Strokes of Havoc: The Felling of Trees

Mary Oliver wrote appealing nature poems, several of them featuring trees.  Take her opening lines of “When I am among the trees,” for example, crafted in simplicity, yet resonant of the capacity of trees to yield serenity:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

Trees, however, are in trouble these days, whether from disease, climate change, or human over-reach. Sentries of earth’s welfare, trees sequester carbon and discharge oxygen, mitigate heat stress, conserve water, preserve soil, anchor landscape and shelter animals. They are also a human resource for many of our needs, be it housing, furniture, fuel, or even boxes and paper.

It’s when seen as a commodity that the primary danger looms. Before the coming of Europeans to North America, vast virgin forests covered half the continent’s land area. In the three centuries that followed, settlers cut down trees for farms and pasture at a rapid pace, removing half of that native forest.

With the eclipse of farming as a primary means of subsistence in the 20th century, American deforestation has largely stalemated, with abandoned farms reverting to forest, government implementing federal and state safeguards, and private lumber interests investing in replanting.

Nonetheless, our forests remain under threat, the U. S. experiencing a 3% decline consequent with urban growth since 1997. There are big bucks to be made with logging. America happens to be the world’s fourth largest consumer of wood despite being just 6% of the world’s population. Unfortunately, it’s been the intrinsic legacy of capitalism to prioritize profit over social and environmental welfare.

As is, the old growth forest is virtually gone and with it, a once abundant wildlife. Remaining forest, often reduced to isolated tracts, may not offer sufficient habitat for animal survival. Meanwhile, illegal logging also continues.

It gets worse in third world countries like Indonesia and Brazil where forests are plundered daily both for profit and to make room for cattle ranches and palm oil plantations.

Indonesia has lost some 50% of its forest and at its present pace the lowland forests of Borneo and Sumatra will be gone in the next two years. Transparency International reported in 2019 that illegal logging had occurred in 37 of 41 of Indonesia’s national parks, abetted by political corruption .

I’ll not touch on other third world nations, Mexico, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example.

All of this fuels climate change with its devastating fallout: rising temperatures, depleted rainfall, long-term drought, burning forests, flora and fauna extinction; in turn, promoting abject poverty, hunger and disease, exacerbating refugee masses desperate for new homelands.

Each year, world forest removal equals the size of Greece, with consequential climate change hastening the doom of what remains.

If humans were wise, less given to comfort and custom, they could mitigate this unfolding scenario of disaster by consuming less meat, a primary instigator of deforestation and climate change:.

As a recent New Republic article points out,

The livestock industry directly produces more greenhouse gas than the ocean of petroleum burnt to power all the world’s planes, cars, ships, trains, and trucks. Abolishing the livestock industry and replacing it with vast new forests could achieve more than electrifying the entire transport sector, and it would be easier and quicker to accomplish because it requires no new technologies or dramatic infrastructural change.

To do so requires behavioral change, no easy thing. It needs to begin with the wealthy nations who consume the most meat.

With the third world poor, we must think long-term and invest in strategies that grow sustainability and encourage less dependence on livestock. As is, Africa, for example, contributes only 3.8% of emissions contributing to global warming, yet remains extremely vulnerable in its agricultural dependence on rainfall, now projected to decrease up to 50% in the next decade.

In actuality, some 1.3 billion people globally, directly or indirectly, support an estimated 600 million poor smallholder farmers in third world nations, with livestock one of the fastest growing agricultural sub-sectors in developing countries.

Given the exponential consequences of climate change, this poses apocalyptical consequences in coming decades. The burden must rest upon affluent nations in the meantime as developed nations transition to a new economic paradigm.

The need for brevity curtails my wanting to write more fully on a complicated subject with no simple, reductionist solutions. Forgive my seeming digression from the matter of trees, whose fate remains inexorably linked to our own.

–rj

Business as Usual: Lockdown Unenforced

Protestors in Texas

As experts have warned and a rogue president, prioritizing reelection, has ignored, recharging the economy when Covid-19 continues to ravage has exacted a surge in the pandemic’s victims, with a new wave anticipated this fall.

