Julie Dunlap: To College in a Catastrophe [reposting]

[In midsummer, as parents and students once again prepare for college in the fall, it seems appropriate to re-post the following essay, which originally appeared here last November.]

Author Julie Dunlap’s essay in Facing the Change, “Annapolis Bus Ride,” reflects upon her young son Eli’s experiences at a climate change rally in the context of wider questions of children’s psychological and spiritual development in a world in crisis. In this new essay, Julie explores these issues further as her daughter Sarah leaves for college. 

To College in a Catastrophe

Imagine Henry Thoreau’s mother, trying to pack him up for Harvard in 1833.  “Simplify, schmimplify,” Mrs. Thoreau might have exhorted her abstemious son. “At least take a change of socks and long johns.”

No such resistance to consumption afflicted my daughter, Sarah, as we shopped for college last summer. A pile of “necessities” grew in her bedroom, including but not limited to a Powerbook, extra-long sheets and comforter, assorted instant soups, mugs, posters, shoes and more shoes, and a shower caddy with a startling array of bath products.  To Sarah, the collection seemed an expression of delight in her imminent adventure.  For me, the proliferating acquisitions were a bulwark against my own insecurities; even at that late date, I feared, I had failed to prepare my child for her future.

My defenses took a shuddering blow when her college Facebook page urged a reading assignment for incoming freshmen:  Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert.  My teenage perusal of Walden immersed me in images of Thoreau’s experiment in the pre-industrial New England woods, but through Kolbert, Sarah would encounter a much darker vision: a post-warming world of vanishing species, churning hurricanes, and shriveling ice sheets. According to the journalist’s muster of experts, the climate change crisis is neither potential nor impending but upon us.  Is Sarah ready for a planet that Kolbert succinctly describes as melting?

Protecting one’s offspring from traumatic information is de rigueur for most parents.  I prefer to think of it not as withholding the truth but as preserving childhood.  On September 11, 2001, many adults sheltered young ears, as I did my kindergartener’s, from tragic news of the Twin Towers and Pentagon. The appropriate ages to broach disturbing or horrific subjects is a matter for debate, as I realized when a teacher assigned Sarah’s 10-year-old sister the task of printing internet photos of skeletal Holocaust victims,  but surely some level of maturity is required to cope with Kolbert’s haunting eyewitness reports.  An Inuit hunter, who has been observing climate change accelerate since before Sarah was born, says, “Our children may not have a future. . . .  It’s not just happening in the Arctic.  It’s going to happen all over the world.  The whole world is going too fast.”

“Surely joy is the condition of life,” wrote Thoreau in an essay celebrating the wilds of Massachusetts.  Though convinced about global warming, I also believe in biophilia, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson’s theory that humans are hardwired to need an intimate connection with non-human nature. For years my family let me lure them outdoors, away from all electronic temptations, to hike in the Catoctins or to stargaze far from city lights. Evidence is mounting (though not as fast as greenhouse gas data) that such experiences bolster child development, relieve stress, thwart obesity, augment cognitive abilities, and deepen spirituality.  As I watched my children arrange stones in a streambed, I felt they were building a bastion against loss and disappointment, a font of optimism and resilience for whatever lay ahead.

But by Sarah’s sophomore year of high school, creek walking had faded into memory. Whereas Thoreau tucked a few field notes into his straw hat, Sarah crammed her backpack so heavily with texts that she walked at a slant. In their quiet desperation to earn Ivy League admission or scholarships, Sarah’s contemporaries devoted their hours and energies to seeking top grades and SAT scores.  Yet the AP Chemistry class could not find time to explore the thermodynamics of our endangered atmosphere. Abetted by equally desperate parents, even volunteers at tree plantings seemed more concerned with plumping their resumes than beautifying the neighborhood with living carbon sinks.

Henry Thoreau studied hard, too.  He knew ancient languages well enough to write home in Latin.  In classical literature, Virgil’s Georgics especially spoke to him.  A poetic tribute to farming, the Georgics express the reassurance Thoreau found in the eternal rhythms of the seasons.  Such simple faith, in the renewal of spring and the beneficence of the sun, must seem quaint to Sarah and her college cohort.  Young Henry could learn the art of beekeeping from a 2000-year-old manuscript, but today’s students confront colony collapse disorder. In Kolbert’s book and elsewhere, they read of delayed blooming patterns, shifting wildlife migrations, and other symptoms of an unstable earth that Thoreau could not have imagined. How does it feel to learn that by 2030, when Sarah’s friends dream of raising children of their own, their planet may have reached a tipping point?

