The Environmental Resilience Institute and the Integrated Program in the Environment are teaming up this fall to present a series of lunch-hour talks centering environmental and climate resilience issues. All talks take place 12-1 p.m. (Eastern).
2020 Environmental Resilience Speaker Series
Sanya Carley and David Konisky - October 2, 2020
Energy Insecurity in the Time of COVID-19
This talk will focus on nationwide and Indiana survey results focused on the prevalence of energy insecurity, the factors that contribute to it, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated it.
Shellye Suttles - November 6, 2020
Potential Environmental Impacts of New Transportation Safety Policy
Information on this talk is coming soon.
Jeremy Kranowitz - December 4, 2020
If the Lord’s Willing and the River Don’t Rise
This talk will focus on building a coalition of spiritual leaders in Indy to collectively work on improving environmental equity by drawing upon common religious obligations to care for the world around us.
View recordings of the past talks.
Denise Abdul-Rahman - September 4, 2020
Description of the video:>> Welcome, everyone to the first event in this fall Environmental Resilience Speaker Series jointly presented by Indiana University's Integrated Program in the Environment and the Environmental Resilience Institute. I am Sarah Mincey. I'm the director of the Integrated Program in the Environment, and I'm joined by Janet McCabe, who's also cohosting today.
Janet's the director for the Environmental Resilience Institute.
>> Hi everyone.
>> So we're so pleased that you're able to join us today. Making lemonade out of lemons has gotten to be routine with most of us these days, and this virtual speaker series is the latest frosty glass. One upside is that more people can join us though in this way.
So people who would not have been able to physically come to Bloomington, we're happy to have you on the call. That means our speakers can reach more people. And we urge you if you enjoy today's presentation to let your friends and your family know so they can join next time.
We have a great lineup of speakers throughout the fall who will speak on a range of interesting topics in a format that will allow, we hope, for interaction with the speakers and an opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue. Both the Integrated Program in the Environment and the Environmental Resilience Institute are founded on the understanding that interdisciplinary learning and research are essential to teach today's scholars and to solve today's problems, not to mention tomorrow's.
The natural and social sciences, the humanities, and the arts are all critical and in play as we tackle climate change and the environmental challenges that are affecting our health and our communities and our economy here in Bloomington and around the world. Even the pandemic, a global public health crisis is connected to how we are using and abusing the world's resources as we push humans and animals closer together through deforestation, drought, and flood, enabling the spread of diseases, as we've seen in the case of COVID-19.
I wanna share just a little bit with you about the Integrated Program in the Environment. IPE was founded in 2012 under the auspices of the provost and the leadership of the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Public Health.
And we bring together all of the environmental and sustainability scholarship across the various schools and departments on the Bloomington campus. IPE is made up of over 120 faculty and nearly 1,000 students studying the environment from all disciplines, the sciences, the arts, and the humanities, across more than 25 different degree programs.
So we're really excited to be a part of this speaker series that can reach these faculty and students, as well as the general public. Janet, you wanna say a few words about ERI and move on our speaker.
>> All right, I would like to thank Sarah. ERI is a little bit younger than IPE.
We were founded in 2017 as part of the IU Grand Challenge, Prepared for Environmental Change. And there you can see our little house there on the corner of Park Street where nobody goes anymore, but we hope we will some time. Our mission is to enhance resilience to environmental change and climate change in Indiana and beyond by accurately predicting impacts and effectively partnering with communities to implement feasible, equitable, and research-informed solutions.
Sarah and I wanna thank, well, I wanna thank the people who put this series together, Sarah being one of them, and also Adam Fudickar, who is a fellow with the Environmental Resilience Institute. And also, I wanna thank Mariana Cains, a recent PhD recipient from the O'Neill school, who's worked with us on a number of projects.
I think they've done just an excellent job of finding a range of speakers on different topics for this fall series. And as Sarah said, we're needing to find good things to spend our time on and keep learning and keep interacting as we deal with COVID here. In particular, our speakers this fall are gonna be speaking on a number of issues relevant to topics of systemic racial inequity, environmental injustice, and the need for a just transition to a future that's healthy and safe for all people, not just those who've been privileged by centuries of inequitable systems and societies.
So you'll be able to find information about each talk on the ERI and IPE web pages and in our regular newsletters. Here's the information from ERI of how to get to us. Here's the information for IPE and how to get to them. We really do encourage you to sign up for our newsletters, because in addition to information about this series, there's lots of other great stuff going on at IU that I'm sure you wanna know about.
And I wanna say too that if you have ideas for us for good speakers, either inside or outside the university, you'll see that flipping back here, that these remaining speakers are all from inside, but our kickoff speaker is not. So we'd love to have people from inside or outside the university.
Please get in touch with one of us, Sarah, me, Adam, anybody at one of our organizations. I need to do a few obligatory logistical details. Everybody's screen and audio are muted. Sadly, I understand there's been an increase in inappropriate behavior on IU Zoom calls. So we wanna make sure that we can focus on our speaker, not be distracted.
We do want you to send us your questions though. So please put them in the chat room. And I'm a big believer in putting them in as soon as you think of them so that you don't spend the rest of the talk trying to remember what question you wanted to ask.
And Sarah and I and the other moderators will monitor throughout the talk and then we can provide them to Denise at the end. So with that, I think that I am ready to introduce our first speaker for the speaker series. And I'm lucky enough to know Denise personally.
So I will tell you all the wonderful things about her, but really, I wanna introduce you to her as a person who I know and have worked with. She's a staff member at the NAACP environmental justice program. She's the regional field organizer not just for Indiana, but for the entire Midwest and Plains states.
The three objectives of her program are to reduce harmful emissions, to clean greenhouse gases, advance energy efficiency and clean energy, and strengthen community resilience and livability. She holds a BS in management, an MBA in healthcare management, and a health informatics designation from the IU School of Informatics. So even though she's not an employee right now, she has plenty of connections with IU.
Denise has led many advocacy campaigns at the state house, at the federal level, and in our communities. One in particular I'll mention is her work to lead a contingent that was crucial to the defeat of House Bill 1320. Which was a bill that sought to depict a narrative that solar energy was unfair to people of color and African-Americans.
And therefore, would impose a fee to distribute energy across the grid that should be enforced to make it fair for all. She has a keen eye for irony, and misinformation, and disinformation, and calling it out when she sees it. The Just Energy campaign of what she was apart solidified the defeat, and the victory got national attention with the LA Times of Bloomberg News.
She's had the privilege to speak and work with various academic institutions. She currently serves on the Midwest Renewable Energy Association Board of Directors. She was a delegate to the Paris meeting of the Parties at 21. She was a delegate to Global Climate Action Summit. She's former vice chair of the Indianapolis Air Pollution Control Board.
And she was an advisor, or is an advisor for the Indianapolis Thrive Climate Action Plan. And she and I served together on the Indiana State Department of Health Children's Lead Poisoning Advisory Council. I've known her for many years, and can personally attest to her fierce, and unrelenting advocacy for African Americans, and environmental justice for those who are so often denied it.
She's received much recognition for her work. A few noteworthy recognitions are faith based Reverend Moses Sanders Drum Major for Humanity's Award 2020, which has got to be one of the greatest award names of all times. Who wouldn't wanna get the Drum Major for Humanities Award? The Indiana University Robert McKinney School of Law Environmental Protector Award in 2019, and the NAACP, Indiana Hazel B Hunter Award also in 2019.
So all of this is a testament to Denise's commitment and accomplishments. But what I picture when I think of her work is her engagement with real people in real communities dealing with real injustices. Being clear, consistent and insistent about the need to address environmental justice, and bring fairness to African Americans.
This is what really matters, and she knows that. So please welcome Denise Abdul-Rahman.
>> Thank you so much, Janet. It's quite a humbling and an honor to be introduced by you with your stellar background, and also an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Environmental Resilience Institute.
So I really appreciate all of those that have provided this invitation for me to present to the school, and I look forward to all the ways that we can create a radical and transformative change in Indiana, the Midwest, the nation, and the globe. So I'll just go ahead into my presentation, which, the basic agenda is for me to just come to you in my own way.
I am basically practitioner in this body of work to give some cultural grounding and framing around the healing justice, the trauma of climate calamity. To give a frame around African descendants, and our just transition, the just transition framework, environmental and climate justice. Our goals and objectives to talk about equitable climate adaptation indicators, and the national climate of the Midwest.
And to also talk about differential building, and vision, and what all can be done. So coming in my own way, I come from a mother who started the very first head start in Lafayette, Indiana. She was a woman's right activist that traveled to Beijing, China at the same time as Hillary Rodham Clinton fighting for the rights of the Chinese women and other women around the globe, and she taught self-care to young women of HBCUs.
