Climate Conversations SC, Episode 2: Dr. Tameria Warren

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Bob  00:27

Welcome to another Climate Conversations SC. I’m your host Bob Petrulis.

Climate Conversations SC as a podcast of the Climate-Ready Columbia Conference coming up on April 1st and 2nd, 2022. This event will be held on the University of South Carolina Campus and is free and open to the public. No prior registration is required. For more information, go to climatereadycola.org.

In this episode, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Tameria Warren, who is Undergraduate Studies Coordinator for the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of South Carolina. In her research, she has interviewed African Americans from Michigan and South Carolina about their perceptions of nature, the environment, environmentalists, and environmental organizations. We began by discussing what she learned from the people she interviewed, and her thoughts about how the climate and environmental movements can become more inclusive.

Dr. Warren  01:32

So for those who are not familiar with me, thank you, Bob. Again, my name is Tameria Warren. I have been in the Columbia/Midlands area going on 14 years. And so I moved here in 2008. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan. And so my research did focus on a certain population within the metro Detroit area. Prior to moving here, I was working as an environmental engineer with General Motors in the Midwest, so in Michigan, and Ohio, in Wisconsin, and I ended up moving to South Carolina in order to work as an environmental compliance specialist with US Army, Fort Jackson.

So, I had the opportunity when I was starting my dissertation to really focus on those areas that are of interest to me. And at one point, I thought about looking at the work that I’ve done professionally, both as an environmental engineer with General Motors, and then as an environmental compliance specialist with the military. But I decided to really focus on an area that is near and dear to me. And that is looking at environmental issues as related to African Americans and our communities and the experiences that we have. And so, as you stated, for my dissertation, which is trying to understand our perceptions that African Americans have about the environment and nature, and how that actually influences our behaviors and our environmental commitments.

I chose to look at populations that I had been involved in so specifically with the Metropolitan Detroit area, as well as the Midlands/Columbia area. And so it was really an opportunity to reach out to either those that I knew or those in the community who are African American, and have that conversation about our understanding our perceptions about the environment, how that has been influenced either by those who are within our lives, such as our parents, our grandparents, other elders, how that has played out in our daily practices, and what does that mean for the future? So it was a really interesting and fun research project. Because, one, I did get to speak with individuals that I’m closely connected with, as well as I connected with others. But just getting these varying perceptions. I think there were some some major threads that I saw, whether it was for the population that was in Michigan, or in South Carolina, but then also realizing that there are some other differences that were there as well. So it was a pretty neat year’s worth of research that took place.

Bob  04:17

So you interviewed a whole bunch of people?

Dr. Warren  04:20

Yes.

Bob  04:21

And what did you hear? I mean, what was the big takeaways from the interviews that you conducted?

Dr. Warren  04:31

One of the things is that there was a lot of early influences that we have had, again, whether it was with our parents, our grandparents, other elders or adults that were in our families or those that were close with community, that they really gave us an introduction to the environment. And that could have been whether we were in a rural area, or we grew up in a rural area or even grew up in an urban area. And so again, the two populations that I looked at was in metropolitan Detroit, as well as the Midlands/Columbia area, but noting that those individuals may not have grown up in those areas. And so, between the two populations, some of them did grow up in the inner city, some did grow up in a more country rural area. But nonetheless, it seems to have been an elder that really was that force that introduced them to the environment. And so that could have been either through farming, through gardening, through fishing, just kind of nature walks, biking, just really doing a lot of activities outdoors. Some of it was subsistence, and so you saw there were family members that engaged in hunting practices to feed the family, as well as community, some of it was just for sport. Others just really enjoy doing farming or gardening, whether it was  planting your own produce, to eat at home, or even to just buy garden had nice plants in the area. So there’s various reasons why individuals were in outside spaces, but that was really the introduction to a lot of people, just from that connections that they were having with elders in the family.

Bob  06:16

Did you find differences between the the folks in Michigan versus the folks in South Carolina? Were they pretty similar across the two locations?

Dr. Warren  06:27

Well, one of the things that I think is unique about history, especially when it comes to the African American experience, is those migratory patterns. And so for, especially with my family, a lot of them were originally from the south. And so they came from maybe a Georgia, Mississippi and then moved up to the Midwest to work in the automotive industries, whether it was Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Milwaukee. And then what you saw with a lot of African Americans that were in the– closer to the East Coast, like in South Carolina, they ended up moving to maybe a DC, a New York, a Philadelphia. So you kind of saw those patterns where there was a shift in the population from the South for better economic opportunities. So one of those similarities that was there, is that those influences was really where you had individuals that, their roots were in southern locations. So they were farming, they were gardening, they were fishing, they were hunting, they were outdoors, often, and some of those same practices was carried on with them as they moved to Northern or eastern states.

So for myself, there was definitely, as a child, I would play outdoors, I would be in different areas. But then, when we went back south for the summer, doing the same things. And so you kind of saw that it was those those southern roots, that was really a connection amongst all of us whether I was talking to the population in Detroit, and yeah, obviously, for the population in South Carolina, is that you saw that similarity having the southern roots, as well as that migratory pattern, but then even just some of the practices themselves. And one of the things to note, and we’ll probably talk about this a little bit later, is that these experiences really aren’t that different from what you would see with other cultures, races or ethnicities. You had individuals who are outdoors, and they had those connections, or they’re introduced to these things by others within their families. So I think this gets to what we may talk about a little bit later, is the stereotypes that are sometimes often associated with African Americans and their perceptions to the environment were environmentally related issues. But I definitely think some of the similarities was just those historical pieces that we kind of seen in history,

Bob  08:49

Were your interviewees’ feelings about nature and the environment influenced by their ancestors’ experiences as enslaved plantation workers, or sharecroppers?

Dr. Warren  09:00

Those are true real life experiences. And actually, for some of the people I interviewed, more so from South Carolina, they did have some of those experiences, where they remember either their parents or their grandparents working out in the fields, whether they were sharecroppers or just living in rural areas. And as they migrated to other places, or even just kind of say, in the south, they had taken different career paths. So for some, there have been those kind of perceptions or negative connotations about African Americans and their connections to the environment, as it relates to slavery to sharecropping, being in in rural natural areas where we have been abused or not treated the best and so, kind of thinking about those experiences and there have been some who have wanted to kind of get away from that. But there also had been other others were, they definitely had fine experiences with their grandparents or parents, being out with the cows, other domesticated animals, working bringing in, that produce, those crops, selling them. So I think the experiences have been mixed.

But I think oftentimes, it’s just we have different language that is surrounded by it. And I especially think in this day and age where we’re trying to break through that kind of connotation, a negative connotation, especially if you think about a state like South Carolina where we know historically, the bumper, cash crops had been rice. And so you think about that, and that connection to slavery and the roles that a slave was Africans have had in it. And so that is negative, the brutal labor that’s gone along with it. But then once you think about the ingenuity that it took to bring those skill sets from West Africa over to an entirely new continent, and to be able to make that labor really the engine and a driving force for the economic boom within this country, when you start looking at the true history of it, then I think you start changing the language. And so I think the more we have just honest conversations about these things, as we really learned the true history about it, we can recognize that that time period of slavery up to reconstruction, and even the issues that we’re dealing with up until now, while that is negative, the other parts of it, they still can be celebrated knowing things like that. So it’s, I would say it’s a complicated story, because we all– and I’m thinking more so like African Americans and these experiences, we can see both sides of the coin.

