Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Celebrating Urban Green

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On European Day of Parks, the RCC is celebrating working right next door to one of Munich’s generous, wooded city parks—the Leopoldpark. Staff and students of the University can make the most of the view from the LMU’s canteen and cafeteria, which look directly out onto the park. It is home to many birds, mammals, insects, plants, and fungi, and it takes only a minute or two of patient observation to discover this. Complete with university kindergarten and a tischtennis table, the park also offers a green respite in the middle of the city to those living, studying, or working nearby, or just passing through.


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Student Research: Environmental (In)justice – The Case of Chevron-Texaco in Ecuador

By Camila Cabrera

Ecuador, a small country located on the equator, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, traversed by the Andes mountain range, and covered by part of the Amazon rainforest in the east, is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nevertheless, as Nathalie Cely, the former Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States, stated, “underneath this natural beauty lies both a treasure and a curse: oil.”

Oil was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 1967 by the petroleum company Texaco. Rapidly, they began large-scale exploitation, generating impressive national revenues not seen in the past. However, such economic fortune did not bring equivalent social and environmental advantages.

As the political analyst Julio Ballesteros has stated, the Amazon has long been an isolated territory not only geographically but also anthropologically. For centuries, its inhabitants have subsisted thanks to the abundant vegetation and availability of natural resources such as water. Despite the presence of human groups in this area, the oil company generated around 18 billion gallons of toxic water, which drained directly into soils and watersheds.

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Crude contaminates the Aguarico 4 oil pit, an open pool abandoned by Texaco after 6 years of production and never remediated. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network. Available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rainforestactionnetwork/4858073943.

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Uses of Environmental History: Paul Josephson

This is the third in a series of posts exploring the uses of environmental history. The series has been adapted from contributions to a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History.


“The Need for Public Environmental History”

By Paul Josephson

It is difficult to quantify, but surely both the extent and pace of environmental change have accelerated in the last century? Historians debate the nature of change and its causes, but rarely turn to larger audiences to inform them of their findings. Among the usual explanations they offer are the rapid industrialization of all processes, including in agriculture, with significant capital inputs of chemicals and GMOs; the universality and extent of large-scale technological systems; excessive consumption, especially in North America and Europe, but also growing consumption in China, India, and elsewhere; and power generation based on nonrenewables, especially fossil fuels that contribute to greenhouse gas formation and global warming. Some individuals blame population growth as the major factor in environmental change, among them notably Garrett Hardin in his seminal, if misguided “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) that, together with his later works, revealed deep-seated racism.

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Munich’s Beautiful Botanical Garden

By Samantha Rothbart

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The Munich Botanical Garden may be a little sparse at the moment, but even without the vibrant green foliage that dominates the city in the summer, it is an impressive sight. You might expect the leafless branches to create an air of dejection. On the contrary, they serve to highlight the beautiful structure of the trees and plants—what Roy Campbell called the “clear anatomy” in his poem Autumn.

Even so, new signs of life are starting to soften the severe edges. Green shoots peek through the rich, dark soil in the ornamental garden. Soon, the tulips will begin to flower and the plants will need to be potted and then replanted, Dr. Andreas Gröger explains. He is a botanist and the scientific curator of the Botanical Garden. Though he is not overly fond of the stylized beauty of the ornamental garden—he was initially quite hesitant about having to assume responsibility for it—he acknowledges that it’s a magnet for the “normal” folk who find themselves out and about for the day. The manicured lawns and whimsical flowers are a gateway drug for first-time visitors and would-be botanists. They draw us deeper into the secretive greenhouses of the wild species that so fascinate Gröger, and expose us to what he calls “real ecology.” Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Lisa Pettibone

By Lisa Pettibone

I have had to justify my academic path to many people in numerous contexts on two continents. Moving from a BFA in film production to work in the US Senate and the German Bundestag seems to clash about as much as my MPA (like an MBA where you get paid less in the end) and year of long-distance hiking. The culmination of these experiences—a doctorate in political science—seems a fair synthesis, but just as far from environmental humanities. I’m still not sure how easily the moniker sits with me, but I’m honored to accept it from others.

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The author contemplating a “Lewis and Clark” tree—and thorny environmental questions—in Glacier Peak Wilderness during a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. Photo by Amanda Lee “Miss Parkay” Tumminelli.

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Student Research: Pollinators – The New Buzzword?

“Pollinator Declines: Impacts on Biodiversity and Agriculture”

By Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado

Think of the evolution of life. Imagine how diverse species have blossomed since Precambrian times and how they fit together to create a delicate ecological balance on our planet. Though hominids have been in the natural world for millions of years, modern humans only began to evolve around 200,000 years ago. And while we have always used and modified nature for our own benefit in order to survive, it has taken only two centuries of capitalist expansion to alter the equilibrium of the natural world, potentially causing its slow destruction with the extinction of several species. Indeed, we have become the dominant species on Earth causing ecological changes on a global scale.

As a biologist specialized in ecology, I have become increasingly concerned about the intensification of anthropogenic activities and their drastic adverse effects on biodiversity and human health over the years. I am all too aware of how many studies have shown that the majority of these consequences is irreversible; how they influence the provision of ecosystem services, resulting in serious problems in productive sectors that affect social progress and economic welfare. One of the issues that has caught my attention most, however, is the threat to pollinators. Continue reading


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Losing Home: The Yi People and Environment in the Liangshan Region

by Zhen Wang

Liangshan (凉山) is a mountainous region of 60,423 square km2 that occupies much of the southern part of Sichuan province, on the border with Yunnan province. It has the largest population of ethnic Yi nationally, totaling nearly 50% of the 4.5 million inhabitants in 2010. In recognition of the large percentage of ethnic minorities, Liangshan is designated as an autonomous prefecture and directly controls 1 county-level city and 16 counties.

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© Fei Tian (田飞) 2016. Anning River

My research project “The Changing Landscape of Ethnic Minority Villages in Southwest China” began in November 2014, and since July 2016 it has been sponsored by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of China. In November 2016, our research team visited 21 families in 7 villages across 4 townships and 1 county. The area covered was from Anning River Valley (安宁河), the largest river in the Liangshan area, to the mountainous Dafengding Nature Reserve (大封顶自然保护区), an important panda habitat. The reserve can only be accessed for a few months each summer before it is once again blocked by heavy snow. Continue reading