Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Student Research: Pollinators – The New Buzzword?

“Pollinator Declines: Impacts on Biodiversity and Agriculture”

By Stephanye Zarama-Alvarado

Think of the evolution of life. Imagine how diverse species have blossomed since Precambrian times and how they fit together to create a delicate ecological balance on our planet. Though hominids have been in the natural world for millions of years, modern humans only began to evolve around 200,000 years ago. And while we have always used and modified nature for our own benefit in order to survive, it has taken only two centuries of capitalist expansion to alter the equilibrium of the natural world, potentially causing its slow destruction with the extinction of several species. Indeed, we have become the dominant species on Earth causing ecological changes on a global scale.

As a biologist specialized in ecology, I have become increasingly concerned about the intensification of anthropogenic activities and their drastic adverse effects on biodiversity and human health over the years. I am all too aware of how many studies have shown that the majority of these consequences is irreversible; how they influence the provision of ecosystem services, resulting in serious problems in productive sectors that affect social progress and economic welfare. One of the issues that has caught my attention most, however, is the threat to pollinators. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Latour de Force

By Samantha Rothbart

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Bruno Latour speaking at the Lunchtime Colloquium, 8 December 2016.

What does it mean to be human in the Anthropocene? Put simply, we are disoriented: disoriented in space—aware that despite a united vision for the planet, no single space exists to accommodate all of our wishes; disoriented in time—living in an age stifled by doubt; disoriented in terms of agency—troubled by the political question of what to do about the environment and who should take the lead.

So how do we begin to heal this bewilderment and reorient ourselves on Earth? This was the question philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour posed at last week’s special Lunchtime Colloquium.

Latour challenged our concept of the globe and globalization, showing that we need to start thinking about the Earth as a living system in our new climatic regime, and about the type of knowledge we need to produce to create political order in nature. He emphasized the need for a new approach—one that allows us to establish a political ecology that can drive the current discussion beyond the dichotomy of returning to the past, or pursuing a politics of globalization. Drawing on our collective interdisciplinary knowledge, it is up to us to redefine who we are and where we stand in the world. Only then can we begin to reorient ourselves on Earth in the Anthropocene.

The event was sponsored as part of the 10th Munich Hochschultage. Continue reading


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Worldview: Taking the Venice Architecture Biennale as an Example

by Jeroen Oomen

This post was first published on 21 November 2016 on the ENHANCE ITN website.

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Drone Impact: Forensic model of a drone explosion, showing that drone rockets are specifically designed to penetrate buildings before explosion and maximize human casualties (main pavilion). Photographs: Jeroen Oomen.

“What is the environmental humanities?” is a question that typically pops up whenever I care to explain that ENHANCE, the doctoral training network I am part of, stands for Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe. And in all honesty: I don’t quite know. Nor do my colleagues, nor do our professors. What the environmental humanities is, is much debated and undecided. To some, it is a new discipline of scholarship, it is “seeking to un-discipline and de-institutionalise modes and means of research,” to “sensitively respond to the need for new forms of engagement and expression called forth by the often destructive, at times regenerative, complexities of human-non human entanglements within the anthro/capitalocene.” Others, me among them, would argue that environmental humanities are just humanities disciplines with an environmental focus. And, I might add, they run the risk of finding themselves caught in a web of politically correct and jargonistic terminology. As one of the guests of the Stories of the Anthropocene festival related to me, “we academics often find immensely difficult ways of expressing what (local) people already know.” I suspect that the debate over what environmental humanities is, and what it should do, will continue indefinitely, and will eventually be decided institutionally rather than by consensus. Even among the 12 ENHANCE PhD students there are vast differences of opinion—as it should be, I would be inclined to say. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Our Future in the Anthropocene

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Prominent visitors at the Anthropocene Exhibition. Left to right: Wolfgang M. Heckl (Director General of Deutsches Museum), Ministers Gerd Müller and Peter Altmaier, and RCC Director Helmuth Trischler.

On 15 September the Deutsches Museum hosted a Zukunftskongress (Future Congress) together with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Club of Rome; the event brought together international visionaries, experts, and activists to discuss ways to tackle problems such as climate change and hunger and move towards a more sustainable society. Continue reading


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Worldview: Anthropocene: A Non-Concept?

by Amélia Polónia

A concept should serve to create a common understanding between scholars, a common language to facilitate communication among disciplines. Does this apply to the term “Anthropocene”?

The “Anthropocene” is without doubt a widely used term, not only among academics—from geologists, Earth system scientists, ecologists, and physicists to philosophers, anthropologists, and historians—but also increasingly in the media. It appears in scientific journals and a wide variety of papers, and at exhibitions and conferences. A quick web search leads to a wealth of interdisciplinary approaches. The humanities, social sciences, and “hard sciences” all seem to be discussing macro-realities or epiphenomena derived from this new concept: the “Anthropocene.” And all this has happened in a very short period of time since the term was coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer about 15 years ago (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000, Crutzen 2002).

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Fires along the Rio Xingu, Brazil, to clear forest for agriculture. Photo from NASA Earth Observatory.

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Workshop: Transformations of the Earth

“Talking Transformation in Beijing”
By Bailey Albrecht

This piece was originally published in Edge Effects  on July 12, 2016

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In Shanghai’s Natural History Museum there exists a full-sized re-creation of an African plain, complete with a herd of spooked zebras in perpetual flight from a crouching lion. It was neither the zebras, nor the two large taxidermy elephants across the crowded walkway, however, that caught my attention. Toward the right-hand wall stood a tall tree crowded with monkeys. Continue reading


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Snapshot: Zero Waste?

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The amount of garbage accumulated over ten days by the average four-person French family. Photograph: Samantha Rothbart.

At the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) in Paris, the third floor of La Grande Galerie de l’Évolution (the Great Gallery of Evolution) is dedicated to humans’ impact on the environment. This collection of garbage represents a meager portion of the waste we produce globally. The RCC’s latest Perspectives volume, A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practiceasks if a world without waste can ever truly be achieved.