Bob  11:54

So you mentioned stereotypes earlier. Did you want to follow up on that a little bit?

Dr. Warren  11:59

Yes. One of the things that came out of the research, which I have seen prior to this, is stereotypes as it relates to African Americans in the environment, as well as sometimes what we think an environmentalist is. And so there were generally a set of questions that I would ask all of the interviewees regardless of the region they were in. So we talked about some of the stereotypes of, What do you think an environmentalist would be? Because I not only wanted to understand what has been individual’s experiences in nature, but when we think about environmentalists, do they see themselves in that white and part of that was asking about the stereotypes that are often attached to the word environmentalist, or the environmental field. And when I was doing the research, it’s just gathering those questions. And one of the most simplest things that I did was making a word cloud. And so for those of you who aren’t familiar with a word cloud, you can take a bunch of responses from individuals, whether it’s verbal, or it’s written. And when you combine all of those words together, it will highlight the most commonly used words and then it’ll make those bigger or bolder, and then those that aren’t as frequently used, there will be a little bit smaller.

And so when we talked about the stereotypes that are connected to environmentalists, in particular, a lot of the things that we saw was that the words that came out of it would either be White or Caucasian, wealthy, Prius, granola, a lot of these things that have typically been stereotypical, just in general, that we kind of hear in popular culture. Rarely did anything come about as far as Black, African American, anything kind of relate it to just general African American culture. And so, part of that was just kind of getting an understanding of how did we view ourselves as it relates to the environment. So that was very interesting. Yeah, and one of the things that was also funny/interesting about it was that the responses were pretty common across the board. Whether I asked this question for the population that was in South Carolina or I asked the population in Michigan, I pretty much got the same type of responses. And so, that was very unique, and when I would share that with the interviewees, we kind of had a laugh about it, because it’s like, yeah, this is kind of the thoughts that we have. And that I was just on one end, thinking about who environmentalists are, or who do we perceive them to be. But then sometimes, there were perceptions about African Americans, not necessarily being connected to the environment. Part of that is what you alluded to previously, about the history that has been connected to it. And then also, it’s kind of what we see as far as who are the individuals maybe leading the charges as relates to environmental activism or other types of issues.

I think there’s one stereotype that the only time that you see African Americans or people of color engage in environmental conversations is when it’s only related to environmental injustices or racism, as opposed to full conversations as it relates to the environment itself. So part of the conversations that we were having with the people that I interviewed is that they’re just as concerned about the issues that are related to climate change, global warming, all of these other things that we see in the news or media, just like any other group or population. But it may not always be seen that way because quite often, the face of the environmental movement is not that that has much color. I have personally seen that just in the work that I’ve done, or the career that I’ve had, or even the groups or organizations that I’ve been a part of. And so I won’t necessarily say those, some of the stereotypes aren’t inaccurate. But it was just very interesting to kind of, when you having this conversation with multiple individuals, and you’re getting some of the same responses, it’s kind of interesting to see all that together.

Bob  16:18

When I think about the environmental movement, it went through this long period, and much of it is still in this period. In which things like saving whales and polar bears

Dr. Warren  16:31

or being a tree hugger.

Bob  16:35

Yeah, or, or consuming the right stuff, or shopping at Whole Foods, whatever it happened to be, was considered to be environmentally virtuous. My guess is that that could be part of the reason that mainstream environmentalism has not traditionally connected very well with communities of color.

Dr. Warren  16:59

Yeah, I think there is a level of elitism that is connected to the environmental movement that transcends just the African American community, but I just think it’s also related to class. Some of the conversations I think that we had as relates to environmental movement, as you say, you kind of think about those who have the resources, the ability to be sustainable in their purchases. And so maybe they’re supporting a more environmentally friendly or focused establishment, like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, or they’re able to make certain purchases that are more sustainable, versus what we can get at a more big box store. So I think there is this, there has sometimes been a disconnect, because the things that we have talked about as relates to the environmental movement may not just have been– it may be cost prohibitive in some manners for African Americans or just for other individuals who may not have the financial resources. And so you can kind of see that disconnect.

And part of that is what were some of the questions that I asked during the research, as well as kind of the conversations that I have, in general of some of my courses or in other areas, is that when we think about these perceptions about environmentalism, it is based off, I think, that more stereotypical perception that we have with individuals, but not realizing that some of the actions that we do in our own homes and other areas, actually are those of environmentalists as well. And so some of the examples that I give, and this isn’t just particular to African Americans, I see this in a lot of other households. But I know this is something that we can relate to. I talk about individuals who when we go to the grocery store, any type of store, and we have an abundance of plastic bags that we end up accumulating, and one of the questions I will ask is, well, what is it what do you do with those bags? And people respond? Well, I’ll use it as a trash can liner, I’ll use it to pick up dog waste, I’ll use it to– they seem to repurpose it a lot, which is a part of the P2 hierarchy, the pollution prevention hierarchy. We look at other ways, I’ll say if you’re frying something and you have like a little jar or a can on the back of the stove, and you pour the grease in and you reuse it again, what are you doing? You’re recycling, so there’s these different habits and practices that we have that doesn’t often equate to being green, being sustainable, being an environmentalist, but that’s what we’re actually involved in.

And so as we’re having these conversations, more examples come about, and it’s almost like a light bulb goes off, because again, we’ve had these perceptions about what a traditional environmentalist would be. And we don’t actually equate that to the actions that we do because that isn’t often seen, that isn’t often talked about. So again, I think it transcends just the African American experience. This could be for those Caucasians, who may not even consider themselves to be environmentalists, or those who don’t necessarily have the same resources. But there definitely is this disconnect that we sometimes see with that.

Bob  20:23

How do you think the these movements, the environmental and climate movements can really become more engaged with these issues and more inclusive? Is that possible, do you think?

Dr. Warren  20:35

Well, I definitely think it’s possible, and it’s no different from what we see with any other organization or entity. There has to be a willingness to make those changes, or really be honest about where that organization is lacking. And so oftentimes, we see from the top down from leadership, administrative positions, whatever it may be, that the diversity is very low. And so there has to be a willingness to recognize where that organization is, and then also be willing to find out, well, what are the ways in which we can make changes. And not just doing it for diversity’s sake, just to have more people of color coming in just to say we’ve checked off a list. But to really understand when you have diverse perspectives, then there’s ability to reach different individuals within the community, to address different issues that are out there that maybe have not been dealt with before. And we can be more inclusive in the efforts to improve the environment.

Now, I will say, for the individuals that I interviewed, in both locations in Michigan, in South Carolina, I think I was able to dispel some myths that we aren’t as involved in the environmental movement, as some people may think. And so obviously, for myself who have, I have been an environmental engineer, I’ve been an environmental compliance specialist, I am now working in a school that has environmentally related majors. This is something that I’ve been doing for almost 20 years. And I was actually interviewing other African Americans who have been in the field as well. So they’re either working with hazardous materials, solid waste, energy, air. There were some ladies that were in Michigan that were actually with the Sierra Club, as well as other environmental organizations. And so that in itself was showing that there is potential to work in these spaces, but the numbers have to increase.

