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- Susan Rockefeller
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Spotlight On:

All We Can Save

What's the Story?

This fall, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson published a book they co-edited called All We Can Save. Pairing climate-inspired stories with science and poetry, this beautiful anthology features the work of more than 40 women climate leaders.

How are they different?

Dr. Johnson is a marine biologist, policy expert and writer, who founded Ocean Collectiv and Urban Ocean Lab, and who this year launched a podcast called How to Save a Planet. Dr. Wilkinson, an author, strategist and teacher, was named one of 15 “women who will save the world” by Time magazine and is Editor-in-Chief of The Drawdown Review, part of Project Drawdown.

What inspires us?

Both of these powerhouse women are working hard every single day to share their extensive knowledge on climate solutions and to support other women climate leaders. As Johnson told us, “I will never give up on this magnificent planet.”

Q&A

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Co-Editor, All We Can Save

Last election, 10 million environmentalists, who were registered to vote, did not show up to the polls. But with groups like the Environmental Voter Project rallying hundreds of thousands of never-voted-before climate supporters, this year is shaping up to be much different. Within this interview, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson has provided many resources for electing leaders (from presidential and congressional to state and local) committed to protecting our planet. This fall, the marine biologist, policy expert and writer published All We Can Save (co-edited with Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson) and launched a podcast called How to Save a Planet (with Alex Blumberg). I encourage everyone to dive into this inspirational and informative Q+A as we approach these final election days with so much at stake on our ballots.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson

Your introduction [in All We Can Save] states that the current moment needs a mosaic of voices.” Ideally, who would make up this mosaic?

Yes, we need not just different climate leaders, but more climate leaders. Leaders who represent diversity in the fullest sense of the word—age, race, class, gender, geography, areas of expertise, etc. It is only with the mosaic of voices that we will be able to both come up with and implement the solutions we need across all sectors, from energy to agriculture to transportation to buildings and manufacturing. The book, All We Can Save, is twice as long as it was initially conceived because we wanted to represent as much of this in the book as we could. It includes writing from scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, innovators, wonks and designers.

There is an alarming statistic in Kate Knuth’s essay Becoming a Climate Citizen in which she shares that 10 million environmentalists were registered to vote in the 2016 election, but did not show up to the polls. Are you hopeful for this year’s outcome?

Yes! Because Environmental Voter Project, which calculated that statistic, has been working hard ever since 2016 to get those folks to cast ballots. So far, thanks to their efforts, over 400,000+ never-voted-before environmentalists have already cast early ballots. You can support and join their efforts to get environmentalists to vote: environmentalvoter.org. 

Why is this year’s election so important? What is at stake?

It’s impossible to overstate how much is on the line for the quality of life for humans on this planet. If we don’t race away from fossil fuels and transition rapidly to a regenerative economy, there will be so much needless death and suffering.

If you care about the environment, the choice at the presidential level is clear. Trump has rolled back 100 environmental rules and heavily subsidized/re-entrenched the fossil fuel industry to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Look no further than this list of “achievements” (including leaving the Paris Agreement, expanding oil and gas drilling, permitting more pipelines, etc.) linked to via his campaign website. His promotion of fossil fuels is incredibly dangerous for all life on Earth. 

Meanwhile, Biden’s climate policy the most ambitious climate policy ever from a major U.S. presidential nominee! It includes the commitment to reach 100% clean energy by 2035 and to decarbonize the entire economy by 2050, and that 40% of the funds for the energy transition will go to disadvantaged communities. This is MAJOR. And many environmentalists (myself included) were super surprised by how bold his new plans are. Here are his overarching climate plan, his clean energy plan, and his environmental justice plan.

For those of you having conversations with your friends and family about the presidential election and what is at stake for climate, two episodes of my Spotify/Gimlet podcast, How to Save a Planet, may be useful. “Make Republicans Environmentalists Again” can help reach Republicans who care about the planet on what’s at stake and why they should support climate candidates. While Trump seems committed to accelerating a climate apocalypse, it used to be normal for conservatives to support conservation! Nixon created the EPA for gosh sakes.

And the episode “How 2020 Became a Climate Election” can help reach progressives who may not think Biden’s climate policy is good enough (in fact, it’s the most ambitious climate policy EVER from a US presidential nominee!!) or people just aren’t yet motivated to vote but are concerned about the climate. 

Given his policies, you unfortunately can not be both with Earth and with Trump. But there is so much more to this election than who becomes president. We need to think about the climate platforms and plans of every single politician that we elect.

