Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Lives Wasted: Garbage as a Forgotten Dimension of the European “Refugee Crisis”

by Maximilian Feichtner and Theresa Leisgang

A deflated rubber boat is washed up on the eastern coast of Chios. Once the waves have buried it under rocks and it becomes even more entangled with seagrass, you will hardly be able to see it. But for tourists strolling along the beach, this isn’t the only reminder of the boat landings by refugees who crossed Europe’s borders at night. All across the beaches of the Aegean Islands, where tourists usually swim and sunbathe, refugees leave their life jackets, water bottles, soaked clothes—and the boats on which they started their journey to a new life. The waste is what connects both, tourists and refugees, in their everyday life, as both are caught up in a circle of producing and managing waste. Beyond that, the waste is a material trace of countless people’s struggles to survive and escape violent conflicts. It is a trace that tourists and islanders would like to ignore; a trace, however, that won’t disappear by itself.

About one million people arrived on Greek shores in 2015 and the first few months of 2016, most of them fleeing war and persecution in Syria. Since March 2016, when the EU signed a deal with Turkey to halt the flow of migration to Europe, arrivals via the Aegean Sea dropped dramatically. However, possibly due to rising tensions regarding EU-Turkey relations, numbers are increasing again: 4,609 people reached Greece via boat in September 2017 according to the UNHCR. With them, the amount of discarded rubber dinghies, sports boats, and other waste on the islands will likely amount to tonnes. Their waste comes in addition to the already existing refugee boats, carelessly piled up in the hinterland, turning pastures into ship graveyards. What remains undiscussed in the broader public and political debates is the potential environmental crisis that risks adding another level of complexity to the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe. Continue reading


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Mumbai Deluge 2017: Nowadays Rain Gods Have a New Tool—Plastic Bags!

by Ayushi Dhawan

We often do not think twice before buying a plastic bag at a supermarket or a shopping mall. It’s bought because it’s needed and discarded after being used for a short while. How harmful can these everyday practices be to our environment? Mumbai’s recent floods definitely have a story to tell in this regard, where these harmless-looking plastic bags acted as a major pollutant and literally suffocated both the drains and the residents of the city.

Mumbai, the sprawling financial metropolis and capital city of Maharashtra, with a population of over 18.3 million people, came to a grinding halt on 29 August 2017 when torrential rains struck the city. Transportation systems came to a standstill as the suburban train services were temporarily suspended. Along with that, many flights were either canceled or delayed because the runway remained non-operational, marooning countless people. Subsequently, the power supply was cut off in various parts of the city to prevent electrocution. This deluge was instantly compared, by media channels and local residents, to the 2005 floods when the state of Maharashtra was struck by high tides which in turn triggered devastating storms and floods killing 1,094 people in the city of Mumbai. But these comparisons in a way were misleading, since statistically speaking the metropolis received just 12 inches of rain during the flooding this year, whereas, in the 2005 floods, 37 inches of rainfall was recorded, thus over three times more than the current scenario.

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Flooding in Mumbai, August 2017. Photo by News Measurements Network Live, via Wikimedia Commons. Available under a CCO 1.0 creative commons license.

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Doktorandentag 2017!

Eight new members of the RCC’s doctoral program and two visiting doctoral students presented their projects at the center’s annual “Doktorandentag.” Organized and moderated by members of the program, the format allowed each student to present a *snapshot* of their research followed by a discussion with their peers, doctoral program board members, RCC fellows, and staff. Eight different nationalities, at least six different disciplines/interdisciplines, and 10 very different topics made for a fascinating and enriching day for everyone involved!


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Hazardous Cruises: Welcome to Toxic Paradise

by Jonas Stuck

figure 1 Cruiseship_passing_Venice

Cruiseship passing Venice. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder, via Wikimedia Commons. Available under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The summer is over, but the holiday season hasn’t stopped. Going on vacation is how many people calm down from a hectic work life and enjoy a good time. Cruise ships offer this experience all year round in the most naturally beautiful holiday destinations in the world: from the Arctic Circle or the Norwegian fjords to Mediterranean beaches. The urge to explore the world by cruise ship and see spectacular natural beauty has risen dramatically. Around 25 million people will board cruise ships this year, meaning the demand for such luxurious vacations has increased more than 68 percent during the last 10 years. Maybe you too would like to go on a cruise, but think twice: while you may be expecting to enjoy the fresh sea breeze, you are more likely to end up breathing in toxic pollutants.

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Ecopolis München: Ecopolis Night

“A Student Exhibition on Munich’s Environmental Histories”

All photographs courtesy of Florin Prună.

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In late July, students of the RCC’s Environmental Studies Certificate Program organized Ecopolis München: Umweltgeschichten einer Stadt. This interactive multimedia exhibition showcased Munich’s environmental histories through the students’ final projects, and was curated by doctoral candidate Sasha Gora, research assistant Raphaela Holzer, and the Deutsches Museum’s exhibitions curator Nina Möllers.

Over 200 people attended the special evening, among them prominent guests including professors from various universities, city representatives, journalists, Selbach Umwelt Stiftung founder Karl Heinrich Selbach, and Green party leader Margarete Bause.

The evening opened with an informal welcome from RCC director Christof Mauch and a number of students involved in the organization of the exhibition. President of LMU Munich Bernd Huber then gave the official opening address, remarking on the fantastic work the students had done. Continue reading


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Day 7. Danube Excursion: Bratislava—Munich

by Lea Wiser


Bratislava → Munich


 

Spending a night on a boat and waking up to views over the glimmering river is not something that happens every day. After a long night, a hearty breakfast helped us to regain our energy for the last guided tour with Peter Pisut, who specializes in the historical geography of Slovak rivers. Even though we did not have much time, it is mandatory to walk up to Bratislava Castle, which overlooks the Danube.

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Day 6. Danube Excursion: Vienna—Bratislava

by Laura Kuen


Vienna → Orth → Gabčíkovo → Bratislava


Traveling from Vienna to Bratislava, our day’s topics branched in quite different directions: water power and nature conservation. We first visited the Austrian National Park Donau-Auen in Orth and later the Gabčíkovo Dams, Slovakia’s biggest hydroelectric plant.

Conservation in the Donau-Auen

The national park, which spans the distance between Vienna and Bratislava, finds its roots in a story of resistance, years of struggle, and constant negotiations between opposing forces. Our guide, Manfred Rosenberger, whose personal biography is deeply interwoven with the park, vividly recounted the park’s history.

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Map of the Donau-Auen National Park, reaching from Vienna to the Slovakian border near Bratislava.

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