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Advocated: Transcript

Anita Rao 0:00
I can't pinpoint the first time I learned about our warming planet. But I can remember when I started to feel a personal responsibility for doing something about it. It was an elementary school music class, when we learned the Recycle Rap.

Recycle Rap Clip 0:17
Recycle, recycle, recycle now. There's nothing to it if you just know how.

Anita Rao 0:24
That song is so very 90s. But it's an early example of how I was taught to think about the climate crisis: Focus on the changes you can make.

Recycle Rap Clip 0:36
Recycle, recycle, recycle now.

Anita Rao 0:24
When I was in my teens, the carbon footprint calculator was all the rage. "Carbon footprint" was even the Oxford English dictionary word of the year when I graduated high school. But it wasn't until very recently that I learned who the driving force was behind the popularization of that calculator: the oil company BP.

Recycle Rap Clip 0:38
Recycling is the thing to do.

Anita Rao 0:39
Now I'm not saying that learning how to recycle or thinking more critically about my own consumption habits is not important. But you've got to wonder what gets missed when we frame the climate crisis as something so tied to personal responsibility. Whose perspectives are prioritized, and whose voices are left out?

This is Embodied. I'm Anita Rao.

One cohort of climate activists pushing back against this personal responsibility narrative is disabled folks, who are disproportionately affected by climate change, yet often sidelined by climate research laws and emergency response initiatives.

Daphne Frias Clip 1:45
In our constitution it says we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My pursuit of happiness is not going too well. And the only way that we're going to get any step closer to achieving this is by making sure that the stories of those who are affected by these crises and injustices actually heard.

Anita Rao 2:13
That voice on the bullhorn was youth activist Daphne Frias at the Climate and Labor Justice Picket in New York City last fall. Daphne is here with me now. Hey, Daphne, welcome to Embodied.

Daphne Frias 2:24
Hi, good morning. How are you?

Anita Rao 2:26
Good. So I talked a little bit in my introduction about how I started to understand the climate crisis as a kid growing up in the 90s in the Midwest. You are about a decade younger than me and you grew up in West Harlem. What are some of your earliest memories of understanding and conceptualizing climate change?

Daphne Frias 2:44
Yeah, so for me, I think being disabled, so much of my early years was just focused on my body and understanding my relationship with my disability. To be quite honest, I wasn't really thinking about the climate. Especially because I grew up and still currently live in a neighborhood that didn't have tons of access to green spaces. And I didn't realize that that wasn't necessarily the norm until I got into the early years of high school. And then I went to a more affluent high school on the other side of Manhattan. And I realized that immediately the proximity to resources around my high school were about 10 times more than any supermarket, or any availability to open spaces than I had ever seen before. And it really sparked the question of, well, why are these two neighborhoods so different? We live in the same city, shouldn't we have access to the same resources? And I also began learning about public health at that time, and learning about how the environment and our health are so linked to each other. And I really made me begin to understand this intersection and ask a lot of questions about why this reality was the case. And here I am now.

Anita Rao 4:14
So you have cerebral palsy. And there are a number of really specific ways that climate change has affected your disability. We know that heat waves are occurring in the U.S. more often than they used to. I'd love to hear a little bit about your experiences during these heat waves growing up.

Daphne Frias 4:31
Sure. So for myself, as you mentioned with cerebral palsy, and with a lot of other neurological related disabilities, individuals who have these struggle to regulate their own body temperature. So if I get overheated, I stay overheated for quite a while and when I'm cold, that cold stays for quite a while as well. So I depend on my external environment to help me regulate my internal temperature. And I think that it has only increased in variability and sort of the extremes of my, of my temperature, as the climate has continued to worsen in New York City. Living in such an urban environment where he is already so densely trapped because we don't have as many pieces of infrastructure to help dissipate the heat, I can find it really, really easy to go from being comfortable in my home and being comfortable outside to very easily being dehydrated in a way that can be really scary to try to overcome. I think as well as seeing the way that, you know, disability is talked about in the climate, I often felt like the space wasn't one for us disabled folks to have a voice or have a narrative that really belongs to us.

Anita Rao 6:00
I want to talk to you more about that piece in a little bit. But I want to hear a little bit more about New York City. I mean, I lived there for about three years. And I know just how overwhelming that summer heat can be with the pavement and you just kind of feel like it's, it's really hard to breathe. But on the other side of that there have been a lot of really extreme snowstorms. I know this past year in the city was especially intense. What are your experiences in those really cold weather months in your physical body? And what's that like?

