Direct Democracy of Mendha Lekha Village, India

by Pallavi Varma Patil and Sujit Sinha

The word “Development”  is associated with the spread of “Industrialism” —  an ideology of ever-increasing material growth and consumption through faster and faster exploitation of Nature, using the wonders of large-scale Science and Technology, guided by the powerful Nation States and Corporations, accompanied with rising Global Trade and Individualism.  This has brought the world to the brink of ecological collapse, depths of socio-economic inequalities and despair, increasingly dysfunctional political institutions, and hugely stressed socio-cultural systems.

The Living Utopias course offered within and outside of university spaces provides a perspective about a) the crisis of ‘Industrialism’ in the world today and b) the various alternatives to combat this crisis in different interlinked spheres of civilization – ecology, economy, politics, technology, and socio-culture.

The course through well-outlined examples and case studies showcases new and emerging efforts in India and the world which are futuristic and exciting and doable. By doing so, the course aims to provide a sense of hope and encouragement toward building another world based on the premise of a GOOD  SOCIETY  where we all not only survive but flourish! The hope is to inspire participants to initiate some of the things talked about in the course. Some of the key star stories include the Zapatistas, Rojavas, the Amish community, Solidarity Economics, Mondragon Cooperatives, Urban Gardening of Detroit, Participatory Budgeting, Kibbutz, Pedal Power, and Mendha Lekha’s direct democracy experiment amongst others.

The course introduces key frameworks/ideologies/imaginations contrary to Industrialism, like Gandhi and Tagore’s vision in India, Anarchism in Europe, Ubuntu in Africa, Buen Vivir, and Sumak Kawsay in Latin America.  As the crisis deepens, newer ones are appearing – Toffler’s Wave Analysis, Ecofeminism, the De-growth movement in Europe and the USA, Radical Ecological Democracy (RED)  in India, and Rights of Nature in Latin America to name a few. Networks of these alternatives are emerging to try to radically transform collapsing Industrialism with the hope that solutions can and will arise and spread fast to overcome the crisis. All of these talk about a world that consists of just, equitable, healthy, happy, peaceful, creative, caring-sharing, self-sufficient, self-governing, eco-sustainable, non-exploiting, rural, and urban communities.

Today Industrialism continues to grow and spread, the crisis continues to worsen, and the alternatives remain a small minority. If the crisis grows faster than solutions, human civilizations may collapse as they have done many times all over the world during the last 3000 years. Except for this time civilizations are likely to collapse worldwide! We believe that as the crisis comes knocking on the door with crucial planetary boundaries breached there is an urgent need for these alternatives to multiply and grow. By highlighting these alternatives which act as lighthouses to guide us to look beyond Industrialism and rearrange our ways of being and living; the course aims to provide counter-currents of hope and action.  

How do you define radical hope?

Radical hope to us is small but significant steps toward communities that are just, equitable, healthy, happy, peaceful, creative, self-sufficient, self-governing and eco-sustainable.

What is your case study?

This is the story of Mendha Lekha, an Adivasi (Indigenous people) village, in Gadhchiroli District, Maharashtra state, India.  Since 1987 this village embarked on a remarkable journey to translate Gandhi’s vision of a good society – ‘Swaraj’ into action through ‘Satyagraha’ (the philosophy of non-violent, active resistance with an intention to win over the adversary).  This involved, 1) strengthening their consensual participatory democracy practices  –  all decisions at the village level are made by consensus and not by majority voting; 2) building strong village-level self-government institutions to govern the use of their own natural resources(water, land, and Forests); 3) evolving an empowered and informed village level institution called study circles; 4) carving their legitimate sphere of autonomy from the State by acquiring their community rights over Forests from the Government; and 5) applying the Gandhian idea of village socialism in 2013 by abolishing all individual property rights over cultivable land and handing it over to the village assembly.

Some of these radical ideas outlined above and practiced by Mendha Lekha have been adopted by other villages and from 2018 hundreds of villages in Maharashtra have started a similar journey.  The Mendha Lekha story of direct democracy is inspirational for those exploring sustainable governance of commons and building self-sufficient communities.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?

Since the 1990s Mendha Lekha village’s unique achievements have attracted the interest of many village leaders, civil society organizations, students, and volunteers.  They visit to understand how a participatory village assembly works and how can a community collectively manage and govern its own forest resources. After 2009, when Mendha won the Community Forest Rights (CFR), many neighboring villages learned from its success and embarked on their own journey for obtaining CFRs. Today Gadhchiroli district, Maharashtra state in India has by far the highest number of villages of any district in India to have obtained CFR. Some of these villages are now trying to evolve Mendha like participatory governance and strengthen their village assemblies to make them more inclusive.

In Nov 2018, ninety neighboring villages decided to form a regional forum where they can come together for collective deliberations and actions. Representatives of these villages have met bi-annually in what is termed as a ‘Maha Gram Sabha’ (A multi village assembly).  To ensure women are equally involved in this process they have formed a rule that each village must be represented by two women and two men.

This is how hope has emerged in this case study building up strength by strength fuelled by communitarian ethos. An indigenous vision of a good society foregrounding gentleness and dignity is able to take on the might of centralized representative government –not only in their own small village but by shaping and spreading its wings at the regional level too.

