Woods & Wilds: The Podcast Episode 6

Join Dogwood Alliance and SlaytheMic as we collaborate to bring tales of connections to nature and music to you.

This week, our hosts Kimala Luna from Dogwood Alliance and Elizabeth Garland from SlayTheMic speak with Mary Annaïse Heglar. Mary is a storyteller, climate activist, author, and co-creator of the Hot Take Podcast and newsletter that examine the state of the climate crisis by taking a critical look at the media. This episode we hear from Mary about her work at the intersection of climate and racial justice, her love of writing, her experience as a Black climate activist, and mourning our losses in a time of a climate emergency.

Be sure to read Mary’s articles on Medium and to hear more about her work on climate, you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and be sure to listen to her podcast.

Listen to the full Woods & Wilds: The Podcast episode featuring Mary here:

Want to listen to more?

Check out other episodes of Woods & Wilds: The Podcast


Don’t forget to like, follow, subscribe, or leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. It helps us grow our audience.


Check out the full transcript of our interview with Mary!

Full Transcript:

Elizabeth Lashay:
Welcome back to another episode of Woods and Wilds Podcast. I’m Elizabeth Lashay with SlayTheMic, and I’m joined by my wonderful co-host.

Kimala Luna:
I’m Kimala Luna with Dogwood Alliance, and we are so thrilled to be here with Mary Annaïse Heglar, who uses the art of storytelling to help people feel less alone in facing the climate crisis and to build the movement for climate justice.

Kimala Luna:
In addition to her essays, which have been published in The Boston Globe, Vox. Mary is the co-creator of the Hot Take Podcast and newsletter that examines the state of the climate crisis by taking a critical look at the media and all the ways we’re talking and not talking about it.

Kimala Luna:
Hi, Mary, welcome to the show.

Mary Heglar:
Hi, thank you for having me.

Elizabeth Lashay:
Yes, I’m so excited. And I know we were looking over some of the articles that you have done. Wow, what a library you have in terms of… And the content doesn’t seem to shift.

Mary Heglar:
There’s a lot to say, I found the niche in climate and emotions or climate and race, and there’s so much to say there because so little has been said.

Kimala Luna:
Oh man, and I’m so glad that you mentioned climate and emotion. Cause that was going to be one of my first questions to just jump right in, you just talk about the balance between nihilism being as equally uneffective as blind optimism and that there’s a middle ground to be found. And can you speak to that middle ground?

Mary Heglar:
Yeah, I think the middle ground is just reality, it’s acknowledging that this is hard, that this is painful, and that we are… We have to mourn what we’ve lost because we have lost a lot. I was frustrated at the time that I wrote the essay. I think you’re talking about “Home Is Always Worth It” because I, on one side felt like there were so many people who were just like, “Oh, climate change is here already. So we have to just give up.”

There was actually an essay that prompted that in The New Yorker by Jonathan Franzen. I don’t remember the title of it, but it was basically “what if we just admitted that climate change isn’t stoppable” and his advocacy was like, “let’s just work on other stuff since we can’t fix this.” And I was like, “well, that’s going too far.” And then the response to him was like, “no, we can still fix this.” And it’s like, “actually that’s not all the way true either.” The world we had is not the world we’re going to get back. It’s still worth fighting for, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to go back to normal. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to go back to the planet that we had when I was two years old. And we have to acknowledge that and be realistic about that. We don’t have to delude ourselves in order to do it. And I’ve also been frustrated with this idea within climate spaces, that you have to have hope to work on this. And I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t run on hope. I run on courage. I run on a dogged determination and spite. So I don’t consider myself necessarily a hopeful person. I also don’t think hope is something that you can give to someone else, hope is something that you earn from your own actions. So yeah, that’s what I was talking about.

Kimala Luna:
Thank you that’s Beautiful.

Mary Heglar:
Thanks.

Elizabeth Lashay:
When I was reading your article in terms of, we can’t tackle climate change without you, is that call to action in terms of when people need an extra dosage of courage. How can we get people involved in the thing and being aware of climate change and then changing it?

Mary Heglar:
Yeah. My argument is that climate action is not one thing. Climate action is more of… I call it climate commitment instead of climate action. And that’s something that is ongoing and you can pick it up every day. It’s kind of a yoga practice. You go to a yoga class, it doesn’t matter if you hit the perfect pose that day. That’s not the point. The point is that you came and you practice, and maybe you’ll do it better the next day. Maybe you’ll do it worse the next day. But the point is that you did it. And I think that’s kind of the way we need to start seeing climate action. I think that people think of it as a one-time thing you recycle. If you mess up recycling that day, that’s it for you?  It’s a wrap. You just suck as a person and that’s not what it is. And also I think that recycling feels like a very small solution in the face of a very, very big problem.

