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Opinion: California’s miserable summer will end, but its species extinction might not

A chinook salmon leaps from the water.
Chinook salmon face extinction thanks to climate change and Trump-era rules that continue to be carried out.
(Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, July 31, 2021. This week’s newsletter comes to you from the San Bernardino Mountains — specifically, near Big Bear Lake, where the water level is once again flirting with historic lows because of the drought. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Back in April I wrote that the stars were misaligning for another miserable summer in California. This is one of those predictions that I wish wasn’t coming true, but alas even I at times have some foresight: COVID-19 is making a comeback, and the drought coupled with extreme heat are wreaking havoc in the West (even if Los Angeles has felt like an island of relatively mild weather amid boiling seas). Now, as we transition from the period of dire warnings about climate change to living the reality of it, we see specific segments of our ecology and life diminishing before our eyes.

A case in point is what The Times Editorial Board calls the “California salmon wipeout.” For more than a generation we’ve been warned about reengineered watersheds and altered weather patterns posing an extinction threat to the chinook salmon that reproduce in the frigid waters of rivers fed by seasonal snow melt. Now, says the editorial board, Trump-era federal rules have conspired with low precipitation and record-high temperatures to warm streams to the point that the salmon die before they can reproduce. The board warns that allowing an iconic fish species to go extinct in California has profound implications for other animals, including humans.

Maybe when the wipeout is complete, we can put the chinook salmon on our state flag with the grizzly bear, another species humans mindlessly exterminated from California.

It could be worse for the chinook — at least they’re not vaquita porpoises. Things have been bad for the tiny cetaceans for while; now, they’re downright hopeless. The vaquita, which inhabit the waters of the northern Gulf of California and numbered about 250 a decade ago, are down to an estimated 10 animals, and what protections the Mexican government had in place to increase their numbers are being watered down. The editorial board encourages other countries to come to Mexico’s aid to save the vaquita from extinction. L.A. Times

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Teach critical race theory in medical schools. Doctors are taught that hypertension occurs more frequently among African Americans than other patients, but they’re not taught why this might be so (and it has nothing to do with genetics). Teaching CRT in medical school, writes physician Trisha Pasricha, would address a number of problems in healthcare, including the infiltration of systemic racism that, among other things, teaches doctors that a level of disease severity considered worrisome for white patients is “normal” for Black patients. L.A. Times

Children under 12 are not vaccinated, so wear a mask. It’s true that old age is a key risk factor for dying from COVID-19, but death isn’t the only outcome of infection worth avoiding. Children who get infected are far less likely to die than older adults, but they also are at serious risk of developing complications such as long COVID and multisystem inflammatory syndrome — and those under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, warns Karolina Corin: “Who is unvaccinated? Every child under the age of 12, because they have no choice. They depend completely upon adults for protection.” L.A. Times

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Bring on the crackdown against unvaccinated adults. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new rules requiring state workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing; similar measures are being taken by the federal government, the city of Los Angeles and other private employers. People in some groups have good reason to distrust medical authority, but whatever their experiences and grievances may be, says the editorial board, “we need to move them out of their comfort zones for the sake of their own safety — and ours.” L.A. Times

This is how the loudest anti-immigrant voices caused the “browning” of America: It used to be that workers from Mexico would crisscross the border depending on the season. They’d work for a short period in the United States, then return to their homes in Mexico or in countries farther south. Then, in the 1990s, the U.S. government began hardening the border, creating fears among foreign workers without papers that if they left this country they would never be able to return. Columnist Jean Guerrero notes that many of them did something they never intended to do: They settled permanently in the United States. L.A. Times

Stay in touch.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re the kind of reader who’d benefit from subscribing to our other newsletters and to the Times.

As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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