Climate Change Interview with Alison Hawthorne Deming

The finale Climate Change + Poetry series is tonight with a reading from scientist and poet Alison Hawthorne Deming. As part of our effort to pose questions about poetry, language, and our role in combatting climate change, we will also feature blog posts where we pose some of those questions to climate scientists. Today's post features Deming's answers to our questions. 

Poetry Center: What do you want people to know about climate change right now?

Alison Hawthorne Deming: Climate change is a real and present danger to national and global security. It's here. It's now. It asks us to become a more science literate society and a more empathic society, one that cares for the most vulnerable, whether people or the other species who share our planet. Climate change asks us to be smarter about long-term imagining. It calls us to care about those who come after us many more generations down the road than we can yet imagine. In that sense it is a challenge to the human imagination as much as it is to our technology and governance.


PC: What role do you think poetry (or more generally, language) has in the education about and fight against climate change?

AHD: Language, the way we communicate, shapes a culture. And poetry is our most resonant form of communicating in language. Poetry can enhance science communication through creative use of language, concepts and metaphors that shape the way we see and imagine. Fresh language encourages asking new questions, conceiving new ideas discovering unexpected relationships between fact and experience. As John Cage wrote, "Art wakes us up to the very life we're living." Poetry adds emotional texture to intellectual understanding and bonds people together in a community of shared feeling and purpose.


PC: What are the connections you see between social justice and climate change?

AHD: The most vulnerable people and species will suffer the most from the extreme changes in climate. Climate change makes clear once and for all that environmental sustainability and social justice are one. Even the Syrian conflict has roots in an extended drought that drove millions of citizens off their tradition lands where they had farmed for generations into cities where they found no means of livelihood and leaders who were heartless to their plight. Rather than banning refugees and immigrants, nations will be called upon more and more to care for those who lose their homeland or way of life.


PC: What can people do/what do you do to combat climate change?

AHD: The day after the election I made the call to have solar panels installed on my home. That will happen later this month, and I anticipate generating 100% of my electricity from the sun. Only 1% of Americans have gone solar, according to my contractor. There are excellent tax incentives and leasing programs to facilitate this transition. Forbes reported just this week that wind and solar technologies are now economically sufficient to withstand the election.  

What to do? Vote for science-smart candidates who share a commitment to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. Convert your home to solar power, drive less, fly less, eat less meat. Pay attention. Be kind. Find the right words and put them in the right order. Do not be silent. 

Alison Hawthorne Deming’s most recent nonfiction book is Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit (Milkweed 2014).  She is the author of three additional nonfiction books and five poetry books with Stairway to Heaven (Penguin) and Death Valley: Painted Light, in collaboration with astronomer/ photographer Stephen Strom coming out in 2016. Her first book Science and Other Poems won the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets.  Recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, she has also received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, Bayer Award in Science Writing, among other honors. Former Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, she is Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment and Social Justice and Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.