Worldview: No Such Thing as the End of History: Good News from the Amazon

This week, we bring you a new Perspectives volume in Portuguese and exciting developments from the Amazon rainforest.

The RCC Perspectives 2013/7 volume entitled New Environmental Histories of Latin America and the Caribbean has just been published in Portuguese, translated by former RCC intern Filipa Soares. It includes short histories both of individual countries and regions in Latin America, and “transverse histories” of geographical features and land use practices such as forests, ranching, mining, and cities. This volume, which was edited by Claudia Leal, John Soluri, and José Augusto Pádua, is now available in three languages—Portuguese, English, and Spanish.

José Augusto, a current Carson fellow, also contributed to the volume with a piece on Brazilian rainforest history. Last month, he presented his research on this field as part of RCC’s Lunchtime Colloquium.

He adds the following postscript to his talk:

During my talk at the Lunchtime Colloquium, we saw an 84% reduction in the yearly level of deforestation (4,600 square kilometers) in the Amazon from July 2004 to July 2012 , but that we experienced a setback from August 2012 to July 2013, with an increase of 28% (5,800 square kilometers). We were discussing at that time if it was just a fluctuation or the beginning of a U curve.

The preliminary numbers for the period from August 2013 to May 2014 were just released. According to the best independent research center, Imazon, we had a 49% decrease in deforestation compared to the previous year. Very good news!  But we still have to wait for June and July to see the complete figures. Anyway, the absolute number is still big: the second highest deforestation level in the world after Indonesia, although Indonesia’s forests are relatively small compared to the Amazon. The federal government promises to bring the level down to 3,300 square kilometers by 2020. But, if we return to the path of the reduction of Amazon deforestation, we can increase social pressures to achieve zero deforestation in the coming years: something I would have considered completely impossible in the recent past. There is no such thing as the end of history.

You can view a summary of the results of this study (in Portuguese) on the Imazon website.

Editing the Environment

pic_kotasBy Dominic Kotas

I had heard of editing before I applied to become an editor at the RCC, but I had never really done it, and I didn’t know much about environmental studies. My first volume of RCC Perspectives, then, was a challenge. Certainly I added to my knowledge of human-nature relations in the cosmology of the Sateré-Mawé Indians of the Lower Amazon – no doubt about that. But, more generally, I was surprised how little I trusted my judgment and how uncertain I was of what needed to be changed. With editing, like with almost everything, the more you do it, the better you get. Even if you don’t notice. As a British citizen, I am constitutionally required to describe myself as never better than mediocre at anything, but even I can see that my editing skills have improved over the last two years. I trust my judgment more, proofread more rigorously, and make fewer small mistakes (although I’m not immune to the occasional blunder).

What have I learnt about environmental studies? Well, it is the curse of the editor often to read for errors rather than for content, and I’m not sure I could tell you about every article I have edited. But I have been impressed by the variety of topics discussed and presented at the RCC, and by the excitement of scholars to be working on environmental issues. Maybe this is a product of climate change. The environment is a hot topic – people are discussing it and are open to hearing and reading about it. But the excitement is also a product of the possibilities and diversity on offer at the RCC. Our contributors have included historians, archaeologists, neuroscientists, literary critics, fishing communities, ecovillage residents, lawyers, and theologians. The Center is a hub, and as such it’s diverse, vibrant, busy, and exciting. People relish the chance to work with each other.

That’s nice for them, of course, but is it enough? Do the articles that they write and that we publish serve a purpose? Read More

A Toxic Legacy: The Science and Politics of Depleted Uranium and Other Heavy Metals

By Stephanie Hood, RCC Editor

Mark 149 Mod 2 20mm depleted uranium ammunition in 1987. Image from Wikipedia Commons
Mark 149 Mod 2 20mm depleted uranium ammunition in 1987. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

RCC staff, fellows, and visiting scholars were drawn together last week for a lunchtime discussion with Prof. Dr. Peter Horn—expert in isotope geochemistry at LMU—on the environmental detection of depleted uranium (DU) and other heavy metals. Horn introduced his topic with an overview of the background of DU use and of the scientific techniques applied to identify its presence in animals and plants. In his work, he analyzes the tissues of soldiers exposed to such oxides in recent wars—including the one in Kosovo. DU is highly concentrated on weapon heads and tanks, causing harm to humans and wildlife through its radioactivity, and by the formation of oxides upon its contact with solid materials, such as stone. Ingested by animal and plant cells through air, water, and food, DU-oxides can have serious consequences including major immune system, liver, and reproductive complications.

Read More

Cocaine, Schizophrenia, and Nuclear Reactors: Life as an RCC Editor


By Brenda Black

Our work as editors at the RCC requires us to be generalists (because of the wide variety of topics encountered), but also capable of interpreting highly specialized texts (because it is impossible to edit what one does not understand).

For one issue of Perspectives, my google search history included: cocaine, schizophrenia, bottlenecking, sermons, Hitler, synapses, placebo effects, Hume, slave rebellions, and peacocks. For other articles, I have found myself researching topics such as: How does a nuclear reactor work, or, more mundanely, how do automobile engines work. Another time I desperately wished I had taken a course in organic chemistry so that I could understand a discussion of industrial chemicals, and yet another article had me researching different agricultural methods such as no-till farming.

