UA professor of geosciences Joellen Russell talks about how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans. Then we talk with two writers who will be appearing at this year’s Festival of Books: Kathryn Ferguson, author of The Haunting of the Mexican Border, and Margaret Regan, author of Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire.
Here’s a transcript of the show:
Hello, everyone. I’m Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel and we’re here to talk Zona Politics. Today, we’re once again highlighting the UA College of Science spring lecture series on climate change. Joining us in the studio is Joellen Russell, a U. of A. associate professor of geosciences, who specializes in studying the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans. Dr. Russell, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Russell) Thanks for having me.
(Nintzel) So what got you interested in studying the oceans?
(Russell) I’m an odd duck. I grew up in an Eskimo fishing village, 31 miles above the Arctic Circle, on the Chukchi Sea, which is actually part of the Arctic Ocean. And being up there in a place where you’re very isolated, and nothing but big broad horizons, I couldn’t wait to be an explorer. And since I decided that all the land had been explored, there was nothing for it but to go to sea.
(Nintzel) And these days you’re learning about the impact of climate change on the oceans, and you’ve learned that the heat energy from the increased release of carbon in the atmosphere has really been sinking into the sea. What has been the impact of that?
(Russell) Well, we’ve seen almost 92% of the energy imbalance that we measure at the top of the atmosphere —you know, look out at the sun to see how much is coming in; we look in at the earth to see how much is actually making it back out to space — we see that the energy imbalance is growing every year. That energy imbalance has to go somewhere, and so what we’ve found by measuring it, is that it’s going into the ocean — 93% of the human-related greenhouse-gas-forced warming has gone into the ocean. And we see this in every ocean. We see it warming, not just right at the surface, which you’d expect from the sun and then warmer atmosphere, but also, it’s mixing that heat all the way down, down, down to about four kilometers. And it’s mixing a very specifically in the ocean around Antarctica.
(Nintzel) And what does that do to the ocean?
(Russell) Well, two things. One, it makes sea level higher because when you warm the water, the water expands. So in places like Massachusetts you’re seeing that the surface current is warming and expanding water and then the deep current is warming and it’s also expanding water, giving you quite an abrupt pop up in the sea level. But it also does other things. In places where it’s really warm near the surface, it tends to suppress, actually, the mixing, because it takes more real energy to mix away all that warm water that’s deeper and deeper and deeper as it warms and warms and warms, and around Antarctica, we’re actually seeing it warm all the way down to 4 kilometers, three or four kilometers, and that’s actually doing a great thing for us here in Arizona, which is reducing the rate at which the atmosphere warms. It’s still warming, but it’s warming slightly less than it would normally, because without all this ocean uptake of heat. And so, I like to give a public interest talk and call it “How the Antarctic is helping Arizona Keep Its Cool.”
(Nintzel) And what’s happening with the life — the sea life? There must be some impact on the sea life.
(Russell) So the warming tends to do two things. When it suppresses the mixing, and it does this in many oceans around the world where it’s not as vigorously mixed as around Antarctica, and what it does, is that thick warm layer of water makes it harder for the wind to push away the warm water and pull up to the surface the water that’s cold and full of nutrients, plant food. That water, they strip it all out from the surface layer, and they need the wind to pull new water to the surface to feed the base of the food web for the global ocean, which is the phytoplankton that harvest the energy from the sun and turn it into all that lovely green that eventually becomes our fish.
(Nintzel) I think it’s having a bad impact on things like coral, too, right?
