Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Uses of Environmental History: Don Worster

This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the uses of environmental history. The series has been adapted from contributions to a roundtable forum published in the first issue of the new Journal for Ecological History, edited by Renmin University’s Center for Ecological History.


By Donald Worster

If I did not believe that environmental history is already useful and practical, more so than other fields of historical research, then I would have abandoned it long ago. Seeing nature as part of the many changes and revolutions that have occurred in human history has always seemed to me one of the most useful things in the world. How can we live wisely without understanding more fully how we got here or how the natural environment has interacted with society? When historians have explained more fully the course of history, as Charles Darwin explained the evolution of species, then we will have become the most practical people around. We are not there yet, but we are making progress.

Admittedly, there are historians who still don’t know how to be useful in that way. They assume without question that society has had no important connection with water, soil, climate, energy, or biota. The crying need of our time is to overcome that blindness and explain the global ecological crisis. Historians are most useful when their research reveals some significant truth about how that crisis developed over time, or what we can learn from earlier societies about solutions they attempted and how well they worked.

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The Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park, now more accurately called the Lyell Ice Patch. Along with the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations over tens of thousands of years, today’s rapid warming is taking its toll on many natural features. 1883 photo: USGS/Israel Russell; 2015 photo: NPS/Keenan Takahashicaption. Images: NPS [public domain], via Flickr.

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The Future of Wild Europe

Conference Report (The University of Leeds, UK, 12–14 September 2016)

By Roger Norum

A version of this report was first published  17 October 2016 on ENHANCE ITN.


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This three-day conference was the first of three large events for the ENHANCE ITN (The Environmental Humanities for a Concerned Europe Innovative Training Network), a three-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie doctoral research program convened by the University of Leeds, the Rachel Carson Center at LMU Munich, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Because ENHANCE is an inherently interdisciplinary project, we decided to organize the conference around a theme that would not just appeal to both social scientists and humanities scholars, but that would also showcase current research by young and emerging scholars across disparate fields, while also questioning the configurations of the very categories and concepts we use to talk about the environment in the context of a changing Europe—and beyond. 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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Bookshelf: The Troubled History of Environmentalism

By Bob Wilson

 

The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation

by Adam Rome

The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000

by Michael Bess

Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images

by Finis Dunaway

 

Why have Americans been unable or unwilling to address climate change? Given the dire genius of earth day romethreat of global warming, why has it taken so long for a political movement to tackle climate change to emerge in the United States? These are some of the questions that have guided my project at the RCC about the development of the American climate movement, in many ways, an offshoot of the environmental movement. Yet there is another related question: What happened to American environmentalism? A robust, popular environmental movement should have been able to respond to climate change and activists should have been able to pressure their government to take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the consequences of a warming world. But until recently, that has not happened. Why?

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Making Tracks: Robert Wilson

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.

“Scholar Activist?”

By Robert Wilson 

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began five years ago in a hot, stifling Washington, DC jail cell. I had been arrested earlier that day at the White House with sixty-nine other people demonstrating against the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. In recent years, similar fossil-fuel projects have come under increasing scrutiny by environmentalists who claimed further development of these carbon-rich tar sands would exacerbate global warming. Climatologist James Hansen went even further, saying the full exploitation of the tar sands would mean “game over for the climate.” In the wake of failed climate negotiations at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, and with the US Congress unwilling to pass cap and trade legislation, it seemed environmentalists had little to lose by launching a civil disobedience campaign aimed at pressuring President Barack Obama to deny TransCanada, the pipeline builder, the permit to construct the pipeline. So, when the call came via email for people to assemble at the White House in the summer of 2011 to commit civil disobedience and risk arrest, I was ready to join them. Continue reading


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Student Research: Working in the Eye of the Storm

By Jeroen Oomen (Doctoral Candidate)

When the COP21 Paris climate agreement was announced in December 2015, much of the world reacted with relief, disbelief, or skepticism. For the first time since the Kyoto Protocol, after many monumental failures, the international community seemed to have managed to commit to decisive action on climate change. This was the best we could hope for, wasn’t it? Or is COP21 just a symbolic agreement that won’t change the geopolitical reality?

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Making Tracks: Carrick Eggleston

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.

“From Atoms to Energy Transitions”

By Carrick Eggleston

Scientists can really only deal with very simple things. They are squeamish about uncontrolled variables. As a scientist and an RCC fellow, I am in unfamiliar territory. Environmental history and humanities? I don’t speak the language! With the help of the stimulating and dynamic intellectual environment at RCC, I am learning. There is a kind of wall that scientists place between their work and “society,” “policy measures,” and “value judgments.” It is difficult and professionally risky to cross that wall—but there is, I think, a growing need to jump back and forth across such walls in order to address climate change and energy transitions.

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