Margaret Renkl | Halting Extinction Is an Issue We Actually Agree On – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/11/opinion/extinction-bipartisan-conservation.html

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

“NASHVILLE — If you’re a certain age, you may remember the snail darter, a small fish in the Little Tennessee River that caused an environmental firestorm when it was listed as endangered in 1975. At the time, the Tennessee Valley Authority was already in the midst of building a dam on the Little Tennessee. Snail darters require free-flowing water to reproduce, and the only known habitat for the entire species was about to be dammed.

The ensuing legal battle made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which sided with the fish. But Congress, pressed by Tennessee politicians, responded by making the Tellico Dam project exempt from the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The little fish seemed doomed.

You may be wondering why I would resurrect the story of an ancient battle that ended badly for environmentalists. Why bring up the snail darter’s sad tale, especially now, with 22 species in the U.S. newly listed as extinct and one million others on track for the same grim future worldwide?

Those lost creatures are exactly why.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 garnered the kind of bipartisan Congressional support that we can hardly imagine today. The House voted 355-4 in favor of passage. It was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, a Republican. Since then, it has saved dozens of iconic species like the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon, the Yellowstone grizzly and the American alligator, and it remains extremely popular. Despite near constant challenges from business interests and a great many elected Republicans, at least 80 percent of Americans, including 74 percent of self-identified conservatives, support it.”

Margaret Renkl | When Medical Ethics Collide With Basic Fairness – The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — It’s hard for me to describe the utter rage that filled me when I opened my local newspaper last Tuesday and saw The Tennessean’s lead article: “Vaccinated Lose Access to Treatment,” the headline read. What new through-the-looking-glass madness was afoot in this Covid-beleaguered leadership vacuum?

“The Tennessee state government now recommends nearly all vaccinated residents be denied access to monoclonal antibody treatment in a new effort to preserve a limited supply of antibody drugs for those who remain most vulnerable to the virus, largely by their own choice,” wrote the reporter, Brett Kelman.”

Margaret Renkl | Defending Nature Is a Form of Social Justice – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — Two good things happened here recently that I didn’t see coming. First, our Metro Council passed a bill, which Mayor John Cooper signed, that increases protections for trees on city land. Second, the proposal for an outrageously terrible subdivision in Whites Creek, one of the few remaining rural tracts of Davidson Country, was rejected by the Metro Planning Commission.

Positive as the recent environmental news here may be, small-scale victories like these don’t normally rise to the level of national attention. But as a measure of what is possible, they have given me more hope for the future than I’ve had in a long time.

That’s because these particular environmental wins were not the result of lawsuits or transfers of political power. They were the result of widespread and nonpartisan public outcry. And they tell us of what can happen in any city, anywhere, when people start recognizing trees as a kind of civic infrastructure and the natural world as a public good.”

Margaret Renkl | Republicans Have Gone Too Far in the Region Hit Hardest by Covid – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — In case you’re wondering how things are going here in the Delta Rising region of the United States, I regret to report that things are going badly. Very, very badly.

Our intensive care units are full. Our children are getting sick in record numbers. Nevertheless, a small subset of unmasked, unvaccinated humanity has taken to yelling during school board meetings, and the most extreme protesters have issued threats against nurses and physicians who dared to speak publicly on behalf of such reasonable pandemic mitigation measures as masks and vaccines.

It’s so bad that the Tennessee Medical Association had to issue a statement in support of the exhausted heroes who for the past 18 months have been risking their own lives to care for strangers. “The enemy is the virus, not health care workers,” the statement read.

This is what some of us have become here in the American South: people who need to be reminded that our doctors are not our enemies.”

Margaret Renkl | I Don’t Want to Spend the Rest of My Days Grieving – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — Sometimes I remember how I tried to comfort my children when they encountered a setback or were disappointed that a dream they were nurturing had not yet come true.

“Life’s a long process,” I would say, echoing my father’s reassurances. “There’s still time.”

But that was long ago, when I was still young enough to believe those words of comfort. Now my father is gone, and my mother too, and I know that life is not at all a long process. Life is the glint of light on rushing water, a flash of lightning. Life is a single wink from a single lightning bug.

How brief is the season of “splendour in the grass,” as the poet William Wordsworth put it, and surely summer is the time that brings such lessons closest to home. The dog days of August crisp the spring-green underbrush to crackling tinder. The children trudge back to school under a blistering sun. We wonder: What has become of the languorous summer we longed for back in the sadness of winter? Where did the endless, grass-fragrant days go?”

Margaret Renkl | This ‘Shazam’ for Birds Could Help Save Them – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — I spent my entire childhood playing in the woods and meadows of rural Alabama. The world back then was lush and green: cooled by creeks, carpeted by pine needles, attended by birdsong. In those days there were nearly three billion more birds in North America than there are today, and my young days played out beneath the sound of their music.

The staggering loss of birds — nearly a third of them since 1970 — is due to human behavior: to climate change, to deforestation and ecosystem fragmentation, to insecticides and free-roaming pets, to light pollution in our skies and microplastics in our waterways, to glass-encased skyscrapers protruding into migratory flyways, among other choices that favor our own convenience over the lives of our wild neighbors.

I can’t help but wonder how much of the blame lies, too, in indifference, our failure even to notice what we’ve lost. Birds can be secretive creatures, staying high in the treetops or deep in the underbrush. Even those in plain sight often move startlingly quickly, appearing as hardly more than a flash of color, a blur of wings. Except for the background sound of birdsong, many people are never aware of how many birds — or how few — they share the world with.

Apps like iNaturalist from National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences help to close that gap, functioning as both electronic field guides and vast data-collection devices. They learn as we learn, improving with every photo and map pin we upload, helping experts understand a planet undergoing profound change. But what of the vast number of birds we never see, those we only hear? To offer that feature — one that accurately and consistently recognizes birds by sound alone — would be the birding equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.”

