Podcast Episodes

 

Sep
27

S1E35 – Casandra on Food Preserveration

Episode Notes Margaret talks to Casandra about canning, drying, and other means by which to preserve food. The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. Transcript Margaret Hello and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your […]

Aug
13

S1E34 – Simon on Reforestation, pt. 2

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/e91d0e53-57cf-46be-b2fa-6d49c9725c3c.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

Margaret continues talking to Simon, a restoration ecologist who works in the Pacific Northwest, about confronting climate crisis with reforestation.

Simon can be found on twitter @plant_warlock.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

1:00:55

Margaret  
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and I use she or they pronouns. And this episode I’m actually recording immediately after the previous episode with Simon because, as soon as we got off the call, we talked about all of these other things that are worth talking about. And there’s just so much to all of this that we thought it might be worth doing a second episode about. You might be hearing this—I don’t know when you’re gonna hear this as compared to the other part. But anyway, Live Like the World is Dying as a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on the network. Duh daaaaa do.

Jingle  
What’s up y’all, I’m Pearson, host of Coffee with Comrades. Coffee with Comrades is rooted in militant joy. Our hope is to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere, like walking into your favorite coffee shop to sit down with some of your close friends and share a heart-to-heart conversation. New episodes premiere your every Tuesday, so be sure to smash that subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts so that you never miss an episode. We are proud to be a part of the Channel Zero Network.

Margaret  
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns. And then just a real brief overview for people who didn’t listen to the first interview we just did with you about the kind of work you do and what your specialization is.

Simon  
Yeah, thanks for having me on again. My name is Simon Apostle. I’m a restoration ecologist. And I’ve been working in Oregon and Washington, kind of across the Pacific Northwest, for the last 10 or so years. And most of my work has focused on reforestation, but also just general natural resource management and ecological restoration.

Margaret  
So we were talking about—you have ideas about what people who have access to some, you know, maybe homestead-style, size of land or land project or even, like, maybe even smaller scale than that—about what people can do besides just reforestation, what is involved in restoration, and using that to mitigate whether climate change or other problems ecologically?

Simon  
Yeah, so one of the things that, in our field, we’ve been looking at quite a bit is how do certain keystone organisms really affect the landscapes. And one of the biggest ones—not just in size, they get pretty large though—is the North American Beaver. Which and this is true across North America. And beaver are a critical component of ecosystems. And they do that by doing what we know they do, by building dams, and altering hydrology in a way that creates habitat, it creates diversity, it retains water in a landscape by damming streams up and creating new channels and all of these things. And so reintroduction of beavers, or by mimicking the processes that beavers create, you can do a lot for the land and also potentially make it work better for you. Because you know, as we face climate change, water retention is kind of one of our biggest issues.

Margaret  
So you’re telling people that they should build dams and cut trees? 

Simon  
That’s exactly right. Yeah. If you want to think like a beaver, you should build a dam. If you want to use it for hydroelectric purposes, you can do that. And then, yeah, of course, cut down trees. No, it’s a really interesting parallel, right? Because beavers kind of act like us, you know, and they do all these things that we know are—especially in the Pacific Northwest—know are bad. We know that the dams, the hydroelectric dams, are a massive problem for salmon and for other organisms, and disrupting natural water flows and creating barriers and, of course, cutting down trees is the thing we all know is we don’t do well. But beaver do things in a way that that they, you know, ecosystem around them has adapted to do and interact with. So a beaver dam—first of all, the scale is different, right, it’s not going to be across the Columbia River, it’s across a stream, a low gradient side channel, something like that. And a beaver dam is porous, it has water cascading over it, a fish can jump over it. It is complex, you know, there’s a pond behind it and there’s wetlands on the margins and there’s channels flowing around it that they may not have gotten to damming yet. And that complexity is critical, right? Like, it’s the taking of a simple stream channel and making it into something really complicated and with little niches for all these different organisms. And it can work for humans too, you know, by recharging groundwater, by retaining water on a landscape for longer you get aquifer recharge, you get, you know, trees surrounding that area, maybe growing a little bit better, all of these things that are directly valuable to us.

Margaret  
So that’s the kind of, like, microclimate stuff of making your area—you’re, like, so wells will go dry, slower and things like that.

Simon  
Absolutely. I mean, water retention in landscapes is so important. You know, as we, like, face climate change, right, it’s—and some of that is affected by by climate change directly just through evaporation, but also as you get precipitation changing from snow to rainfall, you know, through a larger portion of the year in a lot of systems, that means that the water’s not coming down as a trickle of snowmelt throughout the year, it’s coming down, you know, in a single rain of that. And there’s none left in the summer. And beaver are one of the organisms that can help counteract that by retaining that water in the smaller streams and then letting it out as a slower trickle.

Margaret  
It’s so wild that that—that something at that small of a scale has an impact. I feel like that’s like something that I often forget about because, as much as I’m like, oh, I like bottom-up organizations and blah, blah, blah. I’m like always sometimes forget that something as simple as like blocking a creek can have an impact.

Simon  
Yeah, and it’s the aggregate effect, right, too. It’s all of—its every little side channel. And especially if we talk about in a temperate region, like the the Northeast in the US or the Northwest, where you have lots and lots of little creeks. And historically there were probably beaver populations on every single one of those that, of course, were all trapped out, you know, as European trappers moved into those landscapes.

Margaret  
What—This is it is a question I feel like I should have learned in middle school or something. But why do beavers build dams? Like what’s in it for them?

Simon  
Yeah, so I mean, it’s a really good question, right? For them, I think—and actually, this is like, a really interesting evolutionary question because old world beavers, a European, like super similar species. I don’t even know how different they are genetically, and I’m sure a little bit, but they don’t build dams, they just burrow into into dens on the bank as far as I’m aware. 

Margaret  
Huh. 

Simon  
But beavers build dams largely to create more habitat for themselves. They’re safe from predators underwater. The entrances to their lodges are underwater. So they’ll build their big lodge and then they’ll swim underwater to an entrance and then inside the lodge it’ll be back up in the air so that they’re safe. They also like to eat willows and willows like to grow in wetlands. And so you flat out an area that was a canyon, you create more sediment deposits, you flood into the flat areas, you’re going to grow more of these kind of fast growing hardwoods that they like to eat. So it’s about creating more habitat for themselves, you know, in a way you can think about them as, like, they’re creating their shelter and they’re also, like, farming, the things that they like to eat by flooding.

Margaret  
No, no, only humans do that. That’s cool. That’s—yeah, I’m like, now I’m like, I wonder if we should have beaver where I—you know, I live on this this creek and, you know, there’s willows around and things like that. Yeah, no, okay. And so you’re saying—so what is the water retention do in terms of mitigating the effects of climate change and things like that?

Simon  
Yeah. Yeah. So, like we talked about, just holding that water in the landscape, letting it permeate into the soil, but also slowing that release through the creek just as it is beneficial to so many organisms, right? Because it allows water flow through a longer period of the year. You know, a big flush of water, a big flood, can be a lot less useful than a steady trickle in a lot of cases.

Margaret  
Can I selfishly ask you about reforesting willows and, like, is that a useful—you know, I guess as I was saying, I live on a creek that floods. And we’ve talked about, you know, people talk about willows being very good plants for, you know, sucking up water or whatever, but we don’t believe it changes the way that water flows across the land or anything like that. But it might help, like, reinforce banks or—because most of your work is riparian specifically, right? What is—what are you doing when you reforest in a riparian area? And how can I selfishly do that myself?

Simon  
That’s gonna depend on the situation, right, but a lot of what we’re doing when we focus on riparian areas is because they’re important to so many species, right. And so they’re rare and critical. And so the benefits that you have by reforesting of riparian area, you have shade over the stream, you know, you’re cooling the water temperature which reduces evaporation, it helps the organisms within the stream. In terms of planting willows, I mean, the one of the best things about willows is that they’re one of the easiest things to plant and grow, right. They’re adapted to break off in flooding. So you have twigs and stems and branches will just break off, and any single one of those can land on a bank of mud and sprout and turn into a new tree. So they have this vegetative adaptation that’s a hormone that allows them to root from any given node, you know, and a node being a part of the plant that can turn into a leaf or a branch, or in the case of a willow or root, even if it was, you know, a branch from the top of the tree. And anyone who’s you know, propagated cuttings and stuff knows that some plants have that hormone, and particularly willows do. And you can stick a willow branch in your cuttings of some other tree or shrub and they’ll root more easily. So a lot of times what we’ll do in riparian areas just harvest willow cuttings, either locally if there’s a good source, or bring them in from somewhere nearby, or, you know, from a nursery, and just plant those basically stick straight in the ground. It looks super weird because it just looks like we planted a bunch of two or three foot sticks on the ground. Super dense, in most areas in North America you would have—might be planting 2000 stems an acre of willows and kind of related riparian shrubs. And, you know, if conditions are right, you will get a pretty dense willow stand within a few years.

Margaret  
Do you then go—let’s say for some, you had a homestead and there was a dense stand of willows. Do you then go and, like, thin it out so that there’s, you know, so each tree—like I know that when dealing with, like, you know, a monoculture of young pines, sometimes you have to thin it out in order to make them grow healthier?

Simon  
Yeah, that’s gonna depend, you know where you are, but but probably not. They you know, their life cycle is such that they are going to live a much shorter period of time, and they grow in these big, thick, dense stands that all grow up at once because there was some big flood that brought in a bunch of new, clean sediment and wiped out all the old ones. And then the new branches and seeds landed and you grow a thick forest. And they’ll kind of self thin. And actually that’s—those standing dead trees and fallen dead trees or habitat features in themselves. You know, woodpeckers like them, salamanders like the logs on the ground, so do turtles, you know, things like that. So, generally speaking, no, I mean, we’ll do things like we control to reduce competition when they’re young. But their growth cycle is such that they’re a big disturbance, and then they grow, and then everything gets wiped out in a stand, and then they grow again in most systems.

Margaret  
I guess to go back to what you were talking about earlier, you said you wanted to talk about bringing back beaver. How to—what does that look like? How do people do that?

Simon  
Yeah, I mean, and sometimes it’s as simple as, you know, you have county highway departments and things that you know, beaver like to build dams, and they like to build dams in a roadside ditch next to a highway. So these county highway departments will trap and kill the beaver. And so if you can work with them to say, no, trap and release it. And in some cases, some counties will actually say—you can say, hey, we’d be okay with you releasing them on our property instead of killing them. And they may be, they may do that for you. The other way to do it is kind of—and it depends on, if they’re there, to build it and they will come. So you plant willows on a stream, you know, eventually they might find it if they’re nearby. They roam pretty far. The other thing that you can do is, even if you don’t have beavers, is to start to kind of connect those processes that beavers create by basically building your own dams that are functionally similar to a beaver dam. And beavers will often find those too and start to build and add to them. 

Margaret  
That’s cool. 

Simon  
We actually, we have a whole technical term. They’re called BDAs, which just means Beaver Dam Analogue. But it’s a really cool sort of growing niche in my field because it’s—they’re low tech, right. It’s, you’re putting a bunch of posts in the river and piling a bunch of brush behind them so water kind of dams up but also flows through. Snd anyone can do it. You know, you don’t need an engineering degree, you don’t need a forestry degree, you can just kind of do it.

Margaret  
Aren’t like riparian areas, creeks and things like that, like, fairly heavily controlled, like, can’t you get in some trouble for messing with a creeks flow.

Simon  
Yeah, I mean, if you’re doing something that’s, you know—yes, in the United States, and there’s stronger rules depending on the state that you’re in. There’s wetlands and waters rules that have to do with the Clean Water Act. A lot of these were just kind of greatly diminished by the Trump administration. So you’re safer there on a lot of the ephemeral streams, and it’s going to depend on your state. But generally speaking, I mean, I’m not a lawyer. But, you know, if you’re doing a restoration activity on—we’re talking a small stream, a small ephemeral stream on a piece of ground that you own, these kinds of activities are fine. You’re really talking about, okay, am I bringing in fill, am I bringing in equipment, am I, you know, dumping dirt, am I building a permanent dam that really is, like, easily identifiable as like an irrigation dam or something like that? That’s where you need to get into the permitting world.

Margaret  
And now I’m just trying to figure out whether I can do micro hydro on a beaver dam. Like without actually blocking it.

Simon  
That you would probably technically need a permit for in the world we live in, but I won’t…

Margaret  
Appreciate it. Neither should any of you. I’ve not actually—I looked into a fair amount of micro hydro, and it’s just not—even though I have running water on our property, it’s not the right move for us. Which is a shame because micro hydro where you don’t actually block the creek—I’m sure it has ecological impacts. But it doesn’t block the creek. I don’t know.

Simon  
Now there’s been studies about, you know, replacing the Columbia River dams with things like that. It’s, like, they’re less micro, I’m sure, because of the scale, but you know, things that just basically sit on the side of the river instead of blocking the whole thing. 

Margaret  
Seems so—now I wonder why we didn’t do that in the first place.

Simon  
How was—I think you’d probably get more power if you dam the whole river. And yeah, different time, I guess. Yeah. I thought, you know, it’d be interesting to kind of like, think about, just because your initial question kind of got me thinking about, like, how do we make for us work for us. And, you know, that can touch on, like, you know, how Indigenous groups interacted with the forest in places that I know, things like that, but like, what are, you know, kind of what are some of like the other human benefits to forests.

Margaret  
So we’re still kind of having this conversation about reforestation, and the advantages of it, and besides just water retention, and besides, you know, the cooling effect and things like that, what are—why reforestation? Like, tell me tell me more about what’s cool about reforestation.

Simon  
Yeah, well I think one of the things that we’re kind of slowly realizing is, like, all of the side benefits that the forests provide us. And not—we’ve already talked about, you know, cooling effects and shading and things like that. But, you know, there can also be like a fair amount of food production from a diverse forest. There’s been a really interesting set of research that was done in coastal British Columbia, where they found these pockets of forests where you didn’t have a closed canopy, you had this kind of diverse patchwork, and near historic coast Salish village sites we had these—or still have these essentially what have been called food forests. So this kind of diverse array of fruiting species like crab apples and cranberries and huckleberries and things like that, that now we know were managed by people. So it’s something that we would kind of recognize as something somewhere between like a European conception of agriculture, and then just a natural, quote/unquote natural forest with no human impacts, which of course, there were. But regardless, you know, there’s ways to kind of create something that’s diverse and works for plants and animals, while also working for you. And I think food production is one of those. And creating diversity in a stand is one of the ways to do that. So instead of thinking about, we have this stand of trees, and we want it all to be as old as possible. Well, what if there’s a little clearing over here, you know, which would—could mimic a natural process. You’d have windfall, you know, knocking a few trees over. And then one of the things that come up in that clearing, might be some of those early seral plants, some of them are fruiting, some of them are useful for other purposes, or, you know, and so you can manage that stand, that clearing, in ways that that work for people. You know, it’s like, reframing how we think about agriculture, and also how we think about forestry. We think about forestry as producing lumber, and we think about agriculture is producing things that we, you know, and they don’t mix. They’re just different things. But of course, you know, they’re all just plants.

Margaret  
Yeah, maybe—we would probably need to have an entirely different economic system in order to take advantage of, you know, decentralized food production like that—which, obviously, I’m in favor of a completely different economic system. So that sounds good to me. So this is the kind of stuff that’s mostly useful for people who are working—who have access to, like, a land project and things like that. Is this information that people can use to, you know, influence county decisions about how to do things? Like how much control are people able to exert either within the existing system or outside of it on reforestation?

Simon  
Yeah. One of the biggest issues is the lack of control that people who don’t have a sort of like legal and economic stake in these things, you know, indirectly have, in some cases, you know, you talk about a federal agency planning a project, and they’re going to say, oh, we’re doing community involvement, we’re going to talk to our neighbors. Well, their neighbors might be, you know, a farmer, who may even be a local farmer, but owns, you know, a significant amount of land and is not really representative of maybe your rural communities actual income and wealth distribution. Or their neighbor may even be an industrial timber company. 

Margaret  
Right. 

Simon  
But a lot of these projects have, you know, if they’re federally funded, they have public comment periods. They have all these things that are written into law that are supposed to allow for community engagement, and sometimes are not so easily accessible. But you can get together with some people and watch out for things like, there’s going to be a forest thinning project and we want input on this, we want to say, hey, you need to consider, you know, our use, like, our group wants to do mushroom foraging in this area, and we’re concerned that you’re going to disturb this. Or, we want you to think about how your project design affects that, you know, things of that nature. Yeah, and a lot of times nobody really comments on these projects. So a little bit of public comment, a little bit of input, can actually really sway land managers decisions. I know when I’m in that situation, you know, hearing from five people that are all saying the same thing, is a big group of people, because usually no one says anything. So I think you can have a difference—make a difference. And that’s going to depend on the sort of willingness and adaptability of people in positions of power, like with all things. But usually these things just kind of get ignored. So.

Margaret  
Yeah, one of the things—one of the talking points when I did more forest defense out west—one of the main talking points would be—and, you know, most of us weren’t, we didn’t really care about what what was good for the economy. We cared about what was good for, you know, the values that we held about biodiversity and things like that. But one of the things we would talk about is that you actually literally make more—like it does more for the local economy by and large to leave the National Forest alone and not run the National Forest timber sale program. And, again, is at least as far as I understood it at the time, and that like most of the timber sale program was like run at a loss because they’re basically subsidizing all of the costs of these timber companies to come in and clear cut, you know, quote/unquote, our forests within a colonial system, whatever that means. But these public lands—you know, I didn’t realize when I was a kid that the national forests were—huge chunks of them are regular clear cut, and they’re on some ways like managed just like another timber farm. And there is a little bit more say that people are able to have. And one of the things that I liked about, you know, working with groups like Earth First was that we were very every tool in the toolbox and that absolutely included public comment periods and showing up to, you know, city council meetings in these small towns and things like that. And working with people who are from the small towns, usually. You know, basically, we would come into support local organizing. And then also, you know, direct action and blocking people from logging. It doesn’t always work, right? But it works more times than I expected, to basically come in and say, you know, the tree sit doesn’t sit on every tree that they’re going to cut. The tree sit sits on where they want to build a road, right? And you block access long enough either to make it just so expensive that it stops being worth it for them, or, more likely, it’s part of a larger strategy where you’re also, like, suing them in the courts. Like often they do this thing where they can—they’re allowed to clear cut—you’re suing them to say you can’t clear cut, and then they’re allowed to if there’s no injunction. They can do so while the, you know, while court is happening. So they can be like, well, doesn’t matter now, we already did it. And so sometimes you’re just literally stopping them while you make a larger change, which now that I think about it feels like a larger metaphor for how so much of this is about preserving what we can while we try to make these larger changes, while we try to change the economic systems that we live under and things like that.

Simon  
Yeah, no, that’s definitely true. And I think just being a stick in the mud sometimes just being loud in as many ways as you can think, can be really beneficial. One issue, kind of jumping on, like, federal logging thing that that is a problem is that you can have kind of greenwashing of timber sales sometimes. You know, you look at, like, post-fire salvage logging that is really not ecologically justified, right? You know, well we need to clear out the trees because then we’ll have room for the nutrients to grow. It’s like, well, no, you know, fire’s natural and actually standing dead trees are an entirely separate and unique habitat type. And they’re an important thing to protect, you know. And, similarly, we need to thin forests because we’ve repressed fire for so long, and we need to make them—we need to reintroduce fire to the landscape. But sometimes, you know, these projects kind of—there will be people who insert themselves in them with ulterior motives, right. So it’d be—no longer becomes about—it’s ecologically justified, we’re thinning out the young trees to save. For the other ones it’s like, well, actually, maybe we should take some of the big ones too, you know. There’s probably too many of them, you know. It’s like—so just being active, and paying attention to when those things are happening, you can make a pretty big difference over a pretty large chunk of ground. You know, one of the issues that we have here is that I think I mentioned last time is how much of our forests are privately owned though, right? And more and more that ownership is not only private, you know, quote/unquote, but owned by investment firms and entities that not only want to extract profit, but they want to extract profit quickly. So they’ve reduced the length of time between harvest from something like 80 years,—and you know, 80 year old forest has a lot of habitat value, or a 50 year old forest does—to now being maybe 50, or sometimes even 30. You know, 30 year old trees, which basically just looks like a plantation, you know. And they’ll harvest and then they sell the land again. And it’s just this ongoing cycle of making sure that the quarterly returns are up so the stock prices are up. And, you know, that’s something that really needs to be actively fought in my region.

Margaret  
Yeah. And then I’m under the impression that you can only have these cycles where you remove all the biomass every 30 or 80 years—you can only do that so many times before you end up with no biomass left and get desertification. Is that the case?

Simon  
Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly—we’ve undergone massive changes to soil structure in ways that we don’t understand in forests in the Pacific Northwest. And, definitely, it’s that loss of biomass. And there’s certain types of biomass that only big trees can really provide. There’s like that something called like brown cubicle rot, which isn’t a very romantic name, but—there’s other terms for it—but basically it’s like, if you’ve ever been in the Pacific Northwest and you’d seem like a big nurse log on the ground, which is we call like a tree that’s fallen on the ground and it has other trees and plants growing out of it. It’s providing an entirely unique set of soil conditions. And you crumble that apart and it’s got these, like, cavities and square pieces, and it’s often very brown or bright orange. And that type of biomass in the soil is just, it’s just a completely different entity than the bare mineral soil. And certainly you start to reduce the health of the trees that grow when you keep removing that biomass. And, of course, it provides carbon storage too. So, you know, last year in Oregon in 2020—this year, we had record-breaking heat waves, and last year, we had record-breaking wildfires on the west side of the Cascades, which, you know, you’re familiar with Oregon, of course. But for people that aren’t, that’s, like, the wet side, right? That’s when people think about Oregon and big trees and things like that, that’s kind of what they’re envisioning. But we had these fires raging through the west side. And they ended up burning like 2% of the land area of the state in one month. And a lot of those burns were on these these private tree farms with these young trees that are just matchsticks, they’re stressed by drought because they don’t have the organic matter in the soil to retain moisture. And they just, they burned completely, a lot of these areas, you know, 100%, true mortality. So there’s—you can’t do it forever. But but they, you know, they don’t care that you can’t do it forever.

Margaret  
Which I guess is like—is yet another example of, like, the whole climate preparedness and mitigating the effects of climate change involves stopping all of this treating the earth just like a sit a set of resources to extract, you know?

Simon  
Yeah, yeah. And it’s not, you know, it’s not like, I mean, we use wood products, right? But it’s just how do we change our relationship to do that in a way that works for us in the present, and will also work for future generations. I’m working on a forest management plan right now for a property—for a reserve—but that will allow timber harvest, and it’s, you know, it was purchased from Weyerhaeuser, it’s 1300 acres. And a lot of it was logged fairly recently before they sold it because they kind of extracted the value that they could, But it’s thinking about, okay, but the trees are too dense, we’re gonna need to thin them. At what stage do we send them, you know, that we can actually extract some value and that value goes into the local economy, and we’re creating timber products, but we’re not—but we’re sort of mimicking the natural cycles in order to get to a place where in a couple 100 years, it’s a mature, old growth forest, right? And at that point, like, I don’t need to consider what the economy is like in 100 or 200 years, I don’t need to consider what we need out of forest products. But like we can make it work for us in the present by clearing little clearings and creating, you know, have like diversity areas that’re similar those clearings that I talked about before, or selectively thinning, you know, the weaker trees and creating a more open canopy that mimics those natural systems, but also allows for economic activity or for just wood products that we use in our lives. And I really like that, because it’s that dichotomy of, like, what do we need now, but how can we plan for a future that’s unknowable to us? But we do know that we want all grow for us again someday for future generations. 

Margaret  
Yeah, and I like it because it’s acknowledging that it’s, like, well, we do want to use wood to build our houses or whatever, you know. There’s, in many climates, that’s the best way to do it. And most of us prefer to live in shelter and things like that, you know. And it’s just—and people have this like, okay, well, since clear cutting, you know, on massive scale is bad, and looking at the earth as a series of resources bad, therefore, we have to feel guilty about using, like, you know, interacting with the earth, and that also doesn’t do us any good. One, because guilt-based organizing this garbage. But it’s also just, like, it’s not—it’s a babies and bathwater problem, you know. It’s a—we do, we are animals, and animals use, well, other animals and nature to do the things we want to do. I remember trying to, you know, we were trying to protect this forest in Southern Oregon, and it was, it had actually been burned. And it was a salvage—it was old growth forests that have been burned on public land. And none of the locals would log it because everyone knew it was bad. So there was like all of these out of state loggers, which is funny because then, you know, of course we get accused of being outside agitators or whatever. And, you know, I remember one of the times some loggers got past one of our blockades and, you know, and people are like yelling at them. And the logger are like, well, what do you do for a living? You know, and I was like, I’m a landscaper. And the person next to me is like, well, I’m a logger. You know, it’s like, like, you can be a logger. Like, if you’re—you can be a person who turns trees into lumber and have that be a positive thing in the world, you know, you can do forestry in ways that aren’t monstrous.

Simon  
Yeah, and we often don’t give people the opportunity to engage with these practices that we all need, you know, to function, at least in the society that we build. We don’t give them the opportunity to engage in that way. You know, you can’t just like, well, I’m not going to work—if I’m a logger, I’m not going to work on any standard commercial timber operations, I’m only going to do selective logging and I’m only going to do, you know, sustainable logging. I mean, that sounds great. But you know, people who, again, quote/unquote, own the land, I mean, they need to allow that, they need to give people that opportunity, or they need to organize and demand it. And it’s sort of the, you know, it’s kind of the, like, Plato’s cave of forest management. You know, we all need to, like, envision a different world, you know, that can work for us in order to get there. There’s a leap of faith that needs to happen, I think, and there’s not a lot of faith in what feels like a declining industry and a, you know, climate change, and all of these things.

