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Photo: Reuters.
An Egyptian nonprofit has enlisted fishermen from Al-Qursaya, an island near central Cairo, to collect plastics that have been reducing the catch.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, I recently learned about the enormity of the plastics problem in waters where people fish. The website states: “Plastic accumulating in our oceans and on our beaches has become a global crisis. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.” Yikes!

New efforts large and small are needed to reverse what’s happening. On Twitter, the World Economic Forum is promoting one of the small efforts, which is how I learned about it.

Reuters reports, “For 17 years, Mohamed Nasar has supported his family of five by fishing in the Nile River near the banks of the tiny island of Al-Qursaya close to central Cairo.

“But the 58-year-old says fishermen like himself catch fewer fish every year as the Nile has become clogged with plastic bottles, bags and other waste.

‘The fish get caught in the bottles, and they die,’ said Nasar.

“A local environmental group named ‘VeryNile‘ has asked the island’s fishermen to use their boats to collect plastic bottles from the river. VeryNile says it buys the bottles at a higher price than the general market price on offer from traders or recycling plants.

“The initiative provides a sustainable solution for helping to clean up the Nile, while providing an additional source of income for fisherman like Nasar.

” ‘This job helped us a bit. We come and collect about 10 to 15 kilos (of plastic bottles), we get about 12 Egyptian pounds ($0.7682) for each,’ Nasar said as he sat in his boat collecting bottles. …

“Another fisherman, Saeed Hassanein, said cleaner Nile water would mean more fish.

” ‘On the one hand, the Nile is cleaner, and on the other hand the fisherman now has more than one source of income,’ he said.

“With the help of more than 40 fishermen, VeryNile has over the past year collected around 18 tons of plastic bottles, most of which were sold to recyclers.” More at Reuters, here.

The World Economic Forum, which defines itself as the “international organization for public-private cooperation,” is increasingly focused on addressing the consequences of global warming, and I hope it is serious about that. It’s easy to feel cynical about the forum’s annual conference for the world’s rich and powerful — called Davos because it takes place in Davos, Switzerland — but I have to believe it’s helping to make both the problems and the possible solutions more widely accepted. Besides, I know there are many altruistic people on the staff, like my friend Kai, who was one of them several years ago.

In a recent podcast, Radio Davos discusses initiatives tackling climate change, calling the current decade “the decade of ocean science, and one in which we must get on track for net-zero by 2050.”

So there’s that. Meanwhile, in Egypt, impoverished fishermen are pulling out plastic that corporations, cruise ships, and too many individuals keep dumping.

Photo: Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage.
Above is a chimpanzee in the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia, where an influencer chimp began a tradition of wearing a blade of grass in the ear, a style that continued after her death.

I’ve been thinking about social influencers and whether I can identify contemporary influences that have affected what I do. I know that if someone describes a book in a way that makes it sound like my kind of thing, I go immediately to my library’s website and reserve it. In another example, my behavior is hugely influenced by articles on the latest Covid research. And I’m always joining boycotts to help a worthy cause someone is promoting.

So I thought it was interesting to learn how creatures other than humans do influencing — from silly behaviors to life-and-death behaviors.

Natalie Angier at the New York Times begins with a chimpanzee. “Julia, her friends and family agreed, had style. When, out of the blue, the 18-year-old chimpanzee began inserting long, stiff blades of grass into one or both ears and then went about her day with her new statement accessories clearly visible to the world, the other chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia were dazzled.

“Pretty soon, they were trying it, too: first her son, then her two closest female friends, then a male friend, out to eight of the 10 chimps in the group, all of them struggling, in front of Julia the Influencer — and hidden video cameras — to get the grass-in-the-ear routine just right.

” ‘It was quite funny to see,’ said Edwin van Leeuwen of the University of Antwerp, who studies animal culture. ‘They tried again and again without success. They shivered through their whole bodies.’ …

“Julia died more than two years ago, yet her grassy-ear routine — a tradition that arose spontaneously, spread through social networks and skirts uncomfortably close to a human meme or fad — lives on among her followers in the sanctuary. The behavior is just one of many surprising examples of animal culture that researchers have lately divulged, as a vivid summary makes clear in a recent issue of Science. …

“ ‘If you define culture as a set of behaviors shared by a group and transmitted through the group by social learning, then you find that it’s widespread in the animal kingdom,’ said Andrew Whiten, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, and the author of the Science review. ‘You see it from primates and cetaceans, to birds and fish, and now we even find it in insects.’

“Culture ‘is another inheritance mechanism, like genes,’ Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, who studies culture in whales, said. ‘It’s another way that information can flow through a population.’ … Genes lumber, but culture soars. In 1980, for example, an observant humpback whale discovered that by smacking its tail hard against the water, the tiny fish on which it preyed were prompted to ball up into tidy packages fit for comparatively easy capture and consumption. The enhanced hunting technique, called lobtail feeding, quickly spread along known lines of humpback social groups, aided, researchers suspect, by the cetacean talent for acrobatic mimicry among members of a pod. Today, more than 600 humpbacks are lobtail feeders. …

“Sperm whales likewise used crowdsourcing to outwit Ahab. In a new study examining whaling logs from the 19th century, Dr. Whitehead and his colleagues determined that when New England whalers first started hunting a naïve population of sperm whales in the north Pacific, they were essentially harpooning fish in a barrel, harvesting untold gallons of the fine spermaceti oil contained in the whale’s distinctive top hat of an acoustical organ. In just three to five years, however, long before the whalers had made a dent in the whale population, their hunting success rate had plunged by nearly 60 percent. …

“Some differences between animal tribes make sense only if viewed through a cultural lens. Liran Samuni, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and her colleagues have been following two neighboring groups of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The home ranges of the chimpanzee-like apes overlap considerably … but there is a salient distinction between them. Once or twice a month, bonobos supplement their vegetarian diet with meat, and when these two troops turn carnivorous, they seek out different prey. One group goes after anomalures, which resemble flying squirrels, while the other hunts small antelopes called duikers. ‘No matter where they are, even when the group is together, they maintain the preference,’ Dr. Samuni said. …

“Peter Richerson of the University of California at Davis, who studies the coevolution of genes and culture in humans … is particularly impressed by recent research showing that animal migrations, long considered the essence of mindless instinct in motion, are, in fact, culturally determined. ‘Mountain sheep have to learn their migrations from other sheep,’ he said. Whooping cranes are long-distance migrators, and when their numbers declined so precipitously that there were no adult birds to teach young birds the route, conservationists stepped in and used ultralight airplanes as whooping crane tutors. Even farm animals can be repositories of cultural wisdom, as ranchers discover when they precipitously sell off their entire herd.”

