Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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COP21: How We Make the Weather

by Dominic Kotas, Copywriter at ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability and alumnus RCC editor.

So, after all the planning, speculation, and nervous anticipation, COP21 happened—and was generally seen as a qualified success. I was lucky enough to be in the “Climate Generations” areas (just next door to the negotiating zone) for the two weeks of the summit. When the agreement was announced, I took a break from my own wrap-up work to message my friends: “THEY GOT AN AGREEMENT!” It was hard not to feel, at least to some extent, that we had witnessed a significant moment in our planet’s history, and hard not to share the delight of the negotiators and the wider sustainability community.

For the first time, 185 nations committed to curbing the trajectory of current and future global greenhouse gas emissions and to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees. That in itself is something to be celebrated. The agreement shows that the entire world now recognizes climate change as a major issue, requiring a unified response, and it lays the foundations for making our societies greener, cleaner, and more sustainable.

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Flags over COP21 in Paris. Photograph: ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability.

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Lecture Notes: “Toxic Legacies—Agent Orange as a Challenge”

by Christian Lahnstein

In 2013, the Korean Supreme Court confirmed the liability of US manufacturers for damage caused by the defoliant Agent Orange in the 1965–72 Vietnam War. The 300,000 South Korean soldiers and their descendants constitute the third-largest group of Agent Orange victims, after the Vietnamese population and US veterans and their descendants. In the 1980s, the US veterans sued not their government, but the companies that profited from government orders for Agent Orange. The settlement totaled US$250 million, but the companies refused to acknowledge a causal connection between symptoms and exposure. The companies continue to reject the ongoing claims of the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

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Greening of LMU: How Sustainable Do We Want to Be?

By Robert Emmett

Date and Location: 9 July 2015, LMU, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1, Munich.

Technological fixes are not going to solve the capitalism-climate collision in any transcendental, universal sense. We’re not greening ourselves out of the social-environmental challenges ahead with clever gadgets. Instead, as the authors of the Nature paper “Changing the Intellectual Climate” suggest, deep cultural and social transformations are called for. More than the idea of the university needs to be reformed: from the architecture to the menu at the Mensa, the curriculum to the interface of technology and research-transfer, wholesale practices in higher education must and are already being reformed. But just how does social innovation happen in a vast public institution such as LMU Munich? Policies and funding schemes may change, but these changes then emerge through social groups, from communities of people coming together.

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Urban Gardening, “Treibstoff,” and The Desire for Community

What would you get if you mixed together “Treibstoff,” the Viennese countercultural group that parks converted trucks in disused urban spaces, and the community gardening scene described by Jeffrey Hou in his recent lecture? Both movements have attracted considerable interest of late: The members of “Treibstoff” were profiled in a documentary screened at the DOK.fest in Munich, while the urban gardening movement in Seattle (“P-Patch“) has grown from 10 gardens in 1970 to over 90 in 2013.

The Treibstoff group at one proposed site. Source: treibstoffderfilm.at

The Treibstoff group at one proposed site. Source: treibstoffderfilm.at

It’s hard to imagine a peaceful coexistence. The “Treibstoff” group is composed of young, loud, uncompromising individuals, while the urban gardens are quietly developed by a wide range of city residents. Community garden projects seek to improve urban life, reintegrating elements of self-subsistence and communal living, while “Treibstoff” take issue with private property itself. Urban gardens change the city from the inside out; “Treibstoff” expresses dissatisfaction and disaffection with cities and development in general.

Offer one piece of land, and the two groups would probably clash. Community gardeners would patiently seek the support of city planners for their project; “Treibstoff” would drive in, park their trucks, distribute flyers, and ask why anyone should have the right to evict them.

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Lecture Notes: Warwick Fox’s Responsive Cohesion

Last week, Warwick Fox gave a lecture at the RCC entitled “General Ethics and the Theory of Responsive Cohesion”. Below is a (subjective and unofficial) summary.

Why is Warwick Fox proposing a General Theory of Ethics (with capital letters)? Because, in his view, previous theories have had too narrow a focus.

Environmental ethicists extended ethical considerations from the human world to the non-human, biophysical realm. Peter Singer, among others, developed the notion that humans had ethical responsibilities not just to each other but to animals as well. Subsequently, plants and other biophysical entities were included in this discussion. The notion emerged of a duty towards ecosystems.

Yet this, for Fox, does not go far enough. Why is the human-constructed world, the built word, not part of our ethical framework? We have all seen buildings that “stick out like a sore thumb.” We find them objectionable: “There should be a law against that kind of thing.” But can we say that they are just plain wrong? Is there an ethical theory that justifies such a statement?

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