Danube Floods Present and Past: Exploring Historic Precedents Through the Arcadia project

Post by Andreas Grieger

Germany is currently experiencing record floods along some of its major rivers. Earlier this week, the Danube surpassed its historical flood mark from 1501 and reached an unprecedented height of 12.60m, flooding the entire historic district of the city of Passau. Other Central European countries are also suffering from or are preparing for one of the worst floods in European history.

With its waters rising, the Danube has emerged as a major threat for Central Europe; the flood wave is now reaching Germany’s neighboring country, Austria. As can be seen in a selection of articles from the Arcadia project – a collaboration between the Rachel Carson Center’s Environment & Society Portal and the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) – the Danube and its constant floods have shaped and changed human-nature relations for centuries.

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Photo of the Week: Sigurd Bergmann

Holy well and holy tree, Mazar “Manjyly Ata,” at the southern beach of the Yssyk-Kol (holy) lake in Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Sigurd Bergmann, June 2009.

Holy places and sites are called “mazar” in the popular Islam of Kyrgyzstan (a synthesis of traditional “immigrated” Islam and older shamanic folk religion). The Mazar Manjyly Ata is one of the largest in the country; it is about half size of Munich’s English Garden. Holy trees, wells, and chapels have been (and are still) regularly visited by believers of all kinds who travel to the site in order to talk and pray to and with the trees, to offer gifts to God, the spirits, and the Spirit, and to experience healing and spiritual comfort.

In spite of (or perhaps thanks to) condemnation from Soviet and Islamic leaders of such rituals, which mostly had to be conducted late at night, the belief practices in and with nature have been strengthened in such a way that local spiritual guardians of theses holy sites and local leaders have significant influence on political processes in the country – a country that remains badly affected by its Soviet legacy (and is, in addition, stuck between powers such as China in the South and Russia in the North).

One can only speculate with fear and dread what would have happened to the beautiful countryside along the famous silk road – and to its associated culture – without such close entanglement of religion, place, culture, and the environment.

(Please click the picture for a larger image.)

Q&A with Environment & Society Portal Director Kimberly Coulter

What is the Environment & Society Portal?

The Environment & Society Portal is the Rachel Carson Center’s platform for digital outreach and open-access publication. Like a digital museum or archive, we aim to inspire curiosity about the human-environment relationship, with emphasis on the Center’s themes.

How was the Portal established?

The RCC was founded in 2009 as one of the Käte Hamburger Centers funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. The directors envisioned a “digital documentation” that would make environmental humanities documents and images accessible to both academics and the public internationally.  I came to Munich in November 2009 and, together with my great team, spent the next two years working on the Portal’s design and development and creating a critical mass of starter content. The Portal launched publicly in January 2012.

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The Environment & Society Portal team. From left to right: Kimberly Coulter, Andreas Grieger, Felix Mauch, Susanne Darabas, Wilko Graf von Hardenberg, J. Jesse Ramirez, and Paul Erker.

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Urban Gardening, “Treibstoff,” and The Desire for Community

What would you get if you mixed together “Treibstoff,” the Viennese countercultural group that parks converted trucks in disused urban spaces, and the community gardening scene described by Jeffrey Hou in his recent lecture? Both movements have attracted considerable interest of late: The members of “Treibstoff” were profiled in a documentary screened at the DOK.fest in Munich, while the urban gardening movement in Seattle (“P-Patch“) has grown from 10 gardens in 1970 to over 90 in 2013.

The Treibstoff group at one proposed site. Source: treibstoffderfilm.at
The Treibstoff group at one proposed site. Source: treibstoffderfilm.at

It’s hard to imagine a peaceful coexistence. The “Treibstoff” group is composed of young, loud, uncompromising individuals, while the urban gardens are quietly developed by a wide range of city residents. Community garden projects seek to improve urban life, reintegrating elements of self-subsistence and communal living, while “Treibstoff” take issue with private property itself. Urban gardens change the city from the inside out; “Treibstoff” expresses dissatisfaction and disaffection with cities and development in general.

Offer one piece of land, and the two groups would probably clash. Community gardeners would patiently seek the support of city planners for their project; “Treibstoff” would drive in, park their trucks, distribute flyers, and ask why anyone should have the right to evict them.

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Photo of the Week: Shane McCorristine

Photo: Shane McCorristine

This photo was taken a few months ago at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in northern Canada.

The sun is currently in a period of solar maximum and Churchill lies directly in the auroral zone, allowing for a series of fantastic displays in February and March. In this photo Shane is standing under the Aurora Borealis.

(Please click the picture for a larger image.)

Lecture Notes: Warwick Fox’s Responsive Cohesion

Last week, Warwick Fox gave a lecture at the RCC entitled “General Ethics and the Theory of Responsive Cohesion”. Below is a (subjective and unofficial) summary.

Why is Warwick Fox proposing a General Theory of Ethics (with capital letters)? Because, in his view, previous theories have had too narrow a focus.

Environmental ethicists extended ethical considerations from the human world to the non-human, biophysical realm. Peter Singer, among others, developed the notion that humans had ethical responsibilities not just to each other but to animals as well. Subsequently, plants and other biophysical entities were included in this discussion. The notion emerged of a duty towards ecosystems.

Yet this, for Fox, does not go far enough. Why is the human-constructed world, the built word, not part of our ethical framework? We have all seen buildings that “stick out like a sore thumb.” We find them objectionable: “There should be a law against that kind of thing.” But can we say that they are just plain wrong? Is there an ethical theory that justifies such a statement?

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Photo of the Week: Christof Mauch

Photo: Christof Mauch

Dalton Highway, Alaska, on the way to Deadhorse, near the Arctic Ocean.

This photo was taken close to an oil pumping station. Dalton Highway was built to transport oil. Before the highway, the area looked like the top half of this photo.

(Please click the picture for a larger image.)

Governmental Coercion Is Our Only Hope? A Commentary

Post by Rachel Shindelar

If we are going to stop producing greenhouse gases and successfully mitigate climate change, we do not have time to wait around for individuals to become virtuous. Governmental coercion is our only hope.

At least, this is what Oxford University professor John Broome claimed before launching into his lecture on “The Public and Private Morality of Climate Change” at LMU Munich on Friday, 3 May 2013. Although this statement was not the central message of Broome’s talk, it is worth revisiting.

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Photo of the Week: Christof Mauch

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Photo: Christof Mauch

This is a beach in Malibu. It is one of the most expensive places on the planet: the smallest bungalow is a multimillion dollar property.

The sea is eating the land away. The sand is public but the owners are protecting their properties by shovelling up public sand and putting it in plastic bags to protect their private properties. The workers who do this are generally Mexican and often illegal. Some of them wear uniforms to give the appearance of legitimacy but they are not allowed to be in the US. They are badly paid and wary of photographers.

Two weeks after this photo was taken, a heavy storm hit the coast and some of the bags were washed back into the pacific ocean.

(Please click the picture for a larger image.)

Video: Donald Worster on “Facing Limits: Abundance, Scarcity, and the American Way of Life”

The Rachel Carson Center has produced a series of video interviews with fellows and associates regarding their work. Below is one video from this series.

For the complete playlist (55 videos), click here.