My big momma picture below, March for Jobs for Justice, which, that has historic day has just recently passed, August the 28th. She went in 1963 during Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech. She also started her own fabric business, served on the multicultural board at Purdue. And she was a woman that advocated for married women to be able to get a mortgage, because at that time, married women were not allowed to get a mortgage on their own.
And then my father, a stark civil rights advocate in his own right, went to the National Black political convention in Gary, under the leadership of Mayor Gary Hatchard. And my father fought to have the first African American Vietnam veteran that was killed in Lafayette, Dennis Burton, to assure that his name was placed on some building or some facility.
And I wanna in that same kinda context, take just one moment to really lift up the names of Daniel Purdue, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and so many more that have gone by that have been murdered during this time, and not receiving equity in 2020. And then I myself I have marched in the first Women's March.
I spoke at the UN, Women in New York on gender, women and climate change and marched in the streets. The Conference of Parties, where there were 15,000 of us in the streets, and did a Black Lives Matter action in the at that time in Paris, France. I gained a global perspective at that time, connecting with many people around the world, and even meeting woman from Palestine that shared how the women there are not taught how to drive, and that they're not allowed to learn how to swim, and so on.
They have the highest mortality when flooding occurs there. And speaking with people from Sudan who are having basically war, even at this time over water. One, the northerners in the continent of Africa want to water their camels, while Sudanese are wanting the water to live for human life and for vegetation.
So from the perspective again of African descendants, seeking adjust transition. We've been seeking adjust transition for over 401 years. We've been traveled across the transatlantic slave trade, over 12 million of us. Our people were enslaved and we endured the African descendant holocaust, i.e., the strange fruit. We've survived the Jim Crow Segregation.
We've in the midst still in the impacts of redlining, where our communities are divided up and living in older housing stock. We endured the war on drugs, as termed by Michelle Alexander, as a term in The New Jim Crow, that was instrumental in the mass incarceration of many of our black and brown bodies that we call AKA James Crow.
And that the calculating of seats by the time our children are in third grade, to be placed into the school to prison pipeline. Many of our communities are over policed. Our educational systems are under resourced. And blighted and dilapidated housing, old housing stock, outdated combined sewage overflow systems.
We live in full apartheid conditions, unequitable greenery and lacking aesthetics. We are many times underemployed and unemployed. We are the essential workers, identified at this time, that are being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic or COVID-19. Or as the urban streets have named her Rona, nickname, Rona. We are the holsters of many of the polluting systems, such as fossil fuels and vehicle emissions.
And we are most disproportionately impacted by the impacts of climate. And continuing with the vein of our enslavement, one of the first people I think that may have been environmental justice advocate or freedom fighter would be Harriet Tubman. She knew to follow the stars and follow them north, and she was familiar with the woods and the marshes of the region.
And she looked at the moss and learned that moss grew on the north side, and that is the way to go to freedom. And so identifying her is a potential first environmental justice advocate for people of African descent. And also someone that should be on the $20 bill.
So we operate pretty much at the national level and share with our members the just transition frame. And this just transition frame was developed by the movement generation with the Our Power Campaign, which the NAACP a member. And this strategic framework talks about how we should resist, we should rethink, and we should restructure our systems.
It identifies the extractive economy and everything that takes from our communities. And we identify that as basically trying to stop that bad. And how we want to move toward building the new, to what we call the living economy or regenerative economy. This framework wants to shift economic control to the communities.
This would be this radical, transformative way of being to resolve the impacts of inequity and climate calamity. To democratize the wealth and the workplace, to advance ecological restoration, and to drive racial justice and social equity. To re-localize most of the food production and consumption, and to retain, restore cultures and traditions.
So the NAACP program, we do this, we've identified environmental injustices, that including climate change, do have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low income communities, in the United States and around the world. The NAACP Environmental Justice program was created to provide resources and support to community leadership in addressing this human and civil rights issue by advocating for three objectives.
We wanna reduce harmful emissions, particularly greenhouse gases. And we combine that action on shutting down coal plants and other toxic facilities at the local level. As well as building new toxic facilities, as well as stopping the building of new toxic facilities. With advocacy to strengthen the development and monitoring and enforcement of regulations at federal, state, and local levels.
Also, it includes a focus on making corporations responsible and accountable. And this is an action that we did opposing in Indianapolis Power & Light, asking them to retire the coal fired power plant by 2016. This was before masks were seemingly required, because we identified ourselves as unable to breathe.
We infuse art with our young people to be involved and to simply depict how these polluting systems are impacting them. And how they, in fact, want energy democracy, energy justice. We advance energy efficiency and clean energy. We work at the state level on campaigns to pass renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
While simultaneously working at the local level with small businesses and unions and others on developing demonstration projects. To ensure that communities of color are accessing revenue generation opportunities in the new energy economy. While providing safer, more sustainable mechanisms for managing energy needs for our communities and beyond. And we strengthen our communities resilience and livability.
We work to ensure that communities are equipped to engage in sustainability and climate action planning. And that they integrate policies and practices that are advancing food justice, that are advocating for transportation equity, that uphold civil and human rights in emergency management, and that facilitate democracy. And here is actually my brother who's a star fisherman, and I dare not tell him that the fish that he's pulling out of the Wabash River in Lafayette, Indiana may have mercury.
And other pollutants. Now I just wanna give some examples across the nation and here in Indiana, of some of the work that is being moved to create this transformation to create this differential building. That that will help to mitigate climate impacts, that will help communities to be adaptive, and that will also transform and move equity and climate resiliency at the same time.
Here pictured is President Dedric Doolin, the NAACP Cedar Rapids in Iowa, and he is working on plans to deploy solar on the Mount Zion Baptist Church. You can see pictured here the solar panels, so they've already had a solar audit. And then at the same time, they just endured a horrific tornado, which this very same church was obliterated in many ways.
And so now, we're looking to see how we can incorporate building this much better and much more sustainable since they've endured that tornado. And we have president Danielle Sydnor who is the NAACP, president of Cleveland. And she has been fighting, they high levels of ozone and particulate matter there.
And she spoke out about how asthma hits black people particularly hard, and that the health care system often fails them. And that there's an estimated 15.3% of black children that have the disease of asthma compared to 7.1 of their white counterparts, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
And overall, African Americans are nearly three times as likely to die from asthma than white people. And here we have President Teresa Haley who is at the state conference of Illinois and she has been fighting to shut down the Dallman Coal Plant. She worked with the city council and other leaders in the environmental movement to get them to commit to shutting down many of the units of this plant.
She herself is an asthma sufferer. She's also fought for electric vehicle buses via the Volkswagon system. She wants children to ride on clean buses without being impacted by diesel fuel. And she advocates for the training of young people with energy efficiency. And here we have Mr. Tavian Moore who's the NAACP youth leader in Grand Rapids.
And there you can see that they're creating food resilience for them. And he says that many facets to the environmental justice goes hand in hand with food sovereignty. And leading a sustainable lifestyle by growing your own food cuts down on food costs and shipping waste and fuel consumption associated with the produce transportation and many other environmental issues.
Not only is this gardening is rewarding and therapeutic for the mind and body. And the greater Grand Rapids youth also partner with the Thomas Street Garden to start this Garden for the Youth. And it's located in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood on the southeast side of Grand Rapids.
A neighborhood that has historically been under resourced and overlooked by community based initiatives. So not only has this garden provided a green space for youth to interact with their environment in an urban setting. It has started a meaningful conversation about health disparities and linked to poor diet in black and brown communities.
And that their overall goal is to educate the public on the statistics and shed lights on the disparities and actively work to find the solutions to the problems. And next we have what we just recently did here in Indiana with President Gerald Arnold of the NAACP Evansville vicinity which identified the first NAACP Indiana solar.
That was deployed on the greater St. James Community Recreation Center and Education Center. And also deployed the first what we call the Powerup Solar and Jobs Cohort. Now our national office, we have deployed this first started with the Rosemary Lydell, President of the Rocky Mountain Conference. Her pilot was with formerly incarcerated persons, and they deployed solar in Colorado Springs.
There was a second initiative that was done in Compton, California. And that was on a domestic violence center with domestic violence survivors. And they were trained and deployed solar there as well. We've done work around there Our Youth Scientists, particularly in East Chicago, Indiana, where it's 95%, black and LatinX.
They were hosting 91,000 parts per billion of lead toxicity. Their close proximity to Calumet River that once was one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. And these children are hosting a legacy of lead over 40 years. There was a major crisis there, considered a disaster. People were displaced from their housing and their water later became contaminated.
