Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Cycling Cities: An Interview with Ruth Oldenziel

Cycling Cities: The European Experience was recently published by the Foundation for the History of Technology and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. Edited by Ruth Oldenziel, Martin Emanuel, Adri Albert de la Bruhèze, and Frank Veraart, the book explores 100 years of urban cycling policy, use, and practice in 14 European cities. We sat down with visiting scholar and former Carson fellow Ruth Oldenziel (RO), to discuss this wonderful addition to the cycling discourse.

SR: You recently published Cycling Cities. What prompted the idea for the book?

RO: I was invited for the 400th anniversary between Amsterdam and New York, and there was a bike slam. This was at a time in 2009 when Mayor Bloomberg was establishing a cycling policy as part of economic growth and a livable city. And the people at the bike slam were asking the Dutch, “How do you do it?” and the advisors and consultants really couldn’t explain. They sort of said “Well, we just do it.” I had colleagues at the time who had published what was, up until that time during the 90s, the comparative study—historical study—on cycling in these different cities, but it was in Dutch. And there was one graph which was floating around the internet, and people were quoting it without having read the report. So that’s how it started out; I just wanted to be a facilitator of making this accessible to an English-speaking world… I got so fascinated with the topic. Initially, we were translating it but it became a much bigger project, with more cities and more people coming in. An international team. Attractive pictures and captions, so yeah, that’s how it started. Continue reading


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Interview: Lise Sedrez on the Samarco Tailings Dam Spill, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Part Three)

The mine tailing dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on 5 November 2015 has been described by the Brazilian government as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe. Robert Emmett and Claire Lagier sat down with Brazilian environmental historian Lise Sedrez at the RCC in Munich on 19 November and recorded the following interview.

CL: Mainstream media in Brazil is very much backing that image.

LS: Yes. I mean, this entire thing about a small seismic event being considered responsible for breaking the dam . . .

RE: The Brazilian media is coming to the company’s defense? Is that because the company has an economic monopoly?

LS: I think you are right in a sense, because of the power of the company in this area. I think it’s also because our media is [politically] right-of-center and the Vale until now was hailed as the big success of privatization. They would love to see this (privatization) happening to Petrobras, the state-owned oil company. But to see Vale  lose value and be challenged as a company, as this model company, would also jeopardize the entire idea that private ownership is better than public ownership.

RE: In other words, you’re saying there is a deep public interest perceived in this single privatized mining company . . .

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Interview: Lise Sedrez on the Samarco Tailings Dam Spill, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Part Two)

The mine tailing dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on 5 November 2015 has been described by the Brazilian government as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe. Robert Emmett and Claire Lagier sat down with Brazilian environmental historian Lise Sedrez at the RCC in Munich on 19 November and recorded the following interview.

RE: This relative lack of exposure to the dam break is definitely something I hope we can talk about. It seems like there are several durations involved and also questions of how the media has covered or not covered the spill. Some of the coverage has focused on the company and the economic impact of closing down operations and has pointed out that the price for iron has been relatively low in the last ten years, because of the decreased demand for export. There has been a shift in the conversation from describing the event in concrete, biological terms to an abstract conversation about the commodity exports, iron pellets as raw material for industrialization. There is the time frame of the cost of the good that was extracted, and there is the other time frame, which is the lifecycle of aquatic life [that] has been impacted for a generation, particularly larger forms of aquatic life, like fish, which won’t recover for a full lifetime.

Contaminated_Rio_Doce_Water_Flows_into_the_Atlantic_(23414457121)

Contaminated Rio Doce water flowing into the Atlantic. Image: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Interview: Lise Sedrez on the Samarco Tailings Dam Spill, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Part One)

The mine tailing dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on 5 November 2015 has been described by the Brazilian government as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe. Robert Emmett and Claire Lagier sat down with Brazilian environmental historian Lise Sedrez at the RCC in Munich on 19 November and recorded the following interview.

RE: Those of us who don’t read Portuguese have to rely on what the media in English is saying. I’m curious about the language used to describe the event. I like to think “Let’s start with the facts,” but of course that’s exactly what is up to debate. I read that some seismic activity was recorded?

LS: I just don’t buy that one. If we go for the facts, let’s say that Brazil is on a very old tectonic platform. We used to say “There [are] no natural disasters in Brazil,” which of course is not true. There have been very few cyclones. We had one in Santa Catarina [in 2004] and it was like “Oh my God, that never happens.” The last time something like this happened was about 170 to 200 years earlier. But there are no earthquakes. What they registered was seismic activity between 1 and 2 on the Richter scale. We had larger seismic activity in Minas Gerais in the past, with no effects whatsoever. And there is a strong possibility that this recorded  seismic activity happened as a result of the breaking of the dam.

Fotos produzidas pelo Senado

Damage following the dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais. Photograph: Rogério Alves/TV Senado, Wikimedia Commons.

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Car Parks and Edgelands: An Interview with Artist Edward Chell

Chell_motorwayFor your most recent project, Eclipse, you’ve painted sixty plant silhouettes on gesso panels. These are common woodland plants that are also found in less conventional landscape spaces, such as motorway verges. Collisions between the natural world and car travel are an underlying theme in your work. Could you expand on the thinking behind the strange juxtaposition of taxonomic systems that inhabit this work?

People go to the woods as strangers from their everyday life in the city or in the town; we go to experience natural habitats, back to nature – somehow this idea of being natural seems more authentic – and the car park is a threshold at this point of change, where people either sit in the car with a Thermos or get out and take their dogs for a walk. We go to places like King’s Wood to experience ‘nature’, but the woodland is artificial. It’s managed, it’s controlled. Some of it is coppice – it’s ancient but nonetheless forms an industrial site. Much of the rest is in large part a plantation.

Some visitors come to King’s Wood to have this kind of communion with nature. Are you suggesting that this leisure tourism is a folly?

We travel and engage with landscape largely as tourists. Today relatively few people work in the landscape – it’s no longer an agricultural economy as it was two hundred years ago – so our experiences are largely premised on tourism. ‘Oh! Let’s go and have a look at that because it will do us good!’ It somehow edifies. But there are other considerations –in travelling to places like the woods we leave a carbon footprint, we leave mess, we leave litter, we leave fumes – all these things have a massive impact. Continue reading


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Q&A with Environment & Society Portal Director Kimberly Coulter

What is the Environment & Society Portal?

The Environment & Society Portal is the Rachel Carson Center’s platform for digital outreach and open-access publication. Like a digital museum or archive, we aim to inspire curiosity about the human-environment relationship, with emphasis on the Center’s themes.

How was the Portal established?

The RCC was founded in 2009 as one of the Käte Hamburger Centers funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. The directors envisioned a “digital documentation” that would make environmental humanities documents and images accessible to both academics and the public internationally.  I came to Munich in November 2009 and, together with my great team, spent the next two years working on the Portal’s design and development and creating a critical mass of starter content. The Portal launched publicly in January 2012.

esp team

The Environment & Society Portal team. From left to right: Kimberly Coulter, Andreas Grieger, Felix Mauch, Susanne Darabas, Wilko Graf von Hardenberg, J. Jesse Ramirez, and Paul Erker.

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Climates of Migration: An Interview with Uwe Lübken

pic_luebkenIn a kind of commentary on the Kyoto Protocol, researchers at the Rachel Carson Center are studying historical examples that illustrate the scale of population displacement that climate change can bring about. In this interview the head of the project, Uwe Lübken, discusses questions of climate and migration

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