M Jackson: It’s Thin Where We’re Skating (re-broadcast)

Have you ever noticed that scientists historically are mostly white men? Do you think that this fact has skewed some scientific findings? Well, our guest today on Sea Change Radio has certainly noticed. This week, we speak to glaciologist M Jackson, who’s drawn attention from the right wing for the feminist perspective she applies to her research. We discuss her new book, The Secret Lives of Glaciers, dive into her research, and examine how and why science has been influenced by centuries of white male dominance.

Narrator  0:02  This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.

M. Jackson 0:22 All right, we need to be saying what is the transformation that’s happening? glacier change wildfires, sea level backyards? What is the transformation? How are all of us experiencing this? And what are our commonalities? What are our values? We need to be willing to have a complex conversation about these changes. We need to allow that sometimes someone’s going to be having maybe a short term benefit a full bank account as a perceived sense of safety. Someone might be having a short term negative impact. But regardless, we’re all impacted. And that’s how we move forward when we think about climate change.

Narrator  1:00  Have you ever noticed that scientists historically are mostly white men? Do you think that this fact has skewed some scientific findings? Well, our guest today on sea change radio is certainly noticed. This week we speak to glaciologist M. Jackson, who’s drawn attention from the right wing for the feminist perspective she applies to her research, we discuss her new book, The Secret lives of glaciers dive into her research and examine how and why science has been influenced by centuries of white male dominance.

Alex Wise – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by M. Jackson. She is a National Geographic Explorer, TED fellow and author and her latest book is entitled “The Secret Lives of Glaciers. M, welcome to Sea Change Radio.

M. Jackson – Thank you for having me.

Alex Wise – So this is not your first book correct

M. Jackson 2:15 No, this is my second book. My first book is called “While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in the Time of Climate Change.”

Alex Wise  2:23  So why don’t you explain to us what looking at glaciology through a feminist lens means.

M. Jackson 2:28 So my approach to glaciology which is could be characterized as a feminist approach to glaciology basically looks at existing glaciology and adds and builds. So what we’ve done really well is look at glaciers for the last 100 150 years or so and look at it through a look at glaciers through a physical science lens, we’ve learned a great deal through monitoring and measuring. And looking at ice in that way. The work that I do, adds in a human component. What’s interesting about ice today is that we have glaciers in the Arctic, we have glaciers in Antarctica, we have glaciers all over the world, in the Middle East. In Asia, in North America, we have glaciers in Africa, and everywhere glaciers are located. They’re located in inhabited and historic environments where there are glaciers that are people and the two have been interacting for the entirety of human history, we actually know very little about that. So what I do is take existing glaciological research work that we’ve done really well from the physical sciences, and add in that human component. So if we’re looking at glaciers that are in North America up in Alaska, or glaciers in Africa, or glaciers in Iceland, I start adding in all of those human stories of how people in ice interact together. Because today, with increasing climatic changes happening worldwide, glaciers are one of our most visible manifestations of climate change. When we want to see what happens when climate change increases, we can look at glaciers and we can see how they’re responding to increasing temperatures. And then we can look at the communities that live with ice or near ice, and we can see how they respond to that changing environment. Looking at that together gives us a much better idea of how people worldwide respond to changing environments.

Alex Wise  4:29  And you do that quite well in the book. Maybe you could talk about it. Just as in general, the scientific method where a male dominated gender specific viewpoint has tripped us up and doesn’t necessarily have to be related to glaciology either.