So we did a training with children at two schools, one Joseph Block Middle School, the other the Urban Enterprise. And we helped the children to, we send them home with little makeshift caskets that said, hey get a water bottle and get some water out of your faucet. Here's a cotton square, dust something in your house and put that in this baggie along with the water bottle.
And here's a little tiny baggie, go ahead and get some soil out of your yard with your parents' permission. And put that in the baggie and bring it to your classroom and label would have their name and everything on it. And we partnered with academia to have them test it.
And to have a conversation with children, they had to present their findings and they had to present in front of everyone. and they also were given some journalism skills. Being told that they can tell their own stories on what was happening with them. And I just wanna point out, Mr. Coleman's no longer with us, the Science Guy there, but he dressed up for the whole part, and we really appreciate him as a science teacher.
And here we have here Akeesha Daniels, who's a survivor of the West Calumet Lead & Arsenic poisoning. Which I, I don't know if I mentioned it, it was a superfund site, three superfund site, three zones of what they call superfund site. And it's still being remediated as we speak, and still many challenges, but we provided another platform for her in which to speak out.
We created a whole report, and we did roundtables and listening sessions, and we brought in stakeholders including the US EPA, the Housing and Civil Rights Commission. We brought in folks from Flint that had experience of lead poisoning, and we just simply listened. And then we created the Chicago Toxic Crisis Report for them to implement many of their solutions.
We also provided where we got our food absorbs lead, so we brought in fresh fruits and vegetables to try to slow up the impact of lead in the blood system. We partnered with some of the local stores there. We partnered with the churches there. We delivered, deployed water filtration systems to that community, as well as with bottled water, and other ways in which we could collectively move with them for their resilience and resistance.
Our Gary branch is working on climate action planning led by Lori Latham. And Latonya Troutman is with the Michigan City branch. They have been working on their own Community Climate Action Plan, which they would want to present to the city of Gary at some point in time, and for consideration.
Ideally, infusing equity, and infusing the resource tools that the NAACP has to offer. This is our Gary member through the Indiana State Conference, Attorney James Brandon-Williams as we stood on the streets of Indianapolis on Martin Luther King Boulevard. And we called for clean energy, community solar, and how our communities are impacted by polluting systems.
And we call it the THIS IS US campaign. We have our members of the Indianapolis branch, Miss Elizabeth Gore and Mr. Gary Howlin, who have been working for clean water in the school systems of Indianapolis to assure that they are lead free. And also, Miss Gore or the Martindale Brightwood Collaborative, and also a member of the NAACP Indianapolis chapter who has been overseeing the remediation by the US EPA in that area of Martindale Brightwood, and helping to educate her community on how to be resilient to the impacts of lead.
And President of Greater Lafayette branch called for equity in the Climate Action Planning there. We've worked on energy efficiency at the state level, calling for mandatory energy efficiency the Senate Bill 412. We've had roundtables with the governor, and we've spoken out the 21st Century Energy Policy Taskforce. And we asked for the governor to have an environmental justice expert on that 21st Century Energy Policy Taskforce.
That did not happen, but we still presented our information both to him, and presented our information to that taskforce. And some of the things that are called for, everything from resiliency hubs, to community owned solar, to more energy efficiency, because much of the housing stock is is old and needs weatherization, and so forth.
And I'm gonna stop for a second and try to backtrack to a video that I'd like to share that kind of exemplifies our desire for Just Transition. The thing about hip hop Today it is, it's smart, it's insightful.
>> Let hip hop lead the way to a great future.
>> High rate of-
>> Devastated by Katrina-
>> Be sure to follow, and now they are.
>> Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the agency of the- America can create millions of well paid, green collar jobs.
We can make our streets safer and our communities healthier. We can save the planet for our children and our children's children. That is the promise of a green economy.
>> We will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient. So we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
We need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy, develop technologies like wind power and solar power, advance biofuel, and more efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
>> So that is pretty thematic and very culturally relatable, especially if one is trying to help many that are the most vulnerable, again, living with near proximity to polluting systems.
We, African Americans pay 49 billion to the energy sector, but only hold 1% of the energy jobs. If we are highly, because of inequitable systems and we're in need of system change, that we are the ones highly impacted by this pandemic that is shining a light on inequities, then we may want to consider having culturally relatable information, and policies, and advocacies, and I guess practicum.
And then getting close here to wrapping up, just to share here in the Midwest, that we had heavy flash flooding in the Chicago area. Some of the things that we're doing at the national level is providing equitable flood management training to our members. We may all recall that in Midland, Michigan, the rains lead to a dam failure.
Over 11,000 people were safely evacuated. I touched on the fact that there were major tornadoes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and perhaps beyond. There were some recent tornadoes in the Gary, Indiana area where their power was cut off. And of course, I always speak around the challenges around agricultural yields.
And people living in food apartheid areas are lacking food access, and the price of food, how it's going to go up, and so how folks need to have their own access to food. Living in urban heat islands, it can be a challenge, and talking about how Big Mama never wants to turn up her air conditioning because she wants to keep her utility costs down, and how we're gonna need to build cooling stations and heating stations in which she may be able to go play bingo and stay cool for a while.
Or we can start ramping up the weatherization, that she might feel comfortable turning up the air. And that we see that energy is a human right. No one should fear being cold in the winter or being hot in the summer. Everyone should have access to energy. The NAACP has what we call our Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Plan.
And one might consider what constitutes strengthening resiliency through equitable adaptation planning. How do we assess the context comprehensively so that effective methods are designed to be able to declare that a community is in fact resilient, and that has been achieved? We must develop systems that address the needs and provide protection for those that are most vulnerable and marginalized.
We have the Our Communities and Our Power toolkit. Which aims to support communities in honing a collective vision for cooperative, independent society that embodies deep democracy in a way that uplifts Earth rights and human rights, and is rooted in the principles and practices of solidarity economy. And the tools and models in the toolkit uplift methods for community driven processes that ensure the adaptation to climate change happens on the people's terms.
And lastly, We want to push for transformation and transformative decision makers and those assessing adaptive capacity and action to extend their concerns from the proximate causes of risk, such as dwelling, and dwelling quality, and livelihood structures, or demographic characteristics, to its structural or root causes, and looking at social, cultural, and economic relationships, and power hierarchies, and to justify choices made between incremental and transformative agendas and transformation, fundamental change to, The functioning of systems.
Examples include new social contracts, and new relationships of power by gender, class, and ethnicity, that surface alternative development priorities preferences and pathways. And in developing in inequality and transformation analysis framework Shachar argues for a model to examine the structural relational dimensions of inequity. That shapes, vulnerabilities and to look at relational views that allow for better understanding and assessing the transformation that constrains institutions and structures.
And the roles played by actors in any processes or the blockages of those being included. And here's just some of our different methodologies and since we're running out of time, I won't really go through those. And also things that one can do, everything from calling on your legislators and looking for what we call climate champions, creating scorecards on how they are doing.
Lifting up local and state clean air ordinances and better net metering legislation and creating better water and food access. In housing building codes, and I'll say first and really foremost, which I did not go over is something that we in environmental justice community really lift up is the head mass principles.
Which is truly letting people speak for themselves, building relationships and and so much more. And, in conclusion, everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verbs agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, so generated by love, thank you.
>> Thank you so much for that, it's really overwhelming to see all that activity going on. We do have some questions and I wanna encourage people that if you if you have a question, please do, feel free to put that into the chat. You kinda started this at the end but I think so many people on this call, wanna know what they can do and particularly from a university setting.
We have faculty, we have students, we have graduate students, undergraduates. What are some of the best ways that people in the university setting can get involved in the work that you're doing?
>> Well, I think there's many different ways one, I think from a academia perspective. It's everything from being partnerships and providing in terms.
There I didn't touch on the fact that I did have a lot of great relationships with academia and realizing that a lot of data on the impacts on black and brown people are lacking. Particularly in Indiana and possibly beyond. I did for example, a student at IU McKinney School of Law he did a report I think his name was Sean Evans.
He did a report on where does pollution or who does it impact and in the end he truthfully said I really was thinking and hoping it was in the low income communities. And he said he just kept doing it and doing it and he discovered that it was truly, most of the pollution was in black and brown communities that came out to be his findings.
And so we were able to use that report and it gave us voice in the statehouse, to advocate. Other examples is having students just do research. We've had students through the IU McKinney School of Law at the time of the Clean Power Plan, do research for us. And make it more layman and more understandable and culturally relatable too, so certainly internships.