(Russell) Well, now that is the tricky part, is it’s not the heat that’s causing that problem. The problem is that all the CO2, when we burn anything, wood, coal fossil fuels of any variety, oil, gas, etc., when we burn them, the byproduct is CO2. We basically — that’s the combustion product — and so we’re, we see from all of our measurements in the atmosphere that it’s going up, up, up, up, up, up, up. We’re over 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, now. We haven’t seen this for millions of years. And all that CO2, unfortunately, is soluble in water. CO2 is soluble. So what happens is, it dissolves in water, and it forms a carbonic acid, a weak acid. So, essentially, the more CO2 you put in the atmosphere, the more we’re essentially titrating or acidifying the oceans. So we’ve actually observed that the pH of the ocean is dropping. And this, you’d think, is not a big problem, except that many of our tiny sea creatures, and bigger ones, too, make their homes, their shells, out of calcium carbonate, the same thing you have in TUMS or antacids. If you want to eat one of these and then you burp, right? Well that’s actually how, when you put acid in the ocean, carbonic acid from CO2, you’re acidifying the surface layer and deeper as it gets into the ocean, and the ones that are at risk are things like the base of the food web like our (phytoplankton)
The most prevalent phytoplanktons on planet earth, they are all made out of kelp. They make their shells out of calcium carbonate, and things like reefs—coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef. Now, right now they’re sitting in warmer water so it makes it less of a threat at the moment but given the rate at which we’re pumping out CO2, if we don’t reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’re essentially going to see in 50 to 100 years, the Great Barrier Reef will dissolve.
(Nintzel) You gave a talk, you led off the lecture series and one of the things you said was, if you’re going to see the Great Barrier Reef, or take your children you’d better do it sooner than later.
(Russell) Yes, because it’s not just that they dissolve. It’s ragged. It will have harder time growing. The diversity may decrease because only the most robust, most hardy will survive. These are the sorts of things if you want to see the earth, the ocean, the way she was meant to be seen go. Go now! Go quickly. Don’t wait.
(Nintzel) Joaquin Ruiz, the dean of the UA College of Science, was on this program a few weeks ago, and he mentioned “Water is going to be the hammer of global warming.” And it’s definitely affecting our weather patterns. The westerly winds you mentioned in your talk, moving toward the poles. What is the impact of that?
(Russell) So it’s been two things. One of the things … see we have these two big bands of westerlies in the Southern Hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere, and they’re contracting toward the poles — I hate to say this, but kind of like a noose — getting tighter toward the poles. And this is partly the effect of our ozone holes that we ripped open with chlorofluorocarbons, Freon from our fridges, etc., but it’s also partly due to the fact that the lower atmosphere’s warming because of all that extra CO2. So, both effects, the cooling and the warming are forcing those winds toward the poles So the direct effect is that we get dryer in Southern Arizona. We’re on the edge of where the west winds can reach us. We normally get 3 to 5 storms; in bad years, it’s two, or three, maybe and those storms, when they reach us, that’s when we get all our surface water, what we get our snow from, etc. So as the west winds tilt toward the poles, we expect to get fewer storms making it all the way to us in Southern Arizona. That’s a problem for many, many reasons. Crops, agriculture and other things being just the least of it. But we also have issues with, in the oceans what that does is it changes what is stirred. So the ocean near the equator and right next to the U.S. on both sides gets stirred less. So in fact, because we’ve got less limiters, because the winds have moved away, basically making these big, huge jars of warm water, basically the warm water systems which may decrease the total productivity in these whole areas in right where our major fishing grounds are on either side of the U.S. The same thing in the Southern Ocean is happening, except it’s all ocean down there until you get to the continents, and what’s there is actually giving us a little boost. What it’s done is by tightening nearer down to Antarctica, because it pushes the water away in all directions from Antarctica with these very intense winds and the (?) of course, the water
(uplifts) and it’s uplifting from deeper and deeper, cold, rich, full of nutrients. Now the bad part is it doesn’t seem to be stimulating much additional growth. We’re not certain. We’re going to wait for our floats to see how it happens, but because it’s so dark during so much of the year when all this is happening so it may not be stimulating growth, but at a minimum, it’s bringing all this cold water to the surface. which is allowing it to take up additional heat and additional CO2.
