Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Tornadoes, gag orders, & Wendell Berry

During this first full week under the new administration, I — like many of you, I imagine — have been swept up in the news cycle, having to periodically remind myself to get off Twitter and breathe. From gag orders on federal employees, to green lighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, to signing off on the border wall and blocking Syrian refugees, the rapidly-growing list of President Trump’s executive orders has my head spinning, and the constant chatter from every corner of the internet makes it difficult to digest what’s happening.

In the quest for newsletter fodder that wasn’t about these actions, I came across something I completely missed. Inauguration weekend, tornadoes ripped through the Southeast. Some reports say two dozen touched down, others say 50 or more. It was the worst January day for tornadoes since 1969. Tornadoes, which are rare this time of year, killed 15 people in Georgia, one in Florida, and four in Mississippi. On Monday, the death toll was at least 20, but crews haven’t been able to search everywhere yet. County commissioners in Georgia “begged” for assistance from FEMA; the Mississippi governor requested Trump issue a disaster declaration, which allows for federal assistance, on Monday, January 23.

On Sunday, before the death toll was so high, the president offered “condolences” to Georgia and briefly mentioned Florida in a speech. Mid-day Wednesday, four days after the storm in Mississippi, he approved the disaster declaration for several counties there. A quick search of the POTUS Twitter account and Trump’s personal account revealed he hasn’t mentioned the word “tornado” or the states/counties. In addition, not much has been written about the storms since Monday, so it’s relatively unclear what’s happening on the ground.

I suppose all that is to say: As tiring as it may become, keep paying attention.

Stories worth your time

A peek into the town that produced Sonny Perdue, Trump’s candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Also from AJCthe rescue of a 100-year old schoolhouse on St. Simons Island, Georgia, a foundation for Gullah-Geechee culture. The Gullah-Geechee nation share heritage of enslaved Africans who lived along parts of the Southeastern coast. Their landmarks, culture, and communities are increasingly threatened by sea level rise, tourism, gentrification, and development.

A racist encounter in her teenage years haunted Atlanta-based writer Anjali Enjeti. Recently, she went on a girls’ trip to Savannah, Georgia with six of her immigrant friends and reflected on the event, as well as on power, race, and inclusion in the South.

The Department of Energy planned to transport radioactive waste — “weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium in a liquid form,” to be exact — via a semi-truck from Canada to South Carolina. As the Mountain Xpress in Asheville reports, a lawsuit in North Carolina has the plan on hold; the plaintiffs want a new environmental impact study for the 150+ truckloads. According to one nuclear expert, “2 ounces of this material would be enough to render 510 million liters of water undrinkable.”

News flying under the radar

A new bill in Kentucky would impose a “sunset” statute on all regulations, requiring them to be re-evaluated every seven years or they die. Experts are concerned it would weaken the state’s 840 environmental regulations, and could even cause regulatory lapses or interference with federal laws like the Clean Air Act.

Right before the inauguration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly canceled a conference in Atlanta on climate change and public health, without giving much of a reason.

In an unprecedented event, nine black women were elected as judges in Jefferson County, Alabama last November. New York Magazine interviews all of them.

Check out photographer Johanne Rahaman, who is documenting Florida’s black communities in her ongoing project Black Florida.

“Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry” played at Sundance last weekend, but you won’t find Berry on camera — just narrating and reading behind the lens. The beloved Kentucky poet is always on message: “He thinks screens are contributing to the decline of literacy and that they deaden the imagination. So, it was a bit of an impediment,” said filmmaker Laura Dunn.

Hope y’all have a beautiful weekend, and get to step away from the screen for a spell. Thanks for reading!