A Moment of your Time – A Verbatim Poem On Climate Change

This poem was created by Emily Hinshlewood. All of the lines in the poem were responses to her questions on climate change from people she met as she walked across Wales.

Fog. Fug. Smog

Cough. Smother. Choke

The planet in nasty grey-blue smoke from

factories with chimneys, from scratching out coal;

big lumps of ice falling off the North Pole, so the

sea levels rise,

the polar bear dies

the Houses of Parliament tip, then capsize.

Whole blinkin’ islands wiped off the map

and over here…. the summers are crap

it’s been pissing for weeks now, the drain’s overflowing

and the sparrows don’t know if they’re coming or going

the daffodil blooms  – then he shivers with cold

we do our recycling – we do what we’re told

but the haycrop’s all ruined, the riverbank’s burst –

d’you know

since I’ve recycled, it’s only got worse Read More

Photo of the Week: Christof Mauch

Photo: Christof Mauch
Photo: Christof Mauch

A female fire crew from a Malibu penitentiary is on its way to work in the park of Adamson House in Malibu, California. Wildfires regularly rage through this part of California and the inmates are involved in brush clean-up, felling trees, weeding, and the clearing of roads. Firefighting is typically a male domain in the U.S., but several “nonviolent female prisoners” are involved every year in Malibu with fire prevention and firefighting.

The Battle To Define “Avatar Spirituality”

RCC alumnus Bron Taylor has been interviewed by RD10Q on his most recent book, Avatar and Nature Spirituality. Taylor’s book contains essays from leading scholars on the environmental dimensions of James Cameron’s hugely popular film. Asked about the “take-home” message, Taylor comments:

In my own wrap up to the book I argue that, despite the many disagreements about the film, there are important truths in the film’s central themes, namely, that the spread of what we call civilization (first agricultural, later agro-industrial) has inexorably led to the destruction of both biological and cultural diversity. This is a reality that is seldom expressed in any nation today, for they are all wrapped up in pursuing economic growth with little concern for the damage this entails for peoples at the social margins let alone other species and environmental systems.

Click here to read the entire interview – highly recommended!

Making Tracks: Patrick Kupper

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Question the Obvious: On the Benefits of Transnational Research
By Patrick Kupper

For the past few years I have been working on the global history of national parks. It has been a time of fruitful research. But why national parks? Why did I choose that topic? In fact, it was not me that chose the topic; rather, the topic chose me.

National park history first approached me in the spring of 2006 in the person of Thomas Scheurer, secretary of the Swiss National Park’s scientific research commission. Thomas wanted to discuss the possibilities of investigating the history of the Swiss National Park. The background was the park’s centennial forthcoming in 2014. Thomas was exceptionally forward-thinking—in 2006 the centennial was still eight years away! By being well ahead of the celebration, he wanted to make sure that the investigation was independent, based only on scientific rationale, and not constrained or directed by any needs for representation or popularization. Such a scientific approach seemed all the more appropriate as the Swiss National Park (unlike other national parks) had been driven by research throughout its history. Park research, however, had been concentrating on the sciences; the humanities had barely been involved and historical investigations were lacking.

Sign in National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.
Sign in Swiss National Park. Photo: Patrick Kupper.

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Green Me Up, JJ

It’s hard work being an environmentally-conscious American citizen in the twenty-first century. How can one source green guns? Is it an environmentally-sound decision to have children? And how far is too far for Little League?

Such questions can overwhelm the good-hearted, CSA-loving eco-warrior. Fortunately, Carson Fellow Jenny Price writes an occasional advice column addressing just these issues. Click here to read expert advice that is guaranteed to guide you through the maze of responsible citizenship. For instance, have you considered that if you have children, you will probably die sooner of stress and sleep deprivation-related maladies, thus relieving the strain on our overburdened planet?

(Warning: Price’s column may display satirical tendencies.)

