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Eric Magrane - CLIMAS Climate & Society Fellow | CLIMAS

Eric Magrane - CLIMAS Climate & Society Fellow

Monday, November 16, 2015

Eric Magrane is a 2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow.  He and the other graduate fellows (C. Greene, V. Rountree, & B. Thapa) will present the results of their fellowship work on Friday Nov 20, at 10:30 a.m., in ENR2, Room 604.


Climate Change and Poetry

At the September 2014 United Nations Climate Summit in New York, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the Marshall Islands, performed a poem dedicated to her young daughter. The poem speaks of hope for the future in the midst of sea level rise for a homeland—standing just two meters above sea level—that is on the frontlines of climate change: 

no one’s drowning, baby
no one’s moving
no one’s losing
their homeland
no one’s gonna become
a climate change refugee

or should i say
no one else


As both a poet and a geographer, I think a lot about the work that poems like this do. Can poets and artists help us find ways forward in a changing world?

From planned arts events at the upcoming international climate conference in Paris to ongoing poetry forums in response to tragedies such as the gulf oil disaster—as just two examples—poets and artists are engaging in a vibrant and diverse response to climate change.

The poetic response to climate change will be the topic of an upcoming community course that I’m teaching for the University of Arizona Poetry Center this fall. In the course, we’ll read poetry and think about climate change. We’ll discuss how poems may reflect or complicate different ways of understanding the issue.  As I wrote in the course description, by blending readings of poetry with social and scientific readings of climate change, we’ll learn more about environmental poetry and about climate change, and we’ll think about how poetry and creativity may have a role in adapting to a warming world.

There is not one climate change; rather, there are many climate changes. This refers to both the physical science—the awareness that different regions will see different effects—as well as to the social perception of climate change. Alternate frames place it, for example, as an environmental justice issue, a national and global security issue, or an opportunity for social change. As recent provocative books and no less than the Pope have pointed out, climate change calls capitalism itself into question.

I believe that poems can help us to perceive these different frames of climate change in fresh and imaginative ways. Much like CLIMAS is a “boundary organization,” one that helps to bring together researchers with decision makers around climate change and its impacts in the southwest, poems can be “boundary objects” that help illuminate the issue. I think about the ending of my own poem, “Mesquite,” which imagines what the deep taproot of a mesquite tree might have to say to a room full of humans:

And I say, I will be ready
if the drought comes.

And I say, go deep
into the Earth.

And I say, go deep
into yourself, go deep
and be ready.

As climate change is projected to bring increased drought and wildfires to the southwest, the poem is a way into thinking about adaptation and resilience. In fact, I’m imagining the Climate Change & Poetry course itself in a similar way: as adaptive practice and experimentation in both communicating and re-imagining the ways that we approach climate change.

The Climate Change & Poetry course at the University of Arizona Poetry Center began on September 28 and continued through November 9. Sixty percent of course fees will be donated to Watershed Management Group, a local environmental nonprofit.


Eric Magrane is a 2015 CLIMAS Climate & Society Graduate Fellow, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Geography & Development, and Graduate Research Associate in the Institute of the Environment.

His poem “Mesquite” will be in The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, forthcoming from The University of Arizona Press. See the full poem here.