Dams, jellyfish, geopoetics, and the dragons of climate inaction are a few of the topics Adam Huggins and Mendel Skulski explore in their Future Ecologies podcast series.
Alongside co-hosting this solutions-journalism podcast, Adam and Mendel lead restoration projects, guide fungi tours, compose music, and connect with a global community of environmentalists.
I sat down with them to discuss their journey to becoming high-quality content creators and influential leaders. We met on Galiano Island, where Adam has lived since completing his degree in biology and restoration ecology. Mendel, who lives in Vancouver, came over for the day. As we sipped sweet gale tea, the woodstove warmed the room.
Raised in suburban Florida and California, Adam’s early interaction with nature was limited; his childhood ambition revolved around designing roller coasters. After high school, he became interested in making movies. “My story is very unlikely for somebody who eventually becomes a tree hugger,” he says. If it weren’t for the guerrilla gardeners he met in film school, he might never have discovered his passion for ecology.
Mendel, on the other hand, got a head start bonding with the environment. Their Montessori education, full of forest and ocean field trips, exposed them early on to nature. “It was always an assumed part of my value set that those places are really important and meaningful,” they say. But, initially studying industrial design, Mendel didn’t expect to gear their life around tree hugging, either.
When the pair met in 2018, they made small talk about podcasts. Adam was in environmental studies at the time, and for his final project, he decided to do a podcast on fire ecology. He asked Mendel to collaborate with him, and Mendel was game. They worked well together, and a few months later, they took a road trip to collect material for more podcasts. They received a small grant and arranged interviews along the way.
Since then, they have produced five seasons of Future Ecologies, each with around ten thoughtful episodes. For example, in the first episode, “Decolonize This Podcast,” they seek guidance from “Indigenous plant diva T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss about how, as non-Indigenous people, [they] can podcast respectfully on unceded Indigenous territory.
Information is inseparable from emotion. The way you ingest a story is not just what is said, but how it’s said.
Although the podcast focuses on the west coast of Turtle Island, Adam and Mendel’s stories resonate with a worldwide audience. Their goal is to explain difficult concepts in non-condescending ways to increase scientific literacy and alleviate climate anxiety.
To help listeners make the world make sense, Mendel often plays the innocent while Adam edifies. Their dialogue is partially scripted, but the finished product comes out sounding natural and casual, with plenty of puns and laughter mixed in, because, as Mendel says, “Information is inseparable from emotion. The way you ingest a story is not just what is said, but how it’s said.”
Adam and Mendel pay a lot of attention to sound design, spotlighting the natural soundscape – such as bugs, birds, and wind – or manipulating found sounds, like making beats based on the crack of hazelnuts.
Music in Future Ecologies is an integral part of storytelling. Both Adam and Mendel compose music for the show (Adam plays guitar and arranges while Mendel is an enthusiast of “noodly synth stuff”). They also feature a long list of talented musicians, such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who is also a writer and activist. “I love to build those relationships and shine a light on other cool people making cool stuff,” says Mendel.
In the podcast, Adam and Mendel ask hard questions in order to unearth nuanced truths and challenge popular public narratives. Like wise fools, they subvert. “We all have these mental simplifications that we need to use and that we teach others, and we forget to look any deeper,” Mendel says. “We need to stay conscious and vigilant of all those times where we glom onto a narrative because it matches our social worldview.”
Adam and Mendel learn alongside thousands of people, connecting a global Future Ecologies community across Patreon, Discord, and iNaturalist. Whether attracting audiences interested in left politics or weird sounds, Adam says that rather than preaching to the choir, they aim to “have a discussion with a choir.” Their approach has motivated some listeners to pursue career changes or further their education.
The hosts have grown since creating the podcast. Adam leads workshops on ecology with the Galiano Island Conservancy and is currently engaged in spearheading a wetland restoration project with that group. Mendel says Adam is “so involved on the ground, actually doing the work that we’re talking about, [that his] ability to speak to those issues has blossomed.
Adam and Mendel’s vision is clear: they haven’t figured out how to save the world, but they have learned how to subvert despair by fusing art and science in a way that reduces suffering and keeps hope alive.
In turn, Adam notes that Mendel has “expanded in leaps and bounds” as Future Ecologies has gone from “random-thing-[they]-agreed-to to vocation.”
Both stress that they are not experts in anything, but rather are “generalist communicator busybody types.” Maybe that’s not a job description you dream up when you’re a kid, but building community by democratizing environmental science is certainly a valuable niche to fill.
By the time we’ve drained the pot of sweet gale tea, Adam and Mendel’s vision is clear to me: they haven’t figured out how to save the world, but they have learned how to subvert despair by fusing art and science in a way that reduces suffering and keeps hope alive. By openly cultivating creativity, humour, curiosity, and humility, they are awakening all their senses and inviting others to do the same.
Claire Majors is a freelance writer and editor and an alumna of UVic’s undergraduate creative writing program.