Margaret Renkl | What You May Not Know About Those April Flowers – The New York Times

A Contributing Opinion Writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — My favorite spring flower blooms along the leafless branches of the lowly serviceberry, a small tree with varieties native to every state except Hawaii. In the old days, the serviceberry’s simple, five-petaled blossoms heralded springtime itself.

Appalachian tradition holds that the tree got its name because it bloomed just as snow melted on winding roads, just as mountain passes cleared. Serviceberry flowers meant that circuit-riding preachers would be along soon to perform the weddings and funeral services winter had long delayed.

As with all beloved wild plants, these harbingers of spring have many common names. What we call a serviceberry here in Tennessee is what people in other regions call by names like shadbush, sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum and chuckley pear, just to name a few. By whatever name they are locally called, the flowers were a welcome sight for the generations who came before us. Winter was over at last. Bright new life could begin.

Serviceberries are not much of a welcome sight anymore. So thoroughly have they been displaced from our cultivated landscapes, and for so many generations, that most Americans are unlikely to recognize this very American tree. For us, springtime means flowers that evolved for ecosystems in Europe and Asia, not for American yards.”

“. . .  Wild creatures need wild plants to survive, but drive down any lane in any suburban neighborhood — or any landscaped city street — and what you are apt to see is a gorgeous, blooming wasteland where the flowers feed nobody at all.

Worse, such plants often go hand-in-garden-glove with an entire ethos of yard maintenance that relies on poison. Between the herbicides designed to kill weeds (including early-blooming wildflowers) and the insecticides designed to kill anything that crawls (including native pollinators), the typical suburban yard is actually worse than a wasteland. It’s a death trap.

And not just for native plants and animals. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters that some researchers say can have a devastating effect on human health, and may be linked to A.D.H.D., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, infertility, cancers, just for starters.

As if that’s not enough, some of the exotic plants we’ve introduced into our formerly functioning ecosystems actually do more than thrive in our built landscapes. Some of them are so well adapted to their unnatural homes that they crowd out the plants that belong. In the American South, where our climate is so perfectly suited to plants from Asia, there is an easy way to know whether many plants are native or exotic: Drive past a forest or wooded city park in the very earliest days of springtime. Any tree or shrub that is greening up or blooming then almost certainly doesn’t belong. In March, the woods here are filled with blooming — and highly invasive — Bradford pear trees, while the buds on the serviceberries are still tightly furled.”

Maggots in Your Compost? Why It’s Actually a Good Thing – Public Goods Blog

Do you suddenly see tiny flies and worms all over your compost?

grass, dirt, compost, rocks

Yes, those are maggots, but don’t freak out! Typically these wiggly creatures usually cause us to shriek or turn away in disgust. But here’s why it can be a good thing to find maggots in compost — and how to get rid of them if you decide they’re not.

Put simply, maggots are able to break down food waste in a compost pile, making it decompose even faster. Despite the fact that you are dealing with garbage and creepy crawlers, there’s still a certain beauty to composting.

Let’s explore why legless larvae tend to show up in your compost bin, and why you might want to overcome your fears and keep them around.

Source: Maggots in Your Compost? Why It’s Actually a Good Thing – Public Goods Blog

Opinion | America’s Killer Lawns – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — One day last fall, deep in the middle of a devastating drought, I was walking the dog when a van bearing the logo of a mosquito-control company blew past me and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour.

The man who emerged from the truck donned a massive backpack carrying a tank full of insecticide and proceeded to spray every bush and plant in the yard. Then he got in his truck, drove two doors down, and sprayed that yard, too, before continuing his route all around the block.

Here’s the most heartbreaking thing about the whole episode: He was spraying for mosquitoes that didn’t even exist: Last year’s extreme drought ended mosquito-breeding season long before the first freeze. Nevertheless, the mosquito vans arrived every three weeks, right on schedule, drenching the yards with poison for no reason but the schedule itself.

And spraying for mosquitoes isn’t the half of it, as any walk through the lawn-care department of a big-box store will attest. People want the outdoors to work like an extension of their homes — fashionable, tidy, predictable. Above all, comfortable. So weedy yards filled with tiny wildflowers get bulldozed end to end and replaced with sod cared for by homeowners spraying from a bottle marked “backyard bug control” or by lawn services that leave behind tiny signs warning, “Lawn care application; keep off the grass.” “

“No Mow May” Campaign Asks Us to Leave the Lawn Alone Until June to Help Save Bees – ReturnToNow.Net

Not mowing in May results in more flowers and nectar all summer long for struggling pollinators. Wildlife organization urges us to leave lawnmowers locked up until June.

April showers bring May flowers, and if you like food, you should leave those flowers alone.

Not mowing in May results in a greater diversity and number of flowers throughout the summer, a British wildlife organization called Plantlife claims.

The organization conducted an experiment in last year in which hundreds of homeowners agreed not to mow their lawns until June. Participants’ lawns produced a much wider variety of flower species and enough nectar to feed 10 times as many bees as normal lawns.

