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, 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, 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, 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.

We need this holiday to celebrate a freedom from fear


After a visit to Japan, the film producer and science writer, Ann Dryan, remarked on “a plaque that soothes.” At ground zero in Hiroshima, the plaque is inscribed: “Rest in Peace for It Shall Not Happen again.”

The monument, she suggested, reflects an understandable need for victimized people to salvage some meaning from such a cataclysm. Yet within the reality of the global political situation today, she held that “this reassurance seems the emptiest of promises.”

In near-term years ahead, though, we might expect an international holiday, on July 7, in observance of the now legal prohibition – and leading to total elimination – of nuclear weapons. On that day last year, a jubilant Elayne Whyte Gomez, Ambassador from Costa Rica who presided over the United Nations negotiations on a nuclear-weapons ban treaty, announced its adoption by 122 states. Ratification by 50 countries – our southern neighbor (Mexico) and more than a dozen other states having done so already – will bring the treaty into force.

What brought this landmark global agreement about, more than seven decades after the Aug. 6, 1945, “Little-Boy” atomic bomb blast killed over 90,000, mostly civilian, residents of Hiroshima?

Emphasizing the extraordinary perils to humanity from these weapons of mass destruction, a group of the very scientists involved in their development in the Manhattan Project created the Doomsday Clock in 1947. Using the symbol of midnight as apocalyptic threat to the planet and its people, that year they judged the Clock to be 7 minutes away from midnight.

In 1953, after the US and Russia developed thermonuclear weapons, or the hydrogen bomb – with more than thousand times the Little Boy bomb’s killing power, the scientists advanced the Clock’s hand to 2 minutes to midnight. They did so, again, this year.

In 1955, in a manifesto to a national Conference on Science and World Affairs, Albert Einstein stated this warning: Not for “members of this or that nation, continent or creed” alone but for humanity itself and the natural world they irradiate with lethal dust or rain – through use of H-bombs in any war “the continued existence of mankind is threatened.”

An appeal and warning by the Red Cross that meaningful medical response was impossible following any nuclear detonation brought a mandate for negotiations on the weapons-ban treaty, by the United Nations in December 2016, the treaty being concluded and sealed seven months later.

Ann Dryan feared that deployment of nuclear weapons, with their now omnicidal consequences, could happen again. Yet through more political engagement by “life-giving women” in the troubled modern world, she hoped that “we will redeem the promise made at ground zero.”

In outlawing further development, use or threat of use, as Ambassador Gomez noted when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted, the United Nations “are responding to the hopes and dreams of present and future generations.”

More than one hundred non-governmental organizations, working together in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), were awarded the Nobel Peace Price for their groundbreaking efforts.

Stabilize the climate: Fish, people, economies benefit


In an article in The Guardian in May, a state park police officer is seen walking across the cracked, dry bed of O C Fisher Lake. This reservoir in Texas, though historically subject to large water fluctuations, has seen its water storage extremely low since the mid 1990s, at less than 10 percent full.

Its storage at around 80 thousand acre-feet in 1960s, as shown on a park website graphic, heat and droughts under the warming climate have decimated it to 20 or less, and empty several years, since the turn of the century.

The headline of the article, “Global warming will depress economic growth” reflects the damage to once thriving sports fishing and tourism activities associated with the lake, in that region. On a larger scale, a working paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond this year found seasonal temperatures to have large and systemic effects on the economy, with result that “global warming could significantly hamper U.S. economic growth.”

In searing heat, shop owners in Jonesborough may find their income low as few folks are visiting. The southern states, which have the hottest summertime temperatures, are expected to see these rise significantly if the global warming trend is not halted.

In the American Economic Journal in 2012 and other publications since then, a number of researchers have documented a strong relationship between temperature and Gross Domestic Product, and the negative effect on GDP as temperatures rise.

One recent study found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial level temperatures would likely save the global economy more than $20 trillion by the year 2100, as compared to 2°C warming. At cost of $300 billion, the benefits of thus limiting global climate change would exceed the costs by about 70-to-1.