Margaret  
Something that we were talking about, you know, when we were talking about doing this episode—about, you know, there’s all this information about how to do reforestation, or, you know, sustainable forestry and all of these different things. But I’m guessing most of you listening don’t have even as much access to land as, say, I do. Right? And, you know, and so it can be kind of hopeless thinking like, well, what do I do about this? And, because yeah, most land—most privately owned land—is owned by these, well I don’t know this is as a statistic, but there’s certainly a lot of land that is in private hands in this country that is just, you know, resources to extract, like, things people who would not be interested in doing this. And the reason I was thinking about this is so useful to talk about—pardon the motorcycle revving its engine outside my office—the reason I feel so useful to talk about is because the current situation, to me, doesn’t seem like it’s going to stay. Because we probably, as a society, are nearing the end of our ability to stick our fingers in our ears about climate change. I’m sure we’ll always have, you know, people will always have, like, disaster fatigue, where we—it’s not like we’re suddenly gonna wake up one day and everyone’s gonna realize climate change is real and, you know, have a glorious happy revolution or whatever. But things will shift as more and more people, like, essentially have to come to terms with this. It’ll probably shift in bad ways also. But the thing that I—it occurs to me is that it’s like, these people who own, you know, giant tracts of land and stuff, like some of them are people, and some of them are people who would see themselves as decent people. And I think that a lot of people who see themselves as decent people are going to start having a different relationship to economic production in the very near future. And maybe some of the other ones who don’t want to change, have a change of heart, might cease being able to have the physical security necessary to control what happens on their property. You know, it’s, things are gonna change, probably. Well, they’ll definitely change, just I can’t tell you how they’re going to change. So it feels like it’s useful to understand all this stuff and to understand the importance of reforestation and all of this, because we might be able to start convincing some of these people that this is what should happen, you know, that they should not manage their property the way that they currently do at the very least. I dunno. Is there any hope in that?

Simon  
I think the shift that needs to happen is that we need to think about these things long-term. And, ideally, it would be in multi generational cycles. But even thinking about things in terms of people’s own lifetimes, and one of the issues with commercial timber management is that it’s not even in people’s lifetimes, or it’s not even in the lifetimes of the company, its quarterly profit returns, its stock prices, it’s all these sort of abstract but very quick return things that just—they don’t—there’s no way for that to really intersect in a healthy way, no matter what you think about capitalism and the stock market and stuff. And I would guess that most people listening to this don’t have like super favorable views on that. But there’s just no way for that quick cycle of profit returns to mesh with managing an ecosystem, and particularly managing an ecosystem like a forest where, even in a short-lived forests in some regions, you’re talking about trees living 100 years. You know, and then in other areas 300 years, 500 sometimes, you know. So it just can’t—it can’t operate that way. And a lot of the people that work for these companies are people that have lived in these areas for a long time now, right? And do feel like they care about the land, but also they feel like they care about their communities and they need to provide jobs and they’re just sort of wrapped up in the system. And I guess I’ll make the forest for the trees puns, right, you know you can’t see your way out, the trees are too dense in a tree farm. You need to thin it out a little bit. And, sorry, for that terrible joke. But I think that a lot more people are reachable than we know, and we need to just talk to each other. And I think we all need to sort of meet—I don’t want to say meet in the middle—but meet in kind of a new place where we’re not sort of old school environmentalist in that we say, okay people do bad things to nature, and then we need to just stop people from doing the bad things to nature. It’s like, what new—and then we’re not just extractivist, you know, logging everything, mining everything, well the economy, you know, jobs, the economy, blah, blah, blah. We need to come to a new place where it’s like, how do we develop this relationship that works for us, you know, with each other and with with nature. And that sounds very Kumbaya, but I do think you’re right, that climate change starts to—it starts to force a shift. And even the management of these companies know that, you know, Weyerhaeuser, they’re not climate denialist, you know. They do experiments to see how far north they need to move their tree seedlings, you know, their stock, you know, do we bring seedlings from Southern Oregon to halfway up Washington because they’re adapted to the hotter climate? They’re studying all of that stuff, they know it’s real. And the people working for them, I think, largely know that it’s real too. It’s certainly in the past few years around here, I think, gotten to the point where it’s unavoidable. I work with loggers and farmers and people that don’t always have the same views as me, but that—I hear a lot less climate denial now than I did even five years ago. We’ve just had too many extreme events. People know it’s here. And, you know, and yeah, disaster can create an opportunity, we realize we need to change and we need to come to a better system with each other. And that may, you know, whether you believe in the power of government to change these things or not, that can lead to either community solutions, people just demanding better from the organizations with whom they work. And also, a lot of this stuff could be easily changed in state legislatures. You know, there’s the power in Oregon and Washington to say, no, we are going to disincentivize these outside investment groups from owning these forests. We’re gonna, you know, lay down a heavy hand. And if you can get local communities of loggers to say that that’s good and that’s fine instead of kind of these, like astroturfed, you know, Timber Unity-type groups that are really just right wing, you know, corporate funded, hollow entities. You know, if you have actual communities making their voices heard, change feel possible.

Margaret  
That idea of, like, we have to meet at a third place is really fascinating to me. You know, I remember—well I don’t remember. It was before my time in Earth First. But, you know, one of the, like, one of the main stories we talk about, right, is the story of—are ou familiar with Judi Bari, the Earth First organizer who organized loggers? And she got bombed for it, right. And, you know, basically like, she was organizing as an Earth First-er, but very also explicitly as a labor organizer with the IWW. And being like, you know, loggers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, and, you know, and are by and large people who like the fact that they spend all their time outdoors, you know. And I’m not trying to come Kumbaya either and be like, oh, well, you know, we’ll never have to be opposed to the people who are working on resource extraction or whatever, right. But the less we can be, the better, both strategically and ethically. And also, I mean, I think that’s why Judi Bari got bombed. I personally believe that that was by the federal government. I know there was a lawsuit that, one, proving that at the very least, they were certainly ready to go to show that, you know, like, ready to blame her own assassination on herself, you know. And—assassination attempt, she survived the bombing, died of cancer a couple years later. But, you know, like, I think that that actually is what threatens power is when—not to sound Marxist, but like when the working—well, whatever, anarchist, everyone knows that—you know when the working class gets together and is like, oh, we can actually see passed our immediate differences and work together towards a goal, we accomplished an awful lot. And I don’t personally have the first clue about how to do that. And maybe you do have more of a first clue because you work, I presume your work puts you in touch with both environmentalists and loggers and timber companies and things that are these very traditionally at odds organizations?

Simon  
Yeah, so my current role is with a land trust. And for those that don’t know, basically a land trust, in some cases, buys property directly or has it donated, and then it’s put in a trust forever to protect it from development or for restoration, or whatever the threat is. Or it’ll be a legal entity, like a conservation easement, that it’s still owned by someone else but we have some restrictions on, okay, you can’t mine it, you can’t put housing developments on it. Maybe you can still log it though, or maybe there’s some restrictions on how that logging happens. And so that allows me to kind of straddle that world a little bit. And I’ve worked in many different organizations with many different entities, but it kind of gives us a, you know, an avenue to interacting with local communities. Like, we’re not just flying in, you know, by night—and some people are still pissed at us and that’s fine. That’s always going to be the case. But we’re there more or less permanently. And so, like it or not, we can work together. But also, I mean, you know, yeah, we do, I work with people, I hire farmers for work, I hire loggers for work. We, like as I mentioned, we do, you know, timber production activities. And so, being local and kind of leading by example, if you have the opportunity, it has been really valuable. You know, I will say that a lot of times the groups that get cut out of that conversation of, oh, we need to work with local communities, are Indigenous groups. You know, and when Indigenous groups are brought in, it’s usually tribal governments. And, of course, not all tribes are recognized federally. And if they’re not federally recognized, they’re out of luck. You know, locally we have the Chinook tribe fighting for recognition and wanting to be a part of managing lands in our region on the lower Columbia River, and being cut out without funding, without recognition. But other tribes are, and so they are able to kind of assert themselves. And so I think this is all true. You know, I don’t want to go down the road of romanticizing rural communities, because I think that there’s a lot that also needs to change, but there are a lot of people in those communities who, yeah, absolutely want it a different way. And like you said, just like being outside, they like being in the woods, and they just really care about things. And, you know, one of the funniest things to me is that, you know, a lot of, like, a lot of these these people in a way that I don’t—it doesn’t have any packing in theory or in politics, really—but like really push back against private ownership. You know, when you think about like private property being not just like an absolute thing, but a bundle of rights, you know, I have the right to log this, I have the right to access. You know, all these private timber lands used to be, like, widely accessible to people in local communities. And that, especially when they’re a smaller companies, and so people grew up, you know, going to places in the coast range and hunting and fishing and just hanging out and camping and, like, that was their backyards. And they have the larger companies coming in and being like, well wait a second, we can we can charge for permit access, you know, and we can hire our security to control it, and we can put up gates on all the roads. And that really pisses people off, you know, and I think there’s a real organizing opportunity there, you know, for someone to bridge that gap and be, like, yeah, you know, you’re right. These big private companies really are, you know, taking away something that is not theirs to take away. You know, you own it too, and then can we extend this to, okay, but also you own it, but also, you know, there were people here first that also owned it and stuff do and have an ownership stake. And we can kind of build a new vision of who owns the land.

Margaret  
Yeah, no, it’s like—it’s like, people coming back just instinctively, on some level, to the the idea of the commons. You know, the idea that there’s this land where it’s okay to like—I’m not encouraging this, I’m just talking about the original commons in England or whatever—but like, it’s okay to take some trees every now and then. It’s okay to forage. It’s okay to hunt. It’s okay to see this as a common pool of resources that we all, you know, maintain and draw from. And in the enclosure of the commons, of course, you know, is the now everyone needs permits, you know, and you get all the Robin Hood stuff about, you know, don’t go hunt on the king’s land or whatever. It’s just kind of interesting to watch that—not the same. But, you know, history doesn’t repeat, it echoes, or whatever the—rhymes? I think it rhymes. I don’t remember what the cliche is. I’ll make a new cliche by not knowing the original cliche.

Simon  
Yeah, no, I mean, it’s true. And that entity that people are mad at for these access issues. I mean, it’s, we have—there’s just a vision of, like, here’s the tax lots on the map, and that’s who owns it. And it just is always much more complicated than that. And I think we just need to, like, recognize and put that complexity forward. Maybe in our society, in a way, that we all kind of know instinctively, you know, that it’s wrong to just like, gate it all off and say it’s a private property and, you know, screw you. And—but by reinforcing that sense of ownership, too, it makes all this stuff easier, it makes my work easier. And I want to expand that sense of ownership, because sometimes the people that are invited into having a say are people with with power in our society.

Margaret  
Yeah. The large landowners and…

Simon  
We can—I think we can build it—yeah, we can build a different ethic of, you know, how we interact with lands, with natural lands.

Margaret  
Do people—I mean, I don’t know whether you would specifically know—but I wonder if people do guerrilla reforestation, you know, just like, going to—

Simon  
You know, it’s a really good question. And like, I remember—so, in Oregon—well and a little bit in Washington—I think it was maybe four years ago, we had the first big wildfire near Portland in a lot of people’s lives here. And that was in the Columbia River Gorge, which is like a really beloved place. You know, it’s—the Columbia River is, I’m sure, you know, of course, but like, for your listeners who haven’t been there, the Columbia River is like carving through the Cascade Mountains. And so it’s this massive river, and it’s easily accessible from the city. And so there’s lots of hiking. And a wildfire started there. And a lot of people, unlike in other areas of the West, hadn’t really experienced wildfire close to the city before. And so there was a lot of, like, real emotional scarring for people about, like, we lost this place. Like, it’s gone. Like not knowing what was there yet. It was closed for a couple years for safety. You know, like, a lot of the hiking trails and things are still closed. And a long-winded way to say there were groups popping up, I remember on Facebook, you know, being like, I’m starting this group, and I’m gonna go in and start planting trees, who’s with me? Like, we need to go plant trees. And, of course, people like me were jumping in and saying, well, actually, fire is a natural process and blah, blah, blah, and like, maybe don’t. Let’s give it a second. Like this is actually like, the gorge probably burned pretty frequently because there were a lot of, like, village sites and people were there and fires—anyways, whatever. But that sentiment was certainly there. So, like, clearly when people, like, know and love a place I think that, like, they can be organized to like do that, you know. Because this was a place that held a lot of, like a really special place in a lot of people’s hearts. And so the question is, like, a lot of the places that really need reforestation are the super degraded places that no one goes to, you know, that aren’t like the beautiful mountains. It’s like the agricultural pasture that’s like a little bit degraded and, like, maybe it’s kind of a problem now. Or like just this little strip of land next to the creek, you know. So, I would love to see, like, that sort of like community response to doing that kind of thing. I think it would be like incredibly cool. And in terms of guerrilla efforts, I think probably the best examples you would find outside of the United States. Like I am not going to know the name of the village, but I have a family friend who is a doctor who spent a lot of time working in Rwanda for Doctors Without Borders. And she met these people that, like, in this little village they’ve started just reforesting, like, the hillsides next to their town. There were like these landslides happening and they just—now they started to get like NGO funding and stuff. But they started themselves. And I really wish I remember the name of this group and what they’re doing but—and the name of the village—but I don’t know. But I think in places without resources and without, like, everything is very codified, you know, here’s who owns this land and here’s who’s responsible for it. There’ve been really like beautiful examples of people just taking it into their own hands. And this whole village just goes out and plants trees and I—the pictures are looking at—and it’s like they’re just, they grow them themselves. And they’re like terracing the hills a little bit to, like, retain some moisture. And it was, like, to save their land and their lives. Like there were these landslides that were threatening them and they just started doing it, you know? And so I think there’s—the best examples, you need to look outside of people like me who work for governments and nonprofits and things like that and look at other parts of the world.

Margaret  
That’s uh… Okay, so the takeaways are: planting trees is good. Bringing beavers is good. Plant trees whether or not you have permission, but possibly, ideally, get actual local expertise about where to plant the trees and what kind of trees to plant. Change property relations. Yeah, no, no big deal. Damn it.

Simon  
No big deal. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Simon  
Also, you know, I mean, build your own expertise, right? Like, just, if you are interested in a piece of ground and in restoring it, just start going there. Like if there’s a creek in your town that’s kind of abandoned and, you know, whatever. Like, just seeing how it behaves for a couple of seasons, you can start to build that expertise. 

Margaret  
Cool. 

Simon  
So it’s not that complicated, really.

Margaret  
Okay, well, that’s probably a good note to end on. Do you have—for people who didn’t listen to the last episode necessarily—do you have any organizations you’re excited about shouting out or how people can follow you and bug you on the internet?

Simon  
Yeah, just the same things, I think. For people that are in the Portland, Oregon region, a great group—if you’re interested in planting trees—to volunteer with or donate to is Friends of Trees. I don’t work for them, but they’re excellent. They plant trees in natural areas and in neighborhoods. And so you can just google Friends of Trees Portland and find them. For me, nothing to plug. But if you want to find me on Twitter, it’s @plant_warlock. And if you have general questions about forestry or restoration, I’d be happy to to get in touch with you.

Margaret  
All right. Well, thanks so much for letting us steal even more of your time than originally we planned.

Simon  
Yeah, thank you.

Margaret  
Thanks, everyone, for listening. I hope you enjoyed that episode. I was just basically, as soon as we finished the call last time, I was like, no, wait, there’s more we want to talk about. Because, while it’s such a big issue, reforesting the planet to not all die seems like an important thing to talk about. And I hope you enjoyed listening to the conversation again—well, it’s not the same conversation. So different conversation. I bet everyone really just sticks around to the end in order to hear me ramble. That’s like the main thing. But if you want to be able to keep hearing me ramble, then the best way to do it is to tell people about the show. Yeah, sure. That works. Help feed the algorithms that run the world and things by liking and sharing and subscribing and retweeting and original tweeting and Instagram story sharing and we’re on Facebook and Instagram and, you know, I’m on Twitter @magpiekilljoy. And I’m also on Patreon. And if you want to support the show, you can do so by supporting me on Patreon which goes to support all the people who work on this show and all the other stuff that we’re really excited to start putting out soon. And I particularly would like to thank Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, The Compound, Cat J, Starro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, Hugh, and Shawn. Thank you so much. And also, if you want access to the patron only—Patreon only content—but you don’t make as much money as like we make—if you—whatever, if you’re like not doing super well financially, just message me on whatever platform and I’ll give you access to all of it for free. We do like a monthly zine that at the moment has been like zine by me, but soon is going to be zine—original zine by someone else. I’m restarting an old publisher called Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. I’m very excited about it. And we also have YouTube show now called, get this, it’s called Live Like the World is Dying because it’s the same show, it’s just on YouTube. There’s some stuff that, like, visually makes more sense—that makes more sense visually. I need to eat, so I’m going to be done recording now. Thank you so much for listening and I hope you’re doing great

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

Aug
06

S1E33 – Simon on Reforestation, pt. 1

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Episode Notes

Margaret talks to Simon, a restoration ecologist who works in the Pacific Northwest, about confronting climate crisis with reforestation, and about hope and resilience in the face of environmental devastation.

Simon can be found on twitter @plant_warlock.

The host, Margaret Killjoy, can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

1:00:24

Margaret
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and I use she or they pronouns. And this episode I’m excited—I put a call out basically being like, who should I talk to about reforestation and how we can confront climate change through reforestation and, you know, how microclimates affect things, etc. And I am very excited to talk to my guest for this week, Simon, about reforestation. But first, Live Like the World is Dying as a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts. I tried to go into, pretty neat, y’all heard it, but I tried to go into the radio producer voice but I gave up. We’re proud member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts, and here is a jingle from another show on the network. Da duh daaaa!

Jingle Speaker 1 (Scully)
Where did you get this?

Jingle Speaker 2 (Mulder)
Your friendly neighborhood anarchist?

Jingle Speaker 3
More of an anarchist militant…

Jingle Speaker 4
People involved in social struggles, everybody else.

Jingle Speaker 5
People have been waiting for some content.

Jingle Speaker 6
Radio.

Jingle Speaker 7
The show.

Jingle Speaker 8
The Final Straw and I’m William.

Jingle Speaker 9
And I’m Bursts of Goodness.

Jingle Speaker 8
Thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org.

Margaret
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with, I guess, your name, your pronouns, and some of what you do for work professionally that has led you to end up on this podcast talking about this issue.

Simon
Hi Margaret, thanks for having me. My name is Simon Apostle. And I’ve been a restoration ecologist working primarily in Oregon and Washington for the past decade or so. And a lot of my work has focused on reforestation projects, I guess would be an easy way to describe them to lay people, but really I’m a general practice restoration ecologist. And that means applying science to the field of restoring ecosystems.

Margaret
Okay, so that brings up the broad and probably easy to answer question of how do we fix the ecosystem? It seems kind of broken right now.

Simon
Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously the biggest question that is, you know, people are never able to answer in my field. I think the first thing you need to know is what’s wrong. Which is a question that is answerable through a combination of research and also just feeling out your values, you know, how do—what do we want from our ecosystems globally and locally? And in the early, kind of the early times of ecological restoration as a field, and it’s a fairly new field, you know, the idea was, okay, we’re going to find historical reference conditions. We’re going to figure out, you know, this is what ecosystems used to be—and used to be usually meant, what were they like before white settlers—I’m speaking at a North American context here which, of course, you know, plays into a lot of racist notions about noble savage, you know, how native peoples here really didn’t affect the ecosystem that was in a natural state. And as the field has developed, especially in recent years, people have become much more cognizant of what people have been living in and interacting with and manipulating the ecosystems around us for millennia. But then that question becomes much more complicated, you know, our relationship with the natural world is different than it used to be and different than people in cultures historically have related to the ecosystem. So it becomes a very difficult question to answer. So you need to start to fall back on some priorities, you know, or—and those priorities can be something like, well, we value biodiversity, you know. We can look and see that this ecosystem here is degraded, it’s full of introduced weeds, there’s only three species really dominant. And we know a minimum, whatever things were like in the past, that there was a lot more going on here. So that’s a really good starting point. So you have a value of biodiversity.

Margaret
The the moving away from, like, reference systems is really interesting to me. So the idea is that, like, basically, people are moving away from the idea of, well we’re going to make it exactly like it used to be in thism like, quote/unquote, untouched natural state, which of course doesn’t really exist because humans have been interacting with nature for a long time. But instead picking what values matter to us and then applying them? Is that—

Simon
Yeah, I think that’s true. And one of those values is historical conditions. And that’s kind of the core value of the field. But it’s the introduction of these other values that have made things much more complicated and I think much more interesting, but also much more true to how we interact with the natural world. So certainly a value is, we know—we basically know that we’ve messed up. We know that we’ve come in and through agriculture, and through building cities and roads, and all of the things that modern society does, we’ve impacted the natural world in negative ways. We see declines of species, we see loss of biodiversity, we see introduction of invasive species from other areas. And so we know that these things are problems, but what I think my field is starting to wrestle with a little bit more is, okay, well, what is what is really the solution? We can’t, we can’t, you know, find a time capsule and go backwards.

Margaret
Right.

Simon
And even if we did, you know, we don’t know how people were managing those systems before we—an when I say we, I’m talking about white people which, again, you know, there’s lots of native people that are involved in ecological restoration and that’s becoming more of a focus as well. But it’s introducing those more complex values. And then, of course, you introduce global warming which is—kind of makes it clear that you can’t just go backwards, you know, we don’t know what the effects of climate change are going to be in every system or in any system. And so that throws a wrench into the whole idea of, okay, we can just, we can just return.

Margaret
I like that I like—I mean, I don’t like that everything’s going horribly. But I like this idea of acknowledging that we can’t go backwards and, you know, one of the things that always—when I was a younger environmentalist and I was more involved with green anarchism, one of the things that wasn’t always the problem but could sometimes kind of come up as a problem is this idea of, like, pretending like we’re all going to go back to the quote/unquote natural way of living and like living off of the land in very specific ways. And it never made any sense to me because it always seemed to me that people,—even people who are like foraging and things like that, I always thought of, you know, I mean, if you live in a city, dumpster diving is foraging, you know, like, not just picking berries, or whatever, and—not to be dismissive of foraging in wild environments—but it always seemed like this romanticization of the past. Of, like, trying to recreate the past rather than taking the ideas—well it’s like people, the thing that we’re excited about is like people working with what’s around them. And what’s around us is different than what was around people before industrialization and things like that. So it’s just, it’s kind of interesting to me to see a parallel with that in something like ecological restoration. And, I mean, it’s even in the name “restoration,” right? To restore things kind of implies the taking things back to what they used to be, but I don’t know.

Simon
Yeah, you have to respond to the world as it exists in front of you. And you need to maintain a level of idealism, you know, in order to be in this field, I think, you know, because you’re faced with the kind of enormity of the world being fairly messed up, you know. There’s a lot of tragedy in environmental fields, you know, it’s you feel like you’re just fingers in the dam and trying to stem the bleeding. And so, in a way, kind of letting go of that vision of, we’re just going to completely return and we’re going to have these little time capsules of true native ecosystems that are how things were, and then everything else is changing around it—letting go of that maybe can start to allow for some hope and for a broader vision of the future. But there’s room for lots of different methods and lots of different results, and that’s going to vary a lot locally as well. I’m speaking again kind of in the context of having worked, you know, in the Pacific Northwest. But things may be different somewhere else. So, and the impacts that you’re dealing with may be different. So, there’s a lot to consider there. But certainly, you know, some of my work is in coastal estuaries in forested wetlands and it’s important work, it’s important to restore these areas that have been degraded by agriculture. The land has subsided through lack of sediment inputs and diking. We can restore them and we can, we can rebuild these wetland forests and the estuary. But we also have the knowledge that many of these systems that we’re, right, quote/unquote restoring, are going to be gone in 100 years. That’s just, that’s a certainty. And so is there still value in doing that? And maybe the answer is yes. Because maybe, really, it’s not restoration, it’s just a form of stewardship of the land. You know, we’re taking care of it, we’re improving the condition for generations of plants and animals. And we can’t know what will happen after that. We know that this thing will be gone, but there will be something else after it. And we’re maintaining some biodiversity just for the time being.

Margaret
Well and it seems like if we, if we restore certain areas, even though we know we’re going to lose them, you know, we might lose them in like different ways than we would otherwise lose them. I don’t know if this is totally naive. But I’m like, well, you know, we know that desertification, and we know that, you know, well at least climate is going to change and overall be much harder. We know that’s true. Right? But maybe the way things die off can be different, you know, if we make things a little better ahead of time.

Simon
Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true. And I think that there’s functional reasons that would be true, just basic population ecology reasons that that would be true. You know, if you’re working somewhere and you know, like, for example, okay, we’re trying to, you know, we’re working on a dry site and we’re trying to restore, let’s say, ponderosa pine woodlands in the American Southwest. But we know maybe this is a marginal site for Ponderosa pines, and eventually they’re not going to persist in this area. Well, one of the potential mechanisms of climate change is that things move both north and they move uphill, they move up slope, especially in mountainous areas as the temperature warms. And those upslope areas become become relatively warmer, but they maybe are closer to the temperature that was previously in the valleys. It’s oversimplification, there’s many other factors. But if there aren’t trees there, then there’s no seed source for that population to move up upslope, right. So, you know, and we deal with a similar thing in these estuarine systems in coastal areas where we know sea level rise is going to flood these places out, it’s like, well, at least we have the spruce swamps. We have spruce, and if the spruce exists, the spruce can move into the upper areas. Or if they’re there, maybe, you know, you have more trees, they capture more sediment, it slows that process and allows things to adapt. And sometimes the slowing of those start processes can be really beneficial.