The longer your grass grows, the greater the diversity of flower species you get, Plantlife found.

Because of this, the organization recommends mowing only once a month at most all summer.

If you can’t wait that long – maybe you want a place to tan or for the kids to play – mow in sections or chunks. Make a cool pattern if you wish. Plantlife suggests a mohawk! Just leave plenty of long patches for the pollinators.”

Source: “No Mow May” Campaign Asks Us to Leave the Lawn Alone Until June to Help Save Bees

Clean Energy Is Surging- but Not Fast Enough to Solve Global Warming – By Brad Plumer – The New York Times

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By Brad Plumer
Nov. 12, 2018

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WASHINGTON — Over the next two decades, the world’s energy system will undergo a huge transformation. Wind and solar power are poised to become dominant sources of electricity. China’s once-relentless appetite for coal is set to wane. The amount of oil we use to fuel our cars could peak and decline.

But there’s a catch: The global march toward clean energy still isn’t happening fast enough to avoid dangerous global warming, at least not unless governments put forceful new policy measures in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

That’s the conclusion of the International Energy Agency, which on Monday published its annual World Energy Outlook, a 661-page report that forecasts global energy trends to 2040. These projections are especially difficult right now because the world’s energy markets, which usually evolve gradually, are going through a major upheaval.

via Clean Energy Is Surging, but Not Fast Enough to Solve Global Warming – The New York Times

Hydrogen – IEA

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More efforts needed
The global fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) car stock reached 8 000 units in 2017, with the United States and Japan accounting for nearly 90% of the global fleet. Focus on hydrogen is increasing from a variety of countries and companies, with the IEA also strengthening its own analytical capability.

Hydrogen’s potential role in the energy system
Hydrogen can link different energy sectors and energy transmission and distribution networks, and thus increase the operational flexibility of future low-carbon energy systems.

via Hydrogen

Opinion | The Future of Electric Cars Is Brighter With Elon Musk in It – By John Paul MacDuffie – NYT

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By John Paul MacDuffie
Mr. MacDuffie is director of the Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Oct. 1, 2018

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Elon Musk’s decision to settle fraud charges against him — by paying a $20 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission and agreeing to step down as the chairman of Tesla, the company he co-founded — is the best possible outcome for both investors in Tesla and anyone who cares about the future of electric vehicles.

By giving up the chairmanship for three years, Mr. Musk will have the chance to focus on some of the huge tasks still ahead for the company, particularly raising the financing to meet the company’s looming debts. And the governance measures imposed by the S.E.C. — for new board members, better review of communications and a permanent committee of independent board members to monitor disclosures and conflicts of interest — are exactly what the company needs to prevent another social media-fueled debacle.

His leadership matters well beyond Silicon Valley. Tesla, under Mr. Musk, has been the single most significant force driving the global automotive industry — and the consumers who purchase cars — to take the prospect of a fully electric vehicle future seriously. No other electric vehicle initiative — from Nissan’s Leaf and GM’s Chevrolet Volt and Bolt to the new wave of luxury electric cars being rolled out by German automakers and new companies funded by Chinese billionaires — has achieved the impact on the public’s imagination, brand loyalty or sales success of Tesla. Those initiatives might not even have occurred without the prod of Tesla’s example.

via Opinion | The Future of Electric Cars Is Brighter With Elon Musk in It – The New York Times

How U.S. Tariffs Will Hurt America’s Solar Industry – By VARUN SIVARAM – NYT

“President Trump’s decision to impose sweeping tariffs on imports of solar panels and components is the opening salvo of his America First campaign to protect domestic manufacturers from Chinese competition. The stakes are high: Solar is the world’s fastest-growing energy industry, attracting over $160 billion in investment in 2017.

Yet these tariffs will do little to make American manufacturers competitive with dominant Chinese ones. Instead, they might actually discourage domestic investments in innovation, crucial to an American solar manufacturing revival. On top of this, the tariffs will cause collateral damage by slowing down the installation of solar panels in the United States, destroying more jobs than they create, and provoking trade disputes and retaliation.”

via How U.S. Tariffs Will Hurt America’s Solar Industry – The New York Times

Trump’s Solar Tariffs Are Clouding the Industry’s Future – The New York Times

“ZEBULON, N.C. — At this century-old farm just outside Durham, symmetrical rows of shining blue solar panels have replaced the soybeans and tobacco that Tommy Vinson and his family used to grow here. It is one of many solar farms that have sprung up around North Carolina, transforming a state long battered by global offshoring into the second-largest generator of solar electricity after California.

“It’s still reaping a very good harvest,” said April Vinson, who is married to Tommy. “It’s just not a traditional kind of farm.”

Across North Carolina, textile factories and tobacco farms have disappeared, giving way to fields of solar panels.”

via Trump’s Solar Tariffs Are Clouding the Industry’s Future – The New York Times