Video: Weather Reports: A Burning Testament to Climate Collapse

September 20, 2021
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This event is part of the Weather Reports fall series that began on September 20.

This conversation is part of a ten-week series of online conversations with poets, writers, public servants, theologians, biologists, scholars, and activists who are engaged in the spiritual reckoning and awakening surrounding climate collapse, sacred land protection, and planetary health. 

The featured speaker for this first installment in the series was British filmmaker Lucy Walker.

Following the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire (the deadliest in California’s history), British filmmaker Lucy Walker directed “Bring Your Own Brigade” (2021). The film urgently asks: why are catastrophic wildfires increasing in number and severity around the world, and what can be done about it? Clips of the groundbreaking film were shown throughout the conversation, even as the American West continues to burn.

Respondent: Teresa Cavasas Cohn, University of Idaho, RPL Climate Change Fellow.

Sponsored by: Harvard Divinity School, The Constellation Project, The Center for the Study of World Religions, Religion and Public Life at HDS, Theasophie Teas, and the Planetary Health Alliance.



SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Weather Reports-- A Climate of Now, A Burning Testament to Climate Collapse, September 20, 2021.





TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Welcome, friends, to Weather Reports. My name is Terry Tempest Williams. And there are over a thousand of us globally, here tonight, gathered to talk about the weather. What used to be a superficial greeting is now our survival. This is The Climate of Now.

On behalf of the Harvard Divinity School, the Center for the Study of World Religions, Religion and Public Life, and the Planetary Health Alliance in partnership with the Constellation Project, we are so grateful you are here, beginning with A Burning Testament and a conversation with the remarkable British filmmaker, Lucy Walker, discussing her epic film, Bring Your Own Brigade, on the California fires in 2018.

Teresa Cavazos Cohn-- we'll follow the conversation with her response and continue a conversation between them. And we have just witnessed the extraordinary Brian Kirbis, a tea practitioner with Theasophie, who will be framing our Weather Reports with a contemplative space for the next 10 weeks, creating, as described in The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, an ephemeral structure built to house a poetic impulse.

Tea is a form of social etiquette in conversation between the interior and exterior spaces, a gesture toward wholeness, a breathing space. We will begin these conversations with tea, and close them with tea, and invite you to join us with a cup of tea in hand. I'm nervous. I want to share with you why we are doing this, the impulse behind these conversations.

The world is on fire. Tonight, as we gather, giant sequoias have been lovingly wrapped and swaddled by firefighters and flame retardant foil in an effort to protect these ancient trees from three wildfires that are raging through Giant Sequoia National Monument in Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon national forest in Central California. Our prayers are with the trees, and the firefighters, and all the creatures threatened.

These other trees, as we know, have co-existed with fire for thousands of years. But this time, the fires are different-- hotter, more unpredictable as a result of climate chaos, alongside mismanagement of forests, creating a perfect storm. In the same way that Hurricane Ida was different, a monster is what Becky [INAUDIBLE] called Ida.

She's a Cajun resident in the bayous of Galliano, Louisiana. She said it was far worse than Hurricane Betsy or Katrina with winds clocking in from 150 to 190 miles per hour, more unpredictable. In her words, "We watched the very eye of the hurricane split in two. Our town is destroyed," she wrote me later in the aftermath.

In the same way, living in in our desert hamlet of Castle Valley, Utah. "We witnessed close to 10,000 acres burn in the La Sal Mountains, an oasis to all of us who live there, that rise close to 13,000 feet above sea level. Pyrocumulus clouds appeared like an atomic explosion above the red rock rims. The Colorado River is so shallow in parts. Deer walked across its surface. And flocks of birds arrived on our porch, panting from lack of water."

The American Southwest is in megadrought. And in the town of Moab, conversations are no longer about drilling for oil, but drilling for water. In July, a flash flood roared through town. Pack Creek was running black from the La Sal Mountains like a river from Hades.

The American West is choked in smoke. The Northwest was in a great heat wave. And the Northeast has been flooding. We all have our stories. The Washington Post reported recently nearly one in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer. Climate collapse is not about the future. It's right here, right now.

Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, writes, quote, "The question today is not how could climate change this event? But, rather, how could it not? As it is occurring over the massively altered background conditions of our 1.1 Celsius warming planet, that's 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer."

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, quote, "Humanity must roughly cut emissions by half, by the end of the decade to have a chance of avoiding the worst effects of warming. The climate will not stabilize until greenhouse gas emissions cease," unquote.

The science is in. And it's been in for decades. We know what we need to do. But do we have the will to do it? This series of Weather Reports look into the actions of individuals, both personal, collective. It's about storytelling, who recognize climate chaos not just as an environmental crisis or a political crisis, but a moral one, a call for an ethical stance toward life, these people, these stories each week. We are in a spiritual crisis.

And at the Harvard Divinity School, climate justice is now part of our work together. May these Weather Report conversations over the next few months ignite your own conversations within your own communities, even around your own dinner table as each of us finds the appropriate actions and spiritual will required to live differently, to live a life of greater intention so that, as the theologian Larry Rasmussen asks, "Can we love this Earth and each other enough to change?"

There is something deeper than hope. And that's what we want to explore in these next few months. Lucy Walker is an Emmy-winning, two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker, known for her character-driven non-fiction that delivers emotional storytelling on the screen.

She's not only willing to take on complex subjects from Fukushima in her Oscar-nominated short, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossoms, focusing on the ephemeral and enduring nature of life, but she's also turned her courageous and empathetic gaze in her classic film, Waste Land, into seeing how the world's largest garbage landfill outside Rio de Janeiro can be turned into art through a collaboration with the artist Vik Muniz and the men and women who pick through the refuse.

And in another turn of the lens, she documents the perils of extreme sports as she did in her film, Crash Reel, about the culture of snowboarding and one man's journey from being a star athlete to being a star human being who heals after a serious injury. She was also the executive producer for Ram Dass, Going Home, an award-winning Netflix Original.

Her films and awards are many. But what I respect and admire most about Lucy Walker is she does not look away from all that is breaking our hearts. She allows us to be transformed by change, even grief. And in so doing, she shows us, again and again, how the human spirit can and does rise from ashes. Lucy, welcome. Thank you so much for being here.

LUCY WALKER: Thank you. No, what a beautiful introduction. And I want to quote you on the star athlete to star human being. No one has synopsized that film nearly as well as that, ever. So I'm going to jot that down, but really a joy to be with you all. Thank you.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Well, I love your work, as you know. I remember the last conversation we had in a friend's kitchen in Malibu. And what I'd love to know first is give us a weather report from Venice Beach.

