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Rural Communities Are Already Feeling Effects Of Climate Change, But A Climate Activist Says It's Not Too Late

Reid R. Frazier
The Allegheny Front

On today’s program: A Greene County climate activist says holding state and federal leaders accountable for supporting the transition away from fossil fuels is necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change; the nonprofit behind new data visualizations for the state’s prison and parole population hopes it’s work improves criminal justice outcomes; and the executive director of the Tull Family Theater reflects on how the organization has weathered the pandemic, and how they’re staying optimistic despite rising COVID-19 cases.

Rural municipalities need state, federal support to combat the effects of oil and gas drilling, says one environmental advocate
(0:00 - 8:25)

Increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are directly tied to human activity, and the impacts of these emissions are being experienced all over the globe.

These are among the findings from the most recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Counties and cities across the country are trying to navigate competing interests to address the growing threat of global warming, but in rural communities, particularly in southwestern Pennsylvania, entire towns are built around coal production or fossil fuels, and there aren’t deep wells of money to address emissions.

“When we hear a report like this, the initial question is not surprising, that there are real consequences to extracting these resources and burning them,” says Veronica Coptis, the executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice. “But what is our government and our political leaders going to do to make sure the resources are there to clean up the mess left behind, be more climate resilient, and transition our economies to be diversified and sustainable?”

Coptis says residents and local leaders are increasingly calling on state and federal governments to give them support.

“There are initiatives already happening that can help invest in our infrastructure,” says Coptis.

She cites President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which in part, aims to distribute $300 billion of grant money to support communities.

“It is unrealistic to expect these communities to be able to handle the abrupt economic change on their own, but it is the responsibility of the people who are leading our country to invest in our local leaders, to drive the change that we need forward,” says Coptis.

New Department of Corrections data dashboard shows parole and incarcerated populations by demographic
(8:31 - 15:30) 

Pennsylvania’s new database allows users to explore and better understand the rate of incarceration and parole across the Department of Corrections. Gov. Tom Wolf said this improved information sharing can help create a more fair corrections system.

The company that helped create the dashboard is a non-profit called Recidiviz.

“You can look at this racial disparity data all the way back in time, you can look at the prison and parole data sliced by any number of things that you’re interested in, but the other thing that’s different is that this data will be refreshed weekly,” says Clementine Jacoby, the executive director of Recidiviz.

Jacoby says although the commonwealth has been fairly “data forward,” the new dashboard Recidiviz created includes information and more ability to explore.

“What Pennsylvania wanted to do with this dashboard is not just give people the data, but contextualize it,” says Jacoby.

She says other common problems with criminal justice data is it’s often reported “at a lag,” a year or more after it’s collected, and presented in a format that’s not very friendly for the public to understand.

“It’s wild that you or I could go to the App Store and spend 99 cents getting a very slick mobile experience, and the government and institutions that we really care about have to spend $9 million and wait nine years to get delivered a piece of software that is sort of a garbage fire on delivery,” says Jacoby.

Tull Family Theater implements COVID-19 precautions, as cases and hospitalizations in the community rise
(15:35 - 22:30) 

Last week, Allegheny County identified an average of 166 new cases of COVID-19 per day. This uptick in cases means more people are masking, pushing for vaccinations and avoiding public settings.

Movie theaters were among the many industries that suffered during the pandemic. There was a glimmer of hope, but a recent survey and less than impressive box office showings could indicate another slump.

“While we were shut down, we tried to remain connected with our audience, connected with the patrons via online virtual programming,” says Carolina Pais-Barreto Thor, CEO of the Tull Family Theater, a nonprofit independent theatre in Pittsburgh. “This type of programming did not do so well for us, and frankly did not do so well for most of the independent theaters around the country that tried similar ventures.”

Pais-Barreto Thor says once the theater reopened, it worked to provide the same programming as it had before, but was hampered by the film industry, which was releasing movies later than originally expected.

She says right now, the theater is implementing COVID-19 mitigation measures, like limiting capacity to 50%, requiring employees to mask up, and although guests aren’t required to mask, it’s highly encouraged. The city and county have not yet implemented any capacity or masking mandates for businesses.

Pais-Barreto Thor says the company is being supported largely by donations and federal programs, like loans to small businesses.

“As a startup non-profit, we’ve never been in a situation where we could look five years ahead. Having said that, prior to the pandemic, we were just about to cross the line of feeling like a more established organization and now that has been postponed,” says Pais-Barreto Thor.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
Eoin is a production assistant for The Confluence and a senior at NC State University studying political science. He got his start in broadcasting at WKNC, NC State's college radio station. When he's not working, he enjoys hiking, surfing, and listening to music.
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