By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer
Hothouse Earth is a podcast produced by the VLS Environmental Law Center (ELC). It is hosted by Jeannie Oliver, Assistant Professor and Staff Attorney at the Energy Clinic, and Mason Overstreet, Staff Attorney at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic.
I first discovered Hothouse Earth when researching potential law schools with strong environmental programs. While exploring the VLS website, I stumbled across the show’s page. I listened to the first episode, “The Farm Bill” (released March 11, 2019), and became an immediate fan.
Since the debut episode, the podcast has covered topics such as climate migration, environmental justice, the youth climate movement, and a three-part series on President Trump’s “America First” Energy Plan. Each episode features a variety of guests to provide personal stories, expert insight, and new perspectives. Guests have included several VLS professors and students, as well as professionals and community members from around the U.S.
I “sat down” with Oliver and Overstreet (via Teams) to learn more about the show, celebrate its one-year anniversary, and discuss its future. Their answers to my questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What inspired you to start a podcast? Do either of you have previous podcast experience?
A: Hothouse Earth is the brainchild of two key individuals at the ELC: Jenny Rushlow, Associate Dean for Environmental Programs and Director of the ELC, and Rebecca Milaschewski, former ELC Executive Assistant. Dean Rushlow asked Oliver to be a host. “The idea was both really exciting and really terrifying to me because I’d never done anything like this before,” said Oliver. “But I was really interested in exploring new areas of environmental law outside of renewable energy, learning a new skill, and getting to know a new team of people on campus.” Oliver asked her friend and colleague, Overstreet, to be a co-host. Overstreet explained that the more they work together, the better their personalities and friendship shines through the show.
Q: What factors do you consider (if any) when determining which topics to cover?
A: There is a whole committee behind the podcast! They all work together to pick topics for the show. The committee includes Emily Potts, Anne Linehan, Dean Rushlow, Molly McDonough, intern Veronica Ung-Kono, and hosts Overstreet and Oliver. Overstreet explained that “when choosing a topic, climate change is always on the horizon. We look for relevant and pressing issues and try to include social justice discussions as often as possible.” “As we gain more experience in podcasting,” Oliver added, “we are starting to think a little more narrowly about our topics and try to focus in on an angle or a story with a human connection, rather than present a topic generally.” Both Overstreet and Oliver told me about how podcasting has challenged them to refine how to present legal information.
Q: Do you have a favorite episode/topic so far?
A: “My favorite episode was by far the one on climate migration. [Professor] Carmen Gonzalez was an incredible guest and spoke so well on the issues,” said Overstreet. “Looking at the environmental justice aspects of climate migration was also really fun to work on and learn about.” Oliver agreed. “The environmental justice episode offered me the most growth, but my favorite episode so far was also the one on climate migration,” she said. “This episode was a bit of a pivot point for Mason and me where we realized how much we needed to research ahead of our interviews and to tie the episode together.”
Q: If you could have any guest on the show, who would it be and why?
A: Oliver (who is originally from New Zealand) said “This is probably a little cliché but Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand’s prime minister. I’d love to know more about her strategy for leading an island nation through climate change challenges, and how New Zealand can be a good global citizen.” Overstreet said his guest would be E.O. Wilson – world-renowned environmental advocate and sociobiologist. “I would love to have an intimate conversation [with him] about the current state of the planet and discuss policy solutions to achieve our climate change goals.”
Q: Congratulations on one year! How does it feel? Any big plans for the show’s future?
A: “It feels like an achievement!” said Oliver. “It feels like we’ve come a long way in terms of learning how to do a podcast… we still have so much to learn.” “It feels great!” Overstreet added. “We’re really learning how to refine our stories and improve our recording techniques.” They told me they planned to host a podcast birthday party for the VLS community, but it was put on hold for COVID-19. As far as future plans go, Overstreet explained that they really want to incorporate more “narrow angles” in the show. “We want to include more of that intangible human connection… talk with people who actually experience this area of law.” In addition, Oliver said that they “are always thinking of social justice issues as they relate to [podcast] topics.”
Q: Why should people listen to the podcast?
A: “Often in our lives, we don’t get exposure to a wide range of issues,” said Oliver. “We hope that the podcast will be an accessible way for people to learn about interesting and important environmental issues, and the power–and limitations– of law and policy in addressing those issues.” Overstreet elaborated and said, “We’re really hoping to expose people to new environmental issues through accessible conservation.”
Q: Will you continue production during COVID-19? When can listeners expect a new episode?
A: Yes! The show goes on. Oliver and Overestreet told me about technical issues with recording and sound quality. “Hopefully each episode will show improvement as we apply some of the lessons we’ve been learning through our episodes in year one,” said Oliver.
A new episode that comes out today discusses some of the legal struggles U.S. farmworkers face. Two other episodes are also in the works at the moment. “I’m personally really excited to explore a miniseries of bonus episodes with our intern, Veronica,” said Oliver.
Listen to the new episode on Stitcher, Spotify, or iTunes:
At the end of our discussion, Oliver and Overstreet made it clear that though they are the hosts of the show, none of the episodes would be possible without the help and support of their production team and the entire ELC staff. Special shoutout to Emily Potts, who does audio editing for the show!
For more information about the Hothouse Earth Podcast, visit their website at https://www.vermontlaw.edu/podcast. You can listen to Hothouse Earth on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. For updates and more, find the show on social media.