Short version of what you’ll find: Intensified tree-planting obviously is not the full answer to the climate crisis. But it’s a step in reducing atmospheric carbon levels, and potentially an important one.
Last week, a team from Otis College, or formally the Otis College of Art and Design, in Los Angeles, put this outlook into effect with its “100 Giants” project. The idea originated with Shelley Forbes, an Otis alum who is circulation manager at the campus library, as part of Otis’s centennial observations last year.
The goal was to plant 100-plus seedlings of the famed giant sequoias of northern California’s forests; nurture them to the stage where they could be transplanted; and then ship them northward, for permanent rooting in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The organization WildPlaces, which focuses on conservation and “re-wilding” in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, was a partner in the project.
They grow up so fast! This past week, the Otis community bade farewell to their year-old, several-inch-high seedlings, which began the trip north. As an article by Anna Raya on the campus news site said:
Spread across The Commons lawn they stood—staffers were proudly taking selfies with them, students were wandering amongst them, saying their names: Charlie Brown, Little Buddy, Paisley. These were the 100 Giants of Otis College, Sequoia tree seedlings that were whisked off this week to their final home in the Trail of 100 Giants in the Giant Sequoia National Monument …
“The front of the library will seem very naked now that the trees are gone,” says [library official Shelley] Forbes of the popular growing spot on campus for the seedlings. “I am, however, very excited that the trees are going home to their native lands.”
“From a scientific point of view, giant Sequoias are one of the best carbon sinks there is,” Mehmet McMillan, founder of WildPlaces, said of the project. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, giant sequoias are the largest and most massive trees on Earth, and their trunks and limbs contain more carbon per tree than any other species. “Imagine a tree growing massively over two- or three-thousand years,” McMillan said. “it’s holding carbon [all that time] … Spiritually, it goes without saying that being in a forest with big trees is going to help your spirit.”
Grow well, little trees. In their prime, giant sequoias can gain one and a half to two feet in height per year. Thus it will take centuries for any of them to reach the species’ peak height of 300 feet or more.
None of the students or staffers at Otis will see their trees at full maturity. But if the best time to plant a sequoia is 500 years ago, the second best is now.
We’ve seen artist-in-residence programs in a number of the towns we’ve visited. The first was in Eastport, Maine, where we ran into Richelle Gribble, a young artist based in Los Angeles, whom I consider an resident-artist extraordinaire. Over the past three and a half years, Richelle (as I’ll refer to her) has been an artist-in-residence in 15 different programs around the world, from a biosphere in Arizona to a ranch in Wyoming to the Arctic Circle in northern Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. I’m not kidding about the Arctic Circle.
Richelle is an accomplished artist with pages and pages of a CV that includes solo and select group exhibitions, awards and fellowships, public collections, curated projects, public speaking engagements, memberships in committees and organizations, and publications. She is 28 years old.
When I was back in touch with Richelle recently, she had just returned from the Arctic Circle. I was interested in talking with her about the idea of residencies, how she approaches her time on location, what artists’ perspectives bring to a town, and what the experience brings to an artist.
We decided to talk about her residency in Japan, with its famously complicated culture, and where my husband, Jim, and I had lived for about two years back in the late 1980s, when our children were young.
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Here’s what we talked about: Along our own travels around the country for American Futures and Our Towns, many people have asked Jim and me how we start our reporting when we visit a town. It’s a fair question, and our answer is that we do some research ahead of time—and then once on scene, we spend a day or two talking to the “usual suspects” (journalists, school administrators, city-government officials, business people, librarians, people in the arts, etc.) and ask them about the interesting and compelling stories and issues in town, and about the people we should meet. Then we head out to connect with as many people in as many on-the-ground situations as possible.
I was interested in how this process worked for an artist-in-residence, so I asked Richelle the same questions: What does she do upon arrival? How does she build a sense of the place? How does that begin to translate into the art she makes? Her answers resonated with me.
Richelle told me that during her first few days or weeks in a town (depending on the length of her stay, which can range from a few weeks to a few months), she talks to lots of people in the community, engaging in conversation and listening to their language and forms of expression. She takes in the colors of the landscape and environment, looks at plants, wildlife, architecture, animal migrations, maps, photos, and the foods everyone eats. She gathers an understanding and a collection of the materials around—whether from beaches, forests, glaciers, or cityscapes. And she takes note of how the local art is made: what materials the artists use, and what their techniques and practices are. The latter were especially important, she said, as she began her international travels where the world of art could be so very different.