But Americans are its lead cause, a spoiled populace ignoring the laws governing exit from the crisis, wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, limiting unnecessary activity. Fifty states, each with its own governance, unequal to enforcing these mandates of public safety, subservient to economic interests, fuel our crisis. Shamefully, we lead the world in the pandemic’s victims.

Meanwhile, climate change exacts its continuing world toll. We tied the record in May for the highest monthly average on record; investment in renewable energy has plummeted; in the next five years, five-hundred species will disappear as humanity continues its assault on Nature, despoiling fauna and flora in a greedy rush for profit. Worse is the meat industry, a virus hotspot, progenitor of the pandemic, not just now, but historically in its previously related strains.

As I write, the Amazon forest continues to burn to make room for cattle ranches, environmentalists have been killed or discredited, indigenous tribes decimated. In Croatia, yesterday, 50 million bees died, suspected victims of pesticides. You think it only happens abroad? It’s happening here. Last year in Texas, someone deliberately set fire to beehives, killing 500,000 bees. Almonds, a prime contributor to California’s agricultural sector, may soon devolve into memory.

Where do we go from here? For the sake of the present we are ravaging our children’s future. I think anew of poet Robinson Jeffers’ credo of “inhumanism,” a summons to abandon a plethora of mass murder and commodification, to simplify our lives, to embrace with stoic discipline those values that both uplift and secure our children’s destiny.

—rjoly

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: An Earth Day Tribute

 

I’ve just finished reading Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring, written back in 1962, but still timely. President Kennedy read it eagerly, followed by Nixon in a time when presidents read books. (President Obama is another omnivorous reader in our own time.) Nixon was so deeply affected, that he founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a safeguard.

I first became aware of the book in teaching college English composition classes where it appeared as an anthology excerpt, modeling sound expository writing. While Carson had written a thoroughly researched book steeped in chemical analysis, she did so in a way that rendered science transparent to the public, fostering its appeal, unlike a rival text written on the same topic that virtually no one read outside the science community.

Carson’s work models not only coherent analysis at its best, but delivers its thesis with a lyrical beauty underscoring its urgency and moving readers to call for policy change. In a letter to her close friend, Dorothy Freeman, she would write, “Once the emotions have been aroused—a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration and love—then we wish for the knowledge of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.”

A perfectionist, she researched exhaustively and revised continually, concerned not only with message, but delivery. She had begun her college days as an English major before switching to biology. Carson composed Silent Spring while battling aggressive breast cancer, initially misdiagnosed. She had planned to write four other science books. The miracle is that she produced anything at all.

Since those days of teaching writing and my growing commitment to the green movement and awareness of the existential, exponential threat of climate change, I have wanted to return to her foundational work. I’m not sure how many of us are into eco-literature and Silent Spring or her other noted works, The Sea Around Us (National Book Award Winner) and best selling, The Edge of the Sea, but I knew reading it fully was something I just had to do to do, not least, to honor her—she passed so quickly from us after Silent Spring—but also as a means to gauging our progress in addressing her concerns.

Silent Spring deals with the havoc waged by land, sea, and air to the environment through indiscriminate use of pesticides by federal, state and local communities in support of economic interests, e.g., logging, agriculture, community agendas, heedless of consequences, repeatedly so, even when evidence of harmful repercussions had proven pervasive. An act of willful hubris, a genocide against nature, it resembles our own era when fossil fuels, primary contributors to a changing climate, continue as principal sources of energy reliance.

Silent Spring can be painful reading in its strident account of corporate interests in liaison with government, pillaging our environment and disregarding human welfare. Today, nearly every plant, and animal, including ourselves, even where spraying has ceased, show chemical residue. Species have been sharply reduced, disturbing a complex ecology, while augmenting pest resistance and promoting cancer proliferation.

There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example—where had they gone? Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.

All of this fallout unnecessary, for safer biological tools had proven successful, yet still, the spraying continued. The corporate sector, spending $250,000, a huge sum at the time, resisted Carson’s assault, much like today’s Monsanto, arguing correlation not establishing causality, and disparaging Carson’s credentials: no Ph. D, no standing in the science community, no academic affiliation, a “bird lover,” her followers, “health quacks.” Shockingly, the American Entomological Society listed Velsicol, Monsanto, Shell Chemical Company, and other chemical corporations among their “sustaining associates.” One major pesticide firm threatened her publisher, Houghton Mifflin, with a lawsuit if the book were published without changes.