Daphne Frias 6:33
I think this brings me back to my New York City public school days, especially because I utilized the yellow school bus system to get to and from school for 12, 13 years. In the city, when we have a snowstorm and we have clean up afterwards, the snow is always being piled in between the cars. And lo and behold, where does the ramp for the school bus come down — right in between the cars. So sometimes it would be days before I could get back to school until the ice started melting, or we had a kind neighbor help us. But usually would be my mom out there trying to clear a path. Or, you know, me the night before saying, "Oh Mom, I guess there's no school tomorrow for me." And it causes a massive flare up for my arthritis that's related to my CP. The cold is in your bones, like I like to say. It can, it can be quite hard for me to get warm. Especially because I lack circulation in my lower extremities due to my lack of mobility. And it can be kind of scary, especially a lot of disabled folks during the snowstorms. We don't have folks to go get groceries for us. And maybe you need to go pick up your medications in the pharmacy and you can't get out of your building. Because again, there's these piles of snow. And I think a really interesting thing that a lot of folks may not know is that the salt that is used for melting of the ice, as we propel our wheelchairs, that salt can get on your hands and actually cause burns. And it's another sort of poignant reminder slash microaggression that, "Hey, once again, the world doesn't consider your needs or necessarily think about you in the most inclement of times."

Anita Rao 8:39
That's a really good example. And it brings me to a question that I have for you about environmental policies that are created that do not kind of keep the needs of disabled folks in mind. There's one example of this right now — reducing single-use plastics is a big thing. Twelve states in this country have some form of statewide ban on single-use plastics. Can you talk a little bit about how the creation and implementation of legislation like this has some negative consequences for disabled folks?

Daphne Frias 9:11
It actually is interesting. I was in Minnesota a couple days ago and I, I went to Target to just pick up some snacks for my hotel room. And I was so shocked that when I was checking out the cashier was putting my items in a plastic bag. Oh, I haven't used plastic bag at checkout in maybe four or five years. And I was with my mom at the time and she pulled out her reusable tote from her purse and the cashier looked at us like, "Oh, that's quite nifty." And I was like oh, that's totally normal for New York City. Everybody has 50 million reusable totes. But I think these, these single-use plastic pieces of legislation, while they are important I think that also villainizing the disabled community in a really, really harmful way. Especially because folks like myself who have lower mobility coordination, especially with motor skills like holding a cup, depending on a straw is a lifeline. It's not just, you know, a fun little accessory that you put in your drink. It's a way to get nutrients, it's a way to enjoy your meal because, unlike popular belief, disabled people do like to go out and have fun and meet up with their friends and go to a restaurant. And I think it goes even further when the discussion continues around, why are certain foods pre-packaged in plastic? Or why are you getting pre-diced onions or pre-peeled oranges? Well, maybe I can't chop those, or maybe I can't peel that. But right away, it goes to "Oh you're just a heathen, utilizing way more plastic than you could possibly ever need." And it's just really, really sad because I think that disabled folks are some of the most astute climate solutionists. And we really have a powerful voice within this climate space. But oftentimes our voices get silenced.

Anita Rao 11:17
The increase in extreme weather events that Daphne mentioned, scorching heat waves or frigid nor'easters are some of the most visible effects of climate change. So too, are natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. After the break, we're going to meet someone who's been deployed during some of these natural disasters and seen firsthand how disabled folks fall through the cracks of emergency response systems. Stay with us.

Welcome back to Embodied, our show about sex relationships and your health. I'm Anita Rao, and today: a conversation about disability justice and climate change. We left off talking about how some environmental actions have discriminatory effects on people with disabilities. That looks like policies banning plastic straws, a tool which disabled folks rely upon to drink, or the expectation that everyone should adopt zero emissions transportation, like walking. Historically, disabled folks have not had a seat at the table when environmental policies are being created. But a growing cohort of disabled activists is striving toward a more inclusive and accessible movement.

Sébastien Jodoin 12:55
So my hope for the future of disability activism in the field of climate change is that climate activists begin doing the important work of reaching out and building bridges with a diverse members of the disability community. It's not going to be a process that can happen overnight. And what we need are practices and institutions to develop those relationships. And we need to make sure that those processes, those relationships evolve, to constantly be more inclusive of the diverse needs and perspectives and forms of knowledge of the disability community around the world.

