In a Dense City Landscape, Can Trees and Development Coexist?
The Redlined Western Red Cedar Study Project
Cascadia Climate Action is hosting aClimate Science on Tap series event this evening at 7 pm at the Peddler Brewing Company. The topic is’ Urban Forests: Climate Change Solution or Casualty?’
The event features three speakers – one of whom is Dr. Joey Hulbert Program Director, of Washington State University’s Forest Health Watch. He heads up a community science centered project to understand where our cities’ iconic Western Red Cedar are failing to thrive. A hypothesis is that they are not doing so well in warmer urban areas. Areas in the city characterized by warmer average temperatures are often neighborhoods that have been historically redlined.
Listen to Dr. Hulbert’s description of the this study and how you can get involved.
Producer: Yuko Kodama
Photo : Cascadia Climate Action
91.3 kbcs, music and ideas listener supported radio from Bellevue College. I’m Yuko Kodama Cascadia Climate Action is hosting an event from the Climate Science On Tap series. The topic is Urban Forests: Climate Change Solution or Casualty. The event features three speakers, one of whom is Dr. Joey Hulbert, Program Director of Washington State University’s Forest Health Watch. I read about your studies in an article, and it’s the Seattle Redlined Red Cedar Study. Tell me what that is about.
As part of the fellowship I have, we launched a program called the forest health watch. The premise of that program is to conduct research projects with communities. We try and co-design projects. At the very beginning of establishing this program, we were trying to figure out what our first project should be. And we asked a lot of our partners and collaborators what their biggest concern is with trees… and red cedar, and the die back of red cedar quickly became clear that that is the big pressing issue that our region is facing. A lot of people were concerned and there was growing pools of evidence that this is an issue and that the trees are in worse shape than they have been in the past. So we decided to do a community science project around the health of red cedar, following the input of a lot of these collaborators and partners. And so that has brought us a long way. So we started looking at the dieback of red cedar and realized, wow, this is really a regional issue. It’s happening from California to British Columbia, if not all the way up to Alaska, there’s issues where the tops of red cedar are dying, and the trees every year are looking worse and worse. And we’re starting to see more trees actually dying throughout this pretty big range. And so there’s this general consensus among a lot of our partners and the scientists we work with that this is linked to the longer and hotter droughts that our region has been experiencing, particularly thinking back to 2015, when our region experienced a really bad drought. A kind of unprecedented drought in so since then, we’ve been seeing a lot of red cedar dying. And that’s been the general consensus.
We had this hypothesis that if we know that redlined areas of Seattle, are hotter, then we suspect that trees are going to be less healthy in those areas. We’re not approaching this because we’re really concerned about the trees. We’re more concerned about the communities. And we’re wondering if the tree health in these communities can be a symbol for for the inequities in these communities, or a symbol for the greater need for support and stewardship and more care for the urban forests. If trees are actually less healthy in these redlined areas, what does that mean?
What’s kind of unique about this project is it’s a community science effort. We want to create shared learning as much as we want to advance knowledge. So we want to do this with communities, rather than just going and do the research ourselves. Because we want it to be a learning experience, and we want we want to foster that really shared connection with, the issue and the information. So so we’re approaching this as here’s all these trees, summer and redlined areas and summer and non redlined areas. Let’s compare the healthof these trees in these different communities.
Could you describe what it looks like?
Yeah, Western cedar is a really iconic tree of the Pacific Northwest. And it is in our neighborhoods and it grows really well in the northwest, at least it has. It’s really characterized by, we call them scales, the needles are really flat and appear in these flat sprays. You wouldn’t call them a needle, and they’re not like a pine needle and they’re not like a needle you would see on a Douglas fir branch. Perhaps the most characteristic part of them is the bark, the bark is very stringy.
There’s a reason it’s considered the tree of life because there’s so many gifts that it provides and the bark and the cedar roots are used for weaving baskets and making textiles and other traditional pieces that require string, so you can you can kind of shred the bark into fine strings. One cool thing when you look at a red cedar is that the branches all kind of point upward. So they’re they’re almost like J’s As they come off the tree, the very tips they point upward. So you might be looking at a tree out your window, and if you can see that the tips are all pointing up, that might be a good indicator that it could be a red cedar.
Generally when we ask people to share observations, we asked for three to four pictures. One, the whole tree where we can see those branch tips pointing up, two, the bark. Because the bark is pretty distinctive. It has that it’s really dark red, it turns kind of gray when it gets older. Instead of big plates or puzzle pieces, you’ll see strips . and it kind of looks fuzzy or kind of like cloth, I’d suppose. The other two pictures we ask for as one, if you can see the cones, sometimes they hold on to their cons for a really long time. And the cones look like little eggs, and they’re pointing towards the sky. So they’re always upright. And they’re in the shape of eggs when they’re closed. But when they open, they actually look like little flower buds or rose buds. But then my favorite thing to tell people about what to look for when you’re trying to determine if this is actually a red cedar -So if you turn the leaves over, and you look on the very underside of the newest foliage, then you’ll see this white bloom. And that bloom is in the shape of butterflies. And so it’s kind of a white powder, in the shape of really small butterflies on the underside of the scales are the needles of the tree. And the other thing I would say about red cedar, is that it’s probably our longest living tree in the northwest, which is another reason, It’s really sad to think about how there’s so many unhealthy trees in the region now. So our longest living tree is the one that’s in the most trouble.
If I see a cedar, how do I know if it’s not healthy? What does that look like?
There’s a couple different things we’re seeing. So around Seattle, kind of the most alarming thing that you might see as the top will be dead. So the main stem, the very top will be dead, but maybe you know, some of the tree is still alive, maybe a third of the tree is only dead. But maybe next year, that’ll be two thirds of the tree, we don’t have a good understanding of how quickly this happens. But sometimes you’ll see that the top is dead, and it will not have any fine branches left. So that means you won’t see any very small branches, you only see the big branch stumps. Another factor you might see that indicates the tree is unhealthy is that you’ll be able to see through the tree more than you should. The tree has dropped some of its foliage, and now it looks very thin.
So is this how citizen science works? How does someone that’s involved in your project? who’s living in a neighborhood get involved? And what are they to be watching for it and documenting?
Yeah, we would love to have more observations of where red cedar are and how healthy they are. And it’s okay if you don’t answer everything as as correctly. It’s kind of a learning process. And we’re happy to work with you as you make some of these observations. But the way that people can get involved in our this research project to understand what’s going on with western red cedar and this project to raise awareness about the issue is by creating a login on inaturalist and then you’re enjoying the red cedar die back map project. And then when you share a picture using inaturalist, either on your computer or on your phone. You tag the project, you say this is part of the red cedar dieback map project. When you tag the project, that’s when we ask you, is this tree healthy or unhealthy? And then what did you see? And there’s just drop down answers. So you can say, oh, it’s browning, or the top is dead? Then it also asks, Did you see anything else that might explain why that tree is unhealthy? There’s just a couple of questions that we ask folks to answer when they’re sharing pictures of red cedar trees that they come across. And so that’s how we’re getting a good understanding of where Red Cedar are healthy, where they might be vulnerable. Are there certain areas that are worse than others? Those kind of questions are coming through this information that a lot of people are sharing.
With that information, with those GPS points that are associated with the pictures. We’ll be able to do a lot more analysis to determine which environmental factors are important for predicting if that tree is healthy or unhealthy. So for example, we’ll be able to look at the historical temperature in that area, we’ll be able to look at the amount of rainfall it’s got in the past year or on average over the past 30 years. And we’ll try and identify which one of those parameters really is the best at explaining whether that tree is healthy or not. We’ll also look at things like the type of soil and we’ll be able to look at where is it on the landscape. So for example, our trees that are near water, the trees that are more vulnerable or are trees that are up on a slope more vulnerable. By giving a lot of participation and having a lot of observations will be able to answer these kinds of questions more quickly and with more confidence that will enable us to know where to plant red cedar in the future, where to protect red cedar now, where not to plant red cedar in the future…, really just give us a better understanding of the factors we need to know so that we can keep red cedar on the landscape for future generations.
So you’ve been working on this project for how many years?
We launched the inaturalist project in October 2020. So just over a year,
What have you taken away within the past year?
You know, I’m really privileged to get to work and explore and learn on these stolen ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples in general, but specifically the traditional homelands of PuyallupTribe of Indians. And it’s been a great opportunity for me to grow working on red cedar. If we think about how we exhale carbon dioxide and how trees absorb carbon dioxide, then you can think about the people that have exhaled carbon dioxide around these red cedars. And think about how that red cedar is connected to the ancestors in the region. And to me, that has been one of the coolest things. I’ve realized over the past year working with red cedar. If we think about the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish with this community science effort, we know red cedar is really important. It’s really important because of its ancestral legacy in the northwest. So we know red cedar is really important because the legacy and the role it’s played, helping indigenous peoples in the Northwest. We also know it’s really important because it has a really enormous footprint on the landscape. For example, in Seattle alone, we know there’s at least 2000 red cedar trees around the city. 2000 trees are providing really enormous services to the region like reducing the effect of heat islands and stabilizing the soils on our streams that are salmon bearing, reducing temperature and heat. Maintaining temperature for the streams for salmon is another example of what they’re doing. And they’re doing things we don’t think about in our cities like reducing noise, improving our mental health, supporting birds and other wildlife. Red Cedar is also really important when we think about the industrial heritage of the Northwest and how Seattle and Issaquah and probably Everett and Tacoma for sure, are all really important timber industries in the timber towns in Tacoma, at one point had nine Mills along its waterfront. just as an example of how timber industry was such an important part of the industrial heritage in the northwest and red cedars always been an enormous part of that. And it’s really important that we try and keep it for future generations, when we think about how connected it is to the northwest.
