Patches of Plastic in Ocean Harbor Dense, Delicate, Diverse “Neuston” Sea Life

(p. D8) In 2019, the French swimmer Benoit Lecomte swam over 300 nautical miles through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution.

As he swam, he was often surprised to find that he wasn’t alone.

“Every time I saw plastic debris floating, there was life all around it,” Mr. Lecomte said.

The patch was less a garbage island than a garbage soup of plastic bottles, fishing nets, tires and toothbrushes. And floating at its surface were blue dragon nudibranchs, Portuguese man-o-wars, and other small surface-dwelling animals, which are collectively known as neuston.

Scientists aboard the ship supporting Mr. Lecomte’s swim systematically sampled the patch’s surface waters. The team found that there were much higher concentrations of neuston within the patch than outside it. In some parts of the patch, there were nearly as many neuston as pieces of plastic.

“I had this hypothesis that gyres concentrate life and plastic in similar ways, but it was still really surprising to see just how much we found out there,” said Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study. “The density was really staggering. To see them in that concentration was like, wow.”

. . .

Dr. Helm and her colleagues pulled many individual creatures out of the sea with their nets: by-the-wind sailors, free-floating hydrozoans that travel on ocean breezes; blue buttons, quarter-sized cousins of the jellyfish; and violet sea-snails, which build “rafts” to stay afloat by trapping air bubbles in a soap-like mucus they secrete from a gland in their foot. They also found potential evidence that these creatures may be reproducing within the patch.

The findings were posted last month on bioRxiv and have not yet been subjected to peer review. But if they hold up, Dr. Helm and other scientists say, it may complicate efforts by conservationists to remove the immense and ever-growing amount of plastic in the patch.

. . .

. . . Dr. Helm said there is [an] . . . implication of the study: Organizations working to remove plastic waste from the patch may also need to consider what the study means for their efforts.

There are two nonprofit organizations working to remove floating plastic from the Great Pacific Patch. The largest, the Ocean Cleanup Foundation in the Netherlands, developed a net specifically to collect and concentrate marine debris as it is pulled across the sea’s surface by winds and currents. Once the net is full, a ship takes its contents to land for proper disposal.

Dr. Helm and other scientists warn that such nets threaten sea life, including neuston. Although adjustments to the net’s design have been made to reduce bycatch, Dr. Helm believes any large-scale removal of plastic from the patch could pose a threat to its neuston inhabitants.

“When it comes to figuring out what to do about the plastic that’s already in the ocean, I think we need to be really careful,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Annie Roth. “Marine Animals Float Amid Patch Of Pacific Garbage.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 10, 2022): D8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 8, 2022, and has the title “The Ocean’s Biggest Garbage Pile Is Full of Floating Life.”)

Helm’s co-authored draft paper is:

Chong, Fiona, Matthew Spencer, Nikolai Maximenko, Jan Hafner, Andrew McWhirter, and Rebecca R. Helm. “High Concentrations of Floating Life in the North Pacific Garbage Patch.” bioRxiv (posted April 28, 2022): 2022.04.26.489631.

Recycling Is Good When It Saves Enough to Be Worth the Time

“Juani Lira shopping for her 13 grandchildren at Ludy’s Ropa Usada in downtown McAllen.” Source: online version of the NYT article cited below.

(p. 18) McALLEN, Texas — A mountain of clothes swallowed half of Juani Lira’s petite body, from the waist down. But the 67-year-old did not seem to mind. Ms. Lira closely inspected a pair of black shorts studded with rhinestones and tossed them behind her, unimpressed. Too flashy for her teenage granddaughter, she murmured.

Ms. Lira then spotted a long-sleeved, pearl-colored blouse, still with a tag intact. Bingo. She looked around her, as if she were getting away with something, and tucked the blouse at the bottom of a duffle bag. At a price of 71 cents a pound, Ms. Lira was on her way to collecting a haul big enough to clothe most of her 13 grandchildren at Ludy’s Ropa Usada in downtown McAllen.

. . .

During several visits to ropa usada warehouses, some of them just a mile from the Rio Grande, store operators were protective of their businesses and their clients’ privacy. Signs prohibiting photos were often posted at the entrance, a reminder that the stigma of shopping for discarded clothes persists. Some people hid their faces in the piles of clothing, and some avoided eye contact.

