Margaret Renkl | Wondering How to Help Stop Climate Change? Do Less. – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — When I mention the new meadow I am cultivating where our front yard used to be, my adult children roll their eyes. The word “meadow” conjures the mental image of a sunny field of blooming wildflowers, but this one is a work in progress. A dream more than an actuality.

The new meadow where our front yard used to be is mainly white clover, chickweed and grass gone to seed, though there are also patches of low-growing violets, which I love, and creeping Charlie, which I do not. (An invasive species, creeping Charlie is the bane of the natural yard.) But already there are also some lovely clumps of fleabane — small daisylike flowers on knee-high stems — that look very much like the romantic fields brought to mind by the word “meadow.” Soon there will be other flowers, too. Perhaps not this year but certainly the next, and there will be even more the year after that.

This is not a statement of faith but of fact. Every year we let more patches of our yard go wild, and every year more flowers appear in the uncut areas. First came pokeweed and butterweed in the backyard, then white snakeroot and Carolina elephant’s foot in the side yard. Last year we had frost asters for the first time.

May is Garden for Wildlife Month, according to the National Wildlife Federation, but gardening doesn’t necessarily mean planting. It can also mean giving the volunteer flowers a permanent home. Because where there are wildflowers, there will be insects. And where there are insects, there will be birds and bats and tree frogs and many other creatures who rely on the protein insects provide.”

“. . . For years, we mowed it all into a conventional yard after spring’s first wild profusion of flowers was over. Then I read Douglas W. Tallamy’s 2007 book “Bringing Nature Home” and learned how much more we could be doing beyond tolerating moles and keeping the yard poison-free. We started planting native trees, flowers and shrubs, too, understanding that native wildlife needs native plants to eat. We started letting leaves and deadwood lie to feed and shelter insects. And we let the unused parts of the yard grow up.”

Akiko Awasaki | A Nasal Vaccine for Covid Could Prevent Infections – The New York Times

“. . . . . The Covid-19 vaccines authorized for use today were developed at unprecedented speed and surpassed expectations in how well they worked. The billions of people who are protected by them have avoided severe symptoms, hospitalization and deaths. These vaccines are a scientific success beyond measure.

And yet they could be even better.

The enemy has evolved, and the world needs next-generation vaccines to respond. This includes vaccines that prevent coronavirus infections altogether.

When the early mRNA vaccines were first authorized in December 2020, the world was dealing with a different kind of pandemic. The dominant strain circulating had a relatively low capacity to spread between people. At that time, not only did the mRNA vaccines provide strong protection against severe disease and death, but they were also highly protective against infections and the virus’s spread as well.

But SARS-CoV-2 continued mutating, and in doing so it has given rise to variants that are more contagious and highly capable at skirting around protective antibodies, causing widespread infections, despite ever growing levels of immunity from vaccines and prior infections. Thankfully, after the booster shot, the mRNA vaccines are still very effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths, including against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

So, one may ask, if we can eliminate much of the severe disease and fatality risk through a combination of existing vaccines and treatments, why should we worry about infections?

Even mild infections can develop into long Covid, with people suffering long-lasting, debilitating symptoms. Data also suggests that groups like older adults who have been vaccinated but haven’t received their boosters may continue to be at a higher risk for the worst outcomes of Covid-19. Regular infections can pose substantial disruptions to people’s lives, affecting their ability to work and keep their children in school. There’s also no guarantee that people infected with Omicron will remain protected against infections with future variants.”

Here Are the Wildfire Risks to Homes Across the Lower 48 States – The New York Times

“DAMMERON VALLEY, Utah — The nation’s wildfire risk is widespread, severe and accelerating quickly, according to new data that, for the first time, calculates the risk facing every property in the contiguous United States.

The data, released Monday by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group in New York, comes as rising housing prices in cities and suburbs push Americans deeper into fire-prone areas, with little idea about the specific risk in their new locale.

That’s because the federal government maps flood risk at the property level but doesn’t do the same for wildfires, which are growing more frequent and severe because of climate change.