More at the Times, here.

Photo: Political Blind Date
Toronto City Councilors Gary Crawford and Shelley Carroll, who hold very different political views, chat in a Toronto coffee shop during an episode of the TV show “Political Blind Date.”

What if each of us tried to reach across the divide? My brave friend Nancy does it in a class at the Council on Aging, where she actually talks politics. I’m not strong enough for that, but I really do work at nurturing the things I have in common with people whose politics are different. There are always things we have in common. After all, if Earth got invaded by hostile space aliens, we’d all be helping each other out without a second thought.

In Canada, they aren’t waiting for space aliens.

Sara Miller Llana writes at the Christian Science Monitor about a popular television show that has participants reaching across the political divide.

“When Gary Crawford confided to Shelley Carroll on TV that he has a daughter with a disability, the mother who raised a daughter diagnosed with autism replied instinctively, ‘Oh, Gary’ – conveying an empathy so obvious in just two words.

“It’s not that the Toronto city councilors didn’t know one another. They’d worked together in City Hall for the better part of a decade. But more often than not, they were dug in on either side of the chamber, battling over city finances.

“So this meeting, at a cozy Toronto coffee shop, was an intentional step away from those fiery legislative sessions, a way to help two rival politicians find common ground in sustaining North America’s fastest-growing city – even if Ms. Shelley envisions new revenue tools while Mr. Crawford dubs himself a ‘keep taxes low kinda guy.’

“Welcome to ‘Political Blind Date.’ The popular Canadian television show might sound like a hokey reality show for the political set. But for its creators, the aim is to undo some of the stubborn binaries that have built up around contentious issues from gun rights to taxation to immigration to climate change.

“Getting beyond the media scrum, the yelling during parliamentary question periods, the sound bites on nightly news, and the callous swipes over social media, producers set the stage for participants to engage one another with the time and respect that complex problems require.

‘Respect is at the heart of it. Not only are politicians, in the way they are using political rhetoric, not respecting each other; they’re disrespecting their citizenry,’ says Mark Johnston, showrunner of ‘Political Blind Date.’ ‘And at the same time, there’s been a disrespect and dehumanization of politicians.’ …

“With the filming of a fifth season underway, about 50 politicians have already participated, spending two days together with each other’s constituents and wrestling with legalization of marijuana, Indigenous rights, and climate change. It’s not easy: In one episode, a politician who supports gun rights visited a Toronto mother whose children were hit by bullets at a playground. 

“The goal is not to get the two politicians to reverse their positions, something that rarely happens. It’s to slow down and study policies in all their complexity, and to hear the human concerns and perspectives that lie behind their support. …

“During the episode on Toronto city finances, which aired in January 2020, Mr. Crawford hands Ms. Carroll a button to put on. Hers is a big yellow disk with an arrow pointing upward, reading ‘High Property Taxes.’ His reads the opposite, the arrow pointing downward next to ‘Low Property Taxes.’ 

“But after the show, he realizes the buttons don’t make as much sense as he originally thought. They both want their constituents to be able to stay in their homes and rely on services their taxes pay for. …

“He says he’s still a ‘low tax kinda guy.’ But the experience opened him up to a conversation he would not have been willing to have before the episode. And both say they talk more than they ever did before. ‘We’re often understaffed, under-resourced, and really stretched for time,’ says Ms. Carroll. ‘We don’t get to know enough about each other’s personal lives. So you don’t know where each other are coming from. 

“ ‘You can have different politics, but it always helps if you can humanize and say, “OK, I get your point of view and it’s different from mine, but I know where you’re coming from, so let’s work on it,” ‘ she says. …

“Anna-Kay Russell, co-founder and director of funding partnerships for the Canadian Black Policy Network, says this kind of connection between two rivals has a trickle-down effect. ‘The “us versus them” mentality not only seeps into the behavior of our politicians, but down into the mindsets of the voters, and it detracts from the fact that we’re a nation that needs to and should be operating as one, collectively,’ she says. …

“The show has averaged about 195,000 viewers per episode, a solid number for a small network like TVO, says [John Ferri, an executive of TVO, the television network that airs the show,] and it has been optioned to the United Kingdom, France, Israel, and South Africa. The show’s creators are also shopping it to the United States, given all the divisions that have grown amid the pandemic. …

“[Johnston] sees potential even in the explosive political environment of the U.S. ‘It’s easy to sit behind a Twitter account or stand up in a legislature,’ he says. ‘But if you agree to go on a journey with another human being, I just think in general people are going to listen to each other.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

Photo: Photographic/Scenic Ireland/Alamy via the Guardian.
Burning peat increases global warming, which is why commercial operations are closing, but undisturbed bogs have always been great for keeping carbon
from the atmosphere.

My father-in-law was in the peat moss business back in the day. The Philadelphia company he worked for and later ran was called I.H. Nestor. It sold peat mostly for agriculture, but you may know that peat was also burned for heat, especially in Ireland. My friend, the late great James Hackett, and his family always heated their home with peat, with unfortunate consequences for their health.

Today’s story is about the historical value of peat bogs, an aspect that has been mostly unrecognized until now.

Chris Mooney writes at the Washington Post, “Long before the era of fossil fuels, humans may have triggered a massive but mysterious ‘carbon bomb’ lurking beneath the Earth’s surface, a new scientific study suggests. If the finding is correct, it would mean that we have been neglecting a major human contribution to global warming — one whose legacy continues.

