Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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The History of Munich and Its Loam

„Ohne den Lehm daat’s München net geb‘n!“

This post by Julia Schneider, a student of the RCC-LMU Environmental Studies Certificate Program, stems from her research conducted as part of the exhibition project “Ecopolis: Understanding and Imagining Munich’s Environments.”


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Figure 1. Details of clay bricks in Munich, from the Nordfriedhof (left), the Frauenkirche (center), and the Salvatorkirche (right). Photographs by author.

Thinking about houses and buildings made out of clay bricks, it is often cities like those in northern Italy that spring to mind. Bologna, Florence, or Siena; particularly those moments when the sun sets and the city glows red and ochre with all the big churches, towers, and palazzi made out of and covered with red clay bricks and tiles. Clay bricks are Italy. Thus, such an image doesn’t really fit with Munich, our Bavarian capital north of the Alps, quite far away from Bella Italia and its red sun—at least that’s what I thought before writing this article. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Where Geology Meets Early Modern History

A Millstone Quarry in Upper Bavaria

By Katrin Kleemann

 

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Photographs by Katrin Kleemann, CC BY 4.0. 

The Mühlsteinbruch Hinterhör in Altenbeuren, Upper Bavaria—this millstone quarry was the first stop on a recent LMU geology field trip to the Northern Limestone Alps. The site is an official geotope of Bavaria (geotope means “Earth place” and refers to a spot in nature where the Earth’s history becomes visible). At this unique spot you can learn about the area’s early modern history as well as its geology; this is one of very few geotopes that was formed by humans.

Between 1572 and 1860, the quarry was used to produce millstones for the surrounding mills (which were transported on the nearby river Inn), explaining the characteristic round shapes that can be seen at this outcrop. But without the perks of modern technology, how did the quarry workers extract the circular millstones? Using a chisel and hammer to create the outlines of the round shape, they would drive wooden wedges into these circular borders and water the wedges regularly causing the wood to expand and fracture the rock, freeing the millstone from the wall.

Yet it is not just these insights into the innovative techniques used by people in the past that are revealed; this spot is also particularly interesting from a geological perspective. The 28-meter-thick layer is mainly made up of sandstone and marlstone, and belongs to the Helvetic Nappes; sheet-like bodies of rock that were once located in the shallow waters of the southern margin of the European continental shelf, created before the Alps were formed. During the formation of the Alpine mountains, the Helvetic Nappes (layers) were thrust northward and upward, deformed by the continued folding during the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, explaining why a once-seabed is now found more than 500 meters above sea level. Fossilized oysters with thick shells can be found there, indicating that this spot must have once been located either in shallow water or perhaps at a river delta. The oyster shells had to be thick survive the pressure of strong tidal currents in the coastal waters.

 


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Making Tracks: Tom Griffiths

“Meditations of a Sputnik”

by Tom Griffiths

I am a “Sputnik,” born in the year the Soviet satellite launched the Cold War into space. Sixty years ago, the launch by the Russians of the first artificial Earth satellite on 4 October 1957 seemed to many in the West a threatening symbol of escalating superpower rivalry. And it did unleash extreme military anxiety and triggered what became known as the Space Race. Twelve years later, in the midwinter of 1969, I remember waking up just before midnight to watch on TV a Saturn V US rocket wreathed in smoke and flame inch its way off the ground at Cape Canaveral. It powered mightily against the pull of gravity and triumphed. Apollo 11 was beginning its journey out of Earth’s atmosphere towards the moon.

I saw this spectacle from a suburban home in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The house was built by my father on a gentle hill of vacant paddocks in the year 1950—a key turning point in the history of the world, as it turned out. My parents were among those who, after the war, built with earnest commitment the homes that signified their return to family and security. Building materials were scarce and skilled labour was in demand. At the weekend, across Melbourne’s burgeoning outer suburbs, people busied themselves around trenches, timber frames and humble small-roomed dwellings. The first photographs in our family album show the timber frame rising alone against the sky from amidst the grass on the hill, awaiting its brick veneer. Dad queued up each week at the hardware store for a pound of nails—his building ration in hard times—and sometimes enlisted workmates to collect a quota of nails on his behalf so that work on the house could proceed at the weekend.