The other things are as folks are working on reports or policies to assure that there isn't an equity frame that are built in. And then there's always reaching out to any of your local branches whether it's the Midwest or in Indiana. And offering to serve on the environmental climate justice committee and helping to provide that scholarly and academia support
>> Well, I think there are many people who would love the opportunity to help.
And I'll put IEU and myself forward as a contact for you Denise if there are specific projects issues where you think expertise from somebody at IEU or an intern would be helpful. We can be a clearinghouse for that if you like.
>> Sarah, did you have a question?.
>> Yeah, I'll jump in, there's a question that's interesting to me that came through. Which is that many of the advocacy groups seem themselves to be either predominantly black or white. They're not very diverse, I'm curious if you agree with that. And do you know of examples of advocacy efforts that have been more diverse
>> Well, I think there's something that's more important than diversity.
So, and I don't think I know for my frame it's never intentional to be so afrocentric. I believe in human beings and I look for what we call real human beings. But there's a lot of politics, there's resource grabbing, there's co-opting of narratives and frames. And there is a need for some groups of people to heal and be in relationship with each other and determine their own self determination.
And that can't happen when there's other groups imposing their agendas. And so those are things that need great and many conversations and I've been privileged to be a part of a lot of national groups that are doing that hard work. And to just give one example, equity. What equity means to you may be different into what it means to me.
So when organizations and groups wanna work together they need to create a shared understanding. On what is equity to us as a collective if we're going to work together? And avoiding transactional and extractive relationships and I believe and I think many that I've been hanging out with and learning from.
Is that relationships are truly key in all this body of work,because there's another system change we want. Maybe it's relationship changing on how we relate to each other. And certainly making human centered decisions and not profit driven decisions, and so it's really complex. So when you hear, and then also I know it seems provocative, it shouldn't.
But to have someone say that I am advocating for a group, that is truly most impacted by why they change, should not be so threatening or so. There has to be a voice, and it's a truthful narrative I believe. And a narrative that especially people of African descent that have not felt allowed to express.
It's my truth if someone is of, other folks have their own truth that they've always been able to tell. And I think we're just coming into a beam where we're like, hey, we can tell our story. We can tell who we are, we could say the term Big Mama if we want to.
It's okay, that's who have. And so I try to do what I do to give that permission, and to make it I guess, mainstream acceptable, even though it hasn't probably been thought of in that way.
>> What an important conversation, thank you for that answer. I think so many of us who have been recipients of privilege over time, are really struggling to figure ou how we engage properly and respectfully, but also constructively and productively.
So, well, Denise thank you so much. It's been a wonderful start to our series here, it's just been great to have you. We really appreciate the gift of your time, and even more we appreciate the work that you're doing in our communities, to help make this a fairer place for everybody, and especially for those of African descent in our communities.
On behalf of Sarah and everybody, I will thank you for for joining us. And I wanna close this off and invite you all to come back again next time. Both of our websites IP and the RI will have information about this series. And so tell your friends, tell your neighbors, and stay safe and well everybody.
>> Thanks, bye everybody.
>> Thank you.
We Are Done Dying – Transformation and Liberation
This talk addressed the journey of people of African descent toward resilience and resistance from all that seeks to harm and impede their human and civil rights.
Suzannah Comfort - September 18, 2020
Description of the video:>> Hello everyone, welcome to the fall Environmental Resilience Speaker Series jointly presented by Indiana university's integrated program on the environment, and the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU. I'm Adam Fudickar, I'm a research fellow at the Environmental Resilience Institute. So we're pleased you're able to join us, we have a great lineup of speakers throughout the fall who will speak on a range of interesting topics in a format that will allow for interaction with the speakers and an opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue.
Both IPE and ERI are founded on the understanding, that interdisciplinary learning and research are essential to teach today's scholars, and to solve today's problems. The Natural and Social Sciences, the humanities and the arts are all critical and in play as we tackle climate change, and the environmental challenges that are affecting our health, our communities and our economy, here in Bloomington and around the world.
The IPE was founded in 2012 by the provost and the leadership of the O'Neill school, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Public Health. To bring together all of the environmental and sustainability scholarship across the various schools and departments on the Bloomington campus. IPE is made up of over 120 faculty and nearly 1,000 students studying the environment from all angles, the sciences, arts and humanities across 27 degree programs.
The ERI was founded in 2017 as part of the IE prepared for environmental grant challenge. Its mission is to enhance resilience to environmental change in Indiana and beyond by accurately predicting impacts and effectively partnering with communities to implement feasible, equitable, and research informed solutions. I'd like to start by thanking Sarah Mency from IPE and Mariana Cains from the O'Neill School, who organized the speaker series.
We have a wide variety of speakers who can share their experiences, research, and insights with us. In particular, our speakers this semester will focus on topics relevant to the issues of systemic racial inequality, environmental injustice and the need for a just transition to a future that is healthy and safe for all people.
So here's a list of just a few of the talks we have coming up this semester. If you go to our individual web pages you'll find a complete list, and you can sign up for our regular newsletters so that you can receive information about coming in advance and notices about our upcoming talks in the speaker series.
So you can also see the information for our social media for the ERI, here's the IPE webpage address and the IPE social media information, so we encourage you to sign up for our newsletters. Before we start, I'd like to ask everyone to mute yourself and if you come up with questions during the talk, please enter into the chat box.
At the end of the talk, we should have time for questions, so we'll address the speak with your questions at the end. And I'd now like to turn it over to Jim Shanahan, Dean of the Media School at IU and Associate Director of the ERI.
>> Thank you Adam, great to be here with all of you.
And thank you so much for coming to our talk and it's my pleasure to have the duty to introduce today's speaker who I know very well because she is an assistant professor here, in our own media school. I'm talking about Suzannah Comfort, Suzannah has her PhD from the University of North Carolina and her work focuses on a variety of issues in relation to environmental communication.
Quite a variety as a matter of fact, including such topics as how environmental issues are covered in news and journalism. How communication is done performed and how effective it is by environmental NGOs, and many related topics. Very worthwhile diving into her CV later if you get a chance.
Prior to coming to IU and also prior to her PhD work Suzannah has also worked in the environmental communication field, as the editorial director of a magazine called Oceana. And a lot of really great research on topics as varied as, working with the archives of environmental groups, to look for communication issues and patterns, there are.
Topics like who gets covered in international climate change coverage. She's looked at the environmental messaging of Pope Francis and has also developed a lot of expertise in the overall field of environmental communication, with a systematic review of our environmental comm literature. So I'm really pleased to have her as a colleague, I'm pretty sure she's a native Hoosier as well right Susannah?
Giving me the thumbs up there, and so, thank you so much for coming to hear from Susannah Comfort. So this is Susannah I'll turn it over to you.
>> All right thank you, Jim. Please let me know if there's any issues hearing me or anything cuz I said earlier, I'm still skeptical about zoom and making sure I have the technological expertise.
All right, so I'm gonna share my screen, so give me one second. All right, does that look good? Everyone can see it Jim, you can see it? Great, all right so topic of my talk today is Journalists as activists and activists as journalists. How the American environmental movement has used journalism as an advocacy tool.
So essentially here what I'm interested in is the relationship between journalism and advocacy. And basically, a fundamental question in my research is what is journalism, and who gets to count as a journalist? So, today I'm gonna dive into a historical project that I did, but I do think it's relevant to our current media landscape, and I'll try and make some of those connections, as I go through the talk.
My goal is to have time for questions and discussion at the end, so hopefully I'll be able to get through this quickly, I'll do my best, cuz I do want to have a conversation. So, when we think about news, we think about, big news organizations like I've got NBC News, NPR, Fox News, Wall Street Journal.
And these large mainstream news organizations all operate in pretty much a similar fashion. And I know what you're thinking, NPR and Fox News have nothing in common, how dare you suggest that they operate similarly? And it's true that in terms of their story selection, and how they present stories and the fact that NPR is a radio station and Fox News is a cable TV channel, there are differences between these news organizations.
However, when we look big picture about how all these mainstream news organizations operate, they have more in common, than they don't have in common. So for example, they are professional, they are produced by people who are paid to produce journalistic information. They are operating under the, a similar series of norms and practices in the sense that they go out with a mission of being factual, of presenting events as they happen of presenting a plurality of voices.
So, and an important characteristic they have in common, although NPR is a bit of an exception to this, but most of these mainstream news organizations are also commercial. Meaning that they operate under market conditions, they need to appeal to a wide audience their subscription or, Are advertising supported.
