Father of the Bird: Fatherhood runs the gamut among world’s birds


Since we honored fathers this week with a special day, I thought it might be a good time to look to the bird world for some examples of what fatherhood means among our fine feathered friends.

Among many of the raptors, which includes hawks, falcons and eagles, females are significantly larger than males. Unsurprisingly, much of the job of protecting the nest and young falls to the larger and stronger females. Male raptors, for the most part, are good parents and hunt prey and deliver food to the nest. Sometimes, though, there can be trouble in paradise. For example, researchers are giving a new look at the dynamics between mated bald eagles. The prevailing theory once supposed that bald eagles mate for life.

In an article published Nov. 9, 2012, on the website of William and Mary College, researchers announced that they have begun to notice that eagles on occasion undertake the avian equivalent of “divorce.”

Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology, was interviewed for the article. Watts noted that both males and female eagles will cheat. Getting away with cheating, however, favors the female. Watts explained that the male may be absent fishing when another male eagle visits the nest site and proceeds to mate with the female. Consequently, the unsuspecting mate returns and could end up raising eaglets that were fathered by the intruder instead of himself.

There are some male birds who are more steadfast once they mate. For instance, swans, cranes and albatrosses are known for sticking with a chosen mate over a lifetime. Two endangered species — the California condor and the whooping crane — are known to mate for life. Cranes typically choose a mate when they reach the age of two or three; condors, on the other hand, usually don’t mate until they are at least six to eight years old. Of course, both these birds live long lives. Whooping cranes may live to the age of 25 while condors can live for as long as six decades.

According to the Audubon website, we can look to a family of shorebirds for some examples that go against usual gender norms. Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds, with the females being larger and more colorful than males, In addition, females take the lead in courtship, while males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young once the business of mating is done. Three species of phalaropes inhabit North America: Wilson’s phalarope, red-necked phalarope and red phalarope.

Many male birds lend a hand in building nests or raising young. There are some examples of “deadbeat dads,” however, with one of the most glaring being the beloved ruby-throated hummingbird. A male hummingbird is unlikely to ever lay eyes on his offspring. Once mating has been concluded, the female is left to build a nest on her own. She also incubates the eggs without any help from her mate, who has probably already skipped out and started to court other female hummingbirds in the vicinity. Once the two eggs hatch, the female hummingbird is solely responsible for feeding the hungry offspring. It’s the primary reason hummingbirds always lay two eggs. With her high metabolism, a female hummingbird would be hard pressed to feed herself and any more than two young.

Some male birds, like their human counterparts, approach romance by initiating courtship by bringing some shiny bling to the relationship. Bowerbirds, which are found mainly in New Guinea and Australia, are renowned for their unique courtship behavior.  A male bowerbird will build a structure — the bower — and decorate it with sticks, flowers, shells or other brightly colored objects in an attempt to attract a mate. Alas, once he has won a mate with these “bribes,” he’s no better than male hummingbirds. The females are left to build the nest and raise the young without any assistance from the males.

Satin bowerbird males often decorate with blue, yellow or shiny objects, including berries, flowers or even plastic items such as ink pens, drinking straws and clothes pegs. As the males mature they use more blue objects than other colors. The decorated bower becomes a stage from which males carry out intense behavioral displays called dances to attract their mates.

The world’s largest flightless birds – ostriches, emus, rhea, cassowaries and a few others – would make good “father of the year” candidates. For instance, male ostriches share incubation duties with females. Once the eggs hatch, male ostriches are active in leading young to suitable foraging habitat and protecting them from predators. Some male ostriches can stand nine feet tall and weigh 320 pounds, so dad is an imposing obstacle for many predators. In the event of an attack, the male will try to draw off the predator while the chicks run for cover with their mother.

Fatherhood often means a dedicated effort on the part of some birds, while others basically make their genetic contribution to ensuring the survival of the species and are done with the concept. There’s a surprising variety to behold once one starts looking at the different avian approaches to fatherhood.

Taking a closer look at nature’s ‘unprecedented’ rate of decline


Imagine a world where about one million species of animals and plants have died. Much of the human population doesn’t have clean drinking water and the loss of species and worsening climate change has led to severe food and water shortages, rampant disease, an increasing number of environmental refugees, civil unrest and political turmoil.

Now imagine that scenario is real and unfolding now. Because it is.

A report summary released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in May (bit.ly/IPBESReport) unveils an environmental apocalypse that has been accelerating for decades. Left unchecked, the rapid degradation of our environment means that by the time my grandchildren reach my age of 50-something, the world they live in will seem like a science fiction dystopia compared to today.

The IPBES report, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, assessed changes in the environment over the past 50 years to project possible outcomes for the future of planet Earth. It calls the rapid decline of nature “dangerous” and “unprecedented,” with species extinction rates “accelerating.” It warns that the “current global response is insufficient” and “transformative changes” are needed to halt the decline.

Here are some of the report’s findings:

• Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades.

• Approximately 75 percent of the land-based environment and 66 percent of the marine-based environment has been “severely altered” by human actions.

• About 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are extracted globally each year, up nearly 100 percent since 1980

• More than 85 percent of the wetlands present in 1700 were lost by 2000 and that loss continues to grow.

• More than 75 percent of global food crops rely on animal pollination and $235 to $577 billion of annual global crop value is at risk due to pollinator loss.

• 100-300 million people in coastal areas are at increased risk due to loss of coastal habitat protection.

• Only 68 percent of global forest area remains today compared with the estimated pre-industrial level. More than 700 million acres of native forest cover were lost from 1990-2015 due to clearing and wood harvesting.

• $345 billion in global subsidies are paid to industries like coal, oil and natural gas global for fossil fuels that result in $5 trillion in overall costs, including costs to the environment.

• More than 2,500 political conflicts over fossil fuels, water, food and land are currently occurring worldwide.

• 40 percent of the global population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water.

• More than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment.

• 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.

• Plastic pollution has increased 10 times since 1980.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Josef Settele, co-chair of the assessment, in a news release (https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment). “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

I wonder if we would be so nonchalant about destroying so many other species if so many of us weren’t under the delusion of being separate from nature and our environment. We are as much a part of it as the bug crawling across my floor, the bird singing outside my window that will eat the bug when I put it outside, the tomatoes growing in my garden that I’ll eat this summer, the bacteria and fungi that will eat me when I die.

Animal, plant or fish, we all drink the same water. We breathe same air. In fact, without trees, plants and algae, we’d have no oxygen to breathe and our atmosphere would become so saturated with CO2 that we couldn’t survive. Nature and the environment are our food, water, medicine, energy, and shelter.

The good news from the IPBES report summary is that opposition from “vested interests” — those who make money off of destroying the environment —  can be overcome for the public good. It will require new legislation to change how we allow industries to operate at our expense. But legislation takes time and, according to the report, we don’t have much time to turn things around.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for legislation to be passed to start doing the things we know we need to do to save ourselves and our planet. While we ask our lawmakers for better laws and raise awareness with our friends and neighbors, we can begin taking action, individually and locally, to minimize the harm we cause ourselves. Together, by choosing to live Earthwise, we can change things for the better.

Protecting our rivers of life: The Nolichucky


Rivers sustain life. They provide water to vegetation, creatures and humans. They serve as a means for transportation and provide energy that has been used to run mills and is transformed into electricity. They are a source of food and provide beautiful space for recreation and contemplation. They are an economic asset. Throughout recorded history, rivers have been the waters of life that allowed humankind to expand and cultivate civilizations.

The Nolichucky River, one of the best known and most loved in our region, threads its way for 115 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains at the North Toe River in western North Carolina to Douglas Lake in Jefferson County, Tennessee. It’s also been a thread winding through the history of our area.  Prior to European colonization, Native American civilizations relied on and enjoyed the Nolichucky. Pioneers settled along its banks in the 1770s and today it nourishes farmland on its way through Unicoi, Washington, Greene, Cocke, Hamblen and Jefferson counties.

