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  • Gwen B Fischer

Points of Light in this Darkest of Times


Microbial enzymes and birdwatchers are my points of light in these darkest of times. First the latest darkness: by now you've probably heard the serious talk about the possibility of some state legislatures not abiding by the popular vote and appointing electoral college delegates to ensure the presidency doesn't change. Once we've all absorbed this latest "unthinkable" possible election outcome, we need to start planning.


For today, I'd like to point to some tiny possibilities for better times. Many of us are aware of the petroleum industry's "endgame"---plastics. What is less widely known is that the big push to recycle plastic was all a sham. The plastics industry advertised recycling, while privately admitting ""The feeling was the plastics industry was under fire, we got to do what it takes to take the heat off, because we want to continue to make plastic products," Thomas says. "If the public thinks the recycling is working, then they're not going to be as concerned about the environment." The point of light is the discovery of microbes whose enzymes, under the right circumstances, can produce ethylene to produce plastics: as one researcher said, “We may have cracked a major technological barrier to producing a large amount of ethylene gas that could replace fossil fuel sources in making plastics,”


My second bright spot is discovering #Bird Names for Birds: "Because birds don't need eponymous or honorific common names. . . . . Eponyms (a person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named) and honorific common bird names (a name given to something in honor of a person) are problematic because they perpetuate colonialism and the racism associated with it. . . .Eponymous common names are essentially verbal statues. They were made to honor the benefactor in perpetuity. . . .we should make decisions about who and what we honor based on our own values, values that create a more equitable world for all."

With the Black Lives Matter protests and Ibram Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist reminding white people like me all the ways not to stereotype people's behavior by skin color, I'm increasingly aware of all the ways racism (including perpetuating the names of many colonial white men whose names some birds carry) is embedded in our society. So I was so pleased to discover this effort now finally supported by the American Orthonological Society, prompted by a petition signed by over 2,000 individuals and groups such as BlackAFinSTEM. You can get free tickets to a discussion with panelists who will dive into the past, present, and future of bird names at 7 pm EDT, Saturday, 9-26-20.

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