M. Jackson 4:47 Yes, if you look through the history of glaciology, what we typically see is that glaciology has been conducted for a very long time by Western world Men, and we can look up the statistics to support a claim like that. And one of the easiest statistics to look at comes from, say, academic publishing. If we were just to look at, over the last 50 years or so, who’s publishing just looking at the lead authors, we see a predominant number of those lead authors are male. And so and they tend to be from the Western world. But then if you overlaid who’s publishing information about glaciology part if you overlay the information of who’s publishing information about glaciers within the area of glaciology, and then we were to say, take a map of where glaciers are located and where people are researching glaciers, there’s disparity there and inequity there. So we’re not hearing as much from say, non English speaking world, or non Western world, or with women as the pie is or lead authors in just that one lens of looking at glaciology. So we don’t see as much from other places in the world, from women from different languages. Now, you could say, well, maybe, maybe though, maybe women aren’t studying glaciers, maybe there aren’t that there may be there’s not that much glaciological research being done, say, in Africa or in Asia. But there is, but we don’t see that coming up through our academic channels, because there’s a lot of gatekeeping, there’s a lot of really traditional ideas of what is glaciological research and what is not, and who can conduct that. And where that funding comes from glaciological research is really expensive, you have to go out and put your boots on the ground in some really remote places that are very expensive. Who gets that funding, who doesn’t get that funding? Again, you can look up those statistics and numbers. And if you read one of my academic papers that are co published with a team of other researchers, you could actually look at some of those statistics and numbers and we can see a clear trend that there is not as much representation in glaciology as there could be. And so what we do look through and see is that there is a history of marginalization, there’s a history of gatekeeping there’s a history of very clear idea of who can go and do what types of research and who cannot. I think some clear examples come from Antarctica, about who’s old who was allowed to go to Antarctica, and who was not. If you look at different ways that glaciers can be known. And then you look at them and with how we’ve traditionally studied them, we see that there’s a lot of additional ways of knowing ice. And if you’re looking for some hard examples of that, one of the probably the easiest way to think about it is indigenous knowledge is of ice. And that we don’t see indigenous knowledge as of ice often show up in traditional glaciology. I do think that’s changing today, as we hear more and more about that. There’s some really famous examples coming out of Southeast Alaska, Julie Crookshanks work. So indigenous people lived with different glaciers there for a very long time. And they perceive glaciers there to be sentient and alive and interacting with people. And that’s different than say, say a Western scientific model of glaciers that wouldn’t necessarily start or find value in a sentient glacier in what that actually might mean.

Alex Wise  8:26  You know, I was just talking to somebody yesterday who who’d spent 30 something years in Alaska, and we were talking about a lot of these coastal indigenous Inuit towns that are being swept away because of rising sea levels. And these people are just they had no option, you can’t really build very inland in a very harsh climate, you have to be intimately involved in your environment when you’re living in the Arctic. And to be to be able to adapt to seasons is hard enough. But then when you throw in a huge monkey wrench like climate, changing rising seas, your template for populating an area can get thrown out the window.

M. Jackson 9:09 I think it really can be but I also think that there is an inherent power structure to who gets to define how we study something, and whoever gets to define that then gets to control it. And so if someone says the only way that we can study ice is through, say, a monitoring and measuring and predicting approach, so the ice is x, thick, has done X amount of things and will likely either grow or assess X amount. That’s how we study ice. That’s a really clear parameter. And if we did not say include different knowledge, integrations and methodologies that were maybe outside of that monitoring and measuring and predicting parameters, we limit all the different ways you could know ice so aside from an indigenous knowledge person Effective there might even be say, let me think of one. And here’s one that really kind of pushes back is visual in literary art representation of ice. So how artists engage with glaciers, which then depicts how glaciers show up in, in social myths in society, in meaning making, in how people respond and articulate how something changes. If we don’t look at that, and we don’t look at that within a lens of glaciers, we are we’re missing an entire area of knowledge we miss. We miss a society’s emotional response a society’s sense of place a sense of identity, issues of how someone intimately interacts with their environment envisions a future. All of that is just as much a part of studying ice as that monitoring, measuring and predicting that traditional glaciology approach, none of those things exclude one another or dominate one another. Rather, they’re all part of the same thing. So when I talk about feminist glaciology, I say it’s important to look at that traditional approach, that measuring and monitoring and predicting, but it is just as important to then also include and expand to integrate all these different knowledges whether they are those indigenous knowledges whether they’re artistic knowledges whether they’re sociological knowledge is of ice, the wider our lens, the more inclusive our lens, the better we get a chance to know about ice.

Music Break  11:39

Alex Wise  12:44 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. I’m speaking to glaciologist M. Jackson. Her new book is “The Secret Lives of Glaciers.” So your work has been an area of scrutiny from the right wing where Trump and Anthony Watts noted climate change denialist have latched on to it without digging very deeply into your work and claim that it’s an example of taxpayer waste and which is hogwash, because you got NSF grants for this, this is not a taxpayer funded thing. And it doesn’t sound like they did dug very deeply into understanding what your work is all about. For our listeners who aren’t familiar with the backlash that some of your work engendered within the right wing. Can you give us a little recap, please?