Congressional, state and local candidates really matter! An organization called Vote Climate PAC ranks the climate positions and voting records of incumbent members of Congress. You can find that at voteclimatepac.org. And the other resource is the Sierra Club’s list of what they are calling “climate champion” endorsements for Congressional seats. And you can find that list at sierraclubindependentaction.org/endorsements. And when it comes to local candidates those really matter too for things like public transit and composting and bike lanes and all of that so please do a little digging of your own and see where your local candidates stand.

There is an organization called Lead Locally whose mission is electing community leaders who are dedicated to stopping big fossil fuel projects and protecting our climate. If you want to get involved, head to their website for info on the slate of candidates they’re supporting this election and you can even sign up to phone or text bank for them. You can find details about all of that at leadlocally.org.

Photo by Peter Neumann

What is the United States risking by pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement?

Our credibility, our role as a global leader, and our ability to accelerate implementation of climate solutions. Also, our opportunity to make up for the fact that the U.S. has emitted the most greenhouse gasses overall of any country, putting people in developing countries (who have emitted relatively little greenhouse gas) at extreme risk. In sum, by pulling out of the Paris Agreement we sacrifice any semblance of moral high ground.

What keeps you optimistic for the future and away from climate grief?

I’m not optimistic. I don’t assume we, humanity, will collectively get it together to avert climate catastrophe. But we could. I choose to live in that space of possibility. There is still a wide range of possible futures. Every day I wake up excited to contribute to ensuring we have the best possible one. And I will never give up on this magnificent planet.

Photo by Deni Febriliyan

What are you growing/harvesting right now?

Love, creativity and community. Facts alone are not going to get us there. And we have launched a non-profit, The All We Can Save Project, to support women climate leaders, use the book as an educational resource, and to continue to build community around climate solutions.

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Spotlight On:

Abandoned Cider

What's the Story?

When Martin Bernstein bought a farm in the Catskills several years ago, he didn’t know much about the intricacies of apples. It wasn’t until he grew tired of baking pies and canning applesauce that he moved onto making cider, and his passion for the craft was born with Abandoned Cider.

How are they different?

Most big brand hard ciders are made from concentrate. Abandoned Cider uses whole wild apples that they crowdsource to create the perfect balanced ciders. If you have an apple tree in your backyard, they will trade you your apples in exchange for hard cider.

What inspires us?

By making cider from otherwise deserted or rejected apples, Abandoned Cider is in its small way helping to mitigate our country’s massive food waste issue and use what Earth has provided.

Q&A

Martin Bernstein

Co-Founder, Abandoned Cider

Most of the apples we find at the grocery store are clones of original varieties. These apples are great for eating and baking, but, as with grapes for making wine, the apples needed to make an amazing cider are a completely different variety. That’s one thing Martin Bernstein learned when he bought a 100+ year old orchard in New York’s Hudson Valley and began creating Abandoned Cider with co-founder Eric Childs. Unlike many of the newer commercial apple farms in New York, Bernstein’s orchard was home to many old apple varieties he had never heard of. These apples include wild varieties that produce ciders with vastly different flavor profiles than those that have been traditionally cloned. 

How did you get started working with apple trees and specifically wanting to focus on apple genetics?

My wife and I bought a farm in the Catskills several years ago from a guy who was 98 at the time. He was born at this farm. His father settled it in the late 1800s and they planted all the apple trees. I knew very little about apples at that point but it really piqued my interest that we suddenly had access to this orchard with really old apple varieties I’d never heard of. I went down the Google rabbit hole finding out the history of each of these apples. I was making apple pies and applesauce and it didn’t really do it for me. But then I started making hard cider and noticed that there were really different results depending on which apples I used. That’s what got me started. In the same way that a lot of wine makers are interested in using specific wine grapes.

Founder Martin Bernstein and Eric Childs

What’s the most interesting fact you’ve learned so far about apples?

There are so many. The basic fact that I try to teach everybody is that most apple varieties are clones. So through the process of clonal crafting, the Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji and all of the varieties that we know and love, come from trees that are clones from the original. You can’t take a Gala and pollinate it with a Fuji and expect to get an apple that tastes like a cross between them. That doesn’t work. Apples are extremely heterozygous. There are many, many genes in the apple that dictate flavor, size, color and growth patterns. That is not the case with a lot of fruit and veggies. For example, tomatoes are not very heterozygous. If you cross a red tomato and a yellow tomato, you’ll get an orange tomato. When you plant a seed of an apple, you have no idea what’s going to come out of it. You could get the most flavorless apple that tastes like a potato. Or you could get the most delicious, nutritious and beautiful apple. This is important because we use a lot of wild apples that are not bred for sweetness. We’re just using what’s made it in the wild, and produce a wide variety of apples with a wide variety of flavors.

