It’s good to be back on the Mountain. Another round of teaching Creative Nonfiction at Sewanee School of Letters, up here on the Cumberland Plateau. If you find yourself nearby, I invite you to join me for an event this week. I’ll be reading and then having a conversation with School of Letters Interim Director John Gatta. Here are the details:
I don’t normally do speculative fiction, but when In These Times told me they were doing a special climate issue and asked me what our world might be like if we were to achieve a net zero carbon economy, I found myself writing a letter to my cousin-brother.
Hello, my sweet, faraway cousin-brother! As we approach our—gasp!—80th birthdays, I felt inspired to resurrect the old tradition of letter writing.
It seems like yesterday we were sitting on your parents’ rooftop, taking in the night sounds of Besant Nagar, in the days when I would impulsively buy a ticket from Boston to Chennai without much of a thought beyond my bank account balance.
Remember when a ticket cost a few weeks’ pay instead of six months’? Has it really been 20 years since I last flew to India? I have forgotten the smell of the jasmine flowers women sold along the streets. Remind me again of their fragrance…
Do you see more stars now that the coal plants have shut down? Are the streets quieter without the roar of motorbikes? I suspect the electric vehicles still honk just as frequently and drive as wildly.
Perhaps everything is a little calmer, without the overwhelming crowds? But I imagine there’s an eeriness to that calm, knowing the cost at which it came.
I’m pretty sure I have been well behind the curve when it comes to the field of environmental humanities. What I didn’t realize as I criss-crossed India working on A River Runs Again was that my method of reporting and research was just that: taking a systems approach and thinking about the interconnected, interdisciplinary aspects to the complicated realm of environmental stories I was exploring. It led me to understand, for example, that designing a clean cookstove was a gender issue as much as (or more than) a technological one and that the disappearance of vultures could have religious as well as ecological implications. I had stepped, without realizing it, into the world of environmental humanities.
So — to bury the lede — it’s with great delight that I announce that for the 2019-2020 academic year, I’ll be the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor in the Environment and the Humanities at Princeton University. I’ll be rooted within the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). In their words: [Read more…]
Want to write a book? I moderated a panel at the SEJ conference in Flint, Michigan in October with three wonderful book editors. Here’s a recap, as it was printed in SEJ Journal.
By Meera Subramanian
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you don’t often get to the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conferences, you may be missing out on the signature SEJ “book pitch slams,” where attendees offer their ideas for a book to a panel of book editors for feedback in an open session. For reasons of privacy, these sessions are not recorded and are not available online. So SEJournal’s Karen Schaefer asked SEJ board member and book author Meera Subramanian to share some of what she learned from pitch slam editors at the most recent conference.
|Attendee at the 2018 annual SEJ conference, where prospective authors received advice from book editors. Photo: SEJ. Click to enlarge.|
True to tradition, the final session on the final day of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference in Flint, Mich last Oct. 3-7 was the “Book Slam.”
Set up in an elegant room at the Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan, participants stepped up to the microphone to pitch their book ideas in a mere 120 seconds.
Then three editors — Paula Ayer of Greystone Press, Scott Gast of University of Chicago Press and Emily Turner of Island Press — provided thoughtful and encouraging feedback.
Given the cloak of secrecy around members’ works-in-progress, only those present could witness the idea development in process.
But the editors did kick off the session by sharing some universalities that they wished every aspiring author knew before they ever approached a publishing house.
So insanely honored to have one of my InsideClimate News Finding Middle Ground pieces mentioned in Longreads Best of 2018 list for science and technology stories. I’m still blushing, reading these words from…
Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poison Squad.
They Know Seas Are Rising, but They’re Not Abandoning Their Beloved Cape Cod (Meera Subramanian, InsideClimate News)
For more than a year, Meera Subramanian has been traversing the country for InsideClimate News, creating a series of vivid and wonderfully balanced portraits of small communities wrestling with the havoc of climate change (whether they admit it or not). This one from October, focused on an increasingly flood-washed area called Blish Point, stands out for me. It’s a tapestry-like picture woven of relentlessly rising seas, threatened homes and businesses, the politics of climate change science, and pure, stubborn human reluctance to give up on a beloved way of coastal living.