We have to expand our idea of what climate action is beyond our consumer actions. Because I think climate action has been defined for the most part by the industry. Who of course sees you as a consumer only, but we’re all so much more than just consumers. We are citizens. We are people, we are family members, we’re friends. There’s so much more to us.

What I would say to someone who wants to get involved in climate change or climate action. Changing climate change, rather. What I would say that a person is figure out what your power is, what your special talent is and cultivate that and bring that. No one can tell you what you’re going to evolve into as a climate person, you’re ready to full-fledged, get in here. I can’t tell you how you’re going to show up because I guarantee you, nobody told Greta Thunberg to strike outside of school. Nobody told these kids to go build their movement. They just did it. Nobody told Martin Luther King to stage a bus boycott, I guarantee people told him not to do that. People did not tell me to go start writing essays. I just did that. So figure out what you do well, and that is what you bring to climate. So do what you do best and make it climate.

Kimala Luna:
You write about environmental justice and environmental racism a lot. And to me, they feel one and the same. But I understand that for a lot of people, it’s hard to make the direct connection. What are some of the things that you write about that you’re like, “I cannot believe I have to articulate this, it’s so simple.” And something that you do want everybody to just know.

Mary Heglar:
Yeah, I think the thing that was the hardest for me to figure out how to articulate. It took me years to figure out how to say it was that climate action or the climate movement should be Black, that there’s no dichotomy between working for Black Lives Matter and working on climate. Those are not different things. So something that I would find very frustrating and it happened a lot this past summer was now’s not the time to talk about climate because we need to show up for Black Lives Matter. And for me as a Black climate activist or Black prominent writer, it’s like “who did you think I was here to save this whole time? Did you think I was in climate because I want it to save white people? No, I wanted to save myself. I wanted to save my family. I want to save people. I wanted to save Black people.”

So I want to get away from that dichotomy that they’re separate. It was not time for the climate movement to be silent for the sake of Nlack lives. It’s time for them to join. That’s what was so clear to me. And so that… I still know how I figured out how to articulate that, all that well, but I’m getting closer. And I think it’s just because it’s something that feels so inherent to me. I can’t believe I have to say it. Other things I think are that climate is one of those things that you can’t come back from, climate change… Maybe we can figure out a way to engineer the world where we’ve undone some of the damage, but we don’t have those tools at our disposal. So this idea that now’s not the time. It never makes any sense when it comes to climate because we are out of time and we’ve been out of time.

So, I’ve heard from a lot of people including elders in my own family, wait till the next election for big systemic change and. We don’t have another election. Even if somebody weren’t holding a knife to the throat of our democracy right now, as far as climate is concerned, we don’t have another election to wait. That clock ran out a long time ago. And at this point, we’re just trying to salvage a little bit of what we can. So waiting another four years is really a kamikaze action.

Elizabeth Lashay:
When did you find your passion and really own the climate action?

Mary Heglar:
So I don’t know if my Passion is climate action or if my passion is writing. I write about the thing that I’m scared about. I learned that writing was my passionate language, my passion really, really young when I was seven years old or something. The first book that was not a child’s book that I read was a collection of poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. So that love affair started when I was really young and probably even younger than that. I loved hanging out with my great aunts and uncles and listening to the stories they would tell and the words they would use. And, I’m from Birmingham, Alabama, everybody is lyrical. So, it was just like hearing poetry come out of their mouths all the time. So that started really young.

Learning to love nature. I think that also started really young, hanging out with my great aunts and uncles at the same time. And honestly, there’s this myth that black people don’t care about the environment, and I’ve never met that black person I’ve met plenty of black people that don’t care for environmentalists, but not the environment. I think I learned all of that really young figuring out that climate change was the place where I was going to make my life’s work. That started in 2014. I have always worked in non-profits and in 2014, I knew I was leaving my job. I was leaving the social science research foundation, which they do good work. But it takes a really, really long time for it to make a difference when you have to build a body of research and that takes decades. And I wanted to work on something that I felt would make a more immediate impact because I felt like the world’s falling apart around me.

