Give up your climate guilt. Sharpen your curiosity. Join Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson as they tell stories about the powerful forces behind climate change — and the tools we have to fix it. This show makes sense of big climate questions and critical topics. Our episodes are filled with stories of bold climate leadership, groundbreaking campaigns, and people doing their best to be part of the solution.
A Matter of Degrees is produced in partnership with FRQNCY Media, The 2035 Initiative at UC Santa Barbara, and The All We Can Save Project.
Live Episode: A Climate Book Talk with Rebecca Solnit
Welcome back for a bonus episode of A Matter of Degrees! We were lucky enough to sit down with Rebecca Solnit — author, historian, and climate activist — to talk about her newest climate anthology, Not Too Late. Leah and Nikayla Jefferson both wrote essays for the book and joined Rebecca onstage for this live episode.
Not Too Late gets at the tough, vital work of culture change and features diverse climate voices from around the world. In this episode, Leah, Nikayla, and Rebecca hold an expansive conversation about hope, love, and how to stay engaged in the climate movement.
Rebecca has written over twenty books on a diverse range of topics, including feminism, history, social change, and of course climate change. Our listeners may also recognize Nikayla as a guest host from our episodes on “The Stages of Black Climate Grief” and “The Journey of Justice40”.
Read up on the top ten social drivers of climate change that Nikayla mentions in the episode. For more inspiration, visit the Not Too Late website, created by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua to shift the climate story from despair to possibility. Discover meaningful ways to take climate action via The All We Can Save Project.
The Tongass: A Way Forward For The Forest
In our season three finale, we’re transporting listeners to the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world and a vital carbon sink: the Tongass.
Katharine and Leah investigate the impact of decades of industrial logging in Southeast Alaska and political debates pitting ecology against economy. We learn from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, who have lived on and with these lands for more than 10,000 years. And we discover how a new chapter for the Tongass is taking root.
This episode features Marina Anderson, deputy director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership, and President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Marina and Richard describe the boom-and-bust extractive economy of the past, and they share new collaborative approaches that are now moving Southeast Alaska towards a regenerative economy — in which the forest and local communities can thrive.
Along the way, we learn about key moments in the history of the Tongass: its designation as a National Forest in 1907, major pulp mill contracts in the 1950s, the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the 1990 Tongass Timber Reform Act, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, and now, the modern-day Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy. It’s a powerful tale that ultimately points to so much possibility.
As this season comes to a close, we’re curious: Have the stories on our show inspired you to take climate action or set new climate goals? We’d love to know! Please take a moment to fill out our first-ever listener survey.
Thank you to all our guests, listeners, supporters, production team, and amazing guest hosts, Nikayla Jefferson and Paasha Mahdavi, for a great season! While we’re away, you can discover more meaningful ways to take part in the climate story via The All We Can Save Project.
The Journey of Justice40
In his early days in office, President Biden took executive action to deliver environmental justice. Are those policies delivering justice in practice? This episode, we talk to EJ activists and federal policymakers about Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which directs 40% of the overall benefits of climate investments toward disadvantaged communities. We explore the decades of organizing that led to this moment, and what it will take now to fulfill the promise of the Justice40 Initiative.
Our special guest host Nikayla Jefferson is back for this episode! She speaks with former People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) Executive Director Rahwa Ghirmatzion; Evergreen Action policy lead Rachel Patterson; and Shalanda Baker, Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), who leads the agency’s Justice40 implementation.
In this episode, Rachel cites the Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool that aims to identify “disadvantaged communities.” Nikayla names the nonprofit, Justice 40 Accelerator, which is helping community groups building capacity to access government funding. Check out the NY Renews coalition, also mentioned in this episode, and listen to another episode hosted by Nikayla, The Stages of Black Climate Grief.
Next time we follow Katharine on her journey to the Tongass, a vast temperate rainforest in Alaska and a massive carbon sink, alongside the people and creatures who call it home. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and don’t miss a single episode this season!
