needs significant further study to truly understand its significance.”

As Sunrise Wind admits, their planned construction and operations activities are not expected to “take” MORE than small numbers of marine mammals. They say incidental long-term impacts that have negative effects on large whales from the presence of turbine foundations is uncertain. For the right whale, according to NOAA Fisheries, “The potential biological removal level for the species, defined as the maximum number of animals that can be removed annually while allowing the stock to reach or maintain its optimal sustainable population level, is less than 1.” This means the death of a single right whale could make the difference between extinction and recovery.

There is no question wind turbines kill wildlife. Humans and domestic animals account for 96% mammal biomass on the planet. Only 4% is wild. Our activity has reduced the biomass of wild marine and terrestrial mammals by six times. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens all life on the planet.

Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said that the “destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.”

Jennifer Jacquet, a professor of environmental studies at New York University, said, “But we know that even in the face of a shifting climate, direct exploitation remains the largest factor affecting aquatic animals.”

BOEM is basing its conclusions in the DEIS on a false analysis that offshore wind turbines will reduce climate change. They will not. It makes no sense to increase disturbance to whales when they are suffering through an unusual mortality event. Whales as a keystone species are the canary in the coal mine. As they go, so do we. That in the effort to save the climate and continuance of business as usual, we are destroying the environment. If this offshore wind project continues, it will be humans who experience an unusual mortality event.

Public comment on the Sunrise Wind Project ends February 14th:   https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/BOEM-2022-0071-0001

Public comment on the New England Wind Project ends February 21st: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/BOEM-2022-0070-0001


Carl van Warmerdam has lived his life on the West Coast of Turtle Island. He has always aligned with the counter culture ideals there. Now he currently lives on the coast of New England, the ancestral home of the North Atlantic Right Whale. If you would like to help Save the Whales email Lafongcarl@protonmail.com. We stopped offshore wind before, we can do it again.

Featured Image “Blue whale stranding” by Nozères, Claude is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Preparing National Guards for Protests: Foresight or Suppression?

Preparing National Guards for Protests: Foresight or Suppression?

Editor’s Note: A week after the killing of a land-defender, the Governer of Georgia has signed an executive order to prepare national guards for protests against police brutality. Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates in US. The protestors were defending a forest that was ordered to be cut down to build a “Cop City.” The protestors had set up camps and treehouses, which were being demolished by the cops before Tortuguita, the land-defender was shot. While the police claim that the victim had first attacked the police, it remains disputed by other demonstrators.

As a resistance gets more effective, the powerful use all means necessary to crush the resistance. Police crackdown is one of those tactics. Some activists, regardless of their dedication, may not be in a position to bear it for one reason or another. There will be others who are prepared to be on the frontline. Good organizing includes preparing the frontliners for any anticipated events.


While the move comes after law enforcement in Georgia killed a “Cop City” protester, one official said it is a “purely precautionary” measure before the anticipated release of video footage from an arrest in Tennessee.

By Jessica Corbett/Common Dreams

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency through at least February 9 that will enable him to deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops “as necessary.”

The order follows protests in Atlanta after 26-year-old forest defender Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran was shot dead last week during a multi-agency raid on an encampment to oppose construction of Cop City, a nearby law enforcement training center. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which is investigating the case, has said Teran was killed after he shot and wounded a state trooper.

While the order begins by stating that “protests turned violent in downtown Atlanta” last Saturday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kemp’s aides signaled that the move was not about the Cop City demonstrations but rather in anticipation of any potential response to video footage from Memphis, Tennessee showing the arrest of Black motorist Tyre Nichols.

As Common Dreams reported earlier Thursday, five fired Memphis cops were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes related to Nichols’ death. Footage of the 29-year-old’s arrest is expected to be released sometime after 6:00 pm local time on Friday.

“We understand the executive order is purely precautionary based on possible unrest following the release of the videos from Memphis,” an official in Georgia with direct knowledge of the situation told the AJC. “There are no immediate intentions to deploy the guard.”

The Atlanta Police Department also mentioned the Memphis case in a statement Thursday:

We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city. We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent, and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities, and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful.

In a series of tweets Thursday, the Atlanta Community Press Collective named several people killed by law enforcement in recent years and suggested that Kemp’s order is about “trying to instill fear in anyone who stands up against police brutality.”

Meanwhile, national groups and progressive lawmakers have echoed local demands for an independent probe in Teran’s case.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has highlighted that it is separate from the Georgia State Patrol and said that GBI “is conducting an independent investigation,” after which it will “turn the investigative file over to the prosecutor.” The agency noted Wednesday that DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has recused herself from the case so a special prosecutor will be assigned.

