The deep resilience of the redwood

A friend sent along an amazing and heartening story from the Washington Post, called Decoding the Redwoods. In short, to better understand the long-lived coast redwood, scientists in two different labs have been working to decode the species’ genome, which — astonishingly — is vastly larger than ours.

The redwood genome project began in April 2017, when a sample was taken from an old-growth redwood in Butano State Park, about an hour’s drive north in San Mateo County. The tree’s exact location is kept secret to prevent overzealous tourism.

Two labs — one at the University of California at Davis, the other at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — began work on identifying the tree’s genetic makeup. The science is complex and time-consuming. A human has 3 billion “base pairs” of DNA on its chromosomes; a redwood has 38 billion.

More DNA is not necessarily better in genomics — for one, more can go wrong. Scientists don’t yet understand why the redwood has not paid a price for the vastness of its genome.

Mostly this research, funded by Save the Redwoods, aims to better understand these extraordinary trees, and how best to encourage their survival. But according to Steven Salzberg of John Hopkins, there are other possibilities — compelling ones.

“On a pretty routine basis, we learn about our own biology by studying the genetics of others,” he said. “I’m not saying we will in this case, but redwoods do live a fantastically long life, and it would be fascinating to discover why.”

The colossally large genome also hints at the astonishing resilence of these ancient trees. In my own back yard, after the Thomas Fire completely torched several redwood trees, including one that looks entirely black from burn, I found this yesterday.

redwoodlife

 

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Home versus the Mountain

One of the acknowledged great non-fiction pieces of our time is John McPhee’s Los Angeles Against the Mountains, from l988, an uncanny and alarming foreshadowing of the disaster in Montecito this month.

It’s one of those astonishingly thorough and appalling pieces of writing, almost beyond journalismn, and to my mind can hardly be overpraised (but here, let me try!). Here’s a description of a debris flow from a survivor.

As the young Genofiles and their mother glimpsed it in the all but total darkness, the scene was suddenly illuminated by a blue electrical flash. In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

If you read on, it turns into a scene out of Titanic, except thank god the ship doesn’t sink. But there’s one passage from this piece that haunts me especially. On this creek-side property we have been warned to evacuate in case of any downpour. This is why:

Mystically, unnervingly, the heaviest downpours always occur on the watersheds most recently burned. Why this is so is a question that has not been answered. Meteorologists and hydrologists speculate about ash-particle nuclei and heat reflection, but they don’t know.

Jan 9, 2018 - Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, U.S. - KERRY MANN navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed the home of her friend in Montecito. The woman who lives in the home has not been seen since the early hours of Tuesday. At least 15 people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month.  (Newscom TagID: zumaamericasnineteen760940.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Jan 9, 2018 – Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California, U.S. – KERRY MANN navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed the home of her friend in Montecito. The woman who lives in the home has not been seen since the early hours of Tuesday. At least 15 people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month. (Newscom TagID: zumaamericasnineteen760940.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

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December 8th in Ojai, CA 2017

Picture from a photographer, Stuart Palley, who in the last couple of years has found a calling in documenting wildfire and the crews that fight it.

Screenshot 2017-12-29 at 1.01.54 PM

The Thomas Fire has been an overwhelming event, plus it ate my office (and musician friend Taylor‘s studio and barn). Did publish a story about the start of the fire in our area in the Santa Barbara Independent, which deserves mention, as does a really excellent Wikipedia compendium about the blaze.

So much to report and say and write! To start here’s a view of the fire looking north into the black.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates: Not an optimist. Not on Twitter

The writer, journalist, and thinker Ta-Nehisi Coates has been embroiled in controversy for years now. Seemingly his every move attracts controversy, (for reasons mysterious to small-town hick yours truly). Near as I can tell Coates has not been doing anything another prominent and successful writer wouldn’t like to do, such as moving to Paris for a year with his family in 2009, or writing and publishing the great The Case for Reparations in The Atlantic, or for winning the National Book Award, or for attracting a vast following on Twitter, or for purchasing a brownstone in Brooklyn, or for today abruptly pulling the plug on that media.