You can find the full syllabus for Pallavi Varma Patil and Sujit Sinha’s class here!

Selected Readings

Pathak Broome, N. (2018). Mendha Lekha: Forest Rights and Self-Empowerment. In Alternatives in a World of Crisis, Publisher: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Brussels Office and Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Ecuador, pp.136-177

Pallavi. A. (2013).  Mendha Lekha Residents Gift all their Land to Gram Sabha, Down to Earth, September 7, 2013. Retrieved from

Singh, S. (2010).  Participatory Forest Management in Mendha Lekha [Case Study]. Retrieved from

Tofa, D.N and Hiralal M.H. (2007). Mendha (Lekha). (P. Cholkar, Trans.) Chandrapur, India: Vrikshamitra

Varma Patil, Pallavi and Sinha, Sujit. “Reinventing Gandhian Ideas and Practice of Consensual Democracy, Satyagraha, and Village Socialism in Today’s Context: the Case of Village Mendha Lekha, India.”  Seventh South South Forum on Sustainability, July 8-9, 2020,  Global University for Sustainability, Hong Kong.

Kinship, Longing, and Belonging

Peer Reviewed

“Beyond the Map: Spikescapes and Wild Strawberries,” by Alastair Bonnett

“The maps of human and physical geography can seem overwhelming; the forces at work have become too unpredictable to be easily or neatly summarized. That’s why we need to attend to the hidden places, like the overlooked zone of anti-pedestrian cobbles and jagged paving that forms the spikescape of the modern city.”

“Black Goo: Forceful Encounters with Matter in Europe’s Muddy Margins,” by Stuart Mclean

“This article seeks both to explore the limits of certain canonical formulations of historicity and historical knowledge and to ask what new cultural and political imaginaries and what possible futures might become thinkable through a more sustained engagement with the recalcitrant materiality of Europe’s muddy margins.”

Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime by Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour argues that the complex and ambiguous figure of Gaia offers, on the contrary, an ideal way to disentangle the ethical, political, theological, and scientific aspects of the now obsolete notion of nature. He lays the groundwork for a future collaboration among scientists, theologians, activists, and artists as they, and we, begin to adjust to the new climatic regime.

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait by Bathsheba Demuth

Drawing on her own experience living with and interviewing indigenous people in the region, Bathsheba Demuth presents a profound tale of the dynamic changes and unforeseen consequences that human ambition has brought (and will continue to bring) to a finite planet.

“The Limits of Care: Vitality, Enchantment, and Emergent Environmental Ethics among the Mapuche People,” by Piergio Di Giminiani

Caring for nonhumans entails a reflexive awareness of the ontological and ethical limits of human care, limits made visible by the nonhumans’ potentials to respond to our actions and affect us. Reflections on the limits of care foster an attentiveness to the conditions responsible for nonhumans’ ability of enchantment, a term that in Bennett’s proposal concerns an awareness on the singularness and surprising character of life. 

“Toward a Ruminant Gastronomy: Exploring the Creaturely Pleasures of Feeding Goats Well,” by Kelly Donati

This article proposes gastronomy as a fertile discourse, practice, and site of scholarly inquiry for thinking about the social and sensual pleasures of eating and living well across species difference. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with a cheesemaker in southern Australia, this article asks what it means to take seriously goats as gastronomic subjects and to consider what a ruminant gastronomy might look like within the web of creaturely relations that make cheese possible. 

Recovering Lost Species in the Modern Age, by Dolly Jørgensen

Jørgensen explains why emotional frameworks matter deeply—both for how people understand nature theoretically and how they interact with it physically. The identification of what belongs (the lost nature) and our longing (the emotional attachment to it) in the present will affect how environmental restoration practices are carried out in the future. A sustainable future will depend on questioning how and why belonging and longing factor into the choices we make about what to recover.

“Situated Kinmaking and the Population ‘Problem,’” by Katherine Dow & Janelle Lamoureaux

What does population mean, and how is this concept being put to use at a moment when the urgency of climate change seems to elevate the appeal to/of numbers? What role has and should kinship play in understanding “population”? Through a discussion of three recent books—Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway’s edited collection Making Kin Not Population, Michelle Murphy’s The Economization of Life, and Jade Sasser’s On Infertile Ground—this book review essay grapples with the place of human numbers in our understanding of the connections between human reproduction, kinship, and environmental issues. 

“Footprints through the Weather-World: Walking, Breathing, Knowing,” by Tim Ingold

By becoming knowledgeable I mean that knowledge is grown along the myriad paths we take as we make our way through the world in the course of everyday activities, rather than assembled from information obtained from numerous fixed locations. Thus it is by walking along from place to place, and not by building up from local particulars, that we come to know what we do.

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, by Eduardo Kohn

Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, this book skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself. In this groundbreaking work, Kohn takes anthropology in a new and exciting direction–one that offers a more capacious way to think about the world we share with other kinds of beings.

Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas, by Radhika Govindrajan

What does ­it mean to live and die in relation to other animals?  Animal Intimacies posits this central question alongside the intimate—and intense—moments of care, kinship, violence, politics, indifference, and desire that occur between human and non-human animals.

Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People by Timothy Morton

What is it that makes humans human? As science and technology challenge the boundaries between life and non-life, between organic and inorganic, this ancient question is more timely than ever. Acclaimed Object-Oriented philosopher Timothy Morton invites us to consider this philosophical issue as eminently political. In our relationship with non-humans, we decided the fate of our humanity.

Persistent Callings: Seasons of Work and Identity on the Oregon Coast, by E. Taylor III

In crisp prose and succinct chapters, Persistent Callings carries readers from aboriginal times to the present, illustrating the wisdom of seasonal labor, the complex relationships between work and identity, and the resilience of rural economics across more than a century of almost continual change.

The Matter of History: How Things Create the Past, by Timothy J. LeCain

The Matter of History brings these scientific and humanistic ideas together to develop a bold, new post-anthropocentric understanding of the past, one that reveals how powerful organisms and things help to create humans in all their dimensions, biological, social, and cultural.

The Wake of Crows: Living and Dying in Shared Worlds, by Thom van Dooren

Moving among these diverse contexts, this book tells stories of extermination and extinction alongside fragile efforts to better understand and make room for other species. Grounded in the careful work of paying attention to particular crows and their people, The Wake of Crows is an effort to imagine and put into practice a multispecies ethics. In so doing, van Dooren explores some of the possibilities that still exist for living and dying well on this damaged planet.

Other Media

“An Eye for Winter: In Praise of Local Beauty,” by Jeff Filipiak

The best way to motivate appreciation is to share glimpses of what I see, of the types of imagery I look for as I walk. All of these photos are from metropolitan areas in Wisconsin (except one from a rest area); you don’t need to travel far in order to find some of the magic that winter brings into our lives.

“To Be Held,” by Linda Hogan (Poem)

To be help / by the light / was what I wanted / to be a tree drinking in the rain…

“Learning from and with Invasive Species: Pluralities, Refractions, Futures!” by Estraven Lupino-Smith

Learning from and with Invasive Species: pluralities, refractions, futures, a 4 part series of pieces concerned with how humans choose to relate to species perceived to be “out-of-place” as shaped by ontologies, socioeconomic context, place-based histories, and desires of knowing and belonging to the world. By drawing attention to invasivity as historical production and the fickleness of its adoption, the series takes up discussions around invasion ecology and its relationship to the politics of land, labor, resources, selfhood, and place-making.

“Long in the Tusåk: Narwhals, Then and Now.” by Aylin Malcolm

I wrote my thesis on what may be the world’s most astounding tooth: the long, spiraling tusk of the narwhal (Monodon monoceros). I estimated tusk breakage rates from photographs, examined specimens at museums, and read widely about this reclusive polar mammal. But to this day, I have never seen a narwhal. My knowledge of the species was constructed entirely via images, testimonials—and teeth.

Stop the SOLObration!

By Sariah J Stewart

The Red Solo Cup has become an emblem of American popular culture and a household necessity for friendly gatherings. However, the cups are detrimental to the environment.

Solo’s production plant in Urbana, Illinois produces around 7.4 billion plastic cups a year: including clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET) cups, plastic cups for commercial use, and the classic colored polystyrene solo cups.

Polystyrene is categorized under plastic 6. It takes 450-1000 years to decompose, breaking down into its smallest form as microplastics that fill the ocean. Even when recycled Plastic 6 poses many complications, releasing harmful chemicals (like styrene) when heated. Many recycling facilities are unequipped to accommodate plastic 6 and end up forwarding these plastics to the landfill, rendering the recycling efforts pointless.

The demand for single-use plastic cups increases in summertime when used for holiday parties, barbecues, picnics, pool parties, and other summer activities. These outdoor activities, built from an appreciation for the beautiful spring and summer weather, have become especially damaging to the environment. The reputation of the cup as the ultimate party maker has been pushed by SOLO, with excellent marketing invitations to “SOLObrate good times together” with the cup they claim is the “go-to connector for food, fun, and friendships.” Public figures echo this portrait. Renowned country artist Toby Keith sings the cup is the “best receptacle for barbecues, tailgates, fairs, and festivals” in his song dedicated to the object “Red Solo Cup.” The lyric continues, “

you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles, if you prefer drinkin’ from glass,”  shaming those who choose other cups. “Let’s have a party. I love you, red solo cup (What) I lift you up Proceed to party (party)

Keith won the CMA Video of the Year in 2021 for his ‘home-video’ style piece depicting a typical rowdy house party overcrowded with red solo cups. Honoring of the cup this way highlights the invisibility of the harmful consequences of single-use disposal cups.

Red Solo cups are in the spotlight on college campuses, has become the foundation of the frat or college house party. Even in the hands of potentially more liberal and environmentally conscious students, the cup is likely to be exploited for the image of ‘coolness’ it holds at college parties.

The cups have become the top choice for the consumption of alcohol, leading to impaired of judgment while under the influence. Taking this into account, we can assume that the likeliness of these cups being properly disposed of is low, even for those who may typically recycle. My experiences on UT Austin’s West Campus, walking streets littered with dozens of these vibrant cups when I walk my dog on weekend mornings, attests to this.

