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Cinema Verde Presents: Mighty Oak
Cinema Verde Presents: Mighty Oak

Coming Soon | "Mighty Oak" is a portrait of Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II, an extraordinary environmental pioneer, transformative educator, joyful musician, and an effective, inspirational leader. The wonder and reverence that Oak sees in the natural world has been a guide through his life. Starting as a child he explored the wild woods of Long Island, often as a photographer or filmmaker. As a teenager he was mentored by a Native American cowboy at a ranch in Wyoming where they would travel on horseback to remote wilderness areas. The experience radically changed the course of his life. He moved on to create non-profit organizations such as Thorne Films, Thorne Ecological Institute, Thorne Nature Experience, and achieved successes in land preservation through community action across the country that preceded the EPA and much of the modern environmental movement. He has directly and immeasurably contributed to the environmental education of hundreds of thousands of youth. His enduring legacy is a significant contribution to the environmental movement and to those he has inspired along the way. This extraordinary 93 year old man continues to mentor young people and spread an environmental consciousness, and with his astounding musical skills, still plays the piano and arranges a cappella music for choral groups. The filmmakers who both have a personal friendship with Oak, followed him for several years as he spread wisdom and joy in his journey through life, whether it be with the music of a bird or the human voice.

GoGreenNation News: These are the 2022 MacArthur "genius" grant recipients
GoGreenNation News: These are the 2022 MacArthur "genius" grant recipients

The MacArthur Foundation announced 25 "genius" grant winners Wednesday.Why it matters: The award is seen as one of the most coveted and distinguished honors in academia, arts and science, and it includes a massive cash prize.Driving the news: The 2022 list of MacArthur Fellows included an ornithologist, a computer scientist and a human rights activist, among others.The MacArthur Fellows will receive an $800,000 grant, which is a "no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential," according to the MacArthur Foundation website.The foundation did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.Below are the the 25 recipients.2022 MacArthur Fellows grant winnersJennifer Carlson is a sociologist from Tucson, Arizona, who has been investigating gun culture in the United States.Paul Chan is an artist from New York who has depicted political and social topics.Yejin Choi is a computer scientist from Seattle who has helped "develop artificial intelligence-based systems that can perform commonsense reasoning," per the foundation's website.P. Gabrielle Foreman is a historian and digital humanist from University Park, Penn., who has researched early African American activism.Danna Freedman, a chemist from Cambridge, Mass., has worked to create "novel molecular materials with unique properties directly relevant to quantum information science," the foundation said.Martha Gonzalez, a musician and artist from Claremont, California, has used art to build community and promote social justice.Sky Hopinka is a filmmaker from Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, whose films elevate Indigenous perspectives.June Huh, a mathematician from Princeton, New Jersey, has made connections between combinatorics and algebraic geometry.Moriba Jah is an astrodynamicist from Austin, Texas, who has worked to create solutions for Earth's orbital structures.Jenna Jambeck is an environmental engineer from Athens, Georgia, who has investigated the scale of plastic pollution and has worked to stop plastic waste.Monica Kim, a historian from Madison, Wisc., has researched the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and global decolonization. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a plant ecologist and writer from Syracuse, New York, who has been researching how to build a better environment through scientific and Indigenous information.Priti Krishtel, a health justice lawyer from Oakland, California, has worked to build access to affordable medications.Joseph Drew Lanham, an ornithologist and writer from Clemson, S.C., has researched the impacts of forest management on birds and wildlife.Kiese Laymon is a Houston, Texas, writer who examines Black people's experience with violence.Reuben Jonathan Miller is a sociologist from Chicago who has researched the aftermath of incarceration, primarily among communities of color.Ikue Mori, an electronic music composer from New York, has expanded the range of technical music space through her own techniques.Steven Prohira, a physicist from Lawrence, Kansas, has used new tools to research "ultra-high energy sub-atomic particles" that could help us all understand the universe.Tomeka Reid, a jazz cellist and composer from Chicago, has used a number of musical traditions to create her unique sound.Loretta J. Ross, a human rights advocate from Northampton, Mass., has worked to link social justice and human rights with reproductive justice. Steven Ruggles, a historical demographer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, has helped build the world's largest public database of population statistics (the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series).Tavares Strachan is an artist from New York and The Bahamas who has promoted "overlooked contributions of marginalized figures throughout history" by using science, history and other projects, per the foundation's site.Emily Wang is a primary care physician and researcher from New Haven, Connecticut, who has studied the health effects of incarceration and people exiting prison.Amanda Williams is an artist from Chicago whose work "uses ideas around color and architecture to explore the intersection of race and the built environment," per the foundation's website.Melanie Matchett Wood, a mathematician from Cambridge, Mass., has used number theory and algebraic geometry to provide a new understanding of the properties of numbers.

GoGreenNation News: How the Green New Deal Changed the Conversation
GoGreenNation News: How the Green New Deal Changed the Conversation