Wikipedia:

On December 17, 2017, the philosopher and activist Cornel West published an editorial in The Guardian with the title: “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle”.[33] The premise of the article was that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy” and, in West’s view, represents “narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neo-liberalism” by wrongly casting former PresidentBarack Obama as a successor to such figures as Malcolm X as an African-American hero.[33] West believes that Obama (which on a previous occasion he had called a “Rockefeller Republican in blackface“)[34] should never be compared to activists, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., who in their fight against white supremacy spoke out against systemic biases in predatory capitalism and war; according to West, this is because Obama, while he is of the same racial class, is part of the system that the activists should fight against.[33]

The same day, West shared the article on Twitter, attracting tweets in response from many others, including hundreds of supporters of Coates.[35][36] The next day, West’s tweet was retweeted by the alt-rightwhite supremacistRichard Spencer, who indicated tacit agreement with West’s criticism of Coates.[35][37] Shortly afterwards, Coates, who had enjoyed a following of over 1.25 million other Twitter users, deactivated his Twitter account.[35][38][39]

As Jonathan Chait remarked from bitter personal experience, “neoliberal” has become the Left’s favorite insult, and seems to mean more or less not living up to the legacy of FDR in the Great Depression. In an essay about this insult, Chait includes a pretty great joke from Lyndon Johnson, who although lionized among liberals today for the Great Society and civil rights legislation, in his time was considered a sell-out by the Left:

“What’s the difference between a cannibal and a liberal?” Johnson joked during his presidency. “A cannibal doesn’t eat his friends.”

CoatesNYTimespic

 

 

 

 

But Coates, as that look indicates, isn’t here to joke around, he’s got something important to say, and frankly, part of what he’s saying is that the news isn’t good. That’s part of his message. To make that point (in an interview lost to memory) he spoke admiringly of Elizabeth (Betsyu) Kolbert, the indefatiguable chronicler of climate change and The Sixth Extinction.

That’s why I was so appalled when Krista Tippett, the usually thoughtful spirit animating the On Being podcast, insisted on asking Coates “the optimism question,”: even after specifically promising him she wouldn’t. It’s kind of incredible and it’s right in the transcript.

Ms. Tippett: And I told you before we walked out here that I’m not gonna ask you to be optimistic.

Mr. Coates: OK, but now you are?

Ms. Tippett: No, I’m not, because I see that everywhere you go, you’re telling this truth, and then white people want you to say, “OK, so where can we find our hope?” And I was watching you on Colbert recently — somebody saw that? He really wanted you to give hope.

Here’s what I find when you write: “Our story is a tragedy. I know it sounds odd, but that belief does not depress me. It focuses me.”

Amazingly, that eloquent defense is not enough. It’s as if Tippett is driven to insist on that most American of demands from a public performance: a happy ending.

Ms. Tippett: You don’t have hope. Or you don’t want to use that word, because that word —

Mr. Coates: No, no, no.

Ms. Tippett: But you are — there’s a focus. There’s an energy…

Mr. Coates: You know what it is? I don’t actually think I’m that singular in this. I don’t know — and I don’t know if there are journalists here, but you have to understand: That’s my training. I was trained as a journalist. Journalists go out and look for things that are wrong in the world, and then they write them. And it is not the case that your editor says, “OK, that’s a cool story, but there’s no hope at the end.”

[laughter]

That’s not a thing editors say to journalists, which is what I am. And so it’s not so much that I even object to hope. It’s just that the thing I do, that’s not a criteria for. You know what I mean?

She actually still doesn’t understand, but finally corners him on one corner of American life which does “give him hope” and inspiration.

Ms. Tippett: Where I find you to be closest to what I think other people are wanting from you, when they want you to be hopeful, is when you write and speak about Malcolm X.

Mr. Coates: Yeah, he gave me hope. He did, he did.

Ms. Tippett: You talk about — he presented, more than anybody else, the possibility of what you call “collective self-creation.”

