Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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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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Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 4

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.


“Science and Permaculture”

By Theresa Kuhl

There is only one wrong view: To believe that your view is the only right one.” (Nagarjuna)

Permaculture is a holistic concept of sustainable agriculture developed by Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgreen. It includes the essential principles of caring for the Earth, caring for people, limits to consumption and growth, and redistribution of surpluses.

The study of natural science, especially agricultural science, contrasts with the approach of permaculture. “Science” is often mentioned as the big “evil” compared to permaculture. But it is important to distinguish between different scientific disciplines. On the one hand, there is biotechnology, which tries to alter ecosystems to generate the highest possible yield by using genetic manipulation of plants and strong chemical toxins. For example, glyphosate is a potent herbicide that kills any plant that lacks genetically engineered resistance. On the other hand, the discipline  of environmental science also focuses on productivity of soils, but in a more sustainable way, because environmental scientists also know that permanent exploitation of soils has no future. Continue reading


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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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Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 2

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.


“Permaculture and the Hummelhof— A Philosophy for Life?”

By Stefan Bitsch

We are 14 people, driving through the calm and gentle landscape of the Allgäu to the first stop of our permaculture workshop. The first thing which strikes us as we enter the 17-hectare farm is that the garden has an unfamiliar feeling to it. It seems both peaceful and, strangely enough, busy, like no other place we will visit on that trip.

In front of the farm, whose façade is paneled with insect hotels, Mr. Hummel is already waiting to give us a tour.

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Insect hotel. Photo: Lea Wiser.

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Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 1

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.


“Let’s Save the World by Gardening!”

By Marlen Elders

“Permaculture”—a neologism combining “permanent” and “agriculture”—is all about sustainability with the aim of creating a self-preserving world (Koller 2009, 9ff.). A permacultural gardener aims to create a symbiotic interaction between soil, plants, animals, and microorganisms, each of which profits from the other—ideally resulting in a positive outcome for the gardener too. Clearly, the concept comes with an ideology: the ethics of diversity and care that goes beyond bare agricultural methods. This idea is alive and kicking, still evolving, still improving, as the father of permaculture, Bill Mollison, hoped it would. He referred to permaculture as a tool that needs to be tested, modified, and developed further. He encouraged the creation of permaculture networks to exchange experiences and to spread knowledge amongst practitioners (Mollison and Holmgren 1985, 13).

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Jochen Koller (right) with Alexander H. at Hummelhof, Elmatried. Photo by Ursula Münster.

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Student Research: Why the Past (Really) Matters

By Yolanda Lopez-Maldonado

Concern has grown in recent years over how our actions have transformed the natural world. This worry has prompted a deluge of news stories about environmental crises and their impact on global societies, such as climate change, food and water security, resource degradation, loss of biodiversity, and rising costs of resource management. But what are the future challenges and risks associated with these past influences? This was one of the issues addressed at “Transformations of the Earth,” an international graduate student workshop in environmental history that took place at Renmin University of China in Beijing from 21 to 23 May this year. The event was organized by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society and Ludwig Maximilian University, and cosponsored by Renmin University of China’s Center for Ecological History.

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Photo: Yolanda Lopez-Maldonado.

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Student Research: Working in the Eye of the Storm

By Jeroen Oomen (Doctoral Candidate)

When the COP21 Paris climate agreement was announced in December 2015, much of the world reacted with relief, disbelief, or skepticism. For the first time since the Kyoto Protocol, after many monumental failures, the international community seemed to have managed to commit to decisive action on climate change. This was the best we could hope for, wasn’t it? Or is COP21 just a symbolic agreement that won’t change the geopolitical reality?

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