Photo of the Week: Francis Ludlow

Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow
Photo: Francis Ludlow

These images show a piece of ancient Irish oak wood, in which the ring-widths can be counted and measured for size. Bigger size equals better growing conditions, and this piece of wood happens to span one of the most famous episodes of extreme climate globally in the past two millennia, occurring from c.536-550 AD. There is an ongoing debate about whether the event was caused by a massive volcanic eruption and/or a comet loading the Earth’s atmosphere with particles that reflected incoming light and dramatically cooled the Earth’s surface. In the image, the year 532 is marked, in which the tree grew very well. But starting shortly afterwards (and especially from 536) you can see how the rings become narrower and narrower, and even become difficult to see. This reflects the environmental downturn that was in progress globally at this time, and which has been linked to famines and mortality in written sources from Ireland to China. One report in early medieval Irish chronicles for 538 notes a “failure of bread”. That this event was noted at all at this early period of Irish history, when written records are very scarce, suggests the seriousness of the conditions experienced at the time. This image also reveals the environmental background against which the great sixth-century plague of Justinian occurred.

We thank David Brown of Queen’s University Belfast for permission to photograph this oak sample.

Video: “Incoming Technology and African Innovation”

Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He works on the history of science, technology, and society in Africa. He was a Carson Fellow from July until December 2011.

This video is part of a series of RCC Profiles. To view more videos from the series, please visit our YouTube channel.

Making Tracks: Melanie Arndt

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

By Melanie Arndt

Melanie Arndt 2
The “Chernobyl March” in Minsk, Belarus, on 26 April 1996, the tenth anniversary of the Chernobly disaster (photo by author).

I grew up in a country that does not exist anymore—East Germany or the GDR. Perhaps this partially explains my interest in Eastern Europe and its environmental history. Even though I was too young to completely comprehend the events of 1989, I have vivid memories of that tumultuous time. It certainly accounts for my eagerness to explore the world, half of which was essentially inaccessible to me behind the so-called Iron Curtain. It flickered by on the forbidden West German television programs that animated our living room; during other times, I was able to imagine those places with the help of the colorful postcards that arrived from our West German relatives, or the relatives of friends and neighbors who were willing to share a glimpse of the world “over there” (“drüben”, as we used to say). There were also some books that provided me with components to build up my image of “the West,” the most powerful of which were those about nature and wildlife. I received “Australia’s wildlife,” translated from Czech, from my parents on one of my birthdays. It was a wonderful gift. I was completely blown away by the drawings in the book, the descriptions of many unknown animals whose habitat and diet I quickly learned by heart. Because of that book, Australia ranked first on my list of “most favorite countries” for a very long time, despite my being fully aware that I might never have the chance to go there; it happened to be on the wrong side of the political division of the world. Read More

“Nachhaltig Schenken”: Tips on Sustainable Presents

On 9 September 2013, Kmart (an American chain of discount stores) aired its first Christmas advert, giving shoppers a mere 106 days to make their Christmas purchases. It starts earlier every year, and it’s not just businesses who ask us to shop. During the recession in the UK, politicians took to the air to encourage people to engage enthusiastically in the Christmas shopping ritual. What would happen to GDP and growth, economists fretted, if people decided not to buy each other Christmas presents?

It’s common to hear complaints of how Christmas has become commercialized, a sad symbol of our capitalist and consumerist dystopia. And, related to this, people often bemoan the waste left behind by the spending spree: plastic toys that are broken and thrown away by January, odd kitchen implements that are never used, replica soccer shirts that need to be replaced by the next season.

For a while, this waste was merely depressing. Increasingly, though, it has been joined to broader concerns about environmentalism and sustainability. Buying plastic contraptions that serve little purpose and will be consigned to landfill is hard to justify not just from a philosophical perspective but from an environmental one too. Can we afford to continue our culture of gift giving as economic impetus? Should we rethink how we approach birthdays, religious festivals, and other celebrations? Read More

Material Matters: A Report on the 8th Biennial ASLE-UKI Conference

By Nicole Seymour

Thanks to the Rachel Carson Center, I was able to attend the ASLE-UKI (Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland chapter) conference last month at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England. As a regular attendee of the main ASLE conference—which brings hordes of fleece-and-sandal-wearing professors to US and Canadian locations every other year—it was a special treat to explore literature and environment issues in a more intimate context. I was particularly excited to encounter innovative ideas and approaches such as Tonia Raquejo’s concept of “sound-landscapes” and Isabelle Hoving’s ecocritical readings of Japanese animation. Poetry and poetics were particularly well-represented at the conference, as was the crucial new concept of the “Anthropocene,” and an interest in water—perhaps a sign that the so-called “blue cultural studies” (Steven Mentz) is well underway.

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