“The researchers, from France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and several other institutions across the globe, suggest that beginning well before the industrial era, the mass conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for agriculture could have added over 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of more than seven years of current emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

“ ‘Globally [peatlands] are only 3 percent of the land surface but store about 30 percent of the global soil carbon,’ said Chunjing Qiu, a researcher at the laboratory, a joint institution supported by French government research bodies and the Versailles Saint-Quentin University, and the first author of the study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“The new finding of an ‘ignored historical land use emission’ suggests that even now, we lack a complete understanding of how the Earth’s land surfaces are driving and modulating the warming of the planet. … Scientists have long worried about the potential for massive amounts of carbon being released by northern permafrost, where ancient plant remains lie in a kind of suspended animation beneath the surface. But the peat threat is very similar; in fact, peatlands overlap considerably with permafrost regions.

“Peatlands are a particular type of wetland, one in which dead plant matter does not fully decay due to the watery conditions, and thus accumulates.

In its normal state, peat slowly pulls carbon out of the atmosphere — unless you disturb it.

“If a peatland is drained — as has occurred for many centuries to promote agriculture, especially the planting of crops — the ancient plant matter begins to decompose, and the carbon it contains joins with oxygen from the atmosphere. It is then emitted as carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse warming gas. …

“To try to get around the problem of missing historical records, the new study simulates the Northern Hemisphere (outside of the tropics) over thousands of years to determine where peat would have likely developed. Over time, the computer model will begin to include growing agricultural activities. It can then be used to analyze different scenarios for how frequently such developments may have occurred on peatland.

“In a middle-of-the-road scenario, where humans would have regularly grown crops on peatlands, the study finds that some 70 billion tons of carbon (over 250 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide) would have been lost from the soil.

“Importantly, the analysis does not cover all the peatlands across the globe: It only considers Northern Hemisphere peatlands from the year 850 CE onward. Massive losses of tropical peat are even now occurring in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, so global losses will be higher. …

“The study is ‘a broad modeling approach with many assumptions, which can all be individually questioned and debated,’ added Hans Joosten, who leads a peat research group at the University of Greifswald in Germany. ‘But the overall message that remains is that drainage of only a small part turns the entire northern peatland resource into a net carbon source.

‘Though peatlands indeed are carbon sinks in their pristine state, they should also be seen as carbon bombs, which explode whenever they are damaged. Keep them wet!’ …

“The new work underscores that major gaps remain in how much we know about the human contribution to climate change, even as we are trying to halt it. With poor understanding about peat locations, and poor reporting about land conversion, experts say, many countries can’t fully account for peat emissions even now. That could raise questions about what has been happening in their land-use sector.”

More at the Post, here.

Abandoned Art

Photo: Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic.
An abandoned painting in Brooklyn, New York.

When I first started getting serious about the internet in the mid 1990s, the browser I used was Netscape Navigator. Remember that? One thing I really loved about it was the way it put quirky website suggestions at the top of its home page. That was how I learned about the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Dedham, Mass. For a long time I checked MOBA regularly to see what “new” paintings had been rescued from trash cans or abandoned on the side of a road.

I had almost forgotten about MOBA when I read a Hyperallergic story about a similar initiative, an Instagram account called Abandoned Paintings. These paintings are not necessarily “bad,” just no longer wanted. Hakim Bishara of the Soloway Gallery has a report.

“Last summer,” he writes, “while COVID-​19 was still ravaging through New York, I began noticing an unusual amount of discarded paintings on the sidewalks of my neighborhood in Brooklyn. It became an almost daily occurrence as more people moved out to the suburbs or to other states. Instinctively, I started amassing a photo archive of these paintings for a potential project. But as often is the case with new project ideas, I soon found out that someone else has already done it.

“When I stumbled upon artist Jason Osborne’s Instagram account Abandoned Paintings, which has been archiving images of discarded paintings for the last decade, I immediately became a fan. Updated daily with submissions from around the world, it pays a final tribute to these disowned artworks before they fade into the trash heap of history.

“Osborne, an artist with a self-professed fondness for fringe and forgotten art, first started Abandoned Paintings as a blog about unseen paintings in storage facilities of American museums. Soon after, he began documenting discarded paintings that he spotted on sidewalks and trash bins across New York City. …

“In 2011, he [launched] an Instagram account that quickly gained popularity. In time, he started receiving contributions from like-minded fans from across the globe, including France, the United Kingdom, and Chile.

‘As a painting junkie, I like to think of all the other lives that paintings have other than the 10% that we see on the walls of museums and galleries,’ Osborne told Hyperallergic in an interview. …

“According to Osborne, abandoned paintings appear on the streets in cycles, mostly when art students leave their studios at the end of their studies or when people move out of apartments at the end of the month. The mass exodus from NYC during 2020 seemed to interrupt that pattern, adding more abandoned paintings to the streets. …

“With new submissions and inquiries flowing into his DMs daily, Osborne has a handful of anecdotes to share about the different lives that one painting can have. For instance, there have been several cases in which artists reached out to him saying that they identified a painting they had previously sold or gifted to others. One unlucky painting was abandoned twice.

“What’s also interesting is the way that people tend to leave paintings out on the street. Unlike other discarded objects, paintings are often leaned presentably against a wall or a fence, waiting to be noticed and taken. …

“If it were up to Osborne, he would ‘fill entire museums and galleries with discarded paintings.’ But until then, he says, documenting these forlorn artworks has contributed to his understanding of painting in myriad ways.

“ ‘It solved many problems I had in my own work,’ he said.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

12 Asian elephants have arrived at White Oak Conservation.
Stephanie Rutan / Via White Oak Conservation

Because of the heat wave, I went out for my walk at 5:30 this morning, while it was still pleasant. I saw a bluebird, a couple rabbits, and a snapping turtle that crossed a bridge and launched herself 20 feet into the river. That was her choice.

The subjects of today’s story went a long time without having choices like the ones snapping turtles, wild rabbits, and bluebirds enjoy. Having spent many years doing tricks in the circus, they now reside at a 135-acre sanctuary where staff say they can hide for days at a time. Life is not completely natural, but it’s better than the circus.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “For about two decades, elephants that performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were sent to a reserve in central Florida when they became too old to balance on two legs and parade around arenas doing tricks and dancing for large crowds. …

“In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun moving to a 135-acre sanctuary, one that is not affiliated with the circus that for years was accused of mistreating and abusing the gentle giants.

“Three weeks after being let loose in the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla., the first group of elephants has been exploring the new surroundings, and staff members say they don’t see some of them for days at a time. When they do spy the large animals, they say, they are swimming in the deep end of a pond or having a dust bath, followed by a nap in the shade. They also snack on watermelon and banana buffets.