Aine Kelly-Costello 13:42
Sometimes access can also look like quite tangible things that you might be anticipating before a specific person asked you something. So thinking about making sure your social media posts are accessible with image descriptions and captions. Choosing physically accessible meeting venues, choosing event spaces that can have a quiet space, a lower sensory space, those kinds of things.

Michael Stein 14:09
People with disabilities are problem solvers because they adjust their daily existence to navigate a world that has not been designed with them in mind. People with disabilities have knowledge of the experience of disability and the challenge of adapting to climate change. A key takeaway is the importance of recognizing and acknowledging this capacity so that persons with disabilities and their representative organizations can share disability knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, because people understand their own lives better than anyone else.

Anita Rao 14:48
That was Sébastien Jodoin, Aine Kelly-Costello and Michael Stein. Another activist with a similar passion for promoting inclusivity and disability rights ain environmental justice is Germán Parodi. Germán, welcome to Embodied. I'm excited to talk with you.

Germán Parodi 15:04
Thank you for having me Anita. Good to join you.

Anita Rao 15:07
So you were born and raised in Puerto Rico. That's a part of the world that's experienced a lot of extreme weather in the past few decades. Tell me a little bit about your understanding and experience of that reality as a young kid.

Germán Parodi 15:21
Annually, hurricanes or extreme storms were, are common. You know, first memories are of Hurricane Hugo, the late 80s. And then throughout it was part of life. But the systems, I grew up able-bodied, and the infrastructure, the environment was suitable for a storm comes, it goes, we able-bodied people are okay. Then I acquired a spinal cord injury, and my life changed dramatically. My perception and expectations of life drastically changed and realized their emergency management at the time was not taking into account any needs of people with disabilities.

Anita Rao 16:11
So yeah, I want to pause you for a second there and go back to that moment you were talking about. You were 17. And you were the victim of a carjacking in which you were shot in the neck. What were the long-term implications of that injury for your physical body? You mentioned the spinal cord component.

Germán Parodi 16:29
Yes, from being an athlete was immediately turned off a switch. Now using a wheelchair, being dependent on activities of daily living early on, from bathing, dressing to everyday activities, was one of the main reasons why I decided to relocate to the United States. I live in Philadelphia now, in pursuit of more access and running away from the disaster that would be coming.

Anita Rao 17:03
So you moved to Philadelphia about three years after that incident. And then a number of years later, about a decade later, you went back to Puerto Rico as part of a deployment after Hurricane Maria. And this was your first foray into the disaster response world. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you saw the needs of disabled Puerto Ricans being addressed and met once you were on the ground?

Germán Parodi 17:32
Once we were — and it was a small team, about five of us in Puerto Rico, and we had another team in USVI and we served in Puerto Rico over 100 families throughout the island primarily in the interior. And again and again, people were sharing, "Thank you, you're the first person, first relief organizations that we see. We haven't seen FEMA, we haven't seen Red Cross, we haven't seen our local government." It was painful, I would find myself in between visits, if you will, tearing at times that the stark absence of the needs of those most impacted. We were there for three weeks, and up to the end, we were finding communities that had not received any type of support. And we were identifying needs, and then in delivering essential goods, from water and food to disability-related equipment and supplies.

Anita Rao 18:34
So as someone who had grown up in that environment and then moved away, in part because of the weather, what came up for you personally, to be back there and to kind of acknowledge what that would have been like for you?

Germán Parodi 18:49
The levels of risk are dramatically increased, and people with disabilities — now I know we are disproportionately impacted during disasters. We are two to four times more likely to die or be injured than people without disabilities during disasters. And this is not due to my individual quote unquote, vulnerability. This is the vulnerability of the infrastructure and the plans are omitting the needs of the whole community. Since then, thankfully, we collaborate with Centers for Independent Living. Centers for Independent Living, or CILs, are disability-run nonprofit organizations that help people with disabilities live in the community. And in Puerto Rico right before the COVID 19 pandemic, in early January 2020, Puerto Rico on the southwest had a pretty catastrophic earthquake, I want to say towards seven on the Richter scale. And the Emergency Management Agency and the disability community were collaborating then. The rescues were coordinated, the support thereafter and the services — it was like being in conjunction, making sure that accessibility was being met.

