Issue 41: Winter 2023 ~ The Climate Issue
This issue of Still: The Journal features writing on climate, climate change, and the climate crisis in Appalachia, selected from our recent open call on this theme.
We have always had an interest in work that considers place and the environment, but with the catastrophic flooding in Eastern Kentucky in July 2022 and with temperatures, drought, storms, and fires increasing across our region, we wanted to focus on how climate crisis affects where we live, how we live, and what we write.
Recently, “ClimateWire,” part of E&E News, noted that Appalachia is especially vulnerable to climate change:
The region is the center of a ‘trifecta’ of risk variables. First, Appalachia has historically been a center for fossil fuel production and carbon extraction, through the coal industry and more recently oil and natural gas development. Second, climate change is affecting the region in an outsize way. And finally, the region’s economic situation has made it more difficult to cope with the increasing burden of climate-related disasters. Nicolas Zégre, director of West Virginia University’s Mountain Hydrology Laboratory, said that Appalachia is ‘climate zero.’
Some predictions of climate change forecast Appalachia as a place in peril. One projection by hydrologists indicates a 10-degree increase in temperatures by mid-century with more flooding and more droughts. Other predictions are more hopeful; some believe that the Appalachian Mountains could be a haven against dire climate change. Some experts expect Appalachia might be a more hospitable place to live in the coming century. According to The Nature Conservancy:
[Appalachia’s] verdant forests have a remarkable ability to absorb and store excess carbon—currently storing an estimated 56% of the eastern region’s above-ground carbon, which helps limit warming—while the ancient mountains provide havens of cooler temperatures.
But, like everything, the Apps have a tipping point. Growing threats from urban development, mining, agriculture, unsustainable forestry and fragmentation caused by dams and roads put the region’s public, economic and ecological health at risk. At present, just 26% of this globally important landscape is protected. Climate change further exacerbates these issues. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events are altering and destroying habitats, causing plants and animals to shift their ranges northward and to higher elevations. Nature is on the move and once again seeking refuge in the Appalachians.
Eric Engle, chair of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action group, recently warned us against complacency: “I would caution this being a region that would be mostly exempted from climatic changes. Now, by comparison…relative to other places in the United States and on the North American continent, we may do well here. We may be more habitable than other areas of the country or the continent.”
Engle, however, also expressed concern about how climate change might renew Appalachia’s age-old conundrum of outside interests, exploitation, and gentrification. He said: “In the coming decades we may see people saying we want to get back to states [like West Virginia] because there are future prospects. Maybe employment isn’t the best, but the housing is cheap. The land is comparatively cheap. I worry about that because I don’t think it’s fair to current central Appalachians. Those of us who are here and suffering, I worry that we’re failing to take care of people who were born and raised here.”
We asked readers to consider the following questions as they submitted work for this issue: What is the climate like where you live? How do you find and measure climate in your spaces (physical and metaphysical)? How does climate change intersect with your experiences of identity, culture, gender, sexuality, the body? How does climate crisis intersect with health, food security, clean water, marginalized communities, and disparate economic inequities in Appalachia? What stories need to be told about your experiences with climate in Appalachia?
We asked for fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry that engrosses us and drives us forward. We asked to read about how writers (or their characters and speakers) are struggling or surviving. We asked for work that engages with the natural world as well: what is happening to the flora and fauna where you are? What is gone? What is lost? What can be recovered? What can we do to meet and be more ready for this crisis?
Our contributors answered in compelling stories, essays, and poems, which you can access below. Many thanks to our contributors for their work in this issue of Still: The Journal, and to you, our readers.
The editors: Julia, Karen, and Marianne
A is for Affrilachia by Frank X Walker, illustrated by upfromsumdirt
Laura Dennis on Runaway: Notes on the Myths that Made Me, a memoir by Erin Keane
Melissa Helton on Lark Ascending, a novel by Silas House
Denton Loving on Alight: Flights of Prose, a memoir by Rachael Peckham
Linda Parsons on Float, poems by Wendy Miles
Charlotte Hamrick, "Moon Sick"