So, I think some ways in which organizations could do that is it has to be a concerted effort to reach out and not just reach out to increase the numbers, but really trying to get individuals to come in, hear what they’re saying, and even try to get them in leadership positions. And I know for any entity or organization, change can be hard, it can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re used to doing things a certain way for decades, years, however long may be. But given the issues that we’re dealing with, especially when it comes to climate change, you’re going to have to have those different perspectives that come in to find solutions to the problems. And that means having those that are probably going to be most affected by it. Now, that doesn’t mean that everything needs to be changed. There’s definitely people who are in these spaces, or these organizations that are doing great work, have done it for years. And they genuinely wants to make progress. But if we’re really going to be effective, we have to have individuals all across the board that could bring solutions to the problems. And so it just really has to be a concerted effort to make changes in not just to change the color or the face of the organization, but to bring them in so they– so we can have an opportunity to bring effective solutions.

Bob  24:04

What we really need to do is to recognize that there have been all these voices in the conversation all along, but some of them have been ignored.

Dr. Warren  24:13

Yeah. And it’s just definitely we want the voices– you want to hear what’s being said, but it just can’t stop there. We can listen all day long, we can get input, but you need individuals who are in the ground, in those areas who have those lived experiences to be a part of the problem solving, be a part of the solution creations, all of those things. Because at the end of the day, representation really matters. When I was having these conversations with the people that I interviewed, and one of the questions in particular is, do they think or did they think that mainstream organizations did enough in the communities that they were in, or did they see them enough? And oftentimes, the answer was no, that they weren’t aware of what any, some of the mainstream organizations were doing within their communities or just in general. And so it’s, again, those organizations probably could reach out to the communities and they can get their input. But to me, that’s not enough. If they really want to be effective, there has to be more inclusive, you need membership. And then once you start getting the membership, then you also need them in leadership positions, because, quite honestly, you may have the best of intentions, you may think you have the answers to a particular problem. But sometimes you’re only seeing it from your lens. And once you have others coming in, you have the opportunity to look at it a little bit different. But you won’t know– you don’t know what you don’t know. And you probably won’t see that until you had individuals coming in and kind of shaking things up and giving you a different perspective.

Bob  26:01

This has been a just a fascinating conversation. And I’m so appreciative of the work that you’ve done and the work that you’re doing on CPAC, and a number of other organizations I think you’re involved with as well.

Dr. Warren  26:17

Thank you.

Bob  26:18

So looking forward to continuing to work with you for a long time. Anything you’d like to say as we wrap things up?

Dr. Warren  26:27

Um, well, first, thank you this has been enjoyable. It’s not often that I get to talk about the research, although it’s something that I definitely enjoy, I thought it was important, and I’m pretty sure one day I’ll continue to the next stage of it. I would definitely like to do a follow up on the interviewees that I reached out to, as well as kind of expand the research. I focused, as you can tell, from Michigan and South Carolina, I focused on the Midwest and the South. But I’d definitely like to get a perception for those who are on the East Coast, as well as the west coast because there is a lot of environmental work and sustainability work that has been done by African Americans and others of color. So we only got a perspective out of my research from a small group. But I would definitely like to see what that work has looked like and what those perceptions are in different areas. And so that’s something I’m looking forward to. So given the opportunity to talk about this, it just kind of reignites that fire to say one day, Tameria, let’s go ahead and work on this research again. So thank you for the opportunity to be able to share it.

Then I guess one thing I would just like to share as we close is that these are definitely the conversations that we need to have, especially as we’re unfortunately dealing with climate change and all of the ramifications from it. And as you had mentioned previously, we can no longer have this divide between the global north and the global south. And in order to bridge that gap, you’re going to have to have those conversations with the individuals who are immediately impacted. We can hear them, we can listen to them, but they have to be involved in the movement, in the change, in the problem-solving. And so, I look forward to having that happen. But a part of that is going to have to be organizations, groups, being willing to bring in everyone so those problems can be solved.

Bob  28:33

Thanks to Dr. Tameria Warren for this fascinating discussion. Dr. Warren is Undergraduate Studies Coordinator for the School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of South Carolina, and a member of the Climate Protection Action Committee, CPAC.

This has been another Climate Conversation SC I’m your host Bob Petrulis. This conversation was recorded on zoom on February 2 2022. Shout out to madirfan at Pixabay for our intro music.

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Climate Conversations, Episode 1: Sustainable Midlands

Episode posted February 28, 2022

Link to the podcast is here.

Transcript

Bob  00:12

Welcome to Episode One of Climate Conversations. I’m your host Bob Petrulis. Climate Conversations is a podcast of the Climate-Ready Columbia Conference coming up on April first and second 2022. This event will be held on the University of South Carolina Campus and is free and open to the public. No prior registration is required. For more information go to climatereadycola.org. This episode features Becca Smith, executive director of Sustainable Midlands and co-organizer of the Climate-Ready Columbia first annual Sustainable Yard Tour. The tour is an affiliate of the Climate-Ready Columbia Conference and will take place the day after the conference, on April 3. The self-guided tour will take you to several public and private yards and gardens that demonstrate sustainable features, such as native plants, solar installations, water conservation systems, and more. I talked with Becca about the tour, and about what Sustainable Midlands is doing now that we’re emerging from the pandemic. Welcome to the conversation, and it’s great to have you here.

Becca  01:29

Thank you so much for having me, Bob. I’m excited to be here.

Bob  01:33

So tell me a little bit about Sustainable Midlands. You guys have been around for a while. And what are you up to? What do you do?