In their historic agreement in Paris, 195 nations committed to limit the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2°C,” and preferably to 1.5°. Many sobering indications of what continued inertia on effective climate policy means – the hurricanes last year and scorching, deadly heat waves in many parts of the world recently – urge action. Thus, and as many studies now show, achieving the lower-increase goal (1.5°) of the Paris agreement and curbing the greenhouse gases in the most efficient manner will be hugely advantageous, even from an economic perspective alone.

The Climate Leadership Council, composed of major business leaders and Republican elder statesmen from earlier administrations, is calling for a carbon tax as most effective, fastest solution to climate change, as does the Citizens’ Climate Lobby organization. Both the Council’s and CCL’s policy plans, which would return all revenue to American households, would grow the economy. In the Citizens’ Climate Lobby plan, a net GDP increase of $1.3 trillion is expected, over 20 years.

For the sunfish, bass and other aquatic life in dwindling freshwater lakes, and for local and national economies worldwide, one hopes that the US Congress, with help from Representative Phil Roe, will pass an effective, carbon-pricing climate policy soon.

Alaska takes action on climate change


In a poem in “Echoes from a Peaceable Kingdom,” John Bennett has a polar bear looking for a “cleanly coldness,” such as used to be its experience in Arctic weathers.

As the animal plods towards too-warm water, he complains, shaking his heavy head “against an arrogance of the sun” and grunting that, surely, “cold cannot be dead.”

The bear isn’t alone in feeling threatened by this newly “arrogant sun” seemingly spawning greater heat, water warming and other ill effects. In the Arctic region over the recent decades, temperature have risen at twice the rate of the rest of the country. Walruses and seals also see the ice cover dwindle upon which their survival depends.

Caribou mothers now often find little fodder during late-pregnancy months, the warming being the cause of plants’ blooming earlier in the year. Fewer healthy calves result and fewer of these reach adulthood. And caribou have little defense against mosquito swarms which now can reach “hundreds of thousands to millions of insects,” according to National Geographic, as the warming climate gives them a 50 percent greater breeding success.

Sea level rise and land erosion, through fierce storms over now open coastal waters, are forcing the native people of Alaska to relocate some of their ancestral villages. Local governments and tribes “throughout Alaska,” as a climate assessment report indicates, must consider or are actively moving farther inland and away from rivers, and building extensive shore-protection structures. Many buildings, roads and other infrastructure have to be shored up or given up as permafrost thawing causes the land to subside, making them unstable.

And tree-killing insect pests survive in the warmer climate, causing huge forest fires earlier and longer than ever before.

The State of Alaska, acknowledging change “so real and so widespread that it’s become impossible to ignore” is taking strong action to fight climate change, as the New York Times reported in May. By administrative order in October, Governor Bill Walker established a task force to lay out a Climate Action Plan.

Wind turbines dot the Alaskan landscape on the governor’s website and a draft plan released in April aims to have half of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources – up from 33 percent in 2016 – by 2025. It will have the state cut its greenhouse gas emissions one-third below 2005 levels by that year, in line with (and exceeding slightly) what the nation had committed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The plan considers putting a Carbon Fee and Dividend program in place to speed the change to climate-benign energy.

The polar bear cannot know that humans’ fossil-fuel burning since the industrial revolution, rather than a more luminous sun, is to blame for its loss of ice.

It is heartening to see energy-transitioning efforts such as this are in progress and planned in Alaska, and by other states and many sub-state entities. One must hope that they reach such mass, and achieve success, before global warming becomes so extreme that “cold (will be) dead” and the planet becomes inhospitable to human and other life.

Library friends underline library importance

An Open Letter to the Washington County Tennessee Commissioners:

I would like to declare my support for the 2018-2019 budget request of the Washington County-Jonesborough Library (Washington County Public Library, Jonesborough & Gray, TN) as presented by the Library Board of Trustees. 

The library is a vital resource that functions as a community center, educational support system, and an ad hoc social service that helps local people become more familiar with the complexities of the online world. 