But others, like the longtime ropa usada shopper Angelica Gallardo, 64, felt there was no shame in struggling to make ends meet and doing the best you could to clothe your growing clan. Ms. Gallardo spends hours at a time meticulously inspecting an endless heap of potential purchases. “You have to dig in!” she said.

Ms. Gallardo, who said she has been shopping at ropa usada outlets since the 1970s, has developed a keen eye for “the good stuff” from the “pila” — the pile.

For the full story, see:

Edgar Sandoval. “In Texas, Clothes by the Pound to Make Ends Meet.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, April 10, 2022): 18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “On the Border, Buying Clothes by the Pound at Ropa Usada Shops.”)

Adapting to Climate Change, Bird Species Send Out Explorers to “Scout New Habitats”

(p. B1) From what we can tell, the Steller’s sea eagle trekking across North America does not appear homesick.

The bird has strayed thousands of miles from its native range in East Asia over the last two years, roving from the Denali Highway in Alaska down to a potential sighting South Texas before moving eastward and back north to Canada and New England. Its cartoonish yellow beak and distinctive wing coloration recently attracted crowds of rapt birders to Maine before turning up on April Fools’ Day in Nova Scotia.

“We live in a world of very little surprise,” said Nick Lund, the outreach manager for Maine Audubon and creator of The Birdist blog. Catching a glimpse of a far-flung bird in one’s backyard, he said, “is like the purest form of joy.”

But the rogue Steller’s sea eagle isn’t just a lost bird: It is an avian vagrant, a term that describes birds that wing their way well beyond their species’s normal range of movement.

Humans have long marveled at such exotic stragglers — which experts also refer to as waifs, rarities, extralimitals, casuals and accidentals — and what they suggest about the biological importance of wandering. “The ‘accidentals’ are the exceptional individuals that go farthest away from the metropolis of the species; they do not belong to (p. D4) the ordinary mob,” Joseph Grinnell, a field biologist in California, noted in 1922. “They constitute sort of sensitive tentacles, by which the species keeps aware of the possibilities of aerial expansion.”

. . .

A new book, “Vagrancy in Birds,” extends this century-old notion — arguing that vagrancy does not always represent a tale of navigational avian misfortune, but can be one of the first visible signs of bird species adapting to human-driven alterations to Earth’s waters, lands and skies.

“We’re destroying and creating habitats,” said Alexander Lees, a co-author of the book and a senior biodiversity lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. “We’d expect wildlife to adapt to that.”

. . .

“We think of ranges as stable in space and time. But ranges are incredibly dynamic and they can change,” Dr. Lees, of Manchester Metropolitan University, said.

Vagrancy, the scientists argue, might help species chart an escape route from human-driven climate change and widespread habitat destruction. Instead of staying put and facing potential extinction, a few solitary pioneers can scout new habitats as their former homes become unlivable.

The critically endangered Chinese crested tern, for example, was presumed to be extinct after last being spotted in 1937. Then, in 2000, and again a few years later, biologists rediscovered the species at sites in China and Taiwan where it hadn’t bred before. In 2016, scientists found two nesting Chinese crested tern pairs incubating eggs on an uninhabited island in South Korea. Its tiny surviving population — only about 50 birds — is still threatened by egg-poaching humans and nest-destroying typhoons. But as one conservation officer noted in 2017, the Korean nesting site “means the future of this species looks more promising now.”

. . .

“There’s this historical narrative around vagrants that they have to be lost. They have to be aberrant. There’s something wrong with them,” Dr. Zawadzki said.

But faced with climate change, she said, the opposite might prove true: The ability to explore — or, seen another way, the opportunity to “get lost” — becomes a huge advantage.

“They’re more likely to survive,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Marion Renault. “They’re Not Lost. They’re Adapting.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 12, 2022): D1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 12, 2022, and has the title “These Birds Aren’t Lost. They’re Adapting.”)

The book mentioned above is:

Lees, Alexander, and James Gilroy. Vagrancy in Birds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2022.