Becca  01:42

Absolutely. Yeah, so Sustainable Midlands has been around here in Colombia and the Midlands for a while now. We started up back in 2010 and we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since. And it really kind of started out of concern from some citizens. And it was created by one woman kind of spearheading it at the time. And, again, its main focus was concern of development choices that were happening around Colombia, and what that kind of meant for our water quality. That was a huge concern at the time. And I’ll kind of talk a little bit about what we’re doing right now in regards to water quality, and the monitoring going on even still. And,  if you think about 2010, versus where we are now in 2022, the word sustainable even, just a few years ago really was more of a murky word that people may not have really known what that was, or what it really looked like what it meant. And so sustainable, even now is a really large umbrella word that can look like a lot of different things, which we can talk about as well. But one thing that sustainable Midlands, when it was, being created, was very passionate about was food and trying to raise awareness for local food, and sustainability, trying to think of long-term ways that we can create, power and movement around local food and just raising awareness of that. And so that was a huge push between our food pathways, trying to keep that awareness local, in our waterways. So what that kind of really looked like when it was created, the organization was creating two watershed alliances. So right here in downtown Columbia, Rocky Branch Watershed is sort of located in the Five Points, USC, down to the stadium area, for anybody out there who’s listening, watershed is, little tributaries, and streams and all kinds of, if you put your hands like a little cup, and it’s all gonna start kind of leaking through, it’ll eventually meet and flow towards a larger source of water. So that’s what a watershed is. So there’s the Rocky Branch Watershed. And that’s, again, like I said, in sort of the downtown Five Points, area, and also the Smith Branch Watershed, which is moreso kind of in the Bull Street, North Main, kind of northern part of the city. So those are some initiatives that were created. The sustainable business really cared about back in the day was making sure that the water in our urban areas was being monitored, that we could actually see, Okay, are there large amounts of bacteria in these waters? Do we have impairments in our waters that are impeding the flow of our waters and things like that?  And in terms of the, what we kind of had to do with food back in the day, they kind of created a directory of sorts that tried its best to connect farms throughout South Carolina. And we hosted all kinds of, talks and things like that to try to engage with the community, as well as being kind of a founding mover and shaker for a, kind of a Midlands food alliance. So trying to kind of create some coalition and create some community around food, and keeping food local. And it kind of all, physically manifested in the Tasty Tomato Festival, which kind of became like a signature event for Sustainable Midlands, and I think, maybe to a degree could have overshadowed some of the initiatives, but I don’t know if that was necessarily a terrible thing, because I think that Tasty Tomato Festival was a key event for many years, pre COVID. So we can kind of discuss where we’ve been since that time and our dormant period. But, between our waters, and our foods, I think those were two really main things that Sustainable Midlands was known for in the past. And the reason why can I go into such long detail is because, we’ve been around since 2010. And especially these past two years with COVID, we’ve, it’s really forced us to go extremely dormant. We had some leadership changes, and kind of just the changing of the guard seemed like for year after year, there was just a new leader after new leader. And so the initiatives were kind of lost, and so I kind of came along. And maybe that might be a sort of a good, a good segue, if you will, I can maybe kind of tell you all about what we’re doing now,

Bob  06:58

You told me, before we started that you had just come back from the water quality monitoring trip and wonder if you want to just say a little bit about what that was like, what did you do? And what was the experience like for you?

Becca  07:12

Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, I’m a Columbia native, I love our waters. And it’s always been something for me that I think is a very underrated part of where we live, we have three beautiful rivers running right through the middle of our city and intersecting Columbia, West Columbia. And it’s just a huge asset. And I’m really excited to be putting that kind of personal passion back into Sustainable Midlands, especially since these were some key initiatives that we had, in the past. So right before the holiday is I was able to get a certification for Adopt-A-Stream. So Adopt-A-Stream is a program that is kind of housed through DHEC, and anybody can get their certification to become what they call a citizen scientist. So I was able to get, my certification to monitor fresh water. So, all the fresh water we’ve got here, bingo for all that good stuff. And so I was really excited to get the certification for that, and just wanting to kind of put some life back into these efforts that, we have had historically, but again, because of COVID, some leadership changes, things like that, we haven’t been as present in the community and in the sustainable initiatives, especially surrounding water for several years now. So I kind of want to put a jolt back into that. And so today was actually my first time going out and physically go into a site, a water, a site with some water to test the quality of the water. So, since I mentioned earlier, we had Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance and Smith Branch Watershed Alliance, right now until we can kind of grow and get some more participants to help us you might be excited to also volunteer for these things. I’m just going to kind of stick to one site at Smith Branch and one site at Rocky Branch since I’m just, one person kind of wearing many hats right now, but still really excited to be out in the field. So, we were out at Bull Street. If anybody’s familiar with the new I think it’s Gosh, it’s got the name of Ellen Page Ellington Park is the name of the new park and it’s on Gregg Street. If anybody hasn’t checked it out yet. It’s a fantastic park. Lots of really cool walking trails and a doggie park even. So I was over there kind of downstream of the dog park, because maybe, let’s say, some people might not pick up after their animal, something like that, it might be best to sort of test that water downstream of that. So basically what that looked like was just testing several different things, testing, observations that I’m seeing, and taking samples of the water to check for bacteria and see what kind of levels of Ecoli might be there that could alarm us, so that’s kind of why people monitor to make sure, especially in these urban areas, with a lot of, run off a lot of wastes from all different, sources are kind of going and washing out into our waters that affect not only the health of our waters, but our ecosystems, and also us humans, and even our puppers, and our kids and things like that. So, that’s been an exciting thing, and exciting endeavor to kind of reenergize in that. And, of course, I’m a tomato lover. So, we’re definitely excited for a Tasty Tomato Festival this year as well.

Bob  11:07

Well, I want to follow up on that. I was at the, I think it was the last Tasty Tomato Festival when you moved over to Earlewood Park. But before I before we go there, I’m just curious, if a person wanted to kind of help out with the water quality monitoring any of that kind of stuff? Would they have to go through the certification process? Or could they just kind of be your assistant or, work with you?

Becca  11:36

That’s a great question. I mean, I’m always looking for help. And you don’t have to have your, certification, if you would just like to kind of be an assistant, it is definitely something where you don’t want to go out by yourself to, monitor, you never know what could happen. So the buddy system is definitely kind of mandatory part of the process. So if someone, let’s say, wanted to learn how to, what it kind of looks like, in action and sort of be an assistant, that day, that will just be absolutely fantastic. There’s also, different sort of hands-on ways that you can engage with folks who want to just come out and learn more about water quality, while you are physically, monitoring yourself. So there’s plenty of opportunity there. But if someone were to want to get their certification, they have periodic classes and workshops, and that maybe sometimes might require some travel, if you wanted to go to a workshop, it could be maybe an hour away, it could be right here in Colombia, but Adopt-A-Stream operates statewide. And again, this is a, an initiative through DHEC. So, I would just Google Adopt-A-Stream, if that was something that you wanted to do on a personal level, anybody can do it. And it’s a really exciting thing. And it’s all public information, at the end of the day. So we can all go online right now and check out how our waters have been. And the longer you do it, the more data you’ve got to kind of go back and judge how healthy is our water. So it’s a really exciting thing to get involved with Sustainable Midlands and our watersheds, or if you’re listening from a different area of the Midlands and a different watershed, you also have the ability to create a brand new site that could have never been tested before.

Bob  13:42

So is that a day-long training session? And then you get certified? Or what’s the, how much commitment is there in terms of time? And effort?

Becca  13:52

Yeah, that’s a good question. So the workshop is about six hours. And you do actually go out into the field and you do some kind of mock testing, if you will, so you can get your hands wet, it’s a very hands-on day. And again, it’s about six hours. So you normally bring a sack lunch, and you’re kind of prepared to take a little test at the end. And you got a workbook, you’ve got some guides to help you. And it’s a very encouraging kind of test. I mean, they don’t want to, they want citizen science. So, it’s not one of those things where you feel extremely nervous going into it. They’re very encouraging for wanting to expand the program. And yeah, and it’s a lot of fun. So once you get going with it, the idea is to test once a month so that you know if you’re just testing water itself, if you want to test other kind of portions of that like macro invertebrates, the little bugs in the water. That’s kind of a different kind of timeline for testing. But yeah, so I would say for someone who’s interested in it, just check out Adopt-A-Stream DHEC, and you can see when their next kind of field day workshop is.

Bob  15:11

Great. Okay, so let’s talk about food then.

Becca  15:16

Yeah, my favorite.

Bob  15:19

Sounds like you guys are thinking about bringing back the Tasty Tomato Festival and that would be great. I’m first in line.