Few have done more to change the climate paradigm than Rhiana Gunn-Wright. As an architect of the Green New Deal, Gunn-Wright was instrumental in expanding the limits of climate policy and telling a story far larger—and more inspiring—than that of how you can curb carbon emissions by taxing them. The Green New Deal’s vision: affirmative investment in green industries, decarbonization as an engine of economic growth, and racial equity and job creation at the center of the national project. On episode 7 of How to Save a Country, Gunn-Wright describes the astonishing scope of the original ask: “They wanted a World War II–style economic mobilization that would cut emissions in 10 years, create millions of jobs, and … reduce the racial wealth gap. And so my job was basically to figure out how you could do that.” Now the director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute, Gunn-Wright sees the legacy of that vision in today’s politics. Environmental justice has become an essential part of the narrative, and industrial policy, which she has championed for years, is going mainstream. “Back in 2019 when I was doing all these interviews, it was like not a day went by where people didn’t ask me, ‘Well, why should equity be part of this? Why should racial justice be part of discussions about climate or decarbonization?’” Gunn-Wright recalls. “And now you can’t actually have a conversation about climate without mentioning equity and justice and environmental justice.”On the show, Gunn-Wright also talks with hosts Felicia Wong and Michael Tomasky about why she thinks the Inflation Reduction Act is a mixed bag, why industrial policy must include transforming our approach to childcare and elder care, and how to change people’s understanding of where wealth comes from by telling a story of public investment and inclusion.How to Save a Country is presented by the Roosevelt Institute, The New Republic, and PRX. Generous funding for this podcast was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of its funders.Reading recommendationsFor more conversations Rhiana Gunn-Wright, see:“The Green New Heal with Rhiana Gunn-Wright”, from the America Dissected podcast with Abdul El-Sayed“How Climate Change and Environmental Justice Are Inextricably Linked,”  an interview by the Washington Post“What Is Climate Justice? A Framework for Understanding the World,” an interview by Teen Vogue“How This Green New Deal Architect Gets It Done,” an interview by The Cut Read Rhiana Gunn-Wright in Winning the Green New Deal, a collection edited by Varshini Prakash and Guido Girgenti of the Sunrise Movement. The collection features essays by Gunn-Wright, Joseph Stiglitz, and other activists, policymakers, and journalists who have helped transform the climate policy landscape. And check out Rhiana’s early-pandemic New York Times guest essay: “Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming.”Coming soon to a theater near you: Rachel Lears’ new documentary To the End, which chronicles Gunn-Wright, Varshini Prakash, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Alexandra Rojas in their fight for a Green New Deal. Learn more about the film—in theaters December 9—and watch the latest trailer. Michael Tomasky: I’m Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic. Felicia Wong: And I’m Felicia Wong, president and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.Michael: And this is How To Save a Country, our podcast on the ideas and the people contributing to a new political vision and a new economic vision for the United States. We connect to the economy, democracy and freedom. Felicia: Because progressives must have a common purpose and a common strategy to win. Michael: One big piece of policy that’s trying to do all that, trying to reshape the economy as we know it is the Green New Deal. Felicia: The Green New Deal started out as a resolution a few years ago that actually made it to the floor of Congress. It was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. It remains something really important in our politics because it’s a roadmap, a really ambitious roadmap, showing how the United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and wean ourselves from fossil fuels while at the same time revitalizing the economy with new jobs in green industry—and it links racial justice, to climate justice. Rhiana Gunn-Wright [clip]: Back in 2019 when I was doing all these interviews, it was like not a day that went by where people didn’t ask me, “Why should racial justice be part of discussions about climate or decarbonization?” Now, you can’t actually have a conversation about climate without mentioning equity and justice and environmental justice. Michael: That’s our guest today, and she’s one of the people who crafted the Green New Deal: Rhiana Gunn-Wright. Felicia: I’m really lucky to have Rhiana as my colleague. She’s the director of climate policy at the Roosevelt Institute. She can really tell us about climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act because the roots of today’s approach to climate, which are really different from the way we used to think about fighting climate change, those roots are in that Green New Deal. The basic idea is that you can use the government, the state, to affirmatively invest in particular industries, green manufacturing, decarbonization. That’s a Green New Deal idea, and, boy, it is different from how we used to think about fighting climate change, which was basically to tax carbon. Remember those days, Michael? Michael: Oh yeah, very well. So let’s get to it. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, welcome to How to Save a Country. Rhiana: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Michael: We’re thrilled to have you. There’s a lot we want to talk about, but let’s start with you. Tell us just a little bit about yourself. You grew up in Chicago, you grew up in Englewood, a neighborhood on the South Side, and it’s actually a neighborhood where we have learned air pollution and particulate matter levels are very high, some of the highest in the city. Talk about your upbringing and your coming to awareness on environmental issues. Rhiana: So I grew up, like you said, in Englewood. I was raised by my mom and my grandmother, actually, in the house that my mom grew up in. In a lot of ways I had a very idyllic childhood, in the sense of having a close-knit community. If I got As, I would get extra candy for Halloween. I had neighbors. Felicia: You mean from all your neighbors? Not just from your mom? Rhiana: Yeah, from neighbors. Because they would ask, they would know when report cards came out, so they would ask how you did and if you did well, they’d give you extra candy. So I grew up in a community that really felt like a community, but it was a pretty poor community on the whole. There was a fair amount of violence. At the time we didn’t know, but, like you said, it has some of the highest levels of particulate matter and air pollution in the city. So growing up I had asthma and it was so common that I was in my twenties before I realized that it’s not a childhood disease. I was the policy analyst at the Detroit Health Department. One of the issues is there was an incinerator at the time in the middle of the city, and asthma rates around the incinerator were three times the state average. I was like, “Oh, so this level of asthma isn’t normal?” That was the first time I actually realized that it wasn’t normal and that some of the things that I was seeing in Detroit that I had seen in my own neighborhood. Michael: So in between Chicago and Detroit, you were in New Haven because you went to Yale. You majored in African American Studies, is that right? Rhiana: And women’s studies, women, gender, sexuality studies. My mother was so mad. She was convinced that I would never get a job. She was like, “I sent you to this Ivy League so you couldn’t get a job one day.” Michael: Well, you showed her. Rhiana: Sure did. So when I was at Yale, like I said, I majored in both of those and I did a joint concentration in Black feminism. It was a lot of thinking about systems, thinking about the way multiple systems overlay and people are experiencing multiple types of identity at once. Felicia: Do you mean identity as a gender identity, racial identity, geographic identity, class identity? Can you talk about that just a little bit more and why it matters? Rhiana: Yeah, I mean all of those things. So when I say how things intersect, I guess what I learned there was that at any given moment, a person is carrying all of those things: your gender identity, your racial identity, your geographic identity. All of those things are at play in folks’ experiences, and we’re part of systems also that overlap. It really just forced me to think about complexity in a different way that I think really shapes the work that I do now, because when I think about the work I did on the Green New Deal or the work that I’m doing even now at Roosevelt, a lot of it comes down not to how do we identify one thing that’s going wrong, but how do we shape an intervention that is dealing with all of these systems at the same time because they’re all going on at the same time. Michael: I think people would love to hear you talk about the Green New Deal. How you got involved and what exactly did you do on the project? Rhiana: Yeah, I got involved because I needed a job. Felicia: Wait, Green New Deal author is actually like a job title? You saw the description and applied? Rhiana: No, so I had just finished the Abdul campaign. Felicia: This was in 2018, right? Michael: Yeah, he was one of three candidates for governor in the Democratic primary of Michigan. He lost to the current governor, Gretchen Whitmer.Rhiana: Yeah. So we ran a campaign. We ran as progressives. One of the things that Abdul was very serious about was policy, and in particular, he’s very interested in environmental justice, so that’s where I first did work on environmental justice and public health and also poverty. His focus is social determinants of health so he’s really interested in what are the parts of our systems that drive essentially ill health. So I was a policy director and we did a ton of policies. I was approached by a new think tank called New Consensus that was formed in part by one of the founders of Justice Dems. Felicia: Who are the Justice Dems? Rhiana: A political organization that tries to run basically everyday people and community champions for Congress. They were one of the first big groups, and they were new at the time, but they endorsed all of the members of “the Squad”: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib at the time. They had endorsed, really thrown down on their campaigns. One of the things they were doing afterwards was building a think tank and that think tank was going to be tasked with first working on a Green New Deal, because the idea was that the squad, and in particular Representative Ocasio-Cortez, wanted to come out of the gate with a signature policy initiative in their first session of Congress to really take advantage of all the press that they were getting. They approached me and so I joined them and I basically was the research director for Green New Deal. What they approached me to work out was, they wanted a World War II-style economic mobilization that would cut emissions in 10 years, create millions of jobs, and also really press forward racial equity, really help reduce the racial wealth gap. So my job was basically to figure out how you could do that. Felicia: When you think back on that period, what are you most proud of about the Green New Deal? Rhiana: Back in 2019 when I was doing all these interviews, it was not a day that went by where people didn’t ask me, “Well, why should equity be part of this? Why should racial justice be part of discussions about climate or decarbonization? Isn’t that an add-on? Aren’t you just doing too much?” Now you can’t actually have a conversation about climate without mentioning equity and justice and environmental justice, right? Like the two now are tied together in both the public narrative, especially I think among Democrats, and also in terms of policy. I think there’s not enough money for environmental justice in the Inflation Reduction Act but there is some, when I think in times before there might not have been any. Felicia: Used to be all about carbon tax, not too long ago. Rhiana: Right. All of a sudden, people don’t remember that and so I’m proud of that.Felicia: I do. I do, but yeah. Rhiana: I’m glad. Felicia: But the conversation has changed. Rhiana: A lot. And so I’m also proud of the conversation change because I think we had a lot to do with that. I’m also very proud of the fact that now we aren’t talking about carbon taxes, at least not in isolation, but there’s a real focus on industrial policy and decarbonization as an opportunity to build wealth for everyday folks and to do so in a way that is just and equitable. I don’t think we’re 100 percent there, but the fact that those are metrics and that is the approach, I think again, we had a lot to do with that. So I’m very proud of that. Felicia: What are you most regretful about? Like what do you wish had happened that didn’t happen? Rhiana: We also talked a lot and had a lot in even the Green New Deal resolution about social safety nets, about care, about healthcare, because again, as we were talking about systems happening at the same time. That’s one thing that we, I feel like recognize, is that you can’t have this economic transition be equitable, if there’s not a social safety net. People can’t move for jobs without healthcare. Women can’t, especially after Covid, reenter without childcare, without some sense of how we’re going to split those care responsibilities. I think that those have gotten separated again and I think sometimes even we leaned really hard on discussions about manufacturing and, I will be honest, about the “masculine” elements of the Green New Deal vision because those resonate with people. I lived in Detroit at the time and was working on this. People have very fond memories even of the big three—the cars, factories—calling towards that is very resonant for people and I know why we did that, but I wish looking back we had really continued to go hard around the care and social safety net elements of them, because they’re still very needed. But I think they have been excised from the conversation, or separated, again, in ways that I think are sad, especially because industrial policy is not just about building things, it’s also about the government helping to put its weight behind industries writ large that are helpful and that includes care. Felicia: Right. I think we still think about investments in manufacturing and jobs and roads and bridges as “economic,” and I think we think about investments in care as social spending, and those are different categories in our heads, and they have different levels of worthiness,  and I think those are very gendered. Rhiana: Exactly. Felicia: We’re going to take a quick break. When we return we’re going to talk about climate and the Inflation Reduction Act, but first we have a quick ask for our listener.Michael: If you like the show, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Give us a rating. Give us a review. Felicia: You know I’ve been looking at those reviews. Love ‘em, want more. That’s what I think, Michael. You can find us both on Twitter. I’m @FeliciaWongRI. Michael: And I’m @MTomasky. Michael: Welcome back to How to Save a Country. The Green New Deal isn’t law, obviously. Well, someday. Three years later and much gnashing of Democratic teeth later, what is law is the Inflation Reduction Act. What’s your view of that? Rhiana: Obviously it does of good things and makes investments, particularly in renewable energy and low carbon goods that are really crucial and that promise to, at the very least, create a lot of jobs—that’s really great. There are investments and some priorities for the environmental justice movement, like toxic site cleanup. That’s really great. At the same time, some of it is attached to provisions, like the lease sales that say that you have to sell oil and gas leases on public land if you’re going to do solar and wind leases, that are so bad it’s almost comical. It feels a bit like [something] a cartoon villain would [do]. One of the biggest reasons, for me that the IRA is a mixed bag is that a lot of what people talk about as compromises really fell on people of color, communities of color and Indigenous communities, and it was not with their consent. It’s not so much a compromise as a sacrifice. To have a compromise both parties need to consent and, I don’t know, it just made me really sad to see that even in 2022 until those concessions were made, there wasn’t a way forward, in so many ways, the same communities that have suffered so that we can use fossil fuels. We’re looking at legislation that might keep that suffering in place even as we try to build out renewables and that’s heartbreaking and I think really concerning and something that we all have to ask a question about, which is when are those costs going to be unacceptable? The IRA for me is in a lot of ways the definition of a mixed bag. Some of the investments in technologies do in fact increase local pollution. Michael: What are those? Can you talk a little bit more specifically about those?Rhiana: Yeah, so in particular, there’s some concerns around hydrogen increasing local pollution, biofuels. Felicia: These are all, in theory, cleaner alternatives that are being advanced by the IRA. Rhiana: These are, in