Here’s an exciting new call for submissions from the UiO (University of Oslo) Department of Sociology and Human Geography:
Attention writers and humanities researchers: this is a call for narratives that bring us closer to the potentiality of the present and activate “the politics of the possible” in our changing climate. Twelve stories will be selected for publication in the Our Entangled Future anthology. We welcome your words, your “new ontological metaphors”, your not-yet-here imagined realities.
The three most compelling stories about quantum social change will receive awards of EUR 1000, EUR 750, and EUR 500. The most promising stories will be edited by renowned author, editor, and writing teacher Jordan E. Rosenfeld (http://jordanrosenfeld.net/about/).
How does one go about telling the story of hydraulic fracturing in the United States in a way that illuminates its repercussions for humans and nonhumans? Through poetry? A short story? An essay? Does one travel to a town where fracking is prevalent and talk with its residents, see the operations, walk across the scarred ground? Editors Stefanie Brook Trout and Taylor Brorby made the decision, when putting together Fracture, to include all of these approaches in an effort to capture the qualms and indignations surrounding fracking.
The story of fracking is globally relevant, contributing to the larger saga of climate change and energy production, but it is also local, personal, and intimate. In her poem “Small Buried Things,” poet and singer-songwriter Debra Marquart writes to fracking states, such as North Dakota, with a warning and a plea. Highlighting the sacrifice of life-sustaining water and air for the quick returns from fossil fuel development, she writes, “more oil than we have water to extract / more oil than we have atmosphere to burn.” Addressing her home state, she urges, “north dakota dear sleeping beauty please, wake up / they have opened you up and said, come in take everything.”
I first learned about fracking during my senior year of high school, and I can still remember those infographics depicting the cracks that spread through the shale layer, sometimes more than a mile below the Earth’s surface, branching like a system of roots where trees will never reach. I remember the video of a woman in Pennsylvania turning the knob to her kitchen sink, lighting a match, and flinching as the water ignited with a flash. She talked about methane levels, about getting dizzy in the shower, about the money the gas companies gave her to lease her land for drilling. As an Oregonian who had not witnessed fracking firsthand, my schooling on the subject was important but incomplete.
Indeed, one can only learn so much about fracking by watching videos and studying diagrams. A collection like Fracture helps to humanize the on-site damage done by fracking and offer a more complete look at the political and economic forces at play. In order to gain insight for his Fracture contribution “The Occupation,” writer and professor Paul Bogard traveled to southeastern Ohio to better understand how communities there are affected by natural gas extraction. “What I saw in Ohio,” he writes, “is a land under occupation.” Between the “ubiquitous tankers labeled ‘brine’” and the “constant industrial noise, like a factory’s churn and whine,” Bogard quickly determines that the real-life fracking scene is far different from that described by the oil company Halliburton.
On their website Halliburton depicts fracking operations as quick, quiet, and safe. Advertising to communities made vulnerable by poverty and limited access to education, the company downplays the environmental disruption and chemical contamination while emphasizing opportunities for job growth and “easy money.” Bogard learns from his hosts, Appalachia locals, that the oil and gas companies first try to coax landowners into signing leases, and then they revert to divisive tactics if that doesn’t work, “turning neighbor against neighbor.”
Like so many other contributors, Bogard’s narrative style entices Fracture readers, and I found myself roped in by the human intrigue of his journalistic approach—and then I remembered that these disturbing stories are real. The threatening industry representatives, the landowners who are duped and coerced, and the ground that “has the look of a recent battle, torn up and scraped bare, all yet to heal” comprise the reality right now in many towns across the nation. It seems appropriate that some authors in Fracture chose fiction as their avenue for exploring a practice whose implications for the future are both significant and unknown. The subject is heavy, and it tugs at the imagination, demanding an explanation and a way to look forward for what actions must be taken.