(Nintzel) You mentioned your floats and I didn’t, we’ve got about two minutes left, so I didn’t want to leave without talking about these floats, which is an amazing project. BGC Argo floats out there in the ocean. Tell us about these things.
(Russell) So exciting! So the National Science Foundation has funded me, and I’m leading the modeling component. Lynne Talley of Scripps Institutions of Oceanography is leading the observational component, and it’s, what we’re doing is, we have a combined, it’s called the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling, and the National Science Foundation is giving us $21 million to do a combined project where we are deploying these profiling floats — autonomous, robot floats that are making the measurements more. Every five days they drop down to 2,000 meters, come all the way to the surface making measurements of carbon nutrients, oxygen, etc., and then they beam that data back by iridium satellite, and we get it up on the web within two hours. And so a ship might take a few profiles along its distance and it costs $40,000 a day for their boat or ship. These floats cost about $100 thousand, and they work for five years doing profiles every five to ten days. We think we can transform our understanding of the ocean sink for carbon by making these measurements.
(Nintzel) And how many of them do you have out there?
(Russell) Well, right now we’ve got 34 and we will have almost 200 out, and so it’s very exciting. We’ve also just got an agreement with nine of the top ten float-employing countries to actually build a global bio-geochemical Argo array of these floats so that we, with a global array, we can actually reduce the uncertainty of the amount of carbon going into the ocean, which will allow us to verify the carbon agreement that we’ve just come to in Paris at COP 21 the Conference of the Parties. So we have a carbon agreement, we’ve got new project in the profiling floats, we’re going to do carbon management. Here we go!
(Nintzel) That’s amazing. They literally float around. They sink down. They rise up. They send this data to the satellite, and you get it and ….
(Russell) …and we put it online for the public as well as using it for carbon management and other things.
(Nintzel) Extraordinary work and I want to learn more about it hopefully once you get some more data from it.
(Russell) Oh I’m so excited.
(Nintzel) Alright. Well thank you so much for joining us here on Zona Politics, and we will be right back with author Kathryn Ferguson
(Nintzel) The U. of A. Festival of Books returns in March so we’re talking with a few local authors over the next few weeks. Today, we’re welcoming Kathryn Ferguson, author of The Haunting of the Mexico Border. Kathryn, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Nintzel) This book is about a lot of things. It’s about your efforts to make a film down in Mexico, your work with the No More Deaths group that saves border crossers in distress, and even your romance with an undocumented immigrant, holding it all together, though, is really your love for Mexico. What attracts you so much to Mexico?
(Ferguson) I was born in Tucson. They’re our neighbors We used to just run down there to buy coffee and beans and tortillas and what I love about Mexico is the people.
(Nintzel) You spent a lot of time in the Sierra Madre with the Tarahumara to make a film. Tell us how you ended up down there and why you decided to make a movie about them.
(Ferguson) I ended up there because I was lost. I was with a friend. We were driving around out in the Sierra in the mountains, and we just were fighting and then we were very lost. And then this gentleman a Rarámuri Indian, and we asked if we could throw our sleeping bags down on his property, and he said “Yeah, c’mon, c’mon,” and he got in the car and that was it. He was my friend forever.
(Nintzel) And how did you get involved with the No More Deaths group?
(Ferguson) I got involved with No More Deaths at the beginning, and then with the Tucson Samaritans and over the years, since I’ve come here I would hear about all the deaths in the desert, and I thought, “How can I possibly do anything, one individual. And then I heard about this organization and I went, and went to see what they like, and I liked them.
(Nintzel) And what was it like to be out in the desert with them?
(Nintzel) How so?
(Ferguson) Oh, life-changing. Honestly. When you’re in the desert, I was in the desert for 12 years. I worked out there. And you carry backpacks full of water and food and medicine, and every day you’re walking looking for people and you’re calling out in Spanish, “Hello? Are you here? Is there anybody here? We have food and we’re friends.” And then suddenly, somebody steps out in front of you and you’re just shocked. I mean, you’re looking for people. You really don’t expect to find them, and then there’s somebody there, and that person has a history, a story where they came from, why on earth would they be in the middle of the Arizona-Sonora desert and, um, it’s always shocking. It’s immediate when you talk to them. It’s kind of like being in a war. There’s nothing extraneous. It’s just like, bam, you get right to the heart of that person.
