Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Plastic Beach

Guest post by Judith Selby and Richard Lang

Judith Selby and Richard Lang are artists who collaborate in an ongoing project to collect plastic along Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. They also recount their adventures in Plastic Forever, the blog they jointly manage. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on their work on Seeing the Woods.

A casual diversion—an amusement—turns into an enthusiasm, turns into a life’s work.

Why create art out of the tons of plastic we’ve found? Why make these objects and show them in an art context? And since we want our art to engage the polity, to inspire action, are we simply making more propaganda?

At first glance, our project is about evidence gathered to address the consequences of marine born plastic garbage in our oceans. The evidence, in this case, has been gleaned from just one beach: Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California. But it is about more than that. It is the story of being witness to how a creative life is lived. It’s not about creative arts, per se. That yes, but it’s also about the implications creative energy has for any endeavor.

Sometimes, beauty can be a call to action. Here the call to action is to follow some simple rules of planetary housekeeping; but in a larger sense, the call to action is to follow those strange voices of inspiration each of us possesses, if we dare to listen. We know after years on the beach and in the studio, the real opposite of beauty is indifference.


This is part one of a two-part post about Judith and Richard’s ongoing work collecting and transforming waste into art. For related content about the journey and transformation of waste, take a look at our RCC Perspectives volumes: Out of Sight, Out of Mind and A Future without Waste?


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Snapshot: Do You Speak Envhist?

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Should professional historians maintain their independence and objectivity as researchers, or should they address the social use of their field? Are there fundamental conflicts between the two? Do environmental or ecological historians need to become more useful and practical in addressing such global problems as climate change, intensified food production, and biodiversity loss? If so, how and to what extent? What significant insights can our study of the past offer?

These questions formed the foundation of a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History. Our new blog series on “The Uses of Environmental History,” which launches later this week, has been adapted from the pieces presented there. Together, these contributions demarcate the evolution of environmental history over the last four decades and project a broader outlook for its future.

Stay tuned!

 


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Snapshot: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 3

Last year, students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop with Jochen Koller, Diploma Permaculture-Designer and Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Permakultur und Transition (FIPT). Students gained an insight into the ethics and design principles of permaculture, the diverse spheres of activity, and the practical possibilities. In this short series of posts, students reflect on their experiences at the workshop and on permaculture as an interdisciplinary approach to thinking, planning, and designing.


“A Winter Home for Bats”

By Luna Benítez Requena

The Hummelhof (German for “bumblebee farm”) is already home to cows, sheep, bumblebees, chickens, and cats—not to mention a herbary and several fruit trees. It’s newest residents? Bats, of course.

Bats, the only mammals able to fly, are an important component of ecosystems, performing crucial roles that include pollination and seed dispersal, as well as consuming pests. Nonetheless, despite conservation efforts, many bat species have become endangered because of slow reproduction rates and loss of habitat due to increasing anthropogenic activity. For example, our building practices have had a severe impact on the spaces bats typically inhabit for shelter, and their food has become scarce as a result of human activities like monoculturing and crop spraying to tackle pests.

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The Hummel family, which runs the Hummelhof, recently decided to build a bat tunnel, a sort of winter residence, on their premises. Students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program spent half a day there last year learning about life at the farm and assisting in their various projects, including sustainable farming, planting specific tree species to cultivate habitats for bees, and the bat tunnel, which was almost ready when we arrived.

The tunnel consists of a deep trench, inlaid with concrete blocks, and topped with a compost film and a layer of sand. The bricks lining the trench will ensure that water can be collected to maintain cool temperatures of 2–8°C—ideal conditions for bats. It is the work of citizens like those at the Hummelhof  whose work has seen certain bat species removed from the endangered list—proof that small steps can make a big difference.


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Snapshot: Start with a Bang

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For many, a New Year celebration would not be the same without fireworks. But have you ever noticed what happens to all that leftover packaging wrapped around the rockets and bangers? It seems that an awful lot falls to the floor and gets swept up along with the broken bottles and spilt food that litter the city streets on New Year’s Day. This is just one pile yet to be collected in Munich, where this year 140 employees have already helped gather 50 tonnes of post-party rubbish, an increase from last year’s figures. That’s a lot of waste for a couple of hours of wonder and dazzling lights…


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Snapshot: Latour de Force

By Samantha Rothbart

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Bruno Latour speaking at the Lunchtime Colloquium, 8 December 2016.

What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene? Put simply, we are disoriented: disoriented in space—aware that despite a united vision for the planet, no single space exists to accommodate all of our wishes; disoriented in time—living in an age stifled by doubt; disoriented in terms of agency—troubled by the political question of what to do about the environment and who should take the lead.

So how do we begin to heal this bewilderment and reorient ourselves on Earth? This was the question philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour posed at last week’s special Lunchtime Colloquium.

Latour challenged our concept of the globe and globalization, showing that we need to start thinking about the Earth as a living system in our new climatic regime, and about the type of knowledge we need to produce to create political order in nature. He emphasized the need for a new approach—one that allows us to establish a political ecology that can drive the current discussion beyond the dichotomy of returning to the past, or pursuing a politics of globalization. Drawing on our collective interdisciplinary knowledge, it is up to us to redefine who we are and where we stand in the world. Only then can we begin to reorient ourselves on Earth in the Anthropocene.

The event was sponsored as part of the 10th Munich Hochschultage. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Human Evolution Workshop

By Christian Schnurr

The evolution of the genus Homo was influenced in part by the landscape in which early hominins lived. Important archaeological sites are often located in areas with very rough terrain and a rich supply of nutrients and trace elements. These two features could have led wandering animals on paths where early hominins could track them down and hunt them. Furthermore, the rough terrain made it easier for our ancestors to find shelter from predators.

The Lonetal area in the Swabian Alb is famous for its many artifacts from the Aurignacian culture (ca. 40,000–30,000 years ago). Among the discoveries are the oldest sculptures ever found, including a mammoth as well as a lion sculpture, both made out of mammoth ivory. Other findings include fragments of flutes that belong to the oldest humankind has made.

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The workshop group: (from left to right) Christian Schnurr, Simon Kübler, Frank Brown, Geoffrey King, Geoff Bailey, and Anke Friedrich.

These photos were taken during a workshop held by the Rachel Carson Center and LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences for students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program. The field trip to the Swabian Alb included talks by Frank Brown (University of Utah), Geoffrey King (IPG Paris), Simon Kübler (LMU), Geoff Bailey (University of York), and Anke Friedrich (LMU).


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Snapshot: View from the Top

“Environment and Society Doctoral Students Explore the Bavarian Forest National Park”

by Annka Liepold

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Group shot on top of the Lusen.

On 4 July 2016 the members of the Doctoral Program Environment and Society took a field trip to the Bavarian Forest National Park. Marco Heurich, deputy head of the Park’s Department of Conservation and Research, gave the group an introduction to the history of the Bavarian Forest NP and pointed out some of its unique features. Founded in 1970, the Bavarian Forest NP is Germany’s oldest national park and has a sister national park in the Czech Republic—the Šumava National Park—which shares its ecosphere. Continue reading