Some have pushed back against the “police narrative” that the “corporate media has ran away with” for Teran’s case, as forest defender Kamau Franklin told Democracy Now! last week, adding that “we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened.”

“And that’s why we’re calling for an independent investigation, not one that’s done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, not one that’s done by any federal authority, but a complete independent investigation,” Franklin said, “because that’s the only way we’re going to know what really happened.”

Featured image by Levi Meir Clancy via Unsplash

Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Dumping Nuclear Waste in the Pacific

Editor’s note: The 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami, was one of the worst nuclear accidents of the twenty-first century to date. Nevertheless, worse ones might come in the future. In the quest for energy to fuel the machine, industrial civilization has built many vulnerable hazardous structures that can unleash highly toxic materials in the case of an “accidents.” Despite eleven years since the incident, TEPCO and the Japanese government haven’t been able to manage the waste water. Now, they are planning to dump it into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the Pacific Ocean home to numerous marine creatures, it is also a source of livelihood for the humans who live near: the humans that the Japanese government claims to care for as their citizens. This decision by the Japanese government demonstrates, yet again, that decisions in this civilization are not made based on public welfare.

More nuclear power means more weapons, more mining on indigenous lands,  more CO2 emissions, more radioactive waste and more accidents.


“We must remind Japan that if the radioactive nuclear wastewater is safe, just dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris and store it in Washington, but keep our Pacific nuclear-free.” (Vanuatu’s celebrated former ‘Turaga Chief’ Motarilavoa Hilda Lini)

In the face of considerable worldwide criticism, TEPCO is moving ahead with its well-advertised plans to dump contaminated water from storage tanks at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster zone into the Pacific Ocean. They are running out of storage space and the Pacific Ocean is conveniently right next door.

The Japanese government is courting trouble, as a contracting party to: (1) the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (2) the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, and (3) the Convention on Nuclear Safety, Japan has knowingly violated all three conventions by making the decision to dump contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO’s toxic dumping scheme is opposed by some scientists as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded marine laboratories, e.g., the U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories, with over 100 member laboratories, has issued a position paper strongly opposing the toxic dumping because of a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data in support of Japan’s assertions of safety.

The position paper: “We urge the government of Japan to stop pursing their planned and precedent-setting release of the radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean and to work with the broader scientific community to pursue other approaches that protect ocean life; human health; and those communities who depend on ecologically, economically, and culturally valuable marine resources.”

Furthermore, Marine Laboratories agrees with the Pacific Island Forum’s suggestion that TEPCO look at options other than discharge. The toxic dumping plan has already put Japan at risk of losing its status as a Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partner. There are 21 partners, including the US, China, the UK, France, and the EU. According to Secretary General Henry Puna, the Forum has persistently requested Japan to share pivotal data, which has not been forthcoming: “In fact, we are very serious, and we will take all options to get Japan to at least cooperate with us by releasing the information that our technical experts are asking of them.”

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has endorsed the dumping plan. No surprise there. Also unsurprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the marketing arm for nuclear power, claims the dumping proposal is safe. Effective December 29, 2022, IAEA released an extensive report that details how the process will be monitored by independent entities, not to worry, uh-uh.

TEPCO generates 100 cubic metres of contaminated water per day, a mixture of groundwater, seawater, and water that cools the reactors. It is filtered for “the most radioactive isotopes” and stored in above-ground water tanks, but authorities admit that the level of tritium is above standards. It is almost impossible to remove tritium from water. TEPCO claims it is “only harmful to humans in large doses.” But who’s measuring?

According to TEPCO: “After treatment the levels of most radioactive particles meet the national standard.” However, the statement that most radioactive particles meet the national standard is not reassuring. And furthermore, why should anybody anywhere in the world be permitted to discharge large quantities of contaminated water that’s been filtered for ‘most radioactive particles’ directly from a broken-down nuclear power plant into the ocean under any circumstances?

But storage space is running out and the ocean is readily available as a very convenient garbage dump. Well, yes, but maybe find more storage space… on land… in Japan!

According to a Japanese anti-nuclear campaign group, the contaminated water dumping scheme violates the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution as well as the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Their opposition is endorsed by the National Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Japan. In September 2022, 42,000 people signed a joint petition delivered to TEPCO and Japan’s Ministry of Economy demanding other solutions to the toxic water dumping plans. According to national broadcasting firm NHK, 51% of Japanese respondents oppose the dumping plan. And a survey by Asahi Shimbun claims 55% of the public opposes the dumping.