Could you talk a little bit about the importance of urban forests
We’re quickly learning how important urban forests are and you know, King County did an incredible thing when they mapped the temperature, the surface level across the county and they drove around in a hot summer day and measured temperature three different times of the day, all over the county. And that was really illuminating, because it’s very clear that the hottest areas were the areas without trees.
It’s a constant struggle. How do we develop? how do we, you know, keep growing? We’re expecting millions more people to move in King County in the next handful of years or next couple of decades. And how do we accommodate those people without compromising, trees. So we’re realizing how important these trees are. But we’re struggling to keep them healthy and protect them and grow them. So we’re constantly learning. How do we do that? How do we balance this?
We know trees are generally important for our communities just simply because they provide shade. But there’s also a lot of other services that they’re providing. Some of it is stormwater mitigation. We just had enormous amounts of rainfall in the past few days in Seattle. In Bellingham, Schools were closed for two days, because all the flooding and the trees are really helping regulate that they keep the soil in place, they help filter that water. They’re also there to help purify and clean the water once the water runs into these drainage ponds and things like that, before it runs into the Puget Sound, you can imagine how much chemicals and other things are out on our streets that are just washing in to the Puget Sound when we have those events. And so we really need kind of these collective heroes, these natural Heroes Helping us reduce our impacts on our natural systems.
Urban forests are also really important in terms of capturing carbon. There’s some incredible people at University of Washington that have done some neat work about mental health, the role of nature and just having, you know, some access to nature and your community can be really helpful for your mental health. And so there’s a lot of efforts to increase access to nature.
Clearly, there’s some concerns around that. There’s a lot of – how do you green areas without gentrifying them? How do you green areas without raising property values? That’s a balance that we’re clearly struggling with. Generally, we know urban forests are really important and the shade they provide is a clear example that when we think about extreme heat event we had in the Puget Sound recently, that was really well demonstrated by the surface temperature data that the county collected. It shows that where trees are, are cooler than where trees are not. And so we know that urban forests are really important for that. The benefits of these urban forests are not equitably distributed. This for a lot of reasons. Redlining is a pretty good example where, you know, certain communities based on racial demographics, were not favored by banks and could not get home loans and cannot build the equity, as much as other people in other neighborhoods. It’s clearly documented that this is primarily based on race and demographics in these communities. And it’s really sad that this has been linked to these hotter temperatures and these lack of forests.
It’s not just about whether the homeowners, or the folks living there could afford to maintain these trees or not. It’s when you think about the services that the city provides, did they provide those same services to street trees in those neighborhoods? Have they planted as many trees in those neighborhoods? Did those lots have planting strips as part of those in the lots that you would purchase? Those kinds of questions? There’s a lot of like systemic stuff in the history of the Northwest that have led to these areas having less trees and being hotter now. How do we cultivate and grow our urban forests to continue providing services and reducing the effects of heat, you know, helping communities in the face of climate change? But how do we do this equitably? And how do we counter the historical legacy and the inequities that these communities have had?
That was Dr. Joey Hulbert of Washington State University’s forest health watch? He’ll be speaking alongside two other panelists on urban forests at the Peddler Brewing Company tonight at 7pm. For more kbcs stories and to support our work with a donation you can visit kbcs.fm
Colonialism and Climate Change
Environmental Scientist and Climate Activist, Sarra Tekola says climate change can’t be addressed without addressing colonialism. Listen in on this breakdown of the structures that have led to our climate crisis.
Producer: Jesse Callahan and Yuko Kodama
Photo: Yuko Kodama
KBCS music and ideas listener supported radio from Bellevue College. Up next, a conversation on colonialism and climate change. A local environmental scientist and climate activist. Sarita Cola spoke with me in the KBCS Studios about how colonialism is at the root of climate change. Sarra Tekola is with me in the studio today. She’s an activist and PhD student at Arizona State University, looking at colonization and climate change. Well, first of all, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into this field, like into environmentalism in general.
Speaker 1 0:46
Yeah, there’s a few different ways how I got to where I’m at now, when I first started working on the issues around environmentalism, it was really about like planting trees and came to that work, actually through an AmeriCorps job through Washington Conservation Corps, and at the time, I just barely turned 18 and I was struggling with a lot of things. I was struggling with addiction and also facing jail time. And I didn’t really have a lot of options. And so the job really offered me an escape in opportunity, restoration ecology was restoring my soul and so I realized I wanted to continue this work, and after a year of planting trees I started looking at well, how can I make a bigger impact. And when I started learning more about environmental issues and hearing about climate change, I realized that it didn’t matter how many trees we planted. If we didn’t address this, then we were going to have big problems. Initially, I naively thought that like science would be the solution. And so I started environmental science degree at University Washington, and was really heavy in doing the physical sciences doing climate research. And I thought, you know, if we just figure out the co2 thing that that would solve it. But what I realized was that we had everything that we needed to address climate change, what we didn’t have really was a political and social work. And so I was like, why am I in these labs measuring when we’re gonna die, when I’m not really doing anything to stop it? And so that kind of moved me over to the social sciences. And originally, I started looking at communicating climate change with conservatives, because I thought maybe if we could just, you know, talk to them in the right way we could reach them. And what I found there was that conservatives aren’t, the issue isn’t that they don’t get it, that’s not why they’re denying climate change. They’re denying it because they don’t want to accept responsibility for the mess. And so when I saw that it pulled me back and this time really actually when I stopped really seeing that science would save us, I also got into activism. So at the time when I was at University of Washington, I got involved in the divestment movement pushing the University of Washington to divest from fossil fuels. And after a campaign around three years, we got them to divest from coal. But the fight for for fossil fuel divestment, at University of Washington is one that is still going today. So I also started getting involved in more direct action because I realized that if scientists and politicians weren’t going to be the ones to save us, then we would have to save ourselves, and so I got involved in like blockading pipelines and train tracks and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Because really, that’s what’s at stake. It’s our lives. So putting our body on the line is one way that we can begin to address this since our leaders aren’t, but as I continue to do that work and realizing the roots of these problems, are much deeper. And that’s what drew me to colonialism. True environmental activism. For me, it’s always been led by indigenous folks defending their land, the water, the air. And so this connection between colonialism and climate change, for me became apparent through working with indigenous folks. And then when you really begin to look at, from even from a scientific part, when you look at when the levels of co2 begin rising was during Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, the only reason they had a surplus was from colonies. And so essentially, if White people stayed in their countries, if they stayed in their lanes, we wouldn’t be in this mess today, because they had to derive the surplus by going to other countries and taking those resources, land, labor, labor in the form of people that they stole from Africa. And so all of this contributes to the mess that we’re in today. And so when we begin to look at addressing climate change right now, the mainstream climate solutions that are being posed are about carbon markets. Markets are what got us here. And they’re still trying to use them to solve it. Or they have other solutions that really don’t get at the root of the problem, or they’re more of the same colonial mentality like geoengineering, we still think that we can colonize and control the earth, even though she is now ready to evict us from this planet. And we want to throw battery acid into the sky.
You mean shooting sulfuric acid into the sky to deflect the sun’s rays?
Speaker 1 5:37
Yeah, you know, and this is the same colonizer mentality that allowed them to colonize the world instead of just changing our behavior. How do we change this colonizer mentality so that we could actually get to the root of the problem, which we’re really going to look at climate justice solutions, they have to include the root of the problem, colonialism, slavery, racism, genocide and so they have to include, for example, one of the most important things giving land back to indigenous folks. Even research published in Nature has shown that giving land back to indigenous folks is one of the best ways to preserve and conserve land, as well as there has to be reparations from all of the colonizer countries to the colonized countries. What we have today is the countries that were colonized the global south, they are least responsible, but most impacted. We see this in Puerto Rico, we see this in Bahamas, we see this in the Philippines. They’re getting hit over and over again, with typhoons and hurricanes, and they’re not able to build back because their wealth has been stolen. And now when we’re talking about development, we’re asking them to do leapfrog development and skip over the industrial revolution that the North had, and just have solar panels and just go green. But how can they do that when all of the wealth has been stolen, so that’s why I think if we’re going to talk about t rue climate justice solutions, we have to be talking about reparations and that is a climate solution. I think before that will be accepted, there also needs to be a decolonization of the colonial mind that we’re still operating from in Western society.
I can imagine some people saying, we’ve already set it up like this and it’s too difficult to undo. The whole global economy is set up in a way that is based on this right, capitalism. I mean, capitalism is a direct byproduct or what started colonialism in the first place. Right? They might say like, this is too big of a thing that you are saying is needs to happen. Like, can we take baby steps or how do you see this even happening? What do you say to that?
