We Are Nature

Mining and Microbes

November 25, 2022 Carnegie Museum of Natural History Season 1 Episode 5
We Are Nature
Mining and Microbes
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld is is the Carnegie Museum’s assistant curator of Earth Sciences in the section of Minerals and Earth Sciences. She also happens to study how pollutants and nutrients behave in the environments like abandoned minelands, of which Pennsylvania has maaany. We chat about interspecies collaboration, soil science, the importance of diversity, and much more.

You can learn more about Dr. Rosenfeld’s research at carlarosenfeld.com. Might we also recommend a visit to the museum’s stellar mineral collection?

Watch the companion We Are Nature video series–including a short video about abandoned mineland remediation–here.

Episode Credits: Produced by Taiji Nelson and Michael Pisano. Field Recording by Mark Mangini. Research and editing by Michael Pisano. Music by Mark Mangini and Amos Levy.

Follow Carnegie Museum of Natural History on Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Michael Pisano (00:13):

Welcome to We Are Nature, a podcast about natural histories and livable futures presented by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I'm your host, Michael Pisano, and in this first season, we are talking about climate change mitigation. Yes, you heard me right, climate change, that old dread under the bed, that creeping clawed, fanged, maybe even tentacled thing that interrupts your sleep schedule with the infinite willies and the existential doom sweats. Yuck. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of fretting over this nocturnal bedroom monster's motives and favorite flavors. Does the monster like chocolate? Should I not have eaten that chocolate before bed? Ugh, I'm exhausted.


So for the next 30 minutes, I invite you to set aside your fear of the monster under the bed, and instead to try inspiring some good dreams like an 80s movie montage dream about all your friends coming over and working together to monster proof your bed, or a dream of meeting the monster under the bed for coffee, learning that their name is Jeffrey, confirming that no, Jeff's more of a vanilla monster, laughing together, becoming fast friends, maybe even something more. Whatever the case, for the next 30 minutes, we'll be finding reasons to be hopeful in the face of fear. Today's show is part two of our look at climate change and resource extraction in Southwestern Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.


Last time we met community organizers from the Mountain Watershed Association who are fighting to keep Pennsylvania beautiful, abandoned mind drainage free, and resilient in the face of new fossil fuel extraction and our changing climate. On today's show, we'll dive a little more deeply into the science of abandoned mine land remediation, and learn about how humans and non-humans are teaming up to clean up old coal messes all across Appalachia. If you haven't listened to last episode, it's got a lot of relevant history and context and it might be helpful to start there or maybe just go listen to it next. It's probably cool either way.


In the course of talking about coal mine cleanup science, today's show will stumble into what I think is a core message of this season, a message about resilience, diversity, community, and it's the kind of message that if you're going to take one thing away from this whole podcast, I think that this pretty hopeful message would be a good choice. Let's get right to it. Today I am joined by Dr. Carla Rosenfeld, Assistant Curator of Earth Sciences at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Her research as a biogeochemist explores the biology, geology, and chemistry of remediation sites, including abandoned mine lands. Her research also includes how local microbes can help clean up metals where they don't belong.


For someone who's never heard of biogeochemistry, could you tell me what that is and what kind of questions biochemists ask?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (03:18):

Yeah, so in some ways it really is what it sounds like. It's combining biology, geology, chemistry, and there are people within the biogeochemical community that really run the gamut of all different things. The key thing that I think ties us all together is we're really interested in rather than individual organisms or types of organisms, we're interested in elements. So the chemical elements, the periodic table. And if you're like me, you have magnets of the periodic table and a shower curtain and a mousepad and all of those things, but you don't have to be so obsessed.

Michael Pisano (03:54):

I don't know, that sounds kind of nice.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (03:56):

It's very organized. And all different people in the biogeochemical community study how elements move through different ecosystems. That is how we sort of tie together this biological, geological, chemical components of natural systems. Many people will study things like carbon or nitrogen, nutrients. I actually tend to focus more on metals, and so I think about how does a metal move through an ecosystem starting maybe in a rock and then getting into a stream and then maybe being consumed by an organism, maybe getting turned into a new type of rock or mineral or something like that.

