New Hope for Plastic Waste Pollution?

Hazardous Hope Part 3

By Jonas Stuck

(*All images courtesy of the author.)

In 2016, a new actor entered the main stage and brought new optimism into the fight against plastic waste pollution. Let me introduce Ideonella sakaiensis. A group of researchers from the Kyoto Institute of Technology and Keio University discovered this bacterium outside a plastic bottle recycling factory in the port city of Sakai, Japan. It was identified as the first bacterium capable of breaking down PET plastic. Prior to this discovery, only a small number of fungi were known to be able to do the same (for other uses of fungi see the first blog post in this series by Maxl Feichtner). Human–nature relationships are often portrayed in negative ways, which can scare audiences away from environmental engagement. However, the way we tell stories is beginning to change: we have begun to focus more frequently on hopeful narratives.

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The Bellflower Specialists

Read the first part of this post, Insect Profile: Chelostoma rapunculi.

(*Featured image: Campanula cochleariifolia, by Jerzy Opioła [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons)

“Bees of Öland, Sweden: An Interview with Heidi Dobson”

By Eunice Blavascunas and Alie J. Zagata

heidi donson profile

Professor Heidi Dobson is a member of the Department of Biology at Whitman College. She spends her time teaching and sharing her passion for plant and insect life with students both in the classroom and out in the field. The majority of her research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of plant-animal interactions, especially those between bees and flowers. This passion for bee-flower associations has taken her across the globe, from Walla Walla, Washington, to the island of Öland in Sweden, and has afforded her first-hand knowledge and experience of the state of insect populations worldwide.

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Insect Profile: Chelostoma rapunculi

By Eunice Blavascunas and Alie J. Zagata

On the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, a fascinating little creature is rapidly disappearing. Chelostoma rapunculi, also known as the scissor bee, is a European solitary bee species. What makes it so interesting is the fact that it is oligolectic: this fussy bee relies on only one species of plant for its pollen and nectar. Scissor bees are bellflower specialists, meaning they seek food only from bellflower species (Campanula) during their flight season in June and July. On Öland, bellflowers grow primarily in ditches and hedgerows along fields and roadsides. Female scissor bees build their nests above ground in premade beetle holes in old barns, fences, and railings. They therefore depend on humans for their nesting sites. Read More

CfA: RCC Fellowships 2019–2020

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society invites applications for its 2019–20 cohort of postdoctoral and senior fellows. The RCC’s fellowship program is designed to bring together excellent scholars from a variety of countries and disciplines who are working in the fields of environment and society. In this application round, the RCC is offering thematic fellowships (four to twelve months) on the following three topics:

Urban Environments
The twenty-first century planet is an urban planet. The urban population in 2015 accounted for 54 per cent of the total global population, up from 30 per cent in 1950 and it is expected to increase to 60 per cent of the world population by 2030. How have environmental challenges in cities been met in the past? What place do “nature” (green spaces, animals) have in urban politics, in planning, and in the shared imagination of the urban? What lessons can be learned across cultures about clean water and air, mobility, energy and land use, and sustainability and growth?

Sufficiency, Postcapitalism, and the Good Life
How have societies and institutions around the globe and across time dealt with ecological constraints? How can buen vivir or the principle of the “good life” work in restructuring society, technology, and politics, and in reshaping attitudes and behavior? Is sufficiency a useful principle in order to meet future environmental challenges? Where are its limits? Are there other, more promising concepts? What is a post-growth paradigm and how might it help us to overcome ecological crises?

Unmaking and Remaking “Nature”
With more than fifty percent of the earth’s surface modified by humans, and with an ever-accelerating loss of biodiversity, the idea of repurposing or transforming landscapes has gained currency over the last decades. How has ecological restoration worked across time, and how is it being culturally (re)imagined as “rewilding”? Do different parts of the Globe value wildness? What are the challenges and opportunities of renaturalizing streams and rivers, for example, or for fighting to keep them wild? What impact do conservation projects have on communities?

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Hope in the Murky Waters of the International Shipping Industry

Hazardous Hope Part 2

By Ayushi Dhawan

(*Featured image: CTG. Ship Breaking 06. Photo by Naquib Hossain [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr)

This summer, I went on a field trip to Alang-Sosiya in the northwestern state of Gujarat, India, where geriatric vessels are anchored in the shipbreaking yards for their not-so-respectful funeral rights. They are taken apart bolt by bolt, rivet by rivet, down to their very last ounce of valuable metal. This place is infamously known as the “world’s largest graveyard for ships.” Despite the fact that this “recycling” is making use of vast amounts of material, the negative impacts on the environment unleashed through improper shipbreaking are substantial. Most ships are not properly cleaned of residue oils and fuel before they are sent, and they need to be meticulously dismantled in order to prevent oil spills and other toxins leaching into the environment. As I prepared for my journey, I wondered: Why is India voluntarily involved in this trade of hazardous waste? Is there an end in sight to the export of toxic waste appealingly disguised as “recycling” from the Global North to the Global South? What about the workers who survive by earning their daily living from scrapping these dead ships? As the complexity of these questions drew me towards scholarly despair and narratives of complete declensionism, I stumbled across some hopeful news: Dutch shippers had been sentenced for having demolished ships on an Indian beach. This news made me reconsider my doomy fears and instilled an idea in my head: perhaps it is possible to navigate the Indian shipbreaking industry with a vision of hope. Read More