Still, I am glad that Sarah’s future alma mater urged reading of Kolbert’s Catastrophe.  With so few readers in Concord, Thoreau fretted, a man who reads an important book “will find nobody to speak to, but must keep silence about it.”  Learned professors, thankfully, will guide the Class of 2017 in discussing the science and politics of global warming.  Prepared or not, Sarah and classmates must speak up for their own future. “The frontiers are not east or west, north or south,” Thoreau wrote, “but wherever a man fronts a fact.”

Before she left for school in August, I tucked a pair of hiking books into her dorm pile. And as she e-mails me reports of her journeys this fall, I scan them for insights that may help me learn how to prepare her little brother, Eli, for his own too-soon departure for college. But for now, at least, for the Class of 2022, the sun is still a morning star.

~~~~~~~~ 

Julie Dunlap is coeditor of the anthology Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together and an award-winning author or coauthor of numerous children’s books, including John Muir and Stickeen: An Icy Adventure with a No-Good Dog. She earned a Ph.D. in Forestry and Environmental Studies from Yale University and coordinates a schoolyard habitat grant program for the Audubon Society of Central Maryland.

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Steve Holmes: European Heat Wave, 2003

The following piece was written by the editor of Facing the Change, Steven Pavlos Holmes, around 2008.

European Heat Wave, 2003

We all know the story: September 11, 2001 – a bright, sunny morning in America. Out of a clear blue sky, a jet airplane slammed into a tall building, and then another. People started burning, falling, dying. Around 3,000 dead, in a few minutes.

I watched on the television as the twin towers fell, and I cried in time as people died. Soon, military jets screamed over Boston, as for a while we on the east coast didn’t know where the fourth plane might fall. They’ve been screaming ever since.

But here’s another story: Imagine that we all had woken up the next morning, and the same thing happened all over again – 3000 people burning, dying, before our eyes. Their flesh, our flesh, our hearts on fire.

And then, the next day – the same thing.

And the next day.

And the next.

And the next, and the next – 3000 people dying each day.

And the next day. And the next. And the next.

And the next.

What if 9/11 had happened every day for eleven days straight?

A few years later, it did. In Europe in the summer of 2003, a massive heat wave killed at least 35,000 people, probably more, most of them during the first two weeks of August.

Yes, that’s right: 35,000 people dead across Europe, more than eleven 9/11s. Burning, dying in their homes, day after day. From heat, sheer heat in the world around them. In large cities, in small towns, everywhere across Europe – mainly poor or older people, in second-story rooms without air conditioning or fans.

It was as if we, all of us carbon-users, hijacked a massive fleet of jet airplanes and slammed them all into the upper rooms of houses where old people lived, and watched them burn.

And we all know that that’s just the beginning. Where will the next plane fall?

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ISLE review: FTC is “a rich, refreshing, and much-needed collection”

Another brief but thoughtful review of FTC is in the new issue of ISLE (the journal of ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment), available both in paper and online:

http://isle.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/1/208.full?keytype=ref&ijkey=KQj6OdvkfySv0wD

According to reviewer Stephen Siperstein, “I used the book to great success in a first-year humanities seminar on climate change; the students connected more easily with the perspectives offered by the authors in this volume than they did with more traditional climate ‘experts’ like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, or Al Gore. Of course, the contributors to this book are climate change ‘experts’ in their own right, and as Holmes notes, these authors—diverse in age, profession, class, gender, and geographic location—are ‘our emotional and cultural first responders to climate change’ (2). ”

Moreover, Siperstein pinpoints the book’s “most important quality” as follows: “It does not prescribe what we should think or what we should feel about climate change. Instead, it presents a range of honest responses and leaves it up to us to weigh the possibilities.”

The review concludes with some appropriate critique and an interesting challenge:

“The book’s only significant limitation is its inclusion of mostly US writers. This skews the collection’s overall perspective of climate change to that of the global north. ‘Personal encounters’ with climate change from Massachusetts or Oregon would read much differently (and perhaps even more powerfully) in conjunction with personal encounters from China or Kenya, for example. With any luck, this collection should inspire a second volume or other similar projects.”

Any takers?

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Call for contributors to new volume: Teaching Climate Change in Literary and Cultural Studies

[Note: This project is not associated with Facing the Change but is swimming in some of the same waters, so to speak. One of the editors, Stephen Siperstein, participated with FTC authors in the "Transformation without Apocalypse" event in Oregon; one of his poems read at that event appears in a post below. For a PDF of the call, click here]. 

July 1, 2014. Call for Contributors to Teaching Climate Change in Literary and Cultural Studies