This heaviness is the reason why Fracture, which reads smoothly from page-to-page, author-to-author, and genre-to-genre, is also demanding. It requires from its readers a degree of empathy and self-reflection, all the while provoking frustration with a larger system that allows and perpetuates suffering at the hands of power. In her essay “The View from 31,000 Feet: A Philosopher Looks at Fracking,” nature writer and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore stares down at an eastern Utah landscape speckled with fracking wells. From her seat in the airplane she wonders, “By what right do humans take what they want from the land—not just what they need, but whatever they want—with no regard for the living, animate community that already exists in that place?”
Indeed, some Fracture contributors, such as Moore, take their discussions beyond fracking, seeing the practice as one component of a broader system of resource exploitation in the name of growth, convenience, and progress. In his essay “Insanity,” activist and philosopher Derrick Jensen examines fracking as one part of a dominant culture obsessed with growth at any cost. He reminds readers that “[f]racking is not one lone mistake. It’s not one lone act of greed. It’s part of a larger pattern. It’s one symptom of the disease—the insanity—that is this culture.” He urges readers to fight fracking with this larger picture in mind and to understand that what is needed in taking action against fracking is a systemic shift and not one that views the extractive practice in isolation.
And indeed, Fracture is a call to action. In fact, it comes complete with several guides on how to take charge against fracking. In “A Feminist’s Guide to Fighting Pipelines,” activist-publisher Ahna Kruzic and sociologist Angie Carter share sage advice on getting started, building community, moving forward, caring for oneself, and adhering to radical imagination. I will leave you with their words as a gesture of resistance: “Trust that through the undoing, the dismantling, the collapse, we will learn to remake and will remember to question, to honor, to debate and disagree and come together again.”
Lucia Hadella grew up in Talent, Oregon. She received her B.S. in Natural Resources from Oregon State University, where she is currently earning an M.A. in Environmental Arts and Humanities.
The 2017 prize will be judged by New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Balcombe.
The winner will receive a cash award of $1,000 and a four-week residency at PLAYA. The submission deadline is September 30, 2014. For complete writers’ guidelines, click here. All unpublished manuscripts entered for the Siskiyou Prize will be considered for publication.
“New environmental literature” refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award isn’t for books about hunting, fishing, or eating animals—unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, the prize will be open to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with environmental and animal themes.
The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. Considered a global center of biodiversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is an inspiring example of the importance of preservation.
You may have read that in mid-July a massive iceberg broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. Measuring about 2,000 square miles—nearly the size of Delaware—it is one of the largest icebergs ever to calve from the ice shelves ringing the continent. Scientists expect that it will eventually fracture, with some pieces remaining in the Weddell Sea and others moving into the Atlantic Ocean. They don’t expect the pieces will pose any danger nor do they anticipate sea level rise should they melt. But what if, rather than an iceberg splintering off an ice shelf, the continent’s largest ice shelf, itself, a land mass the size of France, were thrust into the ocean? How much global devastation might result from an event of that magnitude?
For the answer, look to Craig Russell’s fast-paced eco-thriller, Fragment. When the novel begins, a glacial avalanche severs the Ross Ice Shelf from the continent and creates a tsunami of ice that destroys two polar research stations, Scott Base and McMurdo Station. “The wave is not a perfect line,” writes Russell. “It is the product of four, falling, runaway glaciers, thrust like goring bulls into the Ice Shelf’s back…shards of surface ice are launched ahead of the onrushing swell. Launched like harpoons, catapulted forward at the speed of sound.” Only three people survive the onslaught: a polar climatologist, an astronomer, and a marine biologist.
Fragment is their story, but not theirs alone. The novel is driven by an ensemble cast that includes sailors aboard a U.S. atomic submarine, journalists, climate-change denying politicians, a self-promoting marketing director of a major cruise line, a Scottish sailor literate in the wild waters of Drake Passage, and a blue whale named Ring. All (of the human characters) are trying to make sense of what the ice shelf’s surge into the Atlantic could mean for coastal countries, and some are warning of the epic environmental and human carnage to come. It will be no surprise to readers that these warnings fall on proverbial deaf ears. Says a German scientist at a hastily-called European conference, “Such examples are imaginative, but we must not inflame the passions of the public…we must take a balanced view. We cannot simply adopt an alarmist view.”