theory, cleaner alternatives. But again, that points to the IRA when they’re thinking about clean, they’re only thinking about carbon emissions, which is not all that comes with any of these energy sources. Particulate matter, pollution, that’s also a part of it, and that’s something that environmental justice folks have talked about for a while, about what happens when you just focus on carbon or GHG emissions and don’t focus on the larger question of a mission writ large including particulate matter. Those are a couple, and then the other concerning thing that I know a lot of partners that we work with in environmental justice are concerned about is carbon capture and storage, mostly because of how it will be controlled by industry and also about how it could be used to continue to like to burn fossil fuel, so say putting CCS on a gas fire power plant that might otherwise be replaced with renewables. Felicia: Sounds like you’re worried about it as a set of enabling devices in part. Rhiana: Largely, yes. Having been in Detroit, I have seen people fight for years against fossil fuel facilities and I know in particular there was one community that was fighting a Marathon Oil refinery and the fumes were so bad that people couldn’t sleep at night. It took them years and years and years of fighting and, of course, there was a lot of misinformation, there was a lot of the company saying they would do things that it didn’t, so just having seen that upfront, I have real fears about what happens when those same facilities and companies have access to CCS with very few guardrails.Michael: What do you think needs to be done for workers, people, regions of the country that have depended on fossil fuels—and we obviously have to move away from that fast—but what needs to be done for those folks? Rhiana: Obviously you need to replace those industries. That’s easy to say and tougher to do, but I think that the first thing is there needs to be a real plan for federal support, likely for years, to help transition those areas, and support them through a transition, like just for instance, tax revenue. Transitioning away from those industries is important, in terms of the climate, but that’s going to be a loss of tax revenue and for states and localities, that’s a big deal. It’s not that easy to replace tax revenue. They can’t print money. There’s no sort of easing. Felicia: States, especially, can’t. Rhiana: States can’t print money. And especially if you are in a balanced budget state, which means that you can’t spend more than you take in, you’re actually going to see in real time reductions to the level of services that states can provide. What that means to me is that there needs to be a lot of federal thinking about what does it mean to support regions as they transition. I also think really seriously about Justice 40. Felicia: Yeah. Describe that. Rhiana: Justice 40 is a federal initiative, still only created by executive action so would love to see that codified, but basically it says that 40 percent of climate and clean energy funding in seven areas, but they’re so large, it’s the vast majority of climate and clean energy funding, has to go to the benefit of disadvantaged communities. Justice 40 money should be going to those communities too and also there needs to be a real democratic effort to understand what just transition means for those communities as they define it. Felicia: I’d love to hear you say a little bit about what some of the things that you actually like about the legislation really are and what you’re optimistic about. Rhiana: My favorite part is the direct pay for basically publicly-owned renewables. I think that that is very cool. Felicia: And what’s direct pay? Rhiana: Direct pay, basically it essentially turns the tax credit into a grant so you don’t need tax equity investors in the same way and it creates a real potential for public ownership of renewables and of energy, which is really, if you want decarbonization to be a wealth creation opportunity, particularly for communities that are often marginalized, ownership is a huge, huge part of that, who owns the assets we are creating and who will benefit from that. I’m not a big fan of tax credits for a number of reasons, but I am a big fan of investments that are going to help the deployment of renewables and really speed up that deployment because the faster that deployment happens, the sooner we can start planning really seriously for transition away from fossil fuels because we need those alternative energy sources. Fossil fuels are a problem for a number of things, but even if you’re just talking about inflation, we’re always gonna be on this rollercoaster with fossil fuels until we can get off of them. Felicia: Because fossil fuels, the supply of fossil fuels is controlled by relatively few sources in regions of the world that are often quite authoritarian. You’re arguing that moving to clean electricity means that a more generally available and clean and abundant source of energy is possible, if we can make that transition, and that would smooth that pricing. That’s essentially what you’re arguing. Rhiana: That would smooth out pricing. The only thing I would add is also that, because of that setup, we were at the stage where the biggest thing the president could do was write a strongly worded letter before the strategic reserve release. There’s not a whole lot and that speaks to the difficulty of actually doing anything about fossil fuel pricing. The other thing is that electricity is a more regulated sector so it’s much more difficult to have these large price spikes. There’s also funding to clean up buildings, I believe, in the IRA, which is really great. That’s a great way to drive down emissions. I have mixed feelings about the nationalist framing of reshoring industries. Sometimes I think I don’t like that, but I am excited about the chance for there to be vibrant economic hubs again, because I remember the way people’s eyes lit up when they talked about factories that their parents and grandparents had worked at and what that meant for them and I’m excited for other generations to be able to experience that hopefully. Michael: Rhiana, let me put to you what I think is the biggest challenge that your movement faces and this is trying to convince America that the changes that you are advocating for are good for the economy, will make the economy better, will help growth. I don’t think the American public quite understands that yet. Rhiana: Yeah. I largely agree with your assessment. I’m not even sure how these linkages work, but even when I think about fossil fuels, there’s a linkage to prosperity in some ways. In having an abundance of oil and oil money there’s a sense of this is what makes you rich and this is what has helped make us rich. Felicia: Oil barons and tycoons and like in our culture. You’re too young, Rhiana, to remember the TV show Dallas. Rhiana: I am, but I rewatched Dynasty on Amazon. Felicia: So it’s all of that. This is the source of wealth, oil gushing from the ground. Rhiana: Oil gushing from the ground and all of that still calls to mind prosperity. I think that exists and it’s going to exist until there’s a new story to tell. Felicia: What’s the story exactly that you imagine telling somebody as the solar farm or the wind turbines are being built in their communities? What would you say to them? Rhiana: I think the story there is, were there jobs created? How many more of these are going up around the country? Who’s working there? Are they people who weren’t employed before? Was it someone who used to work at a fossil fuel factory? Was it someone who was able to get a job that now pays living wage that they didn’t have before? That’s the story that you need to be telling. How have people’s lives changed because of this solar farm? Telling that story alongside the story of how much carbon has been reduced because of this solar farm. Then the last part of this story that’s important is saying this was made possible by public investment. The habit now is to hide public investment. You don’t want to say that there was public money going to this, that makes it a target, but the new side of the story is saying that public investment did make this possible. The other thing that’s part of the struggle of the movement is making people think that this is profitable because the framing of this as profitable, as an engine of growth, like that is all from the movement. That is a discussion that is a framing of decarbonization and industrial policy that is directly attributable from the movement and the Green New Deal. The other side of that too, though, is telling a story about who all is included in this build out, who might not have been included before and I think that’s where implementation really is going to be very crucial because these things do, in fact, need to happen justly. People of color, women, people who are not white men, who we often traditionally think of in these jobs, those folks need to be getting these jobs because if not building political power and affection and all the sort of things that you need to continue to do this will be a lot more difficult if it’s not clear that this is benefiting everyone. Michael: The media narrative is simplistic and defined by a certain binary, this versus that. But I have to think that across the country, wind farms and solar panel construction facilities are actually being built and changing communities and changing people’s lives, are they not? This is happening. It’s just not on cable TV. Rhiana: Right. It’s happening more often, but I don’t think there’s this boom, which is what the IRA is aiming for and which will really help the narrative, if that’s what happens, is a boom where there’s a lot of this stuff happening in a short period of time and the benefits are very clear. What ultimately would be really helpful in terms of pushing a message is that this is profitable. The last part that we have to actually talk about and make sure we tell the story of is, how was this stuff built justly because the other thing that we don’t want to happen is that there’s a narrative that things environmental review, elements of the process that should protect people, that they’re nothing but a nuisance. If that takes hold, even if we have a greener economy, how much different is that than neoliberalism before? It’s actually important to say—I was just talking to someone about Micron, the new big semiconductor deal that just happened in New York. There’s a question about water use. Semiconductors take a lot of water. How are they going to handle that? There’s a lot of commitments around 100 percent renewable that they’ve made so there are some climate-minded commitments, but there’s, like we said, it’s not just emissions. What are the cumulative impacts? If they do take these concerns seriously, that’s another huge, important story to tell is that we built things and we didn’t sacrifice our ecosystem or any people to do it. That’s still a story that we cannot tell in America largely and it makes people often act as though the tradeoffs in the IRA are inevitable because we don’t have a history of building things without exploiting or sacrificing people. In instances where that does happen, it’s really important to hold that up so that people know it’s possible and so it’s not taken as a ridiculous landmark to say, “Hey, actually marginalized folks shouldn’t suffer because this needs to happen.” Felicia: We can tell the story when we show it’s true and by telling the story, we can make it true. Rhiana: Yeah. Felicia: Yeah, so Rhiana, the last question: This show is called How to Save a Country. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, don’t laugh, Rhiana, we are serious. You are serious about this. OK, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, how would you save our country? Rhiana: Oh, how? Which part of it? I talk about white supremacy a lot, sorry. But when I think about how to save our country, I really do think first about white supremacy and how do we move away from a reliance on white supremacy to “solve problems” like we did in the IRA. We relied on sacrificing certain communities to get this deal across the line. Even if you look at industrial policy as we’re approaching it now, there is an argument to be made about that we’re trying to, if it’s done wrong, if we don’t implement it well, that this is about how do we build a green economy while still keeping in place white privilege, especially economic privilege. To save our country, we actually have to embrace that there is a way to solve the problems that we face that don’t rely on white supremacy, that those things actually exist. They might look very different from what we’re used to. They might require us to make decisions that we’ve never made before. They will, but that it is, in fact, possible and preferable. That’s how I would save our country. We just got to stop using white supremacy as a crutch and actually be open to other ways of solving, even if that makes us feel uncomfortable. Felicia: Rhiana, the idea that we can save all of us by weaning us from the existing power structures, which are, as you often point out, white supremacist, that is a very powerful idea. I just want to thank you for your time on our show and for the time that you’ve spent making ideas like a Green New Deal part of our more common narrative, and ever closer to part of our reality. So thank you, Rhiana Gunn-Wright. Rhiana: Oh, you’re so welcome. Felicia: Rhiana is such a big thinker and she takes the conversation in so many different places. One of the things that strikes me is what she ended our conversation with, the idea to save our country, we need to move past an era of white supremacy. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but here’s how I think about white supremacy. Michael: Let’s have it. Felicia: It’s the idea that we are trying to build new systems—Inflation Reduction Act, Green New Deal, whatever our new system is—we’re trying to build it on top of a set of laws that has systematically, both de jure and de facto, advantaged people who are white. It’s about trying to move past that with affirmative policies that repair some of that before they also try to move forward with a kind of more inclusive, opportunity-focused agenda of growth. Michael: Yeah, that sounds right. I mean, I relate it to authors like our friend Heather McGee and Dorothy Brown and Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law. Felicia: Dorothy Brown, the tax lawyer. Michael: Dorothy Brown, the tax lawyer. Yeah, a great book on how the tax code was structured through lobbying by white people and white groups to get certain advantages. Rothstein in particular, who described a way in which all these laws, housing segregation particularly, advantaged white people, and those laws have been taken off the books, true, but no replacement laws have been passed to affirmatively change those advantages. Felicia: Right and I do think that in order to move forward in this way that is both inclusive and green, which is of course everything that Rhiana is arguing for, we need to take a look at that system of older laws and the ways in which they still structure our lives. That’s what it means to me to move beyond this era of white supremacy.Michael: Yep, I agree. It’s very important. I guess my takeaway has to do with how we convince average Americans that a green economy is an economy of growth.People on the right will always say, “This is a job killer. This is awful for the economy. This is going to take away your job.” Then they add things like, “You’re not gonna be able to fly on an airplane,” and stuff like that, which is a whole different set of things. The core argument that the green left, as it were, needs to make is to show people how this is going to be good for the economy, how it’s going to create jobs, how it’s going to improve growth, that I think is the big job. Felicia: Indeed. Michael: Yeah. Felicia: Next week we are going to be doing things a bit differently. Michael: It’s just going to be Felicia and me breaking down the results of the midterms. We’re going to have a conversation that’s in keeping with the mission of this show that talks about how these things that we try to discuss on this program played out in the election and what the post-election state of play is with respect to these economic and political questions. Felicia: Yeah, I am hopeful that we’ll find places where candidates really were able to talk about the job creation work or the public investment work of this new economic paradigm in ways that were effective. Michael: There’s bound to be one. Felicia: But we’ll talk more about why that is next week on How to Save A Country. How to Save A Country is a production of PRX in partnership with the Roosevelt Institute and The New Republic. Michael: Our coordinating producer is Cara Shillenn. Our lead producer is Alli Rodgers. Our executive producer is Jocelyn Gonzalez and our mix engineer is Pedro Rafael Rosado. Felicia: Our theme music is courtesy of Codey Randall and Epidemic Sound with other music provided by APM. How to Save a Country was made possible with support from Omidyar Network, a social change venture that is reimagining how capitalism should work. Learn more about their efforts to recenter our economy around individuals, community, and societal wellbeing at omidyar.com. Michael: Support also comes from the Hewlett Foundation’s Economy and Society Initiative, working to foster the development of a new common sense about how the economy works and the aims it should serve. Learn more at hewlett.org.