Then Richelle told me something that really hit home. She said she looks for recurring scenes, materials, or symbols that link one place to another, to show that all systems (social, technological, or physical) are linked around the world. This search for recurring patterns is something I did regularly via language when we visited new places. I would routinely write down interesting words or phrases that struck me—ones that surprised me or stood out. I would often make “word clouds” of a town, which taught me a lot about the culture of the place, and sometimes about universals. See a few examples here and here.
In meta-terms, these starting points build toward to her goal to reflect the community or its ecosystem through her art. She hoped to build a sense of what towns have in common and what sets them apart from each other. And ultimately, perhaps, to find a greater interconnection of communities and a sense of perspective of the planet. That is a tall order, but one she bears in mind as she works locally to reflect global themes.
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Yoshinogawa: Richelle spent two and a half months in the city of Yoshinogawa, Japan, a farmland community with a population of about 40,000. It is in the prefecture of Tokushima, southwest from Kyoto. The residency was no doubt a prized one, allowing her to work at the centuries-old Fujimori family’s Awagami Factory. Minoru Fujimori took over the family factory in 1945, and was designated a “Sixth Class Order of Merit, Sacred Treasure” by the Emperor in 1986 for washi paper work (a Japanese traditional craft). Minoru Fujimori died in 2015, but the family continues the age-old eco-friendly washipaper-making technique.
Richelle created an entirely new collection of artwork at the Awagami Factory, and she described to me the challenge of how to use the traditional materials and techniques in the contemporary art that she produces. It took some doing to try to replicate the traditional practices and mimic the gestures and movements involved, she said. Presenting her contemporary work to a community steeped and sophisticated in hallowed art forms, and explaining it through a translator, would be threading a needle of honoring the craft, reflecting the practice, and making her own art.
Richelle found, as did we when we lived with our then elementary-school age children in Japan for two years, that the local residents were very interested in visitors and their ways. She taught workshops in local schools, met the city’s mayor, and attended press events. The Yoshinogawa residents were interested in how she innovated and elaborated on the traditional work she learned about, and ultimately, the Western perspective through which she interpreted and produced her art.
Richelle described her main project: She used natural materials to make the pulp and produce a map, “painting the land from the land” she told me. She collected traditional kozo fibers, pounded them into the paper mixing with mountain water, and used natural indigo dye from the plants grown by the river. She wanted the residents to see themselves in her artwork, to be able to identify their own house within a larger map. It was her way of broaching the language barrier. If they couldn’t connect through language, she said, “we could share a place this way. (The art became) another way of understanding each other.”
She also produced art on a small scale, drawing images of the many gifts the residents presented her, such as plants from gardens, and fruits and vegetables from their yards. She took photos of her drawings and placed them on a map she drew of the area, which she described as “showing the personality of the town in a more micro-intimate way through gifts exchanged and found objects in the area. It serves as a key or legend to give identity to the larger maps.”
Richelle also told me a charming spider-web story. Always on the lookout for spider webs, Richelle spotted them as she walked around town getting her bearings and her map sense. She was noticed. Foreigners are always noticed in Japan, in our experience. If our little boys got temporarily lost in our Japanese neighborhood, neighbors—even ones I had never seen before—would bring them home, knowing exactly who we were and where we lived. One older man was watching Richelle looking for spider webs, and after a time, he offered to guide her along her walks about town, pointing out the webs he had spotted on her behalf.
Her art became a way to be something way more than a tourist, to open the door to a different kind of more intimate experience with the country. More like being a scientist or a detective, she described it to me. A common component of residencies is an open-door policy, where people in the town can stop by. For Richelle, this was valuable, as much of her work was driven by ideas and messages she took in from her visitors. And for those who drop by, she thought, it is one of the few times that people get to see what happens in the studios, to learn how involved the process of making art really is—seeing the incubating, testing, and interaction, as she described it, to create the final product. They see the process from start to finish.
What is the most effective thing an individual can do about climate change? There are lots of possible answers: what you eat, how you vote, where and how you live, how you travel, and so on. All of them matter. For Americans, at this moment, the one that matters most may be how you vote.
But among the steps most immediately within many people’s control, an important one is planting trees. Yes, there are cautions about doing this in the wrong way, or in the wrong places, or in ignoring the legacies of long-standing biases in zoning and city planning. (That is: It’s easy to plant trees in spacious residential neighborhoods; it’s harder when there’s only a narrow strip of ground between the street and a building front.) But overall, step-by-step reforestation can potentially be a significant help, which is why Deb Fallows and I have been chronicling a number of local efforts toward that end.
