Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Climate opinions, coal markets, & endangered species

The dogwoods are blooming, and my nose is itchy. If you’ve spent any time in these parts, you know that’s not normal for early March — well, not yet — and it’s happening because there was no winter. Sixteen states had record warmth this winter, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The rest of the South was significantly above average. Southern Louisiana experienced the warmest February in history, and the Gulf’s surface temperature was two to seven degrees higher than the 30-year average.

In two days, though, the forecast calls for snow; a cold front is sweeping through the Southeast. When I read that, I thought of the dogwoods, and those delicate purple flowers that sprout up in Kentucky bluegrass in the summer (okay, they’re actually weeds). Always a sign of spring, I spotted them in my backyard the other day. I imagine there’s no hope for them with a frost this weekend; the real danger of climate change is its fickleness.

Recently, Yale updated its data on climate change opinions. The majority of Americans — 70 percent — believe global warming is occurring, even as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency falsely claims carbon emissions are not the “primary cause.” But breaking it down by county complicates things. Take Choctaw County in central Mississippi, for instance. According to the Yale data, 55 percent of people think global warming is happening. But only 40 percent believe humans are causing it. Half of them are worried about global warming, but only 36 percent believe it will hurt them personally. Fifty-nine percent think it will harm future generations.

Those of us who have talked about climate change for years have scoffed at deniers or skeptics, lamented them being the reason we can’t move forward with climate action, laughed at human fickleness when they come around to accept it. But being in that bubble has led to some desensitization — at least it has for me. When I first saw the blooms in early February, I hardly thought about them. It took a few walks around the block for it to sink in, and even then, the consequences didn’t register. Forgetting to recognize climate change or failing to confront the complexities of it is not much better than refusing to accept it in the first place. So, between evaluating my own lack of knowledge about the ripple effects of this winter, and clicking around the map where beliefs shifted so quickly, my bubble deflated a little. And that’s a really good thing.

Stories worth your time

Politico offers a realistic look at the coal market in Appalachia: “Even if every one of Obama’s environmental regulations—the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; the Cross State Air Pollution Rule; the Coal Ash Rule; the Effluent Limitations Guidelines for wastewater discharge, and section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act —were all struck down tomorrow, the effect on jobs in Appalachia would still be negligible. That’s because global demand for coal is slowing, and coal from Wyoming costs a fraction of the coal from Appalachia. Even without the Stream Protection Rule, the Appalachian economy still needs to be remade.”

This Oxford American long read of a double murder in small-town Kentucky had me captivated. It uses the case to explore the impacts of military bases on the places that reside near them.

Pulling one from the archives here, because someone tweeted a story this week that stuck with me long after I closed the tab. Last year, Charlotte Magazine profiled a single mother struggling with poverty. It’s simply a glimpse into her life, but what it says about healthcare, food, and education systems is incredibly powerful.

News flying under the radar

A National Academy of Sciences committee plans to study the health effects of surface mining in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. This comes after a similar study in 2009 was defunded before it was completed. Several other researchers are looking at similar health issues in Appalachia, too.

Later this year, the Department of Interior plans to lease 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for for oil and gas drilling as part of the president’s plan to “boost energy independence.”

Wildfires are burning across the Midwest, Colorado, and Florida. At least 7,500 acres were scorched in Collier County near Naples, resulting in the closure of a major highway thoroughfare.

At least a dozen bills have been introduced so far this year to challenge the Endangered Species Act. Now, after 18 states sued to loosen critical habitat restrictions, conservation groups in South Carolina and Alabama are fighting back.

Local officials in Camden, Tennessee say a nearby landfill that has metal waste and diesel fuel from a Superfund site is a threat to its 3,500 residents, and state regulators refuse to help. One example: “Sounds of small explosions prompted the chief of police to rush to a scene to investigate a possible shooting or an exploding meth lab. The noise turned out to be the combustion caused by heavy metals mixing with moisture.”