(Nintzel) And how were your interactions with the Border Patrol out there?
(Ferguson) It’s varied. It’s varied. There are some gentlemen out there that do a good job, and there are a lot of men out there that don’t want to be there. They work long, hard hours and they’re bored, and they look for any kind of adventure, they can have, and they’re not so nice to deal with.
(Nintzel) You were arrested at one point as part of your work with No More Deaths and it’s a pretty harrowing tale in the book here. Talk a little bit about that.
(Ferguson) Well, I had been out in the morning with a woman and her nine-year-old son and we were out looking to encounter people to take food and water out to see if we find anybody that was in need in the desert. We stopped for lunch and an unmarked truck pulled up behind us, and they sat there for a while, and then we ended up asking them why they were there, and they jumped out of their vehicle and asked strange questions and then quickly one man hit me and then handcuffed me and it was about a year of lawyers and court, and then they dropped the charges.
(Nintzel) And you ended up down in a small town, no ride home, now ….
(Ferguson) Yes, I was in after we were handcuffed and let go they were just going to leave me in the desert, so it was quite an adventure
(Nintzel) Do you talk much with the refugees coming here from Central America?
(Ferguson) Yes, with some of them. It’s a terrible situation, because it goes back to the ’80s when the United States was in El Salvador we gave $5 billion to the dictatorship there. It seems that this is a result. Now we have, there’s a lot of crime, and we’ve seen lots of those kids coming across the border.
(Nintzel) What are they telling you? They’re in fear of their life from the gangs down there?
(Ferguson) Yeah. They’re terrified. They don’t talk too much. They are so scared. And it’s a long, terrible, terrible journey. And they’re escaping. Their parents have sent them. They’re on their own. It’s frightening.
(Nintzel) It would take a lot to put your child on a train and send them across countries in hopes for a better life in the United States.
(Ferguson) Can you imagine? I can’t imagine doing that.
(Nintzel) The conditions there must be just absolutely terrifying for the children, who are either being inducted into these gangs or threatened with rape or what have you.
(Ferguson) Right. Yes. Otherwise, there’s no reason you would do that.
(Nintzel) Right. Right. So, you’re going to be at the Festival of Books. I’ll be moderating a panel with you Margaret Regan will be on there. What are we talking about?
(Ferguson) We’re talking about women on the border, women journalists on the border, stories that women tell on the border, so, I think that will be pretty interesting It’s a women’s point of view of this great, wonderful, U.S.- Mexico border.
(Nintzel) All right. Well, I’m looking forward to it. We’ll be right back with author Margaret Regan.
(Nintzel) My longtime colleague Margaret Regan will be among the authors of this year’s Festival of Books. Last year, I talked to Margaret about her new book, Detained and Deported, Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire, which is an in-depth look at the often heartbreaking tales of undocumented immigrants who get caught up in the legal system. Here’s a second look at that interview
(Nintzel) And we’re back. Joining me on the set is Margaret Regan. Margaret is a long-time colleague of mine at the Tucson Weekly, where she has won dozens of journalism awards for her reporting, feature-writing and arts criticism. She’s also the author of two books on immigration. The first was “The Death of Joseline.” Then she examined the perilous trip that many undocumented immigrants set out on when they cross the Arizona desert, often with tragic results. Her second book is “Detained and Deported” just being released this week. It’s about what happens when an undocumented immigrant ends up in custody. Margaret, thanks for joining me on Zona Politics.
(Regan) I’m thrilled to be here, Jim.
(Nintzel) Now, a lot of the immigration debate is about these political battles in Washington and/or rhetoric on the campaign trail. But your work has really been praised for finding the human face of these people. What draws you to these stories.