Becca  15:27

Do you have a green thumb?

Bob  15:34

Oh, I like eating um, I don’t necessarily do a good job of growing um. I had some some tomatoes this time. You know, like, this summer, I bought some heirloom tomato plants. And I grew them and they were like, they were like those, those Charlie Brown Christmas trees that bedraggled and he got, like, one ornament. I got like, one tomato on my plant. But, you know, that was last summer. Maybe this summer I’ll have more luck.

Becca  16:10

So that’s exactly right. Yeah, I mean, I guess it takes two to tango anyway. So you got the grower, and then you’ve got the eater. So there’s definitely a little bit of both out there for everybody, and especially at Tasty Tomato Festival. So that was actually how I got introduced to Sustainable Midlands in general, honestly, Bob, um I kind of come from more of an arts and a nonprofit background. And before COVID, I was actually a full time musician, if you could believe that or not. And I’ve always loved I mean, you can catch me on any given Sunday watching an environmental documentary, or reading books, and on more of a personal level. So, what does that look like, day to day, or especially when my husband and I were playing music all the time, I wanted to really try to align myself with things that I cared about and initiatives that were important to me and that way, and so we would try to kind of play certain festivals and things like that, that were just, again, more aligned with our our views and our kind of our passions like that. So we actually played at Tasty Tomato Festival in 2019, at Earlwood, when it had changed venues and locations over to the kind of Earlwood Rec Center. And that was,

Bob  17:40

Which is Smith Branch, by the way.

Becca  17:42

It sure is. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, kind of the funny sequence of events is now I just live right up the street from from that rec center, and we go and play disc golf over in that little park all the time. And so wonderful, wonderful spot, but that’s how I got involved. I was just kind of, I was just some entertainment that day, and I said, Wow, I really liked what Sustainable Midlands is doing. I wonder if they could ever use my help, because I studied arts management when I was at the College of Charleston, so I went to Charleston for school. And moreso worked with theatres, but um the degree that I have is in nonprofit management, essentially. So I was always kind of working with arts nonprofits, because I just kind of grew up with the arts. And so kind of leaning on that when I saw a Tasty Tomato Festival. And again, I wonder if I could ever help them out, I would just love to do that. And so, kind of fast forward, we’re in the thick of COVID. And I ended up kind of pivoting to a teaching role. And, really just, it was not, I don’t know, it was just, it was a really hard year if I could say the least about teaching during COVID. So, my husband’s actually a teacher now, too. And so he’s just kind of thrives with it. But I said, I really feel like I’m cut off from community and community is such a part of who I am, that I felt like my cup just wasn’t full anymore, you know. And so, just kind of the series of events happened. And here I am today, I mean, it all kind of just, it was kind of miraculous, really, you know what, what sort of ended up happening. I was going to go back to teaching and then kind of right there at the last minute. I got in touch with the board chair of Sustainable Midlands and we got to talking and he kind of laid it all out out for me and gave me kind of a snapshot of where the organization is at right now. And so kind of just taken a leap of faith and doing all I can to get Sustainable Midlands back up off of the ground right now. So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing from the fall on into 2022. So I’ve really been excited to see the new year and see a new year. For Sustainable Midlands, we have a lot of exciting things coming up that I’m just so energized and excited about, one of which, long story short, is Tasty Tomato Festival. So I know historically, it was at City Roots, which is such a fantastic spot. And I just can’t say enough about that. But we are really excited, kind of to have some new plans rolling out for Tasty Tomato Festival. So everybody stay tuned on all that good stuff really soon, but it will be back up and running this year, we are really, really excited for that. So that kind of save the date, location announcement will be really, really, really soon. And I’m very excited to put the call out for all of our tomato growers and all of our vendors, get some great entertainment, some local entertainment and just celebrate that’s sort of one of the things in revisiting our mission was like, let’s celebrate, we want to advocate for sustainability and all of what does sustainability look like this, again, such a big word. So we’re advocates for sustainability, but also what everybody else is already doing in town. We want to be a team player and just lift each other up and just be a part of be a part of that. And, we want to celebrate. So I think that Tasty Tomato Festival is kind of a culmination of what it means when we can come together as a community, and we can eat local, and we can see what sustainability in action really looks like so we’re gonna have a lot of zero waste kind of components to the event, as well, and just keep it as green as possible and hopefully inspire and kind of energize and just get back get back in the community, which I’m really excited for.

Bob  22:23

So Tasty Tomato, and you’re continuing the water quality initiative. Anything else that you see coming up for Sustainable Midlands in the next few months, or a year or two?

Becca  22:41

Absolutely. Um, so, just on a really short term level, we have a lot of events just happening all the time, so we are going to re engage in kind of community cleanup efforts, we have a really exciting kind of relationship with the SC Aquarium, they’ve created an app called a citizen science app. And it’s a unique way of tracking data that you might find on a litter sweep. And so we’re really excited to be re engaging in that way as well. So, if people want to get involved on a regular basis, they can check us out online, at sustainablemidlands.org. If they want to go right to our events, it’s sustainablemidlands.org/events. And there you can kind of see what we have on the ballot right now. And we’re excited to hopefully just be doing some quarterly hikes that are just for the community just to come, engage, and just be a part of it, get to know one another and create that community around people who want a segue, they want a point of entry, and they’re looking for other people who are feeling the same way that they are and I think that none of us really have all the answers. I know I don’t, and I’m trying to figure it out every single day. And I think that it’s important to not operate in a silo and that we try our best to branch out as much as we can. So in doing these things like community hikes, that again, are just solely for us to engage in come together as a community and enjoy the natural world around us. That’s something that I want to prioritize as well, that are just community free events like that, that are happening on a quarterly basis. So any news they’re really excited for initiatives like that just community center things, and again, kind of going back to this community cleanups really excited to be offering those once a month as well. So, picking different areas of town and if there’s an area in your part of town or even throughout all these counties that do are in the Midlands, our name is sustainable Midlands. So, we really hope to expand and serve all of the counties that are located in the Midlands at some point. And that was, I think, an initial goal, when we were created 12 years ago, but here we are, as a one person staff, it can be difficult to execute that. But always welcome to suggestions and ideas. I would love to host some workshops, lunch-and-learns. One thing that we’ve kind of recently taken a poll with, online with our Instagram followers is their interest in panel discussions and Q&A. So, talking about things like fast fashion and microplastics, and mass farming, and things like that. What is your interest, what’s your level of interest like that just as a member of the community that wants to know more, and it seems like, that’s kind of where people are heading, and people are hungry for that kind of knowledge, and also just discussion. So those are some things I think, maybe this is sort of how that word sustainable is changing over time as we’re learning more and discovering more, as a global society, trying to weave that into the fabric of who we are as an organization. So we have these staple initiatives, like water quality monitoring, food pathways, Tasty Tomato Festival, advocating for that really localized stuff, but also on a more philosophical level, trying to also engage with, with our communities in that way. So kind of trying to see what comes of that, and really excited for some things that I kind of have up my sleeve, like a kind of a dreamer. And again, I come from an arts background. So I’m really hoping to execute a mural that would kind of engage in the, again, just more holistic, what it means to be a sustainable Midlands, like if we could close our eyes and just dream up, what our dream city would look like, what would it look like if we could just dream together for a minute. And so I’m really kind of gunning for that to be a huge effort for me this year, and hopefully, getting that done, there are a couple grants that I’m I’m looking into, and hoping that we might be considered for something like that, that just encapsulate the diversity, the inclusion of not only our people, but our landscape and what it means to live in a sustainable location. I think we’ve all kind of seen things online, or maybe it’s been fortunate enough to go to a city, where they’re really on the ball with some really cool sustainable practices. And, trying to kind of interject in a way here on a local level with our community and help our community dream up, and feel energized and inspired to want a sustainable Midlands, I think is something that I’m really looking forward to doing.