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The house that dad built rises from the grasslands of Balwyn as the Great Acceleration also takes off. Photo courtesy of author.

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Worldview: Iran Hosts Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion (Part 2)

International Efforts to Mobilize Religions in the Cause of Conservation

Part 2. The Seminar: Premises, and Intentions

Critical action is needed by the international community to address urgent and increasing environmental degradation, and related challenges of social and economic unsustainability. Religion and culture can significantly address climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, pollution, deforestation, desertification and unsustainable land and water use, and other urgent issues identified in a shared vision by all nations in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UNEP, Environment, Religion and Culture in the Context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2016: vi).

These were the main premises and objectives of the Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion held in Tehran in 2016. In Part 2 Bron Taylor reports on the event and reflects on the Iranian government’s position on religion and environmental issues, particularly focusing on the introductory speech by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.


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The seminar poster welcoming participants (Photo: Bron Taylor).

The Words of Hasan Rouhani, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The initial morning of the seminar provided a fascinating blend of pageantry and politics. The session began with a recitation of the Holy Qur’an, the Iranian National Anthem, and included remarks from the Executive Director of UNEP and the deputy Director General of UNESCO. Most striking was the importance high Iranian officials placed on (expressing) their commitment to environmental protection and the UN’s sustainable development goals. Masoumeh Ebtekar, the first female Vice President of Iran and the head of the country’s Department of the Environment, for example, was present throughout the conference, expressing on several occasions her understanding that Islam demands environmental protection.[i]

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Uses of Environmental History: Don Worster

This is the fourth 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.


By Donald Worster

If I did not believe that environmental history is already useful and practical, more so than other fields of historical research, then I would have abandoned it long ago. Seeing nature as part of the many changes and revolutions that have occurred in human history has always seemed to me one of the most useful things in the world. How can we live wisely without understanding more fully how we got here or how the natural environment has interacted with society? When historians have explained more fully the course of history, as Charles Darwin explained the evolution of species, then we will have become the most practical people around. We are not there yet, but we are making progress.

Admittedly, there are historians who still don’t know how to be useful in that way. They assume without question that society has had no important connection with water, soil, climate, energy, or biota. The crying need of our time is to overcome that blindness and explain the global ecological crisis. Historians are most useful when their research reveals some significant truth about how that crisis developed over time, or what we can learn from earlier societies about solutions they attempted and how well they worked.

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The Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park, now more accurately called the Lyell Ice Patch. Along with the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations over tens of thousands of years, today’s rapid warming is taking its toll on many natural features. 1883 photo: USGS/Israel Russell; 2015 photo: NPS/Keenan Takahashicaption. Images: NPS [public domain], via Flickr.

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Worldview: Iran Hosts Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion (Part 1)

International Efforts to Mobilize Religions in the Cause of Conservation

Part 1. Tehran

“Religion is a powerful social force and for decades diverse actors who understand this have been engaged in earnest efforts to motivate and mobilize religious individuals and groups to construct environmentally sustainable societies. Although broad evidence suggests that these efforts have had limited success promoting the greening of religion so far, attempts are continuing. Given the often slow and multifarious ways that religions can change in time and place, it would be premature to predict the outcomes of such endeavors.” — Bron Taylor

In this two-part series, Bron Taylor reflects on such possibilities from the context of a trip to Iran in April 2016. In Part 1, he introduces us to Tehran and his experiences of contemporary culture and the troubled interface of religion, young culture, and the environment. Part 2 reports on the Second International Seminar on Environment, Culture, and Religion (Tehran, 2016), which was sponsored by UNEP, UNESCO, and the Department of the Environment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This series has been adapted from a conference report originally published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.


In late April, 2016, I was among those who took the first direct flight (after a trial run) from Paris to Tehran after the sanctions were lifted that had been imposed on Iran to discourage it from pursuing nuclear weaponry. I sat next to an attorney who, in 1970, fled Iran with her family to Paris when the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown during the Iranian revolution. She now has offices in Paris and Tehran, and is taking advantage of the emerging post-sanction opportunities.

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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.