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LISTEN: Gabriel Gadsden on the rodent infestation and energy justice connection

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Gabriel Gadsden joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss the intersection of rodent infestations and energy justice and how we can simultaneously tackle both issues.Gadsden, a current fellow and Ph.D. student of Environmental Sciences at Yale University’s School of the Environment, also talks about getting researchers to break out of siloed thinking, tips for science communicators and how his golf game is going. The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.Listen below to our discussion with Gadsden, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Gabriel Gadsden on the rodent infestation and energy justice connectionTranscriptBrian Bienkowski Gabriel, how are you doing today?Gabriel Gadsden I'm doing great. It's very exciting to be on the podcast. Also, we've gotten some time to hang out with each other and learn a little bit about each other. And so to bridge that conversation further is exciting. And hopefully, you know, people listen to it and take something away from our conversation today.Brian Bienkowski Yes, hopefully people do listen to it. That's an important part of this. And I know that people will and are listening right now. So that's, that's good to know. And Gabriel, where are you today? Where are you talking to us from?Gabriel Gadsden I'm in New Haven, Connecticut. In the basement, in my office, my advisor said that doesn't look like I live in ... which I don't know if is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your take on academia being a grad student. Funny or not even funny. But we just had our first snowstorm in New Haven. But it's already gone.Brian Bienkowski Came and went, heyGabriel Gadsden yeah, already gone, indeed.Brian Bienkowski When our snow comes here, it doesn't leave 'till May. So we just keep, we just keep stacking it, and stacking it on top of old snow, which I like it is a good, it is a good thing for us to have that. So speaking of place, if you've listened to the podcast, you know, I'd like to go back to the beginning, before we talk about the exciting stuff you're working on now. So tell me about Hayti. I hope I'm pronouncing that right. But historically Black community in Durham, North Carolina where you grew up.Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, no. So Hayti. And don't feel bad because I feel like everybody gets it wrong when they first read it. It does read like Haiti, but it's Hayti. It is the Black section of I would say more like center-southerner. There's actually a Hayti historic center, which kind of documents both a congregation space but also a area that documents the history of that area. So it kind of runs between Fable street and Highway 55, in North Carolina. The Center is around there. A lot of Black businesses, the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company is kind of connected to the Hayti center, a lot of Black elementary and middle schools ... Shepherd Middle School is around there. So a hub of you know, Black entrepreneurs and academia educators kind of in that areas, putting roots down. And that's where a lot of my family grew up in North Carolina.Brian Bienkowski And I'm guessing that Hayti, since you grew up there as a child, you don't know any difference, right? I mean, when you're a child, wherever you grow up, that's what you know. But what can you pieced together from growing up there? maybe it is how it affected you now or in your youth?Gabriel Gadsden you know, but maybe not outside so much of Hayti in my family. I... my dad was always big on you know, understanding the history of where we're coming from, you know, ancestors and whatnot. Understand the history of Durham. He was there when he was a child while his mother was in grad school at UNC in public health while his dad was in law school as well. And so, you know, he got to see Durham and Hayti in a very different light. And so, you're just kind of understanding that, you know, by the time that I was being reared in North Carolina, North Carolina Mutual had closed down its doors. And so that's kind of, you know, you can see in a lot of black areas of cities, you know, there's this really steep incline of entrepreneurship and whatnot, and then there's a decline, for whatever reason, whether there's a highway being built, you know, just kind of distant disinvestment into an area, it still had a lot of the history and the roots was still there, but it wasn't maybe as bustling as, as it would have been in maybe the 50s, 60s.Brian Bienkowski And where and how did science enter your life?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, you know, I was most excited about this question. And I kind of molded over it and thinking about it. I think that for me, science was always a part of my trajectory, as it was a part of my life. And so I'll say this: growing up, I was diagnosed with a speech impediment that was in part because I couldn't hear, and I still can't hear out of my right ear. And so, you know, not being able to talk to kids, and not really being able to hear anybody, I kind of stayed in my own head, stayed to myself, but, you know, when you're wandering, you know, devoid of interaction with other kids, you find other things to interact with. And so my first thing was rocks, loved them loved how they looked, clean them, you know, put them in buckets, and had this rock collection. So you know, first thing was geology for me. And then I got a little bit older, and then it became PBS. So I was watching Zoom. And learning about chemistry didn't know it was chemistry at the time. But they were adding baking soda and sodium chloride and making gases. And so I would go into my parents’ bathroom probably wasted about $200 worth of product throughout that time period. And I was mixing Vitalis, and Listerine, and alcohol and hoping that I was making and make a discovery of some new chemical, some new gas. My mom had a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Central University. That was her first degree from there. And, you know, she said to me, "don't mix ammonia and bleach." As you know, she saw what I was doing, but they kind of let me stay off for myself after that it was Zaboomafoo. And, you know, I won't sing the catchphrase. But you know, you know, who do you see? Can you identify this mystery? What was this animal? and loved Animal Planet, "Top 10 dangerous," and all of these other shows just really captivated me when I was younger. And so you know, taking that into the classroom, being generally curious, not really having the foundations. And I think we'll get into that a little bit more. But in the last thing, I'll say, and why I say that science was just kind of always the part of me, was that I grew up and still am religious. And so in Christianity, what is my religion that I identify with, but you know, whether it's Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, you will find environmentalism, ecology in the roots of them. And that's something that I've kind of come back to now here at Yale School of the Environment, a lot of connections with the Divinity School, and recognizing the similarities and recognizing that our morality is tied to the environment. And obviously, with traditional ecological knowledge, TEK, I think kind of making a resurgence in people's psyche, and the paradigm shift that we need to really get back to, quote-unquote, "roots" is something that I've always carried with me. There's tons of verses in the Bible that a lot more knowledgeable people could spout off in terms of connecting those two. And so I was filled with wonder when I was a kid, and it carried me to here.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. And you just alluded to this; you said, I remember this in your application. You mentioned that your primary education left you woefully unprepared to conduct research, which I don't think is an uncommon thing. I know I hadn't seen a scientific paper until graduate school. I didn't know what they were. So I don't think you're alone. But can you talk about this obstacle? And how you overcame it to go on to, right now, one of the most prestigious universities in the country?Gabriel Gadsden Absolutely, I'll start with this. I don't want that statement. You know, people hear it to say that I had bad instructors or teachers. My elementary school was filled, filled with amazing educators. I could name them, and some of them are still friends with me now. These were incredible people. But when it came to specialists, we had computer PE, art, and music. There was no science special. It was, there was one teacher at the school at the time, Mrs. Daniels, who had a classroom filled with animals and that was probably the closest thing we got to true science education at that time. Then I went to middle school and so obviously I've been watching these shows and asking my own questions, reading my own books. But it's just another step up now you're just learning about tectonic plates and geology, you know, kind of periods and whatnot, the Paleocene or Jurassic, kind of understanding that. But that stuff there I had already read. It wasn't fascinating to me. It was nice to be able to raise my hand and know that, you know, the question that kind of kept my interest in science. But we weren't learning the scientific method, we weren't looking at two different species and asking, Why is this one different, and whether or not we could change in the laboratory, we weren't getting any kind of hands-on experience. Same thing in high school. I didn't see science shown to a younger audience until I was a TA, and teaching assistant for Duke TIP, which is a talent program run by Duke University. And there I saw, you know, true scientific method building, trying things, failing, going back, you know, iterative process, that's kind of part of the science experiments that you see in laboratories. You know, went to a high school college. And so, I did get some early science classroom experience before going off to the UNC. But when I got there, you know, understanding how to navigate those classrooms, but also recognizing that there was a world outside of chemistry and biology, which just was not something that clicked to me, I think about it now, and I probably should have should have been an environmental science major, I would have had an easier time. You know, it wasn't until sophomore year that I realized that I was taking classes that were for pre-med, you know, doctors, and that's not what I wanted to do. I knew that going in. But I didn't know of other majors. And so it's it's kind of a multi-tier thing, both from the kind of primary education getting students prepped for the many fields that are going to be available to you as a college student, but also colleges recognizing and you know, I've seen I have some friends now who are in like STEM education, at the kind of academic level, and are trying to write papers and trying to understand what fails when they make that jump from high school to college. I think that there's some really good progress going on. But I think it's kind of a two-fold issue. One, a lot of the primary education, particularly in Black communities, don't have the money to bring in science instructors to do specials, or science Fridays and stuff like that. But then two, when you get to the university level, universities just aren't understanding that students are coming in from very different standpoints, and maybe have very different interest and maybe only thinks that biology is the only way to get into science, which isn't the case.Brian Bienkowski It's a great point. And I like to think that this program, not only is... the point is to show that scientists themselves are from diverse backgrounds and can be diverse people. But also that science itself is diverse. I think I grew up thinking that science; maybe, I think you were saying this kind of too, I thought of chemists, chemistry, beakers, and you know, the lab experience experiments and didn't think of social scientists or, you know, even forestry and fisheries to a certain extent, were things that I think if I would have been exposed to at a younger age, I would have said, "Oh, my goodness, yes, I want to do that! That's excellent" So yeah, those are excellent points. And I hope I hope some of this program is opening people's eyes to different types of cool science. So before we get into that cool science that you are doing right now, what is the defining moment or event that shaped your identity?Gabriel Gadsden So from a science standpoint, when I was an intern with the Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab, with Dr. Harris, Sam Harris at the University of Michigan, at the time, was the first time going and doing kind of forested wildlife ecology fieldwork. And I remember going into the forest and kind of seeing the light beams, and hot and sweaty – and had just climbed a hill and gone through the thicket– and I kind of emerged into this field and felt a spiritual connection, a birthing. You know, it was, it was truly a moment of great pleasure for me to knowing that I had finally done that, what I felt like my life was supposed to be, like was going out and collecting data and trying to then come back and share that data with with people. From a more personal standpoint... Maybe, man, my parents would have a different story. I know the story my dad would tell. For me, it was maybe a bit of a devotional, I was actually dedicated to God when I was seven. And I felt like I was always a good kid, I felt like I always had this connection, you know, we talked about a little bit earlier. But for me, it was this recognition that... humbling experience to know that I am just a small dot in this great big world, and a lot of it that we don't understand and that we have faith in it. We have faith in science, right, that we'll learn some of our answers, and we have faith in our religions. We have faith in humanity and our people. I think that was a moment, you know, being very young and actually just realizing that I'm just a dot in this, you know, kind of vastness, but I could make a difference. Clearly, people felt like I was making a difference in their lives within that, that congregation. And so I think, "oh, I can make a difference in this world. And whatever capacity I am," I've tried to carry that with me.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. That's an excellent, excellent couple of moments. And let's get into some of the research you're doing now in making that difference. And so I've had the good fortune to not only talk to you when you applied for this program, but we met in Philadelphia and talked about your research. So some of this I know, but some I don't. And I find it fascinating. So as you put it, it's kind of at the intersection of human health, wildlife, and energy justice. So can you, just off the top, tell us how these three fields merge in your research?Gabriel Gadsden How does it merge? It started when I was back an intern, and walking through the forest with with my advisor, Dr. Harrison, starting to ask questions about society, and how all this what it really meant, when it boiled down to it. Again, my dad and mom had instilled in me, you know, we need to stand up for what we think is right. You know, being just and being fair, and morality. Science was the path that I was taking. It wasn't like I was gonna go to law school, though my dad might still think that's a possibility. And the questions in ecology just weren't there. At that time, I don't think ecology –this was, you know, back in 2016, 2017– I don't think that they had really kind of saw that ecology could really be tied to social justice or social equity. And at that point, I'm really grateful that Dr. Harris kind of saw that and wants people to be great. So it's like, well, you should probably go into environmental science, try to find Dr. Tony Reams, who was at the time taking on students who does energy justice work. And I kind of made that pivot and knew at the time that it was a hard pivot. But it worked out. And I just had a text message kind of chat with Tony and just, you know, still believes in me, He still thinks that the ideas are great, and going to continue to do good things. But there, I was able to actually collect data that was directly tied or more visceral for people doing air quality data in an efficient housing. And so environmental justice is, you know, public health, public health is epidemiology, and you know, all these things kind of merge and mix together. And so recognizing that people were living in inefficient housing, and then had bad health, having this background in ecology with wildlife, and you know, how as a story goes, I was reading energy justice papers, and I was reading wildlife papers. And I thought to myself, "Oh, foxes, and other things like raccoons and bats live in people's homes. How do they get into those homes, though?" And then, you know, I just, you know, the literature, you know, they talk about these gaps in the foundation and inefficient walls. And so there's no insolation. So it becomes, basically just a nesting place for wildlife. And I thought, "Oh, wow, this is, it's pretty interesting." And, you know, lo and behold, there wasn't a lot of data on it. Now, I can certainly talk more about the literature that is there. But at the time, and still to a large degree, there is not any hard data about housing quality and wildlife and health and putting those two together, even though you know, wildlife, they carry zoonotic diseases that can be, you know, obviously transmissible to humans, that make us sick. And so, you know, it's kind of becomes this double jeopardy of if you have wildlife that are in your house carrying diseases and you're already in poor health because of your inefficient housing, what that could mean for public health crises? and kind of being cost effective. If there's a solution to multiple things, we should probably champion that solution. And I have to thank Dr. Grove for that, in the urban ecology class that I just was a teaching fellow for, understanding this complex nature of problems. And if we don't think complex, you know that they are complex problems, and there's multiple ways of entering the issue, then we're not going to get very far.Brian Bienkowski And just on the ground level, what does this research look like? How do you conduct a study that examines both energy inefficiency and rodents?