LUCY WALKER: Yeah, Venice Beach, California. It's September. It's pretty mellow. I live fairly close to the water. And we are protected from the heat that everyone has in land, but it is this uneasy feeling of the fall season. Because it hasn't rained in a very long time. And the seasonal winds are going to start to pick up.

And so critical fire season in Southern California really begins now and lasts until the rain comes. And of course, we're in a terrible drought. And so there's a lot of dry fuel piled up. And it's a tense time. Joan Didion wrote about this time very beautifully. But it's a tense time for the next couple of months for sure, at least a couple months. But, yeah.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: What do you do with that tension?

LUCY WALKER: I don't live in a place that could burn. I mean, I literally know too much to live in these places, because I'm afraid. And that's the impetus for making this film. But I live in the flats close to the water and not in the Wildland Urban Interface of these beautiful areas with a lot of fuel, and hills, and canyons, and wind tunnels. And supposedly, the fires could never burn down through into Venice Beach. So I literally choose to live here, based on that.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: That's one of the things my husband, Brooke, and I are thinking about. Can we stay in Castle Valley? I mean, we know what it was like this year. What will it look like in 10 years? So I think your point is well taken. I'm curious about your relationship to fire before you made the film.

LUCY WALKER: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Well, I think I included my journey in the film, which I've never done before. And I did that because I found it to be relevant. I found my own journey as a European to California to be absolutely apropos. Because, of course, it was the European settlers into California that suppressed the Indigenous relationship with the landscape and including the technologies of working with fire.

And managing landscape with fire, quite literally, banned Native burning practices and had a relationship with fire and landscape very much as I do, based on Northern Europe's landscape. And so I see fire as something has going wrong. Something shouldn't be happening. It's the kind of urban mistake that we learned how to solve.

The last big fire we had in the UK was the Great Fire of London in 1666, which coincidentally was also associated with a plague. Because it actually killed all the rats and wiped out the big plague of 1665. So this is the great date that we learn in British history growing up, the Great Fire of London.

And then I moved to New York City. I got a scholarship to go to graduate school for film school at NYU, which was fantastic. And there you see urban conflagration, you see houses or warehouses go up and the terrible events. But they're very much urban.

And of course, we have our fire brigade system, which are a lovely communal thing. We can all dial 911. You can still see the plaques around the place, which were from the old days of private insurance when you used to have to get to belong to a private club. And then that brigade would come to your home, should it burn.

And that's the film. A strand of the film examines that return to the private firefighters. If you have a private firefighting brigade, then they'll come and protect your home in a place like Malibu now. It's what Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, for example, did as we look at in the film. Their home was protected by private firefighters.

And so there's so much to see in this big story, but that's just a taster of what I see. But I see a lot. And I see a lot of the history of California, and my role as a European immigrant, and the European immigrants that have come before and mistaken this landscape for that of Northern Europe, and not recognized the way that fire operates on this landscape, and the different way in which to live with fire than you might, say, in Northern Europe where weather is completely different.

And you don't have this pattern of wetting and drying. You don't have a dry season it's soggy all year round, right? And so the damp is always going to take the edge off the vegetation being flammable, which is just not true of the American West with these great fantastic summers, more like the Mediterranean climate.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: So let's see a clip. And then I want you to tell us how you made the decision to make such a beautiful, complex film.




- I've never seen anything like it.

- The fire equivalent of an ice age.

- Like peering into Dante's "Inferno."

- And it's only going to accelerate.

- It's only beginning.

- We're surrounded by fire.

- My dad put his hand on my shoulder, and he said don't leave.

- Whatever you do, do not let that building burn down.


- Evacuate.

- Everything was on fire. The looks on their faces-- they were sure they were going to die.

- Run for your life.

- I've never seen that look in anybody's face.



- The world is waking up to the hellish realization that all over this planet, wildfires are burning us alive.

- Most the people I know lost everything.

- And that's why we came to be embedded with firefighters on what turned out to be the deadliest day for fires in California.

- Yet, again, two years in a row, we're caught with our pants down. And you're left making decisions you don't want to make.

- It was difficult, very difficult.


- Private firefighters protect people with money.

- Bring your own brigade.

- How are you doing?

- We're still here. We didn't burn up.

- Blame the firefighters, blame the environmental community.

- Point fingers in other directions other than yourself.

- Fire everywhere. No fire engines.

- Chief, put something into action now.

- Even if we believe that it's climate change, which I don't, we got to do something about it.

- Why do we approve building in places that are dangerous? Logging operations are making fires burn faster and hotter.

- I am not hearing this story anywhere.

- This is the story.

- I don't see this as a natural disaster. I see this as human error.

- Fire can be our friend, or it can be our enemy.

- Maybe we need to go back a hundred years and say, they did it right, and we've mismanaged it.

- Treat the land with respect.

- If we're at war with fire, we're going to spend a lot of money. We're going to take a lot of casualties. And we're going to lose.

- And I still don't think the public understands that.




TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: What don't we understand, Lucy?

LUCY WALKER: So, for me, I'll speak personally so much. I went on this journey to be so humbled about what I didn't know about this place that I lived in. I was very excited to make a film here. I've made films in Amish country, or Brazil, or Japan, so many places.

And I think it's important. I was really excited to learn about my own environment and not feel like I have to fly off to learn things. And where to begin-- I mean, the first thing is really like, why are these fires happening? I had an initial idea that it was just climate change. And it seems such an easy, obvious correlation between the hottest summers and the biggest fires. I thought that was it. So I thought I was making a film about climate change, simply climate change as a reason.

And then it turned out to be more nuanced than that. And there were other factors. And it was also how exactly the climate change played into the fire fueling. And then as I followed the story some more and saw how we were living, and building, and how the decisions were getting made, I realized that it was a way more big film about climate change than I'd ever set out to do. I hadn't understood that I'd see what you're talking about, that will to change.


LUCY WALKER: The lack of it. Well, spoiler alert. The film begins inside, in the most horrifying way, these deadly fires that were caused by the same wind event and caused death and destruction in both Paradise and Malibu. In Paradise, for example, 85 people killed, 18,000 structures lost. Most of those homes, but also some other structures, offices, et cetera, so devastating, the most costly disaster of that year.

And that's not counting the knock-on effects, et cetera. Less than a year later, because I'm still following the story, that town in a town council meeting is voting on initiatives presented by the council to make the homes more fire safe. Because the fire is going to come back. This place burns all the time. The Dixie Fire started right where the Camp Fire began three years ago and burned again.

Our characters were evacuated again this summer. Last summer, 22 more people were killed next door. This is a place that burns regularly. All our characters have been through fires every decade, same thing with Malibu. These places burn repeatedly. And that can't be prevented is something I learned.