So all of these characteristics result in sort of constraints on how they operate. And even if you disagree with some of the coverage you see from different news organizations, they are going out with a mission to be factual, and to present multiple points of view. They may not execute in a way that's always satisfying, but they're all operating under the same basic assumptions about what is journalism.
However, when we sort of step back to think about other definitions of journalism, we can start to include other forms of doing journalism. So I've posted a couple of historic examples here. So the North Star to the upper left there, that is Frederick Douglass abolitionist newspaper. Below that I've got a socialist newspaper, and we've got here an example from the LGBT Press.
So in addition to these large mainstream kind of general interest news organizations that operate sort of in commercial market based orientation. We also have a whole universe of smaller niche or alternative presses that are presenting alternative points of view. So today, abolition would be a mainstream perspective, but it was not a mainstream perspective when Frederick Douglass was writing about it.
Others sort of outside of mainstream thought like socialist thought, or LGBT rights, etc. We're historically excluded from our national news organizations because national news are so big picture commercial, general interest news aims towards the middle in terms of American values. And when a group presents an alternative worldview or perspective, it's often excluded from those mainstream news organizations.
They just don't receive coverage or when they do, the coverage is extremely diminishing towards towards the movement or towards alternative points of view. So this type of journalism has been around for, in the history of the United States as long as we've been around. And it goes by a number of different names, alternative journalism, dissident, advocacy, or social movement journalism.
And it has some characteristics that are fundamentally different from our traditional mainstream journalism. One is that it's often non commercial, meaning it's produced by amateurs. It's funded in some alternative way, may get some advertising funding, may get some subscription funding, but they're often seeking other formats to fund these these publications.
They're written by people who's primary identity may not be journalist, it may be activist with journalist kind of as a secondary identity. And they're not as interested in presenting a plurality of points of view because their point of view is excluded from the mainstream. They don't really feel the need to quote unquote balance their point of view with a mainstream point of view that has historically suppressed their point of view.
So the orientation and the way these alternative presses function has been really different from the mainstream press. And there's been a lot of good scholarship on the African American press in American history, LGBT press, and these other social movement presses. So, this quote just kind of summarizes what these alternative presses are doing.
The capacity of a society to learn and respond to change conditions is less dependent on the generation of alternative worldviews, open communication of these realities into the general stock of common knowledge and the use of this knowledge in the development of social institutions. So there's two ways that niche perspectives and social movements can do these things, generate alternative worldview and one of those is through traditional journalism.
So these commercial mainstream news organizations are a route for the generation and adoption of alternative worldviews because they provide this public forum and they have a really broad reach. However, mainstream journalism has more often function as an agent of social control rather than social change. Meaning that if you were an abolitionist, you were unlikely to get your perspective represented in mainstream, well, what would have been to the mainstream commercial press back then.
In more recent years, you can even see today in the way that the news generally covers has been covering the protest/riots depending on who's covering it. That usually even today, news coverage of protests tends to diminish the political aspirations of the protesters, and instead focuses on the destruction and disruption to the social order.
So, journalists like to think of themselves as really progressive and pushing for social change, but usually the reality is not so progressive. So the basic questions that I am interested in and I'm going to attempt to answer or address a little bit today include why do social movements choose journalism as a tool for furthering their goals?
When traditional journalism hasn't really done a great job of representing social movements. What are the potential pitfalls for journalists operating in this uneasy space between journalism and advocacy? If you know anything about journalism, you know that one of the bedrock rules is that your traditional journalist is not supposed to be an advocate, they're supposed to be a dispassionate observer.
And the social movement or alternative press violates that assumption because participants in social movement journalism are also participants in the movement. So, there's a gatekeeping action that goes on where traditional journalists don't wanna acknowledge that social media movement journalism or advocacy journalism also performs journalistic functions. How to advocacy organizations balance the requirements of the journalism field with the requirements of the advocacy field when they're operating under two very different sets of norms and assumptions?
And to bring it to our current media climate, what does it mean for journalism and society as we see more and more advocacy, nonprofit, and/or partisan news organizations entering the field? So I'll kind of address it at the end. I'm not gonna answer all these questions, of course, because this is a lot, but these are the sort of the general guiding ideas.
So in my particular area of expertise, what I'm interested in is the environmental movement. As a social movement, the environmental movement has been an interesting one because it is one of the most mainstream of social movements which is a bit of an oxymoron. Because usually social movements exist, sort of opposite the mainstream because they want to change mainstream thinking.
But at the same time, the environmental movement has had to push for social change and has dealt with conflict throughout its entire existence. So I won't go into a long detailed history of American environmentalism in the interest of time. But let me just briefly sketch that there really wasn't much of an organized environmental movement until about the turn of the 20th century.
And that's when groups like the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club were founded, Wilderness Society it was a little bit later in the 1930s. But these groups operated primarily as niche special interest groups that were interested in narrow topics. Sierra Club was very focused on Western mountains, Yosemite area, California specifically and preserving those areas.
Audubon was very specifically focused on bird conservation. So it wasn't until the 1960s that we saw kind of a shift from a niche special interest group that had small memberships in the low thousands, to a mass social movement. And the difference between being a niche interest group and mass social movement is the ability to capture the attention of a wide swath of Americans, average everyday Americans rather than people who only care about mountains or birds.
And that's what happened in the 1960s along with that whole protest generation, civil rights movements, women's rights and so on. The environmental movement followed up on those other movements and captured a really broad coalition of interest. So we saw a lot of movement in the environmental movement interest in 1960s into the 70s, and it was quite bipartisan, quite widely supported.
It wasn't until the 80s that it started to become more partisan and now we see more of a split between conservatives and liberals on environmentalism. However, it did enjoy quite a long period of broad bipartisan support in the middle of the 20th century. So, one of my interest is in how these organizations, many of which have now been around for over 100 years or close to it, use journalism and media as an advocacy tool.
Meaning that when they were going out saying look, we want to get better policy for bird protection, we want to set aside more acreage for wilderness protection. They weren't just doing, behind the scenes lobbying, although they were doing that, they were also taking these claims to the public sphere.
And we know one of the basic assumptions of alternative media and social movements media is that you have to take your perspective just from the niche, the interest group of people who are already engaged and bring it to the broader public sphere. And that's one leverage one lever of social change.
So what these organizations did is they produce their own media. And one reason why they produce their own media is as I referred to earlier, the national news media or sort of typical state level media as well, newspapers, they didn't cover this very much. Environmental journalism as a beat, meaning organizational sort of section or resource, a place where news organizations would spend resources.
Environmental journalism as we know it now really didn't exist until the late 1960s, so well after the public had gotten really engaged with environmentalism. So you couldn't really take these claims just to the press because the press was not very interested, it was not viewed as news, someone has to make it news.
So what these organizations did instead was produce their own news, they performed a journalistic function, and they produced these membership magazines. I have some examples up here, Audubon and Sierra magazines are still existing today and have circulations of over half a million each. Wilderness no longer existed it folded in, I think the early 2000s, but it did exist from the 1930s until then.
And all of these went from being very small membership oriented magazines that had circulation of a few thousand to, more general interest going beyond just the niche group that already cared about their issues trying to take it to a broader public. And so even today, this is from Ottawa magazine from two years ago, they're using the language of journalism to convey their legitimacy.
So this is an editorial by the then editor and chief of Ottawa magazine. He's drawing a really interesting distinction here, he says odd as this may sound, Audobon italics is not Audobon, not in italics. The magazine is function as an independent journalistic entity, published by the National Audubon Society and covering topics of interest to the organization members.
For the entirety of its hundred plus years and counting, it's not a house organ, its value derived entirely from its integrity. You can trust what you read here is factually accurate and fair, blah, blah, blah. So you see that he's making a claim that look, we're doing journalism, this is our line in the sand, don't tell us that we're not, we're really doing this.
So one thing I went and I looked at, in the archival research that I did was I went and I wanted to understand what these organizations were thinking. When they redevelop these magazines from being quite niche oriented, to general interests, conservation, or environmental publications that would push forward the environmental cause.
And especially in the case of Audubon, it became a nationally awarded magazine at one it was the first advocacy produced publication to win a national magazine award for reporting excellence in the 1970s. So it was kind of the the flagbearer for this genre of publication. So what did they do for this project?
Actually, let me go back to this is a more pleasant slide. I went to the organizational archives of each of these organizations, Sierra Club archives are located at the University of California in Berkeley. Audubon organizational archives are located at New York Public Library, and Wilderness societies or archives are at the Denver Public Library.
So I last year, with a little bit of funding from IU as well, I was able to go to these archives and look into what were the conversations inside the organizations about adopting journalism to try to further their social movement goals. So actually, the first organization to broach this idea within the environmental realm that I could find, was the wilderness society, and I apologize for the quality of this slide, that's gonna be a theme.
