The Case to Go to Mars—And the Hope for the Earth

By David Munns

*Featured image: Mars Rover. Image: Idaho National Laboratory, [CC-BY 2.0], via Flicker.

We need a “hardy, soiled kind of wisdom,” Donna Haraway wrote in her recent book Staying With the Trouble, if we are to avert disaster from climate change even a little bit. Challenging and controversial, the wisdom Haraway seeks comes from string figures, nonhuman companions, and her own garden—and, she hopes, will produce a time when the Earth possesses at most 2 or 3 billion humans. Haraway’s call to “make kin, not babies” has garnered reviews disturbed by her radical positions. In confronting climate, there are difficult choices ahead, with voluntary childlessness one effective solution: If we are going to reduce our carbon emissions, why not also reduce our biological presence?

Haraway’s call for a steady, controlled, and peaceful population decline over a century or more, in fact, seems hardly confronting in contrast to the wisdom learned during the heyday of the Space Age. Haraway’s call to not make babies echoes the overriding metaphor for environmentalists in the 1960s, “Spaceship Earth.” In Spaceship Earth, all resources were finite and thus the idea broke with easy and complacent notions of unlimited bounty, resources, or growth. The Earth was likened to a closed ecological space ship, lunar base, or Mars station, wherein air, food, and water become supremely rare and precious commodities. Confrontingly, from the earliest days of the Space Race, NASA administrators knew as well as science fiction writers that no material could be discarded as waste just because it became urine and excrement, or indeed the deceased body of one’s crewmate. Time magazine’s science editor in the mid-1960s (quoted by famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke) even suggested that, in order to ensure complete closure of an artificial environment for long-duration space travel, “cannibalism would be compulsory among interstellar travelers.” Read More

The History of Munich’s Waste Management

This post by Christian Schnurr, a student of the RCC-LMU Environmental Studies Certificate Program, stems from his research conducted as part of the exhibition project “Ecopolis: Understanding and Imagining Munich’s Environments.”

Unless otherwise indicated, images are courtesy of AWM. Source: AWM Festschrift.

An opera about rubbish disposal? Die Stadt, composed by Nélida Béjar and directed by Björn Potulski, premiered on 14 December 2016 in the Schwere Reiter theater, as part of the celebration of 125 years of waste management in Munich. Based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, the opera thematizes the structure and order of a civilization, focusing the spotlight especially on waste. Instead of professional performers, employees of the Abfallwirtschaft München (AWM), Munich’s waste management company, sing all of the pieces in the show! Most people would probably not have seen this coming 125 years ago, especially since waste management in Munich began not as a voluntary act, but one of necessity.

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Empirical Ecocriticism

Workshop Report (14–15 December 2018, Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany)

By Alexa Weik von Mossner and Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

On 14 and 15 December 2018, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society hosted the workshop Empirical Ecocriticism. Empirical ecocriticism is an emerging subfield of ecocriticism that focuses on the empirically grounded study of environmental narrative—in literature, film, television, etc.—and its influence on various audiences. The main objective of empirical ecocriticism is to put to empirical test claims made within ecocriticism, and the environmental humanities more generally, about the impact of environmental narratives and art. To this end, it employs empirical methods used in disciplines such as environmental communication, environmental psychology, and the empirical study of literature. Read More

Make Meadows, Not Lawns

“The Heart of the Ecosystem: Taking Responsibility for the Extinction of Bees”

By Rosamund Portus

*Featured image: A roundabout in Mössingen, the “City of Flowers.” Photo: UnreifeKirsche [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of extinction, we tend to think of a few iconic species, such as the woolly mammoth or the dodo. Although none of us today has ever laid eyes on one—at least not a living specimen— we still mourn their loss. Yet, there are many creatures whose extinction we do not mourn, or just never really noticed. There was little outcry, for instance, when the Levuana Moth went extinct. And very few people are campaigning to save endangered dragonflies. However, most people certainly seem to know that bees are in danger of extinction; it has been splashed across headlines around the world, reiterated in hundreds of articles, and been the topic of many a social media campaign. In Ball and Hayne’s words, “we have been losing sleep over bees.” What is it about them that has prompted this profound response? Read More

RCC Publication Roundup 2018

If you are looking for some good reading material for the festive period and have a taste for environmental history and humanities, look no further! Here is a roundup of the 2018 publications from the RCC and affiliate publishers.

RCC Perspectives

The online journal publishes provocative, less formal pieces related to the Rachel Carson Center’s environment and society research themes.