In this climate change allegory, characters are somewhat thinly drawn in background, if not environmental outlook. Readers will quickly distinguish between those who are noble—who respect earth and all her inhabitants—and those who are selfish and scornful of nature. This lack of complexity in character development combined with short chapters that jump among settings, pitch the action of the story forward at a steady, page-turning clip. Fragment is hard to put down.
Perhaps the most compelling character in the novel—and certainly the purest of heart—is the blue whale, Ring. When the scientists who survive the Antarctic tsunami develop a language that makes communication with Ring possible, what follows is inter-species cooperation unlike the world has ever seen.
Fragment leaps so seamlessly from fact to fiction that it may drive readers to their computers or smart phones to find out where exactly fact ends and fiction begins. That’s how well-researched and executed I found Craig Russell’s eco-thriller.
Ashley Shelby’s debut novel, South Pole Station, takes readers to the bottom of the earth for a wry, multi-layered story that tightly packs art, science, polar history, climate change, politics, humor, and human relationships into a vivid tale of courage and redemption.
The novel’s central character is thirty-year-old Cooper Gosling, whose life has hit its nadir. Cooper’s art career is going nowhere, her relationship with her parents is strained, and her twin brother’s suicide has left her emotionally unmoored. Seeking something—there’s an ambiguousness to what that might be—Cooper applies to the National Science Foundation’s year-long Artist & Writer’s Program at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, “the most remote research station on the planet.” (Vetting includes 500 questions—a “pelvic exam of the mind,”—that includes such queries as “How many alcoholic drinks do you consume a week? A day?” and “Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver?”)
At the station, Cooper establishes an easy camaraderie with her fellow “Polies,” an eclectic group of scientists, support personnel, and artists whose defining characteristic is that they “don’t fit in anywhere else.” This commonality of sorts is what sustains the station’s fragile ecosystem. But cracks begin to emerge following the arrival of Frank Pavano, a scientist in the pocket of climate change-denying politicians and their allies in the fossil fuel industry.
Pavano’s presence at Amundsen-Scott—he’s out to prove global warming is a hoax—infuriates the station’s scientists and puzzles many of the non-science personnel, including Cooper, who befriends Pavano, and Pearl, a cook with Machiavellian ambition. When the scientists seek to undermine Pavano’s every activity, Cooper agrees to travel with him to the “ice-coring camp,” on the fringe of the polar outpost. It’s there that a freak accident will change Cooper forever, imperil the station, and ignite a global controversy.
This climate thread, one of many plot lines woven into South Pole Station, is what gives the novel its tension and an unexpected timeliness. (The book is due out in July.) In a recent article for Slate Shelby writes:
In 2010, I began work on a novel set in a time I was certain would be looked upon as one of the most embarrassing periods of the climate change “debate”: the George W. Bush era. The novel, set at South Pole Station and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, … is, in part, a dark comedy, and it was a fun story to write—mostly because Obama was in office and the absurdities of politicians trying to legislate climate change out of existence had begun to fade away.
But as the opening scenes of the Trump era began to play out, these gremlins are springing back to life.
How much will Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and his administration’s claw back of Obama-era environmental regulations energize “these gremlins”? How much might they slow, or even reverse, progress made over the last decade? My hope is very little. But “hope,” as Shelby sees it, is, ironically, what climate deniers often prey upon. Thus, this exchange between Cooper and two scientists—Sal and Sri—following a well-attended climate lecture by Pavano:
“No, she’s right,” Sal said, still looking at Cooper. “Pearl is the test case. She was buying last night. She was feeling guilty about participating in a consumer economy that is leading to the destruction of the earth. Remember what she said? ‘I don’t want the earth to be warming.’”