“Employees say it was an emotional moment to watch the elephants walk out of their barn together for the first time into the lush acreage.

“ ‘There was more than one wet eye that day,’ said Michelle Gadd, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. …

“Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants in 2016, ending a 145-year tradition, after pushback from the public about the pachyderms being forced to perform. … A year-and-a-half after the elephants were retired, the circus closed shop because of declining ticket sales. …

“Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter arranged to purchase all 32 of the former Ringling Bros. elephants and have them transported 200 miles from Central Florida to Yulee, outside Jacksonville. The Walters bought the 17,000-acre White Oak sanctuary in 2013, and have been expanding it since. …

“Eventually, the elephant portion of the refuge will cover 2,500 acres and feature nine linked areas with enough water holes, forests, grasslands and wetlands to support the entire herd, said Nick Newby, 41, who leads the elephant caretaker team and helped plan the habitat.

“ ‘We wanted it to be as natural as possible, and we wanted to consider the social dynamic as well,’ Newby said. ‘Elephants are very sociable animals, so we like to study them, see what their personalities are like and then try to mix and match them with other elephants they might like to cohabitate with.’ …

“For Newby, who has worked with elephants for 18 years (mostly in zoos), there was a sense of elation as he watched the animals wander through their new home.

“ ‘It’s all about the elephants, so to see them out there doing natural elephant behaviors like swimming, was exhilarating and rewarding,’ he said. …

“Asian and African elephants are endangered in the wild because of loss of habitat and illegal poaching, [Gadd] said. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, while less than 50,000 remain in Asia.

“Wildlife conservation studies have shown that between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are held in zoos or are still used by safari companies and circuses around the world. …

“Plans haven’t yet been developed for the public to view the elephants from afar, but Newby said the ultimate goal would be for somebody to look through a pair of binoculars at the White Oak refuge and feel as though they were watching elephants in their natural habitat.

“ ‘The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild,’ he said. ‘It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

Plant Concert

Photo: Martin Roth via Kelly Schroer and Hyperallergic.
When composer Martin Roth came across the City Club building, he was enchanted by “the vines hugging its worn-down façade and poison ivy running rampant in the interior,” says Hyperallergic.

This is a story about a creative person who saw beauty where others saw decay.

At Hyperallergic, Valentina Di Liscia writes about Martin Roth and his vision for an electronic soundscape that would shift as plants grew and swayed.

“Imagine walking into the ruins of an abandoned building,” she writes. “You might expect to find a space that is decrepit and forlorn, engulfed by cobwebs and eerie silence. Instead, everything around you is blooming. The verdant garden unfolding before your eyes is made more vibrant and alive by the soft rhythms pulsing throughout; the sounds seem to emanate from the leaves and petals themselves.

“This was the vision artist Martin Roth had conceived, before he passed away in 2019, for the City Club building, an overgrown Victorian house in central Newburgh, New York.

Using bio-sonification, a system that translates the internal frequencies of plants into musical notes, he would create an electronic soundscape that shifts as they grow or sway in the wind, or if visitors interact with them.

“ ‘Martin described it to me initially as a way to amplify the “heartbeat” of the plant — which I always thought was such a beautiful way to think of it,’ said Kelly Schroer, founder of the local nonprofit Strongroom.

“The seed was planted, so to speak, in 2017, when Schroer invited Roth to collaborate on a project in Newburgh. But the artist’s untimely death at the age of 42 and the onslaught of the pandemic stalled progress. Now, based on Roth’s notes and renderings and conversations with the artist, Schroer is bringing his concept to life, with the first immersive ‘plant concert’ set to debut as early as this month.

“Newburgh, a Hudson River city 60 miles north of Manhattan … was the birthplace of Andrew Jackson Downing, the eminent landscape designer and champion of Gothic Revival whose legacy shaped urban parks and public spaces in the US, including Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s proposal for Central Park. Along with Vaux, Downing designed the grounds in the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and several buildings in Newburgh — including the ornate brick house known as the City Club in the early 1850s. …

“In 1981, when the building was in the hands of a new owner and finally undergoing restorations, it was gutted by a devastating fire that left just a shell of the landmark. When Roth came across the building, he was enchanted by the way plants had taken over the structure. …

“The artist previously experimented with bio-sonification at [Bard College’s] Hessel Museum of Art in 2015, hosting a plant concert in a makeshift cornfield. He used a similar sensory device with two probes that attach to a plant’s leaf and to a small metal rod inserted in the soil near the roots, and visitors were also encouraged to touch the leaves and stalks.

“ ‘The [City Club] piece is really in line with Martin’s work, which isn’t just the completed installation — it’s the act of making it, the changes and the interactions that occur,’ Schroer said. ‘Being aware of the plants and trees as a kind of active collaborator is really what it’s all about.’

“A Kickstarter campaign for the project has met its initial $10,000 goal, which will allow the project to open to the public this month and host concerts through October, but Schroer is hoping to fundraise up to the stretch goal of $20,000 to help expand public programming. Strongroom is also seeking plant donations, especially shade-tolerant shrubs, grasses, vines, and flowers.

“ ‘It’s sad to say, but often when an artist passes away, that’s when people realize he was a visionary, when he is already gone,’ Schroer said. ‘There’s very few artists that make you reconsider what art can be. That’s how I feel about Martin.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

By the way, you can follow Strongroom on Instagram @strongroom.inc, and if you like artistic renderings of derelict buildings, you might enjoy the work of David Manch @phantomphotosnap.

Plant concert by Martin Roth.

Probably a painted turtle looking for a spot to lay eggs

Time for another hodgepodge collection of things that caught my eye on recent walks. To start, I include a video of what I think is a painted turtle. (Do correct me if I’m wrong.) It’s being nudged along by my sneakers because it will be safer from bikes on the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Can you hear the audio? Jeanne and I had been referring to the turtles as “he,” but we had a suspicion they were crossing the blacktop to lay eggs. So, not “he.”