Scholars and area residents sometimes dispute the meaning of the name Nolichucky. According to Brett Riggs, Ph.D, a Sequoia Distinguished Scholar at Western Carolina University, in the documentary “Secrets of the Nolichucky,” it’s derived from the Cherokee word Na’na-tlu gun’yi, meaning Spruce-Tree Place. Local lore interprets it as Rushing Waters, Dangerous Waters, Black Swirling Water, River of Death and Man Killer. Some of these names undoubtedly came about because the sometimes turbulent force of the river can trap a person in horizontal swirls beneath the surface, drowning them.

Depending on the season and which stretch of the river you’re on, the Nolichucky can be wide or narrow, slow or rapid, placid or raging. It’s loved for wild, white water rides and a relaxing day of fishing. I love to take my grandchildren to play on its banks in David Crockett Birthplace State Park. Seeing anything through a child’s eyes reveals worlds often hidden to preoccupied adult minds. In turn, the river can often teach lessons difficult to explain in words to children but easily read by them in the illustrations of the living river.

I hope my grandchildren will be able to take their own children and grandchildren to the same banks someday. But I know that threats to the river could mean they won’t be able to fish or swim in it if adults who love it don’t watch over and protect it now. Among the concerns for its ecosystems, economic viability and beauty are sediment and chemical runoff from farming, chemical manufacturing and radioactivity.

Erwin Nuclear Fuels’ presence on the river began posing concerns many years ago and just last October, a scientist held a public forum in Jonesborough to announce he found enriched uranium in the Nolichucky. He said he traced it back to the NFS facility. Not long after, U.S. Nitrogen, a chemical company located on the Nolichucky in Greene County, disclosed to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that water monitoring tests showed thallium in water in one of their holding ponds on the river. Thallium is a potentially deadly chemical but one not used by U.S. Nitrogen, which manufactures ammonium nitrate. It seems more likely, since thallium is used to make pesticides and weed killers, that it entered the water through rain runoff and was still present during the manufacturer’s required tests.

Just a few weeks ago, TDEC announced an extension of the fish consumption advisory it issued in August because mercury levels are higher than normal. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can cause illness, disability and death. The river has also been listed as impaired due to excessive sedimentation from agricultural runoff. 

What we can do to help protect this precious resource? A good starting point is to deepen our relationship with it. The saying, “out of sight, out of mind,” applies here. We fight harder for things we love. Visit it often to fish, paddle, float or simply enjoy a quiet day or family picnic on its banks.

Staying informed, though a challenge in our busy lives, is a good next step. The EPA, TDEC and a Cocke County-based organization called Clean Water Expected in Tennessee all have Facebook pages or newsletters to help residents stay informed about the state of rivers. State parks and fishing, wildlife and water sport organizations sometimes coordinate volunteer days to clean up rivers and creeks.

Nolichucky Wild and Scenic is an effort to protect a portion of the Nolichucky from Poplar, North Carolina to Erwin, Tennessee, by having it designated under the Wild and Scenic Act. The effort, supported by Tennessee District 4 Representative John B. Holsclaw, Jr., has gained momentum but needs a push from local residents to win the support of Congress. Find more information about the effort at www.noliwildandscenic.org.

And remember, water is life.

What I hope to do is take what we have learned from our committee hearings and the recommendations we received from industry experts, and compile the proposals into a package of legislation that can pass in Congress and be signed into law, so that we can give all Americans better health outcomes and better experiences at a lower cost.

Ducks, goats in the spring build rich childhood memories


Growing up, Ward’s Feed Store was a sort of magical place. On the outskirts of downtown, it was the Waters family source for any farm supply we might need. There was always a lazy dog lounging on the concrete floor, a plethora of snacks to choose from at the counter after school and an undeniable smell of feed each and every time you opened those large metal doors. But for us, specifically one Easter, Ward’s held more than just our weekly supply of sweet feed.

We owned a small hobby farm nestled in the heart of Kingsport. The place was grandfathered in and so my mom got her lifelong wish of having any farm animal she could want. This also meant my sisters and I had that same luxury (at times, to my dad’s dismay). One Easter, as it was told to me, my mom and dad “saw the Easter bunny hopping down the street with a basket full of baby ducks” — which really meant they got a duck for each of us at Ward’s.

To a 6-year-old girl growing up in the ‘90s, who else would you name your duck after other than Ginger Spice, your favorite member of the all-girl band, The Spice Girls? (However, I’ve since decided Sporty Spice was a much more worthy member of the band, but that’s a column for another day and special edition all together).

My two older sisters named their ducks Mo, after the third member of the Three Stooges and KC, because the duck was a Khaki Campbell. As for my younger sister, she came up with a name I’m sure no one has ever given to a duck or any other living thing for that matter. She decided she’d name her duck “Salad” — “because her neck is green,” she would say.

Being the proud owners of four baby ducks wasn’t what we expected though. For starters, we eventually discovered that three of our ducks, which had girl names, ended up being males.

For a family of all girls, this was upsetting — though I guess Salad could pass as a male or female’s name.

As for Mo, who was the only duck we thought was a male, “he” in fact turned out to be the lone female. My sister renamed her Mojo, so that she didn’t have to go the rest of her duck life as a female duck named “Mo.”

After our ducks put what we called “the duck pen” to good use on our property, we later got two goats. They were wonderful, small pet goats, but as most goats do, they had a knack for escaping their pen.

Macarena, a Nigerian goat named after the ‘90s hit, “Macarena,” and Tinkerbell, a Pygmy goat named after the fairy from Peter Pan, both loved to climb our fence and roam our property and sometimes that of our neighbor’s. And when that wasn’t enough entertainment, they’d happily climb up in the large oak tree in the backyard.

The two goats weren’t the only two who liked to escape. We also had a Morgan Thoroughbred horse named Beauty. One time, she somehow escaped from her pasture and found herself a nice flower garden to fertilize in our neighborhood. Our neighbor on the end of the cul-de-sac didn’t welcome that sort of fertilizer and requested that we shovel it from her yard.

Spring and summer at the Waters household was never dull, that was for sure. And though I’m certain my mom was sick of seeing our two goats way up in the tree in the backyard and my dad probably wasn’t too excited to shovel manure out of our neighbor’s yard, chasing goats and misnaming ducks was all part of the fun of growing up on a farm — and it certainly has provided a plethora of memories to look back on for my family.

I can’t say we’ll be looking to get back into the duck business anytime soon. And the goats we have now are well secured (and I’m proud to say, have not ventured into our neighborhood in quite some time). Ward’s is nothing but a memory now as it looks like it’s well on its way to becoming a parking lot and that childhood home of ours is owned by someone else and looks entirely different from how it used to (it breaks my heart to see the spot where the colossal barn that had to coolest loft a kid could ever dream of once had been).

But my family and I often revisit that place in our minds along with the adventures we had there. This spring, and really in each season we encounter, I urge you to live in the moment and say yes to that animal every once in a while — and then prepare yourself for more memories than your Easter basket can carry.

A message from the mayor — Washington County: Education, commerce, heritage remain the keys

I appreciate the invitation to reflect on the past and talk a little about what I see for the future. I look forward to hearing from readers about what they hope to see in their own lives over the coming year.

Historically, Washington County places great value on building a strong educational system, warmly welcoming commerce and preserving our heritage. These values continue today as cornerstones essential for a dynamic and productive Washington County.

Building on these values, Washington County reached several major milestones in the past 12 months, some readily recognizable while others require a closer look to appreciate their impact. 