Speaker 1 7:53
Yeah, I do get that a lot of people say well, that will never happen, but the reality is that like we could have taken baby steps 50 years ago, when they begin finding out about this but corporations like Exxon, they knew about climate change and they chose to deliberately put out misinformation and put out fake science to confuse people. And so we’re very much past the baby steps. Now we’re in the middle of a crisis. Well, a lot of what I’m saying I understand because, you know, we are talking about shaking up the entire global order, which has always been predicated on this. I don’t like to use these terms, but the whole First world / Third World divide and even that those colonial divides are how the these white Western countries were able to develop. And so while they probably at this point, are going to accept it what we’re seeing is that solutions that do not actually get at the root of the problem that do not change the power struggle do not disrupt capitalism, they don’t work. And what we’re seeing, like, for example, I think the easiest example to pull up is carbon markets and like the REDD program, which is a program, it’s like reducing emissions and deforestation. It’s a program with United Nations. The whole idea is that the Western countries can continue to pollute. And then they’ll just pay the countries in the global south to plant trees, which is upholding the same colonial power structure and it’s telling the West that they can continue business as usual and what’s happening is the money doesn’t actually get to the folks on the ground in the global south, and it’s actually in Indonesia, being used. They’ve gotten carbon credits for deforestation of the rainforest in Indonesia. And then it was replanted. It was a model crop of palm oil plantations, and they got credits for that. And so the West can think that they can continue polute, but they’re actually contributing to further destruction of biodiversity and, and further carbon emissions and so what we keep seeing is that the solutions don’t work because they’re not actually getting at the root of what the problem costs. Climate change is just a symptom of a larger system that’s not working. And if we don’t address the system will continue to have these problems. Even with solar panels. We’ve seen this right now with solar panels. They’re making them in China, people making them are being poisoned from the chemicals that they’re making. It’s creating environmental degradation issues in China, the precious metals are still coming from Africa, and essentially being stolen from multinationals and it’s contributing in even the way that they’re mining these precious metals are still environmental degradation, and this is renewable energy. And so even if we try to solve this crisis with just renewable energy, but we still have this exploitive extractive, capitalist colonial mentality of going about it will still destroy the planet. They may not be ready for this right now, unfortunately, because we’re still too privileged and too comfortable. But as it gets worse, I think we’ll start. I do question How many people have to die before we start to actually begin to wake up and realize that business as usual means genocide for everyone. And what climate action to me today looks like is increasing the resiliency of runnable communities, especially communities of color, indigenous folks, houselessfolks, folks in who are economically disenfranchised woman, disabled folks, making sure that these communities are doing well and increasing their resiliency so that not if but when we start to begin to feel the impacts of climate change even more, they aren’t the first to die. That’s for me how the work has changed and evolved is a lot of like, what my direct action looks like now is actually in Black Mesa and the Navajo Nation, in the community. That’s being displaced because of a coal. And our direct action now looks like herding sheep and cutting wood and hauling water and if we can support elders in their existence, which is these indigenous folks, our existence is resistance and if we can help to improve their resiliency, that to me is what climate action looks like today. I think it can be overwhelming. But for me finding community is one of the most healing and empowering things to know that I’m not alone.
That was Sarra Tekola, an environmental scientist and climate activist.
91.3 KBCS music and ideas listener supported radio from Bellevue College
KBCS’s Yuko Kodama interviewed Washington native and Arizona State University doctoral student, Sarra Tekola about colonialism and climate change. Here’s an excerpt of the longer segment on breaking down the colonized mind.
What does colonizer mentality look like?
Speaker 1 0:24
I’ve found one of the difficulties of explaining it is because officials try to explain water. The colonizer mentality is Western society. It’s the society Western society operates from this bigger better more, me, me, me the individualism the narcissism pull myself up by my bootstraps self made, these are the type of mentality but it also goes deeper about like the control complex, which also, as far as scientists go, the control complex is part of the reason why Western scientists want to measure and control everything and name everything. It has a lot of facets, but it also contributes to the consumerism and that’s in part because the colonizer mentality is empty and so we feel empty inside. And so we have to shop and we have to buy stuff and we’re trying to fill this emptiness inside. But we don’t realize is that the buying things is making us feel more empty. Part of it is because we have the colonizer mentality and this is even with like, almost all of us have lost our indigeneity but we all had even white people, right? What is whiteness? Whiteness isn’t a country, you know come from whiteness, right? It’s really a construct based on power. And so, in order to decolonize the colonizer mentality, I think it will involve abolishing the construct of whiteness and going back to our indigeny and learning about our culture, because I think that’s an important part of filling that emptiness. And that emptiness, because Western society or the colonizer has no culture, they steal and that’s why cultural appropriation is so prevailing. And that’s also why I think connecting back to their roots could begin to heal that.
I think it’s really interesting how you talk about whiteness as a construct of power in this colonized perspective of elements of the earth, whether it’s people or animals or rocks or plant and tree family people. What is the perspective on the earth and things associated with it from a colonizer mentality?
Speaker 1 2:43
That’s a great question, so kind of central to the colonized mentality is the Judeo Christian value of separation between humans and nature. And so what the Christian colonizers called pagan was any belief that actually looked at nature’s as an equal. And so that divide between humans and nature is what contributes and continues the destruction of the planet because they’re operating from this belief that we’re supposed to have dominion over the earth, which is actually you know, a verse. But that verse even because like many things organized religion, I argues another system of oppression. And so they have took in those words, right, that translation that you you shall have dominion over the earth. I believe it’s in Genesis, that translation actually translated from Hebrew, the word isn’t dominion and isn’t, which is domination and control. It’s actually closer to a word like steward, are we supposed to steward the planet not dominate over it. So when you have that belief that you’re supposed to dominate over the earth and that you’re separate from the earth, once you separate yourself from the earth and you no longer see nature as a relative, then you can destroy because you’re no longer connected to. And so if destruction of planet, it requires disconnecting us and seeing ourselves as above the planet and all the organisms on it, then we’re looking at decolonization and also preventing the destruction of the earth. We have to eliminate this divide between people on the planet.
And then on the flip side, what would you characterize as the indigenous perspective on the earth and the associations with the natural elements of what we have around us?
Speaker 1 4:38
It’s very much seeing the earth as our relatives, you know, seeing the rock as our brother, the Earth is our mother, seeing the trees is part of us part of our family. When you have these relationships with, you know what Western society calls inanimate objects, which again contributes to allowing us to destroy the planet, I think you really can’t exploit there is there is a relative, right? That perspective is going to be critical for going to heal there.
That was activists Sarra Tekola. Tekola is from Washington State and is currently in a doctoral program at Arizona State University and Environmental Interdisciplinary Studies.
91.3 KBCS music and ideas. Listener supported radio from Bellevue College.
Up next, you’re listening to a KBCS interview on colonialism and climate change. KBCS’s Yuko Kodama, interviewed Washington native and Arizona State University doctoral student, Sarra Tekola about the many social issues associated with climate change, and colonialism.
How does climate change impact other areas then besides just our access to food and environment and energy? How would you go there with climate change, and its impact on a host of other social issues?
Speaker 1 0:43
There’s definitely a direct connection to the violence against women and violence against earth, especially with indigenous folks, we find where there is fossil fuel infrastructure projects from pipelines to tar sands, they bring in what they call these man camps. And it’s about a bunch of settlers who you know, are hired to essentially, do this violence, right to build this pipeline. And when these man camps come up, you see an increase in missing and murdered Indigenous women, you see an increase in rape, and disappearances. And so after they finished their day of violence against the earth, they go and commit violence against Indigenous women. This is a global phenomena. When there is a connection and correlation to the degradation of the planet and violence against women. And so there are a lot of similarities. And I think that is why when we’re talking about this is all part of the system and that they kind of go hand in hand until we learn how to treat women better we are not going to learn how to treat them better and vice versa. Climate change is a threat multiplier. So if you already vulnerable for different reasons, then it increases the fact that you’ll be threatened and inequality multiplies whose threatened. And so if we’re increasing inequality, and so more people are being threatened and climate change is gonna increase the way that they’re being threatened, that’s one way that I see these problems. And like, you know, a simple check is it going to increase inequality and more people going to be vulnerable. That means more people will die when climate change happens, because we’re talking about more natural disasters. Climate change will affect everyone, it won’t affect everyone equally. The rich, you know, can get into their armored lifeboats and we’re already seeing that. And so any of the existing inequalities and oppressions, if they don’t get addressed now, then they’re going to be the first ones impacted. And so that’s why communities of color are most impacted because of climate change, because they already had these vulnerabilities because of racism and these other systems of oppression that leave them vulnerable. And so we’re talking about like, racism, and the fact that we’ve never actually addressed slavery. In fact, the new slavery is now through prisons, with one in three black men incarcerated in their lifetime. So then when you look at the fact that prisoners are environmental justice population, they have no agency when a natural disaster happens, they are literally left in their cells to die. Their evacuation plans are all of this, you know, all of employees get to leave, and the people are just left there. And so like one example of this is when Hurricane Katrina happened, many imprisoned people drowned in their cells, and those that were able to get out as they tred to, like free themselves, so they weren’t drowned. They were shot by the police and even by National Guard.
So while there wasn’t an official death count on those prisoners, what I understand is that Human Rights Watch found that 517 prisoners were unaccounted for.