Anita Rao 20:09
Could you give me an example of maybe someone you met during one of these deployments, whose needs in the aftermath of disaster kind of exemplifies the way that the system is not really thinking about and preparing for what they might need?

Germán Parodi 20:26
There's a town in the interior of the island called Cialitos, it translates in English to "Little Heavens." It's up almost 5000 feet. And we met a family who — two adult people with disabilities, both with cerebral palsy, had never had a mobility aid. One is permanently laying down in a sofa or bed. And the other gentleman would would drag himself sitting down, across everywhere. And that includes outside. And they are in the 20s and 30s, and never had a mobility aid. Introduced them to the Center for Independent Living, since they have been going to different services to be able to acquire mobility aids that fit their needs and learn how to use them because nobody taught them all this time. And it demonstrates that not only are people with disabilities impacted by disasters, but many of us our readiness, right? They didn't have mobility aids, if they needed to evacuate, it would have been more difficult. At the time, we gave them an option if they wanted to relocate to the United States with some supports. And I started with the name of the town, Cialitos, they're like, "We live in heaven, we look out our window, and we see heaven, I don't want to move from here." So recognizing where people live and finding ways to support them where they are and enhance their resiliency. And if that means increasing their independence through mobility aids, meditative devices, assistive devices, it's something that emergency medicine needs to take into account.

Anita Rao 22:11
I want to bring Daphne Frias back into this part of the conversation. And Daphne, we're talking about these kinds of systemic ways in which disaster management plans are not keeping the needs of disabled folks in mind. And I'm curious about your experience kind of being in the room at spaces where conversations around climate are happening and how much you see the needs of disabled folks coming up in those spaces. You went to the COP26 Summit I know in 2021, you've had other experiences. Tell me a little bit about what you've noticed in those spaces.

Daphne Frias 22:50
Sure. And as you mentioned I was at COP26. And recently, this past December, I was at COP29 in Dubai. And it is the annual UN convening that happens to bring the world together to create equitable climate solutions. And that's where the Paris Agreement came out of. And in these conferences, especially at COP, you are meeting with people who are really calling the shots within their local governments. And oftentimes, in these conversations, disability is not even uttered. And at COP29, I had the privilege of meeting the Secretary General of the UN, and I was the only physically disabled young activist in the room with about maybe 20, 30 other activists. And I had the ability to present to His Excellency something called the Global Youth Stocktake, which is a report put out by young people within the UN, creating a set of guidelines for what my generation hopes the future of climate action looks like and what we're expecting out of the UN. And in helping to formalize the statement. It was the first time that disability was included in such a way. But then there are the physical reminders of our sort of acceptance into this space. When I got to Dubai after being assured that accessibility would be paramount — the president of COP29 declared this the most inclusive COP ever — the first day I arrived on site, I waited four hours for an accessible cab to bring me back to my hotel.

Anita Rao 24:55

Daphne Frias 24:56
So it's not just enough to have us included in the rooms, in the conversation. But if we can't even get to the conversation or physically be able to partake without barriers to getting there or, or leaving, is that really disability inclusion or disability justice?

Anita Rao 25:17
Germán, so there are some existing systems and structures for supporting disabled folks during emergencies. And you've seen some of those operate in real time. One example of that is government registry. City and county emergency management agencies maintain these voluntary registries for people with disabilities to self-identify to receive assistance during emergencies and disasters. How effective have those been in the disaster recovery efforts you've been a part of?

Germán Parodi 25:46
It depends widely. Florida is the only state with a mandatory, quote, special needs registry. And it has an active system to support it. We at the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, where I'm the co-executive director, do not support segregated services. But as you mentioned, across the country, many governments think that this is a practical solution. Without all that it comes with, they just make a list. And they put it in a drawer. How usable is that list during a catastrophic disaster? Very little, if it's not well implemented with community input and collaboration, ongoing, kept up and understanding its flaws. Understanding that people with disabilities are not always at their homes. Coming a disaster, they may evacuate to a friend's house or somewhere else. And they don't account for real life changes. So they cannot be relied on actively during disasters.

Anita Rao 26:58
I would love to talk a little bit about each of your philosophies and approaches to activism. Daphne, I know in 2022, you were diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma, and it was a long road for you to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. But that experience has really shaped your philosophy about how you want to be an activist moving forward, could you share some of that with us?