I am chagrined to say that until I looked into it, I had no idea that the second-largest city in the nation—Los Angeles, with its population of nearly 4 million people spread out over roughly 500 square miles—has a very ambitious program to use tree planting as an axis to connect job creation, climate sustainability, urban renewal, and economic equity and inclusion. (Perhaps it would have helped if I’d read at least the headline of a very good Mother Jones story by Jackie Flynn Mogensen last year. The headline was, “Los Angeles, a City Known for Its Freeways, Is About to Plant a Shit Ton of Trees.”)
As it happened, I learned about the LA program largely by accident. The smallish Southern California town of Redlands had set an also-ambitious goal, of helping school children there plant more than 12,000 trees, which I wrote about when it was announced last year. The seedlings were purchased; a computerized way to map and track each one’s progress was set; and they were supposed to be passed out to school children on Earth Day this past April. That plan naturally hit a roadblock when California schools were shut down. As an alternative, the backers of the effort, including the University of Redlands and the tech company Esri, managed to give away thousands of trees in June. But still some 4,000 seedling trees went unclaimed.
Mainly through the efforts of our friend Shelli Stockton, of the University of Redlands, those little trees ended up last month in the hands of an organization called City Plants in Los Angeles (as shown in this video). City Plants, a program of the LA city government, is part of a broader LA effort toward radical expansion of the “urban forest” cover in this famously sunbaked part of the world.
I talked this week with Rachel O’Leary, a native Angeleno who now directs City Plants, and with Rachel Malarich, a longtime expert in urban forestry who last year was named LA’s first-ever City Forest Officer. Here is what they told me about what they are doing, and why it might matter elsewhere.
How City Plants started: Last year, in presenting his “Green New Deal” vision for the city (which you can download in full PDF version here), Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti set out a tree-planting campaign as one element of a larger sustainability-and-jobs strategy. The plan set a target to “plant and maintain” at least 90,000 trees across the city by 2021, and to keep planting trees at a rate of 20,000 per year. This was largely initially based on the “Million Trees” initiative under Garcetti’s predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, but has evolved over the past decade to focus on planting the "right tree in the right place." Garcetti's Green New Deal also was explicitly focused on “canopy equity”—that is, of extending more of the benefits of large-tree cover to neighborhoods that are now typified by asphalt and concrete rather than greenery.
What it does: The City Plants program, as part of the larger urban-forestry program, offers trees to residents of Los Angeles at no cost. Angelenos can get up to seven free “yard trees” for their own property, which they are expected to plant and care for themselves (with instructions like those shown in this picture). They can also request free “street trees,” which a City Plants team will plant for them. (Residents must agree to water the trees for five years.)
For the labor involved in planting and handling the trees, City Plants coordinates with a variety of nonprofit and neighborhood groups —of which its major partner is the LA Conservation Corps. This LACorps is designed to give young people workplace skills, while they work on projects of larger community value.
How is it financed? From a variety of public and private sources (info here), but mainly by LA’s main public utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, or LADWP. Long-standing policy in California requires utility companies to underwrite energy-efficiency programs, including tree planting. LADWP has supported tree planting and innovations in urban forestry in Los Angeles for over a decade. The rationale for including trees as energy-savers, which you can find in longer and more detailed form here, is not just that tree growth stores carbon directly, as the trees mature. It is also that leafed-out tree cover reduces electricity and water use, especially the demand for air-conditioning. With support from LADWP, City Plants has an online calculator in which residents enter their street address, and get estimates of energy-bill savings from planting trees, in real time.
“Trees are one of the least expensive, and most powerful, tools we have for improving our environment,” Rachel Malarich told me. “More and more research is showing how important a good, healthy tree canopy cover is for our communities as a whole—and how important it will be not just for our health right now but for our resilience in the face of a changing climate.” (Malarich went into more detail on these features in the Mother Jones interview.)
The program’s other ambitions: The 90,000-tree program concentrates on the parts of LA that are now the least forested and most parched. These are of course generally the lowest-income areas, and the most likely to become broiling “heat islands” because of climate change. The official goal, set out in the Green New Deal document, is to “Increase tree canopy in areas of greatest need by at least 50% by 2028 to grow a more equitable urban forest that provides cooling, public health, habitat, energy savings, and other benefits.”
I asked Rachel Malarich how that would be possible, considering that many areas now short on trees are also short on space to plant them. The extensive suburban-style portions of Los Angeles were designed to include leafy glades; others have barely an unpaved square inch to support plant growth.