Speaker 1 4:06
This is like one example of many that as these natural disasters get worse, what we see is they bring in people like the National Guard. And yet, we know how the state in general treats black folks and communities of color. And so if there’s going to be more interaction with police and now military, that means there’s more chances for us to die. There’s also an issue with the fact that these forest fires are becoming more prevalent, and they’re using prisoners to fight them. And California actually was told by their state Supreme Court that they’re your prisons are overcrowded, you need to release people early. And California said we can”t because we depend on this labor to fight our forest fires. And so now on top of the profit motives that these prisons have, we now have climate change is another incentive for state to increase their prisoners, because they need a cheap labor force to fight fire, and who do you think that will be? It will be black folks, it will be communities of color. And so all of these issues are intersected because many of these oppressions from the genocide of the Native American to the enslavement of black folks to colonization globally, none of these things have been addressed. So we all have we have these vulnerabilities, these kind of inequities, that now we’re bringing climate changes threat multiplier, and it’s only going to make these problems worse. And so I’m in some ways I like to look at climate change as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get things right to address all these things that we didn’t get right the first time because we have to, we have no other choice and we’re not going to actually solve it until we address these problems that came from way long ago. There’s small silver lining here that we have this opportunity to change everything. I guess the last thing I’ll say, I always like to remind people, because, you know, I even was victim of the belief that environmentalism was something for white people. It’s not. And these issues affect us, first and foremost. And so we should be at the table. And like the white environmental nonprofits and organizations out there, I think that you have to understand that you only have white people in your organization because you haven’t done the work. They’re not addressing these issues, and they can’t because most of these white organizations refused to hire communities of color. White environmentalists, y’all have to do your work. Your part you need to be hiring and making sure the resources are going to communities of color, and communities color like this affects us and we should be at the table.
How is colonialism reflected in environmental groups, the very groups that are trying to fight climate change?
Speaker 1 6:59
I see actually lot I mean, when I volunteered with a lot of like restoration ecology groups and essential groups, our planting trees, and I just thought it was really funny that when I was volunteering with them they all were in North Seattle, like, what about the south side? Why are we planting in my backyard? You know, I live in Rainier Beach and it’s a problem that the resources, even from tree planting, to bus stops the advocacy and resources, they go to the rich white people who already have wealth, and that wealth came from colonialism anyways. And so what they’re doing is they’re keeping the wealth and they’re keeping the resources and even the good environment for them. Versus for folks of color and, and communities of color like in in the south, and they’re not, you know, fighting for bike lanes in our neighborhoods. They aren’t planting trees in our neighborhoods, and so this is actually contributing to the colonial inequality divide.
Meaning that the environmental groups aren’t necessarily fighting for bike lanes in your neighborhood, Rainier Beach. So then who takes it on? It’s the people in the community in in Rainier Beach and so forth that are fighting for it themselves.
Speaker 1 8:20
Actually, I went to the budget hearing meeting in Seattle. I got there at five, we left at 10:30pm. I have a lot of privileges being a PhD student now, where I have time to do that. Working class folks don’t have time to do that. And guess what Ballard was actually asking for $3 million for a pea patch, you know, and they could stay for five hours and do that, right. But the folks who live in a food desert community in White Center, they don’t have time to sit for five hours to beg for some money, and so it actually increases the inequities because in order to even get these resources, you have to be able to have time, which is a class privilege, because folks who are working three jobs, they don’t have time.
You were involved in founding, Women of Color Speak Out. Could you tell me a little bit about that organization?
Speaker 1 9:13
Yeah. So when Women of Color Speak Out, we created it after our experience doing like direct action, during the shell no actions. And we realize as folks of color and especially women of color, that there really wasn’t a face for us and that the mainstream white environmental movement wasn’t accessible, and that we didn’t even want to invite our friends in our community in this space until they did the work to make this space inclusive. We created the organization to do that work both to make the mainstream environmental movement less racist, but also working with communities of color to talk about how the work that you probably already doing from prison abolition to food justice work. This is all climate justice. work. And so that’s one of the things that we find in this work. So often, we come in as a color being like, I didn’t know I was environmentalist. I didn’t know because I thought that was for white middle class folks. I thought that was for yuppies, but like I didn’t know what I’m doing here. This like after school program and helping kids said jails and cooking healthy food, this is environmental work. And so that’s one of the things that we find is most rewarding is broadening the movement and helping our communities with the language to just connect, how the stuff that they’re already doing the things that they’re already fighting that their environmental and climate justice issues.
What does the organization do right now?
Speaker 1 10:45
The work that we do is really giving talks and workshops and other ways of getting the message out. If you look us up, Women of Color Speak Out on Facebook, and we try to always post relevant stufff.
Thank you Sarra Tekola community organizer and current PhD student at Arizona State University looking at decolonization as a climate solution.
91.3 KBCS music and ideas, listener supported radio from Bellevue College. Up next, a conversation on colonialism and climate change. A local environmental scientist and climate activist spoke with me in the KBCS Studios about how colonialism is at the root of climate change. You’ll listen to her personal story into environmental science.
I want to go back a little bit to where you got into this. You were spending a year planting trees. Sounds like it was a life changing event for you.
Speaker 1 0:37
I grew up the Pacific Northwest really like Seattle-ish area and I’ve always loved salmon since I was a kid and I remember you know, following their life cycle, and you know, being so amazed at this fish that would be born in streams by my house and then go out into the ocean sometimes, as far as, you know, Alaska, Japan, and then they come back and they always remember their home and they come back to the same stream. So as a kid, I just had a deep love for them but when I was growing up, there was a lot of, you know, pressures being a young black girl about like what I can and can’t do. And so originally, I grew up kind of in like in SeaTac. And then my mom tried to move me to a better neighborhood, which is code word for white neighborhood. We moved to Maple Valley, I was facing a lot of racism and I realized that my options for like what I wanted to do when I grew up really got constrained to my identity as a black person. So I really in middle school and high school growing up in this racist place, that my options were to be a basketball player or rapper originally actually, when I started Running Start community college I went in originally to go into music and be a rapper. I didn’t realize how much the racism was affecting me in other ways, and it kind of pushed me. I was criminalized. As soon as I got to this racist School District, my first year, they expelled me for vitamins because they were there like Chinese herbal supplements I took from my stomach. The first ingredient was ginger. The police took me out of the room like I gave someone cocaine. And so that kind of led me down this trajectory where that was, I was 12 years old when that happened two years later, because of that, you know, they even forced me to do drug rehab at 12. I’d never done drugs before. But then I did do drugs after that, because of that environment and like kind of how they continue to like criminalize me and continue to like, I remember the white kids asked me to rap I did. And then I got suspended but the white kids didn’t get suspended because they said they only did this when you got here. And so these things were happening. I didn’t have an understanding of the school to prison pipeline and how I was becoming a victim of that and I didn’t have an understanding of racism and stereotypes and the like. My mom thought she was doing us a favor by trying to raise us colorblind. So at 17, about to turn 18. I was drug addict and facing charges. I went to my favorite place to ponder, I really just didn’t have a lot of options and I would go to the stream where I’d see the salmon and that was like one way that I used to like to calm down and like reflect. And one day I went there and I saw this. I didn’t know at the time he was an ecologist, but I saw this man in the middle of a pond and I asked him what he was doing. And he told me, he was building a beaver fence. And I thought that was cool. And I asked if I could help him and so I’d The next day I came out and I volunteered with him. And he ended up offering me a job. And I never would have thought that job, that type of work was even available to me because the racist system I was in, I really felt that like two options out, which was, you know, either. And then they’re both entertainment, which I think also, you know, contributes to a long legacy of like enslavement that black folks are only here to entertain white people. You know, I remember even when I would bring up my love for the environment, I was told that’s a white thing. Why are you doing this white people’s thing. And, you know, I didn’t have this understanding that I have today. And I think that it’s really dangerous in both. I’ve been pushed, you know, from my own community and from white people. As if White people get to have white people were the only ones that get to be concerned about the environment, as if white people are the only ones that get to be able to have any job that they want and then we only get a few options which is essentially entertaining them. And so yeah, it was for me once once I kind of realized that this was I got offered the job, I realized it was a way out and that like what I was doing wasn’t working. So I took it, but then once I kind of got into it, and now it was so healing, being able to essentially heal and I think it heals yourself. At that point, I realize I didn’t care. You know what they said that this is like a white person’s thing. You know, like, this is something that I loved in that it was even like healing for me in that I’ve always loved this but because of my circumstances, I really didn’t think it was an option for me until this opportunity came.
That’s even before the planting trees part. Tell me about the first time you were like realizing this is really helping me.
Speaker 1 5:49
The work was really hard actually, like, you know, it’s like manual labor, which I think is what is is in a lot of ways kind of humbling. You have to give it your all you have to kind of keep pushing all of these things kind of were, I think, for me very like character building. One of my favorite parts was always just like when we walked out to a site usually it’d be covered blackberries and Ivy’s and it just kind of looked like a wasteland. And then, you know, a few weeks later, we will have removed all of that and we planted a whole bunch of trees. And it was a reminder that for me that everything is recoverable. And especially as someone who’s treated like disposable, that there’s always an opportunity to recover.
That was Sara Tekola community organizer and current PhD student at Arizona State University.
‘More Than One Kind of Nature’
Writer, Rasheena Fountain discusses what shapes our view and relationship with the environment with KBCS’s Yuko Kodama.
Producer: Yuko Kodama
Photo: Yuko Kodama
Dahr Jamail – The End of Ice
Dahr Jamail, Journalist and Author the book, The End of Ice spoke at a Seattle Town Hall Event on March 26th.
Special thanks to Town Hall Seattle for the recorded audio.