Michael Pisano (04:38):

So let's talk more about your research. What kinds of places are you visiting and studying?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (04:43):

I have tended to focus on a lot of remediation like mine remediation sites. So these can be places like here in Southwest Pennsylvania. One of the big problems is that we have abandoned mines, so we have a lot of areas that were previously mined. It might have been a personal coal hole that somebody dug and pulled coal out of the ground and brought it to their house and used it to heat their house, but it could also have been much larger operations providing coal for steel mills and that kind of thing. And many of those, for various reasons, were not closed necessarily in the best way. Some of that was lack of knowledge of how to deal with it. Some of it might have been lack of money for dealing with it. And many of them are really old. Pennsylvania does have a really rich resource extraction history, and we are still dealing with the legacy of that today.

Michael Pisano (05:44):

People have been mining coal in Pennsylvania for 300-ish years. Last episode covers that history in some detail as well as the natural history of coal in PA, plus what people are doing to fight future coal in PA. So yeah, go check it out. Anyway, because it's been hundreds of years, abandoned mine lands are a widespread issue. According to the state DEP, the Department of Environmental Protection, around 10% of the state's land area has a coal mine under it. It's been literally undermined. The DEP has identified 5,600 individual abandoned mine sites totaling almost 300,000 acres between them, and 5,500 miles of impacted waterways that need to be cleaned up. So again, this is a widespread problem. When we're talking about extracting coal deposits in Southwestern Pennsylvania, we are talking about digging up rocks that are 300 million years old. When you're digging that deep, coal is not the only thing that gets brought to the surface.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (06:47):

The thing that sort of unites all of these types of sites is that the mining process is quite disruptive to sort of the natural way the land was. We had buried rocks and now those rocks are on the surface of the earth. They're exposed to air, they're exposed to water, they're often quite reactive to those things. Coal and the other minerals that are associated are formed in deeper environments where there's not necessarily oxygen around. There's not lots of water. And they're quite stable in these oxygen free environments, but when they're up on the Earth's surface, they're interacting with our air, which is lots of oxygen; our water, again, lots of oxygen; and our surface microbes who act very differently than maybe those subsurface microbes. And that can all sort of act to break down those minerals, dissolve them, I should say. The elements don't disappear, but they can dissolve.


For many of these minerals, and one that I think of in particular is pyrite. So pyrite is commonly sort of around coal, or it's not necessarily what they're mining for when they're mining for coal, but it gets elevated to the surface and it has lots of metals locked up in it. As it dissolves, it will also release lots of acid in many situations, which will only make the problem worse because acid dissolves things much faster than water does. The main metals that are released because of this, for example, pyrite mineral, which is iron sulfide, is iron and also manganese. But these minerals are not pure. It's not only iron and sulfur in there, but there's lots of other little bits of impurities, flavor. And so you can get cadmium, lead, zinc, copper, cobalt, mercury, selenium, one of my favorites.

Michael Pisano (08:50):

Remind me to never have a snack bowl at your house. Not good.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (08:55):

So that is pretty common. So all of those things, as you dissolve the mineral, you're not selectively dissolving any of them. It's all going to be released.

Michael Pisano (09:05):

Okay, let's recap. When you dig up coal from 300 million years ago, you inevitably dig up anything else in the rocks around the coal. Many of those rocks contain elements that don't play well with living things. While these dangerous elements are solid chunks of metal, not a big deal. And as we'll learn later, that's actually kind of preferable from a remediation standpoint. But the surface environment, what with all its handy water and oxygen and it's friendly little microbes is really good at dissolving rocks from underground. Because chemistry, some dissolving rocks release acid, and that acid works with the water and the oxygen and the microbes to do even more dissolving, freeing the dangerous elements trapped inside these rocks.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (09:53):

So then they're now dissolved. They were in this nice little rock form that maybe got moved by wind or physically moved, but-

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:10:04]

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (10:03):

... By wind or physically moved, but now it's dissolved and it's running off with that water. Wherever that water goes, it's probably going.

