Curated for you by the Sustainable Dartmouth Interns Sunday, September 27, 2020
News What you need to know about the West Coast & the wildfires
What is going on right now?
Since the beginning of 2020,over 3.4 million acres have burned in California alone, with a total greater than5 million acres throughout the entire West Coast (California, Washington, Oregon). Since August 15, when California’s fire activity increased, there have been25 fatalities and nearly 5,400 structures destroyed.Millions of California homes have been experiencingpower blackouts.Hereis a map of the fires happening throughout the West Coast right now.
Wildfires in the west are on the rise: in California, the10 largest fires on record have occurred in the past 20 years, and“six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history have occurred this year.” Check out this episode of the NYT The Daily: A Deadly Tinderbox for more on what’s happening on the ground in Oregon.
Why is this happening?
California’s already-dry climate predisposes the state to wildfires as its vegetation dries out and becomes the perfect fuel for wildfires. The drastic increases we’ve seen in recent years, though, are directly linked to climate change–rising temperatures dessicate forests and land, drying out even more vegetation which accumulates and fuels even bigger fires.
How have the fires affected humans and the environment?
Toxic air quality has blanketed the state, putting residents at risk for developing respiratory problems. This is especially concerning during the current global pandemic as respiratory problems make people more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19. Furthermore, when wildfires burn buildings and homes, they create harmful chemical runoff that can leach into drinking water. Though we’re still in the thick of fire season, one researcher has estimated that the damages from the fires could be over $20 billion this year.
How has California been managing wildfires?
Indigenous peoples have long used burning as a method to manage the lands of what is today known as the American West; contrary to national myths depicting pristine, untouched territories, these lands were in actuality intentionally burned to manage ecological diversity and regeneration through fire.
U.S. government agencies disregarded these traditional land management practices in favor of viewing fires as a problem to be wholly eradicated. The "total fire suppression" strategy put in place by the U.S. government in 1919 has proven a “catastrophic disturbance for those ecosystems which had been influenced by anthropogenic fire throughout their development” (Kimmerer and Lake, 2001). Fire suppression policy has contradictorily rendered disastrous wildfires (and subsequent floods) inevitable, generating a post-colonial landscape of ecological destruction.
What’s more, California has long relied on exploiting prison labor to fight wildfires. Inmates working in the Conservation Camp Program (CCP) are trained and deployed to fight fires, a physically laborious and dangerous job for which they are compensated with“time off their sentences and … $2 and $5 a day, plus $1 per hour when they are on a fire.” Meanwhile, it’s incredibly difficult for incarcerated firefighters to become full-time firefighters after their sentences are served due to stigma and policies that make it hard for people with a felony to earn an EMT certification, a qualification required by most fire departments. Within the past few months, with COVID-19 spreading throughout prisons, many incarcerated firefighters have been quarantined, taken out of commission, or released early in order to stop the spread, but this led to a shortage of firefighters when the fires escalated late summer. This crisis has brought attention to the state’s dependency on cheap and exploitative prison labor,prompting many to call on the state to eliminate this prison program and replace it with proper public investment in firefighting.
The landscape of fires in the American West has also long been marked by inequity–check out The Case for Letting Malibu Burn, a seminal piece by Mike Davis. TL;DR, Davis places the expensive, extravagant resources mobilized to protect luxury homes in Malibu, a city practically destined to burn, side by side with the fires that are commonplace in inner city LA due to inadequate codes, insufficient housing, and disparities in resource allotment. Davis says, “If enormous resources have been allocated–quixotically–to fight irresistible forces of nature on the Malibu coast, then scandalously little attention has been paid to the man-made and remediable fire crisis of the inner city.”
After decades of suppressing fires, California’s attitude towards firefighting is slowly shifting. “Alongside huge expenditures on firefighting staff and gear, the state is making new investments in prescribed burning,” the indigenous wildfire management practice. “But who gets to decide where that fire goes, what it burns, why it burns – who is the steward of a natural element – remains contentious… native people are trying to revitalize their right to indigenous cultural burning, a practice that was criminalized long before California became a state, before their culture dies out.” Learn more about the relationship between California firefighting programs and indigenous burning here–and why this partnership, especially considering the history of exploiting traditional ecological knowledge, must be on indigenous peoples’ terms here (“Cultural Burning and TEK: How Can FAC Practitioners Leverage Indigenous Connections to Fire Without Exploiting Them?”).
How can I help?
Support these organizations that promote using Traditional Ecological Knowledge forest stewardship and cultural burning methods:
Western Klamath Restoration Partnership, a collaboration between tribal groups, the forest service, and non-governmental organizations in northern California. They are working to create a plan to restore fire resilience using the traditional ecological knowledge of the Karuk Tribe.
Cultural Fire Management Council, an organization with the mission to “facilitate the practice of cultural burning on the Yurok Reservation and Ancestral lands, which will lead to a healthier ecosystem for all plants and animals, long term fire protection for residents, and provide a platform that will in turn support the traditional hunting and gathering activities of Yurok.