First, in completion of an important Washington County capital project, the Board of Education plans to open the new Boones Creek K-8 School in August 2019.

The new school’s “Bars” mascot is reflective of Washington County’s deep tie to frontiersman Daniel Boone. Much like Boone, blazing trails to open a new future for a young country, the state-of-the-art facility will empower our young people to blaze their own trails by embracing our heritage while learning to compete in a global economy. 

Amid brick-and-mortar achievement is an equally important accomplishment for citizens: establishment of strategic financial management that reduced existing debt and interest so we can afford a cutting-edge project like the Boones Creek School. 

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be shuttered Boones Creek Elementary School presents another opportunity to advance the lives of our residents by improving workforce readiness. To achieve this, Washington County government is asking the Tennessee College of Applied Technology to consider BCES’ reuse as a technology training school.

Washington County also continues to nurture relationships with businesses that have invested in our community. I devote significant time each month to visiting existing businesses, like Nakatetsu Machining Technologies, to hear first-hand what the needs of our job creating industries are.

And, we have added urgently needed development inventory in the form of two new pad-ready sites at the Washington County Industrial Park that is home to Nakatetsu. These sites can accommodate large businesses needing 200,000- to 500,000-square-feet locations. As a Select Tennessee Certified Site, the industrial park is certified competitive as the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development works to locate new businesses in our state.

Another construction project is one you may not notice unless you make a point to look for it.  Renovations to our Historic Washington County Courthouse on Main Street in Jonesborough are underway.  The 105-year-old clock tower has been freshly painted, with structural work underway that will preserve the building for future generations.  Renovations continue through this summer. 

Also, many of you are aware that in late 2018 BrightRidge began deploying high-speed fiber optic and fixed wireless internet. Beneath the headlines, your county government placed a strong focus on ensuring BrightRidge also provides rural residents with a new high-speed Internet option.

At the same time, Jonesborough and Johnson City are now among a handful of communities nationwide with 10 Gb symmetrical internet available. In today’s economy, world-class broadband infrastructure is essential in both education and economic development.

And, tucked away near Telford, BrightRidge and Silicon Ranch also broke ground in 2018 on a 5-megawatt solar farm which is now providing clean, low-cost energy to residents, schools and businesses alike through the region’s first solar community offering.

In looking ahead, I believe the cornerstone of a successful future for Washington County will come through developing new partnerships.

Aerospace Park at Tri-Cities Airport is a prime example. This effort required cooperation between cities, counties and the state to construct an aerospace-oriented business park essential to attracting new high-paying jobs to Northeast Tennessee.

Similarly, Johnson City’s recognition as the Top Mid-sized Town in the 2018 Top Adventure Town contest rewards years of focus and investment in improving access to the mountains, rivers and attractions of Washington County.

And, most recently, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has granted $2 million to the Washington County Economic Development Council’s for railroad connectivity improvements. These improvements, which only happened by working together, will bring greater access to area industries serviced by the railroad. 

In closing, I again thank you for this opportunity to bring citizens up to speed on progress to date, and know that as Mayor, I strongly believe our brightest future will only be realized through strong cooperation between county departments, constitutional offices and the commission; between the city and county; and where ever it makes sense on a regional basis.

Mayor Joe Grandy

A message from the mayor — Jonesborough: ‘We have so much of which to be proud’

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest

I’ve been honored to be the Mayor of Jonesborough this past year and it’s a blessing to write this letter to you during the Herald & Tribune’s 150th year anniversary and its 2019 Progress Edition. I’m looking forward to leading our town forward as we complete important projects and begin planning new endeavors that continue to build on our town’s progress. I’ll share those plans later in this letter.

We have an independent, diverse-thinking board consisting of Vice Mayor Adam Dickson and Aldermen Terry Countermine, Virginia Causey and Stephen Callahan. They all bring valuable insight, ideas and love of our own town during our board discussions. Our board and town staff promise to spend wisely, protect our future by remembering our history and enhance our quality of life.

First, our town has many successes I wish to mention. We are certainly proud that our town had an outstanding audit with zero negative findings this past year! Our board is appreciative for the leadership Abbey Miller, Bob Browning, Craig Ford and town staff used to achieve this excellence.

I was excited to sign contracts recently with contractors to begin work on the historic Jackson Theatre. A theater that will accentuate the business of our town’s retailers and wonderful restaurants while improving our quality of life. Today our Jonesborough Repertory Theatre and Wetlands Water Park are profitable and the addition of the Jackson Theatre should only grow profits for our town. These profits allow our town government to keep our taxes and fees low while growing a town that thrives into the future.

A few more successes are that we continue to replace old water lines and meters, and soon will occupy a new maintenance facility that will serve our town for the next 30 years.

Our greatest success is the people of our town that volunteer their time, energy and expertise on committees, in performances, at our parks, mentor our youth and as helpers or leaders during events. We have so much of which to be proud but we the people are Jonesborough. 

As your mayor my vision going forward is for our town to continue strengthening its financial balance sheet while investing attention to outdated facilities and enhancing our town’s special quality of life. We can do that with wise spending while exploring ways to increase our revenue growth throughout our city limits

We also should realize we’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars by changing the way our IT systems are managed in the future. I hope to gain the board’s support in reviving a treasure we have at Persimmon Ridge Park. This park was born when former mayor Jimmy Neil Smith had the foresight to begin Jonesborough’s rebirth by monetizing our historic past and storytelling. I am so thankful for that vision because many towns our size died or became stagnant.

At Persimmon Ridge Park, we can perfect the hiking trails, better promote the addition of Frisbee golf, add new features that promote health and fitness, improve the safety of playing surfaces used by our youth and rebuild structures that don’t rise to the excellence we expect in Jonesborough.

We’ve known for years our youth needed better facilities for soccer and I’m hopeful we can make this a reality in the coming years. This can be accomplished economically in addition to adding features of a pet park. The lives of our youth and our own can be much too sedentary so making our parks attractive to all will benefit our community for years to come. 

Our board invites you to come attend our town meetings the second Monday of every month. 

Good things continue in Jonesborough.

Mayor Chuck Vest

How does your garden grow?


In the last column we covered some of the many ways gardening benefits us and the environment. Since then, I’ve heard a lecture that brought out a few more. Growing our own food is autonomy. In other words, being a producer instead of a consumer gives us a degree of freedom. Sharing the bounty from our gardens improves the lives of others and creates powerful social links. Lastly, cooking what you have grown yourself feels great. Read on to learn more about enjoying the benefits of gardening.

The 17 degree temperature I woke up to this morning doesn’t feel like gardening weather, but there’s still plenty to do. I’m actually a bit behind. January would have been the perfect time to make a garden plan and buy seeds to start indoors last month.

A garden plan should take into consideration how much food you want to grow for the number of people in your household and include a diagram of which plants will go where. Information for starting a garden from start to finish, including calculating how much to plant and how to preserve your harvest, can be found on the internet or in a large number of books. One of my favorite books is “Back to Basics” by Reader’s Digest.

I like to get some cool weather crops like kale, spinach and lettuce in the ground early. They do well under row covers when spring frosts nip at the garden in April and it yields a longer harvest before the lettuce and spinach bolt in our southern summer heat.

Today I started some seeds left over from last year and began building hugel mounds to expand my garden space. Hugel mounds are popular with permaculture gardeners because they mimic the natural soil building process of forests and reduce the need for irrigation while using up yard debris. See www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/many-benefits-hugelkultur to learn more.

I’m slowly learning to incorporate permaculture principles into my garden and registered for a free online course. It’s the smartest, most sustainable type of gardening I’ve ever seen and can be adapted to any size space. Based on cooperation with the environment, rather than competition, it’s less labor intensive and costly than conventional gardening over time. Visit open.oregonstate.edu/courses/permaculture for more information about the class.