Carson was understandably surprised by the book’s smashing success, selling 65,000 copies in its first two weeks and its subsequent Book of the Month Club selection.

Against all odds, Silent Spring had found its way into the public’s consciousness. DDT was halted, though hypocritically allowed for export, much like cigarettes later on. As noted, the EPA came into being as the book’s consequence. In 1981, years after her passing in 1964, Carson was posthumously awarded our nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sadly, Carson’s critics have continued their assaults, covertly changing their tactics and employing political correctness. The late science fiction novelist, Michael Crichton, for example, a vociferous climate change denier, branded her “a mass murderess” for the ultimate banning of DDT and deaths of millions of African children from malaria, while others have dismissed her as a white elitist. They ignore that DDT was actually banned only domestically, subsequently proven ineffectual against increasing mosquito resistance abroad, and replaced by newer, more effectual pesticides and innovative pharmaceuticals to contain malaria. Ironically, Carson hadn’t actually called for its banishment, but for its judicial use along with other pesticides.

Among poisonous chemical substances Carson addressed in Silent Spring, herbicides continue as a primary public menace, particularly for gardeners using the ubiquitous box store Roundup. There have been three trials involving pesticide giant Monsanto, two in state courts and the other in federal court, with up to 100,000 plaintiffs, alleging resulting non-Hodgkin lymphoma and consistent Monsanto coverup. Significantly, on March 19, 2018, a unanimous jury found Monsanto culpable and $25 million was awarded to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman.

Dismayingly, Trump’s EPA has currently sanctioned Monsanto’s employment of a new crop herbicide, dicamba, resulting in widespread crop damage, and Monsanto’s presently facing legal intervention by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. As with the frequent scenario Carson underscored in Silent Spring, corporate priorities like those of Monsanto have plunged headlong into pressing economic gains, even when their own studies revealed imminent liabilities, conspiring with the EPA to soft-pedal the herbicide’s dangers:

Documents filed in court show Monsanto met multiple times with EPA officials about the concerns, even editing EPA language about certain steps Monsanto should take in communications with retailers. In an October 2017 email, an EPA official forwarded a Monsanto official comment from the agency regarding the company’s product label, writing: “Like I said, no surprises.” (Carey Gillam, The Guardian, April 2, 2020).

After so many years, Carson’s legacy continues. The Sea Around US (1951) and Silent Spring have been translated into more than forty languages, with the latter averaging 25,000 sales annually. A collection of Carson’s unpublished work appears in Lost Words: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson., ed. Linda Lear (1998). For a biography, and there are several, I would begin with M. H. Lytle’s thorough and cogent, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement (2007).

I’m glad to have read Silent Spring, which launched the modern day environmental movement, and unhesitatingly regard her as one of the foremost women of the last one-hundred years, unflinching, passionate, yet empirically based in her environmental witness. I end with the final paragraph of Silent Spring:

The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth. 

–rj

Is Anybody Listening? Voter Apathy on Climate Change

American media should be ashamed! Here we are, facing an unparalleled survival crisis, yet the absence of climate change from Thursday’s Democrat debate. (No opportunity for discussing the Green New Deal.) Then there is the apathy of many Americans. Three recent state voter surveys sadly show the absence of climate change as a top five issue for prospective voters. Meanwhile, the Trump assault on environment continues, with the Arctic opened this week to new oil exploitation, even as the world burns and the Arctic melts. I leave you this recent op-ed excerpt from Naomi Klein, one of our foremost writers on the subject: rj

“Wherever in the world they live, this generation has something in common: they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a lived reality. Oceans are warming 40% faster than the United Nations predicted five years ago. And a sweeping study on the state of the Arctic, published in April 2019 in Environmental Research Letters and led by the renowned glaciologist Jason Box, found that ice in various forms is melting so rapidly that the ‘Arctic biophysical system is now clearly trending away from its 20th-century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but also beyond the Arctic.’ In May 2019, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published a report about the startling loss of wildlife around the world, warning that a million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction. ‘The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,’ said the chair, Robert Watson. ‘We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. We have lost time. We must act now.´”

–rj

You have every right to be afraid!

cropsprayingMany of us rightfully fear a Trump presidency for what it may mean for the welfare of our citizenry and nation.