Vote for & support radical climate change policy. The rise in wildfires is linked to climate change and if nothing is done soon to prevent the warming of the planet, widespread fires like these will become the norm. Find out more about your state’s voting policy and register for your absentee ballot!
In Other News...
“Kiss the Ground," a documentary about regenerative agriculture and its potential for reversing climate change. It’s narrated by Woody Harrelson and also features David Arquette, Gisele Bundchen, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mraz, and Ian Somerhalder. It will be available for streaming on Netflix on September 22, 2020, but keep an eye out for a virtual screening and watch party hosted by the Dartmouth Sustainability Office! Watch the trailer here.
Eating Matters, a podcast run by host Jenna Liut who discusses “big questions about health, labor, sustainability and our collective future” with food policy experts and leaders. The conversations range from broad discussions about global food systems to how we as individuals should buy, cook, and consume food. With recent episodes called “Farming While Black,” “Environmental Racism and Justice,” “Supply Chain Woes,” and an interview with scholar Julie Guthman, you’re sure to get a wide range of topics related to food.
Green Dreamer with Kamea Chayne, a podcast which features “grounding conversations with thought leaders paving the way towards ecological regeneration, intersectional sustainability, and true abundance and wellness for all.” Recent titles include “Using Cultural and Historical Knowledge to Support Regenerative Reforestation” with Shubhendu Sharma, and “Decolonizing Fashion and Going Beyond the Tokenism of Diversity” with Aditi Mayer.
If you want to cook...
(Photo courtesy of Rachel Kent)
Savor the end of tomato season and capture all that summer goodness before it’s gone. We love this tomato galette and this tomato risotto, both of which make use of September’s juiciest fruit. Or, for a recipe that’s so simple you don’t even need a recipe, toss halved beefsteak or whole cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, whole peeled garlic cloves, and red pepper flakes to taste and roast low and slow at 250F for two hours or until caramelized and meltingly tender.
If you want to give/support...
Climate Newsletters to Subscribe to:
Hot Take “An intersectional look at the climate crisis and the climate conversation."
Civil Eats “Civil Eats is a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system. We publish stories that shift the conversation around sustainable agriculture in an effort to build economically and socially just communities."
If you’re looking to get outside around Dartmouth...
Check out our Making Place at Dartmouth map that highlights outdoor spaces on campus and in the area that are perfect for getting a breath of fresh air and socially distancing!
If you want to spruce up your Insta feed...
@blackmenwithgardens, an instagram page that features black men and their gardens.
@greengirlleah, an intersectional environmentalist who posts on Instagram her writings about how sustainability intersects with racial justice. She’s also a former Patagonia employee.
@browngirl_green, run by Kristy, who writes blogs, makes podcasts, and creates posts about climate change and sustainability.
@thenapministry. We may be in a new term, but we shouldn’t be returning to past practices of over-extending and overworking ourselves. Rest is key to being our best selves, and the nap ministry “examines the liberating power of naps.” Follow for regular reminders about the importance of rest.
If you’re in the market for supplies..
Not to encourage excess consumerism, but if you’re in the market for new supplies for the school year, here’s a great list of eco-friendly options and some suggestions for how to implement sustainability in your studies.
Yes, another reading list. Don’t forget, you should actually read the articles you’re bookmarking and the books you’re buying, not just let them sit on the shelf (this is a self-drag). This NYT list suggests articles, essays, and books that chronicle the connections between racism and the environment. This is by no means an extensive or authoritative list, but it is a start.
The Institute for Economics and Peace recently released a report that estimates 1.2 billion people will become climate refugees by 2050 because their countries lack the infrastructure to weather impending events of the climate crisis. Beyond an alarming headline, take a look at this summary of some of the report’s findings and its implications. Original report linked in article.
Got the quarantine gardening bug? Learn about the importance of seed saving and helping restore foods that are indigenous to the area you live in. You might even find a local seed saving collective.
When we think about what the U.S. and the world will look like post-pandemic, organizers are cautioning us against “return to normal” rhetoric. The events of 2020 are not specific to this moment, and instead are results of larger systemic failures to combat the crises of “climate, biodiversity, food, water, economic and care.” Read about one group’s principles for what a just global recovery would look like.
Advocates say agroecology is more than just another form of sustainable agriculture, but also a “political and ideological process” that prioritizes both the health of the earth but also the well being of farm workers. Learn more about efforts to broaden our understanding of the demands for food justice that have global implications.
For any history x sustainability buffs who want to know about the origins of our beloved mason jars.
That's it for now! Be well and take care.
Jess Chen, Jasmine Butler, & Rachel Kent
Sustainable Dartmouth Interns Be well & take care,
Jess Chen, Jasmine Butler, and Rachel Kent Sustainable Dartmouth Interns