Pandemic as Portal

wooden sculpture on grass with a spherical opening on either side and a bench in the middle

Pandemic as Portal: Creating a Just Future on Earth | 2021

In late 2020, as the pandemic pressed on, our democracy was challenged, and unprecedented fires and floods devastated communities around the world, it felt clear that we wouldn't be returning to "normal" life. So much of what we held dear was threatened—a livable planet, our health, hard-fought progress toward social and environmental justice. There was a lot to mourn in the unfolding wake of the pandemic, yet there were also great opportunities and choices.

Arundhati Roy imagined this time as a portal. She wrote:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
(Financial Times, April 3, 2020)

As the world reconfigured, we invited visionary thinkers to imagine the world anew. Starting in January 2021, Spring Creek Project hosted a nine-week virtual lecture series, “Pandemic as Portal: Creating a Just Future on Earth,” in partnership with the Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative at Oregon State University.

The speakers in this series come from many perspectives, from writing, philosophy and history to architecture, music and filmmaking. Each speaker explored their highest vision of environmental and social justice, thought about the crucial steps we can take as individuals and communities to bring that vision to life, and shared stories of how this new paradigm is already taking shape.

The series explored questions like: If the pandemic is a portal between two worlds, what ideas do we need to carry over the threshold to build a just society? How can we seize this moment, even as we grieve, to reimagine a world that is deeply rooted in environmental and social justice? What principles and stories will guide us? How might the natural world be a source of courage and inspiration for the long journey ahead?

The talks were broadcast live on Zoom on Tuesday evenings from January 12 to March 9, 2021. The series was free and open to the public. The lecture series was also part of a class at Oregon State University. Students spent additional time talking with the speakers, learning about various methods of inquiry in the environmental arts and humanities, and doing the creative and scholarly work of imagining projects that lie at the intersection of environmental and social justice.

All of the lectures were recorded and can be viewed at the links provided below.

Kim Stanley Robinson headshot
Erin Moore headshot
J Drew Lanham headshot
Mazin Jamal headshot
KJ Song headshot
Michael P Nelson headshot
Elizabeth Sawin headshot
Bathsheba Demuth headshot

Pandemic as Portal Lectures

Kim Stanley Robinson
"Some Lessons from the Pandemic for Dealing with Climate Change"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, the Anarres Project for Alternative Futures, the Corvallis Public Library and Grass Roots Books & Music

Erin Moore
"Design and Resistance: Pipeline Portals"
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Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative and OSU's Office of Sustainability

J. Drew Lanham
"Coloring the Conservation Conversation"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, the Corvallis Public Library, the Corvallis Audubon Society, Greenbelt Land Trust and the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition

Mazin Jamal and KJ Song
"Let Me Be a Good Ancestor: Rooting Social and Environmental Justice in Song and Spirit"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative

Michael Paul Nelson
"Welcome to the Center for the Study of an Uncertain Future: A Tour"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative

Elizabeth Sawin
"Multisolving Our Way Forward: COVID-19, Health, Justice, and Climate Protection"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative

Bathsheba Demuth
"Portrait of a Summer on Fire: Covid, Climate Change, and the Ties that Bind Us"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, the Corvallis Public Library and Grass Roots Books & Music

Vanessa Raditz
"Queer Resilience in the Era of Climate Change"
Watch this lecture
Co-sponsored by OSU's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative, the Corvallis Public Library and Greenbelt Land Trust

Learn More About the Speakers

Bathsheba Demuth is an Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society at Brown University. An environmental historian, she specializes in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. Her interest in northern environments and cultures began when she was 18 and moved to the village of Old Crow in the Yukon. For over two years, she mushed huskies, hunted caribou, fished for salmon and otherwise learned to survive in the taiga and tundra. Her prize-winning first book, “Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait” (W.W. Norton) was named a Nature Top Ten Book of 2019 and Best Book of 2019 by NPR, Barnes and Noble, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal among others. A 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, Demuth is starting work on her second book, a biography of the Yukon River watershed from colonization to climate change. From the archive to the dog sled, she is interested in how the histories of people, ideas, places and other-than-human species intersect. Her writing on these subjects has appeared in publications from The American Historical Review to The New Yorker.

Mazin Jamal is a member of Thrive Choir, a diverse group of vocalists, artists, activists, educators, healers and community organizers who join together in big harmony. Members unite to build equitable systems where we can flourish as individuals, as communities and as a planet. Jamal is also the executive director of Holistic Underground, a leadership and organizational development agency for social movements and businesses.