Bob  28:07

Well, I’ll be sure and put some of that information about your website and other things in the show notes so that people can go back to that and get in touch with you. Yeah, that’s all really exciting. And I, I do think that connecting the arts to this is really a great idea. And, I think anyway, people want to engage in multiple different ways. And, not all of us are climate scientists, or kind of, on the technical end. Many of us, I think, want to be in touch with the aesthetics and the wonder of it. So I think that’s terrific. And I love the idea of getting out on hikes and other things like that. So I think that’s really exciting stuff.

Becca  29:10

Yay. And I understand, just kind of, to, to hit that point home of not being a scientist, I do not come from a science background. I never really I mean, on my list and like, what do I want to do with my life? You know, I actually have listed out work for an environmental nonprofit, but me having to get certifications and learning about pH and dissolved oxygen and all these different things. I’m like, I never, ever would have thought that I would actually be doing these kinds of things because I am an artist at heart, and I always will be and I think that that kind of intersection of art and science are so closely related that people want to kind of keep them separate, but people have All different kinds of talent and maybe one person is kind of has an artsy mind and one person kind of has a sciency mind or maybe a person just does not know how to get engaged with sustainability, what that really means, you know. This is kind of our opportunity to kind of freshen ourselves up and level the playing field them in terms of what we do as an organization that I’m really excited about just kind of keeping our doors open for anybody. So even if it’s just a mural, and engaging with the community in a visual way that helps stir up some kind of feelings on the inside and get people excited about that is really something that I’m hopefully looking forward to doing.

Bob  30:49

So I happen to know that you are also involved in the upcoming Climate-Ready Columbia Conference, which is going to be held on April first and second, this year. And hopefully, we’re going to be in person. Yeah. But I understand that you are a co-organizer of a kind of a yard and garden tour. And I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit. And, what’s going to happen? I guess that’s on Sunday, the third, so it’s the day after the conference. But tell me about that.

Becca  31:34

Yes, I am so thrilled about that, that’s kind of been on the forefront of my mind, as we approach April, it’s coming up. And I’m really, really excited to be co-organizing the sustainable yard tour with a friend named Michael Drennen. And this is kind of in coordination with Climate-Ready Columbia, as you’ve mentioned, that climate conference happening on April first and second. And we’re also kind of coordinating and sort of cross promoting Columbia Green’s garden tour. So Columbia Green has that long standing garden tour. That has happened for many years now. But this sustainable yard tour will happen on April 3. So that’s Sunday, April 3, after the conference, we’re really excited to moreso focus on yards, homes and kind of expanding from that a little bit for things that are moreso focused on sustainable practices in particular, so not just the beautification of an area, but its functionality on a sustainable level. So basically, we’re shooting for the yard tour, to be happening from 10 to 5 on Sunday. So it can kind of be as long or as short as you want, we’ll have different locations. So if you can only make it to one or two, and then you got to scoot, that’s fine. But if you want to make it through the whole map, that’s kind of a kudos, kudos for you. And hopefully, we’ll have some little prizes at the end. So, we’re actually still kind of getting that map, that tour map lined up. So we’re kind of behind the scenes right now, getting our sights confirmed, and all that good stuff. But, we’re gonna have a variety of locations that the general public can come and view. And it’s a free event. So we want basically the premise of this sustainable yard tour, which is really the first ever so from what I understand here in Colombia, that really encourages the public to come out and be hands-on with what it looks like to live sustainably day after day. So a lot of these things that people will see on the tour, are really kind of old school, and they’re things that people did in the past that, with this hustle and bustle, fast paced society we’ve kind of gone away from because we just haven’t had the time anymore. But, we’ll have a variety of sustainable practices and features that people can learn more about, ask questions about and also be connected with resources while they’re there. So what does that actually look like? You know, let’s say that a certain yard practices, some composting, right, so they’re kind of using their food scraps and they’re turning that into something else that they’ll repurpose for their garden. We’ll be featuring some backyard gardens, some grow it yourself and eat it yourself as fresh as it can get kind of thing. We’ll have some solar alternative energy sources, and some kind of zero emission output, lawn care, maintenance, pesticide-free practices, things like that– clotheslines. We’re hoping to get some chickens if we can find a yard that has a chicken coop or two, so people can just ask questions about what it’s like to raise chickens. I think that a lot of us fantasize about having a plot of land with some chickens running around. But, the reality is that is it can be a little bit more cumbersome than that when we stop dreaming, and we start executing the plan. So, this is an opportunity for people to visit from site to site, the different features that we’re hoping to kind of highlight in this sample yard tour. So right now we have a few sites confirmed. So, a couple kind of homesteads, if you will, in Shandon. So kind of near the USC campus where that conference will be happening. And we’ve also got USC on board. So we’ll have kind of a tour of the student garden that is right near the green quad, if anybody’s familiar with that, as well as more of like a holistic, sort of university institutional-wide tour that kind of explores the challenges of sustainability and trying to meet the needs of a lot of people, it’s easy when maybe you’re just you’ve got a couple chickens and raised bed for you and your family. But when you think about energy output and food that’s needed for an institution like USC, so it’s, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And I think that’s something that we can kind of explore on the tour, which we’re really, really excited to host and really, very, very much looking forward to that one. So that one can also be found at sustainablemidlands.org/events. Right now, it’s moreso just like a RSVP, save the date. People can also subscribe to our email list, which is a great way to stay up-to-date, they can find that on our website as well, on pretty much any page on our website, you can register to receive our emails. And also we’re very active on Facebook, and Instagram and all those things, but really excited for the sustainable yard tour.

Bob  37:08

Any other thoughts? Besides getting yourself on the email list? Are there other things that they could do to get involved?