Daphne Frias 27:25
Sure. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this journey. Something that I really realized when I got sick was that I was working within movement work in a very unsustainable way, in where I often preached about rest and self-care, but I was not taking my own advice, which I think many of us can be guilty of. And it wasn't until I was physically forced to rest, physically forced to heal and recover, that I had to reevaluate how I would reintegrate back into this work and continue to go forward in a way that allowed me to do the work that I love, but also listen to my body. I was always of the sort of primary belief that if I wasn't physically there, at a march, rally, protests, etc. — if I wasn't like, absolutely exhausted, then I didn't have something concrete to show for my work. And then when I got diagnosed with cancer, and chemo said, "Listen, you're just staying in bed. You're not going anywhere," it was very clear that I still had a massive desire to be part of the conversation around disability justice, around the climate and other things. But I had to do that in a really different way. So a lot of these virtual forums that allow disabled folks to continue to be part of conversations, meetings and important gatherings, they need to maintain, they need to still be part of our infrastructure, because this allows for equity and access for all voices. And I have benefited tremendously and continue to still work in this hybrid fashion where I show up when I can but know that I have other ways of utilizing my voice.

Anita Rao 29:24
Germán I'd love to end with you talking about a similar thing. I know in climate activism, there is a lot of language of urgency, which can lead to anxiety and, and burnout and you're doing work that kind of targets such a wide range of things. Your organization is proposing legislation to help better outcomes for disabled folks, you run a hotline where you're answering things in real time, you're balancing kind of personal assistance and systemic change. How do you manage this, I guess, manage against burnout and manage these questions of urgency in your own life?

Germán Parodi 30:00
Thank you. And as Daphne said, it's hard to find that sweet spot, if you will. But sustainability, as one of the disability justice principles, it is first, having it in mind that self-care, self-investment is critically important. It's vital for our own ability to interact with the world as we best want to. One, having a great team, right? I don't, I don't do all these activities that you mentioned by myself, and having a support network that can support me in my needs and respects my decision-making and preparing in case when a disaster happens — having a support network that you build and trust can make the difference.

Anita Rao 31:07
Radical rest and a commitment to collaboration are two of the core tenets of Germán and Daphne's activism. Just ahead we'll meet a scholar who's documenting this kind of wisdom in a public archive and hear her ideas about how folks with disabilities could shape the future of climate activism. We'll get to that in just a moment.

I'm Anita Rao and you're listening to Embodied, a show about sex, relationships and health that takes on the taboo. People with disabilities navigate a world that was not designed with them in mind. As a result, scholar and activist Julia Watts Belser calls disability a masterclass in adaptation. From these adaptations, disabled folks have cultivated years of wisdom that can be applied to our changing warming planet. Julia has been chronicling this wisdom and the lived experiences of disabled people during climate change in a public archive supported by Georgetown University. And Julia is with me now. Hey Julia, welcome to embodied.

Julia Watts Belser 32:14
Hi, thanks so much for having me, Anita.

Anita Rao 32:16
So I'd love to start with a personal experience you had last year that I think sits at this intersection of disability and climate that we've been talking about. In 2023, there were a record-breaking number of large wildfires in Canada and the effects of that were felt all along the East Coast where you live. Tell me about your personal experience of those effects.

Julia Watts Belser 32:37
Absolutely. You know, last summer, when that Canadian wildfire smoke rolled down the East Coast and across the Midwest, it led to really dangerous air quality. And I felt it intensely, in large part because of my disability. I remember so vividly rolling outside — I'm a wheelchair user — I rolled outside at one moment and I suddenly couldn't breathe. It just makes so visceral, so immediate, the recognition that is really at the heart of the work I do around disability and climate change, this sense that disabled folks are disproportionately affected by environmental and climate harms. And it gives me a strong sense of personal and political urgency around these questions.

Anita Rao 33:35
You mentioned that you are a wheelchair user and you've been using a wheelchair for a couple of decades. And in some ways this experience for you has brought you into a closer relationship with land and the earth. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

Julia Watts Belser 33:50
Sure, absolutely. You know, I've always had a disability, I was born with a disability but I, I walked as a child with a kind of distinctive limp. And when my disability changed quite suddenly when I was in my 20s, and I began using a wheelchair, one of my fears was that I would lose access to the outside. That I'd lose the kind of closeness with nature. That was a huge, huge part of my life and my love, it's a deep part also of my own spiritual life. But it's actually been quite the opposite. I have found so many ways that my experience as a wheelchair user can intensify, heighten, add a sort of intimacy to my sense of relationship to, to land. Every time my wheelchair wheels strike a root, or a uneven piece of pavement, it feels like a connection, a reminder that I live close to this earth, intimately close.

