Working for a center named after Rachel Carson and in the fiftieth anniversary year of her book Silent Spring, it’s easy to wax fulsome on the great woman and the role she played in creating an environmental awareness for our modern age. Certainly, the influence of Silent Spring and Carson’s continuing, albeit posthumous, ability to inspire legions to take up the green banner is undeniable and wonderful.
But the danger of the closed narrative that this kind of hagiography inspires is that it ties up the story too neatly. There seems to be a deep human need to seek out reductive and causal fables to underpin our understanding of the world, and Carson’s success is too easily readable as a turning point in human history: the moment when the world’s population, with Rachel at its head, started to see sense, and moved to stem the tide of pollution and anthropogenic damage.
Post by Donald Worster
On October 19 the American media excitedly reported “a massive dust storm” blanketing northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas. For several hours the winds blew dirt eastward from the plains, limiting visibility on the ground to a mere ten feet. The storm turned Interstate 35, which runs from Kansas City to Oklahoma City, into a nightmare. Automobiles collided with one another in the thick fog of dust, and more than a dozen people were injured.
This post was originally composed for polis and is re-posted here with their permission.
“Deep in the West, where the sun is gathering dust,” bellows Herbert Grönemeyer in an ode to his home town, Bochum, “things are better, much better than you think.” Even for the bestselling German pop artist of all time, this was a tough sell. Bochum is located in the middle of the Ruhr region, colloquially known as “der Pott,” or “the coal pit.” Generations of Germans have grown up to think of it as a place filled with coal dust and poisonous fumes, smokestacks and gritty miners’ towns, and the roar and glow of blast furnaces. Like many boom regions of the classic industrial period, from the Yorkshire coal fields to the U.S. Rust Belt, the Ruhr has been hit hard by the decline of mining and heavy industry since the 1960s. The jobs vanished; rusting steel, crumbling bricks, and a heavily polluted landscape remained. How to build a new identity from the industrial ruins of yesteryear in the postindustrial age is a question few have answered convincingly.
Post by Robert Gioielli
With Barry Commoner’s death last week, the American environmental movement lost one of its most underappreciated leaders and voices. This may seem like an overstatement, considering the robust obituaries offered up in the days after his passing, but Commoner is not as well known as he should be. He is deserving of this attention not only because of a career of research, activism and advocacy that lasted for more than fifty years, but also because of his understanding of the radical implications of environmental activism, and his willingness to connect ecological thinking to the social conflicts of postwar America.
Five Minutes with a Fellow offers a brief glimpse into what inspires researchers in the environmental humanities. The interviews feature current and former fellows from the Rachel Carson Center.
Amy Hay is an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas-Pan American. Her research examines the intersections of health, the environment, and public policy; and her current project focuses on the development and use of, as well as protests against Agent Orange, the herbicide compound used to defoliate jungle growth in the Vietnam War.
Post by Arielle Helmick
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published fifty years ago today. Having taken her name, we at the RCC would like to take a look back at Carson’s legacy, in terms of what she has meant for the Center, as well as what positive environmental change has happened in the last fifty years, as reflected upon by some of our fellows.
The Rachel Carson Center is…in Germany?
One of the most common questions we get at the RCC has to do with our name. Why is a center for advanced study in the environmental humanities that is based in Munich named after an American biologist and nature writer, who never worked in Europe? The reasons for our recognition of Carson highlight the legacy she left for the world and reflect the Center’s mission.