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, so, as a first year, as then, last year, first-year Ph.D. student or someone trying to get into grad school, I thought I was going to save the world and then realized, no, it wasn't realistic. But you know, we have an unlimited supply of plunder, right? Um, I thought I was going to talk to some people in Philadelphia; they were going to let me into the house, we were going to get all this money and do home interview scores. ATS is, and then we're going to trap inside. And then we were going to retrofit with another $15,000. And then do a before-and-after controlled trial. None of that happened or didn't happen yet. We were still optimistic that some of those things would happen in time. And hopefully, you know, the funders who are listening to this will recognize the importance of this. But the reality is that we're starting outside, you know, Philadelphia. While they do have vector control, Philadelphia has not kind of systematically kept ties with, you know, what the pathogens are, and where the rodents are in the city outside of 311 calls. And so hopefully working with them to get them just kind of more data, where the rodents in the city, I think it's kind of the first question and what environmental variables, you know, both, you know, trash receptacles, Park size, you know, trash on the street, housing, type of housing stock, is attributing rodent populations, or is increasing or decreasing rodent populations, excuse me. I think that’s, so that's the first step. And then the second step is to then, you know, ask for in these neighborhoods, collecting rodents making contacts, hopefully, we have a meeting tomorrow with 57 Blocks, which is a gun violence advocacy kind of research group out at the DA office in Philadelphia, recognizing that some of these issues with what is attracting rodents in cities, also could mitigate or increased gun violence. And so I say that to say, you, you work with people who are already doing great work in the city on different issues – Philly Thrive and other folks that are doing EJ work – And hopefully, by those connections and those collaborations, then they will say, "Oh, yes, this person, it would love to talk to you about this research." And that's how we're going to get into homes.Brian Bienkowski So to zoom out, we're talking about cracks in the foundation are problems in the home that are first leading to energy inefficiency. So maybe your bills are higher, your house isn't as warm, your house isn't as cool. And then the second part of that is rodents are able to get in. And what kinds of diseases or health problems are we talking about when we think about rodents getting into people's homes?Gabriel Gadsden So first is childhood asthma, allergens that are already so if you're in a low income area, you likely maybe have some type of power plant or some type of industry that's near you. So you already have those pollutants getting into your home more because it's inefficient, or for whatever reason, you have higher rates of asthma, and now you add on allergen load from mice and rats, so that's going to be exacerbated. So, you know, more ER trips, more money spent on inhalers and other types of treatments. There's also the issue of leptospirosis, which, and hantavirus, s more in the west right now. And I'm not going to get into kind of the debacle of funding that research in cities or in other areas outside of the West. But but certainly those are kind of the two main ones. There's also typhus –plague is still in Detroit.Brian Bienkowski and I have to imagine that there's a mental health, stress component to this. There's social stress, I mean, the idea of maybe you don't want to invite people into your home when you know you have an infestation. So I can see this kind of spider webbing outside of the very acute, physical, physical illnesses into mental and social struggles. So I don't want to place blame here and I know this is probably a large issue with some historical roots. But who's to blame? What is the... why is this historically been a blind spot for regulators, housing officials and others?Gabriel Gadsden 1950s was a really big time. I don't know the researcher's first name but Davies, I believe it's his last name, did a lot of work in Baltimore. There's a lot of really great case studies in Budapest and some other cities of like kind of rat-proof towns that brought population levels of rats down to less than 1% of their historic numbers. Even in Philadelphia in the 1940s, they have their first really big campaign about getting rid of rodents. And then in the 1960s, the mayor kind of created the rat control group, and that rat control group, you know, said, you know, that we will not take the job, if you do not seal up all the cracks in any, you know, in your home, you know, essentially, you know, back then maybe they didn't think about is energy efficiency of sealing up your envelope and the energy inside it, you know, get that, but it makes sense. But life happens, policy change, you know, turnover, it's a lot easier to say, you know, put out bait blocks, and rodent trapping, than to actually do systemic change. We see that time and time again. Actually, solving an issue takes coordinated efforts between many different factors from public health, to housing and development, to parks and rec, all coming together at that table. And cities are not willing to make that choice, at least in America right now, major cities, I'm not going to bash on any politician. But if you follow New York politics, you would have received like a rat czar job posting recently. And the reality is, you know, all the memes where, you know, Charlie Day from Always Sunny Philadelphia, kind of what's his kind of mace-bat-like situation that's gonna go, get rid of all the rodents. And that's not going to work. You know, it’s, and it's not just sanitation, is not just sealing up the home. And it's not just getting rid of vacant lots. It's all of those things at once, across a large scale in a city. And so until we're ready to put up that money, allow natural predators into our cities and kind of coexist with nature in a healthy way. And I don't think that you know, so, you know, really, really comes down to is political will and resource allocation. I mean, most researchers will say, you know, that's a lot of the issues. And if you throw money out enough, it'll fix itself, and you get the right people in the room. But right now, we just, there's really great researchers. Jason Munchie. I'm drawing a blank. But even Merkin Rosenbaum. These are people who are doing rodent research right now. And certainly know more than I do. But I think would advocate the same thing that is a, you know, you have to have this team of teams. To quote Dr. Grove, Morton Grove, if you don't have this team of teams, you're not going to solve the issue. And so cities have to really be ready to sit down and bring people together and spend the money.Brian Bienkowski What makes you hopeful about this? you mentioned some researchers who are doing very good work. Are you seeing any on-the-ground movement in Philadelphia or beyond? What makes you hopeful and optimistic?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, I mean, Matt Fryer, another researcher, just trying to create like this really handy, simple rodent tool you can kind of put into cracks and understand whether, you know, it is susceptible to being infested by rodents. So you have this, you know, research-entrepreneurship, kind of burgeoning space, you also have new sensors, with Rat Mo, there are different technologies that are trying to get up, you know, making sure that we spend money in an efficient manner. As much as I don't think the idea of a rat czar going to work, the fact that, that that is a possibility that, you know, maybe the right person that's in that position could really make a change if they're kind of advocating for all of these different methods and allocating funds in the right spaces. I also think that there's maybe a little bit of a change in public perception... I kind of write and so I'm working on, you know, Environmental Health News with you and Maria, that, you know, it's time that people stop accepting this as the normal and I'm seeing that more and more maybe that's because I'm in this space. But I certainly think that as it gets out of hand again, I think COVID-19, and this kind of increase in route and sightings people at home are recognizing that, you know, they're out during the daytime, they're out during the night time, they're, you know that the squeaky wheel is going to get squeakier. And so I think I'm seeing a little bit more of that. I certainly know all of my friends know about it more. And so they send me a lot of papers and different articles from different fields, kind of hinting at this as well. And so I think that does make me optimistic. You know, I certainly have gotten some great responses for my work and so recognizing that people see this as a, as a serious issue, I think it will only get easier to advocate for true rodent exclusion or reduction of populations in an impactful way.Brian Bienkowski Yeah, sometimes a big first step for any of these kinds of wicked issues is just awareness. It's a good, it's a good first step. And speaking of that, so I know after I talked to you about your research, it seemed very intuitive, that these problems would be linked, but it is different and intersectional. And I'm sure you've had to explain it to folks, I'm wondering if you just have any tips for scientists interested in learning to better communicate.Gabriel Gadsden After just giving two presentations, two final presentations, I should have practiced more and everybody in my lab as a practice, you know? giving a talk to very different fields also helps. You know, most people don't study rodents, particularly in ecology, or at least well, urban ecology, just because they're not considered wildlife. And so you have to talk to the epidemiologists who are in a very public health, atmosphere or medical research. And so you have to link these things, even this idea of, you know, retrofitting versus, you know, sealing up the envelope, what word you use? those choice words, getting rid of the jargon, paring it down writing different grants, and then writing research talks, and then writing an academic article about it, you're putting it in very different ways. And you find out what works and what clicks with people. Just keep harping on it, if you believe in it, you know, the right words are going to come. And, you know, the same thing as you're reading widely talk to as many different groups. Because they know, someone in social science may say, "this is a word that would really clicked with people."Brian Bienkowski I also think starting off, as you as I've heard you do, with just kind of how this affects people is a very tangible way to make these issues click with people. I mean, we've all, most of us – I had a mouse in the house the other day – I mean, this is, this is common, this is a common thing that a lot of people have dealt with, maybe not on the scale that you're researching. But I think starting with, how does this impact people and their health is a really good starting point. And I've seen you do that. So of course, you can't be out there chasing rodents and looking at foundations all of the time. I happen to know you're a golfer. So what is... I don't know if it's golf weather out there if you're getting a bunch of snow, but when you are able to golf, do you get out much, and what's your handicap these days?Gabriel Gadsden I do get, I get out as much as I can. Yale is really generous and allows students to play at a discounted rate after turn hours. And so I'll go over there, it's a great golf course. And handicap, you know, I'll say this, there are no pictures on a scorecard. And that can work in a good way or a bad way. What I'll say is that I can get some pars most of the time. I'm shooting bogey, every now and again. I'll get a double bogey or triple bogey more often than I'd like. But if I were doing like a two-man scramble, I wouldn't hold you down as badly as you would think.Brian Bienkowski Before we get you out of here today, I have three rapid-fire questions that are supposed to be fun. Hopefully they are fun, where you can just answer with one word or a phrase. So the first one is, what was the highlight of the past year for youGabriel Gadsden was able to go to... see my family. You know, I don't get to see them often. And so in spending any time with my dad and playing golf with my brother. It's always a treat seeing my nieces and my nephews is always fun; being with themBrian Bienkowski For sure. The best concert I've ever been to was Gabriel Gadsden Oh, two. So Mick Jenkins not maybe a conscious rapper but a little bit less conscious. Really fun and authentic feeling, and then Jidenna, the '85 to Africa tour was really great. I'm a small concert like... I'm huge I love going to concerts. I like going to the smaller ones. I don't think I'll ever go see Beyonce or Drake. But the 30,000 people do It doesn't seem fun.Brian Bienkowski That makes, that makes two of us this, the more intimate concerts are, well, they're more intimate. You get to see and feel things in a much different way. I totally agree. And last question every day I look forward to blank.Gabriel Gadsden Being a good person, trying to be a genuine and caring person, I think, sometimes can throw people off. Like, what's up with this guy? But I hope that I hope that people who know me and or will meet me now this is just as genuine as I can to be nice.Brian Bienkowski But I sure hope being kind doesn't spark too much skepticism among people in your life or beyond. Because it's, it's something I felt from you, and I think it's it's a good thing. We should all be kind and genuine. So last question. I've been asking everybody, what is the last book that you read for fun?Gabriel Gadsden Cool. The last book I read for fun. I have to I pulled them off-site, so I won’t butcher their name. So the one I actually just finished was The Age disaster, the failure of organizations in New York and the nation. Great book, quite old, at this point. 1990 was published, but still is very salient, particularly because of the COVID-19, the climate disaster, I mean, you name it, there's a lack of, of coordination and whatnot. So yeah, go go get that. And that was like a free book lying around that I had just picked up from the department. And then, the other book is Fighting the good fight: The militarization of the civil rights movement. And so I'm currently reading that, and I've had some really good conversations because there's something to be said about whether or not we should be using this language. Is it helpful? Is it actually more harmful because of traumatic kind of imagery that comes with militarization? I'm still debating that myself, but I certainly find it a thought-provoking book, if not a bit challenging for a person to kind of wrap their heads around. So I've been asking people, you know, that's my question now at talks. Hey, should we be using this language? Is that hopeful to take that militarization of civil rights to the militarization of climate justice, and whether or not these campaigns and precision and training and communications, those types of things that make campaigns go well, should be co-opted?Brian Bienkowski Excellent. Sounds like a thought-provoking book. And speaking of thought-provoking, you can find Gabriel's essay soon out on ehn.org, where you can learn more about his research. And we'll be sure to get that in front of readers and listeners, Gabriel, thank you so much. We're doing this today. It's a pleasure having you in the program.Gabriel Gadsden Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And thank you to everybody who's listening.

