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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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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