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Tatiana Schlossberg: Climate Change in the Everyday, Sustainable Fishing, and Impacts of Coal Ash Ponds on our Farmlands

May 7, 2020

Tatiana Schlossberg is the author of Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have and a former New York Times Science and climate reporter whose award-winning work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Bloomberg and other publications. We chat with Tatiana about a variety of topics relating to climate change, pollution control, social inequality, agriculture, and aquaculture.

“Its not about feeling individually guilty, its about feeling collectively responsible” 

This week in Agriculture Adapts:

  • How Climate change relates to everyday life and why feeling bad is not the answer
  • Oceans, aquaculture, and sustainable fishing
  • Why climate change and pollution are inextricably linked to social inequality
  • Coal ash ponds: pollution disasters destroying the surrounding farmlands and natural environments

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References mentioned in the episode

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TRANSCRIPT

Borna (ClimateAi) 0:03
This is agriculture adapts by ClimateAi. Every week we speak with industry leading executives and farmers, not academics to get a 360 view how the agriculture sector is innovating to stay ahead of a changing climate. I’m your host Borna Poursheikhani and I am your co host. We’re a team of climate scientists and agriculture entrepreneurs trying to make farming more resilient, profitable and equitable as we transition to a new age of agriculture. This podcast is our journey as we explore the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry to feed the world. Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of agriculture adapts with us today is Tatiana Schlossberg. She’s the author of in conspicuous consumption the environmental impact you don’t know you have an A former New York Times science and climate reporter whose award winning work has also appeared in The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Bloomberg and other publications. Tatyana thank you for joining us.

Tatiana Schlossberg 0:57
Thanks so much for having me.

Borna (ClimateAi) 0:58
I would love to sort of just start off by hearing from you about your background and your story and how you came to find yourself in the world of climate change and environmental journalism.

Tatiana Schlossberg 1:06
I came to this mostly as a reporter, I was a working on the metro desk at the New York Times before I started writing about science and climate change. And I wanted to do that for a few reasons. One, when I was a reporter at a newspaper in New Jersey, I had been there during Hurricane Sandy. So I kind of was seeing that sort of firsthand how people were dealing with these effects and of climate change. And I think that was sort of one of the big storms in this part of the world in New York, where I live where people really realize that, you know, these one in 100 year storms, that doesn’t really mean one in 100 years, and it won’t mean that anymore. It was really interesting and exciting. And, you know, bringing together all different kinds of people but also how science interacts with people’s everyday life was really interesting to see and then I after working there, I got a master’s degree in history at Oxford. And I read a lot of environmental history while I was there, which I hadn’t really read before, so much. But I really enjoyed it. And it was, I really liked thinking about, you know, again, this intersection of nature and people in science. But also, you know, seeing that climate change is a, you know, particularly new and intense phenomenon, but we’ve been dealing with versions of it for as long as people have been dealing, you know, extracting resources from the natural world. And so I read books about like fishing, and coal extraction that really took the long view. And I think it’s really hard to understand, especially, you know, the history of the United States without understanding our relationship to nature and resources. And then when I was at the New York Times, you know, it seemed like, well, there was an opening, to work or to write about climate change. And, you know, I felt like as somebody in my generation, this was going to be the biggest, most important story In the world, and I wanted to be able to tell it and I think, you know, sometimes people are surprised that I don’t have a science background. But I think or hope that that’s actually a strength, because I can translate this information to an audience that maybe is more like me that doesn’t automatically think that there are a science person. And, you know, also the great part of being a journalist is that you get to learn on the job and you know, call and be curious for a living and, you know, call up an expert, and they’ll answer your questions. And, you know, you can say, like, well say it to me, like, I’m someone who doesn’t understand but yeah, no, of course, I don’t understand. So that’s kind of how I came to this and really have loved it. And I feel like yes, this is a science and nature and technology and energy story, but it’s also a story about, you know, people and culture and history and food and, and there’s so many ways to be interested in it and so many different things to write about.

Borna (ClimateAi) 3:57
I totally agree. And I think that the approach that you take in your book, is extremely unique and an extremely interesting one because it’s very easy to have climate change turned into like a finger pointing game as well as just like a ton of just scary facts that overwhelm people. And so oftentimes people run for the hills when they see a title that reflects climate change. But I think your book does a really good job of talking about it in kind of a more. It’s in a more tangible way for people so they can relate to it. But it also sort of like engages and energizes people as opposed to leaving them feeling scared. Can you tell us a little bit more about the book like what exactly do you try to accomplish? And what is the actual like meat of the book?

