Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Radical Hope: Inspiring Sustainability Transformations through Our Past

Conference Report (Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, 3–4 July 2017)

By Erika Bsumek and John Barry

Hope by Vaclav Havel

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.
Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center, together with University of Austin, Texas hosted a two-day workshop on “Radical Hope.” It brought together 21 people from a variety of continents and disciplinary perspectives to explore and exchange ideas on that renewable and essential resource: hope. A resource that is often sadly and noticeably lacking in academic and popular conversations on the dominant framing of the Anthropocene in terms of ecological “crisis,” pragmatic pessimism, and scientific “realism.” 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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Videos: Carson Fellow Interviews

Several new Carson Fellow interviews are now online! See these and more on our YouTube page.

Dr. Massimo Moraglio on “Mobility and Space” 

Dr.ir. Maurits Ertsen on “Colonialism and Irrigation: The Gezira Plain, Sudan”

Dr. John Agbonifo on “Nigeria: Green Movements and Environmental Governance”

Prof. Mei Xueqin on “Dirty Father Thames”


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Socio-Politico-Economic Problems in the Hilly Areas of Bangladesh: the Case of the Chittagong Hill Tracts

By Khaled Misbahuzzaman

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) make up the south-eastern region of Bangladesh. This region shares international boundaries with the Indian states of Tripura to the north and Mizoram to the east, and the Chin and Rakhain states of Myanmar to the south-east and south. The vegetation is lush and tropical with natural forests of evergreen and deciduous trees, bamboo and sungrass.

The Hill Tracts are home to the country’s largest concentration of ethnic peoples, namely the Bawm, Chak, Chakma, Khumi, Khyang, Marma, Mru, Lushai, Uchay (Mrung or Hill Tripura), Pankho, Tanchangya, and Tripura (Tipra). The ethnic hill people differ from the majority Bengali population of Bangladesh in their physical features, culture, and religion. The hill people are mostly of Mongolian origin, belonging to the Tibeto-Burman language family, and are closer in appearance and culture to their neighbors in north-eastern India, Myanmar, and Thailand than to the majority Bengali population. The dominant religion of the ethnic peoples is Buddhism.

Traditionally, nearly all the hill people have been engaged in subsistence swidden cultivation known locally as jum (also referred to as “slash and burn” or “shifting cultivation”). Juming is integral to the hill people’s way of life and is a cornerstone of the ethnic culture in CHTs. Through juming the ethnic farmers or jummas/jumias cultivate a number of swidden fields in rotation. This enables the swidden fields to regain their fertility during the fallow period. Generally a specific area of about 4 to 5 acres is cleared in late winter and left to dry, usually leaving aside the larger trees. After a few weeks, depending on weather conditions, the field is set afire. The ash works as a fertilizer, and generally, no other fertilizers are required.

In 1860 the British took control of the CHTs and recognized them as an important area distinct from the rest of the country. Before the British invasion, lands in CHTs were under community customary management regimes. As the system of land tenure in the CHT differed considerably from the British concepts of land administration, the colonial administrators restructured the land revenue system to bring it into greater conformity with their systems of land tenure. Continue reading


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Video: “Incoming Technology and African Innovation”

Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He works on the history of science, technology, and society in Africa. He was a Carson Fellow from July until December 2011.

This video is part of a series of RCC Profiles. To view more videos from the series, please visit our YouTube channel.