Opinion | The Parable of the Sick Pig and the Lonely Rooster – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

“NASHVILLE — John Chester’s lovely new documentary film, “The Biggest Little Farm,” opens with a tragedy in the making: Wildfires are moving toward the farm from three different directions. A horse whinnies in alarm as workers rush to shepherd a storybook cast of farm animals — chickens, pigs, sheep, cows — toward what they hope will be safer pastures. Sirens wail in the distance. Smoke and ash fill the air.

It’s a sobering opening for a feel-good film about a young California couple who leave their day jobs to become organic farmers. “Everyone told us this idea was crazy, that attempting to farm in harmony with nature would be reckless, if not impossible,” Mr. Chester says in a voice-over. But it wasn’t impossible: After the opening sequence, the film backtracks to tell the story of how Mr. Chester, a documentary filmmaker, and Molly Chester, a personal chef, managed to turn 200 acres of worn-out, arid land 40 miles north of Los Angeles into an agricultural paradise called Apricot Lane Farms.

As “The Biggest Little Farm” unfolds, the Chesters hire Alan York, an expert in biodynamic farming practices, to teach them traditional methods that will restore their land to true fertility, no chemicals required. Cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil and sequester rainwater, preventing runoff and holding the topsoil in place. Sheep graze among the cover crops, leaving behind fertilizer for the soil. A giant worm-composting facility produces more fertilizer for the gardens and orchards. It’s breathtaking, all the ways the Chesters have found to ensure that every animal on the farm contributes to the health of the crops, and to ensure that the crops can sustain the farm animals while still producing enough fruits and vegetables to sell at market. And all of it works in concert with the wildlife that soon returns to the newly restored ecosystem.

I won’t give away the film’s genuine drama by revealing too many details, but it’s not a spoiler to point out that there’s a reason industrial farms typically use enormous amounts of chemicals: Attempting to farm in harmony with nature means that nature will sometimes get the upper hand, at least at first. “I guess I don’t know what Alan’s idea of a ‘perfect harmony’ is even supposed to look like,” Mr. Chester laments midway through the film. “Because every step we take to improve our land seems to just create the perfect habitat for the next pest.”

Opinion | The Great Recycling Con – The New York Times

“In the Video Op-Ed above, we debunk a recycling myth that has lulled us into guilt-free consumption for decades.

This holiday season, the United States Postal Service expects to ship almost one billion packages — cardboard boxes full of electronics and fabric and plastic galore. And the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generate 25 percent more waste in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than during the rest of the year, an additional one million tons per week.

But hey, most of it is recyclable, right?

Well, not really.”

Editorial | The World Solved the Ozone Problem. It Can Solve Climate Change. – The New York Times

By 

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

“Nearly 50 years ago, three chemists named Mario Molina, Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen found evidence that chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals known as CFCs and released from aerosol sprays, were weakening the ozone layer that functions as the earth’s natural sunscreen protecting humans, animals and plants from harmful radiation.

The discovery made big news and rattled the public. Aerosol sales dropped dramatically, and, despite pushback from the chemical companies that made CFCs, Congress in 1977 added protecting the ozone layer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s duties under the Clean Air Act. Not long afterward, the agency determined that the compounds, then widely used in refrigerators, air-conditioners and some industrial processes, posed an even graver threat to the atmosphere than first thought. Soon after, pressure began to build for a phaseout of CFCs in the United States as well as for an international treaty to find alternatives.

The case for global action became ever more urgent in 1985 when a British team discovered a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, followed by confirmation by NASA scientists of a connection between the hole and CFCs. With the rest of the world and even industry on board, the result was the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a landmark agreement banning chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting chemicals. End of story? Not quite. As it happened, the ozone-friendly replacements for the CFCs, known as hydrofluorocarbons, turned out to be distinctly unfriendly to the climate. So in 2016, the Montreal signatories reconvened in Kigali, Rwanda, and agreed to amend the original protocol to phase out HFCs and find substitutes more friendly to the atmosphere.

The bottom line is that the world, confronted with two dire threats to the earth’s fragile atmosphere, found two planetary responses with positive outcomes. The ozone layer is healing. That’s worth remembering as we struggle, often despairingly, to find common ground in the battle against climate change. Compared with the manifold complexities of global warming, dealing with ozone depletion was, in fact, relatively simple. But the key point is that it happened, and it’s worth asking why the world has not responded with similar resolve in dealing with the main global warming gases like carbon dioxide, about which we have known a lot for a long time.”

Opinion | Finland Is a Capitalist Paradise – The New York Times

“We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism. The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.”

