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Scott Starbuck

Between River & Street
Scott T. Starbuck

Scott's Blog

Documenting a Vanishing Ecosystem and Culture

One reason Scott T. Starbuck wrote Between River & Street is to document the vanishing Pacific Northwest salmon culture before it may be gone. In a 2016 “Letter” at The Columbian daily newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, he wrote about the effects of a changing climate, "[In 2015] the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife trucked salmon up low rivers to spawn, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife trucked salmon out of Central Oregon due to warm waters, and California trucked smolts to the ocean." He received an email from Bob Lackey, Professor of Fisheries at Oregon State University, noting "In a 100 years wild salmon runs south of Canada will be reduced to remnant runs."

Similarly, a Metro Vancouver BC study noted unless carbon emissions are quickly reduced, “Vancouver [BC] would be warmer than present-day San Diego by the 2050s” as reported in the Vancouver Sun in 2017 . This quote is based on a "70-page study, Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver" by Jeff Carmichael, division manager of utilities research and innovation for Metro Vancouver. The article notes "The report assumes a 'business as usual' approach to global greenhouse gas emissions, and would have to be updated if governments adopt serious and swift measures to address the problem." The obvious question is “If the temperature in Vancouver, BC grows ‘warmer than present-day San Diego by the 2050s,’ would that mean major loss of salmon and steelhead, and eventual extinction, in Northern California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho due to diseases, starvation, and heat stress?”

Starbuck says since 1959 the fossil fuel industry and its investors had the most responsibility for what has become a “climate emergency,” but since then parents' refusal to protect children and grandchildren, and overall U. S. citizen apathy, are challenges. Various sources noted 38 countries declared this “climate emergency” but the carbon dioxide blanket keeps getting thicker. At a writing conference Starbuck heard a New York City professor complain how she tried for 15 years to interest her students in climate change with almost no response until Hurricane Sandy flooded their homes October 29, 2012. He asked “Will people of the Pacific Northwest wait until salmon are only in poems, museums, and history books to remove the lower four Snake River Dams, and try to restore salmon and the orcas that depend on them?

“Granted, many Oregonians and Washingtonians have recently acted,” he said, “ like stopping, for now, the Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay and proposed world's largest methanol refinery in Kalama , but much more is needed locally, nationally, and globally to reduce carbon.”

Robert Wilson’s essay “Will the end of the world be on the final exam?” in the book Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities notes one of Wilson’s “teaching assistants [led] a discussion section about climate change: ‘My soul is crushed’ she began. ‘I thought we were going to have this fabulous conversation about framing arguments, the role of science, finding allies and figuring out how to effectively communicate [climate science to the public]. The class – and I don’t just mean two or three vocal people – basically came up with this: all of Bangladesh could die, the temperature could increase six degrees, tons of species could die, and people in other places could suffer from drinking water and crop shortages, and we wouldn’t care at all [ . . . . ]’” This means in addition to making fossil fuel companies pay for mitigation and adaptation, and universities and pension funds divest, we must also find ways to increase capacity for caring before many more human and nonhuman inhabitants will be forced to migrate and/or die early and awfully.

Starbuck’s March 3, 2018, post “Is a human life worth $450 to you?” cites Pope Francis-adviser Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who noted in 2018 it would take $450 per person per year in the top one billion people to change from our carbon economy to renewables saving over 3 billion people that may otherwise die from exposure to 130 degree plus heat 33 years from now if humans fail to convert energy sources from coal and fossil fuels to “solar, wind, hydro, and possibly nuclear. [ . . . . ] We have 10 to 15 years [from 2018] to solve the problem.” Earth's wisdom traditions teach humans have potential for caring, and reading/discussing poetry creates that as does speaking to friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. Starbuck’s “Updated Best Practices for Climate Crisis” shows how dancers, police officers, artists, writers, and others raise climate awareness, and he offers Portland, Oregon, as a model for climate discussion , and Vancouver BC as a model for action.

In 2014 Split Rock Review published Starbuck’s "Manifesto from Poet on a Dying Planet" in which he wrote, “No matter how appealing the countless illusions and distractions, how burdensome the work grind, and how difficult the journey to accept reality, as Robert Bly noted in a classroom I attended long ago, ‘It’s a poet’s job to defend nature.’”

Scott T. Starbuck’s book of climate poems Hawk on Wire was a July 2017 “Editor’s Pick” at and was selected from over 1,500 books as a 2018 Montaigne Medal Finalist at Eric Hoffer Awards for “the most thought-provoking books.” His book My Bridge at the End of the World, New and Selected Poems was a 2020 Finalist for the Blue Light Press Book Award. He taught ecopoetry workshops the past two years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in UC San Diego Masters of Advanced Studies Program in Climate Science and Policy. Starbuck had residencies at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on Cascade Head, Artsmith on Orcas Island, as a Friends of William Stafford Scholar at the “Speak Truth to Power” Fellowship of Reconciliation Seabeck Conference, and at PLAYA near Summer Lake, Oregon. His Trees, Fish, and Dreams Climateblog at has readers in 110 countries.

A longtime Pacific Northwest resident, he lives in Battle Ground, Washington.

Between River & Street

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Read a review of Between River & Street by Barbara Lloyd McMichael in Coast Magazine.

Poem from Between River & Street


was infamous for shouting
“You don’t love that woman!”
at a park wedding, and being right.
Another time she said
“That lab’s gonna run away
if you don’t walk it,” and it did.

Once, she stopped me
by the store’s frozen foods
to say hell is the absence of love, and
the whole Columbia Gorge will be underwater
if we don’t stop sinning.

Another morning, as I was going fishing
she surprised me as a voice in the dark
hissing behind a fir:
“How can you know a river
if you don’t know yourssssself?”

Between River & Street

Lost Salmon

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Poem from Lost Salmon

Astoria Fragments

A few oak leaves remain
as salmon die in the river.

Some boats left
and never returned.

A poster in the Crest Motel
shows 234 local shipwrecks.

On the pier, my blonde leans
into shadow like a mermaid.

Up the hill, baked cinnamon
wafts from Blue Scorcher.

On docks along the Columbia
winter comes late.

Far beyond street lamps, star-berries
fill vacant branches.

Their distant light makes
dead ones shine as much as the living.

Lost Salmon