But this is a letter from Howard Zahniser, who was a founder of the Wilderness Society, to the president of the Wilderness Society, Harvey Broome in the 1950s. And he says a matter that's been in my mind is the need for more forceful interpretive journalism in our field of conservation.
For a periodical that would be independent of inhibitions arising from off the record cooperation and confidences with officials, and other organizations that would come up promptly and currently with news and editorial interpretation. And then skip to the next paragraph, if you look to our recent winter magazine, you will see something like an illustration of what I mean.
With a magazine of color, regularity and frequency of appearance maybe by monthly instead of quarterly. And the appeals of editorial time and attention can give it I believe we could achieve a strong influence for wilderness preservation. So he's saying that, journalism is a tool to get us to our goal, which in the Wilderness society's case is increased wilderness preservation.
And one interesting thing that you see in this field, is the influence of a lot of former journalists. Howard Zahniser was a former journalist a newspaperman before he became involved with environmental advocacy. And he actually went on to become the main architect of the the Wilderness Act in the 1960s, which was a major piece of legislation.
But he wasn't alone, many of these organizations had former journalists as directors or presidents, or other high level positions in these organizations. So you see they're bringing that logic from the journalism field into the advocacy field and thinking, how can I use this tool to further our goals?
So Howard Zahniser was on the forefront, but it wasn't the Wilderness Society that really set the stage for journalism from environmental advocacy organizations. It was actually the Audubon Society, they really took the lead. So here's an example of an issue of Audubon Magazine from 1960. You can see on the left, we've got some pictures from their annual black tie gala.
Everyone looks quite grim, but I think they're having a good time. But you see, there's the photos, it's very promotional. It's not especially interesting if you're not a member of this particular group wanting to see your picture in the magazine. The other genre of article you would see in Audubon in the early 60s and before was ornithological essays about bird species.
So here's one about the purple capped fairy hummingbird. The author of this piece, Alexander Scutchess, an ornithologist. So this was the sort of pre-journalistic Audubon Magazine. Promotional in nature, highly niche, not especially compelling from an art perspective, or a narrative perspective. So they realized this was a missed opportunity here.
And they actually engaged a consultant firm, Cresap McCormick and Paget in New York, Ottawa's also based in New York, to do analysis and come up with recommendations for the magazine's redevelopment. And they came up with these four ideas. Immediate action should be taken to strengthen editorial impact. It should be made more attractive.
We should continue to invest in editorial quality as we go up in circulation. And we should reduce the cost of producing the magazine. So classic, you should do more with less kind of attitude. But what ended up happening is Audubon was successful beyond its wildest imagination. This consulting firm estimated that their circulation could go from about 30,000 to 50,000.
They actually went up to more 350,000 within five to seven years, so it was really a successful redesign. So what did they do? Almost immediately, this issue is 19, I wanna say 66, they hired a new editor in 1966, early 66, named Les a former newspaper man from Michigan.
And he decided this was no longer a magazine about birds, this was a magazine about the environmental movements and the ongoing destruction of the American environment. So the type of journalism you'd see in the magazine in those years was articles like this one, that used very dramatic language.
An offense against America, a mountain is ravaged, a valley shattered. So we've traveled a long way from those pictures of the men and women in black tie at the gala. Now we're going into in-depth and lengthy, I mean, these articles were just thousands and thousands of words long.
Lengthy in-depth investigations into broad environmental issues that were not limited to birds. So to give another example, a couple other examples from those years, the 1970 on the right there. On the left we have an article about pollution, which was a major concern in the 1960s and 70s.
Of course, it still is today. And on the right people pollution. Perhaps a term we might not use today. This article is written by Paul Ehrlich. If you don't know that name, he was a biologist who wrote a famous book in the late 1960s called The Population Bomb.
There was a very prominent theory about environmentalism at a time that was basically Malthusian, saying that we were producing more and more people and the earth's resources couldn't keep up. And Ehrlich was one of the primary proponents of this perspective. So you see here we're doing journalistic work but also drawing on some non-journalists to produce it, such as Paul Ehrlich being a scientist.
But in using narrative, using drama, using a lot of the same concepts that are in sort of traditional mainstream journalism. And I give this example as well, this is from the 1971. So at this point the magazine's circulation was well over, I think 3 or 400,000. A far cry from where it had been ten years earlier.
And here we have an example of a bird-related article. But if you read the article, it's about the moral dilemma facing falconers. Within the bird community, there was, I suppose there probably still is, a variety of perspectives about the morality of owning falcons and training them in falconry.
So this article gives those multiple perspectives. So it's, again, drawing on this traditional journalistic practices of presenting a plurality of points of view. Where in the past, Audubon might have only published the anti-falconry point of view, now they're presenting both points of view. So a balanced vision of this type of issue.
So we're, again, drawing on these traditional journalistic norms and practices. And George Laycock is a professional writer. Previously, the magazine, the only authors in it were amateurs. They were unpaid, so they submitted their own essays, essentially. So we've got to move towards professionalism, a move towards more actual journalists contributing to the magazine.
And the actual work they're producing resembles mainstream journalism. And at this time in the 1960s and 70s, it was a real heyday of narrative long form journalism. And there was a broader conversation ongoing about, how should journalism be produced, and is it possible to be a dispassionate observer?
At that same time we saw the rise of what was then called new journalism, which you may be familiar with when you think of Joan Didion's work. And there are numerous, what's his name, I'm gonna blank on all the people whose names I've read. Hunter Thompson's work, of course.
Where the writer embeds himself or herself in this issue and becomes an actor, so to speak. Not an actor like they're making it up, but an agent within the story, that they're acknowledging their presence within the story. So there is this broader questioning of, what does it mean to be a journalist?
And I think it kind of cracked open the possibility that an advocacy press like Audubon Magazine could be one of those journalistic outlets, be considered journalism, if we're questioning, what are the fundamentals of journalism at this time? So did it work for Audubon Magazine? It absolutely did from a circulation point of view.
They went from, let's see, 1965, less than 40,000 in circulation to over 300,000. And that was just within about one decade of redeveloping the magazine. So they were able to sell ads, which raised a whole other bevy of questions because they sold ads to timber and oil companies, which raised some controversy within the organization.
And really broadened the reach. And helped the claims of the environmental movement reach a more mainstream audience. What ended up happening was the magazine was so popular, it was actually read by both environmentalists and groups you might consider non-environmentalists. Because you might have it at the dentist's office, for example.
So if they ran an article about oil companies They would often follow it up with a letter to the editor from the oil company, disputing claims made in the article. And in that way, it served as a forum between multiple points of view. So what did it mean from an internal point of view?
So you have an advocacy organization, its goal is to increase bird protections. It doesn't identify fundamentally as a journalistic organization. So here is the example of a memo from the president of Audubon Society, Carl Buchheister. I can't remember the exact year, this was about 1966, I believe. And he's referring to an article that was about to get published.
And he says, I disapprove 100% of our publishing this article or even aiding in having it published elsewhere. It's no good, the article could expose us to libel suits. This is the kinda article that involves policy decision of the board level. So here he's saying, you don't have full autonomy, editor Les Line, to do whatever you want.
We have to be cautious, we can't just publish anything, because we could get in trouble. Here's another example where an internal conversation revealed some of the dynamics at play here. So this is a memo from the vice president of science, he was one of the science directors for the Audubon Society, to the editor of Audubon Magazine.
And he offers, he says, I offered to personally review, if time permits, articles 1 and 2, and volunteer Gene's services, if time and logistics permit, to review 3 for general scientific content and accuracy. So he's just saying, let us take a quick look, a little fact check on your work.
And this was Les's response, you don't have to read the whole thing, but it basically says no thank you. And when we want your services, you will be asked, and don't hold your breath. So here he says, we will not routinely submit our articles for review by you and your staff.
And that it is our historic procedure to submit galley proofs of all articles to the Society president, as publisher of Audubon. Beyond that, the responsibility for the content of Audubon lies with the editors and authors. So from the editor's perspective, Les Line, he's saying, look, we're journalists, we take responsibility for our material.
And we are not going to allow you or our co-colleagues here at Audubon Society to get involved. We make the decisions, we're operating as a journalistic entity. And so Les Line and these other editors would often draw this line in the sand. But the reality was actually a bit more nuanced in terms of whether non-editors within the organization could influence the content of these magazines.
And one reason why this was an issue was because readers could not distinguish between Audubon in italics and Audubon Society, which I think is reasonable. So this is from a letter to the editor. No matter how you may say that the reader of Audubon Magazine should know that the Society is not endorsing every view expressed in the articles.
