Episode 8: Melody Zhang on Rest, Honoring Creation, and Climate Justice from a Christian Perspective
Melody is passionate about environmental policy and planning as a testament to her love of place and people. She grew up in a Chinese American Christian church and holds a BA in Environmental Policy and Philosophy from the University of Michigan, where she was involved with greening efforts and worked for sustainability nonprofits. She sits as Co-Chair for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, a group dedicated to living faithfully as good stewards of the earth and advocating for climate policy solutions as part and parcel to their Christian witness. And recently, she was hired on as the Climate Justice Coordinator at Sojourners, a Christian advocacy organization and publication. In her free time she loves reading fiction, taking strolls in parks, and scoping out local gems!
It was wonderful to talk with Melody about her interests in the intersections between environmental science/studies and philosophy, how her faith influences her passion for climate justice, the importance of rest and community for sustaining activism, and how Christianity and environmentalism -- two things often held in opposition in today's increasingly polarized political discourse -- can actually work together. We are thankful for her thoughtful words!
YECA website: https://www.yecaction.org/
Sojourners website: https://sojo.net/about-us/our-history
Ecological Footprint Calculator: www.footprintcalculator.org
Ashley Reis is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at SUNY Potsdam, where she teaches courses in Environmental Studies, Environmental Justice, and more. Ashley earned her Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American literature, ecocriticism, and the environmental humanities at the University of North Texas. Her book project, "With the Earth in Mind: Ecological Grief in the Contemporary U.S. Novel," investigates the ways in which U.S. novels published since WWII depict a correlation between environmental degradation and mental illness. When she's not researching and teaching, you can find Ashley in the mountains of northwest Wyoming.
Ashley's Academia.edu profile
Adirondack youth climate summit
Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Don DeLillo's novel, White Noise
Edward Abbey's novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang
Ann Pancake's novel, Strange as This Weather Has Been
Theodore Roszak, Ecopsychology
Freud's Civilization and its Discontents
Lars von Trier's movie, Melancholia
"Right now I am really interested in the contagious nature of hope and am actively seeking ways to spread a global epidemic of solutions-focused environmental engagement.”-- Dr. Kelsey
This week Sarah talks to Dr. Elin Kelsey. Dr. Kelsey conducts research into the emotional responses of children, environmental educators and conservation biologists to the culture of "hopelessness" that permeates environmental issues. She received her PhD in Science Communication/International Environmental Policy from Kings College London. She teaches in the Master of Arts in Environmental Education and Communication Program at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, Canada. She is an adjunct faculty member of the University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies. Dr. Kelsey consults and collaborates on academic, public engagement, and writing projects with a wide variety of institutions including the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, the Zoological Society of London, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany, Elin worked on a popular book that is part of a multi-year collaboration, entitled Circumnavigating Hope. She produced a useful publication and website from collaboration at the Rachel Carson Center, called “Beyond Doom and Gloom.” She also collaborated with the UN Environment Program’s special conference Children and the Environment to do a session on Hope. Another collaboration resulted in a crowd-sourcing social media project to document all the good things that people are doing for the ocean, called #oceanoptimism. We link all of these resources below.
Last but definitely not least, Elin is the author of several children’s books, including Saving Sea Otters, Finding Out about Whales, Wild Ideas, You Are Stardust, Canadian Dinosaurs, Strange New Species, Not Your Typical Book about the Environment, and Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales.
Elin positively exudes exuberance, and Sarah was on the edge of my seat listening to her. She talked about hope, despair, how we can cultivate hope by surrounding ourselves in stories of solutions happening in the world, the need for emotional training for people who teach and work on climate change issues, the importance of narrative, and why children in particular need stories not of doom-and-gloom, but of wonder and empowerment. As she says, she is hopeful because through the work she does, she “breathes a different oxygen.”
Elin Kelsey’s website
“Beyond the Obituary”- Nancy Knowlton’s Smithsonian project that Elin collaborated on
UN children Hope and Environment conference that Elin attended to work on “Hope”
Episode 5: Sarra Tekola on Intersectionality, Self-Care, and Decolonization as Eco- and Social Healing
Sarra Tekola, is a climate justice activist working on her PhD in Sustainability at Arizona State University. Madi first became familiar with her work in 2015, when Sarra was a prominent “kayaktivist” blocking Shell oil rigs from leaving port in Seattle to drill for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. Around this time, she also conducted research for the EPA, NOAA, and the Washington State Department of Ecology. Since then, Sarra has co-founded the organization Women of Color Speak Outand founded a Black Lives Matter chapter in Pheonix, Arizona, where she attends Arizona State University in pursuit of a PhD in Sustainability. There, she is conducting research that focuses on addressing the cognitive dissonance that stems from colonial trauma in Western countries, and explores decolonization as a climate solution. At the same time, she remains engaged in social justice and climate justice activism on the ground. Sarra has been featured on Democracy Now, CNN, Rolling Stone, and Outside Magazine for her work. We covered a wide range of topics such as her own forms of self-care, developing better communication surrounding climate change, her research, experiencing racism in the environmental movement, intersectional activism, and more. So many nuggets to take away from this; we are grateful to Sarra for sharing her thoughts and experience.