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Environmental Pasts—Environmental Futures: Perspectives on China

Conference Report (22–24 November 2018, Peking University, Beijing, China)

By Elena Feditchkina Tracy

(*Featured image: from left: Christof Mauch, Elena Feditchkina Tracy, Maohong Bao, Sophia Kalantzakos, and Fei Sheng)
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Prof. Dr. Christof Mauch, RCC and Prof. Dr. Maohong Bao, Peking University

RCC fellows and alumni participated in the LMU-China Academic Network 4th Scientific Forum held on 22–24 November 2018, at Peking University in Beijing, China. Scholars joined their colleagues from Renmin University, Sun Yat-Sen University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Tongji University for the workshop “Environmental Pasts—Environmental Futures: Perspectives on China.” The event was chaired by RCC director Professor Christof Mauch, and the director of Peking University’s World History Center, Professor Maohong Bao. The workshop brought together scholars who work on China’s role in global, regional, and local environmental issues and perspectives. Read More

A Fluid History of Wisconsin Breweries

The Taproom is a monthly series that explores the rich history of all things beer. It is curated by Pavla Šimková.


By Doug Hoverson

(*Featured image: This sign from the tiny Hortonville Brewing Co. placed more emphasis on their artesian well than on the beer itself. [Sign c. early 1900s.] Photo credits: University of Minnesota Press. Photo by Robert Fogt, Collection of National Brewery Museum, Potosi, Wisconsin.)

During my research for Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota, a retired employee of the Theo. Hamm Brewing Co. in St. Paul told me: “Beer is 97 percent water, and the other three percent is none of your damn business.” Of course, he knew that I understood the importance of the other ingredients, and I joked with him that in the case of Hamm’s beer it was more like 98 percent water. But water is important to brewing beyond being an ingredient. During the nearly two centuries of commercial brewing in Wisconsin, water was critical to how brewers selected a location, advertised their beer, and interacted with government agencies.

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Plastic Passport

Hazardous Hope Part 4

By Simone Müller

(*Featured image: Photo by Gerry & Bonni [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)

On our way out of office?

In leadership counseling, they tell you about three key considerations for deciding if you should fire someone: 1) Did the person receive adequate feedback? 2) Did the person truly own the feedback and take responsibility for the problem? And 3) did behavior change actually occur?

If the blue planet were our employer, it most likely would have to terminate us. As you read this, at least 10,000 species each year become extinct, about 130,000 km2 of rain forest each year—an area roughly the size of Greece—are destroyed through deforestation, about 6 million people annually die from the effects of air pollution, and about eight million tonnes of plastic a year makes its way into the world’s oceans. We really seem to be failing miserably at this job of living sustainably in the now—let alone for the future. Humanity has received ample feedback on our horrific behavior towards the planet. Time and again, we read about environmental degradation and pollution, we hear the news of natural catastrophes, and we watch documentaries on climate change. Yet so far, we’ve shown little evidence that we own any of these problems, although we have caused them. Owning the problem, however, is not only the prerequisite for behavior change but also key to avoiding termination. No change, no job—so goes the credo of human-resources specialists. Are we on our way out of office? Read More

Popularizing Climate Change and the Challenge of Multiple Narratives

By Roberta Biasillo

This blog piece is inspired by Harald Lesch’s talk “Science, Society, Signs” at the RCC Lunchtime Colloquium. It focuses on the potential and limits of graphic representations of climate change-related phenomena, interpretations, and understandings.

(*Featured image: Peel, M. C., Finlayson, B. L., and McMahon, T. A. (University of Melbourne). Enhanced, modified, and vectorized by Ali Zifan. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Scientists are obsessed, among other things, with facts, data, experiments, models, predictions, and scenarios. Over the last two decades, this passion has generated general agreement on the issue of climate change.

A substantial body of literature supports the scientific consensus that global warming is a fact. Moreover, an analysis of peer-reviewed literature—“the absolute standard for a researcher”—reveals that scientists overwhelmingly accept that global warming is a phenomenon caused by humans. Specifically, out of 13,950 climate articles published between 1991 and 2012, only 24 papers contradict this opinion, including the extent to which humans are responsible for climate change, and its impacts on the natural and human realms.

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First-ever International Summit in Environmental Humanities

30 June–2 July 2018, Hohenkammer and Rachel Carson Center (Germany)

Environmental Humanities (EH) is a new and innovative field of study that engages interdisciplinary scholarship from across the humanities spectrum to study the relationship between humans and the physical world they inhabit. In summer 2018, the Rachel Carson Center convened a meeting of leaders in Environmental Humanities—those who have set up networks or taken steps to institutionalize the subject at their home universities—from across the globe to discuss best practice and find ways of cooperating and sharing expertise in our shared moment of planetary crisis. The summit was also attended by eleven international young scholars who are forging their academic careers in this new field.

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