Mr. Coates: Right. Well, you know what? I would listen to his lectures, and I just felt free. It’s not “hope” like — I think what people want is, “Tell us that we’re going to get past this.”

Ms. Tippett: That it’s going to be OK.

Mr. Coates: “Tell us it’s going to be OK.” So that’s one thing, right?

But there’s a different kind of hope. There are people in the world who accept that their life ends in death, and that’s bad, but that’s what’s gonna happen. And then within that, they find joys and hopes in between: “Oh, I have the ability…”

So for Malcolm — to me, it was: I can speak about the world in a way that is reflective of my life and my community. I can do that. I don’t have to calibrate my speech. I don’t have to calibrate how I look. I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way. I have that right.

And so that was big for me, as a writer. When I started writing, there was a school of writing that says: Given that the audience is obviously — when you reach to any size, is not gonna be majority-black — that you have to hold people’s hands. You have to explain to them. And the Malcolm influence on me said: No, you don’t. Write as you hear it. Write as you hear it.

And in fact, I don’t even think that’s a particular black thing, because if you’re black in this world, and you are gonna become educated on the — what is considered mainstream art in this world, mainstream traditions — nobody slows down for you. Nobody is gonna hold your hand [laughs] and explain The Brady Bunch to you. Nobody’s gonna do that. Catch up.

Yes. “I don’t have to calibrate how I walk to make other people feel a certain way.” Or talk, or write. Facing unpleasant facts, as Orwell said, is a job too — a job for a writer.

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The biggest problem in California: Housing

State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson came to Ojai recently, and visited with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, where I volunteer, and met with the board of directors. We discussed many topics but ended up on the issue that has been dividing the state: housing — affordable housing — and the lack thereof. The New York Times this weekend had an excellent explainer (with anecdotes from Berkeley) on the issue. Here’s the nut:

The affordable-housing crunch is a nationwide problem, but California is the superlative. The state’s median home price, at just over $500,000, is more than twice the national level and up about 60 percent from five years ago, according to Zillow. It affects the poor, the rich and everyone in between.

In San Diego, one of the worst hepatitis outbreaks in decades has killed 20 people and was centered on the city’s growing homeless population. Across the state, middle-income workers are being pushed further to the fringes and in some cases enduring three-hour commutes.

Then there is Patterson + Sheridan, a national intellectual property law firm that has its headquarters in Houston and recently bought a private jet to ferry its Texas lawyers to Bay Area clients. The jet was cheaper than paying local lawyers, who expect to make enough to offset the Bay Area’s inflated housing costs. “The young people that we want to hire out there have high expectations that are hard to meet,” said Bruce Patterson, a partner at the firm. “Rent is so high they can’t even afford a car.”

From the windows of a San Francisco skyscraper, the Bay Area looks as if it’s having a housing boom. There are cranes around downtown and rising glass and steel condominiums. In the San Francisco metropolitan area, housing megaprojects — buildings with 50 or more units — account for a quarter of the new housing supply, up from roughly half that level in the previous two decades, according to census data compiled by BuildZoom, a San Francisco company that helps homeowners find contractors.

The problem is that smaller and generally more affordable quarters like duplexes and small apartment buildings, where young families get their start, are being built at a slower rate. Such projects hold vast potential to provide lots of housing — and reduce sprawl — by adding density to the rings of neighborhoods that sit close to job centers but remain dominated by larger lots and single-family homes.

Neighborhoods in which single-family homes make up 90 percent of the housing stock account for a little over half the land mass in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, according to Issi Romem, BuildZoom’s chief economist. There are similar or higher percentages in virtually every American city, making these neighborhoods an obvious place to tackle the affordable-housing problem.

“Single-family neighborhoods are where the opportunity is, but building there is taboo,” Mr. Romem said. As long as single-family-homeowners are loath to add more housing on their blocks, he said, the economic logic will always be undone by local politics.