The politics of the cup are even exploited by politicians, used as an “emblem of unpretentious” to demonstrate relatability between the representative and their constituents, setting a precedent for Americans all over the country and contributing to the increase of it’s use.

The detrimental consequences of the production and disposal of polystyrene have been widely known by producers since the 1980s. But the economics of plastic spoke louder. Regulation against such plastics has surfaced in recent years, including total bans from some countries and statewide bans in 3 states. When looking towards the future, we need to follow the example of places that have implemented a ban, such as New York City, and expanded to the whole state starting January 1st of 2021. All 26,000+ restaurants and cafes in NYC have had to become more creative with their packaging, only allowed to use paper or compostable cups and to-go containers. If one of the world’s largest cities was able to rid itself of polystyrene, surely college campuses and the neighborhood barbeques could as well – maybe even the rest of the world.

Solo Cup. “About SOLO: History, Timeline, Press Releases, & Reasons to Celebrate!” Accessed August 14, 2022.

Board, Gazette Editorial. “EDITORIAL: Polystyrene Foam Ban, Taking Effect Jan. 1, Is Long Overdue.” The Daily Gazette, December 29, 2021, sec. Editorial.

Don Dodson. “Urbana’s Solo Cup Churns out 7.4 Billion Cups, Lids a Year.” The News-Gazette. Accessed August 14, 2022.

Robb, Alice. “How the Red Solo Cup Became a Political Football.” The New Republic, October 31, 2013.

Toby Keith – Red Solo Cup (Unedited Version), 2011.

Booting Up: Out with the Old, in with the New

by Grecia Martinez

Generally worn by soldiers, the Hessian Military Riding Boot dates to 18th century German. As trade became more prevalent during the 18th and 19th centuries, the boots were introduced to the Americas and were used in armed conflicts against Britain. The boots were sturdy and long-lasting, made from leather, and included a steel shank in the construction. However, the boot’s look was still appropriate for practical events. In combination with the tough construction, these boots became desirable to high society men in the 19th century. The Hessian boot resembled contemporary “Cowboy” boots, at least construction-wise. They were nearly knee high, made of black leather, and ornamented with tassels and a short heel. However, all trends come to an end, or as former creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.” And by tacky, I’m of course referring to the awful tassel.

Drawing of Hessian boots.

The Hessian boot gave way to the Wellington and the modern rubber Willy. In the transition to the Wellington, the Hessian lost the tassel and were shortened for comfort while riding. According to English heritage, military fashion was introduced to civilian life to recruit soldiers. The Wellington (still constructed with leather) was highly popular, especially because Arthur Wellesley, both a military commander and later Prime Minister, wore them. In the mid-1800s, factories began manufacturing rubber Wellingtons, but they did not become widespread until the early 20th century to combat trench foot during World War I. The condition resulted from one’s feet being wet too long. Rubber Wellingtons helped soldiers’ feet to stay clean and dry, preventing a painful and dangerous condition. The modern Willy is a rubber boot that is a practical everyday item used in farms and gardens and comes in an assortment of colors and designs, used by both adults and children.

1827 caricature of the Duke of Wellington as a Wellington boot. (Source: English-heritage.)

Through the Wellington, the Hessian style similarly influenced modern American Cowboy boots. One big difference between the Wellington and the modern Cowboy boot was that the former was constructed of calfskin, a softer construction, whereas the latter was constructed of cowhide, which is much thicker. The change was necessary for the cowboy or rancher as a barrier against snakes and other hazards.

As the trend has been so far in this story, the use of these work boots became fashionable with the rise of Western films in the 1950s. Today, the cowboy boot had become a symbol of American patriotism. These boots can be constructed of many materials, a diverse range of animal skins, colors, designs, and styles. But in the fashion industry, the boot is not always built for durability.

Embellished cowboy boot. (Source: Wikimedia.)

There have been a few consistent themes throughout this story so far: utility, mass-production and consumption, and trade among the most important. Shoe-making technology has developed an immense amount. From the use of leather to waterproofing, designs that were originally developed for military purposes are now widespread in the shoe-making industry. We see these same functional designs implemented into the modern hiking boot. Originally developed for hunters and other workpeople, they are also used for recreational activities. Forest History explains how as the United States began to industrialize, people spent less time outdoors. This created a demand for outdoor activities leading to the creation of outing clubs, parks, and natural areas. As the demand for outdoor recreation has grown, so has the demand for adequate gear. Forest History claims that hiking gained popularity because it was affordable and easily accessible. Yet, they overlook the “adventure gap”, affecting low-income and minority individuals. According to Outdoor Foundation, “40 percent of people who participate in outdoor recreation have household incomes of $75,000 or more.” The construction of a durable hiking boot requires costly materials resulting in expensive and often inaccessible products.

In response, companies like Timber Wolf have tried to provide less expensive hiking boots. Yet, a feasibility analysis by Naoki Hashizume explains the most likely scenario for Timber Wolf’s manufacturing plant in Paraguay would be the exploitation of Paraguay’s cheap labor and materials to lower the price of the shoes. The alternative is using cheaply made hiking boot look-a-like, meant to be worn in everyday wear.