I don’t really… Do we have 20, 30 years? I don’t know? And so I decided that I wanted to work with the most important story and decided that was either climate change or public health. And I now know those are not different things. So I specifically sought out an environmental NGO and went to work there working on policy publications, which are these really dense wonky reports about all the problems and all the solutions. And that was when I realized how bad it was. And then you start to have the nightmares and you start to have the waking visions and going through what we now call climate griefs.

I decided I needed something to process that. And so I started writing just to process it and connect it to these other issues. Because as an editor, you have to wrestle with the material, you have to look at all the bodies in between the lines and that can take a toll on you. And I didn’t just see a pipeline. I saw the schools that were sitting on top of the pipeline. I saw who’s in the schools and they looked like me and that was difficult. So yeah, I started the writing. I started putting it out there because the reason people aren’t connecting with this is because they don’t see themselves in it. And so what if I just wrote about what I saw and I didn’t think anybody would ever read my little blog, but now we’re here.

Kimala Luna:
I want to talk about what inspires you about nature? And, what keeps you going in this? Because it can be really hard.

Mary Heglar:
Yeah. I think spite is a lot of what keeps me going, a lot of what keeps me going is knowing that you can’t just push me into an early grave and walk off without at least a black eye. I’m at least going to embarrass you. So understanding that this isn’t just happening, somebody is doing this. Somebody is digging up fossils and setting them on fire and poisoning people today and tomorrow and forever. Someone’s making that decision. And I’m really angry at that person and those people and somebody is deciding to cut down our trees and chop them up in the pellets and ship them across the world. And that makes me really angry. And it makes me angry because I love this planet. And I love my family and I love my friends and I love myself.

All of those are reasons to want to do this work. And, I do draw inspiration from nature. I think it is beautiful, I think it’s sacred. I think it is our job, not only to protect it but also to commune with it. I think we are part of it. I think when I see people say like, “Oh, I didn’t know. I lived in nature.” It’s like, “you live in a human body.” A human body is a natural thing. And you breathe air and drink water, come on. So in that way yeah, I draw inspiration from nature because I am nature.

Elizabeth Lashay:
Take us to a time where you really felt covered and at home in nature and walk us through that beautiful moment, whether it was in your childhood or was it yesterday taking a walk, Just one moment that you can think of off of the top of your head.

Mary Heglar:
Yeah, I think I kind of always feel that way even on the days where I don’t leave my apartment. But some of my favorite moments are definitely when I go back home to visit my mom, my mom lives in Mississippi and I’ll sit on the back porch a lot and just watch the weather. And my favorite times are the thunderstorms. And, you kind of feel them coming and the air gets really heavy and gets dark. And then all of a sudden, the sky just deluges and there’s lightning and thunder and so much water falling out of the sky. And I think it’s really, really beautiful. And also before it starts, you see the birds start flying closer to the ground cause they know what’s coming. And then afterward you listen to the crickets and the lightning bugs start to come out if it’s dark enough yet. And then there’s other times I sit on the back porch and watch the hummingbirds. Cause she has all these hummingbird feeders out back. Cause my grandfather used to love them. And when they come by, I’m thinking, yeah it’s my grandfather, I think every hummingbirds my grandfather.

Kimala Luna:
That’s so beautiful. That’s awesome thank you for sharing. I love hummingbirds. I want to talk about your podcast because you’re a writer and that’s totally a new medium. So why that podcast? Why the themes? Why a podcast in general?

Mary Heglar:
Yeah. So I started the podcast with Amy Westervelt, who’s a veteran climate journalist herself. She has an amazing podcast called Drilled which if people haven’t listened to. They should listen to it. All about how the fossil fuel industry has deceived people. So I started listening to that last spring, I don’t even know what time it is anymore, but I was just obsessed with it and just inhaled it. And eventually, I slid into her DM’s and was like, “you’re so cool. I don’t know if you live in New York, but if you do, can we meet up?”

So eventually later on we met up and we became friends and she started talking about building another podcast about climate news. And the more we talked about it, I was like, “what if it was media criticism for climate coverage?” Because that was something we were texting about a lot, “this story totally missed the mark, or this story is awesome.” We want it to talk about how to improve climate storytelling in the media. Because if you look at climate change and climate solutions, the problem isn’t the technical side. And honestly never really has been. We’ve always had the solar panels and the wind turbines. We’ve always had those technical solutions. The problem is political will. And where do you build political will, if not in media? Somebody needs to be keeping track of it.

