Green Letters review: FTC offers “a productive catharsis”

There’s a new academic review of Facing the Change in the most recent issue of Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism (18:3), the journal of ASLE-UKI, the UK-Ireland branch of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment: (subscription required)

Recounting her previous immersion in the study of climate change discourse from an intellectual, academic perspective, reviewer Adeline Johns-Putra says that when she began to read FTC, “the components of my theoretical armoury became increasingly disarmed. Or, rather, my intellectual awareness about the ethical and psychological enormity of living with climate change was re-engaged at an entirely different level—an affective one.”

She continues: “This book enables its reader not only to reflect on the profound difficulties of talking and writing about climate change but also to work through the alienating effects of the process, for example, frustration, sadness, guilt and anger.  Divided into sections that deal with different aspects of climate change awareness and action, the book moves progressively from watching, to caring, to thinking, to the possibility of doing.” Appropriately noting some of the book’s limitations—including an unevenness of writing not atypical of a collected volume, and (as in previous reviews) the near-exclusion of non-American perspectives—Prof Johns-Putra nevertheless ends with a positive evaluation:

“One puts down this book, nonetheless, with a real sense of hope for the future. That is thanks to some careful selection and arrangement by Steven Pavlos Holmes as editor, as well as to the emotional depths plumbed by some of the writers, which enables a productive catharsis. It is also a book worth dipping into from time to time, yielding enough variety to sustain a re-reading, enough urgency in its many voices to remind us why we need to act, and enough wisdom in its insights to persuade us that we can each make a difference.”

ISLE review: FTC is “a rich, refreshing, and much-needed collection”

Another brief but thoughtful review of FTC is in the Winter 2014 issue of ISLE (the journal of ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment), available both in paper and online:

According to reviewer Stephen Siperstein, “I used the book to great success in a first-year humanities seminar on climate change; the students connected more easily with the perspectives offered by the authors in this volume than they did with more traditional climate ‘experts’ like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, or Al Gore. Of course, the contributors to this book are climate change ‘experts’ in their own right, and as Holmes notes, these authors—diverse in age, profession, class, gender, and geographic location—are our emotional and cultural first responders to climate change’ (2). ”

Moreover, Siperstein pinpoints the book’s “most important quality” as follows: “It does not prescribe what we should think or what we should feel about climate change. Instead, it presents a range of honest responses and leaves it up to us to weigh the possibilities.”

The review concludes with some appropriate critique and an interesting challenge:

“The book’s only significant limitation is its inclusion of mostly US writers. This skews the collection’s overall perspective of climate change to that of the global north. ‘Personal encounters’ with climate change from Massachusetts or Oregon would read much differently (and perhaps even more powerfully) in conjunction with personal encounters from China or Kenya, for example. With any luck, this collection should inspire a second volume or other similar projects.”

Any takers?

Review: FTC is “an important and often moving contribution”

Here’s a link to a new review of Facing the Change, in the latest issue of World Literature Today (May-August 2014).  Praising “the wide-ranging and honest voices in this smartly edited collection,” reviewer John Calderazzo says: “These crisp contributions read like the thoughts of ordinary folks trying to figure out how to live sustainable and meaningful lives in thrall of enormous changes that so often seem beyond the reach of individual action.”

The issue also contains a whole section on “International Eco-Lit” – great company for FTC. Check it out!

Facing the Change in rural Wisconsin

On April 9, Ripon College in central Wisconsin played host to the first Facing the Change event in middle America. FTC editor Steven Pavlos Holmes – whose visit to Ripon also included guest appearances in a few environmental studies courses and discussions with faculty, all made possible by funds from the Banville Family Trust – introduced the book and led the discussion after the readings. Local residents Soren Hauge and Kat Griffith read selections from the book: Soren (professor of economics at Ripon and organizer of the event) chose Jamie Sweitzer Brandstader’s “The Innocence of Ice,” whose stories of youthful hockey games brought back memories from Soren’s own childhood; Margarita Engle’s “Search,” which illustrated an issue raised in a class the day before; and Willow Fagan’s thoughtful meditation on struggle and strength, “Beyond Denial.” Kat chose pieces with similar personal resonances, Marybeth Holleman’s “Thin Line Between” and Julie Dunlap’s “Annapolis Bus Ride,” the latter raising issues from Kat’s own experiences as homeschooler and community educator.

