happy fall, friends

it's officially here (in the northern hemisphere)

I’m in the process of finding my way back to words after writing a book and living in a time that has left me with very few, so here is a pretty picture from time spent sleeping on the ground in the Utah desert, and some updates.

The first is that Getting to the Heart of Science Communication is in a second printing, and an audiobook version is now available! The audiobook is not necessarily something that would happen with this kind of book, and I’m deeply appreciative of everyone who has supported the work enough to make this possible. The book is also on sale in its different versions and you can still get it discounted using the code “heart” directly from Island Press.

Over the past many months I’ve been highlighting the words of folks in the book and those reading it on social media, particularly on Twitter with #HeartOfSciComm and on Instagram where it’s mostly in the story format and saved in three separate highlights there. Thank you to everyone who has shared!

A post shared by @fkearns
A post shared by @fkearns

I’ve had some truly wonderful conversations during interviews, events, and podcasts, which are linked on my website. I so appreciate everyone who has taken the time to engage with me. It was particularly special to talk with the good folks at Climate One alongside the brilliant Dr. Katerina Gonzales!

Finally, I want to express heartfelt and immense gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to read, or even start to read, this book during what I know are challenging times. A deep bow to those of you who have gone the extra mile and left a favorable review (especially at the big site; it makes a difference). I know everyone is busy, and tired and worried, AND those efforts make a huge difference, particularly for a pandemic release.

Hopefully next time I’ll be able to share a more substantive piece of writing, but until then, happy fall, y’all.

Currently reading:

  • Books: The Sound of the Sea by Cynthia Barnett is all-around excellent! I learned so much from it both in terms of the content, and from the writing itself, which is incredibly aspirational for me. Disasterology by Sam Montano is fantastically engaging! Although we are separated by, ahem, a decade or two, our disaster experiences are remarkably resonant and I learned a lot about “formal” emergency management. Climate Change from the Streets by Michael Mendez is a must-read for everyone working on climate issues.

  • Essays/articles: Traumatic Monologues by Melanie Yazzie is excellent for those who want to think more about trauma (I continue to evolve my perspective for sure) and View from a Fire Scientist When the World is Burning by Jessica McCarty is a piece I wish I could’ve written!

Currently listening to:

  • Star-crossed, the new album by Kacey Musgraves is an epic must-listen, and “Breadwinner” is a song I know more than a few folks can relate to. Revisting the Anita Baker archives since she got her masters back and feeling my junior high/high school years with Rapture and its title-adjacent song. “Stay” by Valerie June, “Hold On” by Yola, “You Can Have Him Jolene” by Chapel Heart, “Sober & Skinny” by Brittney Spencer, and “Heaven is a Honky Tonk” by the Highwomen have all been on heavy rotation.

  • As always, there are so many good podcasts to listen to. I hope you’ll check out the second season of Water Talk, which I co-host/produce with Mallika Nocco and Sam Sandoval. I love The Stacks, hosted by Traci Thomas, which is all books all the time! I promise you will find your next great read there. The episode of You’re Wrong About focused on The Chicks and cancel culture was so so good.

I welcome thoughts you want to send me about the content of this newsletter or otherwise.

on getting to the heart of science communication

it's book release day!

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a book and it’s finally making its way into the world. Indeed, Getting to the Heart of Science Communication is officially out today!

The book offers an on-the-ground perspective on communicating emotional and contentious topics and is filled with concrete examples from actual people. It is centered around practical tools like relating, listening, working with conflict, and understanding trauma, all with an eye toward equity and justice. It includes a foreword from Eric Holthaus, as well as the deep wisdom of around one hundred practitioners. I will be sharing some of that wisdom on social media over the coming weeks.

The book has been written up favorably in both Grist and Science. Thank you to Kate Yoder for writing about the material in a such a clear and accessible way for the former, and Jonathan Wai for his thoughtful comments for the latter. I was also honored to have early reviews of the book from Cynthia Barnett, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, and Bob Lalasz.