While hiking boots can engender environmental hope through outdoor activities like visiting national parks, hiking, or just walking in nature, they can also drive environmental despair. History reveals how as utilitarian products like shoes often enter the fashion industry, demand can grow, and cheaply made products that only last a season continue to cycle through. While shoe-making technology has developed, the materials used in shoes have become increasingly harmful. The production of rubber leads to harmful toxic chemicals and products that are harmful and dangerous to discard. We are stuck in the cycle of consumerism that continues to harm not only the environment, but the lives of people we do not see. Those who participate in fast fashion are blamed for using products that do not last, made from materials that are bad for the environment. However, when people cannot afford more than a ten-dollar t-shirt, one can hardly blame them. Ideally, these conditions would change to reduce consumption as the “trend” for ethical sourcing and consumption.

Ayotte, A. (2019, August 9). Hessian boots, some of our research. Fugawee. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from


The interesting history of the cowboy boot. Tim’s Boots. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Hiking in America. (2017, March 13). Forest History Society. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Machado, A. (2017, July 10). The strangeness of being a Latina who loves hiking. Vox. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Nelson, C. (1984). Those Funny Looking Shoes…: Sport or Camp Shoes in the Civil War. Military Images, 6(3), 23–23.

Newcomb, E., & Newcombe, E. (2016). Camping, Climbing, and Consumption: The Bean Boot, 1912-1945. Material Culture, 48(1), 10–27.

Sidell, M. (2022). Outdoor frenzy ushers in age of the high-fashion Hiking Boot. Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Step into the history of the hiking shoe. Waterproof, Windproof & Breathable Clothing. (2016, March 1). Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

What are Hessian Boots? ShoeIQ. (2021, March 5). Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Who invented hiking boots? Who Invented Hiking Boots? | Backroads Pro Tips. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2022, from

Willard-Wright, R. (n.d.). The invention of the Wellington Boot. English Heritage. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from


Peer Reviewed

An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era by Adam Wesley Dean

By showing Republicans as men and women with backgrounds in small farming, Dean unveils new connections between seemingly separate historical events, linking this era’s views of natural and manmade environments with interpretations of slavery and land policy.

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West by Justin Farrell

Incisive and compelling, Billionaire Wilderness reveals the hidden connections between wealth concentration and the environment, two of the most pressing and contentious issues of our time.

City in a Garden Environmental Transformations and Racial Justice in Twentieth-Century Austin, Texas by Andrew Busch

As Austin modernized and attracted an educated and skilled labor force, the demand to preserve its natural spaces was used to justify economic and racial segregation. This effort to create and maintain a “city in a garden” perpetuated uneven social and economic power relationships throughout the twentieth century.

Roses from Kenya: Labor, Environment, and the Global Trade in Cut Flowers by Megan Styles

In this rich portrait of Kenyan floriculture, Megan Styles presents the point of view of local workers and investigates how the industry shapes Kenyan livelihoods, landscapes, and politics. 

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Dange by Julie Sze

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger examines mobilizations and movements, from protests at Standing Rock to activism in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria… Exploring dispossession, deregulation, privatization, and inequality, this book is the essential primer on environmental justice, packed with cautiously hopeful stories for the future.

Other Media

Parquet Courts – Before the Water Gets too High
Mission 1.5, A “Video Game” Designed by the United Nations


Peer Reviewed

Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawaii, by Daniel Lewis,

Lewis offers innovative ways to think about what it means to be native and proposes new definitions that apply to people as well as to birds. Being native, he argues, is a relative state influenced by factors including the passage of time, charisma, scarcity, utility to others, short-term evolutionary processes, and changing relationships with other organisms.

Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World, ed. Michael Bravo, Joanna Radin, Emma Kowal

The contributors examine how and why low temperatures have been harnessed to defer individual death through freezing whole human bodies; to defer nonhuman species death by freezing tissue from endangered animals; to defer racial death by preserving biospecimens from indigenous people; and to defer large-scale human death through pandemic preparedness. 

Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation, by Juno Salazar Parreñas

Drawing on anthropology, primatology, Southeast Asian history, gender studies, queer theory, and science and technology studies, Parreñas suggests that examining workers’ care for these semi-wild apes can serve as a basis for cultivating mutual but unequal vulnerability in an era of annihilation

Ecology and Recovery of Eastern Old-Growth Forests by Andrew Barton & William Keeton

Many of these ancient stands retain surprisingly robust complexity and vigor, and forest ecologists are eager to develop strategies for their restoration and for nurturing additional stands of old growth that will foster biological diversity, reduce impacts of climate change, and serve as benchmarks for how natural systems operate.

“Endling: the Power of the Last Extinction-Prone World,” by Dolly Jørgensen

Endling (n.) The last surviving individual of a species of animal or plant. Since that appearance, the word endling has slowly seeped into popular culture, appearing in symphonic music, performance art, science fiction stories, comics, and other artworks. This paper examines the cultural power of the concept of endling as the last of a species and the history of its mobilization in a world facing extinction around every corner.

Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction by Thom van Dooren

Van Dooren intimately explores what life is like for those who must live on the edge of extinction, balanced between life and oblivion, taking care of their young and grieving their dead… No longer abstract entities with Latin names, these species become fully realized characters enmeshed in complex and precarious ways of life,

Other Media

Art Exhibit: Endling, the title of Gerrard’s exhibition with Pace in New York, refers to the last individual member of a given species before its extinction. This title reflects Gerrard’s interest in the global impact of certain political conditions and behaviors. With these concerns at the core of the artist’s simulations, the exhibition examines the complex relationships between political power, nationhood, energy production, and environmental exploitation.
Video Game: As the last mother fox on Earth, your cubs need all your care to survive in a merciless world that slowly destroys itself. You have to help them, teach them and save them. And you should never forget that extinction is forever.
Animated Film:  Wall-E’s main character is a single robot with a single task: to collect and compact garbage to try to restore the planet humanity has destroyed. He’s been alone for centuries until one day, a probe robot name Eve, sent by the last remaining humans, appears and find proof that the planet is habitable again. A beautiful Pixar movie that underlines the message that if we don’t take care of the only planet we inhabit, it won’t be able to support us.
Video Game: Even the smallest person can make a big difference. Join Alba, as she sets out to save her beautiful island and its wildlife. And possibly start a revolution.
Video Game: We Are The Caretakers is a sci-fi turn-based squad management RPG. Assemble arcane teams of protectors to defend your planet and the endangered wildlife you rely on. Unite the world against an extraterrestrial threat. Fight for our future.

Increasingly Higher Temperatures are Leading to Prison Deaths

By Alejandra Jimenez – RHS Intern

“History always repeats itself. We can only learn to hold it differently.” – Ari B. Cofer (Author of Paper Girl and the Knives that Made Her)

In an age where topics of conversation are scrutinized on a scale of least to most political, the subject of prison reform is rarely welcomed. But, as the climate warms, for the good of prisoners, guards, and state and national coffers, we will need to change our prison system. Avoiding such matters may be labeled prudence by some, or complicity by others, but regardless of one’s stance on the topic, the following paragraphs provide insight into the relationship between extreme heat and the realities of the incarcerated, as well as the effects that an ever-changing climate has on the prison industrial complex.

Jaron Browne, communications organizer and author of Race, Poverty & the Environment, explained how the ways in which we treat the incarcerated constitute an era of oppressive treatment. At least since the end of the Civil War in 1865, many prisons have not fully considered the safety implications on the people residing within them. This means that inmate cells rarely have air conditioning and have too few windows to provide adequate ventilation and circulation of air during heat waves. They also have little to no access to the natural world. Individuals such as Joshua Hieronymus, one of many inmates who have felt nature-deprived, shared during a 2018 interview with Austin’s PBS, “I can’t even put into words how much of a weight was lifted off me, just being able to get my hands in the dirt.”

In an article by The Marshall Project, New York University clinical professor of emergency medicine, Dr. Susi Vassallo, gave an overview of how bodies regulate themselves in extreme temperatures. Naturally, a person’s body will sweat and dilate blood vessels as part of a self-cooling mechanism. But “when the humidity is really high, the sweat can’t evaporate…It just rolls off your body without cooling it… The cells of the body start to cook and fall apart.” Inmates experience this as they continuously pass out in their cells due to scorching heat, and are found dead, hot to the touch, with body temperatures as high as 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a letter to PBS science series NOVA, inmate Sherrard O. Williams shared the realities of many convicts from across the country who are left to face the excruciating effects of a lingering summer heatwave. He recalled how inmates “would walk around with soaked wet clothes,” and those who were “locked in a cell 23 hrs. of the day would flood their prison cell floors and lay down in the water.” Writing from first-hand experience, Williams recounted his time spent in solitary confinement- better known to the inmates at the John B. Connally Unit in Kennedy, Texas, as the “devil’s den,”- and feeling as though he “could only sleep for minutes at a time & wake up in pools of my own sweat.”

According to 2017 statistics by The University of Texas Medical Branch and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there are an estimated 145,167 people incarcerated in the State of Texas; of which 30,678 are prescribed psychotropic medication and 3,241 are over the age of sixty-five. Featured in NOVA’s article, Dr. Vassallo explained how one of the side effects of such medication is that it makes an individual “four times more likely to die of heat-related complications” as it hinders the rate at which the body is able to self-regulate. International climate expert and 2013 President of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, similarly stressed the severity of this heightened thermal vulnerability as he posed the following scenario: “Imagine being in a prison environment under a heatwave that’s been lingering for a week or two, and the nighttime temperatures aren’t getting too cool… That’s when you start seeing heat-related trauma.” Being witness to the delirium, agony, seizing, and convulsing that arise from heat-stroke victims, inmates diagnosed with mental health illnesses and comorbidities stop taking their medication, which as a result increases the likelihood of suicide and psychotic breaks. In doing so, not only is the safety of other convicts put at stake but that of correctional employees as well.

Prisoners are among the most vulnerable in terms of limited mobility and social isolation. This has prevented even the most basic forms of adaptation – such as basic temperature control. But being confined within a facility away from society for an indefinite amount of time is the punishment, not subjecting people to cruel environments and conditions. Living in an ongoing and worsening climate crisis, providing an air-conditioned environment to a packed facility is not a luxury, it is a necessity. As Texas inmate, Marc Garrett, said during an interview with Austin PBS, “The conditions of confinement are, at a bare minimum, expected to be livable. Not Marriott or Hyatt Regency. Livable.” Incarcerated individuals should bear the protection of having the quality of their health guaranteed upon both entrance and exit.

