Earth’s future is uninhabitable

I feel like I’ve just come back from a long trip to the future, and returned, and I’m stricken. I finished reading “The Uninhabitable Earth: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think” by David Wallace-Wells in the New York Magazine.

This long-form essay on potential futures of climate change is a must-read. It’s difficult, not because of the language or length, but the scenarios Wallace-Wells describes in such vivid detail.

Readers, society: take note. This is our future.

If we don’t act now. Today.

“Several of the scientists I spoke with proposed global warming as the solution to Fermi’s famous paradox, which asks, ‘If the universe is so big, then why haven’t we encountered any other intelligent life in it?’”

Earth’s future

Wallace-Wells helps visualize potential futures where climate change devastate the Earth, our environment, our food, and our lives.

He doesn’t shy away from the terrifying scenarios, drilling into specific details and facts. He often compares future numbers to current ones, which helps me understand hard-to-relate to abstracts.

Here are some terrifying tidbits from the article.

  • “Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful.”
  • “The albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years.”
  • “At 11 or 12 degrees of warming, more than half the world’s population, as distributed today, would die of direct heat. Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat.”
  • “The basic rule for staple cereal crops grown at optimal temperature is that for every degree of warming, yields decline by 10 percent. Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, we may have as many as 50 percent more people to feed and 50 percent less grain to give them. And proteins are worse.”
  • “The fraction of carbon dioxide in the air is growing: It just crossed 400 parts per million, and high-end estimates extrapolating from current trends suggest it will hit 1,000 ppm by 2100. At that concentration, compared to the air we breathe now, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.”
  • “For every half-degree of warming, they say, societies will see between a 10 and 20 percent increase in the likelihood of armed conflict.”
  • “We will see at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly ten by the end of the century. At present, more than a third of the world’s carbon is sucked up by the oceans — but the result is what’s called ‘ocean acidification,’ which, on its own, may add a half a degree to warming this century.”

Climate fiction

We need more literature about climate change. More short stories, poems, novels. We need to use our incredible imaginations to show what we are dragging ourselves into, what we are leaving our children and grandchildren with.

This is what Emmalie Dropkin argues for in an article in Electric Lit, “We Need Stories of Dystopia Without Apocalypse: Climate change and the human imagination.” The abstract futures and numbers can confuse people and lull them into not caring. Stories, literature, have been inspiring humans for centuries. This is a tool we should use more to shock ourselves into action.

“In a six-degree-warmer world, the Earth’s ecosystem will boil with so many natural disasters that we will just start calling them ‘weather.’”

Already, genres are emerging from climate change and natural disaster events. I’m increasingly seeing climate fiction, solarpunk, eco-literature, eco-speculation. These relate to science fiction, technology, cyberpunk, and more.

Some books in these genres include:

  • Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction by ASU Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative
  • Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Last Hundred Years trilogy by Jane Smiley
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • TreeVolution by Tara Campbell
  • The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh
  • Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  • After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Browse Goodreads for climate fiction

“More than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades … In the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe.”

We have to visualize these potential futures, because we are ensuring they become reality with each passing day. With each pound of beef we eat, each flight we take.

If we continue down our current path, we’re dooming ourselves to devastating effects of climate change. We’re fueling its fire.

“Every round-trip ticket on flights from New York to London, keep in mind, costs the Arctic three more square meters of ice.”

Articles like Wallace-Wells’ and Dropkin’s, and books that explore climate change, are necessary, now more than ever. Keep reading our future. Keep ignoring it, and welcome to your uninhabitable Earth.

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Sharing poetry with scientists and the public

Seven-foot-tall banners of various poems.Seven-foot-tall banners of various poems.

I had a fantastic time bringing poetry to scientists and the public during today’s Science March in Washington, D.C.

Leading a poetry teach-in for those who write and those who never knew poetry could be science-themed was so fulfilling. And even though it was pouring rain, the weather brought more people into our tent, who ultimately took up a pen and paper to try erasure, writing about insects, or personifying nature, storms, or planets. I’d estimate about 200 people came through the Poets for Science tent during our poetry teach-ins.

Many people stopped by our tent to learn how to write science-themed poetry.Many people stopped by our tent to learn how to write science-themed poetry.

