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Ep 45 Elizabeth Kolbert on bird sex and climate solutions

elizabeth_kolbertIt gets weirder. Elizabeth Kolbert answers Climate Stew host’s Peterson Toscano: What would we be talking about if there were no climate denial? In response Kolbert shares practical, political solutions to address the climate crisis. And if you are feeling weary in your own climate activism, our own Marvin Bloom shares good news that will comfort you and give you hope.

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Music (in order)


Climate Stew host, Peterson Toscano

Climate Stew host, Peterson Toscano


Thank for joining me here at Climate Stew. I am Peterson Toscano with an episode that I believe will give you hope about the climate crisis. We also hear about practical solutions. Marvin Bloom, who is feeling a little down, gets a pick me up from Chad Rodriquez. But first I have a very special encounter with Elizabeth Kolbert. At one point int he segment she gets all up in a bird’s sex life. So let’s dive right in.


Elizabeth Kolbert—Giving hand jobs to crows (her words, not ours!) 

I recently heard Elizabeth Kolbert speak. Kolbert writes for the New Yorker magazine. Last year she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Sixth Extinction—An Unnatural History. I read it last summer. It’s brilliant and beautiful and disturbing. So I wanted to see her, but from a distance.

height.630.no_border.width.1200The event was at Bucknell University, a posh private college about 20 minutes from my house. I’m actually kind of shy in large public settings, unless of course I am the one on stage. The auditorium filled with 500 to 800 people. This was much less than when I heard Laverne Cox speak last year or Jane Goddal the previous year. But then Kolbert doesn’t talk about entertaining pop culture and feminism or cute stories about chimpanzees. Kolbert talks about mass extinctions. Yikes.

I settled into my seat 20 rows from the front next to Marion and Maria, two acquaintances from the community. I took out my audio recorder. I  attempted to look invisible. I am hear to observe and record. I had no idea that by the end of the evening Kolbert and I would have a very public exchange.

She began by talking about one of the responses she has gotten in the past to the same talk she was going to give.

(audio from presentation)

Elizabeth-Kolbert-Book-Cover-MashupWhen she said this I thought, Wait really? You going to drop mass extinctions on us because of climate change, then not give us any direction? It’s true that is how her book ends. Still she is no dummy. Surely she has answers. For whatever reason she is holding back.

She then forged into her talk telling us about species that have gone extinct long ago or recently. She knows she needs to mix some lightness with the dreadful weight of the topic. So She also gave the contemporary example of Kinohi, an Alala bird, one of the last surviving Hawaiian crows. And to keep us engaged Kolbert revealed Kinohi’s secret sex life.

(audio from presentation)

Kinohi, the friendly & sexually confused Alala bird

Kinohi, the friendly & sexually confused Alala bird

Then Kolbert dug in deeper to the meat of the talk. She highlighted the dangers of climate change. She shared the shocking stats that reveal a huge die off is happening of species around the world. We heard worlds like “species collapse” “catastrophy” and plenty of others. She kept her promise. Here talk was interesting and alarming. She also didn’t tell us what to do.

The talk ended and she opened up the floor for questions. Now always when this happens there is a man ready with a queston, at least one. Usually over the age of 45.  I can be in a sea of college students with no one over the age of 22 in sight. The talk ends, and the man appears. My one goal in life is to never be that man. And sure enough a man stood up and asked a question to clarify a point Kolbert made. She answered. Then nothing. Hundreds of people and no questions. The microphones stood exposed to the crowd. After an awkward silence, clip

I am terrified to stand up in a room like that and ask a question. Sure I perform all the time, but its different somehow. But suddenly a question popped in my head. Not just a filler question. But one I really wanted to ask. I climbed over Marion and Mary, and approached the mic.

(audio from presentation)

Call, 1990 by Robert Bordo at MOMA PS1

Call, 1990 by Robert Bordo at MOMA PS1

She liked the question. And something marvelous happened. In answering the question, she ended up doing what she said she could not—give answers and direction about what to do next. She shared practical solutions.

(audio from presentation)

I spoke with her afterwards about the sort of things we like to do at Climate Stew. We think outside the box.

So I pose the question to you. What if, there was no climate denial? What if for the past 10 years, people were convinced: The climate is warming rapidly leading to disastrous consequences. The cause is human pollution. What would news coverage look like? What would we talk about in school, church, during family meal? Send me your thoughts to, that’s You can tweet your answer to us. @climate_stew Or leave a comment at our site It’s time we liberate our minds from the denial narrative.