Tatiana Schlossberg 4:35
So the book, as you mentioned, it’s called in conspicuous consumption, the environmental impact you don’t know you have. So it’s really about the hidden and unconscious, environmental and climate effects of a lot of the stuff that we use, that we use and wear and eat and how we get around every day. And I wanted to do that because I felt like the scale of the conversation about climate change often doesn’t make sense like, on the one hand, it’s a plastic straw and on the other hand, it’s a complete transformation of the electricity grid and fewer than 10 years. And I think people feel like that doesn’t make sense. And so I wanted to kind of bring it into the context of their own lives without making people feel like, you know, this is how do I reduce my carbon footprint? Or what are all the things that I’m doing wrong and really to take a more systems level approach, because I do think that, you know, focus on individual behavior has been problematic. I think that that narrative of personal responsibility is destructive, because it, you know, makes us look at ourselves instead of these, this larger global problem. And also bless those who are actually responsible off the hook. So I wanted to, you know, balance that you know, the context of our own lives with these larger, systemic global problems so that I’d covered four major areas in the book, which are the internet and technology, food, fashion and fuel

Borna (ClimateAi) 5:53
wanted to get into something that you said that you said it lets those that are responsible off the hook. So how do you how does this book hope to mobilize people to act and what do you think is the change? So you mentioned that the book is about how climate change impacts and is impacted by the individual. But you also talk about how it shouldn’t be left up to the individual to make those decisions, because it is really hard to understand, like, what is the climate impact of me going on Netflix? Like, should I buy this sustainably grown salmon? Or should I buy this like Alaskan fresh fish? You know, it’s like, there’s right. There’s so many different labels, and it’s hard to decipher as a consumer. So the approach you take is trying to kind of pull that out. So what is the goal that you’re hoping to achieve with this book,

Tatiana Schlossberg 6:34
you know, we shouldn’t feel individually guilty or for climate change, but we should feel kind of collectively responsible about building better systems and building a better world. So and as you said, like, we’ve put all the responsibility on the consumer to make the sustainable choice when we almost never have the information to be able to do that. But somebody does have the information to be able to do that. And that’s the people who make the stuff that we’re buying. If I’m standing in the store, trying to figure out Or I guess, now given the Coronavirus, I’m online trying to figure out which pair of jeans uses the least amount of water. Like it’s impossible for me to know which of these jeans is used is more sustainably made? And, but the companies that make them know how they’re made, or they should. And so what I hope people get out of this book is really, you know, understanding, well, first of all, understanding what the problems are, because I don’t think you can solve a problem if you don’t understand the shape of it. And then realizing that, yes, individual behavior matters, in that it’s a place to start, and these are good things to do, but they’re not enough. And the things that are enough are these collective these changes that come from collective action, which are, you know, things like voting, you know, not supporting companies that aren’t at the very least transparent about their practices. So and and talking about climate change because people who are interested in this topic my talk about it all the time, but that’s really like a third of Americans and you know, Two thirds of Americans don’t talk about it at all. So I hope that people, if they read my book will understand, you know, this isn’t easy. These are big changes that need to happen. But they need to happen and when and there are ways to make it better for everybody. So I hope that that people kind of see that and see that there is a way for them to be interested in involved that, you know, and that these changes don’t happen unless we ask for them.

Borna (ClimateAi) 8:26
And I really like the way that you phrased like, you talked about the fact that it’s not about feeling individually guilty. It’s about feeling collectively responsible. And I think that’s a super awesome way to think about this issue that I hadn’t previously thought about in your book. And in other articles that you’ve written. You kind of talk about the nexus of climate change and food and agriculture. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’ve learned at that intersection there?

Tatiana Schlossberg 8:50
You know, I think food is an area that a lot of us have heard a lot about, especially as it relates to its climate or environmental impact over the last decade or so in terms of things like buying local, or if people read Michael Pollan’s book and understanding kind of corn and Domino verse dilemma. So I think what I wanted to do in my book was to understand whether or not the conventional wisdom that we had been offered over that last decade or so about buying local or buying organic, whether those things were really true. And so, you know, I found that, you know, organic is sometimes useful shorthand, but there are ways to be sustainable, that are not organic and the certification process can be meaningless, or it can be really powerful. And I think there’s also a kind of a fundamental Miss estimation of like, how much agriculture is organic is 1% of global agriculture. So, and you know, it has lower yields within our current system. And so, you know, if we wanted to grow everything organically now, there are some some people argue we would have to clear cut a lot of far so there are trade offs with all these different things. And so you know, I wanted to see, you know, find out about more about food miles or about food waste and buying local. So a lot of that is probably, you know, a lot of your listeners are familiar with, but I also wanted to write about the oceans. Because the ocean is so important in regulating climate change and without the oceans, we would be on fire. Yeah, but also, you know, as a, as a real Aqua culture and, and, you know, and it’s connected to corn in that way and how, you know, so many people about like, I think a fifth of the global population depends on seafood as its primary source of protein and oceans are being fished sustainably and migration patterns are changing or species are, you know, becoming endangered and, and how does that intersect with our, you know, agricultural food supply with either feeding fish corn or, you know, kind of the pollution in the pesticides from from aquaculture So, so there are a lot of, you know, different and of course, then you know, climate change will affect how we’re able to grow food. And I know that’s a subject that you guys have taught A lot of add on here. So there’s so much overlap. Yeah. And it is, I think, an area where people feel like they’re in control. Because, you know, we decide what we eat for the most part. But it is, of course, an incredibly complicated global system as well.

Borna (ClimateAi) 11:15
Yeah, we actually haven’t talked about agriculture at all on this podcast. Yes, I would love to kind of like dig in a little bit further there. Because it’s something that a lot of people don’t really think about. But when you when you’re fishing in the wild, you’re not like replenishing that resource. It’s not like if you’re growing corn or tomatoes, where you’re like taking it out, and then you’re putting a new one in, right? It’s like you’re taking it out, and you’re not really putting anything in. And so the analogy is kind of like in, in finance, you have like your principal and your interest. If you put in $500 into the bank, you might get $3 on interest on that each year. And in the fishery, you ideally want to just be taking out that interest. So you keep the same principle that can’t the same base amount, but we’re not really doing that. Like we’re digging into the principal on a lot of cases right now. Can you tell us a little bit more about that issue?

Tatiana Schlossberg 11:58
Yeah, sure. I mean, I think you We are exactly right. We don’t think about fishing as an extractive industry. But the way that we do it it is, and you know, the US, we have pretty responsibly managed fisheries. And we’ve brought back a lot of our fishery, our species from being over fished So, so that’s good. But we, you know, we’re not in control of the whole ocean. And there are a lot of countries that don’t practice the same way that that we do. So for instance, China has bought up a lot of the fishing right, so every country kind of can, that has coastline has an exclusive fishing right within 200 miles of its coastlines, exclusive economic zone. But China has bought up a lot of the fishing rights off the coast of West Africa. And they’re fishing, particularly these really small fin fish, very, very irresponsibly. And these fin fish are really important because they’re kind of a feeder species for the whole ocean. So you know, those species disappear. You see that throughout the food chain, and those those fish are being used for for things like fish oil, or additives to food but also for fish meal and fish oil to feed other fish for aquaculture like farm salmon, you know, it aquaculture is connected to the wild ocean in that way. Additionally, you know, I think, since it’s not like most people don’t kind of have a sense of what aquaculture looks like. But it is also incredibly energy intensive. There are some estimates that like farmed catfish is more energy intensive than beef. Yeah, so it does have this this huge impact and that I think many of us overlook. But yeah, I think, you know, there are ways to fish that are, you know, and again, like one of the books that got me really interested in this topic is called the mortal sea, pushing the Atlantic in the age of sail. So that’s about kind of historical fisheries from basically like, pre contact North America and then you know, all the way through until sort of the Industrial Revolution. And what was really interesting to learn was that every kind of generation assumed That what it sees in the ocean is what has always been there.

Borna (ClimateAi) 14:03
Yeah, that’s the baseline. Yeah,

Tatiana Schlossberg 14:05
yeah. But we have shifting baselines because that, you know, this generation will see what it has. And it will fish a species to the brink of extinction or to extinction or in an irresponsible way without understanding, you know, that it wasn’t always like that, and that these species are, you can’t fish one species without having any effect on others. So there are ways to fish sustainably. There are ways to farm sustainably I think especially things like farmed mussels, from seaweed. I mean, that’s not fish, but farmed. Sorry, farmed mollusks. So like mussels and oysters, scallops, clams, you know, those like have a healthy effect on the ecosystem because they filter the water. And they also don’t require any inputs, that people can just put them in the ocean. So there are ways to do it responsibly and ways to fish responsibly, but most of the ocean is not observed. So it’s hard to regulate and there You know, things like Global Fishing Watch, which are sort of trying to keep an eye on illegal fishing as a as a great resource, but the market demands always demands more and you know more and more people want to eat more fish.

Borna (ClimateAi) 15:12
Yeah, and this is a tough one for me like I love eating fish. And so I was I started doing a bunch of research on this to say like, okay, I want to keep eating fish. What’s the best way for me to go about doing that? And yeah, like the most perfect example of eating low on the food chain is really good. anchovies. sardines, also usually pretty good. Yeah. And then going back to like the source of where the fish is coming from. That’s a really interesting question because some fish is fed other fish obviously, but like the ratio at which they’re fed that fish can be different. So if it’s farmed sustainably, you might have a salmon that’s eating like, you feed it to parts of fish in order to get one part of salmon that a human will eat right, but in other places, you can have like eight to one, like they’re feeding it like so much fish or so much fish is getting wasted in the process. And I want I want to kind of hear from you like how resilient are these fish populations like if you’re if you’re depleted, of course fish is a very general term, but in general, when you deplete Fisher is, how do you bring that population back? Like, like, does it bounce back in like five years? If you just let it go? Do you ease restrictions? Or do you have to fully stop? Like, how do people think about that issue?

Tatiana Schlossberg 16:13
Well, it really depends. And also, climate change is sort of confusing that process, as well. So for instance, like the Gulf of Maine cod fishery, which was, like, you know, a lot of the, you know, New England economy was built on cod fishing. And that was an incredibly it’s like one of the most productive areas of the ocean. But cod have been totally over fished, that population has been decimated. The fishery, I think has been closed since the 90s. And it’s still not open. And part of the problem is that, you know, the population got really low. Part of the other problem is that the Gulf of Maine is warming it faster than any other part of the ocean except the Arctic, and that’s making it more difficult for fish to reach maturity or to breed. You know, additionally, like you can set catch limits on you know, a certain kind of fish in a particular region but climate change will maybe be moving that fish you know it’s looking for cooler waters and so then the catch limits might be different in another state or country. So it’s really it’s a climate change is kind of confounding all these already really tough problems. So I think you know, setting and it’s also really hard to count fish like it’s hard to know how many really there are so, but there you know, there are there are species that have that have come back. And, you know, Alaskan fish or Alaskan fisheries are pretty sustainably fished like Pollock and Alaskan Cod. And actually, what’s interesting is that it’s people assume that you should buy something that’s on frozen, like fresh fish, I guess. But actually, like if you’re buying fish from Alaska, that was probably frozen right as soon as it was caught, or pretty soon after. So that’s probably actually fresher than like if you get some other fish that has been either previously frozen or kept fresh the whole time. But also what you were talking about before in terms of feeding fish, like a lot of fish are also fed, not fish, but then they’re fed like corn and so it connects to the industrial agriculture system that way. So I think it’s, uh, you know, we have we have to think of it kind of as one system and that we’re managing, you know, species and ecosystem health and all at the same time. And usually, things like conservation, restricting areas from fishing, restricting certain species from fishing, you know, those have climate benefits as well as you know, biomass benefits.

Borna (ClimateAi) 18:30
Yeah, totally. And again, like just the idea that if there was just a baseline that we could just trust that would make things so much easier for the consumer because I still have trouble when I go into stores like what I’m like, which one is the most sustainable? Which one is is not gonna feed me mercury? Like, there’s so much information to try to sift through when I’m trying to buy a fish.

Tatiana Schlossberg 18:47
Yeah, and there’s some the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I think the Marine Stewardship Council they have like an app and Whole Foods on themselves list the rating, but there’s also an app that you can Look up different species and also the you know the species and where it’s from. Because it can be different in different places, you know how sustainable it is or not. So that’s a good resource to

Borna (ClimateAi) 19:11
You talk a lot about in your writing and in your, or in your normal journalism work. And then also in your book about the issue of climate change and pollution as it pertains to inequality. Can you talk about the link that exists there both historically, and then how it applies today?

Tatiana Schlossberg 19:27
Sure, yeah. And it is a it’s a big part of my book as well, mainly in the chapter about fuel. So climate change as a phenomenon is in some ways created by inequality, you know, the inequality between countries or between companies that allows some people to pollute a lot more than others and then create a world that is warming, and then it also exacerbates inequality because the people who are both the least responsible for climate change are also the most disproportionately affected by climate change. And the least able to recover if they do suffer from natural disasters or drought or famine or any of the other effects of climate change. And in this country in particular climate change, I mean, it’s a is a justice issue. And environmental pollution is this issue because we have a legacy of exposing different populations to pollution in different ways. So, one example that I write about a lot is coal ash pollution, which is the residue that’s leftover from burning coal for electricity. And it contains, you know, a lot of substances that are hazardous to human health like mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, strontium, lots of others. It’s one of the largest solid industrial waste streams in the United States, we produce more than 100 million tons of it every year in almost every single state. Some of it is recycled, quote, unquote, meaning it’s more Yeah, so they’re like beneficial contained uses like using it in cement and wallboard and, but then they’re also uses that are less safe like putting it on roads to dissolve snow and ice. But you know, mainly it’s stored in water and it’s so it’s this dust is kind of flushed out of coal fired power plants in water and then stored in dammed off sections of rivers and lakes in these kind of manmade ponds where it is often in contact with groundwater. So it can leak or, you know, it can these toxic compounds can, can get into the groundwater that way or, you know, can spill directly into the rivers and lakes that are nearby. You know, for example, in 2008, there was a dam at a coal fired power plant in Tennessee collapsed, releasing billions of gallons of this toxic material into the river, buried 300 acres of land in toxic sludge. You know, it’s one of the largest environmental disasters in American history, and I never heard of it. I didn’t know what climate what coal ash was until I became a science and climate reporter. You know, and additionally, you know, when when it was cleaned up the waste Was carted away to a landfill outside a predominantly black community in Alabama. The workers who cleaned it up were not given protective equipment. And I think about two dozen died, another 200 more were made sick by their exposure to this pollution. So, you know, it’s a luxury to not have to know what collages. You know, I live in New York, I don’t live near a coal fired power plant. But, you know, people intend to see in North Carolina and Montana and Virginia, you know, this is something that they have to deal with every day and these you know, disasters, even though we don’t hear about them. These are kind of the big ticket, maybe attention getting items in the news, but this pollution is happening every single day. And most coal ash ponds are leaking toxic material into the groundwater. And the people who are exposed to that pollution are disproportionately non white communities, low income communities in rural areas. And so, you know, that’s just one example of how toxic material toxic waste pollution you know, different communities suffer these effects differently and often purposefully, these, you know, sites are often put next to these, you know, for instance, with the, the landfill and Alabama, these are historically less powerful communities that have less influence, and maybe are less likely to complain or be heard. And we and we see the disproportionate effects in this and things like asthma, you know, heart disease, lung disease, you know, and also the the first ever federal regulation governing the safe disposal and storage of coal ash was written or enacted in 2015, as a result of the 2008 spill that I mentioned, and the first thing that Andrew Wheeler did when he became EPA Administrator was to roll it back. So, you know, we saw what happened when this slow this enforcement of this problem was left up to states and that’s disaster. And a lot of, you know, environmental lawyers and other people who work on this issue that I talked to say that this is, you know, coal ash is the next big environmental disaster that’s waiting to happen.

Borna (ClimateAi) 23:58
Why is it the next big one like why isn’t it I mean,

Tatiana Schlossberg 24:00
I’m sure there are a lot of next big ones. But yeah, but it’s just one that’s waiting to happen. I guess

Borna (ClimateAi) 24:05
you’re saying like the disasters waiting to happen, or you’re saying like the action that we take is is has yet to come.

Tatiana Schlossberg 24:10
No, I mean, so what both I mean, we need to have better regulation of this issue and also stop burning coal. But the problem with collage waste is it’s not going anywhere. You know, it doesn’t biodegrade. And so we’re we have to figure out a permanent way to deal with it. And that generally is lined landfills lined and covered landfills. But, you know, many of the existing ponds are held back by dams like the one in Tennessee that are, you know, more than 50 years old. And they’re again, like connected to rivers and lakes, places where people get their drinking water, or fish or, you know, you swim or whatever, use it for recreation. And I think that they think that there’s a lot of these dams are structurally unsound. And additionally, a lot of them are in areas that are, you know, in the path of hurricanes in the southeast. So In Hurricane Matthew, I think the one that was last fall, two years ago, like hurricane Florence and Hurricane Matthew, both there was a lot of worry about coal ash ponds being flooded, and then releasing all that material and overflowing. Yeah. So. So climate change is just again going to make, you know, stronger hurricanes, more rain, more flooding is just going to exacerbate these problems.

Borna (ClimateAi) 25:23
It’s interesting because like this is it’s the concept of like groundwater intrusion and like a groundwater is not stagnant like groundwater moves. And so a lot of these coal ash ponds, I mean, a lot of these coal facilities don’t have the best environmental records. Like they’ll, you know, now they get sued all the time for like having like, hazardous waste materials spill out illegally on a regular basis, which is, and the rules on that as now have now been made a little bit more relaxed, so they can kind of like do this a little bit, a little bit

Tatiana Schlossberg 25:52
more, relax and in general, and then also during the COVID shut down, they’re being relaxed even further. So

Especially

Borna (ClimateAi) 26:02
cynic in an effort to like make sure we have like, what’s what’s the claim is I guess

Tatiana Schlossberg 26:06
the rationale is like it because it’s expensive and you know, people can’t be paying attention to pollution at a time like this. Yeah. When you know air pollution and other kinds of pollution make people have weaker lungs, which makes them more susceptible to things like Coronavirus. So,

Borna (ClimateAi) 26:24
yeah, the asthma rates around a lot of these facilities are insane.

Tatiana Schlossberg 26:27
Yeah, yeah.

Borna (ClimateAi) 26:28
But But yeah, for the for the concept of groundwater like this is no new idea for people in the ag industry, like like groundwater flows. And in California, we have a big issue with salient intrusion. So when the groundwater gets depleted, saltwater comes in. And then we have an issue with having low quality water that we’re feeding to the crops and we see lower yields. And it’s like, yeah, that’s from saltwater. Try having like cadmium and arsenic in the water, like it’s, it’s hugely problematic. And these are, these are oftentimes in rural Iowa culture based areas and you wrote A really interesting article about that Texas ranch and how they started off by leasing their part of the property to this coal facility. And then it just took such a sharp turn for the negative.

Tatiana Schlossberg 27:10
Yeah, so that was about this ranch in Texas where they, you know, a long time ago, the ranchers leased to coal mining company for the mineral rights. So they were mining for lignite coal, which is, that’s Texas is the largest consumer of lignite coal in the country. But Texas also, I mean, we hear a lot about how much energy Texas gets from wind, but Texas still gets 24% of its electricity from coal. And it’s from this dirty, the dirtiest type of coal, least efficient. So anyway, so they leased this land, and for mining and then also a separate parcel for a coal fired power plant to be built. And this was like in the era towards the end of the era of rural of Texas, rural electrification. So bringing electrification to form communities that had, you know, been left behind.

Borna (ClimateAi) 27:57
Yeah, these people were heroes. They were like they’re helping electrify Like, this was like a big issue and they’re doing a huge positive for further area.

Tatiana Schlossberg 28:04
Totally. But then the coal fired power plant, you know, they had a coal ash pond, which is right next to this big cattle ranch, the groundwater migration problem that you’re talking about became an issue for them. I mean, I went there to this ranch, the area next to the pond, I mean, it’s barren. It’s the mud is like gray, nothing grows there and you know, other parts it’s like wild flowers and cattle grazing and then you know, additionally, they don’t mind for colder anymore, but they take the coal ash from the power plant and dump it into the old mines. And these are kind of like surface level mines. They’re so like, they’re not very deep. And then they these mines, the old pits, so they’re filled with coal ash, and then they get rained on so they’re also filled with water, and they’re hydrologically connected to a river, the braces river which is not that far away. So and that’s also causing killing a lot of vegetation and unsafe for the cattle to drink. So the ranchers Don’t let their cattle graze in that area anymore. And, you know, they’re not getting any help from the state. There’s no oversight, dumping coal ash into old coal mines is considered a beneficial reuse structural fill. But I think it’s really, you know, when you say it out loud, it’s like, how could anybody let that happen? And that’s what we’re dealing with all over the country. And I think, you know, again, like, it’s so easy for us to be so disconnected from the consequences of, you know, using electricity. And one of the examples I talked about in the book is how, you know, a lot of the internet is located in Virginia and Ohio. And Ohio, in particular, still runs on a lot of coal. I mean, both places use a lot of fossil fuels. But Ohio uses a lot of coal. Amazon has a ton of data centers there. So an Amazon Web Services hosts a huge amount of internet. So I think, you know, if I’m using the internet in New York, like, I don’t have to be, you know, and that’s it. Creating a demand for electricity to be burned, I mean, electricity to be generated in Ohio. And that’s creating coal ash pollution for somebody else, who is, you know, most likely a poor person of color in a rural community. And so I think it’s, uh, you know, I’m not saying that like, shopping on Amazon therefore makes you a bad person, but that we are all part of the system. And we’re all connected to these consequences. And, you know, a society that allows certain people to suffer disproportionately the consequences of pollution is a society that is less just for all of us. But also, we’re all part of this. So we are all responsible for fixing it.

Borna (ClimateAi) 30:36
Yeah. And the stats around like the the inequality question are pretty astounding. And I think the NAACP says like 70% of African Americans in the US live fairly close to a coal fired power plant, which is pretty insane considering all of like, the health implications that exist around it.

Tatiana Schlossberg 30:52
Yeah. And it’s not just things something I mean, as necessarily dramatic as a coal fired power plant like black And other, you know, non like communities are more likely to live next to major roads and cities and next to highways and suffer from air pollution that way. And I think like, we don’t necessarily think of inhaling pollution from cars as like equivalent to a coal fired power plant, but like you’re breathing that in, if you live there, you’re getting that in all the time. discriminatory housing policy over many generations in the US has led to that disproportionately affecting those communities as well.

Borna (ClimateAi) 31:26
Yeah. And then just to go back to the to the cattle ranching situation like when a lot of times when people think of mines they think of like, a very, almost like concrete thing that you’re like a pit that you’re going in a lot of times these mines are like not super rigid, and it’s and it’s fairly easy for liquid to flow out of it. And that’s why it’s problematic. So like, when you think of a mind sometimes people think like hard rock or some sort of like in a mountain casing. Yeah, yeah, in a mountain. But that’s not the case for a lot of these. And so it’s you’re just putting it in and then it’s just, it’s just going right, right back out. And then yeah, I’m curious to see like, when That rancher that you were speaking with, were they noticing any differences in their cattle like when their cattle was eating? Is that why they stopped letting their cattle graze there because they were seeing impacts on them? Or was it just like a common sense? Like we probably shouldn’t let our cattle graze here.

Tatiana Schlossberg 32:14
You know, I don’t remember it’s a cattle were getting sick or dying. But I think that the impacts on the mean, there was nothing really for them to eat. They’re like all because all the grasses were dying. And then I think they assumed that it would be that then the cattle would be drinking that water. And so they stopped, but I don’t I don’t actually remember.

Borna (ClimateAi) 32:31
Sorry. Yeah, maybe we don’t let the cattle feed on the post apocalyptic landscape. Not Be the best thing you were talking about, man. And this was I wanted to bring this up earlier, but we kind of we had some really interesting conversations to dig into. But why don’t want to pull it back to this. So you were talking about how Maine was being impacted. But you also in some of your writing talk about how Maine is starting to adapt to a lot of the changes that they’re seeing, particularly as it pertains to Arctic trade. Can you talk a little About how Maine is adapting to climate change and how they’re, and this is like so. So climate changes, is a very broad issue. And adaptation is also a very broad issue. And it’s going to require people to change the way that they operate in the economies. And, as we say, in the intro of this podcast challenges and opportunities, and this is a case where man is trying to make use of an opportunity. So curious to get your thoughts and, and key learnings from that article.

Tatiana Schlossberg 33:26
Yeah, and that’s important that you say this is an opportunity. I think so often we talk about climate change only as an issue of loss and sacrifice. But you know, as we’re saying, in these conversations around justice and remaking our consumption patterns in our systems like this is an incredible opportunity to do things differently, and to make more equal and better systems. So but in terms of this article that I wrote about means this is actually something I came across when I was researching my book that there are some people in Maine like people in business community and also some politicians and policymakers. Who we’re looking to establish commercial relationships with Arctic countries. Because the idea being that in decades or the in several years or hopefully longer than that, Arctic sea ice will disappear, especially me year round, but at first in the summer, and then you could, you could shave off a lot of time and shipping goods from Asia to the US by going through the Arctic. And ships were coming to the east coast of the US, the first stop would be made. And so they were trying to kind of establish themselves as like a bigger port city and establish trading relationships with with other Arctic countries in anticipation of Arctic shipping being a bigger part of the global economy. And so they were kind of building relationships that way. They had sent trade delegations to Iceland and Norway, they were in you know, increasingly they had recruited an Icelandic shipping company to establish its North American headquarters in Portland, you know, they were on Main up Portland, Portland, Maine. Yeah, yeah. And they were, you know, increasing exports of Maine blueberries and Poland spring water to Norway, and, you know, trying to set up exchanges and school exchanges and things like that, and also to have more Arctic cruises stop in Portland or leave from Portland, as well. And they’re like civil engineering firms that were, you know, making contact in Greenland, in anticipation of Greenland’s permafrost melting and mining becoming a bigger industry there. And also, you know, building port cities to accommodate chips, you know, cruise ships, and also, you know, ships for for trade and mining and things like that. So,

Borna (ClimateAi) 35:40
that for kind of sounds problematic, though. Like, is that are there regulations being placed around that today? Or is this is it just kind of like

Tatiana Schlossberg 35:47
mining in Greenland?

Borna (ClimateAi) 35:48
Yeah, in the Arctic in general.

Tatiana Schlossberg 35:50
The the problem with the Arctic is that there’s, I mean, Greenland belongs to is technically part of Denmark. So I assume that they would Have, they would be responsible for the regulations around mining there. In the Arctic in general governance is really complicated because, you know, you have those Exclusive Economic Zones off the coast. So that we talked about before. So the US like we are an Arctic country because of Alaska. But Russia and Canada have much more Arctic territory than we do. And, you know, people can mine within their exclusive economic zone. And Russia is already you know, they’ve built a ton of cities and their Arctic ports, they have one icebreaker, we have a second one that we like, used for parts for to fix the other one, Russia, like built has built 46 in the last couple of years.

Borna (ClimateAi) 36:41
And that can like penetrates through

Tatiana Schlossberg 36:43
Yeah, they can break sighs Yeah, you know, I think ocean mining is like a huge issue that could cause enormous problems in the in the ocean going forward. This like industrialization of the ocean as we deplete more and more the resources on land. So you know, the Arctic Council is sorted. of the body that regulates the Arctic. And all of the Arctic nations, like Have a seat on it, but it really has no enforcement power. And then, you know, other countries and indigenous groups can have an observer status.

Borna (ClimateAi) 37:12
What does the Arctic Council actually do? It sounds like something that’s like out of Game of Thrones, like, what are they? What are

Tatiana Schlossberg 37:18
they like? Yeah, so they meet regularly, like the kind of, you know, Foreign Minister, secretaries of state will meet. And like, every two years, the chair of it rotates. So when we were the chair, actually, one of the meetings was hosted in Portland, Maine. And that was like a very big deal. It was the first time it had ever been hosted outside of the Arctic. But you know, they talk about some of these issues that we’re talking about. I mean, the biggest thing that they were able to do was negotiate this agreement of stopping fishing in there’s like, kind of an open circle of water in the middle of the Arctic Ocean that’s surrounded by ice, and to not fish in there. There’s a moratorium on commercial fishing in there. So that was some thing that they were able to achieve together, which is, you know, really important because the Arctic is kind of one of the last, if not the last, like, wildlife refuge in the ocean that’s available to animals. So, but anyway, so I was really interested in this issue about the Arctic, and who controls it and how to if people are going to profit off it. And, you know, on the one hand, it’s like, you know, Maine, as we talked about before, has already experienced, you know, disproportionate effects of climate change from warming in the Gulf of Maine, and that has hurt their some of their industry. And they’re the poorest state in New England. They’re one of the poor states in the country. So if they can gain some economic benefit from this, these relationships, like is it fair for me sitting in New York to say that they shouldn’t be able to do that? And additionally, like Arctic sea ice is melting, it will be gone summer ircs will be gone. And so Isn’t it better to plan for that and to you know, for us to be the people who are planning that in People who are responsible and people who care, rather than ceding all of our authority to Russia, or China or Canada and, you know, having the Arctic develop in an irresponsible way, like, don’t we want a seat at the table, but at the same time, like, the idea of profiting off climate change feels wrong. And like, yes, we do have to plan for the inevitable, but also, like, what happens in the Arctic affects the whole rest of the world. And, you know, there are so many kind of dangerous consequences of things like Arctic shipping, you know, if ships get stuck or oil tankers are going through there, and you know, heavy fuel oil has not been banned in the Arctic yet. So if there’s a crash, if there are more icebergs moving around is more dangerous. If oil spills and under ice, we don’t know how that reacts. And so there are all kinds of questions around the safety and sustainability and should people really be doing this? And how do we plan for that? And so I was interested in a lot of those. A lot of those questions like how do you plan for climate change and adapt to this changing world and do so in a way that’s responsible and allows those communities that have suffered or will be disproportionately impacted going forward, you know, to be able to respond and preserve some economic benefit in a changing world.