And yet, the people don't want initiatives, even ones that are free, like initiatives around, say, gutters that don't cost anything. You could understand that some of the resistance might be about cost, but they aren't. Even the free initiatives aren't just voted down. The town council people are eviscerated and told they'll be voted out, should they force them on this. We're so quirky, we want to be individual.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: And in the name of freedom. I mean, that, to me, in the film was the most horrific aspect, more than the fires. Because so often, we hear the refrain, what's it going to take? And if you have lost 80-plus neighbors, if you've lost everything as so many of the people that you follow did, and yet, you can't even vote for a 5-foot barrier around your house, what is it going to take?

LUCY WALKER: That's right. That's exactly right. And it's not just about losing people. It was losing people in a way that literally defines how-- if you think about the Christian imagination, we were trying to come up with the worst punishment imaginable. What's the absolutely most suffering, intense, awful thing you could inflict on people to scare them into right Christian behavior?

We came up with hell. We came up with burning fire pits, being burned alive in flames. And this is literally, literally what we've created for ourselves with these fires. People-- and you see them in the first part of the film. And I didn't want to shy away from it.

And I had horrific material that we'd shot that people who were with their cell phones or cameras shot for themselves. We have 911 calls of people burning alive on the 911 call. We have radio traffic of overwhelmed first responders who later go on to commit suicide. I mean, this is the most traumatic suffering you could experience and imagine.

And then less than a year later, this exact community is resistant to even these initiatives, despite the fire chief begging everyone and the experts begging everyone and explaining the science and how things actually catch fire. And it's not that difficult what has to get done. And it's actually inevitable that the fire will come through again. And actually, buildings don't need to burn when fire comes through. And yet, you can't get it together. It's really shocking.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: It is shocking. And it struck me that this very scene in your film is also what we're going through with the COVID virus, also with the elections, this misinformation that becomes religion. And let's look at the clip with Stephen Pyne of what he has to say about fire.


- Climate change in a lot of ways is a distraction from the issue of fire. Because Paradise was going to burn, whether there was climate change or not.

- Even if climate change miraculously went back to the 1960s level, we would still have a fire crisis. Climate change is undoubtedly aggravating fire problems. It's a major factor. It's a performance enhancer, but it is not the only thing.

- I'm sorry. I'm sorry to say this in a way. Because you get blamed of climate change denial or a soft denier. That's not my intention. But if you say climate change is the only thing that matters, then the only thing to fix it is fixing climate change. That's not going to happen for a long time.

I say that with sadness. I've got grandkids. But we don't just have to build concrete bunkers and wait it out. We can work with this. And if we're lucky and good, then we'll leave enough for our grandkids-- be able to build a different world out of.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: So how do we work with this? What did you learn?

LUCY WALKER: I learned a lot. And again, just to emphasize, it is climate change. Climate change is making things worse. And I can explain exactly how that operates. Because I think it's important to get specific on that, too. But what I was really surprised by was that it's not just climate change. And the good news is that we can then do things about those things more swiftly. And thank goodness for that. Because that's going to make a real difference in terms of how we live. And there's a few different ways.

And the film is-- I had a real commitment making this film. It felt way too important to skimp on the truth. And it's one of those inconvenient truths where it's a little bit complicated. If there was one answer, the film might be a little jazzier. But actually, it turns out there's a couple things. And one is, of course, where we're living. We're living in this place called the Wildland Urban interface.

And in fact, since COVID, there was a huge study on-- 20,000 people, I think, from San Francisco alone have moved into the Wildland Urban Interface. This is called the WUI. And it quite simply means where we live adjacent to wildlands, which will burn. And so we're pouring into these areas, because they're affordable. And we have such a terrible housing crisis.

And they're beautiful. And there's a gorgeous appeal. And yet, we haven't solved how not to have these homes burn. Their insurance companies have picked up that these places do burn. And they're so rapidly withdrawing insurance coverage from these areas, that California had to put a moratorium on customers being dropped.

And so I think that's going to be a breaking mechanism on this. Because, of course, what's going to happen when people can no longer afford to insure their homes in the current climate? They're just going to keep living there. And then who's going to pay when they become homeless, which is what we're already seeing with these fires? So there's a huge economic catastrophe that we're storing up.

And so I think the Wildland Interface is one thing. One thing is home construction I learned. Who knew? I did not know. I should know this-- very interested in architecture, all the rest of it. I did not know that how you build makes all the difference, and whether your structure is going to burn, and how you do that defensible space. It's actually very much like COVID.

You can think of defensible space or social distancing. You can think of aerosol dispersion of virus as the embers, which float on the wind, and how things actually catch, or embers will land. And if they land on something flammable within 5 feet of your house, they will catch. It's not like a fire in your fireplace where the radiant heat transfers over. It's these ember storms that are very much like the way that the virus actually is transmitted, very comparable.

And how you build makes all the difference. And another area that I thought was fascinating and not at all discussed in so much coverage of the fires-- I had not come across this anywhere. And I was stunned to learn about the logging industry, which is huge in California.

These timber barons moved in when they ran out of land in the Midwest. They've often got these huge checkerboard areas. If timber companies built a railroad, they got 50% of the land in a checkerboard pattern. And they have plantations. And you might think, as I initially did, well, you cut down the trees, less fuel. Fuel build-up is actually a huge problem. Fire suppression has been a huge problem. So maybe logging is a way of helping with that.

And actually, the Trump administration-- after these fires, Trump went to Paradise, called it pleasure and called for more logging as a solution to the fires. And a lot of people locally were swayed by this. Yes, more logging. That sounds great for industry, great for everyone.

However, when you actually get into the weeds on all this stuff, quite literally, you learn that the logging trucks spread invasive species on their wheels, which are highly flammable, way more flammable than the native species. So something like cheatgrass is a real fire problem right there.

And also, that the young tree plantations are unbelievably flammable. In fact, they incinerate, and that the natural forest, which you might think the dead trees and stuff might be flammable, because they look like dead trees, old trees, things you might put in the fireplace. No, actually, they work as sinks, and that the natural forest with all the different mixed ages-- it shades the forest floor. And actually, it has natural breaks and break-ups.

And when, also, fire is left to burn through regularly-- which it can be when you have logging industry. Because the logging industry can't insure their crops. So what do they do? They bank on fire suppression. Every fire has to be put out. So the fire service since 1910 has committed to the 10:00 AM rule, that every fire has to be put out by 10:00 AM the following morning is the goal. No fire. Keep fire out. Smokey the Bear. No fires.