Anita Rao 34:59
So you have been working for a few years to develop an archive of the work of disabled activists and artists that chronicles both the disproportionate harm that disabled folks experience in the climate crisis and lifts up the ways disabled folks are navigating that. And I want to talk to you about both of those components. But I'd first love to know if there are any examples of this disproportionate impact that we haven't examined so far in the conversation that you want to highlight?

Julia Watts Belser 35:26
Sure, I mean, I think that one of the things I really think about is the way that disabled people's experiences of every day chronic crisis intensify our risk during extreme weather, during climate change, during storms. I'll tell a story that appears in the archive. It's from a conversation that I had with Maria Palacios, disability activist and wheelchair user in Houston, Texas, who lived through the Texas winter storms. She talks about being at a training on emergency preparedness where some man in a three-piece suit was asking, you know, "Are you prepared? Do you have extra food set aside? Do you have this? Do you have that?" And I remember so vividly her outrage and her frustration. She said, "Emergency food? Like, what bill do I not pay in order to buy emergency food? How are people supposed to stock emergency food in case of a storm, if they can barely afford to put food on the table on an ordinary day?" I think that's one of the insights that's really come clear to me as I've worked with the disability climate change archive, that when we really want to work on climate justice and environmental justice, we have to address the poverty and the precariousness that disabled people face during ordinary times.

Anita Rao 37:00
So you acknowledge that there are particular vulnerabilities that disabled folks experience as a result of the climate crisis, but you're really careful to not frame environmental conversations in a way that it makes it seem like the outcomes for disabled folks are inevitable or expected, this is just going to happen, this is the way it is. Can you explain the nuance there and how you push back against that narrative that sometimes shows up in the climate movement?

Julia Watts Belser 37:28
Absolutely. I'll tell a story that really crystallizes this problem for me. I was giving a talk about disabled people's risk during climate change, especially focusing on climate intensified weather disasters, hurricanes, floods, storms. And during the Q & A, somebody said, you know, "This is all really terrible. But you know, some people just aren't cut out to survive." It just, it hit me so hard. I felt outraged. But I also felt like that moment named a dynamic that we see all too often: the assumption that the real problem here is disability. And I want to reject that. We cannot treat disabled people as expected losses in the climate crisis. Because when we do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want us to pay more attention to the way that social inequality and ableism intensifies the harm that disabled people face. Daphne spoke really powerfully about the way that many disabled people face more risk from extreme heat. And I think that's a great example because of course, we can see that some of that heat vulnerability is biophysical. But heat vulnerability is also a story about social inequality: who has air conditioning at home, and who ends up sleeping in their car or living on their street? Who can afford to turn down the thermostat? And who has to take the bus across town to like, make it to a cooling station? When we focus on those questions, we help to see the way that politically, socially, we can change those dynamics of social inequality. That's what I want us to do.

Anita Rao 39:26
I want to ask you about climate anxiety. It has been a growing conversation in the past few years, more and more people are opening up about just how debilitating some of their anxiety around the climate is. How do you personally manage your anxiety and fear about the climate with your desire for activism on a day-to-day basis?

Julia Watts Belser 39:49
You know, I find that for me, one of the most powerful ways to navigate my own sense of loss, grief, anxiety and fear is to ground myself in the activist work, the commitments that people are making day in and day out to show up for each other. I think that a lot of our dominant cultural scripts about grief or anxiety involve trying to push it back. To me, it makes a lot of sense to think about turning toward grief. I believe we deserve space to hold grief and sorrow alongside other emotions. It's a kind of spiritual practice for me, actually, this noticing that grief and anxiety can actually coexist with beauty, with hope. One of the things that's been so powerful for me is hearing from other disabled folks the way we are committing to building a world where we matter, our lives matter.

Anita Rao 41:10
I want to talk with you about some of the threads that you've been able to pull from these conversations with disabled folks about their experiences with climate change. There's not a lot of data that we have on disability and environmental justice research. We've mentioned a few statistics throughout the course of this conversation that people with disabilities are at a higher risk of injury or death in natural disasters. Mortality rates are two to four times higher. What are some of the questions that you are most eager to see folks focus on and get data about that come up often in your conversations?

