SPITTING MAD: Back in the bad old days when Mike Brown prowled the fourth floor of the Santa Barbara County Building as Top Dog, he was known as a spitter. Those who endured his wrath — and Brown was by all accounts very much a wrathful, Old Testament kind of CEO — knew to wear raincoats and carry umbrellas at all times. Since Brown was given the heave-ho — albeit with the platinum parachute reserved only for those of the executrix class — he landed on his feet as Fulminator-in-Chief for the San Luis Obispo chapter of COLAB. There, he works hand-in-glove with his better-known Santa Barbara cohort Andy Caldwell, attempting to straitjacket 21st-century problems with 17th-century solutions. The good news is that no matter who’s signing Mike Brown’s paychecks, he’s still spitting up such a storm we need never worry about drought. On his COLAB website, Brown denounces the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and assorted South Coast tree-huggers as “enviro-socialists,” comparing them to the “Mafia and other parasites.” He suggests that the EDC’s real agenda is nothing short of “poverty, cataclysmic economic disruption, starvation, civil unrest and other consequences of a collapsed civilization,” all because they had the temerity to file written objections to a proposed new oil-drilling operation up in Santa Maria. By blowing up the economy, Brown argued, the EDC is hoping to create material conditions sufficiently terrible to persuade most voters to buy into the new “fees, taxes, and wealth transfers in the name of resolving the ‘emergency’ which they [EDC] have created.” This revelation, of course, gives me newfound respect for the EDC; I never knew they had their act so together.
Brown’s comments — for which he should seek professional help — provide context to COLAB’s recent accusation that the county supervisors violated the state’s open-government laws by voting in favor of applying for a grant to study the impact of sea-level rise. It should also be noted that the grant in question would provide $900,000 for the study if the county kicked in a $10,000 matching donation. By most reckoning, a 90-to-1 return on one’s investment is considered something to brag about. But Brown’s bosom buddy Andy Caldwell claimed the vote was tainted. The South Coast’s three supervisors had attended an eco-minded group-grope community forum hosted by the Community Environmental Council at which the electeds pledged vaguely to take undefined actions designed to “overcome energy, economic, and climate crises.” In today’s political climate, that should be as controversial as saying puppy dogs and grandmothers are a good thing. But COLAB spun it as a case of fifth-column eco-saboteurs calling the shots from behind the scenes and violating the due process of government decision making. Accordingly, they took their case to the District Attorney, and last week, the DA told Caldwell and crew they were all wet. Better yet, the DA reminded Caldwell that support for the sea-level-rise study was totally consistent with broader policies adopted by the supervisors in 2009 — back, coincidentally, when Mike Brown was still at the helm — to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and address the effects of climate change. Brown, I have been told, pushed hard for these policies at the time, if only because they were needed for the county to apply for federal economic-stimulus grants.
In this context, it’s well worth noting the key role played by UCSB researchers in a massive global study that demonstrates that sea creatures are responding to temperature changes in the water caused by climate change 10 times as fast as creatures on land, even though the underwater temperature change is only one-third as great. It might be an overstatement to say climate change has transformed our ocean environment into a vast Cuisinart set on perpetual frappe. But looking at 1,700 species over a 40-year span, the researchers found that on average, the species they studied moved 72 kilometers — 45 miles — a decade for the past four decades. That’s a massive shuffling of the deck. If you look at phytoplankton — the most fundamental, essential food unit for life on Earth (even if the Foodies have yet to discover a gluten-free artisanal variety) — it’s moved 400 kilometers a decade for four decades. That’s like waking up only to discover your refrigerator had moved 250 miles away. By contrast, bony fish — as opposed to sharks and rays — have moved half that distance. It’s still a lot. The researchers predicted that cold-water species would move to remain in cold water and warm water species the same. They found their predictions were borne out 80-85 percent of the time. That’s a whole lot of change happening a lot faster than anyone has seen since the last major asteroid infestation 65 million years ago.
The good news, at least according to another aquatic study just released, is that if you give fish Prozac and other antidepressants, they’ll respond much better to stressful situations and not just sink to the bottom of the tank in a depressed funk. Researchers with the Max Planck Institute found a mutant species of zebra fish that lacks the hormone needed to regulate stress — as in “turn off the stress” switch — is prone to serious depression. By doping the water in which these fish swam with antidepressants, researchers found the test subjects responded much better to stress and displayed less of the lethargic “why bother” behavior characteristic of depression. Frankly, I’m not sure how much this will help the zillions of creatures under the sea now scurrying to find water temperatures that fit their physiognomies, but it will be a major boon for Eli Lilly the manufacturer of Prozac. Maybe we should ship a couple of crates up to San Luis Obispo. Clearly, Mike Brown needs some help getting his stress-regulating hormones back in whack. As for his spitting, resign yourself to rain gear.