“So? None of us do,” Sri said.
“But when Pavano told her it wasn’t, she said that made her feel better. She was relieved. Pavano gave her the out she was looking for.”
“Pearl is Everywoman,” Cooper said, through a mouthful of pancake.
Sri looked from Sal to Cooper and back again, his black unibrow furrowed. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “And it took Pavano two-thousandths of a second to plant doubt in Everywoman’s brain.” He stared at the wall. “Shit. People are dumb.”
“Pearl’s not dumb,” Cooper said…
“The problem isn’t brain power,” Sal said. “It’s hope. They’re hopeful. Deniers provide hope. We don’t. We’re doom and gloom, and that’s what makes it so easy for Pavano to convert.”
Shelby likely didn’t intend for South Pole Station to be a call to action, but in the age of Trump it may become one. That would be a good thing. But I’d be remiss not to emphasize that South Pole Station is a solid read for any era. Shelby’s quick wit and journalistic eye for detail ground a story that will appeal to readers of environmental literature, polar enthusiasts, and anyone who loves a story with complex, quirky characters and a compelling plot.
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
This book examines the life of the oft-forgotten founder of the modern environmentalist movement, Alexander von Humboldt, and his story is a timely one, especially in an era in which climate change is still not receiving the attention it needs in order to save the planet.
Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith
This novel envisions environmental catastrophe on several levels. With a narrative that alternates between the narrator’s past visit to the Washington state island and her current life in Oregon, Smith’s novel portrays the connections between eco-disasters natural and man-made, between relationships past and present, and how we recover — or do not — from landscapes forever changed.
Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo
A delightful, wholly original novel that brings YA readers to territory not often visited in this genre: Antarctica. While the novel doesn’t tackle environmental issues head-on, its glimpses of Antarctica’s natural beauty, details on research in eco-marine biology, and the fact that the protagonist is a vegetarian all subtly link this novel with environmental awareness.
Only the Animals, by Ceridwen Dovey, explores what it means to be human in an extraordinary series of short stories narrated by animals caught up in conflicts dating back to the late nineteenth century.
In Lab Girl, Hope Jahren digs into the inner life of plants and into her own life to create a memoir that is as much about her as it is about the natural world we all inhabit.
Acclaimed British environmental journalist and essayist Michael McCarthy weaves his personal experience growing up in rural England and his close observations as a naturalist into a beautiful reminder of what biophilia can really mean.
Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology by T.J. Demos, Sternberg Press
Art historian and culture critic T.J. Demos brings together contemporary new theoretical directions in political ecology and philosophies of the “post-Natural condition” with contemporary eco-activist and art movements from around the world. Drawing from indigenous traditions that are very old and scientific thinking that is very new, the book is a guide to emerging new visions—and visualizations—of the relationships between humans and the Earth.
Ecological Governance: Toward a New Social Contract with the Earth by Bruce Jennings, West Virginia University PressCenter for Humans and Nature Senior Fellow Bruce Jennings argues that both technological innovation and a transformation of values will be needed in a transition to a post-fossil carbon world. He explores the pathway from a social contract of consumption to a social contract of trusteeship through new modes of freedom, justice, solidarity, and ecological democratic governance.
What are the responsibilities of the rich? Especially in this political moment as the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to increase? Born into the one percent, Chuck Collins gave away his inheritance at 26 and spent the next three decades mobilizing against inequality. He delivers a narrative and challenge to other unrooted one percenters to invest themselves into communities and to use their wealth and power to respond to issues such as climate change.
Philosopher and nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore takes on the questions: Why is it wrong to wreck the world? What is our obligation to the future? What is the transformative power of moral resolve? How can clear thinking stand against the lies and illogic that batter the chances for positive change? And always this: What stories and ideas will lift people who deeply care, inspiring them to move forward with clarity and moral courage?
More than fifty writers explore the complexities of fracking through first-hand experience, investigative journalism, story-telling, and verse—exposing fracking’s effects on local communities as well as its global impacts.