Becca  37:15

Absolutely, yeah. So one thing I was really excited to do, right when we hit the new year was to put some life back into our memberships. So we used to kind of have that membership, if you wanted to go a little bit further, want to actually become a member, that’s a really exciting thing to do, and say I’m a member of Sustainable Midlands. So we have a variety of levels that people can become a member and just $25 if they want to give more, and kind of support us on a certain levels, kind of going up that triangle, that pyramid, you can check that out at sustainablemidlands.org/memberships, we’re really excited that we’ll kind of have that membership reboot, if you or anybody you know of as a business owner, might be connected with some more on the corporate side of things. We’re always looking for sponsors. You know, that’s kind of one thing that we really need in order to keep going, as does any nonprofit, especially these days, it was always hard as a nonprofit. But I think especially with COVID, it’s been an extreme challenge. And that’s something that Sustainable Midlands is not embarrassed to say that, it’s really forced us to go dormant, and be extremely scrappy, and just trying to do what we can and kind of hanging on by the skin of our teeth right now. So if there is a corporate sponsor out there who feels that they’re in a place to support us, and help us with our initiatives, help us with our outreach, help us just get where we want to go as a Sustainable Midlands, we’re always welcoming that, if you are just interested in volunteering, we are so excited for that, we really, really need all hands on deck for our cleanups, of course, that community engagement piece, but also, if you’d like to kind of do a little bit more, so let’s say that Tasty Tomato Festival rolls around or kind of more organized event, those are some things where we really need some hands on deck for that to make sure that that event is a total success. So there are some kind of goodies that go along with things like that, as well. So, you can get involved in a variety of ways, but at the end of the day, we would just like to see you out there and get to know each one of you, know these folks who are interested and what does it mean to live sustainably and, I mean, I think we’re all kind of figuring that out on a day-to-day basis, and we’re not perfect and we’re all kind of learning and I think it’s um seeing where we are on a global scale. It can make you feel overwhelming and kind of scary, but at the same time the cheesy, but it’s true as think globally act locally, so I’m really excited to just kind of see what happens and hopefully engage with the community in a variety of ways.

Bob  40:17

Well, I would like to just put in a bid here, which is that a few years ago, when I was a member of Sustainable Midlands, you all had some pretty good swag, and particularly had some T shirts that were pretty nice. And so I would just advocate for you to resurrect the T shirts!

Becca  40:40

I’m a fan of T shirts, too. I’m excited for that for sure.

Bob  40:45

Well, thanks for taking time!

Becca  40:49

Thank you. Thank you all so much for having me.

Bob  40:53

Yeah, well, it’s a pleasure. And yeah, anything else before we, before we wrap up?

Becca  41:00

Yeah, I guess I’ll just maybe plug our socials really quick. If anybody’s like an online person. And you’re feeling social. We’re on Facebook. We’re on Instagram, we’re on Twitter. So you can find all those links through our website. Our website, again, is sustainablemidlands.org and it’s completely revamped. There are a lot of different sources out there for just general education, trying to kind of touch on food with water, we’ve got a variety of resources online for the public to engage with and hopefully send you on your way in that way. But you can always write to me. I’m at [email protected]ablemidlands.org and our socials are all on there as well. But we’re on Facebook at Sustainable Midlands, Instagram at Sustainable Midlands and Twitter @sustainablemid.

Bob  41:54

great. Well, thanks again and best of luck to you and to Sustainable Midlands and I’m looking forward to the that Tasty Tomato Festival and maybe for one of those hikes pretty soon. Thanks, Becca. For current information about what’s up and Sustainable Midlands Be sure to visit sustainablemidlands.org. We’ll be releasing episodes of Climate Conversations once or twice a week until the Climate-Ready Columbia Conference. Hope to see you next time.

Posted in Environment & climate | Leave a comment

Online learning resources

Got kids staying home because school’s closed? Here are some online learning resources, compiled by my friend Jen Albert at The Citadel:

COLLECTIONS OF RESOURCES IN GOOGLE DOCS:
http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com/ – List of providers that have made resources and services free
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tCAROR7Mo93u4tc57rhBtDtxgOolZpqg/view – Upper Elementary specific resources
https://www.fcps.edu/academics/continuity-learning-plan/elementary-school-continuity-learning-resources – K-6 lesson topics with links from Fairfax County Schools
https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1UbaobL2ymO4_MW4N0eVvdBEfMPLyGaH7KipH27Onmg0/mobilebasic – Kentucky Gifted and Talented lessons for K-12 by grade level and subject area
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SvIdgTx9djKO6SjyvPDsoGlkgE3iExmi3qh2KRRku_w/preview?fbclid=IwAR0JJun_m_VOKBfqFxZIyXX-fQXJaOirAgVQxtyIFM7_z1ZL3iLnb43y3qo&pru=AAABcQUzOzU*O6Ixiq6JxBe5M2uEO7Rgiw – 30 Virtual Field Trips with links

SCIENCE/ENGINEERING RESOURCES:

www.switcheroozoo.com – Watch, listen, and play games to learn all about amazing animals
www.kids.nationalgeographic.com – Learn all about geography and fascinating animals!
Compiled Free Science Resources – Google sheet of resources from Georgia Science Teachers Association
Hands-on activities collated by WeAreTeachers: https://www.weareteachers.com/hands-on-activities-for-families/?utm_content=1584197151&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR1DfzDOjr_YykmrI7_nk_mVtURavCt46DdSzs3K_BtcbLSLS0qC4pHsdoE
Skype a Scientist – daily times and topics
Engineering lesson ideas
American Associate of Chemistry Teachers has unlocked a number of resources for teachers

TECHNOLOGY/COMPUTER SCIENCE RESOURCES:
https://projects.mouse.org/
https://computerscienceteachers.com/
https://docs.google.com/document/u/0/d/1Qy2GayfYq1qheAxsDVSEPtjgrLH5Dj7swjo-tDfu6V4/mobilebasic – MN CS resources
http://www.abstractingcs.com/bits-bytes-resources-page/ – FREE at home packets for CSA and CSP

MATH RESOURCES:
www.abcya.com – Practice math and reading sills all while playing fun games

LITERACY RESOURCES:
Actors reading stories – www.storylineonline.net
Cozy chair YouTube channel
www.reading.ecb.org – Go “into the book” to play games that practice reading strategies.
www.seussville.com – Read, play games, and hang out with Dr. Seuss and his friends.
www.abcya.com – Practice math and reading sills all while playing fun games
www.starfall.com – Practice your phonics skills with these read-along stories

ART RESOURCES:
Metropolitan Opera LiveStream
FREE Color Book Downloads from 113 museums
Museums Virtual Tours
A Guide to Virtual Museum Resources

OTHERS:
www.highlightskids.com – Read, play games, and conduct cool science experiments
www.pbs.org – Hang out with your favorite characters all while learning.
https://preschoolinspirations.com/kid-yoga-videos/ – Yoga exercises for kids
List of 450 Ivy League courses you can take online for free

Posted in Connected life, Education | 2 Comments

Book Challenge: Day 7

On my last book challenge day, I continue my cheating ways by again sharing two books. These are by the same author, American University history professor Ibram X. Kendi. They are Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and Kendi’s most recent book, How to Be an Antiracist.

I read How to Be an Antiracist first. This book is brilliant, tightly reasoned, and introspective. As I read, I found myself diving into my own self-reflection, then coming up for air to learn more about Kendi’s ideas. Kendi’s willingness to share his own intellectual and emotional journey impels the reader to their own, sometimes painful, self-examination.

Stamped from the Beginning is a history of racist ideas, and addresses questions like, Where did the anti-black racist ideas that bedevil American society come from? How did they develop and why? What makes them so powerful and persistent? Tracing the origins of these ideas from the beginnings of the European trade in enslaved African people, Kendi draws on the lives of five significant figures from American history to help us understand these questions, beginning with Puritan minister Cotton Mather (1663 – 1728) and concluding with activist Angela Davis (1944 – ).