Failure to properly fund our library will result in a reduction in services, including popular ones such as children’s STEM programs, genealogy assistance, and one-on-one computer instruction.

How important are our library services?   

Ask the mother of a struggling reader whose grades improved after working with one of our Tail Waggin’ tutors. 

Ask the sixty-year-old gentleman who is using a computer for the first time to file for unemployment. 

Ask the young woman who learns that she can now register to vote from her own phone using the library’s Wi-Fi connection. 

Ask the homeschool parents that use our vast consortium collection to help educate the next generation of Washington County leaders. 

Ask the hundreds of tourists that use our Genealogy and Archives collection every year to find answers to their family histories. 

The Washington County-Jonesborough Library (and Gray Library) adds more value to the community than it uses in funds; it adds $4.96 in value for every dollar it uses. 

Our library does more than check out books—it provides a place for civil discourse, it serves as a great equalizer in the information age, it transforms the lives of many of its users, and it deserves to be adequately funded.

Washington County is the lowest funded library of any other county in our region.  I would hope that the new County Commission coming in would have the foresight to look to the future of our libraries as something more than just a building that requires maintenance.  We need all the dollars we can get.

– Dona Lewis (President of the Friends of the Library)

Latest BMA appointment is, in our view, a perfect fit

At the April 9 Jonesborough Board of Mayor & Alderman meeting, the board unanimously voted to appoint former longtime town employee Virginia Causey to fill the vacant alderman position. We here at the Herald & Tribune could not be more pleased.

This newpaper’s relationship with Virginia has already proven to be a  long and fruitful one. Whenever we needed to track down an important fact, gather details about an upcoming event or obtain guidance on how best to locate a town official, she was always on hand to point us in the right direction.

Before she retired, we used to joke that she was our 9-1-1.

We understand that many in the community felt the same.

Better yet, in all these dealings — whether chasing down a phone number or preparing a board packet — Virginia’s dedication to her hometown was always apparent.

She knew Jonesborough was special — not because of its historic buildings and small-town character — but because of the people she grew up with, worked with and lived along side.

In her 30-plus years as a Jonesborough employee, she remained this town’s biggest cheerleader and its best support.

It has been said, “Behind every great man there stands a great woman.”

In Jonesborough, behind every great man (or woman), there stood Virginia.

Now, Virginia has moved out of her supportive role and into the limelight as the BMA’s newest alderman.

Her purpose, she has said, has remained essentially the same; to care for and support the people of Jonesborough — both its residents and its employees.

But her power, one of the four voting members of the board, has increased.

And as the lone woman on a board that has been said to value diversity, we believe she will add a much needed voice to the BMA as she continues to serve.

Jonesborough marker honors immigrant trail

Are you aware that there will soon be a marker in Jonesborough honoring immigrants?

The marker will be placed on the facade of a stone boulder located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Main Street.  The marker was originally placed at this same location.  It was recently restored by Gavin Chaffing who was recognized this year for his excellent work in historic preservation by the State of Franklin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  A rededication ceremony will be held this year.

The Immigrant Trail Marker is important in reminding us of the role immigration has played in the history of the United States.  This early migration route now travels through the Tennessee towns of Jonesborough, Greeneville and Morristown following the path of U.S. Route 11 E for a distance of about 125 miles. It is often referred to as the Knoxville Road, a segment of the western fork of the Great Valley Road that began near Roanoke, Virginia and extended to Bristol.  At Knoxville, the road connected with Avery’s Trace to Nashville.

Placement of the restored marker is timely during a period when the subject of immigration has become a political issue.  Jonesborough’s Immigrant Trail Marker was originally dedicated in or shortly after 1933.  Collections for the marker started in 1930.  Repair and replacement of the marker in Tennessee’s oldest town began as a DAR project in September 2014.  The repair of the metal plate began as a Science Hill High School class project in September 2017.

The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, impact on social mobility, crime and voting behavior.