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Steve Lopez had a typically excellent, human column on the topic this weekend for the LA Times:

Like other transplants I spoke to in Nevada, Herndandez didn’t want to leave California. It’s home. It’s where she went to school and where her parents still live in the house she grew up in. But unless you choose a career that will pay you a small fortune to manage costs driven higher by a stubborn shortage of new housing, California is not a dream, it’s a mirage.

Moving to get a better job or move up the workplace chain is nothing new. But what’s going on here seems different — people leaving not for better jobs or pay, but because housing elsewhere is so much cheaper they can live the middle-class life that eludes them in California.

After college, Hernandez worked as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., and then went to Chicago for a few years. But the West drew her back. Not California, but Nevada, where she worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Las Vegas and then joined the staff of a state legislator in the state capital.

“I started looking at the bigger picture in Carson City, where I was able to pay the rent, have a car and a comfortable life and put some money into a 401(k),” Hernandez said. “Would I be able to do that in California? Probably not.”

It’s a generational conflict, essentially, and it’s painful for me to contemplate how poorly once again my generation has prepared for those to come, including the creative young people of the golden state.

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Southern California 2017

 

 

L.A FreewayLAFreeway

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“Our reverenced god” — Moloch and The Gun

Four dead in NorCal — at least four. Another deranged gunman, armed for combat, targeting the innocent. This one tried to break into an elementary school and slaughter children but was foiled by a lockdown.

Brian Flint told a group of reporters that a man staying in his house was one of those killed and that some of his neighbors were among those who were shot.

He said that the gunman was a neighbor and said that he had threatened him, and had stabbed another neighbor, a woman, in a dispute earlier this year, and “I believe he was on bond because of that.” The authorities said the woman, whose name has not been released, was among the deceased.

“As far as we know he was, you know, crazy,” Mr. Flint said. “He shoots a lot of gunshots at night, in the morning, like a hundred rounds.”

The word “crazy” is not strong enough. But in an evergreen essay published a few years back, Garry Wills, one of our greatest historians, found language commensurate to this on-going horror. He compared the American faith in the gun to a primitive worship of the cruelest of pagan gods, Moloch, that god that demanded the sacrifice of children.

In the New York Review of Books, Wills poured his molten rage into the forms of scholarship and logic.

He writes:

The fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers. How do we worship it? Let us count the ways:

1. It has the power to destroy the reasoning process. It forbids making logical connections. We are required to deny that there is any connection between the fact that we have the greatest number of guns in private hands and the greatest number of deaths from them. Denial on this scale always comes from or is protected by religious fundamentalism. Thus do we deny global warming, or evolution, or biblical errancy. Reason is helpless before such abject faith.

2. It has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine. None dare suggest that Moloch can in any way be reined in without being denounced by the pope of this religion, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, as trying to destroy Moloch, to take away all guns. They whimper and say they never entertained such heresy. Many flourish their guns while campaigning, or boast that they have themselves hunted “varmints.” Better that the children die or their lives be blasted than that a politician should risk an election against the dread sentence of NRA excommunication.

3. It has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter. Moloch brooks no dissent, even from the highest court in the land.

He never mentions Allen Ginsberg, but the poet’s bitter Howl of “Moloch! Moloch! Moloch!” haunts this excoriating essay like a ghost. So many of us have had it with the bloody stupidity of American gun worship.

The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

Bullet emerging from a handgun, on black

Bullet emerging from a handgun, on black

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TEN EXCELLENT CLIMATE STORIES/LINKS

A New York Times primer on the 17 biggest questions people ask about climate change:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/what-is-climate-change.html

A New York magazine story about climate change and the dangers of extreme heat.