If you would like to buy Getting to the Heart of Science Communication, you can use the code HEART for 20% off with Island Press, the publisher. It is also available in all the usual places that books are sold — and is listed as the #1 new release in both communications and environmental studies on the big one! Book reviews on these sites are super helpful, and I’m happy to connect with you about talks, workshops, book clubs, course adoption, and more.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has been sharing copies of the book in the wild! To say I am blown away by the early support would be a vast understatement (also, all your reading spots are so cozy and nature-y)!

Recommended:

  • So many great books have come out already this year, including The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and Lessons from Plants by Beronda Montgomery. I was also thrilled to get the updated version of one of my favorite books of all-time, How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.

  • So many great books are also coming later this year. I’m really looking forward to The Sound of the Sea by Cynthia Barnett, Disasterology by Sam Montano, Paradise by Lizzie Johnson, and Complaint! by Sara Ahmed, all available for pre-order. This is just a small sample, and you can see some of the books I love and/or cited and/or have pre-ordered at Bookshop and by following my periodic bookstagramming.

  • Now is the time to catch up on the second season of the Water Talk podcast I co-host with Mallika Nocco and Sam Sandoval. We’ve had some great guests including farmer and writer David 'Mas' Masumoto and Indigenous scholar Cutcha Risling Baldy, with more to come!

  • Speaking of podcasts, there are too many good ones out there to do anything comprehensive, but a must listen is Hear to Slay hosted by Tressie McMillan Cottom and Roxane Gay. I’ve also recently enjoyed conversations with Lydia Jennings on episode two of The Trail Ahead and Sergio Avila on Science Moab, both of whom I was also lucky enough to interview for the book!

I welcome any thoughts you want to send me about the content of this newsletter or otherwise.

stumbling through the dark

on a windy, fiery night

“I guess I’ll have to find my way by heart, ‘til I can grow accustomed to the dark.” Theresa Andersson, Accustomed to the Dark

On a dry, hot, windy night late last fall, I drove 70 miles an hour, headed south at midnight with a fiery ridge burning in my rearview mirror.

It was an unexpected exit.

Just an hour before, I’d been willing myself to sleep in the sparse but cozy cabin I had cloistered myself away in for what was supposed to be a week of concentrated writing time. I was working on a book chapter about the trauma that can come with working on disasters as a scientist and science communicator.

The week started off well enough. The fall weather was beautiful and I walked trails along this sweet creek, and I was actually writing. But, mid-way through the week, California’s infamous fire weather kicked up in a big way, and the region was subjected to the experimental power safety shut-offs that our energy utility is doing in an effort to…keep fires from starting.

The electricity went off around 3pm on Wednesday afternoon and after searching for battery operated lights and worrying about whether the water would still work, I prepared to get through some days without power. I made note of how to get to the fairgrounds the next day so that I could charge my computer at the stations there. It seemed doable for a clearly adaptable human, though certainly distracting.

However, as it got darker, the wind began to howl, and the air dried out and heated up in an truly uncanny way. I’m from Arizona and understand dry and hot, but this was nothing like anything I’d ever felt before.

The wind began to come in dramatic bursts, one minute there was complete and utter silence and stillness, the next I was inhaling the gritty dust and pollen coming up off the ground, as well as down from the trees, as the wind blew it straight through the cabin.

Feeling increasingly uneasy, I decided to check Twitter one last time, and there it was. A fire had started about 10 miles away. It was initially difficult to figure out exactly where the fire was relative to where I was, especially since I was in terrain that while familiar with, I am not totally comfortable with.

I spent about an hour trying to convince myself to stay, but the many images and stories ingrained into my head and heart about death-by-evacuation in recent fires convinced me that because I could leave, I would. Evacuating in the dark, alone, is not an experience I can recommend. Luckily, as a visitor, all I had to do was gather up what I’d brought with me; there were no excruciating decisions about what to bring.

Ultimately, the Kincade Fire was out within two weeks. Although it led to an unprecedented evacuation order that could only have meant officials believed it was possible for the fire to jump Highway 101 and make a run for the coast some 40 miles to the west, that luckily did not happen, this time.