Margaret
Is this the like—when I was in Arizona I went to this place, I think it was called Mount Lemon—and it was like a sky island. It was basically the Pacific Northwest, but in Arizona. I think it even had Douglas firs. I feel like wrong when I say that. But there was some—

Simon
No. I mean, it probably does.

Margaret
And that’s cool. That’s like a—do you know this concept, have you heard of green nihilism or like eco nihilism or climate nihilism or whatever, like nihilism as applies to the climate but in a positive way? Have you heard this?

Simon
Yeah, totally. And I mean, I think it’s kind of self explanatory, right? Like, it’s just, it’s too much and it’s like, well, there’s just there’s a fatalism about climate change.

Margaret
Yeah. And this idea—and I think when people use it positively—like green nihilism is like, you know, people sometimes talk about, like, giving up hope in order to be able to, like, you know, stopping—like, giving up stopping climate change and moving towards adapting to climate change. I actually think that that style shouldn’t—to me that doesn’t feel like nihilism at all, it actually feels very hopeful. Because most of the time, when I think about climate change, I kind of think over everyone forced to live underground and grow foods and hydroponics and, you know, the earth—surface of the earth is unrecognizable. And so when people talk about, like, well, maybe everything will just be a little bit different. I’m like, oh, that sounds so optimistic. And I get really excited about that optimism. But I like, I don’t know, the thing that you’re talking about now seems like this, like, in between space where it’s—you know, it’s like, knowing you’re going to lose, but seeing what you can gain by trying to win in the process.

Simon
Yeah, I mean, you have to be realistic about that things are going to change, but we also know that changes are just a part of ecology. It’s a part of the natural world. And I—these—it’s funny to say that out loud, right, because that’s the sort of phrasing that gets used by climate denialist—deniers and such, to say, oh, you know, climate change is natural these things happen. And of course it’s not. And the rate of change is extreme and it’s bad. But we also can—we can have an active hand in that adaptation, I think is what you’re kind of getting at. We can, we know that change is coming. And there’s people who are working on trying to slow that rate of change and that’s what, you know, we’re trying to do if we’re talking about reducing emissions and things like that. But when we also talk about—a lot of what we talked about in ecology is resiliency, which, of course, is a really important concept in human communities as well, right? It’s how do you build community resiliency in the face of disasters, in the face of climate change, or other threats. And that’s a lot of what we talked about in restoration as well now. We kind of, when we talk about moving on from that historical model, one of the things that—one of the buzzwords now is—and I say that not negatively, because I think it’s important—is resiliency. And a lot of things can make an ecosystem resilient. One of those things is biodiversity. You know, if we don’t know how the world is going to change, the more organisms occupy a space, the more they occupy a piece of ground, the more likely it will be that some kind of balance or equilibrium is going to be found later, or that one of those organisms is going to survive and thrive in some form that may not be the current form, it’s not going to be the community composition that it is today, but you probably also won’t have a monoculture. It won’t disappear completely. You won’t get desertification or whatever the specific threat is in the area that you’re living and working in.

Margaret
So it’s just like similar to how farmers, you know, one of the reasons that people push back against Monsanto and these other sort of attempts to sort of monoculture our food sources is because if you have only one strain of rice or whatever then whatever blight comes through iw will take out all of your rice. Versus, the more different strains you have, the better your chances of actually getting a good yield.

Simon
That’s exactly right. And that’s talking about even just genetic diversity, right. And it’s really just, it’s threat mitigation. The more—if we have a diversity of species, the same way we think about diversity of genes, you know, and we think about climate change as a disease to an ecosystem, if you think about as a singular living body, the more diversity you have among plant species, the more likely it is that the ecosystem is going to be able to respond. You know, so you don’t—if you have a single overstory tree species, which in some cases you have, in some marginal ecosystems that’s all that’s there and that’s all that’s available. But if that single overstory species becomes impacted in a way, specific to climate change, to the point where maybe it’s wiped out, which is a real possibility in some parts of the arid West where you have native bark beetles, often increasing in damage to forests stands, largely due to climate change, you know, you have warmer winters and so they’re able to be active for longer, you have less kills from freezes, so you have whole stands disappearing. And if you have a single tree species in those stands, then it’s not a forest anymore It’ll be something else. But if you have a multi-layered canopy with with many different tree species, then you know, perhaps one of those other species is going to be resilient, it’s going to resist that, threat and it can occupy the space. So it’s really just, it’s just kind of building in more options for the ecosystem to adapt.

Margaret
I like this a lot. Like, I don’t know, I really am enjoying learning this stuff because it—because it dovetails so well into, like, what I believe about the world and things like that. But like, you know, I mean, one of the main things that I’m interested in is that I believe diversity is a better form of strength than, like, unity. Rather than trying to make everyone agree to something or making everyone the same along almost any axis, instead, getting people to work together despite differences, you know, and, like actual multiculturalism versus like the melting pot, for example. Or, you know, even like in political movements, having diverse opinions, diverse strategies, diverse methods, and then just working together to try not to step on each other’s toes and to try to figure out how all of our different strengths can tie together. And so I’m excited to hear that that’s, like, the main way that people are thinking about creating resilient ecosystems is, you know, because I think people have this concept of, like, the way to stop climate change is, you know, essentially this eco fascist idea—or I heard someone call it, I think, climate Leviathan or something like that—you know, this idea of, like, a top down, here’s what we all must do approach. And yet, I think that replicates, well, the problems that got us here in the first place, but also, you know, that would be like saying, like, oh, well, this is the tree, this particular tree will resist climate change the best. So we’re just gonna, like, clear cut everything and plant that tree, you know?

Simon
Yeah, I think, oh, yeah, I just—I think there’s a lot of social lessons probably to be drawn from ecology. And I think it’s tempting for people and it’s been done a lot. And it interplays, right, we—ecology is the study of relationships between organisms functionally, and if you’re talking about restoration ecology, it’s just how do you restore those relationships. And if you have a monoculture, there’s no relationships to be had, or there’s fewer. You know, your web becomes just some kind of simple grid with a few connections instead of this kind of unknowable complexity of interactions. And it’s that sort of unknowable complexity that I think is, like, most beautiful in ecology to me, and is maybe why I was drawn to being a practitioner instead of a researcher. Maybe I’m also just not smart enough, that’s part of it, maybe I’m not good enough at the math. You know, it’s, you know that you have to let go. You get to act and you get to see how the ecosystem responds, and you’re never really going to know what all those response mechanisms actually were. I mean, I think that’s really nice. But yeah, I mean, it’s, an ecosystem is not top down, it’s not anything down, it’s just the interaction of many organisms. And as a top-down actor, in a sense, you know, choosing our inputs into the ecosystem, I think that’s something that does need to be decided as a society in a way, but also that society can be in, you know, there’s layers to that, right. It’s like, how, what is our ethic? How do we treat natural systems? You know, I think there needs to be like a moral framework. But then a lot of this stuff, it really is only, it only functions on a local scale. I mean, I think it’s, in my field, it’s so important to just continue to work in one place as much as possible. I mean, it just, I’m still learning plant species, you know, in sites that I’ve worked on for years and it’s, like, I didn’t even know this thing existed. And so some level of local control, even if we’re operating in the space where government and funding and all of these things are major factors, you need local experts. And some of that is just that, like, we don’t orient our society towards local expertise because people have to have jobs and they need to move on from those jobs. And sometimes a career opportunity is going to be in a different part of the country. And, on and on. But without that local knowledge there’s just—you miss too many things. And you miss many things regardless. But—and that’s why when people, you know, people do lip service to Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices and stuff, and sometimes it’s not genuine, but the most genuinely important thing about it is that local knowledge, right, and when you think about, like—in my field, I think about just like the massive tragedy of losing, you know, 1000s of years of knowledge. And then what of it that we have—because these these, you know, cultures and Indigenous people are still with us and they’re like—I see, like, yeah, tribal governments and just individual native people trying to insert themselves into these spaces and natural area management and being kind of like, oh, well yeah, you can have this over here. You can do this over in this other space. And it’s like, you know, what little we have left that we didn’t, you know, wreck of this built up knowledge over 1000s of years, we’re kind of just, like, shunting to the side.

Margaret
Yeah, kind of marginalizing it.

Simon
And putting it into it’s own little box when really that’s the model we need to be replicating, you know, and building as a culture, right. We need to build those generations of knowledge.

Margaret
I like, I get really excited about organizational structures that are bottom-up, right? Like, where the main most important thing is that local expertise, is the fact that the people who live in an area are more likely to have the skills they need to deal with problems in that certain area, but they might need resources. And in some ways, you might want to centralize the acquisition of these resources or whatever, you know, or talk with each other and like network and coordinate with each other, you know, because there’s some—there are decisions that need to be sort of made at a larger and wider level. But I think that just, like, we can essentially invert the kind of hierarchies within our society. But I suppose that is tangential to reforestation. And I’ve been spending the whole time trying to come up with a way to phrase the pun, like, see the forest for the trees, but I’m just going to leave that there, and you all can come up with your own version of that. What, um, to try and be, like, more specific and more practical about it: How does reforestation affect, like a local area? Besides—I guess, like, okay, it’s two separate questions. One is the large scale question: How does reforestation impact climate change, besides, again, like protecting biodiversity like you were just saying, and giving, like more tickets in the lottery of survival or something? But also, like, is it true—okay, I’ll just go—like, is it true that if we plant a whole bunch of trees then we’ll be able to slow down or mitigate the effects of carbon in the atmosphere because of trees capturing carbon? That would be a first question.

Simon
Yeah. So the simple answer to that first question is yes, of course we know trees capture carbon. And through photosynthetic processes trees and all plants, not just trees, which is an important point that people miss, capture carbon. And that carbon is stored unless it’s burned or, you know, otherwise disturbed, sometimes through decomposition processes, you can have methane and carbon released back into the atmosphere. But yes, on a global scale, reforestation, generally, if you’re starting at zero state—you know, you take a bare piece of ground and plant trees—reforestation is an effective way to mitigate or counter the effects of climate change. Now, I don’t want to go on too much of a tangent, but I will say that one of the scariest sets of words in my field is “global tree planting initiative.”

Margaret
Oh, interesting, okay, because that’s where my brain goes.

Simon
Yeah, that’s less a function—well, I think it’s a function of going back to talking about needing local solutions—or at least needing local expertise, even if you have a global initiative. And a lot of it is that, frankly, there’s organizations out there that are, they’re just big grify, you know, that are saying, you buy this product, we’re going to plant a tree. You don’t know really where that tree is, or they’re going to maybe—sometimes that money goes towards replanting timber plantations in Canada or something, you know, and it’s like, well, the carbon accounting of something like that is pretty sketchy, because they were probably going to replant it anyways because it’s functionally a farm. Right? They’re just replanting the trees that they’re going to harvest again in 50 years. And in other cases, you have organizations kind of swooping into areas and planting non-native species, you know, in areas that were already vegetated, and maybe that vegetation has similar, you know, carbon storage capacity as that monoculture of trees that you went in and planted. So, you know, I don’t want to get too far down that road. But I—the answer is that trees, yes, of course, store carbon. So does other plant life. And the most effective way to use forests to—at least in the Pacific Northwest where I have some knowledge—to combat climate change, it can be tree planting, but it’s protecting existing forests from logging and destruction. Because it’s really the old trees, at least in this system that I’m familiar with, that have the most carbon storage capacity. But big, old, you know, 100 plus year old trees.

Margaret
I mean, that’s—I guess it’s not surprising to me that the organizations are the problem with tree planting initiatives, you know, because I’m so used to not even thinking organizationally at this point that I’m like, oh, no, you just plant trees everywhere, right? But I’m like, oh yeah, but if there was like, either, of course—yeah, of course, these companies where they’re like, oh, we want to get the most carbon capture per dollar or whatever. And so yeah, I guess they’ll go plant the wrong trees in some area and mess up that ecosystem and mess up the ways of life of all the people who live around there and things. Yeah, I mean, I guess it seems to me that, yeah, defending the trees that we have as well as, I guess, replanting and reforestation but from local, like, in ways that are applicable to the local context as best understood by people who are Indigenous to that context, or at least are experts in that local context, is that…?

Simon
Yeah, I think that’s right. And the other thing I would add to that is carbon accounting is extremely difficult. And in any scientist who studies this—I’m not a scientist who studies carbon accounting, but from everything that I’ve seen and read, and everyone who I know and I’ve talked to, there’s so much hedging as to be the point, well, we know that this probably has impacts, but maybe those impacts are two centuries down the line. One example is I just saw a presentation about, you know, is looking at what was the carbon storage capacity in coastal wetland systems. Again, this is just, these are places I work. So this really smart researcher whose name I’m forgetting—but that’s probably okay—was looking at carbon capture, and then also carbon and methane emissions from these wetland systems. And one of the conclusions was that these wetland systems are long term if left alone, you know, net carbon and methane positive, right, like they will capture more than they take in. But a lot of them are actually emit more methane and carbon through decompositional processes. You know, you think about walking around in a swamp, you stick your boots in, and you get that smell of sulfur and methane. Those decompositional processes, which are super important and do a lot for the ecosystem, emit more methane, which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon than they do capture carbon. And eventually it becomes carbon positive, I guess would be the term, right, that it’s capturing more than it’s emitting, because methane doesn’t last as long as the atmosphere, you’re continuing to capture carbon, you know, over time, that could be 400 years in the future, you know. So that doesn’t make it not worth doing, but if the idea is we’re going to solve climate change by planting trees, you know, or by manipulating ecosystems in order to prioritize carbon capture without considering all these other things, I think it’s probably too difficult. It’s a nice bonus. But I—my feeling tends to be that there’s so much that restoring ecosystems, including forests, reforestation does for societies and for people beyond that—things that you can see and feel and effect—and feel the effects of locally, that we should be valuing those things as well.

Margaret
Can you give me examples of some of those things?

Simon
Yeah, well, initially, you know, I know you wanted to talk about micro climates.

Margaret
That is my next question, so this is great.

Simon
Yeah. I mean, well, we can jump right into it I guess. There’s like, there’s been some really interesting research lately on the local climate effects of forests. I was reading a paper earlier about, you know, of course you have you have effects on ground temperature, just through direct shading, right. Just the creation of shade can make a massive difference. In the Northwest, we just experienced what has been described as 1000 year heat event. In Portland, where I live, we had temperatures pushing 120 degrees, which is, like, not fathomable.

Margaret
Yeah.

Simon
You know, I still can’t fathom that, even though it just happened and I’m seeing the effects.

Margaret
Yeah.

Simon
Seeing dying plants. You know, it’s apocalyptic feeling. But because we have a good network of temperature sensors and weather stations, you can see that in neighborhoods that had tree cover, you could easily be 10 degrees cooler than neighborhoods without that. And that’s going to be largely because of just the direct shading effects. And then there’s also cooling effects from respiration and trees, you know, water is one of the best temperature moderators that exists, right. And so just the process of trees respirating and giving off water vapor through that process cools the air. And so—

Margaret
Oh it’s like evaporative cooling that’s happening on the Trees? Cool.

Simon
Essentially yeah. Yeah, it’s just, you know, it’s thermodynamics. And that respiration slows, you know, when you have a super hot temperatures, a lot of species will undergo, you know, like, sort of heat dormancy, summer dormancy. But it still happens and depends on the planets but, and then of course just the direct shading. I mean, obviously, shade is cooler than being in the direct sunlight. And open concrete and asphalt is the opposite, it reflects a lot of heat. So in an urban context—and there’s been actually some really incredible research done by—again, trying to recall his name. A researcher, same person. Yeah, I will, maybe I’ll come up with a later. But a researcher at Portland State University who’s done thermal mapping of the City of Portland and now has moved on to other cities, basically showing where there’s these urban heat islands, right. And these heat islands are—I mean, it’s incredibly stark. And of course, there’s all these social implications because the heat islands are in poor neighborhoods, and the rich neighborhoods have big old trees. But again, yeah, that the cooling effects just directly from being your trees is well known and it’s becoming more and more well documented.

Margaret
Yeah, I live—I mean, part of the reason I got excited about like reading about microclimate stuff is that, you know, I live on a land project where slightly more than half of it is open field. And then the other half is up in the woods. And I’m the only one who built her house up in the woods. And there’s, you know, when it comes to running my solar panels and things, there’s a lot of disadvantages here. And the humidity is a little bit worse up there, which is a problem in the mid-Atlantic, although I feel terrible complained about any climate problem that I’m facing in one of the most temperate and so far least affected areas. But it’s a 15 degree difference between—you know, and I’m not that far into the woods or something, but my house stays fine in hot Southern summer without AC from, as long as I haven’t maintained some airflow and have vents and things. And if I walked out into the field, I’m like—like, I’ll walk down in the morning and I’ll have a hoodie on, and I’ll get to the field and everyone else who lives there will be, like, you know, not wearing a shirt or whatever. It’s stark in a way that I never—you know, it’s like, I know it on some level, like, oh, if you walk on the middle of the road and it’s black and, you know, it’s asphalt, it’s hot or whatever, right. But I never quite, you know, felt it daily that that difference. And so that’s why I got excited about it, just because I was like, oh, this works here. It clearly is applicable on a global scale and I should enforce a global tree planting initiative.

Simon
Yeah. You can make pretty good money at it.

Margaret
Yeah. How long does it take to create a microclimate? Is this something that, like, listeners who if they have, like, if they have enough power to influence the, you know, flora of their neighborhood and things like that could be pursuing as a way to at least keep their environment, like, a substantial amount of cooler, or?

Simon
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s, of course, gonna depend on the growth rate of trees. And that’s going to depend regionally. I mean, I live in a pretty productive climate, a mild climate so far in our history and lifetimes. But there’s tree species here that, you know, in their established can grow 5-10 feet a year. So that’s very much within our lifetimes. Those shade effects, you know, you start to feel that as soon as it’s putting out shade, and the more shade that’s put out, the stronger those effects will be. So absolutely. If this is a primary, you know, if you’re talking about an urban context of interest in your neighborhood, you do want to consider, right, like, what is the growth rate of the species that I’m planting? You know, maybe that’s an important consideration for a reforestation project or picking something near your house. You know, if you look in the West, you know, all the old homesteads, they would plant poplars in a row, either as a windbreaker or as shade or both next to the houses, because poplars and things in Populous, in that group of plants, grow incredibly fast. They’re also very brittle. Something to consider if you’re planting near your house, you know. Limbs can fall off and such. But yeah, I mean, it’s something that you can be involved in and do and, you know, especially on sites that I work on, I have sites where I I planted the trees or planted trees with a group of people and eight years later, they’re, they’re 25 feet tall. And so you’re really seeing a forest develop.

Margaret
That’s cool.

Simon
But of course, that’s going to depend on on where you live.

Margaret
Okay, here’s an oddly specific question. How do you plant a tree? Like when I was a kid and it was like Arbor Day or something, they were like, go home and plant this pine tree. And they gave us like this like pine tree sapling, and I like dug a hole and I put it in the hole and then it died.

Simon
Yeah.

Margaret
You know? And so I’ve convinced myself ever since that I can’t—I have like a, you know, an anti-green thumb or whatever. And if anytime I plant anything, it’s gonna die because I like tried to plant a pine tree in elementary school. But, what’s involved in just the literal act of reforestation or even just tree planting.

Simon
Yeah, well in reforestation, you know, what you’re talking about, mostly is scale, right? And so the most important thing is covering acreage and making sure that we can cover as much ground as possible and in the field of ecological restoration locally, we’re, you know, we’re actually borrowing a lot of practices from agriculture and from commercial forestry where these things are—there’s lots of money behind them and techniques have been established, right. So a tree planting crew in the Pacific Northwest, even in steep terrain, and the less steep it is, the easier. You know, each crew member can plant 1000 to 1200 trees per day, would be about standard.

Margaret
Oh wow.

Simon
And, you know, if you’re reforesting it at an area, say it’s canopy species only and you’re—you maybe planting 300 stems per acre on a restoration project. So each crew member might reforest four acres a day, on a on a good day. You know, if we’re doing a restoration project, we’re also planting understory species and other things as well, then maybe that drops to an acre. You know, scale is the most critical thing. So it’s professionals, people who know what they’re doing, right. And it’s not that anyone can’t learn, there’s some simple things that all plants want when they’re being planted. You know, not—letting the roots hang naturally is maybe one of the most important things that people kind of get wrong when they’re planting a tree. It’s like oh, my god, this, these roots are too big, I’m just going to kind of stuff in the hole and then they turn upwards and we’d call that J rooting. Right? So the root basically forms a J and the tree can recover from that, but when you think about a young sapling developing, one of its biggest limitations in a lot of climates, not all, is going to be water availability. And the deeper those roots are—so the deeper the hole is, the deeper the roots are, and the more natural they are in their arrangement—the later it’s going to be able to access water into the dry season. Every inch of depth might gain at a week as the, as things dry out. Trees get planted too high, you know, roots get exposed. That’s another component.

Margaret
Okay. So you just, like—you’re going out there with like a, like a one person gas auger or something and drilling a bunch of holes and then going back through and putting saplings that were grown in a nursery somewhere into it?

Simon
Yeah, most of what most of what we would use in reforestation projects locally, it’s almost all going to be hand planting. Again, you’re talking about pretty steep terrain. In some cases we may use augers mounted on the back of a tractor. But anywhere that’s flat in Oregon and Washington in the winter is usually pretty wet, when we’re planting things. So it can be hard to get equipment around. But usually it’s snow, we plant smaller trees, things that people can carry. We use what we would call bare root stock, primarily, that’s grown in a commercial nursery. And instead of coming in a container, you know, a plastic pot that creates a lot of trash and also is just heavy and hard to carry around, we—the plants when they’re dormant get pulled out of the ground with the roots exposed to the air and then they get put in a, basically a planting bag and sealed up. And then you pull them out when it’s time to plant them and the roots are just exposed to the air and you plant them in the ground directly. And when you have that, each tree planter can carry maybe 200 trees at a time in planting bags just on their shoulders because the weight is significantly lighter when you don’t have the soil attached. So almost all hand planting. So that 1200 trees a day will be—they’re digging every one of those holes and just sliding the tree in. You just dig as small hole as possible. You open it up a little bit and—it’s a cool process to watch.

Margaret
Yeah. What do you what are you digging it with that if it’s not like a gas auger or something? Like I guess I’m yeah, building foundations.

Simon
Yeah, we have planting shovels. They’re just a long shovel with a long narrow spade usually. In some cases, there’s a tool called a hoedad in steep areas. And actually—I’m going to get the history wrong—I think the tool is named after a group of basically hippies that moved out to Oregon in the 60s to be on tree planting crews and they developed this tool, you know, or they named the group after the tool. But I think it was the other way around. Anyways, one or the other. But the hoedads were a cool group of kids back in the day. And so on steep terrain you might have basically looks like kind of a long pickaxe with a blade at the end. But usually, yeah, it’s just like a 16 inch long, narrow shovel.

Margaret
Okay, and then what if someone’s trying to plant trees a little bit more DIY, whether getting them from a nursery? Or even, like, is it feasible for people to try and plant from seed with trees? Like, I really don’t know much about gardening. I feel almost bad, this podcast is like not focused on food. But I would like to.

Simon
Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And again, this is where connecting with people locally and understanding what things need to grow locally is so important, right? We don’t use a lot of seating for trees and shrubs just because we have a well-developed network of nurseries that grow these seedlings. And it makes maintenance a little bit easier to be able to know exactly where the seedlings are. So you’re not mowing something that’s, you know, an inch tall. But trees grow from seed, you know. And definitely, you know, one of the things that I’ve done is on a project where we’ve had to remove alders, they were going to see it at the time, and we just ground that up into mulch and the seeds that were developing on the tree were part of that mulch, and then that just got spread around on the site. And then we had like, thick stand of alders just pop up. And they were mulch, basically, from the bodies of the parents.

Margaret
Oh wow.

Simon
In some cases you can also use natural processes to get those seeds to establish on their own. Like another example would be the cottonwoods locally, which a lot of my restoration is of kind of cottonwood galleries along rivers. They time their sea drop to happen after the river is just dropped, you know, the spring floods have receded. And you have all these, this exposed mud and exposed ground so the seeds can take advantage of that exposed ground. And so, of course, because we have hydroelectric dams on a lot of the rivers here, you don’t have that flooding anymore and you have weedy grasses and things. But if you clear that ground at the right time of year underneath the trees, you can get a response of seedlings dropping all around and among those trees. So the remaining mature trees will kind of sprout a forest if you just, you know when those seeds drop, you know when the natural time is for them to emerge, you can use that to your advantage.