Jesse C 0:17
Good morning. This is the KBCS Blend on 91.3 I’m Jesse Callahan. Coming up on the Blend: a special presentation by journalist and writer Dahr Jamal on climate disruption. Jamal spoke about his book, ‘The End of Ice’ at a Seattle Town Hall event in March of 2019, at The Summit On Pike. Thanks again for joining us and making the KBCS Blend part of your morning.
So this book and my journey of reporting on climate disruption started back in 1995. That was the first time I went to Alaska and laid eyes on Denali. And it was love at first sight- and it was like this tractor beam started and pulled me she was like saying, “Come on, come on up.” and and I just knew that was the place on the planet where I needed to spend a lot of time. And so a year later, I moved up to Alaska and started mountaineering. And not- It wasn’t about conquering peaks or any of that nonsense. It was just about that was the place on the planet that for some reason I felt deeply drawn to be and spend as much time as I could. And so accompanying that was an immediate lesson in climate disruption. It was 1996. And I was going out to early season ice climbing fests outside of Anchorage. And the glacier that we were going to, the Matanuska glacier, was receding every year further and further, quickly, and so they’d have to move the parking lot closer to it, the dirt you know, expand the dirt road in further, and then the long, the walk would get longer again, each year, pools forming on the glacier, things like this, going through Christmases in Anchorage with no snow on the ground, dramatic temperature shifts. So it was clear, then, even though I really had very little personal politics, I was a long ways off from starting to work as a journalist, and certainly wasn’t studying climate disruption. But it was clear, as people in Alaska know that with the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, that something was amiss. So I was actually working on Denali, I started just climbing it individually, and then working as a guide, and then later working as a volunteer with the National Park Service. And it was up on top of- or on the heights of Denali, listening to the BBC World Service in my tent at night, during the Iraq invasion, in 2003, that something inside of me said, you’re going to need to go do something. The regular activism and writing letters to senators and things like this is not getting the job done… So I felt this pull to go over to Iraq, and just write about how the Iraqi people were being impacted. And so I was younger and crazier. And so I just sent myself into Iraq, bought a laptop, and a camera, and I started reporting from the streets. And not too long after that I found myself in Fallujah. And all of a sudden, I was working as a journalist. And I followed that thread because it came to me from being really, really tied into a place on the planet that was really, really special. To me, I see that today. And what I found, though, over there, obviously was horrific, and it was far, far worse than what most people here at the time at least understood was happening. I was reporting on atrocities being carried out by the US military; war crimes; ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who was formerly the cool head, or the ‘grown up in the room’ of this so called administration, watching him single handedly order war crime after war crime being carried out in Fallujah. Now, of course, with the comfort of some time between those events and now, most of this is common knowledge and accepted in- in mainstream society here. But what’s been disturbing to me, especially working on this book, which I use the same model is my Iraq reporting… I sent myself out into the front lines where climate disruption is the most obvious- happening the most dramatically, the fastest, and in places that- a lot of the places I went to, the life that I went there to write about literally will not be there within 10 years. And I wanted to go there to really bring these places to people, since so many people won’t get a chance to go to the Amazon, or the Great Barrier Reef or a lot of these glaciers that are vanishing before our eyes, and really give people a visceral experience of, of what is happening to these places.
And so I… I came into the book, though, thinking that I write this monthly climate dispatch for Truth Out and it’s essentially a heavily scientific based survey of the last 30 days of really deeply disturbing scientific studies that are being published showing how fast things are accelerating. And I came into this book thinking, “yeah, it’ll be mostly 75% science and that kind of thing”, because I was really angry. And I was frustrated that people weren’t really getting the magnitude of what’s happening, and especially getting how far along we already are. And so like, the sentiment behind many of those dispatches, I was angry, and I wanted to kind of shock people awake. And, and, but then I started working on the book, which entailed having a much, much deeper relationship with the planet. And instead of this, this idea in my head, if it’s going to be 75%, science, and then maybe 25%, personal narrative and some nature writing, it flipped itself. And I started writing the book, and it became much more about, look at this planet, look at this planet, really look at this planet, where we are, and look at what’s happening to it. And look at how fast it’s happening. And I think started going out into these places, and getting broken open over and over and over again, which was exactly what happened to me, in Iraq, going into these places, and talking with these people and these families and these kids, and watching what was happening, and just getting broken open over and over and over again. And that- every chapter I wrote in this book, that was the experience, just like in Iraq, what happened. And so my hope tonight is I want to take you to a couple of these places, and do my best to bring at least a few moments of that experience to you. And and because we are at a point now where we’re literally in the sixth mass extinction, we’re losing over 100 species a day around the planet, and it’s accelerating. And this is a topic, as we heard in the introduction. What bigger topic is there? What more important topic is there? It affects all of us, even the people denying it, it affects all of us. And it’s going to intensify every day for the rest of our lives, no matter what we do. And we’re in it. And we’re going into it together. And my hope is that if we really let this information in and get a very accurate map of what’s happening, then we can come into it fully awake, and understand the grieving that’s going to have to happen and all the associated emotions in order to show up and go through that and then come out. That- I think a lot with a lot clearer eyes and a lot clearer heart, and a lot more focused on what’s really, really important and what we’re going to need to do together to go through this. So like I mentioned, the book provided me with great privilege of going out to some of the most amazing places on the planet with incredible people who had dedicated their entire lives to studying them. And I- I made it a point to go to places some of them I’d been to 20 years before and have long term relationships with. And if I couldn’t do that, then to go to these places and be in the company of scientists who’ve been studying them for 20,25,30 years. One of them longer than I’ve been alive and and talk with them about what they were seeing when they went out into these places.
So I thought given our geography, and how reliant upon glaciers we are here in the Pacific Northwest- I just live over in Port Townsend. I thought I would start with taking us to Glacier National Park. There’s a man there named Dr. Dan Phaedra. He’s a scientist with the US Geological Survey. And he’s a research ecologist and directs the climate change in mountain ecosystems project there. He’s also in importantly, the lead investigator of the USGS benchmark glacier program. And he’s been working in the park since 1991. And the benchmark glacier program is really important, because glaciers really are a ‘canary in the coal mine’ of climate disruption. If you want to know what’s happening and how fast it’s happening, just look at what’s happening to the glaciers. In the benchmark glacier program they take a specific glacier that’s representative of the region where it’s located. There’s one in Glacier National Park, there’s one in North Cascades National Park, there’s one up in Alaska, and there’s some others. And they’ve been this program has been going on for over 50 years. And they measure them every year and tabulate, what’s their maximum, what’s their minimum, how much have they lost. And then this gives us a very, very accurate real time indicator of precisely what’s happening with climate disruption. And Dr. Fagre- I met with him and his office in the west part of the park. He’s very excited to talk about glaciers. And he had made international news that summer, when I met with them, because Montana was undergoing- experiencing record heat waves record wildfires. And the day I met with them, it was you know, in the middle of one of these heat waves a couple of summers ago. And so I’d like to read a brief section from my book. I had been talking with him and he took me out for a little ride up the ‘going to the sun highway’ up to Logan Pass- this really stunning highway carved into a very sheer mountain side going up to the past at about 6000 feet. And so we get up to the top of The Pass, we’ve been talking all the way up in his car taking notes. And he was being kind enough to stop and let me get out and gawk and take photos of the magnificent landscape. And we get up to the top and we we park and we walk up to an area where there used to be a glacier.
And so that’s the setting for this conversation where he says, talking about what’s happening. “This is an explosion, a nuclear explosion of geologic change.” He’s just he says this describing the impact of climate disruption while we looked out across the valley together. “This is unusual, it is incredibly rapid and exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.” He takes me to stand in another area of slush. “The people who built the Logan pass road had to deal with a glacier here, right here!” he says pointing down to our feet. Now there is no glacier to underscore his point. Fagre tells me that this year, they had 137% of the normal snowpack, and two days earlier, it was already below normal for the year, for this time of year because of the heat. “We had a snowfall up here recently that needed to be plowed”, he says smiling, “and it melted before they could plow it.” I asked him if that kind of thing is what keeps them up at night. He tells me “These are nonlinear changes that aren’t based on a simple proportional relationship between cause and effect. They are usually abrupt, unexpected and challenging to predict. The aggregate of multiple nonlinear changes is enormous in orders of magnitude- and that’s what keeps Dan Fagre worried at night.” He says, after a pause to let all that sink in, Fagre goes on to explain that the Earth has a resilient system that has been through much worse than what we’ve caused: ice ages, volcanism, etc. “So many of these things will recover,” he says of the glaciers and forests that are vanishing before our eyes, “but not in the timeframe that includes humans.”