Immigration today in Washington County, Tennessee is more than historical recollection.  As of July 1, 2017 the United State Census Bureau says there are 127,806 people in the county of whom 3.5 per cent were foreign born.  This percentage equals 4,473 people. There are likely more than that figure not counted in the census for one reason or another, including those individuals who are undocumented.

If you are interested in your own family history, genealogical research facilities and societies are in existence in the county that provide answers to the question “where did I come from?”  The Jonesborough Genealogical Society and the Watauga Association of Genealogists, Northeast Tennessee offer assistance to members and persons seeking to trace their roots.  The Washington County / Jonesborough Library and Johnson City Public Library have genealogy sections containing helpful volumes of family history and research aids.  The  Washington County Archives now located in its own   building offers records dating to a time before Tennessee was a state.

In addition there are web sites and companies offering DNA testing results. Many people are excited when they discover the available accumulation of family histories and their DNA map revealing evidence of their own family’s  immigrant past. 

In absolute numbers, the United State has a larger immigrant population than any other country in the world.

Immigration has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States.

There were 47 million immigrants in the United States in 2015 according to the United Nations Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  This represents 19.1 per cent of the 244 million international migrant population worldwide and 14.4 per cent of the U.S. population.  The nation does not lead the world in per percentage of immigrants.  Many other countries have higher percentages, for example, Switzerland with a population of 24.9 percent immigrants.

No one editorial can pose all the questions or answers concerning the status of the nation’s immigrant policies.  Research suggests that immigration to the United States is beneficial to the nation’s economy.  With few exceptions, the evidence suggests that immigration on average has positive effects on the current non-immigrant U.S. population.  In one segment of the population, the results are mixed.  This debate centers around the issue of how numbers of low-skilled immigrants affect their non-immigrant U.S. counterparts.

Studies also indicate that immigration either has no impact on the crime rate or that it reduces the crime rate in the United States according to a February 1917 article from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy titled “Are immigrants more likely to commit crimes?”

Research further indicates that the United States excels at assimilating first and second generation immigrants relative to many other Western countries.

In a time of intense interest in the subject of immigration, a look at the Immigration Trail Marker in Jonesborough after its rededication should help people decide their views on allowing people to continue to arrive in the nation seeking permanent resident status and citizenship.

Overturning regulatory protections for ground and surface waters


The “Specimen 6” painting in last year’s Fletcher Exhibit at the Reece Museum showed a Virginia artist’s conception about animals – crayfish and mussels, snails, turtles, darters, salamanders and myriad others – which suffer ongoing pollution in our water bodies and can get killed in vast numbers when catastrophic spill events occur. The frog she portrayed, suffocating in gray sludge, was among the river creatures killed when tons of coal ash from a power plant poured into the Dan River in North Carolina, in 2014.

The nation’s worst such spill, at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston plant in 2007, demonstrates the coal ash hazard for humans, especially if directly exposed. Resulting from cleanup of that site, there now are “180 new cases of dead or dying coal ash spill workers,” the USA Today Network reported on March 28.

Typically stored in wet ponds of which close to half have no liners, hazardous chemicals and carcinogenic substances in the ash can seep into groundwater, threatening drinking-water safety. Nationwide, cancer risk is high for people living near one of more than thousand ash impoundments, and children particularly face danger of developing asthma, learning disabilities, cancer or other serious problems.

In 2012, a government study estimated that the damage to fish and wildlife, at just 21 ash-disposal sites, came at a cost of more than $2.3 billion.

All-too-many media reports – some samples below – should alert us to the lurking public-health and environmental threats from hundreds of poorly maintained coal-waste sites:

“Near many of Indiana’s coal fired power plants, the ground water is a toxic mix of arsenic, boron, cobalt, lead, molybdenum, radium and thallium” – IndyStar, March 28 – coal ash contaminants there being at levels 40 times above safe drinking water standards. “Coal ash pollution threatens groundwater at western Kentucky power plant” – National Public Radio, April 10, 207 – arsenic levels “nearly 1,000 times the federal standard” being found there. “Toxic coal ash (is) seeping into Illinois’ only national scenic river” – Chicago Tribune, April 10.