Your Moment with Marvin

Photo by Jimmy DeSana at MOMA PS1

Photo by Jimmy DeSana at MOMA PS1

Hi, this is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin.

Hi everyone, I’m sorry but I’m a little down. It’s actually my partner’s fault. Tristian. Yegh, he’s been a funk. He reads too much about climate change. He actually just finished reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book about Extinction. Thanks a lot Peterson. So he’s got what I call the climate change blues. You know when you see how serious things are all over again and how it seems no one cares. It’s emotionally deflating.

So to help me out is my good friend Chad Rodriquez. Chad is college student. A very positive person. Anyway he claims there is some good news about climate. So I guess its your moment with Marvin and Chad.

Hi Chad,

Chad: Oh my gosh, Hi Marvin. Oooo, you really are sounding blah. That’s ok Eeyore, It’s time for a little climate boost.

I’m actually feeling hopeful. For one, I’m in college. I Graduate in May. Class of 2016 ooh who. And I am so impressed with how many  other young people are getting involved in politics. I mean primaries and elections seems so boring, but you have this huge turn out of young people getting involved. And I remember so many young people at the Peoples Climate March. And young people are standing up with divestment campaigns. And out on the streets involved in BlackLivesMatter. There’s something happening. And that’s exciting.

Marvin: That’s True, Chad. A surge of political engagement among the young. Some of them are sure gaga for Bernie.

IMG_0302Chad: Oh my gosh, on campus its feel the Bern all the time. Although I did a semester abroad in Switzerland and stayed in city of Bern. So when I hear Feel the Bern I think of crosquents, Francois, and chocolate spread.

OK, more good news. Carbon emissions are dropping globally. They were down .6% in 2015. Yet there was still economic growth. Surprise. You can burn less and not sink the economy. We have China in large part to thank for the decrease. They are working hard to turn it around.

Marvin: And they don’t have to deal with a congress that is stuck in the mud. Not that I am advocating a Communist dictatorship or whatever they got going on. But it sure streamlines policy decisions.

Chad: And I have a third piece of good news. Paris! Sure the Paris Accord is not the silver bullet when it comes to climate action. What does that even mean, Marvin? silver bullet? Does it refer to one of those new super fast bullet trains?

Marvin: No, it’s a bullet. like in a gun. In horror stories they magically kill a werewolf with a silver bullet.

IMG_2648Chad: Ew, so violent. Why even when we are talking about positive solutions we have to bring firearms into it? Let me try again. Sure the Paris Accord doesn’t deliver a knock-out punch. Yeah, not much better. Ugh, Basically Paris Accord doesn’t solve all of our climate woes. Still it is historic and an important major step. I mean think of it. 195 nations got together and committed to doing something to decrease their national carbon footprints. All of the big polluters including the US and China signed on. Even Russia, which has been so weird lately, offered a climate action plan.

Marvin: Yeah, I guess I forget what a big deal Paris was. I get so bogged down sometimes. Floods, droughts, apathy. I get overwhelmed.

Chad: Well, once a wise person told me something that made me laugh and gave me hope. And that wise person is YOU, Mr. Marvin Bloom. You once told me that you are an apocoloptilist. Or something. What was that?

Marvin: Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forget. Yes, said I am an apocoloptimist. In that looks like we are going to hell in a flaming hand basket  but I still think we’re gonna get off our butts and do something amazing.

Thank you Chad, I knew you would cheer me up.

This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this has been your moment with Marvin.


Thank goodness Marvin is feeling better. And good to hear about some climate progress. Perhaps you have good news to share on the show. Feel free to email me that’s Or tweet us @climate_stew Even though Mavin doesn’t like my musical choices I want to thank Moby for giving us permission for using his song Homeward Angel. Other music by Mark Chapman and Chenard Walcker. Visit for transcript and links so that you can learn more. We also blog regularly about climate change-food, environmental justice, and much more. Special thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert, Bucknell University, Oh, and Joe G who since 2007 has been warning of a mass extinction of Quakers. Join me again soon for more Climate Stew.

Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

This post has 1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Brenda Shaw on February 8, 2016 at 6:31 pm Reply

    I realize that as someone with some measure of privilege, I am guilty of climate crimes against humanity as an individual. That’s heavy duty language to use against myself, but it is helpful to speak truth to my own power. I am taking steps to simplify my life so that I am freer to live more deliberately and more sustainably. Each step toward simplicity is refreshing. Rather than feeling like a sacrifice, it feels like a gift. So many of those steps toward simplicity also reduce my carbon footprint.

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