Flamingo Who Declared Independence on July 4, 2005, Still Flies Free in Texas

A few years ago I ran a blog entry on the flamingo who declared independence on July 4, 2005 by escaping from a Kansas zoo and flying to Texas. Well, apparently as of March 10, 2022, he still roams free.

(p. D4) David Foreman, a machinist and fishing guide in Edna, Texas, didn’t know any of this when he and a friend set out on a boat in Port Lavaca on March 10 this year.

. . .

. . . on this day he couldn’t believe his eyes. There it was, a tall, elegant bird standing on one leg as flamingos often do. He zoomed his phone’s camera in as far as it could go, searching for proof of what seemed unbelievable.

“My brain was telling me, ‘No way you’re looking at a flamingo,’ but my eyes were telling me, ‘That’s what it is, there’s no mistaking it,’” said Mr. Foreman, who grew up in a bird sanctuary.

. . .

Wildlife officials in Texas said it was surely No. 492. It was so named because one of its legs has worn a tag with that number since it arrived at the zoo from Tanzania in 2003.

. . .

It served as confirmation that No. 492, estimated to be about 20 years old, is still persevering despite striking out on its own. Its journey would fit snugly into a Pixar movie script. No. 492 was one of 40 flamingos to arrive at the Kansas zoo in 2003. Most of the birds were probably around 3 years old, Scott Newland, the curator of birds at the zoo, said in an interview in 2018.

He described feather clipping, the maintenance that keeps the birds grounded, as painless, “no different than you or I getting a haircut.” It must be repeated each year as birds molt their feathers and grow new ones.

But in June 2005, staff members missed the signs that No. 492’s wings needed to be clipped, and the bird flew away to a drainage canal in Wichita along with another flamingo, No. 347.

On July 4 — seriously, on Independence Day — the birds flew away from Wichita for good, No. 492 heading south and No. 347 heading north.

No. 347 was never seen again, and likely didn’t survive the winter. No. 492, though, found a suitable environment in Texas, with its shallow, salty wetlands, high temperatures year-round and ample food sources.

For the full story, see:

Daniel Victor. “A Flamingo Flourishes 17 Years After Escaping.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 12, 2022): D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 12, 2022, and has the title “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Federal T.V.A. Electric Utility Finds that Renewables Are Less Dependable than Gas

(p. A17) WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest federally owned utility plans to invest more than $3.5 billion in new gas-burning electric plants, despite President Biden’s commitment to swiftly move away from fossil fuels and eliminate greenhouse gases from the power sector in a little more than a decade.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to nearly 10 million people across the Southeast, is replacing aging power plants that run on coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. But critics say substituting gas for coal would lock in decades of additional carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the planet and could be avoided by generating more electricity from solar, wind or another renewable source.

. . .

In its deliberations about replacing coal-fired generators, the T.V.A. found that solar or other zero-emissions sources would be less dependable and more expensive than gas, said Catherine Butler, a spokeswoman for the T.V.A.

. . .

“We have an obligation to serve, and ensure the lights come on,” she said. “So, when renewables aren’t available, natural gas will be available to ensure that reliable, resilient service is available to power our communities.”

For the full story, see:

Lisa Friedman. “Largest Federal Utility Chooses Gas, Undermining Biden’s Climate Goals.” The New York Times (Friday, March 18, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 18, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Officially “Extinct” Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Found Living in Louisiana

(p. A21) NASHVILLE — Once upon a time, deep in the upland pine forests and hardwood bottomlands of the American South, a magnificent bird dwelt high in the treetops. The ivory-billed woodpecker was a denizen of old-growth forests, but by the end of the 19th century, vast stands of old-growth Southern forest were already gone. A confirmed sighting of the Lord God Bird hasn’t been recorded since 1944.

Reports of the elusive ivory-bill surface from time to time anyway. In 2004, a sighting in Arkansas inspired a frenzy among birders, but an exhaustive search by teams from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology turned up no definitive evidence of survivors. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the ivory-billed woodpecker extinct.