Permaculture is also one of the best ways to secure a personal food supply in a sometimes insecure world. Check out the Youtube video “Surviving Collapse” with Geoff Lawton to learn more about that.

It certainly isn’t the only way to garden though. When I started out gardening years ago, a neighbor plowed up a plot of ground and I planted vegetables in rows. It worked but it took a lot of weeding and watering to maintain it. The workload lightened as I learned about landscaping cloth and mulch.

Eventually I graduated to raised beds. I found they’re better for the soil, save water and produce higher yields. Raised beds sit above the level of the ground at any height and in many configuration including steps, tiers and keyhole designs. They can be mounds of dirt or boxes placed on the ground, on decks or a cement pad to accommodate variations in personal mobility or the use of adaptive gear like wheelchairs or walkers. Many types of raised beds can be purchased already made and ready to set up.

Whichever type of garden you choose, a soil test provides valuable information about a garden’s pH and which nutrients can be added to help it thrive. Your county Agricultural Extension Office can help you get that done for around $20. They can also put you in touch with a master gardener or horticulturist to help answer questions about gardening.

For those who don’t have yard space for other types of gardening, container gardens or variations on vertical gardening can turn a deck, balcony or even a window sill into a productive garden space. Almost anything that holds dirt can be used for a container garden and pallets are an easy, inexpensive way to grow vertically. I found some great pallet ideas at  morningchores.com/pallet-garden/.

If gardening of any kind won’t work for you, The Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council website has information about CSA buying options and farmers markets. They also offer a program called Build It Up East Tennessee for home gardeners and a field school for beginning farmers.

We’ve barely scratched the surface so I encourage you to search the internet, visit your local library or contact one of the resources mentioned above to help you get started. I also suggest you incorporate a shovel full or two of humor into your gardening venture. Gardening, above all, should be fun and enjoyable. Happy gardening!

Looking through a different lens: New columnist promises to find story behind the faces

Above is a photo from Waters’ college project in Lafollette, Tennessee.


When I ask someone to tell me their story, I never truly receive a straight answer — or really an answer at all.

On the other hand, when I ask “What’s the root of your story? What makes you tick? What tragedies have you endured?” That’s when I get responses.

The tiniest tilt of how you approach a situation can sometimes unveil everything you’re searching for.

This whole idea of pulling out the deepest parts of a stranger’s stories began before I was tasked to write feature stories and blogs about the locals of Jonesborough.

It all began with a photojournalism project in college at the University of Tennessee.

My tight-knit, advanced photojournalism class traveled to LaFollette, Tennessee where we were to capture the story of locals and then share our findings in that week’s edition of the LaFollette Press. There, I met a farmer who had the gift of snapping his fingers and his 500 pound pig would roll over, a teenage fisherman with big aspirations, and an antique shop owner who may or may not sell a local favorite of peach-infused moonshine. I discovered sunrise views of the Smoky Mountains from LaFollette backroads, I captured smiling faces that will stick with me forever and I was taught what it means to have pride in the place you call home.

When I began my position as the Tourism and Marketing Director in Jonesborough, I started writing a series of feature stories on artists at the McKinney Center. The purpose was to expose their intellectual art backgrounds, rich experiences and provide a way for the reader to connect with the instructors before signing up for their class. But to connect with these local artists, I drew from my experience in the tiny town of La Follette and looked for the story within the story — or rather the story within the person I was interviewing.

Chasidy Hathron shares her art.

I had the opportunity to write a story about Chasidy Hathron, a well-known artist in the region. I still deem that as one of the most intentional and truest conversations I’ve had with a complete stranger. She gave me a tour of her art gallery-like home, allowed me to peer inside her studio that housed the most unique antique British table, and told me the tales of trinkets on her shelf she deems as memories. She taught me that keeping little treasures like harmonicas and old coke bottles can be objects that encompass memories of people we’ve lost. She taught me the value of encouraging confidence in a child by showing them that they are special to someone. And the importance of simply sitting down with someone to have an authentic conversation. I left that day feeling like I knew just a little bit more about life.

Through the time spent interviewing and photographing these people, I found friends, I laughed and cried. I hurt with them. I hurt because I could understand their pain and sometimes because I couldn’t understand their pain. And I met people who were just like me and people who were just opposite of me.

No matter the person or the story, I always walk away with more than responses to my questions, “What’s the root of your story? What makes you tick? What tragedies have you endured?”. I walk away with answers to life’s questions.

This column will be the space where I answer a few of those questions for myself. It’ll be the place I can showcase the stories I encounter through Jonesborough’s community members. And most importantly, it’ll be the puzzle of answers to life’s questions that, one by one, Jonesborough’s locals are piecing together.

Eating the elephant just one bite at a time


Sometimes looking at a large problem can feel overwhelming, leading us to ask, “Why bother trying? It’s too big for me to fix.” Climate change, as well as other environmental challenges, can feel like that given its scope, dire consequences and the speed at which it’s happening.

We’ve probably all heard the proverb that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Like most large and complex problems, the best way to solve the climate change problem is by taking many bites. Fortunately, we don’t have to eat the climate-change elephant on our own.

While scientists unravel the causes and cures and and legislators develop strategies for tackling the problem at the government level, each one of us can help. That’s because climate change is so intricately linked to our daily lives. The decisions we make each day — in our homes, our yards, our commutes, our shopping habits — either contribute to the problem or take us a step closer toward solving it. All that’s required for us to play our part is for us to want to. No matter what our lifestyle, occupation or tax bracket, there are small things we can do to make a real difference. When all of us all over the planet are doing them, they will have a big impact.

One of those things brings a host of other benefits with it and this is the perfect time of year to begin thinking about it. I’m talking about gardening.

Gardening is a great way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses generated by our activities that contribute to climate change, otherwise known as our carbon footprint. There are several carbon footprint calculators available online for those curious to know what size footprint they’re leaving on the earth.

The Earth is basically a large greenhouse spinning through space around the Sun. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that accumulate in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun that gets absorbed by the Earth’s surface. To a degree — pun intended —  this is one of the things that makes our planet habitable. The excess of carbon dioxide that we’ve been generating over the past couple centuries, though, has tipped the balance towards dangerous warming of the global climate. The effects are being seen in things like polar ice melting and the associated sea level rise, more and increasingly severe weather outbreaks, flooding and droughts.

Plants take in carbon dioxide and make oxygen during the process of making their food from air, water and sunlight known as photosynthesis. Whether it’s flowers or fresh produce, a garden can help fight climate change by using carbon dioxide that’s already in the air. Gardening also helps reduce pollution from transporting produce and also reduces erosion and water runoff. Flowering plants feed pollinators, which in turn, help feed us.

But the benefits don’t stop with the environment. Gardening gets our bodies moving in ways they don’t normally move. Check out the book “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman to learn why that’s important.

Gardening has also been shown to reduce stress, depression, cholesterol and blood pressure. Taking time to interact with nature, including gardening, also helps us be more productive and sleep better. Vitamin D, needed to regulate a number of important processes in our bodies, is made in the skin from sunshine, which shines abundantly in the garden.

Gardens can give added resiliency should conventional food production and distribution routes be interrupted. They provide us with beauty, healthy and inexpensive food and a never ending source of wonder, learning and inspiration. They help connect us to nature and live in harmony with seasonal rhythms. Gardens also provide an outlet for nurturing and a sense of accomplishment.

Gardens can be small or large and can take many forms, including traditional landscaping and garden plots, permaculture plots, raised beds, container gardens and window gardens. That makes it easy for nearly anyone to enjoy the benefits. For those who can’t — or think they can’t — garden themselves, local produce can be purchased through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs, known as CSAs, which also benefits the environment by the lower carbon footprint of local producers.

