Kopf: A Short Take On “Get Off My Lawn”

Watch this scene from the movie Gran Torino:

The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece that annoyed the hell out of me. See Margaret Renkl, To Nurture Nature, Neglect Your Lawn−Why poison the earth when you can have wildflowers at your feet and songbirds in your trees without even trying?, The New York Times (Apr. 15, 2019).[i] Not only did it make claims based on bad science, but it was revoltingly preachy.

The author concludes her essay this way:

As individuals, we too often feel powerless in the face of the corporate and political forces that drive our culture, but in this matter we are not powerless. We can change our preferences and train our eyes to see the “perfect” American lawn for what it is: a field of poison. We can put away our chemicals, make a haven of our own yards and welcome the wildflowers.

“’Chemical’ is just another way of saying ‘poison,’” the author instructs us. In support of this nutty claim, she writes the following:

Last month, a federal jury ordered Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, to pay $80 million in damages to a California man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. It was the second time an American jury had found for a plaintiff with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, has once again vowed to appeal. But just last week it exhausted its appeals in France, where a court in 2012 identified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and similar herbicides, as the cause of the plaintiff’s neurological damage.

Well, a jury acquitted O.J. too.

There is little scientific basis anymore for claiming glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) causes cancers. See, e.g., American Council on Science and Health, If You Accept Science, You Accept Roundup Does Not Cause Cancer (Oct. 9, 2018); Andreotti, G., et al., Glyphosate Use and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study, J. Nat’l Cancer Inst. (May, 2018) (“Among 54[,]251 applicators, 44[,]932 (82.8%) used glyphosate, including 5779 incident cancer cases (79.3% of all cases). In unlagged analyses, glyphosate was not statistically significantly associated with cancer at any site. However, among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) compared with never users (RR = 2.44, 95% CI = 0.94 to 6.32, Ptrend = .11), though this association was not statistically significant.”); European Food Safety Authority, Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance glyphosate (Nov. 12, 2015) (“EFSA concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008.”)

What is most troubling to me is that like the many environmentalists I had occasion to come across as a practicing lawyer[ii], the author converts a love for the environment to a religion. Her religion is inflexible, unthoughtful and unscientific. It has a rigid orthodoxy that cannot ever be challenged and must be obeyed. Those who disagree are heretics who deserve to be burned at the stake.

I am telling the truth when I say that as I write this, a preemergence weed killer is being applied to our lawn. The green tarp on the patio, which nicely mirrors what will become a lush green carpet, is being put up today as well. Figuratively speaking, I wish Ms. Renkl would get off my lawn and take her pseudo-religion with her.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge

[i] According to the Times, “Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She works for Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, as editor of Chapter 16, a daily web publication that documents the literary life of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Guernica, Literary Hub, Shenandoah, The Southern Review and other publications. She lives in Nashville.”

[ii] I had the privilege of representing the Central Platte Natural Resources District in cases involving the Big Bend reach of the Platte River. The Big Bend is where you might find an occasional whooping crane and hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes as these birds stop briefly to rest and feed during their migration. This 80-mile stretch of the Platte River between Overton and Chapman is reputed to be the most important migratory bird area along the United States portion of the Central Flyway of North America. It has been described as the “pinch in the hourglass.”

6 thoughts on “Kopf: A Short Take On “Get Off My Lawn”

  1. Charles

    So every “chemical” equals “poison” in her view? That’s too bad, as I’ve heard dihydrogen monoxide is great for a truly lush lawn.

    P.S. Was that a movie clip or footage from your home security system?

  2. C. Dove

    As goes California, so goes the nation. For eons (in my terms anyway), California jurisprudence followed a legal concept called Kelly/Frye. Not the American Minds actress, but a hybrid doctrine based on both state and federal law. People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24 and Frye v. United States (D.C. Cir. 1923) 293 F.1013. (Kelly/Frye was basically a mandate on trial courts to act as a gatekeeper and exclude all but “reliable” “scientific” evidence.)

    We were all taught this was “settled law” until SCOTUS decided Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (1993) 509 U.S. 579. After that, the law in the Golden State was less “settled”. Our Supreme Court came to the rescue once again in Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. Univ. of So. Cal (2012) 55 Cal.4th 747. Sargon was supposed to “settle” the “unsettled” by making imposing (or reaffirming, depending on your read) a duty on trial judges to examine the foundational basis of a proffered expert’s opinion. If the expert’s opinion was based on bullshit, our high court expected the trial judge to exclude anything that did not pass the smell test. That works great in theory, but if everything smells like bullshit . . .

  3. losingtrader

    Yes, Rich, a better life through chemicals. Isn’t that what most defendants you sentence are charged with?

    How ironic.
    Have you tried meth on the lawn? No self-respecting weed will get near it.

    Maybe you should shoot meth darts at the rabbits, too. At least they will go out fucking like rabbits. Give them SOME dignity.

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