Margaret
How do—you know it’s, like, okay, so you work on restoration and reforestation and things like that. But then, of course, as you pointed out, we’re also losing a lot all the time. Right? And it’s kind of two questions. And one is—sometimes I worry about, you know, my work as an environmentalist or even as, like, with encouraging preparedness, like how much am I just, like, in some ways, like, allowing the system to continue. Because if I’m mitigating—as an activist, if I’m mitigating the worst effects of a system, then in some ways I’m allowing it to continue, right? And like, you know, charity is particularly famous for this of, like, basically just, like, well, industrialized capitalism wouldn’t work without charity because it doesn’t—you know, like, people need that or there wouldn’t be a workforce anymore. And yet, at the same time, this act of redistributing resources is very good, right? And so in the act of physical resources we’ll talk about, you know, mutual aid instead of charity. And I wonder about, like, something like reforestation. Where do we cross the threshold? Is it just a matter of scale of crossing the threshold from, like, being a release valve for the worst parts of industrialization versus, like, gaining ground ecoligically.

Simon
Yeah, right. I don’t know. I don’t know how to assess that, like, on a global scale. But what I can know is that—you know, circling back to talking about resiliency—if you’re doing something to the best of your knowledge to improve your local natural environment, you are—you’re counteracting some of those negative effects. Whether it’s enough, I don’t know. I mean, there’s lots that we need to do aside from climate change, I think, to like, start gaining ground instead of just halting it. And the history of the environmental field, or of conservation of natural resource management, is starting with that, oh, we just need to halt things, right, we need to preserve land. And that’s super important and still needs to happen. And restoration was kind of people thinking, well, we need a next step, right? We’ve preserved a lot of land but, like, a lot of its degraded. But of course, we’re still building new subdivisions. You know, we’re still converting small farms to industrial agriculture. These processes are still happening. And so the answer is, I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to know what action is going to have like the best total positive difference. I think maybe organizing to stop a new subdivision is going to be a more effective use of your time, or just more impactful, than reforesting an area that’s already natural, that is just degraded. I really don’t know, and part of that’s going to depend on what you’re valuing. You know, what are you most concerned about? Is it habitat—is a total, you know, is it climate change? Is it total loss of green areas? Is it shade as we’re talking about, you know, local climate mitigation? These are all things to consider, I guess. And, yeah, I don’t know when we reach the tipping point in the other direction, but I know that, for me, if it’s directionally—if it feels directionally good, then maybe I’ve just chosen not to think about it beyond that, because otherwise it’s too hopeless.

Margaret
No, no, I totally understand that. I mean, it’s like a thing that I wrestle with when I’m doing activism, but it doesn’t make me stop doing activism. You know, I’m like, okay, like, we’re still gonna—we still need to do these things even if it isn’t yet at a critical mass at which it, like, is winning or whatever on this larger scale. I guess I’ve always been a big fan of, like, sort of why not both approach [inaudible] girl asking why not both. Because, like, I’ve always been of the, like, stop/demolish the institutions of destructive—or, you know, like, stop oppression while also building liberation as like, you know, both things are so necessary and I guess I can accidentally sometimes get caught up in that false dichotomy of, like, building up the things we want versus tearing down the things that are destroying the world. I guess, coming towards the end of this, but I wanted to ask—because you were talking about how the work you do, you know, kind of relies on idealism and hope. And I think that that’s something that’s in short supply right now. And despite my last name, and despite the fact that I run a podcast about the end of the world, I believe very strongly in hope, at least as a strategic thing. You know, it’s like, you can’t—you can’t win unless you fight to win, and you can’t fight to win unless you envision the fact that you could win or at least, you know, have a better time along the way to losing or whatever. And so I guess I want to ask you, like, what gives you hope? What—because most of us don’t know that much intimately about the ecological impacts of climate change. It’s just scary, right? And I know that what you’re talking about, about biodiversity giving us a better shot, that feels really hopeful. But I’m wondering if you have other ideas.

Simon
I would say, one of the most beautiful things I think about being in the field that I am, building forests, a lot of the time is that you are hopefully creating something that’s going to outlast you. There’s sort of an awe that I try to maintain. And it’s not always easy, but some of these organisms that we interact with that might be a couple years old, and they plant it, it could have a lifespan of, in my region, 500 years. We can talk about a coast Douglas fir. And we can’t know what the world is going to be like. And it’s not really about making your impact, because no one’s going to know, oh, I designed, I built this cathedral. You know, it’s not like that. But it’s, like, you’re humbled by the experience of working with something that’s so big and so vast in size and in time. And I think that’s a really—I think it’s a really beautiful thing. And it’s a cliche to say, oh, go plant a tree as like an environmental action. But participating in restoration locally—which there are ways to do, hopefully, and people should try to if they have the ability—it can give you that sense of awe. And then if you’re able to go back to that place that you helped, you know, 10 years, in 20 years, it’s really humbling and it’s really amazing. So it gives me hope that things outlast us, you know, that the world kind of goes on, and that also that we can be a positive part of the natural world. It’s not just oh, humans are are bad and we’re screwing everything up. It’s—we can be intentional and how we interact with nature. And I think introducing that intentionality into how we impact the natural world is just so important, and feels good when you do it.

Margaret
Yeah, I wonder if one of the single most important things we can do is fight this idea of, like, humanity as a cancer or whatever, right? Like, you know, humanity itself, like humans are not inherently flawed in this way. Like, we’re not inherently going to destroy everything. You know, it’s—there’s certain organizational systems, both economic and also larger structural systems, that do this thing, you know, and we end up participating in it. But there’s other ways that we can live, have lived, do live, will live, you know?

Simon
Yeah. And a lot of times we think about nature as something that we affect incidentally. You know, we do a thing that we want to do for some reason, and then we accidentally have an effect on the natural world. And I would like people to maybe think about it as, we can choose how we affect the natural world, and we can be a positive force, and we can be, you know, get very hippy, but we can be one with it. You know, we’re not separate, as you said. And it just, it’s I think just a much healthier way to view ourselves and nature. Just go do something positive. You know, be specific in how you want to impact the natural world, in the same way that you would be intentional about how you want to impact your community and your relationships with your family and your friends.

Margaret
Yeah, I like that. I like that comparison and it feels very—it’s almost, it’s like not even a metaphor. It’s just literal. You know, there’s like the human and the nonhuman communities that were part of, you know?

Simon
Yeah. And it’s not just having less impact, it’s having good impact.

Margaret
Yeah. Instead of the—you know, it always struck me as, like, trying to just reduce your impact upon the world was always, like, what’s the point of that just so that you can feel better about yourself, you know? Like, actually doing something positive feels way better and way less, in some ways, like, obsessive, right? Because if you’re just trying to make sure you have no impact on the natural world, you’re essentially just trying to negate yourself. Yeah. Was there—is there a question I should have asked you or something that you really want to bring up that you think I or the listener should hear? I wanted to ask you all this stuff about riparian zones and flooding, but that was entirely selfishly because I live on quote/unquote 100 year floodplain that thanks to climate change is a 4-5 times a year. But I’ll ask that another time.

Simon
Yeah. I mean, I think we covered some interesting ground. I would say, connecting with people locally and building that local knowledge is the main thing that I can leave people with. Because that’s—I can’t tell you what to do if you live somewhere else, or even if you live near me. You know the problems that you face better than anyone, and people in your community probably do as well. So that’s, yeah, I can’t think of anything else.

Margaret
Okay. Well, thank you so much for coming on. And do you have any—you know, I don’t know whether you’re trying to have strangers ask you questions on Twitter or if you’d like to shout out anything about how people can either follow your work or learn more about what you do, or if there’s any other organizations or anything like that that you’re excited about that you’d like to shout out to people?

Simon
Yeah. I would say, if people want to follow me on Twitter, it’s plant_warlock. And as much as I talk about, you know, environmental issues and projects that I’m working on that may be interesting to folks. Again, reforestation and dam removals and things like that. I have to admit, I also just talk a lot about how terrible our mayor is and things like that. But I would also say for people local to Portland, if they’re interested in tree planting, we have a great organization called Friends of Trees that does tree planting projects in neighborhoods and also a natural areas. And it’s a great way to kind of get your foot in the door and see if you enjoy doing this kind of work. And if anyone just has questions or, you know, wants advice on things in the natural world, I may at least be able to point them in the right direction. So feel free to contact me.

Margaret
Okay, thanks so much. And does that organization in Portland—do you all, like, take donations? Can I try and direct people to give you all money?

Simon
Yeah, they do. I’m not affiliated. I just know it’s an easy way for people to get involved. But they certainly take donations, and they are always looking for volunteers. That’s not, I know that’s slowed down and been different during COVID times, but I think they’re taking volunteers again, and people can certainly donate to them.

Margaret
Cool. Okay, well, thanks so much.

Simon
Thank you.

Margaret
Thank you all so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell people about it. This is the kind of the only way that people find out about this podcast is through word of mouth. And I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who, like, you know, shares and retweets and posts to their story on Instagram and blah, blah, blah, like feeds the algorithm and tells their friends about it. And of course, anyone who tells people about it in person. Well if you don’t like the episode then don’t tell people about it—unless, actually, if you—if you don’t like the episode, you should tell people about how much you don’t like it because that will still also drive engagement. That’s my favorite thing when people do. And you can also support the show by supporting me on Patreon. Eventually, it’ll be supporting a whole organization on Patreon, which is basically what you’re doing if you support me on Patreon because other people are very involved in this podcast at the moment and we’re going to expand out to other podcasts and shows and things like that. Oh, speaking of which, I now have a YouTube show. The channel is called Live Like the World is Dying. You’ll be shocked to know that. And you can find it on YouTube. I only have one episode up as of this recording, but who knows how many I have up by the time it’s released. In particular, I’d like to thank some of my patreon backers. I’d like to thank Sean and Hugh and Dana, Chelsea, Eleanor, Mike, Starro, Cat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, and Nora. I really can’t thank you all enough. I mean, I don’t know, I guess if I did too much no one would listen anymore. If I just said just names over and over again in a weird pleading tone. So I won’t do that. But I will say that I hope everyone is handling all this as best as they can and I will talk to y’all soon

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

Jul
23

S1E32 – Jimmy on Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

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Episode Notes

Summary

You can find more information about Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, including the zines and resources Jimmy mentioned, a list of mutual aid networks, and social media pages, at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org/.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

Margaret
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and on this episode I’ll be talking to Jimmy from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. And we’re going to be talking about what is involved in setting up and maintaining a mutual aid network and also what disaster relief looks like. Because, obviously, that’s something that’s on people’s minds for some strange reason. And this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on the network. Da duuuuh!

Jingle
What’s up y’all? I’m Pearson, host of Coffee with Comrades. Coffee with Comrades is rooted in militant joy. Our hope is to cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere, like walking into your favorite coffee shop to sit down with some of your close friends and share a heart to heart conversation. New episode premier every Tuesday, so be sure to smash that subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts so that you never miss an episode. We are proud to be a part of the Channel Zero Network.

Margaret
Okay, so if you could introduce yourself with your name, which I guess I already said, and your pronouns and I guess your affiliations as relate to disaster relief.

Jimmy
Yeah, my name is Jimmy. I’m with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, any pronouns are fine. Um, and yeah, I’ve been part of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief since, you know, about five years ago. Um, and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a people-powered disaster relief network based on the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. And we work with communities especially, you know, the most marginalized, to assist folks in leading their own recoveries. And this network is a permanent network from below to respond to disasters, building off of the history and the legacy of Common Ground in New Orleans after Katrina, Occupy Sandy in New York after Superstorm Sandy, and other solidarity-based mobilizations. And we, we seek to provide some level of continuity for the larger movement of which we’re only a small part. And then also, um, you know, continue to build off of the lessons learned so that we can, um, you know, build off the successes and avoid the mistakes of previous iterations of doing this type of organizing.

Margaret
Okay, could you give some examples of situations that you all respond to?

Jimmy
Sure. Yeah. So, you know, this last year we’ve been responding to COVID. You know, before that, um, you know, a lot of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, fires, things like that. And we also, to a smaller extent, respond to what we call invisible disasters. So, you know, even though, you know, for example, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it’s not a hurricane that knocked out power or made it so people don’t have heat to run their homes, it’s the legacy of colonialism, you know. So, um, you know, we’ve tried to respond to disasters like those as well as the very visible climate-related disasters of hurricanes and fires and floods and things like that.

Margaret
Okay, so y’all are nationwide then?

Jimmy
Yes, we are.

Margaret
Cool. Um, I guess, so, I want to ask—one of the things that comes up a lot when people talk about, well, mutual aid networks, especially ones that are, say, nationwide rather than, like, specifically rooted in the communities where the disaster is happening, what does that look like for you all—like, are you outsiders coming in? Are you invited in? How do you all navigate that kind of tension?

Jimmy
Um, so yes, we, you know, we are—we’re national, but we’re also local. You know, so all of us are from local communities and involved in local mutual aid projects and movements, you know, for justice and liberation in our own local communities. You know, so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, rather than trying to supplant or replace local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid, whether organized through a local mutual aid group or just, you know, the people impacted, you know, assisting each other, we try to amplify that and support that and provide, you know, this ongoing organizing and backup for those, you know, for those mutual aid efforts. So this can look like, um, you know, um, uh, you know, like getting bulk supply donations, or help with clean up, solar infrastructure or water infrastructure. Um, you know, wellness, you know, either wellness checks or setting up Wellness Centers after disasters. We try to be really flexible and adaptive to whatever the self-determined needs of the impacted people are. We borrow the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, you know, so, you know, both to, you know—we listen to impacted people directly, and respond to their self-determined needs, and we listen to, you know, local mutual aid groups or local solidarity base, you know, justice-ro0ted efforts, and listen to them, you know, and go from there and respond to, you know, and assist however, we can. However, we can leverage our ongoing organizing, and, you know, we have a number of different mutual aid survival programs, um, you know, so we have, you know, like, the Rebuilding a Better World which involves, like, debris cleanup, or, um, you know, cleaning up flooded homes, you know, that’s our—we, with our local partners on the ground in Michigan are doing that right now, with the floods up there. Um, you know, with COVID most recently a lot of our efforts—we have been responding to impacted people directly when we’re able to, when they reach out to us. But a lot of our focus with COVID has been supporting local mutual aid efforts. There’s been a beautiful outpouring of mutual aid globally with COVID-19. And so Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has, uh, you know, supported and amplified and backed up those local mutual aid efforts whenever possible and however, we’re able

Margaret
To take a step back, what is mutual aid? That’s just charity but done by young idealists, right?

Jimmy
No, charity is top down. Charity doesn’t question—it takes for granted the unjust power relationships in our society, and it at most provides a band aid. Whereas mutual aid or solidarity, it addresses the immediate survival needs of the people while simultaneously raising consciousness and advocating and being a part of these movements for long-term structural changes. So it both meets the survival needs of the people, and in that way, you know, um, you know, we get out of our silos and echo chambers and meet the people where they’re at, you know. And also it’s connected to a long-term vision for radical social change. And so mutual aid and solidarity, it’s about sharing resources, um, but it’s also about sharing power. You know, so people who are impacted by disasters, or—you know, whether it’s, you know, climate-related, or the disasters of capitalism and colonialism—they have more at stake in their own survival and wellbeing than well-intentioned paternalistic givers of charity. And what we’re all longing for, you know, when a crisis hits, is to be part of a communal recovery. And that’s part of our healing process, part of how we cope with crisis or with extreme events. And so, you know, just because somebody is impacted by a disaster doesn’t mean that they are passive consumers who are just like empty vessels to be filled with blankets or canned goods, you know. People, you know, have skills, have networks, have, you know, a lot to offer. And so one thing about mutual aid is that it’s reciprocal. There’s no this for that, there’s no requirement, but it’s, you know, we’re giving what we can and receiving what we need. And all of us are, you know, whether it’s, you know, people who are supporting, you know, or people who are impacted. And also those two, you know, are not mutually exclusive, they’re usually overlapping. You know, so, um, you know, like, one thing that I’ll often do is drive around a box truck with, you know, pick up supplies and drop them off in neighborhoods that are impacted. And so, you know, I’ll be, you know, going all day, you know, passing out water, food, cleaning supplies, whatever I can get my hands on. But then also, you know, the local community, you know, they’ll see that I’m, you know, in go mode, and they’ll, you know, come out with an ice cold water, you know, which, you know, after a power outage and nobody has a fridge, it’s like gold, you know, and, you know, and so, you know, that kind of mutuality, is, you know, really a key part of mutual aid. And also, there’s also a component that I didn’t learn until looking into other people’s language and experiences around mutual aid and solidarity, is that, you know, with charity there’s this emotional distance. There’s, you know, like, oftentimes, you know, it’s like a traditional, you know, client/service provider relationship, you know, and with mutual aid that is overturned. That, you know, there’s an authentic relationship, there’s authentic friendships, you know, that—you know, we’re not isolated from each other and we get to know each other, we get—we become friends, we become, you know, close to each other. And when we understand, you know, that, you know, predatory landlords are, you know, evicting our friends, you know, we, you know, we join with them and resist, you know, and, you know, mutual aid is also about relationships. And so, um, you know, it’s—and relationships are where power is. You know, oftentimes people think in terms—with regards to disasters—in terms of, you know, stockpiling or hoarding, you know, that’s the popular imagination around disasters. But in reality, what almost unequivocably happens in almost every location after disasters, people come out of their houses, sometimes meet each other for the first time, and spontaneously come together to meet each other’s needs. And oftentimes building off of the relationships that already existed before the storm—or before the disaster. And so, you know, one thing that we talked about a lot in our popular education trainings is that community organizing is the best form of disaster preparedness, and disaster relief is just another form of community organizing.

Margaret
You know, one of the things that we talk about a lot on this show is that even if sometimes I can get focused on like, you know, here’s gear, or here’s skills to learn, or whatever, is that people are the best resources and relationships are, like, not only one of the most important things to stockpile or whatever, but more than that just like being around people is actually really good in times of crisis and, like, which is the opposite of the right wing prepper mindset, you know. And, with the solidarity and mutual aid stuff, one of the things that—I’ve been trying to think about things more and more in terms of—so a lot of communities are extracted from, right? In the same way that a colony is extracted from, resources are extracted from it and brought to another place. A lot of communities are extracted from on a regular basis and therefore, like, need help, right? And charity is this way of like bolstering the extractive process. It’s like this way of, like, watering the plants that you plan on harvesting, you know, it’s a way of making sure that the extractive process can continue. And the way that I’ve been more recently thinking about mutual aid is this, ideally, a method of beginning to like reverse the extractive process instead of buffering it up. I don’t know.

Jimmy
Absolutely, no, at its root mutual aid is radical care, you know, it is loving each other. And in a patriarchal capitalist colonial white supremacist and other, you know, innumerable forms of domination and oppression, to love each other, to love ourselves and to, um, you know, take care of each other is a radical act.

Margaret
Yeah. Could you talk about—I really like hearing, like, more, like, specific examples like what either, you know, like specific examples of disasters that you all responded to and how that worked, or just specific examples of when you felt like you knew that you were doing mutual aid instead of charity, like, not just like necessarily, like, gratitude of people, but in terms of what it looks like to have a mutual aid organization, if you could give more specific example.

Jimmy
Yeah, um, so one thing that I want to highlight, you know, just to begin with, is you don’t have to have it all figured out all in the beginning. You know, so, um, you know, there’s a story that Rebecca Solnit talks about in A Paradise Built in Hell, her book, that, you know, after the San Francisco earthquake, people started a community kitchen with one can and one spoon, you know, and then it just grew from there. Similar to that, you know, we, um, you know, sometimes it can feel impossible to start a hospital or a whole Wellness Center. But if we just set up a first aid station, and then have people rolling in and out, and then somebody says, “Oh, yeah, I’m a massage therapist.” “Oh, yeah, I’m an acupuncturist.” “Oh, yeah, I’m a nurse.” “I’m a medic.” You know, then it snowballs and takes on a life of its own. Same with, you know, like, maybe the idea of a whole warehouse of supply distribution seems far off, but if we start with a community fridge, or community pantry, just, you know, taking what’s in our cupboards and sharing them with our neighbors and then giving, you know, making sure people have the awareness that they can put in too, that they can share as well, you know, that can easily you know, blossom and grow into something a lot larger. You know, Hurricane Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, pretty bad. And, um, you know, there was this colonial occupation that—I mean, Puerto Rico’s been occupied for, you know, a long time—but it was ramped up, you know, after Hurricane Maria. And there was a beautiful explosion of mutual aid organizing throughout the island. There’s [inaudible] that are still active that, you know, they took over a governmental buildings that were part of the Oversight Board, the Promesa. Former schools, former government buildings, and they turn them into mutual aid community centers. And out of these centers they have acupuncture, they have computer access for the kids, they have food kitchens, and one thing that we have assisted with for the last couple of years is the solar and water infrastructure. So especially solar, we’ve been able to access, you know, solar panels, and then, you know, the inverters, charge controllers, battery backup, and help install solar infrastructure at these mutual aid centers to bring them, you know, with, you know, our partners down there, to help with autonomous infrastructure and sustainability. And so one thing that we did in the beginning, um, you know, soon after Maria hit, you know, we were in Florida, we had already had active mobilization for Hurricane Irma in Florida, and so many people who were involved in that mobilization, you know, some of them had family ties and friend ties down to Puerto Rico. And so a delegation went down there. And one thing that we noticed real quick was, you know, our teams down there, was supplies were sitting in FEMA warehouses and not getting out to the people. So one thing that our folks did was they rolled up to the FEMA warehouse and said they’re here for the 8am pickup. And the person that the the windows said, oh, we don’t see you on the list. And they just insisted, we’re here for the 8am pickup. And eventually they were allowed in, they flashed their Mutual Aid Disaster Relief IDs, and they were allowed in and were able to pick up a box truck and carloads full of supplies, and then get that out to the people. And then also, you know, before they had—before they left the island, we made Mutual Aid Disaster Relief badges for local community organizers so they could continue that supply hook up and, you know, continue to try to, you know, liberate those supplies, you know, from sitting in warehouses, to get to the people where they’re actually supposed to go. That’s one example of how, you know, through our ongoing organizing and just being willing to take risks, we can leverage, um, you know, our access to resources or status as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, to support survival of the people, but also the local mutual aid organizing of the people as well.

Margaret
Okay, and welcome back, which you all won’t even notice as a cut. But we lost connection for a moment. And it’s funny, because one of the reasons that I don’t know how the sound quality is going to be for the listeners, we have a good audio engineer, but I’m no longer—I recorded most of these at home. But now that the trees, now that the leaves are really coming in it blocks my antenna on the top of my house that boosts my cell phone signal enough to do a hotspot enough to do interviews. So now instead I have to go into town near a noisy office and road. So I just think it’s ironic. There have been a couple interviews that I haven’t been able to do because of my internet at home getting suddenly so much worse. But anyway, so that’s why there’s a strange break in the conversation. Do you want to talk about the history of mutual aid, whether the history of it like using that word, or the history of it as like a concept, and/or where ya’lls specific lineage comes in. I suppose those are three different questions, but if one of those appeals to you.

Jimmy
So mutual aid is—there’s, um, I think—called Kropotkin who wrote a book called Mutual Aid. And it was kind of written in opposition to the Darwinian theory of, you know, like, survival of the fittest, that was misused by people. So what Kropotkin did was articulate and give voice to an organizing principle of life. Um, you know, like, what Kropotkin saw with plants and animals, with, you know, like indigenous societies, was that how people survived and thrived was not through competition, it was through cooperation. As far as Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. Um, you know, I personally, and other people who are also involved and helped found Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, were part of the organizing in New Orleans after Katrina, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and surrounding areas. And there was a call from Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther, in the neighborhood of Algiers. There were white vigilantes that were roaming the streets shooting and killing unarmed black men. And Malik Rahim had a history of organizing in that community, you know, through the Black Panther Party, and then later through other, you know, movements for peace and justice and environmental justice. And, you know, so at this time it was, um, you know, there were these white vigilantes and also, you know, people stranded out the Superdome. People were trying to cross the bridge to safety and dry land from the east bank to the west bank and they were stopped by Gretna police to turn them back with rifles. And in this context, Malik sent out a call—Malik, you know, and Scott Crowe and others—you know, sent out a call for solidarity and support. Many of us who were involved in movements like Food Not Bombs, or street medics at global justice demonstrations, or indie media, radical independent movement-based media, um, you know, we had some experience with setting up community kitchens, we had some experience with, you know, doing medic work at demonstrations or setting up media centers, you know, for these, you know, big mobilizations against global capital. And many of us responded to that call. There was a blending of the wisdom and legacy of the Black Panther Party, you know, through Malik Rahim and the survival programs. You know, there’s the most famous of their programs was the free breakfast program, but they had numerous survival programs. They were doing pest control—community-wide pest control—they were doing a free ambulance program. They did sickle cell anemia testing and education. You know, across the board they were meeting the survival needs of the people, and that’s actually what made them the biggest threat to the FBI and to colonialism. They did have an armed component, but what was really the threat was that they were mobilizing the people in a mass way. And Malik Rahim continued that legacy and and then that was translated and melded with the legacy of the global justice movement, you know, where, you know, we were active with, whether it’s Food Not Bombs or street medic organizing, and, um, you know, that coalesced in New Orleans after Katrina with, you know, a lot of vibrant mutual aid efforts, and it gave our movements some cohesion. You know, so even people as ideologically far apart as say, like, Michael Moore, the documentarian, or the writers of The Coming Insurrection, they could see what was happening in New Orleans after Katrina and be like, that’s actually what we’re for. That’s what we’re about. That’s what the world that we’re trying to build. And, you know, there were, you know, there was a at least one agent provocateur FBI informant who used his position of power to undermine the organization and take advantage of women. You know, there’s a lot of conflicting feelings for many of us who were involved in that in that effort. And we saw again after Superstorm Sandy, you know, where Occupy Wall Street transitioned to disaster response. And again, this solidarity-based network model outperformed the top-down charity model.