GoGreenNation News: LISTEN: Ashley James on protecting children from environmental exposures
GoGreenNation News: LISTEN: Ashley James on protecting children from environmental exposures

Ashley James joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss reframing how we think about children’s health, and what organizers and regulators can learn from each other.James, an ORISE Fellow in the U.S. EPA Office of Children's Environmental Protection and former reporting intern at EHN.org, also talks about community organizing, and her work educating folks on beauty justice.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 James, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher. Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Ashley James on protecting children from environmental exposuresTranscriptBrian BienkowskiAshley, how are you doing?Ashley James I am doing well. How are you?Brian Bienkowski I'm doing excellent today. And where are you today?Ashley James I am in Maryland, just slightly outside of Washington, DC.Brian Bienkowski Washington, DC. Excellent. So let's talk about place a little bit. I have had the good chance of working with you the opportunity to work with you. But I actually don't know. Where did you grow up and didn't have any impact on your interest in environmental health injustice?Ashley James Yeah, that's a good question. So I was born in Brooklyn, New York. But I spent a good amount of my youth – so middle school and high school – in Chester, Virginia, which is just south of Richmond. And I'm not sure if that impacted my interest in environmental health consciously but I did live just three miles from Hopewell, Virginia, which as you know, my most recent Environmental Health News story is about and I did notice that Hopewell was overburdened with a lot of pollution and I remember hating seeing the smoke, the stacks of smoke, I hated the smells coming from that direction. So maybe subconsciously it did impact my interest.Brian Bienkowski Totally and for listeners, we are recording this the day that Ashley's new feature came out about a proposed BlueZone in Hopewell, Virginia. So if you go to ehn.org You can check that out. So you went to the University of Richmond and then eventually got your Master's of Public Health at Emory University. What was it about public health that grabbed you?Ashley James Yeah, so I actually started off as an undergraduate, my initial interest was in Marine Biology and Environmental ecology. I worked in a sponge lab and I had really great experiences doing research in the Florida Keys. And then I went to study abroad in Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is one of the sites for the School for Field Studies, which is like a – basically what it sounds like: a field study abroad program. And I went there thinking that I would go even deeper into, you know, the marine biology world, which I did, but I also got exposed to social science. And that's really where my passion for environmental health and justice started. So I'll go a little further into that. When I was abroad, I interacted with a lot of indigenous communities. And I had the opportunity to even live with an Indigenous family for one week during a homestay. And I learned that there definitely a population that was, you know, experienced marginalization, discrimination, had their land and their natural resources threatened constantly, you know, didn't have great access to education and employment opportunities, you know, those social determinants of health, and I definitely observed health impacts as well. And then when I did a research project that ultimately ended up being a social science project, where I interviewed community members about waste management on the islands, because basically, they didn't have the infrastructure to properly manage all the wast, and there was tons of trash everywhere. So I was kind of trying to investigate that. And I distinctly remember interviewing a particular woman in this Indigenous community, and she was telling me, they don't have the money to afford formal trash collection, so they dump it in the ocean or the immediate environment or burn it, and she was telling me about outbreaks of rashes, and dengue fever, and just all of these, you know, illnesses. And I remember writing down in my journal while I was talking to her public health circling it. And ever since then, that's pretty much been... my interest has always lived in the intersection of environment, justice and health. And I realized I care. I started off caring about how people are impacting the environment, like, "Oh, what are we doing to the planet?" and then I left also caring about how that environment's impacting people.Brian Bienkowski That's a really nice way to put it. And I've talked on this podcast before about in my journalism career, I went through the same flip where I was very interested in the natural world, and water and biodiversity and creatures and wildlife –and I still am to a large extent– but then I started realizing how all these things act upon us, and I believe it was Shakespeare that said, we are nature too. So it's all kind of it's all kind of the same, the same thing when you get down to it. What is a sponge lab? I don't know what a sponge lab is?Ashley James Oh, yes. Okay. So we I say sponge lab, because that was like the organism or the animal that we focused our research on. So, you know, like marine and freshwater sponges basically, is what we work. Okay.Brian Bienkowski Very cool. Very cool. So you just, you just outlined what sounded like a very pivotal moment in your life. So maybe it was maybe that was the moment or experience. But my next question was, what was a defining moment? Or event in your life so far that shaped your identity?Ashley James Yeah, that's a great question. I think I've had a few defining moments. But one of the earliest that I can remember, is in third grade, in third grade. So as I mentioned, I was born in Brooklyn, and for elementary school, I went to PS 38, in Park Slope. And I remember my teacher telling us to write a poem for an Earth Day writing competition. So I wrote a poem about a tree, it rhymed. And I won the competition. And I was so excited, I got to plant a tree with Marty Markowitz, who was the borough president of Brooklyn at the time, and I got my picture in the newspaper. And I consider this a defining moment, because it really is the first time I can remember my two loves, which are writing and the environment, colliding, you know. And third grade was also... I was always a pretty ambitious child, I guess, or I guess I've always been an ambitious person. And by third grade, I had already declared I wanted to be an environmental scientist, and was planning out my colleges that I wanted to go to. So overall, yeah, third grade.Brian Bienkowski Talk about differences in maturity. I believe I was 18. And still like "I don't even where where should I go to college? Someone just kind of tell me tell me what I should do" Have you been back to Brooklyn to see if your tree has grown?Ashley James Oh, my goodness, no, I don't even think I would know the tree if I saw it.Brian Bienkowski That'd be a cool pilgrimage to go to try to find your your third grade tree and see if it's, see if it's grown up. So speaking of speaking of New York, so kind of following your career trajectory here. I want to talk a little bit about your time at WEACT for Environmental Justice. So you were part of the environmental health and justice leadership training, I think most of our listeners are familiar with WEACT, it's a kind of one of the preeminent environmental justice organizations. So what did it look like and entail educating hundreds of folks about environmental justice organizing, and did you see any of the training take hold in communities and if so, what did that what did that look like?Ashley James Yeah, so the EH JLT that's the acronym for it was a major part of my role when I worked at WEACT, I helped to revise the entire curriculum, which had over 20 lessons on various topics. And we... while I was there, it was still, you know, middle of the pandemic, so we had all of our lessons virtually. And we would have different cohorts with a theme. So say the theme was climate, then I might teach a lesson, introducing climate justice, and then one on clean air and one on energy and one on green solutions maybe. And in terms of seeing it taking hold, I think something that I got to witness in real time was, at first, even though I taught mostly adults, my class was always very quiet in the beginning. But then when it came time to relate what we were talking about to their personal experiences, that's when I saw people like really start to open up and make those connections. And I can see that passion developing in real time. So that was always, that was always nice.Brian Bienkowski That's excellent. It does help to connect things to people's personal experiences. Otherwise, it can seem a little abstract for folks. So I think that's a... that's definitely true when it comes to teaching. And you've also worked on a subject we've talked on this podcast quite a bit and our founder, Dr. Ami. Zota, is one of the foremost researchers on this, but you worked on beauty justice. And we have talked about this. But I was wondering if you can just kind of outline what beauty justice means and how you all try to educate folks about it.Ashley James Yeah, thank you so much for asking this. I think beauty justice was one of the most interesting things that I learned about and got to work on while I was at WEACT. And for me, I would define it, I would define beauty justice, as recognizing that beauty and personal care products often contain toxic ingredients, and that women of color are disproportionately exposed to these products for various reasons. And the ultimate goal is for the products to be marketed to women of color for those products to be free of harmful ingredients, clearly labeled, affordable and accessible, and also to hold responsible parties accountable. And in terms of what we worked on, we had a lot of different initiatives, one that comes first to mind is The Beauty Inside Out. Initiative, which raised awareness about beauty justice in northern Manhattan. So they launched surveys to understand personal care product use, essentially, and to educate community members and work with local realtors, also, to you know, sell safer products. And then we also partnered with Mike Schade from Toxic Free Future. And they have something called the retail report card, which assesses retailer actions to eliminate toxic products. And we partnered with them to add criteria, specifically on products marketed to women of color. And I also got to co-lead a session in a conference that we held last year, around this time, actually, in November, last year, and that was on beauty justice as well. So that was a way that we were able to kind of keep the conversation going between various different stakeholders. That time last year, Johnson & Johnson was also in the news because they were being you know, sued for their baby powder, which had talc in it, which can be contaminated with asbestos, which causes cancer. And so I made a lot of infographics kind of talking about talc, and you know, how to limit exposure. I feel like something that ,a recent example that really highlights what beauty justice is all about, actually came from something that was recently trending on Twitter. So growing up as a Black girl, specifically, –I have this seared into my memory and it's a common, you know, thing for a lot of Black girls–, you go to CVS or the local beauty supply store, and you see these boxes of DIY hair relaxers promoted to children or young girls. And it's always these cute little girls with bone straight hair and it makes you... it's marketed to children and you know, seeing that you want to ask your parents for a relaxer. And so someone tweeted a tweet that went viral and said like "Oh, I wonder where all these hair relaxer box girls are today." And so a lot of the girls were like, "oh, here I am. I was on In one of those boxes," and it came out that a lot of them are either natural now, or they never had a relaxer in the first place, like, the people would just straighten their hair with a hot comb or a flat iron, and take the photo. And so the girls actually never relaxed. They never used the product that was being marketed. And it was all you know, fun and jokes and everything on Twitter. But that really made me think about how a lot of, you know, beauty and personal care companies have predatory advertising and marketing and also false advertising and marketing. And There have been studies connecting the chemicals in hair relaxers to uterine fibroids, a study recently came out connecting hair relaxers to uterine cancer and Black women are diagnosed and die more often with uterine cancer than other racial groups. So thinking about that compounded on top of the fact that this is exposure to children, and I'm sure we'll talk about, you know, how children are even more vulnerable to chemical exposures. Yeah, I just think that's a great example of the issue at hand and why so many parties need to be held accountable, but in particular, the companies that are making the products.Brian Bienkowski Yeah, that's a great current example. And I hadn't seen that on Twitter. I'm wondering when you started doing this work, was it, was was it a surprise when you would talk to say friends or your aunts and other women in your life to hear that that products that they may have been using were toxic in some way?Ashley James Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people were surprised because some of these products – like I think about the baby powder, it's so... it's just an integral part of your, you know, personal care routine. And so, and there's no, there was no warning or knowledge about the fact that it had any harmful ingredients. So I think it's just kind of shocked because there was no awareness about it.Brian Bienkowski And the other part of this that you mentioned, as a girl, seeing those boxes in the drugstore is just the notion of what we find that what media is telling us is the ideal, right or is beautiful, or what people should strive to be. And for the longest time, that was straight hair, and maybe it was rail thin, or whatever these misguided notions of what people should strive to be, were plastered on all of our media. So I hope some of that's changing to what we consider healthy and beautiful and what kids should strive for, from all races. Really, I mean, to not feel like they have to look like the woman on the