Will Affordable Health Care (AHC) and Medicare be on the chopping block?

If you’re an undocumented immigrant, will Trump carry out his often repeated pledge to deport illegals and build a wall on the border with Mexico?

Will he foreclose on refugees, many of them Muslims?

On the the world stage, will he roll back Obama’s executive order that has restored relations with Cuba?

Will he undo the nuclear treaty with Iran?

While all of these concerns are legitimate, I’d argue that they pale up against the incipient threat posed by climate change, an issue virtually missing from the presidential debates, despite the earth’s very survival being at stake.

Alarmingly, in his October 100-day preview, Trump, who has repeatedly declared global warming a hoax, pledged he’d repeal the Clean Power Plan, withdraw from the historic Paris agreement (signed by 120 nations, setting targets for carbon), and lift restrictions on oil and gas development on public lands.

He’s also told us he’ll revive Keystone XL.

In recent days, the press has been focused on his potential choice for the important Secretary of State position. Nobody’s talking, however, about whom he’ll appoint as Secretary of the Interior.

At the moment, the scenario for environmental disaster looms large in Trump’s choice of Myron Ebell to oversee the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency, ironically founded by Richard Nixon. Ebell doesn’t believe in climate change either.

He’s also associated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (http://SafeChemicalPolicy.org), which underplays the environmental and health consequences of industrial chemicals.

Ebell could also be Trump’s choice to head the EPA. For the record, Ebell opposes government efforts to curb global warming and the Paris Agreement.

As I write, it isn’t far-fetched that Trump might give the nod to Forrest Lucas for Secretary of the Interior. Lukas has contributed mega-bucks to Trump and Pence’s campaigns. An oil executive, he’d be in charge of our national parks and public lands. Native Americans–think North Dakota pipeline–might raise their eyebrows, given that one of the Department’s tasks is to monitor programs relating to Native Americans.

We haven’t heard yet on who’ll fill the Department of Energy either, but if Ebell doesn’t get the EPA or Interior nomination, he’d likely fill this vacancy. This, again, is a pivotal cabinet post, affecting environment in the Department’s mission to research, regulate, and develop energy technology and resources.

In the meantime, climate change isn’t when, but now. Lamentably, we learned just last week that due to the summer melting of Arctic ice, warm waters have swept over the South Pacific, killing coral, and substantially damaging the famed Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast.

We ‘re getting more droughts and flooding than the norm..

2016 will go down as our hottest year since we began keeping track of temperatures.

Scientists tell us we’re on pace, despite December’s Paris agreement, for an increase in earth’s average temperature of 3.5 Celsius, if not more, by 2100.

What this means to our children is that coastal cities like NewYork, Míami, and New Orleans will be mere abstracts of memory, or like the Atlantis of ancient myth, lost beneath the sea.

–rj

Macdonald’s H is for Hawks: Finding Passage

The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade turning up things you had forgotten, surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.
–Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald with her goshawk, Mabel, near Cambridge, England, 2007
Helen Macdonald with her goshawk, Mabel, near Cambridge, England, 2007

I’ve finished reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and want to weigh in on it like someone who’s just dined gourmet and relishing the deed, must boast his good fortune.

I was attracted to Macdonald’s memoir because of its critical esteem in those bastions of literary prowess like The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, which often ration praise and, even then, not without censure.

H is for Hawk has won two prestigious book awards as well: The Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and Costa Book Award for best book in any genre.

This is Macdonald’s fifth book.

She teaches and does research at Cambridge University.   Her interests include not only falconry, but history and poetry (3 published collections).

Macdonald’s memoir tells the story of her depression following the unexpected death of her father, Alistair MacDonald (2007), a longtime photographer and  journalist for the Daily Mirror, and her resorting to falconry to relieve her grief.

Macdonald’s goshawk, Mabel
Macdonald’s goshawk, Mabel

This isn’t the first occasion we’ve seen a book testifying to the ability of animals to uplift troubled humans, but may well be among the best. In venturing into the first several pages, I knew immediately I’d be keeping company with a masterpiece.