Michael Pisano (10:11):

This is a great, I think, segue into talking about AMD. What's AMD?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (10:16):

AMD is essentially that exact thing. It's called acid mine drainage. Anything that was locked up in those minerals ... That can be iron, can be sulfur, sulfuric acid, essentially ... Any of those metals that are linked in those minerals will now be in that water traveling. Actually, because it's so acidic it might look what we consider clean. It looks pretty clear. It's just flowing clear. It has lots of things. It's like when you dissolve salt or sugar in your kitchen in water. It doesn't look like it's there anymore but it is still there.

Michael Pisano (10:58):

Except we aren't talking about simple syrup here. We're talking about an imperceptible cocktail of sulfuric acid and toxic metals flowing into our waterways. Okay, what can we do about this? It turns out there's a number of options, which we'll overview in just a second. But first, we do need to zip through two key science concepts; bioaccumulation and bioavailability. Let's start with bioaccumulation.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (11:25):

One of the things that happens with living things is that if they do consume these elements, they can then pass them on to whatever eats them. So, things like mercury and selenium, they bioaccumulate and so they end up basically causing larger problems in what we consider the higher trophic levels. So, things like birds or large fish may actually be more negatively impacted even than small fish or plants that are originally taking up those elements.

Michael Pisano (11:54):

Okay, for a quick example let's look at one of Appalachia's most prized fish, the brook trout. Let's say that our trout lives in a stream that's contaminated with dissolved heavy metals. And let's say there's an especially high level of Dr. Rosenfeld's favorite, selenium. Each of the plants and the plankton at the base of the stream's food web absorb a little bit of selenium. Then tiny shrimp and worms and baby fish eat those plants and that microscopic plankton. And along with their meal they ingest all the selenium that's stuck in the plant and the plankton tissues. And they don't just eat food once. They eat food as much as they can for their whole lives. And each time they eat the amount of selenium that each shrimp or baby fish carries goes up.


Then, a slightly bigger fish, let's say, eats that shrimp or that baby fish. And again, they don't just eat one shrimp; they eat a bunch of shrimp. And each of those meals adds more selenium. Each animal is eating all the selenium ever consumed by all the animals that it ever ate and all the things that those animals ever ate. I hope that makes sense. So, by the time we get up the chain to the brook trout, it's enough selenium to cause problems. In trout, selenium specifically causes birth defects, meaning that the trout population goes down, meaning that the stream ecosystem is pushed out of balance and meaning that any bigger predator, like an eagle or a bear or a human who eats the trout will also inherit all those heavy metals.


Okay. That's bioaccumulation, also sometimes called biomagnification. Onwards to concept two, bioavailability. Put really simply, when an element is bioavailable that means that living things around it are able to absorb that element.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (13:45):

In general, we think that things that are dissolved in water, in solution, are more bioavailable. They can get into drinking water. Plants take up water. Lots of things eat the plants that take up the water; that kind of thing. So, more bioavailable, more mobile, in an ecosystem than something that's solid.


With metals, we're often thinking about how do we reduce the amount of the metal that's in this bioavailable dissolved form?

Michael Pisano (14:21):

Okay. Solution time. We've got our abandoned coal mine. It's leaking acid and all sorts of unfriendly elements into the creek. You know, the creek that feeds into your favorite swimming hole? Step one, we have to make the toxins in the water less bioavailable.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (14:38):

Eventually, that water will ... because it is acidic, will become neutralized. That might be through interacting with the surrounding geology, as I said. It may also be through actually intersecting with a waterway, so a stream or something like that. When that happens, or around where that happens, as the acid gets neutralized a lot of the things that were dissolved in the water are no longer able to stay dissolved. They actually come out as solids.


One of the biggest indicators of AMD around is this bright red color streaking. It looks very rusty. It is, in fact, iron oxide minerals. So, if you have rust on your car or on your bicycle or on a rusty nail, it's actually literally the exact same chemical formula as the minerals that we see out in these AMD systems.


In some ways, that actually is less interactive with a lot of the living things because it's now, again, in a solid form. But one thing that ... If you've ever gotten rust on a piece of clothing and tried to get it out, it stains, right? They're very sticky. They actually can cement whole sediments and things like that. So, they make it actually very hard for organisms to continue their normal lifestyle, say, in a sediment or in a soil or something like that. It does also introduce all of these metals into the system, elements that we consider to be toxic.

Michael Pisano (16:10):

We want to make the toxic metals less bioavailable and neutralizing the acidic water so that the dissolved metals in it become solid again. That's a great step in the right direction, but we can't do it just anywhere because [inaudible 00:16:24] works for living things and we'll likely send toxic metal particles down river on a grand, terrible tour of the watershed. We have to choose a place to neutralize the water, ideally before that water flows into the creek.


Option one is an active remediation site. Something like a treatment plant. Active remediation is actually kind of a catch-all term for a category of remediation approaches that require regular, ongoing input. And that might be energy, it might be chemicals or other resources. It might be staff time. Might be all three. One act of remediation example is called an alkaline doser. It's basically a silo full of lime or some other alkaline material that sits by the side of a contaminated waterway and gradually adds that lime to a specific place. Lime is calcium carbonate, the same thing that antacids like Tums are made from. So, adding lime to the water neutralizes the acid in the acid bind drainage.


Pretty straightforward, pretty simple, but unfortunately pretty uncommon in our area, at least. Active remediation solutions are relatively expensive and remember that a lot of these sites are 100s of years old, so there's no mining company left to pay the cleanup bill. We'll talk a little bit more about that later, and specifically about how we could fund this kind of remediation. But for now, suffice it to say that active remediation is pretty rare, at least in Appalachia.


Enter another AMD solution, passive remediation systems.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (17:59):

What it means to be passive is that there's no external energy inputs and there's not really constant maintenance. Not to say that there's not ... It doesn't require regular maintenance but that there's not an individual that needs to be there every day to operate the plant, for example. And so, it just takes advantage of the environmental conditions or constructed environmental conditions to try and remove these metals.


Essentially, it's many ponds and often they're meant to operate in sequence. And the conditions of each pond are adjusted so that it targets specific things that are in the water that you want to remove. You start with your very acidic water that has lots of metals. Iron and aluminum and manganese are often the biggest problems. Usually, one of the first approaches is to just stick it in a pond with limestone. Limestone has high pH or higher pH and it has ... If you have enough of it, it basically can neutralize all your acid. That may precipitate out all of your iron minerals.


But then, you may be left still with really manganese and aluminum-rich water and so that might flow through a pipe to another pond that targets removal of aluminum, for example.

Michael Pisano (19:26):

If you're listening to this from somewhere in the Pittsburgh region and you want to see a passive remediation setup in action, then allow me to suggest a visit to Wingfield Pines Conservation Area. Alleghany Land Trust maintains a passive remediation system there that deals with something like 2,000 gallons of AMD a minute, which sprays out of this huge, long, big pipe into holding ponds and then a little maze of wetlands that filter the water before it meets Chartiers creek. Chartier creek? Chartier's creek? I'm sorry. It's a really cool place to walk around, though. I visited recently. I have got the rust all over my boots to prove it. And I took a bunch of video.