box in the store. You know what I mean?Ashley James Yeah, absolutely. And I do think it is. Like, I remember in middle school, literally begging my mom to give me a relaxer because I wanted, you know, to look like that I wanted to have straight hair. But now there's a lot more promotion of just embracing your hair, your skin, whatever, in its natural state. And I think there's a lot more positive images for girls growing up.Brian Bienkowski Good. I mean, it's hard enough to be a kid. I remember. I remember being embarrassed because I couldn't afford at the time, I believe it was like bomb equipment, or polo or these brands that the cool rich kids were wearing. I can't imagine on top of that, wanting to change my hair and my appearance. It's hard enough to be a kid. So I hope I hope you're right. And that's a nice transition and thinking about children and how they intersect with environmental issues and exposures. So you are now in ORISE fellow at the EPA is Office of Children's Environmental Health Protection. So what is something people might not know about children's exposure to toxics that you've you've learned there at your job?Ashley James Yeah, it's funny, you ask that. So my mother has worked in maternal and child health for the majority of her career. And so through observing her and learning about her work, I have known for a long time that you know, the prenatal period as well as childhood, especially early childhood, is the most critical developmental period when it comes to exposure, whether that be environmental exposures, like, you know, toxic chemicals, or social exposures like traumatic experiences. And I also learned that you know, children's behavior patterns and their biology, like underdeveloped immune systems or organs in general, make them more vulnerable. And this might be because I'm in the field, but I do think a lot of people know that or You know, recognize that. However, something I learned when I started at my current office at the EPA is something that kind of helped to change my perspective. And that is thinking of children, not necessarily as a special subgroup or special population, but as a life stage that everyone experiences. And so, for example, me, I'm not a child, I don't have children. But children's health is still relevant to me, because at one point I was a child, and whatever I was exposed to then does impact my health, you know, today and will moving forward. And so even though that's essentially saying the same thing, I think having that perspective of that this is a life stage that everyone goes through, is good to better understand children's health and to make people realize that it truly is important to everyone. So yeah, I hope if you're listening to this, and you think," Oh, well, children's health really isn't relevant to me" that that changes your mind. And since you asked specifically about toxic exposures, I'll say, we live in an extremely toxic world. And I believe that if we can protect our most vulnerable people, for example, children, we can protect everyone.Brian Bienkowski So I often think of organizers and community organizing, and the federal government often may be at odds with one another one pushing the other to do more and the other, moving slowly. So can you talk about since you've, you've been in organizing, and now you're working for the EPA as a fellow, can you talk about that contrast? And perhaps some areas that you see where federal researchers and organizers could intercept to better people's health?Ashley James Yeah, definitely, I think, you know, the fundamental difference between that organizing work and work at the federal level, is scale. And what I mean by that is, when you're in organizing, and you're working with the actual community, you're a lot closer to them, you have your boots on the ground, whereas federal level is more big picture. I do think a lot of people in the federal agency, or in the federal government working in these different agencies recognize that disconnect, and are thinking a lot harder, especially with the new administration's focus on environmental justice. So for example, a lot of researchers of the EPA are doing a lot more EJ related research, and it will be important to consult with communities, and to partner with them for that research.Brian Bienkowski So because you don't have enough going on in your life, you are also a reporting intern at Environmental Health News and full disclosure, when I was looking at applications for our internship, I was thinking, How is this woman going to juggle everything she has going on? And still work for us. But not only did you do it, you did it very well. And it was just so awesome to work with you. So I was curious, just as a researcher, that's been most of your work. What interested you about environmental reporting? And what surprised you about being in a newsroom?Ashley James Yeah, that's a great question. So one thing that interests me about environmental reporting is being able to reach a different audience than who would be reading dense academic literature. But also I mentioned when I started this interview that one of my first loves has been writing. And I was trained in creative writing for high school when I attended the Appomattox regional Governor's School for Arts. And one of the things I learned that I distinctly remember my teachers telling me is that people won't necessarily care about overarching statistics, but they will care about, for example, a story about an individual person. And having that creative writing background, I'm a strong believer that pairing narrative and storytelling with the science and the data and the statistics is a powerful way to get people to care. And I think ultimately, that's always been my goal, whether I'm doing education, whether I'm doing research, whether I'm writing, is to get people to care because I think when people care, then they're willing to you know, get involved in issues and help to create change. And in terms of what surprised me, this might be because I watched too much TV but I really thought a newsroom would be just like a extremely stressful environment like I'm thinking – everyone's, you know, going crazy with deadlines and you you do so much is what I noticed or realize that Environmental Health News are doing so much work. But you still have time for jokes and laughs and to share personal tidbits about your life. So I don't know if that's unique to Environmental Health News. But I did find that surprising.Brian Bienkowski Well, it's very good to hear, I can't say on most exit interviews, the first thing I hear from interns, when I asked about our culture is "chill", is usually the right word. And maybe, maybe the function of having a former hippie as an editor myself, has something to do with that. But that's good to hear. And I just, on a personal, my personal thought is any work environment you're in, whether it's a newsroom or a research lab or whatever, you have to take time to smile and get to know people. And also nowadays, you have to recognize the mental rigors of what we're, what we're not only what we're dealing with on a day to day basis, which is heavy stuff in the environmental field, but I don't know about you, but just staring at a screen and being on a screen for so many hours. I think it's just really important to take mental breaks. So that's, I'll get off my soapbox now. But I do I'm just a big fan of workplaces where people are comfortable and happy and not feeling stressed off. So I'm glad you experienced that.Ashley James Yeah, it really does help. It does.Brian Bienkowski So we've talked a lot about the environment and people but let's talk about the wildlife and the trees and the in the creatures and stuff because that was my first love. And I happen to know that you love the outdoors and hiking and being outside. So when did that become part of your life? When I think of Brooklyn, I don't necessarily think of hiking. And so where did that come in your life? And what does being in nature mean to you?Ashley James Yeah, thank you for asking that. So in my early childhood in Brooklyn, that is where I fell in love with nature, I would say. I distinctly remember my mom bringing me to Prospect Park often, but I thought that it was the forest. So I was just asked. I just asked like, "Oh, Mom, can you take me to the forest?" and that was our little thing. didn't know it was Prospect Park, but you know. But as I got older, and I started to have more social awareness, I didn't really do outdoorsy things. Like in general, my family wasn't the family to go hiking or camping. And like many other people of color, I viewed those activities, I associated those activities with whiteness. And that's a whole nother you know, soapbox. But it wasn't until college, and I was forced to like I said, doing my sponge research, I was forced to go kayaking and snorkel. And then I was forced to go hiking in the rain forest to collect my bug chaps and leaves when I was abroad. But that was still doing it for work, not really for fun. And then, after graduating college, in 2018, I served AmeriCorps for a year in Baltimore. And I, I worked on a nature preserve with a nonprofit, and I taught environmental education to youth of Baltimore, primarily Black and brown children. And part of my job was getting them on the Nature Preserve and exposing them to nature. And that's when I started to think more critically about, you know, the benefits of the outdoors and who has access to it and who feels included in those activities. And I started to think, why is it that I don't see many people personally, that look like me that are, you know, the poster people for these activities? And I asked a friend who I knew was an avid hiker, if I could go with her and ever since then, I've been hooked. I love it so much. And I have an Instagram page called AJ for adventure, where I feature my own adventures as well as other people of color just to change the narrative, you know, about who belongs outdoors and to promote the visibly, you know, showing that the outdoors are for everyone.Brian Bienkowski That's excellent. And this is another space anecdotally that I feel like I've seen movement in the last few years. And maybe it's just paying more attention to social media accounts like your own and there are there are others out there. And I encourage any listeners to check out our past podcast with Dr. Jennifer Roberts, who's in Maryland who talks extensively about this very issue and how she's trying to change that. It was one of my very favorite podcasts to do so check that out. And so you've been – Whether it's hiking or researching or organizing, communicating, you've been on many different angles of the environmental movement. What makes you optimistic? What are you hopeful about?Ashley James That is a great question. I do find it hard sometimes to stay optimistic in this field. But right now, I am really optimistic. And that has a lot to do with all the momentum around environmental justice right now. The Biden administration has made it clear that environmental justice is a priority. There's billions of dollars of funding going into environmental justice. In academia, I've noticed a lot more researchers talking about how important it is to do community-engaged research that's not extractive and that's respecting the expertise of the community. And, you know, working in partnership – true partnership – with their community members, I've seen a lot of conversation and progress around that. And even you know, in media and communications, I've seen a lot more stories and you know, other types of media, about environmental justice. So I think that's a good sign. And I just hope the momentum keeps going and doesn't, you know, fizzle out.Brian Bienkowski And I don't remember if I learned this from your application, when you became an intern, or from just looking researching you online before we brought you aboard EHN. But I know you play guitar. And we've talked about this, I play guitar as well. What songs are you working on right now? And I'm also curious, do you play in front of people? Or is this just for yourself?Ashley James Yeah, thank you for asking. Yes, I have a beautiful oak colored Martin acoustic electric that I love. And I recently learned how to play dreams by Fleetwood Mac, as well as Redemption Song by Bob Marley. So those are my two most recent songs. And I mostly play for myself, every now and then I might do a coffee house or an open mic, but it's kind of just, you know, a way to have my own music therapy and, you know, use another part of my brain, the creative part. So, yeah.Brian Bienkowski I always say the same thing. I will just take breaks during the day and play an instrument for a little bit. Because it does, it hits that other side of the brain, I always say the same, the exact same thing. So that's very cool. So actually, we are nearing the end here. And I like to have rapid fire questions. We're just a couple of them here, three of them, where you can just answer with one word or one phrase, and then we can move on. So the first one is: the best piece of advice I've ever been given isAshley James To cherish the present because you can't change the past and you can't control the future.Brian Bienkowski When I wake up, the first thing I do is,Ashley James I hate to say it, but I hit snooze. Not a morning person.Brian Bienkowski The first concert I ever went to wasAshley James I think the first concert I ever went to was Jay Cole. He's a rapper.Brian Bienkowski And last question, what is the last book you read for fun?Ashley James Oh, I recently read this novel called Transcendent Kingdom by Yan Jossey. Beautiful, beautiful book highly recommended.Brian Bienkowski Tell me a little bit about it.Ashley James Ah, so it's a story that covers so many topics like science, religion, addiction, mental health, race, love. And it basically is about this scientist, this researcher, who is studying psychology and trying to understand addiction, like what is it that makes people addicted to drugs, and it's basically because her brother was a heroin addict in high school, and ended up passing away. And that's kind of the basis of the story, but it really brings you on such a beautiful and emotional journey. So, it was really good.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. Well, Ashley, thank you so much for taking time today. You're one of those people that I'm just so glad to have met doing this work. And thank you so much for being here today.Ashley James Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed thisBrian Bienkowski All right, that is all for this week, folks.