Macdonald’s training of a goshawk provided a means of continuity with her father, an ardent plane spotter and bird enthusiast, who also taught her patience, a primary motif contributing to her healing and integral to harvesting nature’s plenitude::

My father’s talk of patience had held within it all the magic that is waiting and looking up at the moving sky.

But Macdonald’s memoir is not your romp into a Wordsworthian nature, benevolent and moral.  Mabel kills her prey, suddenly and savagely, or like those artifacts of the human world, airplanes, which link the human and the natural; and yet, even then, there is a vital difference separating the two, with the balance favoring nature:

In my time with Mabel I’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not. And I have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it.  Goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities.  Their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.

The writing itself is magnificent in its artfully composed sentences resonant with observation and chiseled detail of landscape and of her travails in training her goshawk, Mabel,  and, most of all, in its poignant psychological journey of retreat from the human community and, ultimately, return to its renewed embrace.

Her memoir is also interlaced with T. H. White’s works, renowned for their Arthurian themes and with his The Goshawk (1951) in particular.

White, who lacked experience, had earlier attempted to train a goshawk, only to fail.  Macdonald, however, didn’t suddenly take up the hobby or, more precisely, being an austringer (i.e., a hawk trainer), having previously trained peregrines, merlins, and kestrels:

While the steps were familiar, the person taking them was not. I was in ruins. Some deep part of me was trying to rebuild itself, and its model was right there on my fist. The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life.

Although MacDonald identifies in many ways with White, who becomes a projection and touchstone of her own anguished struggle to evade life’s seemingly malevolent caprice, she fortunately finds her way past his psychological morass.

As I grew happier his presence receded, his world more and more distant from mine.

Like White I wanted to cut loose from the world, and shared, too, his desire to escape to the wild, a desire that can rip away all human softness and leave you stranded in a world of savage, courteous despair.

Unlike White, she learns that “hands are for other human hands to hold. The wild is not a panacea for the human soul. Too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.”

–rj

 

 

 

 

Saving Spring’s Envoys: Our Vanishing Birds

migratorybirdsWe take for granted that birds in the millions returning from their winter feeding grounds in Central and South America will make it back to nest and mate in our yards each spring.

The rude reality, however, paints a scenario of thinning numbers as their habitat continues to give way to human incursion; wetlands get drained; toxic sprays are employed; and GMO agriculture reduces the insects on which many birds feed. Lamentably, up to 4 billion birds are killed by outdoor cats annually. (No typo here.)

And then there’s climate change.

If this scenario continues, we may well see a world devoid of birds and with their disappearance, our own.

Birds do a lot for us:

  1. pollinate plants
  2. disperse seed
  3. consume carrion
  4. recycle nutrients
  5. control insect numbers

Birds do all of this and more, along with providing many of us city folk with a rare contact with nature.

Sadly, fewer of them are completing their already perilous journey, often of several thousand miles, transversing oceans and mountains, to keep company with us every spring.

In one of nature’s greatest marvels, birds don’t require a compass to make their way to where they were born or to their winter habitat.

Guided by the stars, they know North from South. Alert to the sun’s position in daylight, they can discern East from West.

They also intuit the distance they must fly.

Appropriately, migratory birds fly mostly at night, keeping their bodies cool, since their tiny hearts, beating 500 times per minute, generate heat.

Regrettably, their indwelling “magnetic compass” doesn’t always serve them well in a modern world with its tapestry of burgeoning cities filled with light that produces a celestial jamming resulting in their disorientation, exhaustion and death as they unwittingly fly into multi-story buildings, leaving a deadly debris come morning.

With urban sprawl come media towers, like buildings, illuminated nightly to pre-empt airplane collisions. Each year, some 6.8 million birds perish in collision with cell and radio towers and their guy lines.

In a recent summation of studies, researchers found that 63% of bird casualties in the U. S. and Canada are small birds of 156 species, some on the endangered list.

If this isn’t enough, our bird friends face other ominous threats to their survival from our newer technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels integral to our need for renewable, clean energy resources.