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf examines the life of the oft-forgotten founder of the modern environmentalist movement. Alexander von Humboldt was a German naturalist and explorer who, despite having his name attached to natural wonders across the globe, is far less well known than those who drew their inspiration from him, including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, and James Lovelock.
Wulf’s fascinating book is thoroughly researched and annotated and includes drawings and portraits of Humboldt and his travels. Like so many naturalists, Humboldt was not a “people person” but a passionate explorer: of places, of plants and animals, of ideas. The Invention of Nature takes us through his early years in Germany through his travels across the Americas and back to Europe.
Admirably, Humboldt’s insatiable curiosity led him to persevere through illness and exhaustion. Far less admirably, some of his research methods were barbaric. In order to examine the electric eels that lurked in the muddy bottoms of shallow pools in Venezuela, he sent horses into the waters and to their painful, gruesome deaths. And the best way to capture the elusive titi monkeys, Humboldt discovered, was “to kill a mother with a blowgun and a poisoned dart. The titi youngster would not let go of its mother even as she came crashing down the tree.”
Yet Humboldt was ahead of his time in many ways. After witnessing the sickening slave trade in South America, he became a lifelong abolitionist. He also noted the harmful effects of deforestation. “After he saw the devastating environmental effects of colonial plantations at Lake Valencia in Venezuela in 1800, Humboldt became the first scientist to talk about human-induced climate change…He warned that humans were meddling with the climate and that this could have an unforeseeable impact on ‘future generations.’”
The last two sections of the book cover Humboldt’s effect on naturalists and scientists from Darwin to Muir. “Environmentalists, ecologists and nature writers today remain firmly rooted in Humboldt’s vision—although many have never heard of him. Nevertheless, Humboldt is their founding father.”
Humboldt’s story is a timely one, especially in an era in which climate change is still not receiving the attention it needs in order to save the planet. Understanding the earliest explorations and discoveries is part of understanding the vast puzzle the global community needs to put together, and quickly, to solve this ongoing and advancing problem. “As scientists are trying to understand and predict the global consequences of climate change, Humboldt’s interdisciplinary approach to science and nature is more relevant than ever. His beliefs in the free exchange of information, in uniting scientists and fostering community across disciplines, are the pillars of science today.”
Story Magazine is accepting submissions of prose for a new issue devoted to the environment:
Climate change is one of the most significant issues of our time. How do we tell stories of it? How do its stories inform us? For Issue #4, send your best work in any form that explores the natural and built worlds here on Earth. Glaciers and cityscapes. Flora and fauna and concrete. From the pastoral all the way to Mega City One.
The deadline for this issue is July 15, 2015. Click here for complete details.
Okay, so this isn’t a book review — but it’s such an important documentary that I wanted to review it here on EcoLit Books. (The book connection: As you watch the film, you’ll learn about a few books to add to your reading list, including Comfortably Unaware and The World Peace Diet.)
Cowspiracy (which is currently still available for its special Earth Day price of $1) covers the impact of animal agriculture on the planet — it’s the number-one contributor to human-induced climate change and affects everything from the rainforests to the oceans — and why some of the biggest environmental organizations never talk about it.
Filmmaker Kip Andersen interviews representatives of governmental and “environmental” organizations, including the Sierra Club, Oceana, Surfrider (he tried to talk to Greenpeace, which wouldn’t agree to speak with him), and it’s fascinating to watch them stumble over their words when asked about animal agriculture’s impact on the planet.
And yet the facts speak for themselves. To produce just one quarter-pound burger takes 660 gallons of water (in other words, two months’ worth of showers). One gallon of dairy milk uses 1,000 gallons of water to produce, and for every one pound of fish caught, there are five pounds of bycatch (including dolphins, sharks, turtles, and penguins). To protect cattle-grazing lands in the United States West, ranchers kill coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, cougars — and wild horses and burrows are being rounded up and held so that cattle ranchers can use public lands for grazing.