Now Steve Latta, the director of conservation at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, believes his team of researchers has found the bird living in the marshes of Louisiana. Using drones and mounted trail cameras, they have amassed both images and recordings of the birds, in addition to more than a dozen observations by the skilled researchers themselves. Comparing the markings, morphology, and foraging behavior of the birds they observed with those in historic photographs and videos, the researchers concluded that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct after all. “Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest an increasingly hopeful future for the ivory-billed woodpecker,” they write.

. . .

“Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are extinct,” tweeted the artist and birder Walter Kitundu. “And even if they weren’t I would still prefer you believed they were and left them the F alone.”

. . .

Wildness is everywhere, renewing itself among us, reminding us not to give up. And who could fail to feel hopeful, if only for a moment, in the presence of new life? Or in the smallest chance that old life has somehow come back from the dead?

For the full commentary, see:

Margaret Renkl. “The Second Coming of the Lord God Bird.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 27, 2022): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2022, and has the same title as the print version. The online version of the commentary says that the print version appeared on p. A23. But in my National print copy, the commentary appeared on p. A21.)

Nuclear War Is a Greater Threat to Humanity Than Is Climate Change

(p. A19) Weeks before thermobaric rockets rained down on Ukraine, the chattering classes at the World Economic Forum declared “climate action failure” the biggest global risk for the coming decade. On the eve of war, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry fretted about the “massive emissions consequences” of Russian invasion and worried that the world might forget about the risks of climate change if fighting broke out. Amid the conflict and the many other challenges facing the globe right now, like inflation and food price hikes, the global elite has an unhealthy obsession with climate change.

This fixation has had three important consequences. First, it has distracted the Western world from real geopolitical threats. Russia’s invasion should be a wake-up call that war is still a serious danger that requires democratic nations’ attention. But a month into the war in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres—whose organization’s main purpose is ensuring world peace—was focused instead on “climate catastrophe,” warning that fossil-fuel addiction will bring “mutually assured destruction.” His comments come at a time when nuclear weapons are posing the biggest risk of literal mutually assured destruction in half a century.

Second, the narrow focus on immediate climate objectives undermines future prosperity.

. . .

Third, in the world’s poorest countries, the international community’s focus on putting up solar panels coexists with a woeful underinvestment in solutions to massive existing problems.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Be Afraid of Nuclear War, Not Climate Change.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 30, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Middle Class Hurt by California Mandate for New Home Batteries and Solar Panels

(p. B1) This month, state regulators updated California’s building code to require some new homes and commercial buildings to have solar panels and batteries and the wiring needed to switch from heaters that burn natural gas to heat pumps that run on electricity. Energy experts say it is one of the most sweeping single environmental updates to building codes ever attempted by a government agency.

But some energy and building experts warn that California may be taking on too much, too quickly and focusing on the wrong target — new buildings, rather than the much larger universe of existing structures. Their biggest fear is that these new requirements will drive up the state’s already high construction costs, putting new homes out of reach of middle- and lower-income families that cannot as easily afford the higher upfront costs of cleaner energy and heating equipment, which typically pays for itself over years through (p. B3) savings on monthly utility bills.

. . .

Adding solar panels and a battery to a new home can raise its cost by $20,000 or more. While that might not matter to somebody buying a million-dollar property, it could be a burden on a family borrowing a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a home.

“You’re going to see the impact in office rents. You’re going to see it in the cost of the milk in your grocery store,” said Donald J. Ruthroff, a principal at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning in Pleasanton, Calif. “There’s no question this is going to impact prices across the board.”

. . .

The Sycamore Square townhouses were the last ones developed in San Bernardino before the solar mandate took effect last year. Glenn Elssmann, a partner in the project who hired Mr. Marini’s company as the contractor, said the added cost of the solar requirement would have made construction of the development impossible. Homes in Sycamore Square started at $340,000 for the four-bedroom, three-bath units and reached as high as $370,000.

Jimmie Joyce, 44, who works in payroll at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, will soon close on the purchase of a house in Sycamore Square after trying for almost a year to buy closer to Inglewood, a city near the Los Angeles International Airport where he lives now. His commute will likely increase from about 40 minutes to an hour and a half.