Late under the Obama administration, following more than a decade of rising concern about inadequate safety in storage and disposal, the Environmental Protection Agency issued two coal-ash rules strengthening the federal standards. With the Trump administration seemingly intent on propping up coal, however, the utility industry promptly called for rollbacks to the “burdensome, inflexible, and often impracticable” rules and Administrator Pruitt, equally promptly, granted its petition to have these deferred and re-reviewed.

In a proposed “Overhaul” on which the EPA is seeking public input, a “spate of changes” to the 2015 Coal Ash Rule would gut groundwater protection and monitoring requirements.

Various other “flexibility” options for states, or industry operators themselves, to determine need or type of “alternate” cleanup, ash-pond closure, contamination-control or other measures promise savings to the industry of “between $32 million and $100 million per year.”

Water is the source of life. For the artist portraying threatened aquatic wildlife, for citizens fearing the safety of water supplies being compromised, the proposed overturning of regulatory coal-waste protections is an ominous and unwelcome development in Washington.

Get out and vote!

In today’s Herald & Tribune, we have included a handy Election Guide to assist this year’s voters. This guide should provide you lots of information, including some of those things you may want to know, but are afraid you will sound too foolish if you ask.

What does a county mayor do? What roles do a trustee and register of deeds play? The answers to these questions and more should help narrow your choice as you choose the best man or woman for the job at hand.

You will also find a list of polling places, important dates and, of course, many messages from those courting your vote.

Read up and then get ready to head to the polls. If you have any questions, please give us a call. We’ll do all we can to provide you with the information you seek. And remember to pick up a Herald & Tribune each and every week as we continue to cover the 2018 election year.

Now go out there and exercise the right that continues to set us apart -— the right to have a say in our own destiny through the power of the vote.

Oil dependence is a burden on the U.S. military


They have barrels of oil air-dropped to them in some desert or other area in the countries where American service members are engaged in war-fighting or war support operations. They then must ferry the oil, in tanker trucks, to and around battle fields and bases out of which they operate.

In Afghanistan and Iraq during 2002 to 2008, the Military used nearly two billion gallons of fuel, service members say in a documentary film soon to be shown at East Tennessee State University.

At only 5 miles to the gallon, the tanker trucks’ fuel efficiency is extremely low and armored personnel carriers’ lower yet. As 50 percent of all convey loads involve fuel transport and their dangerous routes are preferred targets of improvised-explosive-device attacks, many soldiers have lost life or limb this way. The film’s title aptly points to the high “Burden” in servicemen lost when base- and warfare operations are thus chained to oil.

In it, Greg Ballard, a marine Gulf war veteran and now Mayor of Indianapolis, states this insistence that “our sons and daughters and friends no longer should have to die guarding oil. We had to fight to defend it 20 or 30 years ago, but American innovation has allowed us to move away from it now.”

His innovation? Cars in the Indianapolis motor race brandish a “sugarcane ethanol” fuel logo, and all city vehicles running on oil-based fuels are to be be phased out a few years hence.

Military leaders are applying and promoting energy innovation to make their operations safer and more cost effective. The navy pioneers in bio-fuels production to power its carriers; combat outposts are being made more effective through highly energy-efficient operations; bases are solarized to have their computers, radios, lights, and generators run without need for oil trucked in; the Air Force Academy aims to obtain all its electricity from renewable sources, soon.

The transitioning to home-grown and non-carbon based energy draws this remark from the Navy Secretary: “It helps address a military vulnerability from oil, it’s helping our farmers, entrepreneurs and our industrial base — but to make us better at war fighting is the main reason we are doing it.”

Through lessening its oil dependency, the military endeavors to protect troop operations and effectiveness in the field, as well as make the naval and other bases more secure and resilient from climate change effects. It often lacks understanding and support from the Congress, though, given that now only few — 19 percent — veterans serve in that body, versus 65 percent in 1973.

The Congress should — enthusiastically, not grudgingly — support the military leaders’ vision and efforts in these matters, to lighten the problems from oil dependence on the lives and performance of our service men, the national economy, and the climate.