What’s the biggest challenge in apple farming? What role has climate change played?

A lot of the apple varieties that are being grown in the Hudson Valley today are not very well suited to the climate that is coming. We don’t know what exactly is coming, but we know that it’s going to be different. Planting an apple tree of a certain variety that does well now in the Hudson Valley may not be the smartest idea seeing as in 20-25 years when that apple tree is fully mature, we will have a very different climate. For any farmer growing crops that take a long time to mature, it’s a gamble because you’re trying to understand what the challenges will be in 20-30 years from now. One of the biggest pressures right now is the wide variety of fungi that flourish in wet and humid conditions. In the last 3-4 years, wild trees are not fairing very well. We’re also seeing invasive species that have taken hold in the northeast that will probably decimate many orchards over the coming years. There have always been invasive species, but with climate change, there’s an added pressure and the immune systems of the trees will be weaker. 

Your model of collecting abandoned apples is a solution to our country’s massive food waste issue. Can you discuss the work you do as it relates to combating food waste?

While that wasn’t the driving force, it is a huge bonus and added benefit that we’re able to make use of a “natural resource” that nobody else is interested in using. We do it mostly because there are very few commercial orchards that are growing the heirloom variety that we use in our ciders. So it’s a bonus that we’re using abandoned orchard apples, but our main goal is to make a delicious cider with apples that are actually suitable for cider. We also crowdsource a lot of our apples. People who have apple trees in their backyards can pick them and bring them to us and we will give them cider in exchange. 

Where do most of the apples you use come from?

The bulk of the volume of apples that we use come from family farms that are operating as commercial orchards. The bulk does not come from abandoned orchards, but the widest variety does. 

Your co-founder Eric is a Chinese tea specialist and holds a degree in wine education from the International Wine Center. How is wine similar to hard cider?

Cider is wine, essentially. There is very little difference in the methods used to produce cider over wine. The biggest difference, of course, is the fruit used. The method of cider making that we employ is the common wine making method. We crush the whole fruit, take that juice, ferment it and age it and then bottle it. It is essentially wine making. Where we differ a bit from wine is what we call adjunct or added flavors. We do this only for one of our ciders—the hopped cider. Even though it’s using hops, it’s not a beer thing; it’s more of a kombucha thing. We take whole flower hops and steep them in our cider for a certain amount of time and then pull it out before canning or bottling. 

How do you feel Covid-19 has reshaped our food system? Have you seen an increase in people buying locally, especially where you are in the Hudson Valley?

That’s probably the main change I’ve seen. It’s reshaping and will continue to reshape our food system. I am seeing a lot more people interested in buying local food and beverage for sure. I go to the Kingston farmers market every Saturday and it is absolutely packed. Our sales have gone up dramatically as well since the pandemic started and I think that’s because people are interested in supporting local businesses but also because they have more time to really think about what they’re putting in their bodies and are doing it more consciously. There is more attention to the way that we live now as opposed to 7 or 8 months ago. 

What makes the perfect cider?

I would avoid using the term “perfect cider” because there are so many cider makers in the U.S. that are making incredible products, but I am constantly surprised and pleased when I taste a new cider from someone else and they’ve used some strange ingredient like earl grey tea or guava. There are so many ways you can innovate and make good ciders and I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way. There are plenty of purist cider makers out there that do believe in the perfect cider and that’s fine, but I just don’t subscribe to it. I’m much more interested in beverage innovation. That’s what sets American cider apart from French cider which is very traditional in terms of methods and ingredients. But I do believe that a good cider must use whole apples as opposed to concentrate. I have yet to taste a cider that’s made from concentrate that is good. 

Do you think your business model could be applied to other food/beverages?

Yes, totally. That is happening. There is a brewery that makes beer with discarded bread. There are plenty of bakeries that have leftover bread at the end of the day that can then be used to make beer. There are so many ways to reuse and repurpose “abandoned” products. With the apples we use, it’s really just us and the deer that want those apples. So why not use them to make cider?

Where can people buy your cider?

We are currently distributed in California and Nevada, and New York State, Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland as well as online. Our online store is launching this winter, but people can email us at info@abandonedcider.com and we will ship anywhere.

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xoxo,
Susan Rockefeller