Gabriel Gadsden joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss the intersection of rodent infestations and energy justice and how we can simultaneously tackle both issues.Gadsden, a current fellow and Ph.D. student of Environmental Sciences at Yale University’s School of the Environment, also talks about getting researchers to break out of siloed thinking, tips for science communicators and how his golf game is going. The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.Listen below to our discussion with Gadsden, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Gabriel Gadsden on the rodent infestation and energy justice connectionTranscriptBrian Bienkowski Gabriel, how are you doing today?Gabriel Gadsden I'm doing great. It's very exciting to be on the podcast. Also, we've gotten some time to hang out with each other and learn a little bit about each other. And so to bridge that conversation further is exciting. And hopefully, you know, people listen to it and take something away from our conversation today.Brian Bienkowski Yes, hopefully people do listen to it. That's an important part of this. And I know that people will and are listening right now. So that's, that's good to know. And Gabriel, where are you today? Where are you talking to us from?Gabriel Gadsden I'm in New Haven, Connecticut. In the basement, in my office, my advisor said that doesn't look like I live in ... which I don't know if is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your take on academia being a grad student. Funny or not even funny. But we just had our first snowstorm in New Haven. But it's already gone.Brian Bienkowski Came and went, heyGabriel Gadsden yeah, already gone, indeed.Brian Bienkowski When our snow comes here, it doesn't leave 'till May. So we just keep, we just keep stacking it, and stacking it on top of old snow, which I like it is a good, it is a good thing for us to have that. So speaking of place, if you've listened to the podcast, you know, I'd like to go back to the beginning, before we talk about the exciting stuff you're working on now. So tell me about Hayti. I hope I'm pronouncing that right. But historically Black community in Durham, North Carolina where you grew up.Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, no. So Hayti. And don't feel bad because I feel like everybody gets it wrong when they first read it. It does read like Haiti, but it's Hayti. It is the Black section of I would say more like center-southerner. There's actually a Hayti historic center, which kind of documents both a congregation space but also a area that documents the history of that area. So it kind of runs between Fable street and Highway 55, in North Carolina. The Center is around there. A lot of Black businesses, the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company is kind of connected to the Hayti center, a lot of Black elementary and middle schools ... Shepherd Middle School is around there. So a hub of you know, Black entrepreneurs and academia educators kind of in that areas, putting roots down. And that's where a lot of my family grew up in North Carolina.Brian Bienkowski And I'm guessing that Hayti, since you grew up there as a child, you don't know any difference, right? I mean, when you're a child, wherever you grow up, that's what you know. But what can you pieced together from growing up there? maybe it is how it affected you now or in your youth?Gabriel Gadsden you know, but maybe not outside so much of Hayti in my family. I... my dad was always big on you know, understanding the history of where we're coming from, you know, ancestors and whatnot. Understand the history of Durham. He was there when he was a child while his mother was in grad school at UNC in public health while his dad was in law school as well. And so, you know, he got to see Durham and Hayti in a very different light. And so, you're just kind of understanding that, you know, by the time that I was being reared in North Carolina, North Carolina Mutual had closed down its doors. And so that's kind of, you know, you can see in a lot of black areas of cities, you know, there's this really steep incline of entrepreneurship and whatnot, and then there's a decline, for whatever reason, whether there's a highway being built, you know, just kind of distant disinvestment into an area, it still had a lot of the history and the roots was still there, but it wasn't maybe as bustling as, as it would have been in maybe the 50s, 60s.Brian Bienkowski And where and how did science enter your life?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, you know, I was most excited about this question. And I kind of molded over it and thinking about it. I think that for me, science was always a part of my trajectory, as it was a part of my life. And so I'll say this: growing up, I was diagnosed with a speech impediment that was in part because I couldn't hear, and I still can't hear out of my right ear. And so, you know, not being able to talk to kids, and not really being able to hear anybody, I kind of stayed in my own head, stayed to myself, but, you know, when you're wandering, you know, devoid of interaction with other kids, you find other things to interact with. And so my first thing was rocks, loved them loved how they looked, clean them, you know, put them in buckets, and had this rock collection. So you know, first thing was geology for me. And then I got a little bit older, and then it became PBS. So I was watching Zoom. And learning about chemistry didn't know it was chemistry at the time. But they were adding baking soda and sodium chloride and making gases. And so I would go into my parents’ bathroom probably wasted about $200 worth of product throughout that time period. And I was mixing Vitalis, and Listerine, and alcohol and hoping that I was making and make a discovery of some new chemical, some new gas. My mom had a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Central University. That was her first degree from there. And, you know, she said to me, "don't mix ammonia and bleach." As you know, she saw what I was doing, but they kind of let me stay off for myself after that it was Zaboomafoo. And, you know, I won't sing the catchphrase. But you know, you know, who do you see? Can you identify this mystery? What was this animal? and loved Animal Planet, "Top 10 dangerous," and all of these other shows just really captivated me when I was younger. And so you know, taking that into the classroom, being generally curious, not really having the foundations. And I think we'll get into that a little bit more. But in the last thing, I'll say, and why I say that science was just kind of always the part of me, was that I grew up and still am religious. And so in Christianity, what is my religion that I identify with, but you know, whether it's Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, you will find environmentalism, ecology in the roots of them. And that's something that I've kind of come back to now here at Yale School of the Environment, a lot of connections with the Divinity School, and recognizing the similarities and recognizing that our morality is tied to the environment. And obviously, with traditional ecological knowledge, TEK, I think kind of making a resurgence in people's psyche, and the paradigm shift that we need to really get back to, quote-unquote, "roots" is something that I've always carried with me. There's tons of verses in the Bible that a lot more knowledgeable people could spout off in terms of connecting those two. And so I was filled with wonder when I was a kid, and it carried me to here.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. And you just alluded to this; you said, I remember this in your application. You mentioned that your primary education left you woefully unprepared to conduct research, which I don't think is an uncommon thing. I know I hadn't seen a scientific paper until graduate school. I didn't know what they were. So I don't think you're alone. But can you talk about this obstacle? And how you overcame it to go on to, right now, one of the most prestigious universities in the country?Gabriel Gadsden Absolutely, I'll start with this. I don't want that statement. You know, people hear it to say that I had bad instructors or teachers. My elementary school was filled, filled with amazing educators. I could name them, and some of them are still friends with me now. These were incredible people. But when it came to specialists, we had computer PE, art, and music. There was no science special. It was, there was one teacher at the school at the time, Mrs. Daniels, who had a classroom filled with animals and that was probably the closest thing we got to true science education at that time. Then I went to middle school and so obviously I've been watching these shows and asking my own questions, reading my own books. But it's just another step up now you're just learning about tectonic plates and geology, you know, kind of periods and whatnot, the Paleocene or Jurassic, kind of understanding that. But that stuff there I had already read. It wasn't fascinating to me. It was nice to be able to raise my hand and know that, you know, the question that kind of kept my interest in science. But we weren't learning the scientific method, we weren't looking at two different species and asking, Why is this one different, and whether or not we could change in the laboratory, we weren't getting any kind of hands-on experience. Same thing in high school. I didn't see science shown to a younger audience until I was a TA, and teaching assistant for Duke TIP, which is a talent program run by Duke University. And there I saw, you know, true scientific method building, trying things, failing, going back, you know, iterative process, that's kind of part of the science experiments that you see in laboratories. You know, went to a high school college. And so, I did get some early science classroom experience before going off to the UNC. But when I got there, you know, understanding how to navigate those classrooms, but also recognizing that there was a world outside of chemistry and biology, which just was not something that clicked to me, I think about it now, and I probably should have should have been an environmental science major, I would have had an easier time. You know, it wasn't until sophomore year that I realized that I was taking classes that were for pre-med, you know, doctors, and that's not what I wanted to do. I knew that going in. But I didn't know of other majors. And so it's it's kind of a multi-tier thing, both from the kind of primary education getting students prepped for the many fields that are going to be available to you as a college student, but also colleges recognizing and you know, I've seen I have some friends now who are in like STEM education, at the kind of academic level, and are trying to write papers and trying to understand what fails when they make that jump from high school to college. I think that there's some really good progress going on. But I think it's kind of a two-fold issue. One, a lot of the primary education, particularly in Black communities, don't have the money to bring in science instructors to do specials, or science Fridays and stuff like that. But then two, when you get to the university level, universities just aren't understanding that students are coming in from very different standpoints, and maybe have very different interest and maybe only thinks that biology is the only way to get into science, which isn't the case.Brian Bienkowski It's a great point. And I like to think that this program, not only is... the point is to show that scientists themselves are from diverse backgrounds and can be diverse people. But also that science itself is diverse. I think I grew up thinking that science; maybe, I think you were saying this kind of too, I thought of chemists, chemistry, beakers, and you know, the lab experience experiments and didn't think of social scientists or, you know, even forestry and fisheries to a certain extent, were things that I think if I would have been exposed to at a younger age, I would have said, "Oh, my goodness, yes, I want to do that! That's excellent" So yeah, those are excellent points. And I hope I hope some of this program is opening people's eyes to different types of cool science. So before we get into that cool science that you are doing right now, what is the defining moment or event that shaped your identity?Gabriel Gadsden So from a science standpoint, when I was an intern with the Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab, with Dr. Harris, Sam Harris at the University of Michigan, at the time, was the first time going and doing kind of forested wildlife ecology fieldwork. And I remember going into the forest and kind of seeing the light beams, and hot and sweaty – and had just climbed a hill and gone through the thicket– and I kind of emerged into this field and felt a spiritual connection, a birthing. You know, it was, it was truly a moment of great pleasure for me to knowing that I had finally done that, what I felt like my life was supposed to be, like was going out and collecting data and trying to then come back and share that data with with people. From a more personal standpoint... Maybe, man, my parents would have a different story. I know the story my dad would tell. For me, it was maybe a bit of a devotional, I was actually dedicated to God when I was seven. And I felt like I was always a good kid, I felt like I always had this connection, you know, we talked about a little bit earlier. But for me, it was this recognition that... humbling experience to know that I am just a small dot in this great big world, and a lot of it that we don't understand and that we have faith in it. We have faith in science, right, that we'll learn some of our answers, and we have faith in our religions. We have faith in humanity and our people. I think that was a moment, you know, being very young and actually just realizing that I'm just a dot in this, you know, kind of vastness, but I could make a difference. Clearly, people felt like I was making a difference in their lives within that, that congregation. And so I think, "oh, I can make a difference in this world. And whatever capacity I am," I've tried to carry that with me.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. That's an excellent, excellent couple of moments. And let's get into some of the research you're doing now in making that difference. And so I've had the good fortune to not only talk to you when you applied for this program, but we met in Philadelphia and talked about your research. So some of this I know, but some I don't. And I find it fascinating. So as you put it, it's kind of at the intersection of human health, wildlife, and energy justice. So can you, just off the top, tell us how these three fields merge in your research?Gabriel Gadsden How does it merge? It started when I was back an intern, and walking through the forest with with my advisor, Dr. Harrison, starting to ask questions about society, and how all this what it really meant, when it boiled down to it. Again, my dad and mom had instilled in me, you know, we need to stand up for what we think is right. You know, being just and being fair, and morality. Science was the path that I was taking. It wasn't like I was gonna go to law school, though my dad might still think that's a possibility. And the questions in ecology just weren't there. At that time, I don't think ecology –this was, you know, back in 2016, 2017– I don't think that they had really kind of saw that ecology could really be tied to social justice or social equity. And at that point, I'm really grateful that Dr. Harris kind of saw that and wants people to be great. So it's like, well, you should probably go into environmental science, try to find Dr. Tony Reams, who was at the time taking on students who does energy justice work. And I kind of made that pivot and knew at the time that it was a hard pivot. But it worked out. And I just had a text message kind of chat with Tony and just, you know, still believes in me, He still thinks that the ideas are great, and going to continue to do good things. But there, I was able to actually collect data that was directly tied or more visceral for people doing air quality data in an efficient housing. And so environmental justice is, you know, public health, public health is epidemiology, and you know, all these things kind of merge and mix together. And so recognizing that people were living in inefficient housing, and then had bad health, having this background in ecology with wildlife, and you know, how as a story goes, I was reading energy justice papers, and I was reading wildlife papers. And I thought to myself, "Oh, foxes, and other things like raccoons and bats live in people's homes. How do they get into those homes, though?" And then, you know, I just, you know, the literature, you know, they talk about these gaps in the foundation and inefficient walls. And so there's no insolation. So it becomes, basically just a nesting place for wildlife. And I thought, "Oh, wow, this is, it's pretty interesting." And, you know, lo and behold, there wasn't a lot of data on it. Now, I can certainly talk more about the literature that is there. But at the time, and still to a large degree, there is not any hard data about housing quality and wildlife and health and putting those two together, even though you know, wildlife, they carry zoonotic diseases that can be, you know, obviously transmissible to humans, that make us sick. And so, you know, it's kind of becomes this double jeopardy of if you have wildlife that are in your house carrying diseases and you're already in poor health because of your inefficient housing, what that could mean for public health crises? and kind of being cost effective. If there's a solution to multiple things, we should probably champion that solution. And I have to thank Dr. Grove for that, in the urban ecology class that I just was a teaching fellow for, understanding this complex nature of problems. And if we don't think complex, you know that they are complex problems, and there's multiple ways of entering the issue, then we're not going to get very far.Brian Bienkowski And just on the ground level, what does this research look like? How do you conduct a study that examines both energy inefficiency and rodents?