Why won’t so many environmental groups talk about this? It’s not an easy topic, with agribusiness being so powerful. In Brazil, 1,100 activists have been killed for speaking out against animal agriculture. And of course, as Michael Pollan says in the film, asking people not to eat meat and dairy is a “political loser” for member-based organizations.
Yet there are both individuals and organizations who will speak the truth, and this is where the heart of the film is. A spokesperson for the Sea Shepherd Conservation society says there is “no such thing as sustainable fishing,” and quotes what founder Paul Watson often says: If the oceans die, we die. “That’s not a tagline,” she adds. “That’s the truth.”
Cowspiracy contains some difficult truths for omnivores, but it’s important viewing for anyone who’s concerned about the environment — and the last half hour is truly inspiring for those who are open to making a difference. (And in the last twenty minutes is one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen in a film…don’t miss it.)
“You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period,” says Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher and author of Mad Cowboy. “Kid yourself if you want…but don’t call yourself an environmentalist.”
As James McClintock points out in his enlightening book, Antarctica is often referred to as “the poster child” for global warming, a bellwether of climate change, the place where we see the most drastic results of a warming planet. McClintock’s Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land offers a firsthand view of the challenges facing this magnificent continent and its creatures.
McClintock, a polar and marine biology expert who teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and has been traveling to Antarctica for decades, writes in a straightforward, accessible way about his research in one of the most remote regions on earth. As a researcher who has been returning to Antarctica for so many years, he offers not only hard data on the changes happening on the continent but his own firsthand observations. He writes, for example, of one scientist’s recording of the loss of 12,000 to 15,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins over the past thirty-five years (an 80 percent loss), while observing on one of his visits how an early snowfall affected a nesting Adélie: “Dawn revealed a haunting scene on this miniscule island: the penguin still nested, although the was completely buried in the snow, with only a small opening in which to breathe. Sadly, her two unborn chicks would eventually, inevitably, drown in the meltwater of this unseasonable snowstorm, a storm fueled by an increasingly moist and warming climate.”
While Antarctica is known to most as the land of penguins, its ecosystem is vast and diverse, and the penguins are not the only creatures vulnerable to climate change. Lost Antarctica covers other and equally important aspects of the continent’s health, from the ice shelves to sea butterflies to krill, and McClintock points out not only how climate change is threatening the livelihood of certain species but how it’s making room for other species to disrupt Antarctic life, such as king crabs, which can now survive in the Antarctic’s warmer temperatures.
Also interesting are some of the details about research and traveling in Antarctica over the decades—from the days when McClintock had to communicate with family via $4/word telegrams to the white-knuckle adventures of ice-diving to the never-predictable voyage through the Drake Passage. Such personal details of McClintock’s travel and research will be fascinating to readers who are curious about what day-to-day life in Antarctica is like.
Building on each chapter, McClintock brings his travels and research together to show how climate change is slowly but surely taking its toll on this amazing region of the world. “By the end of the century the annual sea ice along the central and northern regions of the western Antarctic Peninsula will have vanished. Adélie penguins would have vanished with it; krill will have been replaced by salps; seafloor organisms will be threatened by rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and invading king crabs; the defensive chemicals that kill pathogens and warn off predators will be lost.” Lost Antarctica is not only a love letter to a magnificent place but a cautionary tale as well.
As Sylvia Earle points out in the book’s foreword, “Earth is not too big to fail.” McClintock’s book shows us why we need to pay attention—and why it needs to be right now. He asks: “What sort of a world, I wonder, will future generations of Antarctic scientists find when they come to this remarkable place? And when they gaze over this landscape, will they be reminded how this place, this peninsula, these ecosystems, served as a wake-up call to jump-start the technological, societal, and political paths to a sustainable planet?”
Visit McClintock’s website at www.lostantarctica.com to learn more and to see his stunning photographs of Antarctica.