Margaret
Can you explain that? Like, in what ways does Mutual Aid Disaster Relief do better than than top-down intervention?

Jimmy
So Naomi Klein talks about this term disaster capitalism. Disaster, capitalism refers to this idea of how the powerful will use shocks or disasters or crises to reinforce their privilege and power. They put in transformations to the economy or society that reinforce their privilege status. And in parallel to this, there’s disaster colonialism. So after a disaster, there’s a lot of guns that show up. And, you know, there’s, you know, authorities, you know, with guns, the army, the National Guard, Blackwater, you know, similar mercenary type groups, and their general response is not, how can we help the people survive? Their general response is, how do we maintain order and keep people in their place? The nonprofits, the top-down nonprofit industrial complex, goes hand in hand with that militarized authoritarian response. The nonprofit’s, they undermine local spontaneous manifestations of mutual aid and make it into this thing that is not reciprocal, that is not participatory, that is not power sharing, where people just wait in line and receive a few items and then, you know, are, you know, go back to being oppressed by their landlords or, you know, the, you know, police or the, you know, the state authorities.

Margaret
But what would you say to someone who, like, isn’t ideologically committed to mutual aid and is looking for the most efficient response to disaster. Like, regardless of the—I mean, I believe ideologically in mutual aid, but I think that it’s worth pointing out the ways in which the the actual just like straight up efficiency of decentralized movements can be so much greater and I was wondering if you can talk on that part of it.

Jimmy
Yes, absolutely. Um, a story I heard about with Occupy Sandy, that, um, you know, there were some people involved with FEMA that, you know, they got—they heard about this elder And they didn’t have heat, they, you know it was getting cold and um, you know, these people, you know, in the FEMA organization had their hands tied because it’s, there’s so much bureaucracy, so much red tape, so much hoops to jump through. Even though they wanted to help this person, they could not do anything because the top-down nature of it is not participatory, is not liberating for those impacted or those, you know, involved in the relief efforts. So what they did, these people involved with FEMA, was they reached out to people with Occupy Sandy and people with Occupy Sandy weatherize the house, got them—got the elder situated and, you know, what they needed to survive. And then also, after that mobilization, the Department of Homeland Security issued out a report highlighting how movements like Occupy Sandy that are decentralized, that are people powered, network based, solidarity based, are actually more effective than their command and control top-down model. And these are the same people who regularly infiltrate our movements and undermine almost everything we try to do through infiltration, through agent provocateurs, you know, and even they, you know, have owned up to the fact that their top-down model is not as effective as our mutual aid model.

Margaret
Yeah, there’s a—it’s been going around Twitter lately—a leaked or, you know, declassified document about how to infiltrate leftist organizations and, you know, the behaviors that make leftist organizations less effective. And one of them is like, basically, like, put everything to committee. And like, basically try to stop autonomy within the organizations, try to stop people from acting on the organizations without, like, putting everything to the larger organization and everything to little subcommittees and shit like that. And I thought that was really interesting, not that the people who do that thing are inherently, you know, agent provocateurs, or whatever. But we always have this conception of infiltrators as these people who are, like, go there to like break things or instigate or escalate, right? And that does happen. But it really was telling to me that the main way they know how to fuck us up is to go in and get us stuck in endless meetings and get people to not just do things. And the thing that is our strength as people who practice direct action and people practice mutual aid is our capacity to just do things and then coordinate about the things we’re doing rather than centrally plan all of the things that we’re trying to do.

Jimmy
And that is the organizing principle of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is almost everything is done through affinity groups, through working groups, rather than through centralized planning or organizing. We have, you know, regular, you know, signal threads and conference calls and things like that. But it’s mostly to provide updates with each other, um, rather than to do the nuts and bolts organizing. We, similar to the Zapatista principle of leading by obeying, there’s this idea of subsidiarity, which means you devolve decision making to the localest scale possible. And so, with our organizing, we encourage everybody to be involved in, you know, affinity groups and local collectives and local mutual aid groups, and then partner with Mutual Aid Disaster relief. And, you know, oftentimes, you know, like, if your local affinity group or your local mutual aid group is unable to cover something after a disaster, maybe Mutual Aid Disaster Relief could, or vice versa. You know, there’s some things that a local collective or affinity group or mutual aid group could do that Mutual Aid Disaster Relief couldn’t. you know. And so, we kind of work in tandem and hand in hand, you know, and we combine both collective decision making and checking in with each other with respect for autonomy and direct action and self determination.

Margaret
I mean, it sounds good. And I’ve seen some of the work that folks associated with you all have done in eastern North Carolina and have always been impressed by, yeah, the non top-down structure organizing, but still the ability to get a lot of stuff done. To go back, there was like thoughts I was thinking about—I was like taking notes as you’re talking about mutual aid and, you know, I remember reading this article in a science magazine in probably like, 2008 or something like that about mutual aid and gay birds. And it was—there had been this like thing that—I actually, as far as I understand, Darwin would not have appreciated social Darwinism, or maybe even didn’t appreciate social Darwinism, like, the like, survival of the fittest thing, like, wasn’t even the Darwinian concept of evolution. But then Kropotkin was, you know, most famously an anarchist. But well, at the time, he was also very famously, I believe, a naturalist and a scientist. And, you know, all of his work was around saying, like, oh, no, animals just take care of each other. Not always, right, there’s like, you know, I mean, obviously, animals eat each other and shit too and like, there are animals that fuck up each other’s like chances of reproduction or whatever. But people would sit there and they’d be like, why gay birds? Like, why are animals gay? And, I mean, I think, me as an animal know I am gay. But, you know, this is the kind of thing that rightwing thinkers will bring up all the time, right? And like Alex Jones, like, always freaks out about the gay frogs or whatever. And this article basically points out that it was like, well, the gay birds like do an incredible amount of service for the larger community of the animals and therefore, like, continue to propagate the species as a whole, even if they don’t individually reproduce. And it was basically this realization that science was finally catching up—and maybe it had—pop science, at least, was finally catching up to the fact that Kropotkin was right about evolution and the, like, mutual aid theory of evolution is, like, as far as I understand it, predominantly the theory within evolution at the moment, and that it’s not this, like, you know, war of one against all that people present. But—sorry, this is a rant I’ve been thinking about for a while. I do appreciate that it’s like, mutual aid wasn’t invented by kropotkin, right. And like, Kropotkin didn’t think mutual aid was invented by Kropotkin. He was observing it, and he was observing it in, you know, the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, and also in the human, like, all, you know, different human societies all over the world have been practicing mutual aid largely before, essentially, like, various forms of colonization including, like, the internal colonization of Europe and things like that.

Jimmy
Mutual Aid predates anarchism. And it also is not a European ideology. It’s how life survives and thrives. And it’s something that, you know, mutual—Kropotkin noticed and gave voice to, you know, in his book. But also, you know, like, um, there’s also a vibrant indigenous mutual aid network that has been growing, you know, over the last year plus. And I feel like their approach to mutual aid and solidarity organizing is also somewhat an antidote to the Eurocentric or ideological-based, you know, European-centric, you know, mutual aid organizing, you know, more broadly, that all of us, you know, involved and devoted to mutual aid and a better world, you know, should be engaging with and learning from and communicating with. Because, you know, indigenous people on this continent, Turtle Island, have centuries of experience surviving catastrophes and living through apocalypses. And there’s a lot of wisdom there that those of us, you know, in the cities or, you know, involved in, you know, mutual aid that doesn’t have that focus, you know, there’s a lot that we can learn from, you know, there’s a lot of interchange that can be, can be had there, that we can be attuned to.

Margaret
Yeah, and even anarchism as a concept. You know, one of the things that really interests me about this mutual aid revelation from Kropotkin’s point of view is that anarchism, as a concept, as a Western concept, was basically just Western people figuring out, like, rediscovering something that so much of the world already knows. And so it wasn’t like—anyone who presents like anarchism or these ideas as invented by the people who called themselves anarchists in France and Russia or whatever, right? It wasn’t an invention, it was a rediscovering and an applying of things. You talked at the beginning about lessons that you’ve learned. So I’m really interested in how you all are providing continuity across—hm, how to I want to say this? It’s like there’s been this huge explosion in mutual aid groups in the past year since COVID started, right. And that’s actually the most hopeful thing about the whole fucking crisis, from my point of view. And, you know, it’s like the only thing at the beginning of it all that was giving me hope, was watching this mainstreaming of mutual aid. And obviously, with mainstream comes a lot of danger and a lot of people calling things mutual aid that might not be mutual aid. But on the other hand, that also seems to me the only hope because, I mean, I believe in a society that the economic system is essentially mutual aid rather than, you know, anything else. But you—I—one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you all is because you all predate this current explosion of mutual aid. And I was wondering if you could talk about what that explosion means, and like lessons that you’re able to bring to people who are coming in this, like, newer group of mutual aid organizers, but also things that you’ve learned from the newer people who might be coming from a less ideological position, or just are younger,

Jimmy
We’re totally inspired. And we’ve been, you know, sowing the seeds, you know, of mutual aid and watering them these past several years. And we all—we would always talk about how, you know, like, if we have a hope for survival, it’s not gonna come from the state, it’s not going to come from the nonprofit industrial complex, it’s going to come from each other and these relationships of support, you know, that are horizontal, and participatory and, you know, from below. And I think still, though, even though we were already responding to disasters, and, you know, there’s still an element of, you know, like, that, you know, we’re talking about the future survival of humanity, you know, with this explosion of mutual aid with regards to the COVID, there’s been over 600,000 people killed just in the United States alone, you know, from COVID. And, um, you know, there’s evictions looming, mass evictions looming right now, I feel like we’ve all lost loved ones or lost, you know, or have friends or have family who have lost loved ones, and for both the climate and, you know, the pandemic, the future is now, you know. There’s overlapping constant disaster, one crisis after another and, you know, these local mutual aid groups are, you know, they’re carving out laboratory spaces and coming up with new ideas about how to meet people’s needs, articulating their vision for social change. And it’s hard work. So there is, you know, some stumbling in the dark while we—while people figure it out. And that’s normal and that’s to be expected. You know, with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, one thing that we’ve, you know, oftentimes—you know, previously with a hurricane, or a flood, or a fire or tornado, a lot of our efforts were in person, direct to people impacted, um, you know, face to face. You know, going to the neighborhood that was impacted and, you know, dropping off supplies, and then seeing what else they need, you know. And then, um, you know, with this explosion of local mutual aid groups it’s, um, you know, shifted things somewhat of how Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has responded in that we are still meeting people’s needs directly, you know, when needed or when we are able, but these local mutual aid groups are rooted in the community and they are able to respond in ways that, you know, sometimes a national network is not able to. You know, we’ve learned a lot, and one thing that we try to do to provide some level of continuity for this larger movement is be a clearinghouse of information and resources. So if people go on the website mutualaiddisasterrelief.org you can see a ton of resources, both about mutual aid in general, how to start a mutual aid network, what is mutual aid, you know, disaster response, and, you know, report backs from different mobilizations, different zines, news articles about the mutual aid responses for disasters. And so, you know, there’s 1000s of different resources on there, and some of them we created, but many of them, you know, others, you know, local mutual aid groups, partner organizations and networks created and we, you know, help share because we see that that wisdom is valuable and needs to get elevated and out there more. So we try to, you know, offer a library online about disaster response and mutual aid, you know, for the larger movement. On there, one resource specifically that we put out last summer is our Lessons Learned zine. And so people can visit that, there’s a dozen different lessons learned both, you know, like, ideas like moving at the speed of trust and at the speed of dreams. Um, you know, and also things to be aware of, you know, such as the savior complex or disaster patriarchy, and ways to, you know, maintain our principles and values while being responsive to the needs on the ground of those most impacted.

Margaret
Okay, let’s like take some of those. You know, the moving at the speed of trust and the speed of dreams, what is what does that mean?

Jimmy
Yeah, so the speed of trust, you know, refers to this idea of, we need to be building bonds with each other. One of the most revolutionary things that we can do is find each other and build meaningful relationships, you know, that are, um, you know, based on care, based on mutual respect and a shared vision and affinity for that better world we know is possible and are trying to build. Um, it’s hard to, you know, as a mutual aid network, whether local or national, to act if you don’t have a level of trust and a level of connection, and affinity and love for each other. That basis of trust, um, is the foundation, you know, that we can build off of. We encourage people, mutual aid groups, to, you know, if you don’t already have core values or guiding principles or foundation, like principles of unity, something like that, to take the time to come together and articulate that collectively. You know, there’s so much that is, you know, adaptable and, you know, flexible, you know, in disaster response, oftentimes we need, you know, some principles or some core values to go back to ground ourselves. And, you know, like that, for us in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief that was, you know, a key part of building that trust initially, um, you know, so that we are coming at it from—we know that we are coming at it with a shared vision of what we’re doing and where we’re going. And then also this idea of the speed of dreams, it comes from, you know, the Zapatistas. It’s this idea that when we put our hands and hearts and bodies in service of our dreams, they can manifest themselves exponentially. Far from being, you know, something that, you know, like, we plant seeds and then, you know, generations, they sprout and grow, we see the effects by moment to moment, you know, day to day and year to year when we are true to our principles and values and we, you know, are devoted to an ethic of solidarity and justice, it can be almost disconcerting, you know, how quickly our dreams can manifest into reality. It’s that, you know, snowball thing I was talking about earlier is, you know, we can start with just the tiniest bit of liberated space or mutual aid, you know, organizing, and then as we cultivate it, it’s amazing, you know, how quickly that can grow and blossom in 1000 different directions.

Margaret
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that—one of the reasons I’ve always loved direct action as an organizing principle—sorry about the siren in the background if you all can hear it. One of the things I’ve loved about direct action as an organizing principle is that it involves actually like starting to solve problems. Like, you know, thinking of these examples that you talk about, about like Occupy Sandy going and winterizing someone’s house. We often get so caught up, like, especially right now, when all of this bad shits happening, right? When we think, how do we stop climate change? And in some ways, how do we stop climate change is the wrong question because, while we need to stop climate change, it probably looks like solving specific problems along the way. It might be, how do we create a microclimate in this environment that is more resistant to the fires that are going to come? Right? Because we’re not going to actually stop climate change. You know, we can stop the worst of it. And so it reminds me of one of the problems that I see lock up a lot of people in general is any given thing that you have to do, it’s really hard to be like, well, I’m thinking about the entire problem and how do I solve the entire problem? So you just don’t do anything. You know, whenever people are like, well, how do you write a book? And like any writer who’s written books is like, I don’t know, you start writing a book, and then it’s shit so you go back and change things. And then the third time you write a book you, like, plan it out ahead of time better because you know what you’re doing. But it really just starts with doing it. You know, there’s the whole anarchist cliche that the secret is to begin. And that’s one thing I’ve always loved about mutual aid organizing is like, yeah, I don’t know how we—you know, people are always like, oh, what do you anarchist want or whatever. I’m like, look, I can’t tell you everything about the economic system of the society that I want to create. I don’t even think that would be a good idea. Because what I want to do is feed myself and feed the people around me who I care about, and then build up from there. And so that’s one thing I really like about the work that you all do is that focus on, you just start doing it. And it’s what, as you were saying, that’s what people do is they’re like, oh, shit bad’s happening, I guess we should do something, you know?

Jimmy
Absolutely. And our mutual aid organizing his movement infrastructure. So, you know, there’s this idea of dual power, to be simultaneously, you know, building up our own prefigurative resources and institutions and, you know, power from below, while also challenging, you know, the forces of oppression and occupation and colonialism and capitalism and contesting. You know, there’s an element of mutual aid organizing that is, you know, all of us are involved simultaneously in mutual aid organizing and the other movements that are contemporaneous for, you know, the movement for Black Lives, or for the Stop Line 3, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, you know, and so, you know, when we build power from below for mutual aid, we’re also building power from below to resist extensive resource extraction or, you know, attacks on indigenous sovereignty or on, you know, homeless sweeps. Mutual aid organizing is fertilizing, you know, the movement of ground beneath us to be stronger the next time, you know, we need to be out in the streets or be in front of the bulldozers at a pipeline camp.

Margaret
Yeah, and they all tie together, right? Because the only way that we can like really consistently save ourselves is by also stopping the machinery of destruction that is destroying the climate and destroying communities. Because it’s like, well, we can, we can provide tents, to people who are currently without houses, but we also need to, like, stop the people who are stealing their tents and stop the system that leaves them without housing in the first place.

Jimmy
Exactly. And, you know, one thing that we talked about in our popular education is audacity is our capacity. You know, so, you know, oftentimes we’re just limited by our imaginations, you know, we think something is not possible, so we don’t try it. You know, but as soon as we shake off that sense of powerlessness and act, then, you know, we’re filled with the sense of possibility and then, you know, things that were impossible, or we thought were impossible, are no more.

Margaret
I really liked that. And I think that might be a good note to end on. Besides, of course, the obvious joke about audacity as the primary thing that podcasters use that is suddenly spyware. So I’m avoiding making that joke. And you all should be very appreciative of this inside joke I’m not making that only—anyway. What—how can people find out more about your work or support you? Or are there other things like either final words, or, you know, plugging all this stuff that you all do and how people can support it?

Jimmy
Yeah, so people can go to mutualaiddisasterrelief.org to check out our website. We also have on there links to many other local mutual aid groups that you can also be involved in, we encourage people to do both—be involved in Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and be involved in other locally-rooted mutual aid projects and organizations in general. We have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter, we have Instagram, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, you can find us on all of those. And also, um, we often share a quote from Buenaventura Durruti. Durruti was an antifascist during the Spanish Civil War. And one thing that he said was that our opposition might blast and ruin its world before it exits the stage of history, but we’re not in the least afraid of ruins because we carry a new world here in our hearts. And all of us who dream of a better world are carrying that new world in our hearts. And we’re going to create it, it takes takes lifetimes. Um, but you know, we’re a part of that growing world and we know your listeners, you know, everybody listening to this is part of that growing world. And we’re excited to see what we’re able to build, you know, together.

Margaret
All right. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you enjoyed this episode. And also, you know, after we hung up Jimmy pointed out that basically everyone doing, you know, Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is not as much an organization as it is a movement and that all of you listening who are working on preparedness and are working on mutual aid and things like that are all part of this thing we’re all doing and just wanted to extend that thanks. And I would also like to extend that thanks. Not just for listening, but for talking, not just about this show, right, that’s a tiny part of it all, but but talking about this stuff with people around you. So thank you so much. And if you’d like to support the show, you can do so by supporting me which will soon be supporting Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness which is an old zine collective that is now kind of rebooting to also do podcasts and YouTube channels—YouTube shows and all that shit. You can do so by supporting me on patreon@patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. And in particular I guess I’d like to thank Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, The Compound, Cat J, Starro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, Hugh, and Shawn. And also tell people that there’s now a YouTube show of Live Like the World is Dying. So far there’s only one episode, if you want to see me talking about the emergency kits that I make and distribute, I determined that video would be a better format for that than doing a whole podcast where I just like talk to myself or Jack or someone about, you know, and then in my kit is a whistle. And, you know, like, I think that the video format worked better for that. And it’s been a good reaction. So don’t worry, I’m not gonna abandon the podcasting format. I personally listen to podcast more than I want YouTube because I like listening. Everyone’s always like, “Oh, I don’t have the attention span for podcasts.” And I’m like, “I don’t have the attention span for video.” It just depends on your own mindset and also like where you like to consume content, I think, which is definitely stuff you were wanting to know my opinion about. You really wanted to know my opinion about the difference between podcasts and YouTube. So let me tell you more about—no, I’m not gonna tell you more about it. I instead want to say, again, thank you, and do as well as you can. And I hope that all of the things aren’t so overwhelming. And if there’s one lesson I’m going to remind myself from this conversation, it’s that start with the small things, you know. We—it’s so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the magnitude of crisis that we’re all in, everyone on the planet Earth is in and to various degrees, of course, I’m not trying to claim that my position is as bad as many, many other people’s positions. But all we can do is we can take something we can do, we can think about what can I do? What can I do today? You know? I can go get hot hands, like hand warmers, and have them around or distribute them. Or I can learn how to build a campfire, or I can go talk to my neighbor that I don’t talk to much and kind of get a sense of who she is and how we could support each other if things go wrong. Or we just do things one at a time and hope that collectively—because there’s a lot of us on this planet, and if we all do things—well, we all did lots of little things and that caused the destruction of everything. So what have we all do lots of little things in the other direction? And I’m not talking—god, this sounds like I’m fucking talking about straws and shit, like fuck straws. I don’t care one way or the other about individual consumerism that causes this issue. Anyway, I guess I’m done with the podcast. Thank you for listening and I will talk to you all soon.

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

Jun
26

S1E31 – Guy on Heat-related Illness

Margaret talks with an experienced wilderness first aid trainer and guide heat-related illness with an experienced wilderness first aid trainer and guide about heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehyrdration, and more importantly, over-hydration.

Jun
25

S1E30 – Parks on Disaster Relief

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/48f34a6f-b718-4379-a1f3-253a4dcc3666.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

Margaret talks to Parks from Appalachian Medical Solidarity about disaster relief, what kinds of medical interventions are often needed after a disaster, and how to both respond to and prepare for them.

Guest info and links

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

49:54

SPEAKERS
Margaret, Parks

Margaret  
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the End Times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns. This week I’m talking to Parks, who is a medical professional who works with Appalachian Medical Solidarity. And when I say this week I mean I recorded this interview at the very beginning of starting this podcast, which was just before the pandemic. I started this podcast in early 2020 when I had no real reason to think that COVID was going to become COVID in the way that it did. So this episode about, you know, medical things and disaster situations didn’t really seem like it made a lot of sense. It’s not what a lot of people were thinking about when it came to disaster and medical issues throughout all of 2020. But I actually, I still think this information is really important. And there are so many other crises that are happening now and will continue to happen. And so we talk a lot about, well, just what it means to be a responder to disaster, especially from a medical point of view, and I hope you get a lot out of it. I know I did. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts and here’s a jingle from another show on the network.

Jingle  
One to two one two, tune in for another episode of MaroonCast. MaroonCast is a down to earth black radical podcast for the people. Our host hip hop anarchist, Sima Lee the RBG, and sex educator and crochet artist, KLC, share their reflections on Maroons, rebellion, womanism, life, culture, community, trap liberation, and everyday ratchet. They deliver fresh commentary with the queer, transgender non conforming, funny, Southern guls, anti imperialist, anti oppression approach, poly add and bullshit. Check out episodes of MaroonCast on Channel Zero Network, Buzzsprout, SoundCloud, Google, Apple, and Spotify. All power to the people, all pleasure.

Margaret  
So, welcome to the podcast. 

Parks  
Thank you. 

Margaret  
Do you want to introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, and affiliations that you would like to be known for for this podcast?

Parks  
Sure. So my name is Parks, I use he/him pronouns, and I’m affiliated with Appalachian Medical Solidarity.

Margaret  
Could you maybe start by talking about what Appalachian Medical Solidarity is, like what you all do?

Parks  
Sure. Appalachian Medical Solidarity is a group that is centered in Asheville and the southern Appalachian area. And we provide disaster medical interventions, particularly after hurricanes and things of that nature. And we’re working on other projects around the area, we do a lot of education in the area. For example, we taught a CPR certification class this weekend, and a Naloxone class.

Margaret  
So one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that you told me once—you went through the list of how people design die and natural disasters and how it’s not what people think it is. And clearly preparing or understanding how natural disasters work is, like, comparable to understanding how larger disasters work and things like that. So I was wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about disaster and what the actual, like, kind of threat models are?

Parks  
Sure. So there are several kinds of disasters and natural disasters, as you and your audience are likely aware. One that my group deals with specifically based on our geographic location is hurricanes. In developed countries, or countries with well-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads, deaths from hurricanes tend to come after the event itself. So the hurricane may kill less than 10 people—I’m not, I’m making up numbers there—but a small number of people will be killed by things like wind and falling trees and powerlines coming down and, you know, maybe a tree falling through their house and hitting them, that type of thing. More people die in flooding during the event than anything else. So most people don’t die from being hit by a tree or blown away. They die from drowning and flooding, particularly when trapped in houses or when trapped in their cars, situations like that. So in places like the United States, those fatalities tend to be low. More people die in the few days after the hurricane. So as the power is out and infrastructure is down and people start to do things to cope with the infrastructure being down, part of the issue in developed countries is people are not accustomed to the infrastructure being down, so they’re not necessarily aware of safety precautions to use when using things like grills or propane heaters or other non-conventional items, or in non-conventional areas. So people tend to die of carbon monoxide poisoning when they’re using devices that need to be used in a ventilated area indoors, such as propane heaters, gas grills, things of that nature. They also tend to die after those events from chainsaw injuries, that’s pretty common one, or from improper use of chainsaw, so trying to cut down trees and people being untrained to do so and having the tree fall on them. In that scenario, that type of thing. That’s a much more common way to die in developed or over developed countries after disasters. People also die from food poisoning after disasters as they eat things out of their refrigerators and freezers that are going down. That’s not as common, but it does happen. Sometimes people have issues with the spread of contagious illnesses inside of shelters. But here again, that’s not usually causing a lot of people to die, it’s causing a lot of people to have colds.

Margaret  
So would you say that one of the better ways to prepare is more about, like, knowing how to use your emergency equipment—like knowing, like, chainsaws and propane and all that or?