Building on the recent groundswell of climate change focused research in literary and cultural studies, this volume proposes a practical and theoretical resource for teaching climate change.  The volume will serve as an archive of the most innovative approaches to incorporating issues related to climate change—broadly conceived—into literary and cultural studies classrooms.  This disciplinary rubric is meant to be both inclusive and international and could include approaches developed from methodologies in English, Cultural Studies, American Studies, Film and Media Studies, Performance Studies, Comparative Literature, Ethnic Studies, and related fields. While we encourage comparative approaches and discussions of works not primarily taught in English, we do ask that all submissions be translated into English.

We are seeking original and previously unpublished articles of 2,500-3,500 words that address pedagogical strategies for teaching climate change. The volume is intended for teachers in colleges and universities, from the undergraduate through graduate levels. As such, articles could address historical contexts (for example: background on climate fiction or climate change in ecocriticism), theoretical reflections on pedagogical practice, and case studies explaining diverse approaches to teaching climate change (for example: ecofeminist, Chicano/a, place-based, interdisciplinary, bilingual, and service learning approaches).

If you would like to propose an original essay for this volume, please submit an abstract of approximately 300 words in which you describe the approach to teaching climate change that you would like to cover and an overview of your article. Please also submit a brief (100-200 word) biographical statement and short curriculum vitae. The focus of the proposed essay should be pedagogical. Note that if you plan to quote from student writing in your essay, you must obtain written permission from your students to do so.

Please send abstracts and biographical statements to the volume editors by e-mail no later than July 1, 2014; use “Teaching Climate Change” in the subject line and send to both Stephen Siperstein (siperste@uoregon.edu) and Stephanie LeMenager (slemen@uoregon.edu). Also feel free to email with any questions about the volume.

This is a crucial time to be teaching climate change related issues in the humanities, and we want to highlight the diversity and multiplicity of teaching practices happening internationally in our collective fields. We believe that the time is ripe for a volume such as this and hope you will consider joining us.

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Review: FTC is “an important and often moving contribution”

Here’s a link to a new review of Facing the Change, in the latest issue of World Literature Today.  Praising “the wide-ranging and honest voices in this smartly edited collection,” reviewer John Calderazzo says: “These crisp contributions read like the thoughts of ordinary folks trying to figure out how to live sustainable and meaningful lives in thrall of enormous changes that so often seem beyond the reach of individual action.

The issue also contains a whole section on “International Eco-Lit” – great company for FTC. Check it out!

http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2014/may-august/facing-change-personal-encounters-global-warming#.U3E7r53D_IV

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Facing the Change in rural Wisconsin

On April 9, Ripon College in central Wisconsin played host to the first Facing the Change event in middle America. FTC editor Steven Pavlos Holmes – whose visit to Ripon also included guest appearances in a few environmental studies courses and discussions with faculty, all made possible by funds from the Banville Family Trust – introduced the book and led the discussion after the readings. Local residents Soren Hauge and Kat Griffith read selections from the book: Soren (professor of economics at Ripon and organizer of the event) chose Jamie Sweitzer Brandstader’s “The Innocence of Ice,” whose stories of youthful hockey games brought back memories from Soren’s own childhood; Margarita Engle’s “Search,” which illustrated an issue raised in a class the day before; and Willow Fagan’s thoughtful meditation on struggle and strength, “Beyond Denial.” Kat chose pieces with similar personal resonances, Marybeth Holleman’s “Thin Line Between” and Julie Dunlap’s “Annapolis Bus Ride,” the latter raising issues from Kat’s own experiences as homeschooler and community educator.

In the lively discussion that followed (which was still going strong at the end of the allotted hour and a half), about 25 students, faculty, and local residents shared their own stories, observations, and concerns about climate change, and about the natural world in general – from backyards in Ripon to Alaska, from birds to bears, from the green and growing earth to the frozen and icy parts of the world. Indeed, this audience’s responses brought out the fact that FTC isn’t just a “global warming book,” but a collection of eloquent and evocative nature writing with the power to move people to reflect on their experiences of and fears for the living world as a whole.

Thanks to Soren and Kat, the Banville Family Trust, Ripon College, and everyone who attended for a powerful evening of community and reflection!

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FTC selected Finalist in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Awards

BOTYA Finalist sticker

Good news! Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming has been selected as a Finalist in ForeWord Review’s 2013 Book of the Year Awards, which recognize the best of independent publishing in over 60 categories. The book – which is a finalist in two categories, Ecology/Environment and Anthologies – will now be evaluated further by a panel of librarians and booksellers; winners will be announced at the American Library Association Annual Meeting in June.