This led to the Obama administration, normally on cue with environmental priorities, initiating a federal “permission slip” allowing for wind farms to kill up to 30 bald and golden eagles annually under 30-year permits, despite it’s being against existing law protecting these species, one of which is our national icon.

As I write, I’m happy to learn that our government’s connivance didn’t sit well in a California court, which demanded an impact study. Two weeks ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service dropped its appeal to reinstate the policy.

How bad can wind farms be for birds? A recent California study estimated that up to 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed annually in thar state alone!

Wind turbines now account for 5% of our energy and continue to proliferate, with more than 15,000 presently in service. The death toll must be staggering!

But solar farms also pose another lethal threat to birds, singing, crippling and killing them. Unfortunately, birds often mistake reflective panels for water bodies. Some of these solar farms can be gargantuan in their expanse, with one solar farm in Riverside County, California occupying 4400 acres.

We’re unsure just how many birds solar farms kill, but we believe it to be a considerable number. In a recent investigation, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory recovered 233 birds from three California desert facilities. Many birds literally catch fire on contact with solar panels.

The problem is complex with the need to find new energy sources that don’t pollute and are renewable and yet protect our birds. But we can do more to assure their well-being by demanding impact studies before wind turbines and solar panels come on line.

We can also advocate they not be located in migratory pathways.

We can power down our city lights. A lighted New York City skyline may be spectacular viewing late at night, but it’s a death threat to birds. Cities like Toronto, one of North America’s most progressive cities, supported by the public, has been doing so for years.

We can support preservation of bird habitat such as wetlands and creation of new ones.

I like how Peter Dunne, the director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, has put it: “Without birds, nature would lose its most engaging envoys,” to which I would add that their demise would seal not only their fate, but ours.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lexington, KY: Reflections on My Old Kentucky Home

lexingtonI count myself fortunate to live near Lexington, KY. Its assets are many; its liabilities, few.

I like its small town feel—no row housing here; no factories puffing their toxins into the air.

Though ranked 61 among American cities, currently about 311,000, it’s unique in not having freeways threading its thoroughfares, unlike neighboring Louisville and Cincinnati.

To be sure, Kentucky is often synonymous with poverty, but Lexington defies such stereotypes. Located in the center of the pristine Bluegrass countryside renowned for its grandiose thoroughbred farms, Lexington is not only one of our nation’s most beautiful cities, but also one of its most affluent.

Unlike many cities, Lexington enjoys one of the nation’s steadiest local economies, with unemployment currently a miniscule 3.7%. Forbes Magazine has it as the 4th “Best City” for Business careers. Kipplinger ranks it 6th as a “Best Value City.”

Lexington can rightly boast its being “the horse capital of the world.” A 2014 survey revealed that 67,500 horses populated the Bluegrass, including 24,600 in Lexington!

Another laurel is its 6th place ranking as one of the country’s “most inspiring cities” (worldwidelearn.com), topped only by Boston, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

Lexington is also listed 7th as a “Best City for Quality of Life” (nerdwallet.com).

In spite of these accolades, however, Lexington faces continuing challenges from commercial interests who, left to themselves, potentially pose a threat to the city’s bucolic flavor and, as a family city, the superb ambience of the city and surrounding area.

Take what Lexington did in 1996, demurring to commercial interests, and appropriating 5400 acres from the Rural Service Area for development. If Lexington were to further erode the rural landscape of the Rural Service Area, the legacy might well be to make Lexington just one more American city characterized by urban blight.

Fortunately, the city is currently enjoying a hiatus with the tenure of Jim Gray, its progressive mayor. Under the current Five Year Comprehensive Land Use Plan (2011), set to end next year, the city has held out for wise land stewardship, reaffirming the 40 acre minimum set in 1958 for new residential land and commercial development.

As Gray puts it, “building our brand and our economy means that first we preserve what is special and unique about our Lexington—our bluegrass landscape.”

Concurrently, unbridled development has raised its ugly head within the Urban Service Area with numerous architectural gems of the nineteenth century torn down to make way for an underground garage, office tower, hotel, and retail and restaurant space downtown in what has famously turned into a cavernous hole in the ground since its first shovels in 2008.

Meanwhile, yellow dinosaurs gouge the rich soil of a former 56-acre farm to make room for The Summit, a new mall by a national conglomerate just down the road from gargantuan Fayette Mall, which recently expanded by another 26 acres.