Parks  
I would—yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Knowing how to use equipment without, you know—knowing how to properly use a chainsaw, knowing when and where to properly use a propane heater. The other thing I would suggest is simply not using those items if you’re not trained or unsure. You know, after a hurricane event, if you’re a little cold, you know, put on extra layers if that’s an option. If you can eat crackers and peanut butter instead of trying to, you know, make some kind of makeshift stove inside your house, then do that. You know, wait till it stops raining and you can move your grill outside. So use a little bit of common sense and forego small what are, you know, small luxuries essentially like cooking your food indoors or heat if you can, if you can live without it. 

Margaret  
I want to ask you about Appalachian Medical Solidarity and your experiences with it and like what you’ve seen, or what people who are part of AMS have seen or like, I know, for example, when we had the conversation before we did this interview that you talked about while you’re a medical professional, and you’re often not using your, you know, surgery skills or something like that on the ground.

Parks  
That’s true. You know, with Appalachian Medical Solidarity, I am a medical clinician and I don’t end up using my medical skills very often after disasters. We occasionally will see things like people having to use insulins—types of insulin they’re not accustomed to and they don’t know how to do the calculation to identify the proper dose. So sometimes people need help with things like that. And upper respiratory issues. They’re not usually—what we’re seeing at as a volunteer community group are not the kind of issues that people are going to the hospital for. The hospitals tend to still be in place, people go to the hospital. So the things we’re seeing are relatively minor as it comes to medical issues. What we’re seeing more is people needing help mucking out their houses, needing help cutting out drywall, needing help getting trees out of the road or off their houses. So mostly what we’re seeing is a great need for cleanup and also a need for supplies to get into certain areas. So it can be difficult with trees down and powerlines down and flooding and roads washed out to get things like clean water to certain areas or food that people can eat. So a lot of transporting supplies and the, you know, one to three days after a disaster before FEMA is able to come in ends up being something that we see a lot.

Margaret  
That’s one of the kind of advantages that I found that—or at least people talk about, like autonomous and anarchist disaster relief and mutual aid—how this is about like the ability to mobilize quickly and maybe, like, without some of the inefficiencies of large organized structures. And I’m wondering if you want to talk about how you all organize, to get supplies and aid to crisis areas?

Parks  
That’s a great question and it’s one that we’ve been working on. I think we can improve our dispatching capabilities and how we identify different areas and need. At least in our recent experience, one of the things we’ve run into is a need to pre stage before disasters when we know a disaster is coming. So that’s not always possible. But with hurricanes, we tend to have a sense that that’s maybe going to hit, so getting closer to the area—or as close as you can to the disaster zone and stay safe so that you’re not just adding to the, you know, people that need to have supplies brought to them. So staying in an area that’s near the disaster area where you’re still safe. And so you’re able to quickly mobilize supplies and able to mobilize personnel into areas that are hardest hit is an important thing. We mostly do it through cell phones and, at times, driving around randomly, honestly, and looking for people. We’ve also watched flood maps online to see where flooding is the worst and where places might be isolated. News media pretty quickly starts to cover and tell people where isolated pockets might be, like this town is cut off, or that town is cut off, or, you know, these highways are washed out. So you can use that information to try to dispatch your personnel to those areas and to dispatch supplies to those areas. But I think that could be improved upon. So pre planning is certainly a helpful thing, you know, trying to come up with who is going to be a dispatcher, who’s going to watch the news, who’s going to watch the flood map, who’s going to be pre staging, all of those things are important. And one of the points I think, also is that specialized personnel aren’t necessarily needed in these cases, you know? Just having people who can drive, having people who have vehicles that, you know, like trucks or trailers that can move a large quantity of water. And just having people that can drive back and forth supplying water and food to certain areas is invaluable. You know, it’s nice to have a nurse, it’s nice to have someone who can use a chainsaw. But it’s, that’s not the majority of people that are really needed.

Margaret  
How do you get into isolated areas?

Parks  
That’s a great question. There was one hurricane in which we teamed up with some private pilots to be airlifted into those areas. I’m not sure if airlifted is the right word, we weren’t jumping out of the planes, but small planes that could land and fields or could land in small airports and rural areas would take two or three personnel and a quantity of supplies, and they were able to fly back and forth and bring supplies into places where roads didn’t have access for several days. And that was invaluable. So that’s one of the more fancy ways that we’ve been able to access folks who are cut off. Other ways are, you know, tall four wheel drive vehicles. So just having the kind of equipment or having the kind of vehicles that can withstand those kind of conditions and get into places. You know, if you have a small two wheel drive hatchback car, it’s not going to make it. So having somebody available, who has the type of vehicle that might be able to get into more challenging environments. 

Margaret  
One of the things that I’m interested in is sort of the cultural bridging that happens during disaster and crisis. And I’ve heard stories that there was kind of an interesting cultural difference between the types of folks who own small airplanes and the types of folks who organize anarchistically bring supplies places, is that something you feel like you can talk about it?

Parks  
Sure, that’s absolutely the case. And I think that’s a major issue in people signing up to be personnel after disasters, you know? I think people who initially are going into these areas in the first two or three days need to be people who can interface with all kinds of people, who can withstand being insulted, who can withstand, you know, different things like that, like it’s not a—it’s not as safe and supportive working environment in any way. You know, socially, the people who were operating the private airplanes, for example, tended to be wealthy individuals, often were white males who were wealthy, a lot of them—or possibly all of them—were Republican, these kind of things. So folks who feel uncomfortable interfacing with those folks, or feel uncomfortable building bridges with those folks, you know, there’s a need to be polite, there’s a need to reach out, there’s a need to work together, there’s a need to problem solve with people who are very different from yourself, who, whose ideas of, you know, even who should deserve help are very different than yours. So, being someone who’s very diplomatic is very valuable in those scenarios. And folks who aren’t as diplomatic or who don’t want to interface with people, you know, that are very different than them, are possibly better suited to roles like doing dispatch, or gathering supplies, or, you know, there are plenty of roles to do. But it’s important to consider that folks are going to have to interface with a lot of different people who are not necessarily being their best selves, and who are very different than them and have a different idea of reasonable politeness than they do.

Margaret  
Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of one of the things that sort of interesting about disaster scenarios and apocalypse and all that kind of crap is that you get into this idea of a lot of different types of communities having to pull together in order to survive. And one of the things that I’m kind of trying to explore with this podcast is the sort of idea of the opposite of—instead of like a nationalist approach to disaster, where you like bunker up with your friends and you have yours, fuck you—like this, like, internationalist approach of, like, working together with diverse communities and things like that. And so it’s just fascinating because usually when I think about, like, working with diverse communities, I don’t think of, like, right wing libertarian types, you know? And yet, I mean, there’s a certain amount of, like—and maybe I’m being overly generous—but like, okay, yeah, they may be a rich Republican, but they’re willing to fly into storms and small planes in order to give people things for free. So that’s kind of what we want from people. You know?

Parks  
I absolutely agree. You know, there’s something called the disaster bug, which is where people go into disaster zones, and they, they get really fixated on it, or they really enjoy it, and they seek out that scenario again. And part of the reason for getting that disaster bug in my opinion is, you know, people are at their worst at times, but really overall people are at their best. You know, people are ready to collaborate, people are willing to do things they wouldn’t normally do, like, help people, they wouldn’t normally help, things like that. So watching communities draw together, watching people, you know, go to their neighbor’s houses and see if they need anything, is beautiful and a wonderful thing. And, you know, you get to meet all kinds of people that you wouldn’t normally get to meet—or I get to meet all kinds of people that I wouldn’t normally meet. And I really value that and my experience. You know, I think it’s interesting to meet the rich Republican dude that wants to fly people into a difficult flight situation and deliver food to people they might not normally think about. I think that’s great. You know, it expands their horizons potentially, it expands our horizons, and, you know, ultimately it helps people and that’s really the purpose. But I personally think that’s great. But I also recognize that that can be a challenge for some folks.

Margaret  
Yeah, that makes sense. I want to talk about how have you—and if you don’t we can cut this part out—have you had to do sort of disaster triage or like—like, in what way has like your—as a medical provider or whatever, how do you plan for medical care, specifically in disaster situations, or especially if you’re preparing for a situation in which hospitals weren’t available, but even in preparing for situations in which hospitals are harder to get to and things like that?

Parks  
Sure, that’s a reasonable question. And I don’t have a great answer to it, actually. You know, hospitals and paramedic teams and those kind of groups already have triage processes in place. So there are, for example, toe tags or tags that medical personnel will put on individuals indicating the severity of their illness. And then they will decide based on the number of casualties and the number of people needing medical care what order to treat people in when they can’t treat everyone at once. So those kinds of organizations already have a system for that. I can’t say that my group has had a need to triage people in that way because we simply haven’t seen large numbers of injuries at once, which is fortunate. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
It would be good for us to prepare for that perhaps I haven’t really taken it into consideration. But, you know, a lot of what we’re seeing is needing to assist people using their own medications. So needing to help people find their inhaler in their ruined house, or find a neighbor who uses an inhaler that they can borrow, or calculate a new dose of insulin based on what insulin might be available to them. So getting people supplies, getting people on medications that they already take, you know, having people—helping people to find the medical equipment that they already have that they need, those things are helpful. And prior—you know, certainly prioritize people with medical needs in terms of transporting them to shelters or transporting them to hospitals, things of that nature. But we have not been responding in the—well, I should say, I have not been responding in the minutes and hours, you know, few hours right after a disaster during which time people may need things like swift water rescue, or may need things like airlifting out situations, where there may be people who are injured enough that they require getting to a hospital within a few minutes or within an hour. Those would be done by—those kind of rescue things will be done by specialized teams and we’re certainly not trained to do those.

Margaret  
Okay, and maybe also the people who are more immediately already on the ground?

Parks  
Correct. So not only people with specialized training, but people who are already on the ground, you know. I would certainly advise any group to be well aware of what I would call scope of practice. So be well aware of what you can safely offer and what you cannot safely offer. And don’t go outside of that. Don’t try to offer something that you aren’t trained to do, don’t try to offer something that you’re not prepared to follow up with, that you’re not able to do all the way through. You know, don’t offer someone transport to the hospital if you’re not sure you can get them there, or if you’re not reasonably sure you can get them there. You know, because you’re delaying their getting into an ambulance, you’re delaying their getting into a medical fight helicopter if you’re offering something you can’t follow through with, if that makes sense.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s actually a really interesting concept. And, like, could apply to a lot of situations, but even gets back to the, like, the chainsaw use for example of, like, you know—I’ve only recently started actually training with a chainsaw and I always thought it was just a matter of, like, making sure you’re not in the way of the blade. And like making sure that, you know, if it bucks back, the blade won’t hit you. And that’s, like, that’s a big part of it. But then I’m like learning that there’s, like, a lot of stuff about the way trees hold tension and that apparently what kills a lot of chainsaw operators is just, like, releasing the tension on a tree and having everything go crazy. And so the scope of practice, that’s a useful phrase I hadn’t heard before.

Parks  
Absolutely. And I would say, you know, do what you can. A lot of people don’t do what they can, you know? Step up, do what you can, decide you’re going to help. That’s the first thing. You know, assess the situation, decide you’re going to help, and then help in a way that you’re able to. And of course if you set up in a truck, you don’t know if you’re going to come up to a washed out road. And if you do, that’s okay, you know, turn back, don’t try to cross, you know, a flooded area you can’t cross or anything like that. Don’t try to offer medical care to someone who’s more hurt than you can really help them with or—or do what you can, you know? If what you can do is hold their head still while the EMS gets there, great, do that. You know, do it, you can. Absolutely step up and do what you can. But don’t try to do things that are outside of your abilities. And don’t take risks. In a scenario where it’s difficult to get people in and out of a situation, if you are a relatively healthy person who’s going in to help and you get hurt, you are delaying care for people who are already hurt, you know, you’re clogging up the system. And, you know, you’re also getting hurt, which is a problem. But not only that, but you know, you’re clogging up the system, you’re making one more casualty for medical personnel to deal with, you’re making it worse. You know, one of the first rules in medical care is do no harm, right, don’t make it worse. And it’s really easy to make it worse. It’s a lot easier than you think to make it worse. You know, don’t go in and say you’re going to sterilize water and you don’t know how and you poison someone. You know, don’t go in and think you’re just going to figure out a chainsaw and get hit by a tree. You know, there’s lots of things that might be trickier than you think. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
So go and help but sit and think a while before you take on a project that you might be unprepared for and might be dangerous.

Margaret  
What are some—if people are interested in doing either disaster response or preparedness within their own communities for potential disaster, what are some of the skills—especially like first aid or medical type skills—that you think people can and should develop? Like in a more generalized sense, like what should people be learning and focusing on?

Parks  
Basic medical care at home is a good thing to focus on. So the number one thing that I see people not doing enough of is washing their hands and washing their hands properly. That sounds really basic, but people really don’t do it enough. So learning how to wash your hands, washing your hands for an adequate amount of time with clean water, with soap, and doing it consistently when you need to. You know, if you’re touching a person and you go touch another person and you haven’t washed your hands, you’re spreading, you know, potentially you’re spreading all kinds of pathogens from one person to another and to yourself. So learning how to wear gloves, when to wear gloves, how to take them off without contaminating yourself, you know, how to wash your hands in a way that’s effective. I would start there. I think those things are really important. Recognizing an infection is a helpful thing. You know, being able to look at a wound and say, within reason, if it’s obviously infected or not. I mean, that’s—that can be a specialized skill, but there are some things that, you know, a regular person might be able to learn in advance that may be helpful. So those things are important. I would say also water is a big thing after any kind of disaster that’s gonna affect infrastructure. So focus on getting enough water, storing enough water, knowing how to sterilize water, knowing water from—knowing what source to get your water from, you know, you don’t want to use flood water, for example, that’s very difficult to impossible to sterilize in a way that’s going to be accessible after a disaster. You know, there might be people out there with specialized skills who know how to do that, but most people are not, you know, that’s not a good idea. You know, finding a stream is going to be better, collecting rainwater is going to be better. There’s lots of different, you know, water sources that you can identify that might be better choices for you. So if you want to get fancy or do a little more, you might identify water sources near your home, for example, you might find out where your nearest stream is. If you’re, you know, if you’re living in a place that might have the kind of disasters where your water infrastructure might go down, and that’s more likely in some places than others. But first and foremost, I would say water. 

Margaret  
What, um, can you talk more specifics about, like, for example, what kinds of places the water infrastructure is more vulnerable and also, like, how people might, yeah, get water, filter water, sterilize water, whatever they need.

Parks  
The CDC has some good guidelines on that. As does as FEMA actually, so FEMA’s website has good instructions on what kind of sources to look for after a disaster. Firstly, knowing about storing of water is helpful. It’s not great to store water in your empty, you know, gallon water jug that you got from the, you know, from the store, unless you’re able to sterilize it. And you can sterilize it by using a mix of bleach water, I don’t remember the ratio, but shake that around in your container, empty it out, rinse your container, and store water. So prior to events know how to store water if you’re going to use your own containers and know how to store it properly. And, you know, be wary of glass containers because they can break. And if your water supplies on glass containers and it breaks, you know, you’re out of luck. So first of all know how to store water beforehand. And if you’re able to do that, you can avoid having to find sources of water afterwards, which is ideal. You know, sterilizing your tap water is something that may be accessible to you if the tap water is not contaminated. The other thing to do is to know how to turn off the main—the water mains to your house. So if there’s an announcement that the water is contaminated, you would turn off the water main to your house, empty the faucets, and you can typically still use the water that’s in your hot water heater if you have one. So—and a lot of this is geared toward people who live indoors, obviously. So if you don’t live indoors that’s going to be a different scenario. But if you do live indoors, using the water and your hot water heater can work. And there’s a, usually there’s a way to empty it. There’s like a faucet at the bottom of the hot water heater or something like that. You can use the water in there. You’d probably want to add bleach to it. But look up the proper ratios of bleach to water and, you know, have some bleach in your house that’s fresh. Bleach goes bad after about maybe six months or a year. So make sure you have something that’s unopened and not flavored or scented or—I guess not flavored, but whatever. Not scented and without like additional cleaning agents. You don’t want to use, like, a tile cleaner with bleach. You need to use, you know, the regular bleach in a bottle that that’s all that’s in there.

Margaret  
What about like the kind of water purification tablets and things like that?

Parks  
Iodine water purification is not generally recommended. Generally bleach is recommended because it kills more of the pathogens that you’re going to be encountering after that kind of disaster. You know, if that’s all you have, then that’s all you have. But in terms of pre planning and what to get, I would recommend bleach.

Margaret  
Are you talking about, like, maybe you’ll get Giardia or like maybe you’ll, like, die immediately? Or like what’s the—what’s the threat model from contaminated water like floodwater or whatever.

Parks  
That depends. I don’t have a great answer for that. You know, in eastern North Carolina, in floodwater, there are millions of dead animals floating, you know, stuff from septic systems can be in there. So any kind of fecal oral type pathogen could be in there and, you know, think of water with, you know, human waste in it as well as rotting pigs. You know, sometimes the wastewater pits overflow, like from coal fired power plants have wastewater pits, and those can get into the groundwater or into the floodwater. So there’s not just bacteria in floodwater. There’s also toxic chemicals that can’t be filtered out, that can’t be removed with bleach, for example. So that’s one of the reasons why flood water is not going to be a good option. If you can find a stream that’s not contaminated heavily, you know, that’s not a strange color, that’s not covered with floodwater, that may be an option. Collecting rainwater is an option. You can remove salt from salt water by like taking a large pot with a—that has a lid with a handle, turn— flipping the lid over so the handle is facing inside the pot, suspend a mug or a cup from the handle inside the pot on a string. Put saltwater in the bottom of the pot, boil that for 20 minutes or so. The condensation will collect on that upside down lid, drip down the handle, and drip into your mug. You can probably find diagrams of that and your listeners might already know how to do this kind of thing. 

Margaret  
Home distillation. 

Parks  
Right. But some some knowledge of home distillation might be helpful. You know, I’ve never been in a situation where that was helpful, but I’m sure people have been.

Margaret  
Yeah. You mentioned how some—a lot of the advice that goes around is more helpful for people who live indoors. Do you want to talk about—do you have any information about either how to help people who are, or people who are themselves not living inside in disaster situations?

Parks  
If you know does that stress coming, it’s good to let people know who might not already know. So some folks who live outdoors are certainly going to be in the know about, you know, things that are happening in their community. But it can be helpful to spread that information. So let people know that there’s a hurricane coming, let people know that flood—flooding is going to be happening so that people can, if they have encampments, they can move them uphill, you know. I live in a mountainous area so, you know, in this area moving uphill as an option. That’s not necessarily going to be an option in a lot of places. But seeking shelter, securing whatever, you know, materials that you have for housing or trying to keep dry, all of those things are going to be important. Letting people know where security—or where like emergency shelters are in case they want to go to emergency shelters can be beneficial. Just making sure people are aware in advance. You know, somebody who—I live inside, so somebody who lives outside might be able to—might be better able to provide information on preparedness and that scenario.

Margaret  
Off the top of your head—or, what are some of the common myths about disaster survival that that irritate you?

Parks  
I don’t think this is a myth. But I think people are both underprepared and over prepared. Okay.  Sometimes people prepare for like situations that sound more interesting, rather than situations that are more likely. For example, people might have wilderness survival skills that involve starting a fire with sticks or, you know, distilling water in strange situations or, I don’t know. And while those things might come in handy at some point, things like washing your hands and knowing how to store your water reasonably safely, you know, knowing that expiration dates of foods or how to tell if your meat is spoiled or not, you know, those like less romantic, I guess, skills are actually going to be far more important and far more useful and far more likely to be utilized. So I think it’s easy to prepare for, like, what are we going to do if civilization collapses? And while living in the woods, like we need all these skills on like, you know, do you—like, do you really—like in what situation are you going to, like, need to go and kill a deer because you really can’t get literally anything from the grocery store?

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
You know, that might, I don’t know, maybe that happens. But you know, in the United States that’s really unlikely to be—depending on where you live. You know, maybe if you live rurally and you already depend on killing deer or killing animals for your food then, of course, you know, you’re going to continue to rely on that food source. But for people that don’t already rely on that food source, you know, developing those more specialized skills is interesting and cool, but don’t neglect the less interesting skills and preparations. Like it’s good to have a radio that runs on batteries. It’s good to have extra batteries. Do you need 100 guns? Probably not. You know, guns are really overrated. I think after disasters, you know, most people are very kind to each other after disasters. You know, if people are looting, it’s generally because they need the stuff. And if you’re the kind of person that wants to shoot people because they’re stealing items from a store, I don’t know what to tell you other than, you know, you might reevaluate your life. But, you know, I don’t know how useful it’s going to be unless you’re planning on hunting because that’s something you already rely on. You know, for a lot of folks like myself who don’t rely on hunting, live indoors, you know, a gun is not actually going to be helpful. I don’t think, you know, having social skills, having the ability to talk to people that aren’t like you, you know, knowing how to wash your hands, I really can’t say it enough.

Margaret  
That’s gonna be the title of this episode: Wash Your Fucking Hands.

Parks  
Wash your hands and do it right. You know, using hand sanitizer—this is an important one—using hand sanitizer after you go to the bathroom is not effective. You need soap and water. 

Margaret  
Okay.

Parks  
The kind of pathogens that are spread from the oral fecal route, so to speak, are not cleaned off your hands by hand sanitizer.

Margaret  
What is hand sanitizer good for?

Parks  
Hand sanitizer is good for anything that gives you a stuffy nose. Anything that gives you diarrhea, you need soap and water. 

Margaret  
Okay. 

Parks  
Not anything in the world but, you know, that’s a rough estimate.

Margaret  
Well, okay, so you talk a bit about risk analysis. I’m really excited about what I think hackers but maybe other people coin threat modeling. And like people talking about, like, you know, okay, your internet security might be really good, but based on the wrong threat model. And, you know, a gun for example is a good tool for certain threat models, like someone specifically trying to kill you.

Parks  
Right.

Margaret  
But a very bad tool for a lot of other threat models. And so it sounds like kind of what you’re talking about is that people have sort of poor threat modeling when they think about preparedness in general.

Parks  
I think that’s a great way to put it, you know, just like if you’re writing and knowing who your audience is, you know, know what you’re preparing for and be fairly reasonable about that and don’t, you know, skip things that you think are obvious or skip things that you think are boring. So, you know, if you’re preparing—I don’t know, if people prepare for earthquakes, I’m not sure how on earth you would do that. You know, they hit randomly and horrible things happen. But if you’re preparing for a hurricane, if you’re preparing for flooding, you know, prepare for that in a way that makes sense. And do some research, you know, it doesn’t take very long if you have access to the internet or a library to do a little bit of research, and don’t discount, you know, government websites. Really, the CDC offers good information and FEMA offers good information on preparedness. You’re going to have to tailor that to your own specific needs of course. You know, if you use insulin and needs to be kept in a refrigerator, you need to focus on being able to refrigerate that. 

Margaret  
Okay.

Parks  
You know, if that’s not with a cooler, ice, or whatever, you need to prioritize ice if that’s your situation. Other people are not necessarily going to need to prioritize refrigeration after that kind of event, for example. Or, you know, as I was saying, if you’re planning to live in the wilderness with no contact with any kind of “civilization”, then, like, your skill set certainly needs to be different than if you’re trying to survive, you know, an urban setting that suddenly has no infrastructure. You know, one of the main issues—well I don’t know about main issues—but one of the issues after Hurricane Sandy in New York City was people in high rises who couldn’t flush their toilets and didn’t—and lived, you know, on the 10th or 12th floor of a building and were unable to haul water up and down the stairs because of physical issues. And that quickly became a very, very dire problem. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
 So, you know, and that’s a problem that’s specific to a certain physical scenario. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
So preparing for your physical scenario and preparing for the actual threat and having some sense of, you know, maybe over prepare slightly. But you don’t necessarily need, like, a year’s worth of food for an event that’s probably going to take a week or two to stabilize.

Margaret  
Right. Well, if you have a year’s worth of food than you have, you know, 300 peoples’ day’s worth of food.

Parks  
That’s true. And there may be, you know, scenarios in which that makes sense. But in that scenario, it’s still a week’s worth of food, you’re taking into consideration the number of people. Yeah. And if you want to be able to feed your whole town, that’s awesome. You know, is it necessary? I don’t know. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Parks  
You know,

Margaret  
You once said something something to me that was one of the best examples of risk analysis that I actually use fairly often—I came to you with a medical concern and I said, am I going to die because of this or that thing? And you said to me, well, I can’t tell you that—because you’re honest to a fault—you’re like, I can’t tell you that you won’t die because that’s completely possible, you could also be eaten by a shark today in Asheville.

Parks  
Right, I remember that. Yeah, and I think those things are reasonable to keep in mind, you know, you’re not likely to be killed by a chainsaw if you’re not using one after a disaster, so I don’t know.

Margaret  
So I’m not gonna wear my chops all the time.

Parks  
Right, so you don’t need to wear your chainsaw chaps all the time necessarily, unless you’re just like them maybe, look, I don’t know. But yeah, you know, think about what’s likely and think about what’s important. So if something is unlikely to occur but will definitely kill you, if it does you may want to be—have some preparedness for that, within reason. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Parks  
You know, if something is not likely to happen and not going to be a big deal if it happens, you don’t necessarily need to prepare for that. Like, how much do you need to prepare for boredom, you know, maybe a little bit, but that’s not super important. You know, it’s not that likely that you’re going to be stuck in your house more than a week. But if you were and you didn’t have water, you could die. Humans can survive a fairly long time without food, but we can’t survive more than a few days without water. So, you know, that’s why I emphasize that too.