In the lively discussion that followed (which was still going strong at the end of the allotted hour and a half), about 25 students, faculty, and local residents shared their own stories, observations, and concerns about climate change, and about the natural world in general – from backyards in Ripon to Alaska, from birds to bears, from the green and growing earth to the frozen and icy parts of the world. Indeed, this audience’s responses brought out the fact that FTC isn’t just a “global warming book,” but a collection of eloquent and evocative nature writing with the power to move people to reflect on their experiences of and fears for the living world as a whole.

Thanks to Soren and Kat, the Banville Family Trust, Ripon College, and everyone who attended for a powerful evening of community and reflection!

FTC selected Finalist in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Awards

Good news! Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming has been selected as a Finalist in ForeWord Review’s 2013 Book of the Year Awards, which recognize the best of independent publishing in over 60 categories. The book – which is a finalist in two categories, Ecology/Environment and Anthologies – will now be evaluated further by a panel of librarians and booksellers; winners will be announced at the American Library Association Annual Meeting in June.

For more on the awards and this year’s finalists, go to

For ForeWord’s FTC page, go to

Congratulations to all the contributors to FTC, and thanks to everyone for helping to spread the word!

Thinking Like Bears in Oregon

In the wake of the “Transformation without Apocalypse” symposium at Oregon State University in February, a few tidbits:

Videos of the keynote speakers – including the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Tim DeChristopher, Kathleen Dean Moore, and others – are now available at the website of the Spring Creek Project:    (the videos start halfway down the page)

At the symposium’s “Transformation Literature and Film Festival,” FTC contributors Kristin Berger, Willow Fagan, and Carla Wise, along with Stephen Siperstein of the U of Oregon, read from the anthology and their own work. Here are Kristin (left), Carla, and copies of the book in the company of other exalted titles (such as those of Kim Stanley Robinson). Thanks to Kristin for organizing FTC’s participation in the event, and to Grass Roots Books for making the books available!

Finally, as yet another example of “Facing the Change beyond FTC,” here’s one of his own poems Stephen Siperstein read at the event:

Thinking Like a Bear

Stooped among lowbush branches
We twist, pluck, and plop
Purple fruit into buckets.
My companion, six years old,
Turns to me,    asks:
aaaaaAre there bears here?
aaaaaaaaaaShould we be scared?
No, I say,
aaaaaWe shouldn’t be scared.
aaaaa           There are no bears, not here
(not anymore, I want to add, but don’t).
She seems relieved, but now I have got
Myself worrying:
aaaaaDark holes stretched across sea ice,
aaaaaPolar bears moving south,
aaaaaWalking on their soles—
aaaaaPine trees bulging with rust
aaaaaGrizzlies coming down
aaaaaFrom the mountains too early.
aaaaaWill she blame me
aaaaaFor a world with no bears?
aaaaaWill she remember
aaaaaWhat it feels like to be afraid
aaaaaOf something that can walk
aaaaaThrough the world like we do?
The thing is, I continue
(now determined for my own sake to sound wise)
aaaaaPeople are scared of bears but bears
 aaaaa          Are more scared of people.
Oh, she says and I feel worse, sorry to have said it,
Seeing her mind work over a hard idea
Like hands picking through small, un-ripe berries.
But then her voice, half certain–half question
Like a cool breeze off water
Waking me up to the morning:
aaaaaSo they must think we’re bears.


FTC author Rachel Augustine on NYC’s Green Living Radio

Our youngest author is our first radio star! Poet Rachel Augustine – now 21, but 15 when she wrote “Tiny Black Rocks” – was interviewed on NYC’s Green Living Radio on Dec 30. To listen online, go to

The half-hour segment (which begins around minute 26 of the show) includes wide-ranging discussion of topics from FTC and global warming in general to the musical uses of a French coal mine and the changing laws about women using men’s bathrooms! Along the way, Rachel and interviewer Soledad Haren also touch on issues such as mountaintop removal, the future growth of automobiles in Mexico, international effects of American e-waste, and the environmental effects of rampant development in China. Rachel makes an interesting point about women authors’ tendency to combine science with a personal perspective – reflected in the line-up of authors in FTC – while Soledad, referring specifically to continuing effects of Superstorm Sandy, sums up both the discussion and the book: “The future is here now.”