“Trees need space to grow, and much of our infrastructure was set up not to allow that space,” Malarich said. “Frequently in these high-need areas you’ll only have a four-foot-wide parkway, where you can only plant a small tree. Or there are overhead power lines.” I asked, given these realities, how the city could realistically expect to equalize tree coverage across the city. It would be complex, and hard, and would involve short- and long-term creativity and planning, she said. But that was the deadline the city’s plan set out, “putting our feet to the fire.”
Does it matter outside LA? The scale of Los Angeles makes anything that happens there consequential in its own right. But Rachel O’Leary argued that the partnership model—connecting different parts of the city and state government, and linking job-training and community-justice initiatives to climate sustainability—would be “replicable and scalable in other places.”
“Trees are a powerful tool of climate resilience,” she said. “This is definitely one of the most powerful actions a resident can take, to take climate change into their own hands. That it is how we view it here in this city. And we would encourage other cities to develop partnerships like these.”
“We’re not the only city that is dealing with this,” Rachel Malarich said. “If we can figure out this way of dealing with this issue of tree canopy inequity, we will have figured out something for other people to look at and learn from.”
Is any of this “the” answer, for neighborhood justice, civic engagement, and climate sustainability. Obviously not. But it could well be part of an answer, in this large city and elsewhere.
The comedian went viral for “playing Trump,” but in her new Netflix special, Everything’s Fine, she shows how unusual her comedic taste can be.
Press play on a video by the comedian Sarah Cooper, and you know what to expect: Cooper in a blazer, lip-synching to something nonsensical that President Donald Trump has said, her exaggerated facial expressions highlighting the absurdity of his comments. These bite-size, viral impersonations, created on TikTok and popularized on Twitter, have launched her to online fame since she began posting them in April, garnering her millions of followers, a guest-hosting gig for Jimmy Kimmel, and a deal with Netflix to create a special. In a year when comedians have had to cancel stand-up shows and adapt to performing without live audiences, Cooper’s meteoric rise is remarkable. When we spoke in May, she sounded stunned by her success. “My impostor syndrome is kicking in,” she told me then. “I’m like, ‘Wait, I didn’t actually write anything.’”
Every time the president ramps up his violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way.
When I put my hand on the Bible at my inauguration, it did not occur to me that less than two years later, I would have to tell my daughters about a plot against me. But earlier this month, I learned that a multistate terrorist group was planning to kidnap and possibly kill me. Law-enforcement announced charges against 14 people as part of the plot. As jarring as that was, just over a week later, President Donald Trump traveled to Michigan, and when a crowd chanted “Lock her up” after he mentioned me, he said, “Lock them all up.”
I am not surprised. I have watched the president wedge a deeper divide in our country; refuse to denounce white supremacists on a national debate stage; and launch cruel, adolescent attacks on women like Senator Kamala Harris and public-health leaders like Anthony Fauci. And while I won’t let anything distract me from doing my job as governor, I will not stand back and let the president, or anyone else, put my colleagues and fellow Americans in danger without holding him accountable.
The tradition of granting post-term immunity from prosecution to those who leave the White House now comes at too great a cost.
In the 240 years since America’s founding, no former president has been indicted for criminal conduct. This isn’t because they were angels—far from it. And it isn’t because post-term indictment is not legally allowed. Instead, it is because Americans don’t like the idea of criminalizing politics. Both parties and the public see the prospect of post-term immunity as a guarantee that the country’s politics will remain civil and that power will transition peacefully from one party to the other. That is what drove President Gerald Ford to pardon Richard Nixon. And it’s one reason why the Office of the Independent Counsel decided not to indict former President Bill Clinton.
The presidency of Donald J. Trump has upended those calculations, and the resistance to post-term investigation may now come at too great a cost. When he leaves office, whether in January or four years later, the next administration or one of the states can and should investigate citizen Donald Trump—a former president whose legal status will be no different from that of any other American. The risk of politicization of such an investigation is far outweighed by the danger posed by failing to uphold our nation’s values. To protect future presidents from retributive investigations once they leave office, however, any investigation should be limited to Trump’s conduct before and after his presidency, not his behavior while he was president. If the findings of such an investigation justify it, prosecutors should indict the former president for violations of criminal law.
However resolved an outgoing president might be to thwart a smooth transition, much of the process lies entirely outside his control.