On a personal, visceral level, I can’t imagine the amount of stamina and determination that Kendi must have summoned as he spent years immersed in these repugnant, raw, and ugly justifications for the inhumanity of slavery, Jim Crow, and modern-day discrimination in his study of racist ideas. But he concludes that “racial inequality is a problem of bad policy, not bad people.” He says that racist ideas are rooted in the attempt to justify self-interested choices that have racist effects. So, for example, the expedient of kidnapping and enslaving people to provide cheap, expendable labor resulted in the need to reconcile these immoral actions with the Christian faith professed by most of the enslavers. From this, the huge, teetering edifice of anti-black racist thought in America evolved.

We are often taught the Enlightenment notion that beliefs shape thoughts which result in actions–the ideal of reason as the basis of action. But Kendi’s history of racist ideas reveals that this gets it exactly backwards. As you look at the sweep of history, human beings make choices and then develop thoughts and beliefs to justify them. Along those lines, I think of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s dictum that ideology is what allows people to do things they know are wrong. To the contrary, for good or ill, it seems that acts ultimately create ideology, or at least reinforce it.

Kendi says that “a racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way” and an antiracist idea is essentially the opposite. He proposes that, in a racist society, it is not possible to be “non-racist” in the sense of being “colorblind” or neutral as regards to race. Instead, the alternative to racism is antiracism. Further, all of us hold some measure of racist and antiracist ideas and attitudes, so to become more fully antiracist requires constant self-reflection and struggle.

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Book Challenge: Day 6

So many books, so few days! I’m not going to even get to a whole raft of significant ones! Arrrrgh! What’s a person to do?

Cheat, of course.

So today, I’m sharing two books on a theme: The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael Mann and Tom Toles, and Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda.

Eminent climate scientist Michael Mann (Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State) and Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles collaborated to produce The Madhouse Effect, a primer on climate change that debunks many climate change denial arguments and explains why we humans really do need to act—and quickly—to keep the worst from happening. By the way, if you want to really learn about the science of climate change, Mann is presenting a free on-line college course on climate science for non-scientists on the MOOC website EdX. (I’m currently taking the course myself.)

In Resisting Structural Evil, author Cynthia Moe-Lobeda presents a vision of environmental and social justice rooted in her deep study of Christian ethics. (It happens that I went to middle school with Cynthia, although she was one grade ahead of me and I didn’t know her well, but we inhabited overlapping social circles.) The book argues that Christian teachings and tradition impel believers to recognize their responsibility for all interconnected life on this planet, and describes how some Christian churches have responded to the ecological crisis based on this awareness.

There are so many more books I would like to recommend on this topic, but will stop at two for now. I think these are a good place to start reading. Your future self will thank you.

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Book Challenge: Day 5

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky is a primatologist and neurobiologist who has spent his career studying how biology, the brain, the environment, and genes interact to produce animal (and human) behavior. In this engrossing book, he explains some of what he’s learned, in terms a non-expert can understand. (I noticed that Sapolsky was featured in the recent Netflix/Vox documentary series on the mind, and I also heard him on Ezra Klein’s podcast a while back. I recommend both of these also!) Behave is an absolutely fascinating book that will challenge your ideas about human behavior, and everything that flows from that.

In contrast to McGilchrist, whose book The Master and His Emissary I highlighted a couple days ago, Sapolsky says that the divided brain has little effect on behavior. When I first read this, I wondered how this contradiction might be reconciled, since both scientists seem to know what they’re talking about. I think it would be fascinating to get the two of them in a room together for a conversation. At the moment, the best I can do is to consider that their books address different (although related) questions: Sapolsky is most interested in the biochemistry of brains and behavior, while McGilchrist is interested in how brains process information and how that influences culture. Both books by themselves are intriguing and challenging; taken together, they have pushed me to think deeply about all kinds of questions and issues in what I think are creative ways.

Here’s one small nugget from Behave: Sapolsky spends a chapter or two discussing the relationship between genes and environment and their relative contribution to behavior (the nature vs. nurture debate). The traditional way to talk about this is to assign some percentage to each which adds to 100%, like saying that human potential or behavior or whatever is 60% determined by genes and 40% by environment. Or whatever. Sapolsky makes the crucial point that genes express themselves differently in different environments, meaning that it’s the interaction between the two that produces behavior, not one acting independently of the other. So it might be more accurate to say that behavior is 80% nature *and* 80% nurture. Wow!

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Book Challenge: Day 4

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

I had to include something by Margaret Atwood on my list since she’s such a wonderful novelist. Of course, her best-known novel is The Handmaid’s Tale, and that would have been a great addition to this series too. But Alias Grace has grown on me over the years since I read it, bringing me back time and again to the question of what about our personal stories is true and false. This is a fascinating story, based on a real-life murder that took place in Canada in the mid-1800’s. (Btw, this novel has been made into a Netflix series, in case you’d rather take it in that way.)

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Book Challenge: Day 3.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist

The author is a brain researcher who has spent his career understanding how the structure of the human brain influences how we process information and, in turn, how we perceive the world around us. In this book, he first takes a deep dive into how our brains work, and especially how the two hemispheres of the brain work together, in different ways, to process information from the environment. The right hemisphere is focused on the world around us, taking in information and making decisions about how to respond. The left hemisphere focuses on logic and analysis, but has only limited interest in the external environment. When the hemispheres work together, the right hemisphere filters incoming information, sends the filtered input to the left hemisphere for analysis, and then uses the results of this analysis to help it make decisions about action.

A tiny aside: I was fascinated by the fact that the center in the left hemisphere that is most closely associated with speech is mirrored in the right hemisphere by the center from which music comes. The anthropological evidence is that our ancestors communicated through musical sound long before they developed language. I was stunned when I read this.

The second half of the book is a reflection on how our brains have shaped civilization. McGilchrist makes the case that, in most of human history, civilization was built on a partnership between the left and right hemispheres in which the left-brain analytic functions provided advice to the right hemisphere, but the right hemisphere was the locus of decision and action. He argues that Western civilization has elevated the status of the left hemisphere in ways that, while making European civilization globally dominant, now endangers our continued success as a species.

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Book Challenge, Day 2

Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco.

These days I don’t read as much fiction as I once did. Here’s an exception, Foucault’s Pendulum by the Italian writer and semiotician Umberto Eco. He’s probably best known for his novel The Name of the Rose, that was made into a movie with Sean Connery.

Anyway, years ago, I took all summer to read this book, digesting it in small amounts each day. The climax takes place in the Pantheon in Paris, and I won’t say more about that, except that, a few years later on a visit to France, I happened into the Pantheon, not realizing it was the same place until, there it was, Foucault’s actual pendulum.

The story is about three editors who work for a vanity press that specializes in books promoting occult religious conspiracy theories. One night, in a fit of drunken hilarity, they create a theory that explains all the conspiracy theories from the books they’ve edited. Then, crazy things start happening. Have they stumbled onto a deeper truth?

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Book Challenge, Day 1

I’m accepting a challenge from my high school English teacher Barbara Bass to post a book a day.


Day number 1: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson.


This book is a powerful history of the Great Migration of African Americans from the American South to places in the North and West as told through the stories of three participants in the migration. I read it several years ago, and still think about it often. This book should really be made into a movie.

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