Good work, Rachel! Thanks, Green Living Radio!

A book launched in Boston

I’m happy to report on a successful book event yesterday at the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary ( Over 30 people turned out to hear Tara Masih and Sydney Landon Plum read from their essays (as well as poetry selections from Harry Smith and Paul Sohar), and to engage in spirited and thoughtful discussion of topics such as the cycles of monarch butterflies, biological control of purple loosestrife, and (of course) the importance of grassroots storytelling in nurturing truth, reconciliation, and empowerment in the face of global warming. The event began with a moment of silence for Nelson Mandela and with a recording of a cello piece by an undergraduate from Minnesota named Daniel Crawford, who has put the last 130 years of mean annual temperature changes into musical form, another powerful artistic expression (if you haven’t heard it, check it out at Thanks to Sydney, Tara, and the folks at the BNC (especially Andrew MacBlane, who helped organize and introduce the event) for making it happen – and to all who showed up, for making it happen!

Julie Dunlap: To College in a Catastrophe

Author Julie Dunlap’s essay in Facing the Change, “Annapolis Bus Ride,” reflects upon her young son Eli’s experiences at a climate change rally in the context of wider questions of children’s psychological and spiritual development in a world in crisis. In this new essay, Julie explores these issues further as her daughter Sarah leaves for college. 

To College in a Catastrophe

Imagine Henry Thoreau’s mother, trying to pack him up for Harvard in 1833.  “Simplify, schmimplify,” Mrs. Thoreau might have exhorted her abstemious son. “At least take a change of socks and long johns.”

No such resistance to consumption afflicted my daughter, Sarah, as we shopped for college last summer. A pile of “necessities” grew in her bedroom, including but not limited to a Powerbook, extra-long sheets and comforter, assorted instant soups, mugs, posters, shoes and more shoes, and a shower caddy with a startling array of bath products.  To Sarah, the collection seemed an expression of delight in her imminent adventure.  For me, the proliferating acquisitions were a bulwark against my own insecurities; even at that late date, I feared, I had failed to prepare my child for her future.

My defenses took a shuddering blow when her college Facebook page urged a reading assignment for incoming freshmen:  Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert.  My teenage perusal of Walden immersed me in images of Thoreau’s experiment in the pre-industrial New England woods, but through Kolbert, Sarah would encounter a much darker vision: a post-warming world of vanishing species, churning hurricanes, and shriveling ice sheets. According to the journalist’s muster of experts, the climate change crisis is neither potential nor impending but upon us.  Is Sarah ready for a planet that Kolbert succinctly describes as melting?

Protecting one’s offspring from traumatic information is de rigueur for most parents.  I prefer to think of it not as withholding the truth but as preserving childhood.  On September 11, 2001, many adults sheltered young ears, as I did my kindergartener’s, from tragic news of the Twin Towers and Pentagon. The appropriate ages to broach disturbing or horrific subjects is a matter for debate, as I realized when a teacher assigned Sarah’s 10-year-old sister the task of printing internet photos of skeletal Holocaust victims,  but surely some level of maturity is required to cope with Kolbert’s haunting eyewitness reports.  An Inuit hunter, who has been observing climate change accelerate since before Sarah was born, says, “Our children may not have a future. . . .  It’s not just happening in the Arctic.  It’s going to happen all over the world.  The whole world is going too fast.”

“Surely joy is the condition of life,” wrote Thoreau in an essay celebrating the wilds of Massachusetts.  Though convinced about global warming, I also believe in biophilia, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson’s theory that humans are hardwired to need an intimate connection with non-human nature. For years my family let me lure them outdoors, away from all electronic temptations, to hike in the Catoctins or to stargaze far from city lights. Evidence is mounting (though not as fast as greenhouse gas data) that such experiences bolster child development, relieve stress, thwart obesity, augment cognitive abilities, and deepen spirituality.  As I watched my children arrange stones in a streambed, I felt they were building a bastion against loss and disappointment, a font of optimism and resilience for whatever lay ahead.