Garrett is not alone in this as people like Dr. Vassallo, in touring a minimum-security facility reported, “Standing in that cell… that’s a level of stifling I’ve never experienced.” Head of the state correctional officer union, Lance Lowry, impartially elaborates on the gravity of inmates’ living conditions by declaring, “I don’t have love for these people… but the incarceration is their punishment, not cooking them to death.”

The major problem underlying the policy solutions is the multitude of jurisdictions involved. Kelli Bush, director of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, contended that “The key challenge to prison sustainability is high incarceration rates.” Incarcerating fewer people would loosen tight budgets, decrease incentives for industrial development, and lead to a reduction of the goods and materials produced for the maintenance of prisons, which all require the use of fossil fuels. Achieving equilibrium in the way we go about the evolution of our systems of governance is a defining factor for whether this portion of our history will mirror the conditions of convict leasing in the post-emancipation South or whether it will be made anew.

Resources for further reading

“In the Eye of the Storm: When Hurricanes Impact Prisons and Jails,” Prison Legal News, last modified May 17, 2018, Date accessed, March 2, 2022.

“Locked into Emissions: How Mass Incarceration Contributes to Climate Change,” Sage Journals, last modified November 25, 2020, %20have%20numerous%20implications,significant%20increases%20in%20industrial%20emissions. Date accessed, March 6, 2022.

“Rooted in Slavery: Prison Labor Exploitation,” JSTOR, last modified Spring 2007, Date accessed, March 8, 2022.

“Incarcerated People Remain Vulnerable to the Worst Ravages of a Warming World,” NOVA, last modified December 5, 2018, Date accessed, March 8, 2022.

“Boiling Behind Bars,” The Intercept, last modified February 12, 2022, Date accessed, February 25, 2022.

“Cooking Them to Death: The Lethal Toll of Hot Prions,” The Marshall Project, last modified October 11, 2007, Date accessed, February 28, 2022.

“No Justice, No Resilience: Prison Abolition As Disaster Mitigation in an Era of Climate Change,” University of Texas Libraries, last modified December 3, 2021, Date accessed, March 3, 2022

“Thermal (In)equity and incarceration: A necessary nexus for geographers,” Sage Journals, last modified December 3, 2021, Date accessed, March 13, 2022.

“Texas spent $7 million to fight against A/C in a prison. It may only cost $4 million to install,” THE TEXAS TRIBUNE, last modified August 29, 2018, Date accessed, March 24, 2022. 

What is the Green New Deal?

Green New Deal Presser Wikimedia commons

by Hannah Bernier

The Green New Deal (GND) is a landmark congressional resolution that seeks to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward J. Markey introduced this resolution to the United States Congress in 2019 in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report in 2018 that reported that global warming must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This report also predicted that if global warming reaches 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it will result in a climate refugee crisis, significant ecosystem losses, economic losses of $5 trillion in the United States, and real estate/infrastructure losses of $1 trillion in the US, among other effects. To stop this warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by about 50 percent from 2010 to 2030, and the world must have net-zero global emissions by 2050. The Green New Deal acknowledges that because the US has been a large contributor to climate change by emitting a disproportionately high amount of greenhouse gases, it has the responsibility to take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the well-being of its citizens as well as the global community. 

The Green New Deal calls for a 10-year economic mobilization at the scale of the New Deal program led by the federal government to cut net greenhouse gas emissions in the US to zero over the next 10 years. However, this is not the sole goal of the GND: it also serves to increase economic security for all people in the US by providing jobs and social safety nets, as well as addressing and dismantling oppressive systems that hurt frontline and vulnerable communities. The Green New Deal includes a set of broadly-defined goals, including fostering clean manufacturing, encouraging the widespread use of renewable energy, reducing pollutants from agricultural activities, generating millions of jobs with a living wage, providing every US resident with healthcare, economic security, clean water, and healthy food. If passed, the resolution would not be legally binding; it is instead a commitment by Congress to the American people to create and implement policies and programs to aid in this economic mobilization. 

The Green New Deal is not without its critics: many see the plan as unrealistic if not harmful. Though some policymakers and people see the Green New Deal as an opportunity for large-scale mobilization, others find the GND too broad and too vague to be a reasonable starting point for addressing climate change. In March 2019 the resolution was defeated in Congress, yet many individual states, cities, and local jurisdictions have begun to implement Green New Deal policies within their own jurisdictions. For example, in September 2020, Tucson, Arizona’s Mayor Regina Romero and the Tucson City Council declared a “climate emergency” and set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. Based on the Green New Deal, the City of Tucson has committed $250,000 to a holistic 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan that includes, but is not limited to, using clean and local energy, electrifying the city’s public transit, implementing massive tree planting programs, committing to zero waste by 2050, and investing in green infrastructure. Tucson is one of the 120 local governments in the US that has declared a climate emergency. Many of these local jurisdictions are committing to the values and ideas proposed in the Green New Deal and implementing their own site-specific initiatives. 