M. Jackson 13:38 Yeah, I don’t know. I have dedicated a lot of thought to why it is to who it is that is would send me hateful emails or send me hateful, really anything who invests that kind of time, and, and why pretty niche work. I mean, I study glaciers and people in pretty remote places around the world, I’m trying to understand what’s happening is our ice melts. And given all of that it’s hard to understand the level of, of pushback that occurs. And the type of pushback that then kind of encourages someone to send a lot of hate mail or our so I receive a lot of harassment, why all of this is. And I think it just speaks to the much larger thing, which is, climate change is scary, the way we live our world in our world today, the way we live, isn’t working. We’re going to have to change a lot of different levels. And especially from a societal level. And I think that that change is terrifying to a lot of people. And so the way that they can kind of respond to that change is by pushing back and they push back at the messenger. And so that’s the that’s the only thing I can think of for why this occurs or the other ones Which is probably going to get me in a lot more trouble. I do think that inherently I get this level of harassment, because of power because of the masculine society that we live in. I’m, if you were to kind of look at it from their viewpoint, I’m out of my lane, I am saying let’s look at an area of science in a different way. And let’s be inclusive. And let’s look at this from a range of really messy, really complex, not neatly categorizable frames. And I think people that have a lot of invested interest in keeping the status quo to defining what is and is not something, I think they can push back and they can harass me, they can discredit me, they can take away my message, because it keeps things safe and knowable in a box. And it’s easier to attack me than it is to attack, say these larger issues of climatic changes. And really, it’s easier not even just to attack my work, it’s easier than just to go for the low hanging fruit and attack my gender and to attack who I am and what I am. That’s all easy to do. And then that keeps us continuing along in a real strong way.

Alex Wise  16:15  Sure, if you if you don’t believe in science, to begin with, what’s an easier target than something that’s a narrow area of a scientific field so you can see how that’s an easy target.

M. Jackson 16:28 For me, it’s so it is so easy to say. feminist glaciology is ridiculous. And nobody would ever really look beyond that. I gave a TED talk a while ago looking at feminist glaciology. And I gave an example from that talk that looked at a place at the intersection of the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. In Pakistan, where local people villagers for very long time had identified different glaciers as male and female. And the reason they did this is that these people, they bred glaciers, they married different glaciers together, and they produced artificial glaciers, they made brand new, entirely domesticated glaciers, our language kind of fails here. It’s hard to talk through this stuff, because it’s, you have to kind of stop yourself and say, what, what is actually going on here. But the takeaway is that in this one place these people really define defied scientific understanding of ice, and they made their own glaciers. And they made their own glaciers for a range of reasons to control water, for irrigation for potentially to get across the different landscapes. They also their oral stories say that they’ve made these glaciers to fill Valley walls. So that again, guest cons readers could not come through this area. And you can look at a story like that and say, well, that’s indigenous knowledge of glaciers. Why does that matter? But then you can fast forward to today in places where we have increasing climatic changes, and issues with drought, or issues where the rainy season doesn’t come as regular as it could be. And now these places are making artificial glaciers. They’re using this indigenous technology, and they’re making brand new glaciers. And they’re using them to be able to control water for these. That’s the bumper season from when the dry season ends and the wet season begins. So we can look at this kind of stuff and you can it’s so many levels, dismiss it. But if we pay attention here, we can actually look at really amazing technologies that help us move into a more sustainable future.

(Music Break)  18:40

Alex Wise  19:41  This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. I’m speaking to M Jackson. She’s a glaciologist and her new book is the secret lives of glaciers. So and let me read you a piece from your first chapter where you say quote, I believe that in order for all of us to realistically move forward with needed mitigation adaptation and transformation strategies to engage with our rapidly changing world. And to get diverse peoples worldwide to understand climatic changes and participate, it’s critical to begin paying attention to the complex stories people tell about their changing environments. So why don’t you give us an example of some of these stories that kind of lit a fire under you and motivated you to write this book?