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:20:04]

Michael Pisano (20:03):

I have got the rust all over my boots to prove it, and I took a bunch of video. Have I mentioned that there's a documentary video series that goes along with these podcasts? Well, there is, and we will link to it in the show notes. Anyway, back to remediation. Passive systems are all well and good for getting these nasty bits and grits out of the ecosystem and more affordable than active solutions. But they have drawbacks. They require lots of land. They require initial setup, which means initial expense, and they also are slow. It takes time. And don't get me wrong, passive systems are awesome. They're valuable tool in cleaning up AMD, but I don't know, what if we found a way to speed things up in these remediation systems? What if we could enlist billions, maybe even trillions of active collaborators to help clean up abandoned mine lands? There's a third tool that does exactly that, and it just so happens to be part of Dr. Rosenfeld's research. I'm talking about bioremediation. Let's start just with a top level definition. What is bioremediation?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (21:07):

I think top level definition is really just using biology to clean up something that you don't like. And in my particular case, it's often focusing on using microbes. I study how bacteria and fungi interact with contaminated ecosystems and particularly focusing on those processes where microbes are participating in reducing bioavailability and mobility of these elements.

Michael Pisano (21:36):

Before getting into the specifics of mine, land remediation, let me just say bioremediation rocks. It is so cool. There's all sorts of different bioremediation techniques for all different sorts of situations. You can use microbes to clean up oil spills, plastic pollution. You can use microalgae in wastewater treatment. You can use oyster mushrooms to pull diesel out of soil and break down petroleum hydrocarbons. Seriously Google that last on Google. Paul Stamets, S-T-A-N-E-T-S, oyster mushroom bioremediation, something like that. Anyway, how can microbes help remediate AMD?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (22:15):

So I talked about those iron minerals, manganese minerals, actually lots of microbes can make those themselves. They're very, very reactive, super sticky. When you make the same mineral in the lab, it's not the same. There's something about the biological process that, I don't know, it gives superpowers to these minerals and they don't react the same in the environment. And often they're more reactive, so they stick more of these metals. They can accumulate more of these things that we don't want in our ecosystems, or at least running wild and rampant in our ecosystems.

Michael Pisano (22:54):

So there's a bunch of different organisms, microorganisms, and there's a bunch of different approaches that all work. At a conceptual level, they all operate basically the same way. Super-powered microbial communities pull the dangerous toxins out of dissolved form where the toxins get stuck. And now you might be saying, "But Michael, I watch movies. I know what happens when scientists start squirting microbes into industrial waste." And the last thing that PA coal country needs is a rampaging blob and viewed with the tortured sentience of 300 years worth of coal miner ghosts, to which I would say, "I would watch that movie," but also that Dr. Rosenfeld's microbial collaborators are not grown in a lab.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (23:35):

It's actually a lot about thinking about facilitating the microbial community that's already in the impacted area. It's not that they're necessarily one single universal organism that we're going to put out in a remediation system and solve all of our problems. It's very likely that if that organism isn't already a major component of the community, it will be out-competed by organisms that are already adapted to that environment. So it's really more about working with the existing community.

Michael Pisano (24:08):

I cannot help but connect this idea of working with the existing community to activism, to grassroots organizing. Let's take Mountain Watershed Association from the Laurel Islands. One of their core principles is to support people from the communities that they serve to take the lead, for locals to spearhead the advocacy and activism work that MWA is a part of. The people that I spoke with from MWA want to be playing support roles. They want to be providing resources like insight into legal processes or permitting process. They want to help connect people to policy makers. They want to offer gathering space or money, all these incredible resources, but not imposing their own views or priorities on a situation, on a community, not steamrolling what locals think. They work with the existing community. They value the existing community's experience. I think this is a very important guiding light for anyone who wants to address an injustice that they see, especially in a community that isn't necessarily theirs.


It can be dangerous to impose your values and your vision of the future on a place. Instead, ask the people who live there, people whose families have perhaps lived there for generations who have relationships and insights and innate understanding of the culture of the place. And more likely than not, someone from that community's already working on the problems that any outsider perceives. So supporting their ongoing efforts is going to be more impactful than starting your own from scratch, from outside the community. Anyways, anyways, back to bioremediation. It's also important to note that we are talking about nurturing microbial communities, not one single species of bacteria or fungi. No, we're talking about little ecosystems here.