The Green New Deal is markedly different from environmental movements and policies of the past. The US mainstream environmental movement–from John Muir’s call for conservation of public land in the early 1900s to the passage of anti-DDT laws after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring book published in 1962–has for the most part focused on single-issue policies and programs. It has not addressed the larger systems of oppression and exploitation that have caused degradation to land and human health, and only sought surface-level solutions. Also, many policies within the conservation movement disenfranchised Indigenous peoples from their lands and restricted land and resource accessibility to Black people. The Green New Deal is distinct from past (white) environmental movements in that it is holistic, comprehensive, and seeks to dismantle and rebuild systems that exploit people and land. It acknowledges the systemic injustices that have hurt the health and wellbeing of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other frontline communities, and has a sustained focus on equity and justice.

The Green New Deal is a chance for the United States to devote significant resources to solving its own dependency on greenhouse gases, and to address its own systemic racism. It is a chance for the country to come to terms with its own reality and to do better at taking care of its people while caring for the entire Earth by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Green New Deal is inherently transformational; it includes a mass mobilization of people and resources to address systemic injustices and unsustainable practices that contribute to and are exacerbated by climate change. 

Resources for further reading

House – Energy and Commerce; Science, Space, and Technology; Education and Labor; 

Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture; Natural Resources; Foreign Affairs; 

Financial Services; Judiciary; Ways and Means; Oversight and Reform, and 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Resolution, §. 109 (2019).

Aidt, Mik. “Climate Emergency Declarations in 1,838 Jurisdictions and Local 

Governments Cover 820 Million Citizens.” Climate Emergency Declaration, 

November 17, 2020.


Chatzky, Andrew. “Envisioning a Green New Deal: A Global Comparison.” Council on 

Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, October 21, 2020.

Meyer, Robinson. “The 3 Democrats Who Voted Against the Green New Deal.” The 

Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 27, 2019.


Staff, KOLD News 13. “Tucson Declares Climate Emergency; Council Commits to 

10-Year Plan for Change.”, September 11, 2020.


“Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C Approved by 

Governments.” IPCC Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global 

Warming of 15C approved by governments Comments. Accessed November 19, 2020.


All We Can Save

Philippe Dekyvere, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All We Can Save: The Power of Environmental Community-Building

Certain texts have come to define revolutionary movements. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson catalyzed environmental health legislation in the 1970s, and This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, a foundational intersectional third-wave feminist collection show the power of women writers to incite crucial social justice movements. Texts like these have defined the problem, rallied change-makers and community activists, and served as a blueprint for the future. All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, now takes its place alongside other revolutionary texts. A collection of essays and poems by women leaders addressing climate change, All We Can Save considers the climate crisis from a diverse array of perspectives and places, and provides a powerful call to heal climate injustices through community and connection. 

The collection flows through a series of eight interconnected themes that the editors address in the introduction: root, advocate, reframe, reshape, persist, feel, nourish, and rise. Each theme highlights myriad ways women are leading their communities toward sustainable pathways. The title of the collection, All We Can Save, pays homage to poet Adrienne Rich, whose message of radical hope I considered in my previous blog post. In her poem “Natural Resources,” Rich mourns the past losses of “all I cannot save,” yet recommits to the cause of reconstituting the world. The women featured in this collection speak of their experiences of climate-related losses yet remain committed to finding equitable solutions.

The activists, artists, politicians, scientists, and citizens who wrote the essays in this collection highlight the ways in which their work is impactful and necessary, and share their visions for a just and sustainable future. Some of the most notable essays include “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth” by Sherri Mitchell, who argues that Indigenous ways of life can inform a sustainable future for all. In “Black Gold”  Leah Penniman describes how Afro-Indigenous farming practices can help reconnect Americans with the land and soil. The essays and poems in this collection don’t gloss over the pain already caused by climate destruction and systemic inequalities, but they also consider how feelings of joy and sorrow can, in this moment in history, serve as catalysts for change. 

The connective thread between all of the works in All We Can Save is the concept of community. Editors Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson wanted to show how communities of care that focus on climate solutions are crucial to creating a just and sustainable society. There is a sense that we already have the solutions we need to solve the climate crisis‒what comes next is harnessing our collective and individual power to implement solutions and mobilize communities. 

In the end, All We Can Save is an invitation to those entering the climate movement, a source of encouragement for those currently working on climate solutions, and a rallying call to cultivate environmental community-building as a source of hope and action. 

Resources for further reading

Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth, and Katharine K. Wilkinson. All We Can Save.

Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth, and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, 

and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. New York: One World, 2020.

Kaplan, Sarah. “They Edited a Book about the Climate Crisis. Here’s What They Learned about 

Hope.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 31, 2020.


Mitchell, Sherri, and Rivera Sun. “Love (and Revolution) Radio.” Rivera Sun.

“Soul Fire Farm.” SOUL FIRE FARM. 

Watch, Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm director and author of “Farming While Black,” talk with Chris Hedges, author of “America: The Farewell Tour,” about environmental threats, societal breakdown, and how we might come back together as humans. Then, a glimpse of CAGED, a play written and conceived by Hedges’ writing students in a high-security prison in New Jersey. To donate to forward-thinking media, go to

Watch an interview with Leah Penniman