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Public Lecture Series with Jon Mingle

Soot, Solidarity and Survival – A Story of Hope from the Himalaya

This event will be streamed live. Please visit our Live Stream page at 7pm on the evening of the event to view the lecture for free.

High in the remote Himalayan valley of Zanskar sits Kumik, a village fed by runoff from glaciers and lofty snowfields. According to local tradition, Kumik was one of the first villages settled in Zanskar, one of the most sparsely populated parts of India. Kumik has survived and thrived in one of the world’s most challenging settings for over a thousand years, but its people now confront an existential threat - chronic, crippling drought – and the mystery of its cause.

In his lecture, author, journalist and veteran Himalayan traveler Jonathan Mingle will explore the changes wrought by a warming climate in the Ladakh and Zanskar regions of India, and discuss one of the unlikely and central culprits behind them: soot.
The heart of his story is the journey of Kumik’s tight-knit community of farmers, as they slowly abandon their ancient village and build a new one from scratch – starting with a solar-heated community hall - on a dusty, windswept, sun-baked plain. Their story intersects in surprising ways with the overlooked global health and climate impacts of black carbon – the most ubiquitous and dangerous pollutant you’ve never heard of.

Black carbon is scientists’ term for the stuff that makes soot dark. It turns out that black carbon is a dark thread connecting the greatest challenges of our time: the overlapping crises of accelerating warming (especially in fragile environments such as the Himalayan cryosphere and the High Arctic), energy poverty and the huge human toll of particulate air pollution. A product of inefficient and incomplete combustion, black carbon is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. Studies suggest that black carbon – which reduces the amount of light reflected off snow and ice – might be the primary driver of retreating snowfields and glaciers in the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau region.

It’s also a key ingredient of the toxic stew of air pollution that public health experts regard as humanity’s biggest environmental health risk worldwide: soot-laden smoke from household hearth fires and outdoor sources combined kill over seven million people around the world every year.



Mingle’s story about black carbon’s manifold impacts - on civilization-sustaining snow and ice from Mt. Everest to California, and the health of billions from New York to New Delhi - is anchored in a portrait of the people of Kumik. He describes the joys and struggles of daily life in the Zanskar Valley, where villagers are buffeted by powerful environmental and economic forces, and face an uncertain future.

It all adds up to a surprisingly hopeful tale - at once the laughter-filled story of one village’s fight to adapt to its rapidly changing environment, a sobering tale about the dramatic consequences of the fires we light every day to survive, and a gripping report from the front lines of a grassroots and global effort to fight a scourge that’s been neglected for much too long.

In the course of his travels across the Himalaya and beyond, the author discovers that the same question looming over this tiny village - can its people come together to reinvent fire, and reinvigorate their traditions of solidarity, in time to save themselves? – is the same urgent question facing us all. He offers Kumik’s collective journey of imagination and resilience, along with a host of promising solutions for purging our skies and our kitchens of black carbon being advanced by enterprising scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and activists across the globe, as a light on a darkening horizon, reminding us of what we can all accomplish when we come together - and get down to work.

Jonathan Mingle is a freelance journalist whose writing on the environment, climate, science, development and South Asia has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, Slate, The Los Angeles Times, Quartz, Atlas Obscura and The Boston Globe. He is the author of Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity and Survival on the Roof of the World, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015, and lauded by author Bill McKibben as “top-notch on the ground reporting on one more piece of the global environmental puzzle--a particularly tragic piece, and one that we should work hard to solve for so many profound reasons.”

He is a former Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism, a recipient of the American Alpine Club’s Zach Martin Breaking Barriers Award, and a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. He’s also a longtime supporter and guest instructor at the Zanskar Ski School, the first (and only) cross-country ski school in the Himalaya.

Click here to visit Jonathanmingle.com


Date: February 22, 2016

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price:

$5 with valid student ID

Reservation Notes:

Reservations are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis. To secure a reservation, please call us at 212.628.8383 or email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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