I want to thank Jane Hirshfield for coming up with this incredible idea, Split This Rock and Sarah Browning for recommending me as one of the workshop leaders, the Wick Poetry Center for their great staff and banners, and all the local poets who led workshops and made this such an incredible event! This was a great space where we made connections between science and poetry — because, truly, the two go hand-in-hand. They are intertwined.

Science is full of images, minute details, precision. And so is poetry. They are both vivid, raw representations of our natural world.

Jane Hirshfield was the mastermind behind Poets For Science. Honored to have met and worked with her.Jane Hirshfield was the mastermind behind Poets For Science. Honored to have met and worked with her.

For those who couldn’t make it to the Science March or our tent, here are the workshops and poetry banners. Keep writing.

Poets for Science

Posters from Poets for Science of poems paired with images. Photo courtesy of pw.org.Posters from Poets for Science. Photo courtesy of pw.org.

On Saturday, I’m humbled to be a part of the March for Science in Washington, D.C. Most likely I won’t be marching, due to chronic pain, but I will be participating in another, meaningful way. Through serendipitous chance, I was invited to be a part of the poetry teach-ins that are happening during the day. The incredible poet Jane Hirshfield is the mastermind behind the idea — and I am so grateful to be able to work with her and bring her dream to life. Make sure to read Jane’s poem “On the Fifth Day,” which she will be reading at the rally during the March.

Several local poets and staff from Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center will be leading poetry workshops focusing on insects, personifying storms, climate change, data, and more. The workshops will be from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Mall in the Poets for Science tent. Learn more about the pop-up workshops.

My workshop is Writing the Storm. I’m bringing several poems exploring weather, planets, natural disasters, and how they affect our lives. We’ll use phrases from these poems and from Patricia Smith’s poetry personifying Hurricane Katrina as a jumping off point. All are welcome, including parents and children, and no experience is required.

This opportunity is so dear to my heart because most of my poetry, and some of my prose, focuses on science in some way. I’m obsessed with space. I write about my body and medical issues. I explore the potential future in science/speculative fiction. Science and creative writing go hand in hand. Writers draw from the natural world and the rich images in science.

Jane’s work in forming Poets for Science and our teach-ins were featured in an article on Poets&Writers. Read it to learn more about the seven-foot posters of poetry that will be present at the March, as well as how this came to be. The workshops and poems are also traveling the globe and may be translated and held in satellite marches throughout the world, including the March for Science in Marseilles, France!

Join the conversation throughout the day and share your science-related poems with the hashtag #poetsforscience! Excited to see you there!

The power of writers as activists

The incredible Taylor Lewis reflects on the power of writers as activists, her experiences teaching abroad in France, going to grad school in Hawaii, and the current political climate in a recent article in The Writers’ Bloc.

Back in 2011, at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House at the University of Maryland, Taylor had the great idea to start up a literary-arts newspaper on campus — what eventually became The Writers’ Bloc. The University of Maryland had niche newspapers, but nothing like this.

I was grateful to be included in starting the paper, becoming its Editor-in-Chief years later, and am so proud of what it has grown into.

“Since then, it has evolved in ways I could have never imagined,” Taylor writes. “From Writers’ to Writer’s; from a focus solely on arts and writing to music and blogs and activism. The staff has grown exponentially from the few of us who started it, and though I haven’t met many of them, every new generation carries on the legacy, making it bigger and better.”

Taylor is absolutely right when she says, “We do not take kindly to walls.” We as writers, we as creatives, we as thinkers, dreamers, artists, we as immigrants, we as people of color, we as LGBTQ/queer people, we as disabled people, we as indigenous people/Native Americans, we as people.

We don’t take kindly to being walled up, walled off, with borders or bans — everything happening now we are actively fighting and speaking up against. And The Writers’ Bloc has always and seems to continue to offer an important space for these writers and artists.

Taylor leaves us with insight into another language; apt since she is studying second-language acquisition.

Hawaiʻi Loa, kū like kākou
Kū paʻa me ka lōkahi e
Kū kala me ka wiwo ʻole
ʻOnipaʻa kākou, ‘onipaʻa kākou
A lanakila nā kini e
E ola, e ola e ola nā kini e

All Hawaiʻi stands together, it is now and forever
To raise your voices, and hold your banners high
We shall stand as a nation
To guide the destinies of our generations
To sing and praise the glories of our land

Thank you, The Writers’ Bloc staff, for continuing this legacy of sharing your voices. This is so necessary. And thank you, Taylor, for dreaming up that idea all those years ago in the midst of overflowing undergraduate schedules. What a dream — and what a newspaper it has become.