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (26:01):

A healthy community is probably relatively diverse and builds in lots of redundancy, so maybe lots of organisms that all can do the same process, and either they're cooperating or maybe one is taking over in this particular situation, and then environmental conditions change, and this one is now really competitive, and it's not just this one organism that has to do every single thing related to this. It's this organism cooperates with this other organism. Maybe they're providing food or they're handing off some nutrient or something like that. That could be through eating them. It could also be through cooperation. My postdoc advisor prior to my joining her lab had done a lot of the foundational work, understanding the fungal communities in these passive minor mediation systems. And one of the things that they saw was that in systems that were working, so the systems that were doing exactly as you wanted them to do and removing all of the metals so you have very clean water coming out at the end, they had really diverse fungal communities, and the ones that were not working did not have diverse fungal communities.

Michael Pisano (27:19):

Diverse communities are more effective and resilient you say. This also seems like a good opportunity to connect to a broader message about environmental justice, but let's hold off until the end of the episode. We'll wrap up with bioremediation first. By this point, in speaking with Dr. Rosenfeld, I was very, very, very, very excited about bioremediation, and I wanted to know why I didn't see a bioremediation project on every street corner in Pittsburgh. Seriously, could bioremediation practices like these be scaled up to clean up waterways and soil across PA? What are the challenges to doing that?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (27:59):

Yeah, one I think is money, honestly. And related to money, just the resources to deal with these because there are actually abandoned mines, there often aren't the companies around anymore, or there was never a company that owned that area. So who pays for it? Who pays for the construction of the wetlands or the limestone beds? Who pays for revisiting and making sure that it's working and that kind of thing? So it often falls to landowners or the state. It's not a lot of federal money in it.

Michael Pisano (28:37):

Actually, I've got some good news on that front. Not long after recording this interview with Dr. Rosenfeld, the US federal government committed $11.3 billion to abandoned mine cleanup. This is the country's largest ever investment in this problem, and Pennsylvania is slated to get more than any other US state because we have more abandoned mine lands than any other US state. But this is a fantastic step in the right direction. However, realistically, it's just not enough cash. We're like a billion dollars short in Pennsylvania. Where can that funding come from?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (29:10):

A lot of people, myself included, are really interested in looking into potentially mining those. So we've already mined the land. We now have this solid waste problem, and they accumulate tons of these elements that are really important in our everyday lives. So your camera, my phone, any technological device that we use relies on these metals. One of the things that I think is really interesting to think about is whether or not we can in some ways use our old reduce, reuse, recycle adage and focus on reducing and reusing what we've already released from the earth, rather than going in and constantly trying to pull out new stuff.

Michael Pisano (29:57):

Which has all sorts of other social implications and issues with the way that we source those elements elsewhere.

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:30:04]

Michael Pisano (30:03):

... issues with the way that we source those elements elsewhere. So, perhaps better to reclaim them from a place that already has these impacts.


Studies have shown that Appalachian AMD has a really high concentration of rare earth elements, comparable in density, actually, to a dedicated rare earth element mine. There was a promising pilot program in West Virginia that showed that mining the sludge from an AMD treatment plant would more than pay for the cost of that active remediation project. And without mining those rare elements, the sludge remains exactly what it is, sludge, hazardous waste that is expensive and challenging to dispose of.


So, mining the solid waste piles is hugely good. It could eliminate some demand for new rare earth element mines. It could pay for abandoned mine land cleanup and then some, ideally that cash from the cleanup would stay in the communities impacted by that abandoned mine waste. This is important. It could provide family-supporting employment to miners, for example, who are losing their jobs in the transition away from coal. This is yet another example of working with local communities and the diverse skill sets and experience that they bring to help keep our land and our water non-toxic and beautiful and resilient against climate change.