Opinion | My Grandmother’s Favorite Scammer – By Frankie Huang – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Huang is a writer and illustrator.

“BEIJING — One day last winter my mother sent me an odd message over WeChat. “Has Laolao said anything strange to you today?” she asked.

I immediately sensed that something was amiss. My mother is a typical Chinese parent. She always feels obliged to withhold bad news from me until she has no other choice. Why was she worried about my grandmother?

I thought back to my most recent visit to Laolao’s shabby apartment here. She had just turned 88, and other than the usual age-related forgetfulness and grumbling about kids these days, she was her usual self.

My mother’s next message unnerved me even more. “Was she of sound mind?”

“You have to tell me what’s going on,” I messaged back.

I fought the urge to berate her and began to scour the internet for information on bank scams that involved sworn secrecy. My heart sank when results filled my screen, describing our situation exactly. I was in an airport, on a business trip, so I messaged Laolao’s assistant at her office and told her to freeze all my grandmother’s bank accounts. But it turned out the bank couldn’t do anything unless Laolao herself requested it.”

Opinion | Jane Fonda: We Have to Live Like We’re in a Climate Emergency. Because We Are. – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Fonda is an actor and activist.

Credit…Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

 

“It should come as no surprise that I believe in the power of protest. That’s why I moved to Washington to start what I call Fire Drill Fridays, joining the millions of young people around the world who turned out in the fall for protests to demand that our leaders act to save their futures.

We must all face the harsh reality that our planet is rapidly approaching an irreversible tipping point, beyond which the unraveling of our ecosystems will be beyond our control. Scientists have made clear that we now have less than 11 years to reduce fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions roughly by half, and 20 years after that to cut them to net zero, to stabilize the rise in temperatures by the end of the century and meet the goal of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Last summer — as the wildfires wreaked havoc on my home state, California, and young people like Greta Thunberg so powerfully reminded us that we are the last generation that can prevent an unthinkable global catastrophe — I decided it was time for me to do more.

There are many things we can all do. We can join protests, engage in civil disobedience and risk arrest, but we must also see this as the uniquely critical political moment it is.

Despite widespread agreement among the world’s scientists that we are living through a climate emergency requiring profound economic and social change, the United States government is failing to act. It’s not that the American public doesn’t want an end to wars over oil, or a stable climate, clean oceans, safe and abundant water and healthy air.

No. Let’s be clear: Over decades the fossil fuel industry has hijacked our political system, and we have failed to elect enough leaders who are not beholden to the industry’s interests. The Center for Responsive Politics has documented that the oil and gas industry alone has spent some $218 million on lobbying in 2018 and 2019. In addition, oil and gas interests have contributed about $27 million to Senate and House candidates and party committees in the 2020 election cycle. Fossil fuel interests are subverting our democracy.

In just the past year, the United States has experienced deadly wildfires, devastating flooding and the hottest month ever recorded, all driven, at least in part, by climate change. What is President Trump’s response? He’s pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement and rolling back 85 environmental safeguards, including important and consequential climate initiatives. This should not be surprising; he once called climate change a “hoax.” The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is also blocking efforts to deal with the climate crisis.

We have reached a time in this fight when the only way forward is to organize, mobilize and vote politicians who won’t act out of office. We must overcome the power of the fossil fuel industry and elect an environmental champion for president and a congressional leadership ready to move forward aggressively with a Green New Deal to save us and the planet, starting the day they take office.”

Opinion | Why Is Trump a Tariff Man? – by Paul Kruman – The New York Times

“One answer is that Trump has long had a fixation on the idea that tariffs are the answer to America’s problems, and he’s not the kind of man who reconsiders his prejudices in the light of evidence. But there’s also something else: U.S. trade law offers Trump more freedom of action — more ability to do whatever he wants — than any other policy area.

The basic story is that long ago — in fact, in the aftermath of the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 — Congress deliberately limited its own role in trade policy. Instead, it gave the president the power to negotiate trade deals with other countries, which would then face up-or-down votes without amendments.

It was always clear, however, that this system needed some flexibility to respond to events. So the executive branch was given the power to impose temporary tariffs under certain conditions: import surges, threats to national security, unfair practices by foreign governments. The idea was that nonpartisan experts would determine whether and when these conditions existed, and the president would then decide whether to act.

This system worked well for many years. It turned out, however, to be extremely vulnerable to someone like Trump, for whom everything is partisan and expertise is a four-letter word. Trump’s tariff justifications have often been self-evidently absurd — seriously, who imagines that imports of Canadian steel threaten U.S. national security? But there’s no obvious way to stop him from imposing tariffs whenever he feels like it.