“I, for one, didn’t even plan on moving out that far,” Mr. Joyce said. “The way the market is, people are just overbidding to just try to get in things.” He said he made an offer $10,000 to $15,000 higher than the asking price on a home that ended up with more than 70 bids, including one that was $60,000 more than his.

His new home is already expensive for him, he said, and adding $10,000 to $20,000 more for solar, a battery and other amenities “would make that much more challenging.”

The changes regulators adopted this month will also require most new commercial buildings, including schools, hotels, hospitals, office buildings, retailers and grocery stores, and apartment buildings and condos above three stories to include solar and batteries. And regulators will require single-family homes to have wiring that will allow them to use electric heat pumps and water heaters, rather than ones that burn natural gas. About 55 percent of California’s homes use electric heat and 45 percent use natural gas.

For the full story, see:

Ivan Penn. “Greener Buildings, for a Lot of Green.” The New York Times (Monday, August 30, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 9, 2021, and has the title “California’s Plan to Make New Buildings Greener Will Also Raise Costs.”)

Less-Ventilated Energy-Efficient Buildings Reduce Indoor Air Quality, Harming Cognitive Performance

(p. D6) A new study shows that poor indoor air quality is associated with subtle impairments in a number of cognitive functions, including our ability to concentrate and process information. The study tracked 302 office workers in commercial buildings in six countries — the United States, Britain, China, India, Mexico and Thailand — for 12 months.

The scientists used monitors to measure ventilation and indoor air quality in the buildings, including levels of fine particulate matter, which includes dust and minuscule particles from smoking, cleaning products and outdoor air pollution that seeps into the building. The workers were asked to use an app to take regular cognitive tests during the workday. The tests included simple math problems, as well as a tricky color and word brain teaser called the Stroop test, in which a word like “blue” or “purple” is printed in green or red ink.  . . .

The study found that the office workers in buildings with the poorest indoor air quality tended to perform worse on the brain teasers. While the effect wasn’t dramatic, the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the air we breathe affects brain health.

. . .

“This study looked at how several factors in the indoor environment have an immediate impact on our cognitive function and performance,” said Joseph G. Allen, the director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings program and the study’s senior author. “This study shows that the air you’re breathing at your desk at that moment has an impact on how well you think.”

In the past, air quality control in buildings has been mostly focused on energy efficiency and comfort, with little consideration given to infection control or overall worker health.

. . .

Dr. Allen is the co-author of a new book, “Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity.” He said he’s been encouraged to see more businesses and individuals taking indoor air quality more seriously as a result of the pandemic. Recently he saw a job posting at a major company advertising for a “head of healthy buildings” in the company’s global real estate division.

“It tells you that serious companies are changing how they approach their buildings, and they’re not thinking about this as a one-off during Covid,” said Dr. Allen.

. . .

“The pressure is coming from employees, parents of kids in school, teachers — there’s a heightened level of awareness and expertise,” said Dr. Allen. “How many people were talking about MERV 13 filters prior to the pandemic? This knowledge that our indoor spaces have been underperforming is not going away. I think people are rightly frustrated and fed up with it.”

For the full story, see:

Tara Parker-Pope. “What Bad Indoor Air Could Do to Your Brain.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 28, 2021): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 28, 2021, and has the title “Is Bad Indoor Air Dulling Your Brain?”)

The book co-authored by Allen, and mentioned above, is:

Allen, Joseph G., and John D. Macomber. Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020.

Best New Climate Models Fail at Accurately “Hind-Casting” Past Temperatures

(p. A1) BOULDER, Colo.—For almost five years, an international consortium of scientists was chasing clouds, determined to solve a problem that bedeviled climate-change forecasts for a generation: How do these wisps of water vapor affect global warming?

They reworked 2.1 million lines of supercomputer code used to explore the future of climate change, adding more-intricate equations for clouds and hundreds of other improvements. They tested the equations, debugged them and tested again.

The scientists would find that even the best tools at hand can’t model climates with the sureness the world needs as rising temperatures impact almost every region.

When they ran the updated simulation in 2018, the conclusion jolted them: Earth’s atmosphere was much more sensitive to greenhouse gases than decades of previous models had predicted, and future temperatures could be much higher than feared—perhaps even beyond hope of practical remedy.