We return to the car and continue driving down the other side of the past, we roll down our windows, and neither one of us talks for a while. I know it’s a sensitive topic to bring up with scientists, and most of them avoid it at all costs. But I decided to ask him what it is like for him, especially to watch the glaciers vanish before his eyes. “It’s like being a battle hardened soldier,” he says, “but on a philosophical basis, it’s tough to watch the thing you study disappear.” I watch him drive for a couple of silent moments. And I look out across the valley and listen to the waterfalls, as they stream down toward the river far below us. Glacier National Park, around the time it was being considered to be made a national park, there were 150 glaciers that covered roughly 150 square kilometers of area. Today, they’re down to 26 glaciers, and they cover less than 20 square kilometers of area. The definition of a glacier changes depending on what region it’s in, in Glacier National Park, it has to cover a certain amount of square kilometers. And it has to move. Those are the two criteria and by those criteria of Fagre-. He made headlines that summer, when he announced that there will be no more glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2030. So that’s less than 11 years from now. He- also I quote him in the book saying this, and I cite the studies that back it up, we are on a trajectory to have no more glaciers in the contiguous 48 United States by 2100. So if we think about there’s two aspects of that, that I want to cover, one for us, it’s obvious. Here in the northwest, it’s it’s easy with this audience, we understand what glaciers mean for our groundwater, for drinking water, and for irrigation for growing crops. Without glaciers, much of that goes away. I mean, in 2015 when Jay Inslee declared statewide drought, but on May 15 of that year, in the Olympics, we had 6% of our snowpack, farmers on the peninsula were suffering, they were water rationing in Port Townsend, we had wildfires in the rain forest of Western Olympic National Park. So imagine if there’s no glaciers, what this means. Bigger scale, the Hindu Kush region in the Himalaya, another study came out. Recently, it was actually an update on one that I had- a previous study i’d cited in the book, this is a region where seven of Asia’s major rivers, it’s their headwaters, because it’s one of the largest ice sheets in the world outside of the poles. And those that ice it current trajectories, up to 99% of it will be gone. By 2100. 1.5 billion people rely on those waters for drinking water and irrigation. So extrapolate: You have to think about it for about 15 seconds. Where do those people go? And then what happens to the areas where they go, and where does all that water and food come from. So you can see where this is going. It’s- I could talk the rest of and the rest of the talk, just talking about what- you know some of the human ramifications when we kind of extrapolate and play those scenarios out. But another one that I think doesn’t get talked about enough, and I wasn’t aware of it until I hung out with Dr. Fagre and some of the USGS scientists I went out with on glaciers up in Alaska, it’s the ecological impacts. So some broad brushstrokes: if you have a glacier in a valley, that- the streams coming out of that, obviously, are going to be cold. The temperature, the ambient temperature, of the valley is going to be kept down because of the glacier. And there’s going to be certain fish and- and not mosquitoes, but it’s other insects in in the runoff streams from those glaciers. And as those glaciers go away, then the fish and the insects that live in those streams are going to go away, as are all the animals that rely upon those, the groundwater is going to change. So certain trees that are there other kinds of vegetation, and then everything living in those and everything dependent upon the things that are living in those, all of that’s going to change, and much of it’s going to go away. So there’s tremendous ecological impacts to all the other species as well, when glaciers go away. It’s not just this thing that’s going to affect humans. And it’s not just this aesthetic thing. “Oh, there’s no more beautiful glaciers on Mount Rainier to look at.” But, but lots of other species are going to be gone when we lose glaciers- not if but when.
The next place that I would like to take you is the Amazon briefly. I was really tremendously lucky to get to go there. And some brief statistics. Many of you probably know some of this, but just for context, it’s the single largest rain forest on the planet. It’s two thirds the size of the contiguous United States, the Amazon basin. It generates half of its own rainfall and contains 20% of the world’s rivers. The Amazon river alone has 1100 tributaries, 17 of them longer than 1000 miles each. There’s thousands of species of trees, 2.5 million species of insects, thousands of species of birds, and 3000 species of fish in the Rio Negro alone. I spoke with one scientist who was part of an expedition- it was 25 scientists, they went out for 30 days to a remote region in the Amazon. And in that one expedition alone, they discovered more than 80 new species: fish, insects, birds, frogs, etc. On average a species is to this day being discovered in the Amazon at least every two days. The average is actually a little bit more than that. So we know a lot about it. We know enough about it to know how much we don’t know about it. So I was privileged to get to go there with Dr. Thomas Lovejoy. He’s also referred to often as ‘the godfather of bio diversity.’ He has been studying the Amazon since 1965. He was head of the World Wildlife Fund for 14 years. He was a White House Science Council and his resume- it would it would take you a little time to read his full resume. He’s a leading expert on biodiversity and- on the planet. So we met up with Dr. Lovejoy and analysis big city of about two and a half million people in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, piled into jeeps took a very long, windy, bumpy, hot Jeep ride deep into the jungle. And then we arrived at this little trailhead, and he hopped out, grabbed his backpack and hightailed down this trail. The rest of us get out, you know, kind of slowly stretch and grab our backpacks and started hiking down this trail. And he’s down there meeting us- this esteemed scientists who was actually quite quiet, and and very, very humble. And he went down there quickly so that he could greet each one of us and shake our hand and look in our eye and thank us for taking the time out of our busy schedules to come visit his camp. That’s the kind of person he is. And that’s why he’s dedicated his whole life to studying this area that he cares so much about. So you get into the camp, it’s Camp 41. It’s the most famous of several other camps that are set up to study these different fragments of the rain forest. And there’s no walls. Over on one side of the camp, there’s a big tin roof with hammock strung up and so you go grab your hammock, they have mosquito netting over them and you fill your backpack there. And then in another area, there’s some picnic tables and a kitchen. And then over on the other side of Camp is where the scientists are camped out in their their hammocks. And for anyone who hasn’t been to the Amazon it’s- and this was my first and only time to go there, it was a really, really remarkable experience. I mean, you can read about it and see photo books and watch documentaries. But to go there was an entirely different experience. I mean, it was obvious to me from the first night that something was happening, that it literally came into my dreams. I started literally having dreams the first night about the jungle, it was as though I could like feel myself being pulled into it. Some of the dreams really shook me up. Others were quite enlightening. And then we would wake up in the mornings with the roar of troops of howler monkeys, drifting through camp, birdsong coming at first light, and then getting to go out on these walks in the jungle with these experts learning about vines and trees and insects. And then as the longer we stayed there, this group of us this kind of disparate group from around the world, people from all kinds of different countries speaking different languages, but even just after a couple of days, we found ourselves acting like a family just really coming together, sharing meals, really curious about each other, kind of stories feeding off each other, and really coming together as a group and in the same experience with all these different scientists also from around the world. And, and in- when I was there, it was obvious like “this is the jungle, this is what it does!” It’s just like pure life force that was just like pulling us all into it. And together, you know, all one thing. And that was that was, you know, that’s really the best way I can describe that experience. And it was truly remarkable. And so one of the scientists that I met there, his name’s Vethek Jerinek he’s from the Czech Republic. And he’d worked at the time in at least 11 different Wildlife Research positions around the globe. And he was there currently getting his PhD in oranthology from Louisiana State University, and he had admired Dr. Lovejoy since he was a kid reading ‘Song of the Dodo’. And it was his dream there then to be studying at Camp 41. And at times, literally working alongside Dr. Lovejoy, and he was very excited talking about that and talking about some of the things he was studying. But I want to read a brief bit from one of our conversations once we started talking about the impacts of climate disruption and what he was seeing.
He assumes a somber tone when we talk about his research, quote, “Island biogeography is no longer an offshore enterprise. It has come to the mainland. It’s everywhere. The problems of animal and plant populations, left marooned within various fragments under circumstances that are untenable for the long term has begun showing up all over the land surface of the planet. The familiar questions arise how many mountain gorillas inhabit the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes along the shared boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda? How many Tigers live in the service of Tiger Reserve north of Northwestern India? How many are left? How long can they survive?” Now there is anger in his voice. “How many grizzly bears occupy the North Cascades ecosystem, a discreet patch of mountain forest along the northern border of the state of Washington? Not enough. How many European brown bears are there in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park? Not enough. How many Florida Panthers in Big Cypress Swamp? Not enough. How many Asiatic lions in the Forest of Gir? Not enough. How many Indri in the (unintelligable)? Not enough, and so on. The world is broken into pieces now. Just before going to Camp 41. As I mentioned, we were in Manaus. And it was there I met another amazing scientist, who also had been working with Dr. Lovejoy for a long time. And she of all the scientists that I interviewed- for and in the book definitely has the best name, particularly given her study. Her name is Dr. Rita Mesquita. She’s a biologist and researcher with the largest research institute in the Amazon. And so she, when she was in Manaus, she worked, there’s a forest fragment right inside the city, with nature paths through it, and she would take people through it on educational walks, very excited, you know, rattling off all kinds of statistics about species and their habits and all these things. And again, kind of like the experience with Vetehk(?). You know, it was amazing to see her, very bubbly and excited and, and just- information just flowing out of her like a river. But then after walking out and looking at the jungle and being educated by herr, she took us into a back room and sat down and we had a serious one on one interview. And I’d like to read you part of that.
She explained why it’s so important to take care of the Amazon basin. “It is the pump the heart of the world.” She says “ll the major air flows come through here. Air travels all the way from Europe and Africa, and converges as it enters the central Amazon.” But she sees the world questioning conservation and jeopardizing all the victories that have been achieved in setting aside land. “I work hard for conservation,” she says, “but I lose sleep over wondering if I’m wasting my life. am I wasting my life? Is this a lost cause? I keep doing it because it’s the only thing I know to do.” She says she doesn’t believe she and her colleagues are doing their jobs with the urgency needed. We’re not telling the general public what is really going on. She said, having co edited a book with Lovejoy, and authored many peer reviewed scientific papers. Mesquita is a force to be reckoned with, but she personally feels inadequate when looking at the bigger picture. It is clear to her that we are nowhere near where we need to be. “I have zero pride and all my papers because we are preaching to the converted!” She says “What I want wants to do is talk to the outside world. I want to be able to just talk to people and tell them what is actually happening. We need to educate people about what is really going on with climate disruption.” Like so many of the experts I’ve spoken with for this book, mosquito believes the root cause of climate disruption is humanity’s lack of connection to the planet. “Even here in my Manaus, kids don’t understand that they live in the Amazon!” she says “So there is no connection at all with anything and that is the problem.” There is sadness in her voice as she tells me this. “I made a personal decision to not have kids because I don’t have a future to offer them. I don’t think we’re going to win this battle. I think we’re really done.”