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

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.

GoGreenNation News: We Spoke to the Congressman Singing Rihanna on the House Floor for Climate
GoGreenNation News: We Spoke to the Congressman Singing Rihanna on the House Floor for Climate

Sean Casten has no shame when it comes to climate advocacy. In fact, the Illinois representative spent his Tuesday morning singing praises for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to the tune of Rihanna’s “Work.” “To my colleagues in the Senate, the eyes of the nation in this chamber are on you, we will never, no never, neglect you. We do not hold your past against you,” Casten urged the Senate, to a rhythm that would make Lin Manuel-Miranda blush. “But you need to get it done, done, done, done, done, done.”“Mr. Speaker, what else can I say, I’m trying babe,” Casten finished, yielding to presiding Speaker Pat Ryan.FERC oversees much of the energy sector, including interstate electricity transmission, hydroelectric project licensing, and natural gas and oil pipeline projects. Casten—who beat a six-term Republican incumbent in his district in 2018—was seeking to bring attention to the Senate failing to renominate FERC’s fifth commissioner, Chairman Richard Glick. Biden had set a previous goal of a zero-carbon pollution power sector by 2035, and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, something the Inflation Reduction Act puts America on track to approach. Massive electricity generation, transmission, and storage are needed to attain such goals. Without a fully-staffed FERC, it’ll be hard to meet them. The danger is if any FERC decisions related to the energy transition are split 2-2, Casten told The New Republic. “The things that we’re trying to do, that capital markets are trying to do, to give us cleaner, more reliable, more efficient energy are now going to be stalled just for a bureaucratic reason because we didn’t appoint a commissioner. It’s an own-goal.”“A deadlocked FERC would eliminate up to 80 percent of the emissions reductions created by the IRA,” Casten noted in his musical remarks Tuesday.For months, the fate of Glick’s renomination has been up in the air. Senator Joe Manchin, who has enjoyed millions of dollars from coal companies he founded, chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee tasked with conducting hearings with FERC nominees. Thus far, the senator has refused to hold a hearing.In March, Manchin did call a hearing, but only to reprimand Glick and the commission’s Democrats for requiring more information from natural gas projects about their economic justification and environmental impacts. And Manchin was further incensed after President Biden last month called to shut down coal-powered energy plants.Manchin, who has spent months lobbying for permitting reform that would—beyond clearing the path for a natural gas pet project in his own state—ostensibly promote construction of new electrical transmission lines, is hindering the staffing of the agency that would oversee that reform. He moreover threatens the timely execution of the IRA, one of Biden’s most signature accomplishments.Last year, Casten led a #HotFERCSummer campaign featuring House floor renditions inspired by Megan Thee Stallion, Fergie, and Dolly Parton to advocate for FERC-related legislation and to fill a previously empty FERC seat, which was completed in November 2021. And his advocacy continues.“Having had some degree of success to break the deadlock last time—just at the expense of humiliating myself on the House floor—I thought we’d try to do it again and cringe it up and do some more dad jokes and see if we can strike lightning twice.”

GoGreenNation News: Meet the 13 brands elevating everyday tasks, from washing dishes to banking
GoGreenNation News: Meet the 13 brands elevating everyday tasks, from washing dishes to banking