There are also flower photos from my yard and my neighborhood and several from the Buttrick Mansion, now a visitor center for the Minuteman National Park. The Buttrick gardens specialize in peonies and iris. Isn’t that black one amazing? You can see rhododendrons along a staircase going down to the Concord River and a view or the river itself in another shot. A photo of the Daniel Chester French statue of the Minuteman farmer is also included.

Everyone loves flowers. The tiny garden with the two little putti is actually in a large parking lot. Funny how the statues each have a hand to an ear. It makes me think they have cellphone earbuds!

The banner featuring blown milkweed seeds and the words “Love” and “Justice” (the latter planted in Minnesota) was part of an Umbrella Arts outdoor exhibition called “Change is in the Air.

The farm mural in West Concord, an initiative of the Village Art Room, seems to have been a group effort, with contributors assigned small squares to complete.

Moving on to Boston, where I had to go to renew my senior discount for public transit, I made a stop in Dewey Square. I always like checking out the latest Greenway mural. This one is by Daniel Gordon. It’s not as edgy as some I admired in the past.

Today’s story reminds me of an old-time jingle my father used to sing: “Shave and a haircut: Two bits!” But the article says that instead of getting a shave with your haircut for only a quarter (two bits), you can now get a Covid shot. And maybe a fried fish sandwich.

Lena H. Sun has the story at the Washington Post. “Reginald Alston never expected to get a coronavirus vaccine and never expected anyone would change his mind about it.

“But his best friend, a hair salon owner, kept telling him he was being shortsighted and maybe even a little bit selfish. What about his niece and her newborn who live with him? How would he feel if they became sick? Also, his job as a contractor and painter meant he was often going into other people’s homes. Didn’t he want to be protected?

“By the time that friend, Katrina Randolph, told him about the nearby barbershop hosting a vaccination clinic, and offered to drive him there, Alston, 57, was far along on the journey to changing his mind.

‘She really influenced me to get it,’ he acknowledged, standing on the sidewalk outside the Hyattsville, Md., barbershop earlier this month after getting immunized. ‘I listen to Katrina. I know she wants me to be around.’

“Alston got his jab of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with a free fried fish sandwich and a $30 coupon toward a haircut and a shave, at The Shop Spa, a barbershop that serves a predominantly Black and Latino clientele. It’s the first coronavirus vaccine clinic in a barbershop in Maryland and organizers hope it will become a national model. A newly formed partnership that includes Black community and business leaders, the University of Maryland and the White House covid-19 response team is working to make that happen. …

“ ‘Why not go where people already have trust — the barbershop and the salon?’ said Stephen B. Thomas, a health policy professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, who founded the barbershop initiative known as HAIR (Health Advocates In-Reach and Research) more than a decade ago. …

“As the United States enters what is likely to be the toughest stretch of its ambitious immunization effort, health officials are moving away from mass vaccination sites and focusing instead on small clinics like The Shop Spa that rely on word-of-mouth and use trusted, often nontraditional messengers. …

“Alston’s friend, Randolph, 52, [is] part of the cadre of barbers and stylists trained as health educators through the University of Maryland program. The initial focus was colon cancer, diabetes and other diseases that disproportionately affect Blacks. But with vaccination levels lagging in Black and Brown communities, the program seemed a natural to persuade those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic but are often reluctant to get shots. …

“Mike Brown, 49, The Shop Spa’s lead barber, sees sharing such information as one more way to connect with regulars. ‘These are people we genuinely care about, and have become part of their family,’ he said. ‘Sometimes we’re like marriage counselors, sometimes fashion consultants, sometimes drinking buddies. We’re respected in the information that we give.’ …

“To get the word out about the barbershop clinic, Thomas and his team canvassed churches, local businesses and homeless communities and came up with about 100 people who hadn’t been immunized yet.

“Getting them to come to the clinic was another matter. During preregistration calls, Thomas said, some people hung up when they learned the vaccine being offered was from Johnson & Johnson. Others declined even after face-to-face conversations with the team administering the jabs.

“ ‘J & J is radioactive in the Black community because of the baby powder issue,’ he said, referring to the product the company stopped selling last year after it was ordered to pay billions of dollars related to claims the product causes cancer. The company has denied the allegations. …

“Other people opted out of the clinic over worries about the rare but severe type of blood clot that has been linked to the vaccine, even though federal health officials have said the vaccines’ benefits far outweigh those risks.

“Still others expressed a distrust of the health-care system that Thomas says can be overcome only by expanding these health-care outreach efforts beyond coronavirus vaccinations. …

“All in all, 35 people received the shots during that first clinic, Thomas said. … Despite the initial small turnout, the barbershop clinic is starting to generate buzz. … ‘Now we have demand,’ Thomas said. ‘People are bringing people.’

“Randolph figures she has changed the minds of at least 75 people. That includes Alston, her 63-year-old aunt who has such limited access to health care that she has no front teeth, and Jamar Gibbons, 36, a postal worker — all of whom showed up for a shot and a free fish sandwich.

“Luz Castillo, 20, who works at the restaurant next door came to the clinic because she was worried about exposure to unvaccinated customers. She, too, was concerned about blood clot risks linked to the vaccine. But she said she was reassured after a Spanish-speaking health worker answered her questions and pointed to the millions of vaccinated people who have had no problems.” By the way, Suzanne had J&J. No problems.

More at the Post, here.

Photo: ArtTrav.
The Medici Chapel in Florence recently got a new kind of cleaning. This is the “before” shot of Michelangelo’s sculptures of Dusk and Dawn. See the New York Times for how they look today.

How do you clean a masterpiece? Carefully, My Friends. Especially if much of the damage was caused by the decomposing body of a long-dead Medici.

Jason Horowitz reports at the New York Times that you may also want to keep any strange method of cleaning a secret until after it actually succeeds.

“As early as 1595, descriptions of stains and discoloration began to appear in accounts of a sarcophagus in the graceful chapel Michelangelo created as the final resting place of the Medicis. In the ensuing centuries, plasters used to incessantly copy the masterpieces he sculpted atop the tombs left discoloring residues. His ornate white walls dimmed.

“Nearly a decade of restorations removed most of the blemishes, but the grime on the tomb and other stubborn stains required special, and clandestine, attention. … Restorers and scientists quietly unleashed microbes with good taste and an enormous appetite on the marbles, intentionally turning the chapel into a bacterial smorgasbord.