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

A Vanity Fair article about climate change and the danger of extreme heat.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/06/extreme-heat-global-warming

A Scientific American story about the great California megaflood.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atmospheric-rivers-california-megaflood-lessons-from-forgotten-catastrophe/

A PBS Newshour primer on climate change and the civil war in Syria.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/a-major-contributor-to-the-syrian-conflict-climate-change

Daniel Swain’s superb and popular blog on California weather: Weather West.

http://weatherwest.com/

Top Eight climate change stories in the Washington Post this year:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/29/here-are-our-top-8-climate-change-stories-of-2017/?utm_term=.1ff05120d9a0

New Yorker story on why facts on important matters such as climate may not change our minds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-mind

Stories by Andrew Revkin, of ProPublica and the NYTimes, on climate:

https://www.propublica.org/people/andrew-revkin

And, for a moment of hope, a Mother Jones story on why flying is less damaging for the atmosphere than it once was:

Why Flying Home for the Holidays Might Be Greener Than Driving

 

 

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Free falling from disgrace: team Trump

The New York Times hired a new right-wing columnist about six months ago, and a couple of weeks of weeks back added a new leftist for the first time in a while, Michelle Goldberg, and what can I say but wow. She throws down almost as well as the recent Newsweek cover:

So here’s where we are. Trump put Manafort, an accused money-launderer and unregistered foreign agent, in charge of his campaign. Under Manafort’s watch, the campaign made at least two attempts to get compromising information about Clinton from Russia. Russia, in turn, provided hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.

Russia also ran a giant disinformation campaign against Clinton on social media and attempted to hack voting systems in at least 21 states. In response to Russia’s election meddling, Barack Obama’s administration imposed sanctions. Upon taking office, Trump reportedly made secret efforts to lift them. He fired the F.B.I. director James Comey to stop his investigation into “this Russia thing,” as he told Lester Holt. The day after the firing, he met with Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to America, and told them: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

We’ve had a year of recriminations over the Clinton campaign’s failings, but Trump clawed out his minority victory only with the aid of a foreign intelligence service. On Monday we finally got indictments, but it’s been obvious for a year that this presidency is a crime.

PruittinfallfromTrumpadmindisgrace

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Nerve gas for Ventura County, thanks to the Trump EPA

As Lily Tomlin has pointed out, “No matter how cynical you become, you can’t keep up.” Especially in these days of Donald Trump.

Last week (was it only last week?) a meticulously sourced story in the New York Times by Eric Lipton (Why Has the EPA shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Calls the Shots) detailed how a smart advocate from the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Nancy Beck, was given broad authority to take over the agency’s regulation of toxic chemicals and personally rewrite the rules. It’s a tremendous story with one particular angle of great importance to Ventura County.

To keep it as succinct as possible…last year, after decades of controversy, a bipartisan bill revising the rules of chemical regulation passed Congress and was signed into law. Lipton’s story frames what happened to that legislation under Scott Pruit, the new EPA administrator appointed by Trump, as a polite but edgy dialogue between a scientist named Wendy Hamnett, who spent her career at the agency, and was contemplating retirement, and Beck, who was given unprecedented rule-making authority by the new administration.

Hamnett wanted to believe the EPA would continue to conscientiously regulate chemical use under the new bill, but was taken aback to discover that one of the most dangerous of chemicals on the market — the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, which had been slated to be banned — would not be regulated.

“It was extremely disturbing to me,” Ms. Hamnett said of the order she received to reverse the proposed pesticide ban. “The industry met with E.P.A. political appointees. And then I was asked to change the agency’s stand.”

The E.P.A. and Dr. Beck declined repeated requests to comment that included detailed lists of questions.

“No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the E.P.A., said in an email. “The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

Hamnett tried to keep the faith in the agency and the 2016 bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st century, but…back to the Lipton story: .

That would translate into a rigorous crackdown on the most dangerous chemicals, regardless of the changes [at the agency].

But her confidence in the E.P.A.’s resolve was fragile, and it had been shaken by other actions, including the order Ms. Hamnett received to reverse course on banning the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The order came before Dr. Beck’s arrival at the agency, but Ms. Hamnett saw the industry’s fingerprints all over it. Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, instructed Ms. Hamnett to ignore the recommendation of agency scientists, she said.

The scientists had called for a ban based on research suggesting the pesticide might cause developmental disabilities in children.

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Farm workers in a field picking berries. Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide blamed for developmental disabilities in children, is still widely used in agriculture. In March, Mr. Pruitt overrode agency scientists’ recommendation to ban it. CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

To keep the pesticide on the market, under E.P.A. guidelines, the agency needed to have a “reasonable certainty” that no harm was being caused.