Giving voice to survivors

As the rain poured in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night, a group of a couple dozen people gathered in Chinatown to share poems, songs and artwork dedicated to surviving.

The second Art as a Voice event, hosted by the Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) at the Chinatown Community Cultural Center, raised awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian/Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

Photo from aletterforyou.org.

DVRP Interim Executive Director Tuyet Duong shared a painting based on the year her father spent in a Communist concentration camp and his love of gardening — a bonsai tree sprouting from the top ventricles of a heart. He experienced a lot of suffering, she said, but he loved gardening. Bonsai trees grow in unexpected ways, and Duong tried to capture this in her painting.

“I am undocumented, a human with a story.”

“In high school, I found out I was undocumented,” said queer spoken word artist Ken Gonzales. “The usual narrative, I couldn’t get my driver’s license.” Gonzales performed a piece called “9 Numbers of Freedom,” signifying the numbers that allow him to move through this country freely. His poem was littered with incredible figurative language, like native tongues being sliced on an English cutting board. “Despite the win with same-sex marriage, there are still undocumented LGBT folks in detention centers undergoing abuse,” Gonzales said.

A trio sang original songs of love, trials, and triumph and covered India Arie’s “Break the Shell.” Elisha Brown performed a song called “Long Distance Love,” dedicated to her love who lives across the country. “We’re in different time zones, so I sleep by my phone,” she crooned softly, seemingly unaware of the power of her voice. “You’re my long distance love.” Singing is new to Brown, she said, as she focuses more on spoken word poetry.

Photo from aletterforyou.org.

There was also a table featuring A Letter for You project, where people can anonymously write survivors letters to let them know they matter. The project defines survivors as people who have experienced a traumatic event, including violence, abuse, rape, bullying, illness or others. Several audience members wrote notes addressed to survivors before the event began, and were invited to write more after the performances. The letters are archived on the project’s website. You can write and email your own letters to letters@aletterforyou.org or mail them to:

A Letter for You Project
P.O. Box 472
Garrett Park, MD, 20896

Spreading the Voices of the Voiceless at Split This Rock

Alaha Arhrar
Alaha Ahrar recites a poem she wrote, first in Dari and then in English. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

On March 29, in a Saturday morning panel at the 2014 Split This Rock poems of provocation and witness poetry festival, theAfghan Women’s Writing Project shared words and curriculum from Afghan women poets with a group of about 25 women and two men in the Human Rights Campaign building.

Formed in 2009, AWWP offers women in Afghanistan a community to share writing and learn the craft. AWWP is working to help Afghan women become professional writers by offering them a space to work on their craft and share their writing among themselves and others. Afghan women who participate in the workshops can write in English, which is unique, since many women in the country don’t learn English, said Richelle McClain, the panel leader and executive director of the project.

Split This Rock participants’ passionate engagement in a variety of diverse panels demonstrated poetry’s power as a political and educational tool for articulating and sharing sensitive personal and cultural stories. This potential for poetry to breach social and cultural barriers was exemplified in the poems Afghan women writers shared in the panel.

McClain discussed AWWP’s “Lessons from Afghanistan: A Curriculum for Exploring Themes of Love and Forgiveness,” available online, which contains five sections, ranging from personal definitions of love to exploring forgiveness in the face of abuse that these women face in Afghanistan because of their gender. The curriculum provides poems, objectives, classroom activities, writing prompts, and sample questions to explore love, forgiveness, and other themes. It also offers a list of suggested resources. Some activities include questionnaires, small group discussion, and writing individual or group poems about themes like self-love and effective communication.

Educators can use the curriculum’s prompts for writing exercises in their classrooms. Teachers can download individual poems or the entire curriculum by requesting permission from Stacy Parker Le Melle at stacy@awwproject.org. The project also encourages theatrical readings of the work.

During the panel, McClain asked festival attendees to recite several poems from the project. Alaha Ahrar and Mahnaz Rezaie, two Afghan women who attended university in America, read their poems in English and Dari, one of the official languages in Afghanistan.

Poetry has a long history in the country. Ahrar said her great-grandfather was a Sufi poet, part of a deeply mystical tradition. As several recent news articles attest, writing poetry is a gravely perilous pursuit for many Afghan women.