Margaret  
So eat peanut butter and crackers rather than tainted meat if you’re only stuck for a week?

Parks  
Sure, yeah, you know, if you have the ability to cook, you know, if you have a grill, if it’s not raining, you know how to use the grill, it’s the first day after your freezer has gone down, absolutely cook all your meat, you know, and eat it and share it and all those things, that make sense. But if it’s been a week, and your freezer has been off for a week, and you’ve got meat left, you know, and that’s it, don’t eat it. If it’s been sitting out, you know, unless it’s jerky or something like that, you know, you don’t want to risk a diarrheal illness or a vomiting illness if you if your water supplies are scarce, particularly. 

Margaret  
Probably final question: So we talked a little bit about the the kinds of people that you’d be working with to go into disaster areas. But in terms of going into communities, often as outsiders, what does that look like in terms of not been more trouble than you’re actually worth, in terms of making sure that it’s like sort of a consensual relationship with the people? I know, I was talking to someone who’s from a Caribbean island and he was talking about how, you know, non official organizations showing up to help are often just in the way and doing all the wrong things. While, of course, also most people I know are also very critical of the official organizations who go into help because then they take resources and centralize them and disempower people and cut people out of agency and things like that.

Parks  
Yeah, don’t go to a disaster area unless you have truly something to offer and you’re able to get yourself in, supply for all of your needs the entire time you’re there, and get yourself out. If you can’t do those things, don’t go unless you’re already there in your chapter with other people, then respond accordingly. But, you know, if you’re not already in a disaster area that hit where you are living, don’t go on vacation to see how bad it is, you know, don’t drive around in an area to gawk at the damage. There’s, that’s rude. Don’t do that. And it’s not helpful. You know, if you have, like, two power bars and one 16 ounce bottle of water, don’t go into a disaster area and think you’re prepared because you’re not. You’re going to be a drain on resources. You know, there are going to be a lot of people who already have skills in an area, you know, if an area in the United States is hit by a hurricane or, you know, some kind of disaster, there are already medical personnel there. You know, there are already people there who know how to use chainsaws, there are already people there who knows how to hunt or, you know, various things. So, to some extent, you know, keep your ear to the ground, see what people need. If you can, you know, ferry water to the edge of a disaster area and give it to someone who is already networked to distribute it or something like that, that may be very helpful. And it may be boring to you to drive, you know, 100 gallons of water from, you know, where you live to the edge of a disaster zone and then go home again, you might be tempted to like, dive in and drive around, go be helpful. But you know, driving water to the edge and going home is really helpful in certain scenarios. You know, driving in with a bunch of food that you don’t know where you’re going to leave it, and you’re just driving around trying to give it to people who don’t, you know, you don’t, I don’t know, you don’t know where the need is. That’s not necessarily as helpful. Yeah, don’t become a drain. Don’t go and need to be fed or housed or clothed or need water in an area that’s already strained. You know, the more people that there are in a strained situation with limited resources, the less those limited resources are able to go around. So be realistic about what you can contribute and be realistic about whether what you can contribute is going to be better than what you know the people—the skills that people already there have, if that makes sense. 

Margaret  
That does. If someone wants to learn more about either Appalachian Medical Solidarity or other mutual aid disaster relief organizations, do you have a place to point them to or anything like that?

Parks  
I’m not sure. I think AMS has a Facebook page. I don’t actually know. 

Margaret  
Okay. 

Parks  
Yeah, I’m not sure. If you’re in the Asheville area, you know, we do put out announcements for classes and things that, you could certainly come and talk to us. There is a team with AMS, with Appalachian Medical Solidarity, that does stuff on computers and social media. 

Margaret  
And you’re not on that team.

Parks  
I’m not, and I’m not on that team. And I don’t use computers outside of work if I can help it because I don’t like them. So I’m sorry, but we could probably find that information and add it.

Margaret  
I’m going to add it, yeah. I’ll do an aside.

Parks  
Thanks.

Margaret  
Okay. Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. Is there any—Is there anything I missed, any like final takeaway, besides wash your hands?

Parks  
Just have water, wash your hands. Those are really important. Decide to help, you know, I think is what I would say, decide to help and realize what helping is and realize what not helping is in any given scenario. You know, don’t let your worry about, you know, being a burden or not knowing how to help or not having specialized skills, don’t let that stop you from helping. Decide to help, but help within reason. Usually—you know, find out what people need, find out what people don’t need, don’t guess what people need and just start sending a bunch of crap to an area, it’s not helpful. You know, but find out where you can plug in, try to get reliable information on what’s needed. And if you have the ability to meet any of those needs, then do it. Absolutely. But don’t go outside of your scope of practice, don’t go outside of what you are actually able to contribute. Contribute what you can, don’t try to contribute what you can’t. Okay.

Margaret  
Okay. Thank you so much. 

Parks  
Yeah, absolutely. 

Margaret  
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell people about it. Please tell the machine overlords about it—or rather, tell them to tell other people about it by liking and subscribing and posting and following us on social media. We have—you don’t even have to just follow me on social media now. Live Like the World is Dying has its own Instagram page and Facebook page, although Facebook is, besides being terrible for the world is also really terrible in terms of engagement for projects. It’s actually just a garbage fire that is trying to get me to buy advertising. And then turns down my advertising? I finally like gave in and tried to give it some money to, so that people who like the like the redesign page actually see Live Like the World is Dying posts, and I was rejected. And well, fuck you, you don’t like me, I don’t like you either. And clearly, that’s my only problem with Facebook or the algorithms that run the world is that they didn’t like me personally. Anyway, you can also tell about it in person, that’s even cooler. And if you want to support this podcast more directly, you can do so by supporting me, which will soon be supporting the Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness publisher. But you can support us on Patreon—or currently me on Patreon—later us on Patreon, depending on when you’re actually listening to this, at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy or patreon.com/I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-to-change-it-to. But I’m sure you can find it, you clever people. And there you can support us. There’s a zine that goes out every month. It’s very behind, but it’s going to become less behind now that it’s a collective project, and all kinds of good stuff. Also, if you don’t have any fucking money, don’t give me any fucking money. It’s totally fine. We’ll give you all of our ship for free. If you message me on any social media platform, I’ll give you access to all of our content for free because money should go from the people who have more money to the people have less money and not the other way around. In as much as money is a useful construct, which is a different argument for a different time. In particular, I would like to thank Sean and Hugh and Dana and Chelsea, Eleanor, Mike, Starro, Cat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, Nora, and Chris. You all make this possible and I am endlessly grateful. And I also am grateful to everyone else. Because now that people actually like pay attention to this shit we have a fucking chance, right? Like, we can all like take care of each other and like live happily ever after unless everything’s on fire—we’ll figure it out. Right? We’ll figure it out. Okay, be well.

Find out more at https://live-like-the-world-is-dying.pinecast.co

Jun
11

S1E29 – Shane Burley on Confronting Fascism during the Apocalypse

Margaret talks with author and organizer Shane Burley about fascism: what it is, why it comes up during times of crisis, and what we can do about it. They discuss the ways that we organize as anti-authoritarians to confront the ultimate authoritarianism.

May
03

S1E28 – Liza Kurtz on Disaster Studies and Elite Panic

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/336afba8-4c59-4b7f-a16c-007e3df32196.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

In this episode, Margaret talks to Liza Kurtz about disaster studies and elite panic.

The guest, Liza Kurtz, is a a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies the impact of disaster on society, specifically how class and other antecedent conditions make people vulnerable to disasters. She is @semihumanist on twitter, and you can email her at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com.

The host, Margaret Killjoy, can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.

Transcript

1:07:41

SPEAKERS
Margaret, Liza Kurtz

Margaret  
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns. And this week I’m talking with Liza Kurtz, who is a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies essentially the impact—well, the impact of disaster upon society. And we talk about a lot of stuff, we cover a lot of ground in this episode. But primarily, we’re talking about the ways in which people do and don’t respond to disaster. And basically, are trying to kind of bust the myth of that everyone runs around and, you know, murders each other or whatever. And also we get to talk about elite panic which is the idea that basically the people who are invested in the system are the ones who panic during times of extraordinary crisis. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another podcast on the network. Da daaaaa.

Jingle Speaker 1
Kite Line is a weekly 30-minute radio program focusing on issues in the prison system. You’ll hear news along with stories from prisoners and former prisoners as well as their loved ones. You’ll learn what prison is, how it functions, and how it impacts all of us. 

Jingle Speaker 2
Behind the prison walls, a message is called a kite. Whispered words, a note passed hand-to-hand, a request submitted the guards for medical care. Elicit or not, sending a kite means trusting that other people will bear it farther along until it reaches its destination. Here on Kite Line we hope to share these words across the prison walls. 

Jingle Speaker 1
You can hear us on the Channel Zero Network and find out more at kitelineradio.noblogs.org.

Margaret  
Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then also just kind of, like, what you do, like, what do—you know, why did I bring you on this show?

Liza  
Sure thing that sounds great. So my name is Lisa Kurtz. I am a PhD candidate at Arizona State University. I use the pronouns she and her. And my research really focuses on specifically heat and power outages in the southwest. That’s what my dissertation will be about. But in general, I am grounded in disaster sociology as a discipline, looking at it from sort of a conflict theory lens, which is a fancy way of saying, I look at class struggle and how antecedent conditions of disaster make people vulnerable to what we perceive as these, like, natural events that cause great harm.

Margaret  
Okay. What does that mean? That last part. 

Liza  
Sure, yeah. That’s a good question. So basically I think we have a tendency, and certainly there’s a tendency in popular culture and in the media to perceive any kind of disaster as—the term you’ll hear used in legal circles, and sometimes in the press, is an “act of God,” right? Like something no one could have predicted that just happens, that’s nobody’s fault. And it causes great suffering, but that suffering often isn’t really drilled down on to see why did this happen. And so what disaster sociology and disaster studies try to do really is pick that apart and really trouble the implication that these things are just natural and just happen. Because they don’t. And so if you look at who suffers most from disasters, if you look at why disasters happen at all, really all they are these natural events make a lens that that focuses and amplifies what’s already going on in society. So if you have inequality, you have injustice, disaster brings all of that to the fore. But there’s a temptation to think of it as coming out of nowhere, when in reality, we create the conditions that make suffering happen during a disaster. So Katrina is a great example of this. You can say, “Oh, it was, you know, a hundred-year storm, nobody could have predicted a hurricane that large.” And there’s some element of truth to that, but there’s more elements of truth to how we built the city of New Orleans reflects, like, the racial injustice of its history and the poverty that we’ve allowed to flourish there. And all of that can get hidden behind the idea that this storm just happened.

Margaret  
Yeah. It’s interesting, because one of the things that I focus on when I pay attention to disasters is actually the almost—the inverse consideration as far as it goes, as far as class—not in terms of like, clearly, people who are oppressed in society along numerous axes are far more likely to suffer during disasters. But I guess I like, I put a lot of my energy into thinking about how people come together during disasters. And the main thing that I’ve been learning slowly and I kind of want to talk to you about is this idea that, like, everyone except the elite come together and, like, work on shit together during disasters. Is that—

Liza  
Oh, man.

Margaret  
Is that true? Is that, like—that’s my conception, right.

Liza  
That is certainly. Yeah, that’s pretty spot on in a lot of cases. Yeah. And you’re right certainly that people who suffer disproportionately during disasters, the folks who are vulnerable, who take the hardest hit, whether that’s health or money or property damage, that doesn’t make them not incredible at self-organizing and incredible at building community and responding to those events. It just makes—means they take a disproportionate amount of damage. And yeah, you’re super right in the sense that we see—so, to really talk about this I’m gonna have to backup, and maybe this isn’t that interesting, but I hope it is. I’m not sure if you know anything about the history of disaster studies.

Margaret  
I do not.

Liza  
Okay, so a lot of disaster studies came out of World War Two, like, civil defense ideas. The idea that there might be air attacks or even a land invasion of the United States by Axis forces or, right afterward and during the Cold War by Russia. And so there was this—oh, yeah, of course. Like it all goes back to the Cold War if you look hard enough, right. 

Margaret  
Yeah. 

Liza  
So there was this enormous interest in what the civilian response would be if something like that happens, and how we can encourage regular civilians to take the stress off of military forces that might be forced to respond by becoming self-reliant. So that’s where you see this, like, advertising in glossy magazines about, like, build your own fallout shelter kind of thing. All the stuff that you see in video games now, all that was super real during the Cold War, and before that it was it was air raid shelters during World War Two. And it was really to take the pressure off of military and humanitarian forces who might be forced to respond. The idea was, you didn’t want to be part of the problem. And so there was this massive wartime militaristic interest in what civilian populations would do and how we could train them to be self-sufficient. And so part of that was a ton of interest in and research into—that was funded by the military and a lot of cases—into how people would behave if something went really, really wrong. Like, would they panic? Would there be mass chaos? Would they turn on each other? And the perception that still lingers to this day in the media, if you see any bad disaster movies, and they’re pretty much all bad—although some of them are bad and fun and some are just bad. If it’s got the Rock, I’m there and I don’t care.

Margaret  
Yeah, no, that’s just natural.

Liza  
Yeah, so the perception and the expectation was that civilian populations would panic. That if there was an air raid, or a bombing, or something went wrong, there would be this mass panic. And then, as you get researchers starting to look into this, what they find actually is that people are usually pretty good at self-organizing in response to an immediate crisis. And so even though the perception is still, in the media, that if anything goes wrong it will be immediately a Walking Dead kind of scenario, as one of my interviewees put itrecently—that’s not really true. Especially not among, like, middle class and lower class communities that live side-by-side with each other all the time. And we’ll go into elite panic a little bit more. So that’s where there started to be the seed of dispelling the myth of disaster panic was then. And that research happened in the 70s and the 80s, and the late 60s a little bit. And that has since been borne out by most of the available data, that people are really good at self-rescuing, that the real first responder is your neighbor most of the time or a family member, and that folks are pretty good at making the best of terrible, terrible situations and making life easier for each other. Now, where you see that start to fall apart is in elite panic, which is when affluent communities or communities that tend to be racial enclaves—like all-white suburbs, and things like that—get that fear of the other bite, because their perception is that as soon as anything breaks bad, it’s going to be a Walking Dead scenario and everyone is going to come for their stuff. And I don’t know what goes on in their head. It seems like a very, like almost a wild west, like, take your wives and children kind of mentality. Yeah. Which is really, I mean, the more you unpack that and really think about it, the more fucked up it gets. Um, and so the elite panic can be super dangerous.

Margaret  
I mean, on some level, I might be coming for their stuff.

Liza  
Yeah, well, fair. Yeah, absolutely. 

Margaret  
Like, I might come for their stuff. I mean, you know, they have too much of it and they’re not sharing. I mean, not to tie into their own fears. It’s just, you know, the billionaires of this world like…

Liza  
No, that’s real. I’ve never confirmed this. But there’s anecdotal reports in the Balkan Wars of people who stockpiled supplies because they sort of saw things going poorly becoming extreme social pariahs and sometimes even the targets of violence because of their, their hoarding tendencies, stockpiling goods in advance and keeping other people from getting them. So apparently that was like a severe social crime at the time, although I’ve never confirmed that in the literature. I’ve just heard that anecdotally. And it’s, it’s easy to understand why, like, if you’re taking it and not sharing, then I can certainly see something similar happening here. I mean, I often tell preppers—when people ask about preppers in my work, I tell them preppers are going to die alone in a bunker full of goods because it’s great you have all that stuff, but there isn’t much you can really do with it if you don’t have the social connections to make social life happen. I think prepping in particular is a particular—a particularly elite and American form of the myth of individualism taken to the most dramatic extreme

Margaret  
Well it’s interesting thoughbecause it—if it comes from this idea of us being asked to self-rescue, us being asked to be resilient, you know—I know maybe it’s like I’m always, like, trying to, like, salvage what I can out of prepping because in my mind, yeah, like the the bunker mentality—which I talk shit on, and probably every single episode—because I basically find people who are, like, functionally know a lot about prepping but don’t call themselves preppers for a lot of good reasons. The bunker mentality is obviously just going to get you killed, whether it’s by disease or, you know, there’s like—but, but it’s interesting when this idea of like being resilient, being prepared, rather than being like “a prepper” maybe. I don’t know.

Liza  
Yeah, absolutely. And I want to draw the distinction here between what I would probably call if I, in academic speak, like the practice of prepping, which is the knowledge and the goods and knowing how to do basic survival tasks if needed, and sort of the classic American dominant culture of prepping, which is that hyper-masculinized, hyper-muscular Christianity, like, it’s just going to be me and my family and my guns and a bunker full of food kind of thing. So when I talk about prepping in a derogatory way, I definitely mean the culture and not the practice. Yeah, no, I think—I have a really complicated relationship with the idea of resilience because, on one hand, I think resilience can be used to recognize how incredible some communities are at self-organizing and taking care of themselves in the face not just a disaster but of tremendously difficult conditions. Like, it is truly astonishing what people can do to find ways to survive. And here especially we see that a lot. In Phoenix, air conditioning—which is where I am—air conditioning is really not a luxury like it is in many other places. It is 110%, a survival skill or a survival tool because it is not uncommon for summers to be 115 here, which is, if you can’t cool off that can be extremely detrimental to health. And so the people who have to live without air conditioning, in my work, have a tremendously creative number of strategies. Now, should they have to use them? No, of course not. They should, they should be able to have access to air conditioning for equity and health reasons. But that doesn’t make the things that they do any less creative or impressive in doing so. And what’s interesting to me is that sometimes we talk about prepping and the failure of systems or natural hazards can sometimes invert the relationship of who is most—how would I put this—of who is, like, doing the best in the sense that in my work in Phoenix, people who live without air conditioning are far more prepared for blackouts. So they may be more at risk in the everyday scenario as opposed to having air conditioning, but if the city’s grid failed, they already have the culture and practice of staying cool without access to air conditioning down in a way that somebody who like me, honestly, who can afford air conditioning and uses it all the time really doesn’t.

Margaret  
Just as a tangent that I’m curious about, what do people do without AC in severe, like, in severe heat. Like what do you recommend to people in power outages in the southwest? 

Liza  
Oh, boy. Well, yeah, that’s a complicated question. But we’ve been very fortunate here in Phoenix to never have a truly widespread power outage. And so generally when there are smaller scale outages here, it’s possible to seek indoor cooled shelter in another part of the city. But my dissertation focuses on asking residents what they would do during a three day power outage where the entire metro area does not have power. And I think I definitely ruined some people’s days asking them that because it’s one of those things that’s uncomfortable to consider, for sure. But people who don’t have power really talk about very, very smart ways. And what’s especially interesting is they tap into knowledge that was present prior to the city having electricity. So these really old practices of things like hanging wet blankets over doorways so that your humidifying the air that comes into your house for greater evapotranspiration is one of them. Fairly straightforward things that most of us might think of, like wearing lighter-colored clothing, or staying out of the sun. But then also some really amazing stuff like knowing, you know, knowing which structures in the town are adobe and were built prior to air conditioning and are designed to stay cool. So if you’re in a modern house in Phoenix now when you don’t have AC, the temperature inside the house will rise very quickly. But many adobe structures were built prior to air conditioning or even, like, swamp cooling which is another thing we use here which is basically a giant humidifier prior to those being accessible. And so adobe structures will stay cool significantly better than modern buildings.

Margaret  
Yeah, I like—then you also have the problem how dry it is because, yeah, the thing that immediately strikes me as evaporative cooling, like, I would be like, oh, can you like, you know, I don’t know, build, like, water catchment on the roof that holds water on the roof so it evaporates instead of transferring heat or whatever. I don’t know. But that’s dependent on a very different ecosystem. And also just some bullshit that I made up right now.

Liza  
I mean, if you think about it, that’s how all survival strategies started, right? Like, hey, I wonder if this works? Yeah, no, water is a huge, a huge cooling strategy here. And it’s funny because I’m originally from Tennessee, and I literally until I moved here did not know it was possible to buy humidifiers. I’d never seen anything but dehumidifiers. And so when I got here I was like, why would you want to put water in your house? And then my first summer I was like, oh, I get it. Yeah, water is hugely important in everyone’s cooling strategies here. And that’s another issue with blackouts in particular, because certainly if you go and ask many people who are responsible for critical infrastructure systems, they will tell you that power outages will not cause water treatment and pressure issues. But if you look at the history of citywide blackouts, the United States, there’s almost always somebody who is having to cope without household potable water at the time. And so it seems like these systems are not as resilient as we would like in terms of critical infrastructure. And here, if you don’t have access to household water, a huge number of your cooling strategy is, like, you know, just slam dunking yourself in a cold bath if you need to—suddenly become less tenable. And that can be really, really a problem.

Margaret  
Yeah. Let’s talk about—I kind of accidentally derailed you or intentionally derailed you while you’re talking about elite panic. But I’m really interested in that, because I’m really interested in this idea—like, again, the the working understanding that I’ve had, just from my my layman’s perspective or whatever, is that during disasters, overall, people like essentially self-organize—not in a utopian way inherently, but often in a way that people kind of miss when things go back to normal. But then when everything gets really fucked up seems like when the existing power—the previous power structures attempt to reassert themselves. That’s like been my observational understanding of, like, talking to a lot of people involved in disaster relief and things like that. But it seems like that ties into elite panic, this idea that people who are actually invested in the previous power relations, and especially property relations, are maybe the ones who can’t handle the idea of everyone suddenly taking care of each other and shit.

Liza  
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s spot on. And I think you really see this sort of that—well, you might almost call it like a pivot point, or an inflection point where things could turn one way or the other in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. And you really see that reflected in the practice of disaster capitalism. So I think sometimes we overlook—because it seems so inevitable—that disasters have poor outcomes, and they do for many people. Disasters can also be an opportunity to say, “Hey, business, as usual, is what got us to this outcome. How can we do things differently?” Because there’s sort of a shock to the system, whether the system is you as a resident or the household or the town or the county or the state, like, they’re really, they’re a shock point. And so they provide an opportunity to stop and say, like, okay, business as usual—the everyday practice of how we run things—got us here? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? And if you really start engaging with how does this not happen again, that means transforming those everyday practices that got you there. So I think you’re spot on with that idea that elites and people on the top who have an interest in preserving the status quo see the inflection point and sort of grab it and pull as hard as they can in the other direction. And so it’s not just that there’s, I think, a desire to go back to the way things were and preserve the power structure and the property relationships and everything else of the place before the disaster happened. In a lot of cases, they’re perceived as opportunities, which is extremely messed up and amoral, but it’s true that really these things are seen as, here is a great opportunity to restructure things towards a more capitalist, a more stratified, a less just system. And one of the things that I think you can see right now with that is because COVID closed public school systems, which is a good thing, like, kids don’t need to be spreading COVID. Like, I’m broadly supportive of the public health need to close school systems. It provided this vacuum for all these alternatives, and these think pieces to crop up, etc. And these companies to start pitching like, well, do we really need public schooling anyway? 

Margaret  
Oh, shit, uhuh. 

Liza  
Can this be replaced by a different system that’s more private, that’s more controlled by capital, that’s less interested in the public good, that is more about profit. And that’s a classic, classic example of what’s called disaster capitalism, where something goes wrong and suddenly it becomes an opportunity for someone somewhere to restructure things so they can make more money.

Margaret  
Yeah, and that’s, I mean, you know, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, all that shit. Like, with COVID now, everyone buys everything online. I buy everything online. I’m terrified of COVID and I work from home. So, you know—and then you’re like, I don’t know, just watching. society restructure itself to buy everything online. And online is kind of, it—I don’t know whether it’s naturally or it’s designed that way by evil people. But, like, overall, the internet is so good at decentralizing things and yet in terms of, like, commerce, it seems like it’s really good at centralizing. It’s like really good at having the everything store. You know?

Liza  
Yeah. And I don’t know enough about the architecture of the internet and economics therein to say, like, if that’s by design, or just a function of the way it works. But yes, it does seem to be—seems to be so good at creating monopolies in that way.

Margaret  
When you’re talking about adobe houses, you know, and how, okay, the old houses are actually built with adobe or whatever. You know, it just—it really strikes me about how completely arrogant the colonial and industrial system is, in that it’s like, well, whatever works in New England is what should work in Arizona. And it’s so baffling to me, you know, because it’s like, well, there’s so obviously, like, a steep pitched roof exists that way to shed snow, you know, and then people were like, “Oh, we’ll just put these steep gables everywhere.” And like—

Liza  
Right.

Margaret  
It’s just… I mean, I say that as someone who lives in a a-frame somewhere where there’s no snow—well, not no snow, but not much snow. But in my defense, I actually just built it that way because it’s the cheapest and most structurally sound way for someone who doesn’t know how to build a house to build a house is have fewer walls, more roof. I don’t know, it just, it—it depresses me to think about.  Yeah, no.  This the centralizing urge. Go ahead.