Jesse C 29:54
You’re listening to a special feature on journalist Dahr Jamal speaking about climate disruption, his book, ‘The End of Ice’ 91.3 KBCS, your world of music and ideas. We take you back to the town hall Seattle presentation by Dr. Jamal on climate disruption. KBCS. 91.3.
The last thing before we leave the Amazon is I need to mention, I want to read a short bit from a conversation I had with Dr. Lovejoy. The Amazon and tropical rain forests around the world are already so degraded, then instead of absorbing emissions, they’re now releasing more carbon annually than all of the traffic in the United States. In 2010, the Amazon drought released as much co2 as the total annual emissions of Russia and China combined. There’s 1.5 acres of rain forests lost every second. At some point in the not so distant future, the Amazon will regularly emit more carbon than and absorbs- yet another critical tipping point for Earth. So Dr. Lovejoy, like I said before, he’s very measured, quiet, stoic at times. And he wouldn’t talk a whole lot. He chose his words sparingly. And there was only one time of all the days in there that we were together, that I saw him really expressed strong emotion. And I was sat down with him it was it was during this interview that I’m going to read you this page from and he had pinned an op ed for the New York Times A long time ago. I mean, it was I think, almost 20 years ago, warning that we needed to keep Earth’s temperature from not going above, I think it was 1C at the time, we’re at 1.2(C) now and he- so he- you know we were talking about that. And I started talking about these other studies and projections, talking about what happens when we go to 2C, 3C 4C c, and I think it was right around 4C he slammed his his hand on the table and he said, people have no idea what’s going to happen when we hit 2C.
“There are reasons other than moral concerns for protecting the Amazon including self interest. We go to the doctor and the pharmacy and we have no clue where our drugs came from.” Lovejoy says “more of that is from nature then we realize.” Lovejoy mentions a poison found in the Amazon that led to the proj- production of the pharmaceutical Captopril, which in turn became one of the first ACE inhibitors and is now used by hundreds of millions of people to control their blood pressure and heart conditions. Captopril widens blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood through them. Most of the people taking it have no idea that this drug responsible for their health is from the Amazon. He mentions another example- a vine found by indigenous people there. When they threw it in a leg all the fish came up to the surface gasping for air which made their fishing much easier. The name of the substance that causes this as Curare, it is used today as a muscle relaxant during major abdominal surgeries. His point is that if we continue to destroy the Amazon at our current pace, we may never know how it could help save millions or possibly billions of human lives in the future. Lovejoy believes that this is one of the least appreciated aspects of biodiversity. “The Amazon is a gigantic library of the lifestyle sciences which is continually acquiring new volumes.” He says “We are discovering new species of birds all the time. And wrapped up in all of that is incredible adaptation capacity. It’s important to remember each species represents a set of- a set of solutions to a set of biological problems. And any one of those can turn out to revolutionize how we understand biological science.” Lovejoy pauses engages admiringly at the jungle surrounding the camp, then turns back to me. “We are so stuck on ourselves. We don’t think we need any of it,” He says “we think we are some godlike thing.”
It’s now far too late to avert global environmental catastrophe. 2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded. With the only warmer years being 2015, 2016 and 2017. We’re currently in the middle of what is on track to be the warmest decade ever. We are in the sixth mass extinction event that industrial civilization has caused. We’re injecting CO2 in the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster than what occurred during the Permian mass extinction event. 252 million years ago, that annihilated 90% of life on Earth. Our current extinction rate is 1000 times faster than normal, is faster than that of the Permian mass extinction. But today, similar to what I experienced reporting from Iraq, people don’t want to know how deep the truth goes. The businesses usual economic paradigm continues. And there’s nothing to indicate that this is going to change and the radical way necessary to even bring about some mitigation. But the denialism is not just on the right, it’s not just fossil fueled. On the left, we have plenty of our own iterations. Last fall, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released a report saying we had 12 years to avert global climate catastrophe. There was nothing new in that report. And in fact, last week, a study came out by several universities, showing that the IPCC, consistently soft selled (sold), the crisis that’s upon us, this on top of us knowing for a long time and this coming from several IPCC authors I interviewed myself, some of them are in this book, who told me off the record, that it’s heavily politicized, its lowest common denominator science, ie it’s not actually scientific process at all. And by the time the assessments come out, which is only every seven years, much of that information in them is at least 10 years old. One- I learned from one IPCC contributor recently, who said that you can essentially take the IPCC worst case projections and double them. But people pretend like we have 12 years still, then there’s a new Green Deal. Again, let’s switch everything over within 10 years, so that we can maintain some iteration of this economic paradigm, jobs, industry growth, etc, etc. And let me interject and say I am not be I am being critical of the sentiment behind these of the idea that there is still time. I am not being disparaging that these things shouldn’t happen, like the new Green Deal. Anything is good and helpful at this time. But I bring this up to just point out that the idea of that we still have time, or that we can still somehow maintain this mode of Western industrial civilization is not being honest. Other- the other examples of denialism are that somehow the 2020 election if if Trump gets booted out of the White House, that that’s going to help with the climate crisis. You know, the fact that- that a lot of these projections go to 2100 as though, some horrific impacts are already- are not already upon us. geoengineering, there’s going to be some techno fix. You know, there’s there’s been a lot of recent literature recently, even saying that they’re, some of the authors are hopeful, because there can be some sort of a geoengineering fix to this geoengineering crisis, which is specifically what it is. All of these, I think, are various forms of denialism that are steeped in not really seeing clearly and honestly, what’s happening, because none of these really take into account the fact that we are genuinely off the cliff, and every one of them is an attempt to fix something that’s not fixable. Already, the oceans have absorbed 93% of all the heat that humans have added to the atmosphere today, to give you an idea of how much energy that is: if they had not done so, our atmospheric temperature right now would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, we’d be well on our way to Venus. Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 412 parts per million co2 are already in accordance with what historically brought about a steady state temperature of 7C higher.
We’re just waiting for the planet to catch up to the injury that’s been done. The oceans are now literally overheating, deoxygenated, and acidifying. Insects are essential for the proper functioning of all of our ecosystems, as they are food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients. Without insects, to put it simply, humans cannot survive. A recent series of studies informs us that at the current trajectory, we’re losing 2.4% of their biomass annually. If the current trajectory, assuming there is no acceleration- that’s a false assumption, but let’s just assume there’s no acceleration. There will be no insects in 100 years.
Since just 1970, 60% of all mammals, fish, birds and reptiles are gone. What would we call it if there had been a 60% reduction of the entire human population since 1970. The IPCC worst case temperature scenario is 4-5C warming by 2100. The International Energy Agency stated that “preserving our current economic paradigm virtually guarantees a 6C rise in Earth’s average temperature before 2050. Shell and BP analysts expect the globe to be as much as 5 C warm-, 5C warmer than it is now by the middle of the century. I had written an article for Tom Engelhardt’s great website, www.tomdispatch.com, in 2013 titled “Are We Falling Off The Climate Precipice?” during which time I connected all the dots and really understood how far off the precipice we already were and even then, it was clear. But today, six years later, after having pin that article, a sober reading of all the latest climate change, science indicates that we are now virtually in freefall. We’re in a nonlinear sit- situation of climatic disruptions and their effects. We’re locked into a course of uncontrollable levels of climate disruption, bringing starvation, destruction, mass, migration, disease, and war, there can be no longer any question that life as we know it is ending.
So this feeling in the room right now, after hearing all of that, what do we do with this? How are we going to be going into this, facing the real possibility of our own extinction?
I think one of the biggest privileges of writing this book is the people that it brought me into contact with. And one of them was a Native American elder, a Cherokee medicine man named Stan Rushworth. And he reminded me of a very important distinction that has, at least up until today become a beacon of light for me and something that I hold on to when I am writing my dispatches, or giving a talk and come into this feeling of hearing all of that extremely intense information. And he pointed out how a very important distinction between rights and obligations, that Western colonialist mindset is that we have rights, what are my rights, but in indigenous thinking, they believe that we are born onto the planet with two primary obligations, one an obligation to serve and be good stewards of and take care of the planet-, excuse me. The second obligation is to make all decisions with the greatest care in order to take care of the future generations of all species. So when I get up each day, and look at what can be done, I find solace now in orienting myself around ‘what are my obligations? And how can I best serve those? How can I best carry those out?’ So are we not morally oblige now, to do everything possible, to serve and protect the Earth, no matter what, no matter how bleak things appear, no matter how intense, challenging and difficult, it’s going to become. Czech dissident writer and statesman Vaclav Havel said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing, no matter how it turns ou.” It is genuinely hard for me to see how humans make it through this. We- but we don’t know. Nobody knows, nobody can make any hard predictions on any of this. But what we do know is that we are in a hospice situation with much of life on Earth, including possibly our own species. Yet, like I said, given that we’ve never been here, we don’t know for sure what is going to happen. Hence, again, no matter how bleak it might appear, are we not morally obliged to do everything that we can to be good stewards of the planet, and to protect and serve and safeguard future generations of all species? I believe that each one of us has our own calling. I am not here to tell you what to do. I think anyone who tries to tell you they think they know for sure what to do, you should probably not listen to them. I think that each of our answers have to come from deep inside of ourselves.