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, so, as a first year, as then, last year, first-year Ph.D. student or someone trying to get into grad school, I thought I was going to save the world and then realized, no, it wasn't realistic. But you know, we have an unlimited supply of plunder, right? Um, I thought I was going to talk to some people in Philadelphia; they were going to let me into the house, we were going to get all this money and do home interview scores. ATS is, and then we're going to trap inside. And then we were going to retrofit with another $15,000. And then do a before-and-after controlled trial. None of that happened or didn't happen yet. We were still optimistic that some of those things would happen in time. And hopefully, you know, the funders who are listening to this will recognize the importance of this. But the reality is that we're starting outside, you know, Philadelphia. While they do have vector control, Philadelphia has not kind of systematically kept ties with, you know, what the pathogens are, and where the rodents are in the city outside of 311 calls. And so hopefully working with them to get them just kind of more data, where the rodents in the city, I think it's kind of the first question and what environmental variables, you know, both, you know, trash receptacles, Park size, you know, trash on the street, housing, type of housing stock, is attributing rodent populations, or is increasing or decreasing rodent populations, excuse me. I think that’s, so that's the first step. And then the second step is to then, you know, ask for in these neighborhoods, collecting rodents making contacts, hopefully, we have a meeting tomorrow with 57 Blocks, which is a gun violence advocacy kind of research group out at the DA office in Philadelphia, recognizing that some of these issues with what is attracting rodents in cities, also could mitigate or increased gun violence. And so I say that to say, you, you work with people who are already doing great work in the city on different issues – Philly Thrive and other folks that are doing EJ work – And hopefully, by those connections and those collaborations, then they will say, "Oh, yes, this person, it would love to talk to you about this research." And that's how we're going to get into homes.Brian Bienkowski So to zoom out, we're talking about cracks in the foundation are problems in the home that are first leading to energy inefficiency. So maybe your bills are higher, your house isn't as warm, your house isn't as cool. And then the second part of that is rodents are able to get in. And what kinds of diseases or health problems are we talking about when we think about rodents getting into people's homes?Gabriel Gadsden So first is childhood asthma, allergens that are already so if you're in a low income area, you likely maybe have some type of power plant or some type of industry that's near you. So you already have those pollutants getting into your home more because it's inefficient, or for whatever reason, you have higher rates of asthma, and now you add on allergen load from mice and rats, so that's going to be exacerbated. So, you know, more ER trips, more money spent on inhalers and other types of treatments. There's also the issue of leptospirosis, which, and hantavirus, s more in the west right now. And I'm not going to get into kind of the debacle of funding that research in cities or in other areas outside of the West. But but certainly those are kind of the two main ones. There's also typhus –plague is still in Detroit.Brian Bienkowski and I have to imagine that there's a mental health, stress component to this. There's social stress, I mean, the idea of maybe you don't want to invite people into your home when you know you have an infestation. So I can see this kind of spider webbing outside of the very acute, physical, physical illnesses into mental and social struggles. So I don't want to place blame here and I know this is probably a large issue with some historical roots. But who's to blame? What is the... why is this historically been a blind spot for regulators, housing officials and others?Gabriel Gadsden 1950s was a really big time. I don't know the researcher's first name but Davies, I believe it's his last name, did a lot of work in Baltimore. There's a lot of really great case studies in Budapest and some other cities of like kind of rat-proof towns that brought population levels of rats down to less than 1% of their historic numbers. Even in Philadelphia in the 1940s, they have their first really big campaign about getting rid of rodents. And then in the 1960s, the mayor kind of created the rat control group, and that rat control group, you know, said, you know, that we will not take the job, if you do not seal up all the cracks in any, you know, in your home, you know, essentially, you know, back then maybe they didn't think about is energy efficiency of sealing up your envelope and the energy inside it, you know, get that, but it makes sense. But life happens, policy change, you know, turnover, it's a lot easier to say, you know, put out bait blocks, and rodent trapping, than to actually do systemic change. We see that time and time again. Actually, solving an issue takes coordinated efforts between many different factors from public health, to housing and development, to parks and rec, all coming together at that table. And cities are not willing to make that choice, at least in America right now, major cities, I'm not going to bash on any politician. But if you follow New York politics, you would have received like a rat czar job posting recently. And the reality is, you know, all the memes where, you know, Charlie Day from Always Sunny Philadelphia, kind of what's his kind of mace-bat-like situation that's gonna go, get rid of all the rodents. And that's not going to work. You know, it’s, and it's not just sanitation, is not just sealing up the home. And it's not just getting rid of vacant lots. It's all of those things at once, across a large scale in a city. And so until we're ready to put up that money, allow natural predators into our cities and kind of coexist with nature in a healthy way. And I don't think that you know, so, you know, really, really comes down to is political will and resource allocation. I mean, most researchers will say, you know, that's a lot of the issues. And if you throw money out enough, it'll fix itself, and you get the right people in the room. But right now, we just, there's really great researchers. Jason Munchie. I'm drawing a blank. But even Merkin Rosenbaum. These are people who are doing rodent research right now. And certainly know more than I do. But I think would advocate the same thing that is a, you know, you have to have this team of teams. To quote Dr. Grove, Morton Grove, if you don't have this team of teams, you're not going to solve the issue. And so cities have to really be ready to sit down and bring people together and spend the money.Brian Bienkowski What makes you hopeful about this? you mentioned some researchers who are doing very good work. Are you seeing any on-the-ground movement in Philadelphia or beyond? What makes you hopeful and optimistic?Gabriel Gadsden Yeah, I mean, Matt Fryer, another researcher, just trying to create like this really handy, simple rodent tool you can kind of put into cracks and understand whether, you know, it is susceptible to being infested by rodents. So you have this, you know, research-entrepreneurship, kind of burgeoning space, you also have new sensors, with Rat Mo, there are different technologies that are trying to get up, you know, making sure that we spend money in an efficient manner. As much as I don't think the idea of a rat czar going to work, the fact that, that that is a possibility that, you know, maybe the right person that's in that position could really make a change if they're kind of advocating for all of these different methods and allocating funds in the right spaces. I also think that there's maybe a little bit of a change in public perception... I kind of write and so I'm working on, you know, Environmental Health News with you and Maria, that, you know, it's time that people stop accepting this as the normal and I'm seeing that more and more maybe that's because I'm in this space. But I certainly think that as it gets out of hand again, I think COVID-19, and this kind of increase in route and sightings people at home are recognizing that, you know, they're out during the daytime, they're out during the night time, they're, you know that the squeaky wheel is going to get squeakier. And so I think I'm seeing a little bit more of that. I certainly know all of my friends know about it more. And so they send me a lot of papers and different articles from different fields, kind of hinting at this as well. And so I think that does make me optimistic. You know, I certainly have gotten some great responses for my work and so recognizing that people see this as a, as a serious issue, I think it will only get easier to advocate for true rodent exclusion or reduction of populations in an impactful way.Brian Bienkowski Yeah, sometimes a big first step for any of these kinds of wicked issues is just awareness. It's a good, it's a good first step. And speaking of that, so I know after I talked to you about your research, it seemed very intuitive, that these problems would be linked, but it is different and intersectional. And I'm sure you've had to explain it to folks, I'm wondering if you just have any tips for scientists interested in learning to better communicate.Gabriel Gadsden After just giving two presentations, two final presentations, I should have practiced more and everybody in my lab as a practice, you know? giving a talk to very different fields also helps. You know, most people don't study rodents, particularly in ecology, or at least well, urban ecology, just because they're not considered wildlife. And so you have to talk to the epidemiologists who are in a very public health, atmosphere or medical research. And so you have to link these things, even this idea of, you know, retrofitting versus, you know, sealing up the envelope, what word you use? those choice words, getting rid of the jargon, paring it down writing different grants, and then writing research talks, and then writing an academic article about it, you're putting it in very different ways. And you find out what works and what clicks with people. Just keep harping on it, if you believe in it, you know, the right words are going to come. And, you know, the same thing as you're reading widely talk to as many different groups. Because they know, someone in social science may say, "this is a word that would really clicked with people."Brian Bienkowski I also think starting off, as you as I've heard you do, with just kind of how this affects people is a very tangible way to make these issues click with people. I mean, we've all, most of us – I had a mouse in the house the other day – I mean, this is, this is common, this is a common thing that a lot of people have dealt with, maybe not on the scale that you're researching. But I think starting with, how does this impact people and their health is a really good starting point. And I've seen you do that. So of course, you can't be out there chasing rodents and looking at foundations all of the time. I happen to know you're a golfer. So what is... I don't know if it's golf weather out there if you're getting a bunch of snow, but when you are able to golf, do you get out much, and what's your handicap these days?Gabriel Gadsden I do get, I get out as much as I can. Yale is really generous and allows students to play at a discounted rate after turn hours. And so I'll go over there, it's a great golf course. And handicap, you know, I'll say this, there are no pictures on a scorecard. And that can work in a good way or a bad way. What I'll say is that I can get some pars most of the time. I'm shooting bogey, every now and again. I'll get a double bogey or triple bogey more often than I'd like. But if I were doing like a two-man scramble, I wouldn't hold you down as badly as you would think.Brian Bienkowski Before we get you out of here today, I have three rapid-fire questions that are supposed to be fun. Hopefully they are fun, where you can just answer with one word or a phrase. So the first one is, what was the highlight of the past year for youGabriel Gadsden was able to go to... see my family. You know, I don't get to see them often. And so in spending any time with my dad and playing golf with my brother. It's always a treat seeing my nieces and my nephews is always fun; being with themBrian Bienkowski For sure. The best concert I've ever been to was Gabriel Gadsden Oh, two. So Mick Jenkins not maybe a conscious rapper but a little bit less conscious. Really fun and authentic feeling, and then Jidenna, the '85 to Africa tour was really great. I'm a small concert like... I'm huge I love going to concerts. I like going to the smaller ones. I don't think I'll ever go see Beyonce or Drake. But the 30,000 people do It doesn't seem fun.Brian Bienkowski That makes, that makes two of us this, the more intimate concerts are, well, they're more intimate. You get to see and feel things in a much different way. I totally agree. And last question every day I look forward to blank.Gabriel Gadsden Being a good person, trying to be a genuine and caring person, I think, sometimes can throw people off. Like, what's up with this guy? But I hope that I hope that people who know me and or will meet me now this is just as genuine as I can to be nice.Brian Bienkowski But I sure hope being kind doesn't spark too much skepticism among people in your life or beyond. Because it's, it's something I felt from you, and I think it's it's a good thing. We should all be kind and genuine. So last question. I've been asking everybody, what is the last book that you read for fun?Gabriel Gadsden Cool. The last book I read for fun. I have to I pulled them off-site, so I won’t butcher their name. So the one I actually just finished was The Age disaster, the failure of organizations in New York and the nation. Great book, quite old, at this point. 1990 was published, but still is very salient, particularly because of the COVID-19, the climate disaster, I mean, you name it, there's a lack of, of coordination and whatnot. So yeah, go go get that. And that was like a free book lying around that I had just picked up from the department. And then, the other book is Fighting the good fight: The militarization of the civil rights movement. And so I'm currently reading that, and I've had some really good conversations because there's something to be said about whether or not we should be using this language. Is it helpful? Is it actually more harmful because of traumatic kind of imagery that comes with militarization? I'm still debating that myself, but I certainly find it a thought-provoking book, if not a bit challenging for a person to kind of wrap their heads around. So I've been asking people, you know, that's my question now at talks. Hey, should we be using this language? Is that hopeful to take that militarization of civil rights to the militarization of climate justice, and whether or not these campaigns and precision and training and communications, those types of things that make campaigns go well, should be co-opted?Brian Bienkowski Excellent. Sounds like a thought-provoking book. And speaking of thought-provoking, you can find Gabriel's essay soon out on ehn.org, where you can learn more about his research. And we'll be sure to get that in front of readers and listeners, Gabriel, thank you so much. We're doing this today. It's a pleasure having you in the program.Gabriel Gadsden Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And thank you to everybody who's listening.