Interested in finding out about the benefits firsthand? Check back as we continue the conversation about different types of gardening, developing a garden plan, local resources for gardeners of all levels of experience, CSAs and more.

Climate bill pays dividends

By Lorelei Goff

We started off 2019 with a conversation about why we have reason to hope for the future of our environment. Today, I’d like to continue that conversation with something more tangible — a strategy.

On Jan. 24, House bill 763 reintroduced a bipartisan strategy for curbing carbon pollution, which contributes to climate change, and growing jobs across the nation. Unlike most bills that make their way through Congress, this one aims to put more money in our pockets.

Exactly what is HR 763 and how will it affect us here in Northeast Tennessee? It began as HR 7173, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018, introduced into the house with nine bipartisan cosponsors in November. A companion bill, S 3791, introduced in December by then outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), awaits reintroduction to the Senate in the coming months.

HR 763, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, calls for a fee on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The fee will increase over a set number of years and will act as an incentive for moving away from fossil fuels to cleaner, cheaper energy sources. At the same time, it will reduce carbon pollution by 40 percent over the next 12 years and about 90 percent by 2050. This will help to limit global temperature rise and reduce illnesses and medical costs linked to the air pollution that drives climate change.

Businesses can offset the fee by capturing carbon emissions and keeping them out of the atmosphere. To protect American industries and jobs, the act calls for a border carbon adjustment fee. This fee will keep the playing field level for American companies and prevent jobs from going to other countries with cheaper labor and resources, as we’ve seen happen in our region all too often in past years. The act will also protect our region’s farmers with an exemption to the fee.

The plan is considered revenue neutral because the fee is not a tax, which is considered revenue for the government. Instead, fees collected will be put into a trust fund for the American people and distributed to us by the Treasury Department each month. The dividend will increase each year as the fee rises, topping out at roughly $3,500 per year, or nearly $300 per month, for a family of four.

Under this plan, more money will be returned to people than is paid in increased costs on fossil fuels and goods. In other words, we’ll get cash and a cleaner environment for helping to save our planet. More cash in our pockets to spend as we want each month, means stronger local economies and increased jobs. In fact, the plan predicts an increase of 2.1 million local jobs across the nation.

The most dire reason to enact a carbon pricing plan like HR 763 came to light in October with a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the report, impacts of climate change, like hot and cold temperature extremes, severe weather outbreaks, sea level rise and diminishing arctic sea ice, are already happening. Projections for just another 1 degree Celsius rise in the average global temperature warn of catastrophic droughts, famines, natural disasters, and increased cost of living and poverty.

It also poses unique challenges to our national security. Officials in the Department of Defense have said that climate change poses immediate risks to national security and called it a “threat multiplier.” 

Limiting global temperature rise to an additional .5 degrees Celsius from where it is today, could mean a huge difference in terms of droughts, flooding, loss of ecosystems and giving humans time to adapt to a changing climate. To do that will require what the report calls “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

The United States ranks second in carbon emissions, behind China and ahead of India and Russia. More than 40 countries, including China and the European Union, already have carbon pricing plans of some kind, most being of the carbon tax or cap and trade variety. Many are making long strides in clean energy development. China has made significant cuts in coal use and is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would again place America among the leading nations of the world in finding climate change solutions. It will also help to keep us competitive with other first world countries in developing technology and energy strategies as we move through the 21st century.

It’s important to let our elected officials know we want the cleaner environment, better health, climate change mitigation and economic growth HR 763 can deliver. Our voices or our silence will influence our future.

Think twice before embarking on your own version of ‘Wedding Crashers’


It can be nerve-wracking walking into a room full of strangers knowing you won’t recognize one person. But it’s even more nerve-wracking when you have a secret you hope no one figures out that night — that you weren’t actually invited to this gathering.

You’re actually a wedding crasher.

It was a random weekend in May and I had driven to Knoxville to spend some time with my best friend, Jill. We had no official plans.

Well, I didn’t have plans. Jill, however, most certainly did — for the both of us.

Jill’s undying wish was to crash a wedding. I wasn’t so wild about the idea of potentially getting caught, but for some reason my friend was convinced it’d be thrilling, we’d get to dance and we could look back fondly on the night we decided to become wedding crashers.

After a lot of convincing from my seemingly fearless friend, I reluctantly agreed.

But how does one know all that vital wedding information like the time, location and the names of the bride and groom?

Nowadays it’s easier than ever before.

So for anyone considering crashing a wedding, here’s tip no. 1: Gather all your information beforehand. That task has been made easy thanks to social media and websites such as tietheknot.com.

We googled “Knoxville, Tennessee wedding” and the date and, before we knew it, we had a buffet of wedding opportunities before us. Did we want to go to a wedding in West Knoxville? That was a little too far away. What about one in Knox County? We didn’t want to run the risk of getting totally lost out there (which Jill and I had a tendency to do in Knox County). So we opted for a close by, downtown wedding in a cool, new wedding venue.

Believe it or not, the time and location wasn’t the most vital piece of information. We needed to know the bride and groom, where they were from and any details actual guests would know.

The bride was more than giving when it came to the “about us” section on her page, so we did our wedding crashing homework and made our way to that wedding we were never supposed to attend.

Jill and I slid through the doors behind an unsuspecting couple and sheepishly grabbed a glass of champagne (which, due to my nervousness, I never actually drank). Then we looked around for the most inconspicuous table to stake out.

There was an out-of-the-way loft with two tables that didn’t seem like the type of place the bride and groom would want to seat the bridal party or family members. Plus, it would give us a good view of the room, making it easier to dodge the bride and groom.

We realized we’d have to share our large, round table with others, but we couldn’t have guessed who we’d be sitting with…

Out of a large group that came up to our tucked away balcony, a man and woman proceeded to step out and sit down with Jill and I. As any good wedding crasher would, we made sure to ask them who they were there for before they had the chance to ask us. (Which brings me to tip no. 2: Ask people before they ask you who they are there for, the bride or groom. And when they respond, always say the opposite.)

When we asked the man and woman who they were there for, the man said, “Oh, we’re wedding crashers.”

That’s when I imagine Jill’s spirit left her body and some part of me had the good sense to nervously laugh in a way I could probably never mimic again.

I thought we were done for.

Before Jill and I could come up with whatever words might have spilled out of our mouths, the woman said, “Oh, no. He’s joking. We’re the bride’s family.”

Somehow we had found a table with possibly the most important people at the entire wedding. Jill and I, the most unimportant people there, were sitting with the bride’s brother and sister-in-law.

I think Jill was still trying to regain consciousness at this point.

We made very little small talk (we figured we should quit while we were ahead) until the bride and groom had their first dance.

To make matters worse, as we all gathered at the balcony to watch, Jill said to the sister-in-law that she can have her spot to be able to see better, to which the sister-in-law replied, “Oh, it’s okay. We’re all here for the same reason.”

Jill had no words in reply, along with a huge pile of guilt growing by the second.

Later, as everyone headed down to the main floor to get in line for food, I suddenly noticed the line passed right by the bride and groom’s table, ensuring that each guest would get a chance to visit with the couple as they stood in line. Of course, this would have been no problem if you happen to know the bride and groom.

At that moment, there was all but a Marina-shaped hole through the front doors.

I grabbed Jill and explained our new predicament, as if sitting with the bride’s family, lying to them about having known the groom through Jill’s husband who “grew up with him” and withstanding the wedding crasher joke wasn’t enough. (And here’s tip no. 3: Make sure you have a story ready for how you know the bride and how you know the groom, just in case you need both stories for a guest from the opposite party.)

We exited to the restroom (probably to do some deep breathing exercises) and decided Jill wouldn’t get to dance in the big ballroom like she wanted to after all. We had to get out before the whole thing unraveled.

