Watch These Young Spoken-Word Poets Take On Climate Change
By Courtney Lindwall
Across the world, tens of thousands of young people are taking to the streets to protest climate inaction. And at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem last month, more than a dozen of them took to the stage.
On the final night of Climate Speaks, New York City's Climate Museum put on a spoken-word poetry performance where high school students from across the city came to describe, in rhythm and rhyme, a rapidly warming planet to a packed house.
As the finalists of a lengthy audition process, the poets came prepared for a war of words: Since March, the students had been busy writing, rewriting, rehearsing, and receiving coaching from pros like slam poet Darian Dauchan on everything from hand gestures to intonation to pacing.
"We had to get all the words right, but we also had to make sure to know who we were speaking to. That matters a lot because it guides what expressions you choose," said Jenny Gomez, who just graduated from Brooklyn's Northside Charter High School. "When I was hopeful, I thought of [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez. When I was angry, I thought of [Donald] Trump." Gomez said she imagined that the president was sitting in the audience and that she was speaking directly to him.
The performances felt like a real-time reckoning — by a generation still coming to terms with a catastrophe that it did not create. "At its heart, the show was expressing the single greatest injustice of the climate crisis," said Miranda Massie, director of the Climate Museum, of the plight of the world's children. "Even if you were not aware of it in every moment, it was in the room."
Many of the poems were rife with grief, mourning everything from "once-colorful corals" to future daughters who will inherit an unlivable planet, and even the poets' own childhoods. In her poem on fleeing extreme storms, Katie Lu reflected, "My parents could only bring one suitcase, so my youth and responsibility could not both fit."
Others bluntly assigned blame, calling out polluting corporations by name, the governments that enable them, and the greenhouse gases themselves.
"It is then that I realize that I have no seat at this table. That I am invisible," stated Andreas Psahos, whose poem, "Corporate Round Table," spoke directly to the executives who have knowingly chosen profits over the planet's health. "That company men have no business making this earth hospitable or making the water more drinkable or making life more livable. Despicable. Criminal. Predictable."
Eliza Schiff, who just graduated from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, also pointed a finger. "A band played along as the Titanic went down, a sad and mournful tune as hope ran aground. Now our ship is sinking, our world is burning, our cities languish as they gasp for air. But who is dancing to this melody?" Schiff asked. "Is it you, Charles and David Koch, who sit behind a desk in an office, holding back the remedy?"
Still, some of the poets offered hope.
"Big problems are made up of little ones, and solutions are the same way," recited Jordan Sanchez, who recently graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and is heading to Harvard in the fall. "They start in this room, and end under the sunlight of a new day."
To vie for a place in the final performance, the poets attended a Climate Museum workshop in the spring — a chance to learn more about the intersection of climate change, social justice, and the arts from expert performers. From there, the students submitted their own spoken-word pieces — many of them were taking on the medium for the first time — and hoped to beat out dozens of others for a chance to perform on the hallowed Apollo stage.
"Young people do know about this issue," Gomez said of her generation. "They're educated about it from their teachers and friends, but what they need is inspiration and support."
The Climate Museum's Massie and the Climate Speaks team provided just that. "In the end, what was striking to me was the variety of voices and themes in the final performance," Massie said. "We were careful not to sand that down or workshop that away. All we really did was give the performers room to create, with some support where they needed it. It was self-guided."
Massie remembers how profound it was to watch these young activist poets learn about and begin to address something people of all generations are grappling with. "We all, every day, more deeply absorb the extent of the crisis and what it means. There's no final wrapping of one's head around it, of that I'm confident. Not even a 50-year-old climatologist fully embraces the extent of this crisis."
Some students, like Jade Lozada, a senior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, learned about climate change in depth for the first time during the Climate Speaks process. Now she considers herself a climate activist, aligned with a growing movement of young demonstrators led by Swedish superstar Greta Thunberg, whose weekly school strikes for climate action outside the Swedish parliament have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
"This never was a one-person job," read Lozada from her piece, titled "Baby Girls." "Now we're relying on a 16-year-old across the world to lead the mob." In the fall, Lozada said, she plans to join the Friday strikes alongside Thunberg and others.
The students hope their words will move the audience to action too. At the end of the event, each performer took the mic to offer a tangible next step: Vote on climate, ride a bike, go solar, they suggested. And perhaps most important: Speak out.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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