Nevertheless, the readers of that magazine are gonna feel that it's being used as a forum for the expression of views of the writers. And they're gonna translate that into a feeling that we endorse those views. Actually, I believe this is not a letter to the editor. This is from one of the board members of Audubon Society.
So he's saying, look, how can we expect our readers and audience to read articles and say, that's not the Audubon Society view, when it's in Audubon Magazine, which is a fairly reasonable question. Here's a memo from the chief scientist at Audubon Society, who had a long-running campaign against Les Line and the magazine.
Everywhere I go in the nation, Texas, Florida, California, I run into objections about the Society's stance that's represented by Audubon and editor Line. If you have been at all inclined to view my feud with Les as a personal problem, I urge you to inquire more carefully because I think the Society has a serious problem on its hands.
So here, again, he's saying that look, people think the organization is the magazine. And this presents a real problem for us when we don't endorse all the views in the magazine but it says Audubon on it. So this conversation, I had found a million examples of it not just within the Audubon Society but also the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society records.
That doing quasi-journalistic or journalism work within the confines of this type of organization is really fraught because of these confusions about what editorial independence means, if you can have that. And how other people are going to perceive you, the organization, or the journalistic entity as social movement actors, as journalists, etc.
So to summarize those points, the problems with doing journalism within the boundaries of a non-journalistic entity with its own social change goals. Editorial independence will always be negotiated. So I actually gave a version of this talk to the National Audubon Society in January in New York. And after I concluded the talk, and I went into a bunch more examples of conflicts between the editorial team and the board of directors and other staffers at the Society.
And the first thing someone said was you could swap out all the years for 2020 and it would be the same. So even today these conversations are the same, like what does it mean to produce editorial content? How can we reflect the organization but also confer the legitimacy of independence, of factuality, etc.?
Another thing that will always happen is that traditional journalists will continue to seek to exclude advocacy presses from the, quote, unquote, club. So to give an example, the Society for Environmental Journalists is the main trade organization that represents environmental journalism in the US. And they have membership rules where if you receive most of your income from, quote, unquote, advocacy press, you can't be a full member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Which is really challenging for freelance journalists, which most environmental journalists are, because there aren't that many full-time environmental journalism positions. Freelance journalists, their income varies year to year, their clients and outlets that they publish in vary year to year. And so they're being told, well, you don't count as a full journalist if you are writing for Sierra, if you're writing for Audubon, etc.
So there's a gatekeeping action going on that I think is ultimately a bit fruitless and undermining to the Society of Environmental Journalists, but it's happening. And then lastly, the other thing I want to touch on is that even in a social media reality, so the examples I just gave are from the 60s and 70s.
You think, the media landscape has changed so much now. I would say, yes, but, yes. But traditional journalism in the form of these big mainstream news outlets still continue to be an important pathway to legitimacy, scope enlargement, and mobilization. By which I mean that there are examples of social movements that we can name just even in the last few years.
Where social media was the primary format where people communicated and created an imagined community. And that has kind of replaced, in many ways, what these magazines did 30, 40-plus years ago. Cuz they also served to create a forum and an imagined community of supporters of people who are geographically dispersed.
So now we have social media performing that role. However, when the traditional large news organizations notice it and if they do choose to cover it, it does confer. I would argue, it still confers legitimacy to the social movement by saying, this is a big enough deal that now it's on NBC Nightly News.
And it also allows activists to Enlarge the scope of their claims and their issues and increase mobilization, you can mobilize through social media. Absolutely. But I think that boost you get from especially television news, which is still such an important purveyor of information today, that there's still going to be this relationship between traditional news and advocacy presses even if the advocacy Media is in the form of digital social media.
All right, so I wanna end with just touching on the current landscape for environmental journalism. So, I think there is a, as I stated before, environmental journalism as we know it today really didn't exist until the 1960s. News organizations didn't start applying resources to it until the late 1960s.
And since then, the resources that news organizations give to environment journalism has varied a lot. It goes up for a little while. It goes down for a little while. And then, it kind of just cycles through. But I do think that we are seeing more awareness environmental issues are pervasive.
They're kind of like the master problem that underlies a lot of other problems in our society. This is the front page the New York Times from just a couple or last week, talking about what's going on in California. And calling them climate events, like this is related to climate change.
And it's having a major impact on our society today. Beyond that, what I'm seeing is an explosion in nonprofits, environmental journalism. So, one I would recommend is inside climate news. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning news organization that has a lot of what you might call traditional journalists working for it.
It's not attached to any advocacy organization. It's funded by Pew and a variety of other sources. So, they can attempt to, avoid those pitfalls of working from an advocacy perspective. There's also right here at IU, tlhe Indiana Environmental Reporter, which is fulfilling a really important news needs since there's very few dedicated environmental journalists in the state of Indiana.
Now, the IER is funded by IU and the media school. They do make a, try to make a distinction that they don't work for the media school, they don't work for IU, so they should be independent. But with these organizations, any of them inside climate news or IER, the question of how ownership might influence their news production is always an open one.
And you really can't know till you start looking at what kind of news they produce. And lastly, I wanna touch on Heated which is a climate newsletter, email newsletter. Newsletters are having a moment. I'm also has a podcast. And this is a weekly newsletter produced by Emily Atkinson, who is a journalist, and it's quite good.
If you are interested in viral news, I'd recommend signing up for it. And she posted this on twitter not too long ago. And I think it's really relevant to our discussion about environmental journalism in general. And she says, as a journalist, I've often been being partisan for supporting issues like equal rights and climate justice.
But I believe that making your values known makes you more trustworthy, not less. I believe such lack of transparency is why many Americans don't trust reporters. So, what she's getting at here is, it is a trend in journalism more broadly away from the dispassionate observer, and toward the idea that we can't avoid bias.
We can only acknowledge it and be transparent about it. So, we're seeing transparency as a news norm ascendant. And environmental journalists in particular have been tarnished with the brush of lack of objectivity for the last 50 plus years. I interviewed some environment journalists for another project a couple years ago, and I asked them about this.
I said, what do you do when people say that you're biased, cuz you're environmental journalist, and you must be anti business, for example? And one of them, well, he got so angry, journalists can be really, really righteous. And he said, it's stupid to say that cuz I'm an environmental journalist.
I must be anti business. You don't tell, don't say health reporter is like, Pro heart attack or, Anti healthy vegetables or healthy lifestyle. And I thought that was a really good analogy, but for some reason, environmental journals in particular, have been having searched onto the side within the broader journalist field, is being somehow compromised or not objective.
And what Emily Atkin is expressing here is that it's not about pretending to be totally dispassionate and unbiased, and without any kind of opinion or perspective, it's about transparency. And I think that is a broader trend within journalism, more widely. So with that, I think I'm gonna end it, because I would like to have a conversation for a few minutes before we end.
So, thank you so much for your time. And perhaps, we can talk for a little bit how.
>> Thank you Susanna. Susanna, can you hear me okay?.
>> Okay, thank you so much. So, let me first remind folks that if you have questions, you can submit those to the chat, and I will ask them, up Suzanna.
And so, just type away and then those will get in there really quickly. So, while I'm waiting for those, let me start with, you give a sense of what you perceive the overall frequency of coverage of environmental issues to be in all the forms of journalism that you mentioned.
When we compare it to all the other issues that compete for our attention.
>> I would say on the whole, it's very low news priority. I think you see spikes in attention when there's a major sort of driving events. If there's a hurricane, for example, that as historic in some wayz because it's stronger, bigger storm surge, etc.
Then you might see a spike in sort of climate change related reporting. But usually, it fades off. I'd say it's not a stable beat at most news organizations. Usually, it's the kind of beat where a journalist might pick up because they especially want to do it, and are interested.
But there's very little institutional resources for environmental journalism. We just saw in the last few years, the New York Times and CNN both dismantled their climate desks that they had. They had both built a pod of 5 to 10 reporters who worked specifically on the climate beat, and then, after a few years, got rid of it.
So, you saw there's kind of a movement towards, we're gonna really, dedicate resources to this. And then, a fading away of those resources. And I've seen that pattern when I've looked at it from a historic perspective. It's been pretty much that pattern since the 1960s. There's a big wave.
There's from 1968 editor and publisher reported, I think two environmental journalists in the United States that labeled themselves as environmental journalists. By 1970 there are over 100, but Newspapers. But today, I have a number of newspapers that have an environmental journalists are very few. I think Indianapolis Star only has them because they're grants supported.