We both agreed we needed to take some time to unwind from the most white-knuckled wedding either of us had ever been to (including Jill’s own wedding last March). We opted to change at her apartment, go through Cookout like we used to during our college days and relive what had happened that night.

Part of me thinks wedding crashing is really more scary than thrilling. Part of me wouldn’t do it again. And part of me is totally convinced I would do it again but this time we’d stick it out and stay for the dancing.

Then there’s the part of me that will always wonder if the bride’s brother was onto us when he said “we’re wedding crashers”. Were they convinced of it when they got back to see their table guests had vanished?

I guess we’ll never really know.

Remembering to thank our friends – the forests and their trees


In a timely article in Scientific American on December 5, the author, Han de Groot, states that “The best technology for fighting climate change isn’t a technology.” It is the natural systems and among these, especially, forests and their trees.

The recent dramatic report from the UN climate panel on the state of the planet found so much carbon pollution in the atmosphere that “negative emissions technologies” are now also needed. At that – removing carbon dioxide from the air – trees have been expert agents for millenia.

Remember the “Keeling Curve” which shows the atmosphere’s rising carbon concentration, as measured daily by the U.S. Weather Service in Hawaii since 1958? The curve’s steep decline from April to October annually, as the trees absorb CO2 during photosynthesis to build their foliage, trunks, stems, roots? In their tissue, in surrounding soil and in homes where their wood might end up, the carbon can be bound for hundreds of years.

A single tree can store an average of 48 pounds of CO2 in a year, the author affirms, and recent research shows “intact forests [can sequester] the equivalent of the emissions of entire countries such as Peru and Colombia.”

In a lecture at ETSU, Vandana Shiva, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, spoke about the efforts by women in Uttar Pradesh, India, as they sought to preserve the array of benefits which forests provide. When the Green Belt Movement, lead by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai planted over 50 million trees in Kenya, the principal aim was to restore and maintain the means of subsistence in rural communities, their water supply and other, economic and social benefits.

Now, trees also embody nations’ hopes for climate mitigation. China is building a “Great Green Wall” of trees and grassland across Inner Mongolia, were desert had been expanding, creating health hazards in Beijing and drowning farms and villages in the countryside under sand and dust. Like Franklin Roosevelt’s “Tree Army,” a Chinese army of over 60,000 soldiers, relieved from military duties, is engaged country-wide to create 88 million acres of new forest by 2050.

Nicaragua, battered repeatedly in recent years by devastating drought and flooding, is undertaking a “Million Trees by 2020” project. In Louisiana, said to lose a football field of land every hundred minutes to sea level rise and naturally occurring land subsidence, volunteers are planting mangrove forests in the coastal wetlands, seeking resilience and land protection for communities.

In India last year, 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees, of twenty different species, in a single day – part of that country’s pledge in the Paris climate agreement to substantially increase tree cover. If it reaches its goal, says former New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg, it will eventually store more carbon in its forests than it emits every year.

The many dimensions of this new development in tree planting – ecological and social, economic and political – have one thing in common: beyond their many benefits we have always known about we now look to trees, through “negative emissions,” to also help heal the climate.

Another good reason to be “tree huggers.”

Nuclear war and a world yearning for peace


On Veterans Day, an Associated Press article reported on the Armistice which ended World War I. Focused on “The end’s terrible toll” it noted hundreds of soldiers being killed even after the truce had been signed, the result of misunderstandings, of the hatred built up in years of unprecedented mutual slaughter, or the “inane joy of killing” in wars.

Nine million soldiers and more than 14 million people had perished in the war. Among other novelties and “epitomizing the ruthlessness of warfare” was the use of poison gas by all the major powers. This had caused more than a million casualties and close to 100,000 deaths, despite being expressly forbidden in the Hague Peace Convention of 1907, whose Article 23 states: “It is especially forbidden to employ poison or poisoned weapons.”

President T. R. Roosevelt, the first statesman to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, promoted international diplomacy and peace treaties. In the 1908 State of the Union address, he advised the Congress on the Hague Peace Conference: “The civilized nations of the world (are engaged) in temperate and kindly discussion of the methods by which the causes of war might be narrowed and its injurious effects reduced.”

A modern version of the “poisoned weapons” ban — the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — was accepted and ratified by all but four nations (North Korea, Israel among the latter), in 1997, and enforced against Syria under the Obama and Trump administrations.

Likewise banned internationally, since July 2017, are the far more ruthless and destructive 20th century weapons of mass slaughter, nuclear bombs.

For the mounting risk from these the Doomsday Clock, a universally recognized symbol of the world’s vulnerability to civilization-ending catastrophe, was moved to two minutes to midnight in January 2017. “Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race,” the scientists said, “that will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals.”

When the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations in 2017, 122 nations agreed with the warning by Albert Einstein, and by hundreds of international organizations whose umbrella group (ICAN) then won the Nobel Peace Prize, that “at any price” the practice of war in which nuclear bombs might again be used, must end. The treaty will go into effect when 50 countries have ratified it.

Some US towns, cities and church denominations already have endorsed the treaty. It should be adopted by the US government and $1.7 trillion, now planned for modernizing the nuclear forces, dedicated to addressing pressing social and environmental needs. The Administration should not abandon an earlier nuclear-arms limitation treaty (the INF), successfully negotiated with Russia by President Reagan, which resulted in the destruction of almost 3,000, mostly Soviet, missiles.

And, as President Roosevelt urged of the “civilized nations,” one would have liked President Trump to participate in a US leadership role, not skip, the peace-treaty negotiations begun in Paris on the anniversary of Armistice Day.

The soothsayer report on the climate


In his tragic-hero play, “Hamlet,” recently performed at ETSU, Shakespeare confronts us with the notion of power for action and problem solving, through knowledge and foresight, that seems extraordinarily relevant today.

In the play, Hamlet’s friend Horatio, facing the ghost of the murdered king, demands of him: “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate, which, happily, foreknowing may avoid – O, speak!”

The United Nations climate panel has spoken, authoritatively in a special report, to what will be humanity’s fate if greenhouse gas emissions and temperature increase, under climate change, are not halted.

It assesses the impacts which foreknowledge will help us avoid if the world keeps the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 rather than 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial level.

In Paris in 2015, the nations of the world had agreed to hold global warming to at most 2 degrees but, fearing submergence danger for many small island nations, to aim for 1.5 degrees. They also asked for a special consensus report in 2018. This would analyze the ongoing risks, based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and compare the projected climate-change impacts under 1.5 and 2.0 degree warming scenarios.

The report, painting a grim view of the future, came out in early October. Without decisive action now, many millions of human lives could be at stake, the scientists warn. Nearly all coral reefs – the spawning grounds for most ocean fisheries – would die. On land, through more widespread and frequent heat waves, drought and flooding, farming would be strongly affected and the world’s food supply become drastically less secure.

Indeed, major warming impacts are being experienced the world over even now, when global temperature rise stands at 1 degree, such as the last years’ super intense hurricanes and typhoons, extended heatwaves and wildfires. They are among scientists’ growing concerns given that, if global greenhouse gas emissions aren’t drastically and quickly halted – some even sucked out of the atmosphere – the warming effects of today will more than triple.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Peter Frumhoff states about the (IPCC) report that “at 1.5 degrees of warming further climate impacts will be devastating and at 2 degrees they would be calamitous.” After decades of idling, meeting even the lower target “will require bringing carbon emissions to net zero by mid-century and dramatically reducing emissions of other heat-trapping gases. It calls for transforming our energy economy and transitioning away from fossil fuels by greatly ramping up energy efficiency and embracing renewables.”