Subramanian never raises her voice or treats any viewpoint with less than respect — although she occasionally deftly slides in the scientific arguments that counter climate denialism. She has an elegant way of making both people and place live on the page. The result is a compelling and compassionate narrative in which this one small, beautiful, vanishing strip of Massachusetts, perched on the edge of an encroaching ocean, becomes a microcosm for the much bigger story of change — and its reckoning — now being realized around the world.
This is the eighth and final piece of Finding Middle Ground, a series I’ve been working on for InsideClimate News for the last year and a half.
This piece also made the Longreads Best of 2018 list for science and technology!
And I had a great conversation with Illinois Public Radio’s The 21st host Niala Boodhoo, along with Wheaton College sophomore Diego Rivera, whom you’ll meet in the story, and Riley Balikian of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Have a listen here, starting at 17:30.
Here’s the start of the piece:
WHEATON, Illinois — Diego Hernandez wasn’t thinking much about climate change until last summer, when he was traveling with his family along the Gulf Coast in his home state of Texas, where his ancestors—cowboys and politicians, he said—reach back to the 1600s. His mother suggested they take the “scenic route” for that summer drive, Diego said, his fingers making air-quotes because there was nothing “scenic” about it. All he saw were oil refineries.
“At that moment,” said 19-year-old Diego, who considers himself a libertarian, “the switch kind of flipped for me.” Why are we putting refineries in this beautiful place? he thought. The impacts from Hurricane Harvey, which had hit Houston the previous August and had affected some of Diego’s relatives, were also still lingering in his mind.
“I used to be like, oh, there’s oil, go start drilling, you know, because of course it’s all about the money, right?” he said, his voice tinged with sarcasm. But after that family outing, he began to ask questions—”What is it doing to our environment? How is it going to affect us in the next 10 to 50 years?”—and since then he’s had climate change on his mind.
Seventh piece from “Finding Middle Ground,” the series I’ve been working on for InsideClimate News about perceptions of climate change:
“It flooded in early January, and then it happened again two or three months later,” says Matt Teague of Barnstable, Mass., about the slew of storms that hit Cape Cod in the winter of 2017. “We’re like, what are we doing here?” he says, opening his arms skyward.
It is now the peak of summer as I stand with Matt in the seaside community of Blish Point at the front door of the house he owns—a house that’s about to be demolished. Matt, 43, with a trim graying beard and a belt buckle in the shape of a fishhook, is the owner of REEF Design & Build, which works all across Cape Cod. He bought the house with his brother and father more than 10 years ago as an investment. Blish Point, an area where native fishermen once laid out their nets to dry, today contains a couple hundred homes nestled between the mouth of Barnstable Harbor and the verdant marsh of Maraspin Creek. Some of the homes are upscale; others are simple cottages. The Teague house, one of the simple cottages, was ruined by flooding: five major storms in the past three years alone have struck this area, and two of the four nor’easters last winter inundated the ground-level home.
Matt pushes his sunglasses atop his head, revealing a pale strip of untanned skin along his temple, as he stretches out his hand 2 feet above the door’s threshold to show me where the water rose to during the storms. Over his shoulder, a hungry excavator sits ready to begin its work….
It’s an annual ritual, this first day of the oystering season. Some falls I’ve been off traveling, but I’m home this time, and get off a phone meeting just in time for the approach to dead low tide at 2:42pm. The downpour of earlier has lifted though gusts of wind are still wrenching colors from the trees. No, stay, just a little longer….! But to everything there is a season, and the leaves must go, but the oysters are now ours to take. I gathered my half bucket in about 3 minutes, barely moving my feet, they were so plentiful. And then I played around with video. Have a look…
If you happen to be in Boston on Oct. 24th (6pm – 8 pm), join Tom Zeller, Jr, Editor in Chief of Undark magazine, MIT climate scientist Susan Solomon, and me as we discuss studying and covering climate change. It’s part of the Inside Media, Politics and Policy series of Northeastern University’s Myra Kraft Open Classroom. Here’s a link, and more:
You can watch the event here: