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Eco-Roundup: The Joys of Vacationing in the Heart of the Climate Crisis

Every month, I assemble a round-up of stories I’m following and issues I’m covering, with palate cleansers at the end.

I visited family in Florida earlier this month, as Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was preparing to sign a law to remove a requirement that policymakers consider climate change as they develop infrastructure plans. Instead, they’ll be instructed to consider energy affordability and availability. DeSantis also rejected $3 million in funds from the Inflation Reduction Act that could have helped mitigate climate impacts in Florida. And he signed a law this spring banning worker heat protections in the state.

While I was visiting, my brother and I hired a guide, who led us on kayaks through mangrove tunnels, past a rookery full of baby birds and surrounded by alligators positioned to eat any that fell in. (We were assured that the alligators didn’t want us.) We visited beaches near Naples and on Sanibel Island that had been inaccessible until recently because of Hurricane Ian.  On a touristy sunset cruise, we watched dolphins jump against the backdrop of billionaires’ homes, nestled among palm trees on the Gulf Coast. Since it was the off-season, many of them sat empty, the announcer told us.  

The outcome of bad climate policies is that Florida’s coral reefs are disappearing, and restoration efforts are failing. The increasing heat combined with agricultural runoff means toxic algae blooms called red tides have filled Florida communities with the “stench of dead fish, turtles and manatees rotting in reddish-brown coastal waters.” Meanwhile, Florida heat has killed hundreds of workers in the past decade, as well as an uncounted number of prisoners in unairconditioned prisons.

I loved trying on retirement life and not reading the news. It has been unbearable lately to take in the reality of what’s happening in Gaza alongside the realities of the climate crisis. But I left feeling unsettled by the implications of retirement life. It’s easy to shrug and say there’s nothing we can do about the climate crisis when you’re on permanent vacation, and when the world as we know it, which revolves around gasoline-fueled cars, landed you in a cushy Florida retirement. Ultimately, though, I did return and went back to reading and slowly forced myself to keep on with the labor organizing. I love to lounge around and do nothing so so much. But I can’t stand the idea that the full spectrum of Florida’s natural beauty might be something that fades away after my parents’ generation. I'm willing to fight, too, for late-life permanent vacation, but even if I win, I guess I'd better not ever fully tune out.

In case you missed it:

I wrote a piece for Drilled, featuring new documents from my giant set of Dakota Access Pipeline private security files. The article lays out the numerous anti-protest laws that are being advanced in response to pro-Palestine demonstrations on college campuses. I make the point that these policies and related police crackdowns are not just impacting antiwar protesters, but will inevitably hit environmental and Indigenous organizers as well. The documents I featured showed how the private security company TigerSwan immediately began surveiling Palestinian land defenders as soon as they noticed a single Palestinian had arrived at the Standing Rock camps.

Also, if you haven't already, please check out the National Writers Union's report on retaliation against media workers for speech on Israel and Palestine, which I worked on. Outside of the report, I’m hearing from friends in environmental journalism who are being called into disciplinary meetings, having funding cut, or being forced to fight to get evidence-based work published – all because they have spoken or written clearly about Israel’s human rights violations in Gaza. They’re not tweeting about this or talking on record, and many of them work with organizations that are considered progressive. This tells me that this pattern of retaliation is much wider than what we've recorded and is ongoing more than six months after October 7. Many of us aren’t talking publicly about retaliation, because we need to survive in this industry in order to preserve the important work we are doing. But no one I know has been convinced to stay quiet on the atrocities, which numerous experts say amount to genocide, in Gaza.

"A sign in her cell window read, 'please give me water,' but she was ignored."

Texas organizers and prisoners filed a new lawsuit arguing that the uncontrolled heat in unairconditioned prisons amounts to cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the eighth amendment of the constitution. One of the complainants is Bernie Tiede, whose life story was the subject of the 2011 film Bernie, staring Jack Black. Here's a horrifying excerpt from the complaint: "In June 2023, to prepare for her imminent release, 37-year-old Elizabeth Hagerty was transferred from an air-conditioned prison to the un-air conditioned Dr. Lane Murray Unit. Ms. Hagerty had diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. She had no access to water, and she developed a heat rash and trouble breathing. Ms. Hagerty died on June 28, 2023, when it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. In one letter written to Lioness, two incarcerated women said that Ms. Hagerty had a sign in her cell window that read, 'please give me water,' but she was ignored. "

"Journalists across Georgia are mourning the loss of a crucial service."

The University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic has quit all its work supporting journalists pursuing public records requests, apparently as part of an effort to shut down the pursuit of records related to Cop City. The clinic had represented the Atlanta Community Press Collective in suing the Atlanta Public Safety Foundation for records related to construction of the Atlanta police training center known as Cop City. “What we were told was that the law clinic is no longer able to do open records work because it is a conflict of interest due to UGA being subject to the Open Records Act,” one of the collective's editors told the local outlet Decaturish. The editors believe the clinic's decision is the result of outside pressure to drop the suit. One result is that now journalists at other outlets, including Decaturish, have lost representation in pursuing their own records requests.

"This land isn't yours! Neither is the plant!"

I loved the film, Foragers, by Jumana Manna about Israel's criminalization of Palestinians foraging za'atar and akkoub. It combines documentary footage with reenactments, including using transcripts of court proceedings and interrogations. It's a powerful demonstration of the way that environmental conservation policies can be used to control the movement of colonized people and strip them of their ways of life, and it's just one example of the central role of greenwashing in Israeli policy. It's also incredible to see how the act of gathering herbs became a powerful form of resistance for some Palestinians. I'm not sure how you can watch this movie at home, but I got to see it at the Rockaway Film Festival, which I THINK might have programming throughout the summer (and definitely at least this weekend) so New Yorkers should check it out.

Palate Cleansers

I cover topics that are heavy and distressing to take in, so I'm ending these posts with things that make me feel grounded: food, nature, community.

Something Delicious:

Hot dogs (or veggie dogs) with righteous condiments, all summer long:

Pickled red onions
Tahini sauce
To be tested this weekend: The Seattle Dog, featuring cream cheese, carmalized onions, and sriracha.

Garden Update:

Last weekend I planted a bazillion things in containers on my deck. Here's the ones that excite me most:

A raspberry bush
Lupines (those purple flowers!)
Green beans in my window box (to climb up the window bars)
Citronella geranium
Chiles (I will pickle them)
The things that came back on their own: sweet william, some purple flower, mint, parsley, lavendar

Bulletin Board:

This week, Reporters Without Borders filed a case against Israel with the International Criminal Court for its killing of journalists in Gaza. To support Palestinian journalists who are risking their lives, please donate to the International Federation of Journalists' safety fund.