“ ‘It was top secret,’ said Daniela Manna, one of the art restorers. …

“ [A team headed by] Monica Bietti, former director of the Medici Chapel’s Museum … used bacteria that fed on glue, oil and apparently [a dead Medici’s] phosphates as a bioweapon against centuries of stains.

“In November 2019, the museum brought in Italy’s National Research Council, which used infrared spectroscopy that revealed calcite, silicate and other, more organic, remnants on the sculptures and two tombs that face one another across the New Sacristy.

“That provided a key blueprint for Anna Rosa Sprocati, a biologist at the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, to choose the most appropriate bacteria from a collection of nearly 1,000 strains, usually used to break down petroleum in oil spills or to reduce the toxicity of heavy metals. …

“Then the restoration team tested the most promising eight strains behind the altar, on a small rectangle palette spotted with rows of squares like a tiny marble bingo board. All of the ones selected, she said, were nonhazardous and without spores.

“ ‘It’s better for our health,’ said Manna, after crawling out from under the sarcophagus. ‘For the environment, and the works of art.’ …

“In February 2020 Covid hit, closing the museum in March and interrupting the project. … The bacteria strains got back to the Medici Chapel, which had reopened with reduced hours, in mid-October. Wearing white lab coats, blue gloves and anti-Covid surgical masks, Sprocati and the restorers spread gels with the SH7 bacteria — from soil contaminated by heavy metals at a mineral site in Sardinia — on the sullied sarcophagus of Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino, buried with his assassinated son Alessandro.

“ ‘It ate the whole night,’ said Marina Vincenti, another of the restorers. …

“In 2016, [she had] attended a conference held by Sprocati and her biologists. (‘An introduction to the world of microorganisms,’ Sprocati called it.) They showed how bacteria had cleaned up some resin residues on Baroque masterpiece frescoes in the Carracci Gallery at Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Strains isolated from mine drainage waters in Sardinia eliminated corrosive iron stains in the gallery’s Carrara marble.

“When it came time to clean the Michelangelos, Vincenti pushed for a bacterial assist.

“ ‘I said, “OK,” said [Paola D’Agostino, who runs the Bargello Museums]. ‘ “But let’s do a test first.” ‘

“The bacteria passed the exam and did the job.”

More at the Times, here.

Photo: Georgia State University.
Latonya Young was able to finish college after Kevin Esch, her Uber passenger, secretly paid off previous school costs.

This feel-good story was widely reported, but just in case you missed it, I want you to know that once upon a time when an Uber driver mentioned to a passenger that she couldn’t finish college because of a debt for classes already taken, the passenger knew he had to help out. And — secretly at first — he did. But it may have been the ongoing friendship and support that had the biggest effect.

Sydney Page has the story at the Washington Post. “Latonya Young, a 44-year-old single mother of three, received a bachelor’s degree [in May]. It was a lifelong goal — and she credits one of her Uber passengers with making it possible.

“She met the passenger three years ago when she pulled over in downtown Atlanta to pick him up. Kevin Esch, who had just come from an Atlanta United soccer game, got into her car. The two started chatting.

“ ‘The conversation was easy and felt authentic,’ said Esch, 45.

“He shared details about his recent divorce, and Young — whose marriage ended in 2011 — offered advice.

“During the half-hour ride to Esch’s home, he learned that Young, who had been an Uber driver for three years, was working late that night because she needed money to pay a utility bill.

“And he learned something else: Young wanted to be the first member of her family to graduate from college. Although Young started taking classes at Georgia State University in 2010, she dropped out a year later because she couldn’t pay the tuition.

“Once they arrived at his home, Esch, an estate manager, tipped Young $150 — enough to cover the utility bill — and gave her his phone number.

“ ‘She promised me that she would go back to school,’ he said, adding that he asked her to keep him informed throughout the enrollment process. It was the start of an unexpected friendship.

“After the Uber ride, ‘I had my mind made up that I wanted to go back to school,’ she said. ‘He motivated me.’

“But a few weeks later, when Young tried to re-enroll at Georgia State, she was told that she wasn’t permitted to register until her balance from eight years earlier was paid in full. She owed $693 — a sum she couldn’t afford.

“When she told Esch about the financial hold, he immediately went to the university, without Young’s knowledge, and paid off her debt.

‘I didn’t want that to be a roadblock, because it was something that I could change,’ Esch said. ‘I was in a place to be able to do it, and it was the right thing to do.’ …

“ ‘I was in shock,’ Young said. ‘This person barely knew me, and yet he wanted to help me.’

“She vowed to pay him back, but his response was: ‘Pay me back by graduating.’

“Young was grateful for the support, she said, after years of working multiple jobs and putting off her education. …

“ ‘It was like I was stuck inside a box and couldn’t get out. I was just trying to do whatever I had to do to take care of my kids,’ Young said, adding that she was also in a car accident in 2015, which further set her back financially. …

“After meeting Esch, though, ‘I felt it was time for me to do something for myself, and to set an example for my kids,’ Young said. Plus, she added, ‘I wanted to remain a woman of my word and do exactly what I told Kevin I was going to do.’

“She re-enrolled in courses, and in December 2019, Young received her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State’s Perimeter College. Esch was there on graduation day, cheering her on in the stands. …

“Still, ‘I knew I wasn’t finished,’ she said. Getting a bachelor’s degree was her ultimate goal, ‘so I went straight ahead. Not only was I aiming for that, but I was aiming to raise my GPA as much as I could before I graduated.’

“Young continued with her studies while working part time as a substitute teacher, as well as a hairstylist. She also received support from the Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund, which offers financial aid to low-income women older than 35 pursuing postsecondary education. …

“ ‘The funding helped me get through the hardships,’ Young said, adding that it was often difficult to manage being a single mother while working two jobs and keeping up with her classes. …

“Despite the challenges, though, Young graduated with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies on May 6. Of course, alongside her family, Esch was in the stands once again — beaming with joy.”

Read the rest of the story at the Post, here.

Photo: Tini and Jacob Wijpkema.
Rare cactus, Copiapoa cinerascens, found in Chile. According to the NY Times, “Cactus traffickers are cleaning out the deserts.”