AWWP pays for Afghan women’s transportation to and from writing workshops in Afghanistan, because it is dangerous for them to share their opinions and write in the country, McClain said. The workshops are held in an undisclosed location for increased security. Ahrar added that many of the women remain anonymous when they write. Due to these safety concerns, AWWP only recruits in the country through word of mouth.

Some of the women bring their daughters to the workshops, to expose them to the open atmosphere, McClain said.

Ahrar ended the session by reading her poem titled “Desire for World Peace,” first in Dari, then in English.

“Afghan women have a lot of hope for their country,” she said. “We are very optimistic.”

Local advocate encourages students to learn about, act on human trafficking

Marlena Chertock

APRIL 13, 2011

The Polaris Project is a comprehensive resource for information on human trafficking and an organization that works to combat trafficking. Photo courtesy of polarisproject.org.

“If one person is forced to have sex with 55 people a day, is that enough to make you care?” Tracy Rowe asked students in Irazu on April 13 at 8 p.m.

Rowe, from NC Stop Human Trafficking, spoke about human trafficking, how to spot its victims and how to get involved to help stop and prevent it. The event was sponsored by the Service Learning Community, SPARKS! Peer Educators and 146 Love.

NC Stop is a statewide organization that works to eradicate modern day slavery in all its forms. It operates on the P.A.V.E. motto, prevention, advocacy, victim services and education.

Human trafficking is often called modern day slavery, as its victims are forcibly kept in the business. It is a business; there will always be supply of people and demand for these sexual acts.

Human trafficking makes more money than the NFL, MBA and baseball industry combined, she said.

People are trafficked for sex, labor, food clothing and shelter. It is often a means to survive.

Women, men and children are lured into human trafficking, labor trafficking and sex slavery through fraud, deception, brute force, intimidation and manipulation. They are kept in it with drugs and psychological means of control.

“Traffickers promise them better lives, good jobs, but they end up getting to the country, even the U.S., and being forced into slavery,” Rowe said.

Then the traffickers tell the victims they owe a debt. But the work they do cannot possibly raise enough to repay this debt.

Trafficking doesn’t only happen abroad, in developing nations, it’s also occurring in the U.S. There have been numerous human trafficking cases in Maryland, Texas, N.C. and other states.

About 25 percent of human trafficking victims end up in the southeast, in states like North Carolina. This is for various reasons. A big reason is there are major highways where people can be transported. I-95, I-85 and I-40 run through North Carolina.

There are many causes of human trafficking, ranging from globalization, cheap labor and demand for cheap products and demand for sexual acts and child sex.

Trafficking creates the normalization of degradation and violence against women and children and normalization of exploitation and devaluation of human life. It makes exploitation and violence seem more normal and acceptable and human life not valuable, she said.

People can make a difference in this social justice and human rights issue, Rowe said.

People shouldn’t refer to people who engage in prostitution as “prostitutes” but ” women and people being prostituted,” she said. This helps keep the criminalization off the victims and places blame on traffickers and those who seek out people being prostituted.

“This is a demand-driven problem and we need to combat the demand,” she said.

A chocolate bar really should cost $3, but you can buy it for 50 cents.

People don’t like to spend more, though, because it’s inconvenient and harder to find, she said.

“But we’re voting with our dollar,” she said. “If we don’t buy things that are cheaper, demand for those products go down and companies won’t sell them.”

People have to realize that they may have to spend more money and have less things, she said.

Victims of human trafficking are often physically, psychologically, mentally and emotionally abused. Many contract STDs during their time in sex slavery.

Traffickers are really good at manipulating their victims and keeping them silent, she said.

Actions you can take to help stop trafficking

  • Speak up about human trafficking
  • Buy fair trade-People want luxury products at cheap prices and that creates demand
  • Learn more
  • Advocate

Rowe recommended certain organizations and websites to learn more about human trafficking:

If students or community members are interested in getting involved with ways to prevent and fight against human trafficking, NC Stop is hosting a meeting Friday, April 15 at the Green Bean coffee shop on 341 S. Elm St. in Greensboro at 6 to 8 p.m.

If you have a human trafficking tip, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

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Rowe on normalization of human trafficking

Rowe on combating demand for human trafficking

Service Learning Community recites poem about child sex slavery

Rowe on college students becoming advocates