Gabriel Gadsden joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss the intersection of rodent infestations and energy justice and how we can simultaneously tackle both issues.


Gadsden, a current fellow and Ph.D. student of Environmental Sciences at Yale University’s School of the Environment, also talks about getting researchers to break out of siloed thinking, tips for science communicators and how his golf game is going.

The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to our discussion with Gadsden, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.


Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Gabriel Gadsden on the rodent infestation and energy justice connection

Transcript


Brian Bienkowski

Gabriel, how are you doing today?

Gabriel Gadsden

I'm doing great. It's very exciting to be on the podcast. Also, we've gotten some time to hang out with each other and learn a little bit about each other. And so to bridge that conversation further is exciting. And hopefully, you know, people listen to it and take something away from our conversation today.

Brian Bienkowski

Yes, hopefully people do listen to it. That's an important part of this. And I know that people will and are listening right now. So that's, that's good to know. And Gabriel, where are you today? Where are you talking to us from?

Gabriel Gadsden

I'm in New Haven, Connecticut. In the basement, in my office, my advisor said that doesn't look like I live in ... which I don't know if is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your take on academia being a grad student. Funny or not even funny. But we just had our first snowstorm in New Haven. But it's already gone.

Brian Bienkowski

Came and went, hey

Gabriel Gadsden

yeah, already gone, indeed.

Brian Bienkowski

When our snow comes here, it doesn't leave 'till May. So we just keep, we just keep stacking it, and stacking it on top of old snow, which I like it is a good, it is a good thing for us to have that. So speaking of place, if you've listened to the podcast, you know, I'd like to go back to the beginning, before we talk about the exciting stuff you're working on now. So tell me about Hayti. I hope I'm pronouncing that right. But historically Black community in Durham, North Carolina where you grew up.

Gabriel Gadsden

Yeah, no. So Hayti. And don't feel bad because I feel like everybody gets it wrong when they first read it. It does read like Haiti, but it's Hayti. It is the Black section of I would say more like center-southerner. There's actually a Hayti historic center, which kind of documents both a congregation space but also a area that documents the history of that area. So it kind of runs between Fable street and Highway 55, in North Carolina. The Center is around there. A lot of Black businesses, the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company is kind of connected to the Hayti center, a lot of Black elementary and middle schools ... Shepherd Middle School is around there. So a hub of you know, Black entrepreneurs and academia educators kind of in that areas, putting roots down. And that's where a lot of my family grew up in North Carolina.

Brian Bienkowski

And I'm guessing that Hayti, since you grew up there as a child, you don't know any difference, right? I mean, when you're a child, wherever you grow up, that's what you know. But what can you pieced together from growing up there? maybe it is how it affected you now or in your youth?

Gabriel Gadsden

you know, but maybe not outside so much of Hayti in my family. I... my dad was always big on you know, understanding the history of where we're coming from, you know, ancestors and whatnot. Understand the history of Durham. He was there when he was a child while his mother was in grad school at UNC in public health while his dad was in law school as well. And so, you know, he got to see Durham and Hayti in a very different light. And so, you're just kind of understanding that, you know, by the time that I was being reared in North Carolina, North Carolina Mutual had closed down its doors. And so that's kind of, you know, you can see in a lot of black areas of cities, you know, there's this really steep incline of entrepreneurship and whatnot, and then there's a decline, for whatever reason, whether there's a highway being built, you know, just kind of distant disinvestment into an area, it still had a lot of the history and the roots was still there, but it wasn't maybe as bustling as, as it would have been in maybe the 50s, 60s.

Brian Bienkowski

And where and how did science enter your life?

Gabriel Gadsden

Yeah, you know, I was most excited about this question. And I kind of molded over it and thinking about it. I think that for me, science was always a part of my trajectory, as it was a part of my life. And so I'll say this: growing up, I was diagnosed with a speech impediment that was in part because I couldn't hear, and I still can't hear out of my right ear. And so, you know, not being able to talk to kids, and not really being able to hear anybody, I kind of stayed in my own head, stayed to myself, but, you know, when you're wandering, you know, devoid of interaction with other kids, you find other things to interact with. And so my first thing was rocks, loved them loved how they looked, clean them, you know, put them in buckets, and had this rock collection. So you know, first thing was geology for me. And then I got a little bit older, and then it became PBS. So I was watching Zoom. And learning about chemistry didn't know it was chemistry at the time. But they were adding baking soda and sodium chloride and making gases. And so I would go into my parents’ bathroom probably wasted about $200 worth of product throughout that time period. And I was mixing Vitalis, and Listerine, and alcohol and hoping that I was making and make a discovery of some new chemical, some new gas. My mom had a bachelor's degree from North Carolina Central University. That was her first degree from there. And, you know, she said to me, "don't mix ammonia and bleach." As you know, she saw what I was doing, but they kind of let me stay off for myself after that it was Zaboomafoo. And, you know, I won't sing the catchphrase. But you know, you know, who do you see? Can you identify this mystery? What was this animal? and loved Animal Planet, "Top 10 dangerous," and all of these other shows just really captivated me when I was younger. And so you know, taking that into the classroom, being generally curious, not really having the foundations. And I think we'll get into that a little bit more. But in the last thing, I'll say, and why I say that science was just kind of always the part of me, was that I grew up and still am religious. And so in Christianity, what is my religion that I identify with, but you know, whether it's Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, you will find environmentalism, ecology in the roots of them. And that's something that I've kind of come back to now here at Yale School of the Environment, a lot of connections with the Divinity School, and recognizing the similarities and recognizing that our morality is tied to the environment. And obviously, with traditional ecological knowledge, TEK, I think kind of making a resurgence in people's psyche, and the paradigm shift that we need to really get back to, quote-unquote, "roots" is something that I've always carried with me. There's tons of verses in the Bible that a lot more knowledgeable people could spout off in terms of connecting those two. And so I was filled with wonder when I was a kid, and it carried me to here.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. And you just alluded to this; you said, I remember this in your application. You mentioned that your primary education left you woefully unprepared to conduct research, which I don't think is an uncommon thing. I know I hadn't seen a scientific paper until graduate school. I didn't know what they were. So I don't think you're alone. But can you talk about this obstacle? And how you overcame it to go on to, right now, one of the most prestigious universities in the country?

Gabriel Gadsden

Absolutely, I'll start with this. I don't want that statement. You know, people hear it to say that I had bad instructors or teachers. My elementary school was filled, filled with amazing educators. I could name them, and some of them are still friends with me now. These were incredible people. But when it came to specialists, we had computer PE, art, and music. There was no science special. It was, there was one teacher at the school at the time, Mrs. Daniels, who had a classroom filled with animals and that was probably the closest thing we got to true science education at that time. Then I went to middle school and so obviously I've been watching these shows and asking my own questions, reading my own books. But it's just another step up now you're just learning about tectonic plates and geology, you know, kind of periods and whatnot, the Paleocene or Jurassic, kind of understanding that. But that stuff there I had already read. It wasn't fascinating to me. It was nice to be able to raise my hand and know that, you know, the question that kind of kept my interest in science. But we weren't learning the scientific method, we weren't looking at two different species and asking, Why is this one different, and whether or not we could change in the laboratory, we weren't getting any kind of hands-on experience. Same thing in high school. I didn't see science shown to a younger audience until I was a TA, and teaching assistant for Duke TIP, which is a talent program run by Duke University. And there I saw, you know, true scientific method building, trying things, failing, going back, you know, iterative process, that's kind of part of the science experiments that you see in laboratories. You know, went to a high school college. And so, I did get some early science classroom experience before going off to the UNC. But when I got there, you know, understanding how to navigate those classrooms, but also recognizing that there was a world outside of chemistry and biology, which just was not something that clicked to me, I think about it now, and I probably should have should have been an environmental science major, I would have had an easier time. You know, it wasn't until sophomore year that I realized that I was taking classes that were for pre-med, you know, doctors, and that's not what I wanted to do. I knew that going in. But I didn't know of other majors. And so it's it's kind of a multi-tier thing, both from the kind of primary education getting students prepped for the many fields that are going to be available to you as a college student, but also colleges recognizing and you know, I've seen I have some friends now who are in like STEM education, at the kind of academic level, and are trying to write papers and trying to understand what fails when they make that jump from high school to college. I think that there's some really good progress going on. But I think it's kind of a two-fold issue. One, a lot of the primary education, particularly in Black communities, don't have the money to bring in science instructors to do specials, or science Fridays and stuff like that. But then two, when you get to the university level, universities just aren't understanding that students are coming in from very different standpoints, and maybe have very different interest and maybe only thinks that biology is the only way to get into science, which isn't the case.

Brian Bienkowski

It's a great point. And I like to think that this program, not only is... the point is to show that scientists themselves are from diverse backgrounds and can be diverse people. But also that science itself is diverse. I think I grew up thinking that science; maybe, I think you were saying this kind of too, I thought of chemists, chemistry, beakers, and you know, the lab experience experiments and didn't think of social scientists or, you know, even forestry and fisheries to a certain extent, were things that I think if I would have been exposed to at a younger age, I would have said, "Oh, my goodness, yes, I want to do that! That's excellent" So yeah, those are excellent points. And I hope I hope some of this program is opening people's eyes to different types of cool science. So before we get into that cool science that you are doing right now, what is the defining moment or event that shaped your identity?

Gabriel Gadsden

So from a science standpoint, when I was an intern with the Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab, with Dr. Harris, Sam Harris at the University of Michigan, at the time, was the first time going and doing kind of forested wildlife ecology fieldwork. And I remember going into the forest and kind of seeing the light beams, and hot and sweaty – and had just climbed a hill and gone through the thicket– and I kind of emerged into this field and felt a spiritual connection, a birthing. You know, it was, it was truly a moment of great pleasure for me to knowing that I had finally done that, what I felt like my life was supposed to be, like was going out and collecting data and trying to then come back and share that data with with people. From a more personal standpoint... Maybe, man, my parents would have a different story. I know the story my dad would tell. For me, it was maybe a bit of a devotional, I was actually dedicated to God when I was seven. And I felt like I was always a good kid, I felt like I always had this connection, you know, we talked about a little bit earlier. But for me, it was this recognition that... humbling experience to know that I am just a small dot in this great big world, and a lot of it that we don't understand and that we have faith in it. We have faith in science, right, that we'll learn some of our answers, and we have faith in our religions. We have faith in humanity and our people. I think that was a moment, you know, being very young and actually just realizing that I'm just a dot in this, you know, kind of vastness, but I could make a difference. Clearly, people felt like I was making a difference in their lives within that, that congregation. And so I think, "oh, I can make a difference in this world. And whatever capacity I am," I've tried to carry that with me.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. That's an excellent, excellent couple of moments. And let's get into some of the research you're doing now in making that difference. And so I've had the good fortune to not only talk to you when you applied for this program, but we met in Philadelphia and talked about your research. So some of this I know, but some I don't. And I find it fascinating. So as you put it, it's kind of at the intersection of human health, wildlife, and energy justice. So can you, just off the top, tell us how these three fields merge in your research?

Gabriel Gadsden

How does it merge? It started when I was back an intern, and walking through the forest with with my advisor, Dr. Harrison, starting to ask questions about society, and how all this what it really meant, when it boiled down to it. Again, my dad and mom had instilled in me, you know, we need to stand up for what we think is right. You know, being just and being fair, and morality. Science was the path that I was taking. It wasn't like I was gonna go to law school, though my dad might still think that's a possibility. And the questions in ecology just weren't there. At that time, I don't think ecology –this was, you know, back in 2016, 2017– I don't think that they had really kind of saw that ecology could really be tied to social justice or social equity. And at that point, I'm really grateful that Dr. Harris kind of saw that and wants people to be great. So it's like, well, you should probably go into environmental science, try to find Dr. Tony Reams, who was at the time taking on students who does energy justice work. And I kind of made that pivot and knew at the time that it was a hard pivot. But it worked out. And I just had a text message kind of chat with Tony and just, you know, still believes in me, He still thinks that the ideas are great, and going to continue to do good things. But there, I was able to actually collect data that was directly tied or more visceral for people doing air quality data in an efficient housing. And so environmental justice is, you know, public health, public health is epidemiology, and you know, all these things kind of merge and mix together. And so recognizing that people were living in inefficient housing, and then had bad health, having this background in ecology with wildlife, and you know, how as a story goes, I was reading energy justice papers, and I was reading wildlife papers. And I thought to myself, "Oh, foxes, and other things like raccoons and bats live in people's homes. How do they get into those homes, though?" And then, you know, I just, you know, the literature, you know, they talk about these gaps in the foundation and inefficient walls. And so there's no insolation. So it becomes, basically just a nesting place for wildlife. And I thought, "Oh, wow, this is, it's pretty interesting." And, you know, lo and behold, there wasn't a lot of data on it. Now, I can certainly talk more about the literature that is there. But at the time, and still to a large degree, there is not any hard data about housing quality and wildlife and health and putting those two together, even though you know, wildlife, they carry zoonotic diseases that can be, you know, obviously transmissible to humans, that make us sick. And so, you know, it's kind of becomes this double jeopardy of if you have wildlife that are in your house carrying diseases and you're already in poor health because of your inefficient housing, what that could mean for public health crises? and kind of being cost effective. If there's a solution to multiple things, we should probably champion that solution. And I have to thank Dr. Grove for that, in the urban ecology class that I just was a teaching fellow for, understanding this complex nature of problems. And if we don't think complex, you know that they are complex problems, and there's multiple ways of entering the issue, then we're not going to get very far.

Brian Bienkowski

And just on the ground level, what does this research look like? How do you conduct a study that examines both energy inefficiency and rodents?

Gabriel Gadsden

Yeah, so, as a first year, as then, last year, first-year Ph.D. student or someone trying to get into grad school, I thought I was going to save the world and then realized, no, it wasn't realistic. But you know, we have an unlimited supply of plunder, right? Um, I thought I was going to talk to some people in Philadelphia; they were going to let me into the house, we were going to get all this money and do home interview scores. ATS is, and then we're going to trap inside. And then we were going to retrofit with another $15,000. And then do a before-and-after controlled trial. None of that happened or didn't happen yet. We were still optimistic that some of those things would happen in time. And hopefully, you know, the funders who are listening to this will recognize the importance of this. But the reality is that we're starting outside, you know, Philadelphia. While they do have vector control, Philadelphia has not kind of systematically kept ties with, you know, what the pathogens are, and where the rodents are in the city outside of 311 calls. And so hopefully working with them to get them just kind of more data, where the rodents in the city, I think it's kind of the first question and what environmental variables, you know, both, you know, trash receptacles, Park size, you know, trash on the street, housing, type of housing stock, is attributing rodent populations, or is increasing or decreasing rodent populations, excuse me. I think that’s, so that's the first step. And then the second step is to then, you know, ask for in these neighborhoods, collecting rodents making contacts, hopefully, we have a meeting tomorrow with 57 Blocks, which is a gun violence advocacy kind of research group out at the DA office in Philadelphia, recognizing that some of these issues with what is attracting rodents in cities, also could mitigate or increased gun violence. And so I say that to say, you, you work with people who are already doing great work in the city on different issues – Philly Thrive and other folks that are doing EJ work – And hopefully, by those connections and those collaborations, then they will say, "Oh, yes, this person, it would love to talk to you about this research." And that's how we're going to get into homes.

Brian Bienkowski

So to zoom out, we're talking about cracks in the foundation are problems in the home that are first leading to energy inefficiency. So maybe your bills are higher, your house isn't as warm, your house isn't as cool. And then the second part of that is rodents are able to get in. And what kinds of diseases or health problems are we talking about when we think about rodents getting into people's homes?

Gabriel Gadsden

So first is childhood asthma, allergens that are already so if you're in a low income area, you likely maybe have some type of power plant or some type of industry that's near you. So you already have those pollutants getting into your home more because it's inefficient, or for whatever reason, you have higher rates of asthma, and now you add on allergen load from mice and rats, so that's going to be exacerbated. So, you know, more ER trips, more money spent on inhalers and other types of treatments. There's also the issue of leptospirosis, which, and hantavirus, s more in the west right now. And I'm not going to get into kind of the debacle of funding that research in cities or in other areas outside of the West. But but certainly those are kind of the two main ones. There's also typhus –plague is still in Detroit.

Brian Bienkowski

and I have to imagine that there's a mental health, stress component to this. There's social stress, I mean, the idea of maybe you don't want to invite people into your home when you know you have an infestation. So I can see this kind of spider webbing outside of the very acute, physical, physical illnesses into mental and social struggles. So I don't want to place blame here and I know this is probably a large issue with some historical roots. But who's to blame? What is the... why is this historically been a blind spot for regulators, housing officials and others?

Gabriel Gadsden

1950s was a really big time. I don't know the researcher's first name but Davies, I believe it's his last name, did a lot of work in Baltimore. There's a lot of really great case studies in Budapest and some other cities of like kind of rat-proof towns that brought population levels of rats down to less than 1% of their historic numbers. Even in Philadelphia in the 1940s, they have their first really big campaign about getting rid of rodents. And then in the 1960s, the mayor kind of created the rat control group, and that rat control group, you know, said, you know, that we will not take the job, if you do not seal up all the cracks in any, you know, in your home, you know, essentially, you know, back then maybe they didn't think about is energy efficiency of sealing up your envelope and the energy inside it, you know, get that, but it makes sense. But life happens, policy change, you know, turnover, it's a lot easier to say, you know, put out bait blocks, and rodent trapping, than to actually do systemic change. We see that time and time again. Actually, solving an issue takes coordinated efforts between many different factors from public health, to housing and development, to parks and rec, all coming together at that table. And cities are not willing to make that choice, at least in America right now, major cities, I'm not going to bash on any politician. But if you follow New York politics, you would have received like a rat czar job posting recently. And the reality is, you know, all the memes where, you know, Charlie Day from Always Sunny Philadelphia, kind of what's his kind of mace-bat-like situation that's gonna go, get rid of all the rodents. And that's not going to work. You know, it’s, and it's not just sanitation, is not just sealing up the home. And it's not just getting rid of vacant lots. It's all of those things at once, across a large scale in a city. And so until we're ready to put up that money, allow natural predators into our cities and kind of coexist with nature in a healthy way. And I don't think that you know, so, you know, really, really comes down to is political will and resource allocation. I mean, most researchers will say, you know, that's a lot of the issues. And if you throw money out enough, it'll fix itself, and you get the right people in the room. But right now, we just, there's really great researchers. Jason Munchie. I'm drawing a blank. But even Merkin Rosenbaum. These are people who are doing rodent research right now. And certainly know more than I do. But I think would advocate the same thing that is a, you know, you have to have this team of teams. To quote Dr. Grove, Morton Grove, if you don't have this team of teams, you're not going to solve the issue. And so cities have to really be ready to sit down and bring people together and spend the money.

Brian Bienkowski

What makes you hopeful about this? you mentioned some researchers who are doing very good work. Are you seeing any on-the-ground movement in Philadelphia or beyond? What makes you hopeful and optimistic?

Gabriel Gadsden

Yeah, I mean, Matt Fryer, another researcher, just trying to create like this really handy, simple rodent tool you can kind of put into cracks and understand whether, you know, it is susceptible to being infested by rodents. So you have this, you know, research-entrepreneurship, kind of burgeoning space, you also have new sensors, with Rat Mo, there are different technologies that are trying to get up, you know, making sure that we spend money in an efficient manner. As much as I don't think the idea of a rat czar going to work, the fact that, that that is a possibility that, you know, maybe the right person that's in that position could really make a change if they're kind of advocating for all of these different methods and allocating funds in the right spaces. I also think that there's maybe a little bit of a change in public perception... I kind of write and so I'm working on, you know, Environmental Health News with you and Maria, that, you know, it's time that people stop accepting this as the normal and I'm seeing that more and more maybe that's because I'm in this space. But I certainly think that as it gets out of hand again, I think COVID-19, and this kind of increase in route and sightings people at home are recognizing that, you know, they're out during the daytime, they're out during the night time, they're, you know that the squeaky wheel is going to get squeakier. And so I think I'm seeing a little bit more of that. I certainly know all of my friends know about it more. And so they send me a lot of papers and different articles from different fields, kind of hinting at this as well. And so I think that does make me optimistic. You know, I certainly have gotten some great responses for my work and so recognizing that people see this as a, as a serious issue, I think it will only get easier to advocate for true rodent exclusion or reduction of populations in an impactful way.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah, sometimes a big first step for any of these kinds of wicked issues is just awareness. It's a good, it's a good first step. And speaking of that, so I know after I talked to you about your research, it seemed very intuitive, that these problems would be linked, but it is different and intersectional. And I'm sure you've had to explain it to folks, I'm wondering if you just have any tips for scientists interested in learning to better communicate.

Gabriel Gadsden

After just giving two presentations, two final presentations, I should have practiced more and everybody in my lab as a practice, you know? giving a talk to very different fields also helps. You know, most people don't study rodents, particularly in ecology, or at least well, urban ecology, just because they're not considered wildlife. And so you have to talk to the epidemiologists who are in a very public health, atmosphere or medical research. And so you have to link these things, even this idea of, you know, retrofitting versus, you know, sealing up the envelope, what word you use? those choice words, getting rid of the jargon, paring it down writing different grants, and then writing research talks, and then writing an academic article about it, you're putting it in very different ways. And you find out what works and what clicks with people. Just keep harping on it, if you believe in it, you know, the right words are going to come. And, you know, the same thing as you're reading widely talk to as many different groups. Because they know, someone in social science may say, "this is a word that would really clicked with people."

Brian Bienkowski

I also think starting off, as you as I've heard you do, with just kind of how this affects people is a very tangible way to make these issues click with people. I mean, we've all, most of us – I had a mouse in the house the other day – I mean, this is, this is common, this is a common thing that a lot of people have dealt with, maybe not on the scale that you're researching. But I think starting with, how does this impact people and their health is a really good starting point. And I've seen you do that. So of course, you can't be out there chasing rodents and looking at foundations all of the time. I happen to know you're a golfer. So what is... I don't know if it's golf weather out there if you're getting a bunch of snow, but when you are able to golf, do you get out much, and what's your handicap these days?

Gabriel Gadsden

I do get, I get out as much as I can. Yale is really generous and allows students to play at a discounted rate after turn hours. And so I'll go over there, it's a great golf course. And handicap, you know, I'll say this, there are no pictures on a scorecard. And that can work in a good way or a bad way. What I'll say is that I can get some pars most of the time. I'm shooting bogey, every now and again. I'll get a double bogey or triple bogey more often than I'd like. But if I were doing like a two-man scramble, I wouldn't hold you down as badly as you would think.

Brian Bienkowski

Before we get you out of here today, I have three rapid-fire questions that are supposed to be fun. Hopefully they are fun, where you can just answer with one word or a phrase. So the first one is, what was the highlight of the past year for you

Gabriel Gadsden

was able to go to... see my family. You know, I don't get to see them often. And so in spending any time with my dad and playing golf with my brother. It's always a treat seeing my nieces and my nephews is always fun; being with them

Brian Bienkowski

For sure. The best concert I've ever been to was

Gabriel Gadsden

Oh, two. So Mick Jenkins not maybe a conscious rapper but a little bit less conscious. Really fun and authentic feeling, and then Jidenna, the '85 to Africa tour was really great. I'm a small concert like... I'm huge I love going to concerts. I like going to the smaller ones. I don't think I'll ever go see Beyonce or Drake. But the 30,000 people do It doesn't seem fun.

Brian Bienkowski

That makes, that makes two of us this, the more intimate concerts are, well, they're more intimate. You get to see and feel things in a much different way. I totally agree. And last question every day I look forward to blank.

Gabriel Gadsden

Being a good person, trying to be a genuine and caring person, I think, sometimes can throw people off. Like, what's up with this guy? But I hope that I hope that people who know me and or will meet me now this is just as genuine as I can to be nice.

Brian Bienkowski

But I sure hope being kind doesn't spark too much skepticism among people in your life or beyond. Because it's, it's something I felt from you, and I think it's it's a good thing. We should all be kind and genuine. So last question. I've been asking everybody, what is the last book that you read for fun?

Gabriel Gadsden

Cool. The last book I read for fun. I have to I pulled them off-site, so I won’t butcher their name. So the one I actually just finished was The Age disaster, the failure of organizations in New York and the nation. Great book, quite old, at this point. 1990 was published, but still is very salient, particularly because of the COVID-19, the climate disaster, I mean, you name it, there's a lack of, of coordination and whatnot. So yeah, go go get that. And that was like a free book lying around that I had just picked up from the department. And then, the other book is Fighting the good fight: The militarization of the civil rights movement. And so I'm currently reading that, and I've had some really good conversations because there's something to be said about whether or not we should be using this language. Is it helpful? Is it actually more harmful because of traumatic kind of imagery that comes with militarization? I'm still debating that myself, but I certainly find it a thought-provoking book, if not a bit challenging for a person to kind of wrap their heads around. So I've been asking people, you know, that's my question now at talks. Hey, should we be using this language? Is that hopeful to take that militarization of civil rights to the militarization of climate justice, and whether or not these campaigns and precision and training and communications, those types of things that make campaigns go well, should be co-opted?

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. Sounds like a thought-provoking book. And speaking of thought-provoking, you can find Gabriel's essay soon out on ehn.org, where you can learn more about his research. And we'll be sure to get that in front of readers and listeners, Gabriel, thank you so much. We're doing this today. It's a pleasure having you in the program.

Gabriel Gadsden

Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And thank you to everybody who's listening.

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Indigenous advocates at the UN say the green transition is neither clean nor just

Their message isn't new, but it is gaining urgency as funding for green energy projects grows.

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, Native News Online, and APTN. For years, Maureen Penjueli, who is Indigenous iTaukei from Fiji, has watched her home country survive devastating cyclones, and flooding caused by unusually heavy rainfall. She watched as the coastal village of Vunidogoloa was forced to relocate inland to escape rising seas, and as the long-time head of the non-governmental advocacy group Pacific Network on Globalization, Penjueli knows climate change will mean more extreme weather events for her Pacific island home.  Still, Penjueli is skeptical when she hears “clean energy” touted as a solution to the climate crisis. She thinks of the clear blue waters surrounding Fiji and how companies are eager to scrape the seafloor for potato-shaped nodules rich with minerals that could be used to build electric cars in wealthy countries, and she worries her iTaukei people will face consequences from any deep-sea mining pollution. “It’s super critical that people understand that the transition is anything but just, and anything but equitable,” said Penjueli.  That’s why this month, Penjueli flew from Suva, Fiji to New York City to meet with fellow Indigenous activists ahead of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, the largest annual global gathering of Indigenous peoples. Officially, this year’s forum is focused on self-determination for Indigenous youth, but climate change looms large: on opening day, the outgoing UNPFII chair shared a new report on the green transition, raising another alarm about the risks Indigenous peoples and their lands face not only from climate change, but also the projects intended to counteract global warming. “The current green economy model is a problem rather than a solution for many Indigenous Peoples,” the report said. “The concept of a transition to a green economy maintains the same extractive logic that causes States and the private sector to overlook the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples in pursuit of national interests.”  In Guatemala, a court recently found that a nickel mine is violating Native land rights; In Norway and the U.S., Indigenous peoples have weathered ongoing fights with green energy developers; and Indigenous Igorot from the Philippines are worried about displacement from nickel mining. “We actually support the transition away from fossil fuels to green energy and we need to do it fast,” said Joan Carling, who is Igorot from the Philippines, and serves as executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Indigenous Peoples Rights International. ‘“But if we do it fast by ignoring and violating the rights of Indigenous peoples we will not be able to address the climate crisis effectively.” More than half of the world’s minerals that could serve as alternative energy sources and help countries stop burning fossil fuels — known as transition minerals — are located on or near lands and territories managed by Indigenous peoples, according to a 2023 study in Nature Sustainability. These include lithium, cobalt, nickel, uranium, and many other critical minerals that would require extractive mining with myriad environmental impacts.  Those impacts are why Carling helped organize the Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the Just Transition, the two-day gathering that Penjueli attended just prior to the forum. After a weekend of discussions, the group came up with a statement urging state governments, investors and corporations, and energy utilities and regulators to respect Indigenous rights. They called for a ban on deep-sea mining, as well as any mining at sacred sites and reminded government officials that Indigenous peoples have the right to consent to projects on their land freely and before projects get underway, and that they also have the right to say no. Lack of consent has long been a problem with development and many see the green energy industry continuing the same trend of not doing enough to inform Indigenous communities about upcoming projects, and prioritizing profits over human rights.  The group’s statement was part of a broader message repeated throughout the auditoriums, conference rooms, and hallways of the United Nations this last week: The “green economy” isn’t working for Indigenous peoples. “Clean energy” isn’t actually clean. And the world’s shift to a mineral-based energy economy is coming at the expense of Indigenous peoples and their lands. It’s a message that’s been shared many times before but is gaining urgency as the energy transition accelerates, fueled by billions in funding from China, the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union. In the U.N.-commissioned report on the greening economy, experts called for compensation for Indigenous peoples’ communities who are affected by pollution and environmental destruction from green energy operations. They said long-term economic planning should take place when mining begins in case the operations affect other industries that Native peoples rely on — for example, if pollution from deep-sea mining harms fisheries, an economic driver in many Pacific island countries. Experts also called for sharing project revenues after obtaining consent. “If an Indigenous Peoples’ community chooses to engage in benefit-sharing, any such agreement should be based on future annual revenues so that the community receives half or more than half of the percentage of total revenues for the duration of the project,” the report said.  They emphasized the need for direct funding for Indigenous peoples who are managing lands and territories that are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity and urged state governments and corporations to see Native peoples as partners and not obstacles to the transition away from fossil fuels. The report’s authors also criticized how the terminology surrounding the movement away from fossil fuels obfuscates the problems of the transition. “The term “just economy” is no more than a slogan from the perspective of most Indigenous Peoples,” the report said.  Darío Mejia Montalvo, outgoing chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that such terminology hides Indigenous peoples’ lack of involvement in these changes.  “Indigenous peoples do not believe that many of the measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change that have been suggested will ultimately solve climate change, because the final result of these policies ultimately ends up harming Indigenous peoples,” he said.  That’s what Penjueli fears. She worries about the lack of knowledge about the environmental effects of removing minerals from the ocean floor and wonders what would happen if something goes wrong: Where would Fiji come up with the money for an environmental clean up and restitution? And what would happen to the fish that her people rely on to eat? She says it doesn’t make sense for the world to switch from a strategy of bottomless consumption through burning fossil fuels to a similar consumption model based on mineral mining. Already, reports describe the waste of critical minerals: Even as more mines are dug and more lands cleared, millions of metric tons of copper and aluminum are being discarded every year in landfills instead of being repurposed for renewable energy development. The European Council, which sets political priorities in the European Union, has set a non-binding goal that by 2030, a quarter of “critical raw materials” consumed should be recycled materials, but experts say more could be done to repurpose these valuable minerals.  But what’s most frustrating to Penjueli is the idea that her people must sacrifice to save the world. It reminds her of how other Pacific peoples were told to sacrifice for world peace, when global powers tested nuclear weapons.  “It’s super problematic that we supposedly have to carry the burden of this transition,” she said. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Indigenous advocates at the UN say the green transition is neither clean nor just on Apr 23, 2024.

Biden’s ‘Solar for All’ awards $7B to bring affordable energy to low-income families

The program is designed to reduce greenhouse emissions and energy inequity.

Clean energy, like so many commodities in this country, is neither distributed evenly nor equally. Disadvantaged communities have far fewer solar panels arrayed across their rooftops than areas with higher incomes. The federal government just took a major step toward crossing that chasm. On Monday, President Joe Biden announced the 60 organizations that, under the administration’s Solar for All program, will receive a combined $7 billion in grants to bring residential solar into low-income neighborhoods. The funding will flow into state, municipal, and tribal governments as well as nonprofits to support existing programs for low-income solar and battery storage installations and spur new ones. Such efforts are expected to bring affordable clean energy to 900,000 households. While the climate and environmental benefits of this effort are critical, the households poised to benefit will feel the most immediate impacts on their pocketbooks. “Low income families can spend up to 30 percent of their paychecks on their energy bills,” Biden said while announcing the funding in Virginia. “It’s outrageous.” That reality is central to the administration’s program, which will cut energy costs for those families who monitor their spending to ensure they can make it to the end of the month. By bringing rooftop and community solar to communities in need, Solar for All could save energy-burdened families on average $400 a year. The 60 recipients were selected by dozens of review panels composed of experts from across the executive branch. The Environmental Protection Agency will finalize contract details in the days and weeks ahead, and awardees are expected to receive the funding in summer to begin implementing their efforts. Without the low-income solar programs that will be established and expanded with these funds, most families can’t afford to place energy-producing panels atop their homes. Most rooftop installations cost tens of thousands of dollars, and even with a long-term loan and the promise of a year-end tax credit to help cover a steep upfront cost, that places the technology out of reach for many Americans. As Solar for All brings energy savings to low-income and disadvantaged families nationwide — advancing Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure that at least 40 percent of climate investments directly benefit frontline communities — it will also accelerate progress toward the administration’s goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy nationwide by 2035. The EPA estimates that the $7 billion will underwrite 4 gigawatts of solar installations nationwide, enough to power more than 3 million homes. All told, the program is expected to prevent over 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from ever entering the atmosphere while also creating 200,000 jobs and affording tribal nations an improved path to energy sovereignty. For years, Indigenous communities across America have been using solar and other renewables to liberate themselves from an energy system that pollutes their air and establish something that they own. With $500 million slated specifically for tribal governments, Solar for All can help accelerate those efforts. One such award for over $135 million will go to the Northern Plains Tribal Coalition, a partnership of 14 Indigenous nations brought together by the Native-led nonprofit Indigenized Energy and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation “This is a once-in-a-generation award that will begin to transform how tribes achieve energy sovereignty,” Cody Two Bears, executive director of the Native-led nonprofit Indigenized Energy, said in a press release. “The shift from extractive energy to regenerative energy systems will be the legacy we leave for our future generations.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden’s ‘Solar for All’ awards $7B to bring affordable energy to low-income families on Apr 23, 2024.

Does eating too much sugar really make kids hyper? We asked researchers.