Washing the dishes, cooking a meal, catching a flight, doing some banking, at a glance, the tasks and routines of our everyday life can appear as a collection of mundane and uninspiring experiences. However, there are brands working to avoid that appearance, and make these routines more meaningful in a variety of ways. Our Place turns a single kitchen pan into a stylish statement against unnecessary waste and carbon neutrality. Blueland uses dish soap and body wash to address plastic waste, and a more efficient supply chain, while Pinterest finds unexpected and inclusive ways to add more joy and utility to the daily scroll. Here are the brands elevating our everyday: Alaska Airlines Since its founding, Alaska Airlines has been defined by its West Coast roots—and routes. In its nascent days, it provided bush planes for isolated communities in its namesake state, and still crisscrosses California and the Pacific Northwest, where wildfires and water scarcity are big issues. “Growing up in those places instilled in us an ethos of real consciousness around place,” says Diana Birkett Rakow, the company’s SVP of public affairs and sustainability. That awareness has inspired a sustainability focus; its five-point plan to reach net-zero by 2040 includes a switch to sustainable aviation fuel, proposed electric-propulsion jets by the end of decade, and carbon offsets. With the clock ticking on other goals, like getting from 1% to 10% sustainable fuel by 2030, the airline is bolstering its efforts with both internal and external support. From the CEO down, 10% of every employee’s bonus opportunity is based on the airline’s performance in meeting its goals. Alaska has also found partners for its efforts initiatives, which include replacing plastic water bottles with Boxed Water cartons in flight, investing in manufacturer ZeroAvia to develop a hydroelectric power train, and even starting a venture fund to identify promising environmental startups. “We can’t change the system on our own,” Birkett Rakow says. “But we can bring partners together and take actions that help create a positive flywheel.” —Talib Visram Avocado Green Brands The bulk of discourse around mattresses in recent years has been whether it came from a store or a box, but Avocado has made its name as one of the first Climate Neutral-certified brands, offsetting more than the sum of its scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, and advocating for legislation that will help fight the climate crisis through its partnership with CERES and the American Sustainable Business Network. The brand in 2021 produced an eight-part podcast called A Little Green, that follows one of its execs, Christina Thompson, as she explores her impact on the environment, and how we can challenge the status quo and become climate leaders in our own communities. Sleep on that. Cloud Paper The bamboo-based toilet paper and paper towel brand is taking aim at global deforestation one wipe at a time. Backed by an impressive list of backers, including Marc Benioff, Mark Cuban, Ashton Kutcher, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Oseary, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, NFL star Russell Wilson, and Ciara, the brand celebrated Earth Day 2021 with a fake campaign for a brand called Flush that told you which old growth forest you were wiping with. Dawn The P&G-owned brand has worked to design products to help people use less water and energy, but also be more accessible. Its Powerwash Dish Spray was designed to work on contact, without running the tap to create suds, helping households save up to 120 gallons of water per week, while the brand’s EZ-Squeeze bottle—one of Dawn’s most researched and tested products ever—is designed to dispense dishwashing liquid accurately with only one hand. Dawn also this year committed ​​to help protect and care for a million birds and marine mammals by 2030 through its partnerships with International Bird Rescue and the Marine Mammal Center. Greenwood When Greenwood launched in 2020, it drew attention for being the first digital bank with all Black founders—Ryan Glover, civil rights icon and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, and rapper Killer Mike. Since then, the bank has focused on addressing racial inequities in the financial system. Greenwood acquired the Gathering Spot, which operates Black-focused networking and work space clubs in three cities. Glover says it has made Greenwood the country’s largest combined fintech and community platform for Black and minority consumers, reaching one million people. Greenwood is also building a content arm with digital shows, podcasts, and even name, image, and likeness deals. Indeed More than a job board, Indeed has made itself into a complete platform to better serve both job seekers and employers. Over the past year, the brand has launched Interview Days: Restaurant Jobs with OpenTable, a U.S. hiring initiative aimed to accelerate the recovery of the food and beverage industry by providing free hiring tools to help businesses and restaurateurs source, screen and host interviews. The Indeed Hiring Platform launched in 2022, and allows employers to manage and accelerate the hiring process—from posting through interview—directly on Indeed, with no additional software, all aiming to enable faster, more efficient access to a diverse pool of job seekers looking for the perfect fit. Kahoot Learning should be fun, and education platform Kahoot does just that with 40 million monthly participants, with a combination of content partners like Disney, NASA, and the World Health Organization. Last December, over 3,500 students participated in the European Interschool Kahoot, learning about the refugee and migrant experience and fostering inclusivity. And in April, Indiana-based teacher Stephen Auslander hosted the Kahoot! Cup, with more than 3,200 students from over 50 countries playing with the overall message, “We’re more alike than we’re different.” Lifewtr The brand wrapped its bottles in culture for its 2021 Life Unseen campaign, which worked with actor, writer and producer Issa Rae, who invited 20 diverse filmmakers, musicians, artists, and fashion designers to showcase their work on Lifwtr’s bottle labels. As part of the campaign, the brand also published an interactive tool that reveals the representation gaps that exist across the creative industry for women, the LGBTQ community, people of color, and people with disabilities. Mastercard The act of paying for something can be incredibly simple, but Mastercard has worked to expand that this past year with its new Touch Card for blind and partially sighted people, setting a new global standard for payment card design that enables people to tell, with a touch, which card they are holding. That inclusive product design builds on its work with True Name (to ensure the name on a person’s Mastercard reflects their true identity) which was also expanded globally to 30 European markets. Our Place While traditional kitchenware brands and stores feature hundreds of products, Our Place focuses on fewer, well-made products to minimize waste. Its Always Pan, for example, is designed to replace eight pieces of cookware. The immigrant- and female-founded brand reached full carbon neutrality this year. Pinterest In an effort to become a more inclusive platform, Pinterest spent the past year expanding its search capabilities in the beauty space for users with textured hair, and reining in ad content that could be harmful to users’ body image. Last August, Pinterest’s visual search team added a search mechanism to filter hair inspiration images based on pattern—including curly and coiled—and protective styles, like twists and braids. Similar to the skin tone search feature that the company released in 2018, this new AI-powered search tool can pinpoint and recognize hair patterns and surface the appropriate Pins. In the little more than a year since the feature launched, Pinterest has seen a significant increase in texture-specific search requests, including  “naturally wavy hair cuts with layers” and “protective hairstyles braids.” Pinterest also expanded its body neutrality initiative, amending its ad policy in July 2021 to ban all mentions of body mass index and weight loss, building on an earlier ban on ads for diet products, or featuring before-and-after imagery. One year later, the company self-reported a 20% decrease in “weight loss” searches and a trend away from activity related to diets. —Rachel Kim Raczka Plantega Bodegas are a way of life in New York City, and Plantega is a brand bringing plant-based food options to a much broader audience through the city’s network of shops. In 2021, it launched in 14 locations across four NYC boroughs, from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to Jamaica, Queens, with a goal to bridge the gap between plant-based food manufacturers and independent corner stores, while helping spark a shift toward more sustainable eating. Vital Farms This is a brand that prides itself on the cruelty-free treatment of its hens to the sustainability of its supply chain, but also manages to turn those ideals into fun, compelling content. Its traceability initiative allows you to see a 360-degree video of the farm and the hens that laid your eggs, and in 2021, they took it a step further. Vital Farms built a custom, hen-friendly camera into a pasture where hens that lay the company’s eggs wander, to get a firsthand look at their daily life. The camera features a pressure-sensor platform that, when pecked or stepped on by a hen, sets off the shutter, producing black-and-white images of the hens’ surroundings, including vast pastures, their flock, and the family farmers who care for them. The photos were then featured in a national billboard campaign, as well as online and in a limited-edition coffee-table book. This article is part of Fast Company’s 2022 Brands That Matter awards. Explore the full list of brands whose success has come from embodying their purpose in a way that resonates with their customers.

GoGreenNation News: CalEPA Secretary Yana Garcia wants to make sure California is at the forefront of climate tech
GoGreenNation News: CalEPA Secretary Yana Garcia wants to make sure California is at the forefront of climate tech