(p. A9) “We thought this was really strange,” said Gokhan Danabasoglu, chief scientist for the climate-model project at the Mesa Laboratory in Boulder at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, or NCAR.

. . .

As world leaders consider how to limit greenhouse gases, they depend heavily on what computer climate models predict. But as algorithms and the computer they run on become more powerful—able to crunch far more data and do better simulations—that very complexity has left climate scientists grappling with mismatches among competing computer models.

While vital to calculating ways to survive a warming world, climate models are hitting a wall. They are running up against the complexity of the physics involved; the limits of scientific computing; uncertainties around the nuances of climate behavior; and the challenge of keeping pace with rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. Despite significant improvements, the new models are still too imprecise to be taken at face value, which means climate-change projections still require judgment calls.

“We have a situation where the models are behaving strangely,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, a leading center for climate modeling. “We have a conundrum.”

. . .

In its guidance to governments last year, the U.N. climate-change panel for the first time played down the most extreme forecasts.

Before making new climate predictions for policy makers, an independent group of scientists used a technique called “hind-casting,” testing how well the models reproduced changes that occurred during the 20th century and earlier. Only models that re-created past climate behavior accurately were deemed acceptable.

In the process, the NCAR-consortium scientists checked whether the advanced models could reproduce the climate during the last Ice Age, 21,000 years ago, when carbon-dioxide levels and temperatures were much lower than today. CESM2 and other new models projected temperatures much colder than the geologic evidence indicated. University of Michigan scientists then tested the new models against the climate 50 million years ago when greenhouse-gas levels and temperatures were much higher than today. The new models projected higher temperatures than evidence suggested.

For the full story, see:

Robert Lee Hotz. “Climate Scientists Encounter Computer Models’ Limits.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 7, 2022): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 6, 2022, and has the title “Climate Scientists Encounter Limits of Computer Models, Bedeviling Policy.”)

When Humans Control Animals, Their Wily Resilience Can Cause “Unforeseen Consequences”

(p. A15) For the past three years, a gray squirrel has set out to ruin my life, chewing leaves off my beloved exotic hibiscus and geraniums.

. . .

. . . , Mary Roach’s “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law” makes me feel grateful that my nemesis is only a rodent, and that I live in Ohio, not Colorado or India. My refrigerator will not be emptied by a bear; I will not be throttled by a leopard while taking out the compost.

. . .

There’s something demonic at work in India’s leopards and macaques, but the dilemma finds its root in human behavior. For centuries, feeding monkeys has been considered a religious offering, but this ritual has fueled a certain conviction on the monkeys’ part that humans are in service to them. Ms. Roach’s attempts to pin down government officials on how they might tackle the problem (including hiring more monkey catchers and staffing more monkey sterilization centers) are hilariously convoluted and laced with bizarre anecdotes. She’s passed from one office to the next and back again, never getting an answer. Before redirecting her, one official “veered off into a story about a macaque that got inside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and took to pulling IV needles out of patients’ arms and sucking the glucose like a child with a straw in a pop bottle.”

During World War II, the U.S. military established a naval air station on Midway Atoll, the strategically significant string of islets halfway between North America and Asia. But the islands turned out to be also a significant nesting ground for thousands of albatrosses, and the result was hundreds of collisions between the airplanes and the huge soaring birds. It is heartbreaking to read of sailors being made to club the long-living albatrosses—80,000 in one assault, 21,000 in another—to reduce the population. Still, nature prevailed. “For a brief time the hazard to aircraft was reduced,” read one report. “The following season there appeared to be as many albatrosses as before.” After every possible deterrent and lethal attack on the gentle birds failed, the air base was closed and in 1993 converted into a refuge. The contrast between this midcentury horror and the reverence shown earlier this year for Wisdom, the 70-year-old Laysan albatross still nesting on Midway, could hardly be more stark.

. . .

This book is largely about the unspooling of unforeseen consequences, and our feeble attempts to put the animal genies we’ve freed back into their bottles.

For the full review, see:

Julie Zickefoose. “BOOKSHELF; Rebellious Nature.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Fuzz’ Review: Rebellious Nature.”)

The book under review is:

Roach, Mary. Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.