Today’s story, about an endangered cactus from Chile, demonstrates the role individuals’ tastes can play in the environment. Our individual choices add up to a force for right or wrong, whether we leave our engine running while we go shopping or we collect plants and animals because they are rare. “One and two and 50 make a million,” you know.

At the New York Times, Rachel Nuwer says some rare cactuses are getting too popular with unscrupulous collectors.

“Andrea Cattabriga has seen a lot of cactuses where they didn’t belong. But he’d never seen anything like Operation Atacama, a bust carried out last year in Italy. A cactus expert and president of the Association for Biodiversity and Conservation, Mr. Cattabriga often helps the police identify the odd specimen seized from tourists or intercepted in the post.

“This time, however, Mr. Cattabriga was confronted by a stunning display: more than 1,000 of some of the world’s rarest cactuses, valued at over $1.2 million on the black market.

“Almost all of the protected plants had come from Chile, which does not legally export them, and some were well over a century old. The operation — which occurred in February 2020, but is being made public now because of the cactuses’ recent return to Chile — was most likely the biggest international cactus seizure in nearly three decades. It also highlights how much money traffickers may be earning from the trade. …

‘Here is an organism that has evolved over millions of years to be able to survive in the harshest conditions you can find on the planet, but that finishes its life in this way — just as an object to be sold,’ [Mr. Cattabriga] said.

“As with the market for tiger bones, ivory, pangolin scales and rhino horn, a flourishing illegal global trade exists for plants. ‘Just about every plant you can probably think of is trafficked in some way,’ said Eric Jumper, a special agent with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Cactuses and other succulents are among the most sought after, along with orchids and, increasingly, carnivorous species.

“Trafficking can take a serious toll. Over 30 percent of the world’s nearly 1,500 cactus species are threatened with extinction. Unscrupulous collection is the primary driver of that decline, affecting almost half of imperiled species. Yet this realm of illegal trade is typically overlooked, a prime example of ‘plant blindness,’ or the human tendency to broadly ignore this important branch on the tree of life.

“ ‘The basic functioning of the planet would effectively grind to a halt without plants, but people care more about animals,’ said Jared Margulies, a geographer at the University of Alabama who studies plant trafficking. ‘A lot of plant species are not receiving the amount of attention they would be if they had eyes and faces.’

“Yet the size of Operation Atacama could be a notable exception. It is also the largest known example of cactuses stolen from the wild being repatriated for reintroduction into their native habitat.

“Experts also hope the case can be a turning point for how countries, collectors, conservationists and the industry deal with the thorny issue of international cactus trafficking.

“ ‘Society as a whole can no longer continue to have a naïve view of this problem,’ said Pablo Guerrero, a botanist at the University of Concepción in Chile. …

“Cactuses confiscated by the Italian authorities are normally destroyed or, if they are rare species, sent to botanical gardens. But with Operation Atacama, ‘it was very different,’ Mr. Cattabriga said. … At first, there was discussion of sending the plants to other botanical gardens in Italy and broader Europe. But Mr. Cattabriga, [Lt. Col. Simone Cecchini, chief of the wildlife division of the local police department] and Dr. Guerrero were adamant they be returned to Chile for both conservation and symbolic purposes.

“Working with [Bárbara Goettsch, co-chair of the Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature] and several others, they spent much of 2020 navigating Italian, Chilean and international bureaucracy to secure permission to send the plants home. ‘It’s the first time this has happened, so no one was really clear on how to do this,’ Dr. Guerrero said.

“The authorities finally agreed to the transfer in late 2020. But neither Chile nor Italy would pay the approximately $3,600 shipping cost.

“Dr. Goettsch managed to secure about three-quarters of the funds from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the botanical garden in Milan pitched in as well. The rest was provided by Liz Vayda, owner of B. Willow, a plant shop in Baltimore that regularly donates to environmental groups.

“Finally, in late April, 844 cactuses made the return journey to Chile.”

Read about the homecoming at the Times, here.

Photo: U.S. Army.
An Afghan interpreter assists U.S. military personnel trying to locate Taliban weapons.

On Memorial Day, as we honor the men and women of our military, I am thinking in particular of those whose lives have been lost fighting in Afghanistan. Today, many who are leaving that troubled country have a justifiable concern about what will happen to their interpreters and friends when the Taliban reassert control.

I am not one to say we should stay there, but I have learned from Shagufa just how bad things are likely to get, and I wanted to know what our soldiers thought.

Ken Olson writes at Legion.org, “Gerald Keen’s Afghan interpreter is running out of time. One relative was assassinated by the Taliban a month ago. Another was killed by an IED last Sunday. Both also worked as translators for U.S and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

“ ‘It’s like he has a bounty on his head,’ Keen says of the Afghan national he worked closely with during his 2016 deployment. ‘The Taliban has no remorse.’ …

“There are more than 17,000 interpreters and their families mired in the same bureaucratic quagmire of the U.S. Special Immigration Visa application process. Their peril is exponentially greater now that the United States has announced it will withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan. …  

“It’s a haunting reminder of the situation faced by the Montagnards who risked their lives and their families’ lives to support U.S. operations in the Vietnam War. The American Legion has asked the president and Congress through a 2018 National Security Commission resolution to recognize the crucial contribution Afghan and Iraqi interpreters have made and ensure they are able to come to the United States. ‘Our wartime allies saved countless American lives and directly contributed to every level of tactical, operational and strategic success during the mission is Iraq and Afghanistan,’ according to Resolution No. 16, passed by Legion’s National Executive Committee in October 2018.

“The International Refugee Assistance Project also called for the mass evacuation of Afghans at risk to Guam or another location while they slog through the lengthy visa process, much like what was done for Iraqi Kurds as part of Operation Pacific Haven in 1996. …

“The Special Immigrant Visa program most Afghan nationals are using was established in 2009 when Congress created the Afghan Allies Protection Act, says Julie Kornfeld, an attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project who represents several Afghan interpreters. The statute calls for visa applications to be processed in nine months. The reality is far worse. Kornfeld has clients who have been waiting as long as 10 years.

