Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Beach Litter in a Sustainable Exhibition

By Katrin Kleemann
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Examples of recyled materials used to construct the exhibition displays. Photographs: Katrin Kleemann, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

A few weeks ago, “Snapshot: Zero Waste?” featured an exhibition exploring global waste production. Today’s feature looks at what happens to that waste. As part of its Planet Oceans Initiative, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich hosts one of London’s first sustainable galleries: the “Environment Gallery.” It’s sustainable because all of the displays are made from recycled coffee cups, yoghurt pots, plastic, and crushed CDs. On show is the permanent exhibition: “Your Ocean,” which focuses on marine waste. Huge amounts of waste end up in the ocean; this pollution doesn’t simply disappear but becomes part of the water cycle. Among the top ten items of beach litter in the UK are everyday products such as crisp and sweet wrappers, sanitary items, caps and lids, as well as cigarette butts. The exhibits raise awareness about the many issues threatening the marine environment in the twenty-first century. Knowing about these issues can help and empower people to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and environment.


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Bookshelf: Jens Kersten on Inwastement—Abfall in Umwelt und Gesellschaft

The Inwastement volume arose from the research cluster “Waste and Society” of the RCC together with LMU’s Center for Advanced Studies. Published in German by Transcript, the issue includes contributions from: Soraya Heuss-Aßbichler, Claudia R. Binder, Eveline Dürr, Gisela Grupe, Rüdiger Haum, Michael Jedelhauser, Jens Kersten, Roman Köster, Reinhold Leinfelder, Christof Mauch, Wolfram Mauser, Karen Pittel, Gerhard Rettenberger, Helmuth Trischler, Markus Vogt, and David Wagner. A number of the contributors are also members of the Academic Board of the RCC doctoral program in Environment and Society.

This is a translation of an interview about the book with Jens Kersten.

Can You Explain the Title of the Book? What is Meant by the Term “Inwastement”?

The term inwastement draws our attention to parallels as well as contrasts between waste and money. It emphasizes the social, economic, and ecological agency that waste has in our society. Our inwastement—the waste that we produce individually and as a society—is in many respects the exact opposite of an investment. We invest in businesses and infrastructure as a way of securing our future. Inwastement, by contrast, isn’t something we do deliberately, with the hope for a specific outcome; it is instead an incidental product of our activities. Unlike investments, we don’t want to see what happens to our waste and what effects it has. In fact, we don’t want any return in the case of inwastement—we’d prefer never to see it again, and certainly not with any accrued interest! And yet (unlike an investment) it is almost certain that our inwastement will return again in some form: dumped chemicals, plastic particles, and heavy metals return to the environment and the food chain, eventually building up in our own bodies.

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Desert Water: The Making of Two Short Films

by Hal Crimmel

In 2015, with documentary filmmaker Issac Goeckeritz, a Weber State graduate, I released two short films about water in the state of Utah. The films were based on chapters from my 2014 book Desert Water: The Future of Utah’s Water Resources.

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Book cover, “Desert Water: The Future of Utah’s Water Resources” (Utah: The University of Utah Press, 2014).

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COP21: How We Make the Weather

by Dominic Kotas, Copywriter at ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability and alumnus RCC editor.

So, after all the planning, speculation, and nervous anticipation, COP21 happened—and was generally seen as a qualified success. I was lucky enough to be in the “Climate Generations” areas (just next door to the negotiating zone) for the two weeks of the summit. When the agreement was announced, I took a break from my own wrap-up work to message my friends: “THEY GOT AN AGREEMENT!” It was hard not to feel, at least to some extent, that we had witnessed a significant moment in our planet’s history, and hard not to share the delight of the negotiators and the wider sustainability community.

For the first time, 185 nations committed to curbing the trajectory of current and future global greenhouse gas emissions and to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees. That in itself is something to be celebrated. The agreement shows that the entire world now recognizes climate change as a major issue, requiring a unified response, and it lays the foundations for making our societies greener, cleaner, and more sustainable.

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Flags over COP21 in Paris. Photograph: ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability.

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Interview: Lise Sedrez on the Samarco Tailings Dam Spill, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Part Two)

The mine tailing dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on 5 November 2015 has been described by the Brazilian government as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe. Robert Emmett and Claire Lagier sat down with Brazilian environmental historian Lise Sedrez at the RCC in Munich on 19 November and recorded the following interview.

RE: This relative lack of exposure to the dam break is definitely something I hope we can talk about. It seems like there are several durations involved and also questions of how the media has covered or not covered the spill. Some of the coverage has focused on the company and the economic impact of closing down operations and has pointed out that the price for iron has been relatively low in the last ten years, because of the decreased demand for export. There has been a shift in the conversation from describing the event in concrete, biological terms to an abstract conversation about the commodity exports, iron pellets as raw material for industrialization. There is the time frame of the cost of the good that was extracted, and there is the other time frame, which is the lifecycle of aquatic life [that] has been impacted for a generation, particularly larger forms of aquatic life, like fish, which won’t recover for a full lifetime.

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Contaminated Rio Doce water flowing into the Atlantic. Image: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Interview: Lise Sedrez on the Samarco Tailings Dam Spill, Minas Gerais, Brazil (Part One)

The mine tailing dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brazil, on 5 November 2015 has been described by the Brazilian government as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe. Robert Emmett and Claire Lagier sat down with Brazilian environmental historian Lise Sedrez at the RCC in Munich on 19 November and recorded the following interview.

RE: Those of us who don’t read Portuguese have to rely on what the media in English is saying. I’m curious about the language used to describe the event. I like to think “Let’s start with the facts,” but of course that’s exactly what is up to debate. I read that some seismic activity was recorded?

LS: I just don’t buy that one. If we go for the facts, let’s say that Brazil is on a very old tectonic platform. We used to say “There [are] no natural disasters in Brazil,” which of course is not true. There have been very few cyclones. We had one in Santa Catarina [in 2004] and it was like “Oh my God, that never happens.” The last time something like this happened was about 170 to 200 years earlier. But there are no earthquakes. What they registered was seismic activity between 1 and 2 on the Richter scale. We had larger seismic activity in Minas Gerais in the past, with no effects whatsoever. And there is a strong possibility that this recorded  seismic activity happened as a result of the breaking of the dam.

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Damage following the dam break in Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais. Photograph: Rogério Alves/TV Senado, Wikimedia Commons.

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Making Tracks: Jenny Price

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.

“And you ask yourself, well . . . How did I get here?” —Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

by Jenny Price

When my nephews or my students talk about their future careers, I can only marvel. Theirs seems to be a well-directed generation, with clearly-laid plans for the whats, whens, and whys. Yet I always wonder, could the financial advisor eventually decide to be a dancer? My own career has been a series of stumbles, accidents, three steps back, and advances to Go. It feels a bit more like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial: “You got peanut butter in my chocolate!! What the hell were you thin . . . ooohhhh.” All of which led me to the Rachel Carson Center, and to my current major project, in which I am trying to persuade people—especially educated and well-meaning Americans—to stop saving the planet NOW.
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