I- so one of the orienting facts for me, that has helped me reaching this point, and knowing what’s happening to the situation it actually came from. At one of the stories that Stan Rushworth, who I mentioned, shared with me which is in the book and I want to read it, it’s about a page because I want to be very, very specific and accurate about this. It’s an old story that was told to him by writer and storyteller, and indigenous elder Dr. Darrell ‘babe’ Wilson, who was born into the Pit River Nation tribe of northeastern California. Wilson tells of (Meese Meesa) a small but powerful spirit that inhabits (Aku Yet) ,what white people call Mount Shasta, located in the southern end of the Cascade Range in North Central California. Meese Meesa is a spirit force that balances the earth with the universe and the universe with the earth. Wilson says it Aku Yet is quote, “the most necessary of all the mountains upon Earth. For me, Meese Meesa keeps the earth the proper distance from the Sun, and keeps everything in its proper place. When wonder and power stir the universe with a giant yet invisible canoe paddle. Meese Meesa keeps the earth from wandering away from the rest of the universe. It maintains the proper seasons and the proper atmosphere for life to flourish as Earth changes seasons on its journey around the sun. The mountain, the story tells us, must be worshiped because Meese Meesa dwells deep within it. Climb the mountain with a pure heart, and with real resolve and to communicate with quote, “all of the light and all of the darkness of the universe is to place your spirit and a direct line from the songs of Meese Meesa to the heart of the universe. While in this posture, the spirit of man/woman is in perfect balance and harmony. For as long as Meese Meesa’s instructions are followed with sincerity, society will be maintained. its inhabitants will survive for the long term. Quote, “the most important of all of the lessons, It is said, is to be so quiet in your being that you constantly hear the soft singing of Meese Meesa. However, the story also warns that by not listening to Meese Meesa’s song, the song will fade. Meese Meesa will depart and the earth and all of the societies upon earth will be out of balance and the life there in vulnerable to extinction. I always wondered why a guy from Houston, Texas, who made his way up to Alaska just to be in the mountains- Why had I always been drawn by the siren song up into these places? And so I met Stan at the very end of working on the manuscript of this book, literally 10 days before the deadline. And he told me this story and then I knew I’ve always gone up into the mountains because that’s where I go to listen to the earth. And that’s where I go to listen to me Meese Meesa. And before I conclude, I’d like to read a prayer for the earth written by Stan Rushworth.
Let us just see it simply enough to drink in springs radiance, the yellow scotch broom against Greenfield’s allow our eyes to reach into the morning like fingers into wet grass, our tears falling into April’s rain. We’ve been too long away. And the need is huge. Our desire unsteady in this time. Let the invisible wanting burst to the surface of our skin, where we may know this world who holds us so dearly, even in the middle of our blindness. And in the beginnings of our awakening. Let us lie face down in her beauty. Feeling her with our gratitude. She is waiting. And so I want to conclude with leaving you with two questions. Where do you go to listen to Meese Meesa? And when was the last time that you went there to listen? Thank you.
Thank you very much for that presentation. My name is Shane. I’m with Town Hall. We are going to have about 15 minutes to do a brief Q&A session. We have two microphones on the other side of the stage. If you have a question, feel free to come down and line up. We do ask that you- we are recording this evening and so between the recording and the audience, if you can just make sure you’re standing in front of the mic and speak clearly so everyone can hear your question. We also ask that you keep your questions short and concise. If you have a statement, if you can just make room for others who might have a question. And if we have time at the end, we can perhaps have you make a statement. But just be aware that there might be lots of folks who have questions this evening and we only have about 15 minutes. So on that note…
Crowd 1 51:49
Hi, are you familiar with the work of Jem Bendell?
Crowd 1 51:53
Because that’s what’s inspired me the last couple of months, he uses a different word. He uses the word crowd climate tragedy, you know, deep adaptation, a map for navigating climate tragedy. And he says, I mean, I haven’t read it enough detail to know but I don’t think what he says is very much different from what you’ve been saying.
That’s right. So Jem Bendell is doing very important work he’s talking about he’s written a paper called Deep adaptation that I would highly recommend people download and read, because he’s talking about the inevitable collapse of Western civilization. And that rather than trying to fix what’s happening, or try to mitigate it, both things, you know, can can have some value, he talks about adaptation to what is already baked into the system. So I definitely would highly recommend reading that
Crowd 2 52:56
Dahr, as a person that’s followed you for a while it’s a very pleasing to be have the opportunity to ask you a question, it seems to me that we are headed into a period and for wherever a person is on the political spectrum, that unsure- instead of having a choice between something is good and something is bad, we’re entering into an era where no matter where you are in the spectrum, we’re going to be at making a choice between what’s bad and what’s worse. And I’m concerned that we don’t have the ethical or moral philosophy to deal with these issues. And I wonder if this is a topic that you’ve thought about and what you have to say about it.
And we have like nine minutes left? Well, I’ll cut to the chase the best I can.
It’s clear. I mean, this government of this country is egregious insofar as: How could you be having a worse response/non response to the crisis, but even in the better countries? If you look at the scope of the crisis and what I shared with you, today- tonight, how would governments look if they were actually responding accordingly? You know, it would be full scale alert, let me just use a little micro example. So in the sea level rise chapter of the book, I interviewed Dr. Harold Wanless, a leading sea level rise expert at University of Miami, who again, I’m just going to cut to the chase. He basically said, it appears as though we have 130 feet of sea level rise baked into the system right now. So goodbye South Florida, not parts of it, all of it. So in his perspective, any government, any- any lawmaker that’s not ordering full scale evacuations, the government’s funding it the government’s running it in decommissioning the Turkey Point nuclear plant that’s just south of Miami at six feet elevation, instead, they’re adding another reactor to it right now. And remediating toxic waste zones and relocating museums and archives and hospitals and millions and millions and millions of people and finding different places for them to live on higher ground further up into the country. Any any politician that’s not pushing that is being criminally negligent. And so any government, any government that’s not reacting that way to this overall crisis, I think you could say the same thing. So that brings us to, again, it’s on us, what are we going to do individually? And what can we do in our own individual communities? And right now, we do have some time, here. If you’re in Paradise, California, you don’t, if you’re in the panhandle of Florida, you don’t. But we still have some time here to start working towards adaptation. So how am I going to adapt personally? How can I add my own little immediate community start working to adapt, and then if I’m lucky, get out into the city where I live? I think that’s where we’re at. And that’s something that we can do. And that’s something that we have agency over. And that we can all do, literally right now. And again, because if I look at the bigger picture, yeah, you might as well just throw your hands up, ‘eff it’ , what the hell, you know, but we don’t have to do that we don’t have to look at the bigger picture. Again, I come back to that moral obligation. And the Vaclav Havel quote, is, we still can do what we can do. And I’m going to just add in, you know, the student marches, the student walkouts. If I have to pause every time I just say that because I cry. Because if that doesn’t wake you up, and have you thinking and cooking about what am I going to do, if nothing else to support these kids, then you know, you need to go to the hospital and get, you know, something done with your heart. Because that- that is true inspiration. And you know, these kids are fearlessly doing what they can to tell the truth and to force the issue. So sorry for that tangent, but I just want to make sure I didn’t not bring that up tonight.
Crowd 2 57:17
I understand about no hope. And that but I have to keep working at it. And I run citizens climate lobby in Seattle. And we have bipartisan bill in the US House to put a price on carbon and dividends go directly back to the people. And the- we can cut the carbon, according to Mr. studies by 40% in 12 years. And do you think that’s possible?
I don’t care if it’s possible, but we have to try.
Crowd 2 57:54
That’s where I’m at. But, you know, I just me concerned what the right way to go. But you know, this is I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I started with three groups, we now have 500 all over the United States, Canada, and internationally working on the same one idea, putting a price on carbon. So…
No, thank you for that work! And I think everything counts, and everything matters. And you know, the only thing that is is is no good is not doing anything. I mean, I literally think you know, and I think it’s easy for people to get bogged down like “Well, I’m not directly involved in you know, something related to the climate” or “I’m not you know, being a hardcore enough activists”, but it’s it’s easy to forget, but so- whatever you do, we need doctors, we need gardeners we need- we need people doing everything that they do, and it all counts! And and I think that the key is for me is you know, what is my intention? And how is that taking care of these obligations that were born into this world with? So thanks for that.
Jesse C 58:59
That was journalist and writer Dahr Jamal speaking on climate disruption at a Seattle Town Hall, held in March 2019 at the Summit on Pike.
Jesse C 59:23
This has been the blend all in KBCS. This program is produced at our KBCS Studios on the Bellevue College campus. I’m Jessie Callahan. Stay with 91 three for Thom Hartmann at 9am. Democracy Now is up next on your station for music and ideas. 91.3 KBCS Bellevue, a listener supported public service of Bellevue College.
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