(Regan) Well, you know, these are human beings. As you say, we hear about this all the time, the numbers of people doing this and that, the numbers of people that ought to be deported, ought to be detained, but we don’t look at what happens to a family, when, say, the mom gets arrested and is put in a detention center and the children end up in foster care or worse. So I think it’s really important to introduce ourselves to people who are really undergoing these tragic things, their individual lives that are really upended.
(Nintzel) There’s a story in your book about a woman named Yolanda. She ends up dragged into a sex trafficking ring, ends up being detained, she was separated from her children and her story is horrific but it has a bit of a happy ending. Tell us a little bit about that story.
(Regan) Yeah, okay, well, you know, like many of these very poor and powerless immigrant women she was abused by a partner. That’s one of the things that was kind of the most disturbing thing I wrote about on the American, an American citizen partner, who would say, he abused her so much she fled the home, she got caught up in a sex-trafficking ring, she couldn’t get out. They threatened her life, they threatened the lives of her children, but eventually she gets arrested and she’s charged with prostitution and convicted, so now she’s a felon, so she’s sent to the detention center, the kids are left with the abusive boyfriend. She’s in the detention center for two years and hardly ever sees these children. There’s never been any indication that she’s a bad mother, by contrast, a loving devoted mother, and these are very young children, children, you know, under the age of six who need their mom. She had a happy ending only because a lawyer in Tucson, a UA law professor, Nina Rabin, became aware of her case, and fought and fought and fought for her and ultimately, she was able to get her a T visa, which is given to women and I guess young men also who’ve been hauled into sex-trafficking operations and it grants them permanent residency in the United States. It’s a good point that she happened to get out of the detention center in Eloy, which is a great big detention center here in Arizona, solely because she had a lawyer, but these people are not entitled to free legal counsel.
(Nintzel) Tell me a little bit about your visits to these detention centers. You say, you know, they’re not really supposed to be prisons, per se, but they sure seem like they are.
(Regan) I went there to visit Yolanda one day, a couple of years ago, now, and I was shocked at the treatment of the family. You know they only have visiting days on Saturday and Sunday, and again, these people are not being detained. Once they’re in Eloy they’re just being detained for immigration reasons, not for criminal reasons, so, yes, it’s not a prison. They had a whole herd, maybe a hundred family members, the guards yelling at them, the guards yelling at the kids. Little kids were going there to see their moms. You know moms that they’ve been separated from or their dad. Very rude to everybody, the children, the moms and parents, whoever was bringing the children. They’re not allowed to bring in food or activities for the kids. You’d see a lot of tears among the little children, and that’s just the visiting. You know, all the reports I have for the detainees, the food is horrible. They have trouble getting access to medical care. At Eloy, unfortunately, has high rates of death, higher than many of the other detention centers around the state.
(Nintzel) And these detention centers are … It’s a fairly isolated spot for people to try to get to visit.
(Regan) By design, I believe. You know Eloy is halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, and it’s well off the road from I-10 so you and I don’t see it driving up there. You get off the road at Eloy and you go in eight miles and you see this gigantic prison. block. And it makes it very difficult. Yolanda, for her to visit her children, she had to get a relative or a friend to pick up the kids and it was a three or four-hour round trip for them to bring them down to see her on a Sunday, and it didn’t happen very often.
(Nintzel) These are private facilities, private prisons. What did you learn about Corrections Corporation of America as you researched this book?
(Regan) Well the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs Eloy for profit under contract with the federal government, is a thriving industry. They make millions of dollars every year just from their detention centers. And it’s interesting. There is an ICE detention facility in Florence and it’s much better run, much more friendly toward families. Visits seven days a week. and this is the same government that contracts out to a place like the Corrections Corporation of America, which has, you know, developed this reputation for very harsh treatment of the immigrants, and yet they make a tidy profit every day from incarcerating people like Yolanda. And you know the thing about private detention prisons is the harsher our immigration laws get, the more people we detain, the more money they make.