You see, I’m an idealist and would have preferred the city’s opting to purchase the farm for green space along one of the city’s most grid-locked traffic corridors, Nicholasville Road—something on the order of the New Haven Green or Savannah’s The Squares. Or like New York’s Central Park or Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, offering timeout sanctuary in the very heart of urban bustle.

But what about the cost? Well, before you think me insane, consider that the city council had previously come up with a $354 million plan to renovate Rupp Area, home of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team.  I’d say it’s a simple matter of getting our priorities straight.

While Lexington may seem to enjoy a rich tapestry of parks, some 100, they’re relatively small while large areas of the city haven’t any parks at all.  The city’s special gem is Raven Run, a passive park of 734 acres (no sports facilities, etc.), preserving natural habitat and several well maintained hiking trails.

Lexington needs to pay attention to its tree canopy anyway which has experienced a sharp decline, some of it doubtlessly due to the recent infestation of the emerald ash borer. According to a 2012 study, the city’s tree coverage stands at 27%, with 40% the gold standard.

Lexington currently isn’t a member of the City Park Alliance, and it should be. Its rival city, Louisville, is.  The Alliance offers a mapping technology with demographic data that can be accessed online. The Alliance ranks the 75 largest U.S. cities as to how each of them is meeting its park needs. Lexington ranks 51 (parkscore.tpl.org/rankings-advanced.php).

The upshot of all this is that Lexington, while doing well, can do better and must if it’s to assure preservation of its unique ambience, underpinning its attractiveness as one of America’s best cities to call home.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the Supreme Court’s EPA Rebuff

A-polar-bear-and-her-cubs-007This has been a busy time for America’s highest court, with gargantuan issues–gay marriage, Obama Care, and approval of a controversial capital punishment drug, cases decided by razor thin majorities.

No less important, perhaps the most impacting of all, is the Supreme Court’s decision ultimately affecting climate change; namely its one vote majority ruling against the EPA’s Mercury and Toxic Standards (MATS) provision, designed to reduce mercury and other air pollutants from the nation’s myriad power plants, especially those utilizing coal.

Though MATS wasn’t specifically disavowed, the Court ruled that the EPA must consider the financial burden it imposes. Accordingly, the case goes back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to deliberate new guidelines.

I think the decision horrendous in the context of the preeminent threat we and, especially posterity, face in the context of climate change, which the vast weight of environmental science affirms is human induced.

In fact, if we don’t get our act together, we may find ourselves joining the plethora of species we’ve either driven into extinction or endangered.

On the other hand, I laud justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the minority decision in the 5-4 verdict:

Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants. And when making its initial ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that — knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emissions standards later on. That context matters.

While it’s probable the lower court won’t gut the act, but simply mandate that EPA integrate cost factors upfront, not after-the-fact, as it had done, this may sadly take another five years and still be subject to legal scrutiny.

Climate change, in the meanwhile, isn’t about to go into a stall while we continue to rely upon coal as an energy source for many of our power plants.

The corollary is that like a credit card we don’t pay off, our delay will exact cost burdens exceeding mere cash reckonings in hazarding the health of both ourselves and the impinging on the ecological interplay upon which we depend.

Nobody wants to pay more for energy costs any more than we relish replacing a malfunctioning stove or fridge for a newer, more efficient model, at increased cost. Alas, sometimes it is what it is and we move on.

What moved me to write this post as I awoke today to a new dawn outside my window is a news story just out of the BBC, reporting on “Irreversible Change to Sea Life from CO2, compiled by twenty-two experts in the journal Sciencehttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-3336902

Coral reefs, polar bears, many fish–all gone by century end as oceans continue to heat up, lose oxygen, and become more acidic, consequent with our embrace of CO2 energy sources.

And we’ll not be spared either, as the ocean out of which all life came and upon which it substantially depends, not only overwhelms our coast lines, but our ecosystems as well.

This is the true cost of our delay and our neglect, unacknowledged by the Court as in the  public’s greater interest and for the well-being of Mother Earth.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEE Alert

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Recently I posted about the plight of butterflies, especially that aerial tiger, the monarch butterfly. I mentioned that I’m trying to certify our backyard as a way station. But while I’m at it, bees also play a vital role in planning a pollinator garden.

