Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

Young voices, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, & golden kiwifruit

It took only a few days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—where a former student opened fire on Valentine’s Day, killing 17 people—for lawmakers to denounce gun control legislation and revive the movement to arm teachers and school staff instead.

A Kentucky lawmaker introduced a bill to allow teachers and staff to carry guns on school campuses, and the state government doubled down on its opposition to gun control legislation. In North Carolina, lawmakers formed a legislative committee to address school safety, which includes arming teachers. An Alabama state representative who is running for lieutenant governor said he’s introducing a bill to arm teachers. Eight states, including Alabama, currently have laws that either allow concealed carry of firearms at K–12 schools, or have no laws prohibiting them. The NRA touts the example of Joel Myrick, a former assistant principal at a Mississippi high school, to promote this movement. In 1997, Myrck heard gunfire on his school campus, got his pistol from his car, and chased and detained the student who had opened fire. Despite that, Myrick is against arming teachers, he told the New York Times this week.

But the predictable echo from legislators has been drowned out by the calls for action, specifically for gun control legislation, by students who survived the Florida shooting.

Credit: Everytown For Gun Safety

“We felt like the rest of the country — there’s nothing to do. When this happened, we knew that this was our chance to say, ‘No more kids are going to die.’ We’re going to hold these sick politicians who prefer the murder of children to [losing] their reelection. We’re going to hold them accountable. And that’s what we’re doing,” David Hogg, a 17-year old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who recorded the shooting, told Vox. He and several other students, including Emma Gonzalez, who delivered an impassioned speech at a gun control rally and called out President Trump, have been leading the charge for stricter gun control and calling directly on specific politicians to address mass shootings, especially those who take money from the NRA and continually prohibit legislation that would make it harder to obtain assault weapons.

Their efforts were shut down by the Florida House of Representatives this week, which overwhelmingly rejected a ban on AR-15 rifles and other guns defined as “assault weapons” and large capacity magazines after observing a prayer for the 17 victims. Right-wing conspiracy theorists have been attempting to discredit the students by calling them “crisis actors” (and a Florida state representative aide was fired for doing so). But they keep talking. Hundreds held a walk-out from schools across the state and held a press conference with Florida lawmakers on Wednesday, and led a town hall in which Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and an NRA official were repeatedly heckled and booed.

Young people will reap the consequences of our choices as a society—many of which are coming to a head at once. They’ll have to cope with the effects of increasing gun violence, of rapidly rising seas, of pipeline construction, of environmental regulation rollbacks, of crackdowns on immigration. As daunting as that seems, they’re already responding to these challenges. For instance, undocumented youth are speaking out fearlessly about the importance of DACA and immigrant rights; three teenagers keep filing petitions in North Carolina to require the state to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions; a Louisiana teenager is one of the 21 youth suing the federal government over climate change. And, just anecdotally, I’ve noticed these priorities, too: in 2016, at the height of the presidential election campaign, I helped review submissions to an annual High Country News student essay contest. Many of the entries blew me away—they were almost exclusively about addressing climate change, the importance of diversity, and shedding light on sexual assault.

Watching these Florida students organize, collaborate, and take charge so quickly and effectively has been awe-inspiring. It’s given me—and many others, it seems—pause, showing us how little credit we give youth, and how much credit they often deserve. So infrequently do we let them speak for themselves that we miss how powerful it is when they finally do.

Stories worth your time

The Parkland, Florida high school where the mass shooting occurred is named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a storied South Florida environmental activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details her life: she was a reporter for the Miami Herald before writing a famous book on the Everglades and founding the conservation group Friends of the Everglades. She lived to be 108.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run from West Virginia to a terminus in Robeson County, North Carolina, which is the land of the Lumbee tribe, the largest Native American community east of the Mississippi River. The Lumbees are divided in their stance, mostly over jobs the pipeline could bring, as this Bitter Southerner story shows. “The land isn’t just what you plant on. It’s where the trees are located. It’s where the water is filtered through the land and then goes into the river,” said Donna Chavis, a Lumbee member who has helped mobilize people to fight the pipeline. “So you’re looking at every aspect of our historical, cultural ways being threatened by the pipeline. And the pipe, when it goes in, it’s forever.”

This Sierra Magazine story digs into why South Carolina business owners, citizens’ groups, activists, and legislators, regardless of party affiliation, are rallying against the Trump administration’s plan to open the Atlantic coast up to oil and gas drilling. A snapshot from the piece: “‘After decades of being involved in Big Oil, areas around Port Fourchon are still some of the most poverty-stricken in America,’ [Rick] Baumann told me as he turned to slice a swordfish. He fears that if the oil industry moves in, South Carolina will struggle with the same problems that communities in Louisiana do: degraded water and air quality and hurricanes that trigger oil and chemical leaks.”

In central Tennessee, the Fitzgerald family sells big rig trucks equipped with rebuilt diesel engines, or “gliders,” that are not required comply with federal rules on emissions controls. They’re cheaper, but they spew 40 to 55 times the air pollution of new trucks. The Fitzgeralds are allowed to do this because of a loophole in the law—which is condemned by automakers, businesses, and environmentalists—that the Obama administration attempted to close, The New York Times reports. The Trump administration wants to keep the loophole, and the company has Trump’s ear; it has also been helping finance the campaign for Representative Diane Black, a Republican running for Tennessee governor who supports deregulation of the truck industry. But, according to the Washington Post, the president of Tennessee Tech University just disavowed a study it produced that has been used to help justify the repeal of tighter federal emissions standards, saying that experts question “the methodology and accuracy” of it because it was funded by the Fitzgeralds.

News flying under the radar

An offshore oil worker died while working on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, and federal regulators say they are investigating the death. The company that owns the production platform had been fined $4 million and placed on three years of probation in 2016 for violating federal laws governing safety and the environment.

A Mississippi bill would require Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to getauthorization from the state’s public service commission to bring lawsuits against utilities. He is currently suing Entergy for $1.1 billion, claiming the utility bought overpriced energy from its sister companies instead of buying cheaper energy elsewhere.

A small community in eastern Alabama is home to the nation’s only commercial golden kiwifruit orchard. The Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative’s goal is to sell the fruit overseas to places like Japan and Southeast Asia, where it’s in high demand, and start growing other fruits in Alabama as well.