What could possibly go wrong? The fuel piles up, and piles up, and piles up. And when fire doesn't burn through regularly through these forests, you get all these ladder fuels, and you get these out-of-control forests. It used to be much more the forest composition was completely different in California. You used to have much more savanna situations, bigger trees further spaced apart. And then when the fire did burn through, it was much smaller. Because there was just low, new fuel on the ground.

In fact, the giant sequoia that we're just seeing wrapped in foil lately-- the ultimate fire-adapted species. They only reproduce when the fires come through and melt the seed pods, which fall on the newly-- open to the beautiful, fertile, new post-fire soil. Lots of lovely light come from the weather. Sun gets through with the fire. And actually, they say they reproduce right after a fire. But those fires were gentler.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Let's look at this next clip.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: And I think your idea of the serotinous cones opening because of fire speak to the regeneration that is inherent in the forest. This clip looking at an Indigenous point of view of how Native people have always lived with fire.


- On November 8 when I saw the fire itself, I stopped on the side of the road and watched it. It reminded me of The First Fire stories. The First Fire story is the story of fire that sweeps across the landscape. It's the one that destroys everything. Then you have nothing left. You're devastated.

And I thought, our society is experiencing The First Fire stories that Indigenous peoples know about and then learn to use fire. And so we as a society need to learn that lesson ourselves to come back to those second fire stories, which tell us how to use fire.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: So how do we use fire? What did you learn?

LUCY WALKER: Well, actually just using this example, the General Sherman tree and that amazing grove of sequoias that just survived this weekend. Thank goodness. They're saying that it wasn't the foil that they were wrapped in. It was actually the fact that there has been regular prescribed burns.

And I can attest to this. I went camping among those Sequoia trees. And again, with my European mindset, I was actually freaked out. Because there was smoke, and there were little fires, and there were all these volunteers and employees burning fire. And I thought, well, what if that gets out of control? And I don't know. I'm hiking. Do I want this smoke?

But I was very intrigued. Why are they burning deliberately amongst these treasures of gigantic trees? Well, they're burning, because on a day like yesterday when you've burned previously the huge flame lengths, which are not normal, which are derived from the fact that these areas, which traditionally for forever will have burned regularly. Now, when the fire comes through, there's so much fuel piled up.

But they'll burn way hotter, way bigger, incinerate everything, crust on the ground, just a totally different thing and kill the ultimate fire-adapted species, which is what we're seeing more than ever in history in recent years. These ultimate fire-adaptive species, our iconic species of California are a good reason of what made me want to move to California, this majestic, iconic, ginormous beacons of nature, my religion, this cathedral of trees that we live in. [INAUDIBLE]

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Do you see an interface between the ecologists and the Native people, the Miwok, for example, in Yosemite?

LUCY WALKER: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot [INAUDIBLE].

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: [INAUDIBLE] conversations that they're having?

LUCY WALKER: Yeah, absolutely. And there's nobody disagreeing, I think, anymore that this is the way to manage it as the Indigenous people had been doing by the time we showed up. I say we as a European, taking responsibility for the horrors that were perpetrated.

But when the very first European made contact in California, it was Los Angeles. And they sailed up and called it the Bahia de las Fumas because it was so smoky. And this was Los Angeles. And it was already on fire. And we don't know it was a fire that was deliberately set or it was set by lightning as these fires are.

But it was already on fire when the Europeans showed up. But the Europeans burned the Native burning practices. And the Native Americans knew to deliberately set fire around homestead areas, living areas in order to stop homes going up, basically, and also fire farmed, and just had a whole different relationship with recognizing that fire was going to come through inevitably, and using it as a tool in many brilliant ways.

And this wisdom has been preserved, despite unbelievable genocide and horrible efforts to suppress this. And remarkably, the wisdom-- there's a great deal of wisdom in the communities and everyone agrees is the solution. And yet, it is difficult politically to implement. Because who wants smoke? And everyone is worried about, what if it accidentally gets out of control? And it's very much a bureaucratic nightmare to try to pull off these prescribed burns.

But I think we're starting to see the real value of those and also to really understand what the public isn't getting, is that these fires are not fightable. In Malibu, for example, we see people blame the firefighters, which is horrifying to me. Because the more I got to know the firefighters-- I started out thinking firefighters were heroes.

And that opinion only grew stronger the more up close I got to observe them at work, their courage and the way in which firefighters pick up the pieces whenever things get too sticky for regular human beings. What do you do? You call a firefighter. Anything that doesn't involve a gun, it's the firefighters that come and sort us out and they do.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: One of the things that was so moving in the film is when they were saying, how do you know you've done enough? And when one of the supervisors was saying how difficult it is for them mentally and the grief element-- [INAUDIBLE], let's look at the last clip and on grief. I was so moved, Lucy, by just the sheer sorrow that was expressed from the firefighters. Here's the clip.


- How do you not feel like you failed? I mean, it's all on the ground. I'm a firefighter. And this fire just destroyed this town. How do I live with that feeling of, did you do enough?

- And a lot of firemen that saw a lot of bad things that day are questioning whether or not they want to continue their career as firemen.

- Yes, a lot of death, a lot of people burn up, a lot of ugly. A lot of ugly.

- Yes. We had a lot of regular patients that we went to on a regular basis to help through the past 10, 15, 20 years and then go into those homes and finding the remains. That was probably the worst.

- We don't really get that time to process and mourn, because the fire is still burning.

- I could have saved more people, could have saved that house. I could have done more. I could have done more. You question yourself.

- When you roll the incident through your head right before bed, when your brain takes over and start saying, what if the winds went this way that day? What if I could have done that? Your rational side has to come in and say, you'd have died if you'd have tried that. Or you would have just killed your crew. I'll be replaying it for a long time.


TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: So, Lucy, you have seen and been with, talked to, held them, documented their stories of loss. How do we find the courage not to look away? And with what we see, how do we hold it and not fall into despair? I know Brooke and I-- I realized when we left Castle Valley, we were not OK.

And it wasn't until we came to the East Coast that I realized there's a blue sky. I hadn't seen that for three months. So what can you share with us in terms of your own personal journey with grief and seeing what you have witnessed in these Paradise and Malibu fires?

LUCY WALKER: I was so shocked by what I observed about how we were not addressing these problems, that we were not looking at the way in which the logging industry was causing these fires, that we were not looking at building codes, that we were not looking at where we're building.

In fact, we're doing more of the problems. And still, people have this, like, somehow the firefighters are going to be able to fight these fires idea. I do think that's changing. I do think in-- I began making even this film before those fires, the secret to me being in those fires where I actually begun to make the film a year before. At the time, that was the biggest ever fire in California, the Thomas Fire. And now, horrifyingly, it's number seven. So that just tells you in four years what kind of trouble we're in.