Oh, I just, I think you’re so right. And I think it’s, it’s—maybe there is something to the idea that accelerated consolidationist capitalism makes everything sort of a bland universalism in much of the way that Amazon is a bland universalism. Because I do think one of the things that we’ve really lost that is super helpful in the practice of preparing for disaster is local knowledge. Just localization in general is such a huge thing. Whether it’s knowing where in your landscape the water is, or knowing what kind of house does best without AC. And certainly here in Phoenix I have been known to just, like, scream a little bit in my car driving around because there is a massive fad for pulling out old, beautiful 50s Ranch homes and putting in—I’ve heard them referred to as “McModerns.” So houses that take up the entire lot, that look, like you say, very much New England-y. They’re often two storeys which is dumb in the desert, they have no green buffer around them at all to help cool anything, they’re made of, like, the cheapest possible, like, wood and sheet rock and very little insulation, very large windows that face, you know, like east and west, often. And so you just look at these buildings that are literally the worst possible choice for this environment. And they are building them constantly and it really like it is tremendously painful to see in these beautiful neighborhoods that were originally orange groves. And so when people started building houses there, they would leave the orange trees around their houses, and so there was significant shade and food in your front yard, and then they will just rip them all out and replace them with these. And what really gets me—and this is like such a classic example of a thing people think they’re doing for a good reason that is actually worse —s many of them have astroturf lawns, which I understand from the perspective of not wanting to use water or like your grass always being green. But you’ve replaced, like, not that I support suburban lawns, but you’ve replaced something that is at least a plant, even if it’s a monoculture, with plastic. And sure it doesn’t use water. But the thing that gets me the most is my colleagues study surface temperature, and astroturf is the worst thing you could put down for heat.

Margaret  
Yeah. Okay. 

Liza  
Like, it’s worse—you might as well have paved your yard.

Margaret  
Yeah.

Liza  
And it’s also carcinogenic. And so there’s this, like, pseudo-greenwashing that’s actually just absolutely the worst thing you could do for everyone involved, all these horrible McModerns that are the worst thing you could build for the desert. And we have—and I think it really all just comes from a desire for, I want to live in a place that looks like every other place. And we’ve come so far from, like, the localized knowledge of knowing adobe is better and xeriscaping is better and all of that.

Margaret  
Xeriscaping?.

Liza  
Oh, sorry, X-E-R-I. Xeriscaping is desert landscaping. So it’s the practice of planting your yard in a way that is congruous with, like, the natural environment of the Sonoran Desert that we’re in here.

Margaret  
Yeah, it’s this arrogance that I almost can’t handle. Because it’s, like, if you build your life around, I assume that I will always have a gas line and a power line and, you know, I will always just have as much electricity as I could possibly want. You know, it’s like, now that I live somewhere where I generate my own electricity—I mean, a solar panel generates the electricity for me. It, which isn’t, you know, carbon neutral, either, you know. But I’m so aware of, like, how incredibly not necessary wasteful AC is, because you kind of need it in a lot of circumstances. It’s not a waste. But it’s not exactly this, like, low power device. You know? And, I don’t know, just the things that we take for granted, it confuses me sometimes.

Liza  
For sure. And you shouldn’t have said solar panel, because in my head it was just you biking furiously on like a bike generator to keep the computer on while we do is so you could have had me there. No, absolutely, I think—yeah, I mean, an AC is one of those things where, I don’t know, it’s almost like putting a band aid on a bullet wound here a little bit in the sense that I’m not going to argue that centralized air conditioning is the single most effective intervention for saving people from dying from heat, which is a huge problem here. About 500 people in the state died last year from heat-related causes last year, which is not an insignificant number. And actually, extreme heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather-related hazard. So you know, when you worry about hurricanes or tornadoes or things like that, it’s really heat that’s the major killer of people. And so I would never say, like, don’t have central AC for ecological reasons, because it is a huge and immediate public health intervention that saves lives. But also, it doesn’t solve this fundamental problem which is, part of the reason we need AC so badly is we built the city in a really stupid sort of 70s-thinking kind of way, which is there’s tons of uncovered pavement, and really tall buildings that, you know, like, the urban heat island here is very, very real, it doesn’t cool off overnight. And so the need for AC is great, but the need to think beyond AC and think about how do we look into the future and actually reduce the need for this, like, immediate public health triage of just get in a cool environment so you don’t die right away?

Margaret  
Well, okay, so the the need to fundamentally restructure huge parts of our society seems very apparent and increasingly apparent to more and more people, especially as, you know, climate change barrels down on everyone, even if you were willing to ignore all of the systemic oppression that people face. And I think sometimes—and I know I do this, and I wonder whether—you talk about how capitalists look at disaster as opportunity, and that’s a problem. And I’m like, so do revolutionists, and so do people who want society to be fundamentally different. Because you have this, some level of like wiping the slate clean, and there’s a certain amount of opportunity to restructure society. And it seems like very often capitalism is better at this than us. But there are also these, like, you know, like watching mutual aid networks pop up all over at least the United States last year in a way that like—and I wouldn’t, you know, I don’t want COVID to have happened, right? But when people look at that and say, well, we actually need to learn how to take care of each other and build these, like, networks by which to take care of each other. To me, that’s the beauty of it. But then it’s—now I wonder whether I’m doing the same kind of ambulance chasing that capitalists are. Do I let myself off the hook just because I think what I’m doing is good and what they’re doing is bad, right? Like, they think the opposite. But I’m right.

Liza  
Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t think it is—if it’s ambulance chasing, you’re only chasing the ambulance, to help stop the bleeding as opposed to charge the patient. So I think that there’s a fundamental value difference there. And so yeah, no, you’re you’re absolutely correct in the sense that they’re are opportunities, and there are opportunities, whether we want them to be or not, so we might as well seize them. But I think part of the problem is about how—not just in media, but even to each other-how we storytelling around disasters as, like—it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind. Like with COVID, it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind between so many people, particularly people of color and otherwise vulnerable folks have paid this horrible price for our inability to cope with an epidemic. And at the same time, this sort of—and that’s, there’s nothing good about that, that is massively negative. And at the same time, we are being presented with this opportunity that could allow us to build something better, like these mutual aid networks that you mentioned. But it feels–it’s very hard to talk about, in a way that feels respectful and honorable—to say like, this is an opportunity for something better to be born out of the ashes of this enormous tragedy. And so I think it’s easy for those conversations to get derailed, one because of how we talk about disasters as, you know, like always negative with the panic and everything like that—the mythology around disasters makes it hard. And then two, the difficulty of respectfully talking about this. But I would certainly argue that if we want especially—and I’ll use COVID, as the example here—if we want to honor the people who died unjustly of COVID, there is no better way to do so, than taking this opportunity and seizing it to make a system and a world where that won’t happen again.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s a—that’s a good way to put it. And I wonder, you know, it’s like, I mean, what we should be trying to do—and what people do try to do is just that the systems of power we’re up against are rather good at what they do of maintaining their power—is do this anyway. You know, it’s like, there’s been mutual aid networks for—well, ever, obviously—just assigning a word to it in the 19th century, or whatever. But, you know, we need to restructure things anyway. And if you were to take Phoenix as an example, it’s like—I mean, I kind of, I have to admit, I look at Phoenix as like this just grand arrogance in the desert, that, like, probably shouldn’t be there. And I know that that’s not fair to the actual individual people who live there, you know. And so I don’t want to be like, get rid of Phoenix or whatever, right. But like—but instead it’s like, well, probably the slow, hard work of restructuring needs to happen anyway. Like the slow, hard work of figuring out how to rebuild the city in such a way that it isn’t just, like, waiting for disaster. I don’t know.

Liza  
Oh, yeah. I think you’ve touched on something there that I always try and challenge people with when they talk about Phoenix as a grand experiment in inevitable failure—building I think at this point the fifth largest city in the United States—or the fifth largest metro area, actually—in the desert which is—I don’t necessarily disagree that that is not an immediately intuitively good idea. But now that it’s here, I like to think of Phoenix as the perfect testbed and sandbox because it’s the hottest large metro area in the United States. And if we can turn this thing around, and we can make Phoenix in the next 30 years cooler and more livable and more just and more sustainable, than it can be done anywhere. We’re the edge case, and so this is the perfect place to find those solutions, and then take the lessons learned and the things that worked and export them to less extreme environments where they might be useful. So in that sense, even a little victory in Phoenix might be a big victory in somewhere else.

Margaret  
Yeah. Okay. So, to go back to disaster studies, we’ve talked about how the mainstream, like, certainly the media conception of disaster is, you know, the Walking Dead scenario is the everyone running around, like, you know, everyone for themselves scenario. And—but, but disaster studies, it seems like even though it came from this, you know, kind of shitty background, it seems like—have the people who study disaster academically, have they kind of known this entire time, that’s bullshit? And if so, why isn’t that getting out? Like, why aren’t more people aware of the fact that everything we know about how people respond to disaster is wrong?

Liza  
That is a great, great question. And I’m not sure I have, like, a perfect answer for you. But I can certainly offer some thoughts. So yes, you’re right that disaster studies, even though it came out of this very militarized and military-funded background, really starting with a wonderful scholar named E. L. Quarantelli who was active in the 60s to the 90s really started questioning those views and pushing on this idea of panic and other things like that. And so, disaster studies in general as a field—not all of it, but for a long time—has been very justice-oriented in its approach. So if you’ve heard the words “social vulnerability,” a lot of that is coming out of disaster studies. If you’ve heard the words, you know—or heard talking about the concept of resilience as applied from the top down being a way of almost victim blaming—which certainly it can be, you know. Like, why aren’t you—it’s a repackaging sometimes of the idea of like, why aren’t you self reliant? Why are you making us help you? Kind of thing. All of that is really coming out of a disaster studies. The problem is, unfortunately, that you almost have two separate silos of disaster studies, because disaster scholars are not the people who respond to disaster. They’re not the people preparing for it. They’re not the people deciding what mitigates it. Those people are part of what I would broadly call sort of the emergency management class, at least here in the United States, they are. And many of them are emergency managers, but that also includes things like crisis communications and information officers, or Public Information Officers, and fire chiefs and firefighters, and EMS first responders, and in many cases public health officials as well. And that is a professional class that has existed for a long time—and this is slowly starting to change—that has really stayed rooted in that military idea. So it’s not directly connected to the military, although sometimes it is. But it’s a militarized service. It’s very about hierarchy—so I was a firefighter, I was a volunteer firefighter in Tennessee for about two years. So you have a commanding officer, you know, it’s structured like the military, basically. In a lot of cases it works very closely with law enforcement and the military, like National Guard, for instance. Here in Arizona, I think it’s very indicative that our agency is DEMA, which is the Department of Emergency and military affairs. And how you became an emergency manager, or fire chief, or someone who is really directly involved in the world of preparing for and responding to disasters, was you started as, like, a frontline law enforcement, frontline fireman, frontline-and I say men because they generally are, although starting to change too—and you worked for 20 years. And eventually you worked your way up the chain, much like the military, to becoming someone who was making all of these strategic decisions, etc. And so, disaster studies has a very hard time talking across the gap to practitioners. And it’s a little disheartening sometimes how white and male disaster practitioners still tend to be, and how stuck in a particularly militaristic frame of mind. And that’s something that’s really been troubling me lately and something I’ve talked about colleagues with because—I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly yet but I’ve certainly said it to colleagues—as a queer woman with a trans partner who is deeply interested in racial and social justice, even though my degree sets me up for it, I don’t feel like at this point I can, in good conscience, take a standard Emergency Management job. 

Margaret  
Yeah.

Liza  
It’s too wrapped up with law enforcement and militaristic ideas of what disaster response means and who deserves what and why people do things and where aid goes. And it’s just—and, you know, like, FEMA is still housed in the Department of Homeland Security, which is a whole other issue that we could talk about for another hour—which really no one who studies disasters is—or very few people—really support that model. It offers tremendous problems. And so you have this gap. And so that’s part of the reason these things still exist is the practice of emergency management really looks pretty similar to the 1950s in some ways, and the study of disaster is much more radical, much more diverse thing.

Margaret  
Okay, so hear me out. If already in terms of disaster management you have the militaristic system, the official governmental system, and then you have these, like, incredibly complex and interesting disaster relief organizations—especially the, like, the nonhierarchical, the mutual aid focused ones, right. So you all should just get up with those peoplea nd basically, like, I don’t know, I get really excited about this, like, okay, so like, create a counter structure, right? Like, and these—that already is starting to exist increasingly. And so I think we call if y’all got up with them, and maybe you all already do. Yeah, one of the—okay, so like thinking about the terrible ways that people manage disaster, like the government’s managed disaster or whatever, I am curious if you know of this: I’ve been hearing this phrase from people I know who do disaster relief, especially coming from anarchist spaces, that there is a specific written thing that the priority of the government in disasters above all else, including the actual rule of law, like the application of laws, is COG—is continuance of governance. Basically, like, this is the justification for like shooting looters and things like that, because it’s absolutely illegal to shoot looters, right. Like, by the existing right structure. But the reassertion of control as, like, the absolute baseline priority. Does that hold up with your understanding? I know it’s now in a different silo than your silo but…

Liza  
Yeah, so I would be surprised if that is specifically written down anywhere in that way. Certainly Continuity of Operations as it’s called—COOP plans—and Continuity of Governance—COG plans—exist. And they play a very important role in how, on paper, we prepare for disaster as, like, large government institutions prepare for disaster. It is certainly not supposed to be held above rule of law. Now, is it? Probably quite a bit. And things like shooting looters is really hard to unpack because you have things operating on so many different levels. So first off, people who—like you have the personal prejudice level of the people doing the shooting, right? Like that particular person or police officer or resident might be especially racist, as you saw in Katrina. And it might be, like, if a Black person comes through this neighborhood, I’m going to shoot them. Certainly that happened a lot. You also have policy that structures itself in ways that we know is not necessarily reflective of reality. So you may have contingency plans that place law enforcement officers to prevent looting, for instance, when actually law enforcement officers need to, like, exacerbate the situation, right? And so you end up creating these situations which lead to other bad situations. So really, there’s so many operational—and then you have the storytelling mythology level where, like, because even among people who do this professionally, you will still find the myth that mass panic is going to happen. You have the drive of, like, well I’m expecting it and therefore I overreact when I see something that might be it. And that’s even leaving aside the category of who is a looter and who is resourcefully scavenging resources. There’s been a lot of studies done—again, mostly Katrina, but in other contexts as well—about how media presents people taking survival requirements like water and food from stores and how the economic status and skin color of those people really determines the headline they get. Which is, you know, perhaps not a surprise, but it’s good to have that data. So you have all these things building on each other to create—if you’ll pardon the disaster-related upon—sort of a perfect storm situation where everything works to prop up the system. But whether there’s a single origin point of policy pushing for that in writing, I don’t know. And I would be surprised if there is. I think it’s more complex than that.

Margaret  
Okay. Yeah, that—it makes sense to me if, like, basically, like, a COG or continuous governance or whatever was like part of this larger framework, and then just gets exaggerated. One of the things that gives me hope is all of the, like, the weird human element parts of it when it actually hits the ground of, like, you know, I remember hearing from a friend who worked with the Common Ground Collective in Katrina in New Orleans basically talking about how, like, National Guardsmen would, like, give the anarchists supplies. Because they would be like, well, if I take this where I’m supposed to take it, it’s gonna sit in a warehouse for two weeks, and it’s needed right now. And it’s just like, I don’t know, I get—the things I’ve talked about before on the show—the stuff that makes me like the most hopeful is when certain unbridgeable chasms are bridged between different types of people. And—

Liza  
Yes.

Margaret  
But then on the other—you have the exact opposite of the, like, yeah, the people who seem to go wild. The people who seemed to go the wildest in Katrina seemed to be the white racists. But, yeah.

Liza  
Yeah, I think there is… Man. And it’s hard to talk about and frustrating to talk about incremental progress, because I think there has been some recognition in the system that things are not working, and that you need to rely on local expertise and local knowledge and local abilities to get things done—which is sort of the bigger scale version of the guardsmen giving supplies to anarchists because they know they’re going to sit in a warehouse and anarchists can get them into the hands of people who need them right away. The problem there is, it’s a little bit like being, I don’t know, like a mouse trying to steer an elephant. Like we have built this system of disaster response that is so large and so cumbersome, that it’s really beyond any single person’s ability to fundamentally change. And so there’s a lot of attention being paid—or more attention than there has been previously anyway, I don’t know, but a lo— to the idea that we need to be supporting communities at, like, the higher level institutions—that macroscale institutions need to be supporting communities and the work that they’re already doing. We just need to enable the anarchists to have more stuff to go out and distribute that kind of thing. Now, whether or not that’s going to make a significant difference in the long run definitely remains to be seen. But certainly there seems to be more interest in that. Now I personally have some mixed feelings about that because in a lot of cases here in Phoenix when we’re talking about especially like heat relief, or disaster relief, or who’s going to help you pay your power bill if you can’t, there’s been a significant—I think we all know that since the 80s, there’s been a significant replacement of state services with more localized things. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But a lot of the localized assistance now is through churches. And to me that raises some troubling questions about, like, who gets helped? Who gets left out? What are the conditions of help reliant upon? And so we’ve sort of replaced this ineffective state aid with this may be more effective but differently discriminatory aid that’s at the local level. And so I think you really have to pay close attention to the idea of localism as a panacea as the remedy for all injustice because sometimes localism just means enacting injustice on a smaller scale. Like handmade artisan home grown fuck you instead of like a fuck you from the state.

Margaret  
Okay, well, so that ties into something you were talking about earlier at the very beginning when you’re talking about the history of disaster studies, was kind of to create a culture of prepping—as in, to get people away—to take the power—take pressure off of the elites who, like, ostensibly should be providing our needs, by having us provide for ourselves, but in a way that doesn’t actually fundamentally free us. It’s kind of an interesting trap around—it’s something that I’ve seen mutual aid groups struggle with for years is like, well, we always say, we’re mutual aid not to charity, right? And like Food Not Bombs, you know, with it’s, like, free food program that’s been going on for decades. And now, I think that, like, there are just ways to do that local level stuff without like—like Food Not Bombs, like, unlike a, most church feeds that, you know, I’m aware of—most church feeds it’s like, take a number, stand in line, like, you know, it’s very—it replicates a lot of disempowerment, right. And, you know, like Food Not Bombs is ostensibly more like, it’s a picnic in the park and you’re invited, because you exist. And of course it’s gonna have its own informal problems, right? I’m not trying to claim it’s perfect. But there’s always this worry about how much do activists make—like, how much do we empower oppression just by solving the problems that oppression creates? You know, like, if we’re feeding—

Liza  
Oh, boy. 

Margaret  
Yeah. And if we’re feeding people without fundamentally challenging the system that has left people without food… I don’t know. For me it’s just, like, you just—I think that the answer is that the problem with this bespoke oppression that you’re talking about, the localist oppression, is it just needs to be tied into challenging things at a larger scale. Wh I say just, it’s easy. Everyone could just do this, it would fix everything. No problem. No one will have any.

Liza  
This is a problem I’m intimately familiar with on a personal level because when I graduated from undergrad and suddenly the stress of college was no longer upon me, I discovered that I am a stress junkie and I needed something to do because I was going out of my mind. And so I joined the local volunteer fire service thinking, like, oh, this will be, like, I’ll learn skills, I’ll be able to help people, and I’ll be stressed out enough to be happy. It turned out even that was not enough and I had to go to graduate school, but that’s a story for another time. And this is like the fundamental tension of a volunteer fire service. I mean, think about what that means, right? So the city I was in had a professional fire service because it was considered a population density sufficient enough. But the county, which is a very large and populated county, was all volunteer-run. And it’s sort of the same problem, like, you don’t want people’s houses to burn down, so someone needs to go put them out. But at the same time, if you’re rural, you are fundamentally getting a worse class of service than the professionals. And the volunteer fire department enabled its own perpetuation by the fact that eventually most people’s houses got put out. And I always used to joke, like, don’t have a house fire between the hours of 8am and 5pm when we’re all at work. Because it was one of those things where, if people’s houses had just burned down, there probably would have been significant push to have a professional fire service. But at the same time, then you have a bunch of people’s houses burning down, and maybe they die in the fire too and that’s awful. But because there is sort of an ad hoc fire service, there wasn’t the push to have a professional one. Even though—andI don’t think people knew this, right. But we were using equipment that was out of date, that hadn’t been tested. I think our jaws of life for rescuing people out of car wrecks were like some of the first models ever made from the 80s because we didn’t have funding. And it’s like, you know, we were saving lives but also perpetuating the system that was probably really harming people. So what’s the trade off between, like, that long term harm and the short term, everybody’s house burns down, but people get a professional fire service in the end? And I don’t know what the solution is besides, as you said, sort of making sure we’re plugging into troubling the larger structure and advocating for larger structure. The fire service is a particularly tricky one because people’s lives depend on it so immediately. For something like Food Not Bombs I would say it’s possible they’re already doing some of that work by having people show up and having that picnic in the park feeling and just letting people know that receiving assistance doesn’t have to be total drudgery and shame. And so maybe for things like that, where there can be joy and comradeship and true connections on social scale, maybe the next person that—the next time that person needs to go to a church handout line or an unemployment office, there is that seed of like, well, why isn’t this like that? I think sometimes you can really—you can plant the revolutionary seed in people by showing them joy just as much as by showing them tragedy.

Margaret  
Yeah, that’s a really good note I think maybe to kind of wind down on—to think about. What—I guess the questions I want to ask to kind of close this out. One, I kind of want to ask, what do you worry about personally? What do you prepare for? What is—how is working with disaster studies—how has it influenced your own life?

Liza  
Sure, yeah. Well, I will say I worry much more about long term trends than I do about any particular single incident. So for Phoenix, I’m worried about what the temperature profile of the city looks like in the next 50 years, because I might—I might be like one of the few people on record ever saying this—but I really love Phoenix. I think it’s got a really cool art scene and there’s wonderful people here. And it has a surprisingly revolutionary spirit and a fighting spirit for being a blue town and a very red state. And also, it’s nice to be in Arizona, because in many ways, we’re at this political tipping point. So if you’re here and you’re willing to get engaged, you can really make a difference. So I don’t want to see Phoenix fail. She like there’s a lot of people who do to sort of make a point about climate arrogance, but I’m not one of them. And so for me, I worry about these really boring things that unless you’re in the weeds, you probably don’t think of. So I worry about what are our overnight temperatures going to be in the next 50 years, because we know that overnight temperatures have a significant effect on human health, they’re a really good indicator of the urban heat island. And one of the things that’s hopeful is that thus far the science shows that if we really buckled down and redesigned the way we did the city of Phoenix, we would be able to offset most of the regional and global climate warming in the region through localized efforts. So Phoenix in 50 years could be cooler than it is today. There’s nothing that’s stopping us from doing that. But we have to raise the political will and reach out and seize that opportunity. I don’t worry as much about our regional—or rather a city-wide blackout, even though that’s what I talk to people about—partially because I know our utility companies and how they function and that is something they’re thinking about. It’s—I worry more about it in areas that don’t think about extreme heat on their grid. Like, we have it so often, it’s regular here, that I think we’re better prepared than many other places. So in that sense, extreme heat could be worse in, say, like, the Northeast of the Northwest than it could be here because those grids are not regularly stress tested in the same way.

Margaret  
Right.

Liza  
And then I also worry about—and this kind of ties back with what we’re talking to you about disaster panic—I worry about—its maybe—and this is—at the end of the interview is the wrong time to bring this up, but this is fun. It’s not completely true that there’s never violence and looting after disasters. 

Margaret  
Right. 

Liza  
It does happen, and primarily where you see it happen is after some blackouts. And it tends to be blackouts in cities that are already have a very wide divide between rich and poor and are undergoing a lot of racial tension. And you can really see, like, why. One is they aren’t perceived in the same way as an act of God because blackouts—it’s easier to see human culpability. Like, the electricity company that I pay to maintain my power has failed in their job and I am angry about it. And then also, they’re perceived as an opportunity of, like, the system is failing us, we should go out and express that it is failing us and we are angry about it and take advantage where we can of the opportunity to gain more resources. So it’s all extremely understandable. But I really—I worry about our next disaster—next major US disaster—acute disaster, I should say. Because COVID is a disaster, it’s just a slower moving one. Our next acute disaster response, because of growing injustice, because of factionalization in society, because of this awakened beast of white rage in the nation—I worry that our next disaster response is going to look more like the cops at Black Lives Matter protests than mutual aid groups.

Margaret  
Yeah, I bet it’ll be both.

Liza  
Probably. And yeah, of course mutual aid groups will be they’re doing what they can, but I really worry that we’re creating a perfect storm for disaster response to be hyper militarized because cries for justice are perceived as unrest. 

Margaret  
Yeah. No, it’s interesting. And yeah, there’s a lot to dig into with you more some time. Okay, my final question is just, where can people engage more with your work? Or do you even want or have any kind of public profile around the work that you do?

Liza  
I do. I am on Twitter. I’m at semi humanist, S-E-M-I-humanist on Twitter. I love chatting with people about my work and things like that. Everyone’s also free to email me and you can put this in the show notes if you like at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com. I do speak at academic conferences. But if anyone is listening and really wants me to come talk a little bit in a digestible way—hopefully about what disaster research says—to a mutual aid group or an anarchist book club or any of those fun venues where knowledge can be a little freer than stuffy academia sometimes, I’m really always happy to talk to those folks. I think probably the most important work I do is closer to things like this than academic publications, which circulate to other scientists, which is very personally satisfying to engage with other scientists, but not—probably not tremendously socially helpful. And it’s also just a great check of, like, I think it’s easy as an academic to get wrapped up in such a way that you can talk to other academics but not people in your field. And I try hard to avoid that at all costs.

Margaret  
Yeah. I found everything that I’ve—you know, from talking to you before we did the show—very approachable. So I highly recommend anyone who’s listening to take Liza up on that. Alright, well, thank you so much for being on the show. 

Liza  
Oh, yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for having me.

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