A Greenpeace East Asia press release d/d April 28, 2021, says; “According to the latest report by the Japanese government, there are 62 radioactive isotopes found in the existing nuclear water tanks in Fukushima, among which concentration of a radionuclide called tritium reached about 860 TBq (terabecquerel) – an alarming level that far exceeds the acceptable norm.”

China’s Xinhua News Agency claims: “TEPCO believes that tritium normally remains in the wastewater at ordinary nuclear power stations, therefore it is safe to discharge tritium-contaminated water. Experts say TEPCO is trying to confuse the concept of the wastewater that meets international standards during normal operation of nuclear power plants with that of the complex nuclear-contaminated water produced after the core meltdowns at the wrecked Fukushima power plant. The actual results of ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) are not as ideal as TEPCO claims. Japanese media have found that in addition to tritium, there are a variety of radioactive substances in the Fukushima nuclear wastewater that exceed the standard. TEPCO has also admitted that about 70 percent of the water treated by ALPS contains radionuclides other than tritium at the concentration which exceeds legally required standards and requires filtration again.”

According to Hiroyuki Uchida, mayor of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, despite strengthened information about the toxic dumping by TEPCO and the government of Japan, the discharge plan has not gained “full understanding of citizens and fishery stakeholders.”

Rhea Moss-Christian, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, aka: the Pacific Tuna Commission said: “It’s a real concern and I just wish they would take a bit of time to think more carefully about this… this is a massive release and a big, big potential disaster if it’s not handled properly… There are a number of outstanding questions that have yet to be fully answered. They have focused a lot on one radionuclide and not very much on others that are also present in the wastewater.”

Greenpeace/Japan on TEPCO dumping: “The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima. The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes. It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts.[2] Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option [3], dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean… Since 2012, Greenpeace has proactively campaigned against plans to discharge Fukushima contaminated water – submitting technical analysis to UN agencies, holding seminars with local residents of Fukushima with other NGOs, and petitioning against the discharges and submitted to relevant Japanese government bodies.” (Source: Greenpeace Press Release, April 13, 2021)

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 22nd, 2022, President David Panuelo of Micronesia stated: “We cannot close our eyes to the unimaginable threats of nuclear contamination, marine pollution, and eventual destruction of the Blue Pacific Continent. The impacts of this decision are both transboundary and intergenerational in nature.”

In April 2021 Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister (serving from 2012-to-2021) Tarō Asō publicly stated that the treated and diluted water “will be safe to drink.” In response to Deputy PM Asō, Chinese Foreign Minister Lijian Zhao replied: “The ocean is not Japan’s trashcan” and furthermore, since Japan claims it’s safe to drink, “then drink it!” (Source: China to Japan: If Treated Radioactive Water from Fukushima is Safe, ‘Please Drink It’ Washington Post, April 15, 2021)

Mr. Zhao may have stumbled upon the best solution to international concerns about TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) dumping contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, TEPCO should remove it from the storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and deliver it to Japan’s water reservoirs. After all, they publicly claimed it’s “safe to drink.” Japan has approximately 100,000 dams of which roughly 3,000 are reservoirs over 15 meters (50’) height. For example, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in Japan is Ogouchi Reservoir, which holds 189 million tons of drinking water for Tokyo.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

Wisconsin Town Gets Sued for Regulating Factory Farms

Wisconsin Town Gets Sued for Regulating Factory Farms

Editor’s Note: Even when local governing units make decisions for the welfare of the environment, state laws are designed to crush them. The following story covers how a small town is getting sued for passing a local ordinance to prevent pollution from factory farms. The basis of the lawsuit is that the ordinance is against the state law of Wisconsin. This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.

This lawsuit is far from one of its kind. Similar lawsuits have been filed against a local government for trying to protect the environment against corporate interests. DGR News Service covered a series regarding the fight of Lake Eerie Bill of Rights in the state of Ohio. Read more about it here.


By John McCracken / Grist

The small community of Laketown, Wisconsin, home to just over 1,000 people and 18 lakes, is again at the center of a battle over how communities can regulate large, industrial farming operations in their backyards.

The town, which is half an hour from the Minnesota border, is the target of a lawsuit supported by the state’s largest business lobbying group, which claims the town board overstepped its role when it passed a local ordinance to prevent pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs*.