But I think the problem is coming into focus. And I think, actually, if you could ever think about perhaps a cause for optimism is that I think the smoke and these fires are taking this message that we are on fire, that this is not sustainable, and that we can't ignore it when we can't leave our houses in the most affluent places and the most happy, beautiful dream places that we have, when people are dying, when homes are burning, when people can't get insurance, when everything seems to be falling apart.

Maybe that is going to be when we can come together, because we haven't been. And something I found that was really wonderful-- and I don't know what to do with it yet. But something that was really valuable for me personally in the experience was that I am in my bubble. I live in Venice Beach. And the point of including in the film two communities in Malibu and Paradise, rather than one, was there's a case study. It's fascinating.

I was very much inspired by Mike Davis who wrote a fantastic essay, "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn," which contrasted a poor inner city Los Angeles community and Malibu during some fires some decades ago. But it's really interesting. The same wind event in Paradise and Malibu drove the fires.

And Paradise is fairly-- it's a red hill in a blue state, a lot of guns, a lot of Trump voters. Malibu is a Democrat celebrity paradise. The median home price in Malibu-- over $2 million. In Paradise-- less than $200,000. So massive economic-- the opposite ends of the state geographically, politically, and economically. And it was fascinating for me to map the differences and the similarities in how things played out, including the rebuild plans.

And for me, it was fascinating as a urban, educated, international, Southern California, left leaning, well to do, et cetera, to be in Paradise amongst different people and people that told me that climate change was a hoax and then said, wait, are you from New York? When they didn't see me agreeing with them, they literally, suddenly-- it took that for them to realize that maybe I wasn't from around there, which I think is what they meant by, are you from New York?

And so people who don't believe in "climate change" believe as if it's Father Christmas, I suppose, but didn't go with the science on climate change and really have that non-mask wearing, contrarian, pro-Trumpian political view that's emerging in this country.

And for me, it was fascinating to be out of my own bubble, and chatting with these people, and find myself absolutely falling in love with them more personally, as you fall in love with people when you're documenting them and you really-- you have such an empathic gaze. And you understand what people are going through.

And there's a great Jonathan Swift quote about how he falls in love with individuals. He can hate humanity, but he falls in love with the individuals. And I thought that was wonderful for me to really fall in love with these individuals who, on paper, were just the absolute opposite.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Well, clearly, you fell in love with Brad and his family--

LUCY WALKER: Yes, and his friends.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: --and seeing that community. But I guess what I'm wondering is--

LUCY WALKER: But the discourse. [INAUDIBLE] where I'm going [INAUDIBLE]. But, yeah, where I was going was there was a hope in that discourse. Because I found that once we got past the awful tension-- I mean, I was terrified by finding myself with these people, not least all their guns, which I find, now, just make me a little bit nervous to be around. But to find myself politically so fish out of water, I was actually truly anxious at points.

And yet, as we became true friends, I found that beyond what we're "supposed to think" level, we all agree, that they would tell me that Mother Nature was pissed. They would tell me that plastic bags had ruined their town. And I thought, why are we not engaging people on this deeper level? How can we get rid of this political divide? Because the divide is [INAUDIBLE].

From our hearts, if we can connect as friends and have nuanced discussions, we are actually all feeling the same things. They don't want their homes to burn. They know it's wrong. We'd have to find a way to have these difficult, but ultimately beautiful bonding conversations, because we're all human beings.

And our skin burns just the same. And they know that, and I know that. And how can we not be having that conversation? And I think to come back to your beautiful skill with communication, I mean, it's a communication challenge. And something that gave me hope was thinking, oh, my god. We agree. Who would have predicted that?

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Let's hold that thought. I want to bring in Teresa Cavazos Cohn to take this conversation and add to the depth of what you're saying. It's my pleasure to introduce Teresa. She will tell us about herself. But what I want you to know, Lucy, and our audience is that I've worked with Teresa for the last 30 years. She's one of the most original and finest educators I have ever worked with or known.

The shape of her imagination inspires not only critical and creative thinking, but a way to both stand in and respond to an interconnected, interrelated world, which I think is what you're talking about with compassionate intelligence and a sharpness, rare among our species. She's working on a book called the Tapestry of Fire. And, Teresa, welcome. Over to you.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Thank you, Terry, so much. And, Lucy, it's so nice to be here this evening. Also want to say thank you to the Harvard Divinity School and all of the organizers of this event. So my name is Teresa Cavazos Cohn. And I'm a climate change fellow at the Harvard Divinity School this year and associate professor in the University of Idaho's College of Natural Resources, soon to be the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the University of New Hampshire.

I am a geographer and science communicator. And my current research focuses on narratives of fire and Indigenous water governance. And again, I'm just really pleased to be here and having this conversation this afternoon-- I mean, this evening, especially as we're hinging on this conversation about communication, which is really what I want to ask you about.

Bring Your Own Brigade is a stunning film, both visually and for what it asks its audiences to consider. Megafires are complicated, not simply caused by climate change or decades of suppression and not simply solved by fire-proofing homes or hiring more firefighters.

What I think the film most profoundly asks of us is to delve beneath superficial causes and solutions and to fundamentally reconsider our relationships with fire, including how fire is embedded in our value systems, relationships with each other, and our relationships with place.

I think one of the most poignant lines from the film was from Trina Cunningham, a Mountain Maidu fire practitioner, who said, once people realize the place they're in has its own voice, if they take the time to learn the language of that place, then that place will respond to them in a different way. And they will understand that in a different way.

This call to listen strikes me as similar to what my colleague and fire ecologist Dr. Leda Kobziar suggests. Given that climate change is shifting our ecosystems, fire suppression and human infrastructure development has changed our forests. Flammable cheatgrass now covers the sagebrush steppe. There is no baseline for burning.

Our communities must come together and decide what we value and work with fire to maintain what we care about most. And again, I'm picturing the giant sequoias as I say this. I have many questions that I'd like to ask you this evening. But since time is limited, I'd like to draw on questions we're grappling with in my own lab, the Confluence Lab, as they relate to your film.

These are based on a project called Stories of Fire. And I'll offer just a little context for this work. Stories of Fire is both a research and outreach project at the Confluence Lab, an interdisciplinary and now inter-institutional lab that colleagues Jennifer Ladino, and Erin James, and I founded to support better dialogue around environmental issues in rural communities.

The research branch of this project supported by the National Science Foundation works with parks-- national, state, and local-- and uses stories as a way to engage people in broader dialogues about fire. Not just putting a person in front of an audience and telling better stories about fire, but finding ways to create storytelling spaces. So everyone is sharing stories about fire. We base this work on the assumption that wildfire is now a shared experience, amidst everyone in the Western United States, even if that experience is just living with smoke.