This week we talked with Dr. Nicole Seymour, English professor at Cal State University Fullerton working in the field of the environmental humanities. The reason we wanted to interview Dr. Seymour is because she’s doing really interesting writing on non-serious, non-depressing ways of thinking about environmental topics. Her new book, Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in an Ecological Age (University of Minnesota Press), is all about irreverence as a kind of environmental register, especially in queer cultural expressions. Her expertise lies at the intersection of affect theory, queer theory, and the environment, a combination that is really cutting edge and unfamiliar to most environmentally-minded folks.
Her first book, Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination, won the 2015 scholarly book award from the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE).
She serves as the Vice President of ASLE, and has been collaborating with Sarah and a UC-CSU collaborative “knowledge-action-network” (KAN) of faculty on a joint climate justice teaching resource digital platform that will be launched in 2019.
This week, Sarah and Madi talked with Marisol Cortez and Greg Harman, activists, writers, and climate justice advocates who also struggle with what Marisol calls in this episode, “mental intensities,” which powerfully shape their lives. We both first met Marisol in Detroit at a conference for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in 2017. Her talk there, “The Praxis of Deceleration: Recovery as ‘Inner Work, Public Act’”, was MIND-BLOWING, and Sarah refers to it a few times in the interview, so links to Marisol's essay, Sarah's blog post about Marisol's talk, and Madi's follow-up publication on Marisol and Greg's news site are all in the show notes below. That’s what got us thinking it would be so great to interview both Marisol and Greg for Big Planet, Big Feels, and we were not disappointed. WOW. We laughed, and we definitely cried. More bio info for both of them is below.
Gregory Harman is a community organizer and independent journalist who has written about environmental health and justice issues since the late 1990s. He is a clean energy organizer for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club and former editor of the San Antonio Current. He is a former contributing editor at Texas Climate News and his work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, The Guardian, The Dallas Morning News, Indian Country Today, Yes! Magazine, Houston Press, and the Texas Observer, among others. His journalism has been recognized by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Houston Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen Texas, and Associated Press Managing Editors. He holds a bachelor’s in English from Texas Wesleyan University and a master’s degree in International Relations (Conflict Transformation) from St. Mary’s University. Here is an archive of some of his journalistic writings. Here is the website for his book, “After Depression: What an experimental medical treatment taught me about mental illness and recovery.”
Marisol Cortez, Ph.D. attempts to occupy the difficult space between artistic, activist, and academic worlds. Beginning her political life as a poet, she later participated in grassroots campaigns for environmental justice in her hometown of San Antonio, which inspired her doctoral research at the University of California at Davis. After graduating in 2009 with her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, she has trafficked between academia and community organizing, before returning to San Antonio to apply her education as a community-based scholar and creative writer. She currently works at a local arts organization by day, while by night she is a mama, writer, and researcher, all in service of collective efforts to protect la madre tierra and create alternatives to parasitic forms of urban “development.” For a listing of her previous publications and a description of current projects-in-process, visit her website here. Marisol also blogs from time to time about neurodivergence and mental health at Leavings and Survivors, from a standpoint of disability justice and mad pride, and hosts her own blog, here.
Marisol and Greg launched Deceleration, an online environmental justice news source, which “responds to our shared ecological, political, and cultural crises, writing at the intersection of climate change and social justice–journalistically, academically, and creatively.”
Marisol's "The Praxis of Deceleration" is here.
Sarah’s blog reflection on Marisol's ASLE talk, "Resisting Burnout is Revolutionary," is here.
Madi published a piece in Deceleration on the 2017 floods in Sacramento, her home town, called “When the Levee Breaks,” which you can find here.
Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing, by Bob Doppelt
This week Sarah talked with Dr. Jennifer Atkinson, Senior Lecturer of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington-Bothell. Sarah met Dr. Atkinson when she gave a talk last December at UW on eco-grief and the climate generation, and Jennifer told Sarah about a class she was about to launch on environmental depression, which is why we wanted to talk with her for this podcast. The class was so radical, it was covered on the front page in The Seattle Times. Dr. Atkinson recently followed up on the experience in writing an editorial called “Addressing Climate Grief Makes You a Badass, Not a Snowflake,” about the experience and about the pushback she got from readers of the article, in High Country News. Both of the pieces will be linked below in the show notes, as is Dr. Atkinson’s book, Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy, and Everyday Practice.
Dr. Atkinson’s bio at UW-Bothell
High Country News op-ed by Dr. Atkinson
The Seattle Times cover story on Dr. Atkinson’s class
Dr. Atkinson’s book, Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy, and Everyday Practice.
Photo Source: The Seattle Times
Thanks for joining in these conversations! We hope that you can find some useful nuggets of wisdom, feel both more vulnerable and more empowered, and perhaps feel something like community by listening to these interviews.