Borna (ClimateAi) 40:16
Yeah, that makes sense. Because I totally agree. Like we would want a seat at the table. And at the same time, we want to make sure what’s happening there isn’t exploitative. So it’s, it’s kind of a difficult line to walk

Tatiana Schlossberg 40:26
totally. Yeah. No, no, like, you know, angus king, the Senator from Maine is really bullish on this. And I interviewed him for my piece, and he was like, this is happening. You know, like, we have to have a plan for this. And we need, you know, he tried to get more money for icebreakers, which was cut from the budget, but like, it’s also incredibly important in terms of like national defense that we are able to navigate and patrol the Arctic for especially if there are ships strandings or things like that. Like if we you know, if we don’t have have the equipment to be able to do that or infrastructure or the diplomatic relationships? Like, you know, then we have no say over or how that develops going forward.

Borna (ClimateAi) 41:10
Yeah. What was your sense after talking to him that you feel like they were set to be doing this in a pretty sustainable and fair way? Or did it seem like there was kind of an exploitative angle that was coming about?

Tatiana Schlossberg 41:22
I mean, all the people I talked to bristle at the suggestion that they were taking advantage of climate change, or that they wish they wanted it to be happening, because of course, they don’t. But you know, at the same time, you have to be realistic and as we’re saying, adapt to the world that that we’re going to live in. So I think my concerns were anything different from what they were thinking about in terms of things like the stuff that I mentioned about ships being stranded or crashes with icebergs or how it affects migration patterns of marine mammals, fishing, and I think that made And my sense was that even though they wanted to be responsible and know that, you know, Maine’s entire economy depends on the kind of Environmental Quality and a lot of ways in terms of things like their drinking water, like Poland spring, but also like oysters and lobster and fish, timber blueberries, like they get it, but at the same time, I think that they were, they didn’t weren’t necessarily taking this kind of like hemispheric or global view of what the consequences of this kind of thing is.

Borna (ClimateAi) 42:31
Yeah. And so you mentioned like timber and blueberries. What else are they sending in as part of this trick is there they’re definitely not definitely not sending that caught anymore. So what, what else? What else are they sending?

Tatiana Schlossberg 42:42
They’re sending lobster. They’re sending potatoes they’re sending, I mean, candles, perversely, like we send Lindt chocolate, which is European from Maine to mint chocolate. Yeah, like lsvt You know, this was chocolate. It’s like a chocolate maker. But anyway, Like a manufacturer in America, and we make certain flavors that we then shipped to Europe, even though like it’s a Swiss company. So anyway, there are lots of weird things like that, but it’s also a lot of like specific main things. Like, like the stuff that I mentioned.

Borna (ClimateAi) 43:14
And is it mostly just main stuff? Or is his main becoming a hub for like the entire New England region to kind of send stuff to be shipped through?

Tatiana Schlossberg 43:22
Yeah, they are getting more stuff that then they’re, you know, from these countries that then they can, you know, send to other parts like to Boston and New York and sending stuff from from here to there is a huge thing, actually, that is main beer, like IPAs are very popular in Arctic countries. So that’s another thing that they’re sending and I think kind of regionally but it’s not like a huge center of global trade the ports just not big enough, but it is kind of like a niche market. But you know, I think that they’re they’re hoping that that that relationship is strong enough that it you know, keeps going or you know, grows with increased shipping in that in the Arctic.

Borna (ClimateAi) 43:59
Yeah, makes sense. Awesome. Well, is there any way that people can I guess how can people support your work both your journalism, your book, whatever your next, no, your YouTube channel, you’re gonna create what people support for you and your work?

Tatiana Schlossberg 44:13
Well, the best thing to do is if you liked what you heard today, buy a copy of my book, which you can buy from your local bookstore, online or on the show notes. Or if you enjoy the sound of my voice, I read my own audio most so that otherwise, you know, I read an newsletter with some of my various musings about climate change and the environment so I don’t some people can subscribe to that. It’s tiny letter. It’s called news from a changing planet. There’s a link to it on my website. You can subscribe on my website which is Tatyana Schlossberg calm. You can follow me on twitter at Tater Tatyana love that. Yeah, that those are those are the main And you know, any words of encouragement or ideas for other books? Yeah.

Borna (ClimateAi) 45:05
Well, I really enjoyed this conversation. I learned a ton. And yeah, thanks so much for joining us Tatyana.

Tatiana Schlossberg 45:10
Yeah, it was fun. Thank you so much for having me.

Borna (ClimateAi) 45:13
Hey, everybody, thanks for listening. If you have any feedback, or you’d like to add your own two cents on the topic discussed today, or if you’ve just got your own ideas about someone that we should discuss in the future, please feel free to shoot me an email at podcast@climate.ai. At its core, this podcast is just a way for us to learn and we want to share our learnings as we go. So we’re always open to building on these conversations and hearing new perspectives. Thanks for your support and see you next time.

Guest:

Tatiana Schlossberg

Author and award winning climate reporter

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