And there’s also no obvious way to stop his officials from granting individual businesses tariff exemptions, supposedly based on economic criteria but in fact as a reward for political support. Tariff policy isn’t the only arena in which Trump can practice crony capitalism — federal contracting is looking increasingly scandalous — but tariffs are especially ripe for exploitation.

So that’s why Trump is a Tariff Man: Tariffs let him exercise unconstrained power, rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies. Anyone imagining that he’s going to change his ways and start behaving responsibly is living in a fantasy world.”

Opinion | Against the Myth of ‘No New Border Walls’ – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Cantú is an author and a former Border Patrol agent.

Credit…Michael Benanav for The New York Times

“TUCSON, Arizona — My earliest childhood memories are of the wind sweeping across the deserts of West Texas, over the rolling hills and stone peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where my mother worked as a ranger for the National Park Service. Her duties were not just to protect and preserve places of natural beauty but also to interpret their landscape to visitors through stories — stories she would share with me on a daily basis at home, on hikes, in the car, even weaving them into the songs she sang to me at bedtime.

The Guadalupe Mountains, an hour and a half from the Rio Grande, could be considered part of a vast network of borderland parks and wilderness preserves. Because of their proximity to our evermore militarized border, these areas have become one of our country’s most endangered landscapes. The most immediate threat comes, of course, from President Trump’s fixation on expanding the staggering number of barriers that already reach across more than one-third of our nearly 2,000 miles of border shared with Mexico.

While it may be comforting for many to think that the Trump administration has been entirely ineffective in delivering on his most symbolic and most hateful campaign promises, the truth is far more alarming: As you read these words, towering walls of concrete and steel are being constructed across national monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. In all, more than 130 miles of federally protected lands are under threat.

Those who seek to minimize the new construction insist that new walls are only replacing existing ones — mostly four-foot-high vehicle barriers that do little to alter the movement of wildlife or the natural rhythms of the landscape. The 30-foot walls that are taking their place are easily scalable by humans but completely impenetrable by most wild animals. The new construction also poses grave flooding hazards and requires the draining of precious desert groundwater, threatening to permanently reshape entire ecosystems.”

‘The Amazon Is Completely Lawless’: The Rainforest After Bolsonaro’s First Year – The New York Times

Photographs and Video by 

Written by 

“RIO DE JANEIRO — When the smoke cleared, the Amazon could breathe easy again.

For months, black clouds had hung over the rainforest as work crews burned and chain-sawed through it. Now the rainy season had arrived, offering a respite to the jungle and a clearer view of the damage to the world.

The picture that emerged was anything but reassuring: Brazil’s space agency reported that in one year, more than 3,700 square miles of the Amazon had been razed — a swath of jungle nearly the size of Lebanon torn from the world’s largest rainforest.

It was the highest loss in Brazilian rainforest in a decade, and stark evidence of just how badly the Amazon, an important buffer against global warming, has fared in Brazil’s first year under President Jair Bolsonaro.

He has vowed to open the rainforest to industry and scale back its protections, and his government has followed through, cutting funds and staffing to weaken the enforcement of environmental laws. In the absence of federal agents, waves of loggers, ranchers and miners moved in, emboldened by the president and eager to satisfy global demand.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
In a sane United States, we would act to stop the desecration of the Amazon rain forest, as an important part of our national security. We would talk with allies, and work with them, and if necessary, overthrow the Bolsonaro government, for reckless endagerment of the future of human and non human species.
(David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.)

25 Again? How Exercise May Fight Aging – By Gretchen Reynolds -The New York Times

“Regular exercise throughout adulthood may protect our muscles against age-related loss and damage later, according to an interesting new study of lifelong athletes and their thighs. The study finds that active older men’s muscles resemble, at a cellular level, those of 25-year-olds and weather inflammatory damage much better than the muscles of sedentary older people.

The study also raises some cautionary questions about whether waiting until middle age or later to start exercising might prove to be challenging for the lifelong health of our muscles.

Physical aging is a complicated and enigmatic process, as any of us who are living and experiencing it know. Precipitated by little-understood changes in the workings of our cells and physiological systems, it proceeds in stuttering fits and starts, affecting some people and body parts earlier or more noticeably than others.

Muscles are among the body parts most vulnerable to time. Almost all of us begin losing some muscle mass and strength by early middle age, with the process accelerating as the decades pass. While the full causes for this decline remain unknown, most aging researchers agree that a subtle, age-related rise in inflammation throughout our bodies plays a role.”