But by Sarah’s sophomore year of high school, creek walking had faded into memory. Whereas Thoreau tucked a few field notes into his straw hat, Sarah crammed her backpack so heavily with texts that she walked at a slant. In their quiet desperation to earn Ivy League admission or scholarships, Sarah’s contemporaries devoted their hours and energies to seeking top grades and SAT scores.  Yet the AP Chemistry class could not find time to explore the thermodynamics of our endangered atmosphere. Abetted by equally desperate parents, even volunteers at tree plantings seemed more concerned with plumping their resumes than beautifying the neighborhood with living carbon sinks.

Henry Thoreau studied hard, too.  He knew ancient languages well enough to write home in Latin.  In classical literature, Virgil’s Georgics especially spoke to him.  A poetic tribute to farming, the Georgics express the reassurance Thoreau found in the eternal rhythms of the seasons.  Such simple faith, in the renewal of spring and the beneficence of the sun, must seem quaint to Sarah and her college cohort.  Young Henry could learn the art of beekeeping from a 2000-year-old manuscript, but today’s students confront colony collapse disorder. In Kolbert’s book and elsewhere, they read of delayed blooming patterns, shifting wildlife migrations, and other symptoms of an unstable earth that Thoreau could not have imagined. How does it feel to learn that by 2030, when Sarah’s friends dream of raising children of their own, their planet may have reached a tipping point?

Still, I am glad that Sarah’s future alma mater urged reading of Kolbert’s Catastrophe.  With so few readers in Concord, Thoreau fretted, a man who reads an important book “will find nobody to speak to, but must keep silence about it.”  Learned professors, thankfully, will guide the Class of 2017 in discussing the science and politics of global warming.  Prepared or not, Sarah and classmates must speak up for their own future. “The frontiers are not east or west, north or south,” Thoreau wrote, “but wherever a man fronts a fact.”

Before she left for school in August, I tucked a pair of hiking books into her dorm pile. And as she e-mails me reports of her journeys this fall, I scan them for insights that may help me learn how to prepare her little brother, Eli, for his own too-soon departure for college. But for now, at least, for the Class of 2022, the sun is still a morning star.


Julie Dunlap is coeditor of the anthology Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together and an award-winning author or coauthor of numerous children’s books, including John Muir and Stickeen: An Icy Adventure with a No-Good Dog. She earned a Ph.D. in Forestry and Environmental Studies from Yale University and coordinates a schoolyard habitat grant program for the Audubon Society of Central Maryland.

FTC on Talking Climate blog

Adam Corner mentions FTC in his latest post on the Talking Climate blog:

The post also includes a poem by Welsh poet Emily Hinshelwood, who is engaged in a fascinating project: Emily is walking across Wales and asking everyone she meets three questions about climate change, with the goals both of engaging regular people in open discussions and of gathering material for poems. The poem in the blog – fashioned from actual responses to her questions – offers both a picture of how climate change looks in the UK (especially the seemingly constant rain in recent years) and a window into the swirl of emotions ordinary people are feeling about it all:

                we do our recycling – we do what we’re told

                but the haycrop’s all ruined, the riverbank’s burst –

                d’you know

                since I’ve recycled, it’s only got worse

For more on Emily and her project, go to Emily also runs an “Arts and Climate Change” program at Awel Amen Tawe, a community energy project in Wales; for information on the two poetry anthologies on climate change that the group has produced, go to . And be sure to explore the rest of the website to learn more about their other projects.

Talking Climate – “the gateway to research on climate change communication” – is a UK-based project offering a comprehensive and frequently updated database of academic papers, a regular newsletter, and a blog featuring comment and analysis from climate change communication experts. Talking Climate partners include the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), the Understanding Risk group at Cardiff University (where Adam is located) and the ‘Climate change as com­plex social issue’ research group at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, Nottingham University. Amongst their many offerings, recent Talking Climate blog postings that may be of interest to FTC readers include:

Communicating climate change by celebrating nature (August 23)

Morality is missing from debates about behaviour change (July 19)

The ‘art’ of climate change communication (March 20)