Sponsored by the ETSU Department of Sustainability and the Northeast Tennessee chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, there will be a free showing of “The Burden” documentary, in Brown Hall Auditorium on April 18, at 7 PM, with post-film discussion by retired Air Force Major General Devereaux.

The public is invited.

Today is the day to remember Ernest

Today is an important day in Jonesborough, not only as a way to honor a great man in our history, but also as a way to protect his — and  this town’s  legacy.

Dr. Ernest McKinney was a educator, ground breaker and activist, but most remember him as a good man who never hesitated to do his part in whatever needed to be done.

As a part of  “I Remember Ernest McKinney Day,” residents and businesses will be busy putting up signs and flooding social media to honor him.

More importantly, however, the McKinney Center will be hosting a story gathering session from 1 to 6 p.m. today at the center to capture — and preserve — many of those memories.

Anyone willing to share an Ernest McKinney story is encouraged to stop by. As Jules Corriere from the McKinney Center said in today’s front page article, “We have digital recorders and these stories will become part of our archives.”

We here at the Herald & Tribune encourage everyone out there today to heed her call. We do not want to lose a trace of McKinney’s legacy, nor let one precious story fade as time marches on.

It is, we believe, the best way to say thank you for all he was able to do.

Leadership, lessons learned remain key to future success



It seems appropriate in an edition titled Progress 2018 that the Herald & Tribune would take a moment to look back to past actions that brought us to where we are today — and to say goodbye to a mayor who we believe made so much of it possible.

As most everyone is aware by now, Mayor Kelly Wolfe recently announced his immediate surprise resignation to a packed boardroom at the March 11 meeting of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor & Aldermen.

There were a lot of tears, and more than a few requests that he maintain his mayoral role — with good reason, in our opinion. Since the moment Wolfe stepped into the mayor’s seat more than nine years ago, his impact was immediate and apparent.

Wolfe’s background was and remains deeply entrenched  in construction. When he stepped onto the board in 2008, he was already well-versed in managing tight schedules and meeting specific budget constraints while still arriving with results in which he could be proud.

This is a background that would serve Wolfe and his town well in his nine years at the helm.

Wolfe’s tenure could easily be described as: spot a problem, arrive at a solution and then get it done. He believed as a town that you get what you pay for – and set out to make Jonesborough’s staff pay scale more equitable. He understood that a inferior infrastructure would always stall Jonesborough’s growth, no matter how grand the idea, and helped orchestrate better water lines and a more efficient waste water treatment structure.

In less than a decade — the time Wolfe has been mayor — the town has witnessed downtown revitalization, the building of a new Senior Center that is the envy of surrounding communities, the restoration of the Booker T. Washington School into a local school for the arts, the reconstruction of the Chuckey Depot, and the growth and near completion of the town’s linear trail.

As for the future, thanks in part to a sizable donation from Wolfe and his wife, Jennifer, Jonesborough is looking forward to the day when the Jackson Theatre will open, bringing more opportunities to Tennessee’s oldest town.

Those contributions have been tremendous — yet we believe Mayor Wolfe’s greatest gift to Jonesborough may be something even more.  Over and over again, as conversation has turned to the mayor’s surprise resignation, one picture has re-emerged.

For 9 1/2 years, Mayor Wolfe has truly been the face of Jonesborough, as well as its greatest cheerleader. At every event in Jonesborough, in its stores or on its streets, the mayor has clearly shown his love for his small town. He has talked freely with visitors, neighbors and friends about its wonders. He has made sure that the movers-and-shakers in Nashville knew our name.

And while Kelly Wolfe was making sure everyone who didn’t live here understood the value of this town, he was also reminding those of us who do live here that we truly inhabit a little slice of heaven. And if we would just join together, we could make it even better still.

That, my friends, may be the greatest gift from our former mayor to the town of Jonesborough. If we can but remember that our future continues to be bright as long as we join together, his work will be done, but his vision will continue.