Putting a price on the carbon emissions, the report also states, would be central for getting global warming under control. It would be part of our rescue from a disastrous future toward which, otherwise, we are heading. The choice is technically available to us and long recommended by economists, including by this year’s Nobel Prize recipient William Nordhaus. The Citizens Climate Lobby proposes it for national legislation.

The rescue won’t be “happy” or easy, but, with foreknowledge of impending fate, as Shakespeare has Horatio exclaim, it is still possible. We must listen and rise to the task.

Election politics and environmental protection


Fifteen years ago, Johnson City made productive use of the methane from its Iris Glen landfill. Vented before that, the city contracted to have the gas piped to Mountain Home, there to add to the electricity and heating-cooling needs of the Veterans Administration facility.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 85 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide for the climate in the short term. Through capturing it, the city kept thousands of tons of greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

The Trump administration is rolling back two Obama-era methane rules.

In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency, under authority of the Clean Air Act, promulgated a standard for control of methane emissions from new or modified sources in the oil and gas sector, and related, smog-forming pollutants that can cause heart and lung illness and harm children’s health, particularly. The standard requires controlling the release of methane into the air, and regular leakage inspections of equipment and wells.

In another rule, applicable to the federal and tribal lands, the Bureau of Land Management issued a Methane Waste Prevention Rule. This also required leakage monitoring and capturing of methane, to reduce greenhouse-gas and health-harming emissions. Where its capture is deemed technically infeasible, royalties on wasted (vented) methane were to give “a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers.”

Reportedly for many years, Johnson City received more than $300,000 annually from its project. The federal Waste Prevention Rule would save enough methane gas to supply the electricity for around 740,000 households. Its annual net financial benefits would be up to $400 million, and of royalties to the taxpayer for gas not captured, of up to $10 million.

In September, The Hill (Congressional website) announced proposed weakening of the EPA methane rule. The “new Trump rule,” it said, would increase methane emissions by about 380,000 tons by 2025 and “also increase public exposure to ozone pollution and hazardous air pollutants.” It would save the industry approximately $75 million annually, through canceling “unnessary burdens.”

The Hill article further noted that “the oil and gas industry has made an all-out push to make this (promise by Mr. Trump, during the 2016 campaign) a reality.”

In revoking this and other environmental protection rules, the industry and Mr. Trump seem to have a very strong ally in a Tennessee candidate for the US Senate. In the US House since the 2016 election, Marsha Blackburn has voted, among other anti-environment measures, to nullify the methane-waste and stream protection rules, delay clean-air ozone regulation, and opposed measures, such as carbon pricing, to prevent further climate deterioration.

Almost all (98 percent) comments from the public had urged retention of the now repealed Methane Waste Prevention Rule.

For the administration’s newly proposed, EPA methane rule weakening, citizens can weigh in, under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0483, at a-and-r-docket@epa.gov, until Dec. 17.

According to Harvard University’s Environmental Law program, more than 40 environmental regulatory rollbacks have occurred under this administration. Although confirming her legislative record, Ms Blackburn’s “I will work with President Trump every step of the way” has ominous implications for public and climate health.

Ups, downs for monarch butterflies


A stinging nettle patch produced new caterpillars not seen before, of the Eastern comma butterfly, in September. Others had been around on plants they depend on – pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on Dutchman’s pipe, the variegated fritillary’s on passionvine and violets, and the black swallowtail’s on parsnip. Various other butterflies and moths had tenanted, unseen or unidentified, the property’s native plantings. We appreciate them as the principle food for the young of birds.

Author Douglas Tallamy has identified more than 500 lepidoptera species for whom the native woody plants alone, such as blueberry or gooseberry bushes, ash, oak, basswood, birch and other trees, are host and at least temporary home.

While few monarch butterflies seemed to visit during spring and summer, they became the drama of pleasant sightings, and worries, in the fall. The latter resulted from an overabundance of caterpillars on the milkweed plants they dine on, ingesting a poisonous compound from the sap that will protect them from predators throughout their life cycle.

A gardener in Unicoi reported desperately searching for additional plants for many hungry caterpillars. Jonesborough’s Virginia Kennedy found it unusually challenging to feed and raise more than one hundred of these for her tagging project in the Monarch Watch program. In my yard and garden, three colonies of the common milkweed and a number of its butterflyweed and swamp milkweed relatives seemed insufficient to nourish dozens of monarch-caterpillars mouths.

Had the adults laid too many eggs in the proverbial basket, in hope of getting more generations to take wing on time for the southward journey to wintering oases in Mexico?

Can we hope that the monarchs are rebounding following drastic population declines resulting from chemical-driven agriculture and habitat loss? Are the efforts begun under the Obama administration and its task force on pollinator recovery showing success? Through many new milkweeds and flowers for nectaring planted: in “monarch highways” by government agencies and in connecting corridors by the Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups, and in suburban garden patches by homeowners seeking to help sustain the pollinators and other wildlife?

Yet the monarch’s overall downward trend continues, and climate change may have its effect. By late August, most of the milkweeeds were done blooming and the larger plants – common milkweed – were in seasonal decline. When the caterpillars arrived, they were munching on browning leaves which were beginning to fall, leaving them naked stems and the rough seed pods, instead of tender leaves, to eat. On some plants, cut back in July to encourage new leaf growth, that was favored. But their food factories generally had shut down, no longer producing enough of it for the caterpillars’ need.

Through earlier plant growth under climate change, a mismatch between feeding and food availability is playing havoc with migratory species the world over, potentially affecting the survival of many of them. Keeping more native plants in our gardens – food for people and butterflies and other wildlife – will help but not be effective, ultimately, without preventive action to also address this causal issue.

Make vehicles more fuel-efficient


An unexpected accident gave me first-hand experience over two months with what President Trump’s auto mileage rollback would mean for consumers: A loan vehicle with only half the miles-per-gallon biting into household finances.

A proposal to weaken the auto mileage and emissions standards was published in the Federal Register in August. The standards had been agreed to by the auto industry in 2012, when it needed federal financial help. They would let passenger cars and trucks get close to 50 miles to the gallon, on average, by 2026, but the proposal would freeze them at their 2020 levels, thus lowering that average to just 35 mpg. It is “backing away from years of government efforts to cut Americans’ trips to the gas station and reduce unhealthy, climate-changing tailpipe emissions,” says the Associated Press,

Indeed, surpassing the electric-power sector, transportation now is the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The current standards would eliminate some 500 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2030, according the Union of Concerned Scientists, and reduce oil consumption by 2.4 million barrels per day.

Climate destabilization is causing ever more severe and dangerous impacts. The scientists tell us that global greenhouse gas emissions must decline rapidly and very deeply, to zero within a few decades, if we are to avoid its worst risks. The proposal, therefore, to increase the emissions by many millions of tons would make the fight to curb climate change much harder, and much more costly in lives, land and the natural environment.

By the administration’s own estimation – although not highlighted but buried within the 515 pages of its proposal –freezing the fuel efficiency targets would cost the economy 50,000 jobs by 2030. This would result from impacts on the many auto parts supply companies which seek to innovate and improve car technology and fuel economy, to stay competitive in the international market. Since 2012 when the Obama administration began increasing the standards, jobs in automotive component manufacturing reportedly have risen by nearly 30 percent.

For Rob Jackson, in Scientific American in July, the auto mileage rollback is a “sick idea,” primarily because of the link between vehicle exhaust and human health. According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study he cites, dirty air in road traffic is the number one cause of deaths – more than 50,000 — that result from air pollution every year. He holds the rollback to mean that “thousands of Americans would die unnecessarily from cardiovascular and other diseases every year. Our elderly would face more bronchitis and emphysema (and) more children would develop asthma” which, even now, affects more than one in 12.