On October 18, Yana Garcia, the newly appointed Secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, played musical chairs with me and our driver inside the cab of a 14-foot Class 8 hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric truck. Garcia slipped into the driving seat, a quick glance over her shoulder to confirm her minders were out of sight. “It’s private property, right?” she joked. She honked the horn, smiled, and accelerated. “It’s so smooth,” she marveled, “and it’s fast!” We were in the car park of the much-hyped $419 million Riverside campus belonging to the California Air Resource Board (a department within the CalEPA’s devoted to clean air initiatives; called CARB for short). The truck, part of a four-year, $41 million partnership between CARB, Toyota, and Kenworth Truck Company, has a 300-mile range and takes around 20 minutes to refuel. Rounding a corner, all three of us lurched forward thanks to Garcia’s enthusiastic application of the brakes. “They’re more sensitive than my Prius,” she exclaimed. Since 2020, ten of these zero-emission trucks have been in daily use at the Port of L.A., the busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere. The port accounts for 23% of California’s on-road emissions, and its record-breaking cargo loads go hand in hand with record-breaking pollution: There was a 56% jump in carcinogenic diesel particulates and a 39% rise in emissions in 2021. Locals report a jump in cancer and respiratory issues as a result of activity around the port. That’s unacceptable to Garcia, 38, and one of the many, many data points that makes her new gig a tough proposition. It’s been tough since the start: Her first week in office, in early September, was spent under a governor-declared state of emergency due to the extreme heat. (Oakland, where she resides, hit 104 degrees that week.) People cranked their AC way up, smashing California’s electricity peak usage records, and panicking the power grid operator, who sent out push notifications about potential outages. The grid strained, but—thanks in part to the state’s longstanding investments in hydropower, solar, and other renewable energies—the lights ultimately stayed on. To the surprise of no one (this is a Democrat from California, after all) Garcia doesn’t mince words about the lessons learned—or rather, reinforced—from that first week: “We are in a climate crisis,” she said. “We have to work harder and quicker [to] keep moving apace with what reality requires of us.” Climate crunch time Garcia is the first Latino to head CalEPA, an appointment that occurred at a pivotal time for the state, which has weathered an increasingly aggressive number of wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat events. Latinos, who account for 39% of California’s populace, have been disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. “These [events] have really impacted people’s ability to survive,” Garcia said. “Protecting people’s health is a key priority.” Put more simply: It’s climate crunch time, and there’s no room for halfway measures. That directive comes from the top down. Governor Newsom’s California Climate Commitment plan has pledged $54 billion—essentially, the GDP of Croatia—to tackle climate change on all fronts. In August, state regulators banned gas-powered-car sales by 2035 and set a net-zero carbon goal by 2045. The magnitude of the climate problem has led to an unprecedented flood of cutting-edge technologies from environmental entrepreneurs. After all, there’s more than California’s climate at stake here. As the world’s fourth-largest economy, what goes down in the Golden State ripples onto the global climate agenda. “Technology innovation is a really key piece [for CalEPA] in accelerat[ing] the time frame in getting to carbon neutrality,” Garcia said. “But we must do that equitably.” Clean air and water are her top priorities. Garcia’s especially concerned with the socioeconomic implications of climate change. Her own family history undoubtedly plays a role in her passion for the subject: Her mother suffered from debilitating bouts of asthma while living in smoggy Los Angeles—a hardship that’s consistent with reports suggesting higher-than average-asthma rates in low-income communities of color. (Fortunately for her mother, the asthma vanished when she moved to the Bay Area.) Her mother’s plight aside, Garcia saw firsthand what environmental inequity looks like at an early age. At eight-years-old, she and her younger sisters moved to Mexico to spend time with their grandparents. Her cousins worked in agriculture, and she saw their life upended when the North American Free Trade Agreement was enacted. Their water quality declined, access to land was restricted, and market depreciation forced many of them to move. “It kicked people into some pretty dire circumstances,” she said. [Photo: courtesy of the State of California] Her fury at this injustice led to her career in environmental law, working for Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment, which parlayed into a role as Deputy Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs. As an attorney, she was key in forcing CalEPA to remove hazardous chemicals from pesticides, and held them accountable for lax product labeling and allowing dangerous air pollutants in low-income neighborhoods. And now, years after fighting against the CalEPA, she’s helming it. “If you would have told me I was going to end up in the state government, I would have said that was crazy,” she said. “I felt that the government couldn’t be a place for change, but that was debunked.” As CalEPA Secretary, Garcia’s $6.9 billion budget shores up the state’s climate-fighting task force, through six departments (which includes CARB, CalRecycle and the State Water Resources Control Board) and some 7,400 employees. Her remit covers air quality, water quality, recycling and waste, pesticide management, and environmental justice. California’s climate goals are ambitious, but achievable, she says. Electrification is central to the process. Hence Garcia’s interest in CARB’s electric truck developments. Inside the truck cab, the dash is covered with the expected assortment of primary-colored buttons and levers. The setup’s identical to a regular rig, save an emergency stop button for the electrics and hydrogen supply. Danny Gamboa, a career trucker, who drives the rig in shifts said that, “when loaded [with port containers], we’re as fast as a truck. . . . I’ve reached 90 miles per hour on a test track.” As we barreled around the corner, at a far more sedate 30 miles per hour, he added: “The big difference is that it has zero emissions and more torque.” That’s evident when the hydroelectric engine whirs rather than growls to life, and we set off down the street, expelling polite puffs of water vapor. Gamboa’s quality of life has also improved; no more going home smelling like a chimney, or aching backs and eardrums from non-stop shaking. “(Locals) used to boo when we drove by . . . now they cheer,” he says proudly. The port pilot ended this September, unequivocally demonstrating that hydrogen fuel is equal—if not better—than diesel, in terms of range, power, and operation. Garcia looks elated as she clambers out the truck, hopping down easily in her denim jeans, wedge sandals, and sleeveless chiffon blouse—the same top she wore to her swearing-in ceremony with Governor Newsom, she told me. Next step: ramping up commercial deployment. Toyota Kenworth fuel cell electric trucks [Photo: courtesy of Toyota] Garcia hopes this will become commonplace before too long. She noted that the state has a good track record of early adoption, emphasizing how collaborating with companies helps them get ahead. It’ll take plenty of original thinking if California is to hit its 50% renewable energy goal by 2025. Fortunately, this year has been one climate tech-firsts for the state. In October, Eco Wave Power began rolling out the tech for their onshore wave energy power station in Los Angeles for the first time In Central California, canal-covering solar canopies are being laid atop a mile-and-a-half of the state’s waterways—the first such project in the U.S. Another first: In December, California will for the first time auction off five commercial offshore wind leases, with 399 square miles up for grabs. “It’s really cool,” said Garcia. “Innovative energy production is key to influencing climate action.” Solar, especially in sunny California, offers another powerful source of renewable energy, and the state has invested in various daylight harvesting window films to transform everyday windows into energy generating solar panels. One beneficiary is Redwood City-based Ubiquitous Energy. They’ve engineered a window coating that captures only ultraviolet and near-infrared light, invisible to human eyes, which allows the glass to stay clear. Ubiquitous Energy received two state grants, totalling $6 million, which included provisions for deployment in low income neighborhoods. To be sure, that $6 million makes up just 8% of the $75 million the company raised, but the paperwork was worth it, says Ubiquitous CEO Susan Stone. “Usually my concern is that you spend all this time administering a grant and then the value to the company is quite small,” she said. In this instance, the funds were “terrific accelerants,” something she credits to supportive legislators. The timing’s also on point: A 2020 update to California’s building codes required all residential new builds to install solar panels, which expands to commercial builds, come 2023. “Building climate resilient housing is really important,” said Garcia. That’s on a micro and macro level; buildings are responsible for 28% of global energy-related C02 emissions. There’s still kinks to smooth out: Ubiquitous Energy’s windows generate around 20% the energy of rooftop solar and are double the cost of regular windows. Stone argues that their reach—glass facades on skyscrapers, patio doors, skylights—counterbalances this. And once solar tax credits are applied, ”they bring us right back to price parity with conventional windows.” Their R&D pipeline includes consumer electronics —think self-powered iPhones, for example. But even as state funds flood into climate technologies—in 2020, California Climate Investments distributed $3.1 billion to 51,000 projects—their efforts are surpassed by private investors, who funneled around $31 billion into climate technologies in 2021. That’s why Garcia believes public and private partnerships are such a high priority for California. “[I’m] working with the private sector to understand what their emerging needs might be, from a regulatory and an incentive standpoint,” she said. Some of the most promising technologies in their R&D pipeline have yet to scale; such as Berkeley-based Twelve’s dishwasher-sized C02 recycler, which sucks C02 out of the air and uses electrolysis to convert it into jet fuel, sunglasses, and car parts. But many more have gone mainstream, especially in the wildfire sphere. Enter helitankers that can slurp up thousands of oceanic gallons in minutes, and night flying twin-engine Cal Fire Hawk choppers that transport night-vision goggles wearing firefighters, and a slew of thermal imaging cameras that help firefighters “see” through smoke. Danger hotspots are teeming with smart cameras and AI-powered sensors; Dryad Networks’s solar-powered sensors are sensitive enough to “smell” a smolder-stage fire and sound the alert; others emit warnings regarding surface temperature changes and algorithmically distinguish smoke from fog. First responders are outfitted with X-Ray vision, courtesy of Lumineye’s pocket-sized pulse radar technology, which detects people-sized shapes hidden in buildings or brush. Garcia’s hopeful that these types of technologies will help spare people from the worst of it —especially those who are most affected. “To build the future we want, underrepresented communities [need to be part of] our development of technological innovation,” she said. Federico Castillo, an environmental and agricultural economist at the University of California, Berkeley, is enthusiastic about Garcia’s approach. “Technology that allows us to cope with extremes is key to California’s climate success, [and having] Yana as secretary is a huge step forward,” he said. “Climate models show the heatwaves will get more intense and there are very few individuals of color who are making [policy] decisions.” Castillo’s working to improve that pipeline, via his Latinxs and the Environment Initiative, and Garcia’s appointment helps his students visualize their potential. Still, Castillo’s concerned about the wealth gap inherent in so many climate forward programs—you have to be a homeowner to add solar, for example. Electrification also worries him. “I am all for technology; the issue here is who has access to technology?” he said. “There’s no question that they’ll be good for the environment, but I have not seen anyone studying impact in this for people of color.” “It’s never too late” Then there’s the bigger, more existential fear: that every initiative is just a stopgap until the world burns or the billionaires launch us all into space. We live in a time where, in 24 hours, two leaky pipelines emit the equivalent of a third of Denmark’s annual emissions; kids are so distressed that psychologists have created certified climate therapy programs to address their anxieties; and 30% of Americans say they’ve been personally affected by extreme weather. “Those data points can feel very disheartening,” said Garcia. “Feeling like (it’s) overwhelming is common.” She turns to gardening to take the edge off and reconnect with the earth; her backyard is full of chard, kale, peppers, strawberries, cucumbers, and melons. Crisis events are motivating: “It charge[s] you with the energy that you need to respond urgently. We have to figure out how to bring everyone along, because we can fight alone.” “It’s never too late,” said Matt Petersen, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). He points at how the April 2020 stay-at-home orders temporarily cleared the smog from the Los Angeles skyline, revealing a cornflower-blue vista. For two weeks, the city’s air quality topped every city in the world, according to IQAir, an air monitoring platform. “That opened people’s eyes,” said Petersen. The world is at a turning point, he says; he believes that investments in zero emissions, clean energy and electrification will power us through this unprecedented economy-wide transformation. “It’s so we can not just survive, but thrive on this planet,” he said. Venture capital in conjunction with government grants has made huge inroads in the electric vehicle space, he notes. LACI’s portfolio includes SparkCharge, which provides on-demand EV charging to drivers (Mark Cuban invested on Shark Tank); Evolectric, which converts gas-powered cars into electric ones; and Envoy, which is basically Zipcar for electric car-sharing. In 2020, Envoy launched a hub within a public housing complex, and residents received a subsidized $3 an hour rate.“Everybody (has to) benefit from the green economy,” said Petersen. Piggybacking off his work is the EVs for all Act, that’s winding its way through congress. Progress and politics are intertwined, he emphasized; to scale, entrepreneurs need to work with legislators on policies. Changes are already underfoot, the biggest of them being the Inflation Reduction Act, which earmarked $369 billion for clean energy and climate fighting solutions. “This has opened up the next renewable energy boom,” said Stone. “It’s no longer talk. It’s absolutely action.” The Act includes a $40,000 tax credit, for commercial electric trucks, and tax rebates on greener home appliances. It’s a process, but progress is underway. This year, 18% of new car sales in California were for electric vehicles, and California’s economy continues to soar, proving that heavily investing in environmentally friendly practices can benefit a nation. Back in Riverside, Garcia and I finished our tour of CARB’s $419 million campus; the largest zero net energy building in the U.S. It opened during the pandemic, its floor-to-ceiling windows making the lack of staff eerily obvious. This, I find out later, is actually a green-measure: CARB’s 30-year-employee plan has staff remote working two days a week until 2050, providing an estimated reduction of 1,000 metric tons of C02 per year. As we exited, our attention was captured by a sun-bleached monument in the center’s courtyard: a life-sized fossilized gas station. Moving closer to the art installation, we take in its four crumbling pumps, situated under a decrepit-looking pylon. The artist’s signaling is obvious, a visual representation of the natural and necessary obsolescence of fossil fuels. Garcia shaded her eyes and peered at the price-per-gallon numbers carved into the limestone pumps: frozen for all time at $3.19 regular, $3.39 plus, and $3.59 supreme. “That already feels like the distant past,” she said—California gas prices sit around $6 a gallon. As we talked, I noticed Garcia’s matching medicine wheel tattoos, one on each wrist. Interpretations of the wheel’s symbolism vary among cultures, but broadly speaking it signifies how everything in life is connected, and how balance in all things is necessary. For Garcia, it’s a daily reminder to focus on the resources at hand. “The hots are getting hotter,” she said. “We need to protect ourselves.”

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