The ‘Darth Vader’ of Electric Utilities
Electric utilities are falling short on climate action. To explain why, we’re bringing back our season one finale. This episode features former utilities regulator Kris Mayes, who recently won a nail-biting election to become the second woman and first openly LGBTQ attorney general of Arizona. Go, Kris!
Since season one, Leah has been busy investigating utilities’ past and present role spreading climate denial, doubt, and delay. You can read the paper she co-wrote on the topic last fall, and discover the dirty truth about your electric utility and their climate plans in the report she released with Sierra Club. Spoiler alert, Arizona Public Service is one of the top offenders. We can’t wait to share the whole sordid tale with you one more time…
In 2013, a series of attack ads blitzed television sets across Arizona. They warned of a dire threat to senior citizens. Who was the villain? Solar energy.
These ads came from front groups funded by Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility. It was part of a years-long fight against rooftop solar that turned ugly.
“I mean, for Star Wars fans, APS became the Darth Vader of electric utilities in America. I mean, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a utility that behaved as badly as APS did in the last decade,” explains former regulator Kris Mayes.
But APS isn’t alone. It’s a prime example of how monopoly utilities abuse their power to influence regulatory decisions and slow clean-energy progress.
What happens if your electric utility starts doing things you don’t agree with? What if they start attacking solar and proposing to build more and more fossil gas plants? What if they actively resist clean energy progress?
Well, you don’t get a choice. You have to buy electricity, and you have to buy it from them. As a customer you’re funding that.
In this episode, we’ll detail how it happened in Arizona – and how public pressure forced APS to come clean.
Featured in this episode: Ryan Randazzo, Kris Mayes, David Pomerantz.
The Case of the Killer Heat
In this episode, we explore the growing impact of heat on people and the planet. We talk to scientists and “climate detectives” trying to hold the perpetrators of this unprecedented global temperature increase accountable.
Leah and Katharine speak with Neza Xiuhtecutli, executive director of the Farmworker Association of Florida; Kate Marvel, climate science writer and physicist at Columbia University and NASA; and Richard Heede, co-founder and director of the Climate Accountability Institute.
Kate mentions the very first climate attribution study, which links human activity to the deadly 2003 European heat wave. Leah references two big lawsuits using attribution science to hold polluters accountable: one in Germany against RWE, and another against fossil fuel corporations in Hawai’i. Last, Leah mentions her home state of California, which just passed a cutting-edge law to improve early warnings for extreme heat.
To learn more about Neza’s research, watch this video on how heat impacts farm workers, and find out how the piece-rate system works (or doesn’t work) for these laborers. Explore climate action in the courts with the Climate Change Litigation Database tool. And if you want to get involved in your own political sleuthing for climate, consider joining the Documenters.
Next time, we’ll explore the history, meaning, and challenges of the Justice40 Initiative — an unprecedented federal effort to promote environmental justice. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and don’t miss a single episode this season!
New Year’s Reflections, Resolutions, and Inspiration from Sherri Mitchell
At the start of 2023, we’re reflecting on past progress and setting climate intentions, both small and large, for the year ahead.
And we want to hear from you! Has A Matter of Degrees shifted your perspective or moved you to action? Do you have climate goals for 2023? Share your story with us.
To inspire and ground us for the new year, we share a powerful audio essay from the bestselling anthology All We Can Save: “Indigenous Prophecy and Mother Earth” by Sherri Mitchell, Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset. Sherri points humanity back toward life in this powerful piece, read by Alfre Woodard.
Sherri Mitchell is a Native American attorney, teacher, activist, and change maker. Check out her book Sacred Instructions and all the programs of the nonprofit Land Peace Foundation. Alfre Woodard is an award-winning performer, as well as a political activist and producer. In 2020, The New York Times listed her as one of “The 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century.”
Don’t miss the whole All We Can Save audiobook, a rich collection of essays, poetry, and art created by women leading on climate and co-edited by Katharine and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. It’s available on Apple Books, Audible, Google Play, Libro.fm (which supports local, independent bookstores!), or anywhere else you get audiobooks.
Next time, we look at how a hotter planet impacts people everywhere. We search for answers to the question everyone’s asking: “Who’s culpable for all of this?” Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and don’t miss a single episode this season!