Peter Dykstra: Tomb of the unknown stories
The National Butterfly Center, Mission, Texas.

Peter Dykstra: Tomb of the unknown stories

Build the wall, make the butterflies pay for it.

Like many Americans, I sat slackjawed this week as the two most powerful Democrats in the nation hectored the President as if they were both 12-year-olds. And the President, off on a tear about who would pay for his border wall, behaved like a 9-year-old.


Meanwhile, the San Antonio Express-News reported on one quiet group that will pay for the Wall: butterflies.

Yes, butterflies. Moving north each year in gangs like the Monarchs, butterflies find sanctuary at the cleverly-named National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, just west of the border city of McAllen.

Plans for Wall construction would bisect the Center, putting 70 percent of it outside the Wall. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by several environmental groups, who had sued over the Trump Administration's waiver allowing Wall construction to ignore 28 environmental laws that might trip up the project.

The Wall would also slice through a nearby state park and a National Wildlife Refuge. And there's a bonus indignity: The Wall is two miles inland from the Rio Grande, the actual US-Mexico border – effectively ceding a big swath of riverside land to Mexico and negating the private property rights of ranchers and farmers, not just butterfly lovers.

The Butterfly Center has floated a new lawsuit, and is raising money through a GoFundMe page. As of this week, the page has raised less than 10 percent of its $100,000 goal.

Glyphosate grows up

For years, glyphosate was something of a rock star among herbicides, believed to be far safer than traditional chemicals.

As the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, glyphosate flew off the shelves of hardware stores and WalMarts, racking up billions in annual sales. Bayer AG, the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant, acquired Monsanto this year, largely due to Monsanto's lucrative seed and pesticide businesses. But the World Health Organization has listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, despite intense industry lobbying.

The U.S. EPA considers glyphosate safe, and with the current agency leadership in rabidly pro-business mode, there's little chance that will change.

In August, a California jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper, $289 million for his claim that glyphosate caused Johnson's lymphoma. Monsanto/Bayer is appealing the verdict, and the legal tussle could very well outlive Johnson— doctors say he won't survive past 2020. In October, a judge reduced the award to $79 million.

It was only a matter of time before the whiplash lawyers came calling.

Knightline Legal, whose prior clientele include victims of hip and knee replacements and mesh hernia patches gone bad, are all over it. This ad has been ubiquitous on my TV screen ever since the verdict. So glyphosate has joined mesothelioma as precipitant for environmental disease, and a potential windfall for attorneys.

Drawing straws ... 

Credit: Horia Varlan/flickr

Let's say it up front: Disposable, single-use plastic straws are bad, no good, very bad for the environment, and efforts to curb their use are a good thing.

Plastic waste is not just in the oceans — but in Arctic ice and fresh water lakes, rivers and streams. The issue has emerged as an OMG crisis, and feel-good solutions like straw bans are more like a straw man—one of those anodyne remedies that may actually do more harm than good by persuading us that we're making progress.

So let's keep it up with outlawing plastic straws and bags, and plastic microbeads in consumer products. But let's not deceive ourselves—it's another global threat where we're losing.

Thus ending on a high note.

Food, feed and fuel: global seaweed industry could reduce land needed for farming by 110m hectares, study finds

Scientists identify parts of ocean suitable for seaweed cultivation and suggest it could constitute 10% of human diet to reduce impact of agriculture.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

When will we hit peak fossil fuels? Maybe we already have

Kingsmill Bond, energy analyst and author, describes the circumstances that hastened the transition of the electricity sector—plus four reasons he’s optimistic about our planet’s future.

Google empowered climate crisis deniers
Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Google let Daily Wire advertise to climate crisis deniers, research shows

Exclusive: Data shared by the Center for Countering Digital Hate shows that Ben Shapiro’s news site paid for climate crisis denial search term ads.

greenwashing in fashion
UK in Italy/Flickr

'Vegan,' 'sustainable': How to spot greenwashing in fashion

Virtuous proclamations and campaigns from clothing brands can often amount to greenwashing, or in some cases, “clearwashing,” where the information doesn’t tell consumers much.
heavy metals in baby food
pixydust8605/Flickr

How do heavy metals like lead get in baby food?

The problem begins at the farm where plants draw toxins from the soil. There’s no washing them away.

A copper mine could advance green energy but scar sacred land

Tribal groups are fighting an Arizona project whose backers say increasing the supply of copper, crucial to batteries, would reduce fossil-fuel use.

As the Colorado River shrinks, Washington prepares to spread the pain

The seven states that rely on the river for water are not expected to reach a deal on cuts. It appears the Biden administration will have to impose reductions.
From our Newsroom
oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

popular stories 2022

Our 5 most popular reads from 2022

A corpse, woodworking dangers, plastic titans ... revisit the stories that stuck with our readers this past year.

Pittsburgh environmental

What I learned reporting on environmental health in Pittsburgh in 2022

For a lot of people, 2022 felt like the first “normal” year since 2020. It didn’t for me.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.