One of the most interesting and challenging articles I have edited was concerned with palynology, the study of pollen, something I hadn’t known even existed. This scientific field can provide intriguing insights into environments of the past through analysis of the pollen contained in the sediments of bogs and other natural archives. Used in combination with archaeological records and geochemical analysis of metals in the environment, palynology can help us reconstruct the history of human activities such as agriculture and mining. Read More

John Agbonifo To Help Found African Network of Environmental Humanities

RCC alumnus John Agbonifo is part of team that is in the process of creating the African Network of Environmental Humanities (ANEH). The ANEH is a new multidisciplinary association of scholars resident in Africa and abroad who share a common passion to explore and understand the nexus between human societies and the environment, and how the humanities influences scholarly understanding of that connection. The ANEH will address the dearth of African humanities scholarship on how the environment shapes human societies and vice versa.

In a statement about the new network, John Agbonifo writes that “The origin of the African Network of Environmental Humanities can be traced to the initial conversations with Christof Mauch, Rachel Carson Center (RCC), Munich, who readily supported the idea, and offered to assist in birthing the Network in every way possible.”

Other founding members include Noah Attah (Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Nigeria), Djanabou Bakary (Uni­ver­sity of Maroua, Cameroon), David Olanya (University of Gulu, Uganda), Daisy Ebeniro (University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria), and Tony Olusanya (Osun State University, Nigeria).

The RCC congratulates John for his involvement in this groundbreaking initiative and looks forward to supporting and engaging with the ANEH.

Videos: Lunchtime Colloquia, April

We have had some more exciting talks in our lunchtime colloquium series this month! Check out the videos below. For more videos, including a series of short interviews with fellows about their research at the RCC, please visit our YouTube channel.

Angelika Krebs:  “‘And What was there Accepted Us’: Landscape, Stimmung, and Heimat

Thomas Princen: “Imagining the End of the Fossil Fuel Era”

CfP: Turning Protest Into Policy

The ASEH invites proposals for its 2015 conference that will convene March 18-22 in Washington, DC. The conference theme is “Turning Protest into Policy: Environmental Values and Governance in Changing Societies.” The program committee particularly encourages panel and roundtable proposals that engage the theme in creative ways: environmental justice movements around the world, international or local protests that reveal changing environmental values, policy decisions at the national and international levels, and judicial rulings that have altered policy or resource use.

The deadline for submissions is 20 July, 2014.

For more information, please visit the ASEH website.


CfP: North Atlantic Fisheries History Association 14th International Conference

Between the Commons and the Market: New Cultural, Social and Economic Perspectives on Fisheries History and Coastal Heritage

Historians, social scientists, museum professionals and other scholars working in the field of fishery and coastal heritage are cordially  invited to the 14th NAFHA Conference, which will take place at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, 24-27 September 2014. The conference is organised in association with the Norwegian Museum Network of Fishery and Coastal Culture, and the Council for Fishery and Coastal Museums. PhD students and younger scholars are particularly encouraged to participate in the conference.

This conference engages with new perspectives in fishery history and coastal heritage. It will build upon recent historical scholarship in these fields, such as the two-volume North Atlantic Fisheries History (2009, 2012) and the forthcoming five-volume Norwegian Fishery and Coastal History (August, 2014). These works reflect the new multidisciplinary scholarship on the historical exploitation of marine resources, and stimulate the debate and reflection on cultural, social and economic approaches to the development of fisheries and coastal communities over the long term. The conference aims to be inclusive. We welcome speakers and delegates from different disciplines and perspectives, and persues a broad thematic and chronological approach.

For more information please click here to download the CfP.

Photo of the Week: Annka Liepold


Kuta Beach, Bali, during “Trash Season.” On top of the regular daily trash left behind at the beaches, this is a phenomenon that occurs annually between the end of December and the end of February. Because of strong winds, plastic discarded in the ocean in Java is washed ashore on the beaches of Bali’s southwestern coast. According to the Jakarta Post this can be up to an astonishing 20 tons per day! Although the Balinese are trying to keep their beaches clean for the tourists, they struggle (and fail) to keep up during “Trash Season.”

Car Parks and Edgelands: An Interview with Artist Edward Chell

Chell_motorwayFor your most recent project, Eclipse, you’ve painted sixty plant silhouettes on gesso panels. These are common woodland plants that are also found in less conventional landscape spaces, such as motorway verges. Collisions between the natural world and car travel are an underlying theme in your work. Could you expand on the thinking behind the strange juxtaposition of taxonomic systems that inhabit this work?

People go to the woods as strangers from their everyday life in the city or in the town; we go to experience natural habitats, back to nature – somehow this idea of being natural seems more authentic – and the car park is a threshold at this point of change, where people either sit in the car with a Thermos or get out and take their dogs for a walk. We go to places like King’s Wood to experience ‘nature’, but the woodland is artificial. It’s managed, it’s controlled. Some of it is coppice – it’s ancient but nonetheless forms an industrial site. Much of the rest is in large part a plantation.

Some visitors come to King’s Wood to have this kind of communion with nature. Are you suggesting that this leisure tourism is a folly?

We travel and engage with landscape largely as tourists. Today relatively few people work in the landscape – it’s no longer an agricultural economy as it was two hundred years ago – so our experiences are largely premised on tourism. ‘Oh! Let’s go and have a look at that because it will do us good!’ It somehow edifies. But there are other considerations –in travelling to places like the woods we leave a carbon footprint, we leave mess, we leave litter, we leave fumes – all these things have a massive impact. Read More