So, people are looking for alternative routes to support environmental journalism, because for whatever reason, there's less of an appetite for maybe, because people perceive it as a bummer. Or it's not as, it just doesn't attract as much attention as sports coverage or political scandal coverage. But I think it is.
In the United States as a whole, it goes like this. It's never really very stable.
>> So now, the questions are pouring. And let me just thank you very briefly for mentioning Indiana environmental reporter and with the reporters at the star. And also, the reporter who's at it.
In the public media that's funded by us, those are three out of really the only five reporters in the whole state of Indiana, that are covering environmental issues on a statewide, levels. So that makes your point pretty well. So let me just start lining up these questions now that are coming in from somebody really interested in birds.
What happened to the Audubon editor who was controversial.
>> He was editor for 30 years, and then he was fired in 1991.
>> So basically what happened was, there was a change in leadership at the top of the Audubon Society. And while Audubon magazine was very quote unquote successful in terms of attaining cultural capital, for the organization and spreading its message, it also became extremely bloated and very expensive.
And I think another trend that happened as we saw in the 60s and 70s arises in specialized magazines, there's a downfall of the general interest magazines like Life and Look and Saturday Evening Post. And then the rise of special interest magazines like Sports Illustrated, Playboy, etc. And Audubon was in that trend, but that trend, as all trends do, there's a big rise in special interest magazines and it kind of dipped off.
So the timing for less is not great. And I think after 30 years at the helm, he refused to change his ways, so he was fired in 1981. And I actually had a great quote from him, that I showed to the National Audubon Society because all their employees are so young no one remembers any of this.
And it was when he was fired, he talked about how he was gonna become this PC namby pamby not afraid of controversy publication, so good luck, suckers. That was basically his goodbye message.
>> I can imagine it was great fun being able to go through all these archives and looking at that stuff.
Another question too, what degree has research shown, if you're aware that advocacy journalism organisations have had an effect on, shaping mainstream media agendas.
>> I think that my understanding of that literature is that it has shown to have an effect. But what has happened was, particularly with the rise of digital media, allowing pretty much anyone to be a publisher.
So producing a magazine like Audubon is quite expensive and resource intensive, but with the rise of digital media around the turn of the 20th century, that changed the landscape. If you all remember, political blogs were a really big deal. And they were a alternative venue for different political perspectives that weren't really necessarily being represented in the big mainstream news organizations.
And from my observation, and I think other scholars have seen this as well. What's happened is the institutionalizing of those blogs. So they've been purchased by the big mainstream news organisations. So they still function as kind of a alternative voice, but they don't operate totally independent of the mainstream anymore.
It's kind of the mainstream is just sort of absorbed and claimed, the alternative voices. And now some scholars argue that there really is no meaningful difference between alternative and mainstream media. Because of the increased partisanship of mainstream media and because of the increased technological capacity for anyone to be a mainstream media producer.
It used to be that, it was more like citizen journalists just posted on social media but now citizen journalists are sharing with the New York Times. So like when there was the big hurricane that came through the Caribbean, a couple years ago, where there are no journalists there.
Because we'd have hardly any foreign bureaus anymore. All the photos were from Facebook, that citizens had posted that were now published in the New York Times. So some have argued and I think there's some legitimacy to this that, that distinction between alternative and mainstream is no longer meaningful.
>> Next question, you showed a picture earlier of the folks at the black tie ball. I agree looking rather grim and this question is about, do you have an opinion on the rejection that we hear nowadays of early environmental organizations as examples of, white privilege?
>> Yeah, so there is a the history of the environmental movement is very white.
There's three main threads in American Environmental history. One is the conservation movement which was focused on conservation natural resources like timber, water and etc. And now it's kind of a technocratic scientific approach to environmental use. There's the preservation movement, which was about preserving wild spaces, national parks, etc.
And then there was urban environmental reform, which was you think about early 20th century Sinclair, Lewis the Jungle, we're dealing with the environmental problems of the city. Those three strands, operated quite separately, especially the urban environmentalists were sort of excluded from, the conservation and preservation arms of the movement.
And it wasn't really till the 1960s that these three arms came together and had more of an ecosystem approach that acknowledged environmental issues, came from the city as well from rural or wilderness areas. So the violent movement right now is grappling with that, it's well documented that John Muir was a racist.
He's the founder of the Sierra Club, the history of our national parks has a history of relocation of indigenous people. Audubon, John James Audubon, who's not the founder of the Audubon Society, but he was named for them, also had some problematic features to his life. And Audubon Society itself was the most lily white and elite of all of the American environmental organizations.
So they're all grappling with that today. I think there's a much greater understanding of the concept of environmental justice, which has been around now for decades. But I think it's only just recently started to, become adopted into the mainstream environmental thinking. So they're still grappling with these histories.
I was just contacted by, Audubon actually last week. They're asking me if in the archives I'd found any more racist stuff, cuz they want to get ahead of it. Truly like my research didn't show that because I wasn't looking early enough, I was looking at the 60s and 70s.
And frankly, they just didn't see race as one of the mediating factors. So they never discussed it, it was just invisible to them.
>> Yeah. Next question is would you say a word about advocacy journalists willingness or not, to specifically engage in articles or editorials on political candidates.
Particularly with those organizations that consider themselves to be nonpartisan?
>> So this means an advocacy journalist writing a column, endorsing a political candidate?
>> Yeah, or perhaps not even just specifically endorsing but, anything on political candidates.
>> I don't write specifically on political communication and initiatives, but I do think that If you're an advocacy journalist, you're already comfortable, with expressing opinion.
In fact, Emily Akon the woman who writes the heated newsletter, she calls herself an opinion journalist. So she's giving herself a name that allows her to acknowledge that her perspective is injected into everything that she writes. And I think that kinda labeling might be actually really helpful for audiences to understand what they're actually looking at.
So from my perspective I don't see any issue with opinion or advocacy journalists getting engaged with electoral politics, as long as it's transparent.
>> Yeah, just some more questions coming in. Here's one. From a listener who's saying, I love to use the archives, really interesting research. I'm curious about the evolution of environmental journalism genres.
So how would you characterize, for instance, the give and take between nature writing and science writing in the early history of American Environmental Journalism?
>> Great question, so, of course, we have a long tradition of nature writing that goes back, longer than environmental journalism existed. I think that when you look at these early advocacy groups publications.
A lot of what they published was more in the genre of nature writing, than what you might consider journalism oriented. Nature writing, I mean, a more personal narrative and personal perspective than sort of drawing on external sources. I think you don't see the trend and the switch towards science journalism until the 1960s, 50s, 60s.
And I think that's because science journalism at that point was also ascending, and people were interested in that. I think nature writing itself has been excluded from news organizations. It's usually viewed as a separate genre of writing, but I did see examples of it in the advocacy publications for sure.
In fact, I'd say that was the dominant genre, until they started switching to the more journalistic mode of the 1960s.
>> A lot of the early writing in magazine form, and you looked a lot of magazine format was done in magazines that were oriented at people. Who specifically liked hunting, fishing, that type of sportsmen activity, if you will.
Did you look at that at all in relation to these other environment, or cuz, some of those had also pretty large circulations?
>> Yeah, so there's a genre of sort of sporting magazines, for us in Field and Stream. I think American Sportsmen is the title of another one, where you did actually see a lot of early conservation and sport.
Where they start to realize that, you can't just go shoot all of the buffalo. Eventually, there will be zero buffalo or zero elk, etc. So there are great examples of early conservation and sport in those magazines. And in fact some of their editors, George Grinnell, was the editor of Forest and Stream.
And he went on to become an early member, or founder of the Audubon Society. So you see, again, there's connections between editorial roles and advocacy roles. And I don't think that's exclusive to environmentalism, that's just my area of expertise. But I think it's not a coincidence that people who recognize the public sphere's the space where power is decided.
Are people who are already working in that kind of space, and they can see the reverse at work, when we get that issue out. And they can influence policy or social change.
>> Well, Susanna, we've run out of time, well, I do have some other great questions here for you.
So I will save those in the chat and make sure you get those, and so thank you so much. That was a really fascinating talk, of course I knew your work, but this is my first chance to hear how deeply you dived into the archives, that was really cool.
So thanks so much for being on.
>> Thank you, and I appreciate everyone attending.
>> Yeah, and I wanna thank Adam for his role here, Adam surely you're great, thanks. Thanks to IPE and ERI for sponsoring this, so come back and see us all again very soon, bye, everyone.
Journalists as Activists and Activists as Journalists: How the American Environmental Movement Has Used Journalism as an Advocacy Tool
This talk will focus on what it means to produce forms of "alternative" journalism and the relationship between advocacy and journalism.