For more on the awards and this year’s finalists, go to https://botya.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2013/press-release/?utm_source=ftw&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ftw-2014-03-13

For ForeWord’s FTC page, go to https://botya.forewordreviews.com/books/facing-the-change

Congratulations to all the contributors to FTC, and thanks to everyone for helping to spread the word!

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Thinking Like Bears in Oregon

In the wake of the “Transformation without Apocalypse” symposium at Oregon State University in February, a few tidbits:

Videos of the keynote speakers – including the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Tim DeChristopher, Kathleen Dean Moore, and others – are now available at the website of the Spring Creek Project: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/centers-and-initiatives/spring-creek-project/publications-and-videos    (the videos start halfway down the page)

At the symposium’s “Transformation Literature and Film Festival,” FTC contributors Kristin Berger, Willow Fagan, and Carla Wise, along with Stephen Siperstein of the U of Oregon, read from the anthology and their own work. Here are Kristin (left), Carla, and copies of the book in the company of other exalted titles (such as those of Kim Stanley Robinson). Thanks to Kristin for organizing FTC’s participation in the event, and to Grass Roots Books for making the books available!

Kristin Carla and FTC in Oregon

Finally, as yet another example of “Facing the Change beyond FTC,” here’s one of his own poems Stephen Siperstein read at the event:

Thinking Like a Bear

Stooped among lowbush branches
We twist, pluck, and plop
Purple fruit into buckets.
My companion, six years old,
Turns to me,    asks:
aaaaaAre there bears here?
aaaaaaaaaaShould we be scared?
No, I say,
aaaaaWe shouldn’t be scared.
aaaaa           There are no bears, not here
(not anymore, I want to add, but don’t).
She seems relieved, but now I have got
Myself worrying:
aaaaaDark holes stretched across sea ice,
aaaaaPolar bears moving south,
aaaaaWalking on their soles—
aaaaaPine trees bulging with rust
aaaaaGrizzlies coming down
aaaaaFrom the mountains too early.
aaaaaWill she blame me
aaaaaFor a world with no bears?
aaaaaWill she remember
aaaaaWhat it feels like to be afraid
aaaaaOf something that can walk
aaaaaThrough the world like we do?
The thing is, I continue
(now determined for my own sake to sound wise)
aaaaaPeople are scared of bears but bears
 aaaaa          Are more scared of people.
Oh, she says and I feel worse, sorry to have said it,
Seeing her mind work over a hard idea
Like hands picking through small, un-ripe berries.
But then her voice, half certain–half question
Like a cool breeze off water
Waking me up to the morning:
aaaaaSo they must think we’re bears.

 

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Facing the Change at “Transformation without Apocalypse” Symposium, Feb. 14-15, Corvallis OR

Join Facing the Change contributors and friends at the symposium “Transformation without Apocalypse: How to Live Well on an Altered Planet” in Corvallis, Oregon, February 14-15! Sponsored by the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, the symposium promises to be an innovative, engaging, and powerful event, featuring speakers such as Tim DeChristopher, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Rob Nixon discussing “wiser narratives of how to inhabit the planet” and “tangible visions of new/old ways to live that promise thriving without exhausting the Earth.” On Saturday afternoon beginning around 3:30, a “Transformation Literature and Film Festival” will include a special FTC slot during which contributors Kristin Berger, Willow Fagan, and Carla Wise along with friend Stephen Siperstein will read from and discuss the anthology. All events will be free and open to the public.

For more information on the symposium, go to http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/node/953.

Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming is a new kind of book about climate change. Instead of scientific predictions or political arguments, this creative anthology offers personal essays, poems, and short stories that explore the full range of emotions—confusion, fear, sorrow, anger, and realistic hope—that we must face in confronting the crisis. To learn more, please visit http://www.facingthechange.org

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FTC author Rachel Augustine on NYC’s Green Living Radio

Our youngest author is our first radio star! Poet Rachel Augustine – now 21, but 15 when she wrote “Tiny Black Rocks” – was interviewed on NYC’s Green Living Radio on Dec 30. To listen online, go to https://archive.org/details/Dec.30GreenLiving.

The half-hour segment (which begins around minute 26 of the show) includes wide-ranging discussion of topics from FTC and global warming in general to the musical uses of a French coal mine and the changing laws about women using men’s bathrooms! Along the way, Rachel and interviewer Soledad Haren also touch on issues such as mountaintop removal, the future growth of automobiles in Mexico, international effects of American e-waste, and the environmental effects of rampant development in China. Rachel makes an interesting point about women authors’ tendency to combine science with a personal perspective – reflected in the line-up of authors in FTC – while Soledad, referring specifically to continuing effects of Superstorm Sandy, sums up both the discussion and the book: “The future is here now.”

Good work, Rachel! Thanks, Green Living Radio!

https://archive.org/details/Dec.30GreenLiving

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