“ ‘The U.S. mission in Afghanistan recruited Afghan nationals with a promise of safety, but we’ve made it bureaucratically impossible for them to access safety,’ she says. ‘It sends a message to them that we aren’t fulfilling our promise to protect them.’ …

“ ‘It’s very frustrating,’ Keen adds. ‘We couldn’t have made it through this without these interpreters.’ ”   

So today, as we honor military personnel who have died serving in wars at the behest of a series of presidents, let’s spare a thought for those who are in danger because they helped us, and let’s support any elected representatives who may be trying to rescue those people.

More here.

Photo: Sir Cam.
Says Professor James Diggle, “When I was able to sign off the final proofs … I literally wept with joy.”

Once when I was in high school in New York, my father had a temporary stay at Lenox Hill Hospital, and I trotted over in my green uniform and my monstrous stack of school books to pay him a visit. When the doctor came in, he asked me what I was studying, and my father proudly told him I was learning Ancient Greek. That’s when the doctor burst our bubble. He said he’d studied Greek for five years and never had a use for it.

Well, I ended up studying it for five years, too, and although I can’t say I ever had a practical application for it, I don’t regret it. So I was interested in today’s article about the newest, biggest ever Ancient Greek lexicon. There’s a funny angle to the story that makes me think the book would never have been purchased back in those days by that demure girls school, where the students tittered over Aucassin et Nicolette as if it were Fanny Hill.

Alison Flood reports at the Guardian, “Victorian attempts to veil the meanings of crude ancient Greek words are set to be brushed away by a new dictionary 23 years in the making. It is the first to take a fresh look at the language in almost 200 years and promises to ‘spare no blushes’ for today’s classics students.

“The late scholar John Chadwick first came up with the idea to update HG Liddell and Robert Scott’s 1889 dictionary, the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, in 1997. An abridged version of a lexicon published in 1843, the Liddell and Scott had never been revised, and is packed with antiquated terms and modestly Victorian translations of the more colourful ancient Greek words. Despite this, it remains the most commonly used reference work for students in English schools and universities.

“It was initially thought that Chadwick’s project would take five years, but Cambridge professor James Diggle, who was then chair of the advisory committee, said it soon became clear that the Intermediate Lexicon was ‘too antiquated in concept, design and content,’ and the team would need to start afresh.

“Diggle and his fellow editors then set out on the ‘Herculean task’ of rereading most examples of ancient Greek literature, from Homer to the early second century AD. They then worked through the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to create a modern guide for today’s students to the meanings of ancient Greek words and their development through the years. The lexicon is the first to be based on an entirely new reading of the Greek texts since 1843.

‘At the outset of the project I undertook to read everything which the editors wrote. I soon realized that if we were ever to finish I had better start to write entries myself,’ said Diggle.

“ ‘The moment of greatest relief and joy was when I was able to sign off the final proofs and say to the publisher, “It’s finished. You can print it.” You can’t imagine what it was like, to realize that we had finally got there. I literally wept with joy.’

“The completed Cambridge Greek Lexicon, which is being published by Cambridge University Press, runs to two volumes and features around 37,000 Greek words, drawn from 90 authors and set out across 1,500 pages.

“The new dictionary’s editors ‘spare no blushes,’ Diggle said, when it comes to the words that ‘brought a blush to Victorian cheeks.’ The verb χέζω (chezo), translated by Liddell and Scott as ‘ease oneself, do one’s need,’ is defined in the new dictionary as ‘to defecate’ and translated as ‘to shit.’ …

“Antiquated and offensive language also gets a makeover. While Liddell and Scott defined βλαύτη (blaute) as ‘a kind of slipper worn by fops,’ in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon it is described as ‘a kind of simple footwear, slipper.’ …

“The Cambridge Greek Lexicon also begins each entry with the root meaning of a word, a fundamentally different approach to the 19th-century lexicon, which started entries with a word’s earliest appearance in literature.

” ‘Take a word like πόλις, which will be familiar to many in its English form “polis,” ‘ said Diggle. “Our article shows the variety of senses which the word can have: in its earliest usage “citadel, acropolis”; then, more generally, “city, town” and also “territory, land”; and, more specifically, in the classical period, “city as a political entity, city-state”; also, with reference to the occupants of a city, “community, citizen body.” ‘ “

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: The Guardian.
Sister Brigid Arthur, 86, and Anj Sharma, 16, are among a group who secured a judgment from the Australian federal court that found the government has a duty to protect young people from climate change.

If you ever feel powerless to do anything about climate change, consider how an 86-year-old nun and eight Australian teenagers stopped a massive new coal mine in its tracks by persuading a court that the needs of youth need to be addressed first. Fingers crossed that the success is more than temporary.

Adam Morton writes at the Guardian, “The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first.

“Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change.

“Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people. But he did not grant the injunction as he was not satisfied the minister would breach her duty of care.

“David Barnden, a lawyer representing the children, said it was a historic and ‘amazing decision’ with potentially significant consequences.

“ ‘The court has found that the minister owes a duty of care to younger children, to vulnerable people, and that duty says that the minister must not act in a way that causes harm – future harm – from climate change to younger people,’ he said outside court.

‘It is the first time in the world that such a duty of care has been recognized, especially in a common law country.’

“He said Bromberg had indicated he would now take submissions before making further declarations about what the minister’s duty of care may mean for whether the mine extension could go ahead.

“Whitehaven Coal had a different interpretation of the judgment. In a statement to the stock exchange, it did not mention the duty of care finding, and said it welcomed the court dismissing the teenagers’ attempt to block Ley from approving the mine extension. …

“Speaking for the children, 17-year-old Ava Princi said it was ‘thrilling and deeply relieving’ that the justice had recognized the minister had a duty of care. …

“She said though an injunction was not granted the case was ‘not over yet. … There will be further submissions on what the duty of care means for the minister’s decision and the mine.’ …

“The court heard the expansion of the mine could lead to an extra 100m tonnes of CO2 – about 20% of Australia’s annual climate footprint – being released into the atmosphere as the extracted coal is shipped overseas and burned to make steel and generate electricity.

“In his judgment, Bromberg said the evidence presented to the court showed the potential harm the children could face due to global heating ‘may fairly be described as catastrophic, particularly should global average surface temperatures rise to and exceed 3C beyond the pre-industrial level.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

It may not be over, but a finding for children and their future is important, and when added to other recent judicial decisions described in the Guardian article, there’s some reason for hope.

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