Our intent, then, is to draw from personal experience and combine that lived experience with leading-edge fire science to create better dialogue around fire. Our second project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, expands our stories of fire project into a fire justice atlas of the Pacific Northwest. This work is part of the University of Oregon's Just Futures Initiative, an effort to create an institute for racial and climate justice.

On a more personal note, I'm a westerner. And some of the questions I have for you draw on my own lived experience. My first memory of large-scale fire was smoke from the 1988 Yellowstone burns covering Denver. I was 14. And that smoke felt anomalous. 10 years later as a research assistant with landscape ecologist Dr. Bill Romme and Monica Turner, I worked in Yellowstone to study the effects of those fires and was indoctrinated into the idea that fire is necessary and good.

Another decade later in 2011, while I was living in Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American Prometheus, I was evacuated from the Las Conchas Fire, which burned, on average, an acre a second for its first 13 hours and completely changed my sense of fire is simply good.

I still have, for example, my list of 10 things I asked our neighbor to grab from our house if we didn't make it home in time. And then when we did make it home in time, flames visible from our windows, memories of what I chose to save and what I left. This was an area and a nuclear area that had already burned in 2000 in the Cerro Grande Fire. No one thought it would burn again, despite a fire record that this area burned on average every 5 to 25 years for 10,000 years prior to colonization.

And I'm now speaking to you this evening from rural Idaho, about a half mile from Smokejumper Base and on Nimiipuu homelands in the Thunder ponderosa forest that burns. So I'll end my introductory comments by saying I am not a Buddhist scholar, but was listening to an interview with Sharon Salzberg last week, who is a Buddhist scholar.

And she said-- and I'll paraphrase here-- When deplorable things come to your door, don't barricade your house. They'll find their way in and destroy it. Open your door, invite them, and have a cup of tea. I couldn't help, while I was listening to her, but think about a fire at our door and inviting fire into this cup of tea.

This evening, then, I'd like to delve into fire, not just as a scholarly and intellectual pursuit, but also as personal and storied. So, Lucy, I'll begin here with a first question from Jennifer Ladino who is a co-founder of the Confluence Lab and English professor. And she studies affect, OK?

So she's interested in the emotional arc of this film. And she was really interested in why you chose to begin with this extended period of terror and fear, then into this complexity of California fire, and then leaving with a common hope. So, first of all, I want to make sure that you would describe the emotional arc as something like that and also, why you chose to structure the emotional arc of the film in that way.

LUCY WALKER: Well, I do think that films need some arc. They need some shape, their narrative. They need a narrative engine. it's a narrative media. And it's not an art video piece where you can sit and watch the Empire State Building for 19 minutes or something like that. So it needs a shape, needs a story, needs a beginning, middle, and end structure of some kind. So you're always looking for something like that.

And I chose to begin with the fire. And then I would say, rather than find hope, I'd actually say seek answers. I think it was the quest. For me, it was the horror when you understand how bad it is. I didn't want to do that gratuitously. There have actually been a couple of other fire movies that just show you how awful it is, as if to show off your filmmaking skills. Yes, it's easy to make the stuff look terrible, because it's horrifying.

And that's, filmmaking wise, an easy trick, to be honest and not something that I would have felt good about doing. The reason I chose to show you how truly traumatic and suffering packed it is, is because I want us to pay attention. And I feel like it isn't-- even when I was filming in Malibu, which I could commute to, there's a divide. There's a disaster line, which I was-- as a California journalist or filmmaker, you're allowed to cross that barricade.

But if you lived on the other side, it was business as usual in Santa Monica. Right? Cocktails on the beach and all the rest of it. No one is even thinking about what's going on a block over there and onward. And that was so striking to me that we could just drive along the freeway-- burning hillsides on both sides-- and not be doing everything that we could to understand this.

And so I think it was trying to actually convey, using film with immediacy, what this stuff is actually like. Because film can really put you there and then say, well, how is this actually happening? And then go on that quest to understand. So that was the arc for me.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: And can I ask you just a little bit more about the horror piece, too?


TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Because I absolutely understand that horror-- that it's engaging. And I think certainly for people who haven't been through it, it's an amazing way of putting you in that place. Do you think that horror is a motivator to action or that it paralyzes action? And was that at all a concern for you in the way that you structured the movie?

LUCY WALKER: I felt that it was just the truth. And that's a loose, easy thing to say. I mean, you can start to get into that statement. What is truth, et cetera, will just explode on you, obviously. But I felt like I wanted to first describe what we were talking about in a way that people could get a good glimpse.

And also, within the incident, every detail that I chose was actually a clue. It wasn't chosen to be horrific. It was actually chosen to show you the lack of communication. You see a girl who can't persuade her mom to evacuate, because the evacuation warnings never came. And her mother died. And she has to live with the guilt as a teenager of not being able to persuade her mother to leave. And that is a story that's about the communication will vanish on you, people, and so on.

So every story is designed not to be just simply a horror movie plot, but actually, so that people can be empowered with information. Because I feel like when people just know how events unfold, they're going to be able to make better decisions.

And so it was a informational goal, honestly. It was never to dial up the violence to the max. I could have done worse if I had wanted to just do that. It was actually to empower people with actually solid grasps, the clues that then when the investigation came through, I would pick up.

And you would know viscerally, as I did, that this was true information. Because you'd have seen the way the homes burned. You'd have seen those embers. You'd have been with the firefighters. You'd have been with the people in those cars if the car started to melt and they were trapped in the traffic.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Yeah. And then, do you feel-- it seems to me that maybe you're not sidestepping, because I think you're doing it deliberately. Hope isn't something that you want to tag onto the end of the film. You don't feel like-- you're more comfortable with saying this is providing information so that people can make better and more informed decisions about fire management in the future. Am I understanding that correctly?

LUCY WALKER: I do think that in climate discussion, it's a given that people want hope. You can't move an inch in documentary film circles before people want-- they want the light bulb to change at the end of inconvenient truth. It's a complete cliche that every executive, every financier, every producer, every filmmaker is tasked with giving the audience some hope. That is just truism in our field.

And I do feel that I've made films like my film Waste Land, which show hope. And you can see how it lights the sky. It lights the fire on a dark night, that people will come and warm ourselves around something that gives us hope as human beings. Right? And I see that. I also feel a responsibility to the truth of the situation.

And had the truth of the situation been that we are toast and there is nothing that we can do but curl up and die, because we are just going to burn in California without anything that we could do, it would have been my responsibility, I feel, to somehow shape that into a film. And that was my commitment.