“The science and the law tell us this is the way to go,” Ms. Hamnett said of a ban.

But the reaction from her superiors was not about the science or the law, she said. Instead, they queried her about Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s largest manufacturer, which had been lobbying against a ban.

The clash is recorded in Ms. Hamnett notebook as well as in emails among Mr. Pruitt’s top political aides, which were obtained by The Times.

“They are trying to strong arm us,” Mr. Jackson wrote after meeting with Ms. Hamnett, who presented him with a draft petition to ban the pesticide.

Mr. Jackson, Ms. Hamnett’s notebook shows, then asked her to come up with alternatives to a ban. He asserted, her notes show, that he did not want to be “forced into a box” by the petition.

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Ms. Hamnett recorded Mr. Jackson’s reaction to a pesticide ban in her notebook.

“I scared them,” Mr. Jackson wrote in an email to a colleague about his demands on Ms. Hamnett and her team.

As a possible compromise, Ms. Hamnett’s team had been talking to Dow about perhaps phasing out the pesticide instead of imposing an immediate ban. But Dow, after Mr. Trump’s election, was suddenly in no mood to compromise, Ms. Hamnett recalled. Dow did not respond to requests for comment.

She now knew, she said, that the effort to ban the pesticide had been lost, something Mr. Jackson’s emails celebrated.

“They know where this is headed,” Mr. Jackson wrote.

A couple of years ago an equally great (and award winning) story by Liza Gross for The Nation detailed the fact that Ventura County is one of the most pesticide drenched lands in the state and the nation. To wit:

Oxnard and surrounding Ventura County grow more than 630 million pounds of strawberries a year, enough to feed 78 million Americans. But that bounty exacts a heavy toll: strawberries rank among California’s most pesticide-intensive crops. The pesticides that growers depend on—a revolving roster of caustic and highly volatile chemicals called fumigants—are among the most toxic used in agriculture. They include sixty-six chemicals that have been identified by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as the most likely to drift through the air and cause harm. Studies in laboratory animals and humans have linked many of these chemicals—including the organophosphate chlorpyrifos and fumigants 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), metam sodium, methyl bromide and chloropicrin, all used in strawberry production—to one or several chronic health conditions, including birth defects, asthma, cancer and multiple neurodevelopmental abnormalities.


Dayane Zuñiga

Use of many of these sixty-six pesticides has fallen statewide since 2007. But a handful of communities saw a dramatic increase. By 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 29 million pounds of these chemicals—more than half the total used in the state—were applied in just 5 percent of California’s 1,769 census ZIP codes, according to an independent investigation by this reporter. In two ZIP codes that Zuñiga knows well—areas that include the Oxnard High neighborhood where she trained and south Oxnard, where she lives—applications of these especially toxic pesticides, which were already among the highest in the state, rose between 61 percent and 84 percent from 2007 t0 2012, records at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation show. Both are among the ten ZIP codes with the most intensive use of these pesticides in California. And both have sizable Latino populations—around 70 percent—thanks, in part, to the large number of farm jobs in the area. The great majority of the people who work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard, which hosts the largest population of farmworkers in Ventura County, come from Mexico.

As so often is the case, the wonky details and the fact that brown people bear the brunt of these chemical impacts means very little discussion of the continued use of Chlorpyrifos has ensued. One notable exception comes from Nicholas Kristof, who at least once a year points to the danger of chemicals in his Sunday Times olumn. This past Sunday Kristof was especially blunt in an interactive column called: Trump’s Legacy: Damaged Brains.

The pesticide, which belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, is now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.

brain_0016_Layer

The colored parts of the image above, prepared by Columbia University scientists, indicate where a child’s brain is physically altered after exposure to this pesticide.

And now the Trump administration is embracing it, overturning a planned ban that had been in the works for many years.

What recourse can citizens who care about health — especially the health of people who live near strawberry fields — have except not to eat commercially-grown strawberries? I wish I knew.

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