“For too long, we have let people live in communities, and even attracted them to join a community, while keeping them in a state of ignorance about the risk that they’re under,” said Roy Wright, a former head of risk mitigation at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Wright said he hoped the new data would “draw attention to the risk and drive people to take action.” “

The Little Red Boxes Making a Mockery of Campaign Finance Laws – The New York Times

By Shane GoldmacherMay 16, 2022, 3:00 a.m. ETFacing a threat from his left flank, Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon wanted to send an urgent message to allies ahead of his upcoming primary: It was time to go on the attack.The challenge: Campaign finance rules bar candidates from directly coordinating with the very outside groups that Mr. Schrader, a top moderate in Congress, needed to alert. So instead, he used a little red box.On April 29, Mr. Schrader issued a not-quite-private directive inside a red-bordered box on an obscure corner of his website, sketching out a three-pronged takedown of what he called his “toxic” challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner — helpfully including a link to a two-page, opposition-research document about her tenure as a city manager.

Farhad Manjoo | BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street Control a Piece of Nearly Everything – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“. . . .  But the goal of staying out of politics in 2022 is about as realistic as staying dry in a hurricane. Last year, for example, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street supported a successful effort to shake up the board of Exxon Mobil by installing new members who promised to take climate change more seriously. Was that because of excessive wokeness, as Ramaswamy says, or because Exxon Mobil had been underperforming its peers for several years, and it was woefully ill prepared for the transition to renewable energy that has been transforming energy markets? The move seems well within what the investment firms say is their main goal, looking out for the long-term interest of shareholders. And what if the firms hadn’t backed the climate initiative — wouldn’t that have been construed as a political decision by the activists who have called on shareholders to push corporations to address the climate? (In any case, BlackRock announced this week that it would most likely vote for fewer climate-related shareholder proposals in 2022 than it did in 2021.)

In late 2018, a few months before his death, John C. Bogle, the visionary founder of Vanguard who developed the first index fund for individual investorspublished an extraordinary article in The Wall Street Journal assessing the impact of his life’s work. The index fund had revolutionized Wall Street — but what happens, he wondered, “if it becomes too successful for its own good?”

Bogle pointed out that asset management is a business of scale — the more money that BlackRock or Vanguard or State Street manages, the more it can lower its fees for investors. This makes it difficult for new companies to enter the business, meaning that the Big Three’s hold on the market seems likely to persist. “I do not believe that such concentration would serve the national interest,” Bogle wrote.

Bogle outlined several ideas for limiting their power, but he pointed out problems with a number of them. For example, regulators could prohibit index funds from holding large positions in more than one company in a given industry. But how then would they offer an index fund that invested in all companies in the S&P 500, one of the most popular kinds of funds?

Coates, of Harvard, argues that policymakers will have to move carefully to manage the dangers of concentration without limiting the benefits to investors of these firms’ low-cost funds. “No doubt getting the balance right will require judgment and experimentation,” he wrote.”

Did Warming Play a Role in Deadly South African Floods? Yes, a Study Says. – The New York Times

“The heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in South Africa in mid-April were made twice as likely to occur by climate change, scientists said Friday.

An analysis of the flooding, which killed more than 400 people in Durban and surrounding areas in the eastern part of the country, found that the intense two-day storm that caused it had a 1-in-20 chance of occurring in any given year. If the world had not warmed as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the study found, the chances would have been half that, 1 in 40.

The study, by a loose-knit group of climate scientists, meteorologists and disaster experts called World Weather Attribution, is the latest in a string of analyses showing that the damaging effects of global warming, once considered a future problem, have already arrived. And extreme events like this one are expected to increase as warming continues.

“We need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a new reality where floods and heat waves are more intense and damaging,” one of the study’s authors, Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, said in a statement issued by World Weather Attribution.

The flooding and related mudslides caused more than $1.5 billion in damage and were “the biggest tragedy that we have ever seen,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the time. Bridges and roads were destroyed and thousands of homes, many of them in makeshift settlements, were swept away or damaged.

The disaster led to sharp criticism of the government for not fulfilling pledges to improve infrastructure to handle heavy downpours and to tackle a longstanding housing crisis.

Image

Shipping containers that were swept up by floodwaters in Durban, a major port on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.
Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

World Weather Attribution conducts its analyses within days or weeks of an event, while it is still fresh in the public’s mind. This one looked at the two-day storm that hit eastern South Africa beginning on April 11 and produced rainfall totals of nearly 14 inches in some areas, half or more of the area’s annual total. The work has yet to be peer-reviewed or published, but it uses methods that have been reviewed previously.