As it happens, there are things that we could do and that turn out to be a really interesting part of the story. And then it turned out that we're not doing them. And that turned out to be a really interesting part of the story, right? And I don't know if that's hopeful.

I feel like people look at the town council meeting and think, oh, my god. This is why we're in the pickle that we're in. We can't get it together to solve this. And if we can't get together to solve it in Paradise, then what hope do we have on the global scale, which is where we're feeling this overwhelm and have to be conscious? And so I don't know how much hope there is.

There's a wedding, there's regeneration. There's the fact that the human beings are-- there's a beautiful love story that comes out of the ashes. This couple, our main protagonist who, when we meet him, is grieving his wife and won't leave his house, stays and defends his house in a suicidal gesture that happens not to get him killed, but is, by an absolute miracle, that he's not. He and his blind mother are not killed in that fire and is to do with actually the fire break caused by the logging railroad behind his house.

But that's a different story. But he happens not to die. He's the only person that stays and defends his home in Paradise and lives. And [INAUDIBLE] gets married at the end. And that's the beautiful triumph of the human spirit, and ability to regenerate, and finding love in the ashes. It's a beautiful story. But most people perished that stayed to do that.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Yeah. No. And I would agree to what-- if I were to-- what I found, hopefully, in the interviews that I'm working on right now as well as in your film, too-- there's so-- there's incredible stories of communities coming together. Now, whether that's enduring or not, I don't have that information in the interviews that I'm working with.

But I'm thinking of an interview where someone calls it her fire family, the people who came together, and then are really bonded, and continuing to work on fires as a result of that. And again, there's resonance with some of the communities that seemed like you were working with as well.

And I'm looking at my notes here and saying conservation psychologist John Fraser suggests that hope is a motivator and necessary for action. Climate change scientist Katharine Hayhoe flips that relationship and says action is what leads to hope. And then Derrick Jensen isn't interested in hope at all, arguing that it leads to apathy. So it seems like people have a variety of opinions about "to hope" or "not to hope."

LUCY WALKER: Oh, interesting. So I love this question. I would love to. I want to read all of those things, because this is something that I debate all the time. And I don't know. What do you think? What is the answer?

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Oh, my gosh. You're asking. You just flipped the table.

LUCY WALKER: I did. Yeah.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Good. I would say that I think these opportunities offer us vision that we haven't had before and that maybe we're poised to make different kinds of choices. Because we can see the world in different ways. And I find hope in that. I guess that's how-- that's where I would leave it for myself.

Let me jump to Erin James who's another co-founder of the Confluence Lab and colleague of mine. She's interested in characters and characterization. I was just amazed at the number of voices that you were able to include in this film. And how did you decide which needed to be included? Maybe were there some that you left out that you missed. But how did you patchwork such a network? I mean, such an incredible array of diverse voices.

LUCY WALKER: Right. No, it is. And it's much easier as a filmmaker to tell the story of one voice to having one singular experience, like lovely classical protagonist. But I really wanted with this film to do a mass story, the story of-- I wanted to use that rich tapestry of different people's experience and first responders as well as residents to get the dimensionality of the story. Because for me, no one story did it justice.

It is a dimensional issue. It's a complicated issue. It's a nuanced issue. People have different points of view. And some of them are factually wrong at points. And the unreliability of their understanding is actually part of the story, I feel like. Right? Because this is why seeing the frailty of the human ability to understand and also act in responding to these fires is why we're in this mess.

And so for me to understand, you had to dig into what's going on, but also reveal the different degrees to which people were getting a good grip on it and fighting initiatives designed to mitigate. And I thought that was really interesting.

So that's challenged me as a filmmaker. And ultimately, I wound up putting my own voice in as a writer to help tie it together and also because my experience as a European coming to California and thinking, let's put the fires out, this is scary, and failing to understand that this landscape will inevitably burn, I agree, with what you mentioned. I mean, this landscape is built to burn.

And that's still the most effective way we have controlling the unbelievable productivity that's given rise to all these fuels and keeping the fire in a healthy balance around us. So I brought my voice in as a narrator to help shape the story. But I really wanted that mass approach.

And it took a lot of editing to provide a hopefully satisfying, watchable, shapely setup, pay-off movie experience, which audiences require, I think. So it was a lot of-- it was-- challenged my skill level, honestly. Because it's easy to tell a story about one person's journey.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Right. And to me, too, there's such complexity in some of the stories. And obviously, you chose to spend more time on the Weldon family than you did others. And I want to ask about a character that I found really fascinating-- Norma Weldon, Brad's mother. So her death in the film seems to me a real juxtaposition to those first scenes of horror. Right? The way that she dies is quite different than those.

And so, for example, we have in the traffic jam, the voice of someone begging not to die, then Norma's voice saying that she's ready to go. And then we have handfuls of ash for the fruit trees outside, which refocuses on the generative nature of fire. And we just wanted to ask you more about her voice, and her story, and what that brought to the film for you.

LUCY WALKER: Absolutely. Thank you. Yeah. And she was wonderful. She's a 90-year-old blind woman who lived on the couch of our main character. And when the fire comes, he's grieving his wife and who he built the house for-- won't leave and saves the home with his mother in it.

And then because he's still got one of the last homes and he was one of seven people, I believe, collecting mail in the year after the fire in Paradise, because everyone else's home had burned-- 18,000 structures had burned-- his had not. He has, at various points, 30 people staying in his not particularly big, little four bedroom house, a lot of RVs, a lot of sheds, I believe only one bathroom. [INAUDIBLE] one bathroom and 30 people living there, which, including his blind mother and his sister with dementia who wound up on the cutting room floor, I confess.

But I thought to myself, how many of my amazing liberal friends would have their blind mother, their sister with dementia, and 30 of their buddies to stay for a year or more and the dogs? Goodness alone knows how many and not small dogs and guns. I mean, this was a lot of humanity piling in and babies. And it was a lot.

And I was really struck by that. I was struck by the traditional idea of actually the community of that and the traditional home, and taking care of one another, and how much judgment I might have for someone of Brad's politics, for example. And yet, when it comes down to it, how much admiration I had for his generosity in taking care of his blind, incontinent mother and having her live on the sofa.

And I really appreciated him and her. And I thought, how fascinating. A documentary film can be this unbelievable machine for glimpsing life and glimpsing lives other than their own as telescopes help us see into the stars and microscopes help us see into cells. I think that the machinery of life can be glimpsed by the way that we can use the camera and the editing to really reveal life unfolding and different lives on our own and for me to really reflect. And I have to document it in all kinds of different communities.