Somebody needs to be watching what they’re doing and trying to make it better, trying to hold them accountable and telling that story. That was really where it grew out of. And just recently we launched… Back in may we launched our newsletter as part of it because we realized that a biweekly podcast is just not enough to cover all of it, which is actually a good thing, that there’s so much climate media. We couldn’t cover everything that was talked about in the past two weeks. And our episodes were getting along. We had sore throats by the end of recording those things. We launched the newsletter, which we have a lot of fun with. We write short pieces every week, four different feature or two different features each about this past week, Amy held Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein accountable for not doing enough for California’s climate action.

I wrote about the passive voice and how people use it to make people think that they’re doing more on climate. Politicians use it to make themselves sound like they’re more active on climate than they are. They’ll say things like “Congress must act on climate.” You’re in Congress, what does that even mean?

We have a lot of fun with the stories that we tell over there. But more importantly, we have this section that we call our digest, where we keep a running list of all of the climate stories from that week. And it’s really long because what we found is that if you get a newsletter from The New York Times on climate, it’s just the New York Times, it’s coverage on climate, same thing for Bloomberg. And if you go to Apple news and you go to their climate change section, it’s really puny. There’s not a lot there. They don’t populate it well. So if you want it to keep up with the climate story and have an aggregator for all the best climate stories out there, you can’t the only way you can do it is to be on Twitter and you got to really be on Twitter and who wants to do that? So that was why we created this. And I say it as somebody who’s on Twitter all the time.

Elizabeth Lashay:
We’re living in a world where we are very polarized. There’s a lot of misinformation as well. That is coming out throughout every media source. Where are places that you get your information?

Mary Heglar:
Yeah, honestly I’m not so much sure that we are polarized or that one side has become a death pole. So I think there used to be this time of balance and whatever, you can’t balance with somebody who’s just completely gone off the deep end and created a world of conspiracy theories where they think that forests are burning up because the Sierra club is burning them up. There’s no reasoning with that. So I feel pretty confident just letting that dream die. And I get a lot of my information from, news media that I trust. But I also have, developed my own sense of critical thinking, which is key. I do read the New York Times and The Washington Post, but I have found that at least as far as climate change is concerned, a lot of the time when it comes to the trends and the movement or whatever, they’re pretty slow.

So you can find that sort of stuff better by… Rolling Stone has fantastic coverage. So does Vice, has really good coverage. Earther, Grist, Drilled. Amy has a new site in addition to her podcasts and they do really good work too. The Guardian when they’re not neglecting it. And so reading a lot of those different sources.

Kimala Luna:
So you read poetry first, you said that was your first adult book after children’s books. Do you still read poetry? And if so, if there’d been a poem that you read lately that was captured your emotion in a good way?

Mary Heglar:
I haven’t read a lot of poetry lately, but if I were going to recommend one, it would be Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth. Which is somewhere behind me, but it’s really thin. It would take me a while to find it, to pull it out.

But it is a beautiful collection of poetry about the plight of refugees. Is this the one where she says, no one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land. The whole collection is really beautiful. I had just recently finished reading Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage The Bones, which is embarrassing that I’m just now reading that, given she’s the most prolific Mississippi writer out there right now. But I would say it’s one very long poem and very beautiful poem. And it’s really about climate honestly, it’s about hurricanes.

Elizabeth Lashay:
What about your Mississippi roots and just growing up, are you extremely proud of?

Mary Heglar:
Well, I should clarify because it’s… Possibly one of my cousins will listen to this. My roots are in Alabama. So I was born in Alabama and raised there until I was nine. And that is where the vast majority of my family lives. And my mom moved to Mississippi with me and my brother when I was nine. So definitely shaped in Mississippi, but I had to be clear that my roots are in Alabama and they’re very similar, but very different places and both very, very beautiful. And I think what I’m most proud of is, or what I take from there and take with me always is just the beauty of language.

When we’re talking about a little bit earlier, that is what made me a writer. You can just… The way that southerners speak, the way that we communicate is just so beautiful and lyrical and buttery and just, we’re so good at things. People often ask, “where did you learn to write?” Then it’s like “Mississippi.” I didn’t take creative writing classes. Nobody taught me how to do this. I just learned from the cadence that people speak with the sort of idioms that we use, the way that we breathe nature into everything that we talk about. My cousin telling my uncle that he thinks he’s slicker than sweat on a snake. That just comes out of you. You didn’t find it anywhere, or my other cousin telling another one “that you never saw a snake when you’re cutting the grass.” I don’t know why I came up with two snakes. I actually hate snakes, those are the sorts of sayings that we just make up on the spot. And I don’t see how you grow up in a place that musical and lyrical and don’t learn to love language and learn how to wield it. And I don’t see how you grew up in a place that beautiful and not want to protect it for the rest of your life.