She describes just such an app. “Last month, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released an updated version of its Merlin Bird ID app, which allows users to identify birds by song.”

Margaret Renkle | Dolly Parton Tried to Get Tennessee Vaccinated. But It’s Not Enough. – The New York Times

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Margaret Renkle takes off her soft linen gloves.
“Dolly Parton Tried. But Tennessee Is Squandering a Miracle.
July 19, 2021, 793 comments, By Margaret Renkl, NYT:
” . . . The anticipation of happiness seemed truly ecumenical. Liberals, conservatives, politically indifferent people — everyone I knew was watching for their vaccine priority number to come up. We were signing up for leftover doses that might be available at the end of the day. We were heading out of town to get vaccinated in rural counties where health officials were moving more quickly through the vaccine priority rankings. The empty vaccine lines should have told us something was happening in those counties, something besides the fact that fewer people lived there.
Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, understood what was going on. Mr. Lee is vaccinated, but he refused to be photographed getting the shot — the Covid shot, that is: He did post a photo of himself getting a flu shot last November. “Getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year,” his Twitter post read. “I got mine to help protect my granddaughters as we prepare to celebrate their first birthday.” Not a word about protecting children from the deadliest pandemic in a hundred years.
None of this was surprising. Mr. Lee is not a leader who actually leads so much as a politician who reads the room. From the beginning, white people in rural Tennessee have been so skeptical of this vaccine that last month state officials returned an allotment of three million doses to the federal stockpile. “We’re sort of grinding to a halt,” the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, told News Channel 5 in Nashville. “The people who want it have gotten it.” “
“. . . The planet is growing more crowded, bringing people into closer contact with diverse animal and human populations. At the same time, the health risks associated with climate change are ratcheting upward. But just as protection against communicable diseases becomes increasingly urgent, conservative media outlets are sowing doubt and delusion in the Republican base, and feckless elected officials are following suit. Like Mr. Lee, his licked finger held aloft in the wind of rural white discontent, other Republican leaders in the South take their lifesaving vaccines in private and give lip service to perverse notions of “freedom” in their public statements.” . . .
Campaign funding from the national oligarchs is what sets legislative agendas across the red states, so I can understand why these penny-ante politicians are working so hard to limit tax-funded safety nets. I can even understand why they’re so hell bent on killing public education. It clearly benefits the wealthy for taxes to be low or nonexistent and for poor people to be incurious and compliant. But how can it possibly benefit the oligarchs to risk the lives of the very people who keep electing their toadies to statehouses in the first place? I just don’t get it.” . . .

Margaraet Renkle | You Can’t Take It With You, but You Can Put It in Storage – The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Back when my children were small, I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of things. Diapers. Pacifiers. Booster seats. Storybooks. Action figures. Legos, hobbling anyone foolish enough to go barefoot in the dark. It dawned on me once that the whole house could burn to the ground and I would feel no great regret. As long as my family was safe, I could stand on the curb and watch the flames leaping into the night sky.

My childhood home was worse. My mother blamed us kids and our endless projects, but she was the one who couldn’t part with anything. Dad did his best to keep the clutter to manageable levels, but after he died, nothing ever seemed to leave that house. The attic got so full that Mom would climb to the top of the steps and heave anything she wanted to save as far back as she could throw it.

When she left Alabama and moved to the rental house across the street from us, she brought along everything she deemed necessary for her new life, including 37 coffee mugs, an entire bookcase swollen with fabric remnants, and countless back issues of Southern Living. She fought to keep them all, and she won every fight.”

Margaret Renkl | For the Butterflies — and the Rest of Us – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — For Christmas last year, my husband ordered a sign for my butterfly garden from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit that works to protect insects and other invertebrates around the world. “Pollinator Habitat,” the sign reads. “This area has been planted with pollinator-friendly flowers and is protected from pesticides to provide valuable habitat for bees and other pollinators.” A note about where to find out more information includes a QR code that takes a smartphone straight to the Xerces Society’s “Bring Back the Pollinators” initiative.

National Pollinator Week begins on June 21, which is also the first full day of summer, a season we associate with bees and butterflies. What better time to launch an awareness campaign for the insects that are directly responsible for food and flowers? And what awareness campaign could be more necessary in an age when insect populations are crashing? Most of us know a butterfly when we see one, but their habits and habitat needs — and the perils they face — are another matter altogether.”

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT comment:

Wonderful essay, thank you. I’ve joined No Mow May, and put up a Pollinator Way sign. To my pleasant surprise, the Republicans on both side of my yard also this spring did not mow their lawns till May was almost over. Bonding with Republicans over lawn care, who would have thought. There are still dozens of neighbors not yet onboard. The best solution would be a town or state ban on pesticides for home owners. We are enjoying fireflies in our back yard, but there are just a few, when there used to be hundreds.

By Margaret Renkl | Feeding the Hungry, One Wholesome Meal at a Time – The New York Times

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

“NASHVILLE — When Tallu Schuyler Quinn started handing out sandwiches in Nashville’s homeless camps, she was responding to a need that seemed both obvious and intractable. People were hungry, and she fed them. In a few hours, they would be hungry again.

That was 2007, the year she established a Nashville branch of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. In 2009, Ms. Quinn planted an organic vegetable garden because hungry people need more than calories; they need nutritious calories. In 2010, when a devastating flood hit Middle Tennessee, she was ready — her team delivered 19,000 meals in just three weeks. Ms. Quinn was 30 years old.

As these efforts grew, the question of how to feed hungry people became Ms. Quinn’s life’s work. In 2011, she founded the Nashville Food Project, an organization whose mission is “Bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.” ” . . .