(Nintzel) There’s a new one opening in Texas very soon, too. That will be a Central American refugee center.
(Regan) Absolutely. All those women and children that we heard so much about last summer. Even the Obama administration has decided to really crack down on these people who are usually very vulnerable people escaping violence, especially the gangs. Central America is very crime- and drug-ridden. These people are really refugees, but they’ve made the decision to incarcerate women, children and babies in this large new detention center in Texas, and guess who got the contract? Corrections Corporation of America. And they’re doubling their fee for handling women and children. It’s going to be close to $300 a day, double what they’re getting in Eloy.
(Nintzel) When you first started writing about the border in 2000 when you were at the Tucson Weekly. What got you interested in sinking into this topic?
(Regan) Well, you may recall a staff meeting at the Tucson Weekly we had in the year 2000. That was the year that for the first time we kept hearing about migrant deaths in the desert We’re so used to them now, we think it must always have been the case that people have been dying in the desert in Arizona. That’s not the case. It really didn’t start until the late ’90s, early 2000s. And it’s because of federal policies. We sealed off the easier, safer urban crossings at El Paso and San Diego, so where did the people go? They went to the treacherous territory in between, which is Arizona. Starting after, you know, operation gate-keeper and the other federal programs they started coming through here. Year 2000 we really first started hearing about the deaths for the first time. And I remember being in a staff meeting at the Tucson Weekly and said “You guys, we’ve got to cover this. We’re the long form newspaper closest to the border in Arizona. It’s our responsibility.” And you and probably our editor at the time said, “Well why don’t you do it?” You know. We were shifting responsibilities around and I hadn’t thought of myself as being the person because I mostly covered art, but, I was thrilled to do it, and I went down to Douglas, Arizona, which in those days was “the” migrant crossing, and that was a life-changing experience. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in the jail down there.
(Nintzel) And you came across a deceased immigrant even in that process.
(Regan) That’s right. I went down there with Hector Acuna, our former colleague, a photographer, and we learned that a migrant had died in the desert that day and they had taken a young man, a cousin, into custody and his name was Ishmael, and the young man who died was named Silverio and I had the opportunity to interview Ishmael in the Border Patrol headquarters there, and it was the first time that I talked to a Guatemalan indigenous, Spanish not his native language, first time I really talked to an immigrant about the long difficult, and I consider heroic journey, all the way up from Guatemala to the Arizona desert with the sole purpose of earning enough money to support his four little children. So that was a very life-changing event for me. And after that story, that’s what I wanted to write about more than anything else.
(Nintzel) And you see echoes in the stories of immigrants coming from Latin America today, or elsewhere, and your heritage with the Irish a quarter of a century ago.
(Regan) Yeah. That’s absolutely true. A few months before I went down to Douglas, I had written a big story about my own Irish ancestry. My father had died the year before and in grieving his death I wanted to write about him. and where he had come from. You know, what his roots were. And I had done a lot of research into the tragedy of the Irish immigration to the United States in the mid-19th Century, following on the famine. My own family had a very tragic story. My father’s grandparents died quite young. His own father was left working on the streets of Philadelphia, basically raised himself, just kind of abandoned by society, and as you know, in those days, “No Irish need apply” signs were the order of the day, and I went down to Douglas, and I have a long drive home just thinking about it all, and I thought to myself, “This is the same story.” I just wrote about my father and where he came from and my own ancestors and how badly they fared in America at the beginning, and this is the same story. These are immigrants of today. And you know we’ve had wave after wave after wave of immigration in the United States and we’re so proud to be an immigrant nation but every time a new wave of people comes in, we treat them badly, and we have handled the situation badly, so I think it’s important to point that out now.
(Nintzel) All right. The book is “Detained and Deported.” My guest Margaret Regan. Margaret thank you for coming down here today.