M. Jackson 20:24 Yeah, so I love I love thinking about glaciers, because they’re these wonderful lens to think about all the different climatic changes out there, whether they’re, we’re talking the big ones, with sea level change, and wildfires are we’re talking about the little changes, your garden comes in a little bit earlier, you have a different bird in your backyard. Glaciers really help us think about that. And one of the things I think glaciers really help us think about is that we often have a value based conversation about climate change, we often have a solely negative value based conversation. So we say climatic changes are happening. And they’re bad, really simplified, really reductionist, but we tend to have that type of conversation. And I think when we do that, we tend to exclude huge amounts of people and huge amount of experiences. Let me give you an example of what I actually mean by that. In Iceland, as this book, “The Secret Lives of Glaciers” details, there are different responses to the melting ice that’s there. We know all the glaciers on the south coast of Iceland are melting, they’re all melting at different rates and in different ways, responding to climatic changes, and just as they are diversity responding so to the people. So some people, they look at the melting ice there and they say, Can you still be Icelandic? If you don’t have ice in Iceland? What does this mean for my identity as a person, you have other people, older Icelanders living on the south coast, who say, I look at the ice melting, it is the very best thing, because they have grown up with these stories of glaciers surging forward and destroying their farms and families and futures for hundreds of years. So they look at the ice melting and they see safety for the very first time. I talked to fishermen who look at the ice melting, and they say economic instability is coming. Because as the ice melts, the land rises at something called isostatic rebound. Imagine in your hand a sponge, press that sponge down, when you take your hand away, that sponge it springs back up. And so on the south coast of Iceland, the ice has been pressing the land down now that the ice is melting, the land is springing back up. But that does mean that that one harbor on the south coast that all the fishing boats are coming in and out of that harbor is getting shallower and shallower. And soon the boats are really going to be in effects trying to get in and out of that. So fishermen they say this is the worst thing that could happen. Or a last example, I talked to tourism operators. People from all over the world are coming to Iceland to the south coast to see the ice before it’s gone. Last Chance tourism to see the sights. And so suddenly, just in the last five, six years, people living on the south coast, they’re looking at bank accounts that are filling up their opening restaurants and hotels and guiding businesses and they’ve got all this economic stability, because the ice is melting. So you have these four different stories, these four different responses to the same thing, this diversity of value that’s happening. And I think if you looked at say a wildfire, you looked at sea level rise, or you looked at a garden coming in earlier or any other climatic change. What we can connect together all through that is that people are going to have different responses based on times and scales and geographies to all these different experiences of climate change. And that’s the conversation that we need to be having not whether a change is good or bad because that’s too dependent on an individual, you’ll ask five Icelanders on the south coast. Is glacier change, good or bad? You’re gonna get five different answers. No one’s surprised at this. Instead, we need to be saying what is the transformation that’s happening? the glacier change wildfires, sea level backyards? What is the transformation? How are all of us experiencing this? And what are our commonalities, what are our values, we need to be willing to have a complex conversation about these changes, we need to allow that sometimes someone’s going to be having maybe a short term benefit a full bank account as a perceived sense of safety. Someone might be having a short term negative impact. But regardless, we’re all impacted. And that’s how we move forward. When we think about climate change. That’s what this book really clearly in lots of detail walks us through is all the different stories of how a single change just changing glaciers shows up in all these diverse ways. Just like any of us living anywhere in the world, any of the changes we experienced where we live, we’re all gonna have diverse experiences of that change. what unites us, though, is that we’re all having that change together.

Alex Wise  25:15  And a lot of times we hear 995 of 998  scientists agree that climate change is happening. And we lumped scientists together. And it’s an important reminder that there’s so many different aspects of the work that you and your colleagues do. I’d never thought of this quote, this way. But Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue is the intro quote, and you say, “we always did feel the same. We just saw it from a different point of view, tangled up in blue.” Explain why you decided to use that.

M. Jackson 25:48 I chose, and I am so grateful to be allowed to use Bob Dylan’s quote here. And it stems actually from my very first book that I wrote, being human in a time of climate change while glacier slept. When I was writing that book, I was just learning about glaciers. And I was learning about the physical science of glaciers. And right about that time, I was learning about that, that physical science of ice, both of my parents were diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they both passed away. And so I was learning from a science lens about what was happening to our physical landscape while I was experiencing a profound change in my human landscape, my family, my life. And I found that the language that we were using was really similar whether you were in the physical sciences or in the social sciences, or whether you were having conversation over coffee with friends. The way we describe our lived experiences, all works, and my parents, they were both a dyed in the wool hippies. I grew up with Bob Dylan. And so listening to Bob Dylan, while I’m trying to understand the physical dimensions of ice, listening to Bob Dylan, I’m trying to understand the changing dimensions of my family. It just it really echoed as I was writing that very first book. And so I wanted to honor that. As I wrote the secret lives of glaciers. I wanted to show that we’re all going to see this thing this ice, but we’re all going to see it from so many different ways. And that’s okay.

Alex Wise  27:26  M. Jackson, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio. Thank you for having me.

Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our Intro Music is by Sanford Lewis and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by King Curtis, Aretha Franklin and Pink Floyd. Check out our website at seachangeradio.com to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there to hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken, and many others. and tune in to Sea Change Radio next week, as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.