Julia Watts Belser 41:48
Yeah, one of the things that I'd really love to see us focus more on is the underlying realities of structural violence. A lot of times disabled people die or are injured in the aftermath of disaster because no one planned for our survival. Because shelters are so often inaccessible. Because evacuation plans assume that everyone has a personal car and a robust bank account. Because accessible transportation systems are strained and understaffed, even in ordinary moments, right? How are those underfunded under-supported systems supposed to manage when there's a crisis? We need a deep set of public investment in support for disabled people on the regular. And I want to see that as part of how we also think about building more robust systems of resilience for climate change, as well.

Anita Rao 43:01
I would love to end on this thread of wisdom that disabled activists in the climate space have brought to the climate movement. We heard Germán talk earlier about reframing and reorienting around this idea of urgency. I'm curious for you about how you've seen disability culture offer reframes and shifts for the climate activist movement.

Julia Watts Belser 43:28
Yeah, this is a place where I think disability culture has so much wisdom to offer, particularly in its recognition that it's important to honor people who move at a different pace. And we live in a world that has been really shaped by a kind of hyper-productivity culture that says our basic value as people is defined by our ability to, to labor, to produce and to earn. And one of the things I value so much about disability culture, is that it has taught me to see through those lies. I see this recognition, also as having powerful ecological implications. We live in what I sometimes call a take and burn culture, right? The world's always saying, "Go Go, go, do more, do more, do more, burn more."

Anita Rao 44:24

Julia Watts Belser 44:25
And I see that as one of the causes of climate crisis — we don't know how to hit the brakes. And for me, one of the most powerful insights emerging out of disability culture is the sense that a slower, gentler, quieter life can also be really beautiful.

Anita Rao 44:55
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast, consider a contribution at now. Special thanks to Aine Kelly-Costello, Michael Stein and Sébastien Jodoin for their contributions to today's episode. We appreciate you.

I want to close today with a poem from artists Naomi Ortiz, a frequent contributor to Julia's disability and climate change public archive. Naomi's poem called "Nature Defined" explores her relationship to nature, and what would happen if we embraced the land. This is Naomi's poem, "Nature Defined."

Naomi Ortiz 45:40
Nature is in the edges between this world and the next
ICU breathing tube, feeding tube
where I hold her arm around oven-mitt-padded hands
to not disturb the steady beat of interventions fueling

At the edge of the parking lot
a plastic bottle rolls off wind’s tongue
I get to know nature from the formerly unnoticed
cusp of human dominated and wild

She surprises me outside my door
baby mesquite tree shades ants pillaging our bounty
orange sunset pink clouds, golden peach bloom into

She reminds me how to push on, births dawn
pale light outlines bed
bookshelf holds tattered journals, pictures of mi familia,
all my earrings
and my love, a sheet-draped hip silhouette
sprawled long length toe dip off the mattress

Nature sits with us at the old wooden table
drinking ginger beer and rum with lime
pricks my skin with splinters of laughter
venting the day to make space for tomorrow

I offer nature tribute
for quail, rabbits, javelinas, ancestors

Nature responds with jokes in the form of sweat
which drips, drips
curls down spine
laces neck with grime
keeps me cool but cranky as I wait to pick my niece up
from work

Nature puckers in the still air between strangers
clustered behind bus stop shade slats
waiting out baby wail cacophony
with patience somehow found in reserve
Help a young mother carry on the stroller

Nature is in the relationship of one living thing with
she recognizes my scent
nuzzles my chest when I roll out
onto dirt road, scooter propelled
Cacti, creosote, brittlebush, red and gray rocks

She welcomes me with open sky

Anita Rao 48:21
That's artist Naomi Ortiz reading her poem "Nature Defined." It's one from her book "Rituals for Climate Change: A Crip Struggle for Ecojustice."

This episode is produced by Paige Miranda and edited by Amanda Magnus. Kaia Findlay also produces for our show. Skylar Chadwick is our intern and Jenni Lawson is our technical director. Quilla wrote our theme music.

If you have thoughts after listening to this episode or any other we would love to hear that. Leave us a voicemail in our virtual mailbox SpeakPipe. You can find that link in the show notes of this episode. Another great way to support our show is to send your favorite episode to a friend and make a personal recommendation.

Until next time, I'm Anita Rao, taking on the taboo with you.

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