Days later, I willingly went back into the fire evacuation zone with a film crew led by Christine Arena. At that point, the fire was largely under control, but many things were still smoldering and occasionally flaring up, including the posts that hold guardrails up, many stumps, and the ground. After a full day of visiting differently destroyed sites, we watched a ground fire restart in the wind and be quickly put out by a fire crew that seemed to magically arrive. That was shortly followed by another larger flare up about a mile away, and I’d had enough of the Kincade Fire, yet again.

Now here we are in a world that has transformed in ways that are both very familiar and unrecognizable to my disaster addled soul. Every year, I think it’s not possible to dread fire season more, and yet, somehow, I do. For the past couple, Max Moritz and I have been arguing for a public health approach to wildfire — one that doesn’t normalize death. Now what? Wish I had a deeper lesson here, but all I can say is that we truly are — both literally and metaphorically — stumbling through the dark.

Recommended:

I welcome any thoughts you want to send me about the content of this newsletter or otherwise.

on control

the hard stuff

On the banks of one of California’s last out-of-control rivers. Photo by me.

Alcoholism and other addictions run rampant on both sides and through multiple generations of my family. And, one of the things you have to learn if you want to be on the healing side of that equation has to do with control. Mostly that you don’t have much, especially when it comes to other people.

No amount of begging, pleading, persuading, perfectionism, information, etc. is enough for somebody to stop doing a thing they are addicted to until they are ready. So simple to get on an intellectual level, much harder to hold onto in a requisite, embodied way. That’s why the serenity prayer used in 12-step programs can be such a useful reminder: “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It must have been with this in mind that I said something in a recent interview with David Corn of Mother Jones that I hadn’t really intended to, which was: “I grew up in an alcoholic family. You have to learn you’re not in control of everything.”

For context, he’d been asking me about how I cope with the ups and downs of working on climate issues, particularly about how it feels when you know something and it doesn’t seem like other people are willing to listen. That is just not an orientation that resonates with me, and my main response was really about the fact that I deeply understand that whether or not anybody listens to me, much less changes anything, is not really up to me. Nor do I want it to be.

Right about now, I can hear all the “buts” exploding in your minds, and I get it. But, I will say that control is a theme I’ve been wrestling with for a long time, in no small part because I work on disasters. For example, after one of our big California wildfire disasters, I wrote in Bay Nature:

There is no doubt that this disaster has deeply tested our assumptions about how we live with wildfires, notably the idea that we can control them. From Houston to Puerto Rico to here at home in California, disasters are revealing new ground that is paradoxically both shakier and more solid than it once seemed. We may find our footing by finally embracing the fact that we can’t always be in charge.

Along similar lines, I wrote this about climate change in New Republic:

It has become clear it is not enough to rely on scientific and technical information, expertise, and authority alone when it comes to transformative social action on climate change. Instead, many people are working together to affect change outside the realm of science, often in seemingly messy and chaotic ways.

There are so many ways that addiction, and addiction treatment, relates to the primary issues I work on: water, wildfire, and climate change. And I think control in particular will continue to rear its challenging head again and again as we wrestle with climate change adaptation questions like whether sea walls that may or may not work are worth the investment.

What I keep trying to work with is the wisdom piece — navigating the very fine line between doing what we can and knowing what we can’t.

Recommended:

Event note:

For folks in the general Bay Area, on July 17, I will be part of a program at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco with Mark Arax, author of the new book The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California, and Diana Marcum, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Tenth Island. I admire both of these people deeply, love both of these books, and am honored to appear with them to talk about water and more in California. Please come if you can!

I welcome thoughts you want to send me about the content of this newsletter or otherwise.

the hard stuff

working with emotion & conflict in science communication

Welcome to The Hard Stuff by me, Faith Kearns. I am a scientist writing about water, wildfire, climate change, and how people, including scientists themselves, can work with these kinds of emotional and contentious issues. Book with Island Press forthcoming.

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In the mean time, pass it on!

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