You may be aware that bees have been disappearing over the last several decades. And we haven’t known why–that is, until now.

But let’s go back to 1958, when marine biologist Rachel Carson received a copy of a letter her friend, Olga Huckens, had sent to the Boston Herald, describing the aftermath of mosquito spraying in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the previous summer: the wipeout of songbirds, bees and other helpful insects.  Ironically, the mosquitos returned in full force. Olga asked Rachel if she knew anybody in Washington, DC, with influence who could halt the spraying.

Out of this came Silent Spring, perhaps the greatest American nature classic since Thoreau’s Walden. It would catch the eye of the youthful president, John Kennedy, who would meet Rachel Carson with his team of advisors. Ultimately, her book  would lead to the banning of DDT.

Unfortunately, other countries didn’t join the ban and its use continues abroad. But now there are new, perhaps even more devastating pesticides at work called neonics, sprayed on hundreds of crops you and I eat. Seeds get coated with these pesticides, infesting both soil and pollen, killing off bees, butterflies, and other insect friends.

The good news is that in 2013, the European Union enforced its newly imposed two year ban on some of the leading neontics.

The bad news is that in America, the EPA has been dragging its feet, despite President Obama’s directive to prioritize its review of neonics.

Let me expand on the fallout of neonics, since they threaten not only our insect friends, but you and me.

When you resort to neonics, not only do you kill off bees, for example, but you impair their immune system, making them vulnerable to disease.

But it doesn’t stop there. Neonics linger in the soil, water and plants for many years. As such, they threaten whole ecological systems that include earthworms, amphibians (under severe threat), and birds.

Neonics, according to the European Food Safery Authority, “may affect the developing nervous system” of children.

What may surprise you is that you may be harboring neonics in your own yard when you purchase plants at box stores like Lowes and Home Depot, According to a study launched by Friends of the Earth, on whom I’ve drawn for some of my information, “many of the so-called ‘bee friendly’ plants we grow in our gardens have been pre-treated with bee-toxic neonics at doses up to 220 times higher than those used on farms.”

Unfortunately, we’re facing an uphill fight, with giant petrochemical and seed corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer devoting huge sums to divert attention and pedal influence.

The EPA, for example, recently gave the green light to Bayer, based on a study primarily funded by the corporation!

I haven’t even talked about the exponential use of GMO’s used massively in soy and corn production with their built-in resistance to powerful herbicides, thus allowing for their use.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, but let me end with some sobering facts regard lhoney bees:

Pollinators are essential for our crops.  Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are the grand masters, one hive of 50,000 bees capable of cross-pollinating twenty-five million flowers in a single day! No other insect comes close.

Now think about what you maybe had for breakfast: cereal, fruit juice, toast? Maybe you had almonds or berries topping your granola. Hey, honey bees made that possible.

For supper, cukes, zukes, squash?

Or how about that cream in your coffee from clover-foraging cows?

Or maybe your beef?

Bees helped put these foods on your table!

In nature at large, some 250,000 known plant species exist. Of these, three quarters rely on pollinators to reproduce.

Bottom line is that more than 100 crops comprising 90% of our global food supply rely on bees for pollination.

You get where I’m going with this. No bees, no food, unless you like eating bark.

Now I hate to tell you this, but our bee population has declined as much as 70% just in the last several decades.   Given the stress imposed on bee colonies by neonics and GMO’s, we may have reached the tipping point.

While other factors weigh in like electromagnetic radiation–think cell phones—and climate change that encourages pathogens, organic bee colonies aren’t experiencing these huge losses in bees or collapsing colonies. In short, pesticides appear to be the villains.

Rachel Carson not only warned us 45 years ago of a world in which there would be no birds to serenade spring, but of a world in which “there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.”

What can you do?

Beautify your landscape with bee friendly indigenous, organic plants using organic starts or untreated seeds.

Shun products with neonicotinoids. Read labels carefully.

At your grocery and garden centers, opt for organics plants and produce.

Together, each of us doing what we can, we may be able to avert beemeggedon and a fruitless fall.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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