Kimala Luna:
So on the show, we often talk about nature and the environment but because Liz is with Slay the Mic, which is a hip hop radio show. We also talk about hip hop. And so you just talked about lyricism and music, and I just wanted to know if there are any songs that have been touching you recently, or any particular artists that you want to recommend.

Mary Heglar:
So I am old and I have not listened to a lot of new music in a minute. So honestly, the first thing I think of when I’m thinking about the South and hip hop, of course it’s OutKast and I don’t think OutKast gets enough credit for. They actually made a climate song on Aquemini, The Art of Storytellin Part 2 is really about climate. Andre has a whole verse about it, and it kind of doesn’t… That was what? 1999. Yeah. They were such visionaries. So they don’t get that type of credit. I see climate everywhere, but I also see it in Beyonce’s Lemonade, all over the place. Cause the whole thing is about nature or it’s a very strong presence and her song, OTHERSIDE from the Lion King soundtrack. You can’t convince me that’s not about climate change and her love for Black people.

I haven’t seen it yet because there’s a snake in it. My hatred runs strong, really runs strong.

Elizabeth Lashay:
Well, in terms of what’s next, what is next for you and what you’re excited to be working on? Would you mind sharing?

Mary Heglar:
Oh girl, I don’t know. Honestly, I feel I’ve got my hands full with just growing the podcast and the newsletter. I’m really excited about both of those things and I guess they still feel kind of new and I’ll probably just keep writing. Hopefully at some point we’ll get to a point where we can have speaking events in person again. Cause I hate Zoom speaking. This is cool, this is a podcast, but speaking to big crowds of people on Zoom. Oh, it’s the worst. I hate it. That’s kind of where I’m at and in the face of this quarantine, this election, all of this that’s about all I can handle.

Kimala Luna:
So in nature, when animals have experienced traumatic events… Which I feel is happening to us every day, they shake violently to shake it all off. What’s something that you do to just shake it out of your system?

Mary Heglar:
Primal screaming. I highly recommend it.

Kimala Luna:
I love it.

Mary Heglar:
Also running. Running is really cathartic and useful and a side effect, you’ll be ready when the zombies come.

Kimala Luna:
Yay, and that can happen any day now.

Mary Heglar:
Any day.

Elizabeth Lashay:
I am not doing well then I need some jogging.

Mary Heglar:
You don’t want to be the slowest. That’s the goal zombies aren’t very fast. You don’t have to be super fast.

Kimala Luna:
Oh my goodness. Well, I’m excited to know a little bit more about what you think the future holds and I want to say the near future. So within a year of what is transpiring with our climate in the world around us?

Mary Heglar:
I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know if I can make up a prediction and I think I’ve tried to… Because, it feels so uncertain. I tell myself that I’m more interested in who I want to be, than what’s going to happen because that I can control. What type of person do I want to be? And how do I want to show up no matter who wins in November, no matter what climate action is taken at the grand scale or not taken, who do I want to show up as. And that is a constant, that’s something I don’t want to change. I want to be someone who’s always part of pushing for more and pushing for better.

Kimala Luna:
That’s inspiring. Well, Mary, I feel like we have covered some beautiful ground here. Do you have anything that you want to make sure people tuning in hear or know or can check out?

Mary Heglar:
Everybody’s said this over and over again, but it can’t hurt to say it again. Make sure that you’re registered to vote and vote.

Elizabeth Lashay:
Yes, and where can we find you? We want to keep following you and read more of your essays. And is there a place that we can find information about yourself?

Mary Heglar:
Yes. Sure. So I’m on Twitter. I’m at Mary Heglar, H-E-G-L-A-R and also on Instagram at the same. And also my podcast and newsletter Hot Take, are the best place to keep up with me.

Kimala Luna:
Thank you. This was amazing. I got chills multiple times. I hope folks tuning in listening also got chills.

Mary Heglar:
You-all are too kind.

Kimala Luna:
You have such a powerful voice.

Mary Heglar:
Thank you.

Kimala Luna:
Yes. Thank you so much.

Mary Heglar:
Thank you. This was fun.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>