A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, J. Drew Lanham is the author of “The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature,” which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. He is a birder, naturalist and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including Orion, Audubon, Flycatcher, and Wilderness and in several anthologies, including “The Colors of Nature,” “State of the Heart,” “Bartram's Living Legacy,” and “Carolina Writers at Home.” An Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, he and his family live in the Upstate of South Carolina, a soaring hawk's downhill glide from the southern Appalachian escarpment that the Cherokee once called the Blue Wall.

Erin E. Moore is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture and in the Environmental Studies Program and is Head of the School of Architecture and Environment in the College of Design at the University of Oregon. Moore works in teaching, research and creative practice on the life cycle environmental context of building construction and on the ways that buildings shape and reflect cultural constructions of nature. In the face of serious global challenges, Moore believes that it is especially important to develop aggressive, creative innovators who can connect the power of design with good science and rigorous ethical thinking. In her own teaching, Moore works to bring together processes of design and innovation with the science of sustainability in collaborations with chemists, ecologists and biologists.

Michael Paul Nelson is an environmental scholar, writer, teacher, speaker, consultant and professor of environmental ethics and philosophy. He currently holds the Ruth H. Spaniol Endowed Chair of Renewable Resources and serves as the Lead-Principal Investigator for the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Program at Oregon State University. He is also the philosopher in residence of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project in Lake Superior, the longest continuous study of a predator-prey system in the world. Michael's research and teaching focus is environmental ethics and philosophy: from the concept of wilderness to topics in the philosophy of ecology, from hunting ethics to theories of environmental education, from topics in wildlife ecology and conservation biology to questions about science and advocacy and the ecology and politics of wolves. He is the author of many professional and popular articles and the author or editor of four books in and around the area of environmental ethics including: “The Great New Wilderness Debate” (1998), “The Wilderness Debate Rages On: Continuing the Great New Wilderness Debate” (2008), “American Indian Environmental Ethics: An Ojibwa Case Study” (2004) and the award-winning book “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril” (2010) with Kathleen Dean Moore.

Vanessa Raditz (they/them) is a queer cultural geographer, educator and culture-shifter dedicated to community healing, opening access to land and resources and fostering a thriving local economy based on human and ecological resilience. Vanessa is currently the director of the collaborative documentary film “Fire & Flood: Queer Resilience in the era of Climate Change,” rooted in their lived experience of the 2017 fires in Northern California and relationships with queer and trans folks in Puerto Rico. Vanessa received their Master of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley, and currently studies in the Geography PhD program at University of Georgia. Vanessa is part of the founding collective of the Queer Ecojustice Project, educating and organizing at the intersection of ecological justice and queer liberation.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a science fiction writer and winner of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. He is a New York Times bestselling author who has written more than 20 books including, most recently, "The Ministry for the Future." His work often explores ecological themes, and in 2008 he was named one of Time magazine's "Heroes of the Environment." He serves on the board of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and lives in Davis, California.

Elizabeth Sawin is Co-Founder and Co-Director of Climate Interactive and an expert on solutions that address climate change while also improving health, well-being, equity and economic vitality and she is the originator of the term "multisolving" to describe such win-win- win solutions. Beth writes and speaks about multisolving, climate change and leadership based on systems thinking to local, national and international audiences. Her work has been published in Non-Profit Quarterly, The Sandford Social Innovation Review, U.S. News, The Daily Climate, System Dynamics Review and more. She has trained and mentored global sustainability leaders in the Donella Meadows Fellows Program and provided systems thinking training to both Ashoka and Dalai Lama Fellows. Since 2014, Beth has participated in the Council on the Uncertain Human Future, a continuing dialogue on issues of climate change and sustainability among a select group of humanities scholars, writers, artists and climate scientists. Beth is also a member of the advisory board to the Kresge Foundation's Climate Change Health and Equity Program. A biologist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth trained in system dynamics and sustainability with Donella Meadows and worked at Sustainability Institute, the research institute founded by Meadows, for 13 years. Beth has two adult daughters and lives in rural Vermont where she and her husband grow as much of their own food as they can manage.

KJ Song (they/them) is co-artistic director of Thrive Choir, a diverse group of vocalists, artists, activists, educators, healers and community organizers who join together in big harmony. They are also a member of the City of Refuge UCC Praise Ensemble, a radically inclusive ministry of restoration based in Oakland. An avid songcatcher and ceremonial theater creatrix, they are committed to singing in an interconnected culture rooted in joy and justice. Regarded internationally as The Voice Doula, KJ supports facilitators, public speakers and musicians to embody their voices and empower their audiences through sacred vocal work.

Top image: Erin Moore's Pipeline Portals | Photo credit: David Paul Bayles