CfP: Irregular Ecologies: The Environmental Impact of Unconventional Warfare

Workshop, 20.07.2019 – 21.07.2019
Location: Florianopolis, Brazil
Conveners: Christof Mauch (Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich) and Javier Puente (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Warfare seldom affects humans alone. While inflicting devastating effects on societies, armed conflicts also shape economic, cultural, sociopolitical, and ecological transformations. As violence territorializes, armed conflicts begin to affect the ecologies and livelihoods that once sustained them. Environmental transformation thus emerges as an inextricable correlate of human conflict. With the dawn of the Cold War, the environmental impacts of human conflict unfolded alongside the same geopolitical trends that engulfed the Global South. Decolonizing movements, guerrilla warfare, rural insurrections, and other forms of intrastate conflict developed from within ecologically fragile areas and eco-sensitive zones, including savannahs, valleys, watersheds, islands, mangroves, forests, plateaus, and jungles. Over the years, emerging and consolidated republics such as Ethiopia, Colombia, the DRC, Vietnam, Peru, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, the Philippines, Nepal, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria, among others, have become gruesome epicenters of armed conflict in sensitive ecosystems and precarious agrarian landscapes.

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CfP: The Nature of Health, the Health of Nature: Perspectives from History and the Humanities

Conference – Renmin University of China, Beijing, China, 30.05.2019–01.06.2018
Location: Renmin University of China, Beijing, China
Sponsors: Center for Ecological History, Renmin University of China, and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

Since Rachel Carson’s path-breaking book Silent Spring (1962), many experts and citizens have been trying to understand how the health of nature and of human beings are related in the past, present, and future. Old concepts of disease and illness have been challenged by more holistic approaches that link humans to their environmental conditions. Toxic residues in the air, water, and soil have moved to the forefront of medical analysis, while ecologists have tried to define what a “healthy ecosystem” or “a healthy Earth” might mean.

This workshop will bring scholars to address such questions as these:

  • How have definitions of health changed over time, and how have politics, science, religion, and other forces influenced those definitions?
  • What connections have different cultures and societies made between the human body and nature in the past?
  • How have discourses on human health and imaginaries of environmental degradation and planetary decay been linked? What effect have planetary trends such as climate change had on human and nonhuman health?

The conference will be open to all ranks of scholars, from graduate students to senior professors to independents. Participants will be selected competitively. Those interested in attending should send a one-page proposal (or about 300 words) and include a title and a one- or two-page CV. Please send your proposal (in English or Chinese) to this Rachel Carson Center address:

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Pushing Wine in a “Bierland”: The Case of East Germany

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

By John Gillespie

In some way or another, all modern states establish alcohol policies. One important question in any study of these systems is whether or not the type of drink makes any difference. Most histories on this subject have focused on extreme and well-known examples of state alcohol policy in the recent past, especially the implementation of national prohibition in 1920s America, or the anti-alcoholism battles of the young Soviet Union. There is, however, another uniquely interesting yet little-explored case study of conflict between government control of drinking habits and the weight of cultural and social tradition: the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

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CfA: Early Stage (Doctoral) Researcher


Early Stage Researcher (Doctoral Researcher) Position:
Transforming the Bavarian Forest: Socio-ecological Crises, Community Resilience, and Sustainability from a Historical Perspective

The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society is seeking a highly motivated Early Stage Researcher (ESR) to undertake doctoral studies and participate in a broad range of scientific and professional training as part of an H2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network in Resourceful and Resilient Community Environmental Practice (RECOMS).


RECOMS is comprised of a transdisciplinary consortium of scientists, practitioners and change agents from eleven public (universities and government research centres), private and non-profit organisations, located in six European Union countries: Austria, Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, and The Netherlands. It is funded by the European Commission (2018–2022). The purpose of RECOMS is to train 15 ESRs (doctoral candidates) in innovative, transdisciplinary, and transformative approaches to promoting and facilitating resourceful and resilient community environmental practice. By delivering an advanced programme of training in both scientific and professional skills, RECOMS will enable ESRs to pursue an academic career or high-level professional career in the public, private, or third sector (e.g. government, university, NGO, consultancy, business or charitable body).
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For a Dignified Life

Hazardous Hope Part 1

“Remediation Practices in Ecuador”

by Maximilian Feichtner

(*Featured image © Theresa Leisgang)

Like a tiny mushroom, hope is growing in the once-lush rain forest of the Amazon in northeastern Ecuador: bioremediation as a solution to the extensive environmental contamination. It is a hazardous hope, however. Hazardous because it relates to a dangerous place—over the course of more than 50 years of intense settler colonization and careless hydrocarbon exploitation, the region has turned into a vast agricultural landscape nourished by polluted soils and rivers. Just as the tropical landscape has been deteriorating since the advent of oil production in the 1960s, so too is the health of the local population. Settlers, indigenous people, and wild and domestic animals are suffering from the contamination caused by decades-old oil pits, ongoing gas flaring, and almost weekly oil spills. Many of the local population’s stories are tragic: lost family members, malformed babies, and no means to overcome the contamination that pervades daily life.

Another reason that this tiny hope can be framed as hazardous is that hope itself is under siege. The local population has been deceived repeatedly—with blatant lies denying the dangers of oil production, as well as with broken promises to halt pollution. Nonetheless, cautious hope remains that the environmental contamination might be remediated, making it possible for the inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Amazon to lead a dignified life once more. Read More