Okay, so given the cash to scale things up, is bioremediation something that we should be investing a lot of hope in, or are there other challenges to scaling it up?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (31:39):

Yeah, I think that it is a tool in the toolbox, but not necessarily the only solution. And maybe like microbial communities, there need to be many working partners.

Michael Pisano (31:52):

Yes, yes, yes, yes, exactly, yes. And this is part of what I find so wildly inspirational about bioremediation. I mean, to begin with, it inspires me because it's such fun science and involves organisms with unbelievable superpowers. What's not to love? But also it's just loaded with what we call a metaphor potential. So, there's diversity like this. For another example, it's an inter-species collaboration. It's not just this diverse microbial community, but it's also humans like you who are part of the bioremediation system. It strikes me as a really beautiful model for at least talking about shifting the relationship between human and non-human life, which I feel is so important right now. Can you talk about that, actually? Can you talk about the cultural separation of humans from nature and if bioremediation or your other work inspires anything about coming back together into some better right relationship?

Dr. Carla Rosenfeld (32:57):

I think whether or not we recognize it, we already rely so heavily on all these different organisms. I think in these microbial communities, you know have bacteria, you have archaea, you have fungi, you have other micro-eukaryotes, and some of these organisms are wildly different. They're as wildly different as we are from bacteria, and it is certainly a whole community. It is handoffs, it is an entire cycle of consumption and production. So, there are primary producers and then there are organisms that feed off of those primary producers, and without them the community would collapse.


It is entirely interdependent, and I think we are a part of that as much as I think we have altered what the cycle looks like. But still we are reliant on fungi to break down plant matter, dead plant matter, and we are reliant on other fungi to provide nutrients to plants. And we're reliant on all of those different processes within our food system, within our energy system. Recognizing the importance of these communities and the community interactions is really important for us to move forward in some kind of balance.

Michael Pisano (34:41):

Remediating abandoned mine lands is challenging. It's big, it's complex. Do you know what else is big and complex? Climate change. And if we're going to tackle climate change, by which I mean mitigate its impact on our world, we will need exactly what we need to tackle abandoned mine cleanup. We'll need diversity. We'll need biodiversity because a community with lots of different types of living things is more resilient to shifting environmental conditions, and because collaborating with non-humans can solve problems in novel, sustainable, inspiring ways. We'll need a diversity of perspectives, especially including perspectives that are often ignored, whether that's people who live in rural mining towns or the many voices and perspectives that are historically excluded from science.


This is not a problem that we can solve with any one group of people, scientists, politicians, or community activists. This is not a problem that we can solve with any one way of thinking. We need to collaborate across some key boundaries, across lines of professional specialization, across politics and perspectives, and even across the human/non-human divide. So, if you take anything away from this whole podcast mini series, maybe it could be this. In order to cultivate resilience against climate change and resilience against the forces that could make climate change worse, we need to cultivate diversity.


If you haven't already, please do go listen to the paired episode about Mountain Watershed Association. Together, I do think these two present a really inspiring, I dare say hopeful, diversity of approaches to climate change mitigation, plus the MWA episode has more ideas about how to get involved.


Many thanks to Dr. Carla Rosenfeld, Assistant Curator of Earth Sciences at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, for lending her biochemical expertise and for giving me a good reason to hope for a better future this week. Thanks also to the Carnegie's Taiji Nelson, Bonnie McGill, Sierra Christ, and Nicole Heller. The music in today's episode was made by two of my most talented friends, Mark Mangini and Amos Levy.


We'll be back with more stories about climate action next week. Until then, here's a warm quote to keep under your covers in case that under the bed monster comes back. " Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences, this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community." That was Bell Hooks from her book, Teaching Community, A Pedagogy of Hope.


I've been, and hope to remain, your host, Michael Pisano. Thanks for listening.

PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [00:38:31]