Sometime in early to mid-November, if October polling holds and the infrastructure of our democracy basically functions, Joe Biden is likely to be declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. At that point, he will have just more than two months to prepare to take over the leadership of a country still in the grips of a once-in-a-century pandemic, with more than 12 million Americans unemployed, tens of millions of children out of school, and COVID-19 deaths barreling toward 300,000.
Transitions can be challenging even under the best circumstances. And President Donald Trump, to the say the least, may not be psychologically or temperamentally predisposed to a thoughtful, well-planned transition. Even back when he was the incoming president, his on-ramp to the presidency was extraordinarily haphazard, disorganized, and incomplete. Add in his petulance and expected fury at the outcome, and there is surely reason to fear the havoc the president and his team could wreak on their way to the exits.
The former vice president is using his Scranton bona fides to win over a key voting bloc.
Step inside the world of a Biden campaign ad, and you’ll find a young Joey going up to bat in his front yard here in Scranton, Pennsylvania, decked out in his baseball uniform while a baby stands in a crib nearby. Women in ’50s-era hats and colorful skirt suits walk up the sidewalk to church. Biden’s dad calls him “champ” and dispenses attaboy wisdom: “When you get knocked down, get up.”
Selling America on this Irish Catholic Lake Wobegon—a place where family comes first, everyone’s middle class, and all of the kids learn the same basic values from the wise nuns around the corner—is how Biden hopes to win the 2020 election.Toss-up states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are roughly one-quarter Catholic, and many of these Catholics are white voters who abandoned their longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party to support Donald Trump in 2016. Biden’s campaign sees his religious identity as a huge advantage in his bid to win those voters back: Trump and his associates “look down their nose on people like Irish Catholics, like me, [who] grew up in Scranton,” Biden said during the first presidential debate.
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
In January, the COVID-19 pandemic will still be burning its way across the U.S. Next week, Americans will choose whether to bring it under control.
The president’s response to the pandemic should not have been a surprise. In December 2016, a month before Donald Trump was inaugurated, I asked how a pandemic would play out during his term. The question was not idly put: Every recent president before Trump had been challenged by epidemics, and Trump’s actions as both a citizen during the 2014 Ebola outbreak and a candidate on the campaign trail had been troubling. His record suggested that come a pandemic, he would lie, spread misinformation, opt for travel bans in lieu of more effective measures, and heed his own counsel over that of experts.
In the 2020 election, on top of every routine test of character and capability, the candidates must answer the challenge the coronavirus has brought to this country. Trump’s response has been so lax as to effectively cede the country to a virus whose spread is controllable. He has, by his own admission, repeatedly downplayed the threat after he became aware of how dangerous the new coronavirus could be. He caught the virus himself and seems to have learned nothing from the encounter.
America won the internet, and now makes us all speak its language.
LONDON—Sharing the internet with America is like sharing your living room with a rhinoceros. It’s huge, it’s right there, and whatever it’s doing now, you sure as hell know about it.
This month, Twitter announced that it would restrict retweets for a few weeks, and prompt its users to reconsider sharing content which has been flagged as misinformation. The reason for this change, of course, is the U.S. presidential election. The restricted features will be restored when its result is clear.
Anything that makes Twitter fractionally less hellish is welcome, as is the recent crackdown by Facebook and YouTube on QAnon conspiracy groups and Holocaust denial. But from anywhere outside the borders of the U.S., it is hard not to feel faintly aggrieved when reading this news. Hey guys! We have elections too!
States and cities struggling through the pandemic recession are wondering if higher taxes will raise revenue, or cause a mass exodus.
Cities and states across the country are facing a conundrum: They are desperate for cash because of the ravages of the COVID-19 recession. Rich people are pretty much the only ones who have any, because of both the recession and the yawning inequality that long predated it. But if cities and states raise taxes on the 1 percent, they worry that rich families might simply leave, no longer bound to their offices or their children’s schools. The conundrum is real, and the solution is easy enough: Let the federal government help states and cities circumvent the whole issue.
The pandemic recession has battered local coffers, causing revenue losses of an estimated $155 billion in 2020 and $167 billion in 2021, about 6 percent of local revenue. New York alone is projecting a $59 billion shortfall through 2022. The federal government could easily finance those kinds of deficits by issuing bonds. But doing so is harder for local governments, which generally have to keep their budgets balanced and often have limits on their borrowing. When big recessions hit, and the COVID-19 recession is a huge one, many of them have no choice but to raise revenue or cut services.
The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.
During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett argued that the judicial philosophy known as “originalism” should guide judges in their interpretation and application of constitutional principles. Most famously associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia (for whom Judge Barrett clerked), this idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”
In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.