Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Start with a Bang

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For many, a New Year celebration would not be the same without fireworks. But have you ever noticed what happens to all that leftover packaging wrapped around the rockets and bangers? It seems that an awful lot falls to the floor and gets swept up along with the broken bottles and spilt food that litter the city streets on New Year’s Day. This is just one pile yet to be collected in Munich, where this year 140 employees have already helped gather 50 tonnes of post-party rubbish, an increase from last year’s figures. That’s a lot of waste for a couple of hours of wonder and dazzling lights…


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“Key Debates in Environmental Anthropology”—A Report on the Inaugural Conference of the Environmental Anthropology Working Group

by Oliver Liebig

On 26th and 27th September 2016, the Environmental Anthropology Working Group (a subgroup of the German Anthropological Association) met at the Rachel Carson Center for their inaugural conference. The meeting was convened to discuss the key debates and standpoints in environmental anthropology, as well as its diverse engagements with current environmental problems, such as climate change, species extinction, deforestation, industrial pollution, the food crisis, industrial agriculture, and water management.

The organizers—Rebecca Hofmann (PH Freiburg), Ursula Münster (RCC), and Carsten Wergin (University of Heidelberg)—conceptualized the meeting as a space for open discussions about the field of environmental anthropology, rather than for longer presentations about participants’ research. The meeting therefore started with all participants introducing themselves and giving brief statements on their research interests and motivations.

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Brainstorming at the environmental anthropology workshop. Photo by Laura Kuen.

Tom Griffiths (Australian National University) gave the keynote talk on bushfire in Australia. He illustrated the role fire has had for Aboriginal people since precolonial times. He showed how fire was and is at the heart of Aboriginal cultivation, through the use of firesticks to strategically burn areas of land to allow particular plants and wildlife to thrive, and how they also used fire to provide space for hunting. After the 2009 tragedy of a bushfire in southeast Australia, non-Aboriginal communities who lived in the forest were seriously harmed. These communities now experience themselves as communities in crisis. Their first question was: “How did the fire know we lived here?” This question then brought up several related ones: “What happened on that day? What does it mean in the long term? How can we renew for the future? How can we better include local histories and knowledges into fire management?” The keynote thus introduced some of the core topics of environmental anthropology: how can anthropologists better understand entanglements between environmental phenomena, social and power relations, and ontologies? Continue reading


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Snapshot: Human Evolution Workshop

By Christian Schnurr

The evolution of the genus Homo was influenced in part by the landscape in which early hominins lived. Important archaeological sites are often located in areas with very rough terrain and a rich supply of nutrients and trace elements. These two features could have led wandering animals on paths where early hominins could track them down and hunt them. Furthermore, the rough terrain made it easier for our ancestors to find shelter from predators.

The Lonetal area in the Swabian Alb is famous for its many artifacts from the Aurignacian culture (ca. 40,000–30,000 years ago). Among the discoveries are the oldest sculptures ever found, including a mammoth as well as a lion sculpture, both made out of mammoth ivory. Other findings include fragments of flutes that belong to the oldest humankind has made.

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The workshop group: (from left to right) Christian Schnurr, Simon Kübler, Frank Brown, Geoffrey King, Geoff Bailey, and Anke Friedrich.

These photos were taken during a workshop held by the Rachel Carson Center and LMU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences for students of the Environmental Studies Certificate Program. The field trip to the Swabian Alb included talks by Frank Brown (University of Utah), Geoffrey King (IPG Paris), Simon Kübler (LMU), Geoff Bailey (University of York), and Anke Friedrich (LMU).


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Worldview: Watch Your Step!

“Moss Conservation in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland”

By Katrin Kleemann

All photographs were taken by Katrin Kleemann and used here with her express permission.
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View of the southwest half of the Laki fissure from Mount Laki.

Lakagígar is a fissure volcano in Iceland’s remote highlands that erupted in 1783–84 and left behind a landscape full of lava fields, now covered in lush green moss. Tourists can travel to the Laki fissure only with a four-wheel drive because the terrain is very rough and you have to cross several rivers to reach it. Most of the year, routes to the area are impassable due to the harsh climatic conditions, so visitors can only gain access during the summer months (mid-June to mid-September). 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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Snapshot: Fueling Up

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An electric vehicle charging just outside of Strasbourg’s Old Town. Photograph: Samantha Rothbart.

Last year, Strasbourg won the “Smart City” category at the EU-China Smart Mobility City Awards. In its devotion to sustainable mobility, the city has revitalized its bus system, implemented a car share system, and expanded its cycling network considerably; several innovative projects are currently underway.

 


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Snapshot: “energie.wenden (energy.transitions)”

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Members of the Deutsches Museum exhibition team test the new energy transition game. Photograph: Deutsches Museum

We need to transition towards more sustainable energy systems! But what is keeping us from making the necessary changes? Technology? Politics? Psychology?

Following the successful exhibition on the Anthropocene, the Deutsches Museum and the RCC are once again teaming up for another large exhibition. This time, the title is “energie.wenden” (energy transitions) and it focuses on the challenges of establishing a sustainable energy supply system. Ranging from industry, mobility, and production to trade and private consumption, the exhibition combines original artefacts with models, demonstrations, and media stations to illuminate the challenges, issues, and controversies surrounding energy systems.

At the heart of the exhibition is a simulation game that allows visitors to create their own personal energy transition. It even comments on their political style! Creating the game has been an exciting endeavor—both for the curators as well as the designers and technicians who need to make sure that it will run smoothly for many months! If the visitors have only half as much fun with the simulator as the exhibition team had during the test run, the game will be a great success!