Filed in Polk County Circuit Court in October, the lawsuit pits local farmers against the municipality, where decisions are made by a single town chair and two supervisors. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, or WMC, a lobbying group that defines itself as the state’s “largest and most influential business association” is representing the residents suing the town through its litigation center.

Early this year, WMC sent a letter to the town board that they would see legal action if the ordinance was not repealed. The notice of claim, sent in April, argues the town passed an ordinance with various illegal provisions under state law. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center, who have previously filed lawsuits to rollback state protections against water pollution, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“They see this ordinance, if not challenged, as something that may become more the norm around the state,” Adam Voskuil, staff attorney for the nonprofit law office Midwest Environmental Advocates, told Grist. This law office has issued its support for Laketown’s ordinance in the past but is not representing the municipality in this ongoing litigation.

As the agricultural industry increasingly forces farmers to “get big or get out,” CAFOs have become plentiful across Wisconsin and the country at large, with more and more animals living on CAFO operations in recent years. The size of these farms varies within a state but generally are seen as operations with 2,000 or more pigs, 700 or more dairy cattle, or over 1,000 beef cattle.

The growth of these operations has been linked to public health problems like various cancers as well as infant death and miscarriages, caused by water contaminated with waste runoff from farms. On the other side of Wisconsin, residents in Kewaunee County have seen manure coming out of their faucets from one the largest CAFOs in the state, who sued the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource last year when they were denied a request to nearly double their size.

An indoor farms lots of pigs, corralled in different stalls

As more confined animal feeding operations, like the hog farm pictured, pop up across the country, towns and counties have attempted to regulate their growth. chayakorn lotongkum / Getty Images Grist

When communities try to respond with local-level enforcement, both industry interests and a lack of power at the local level cause townships to get creative with their responses.

Every state has some form of a “right-to-farm” law, which stops farms from being targeted for nuisances related to the daily operations of the industry, such as odor, noise, and effects on the environment. From there, each state has some form of a regulatory process that outlines how large farms are allowed to operate.

In Iowa, which leads the country in CAFOs, the state government sets all regulatory requirements and local towns and counties are out of luck when it comes to enforcement, according to John Robbins, Planning and Zoning Administrator for Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. He said the county once had a restrictive ordinance for CAFO zoning on the books, but after a state law took control, counties now have “very limited authority.”

Last year, when a Missouri hog farm spilled 300,000 gallons of waste into nearby waterways, two counties attempted to regulate CAFOs differently than the state government. Those counties had to sue to challenge state-level laws and are now awaiting trials in the state Supreme Court.

Further West, Gooding County, Idaho has seen the whole gambit of what Wisconsin towns could be facing. In 2007, the central Idaho county named after a famed state sheep rancher passed an ordinance regulating CAFOs in the county limits. A month later, industry groups Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Idaho Cattle Association started a court battle with the county that ended two years later, with the state supreme court ruling in the county’s favor. Gooding County’s legal representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law generally restricts how local municipalities can stop or slow new CAFOs or expansions to current facilities. This law is at the crux of arguments in opposition to Laketown and other surrounding communities’ proposed or passed ordinances.

Other Wisconsin communities have enacted local level ordinances to regulate these large farms. In 2016, northern Bayfield County enacted a CAFO ordinance that imposed a one-time fee and required operators to have increased manure storage options. After a large hog farm estimated to produce over 9 million gallons of manure a year was proposed in Polk County a few years ago, the county attempted a moratorium on CAFOs, but the measure did not pass.

Since then, at least five neighboring towns of Laketown have passed similar ordinances.

“This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters.”
Adam Voskuil, Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney

The Laketown ordinance that sparked the lawsuit is an operations ordinance, unlike Bayfield’s ordinance which focused on zoning. Laketown CAFO operators are asked to file a one-time fee equal to a dollar for every animal unit as well as give detailed plans of how they will prevent ground and air pollution stemming from their facilities. Passed in 2021, the ordinance states it is based upon Laketown’s obligation to “protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”

All along the way, industry groups Venture Dairy Cooperative and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, its website features the slogan “Fighting for CAFOs Every Day,” have sent threatening letters to towns that passed ordinances or moratoriums, with the help of WMC.

“This is standard operating procedure for the Big Ag boys,” said Lisa Doerr, a Laketown resident of over 20 years who raises horses and commercially farms hay and alfalfa with her husband.