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Is it true that eating lots of sugar causes hyperactivity in kids?Parents long have blamed their children’s “bouncing off the wall” behavior on eating too much sugar, but experts say there’s no truth to it. “It’s a myth that sugar causes hyperactivity,” says Mark Wolraich, professor emeritus in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Yet, he acknowledges, “it’s still a strong belief. … Sometimes it’s very hard to change embedded impressions of what affects behavior.”Wolraich conducted studies in the 1990s that disproved the notion that sugar causes attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. These included a double-blind randomized controlled trial that found that neither sugar nor the artificial sweetener aspartame affected behavior or cognitive function among children whose parents perceived them as high energy “sugar sensitive,” compared with those with “normal” behavior, even when sugar intake exceeded typical dietary levels.“It was pretty definitive,” Wolraich says.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also states that sugar doesn’t make kids hyper, saying “research doesn’t support the popularly held views that ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos.”Parents probably continue to make this association because children tend to become overly excited during specific events — birthday parties, for example — when the menu contains high-sugar items, such as ice cream, birthday cake and goody bags.Also, “kids tend to get a lot of sugar around the holidays, when there are other things that rev them up,” Wolraich says. “So it looks like they are getting overactive when they are eating a lot of sugary foods.”How did this belief start?Some experts trace its origins to 1973, when allergist Benjamin Feingold linked children’s hyperactivity to ingesting artificial food colors; additives; preservatives; and salicylates, substances found in plants and foods and also used in many medicines, such as aspirin. He also wrote a popular book on the topic.Although sugar was not among the dietary culprits Feingold criticized, many parents mistakenly made the connection, since high amounts of sugar go hand in hand with foods containing dyes and other additives.In recent years, studies have connected several artificial dyes, including red dye No. 3, to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children. A 2021 report by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment concluded that some children who consume food dyes exhibit these health effects, although sensitivity to them varies among children.What else you should knowEven though sugar is absolved in this one case, it doesn’t mean kids can eat it with abandon, experts warn.“Sugar is not vindicated from other adverse health effects,” says Donald Hensrud, associate professor of nutrition and preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. “It provides extra calories and increases weight, contributing to obesity and possibly later heart disease. It can cause cavities. It has no nutrients and displaces other foods that do.”So, what’s the bottom-line message to parents? “I don’t promote giving children a lot of sugar,” Wolraich says. “Sugar can be a negative factor in a balanced diet because its taste is so attractive. But sugar does not have a high nutritive value. So eating a lot of sugary foods that are low in other important dietary nutrients is not a good idea — but not because of hyperactivity.”

How Texas unleashed a geothermal boom

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry. That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring...

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry. That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring political camps — and is fueling a boom in startups that seek to take it national.  While other forms of renewable energy lost ground during Texas's 2021 and 2023 legislative sessions before a legislature that combined a hard-right political bent with a focus on building more "dispatchable" power, the geothermal industry advanced. State lawmakers passed four key bills in 2023  that helped lay the foundation for a new generation of drilling — with just one vote against.  In the 2023 session, "we didn't get put into the renewable bucket, we didn't really get put into the oil and gas bucket,” said Barry Smitherman, former Republican head of the state Railroad Commission and head of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance. Instead, “we became this hybrid that was acceptable to people on both sides of the aisle"​ The regulatory clarity established by those bills  has laid the groundwork for a new generation of startups powered by the state’s urgent need for reliable electricity in the face of increasingly extreme weather, as well as a growing trickle of oil and gas veterans leaving an industry they see as plagued by boom-and-bust cycles. As of last year, Texas had 11 of the 27 total geothermal startups in the US. On Wednesday, startup Bedrock Energy unveiled a new geothermal-powered heating and cooling system at a commercial real estate complex in Austin. Earlier this month, next-generation drilling company Quaise — which uses high powered radio waves to drill through hard rock — filed a permit with the state energy regulator to begin field testing its drills, years ahead of what industry insiders had thought was possible. Houston-based Fervo is building a 400-megawatt project in Utah. Military bases across the state are looking into geothermal as a potential source of secure electricity in an era of price spikes and cyberattacks. And later this year, Sage Geosystems, a company founded by three former Shell executives, will begin using a fracked well as a means of storing renewable energy — which CEO Cindy Taff said will get the company most of the way towards the ultimate goal of commercially viable geothermal electricity. The rise in geothermal startups comes alongside a broader surge in Texas renewable energy. Last month, solar generation eclipsed coal both in terms of power generation and market share. Texas also has more utility-scale wind and solar capacity than any other state, though it lags California when it comes to rooftop solar.  The Sage project shows the conceptual benefits of geothermal energy to the Texas grid, which increasingly runs on wind and solar energy. When the sun is high, the wind is blowing and demand is low, Sage will pump water into subterranean wells, creating zones of high pressure that utilities can tap as "batteries" when other energy supplies fall.  Though it lags California in total capacity, Texas is set to add the most utility scale batteries in the country in 2024, but these can only store power for two to six hours — creating a niche for projects like Sage, which aim to store power for up to a day. In building out its projects, Sage benefited from that nearly-unanimous package of legislative reforms passed by the during the notably acrimonious 2023 session, which opened the way to operators like Taff — and offered a potential roadmap to other oil and gas states looking to set up geothermal industries of their own. In its campaign for those pivotal laws, the geothermal lobby benefited from a recent traumatic experience for Texas: the brutal, deadly and staggeringly expensive legacy of 2021’s Winter Storm Uri. In addition to resulting in hundreds of deaths from freezing temperatures and carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, the storm left tens of millions across the state without power for nearly a week and caused electricity prices in Texas’s spot markets to soar to an unheard-of $9,000 per megawatt hour — costing ratepayers an estimated $17 billion in overcharges, a court ruled in 2023. The total cost was even higher: an estimated $300 billion, higher than that of Hurricane Katrina, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. That tragedy was weaponized by both sides in the state’s frenetic culture wars. Republicans blamed the wind industry, which had 27 percent of its turbines freeze, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Meanwhile, Democrats blamed the lack of weatherization in the natural gas industry, which FERC found had lost 58 percent of its generation or pipeline capacity during the storm — undercutting the "firm" or "dispatchable" supply of energy needed to avert blackouts.  As Republicans sought to restrict the state’s burgeoning renewables industry, geothermal threaded the needle — aided by its lobbyists' deep ties to the oil industry and the Republican establishment. The lobby pushed the message of “geothermal as firm, dispatchable, 24/7, on-off switch, clean,” Smitherman told The Hill. “And it just resonated with everyone.” Lobbyists were “playing offense on three bills,” Smitherman said. First, in S.B. 785, the industry tackled the question of who owns geothermal heat — the subterranean energy that future projects will want to tap for industrial use or to generate electricity. That was a thorny question, because Texas law divides up surface rights — which include rights to land and the groundwater beneath — and mineral rights, which govern commodities like oil and gas below the surface.  During the fracking boom, that division created ugly situations in which mineral-rights holders allowed drilling rigs to operate on — and pollute — lands that they didn’t live on, sometimes against the wishes of the people on the site.  In S.B.785, legislators agreed with the industry that heat is legally more like water than oil — which makes the process of exploration substantially easier. For operators like Sage, Taff said, “that means we go in and we just really have to have an agreement with a landowner,” rather than having to sign separate deals with the mineral rights holder and landowner. S.B. 786 clarified that the geothermal industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s confusingly-named oil and gas regulator — rather than a mix of the commission, the state environmental regulator and the state utility commission for different aspects of the industry.  And in S.B. 1210, the legislature overwhelmingly voted that the state's thousands of “orphaned wells” — inactive, non-producing oil and gas wells — can be converted to geothermal wells without an additional permit. (As The Texas Tribune reported, Sage used one of these for a test well in south Texas.) Finally, in what Smitherman called “a defensive play,” the lobby worked to ensure through H.B. 5 that geothermal energy was eligible for the same tax breaks as other forms of dispatchable power — a privilege that would otherwise have only been available to coal, nuclear and natural gas. Together, these laws mean that a geothermal startup now just has to talk to a single regulator and a single rights holder; can cut costs on drilling using an existing well; and can realize tax breaks previously available only to far more established forms of power generation. It can also take advantage of the state’s burgeoning startup scene and huge oil and gas workforce — a necessary ingredient in a sector that is built on exploring the subsurface and drilling holes. For oil and gas workers, geothermal offers its own appeal. Part of this is emotional: Taff told the Tribune about how she moved to geothermal after a decade of being pressured by her daughter to leave the “dark side” of oil and gas for renewables — and found that geothermal offered her a chance to use her downhole experience in a way that wind and solar would not. ”That redemption arc is really, really inspiring for oil and gas people,” said Jamie Beard of Project Innerspace, a nonprofit geothermal advocacy group. Involvement in the industry lets former oil and gas workers “feel like they can use their entire life's work for something that they're going to be respected for — and right now they are villainized for,” she said. But in a state — and an energy sector — where belief in climate change remains controversial, geothermal can also make a more prosaic pitch: a stable job after the rollercoaster of oilfield work. “Oil and gas is very feast and famine,” Joselyn Lai, the CEO of Bedrock Energy, told The HIll.  “It's good times — and then it's like everyone's unemployed for like six months. There's definitely this hope and belief that the clean energy future will be one where there's more consistent jobs, and that it's where growth is happening.” That pitch comes as automation and efficiency have cut oilfield jobs — and as many projections suggest that oil demand will peak this decade, even as production is currently at record levels. One Bedrock employee who had specialized in well completions — the process of inserting pipe and bringing out oil and gas — described being laid off from an oil company because his job could be done by a worker in South Asia at a tenth the price. By drilling so many wells and dialing in their efficiency so much, he said, “we drilled ourselves out of a job.” Now he helps Bedrock drill 1,000 foot wells into the stable temperature of the subsurface, which can be used to dump heat in the summer or retrieve warmth in the winter — potentially offering commercial real estate clients a way to cut their heating and air conditioning costs by two to four times. That kind of project exemplifies a main part of geothermal’s appeal: It is a consistent product, which despite being zero-carbon offers the kind of electricity that utilities are used to working with.  The industry also faces serious challenges — particularly when it comes to securing financing to roll out and develop prototypes. First-of-their-kind geothermal projects often struggle to get across what the startup industry calls the “valley of death” — the dangerous period when they have secured initial investment and are paying for operations and payroll but aren’t yet making any money. (All of the companies listed in this article are in this difficult zone.)  Despite the promise of geothermal, many potential corporate partners “want to be first to go fifth,” Bedrock investor Gabriel Scheer of Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit investment firm focused on climate technologies.  But for those investors who take the risk, Scheer said, there is the upside of getting a jump on a new technology — and getting to shape the way it unfolds. And in Texas specifically, the geothermal industry has certain distinct advantages. First, the experience of Winter Storm Uri means state businesses may be more focused on securing reliable heat and electricity than other states. Geothermal also benefits not just from the need to buttress the large wind and solar fleet, but also from the trail that those industries have blazed in terms of innovative forms of financing. In particular, virtually every wind and solar project in the state is built after developers sign a “power purchase agreement” with potential customers — something that the geothermal industry can easily adapt, said Dennis Wamsted of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. In Texas, Wamsted said, “Geothermal has the ability to come in and say, ‘You guys are familiar with all these contracts? Here, we are doing exactly the same thing.” Beard, the industry advocate, argued that Texas offers a model for other fossil fuel-rich states — like North Dakota or Pennsylvania — that want to transition their own industries. She was one of more than a dozen coauthors of “The Future of Geothermal in Texas,” a landmark 2023 report by five state universities that helped establish the industry’s bonafides before that year’s legislative session.  In the next six months, her team intends to replicate that report in ten such states, including Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. “The idea is, if you go into a state that has a big, significant oil and gas industry and you catalyze geothermal —  you all of a sudden have a bipartisan solution,” she said. Geothermal, she conceded “has really struggled on a federal level, with things like permitting and incentives.” But if such a research and lobbying effort were replicated across “all the oil and gas states, all of a sudden you have a federal coalition. You have movement on the federal level, and that’s the eventual outcome of all of the state work.” A national boom in geothermal would offer significant climate benefits. And in a world where the past pollution from oil and gas production is already anticipated to cut mid-century incomes by nearly 20 percent — even with aggressive climate action — it also has notable economic appeal. But in her pitch to investors or clients, Lai told The Hill, she doesn’t make the environmental pitch — because she doesn’t need to. At the end of the day, she said, “it's about the financial benefits.”

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