For American drivers’ wallets, were the efficiency-standards weakening to go into effect, it reportedly would come at cost of $36 billion.

The proposal seems indefensible from many perspectives – of climate and environmental health, public health and jobs, and financial cost to consumers.

The public can provide input to the rule proposal at www.regulations.gov, citing Docket EPA-HQ-QAR-2008-0283, until October 23.

Advocates for a clean energy revolution


We no longer use whale oil to light our homes because Thomas Edison came along, developed the light bulb, and it was a better product, remarks James Redford, producer and narrator of a film to be shown in Brown Hall at East Tennessee State University on Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.

One hundred years later, though, we still largely rely on the electric system Edison invented, with fossil fuels driving it. But a new way to produce electric power is taking hold, and the nation’s young people are urging it on – the clean energy revolution.

Jessie Ackerman, about whom an exhibit is currently shown at the ETSU Reece Museum, was a Thomas Edison of her time. Although not directed at technological developments, her extraordinary work and engagement, over a 90-plus-year lifetime, addressed the pressing issues of her time.

An ambassador for peace, in 1904 she took a petition of the Universal Peace Union to the Czar of Russia, urging arbitration and “no use of deadly force in international difficulties [and] the reduction of armaments among all nations.”

On the International Day of Peace this month, the world could celebrate the adoption, last year, of the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition Nuclear Weapons. Of all military weapons, these inflict the most humanitarian and environmental harm.”

Ackerman planted trees wherever she went and among prized gifts from the countries she visited are a hard shelled, coconut-size seed with carvings of people dancing amid flowers and trees, and a Buddhist prayer book, its holy text inscribed on dried palm leaves.

She visited every inhabited continent, circling the globe eight times. The American flag going with her, floating “from 208 ships and sailing most of the waters of the earth.” In books and many articles from her travels she urged openness to and appreciation of other peoples’ culture and way of life.

She advocated for advancement on the issues of universal suffrage and education for all, among others, and improvement of conditions for the working class. One of her books, “What women have done with the vote,” then documented the swift progress that can result if such problems are earnestly addressed. In Australia, gaining the right to vote in the 1890s, women had moved to full political citizenship in less than a generation.

A revolution might happen sometimes, though, and be needed to hasten desired social change.

The film, titled “Happening: A clean energy revolution” shows such a revolution, in our time and country. It documents different, new methods of commercial power production and transfer, through renewable sources. Perhaps a giant solar-thermal plant whose mirrors capture infrared light, in the California desert, to a structure the size of a shed on a small, farm-irrigation canal – a micro-hydro facility in Oregon owned by the Apple company, and many others.

Like Jessie Ackerman on the “wave of women’s liberties” after suffrage, the great momentum now of renewable energy – in deployment, scale, cost, and public opinion – can give a sense of hope about solving our time’s urgent, climate change problem.

The film showing is free and the public is invited.

The Endangered Species Act needs no Trumpian ‘Reform’


Perhaps it was with maintaining the precious heritage of wild nature and its creatures in mind that E.B. White located his children’s classic, The Trumpet of the Swan, in Montana. There, in 1935, the Congress had set aside the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to preserve the last trumpeter swans, their numbers down to 73.

The story is about serious matters – a swan (Louis) overcoming a major handicap, people (the boy Sam) helping a non-human species to survive, and the need for creatures to mate if their life-form is to continue.

It doesn’t seem pure coincidence, either, that our state now has two official wildflowers. Under Governor Haslam in 2012, it adopted the Tennessee Coneflower as second wildflower, Passionflower being the first. Echinacea tennesseensis, uniquely our state’s heritage because it is found nowhere else, had just been de-listed from the Endangered Species Act protection the year before.

The plant delights with rose-purple petals turned upward, tracking the sun, and gives sustenance to butterflies and myriad other pollinating insects, songbirds dining on its seeds. Thought to be extinct, the state’s Heritage office and federal Fish and Wildlife Service had worked 32 years to bring it back to secure status, through listing under the ESA.

When Congress passed the ESA, unanimously in 1973, it noted that many species of fish, wildlife and plants had already been rendered extinct – some 500 since the 1500s – “through economic growth and development untempered by concern and conservation.” It found many more species to be threatened with disappearance, even though of great aesthetic, recreational, scientific and other values to the nation and its people.

The law pledged to conserve species, whether endangered and imminently at risk of vanishing or if threatened to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

The Congress stipulated that the listing of a species, in either category, be based on the best scientific data, independent of economic considerations and associated political influence. The need-for-listing decision would depend solely on a species’ remaining numbers and the threats to its survival.

The Trump administration is now proposing a rule to which it seeks public input. The proposal would strip key provisions of the current ESA law. It would abolish protection of threatened species, except under special, additional review by the agency, for all future listings. It would end the fundamental principle that basic science only – not alleged cost – determine ESA protection. It would no longer require federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on at-risk species’ presence, and incorporate some ameliorative measures if needed, before issuing permits for various projects.

In 2012, Americans paid just $5.40 per person for implementation of the ESA as designed by the Congress. Through this law, we can still appreciate Noshi and Shima and other bald eagles, the trumpeter swan and the Tennessee Coneflower. It has saved from extinction 99 percent of the wildlife and plant species under its care.

Input to the rule-making must be received by September 24. Electronically go to http://www.regulations.gov, entering docket number FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0007 in the search box. Comments may also be submitted via hard copy.

BrightRidge and the national trend in clean-energy transitioning


Alternative, clean energy sources are rapidly expanding in cities, businesses and utilities across the country, and the establishment of a solar farm by BrightRidge is part of the national trend.

The Huffington Post reported in June that the number of U.S. cities pledging to go 100-percent renewable energy doubled last year, to at least 70, amid President Trump’s rollback of federal climate policies and regulations.

An additional 201 cities, representing more than 24 million people and 6.5 percent of the national electricity have endorsed the 100-percent clean energy goal, their policies to be developed in the months to come. That figure, too, the paper stated, doubled since last year.

The announcement of the new commitments was made at the 2018 Conference of Mayors, held earlier in June, in Boston.

As many sources, and officials at the deployment of the BrightRidge solar farm have noted, market forces are the principal drivers in these clean-energy investments. Rapid cost declines have made renewables the cheapest available source of new energy. They are good for industries’ bottom line, enhance (our) state’s economic development, and create high quality jobs. On that aspect, U.S. Department of Labor statistics show solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine technicians to be the fastest growing among well-paying jobs in 2016.

Not that climate-change awareness, and dire need for action on it, isn’t among the motivating factors, for both the corporate world and the American public. A special issue of Scientific American this year reports on the Mars Company, its Snickers chocolate bars popular still, since 1911, but now a global business with 140 factories around the world. The company established a wind farm in Texas which generates 100 percent of the electricity demand for all its U.S. operations.

It also operates wind farms in Scotland and Mexico, plans to deploy such in China, India, and Australia, and installed a “solar garden” in Nevada which produces all electricity needed at its site there, on sunny days.

“Climate change, water scarcity and deforestation are serious threats to society,” states the company’s sustainability director, “and it is imperative that global businesses do their part to face down those threats.” After all, he says, “reducing our carbon footprint is good not only for the planet but also for our bottom line.”

More than 80 percent of 153 major corporations are reported to be actively pursuing or planning to purchase renewable energy over the next 2 to 10 years. Price may be the leading factor in their decision, and that of cities and other entities to transition to clean energy sources, but so is the desire to create a healthier planet in which to be successful in the future. It coincides with what a Forbes article indicates as one of the underlying drivers of this trend, “the broadening public awareness and support for renewables as an actionable solution to combat climate change, leading to increased … renewable energy demand from electricity suppliers.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority has a long way to go to catch up with this national trend, but the BrightRidge action is a highly positive development.