This includes using observational data and two sets of computer simulations, one that models the world as it is, about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) warmer than it was before widespread emissions began in the late 19th century, and a hypothetical world in which global warming never happened.

The finding that the likelihood of such an extreme rain event has increased with global warming is consistent with many other studies of individual events and broader trends. A major reason for the increase is that as the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture.”

Nigel Gould-Davies | Russia Cannot Be Allowed to Say It Has Won This War – The New York Times

Mr. Gould-Davies is the senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine 10 weeks ago, Western governments have tirelessly condemned this egregious act and declared their support for Ukraine. But as united as they have been in their outrage, they have been vague about their goals.

This posture has begun to change. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that America wanted “to see Russia weakened” so that it could not threaten its neighbors again. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss of Britain said that her country would seek “to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, declared that “we want Ukraine to win this war.”

But what the West is unclear about is how it wants the war to end. While it has chosen the means to respond to Russia’s aggression — principally, military aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia — it has not defined the ends these methods will serve. Instead, Western policy has largely been focused on outcomes it wants to avoid rather than achieve. The first is a Ukrainian defeat that allows Russia to install a puppet regime in Kyiv. The second is Russia’s resort to weapons of mass destruction or expansion of the war beyond Ukraine.”

David Lindsay: Excellent piece. Here is a comment I hope is true.

Bruce Rozenblit
Kansas City, MO8h ago

The atrocities committed by Russia have united the free world. This will not stand. Russia will be pushed out of Ukraine. The West will no longer trade with Russia so long as Putin or anything like him remains in power. That’s it. Putin thought that the West’s dependence on Russian resources would keep us from ourtracising his country from the global economy. He was wrong. Necessity is the mother of invention. The West will now develop new sources of energy, especially non-fossil sources, as it rapidly weans itself off of Russian oil and gas. Actually, the world is awash in natural gas. The problem is getting it from here to there but that can also be accomplished. Putin greatly underestimated how Western tribalism plays into this conflict. Ukraine is not Syria or Bosnia. These people are White, Slavic and Christian. They are our fellow tribe members. Attacking them is personal, familial. Putin has awakened the sleeping tiger. Putin is girding for a protracted conflict. So can we. The naval blockade in the Black Sea will be broken. Those sea lanes will be opened up. The next phase of escalation will be naval. Russia cannot afford this war. It does not have the financial resources to wage it. A protracted conflict will bankrupt it, literally. Russia has now put itself on a path to its demise. When this is over, Russia will be forced to change, or collapse from within.

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Frank Bruni | The Power of Lies in an Age of Political Fiction – The New York Times

“Imelda Marcos’s sandals lived better than I did.

I just discovered that. I was reacquainting myself with that whole sordid history — with the unfathomable extravagance that she and her dictator husband, Ferdinand, indulged in before they were run out of the Philippines in 1986 — and found an article on Medium that said that her hundreds upon hundreds of shoes occupied a closet of 1,500 square feet. That’s larger than the Manhattan apartment that I called home until last July. I should have been an espadrille.

She personified greed. Ferdinand, who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades, epitomized authoritarianism and kleptocracy. The couple pilfered an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion from the country. And now their son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., better known as Bongbong, is poised to become its next president. In the election in the Philippines on Monday, he won in a landslide.

He and his supporters made that happen not by renouncing his parents’ legacy. They instead embraced it — or, rather, reimagined the Marcoses’ reign as some misunderstood and underappreciated Golden Age. They used social media to disseminate and amplify that gaudy lie. And the strategy worked.”

“. . . . .On Sunday morning I had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The previous afternoon, I dropped by the stadium in which the event would take place so I could size up the lectern and the teleprompters. Given my compromised eyesight, I wanted to be sure that I could see the scrolling text and that the lectern’s surface was big enough to hold a printed copy of the speech, just in case.

It was a quick chore, tucked into a chaotic day, and I approached it in a businesslike fashion. But as I stood on the stage, gazing out at the seats and at various insignia evocative of my college years, I had to set my jaw and close my eyes to hold back tears. I was suddenly a dam on the verge of breaking. And I indeed broke, 10 minutes later, back in my car. That’s also when I understood the surge of emotion.

I was something of a mess in college. Not on the outside, and not by the usual yardsticks, which are crude ones: I got excellent grades. I wrote frequently for Carolina’s principal student newspaper and was one of its top editors for a while. I landed good summer internships. I was on a path.