Doerr has been involved at the local level in opposition to CAFO since Polk County learned of a proposed 26,000-hog farm. Doerr, who worked with the Large Livestock Town Partnership, a multi-town committee that examines the environmental impact of CAFOs, said she worried that the landscape of the town and county would change if local action wasn’t taken.

“The name of our town is Laketown because we’ve got lakes everywhere,” she said. “We still have a middle class farming community. We haven’t had corporate ag take over everything.”

In its recently filed response letter, Laketown’s attorney said WMC’s argument falls flat as it is based solely on the state-level zoning law, while the town’s ordinance regulates the operations and conduct of a facility. They also noted that since the ordinance passed, no facilities have applied for a permit, which means the town has not yet enforced any actions WMC says are unlawful. Laketown board chair Daniel King declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Voskuil said he was heartened to see that Laketown has been holding its ground. “This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters,” he said.

Farther south in Wisconsin, another county is reeling from letters threatening legal action. Crawford County, which borders Iowa, enacted a CAFO moratorium in 2019 but did not renew the moratorium after studying the issue for a year. Forest Jahnke, a coordinator with the Crawford Stewardship Project, said the decision to not renew the moratorium was highly influenced by the deluge of similar threats of litigation and backlash, which had a “chilling effect” on efforts to move forward.

“The fear of litigation is a very strong and deep one in our local municipalities and county governments,” Jahnke, who was a member of the committee studying the CAFO moratorium in Crawford County, said.

Since the moratorium rolled back, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources greenlit a Crawford County hog farm, home to 8,000 pigs and expected to generate 9.4 million gallons of manure each year


Featured Image: Hog farm by via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

An Environmental Defender Is Killed Every Two Days

An Environmental Defender Is Killed Every Two Days

Editor’s Note: Although it is taught in college, there are no business ethics. Industries have no morals. Their only purpose is to make money. There is no honor among thieves. If they have to kill to make a profit, so be it. It is most easily seen in the military industrial complex.

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious”. – Major General Smedley Butler

Civilization is raging a war against nature. If people get in the way of that destruction they will be violently removed, which can lead to their death. As this report shows, this is a reality in most of the world. We as defenders must be aware of this and prepare ourselves to protect ourselves because in most states the perpetrators are not prosecuted. We honor our fallen heroes and strive to bring the criminals to justice.


By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams

“All over the world, Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” said the head of Global Witness.

The advocacy group Global Witness on Thursday marked 10 years of collecting data on slain environmental defenders by publishing a new report revealing that at least 1,733 people have been killed over the past decade — a rate of one murder every two days.

“Our data on killings is likely to be an underestimate, given that many murders go unreported.”

The report — entitled “Decade of Defiance: Ten Years of Reporting Land and Environmental Activism Worldwide” — underscores how land inequality and efforts by governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals to own and control land drives deadly violence against activists.

“All over the world, Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” Global Witness CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. “Activists and communities play a crucial role as a first line of defense against ecological collapse, as well as being frontrunners in the campaign to prevent it.”

As the climate emergency worsens, so does the killing, violence, and other repression that come with the capitalistic pursuit of land and the natural resources above and below the soil.

“Driven by the rising demand for food, fuel, and commodities, the last decade has seen an upsurge in land grabs for industries like mining, logging, agribusiness, and infrastructure projects, with local communities rarely consulted or compensated,” the report states.

“The actors colluding to grab land tend to be corporations, foreign investment funds, national and local state officials, and the governments of wealthy yet resource-poor nations looking to cheaply acquire land, harming local populations in the process,” the publication continues.

Global Witness said around 200 activists were murdered around the world in 2021 alone, a decrease from the 227 recorded killings in 2020. Although they make up only around 5% of the world’s population, more than 40% of the deadly attacks on environmental defenders targeted Indigenous people last year.

Mexico suffered 54 slain environmental defenders in 2021, the most of any nation and a marked spike from 30 killings reported there in 2020. Colombia (33), Brazil (26), the Philippines (19), Nicaragua (15), and India (14) all experienced more than 10 reported activist killings last year.

Of the 10 activist murders reported across Africa last year, eight were rangers killed in Congo’s Virunga National Park, where militant groups are fighting for control of resource-rich lands that are also home to some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas.

Global Witness cautioned that “our data on killings is likely to be an underestimate, given that many murders go unreported, particularly in rural areas and in particular countries.”

Indian scholar and activist Vandana Shiva said in an introduction to the report that “these numbers are not made real until you hear some of the names of those who died.”


Featured Image: An active jade mine in Hpakant township in Kachin state, northern Myanmar. Image by Arezarni via Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0)