My first film was about Amish people, actually. And for me, it was so fascinating to see a way of life that was so different from my own. And I couldn't dismiss that there was so much beauty and value in the different ways of living. And as with this family, Brad on face value was just, we're chalk and cheese, as the Brits would say. And our first conversations-- I was scared to be on his property. And he'd be talking about Trump coming to town and how much he wanted to chat to him, and so forth, and so forth.

And to get past all that, I thought was really just one of the things I relish the most as a human being, is that opportunity to really learn more deeply about lives, truly to be in not just the lip service to that, but truly, truly get to at least glimpse what it is to walk in other shoes than myself and to see things from other points of view. And to see my values, my politics through their eyes was really a profound privilege.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Right. That's helpful. And again, too, it seems like-- I was thinking about this. I don't think that there is a character in the film that I can't empathize with. I have to go through and really specifically think about that. But it does seem that there's a generosity of spirit to the way that you're portraying your characters in a way, that this is so helpful as we're trying to come together in these rural environments around the table and solve these challenges. Right? Somehow we have to find that empathy. And maybe this is something that your film models for all of us.

LUCY WALKER: And I really just want to add one thing that you reminded me as well. There's a character in the film. And I wish this had come to light before, when I was making the film. I found it fascinating. I learned about the genocide in that area in Paradise was really fascinating in terms of history. And there was terrible genocide right there and terrible-- the history of what happened there was just-- I had no idea. Again, felt terribly ignorant.

And a character who's the logger, Pete, who takes me up to the top, and talks about the logging industry, and shows me the logging trucks-- he's an old logger. And his grandfather was one of the-- was famous for killing the most Native Americans.


LUCY WALKER: And this history is so recent, right? And there was a bounty on the head-- I can't remember. Was it $5 or something that a scout was worth, that there was a reward for and in his communities? And so for him to be, as he says on camera, talking about how the Native Americans got it right and we need to go back to their ways of working with the forest was such a moment of hope and thinking, oh, my goodness. Is this a healing? Is this a time when we're no longer in that place of genocide?

And we're now saying, what technology are we missing? What ignorance was-- can we get past that ignorance? Can we learn from one another better? Can we recognize what wasn't recognized by previous generations of the Indigenous wisdom and just see each other better? And I do think the documentary film is a way of seeing each other better. That's why I do it.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Now, great. That's lovely. As we're winding down, I'll bring us back to that in a second. I want to wind down, bringing us back to our cup of tea and with a question from fire ecologist Leda Kobziar again. "In what ways do you think that our struggle with the dual nature of fire as destructive and regenerative reflects a fundamental human impulse to dominate and control what scares us?" Right? So versus opening a door and letting it in for a cup of tea, right? So does that make sense?

LUCY WALKER: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Oh, it's such-- my goodness-- endless food for thought as I reflected on fire. And for me, I became conscious that much like death, the landscape breathes. This is the landscape breathing. This is a landscape regenerating. Fire is actually just as our respiration process. We take fuel, and we burn it in our own furnace that runs at 98.6 or whatever it is these days. Fire-- I think our temperatures are going down, it turns out. Right?

But we are furnaces. We are fire creatures. We burn, and the forest does, too. And this is somehow, "Fire is the time and time is the fire in which we burn," which I think is a Star Wars quote or something. Star Trek quote. So here I go quoting Star Trek. But I think that it was very interesting for me to think about fire being as natural as breathing.

And in fact, fire being the landscape breathing. And for us to stop that as human beings, yeah, seems like the ultimate, doesn't it, in hubris? And yet, of course, we do like managing things as human beings. And here we are, up against our limits with nature. And I think it is just so much to contemplate. It was such a rich thing.

But of course, fire is-- Steve Pyne being such a brilliant thinker. And if people watch the film-- please watch it, because just the people in it are so brilliant. But he points out, actually, that climate change is being caused by us being fire creatures and desperate to burn. We found out with these fossil fuels that we can burn everything.

But we can't get rid of-- we can't balance it out. We haven't figured out what to do with all this fossil fuel. It's broken our relationship. We're so clever that we've managed to dig up all this fossil fuel that we can burn. But we're not clever enough to have figured out what to do to balance it out again. And so we're burning ourselves up. And that, again, larger sense in which the film is about. Fire is about climate change. And there's a lot to think about, I think, with us as fire creatures.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. The Pyroscene, as he calls it, I think. Right?


TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: I would say, Lucy, that to me, I think that your film really is a door. It's the door to open and bring the fire in. And when I think about who is at the table, I think about all of these characters, and having a conversation with them in these rural areas, and what that means. So I would thank you for that, the film.

LUCY WALKER: [INAUDIBLE] I was worried that they-- I was very worried. Because I've always prided myself on the people in my films loving the film. And in this case, you feel very concerned that you co-opted a bunch of people who think climate change is a hoax into your film in which you are yourself as a true scientist on the subject.

And yet, they've really supported it. And I think that again gives me hope, so thank you. Yes, I think I want to invite people in. Because I truly believe this is a discussion that we have to maybe work really, really hard to invite people in, and understand the trauma and ignorance and divide that people are coming out of, and to work harder to communicate, to enlarge our welcome.

To include people has to be the solution, because people are so ignorant. I made a film in garbage dumps. People don't know. Our ignorance is the enemy. And we're too embarrassed to even admit that sometimes. That's actually the problem, isn't it? We'll die by ignorance.

TERESA CAVAZOS COHN: Well, thank you again, Lucy. And I will turn things back over to Terry.

LUCY WALKER: Thank you.

TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS: Thank you, Teresa, for calling forth and challenging us to a vision we have never had before. And thank you, Lucy, as a filmmaker of immense integrity for committing yourself to the truth as you ask us again and again to see through these fires, that there is a real world that is really dying.

Do we understand that, fueled and heightened by climate collapse? And as an audience, what is our individual task, alongside our collective task to solve this problem, which is our survival and the survival of the place we call home? It will not be easy. It will take time, time that we may not have.

Fire-- elemental, beautiful, terrifying. May we take the fire that is burning our forests, our homes, and at times, even our hope and let it burn down the illusions. Let it burn down the inertia. Let it burn even the ignorance that is alive in this country so that we might understand that what is needed is embracing a new way of being, a new way of seeing, understanding that our bodies and the bodies of the earth are one.

Thank you for being a vital part of these Weather Reports. To all of you at home, please join us again, please stay with us, and carry these conversations forward. This is just the beginning. We are breathing. We are breathing together. The landscape is breathing. The big trees are breathing, even in the smoke.








SPEAKER 2: Sponsors-- Harvard Divinity School, the Constellation Project, the Center for the Study of World Religions, Religion and Public Life, Theasophie Teas, and the Planetary Health Alliance.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright 2021, president and fellows of Harvard College.