But I was often terrified that it would lead nowhere. Or, rather, that I’d stumble badly before I got much further along. My insides were always roiling, and my brain was frequently on fire with doubts about my ability, worries about my stability and a puerile anger about the lack of any assurances in this life. How was I supposed to stay calm in the face of so much uncertainty? I didn’t stride, lope or sprint into my future. I tiptoed toward it, not trusting it for a second.

All of that came back to me in the empty stadium. I remembered it keenly. And when I put that state of mind next to where I was standing, and why I was standing there, and what that meant about how the years had in fact played out — well, I was overwhelmed. I felt foolish for having been such a pessimist. I felt ashamed about the narcissistic component of my dark self-obsession at the time.

But my tears, I soon realized, reflected something else: a mixture of profound gratitude and enormous relief. My nerve-frazzling future was now, three and a half decades later, my richly satisfying past. While there’d been rough patches in my journey from there to here, they’d proved survivable, and the disappointments had paled beside the delights. While I still wasn’t striding — that’s just not in my nature — I also wasn’t tiptoeing, nor was I trembling.

I didn’t share that, not in so many words, with the students I addressed on Sunday. I had different remarks prepared. (If you’re interested, you can read them here, on my website.) But to all the young people who are just finishing one chapter and beginning the next one, I would say:

The unpredictability of what happens next is no curse or taunt. It’s just life, ever maddening, ever mysterious. If you’re frightened, you’re not alone, and a shortfall of confidence is no harbinger of doom. Shoulders back. Chin forward.

You’ll be tripped up by unforeseen obstacles and setbacks. But you’ll also trip across unanticipated bounty and blessings. You’ll quite possibly find yourself someday in a place and role you never expected. You’ll be moved by that.

And you’ll realize that the journey to that point was all the more interesting for its refusal to be scripted, and for its absence of any firm guarantees.”

Barbara McQuade | Five Key Midterms Races to Pay Attention To – The New York Times

Ms. McQuade, who teaches law at the University of Michigan, oversaw voting rights suits as U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District.

“The fate of our democracy doesn’t hinge on the battle for the House or the fight for control of the Senate, but on state elections for a once sleepy office: secretaries of state.

No elected officials will be more pivotal to protecting democracy — or subverting it — than secretaries of state. While their responsibilities vary from state to state, most oversee elections, a role in which they wield a tremendous amount of power. Secretaries of state own the bully pulpit on voting, and they control the machinery of elections.

They also have a platform to spread disinformation, such as false claims that voting by mail is not secure. A Republican secretary of state could reduce the number of ballot boxes or polling places in Democratic areas and limit staffing to create long lines that dissuade potential voters. They can also refuse to certify the results in particular counties or even the entire state. In a close presidential race, if even one secretary of state in a swing state were to put his thumb on the scale, we could see an election that really is stolen.

This has happened before. In 2000, Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state, halted the recount process and certified George W. Bush, for whom she served as a campaign chairwoman, as the winner of Florida’s electoral votes. But our current political moment is even more fraught, as Donald Trump casts doubt on the last election, whipping his supporters into frenzy while Republican field generals quietly maneuver conservative hard-liners into positions of power.”

GM’s Mary Barra Has a Plan to Win the Electric Vehicle Race – The New York Times

“WARREN, Mich. — General Motors made a splash last year when it announced a bold plan to ramp up sales of electric vehicles and said it would stop making gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

But more than a year later, some other automakers appear better positioned to lead the industry’s transition to E.V.s. Tesla had global sales of more than 310,000 electric cars in the first quarter of this year, while G.M. is far behind unless it counts E.V.s made by its Chinese joint ventures. It sold fewer than 500 E.V.s in the United States in the quarter. Ford Motor has just started production of an electric F-150 pickup truck and has taken customer reservations for more than 200,000 of them.

Yet, G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, is unconcerned. In her view, the G.M. strategy should enable the company to make more affordable E.V.s than most competitors, and eventually to win over many of the tens of millions of mainstream car buyers who are not yet shopping for electric vehicles.

Last year E.V.s accounted for about 3 percent of the 15 million cars and trucks sold in the United States. As that percentage grows, G.M. expects this cost advantage to allow it to overtake most of its rivals within a few years and to challenge Tesla for the lead in E.V. sales before the end of the decade.”