Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Book Shelf Special Feature Part 1: National Park Science by Jane Carruthers

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We were delighted to welcome Jane Carruthers back to the Rachel Carson Center this autumn. Jane has a longstanding relationship with the RCC; she served on its advisory board for six years, the latter three as its chair, and was a great influence on the center in its formative years. She was made an honorary Carson fellow in 2014 in recognition of her enormous contribution to the work of the center. After all the support the RCC has had from Jane, it was a great pleasure for us to host a celebration of the publication of her latest book National Park Science: A Century of Research in South Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2017) here in Munich.

Jane spoke about her book to staff and students as part of our Tuesday Discussion series, and was joined by two other influential environmental historians, Bernhard Gißibl and Libby Robin, who talked us through the contribution that her book makes to the field. We are pleased to present written versions of the three scholars’ remarks on the new book on Seeing the Woods. A full review of National Park Science by Bernhard Gißibl will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Environment and History, an edited draft of which will be featured here on Seeing the Woods next week.

(*These are edited versions of the talks presented at the Tuesday Discussion. All photos are courtesy of Jane Carruthers.)

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The Taproom: Susan Gauss

Un trago amargo—A Bitter Drink: Beer, Water, and Globalization”

By Susan Gauss

A truck drives down the street in Zaragoza, Coahuila, its loudspeaker reminding residents to conserve water or face fines. Local farmers also feel the pain, as they scale back planting due to a lack of water. Yet nearby, water is flowing well through an aqueduct carrying it to a factory 40 kilometers away in Nava, Coahuila. The factory is new, built by Grupo Modelo—maker of the world-famous Corona beer—in 2010 and expanded after its 2013 takeover by Constellation Brands. Inside, it produces 22 million beers a day for export largely to the US, each made using 3.25 liters of water piped in from the aquifer that serves Zaragoza.

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Image courtesy of Banco de imágenes de Mexicali Resiste.

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Student Research: Environmental (In)justice – The Case of Chevron-Texaco in Ecuador

By Camila Cabrera

Ecuador, a small country located on the equator, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, traversed by the Andes mountain range, and covered by part of the Amazon rainforest in the east, is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Nevertheless, as Nathalie Cely, the former Ecuadorian ambassador to the United States, stated, “underneath this natural beauty lies both a treasure and a curse: oil.”

Oil was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 1967 by the petroleum company Texaco. Rapidly, they began large-scale exploitation, generating impressive national revenues not seen in the past. However, such economic fortune did not bring equivalent social and environmental advantages.

As the political analyst Julio Ballesteros has stated, the Amazon has long been an isolated territory not only geographically but also anthropologically. For centuries, its inhabitants have subsisted thanks to the abundant vegetation and availability of natural resources such as water. Despite the presence of human groups in this area, the oil company generated around 18 billion gallons of toxic water, which drained directly into soils and watersheds.

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Crude contaminates the Aguarico 4 oil pit, an open pool abandoned by Texaco after 6 years of production and never remediated. Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network. Available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 licence, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rainforestactionnetwork/4858073943.

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Making Tracks: Anitra Nelson

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.

“Goolengook and Guernica”

By Anitra Nelson

In the Guernica of today’s universal threat from future climate change, environmental campaigners fight for light-bulb suns, such as the ecologically precious “Goolengook.” In the southeastern state of Victoria, Goolengook was the site of the longest-running forest blockade in Australia’s history. From January 1997, activists kept vigil for more than five years until a final, successful, raid in March 2002 by the government agency responsible.

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Mural of Picasso’s “Guernica” made in tiles and full size. Photo: Papamanila (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons. {FoP-Spain}

During this period, Goolengook became an icon and battleground to protect the old-growth forests of East Gippsland, forests said to have given birth to the eucalypts of southeastern Australia. Covering more than one million hectares, the forests of East Gippsland harbor hundreds of rare and threatened species of plants and animals. Such forests are villi in the lungs of the planet, significant carbon sinks. If, and as, they are cleared—for timber, settlements, agriculture, and even monospecies plantations—the entire planet suffers. Continue reading


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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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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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Making Tracks: Andrea Gaynor

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.

“The Long Path to the Ever-present”

by Andrea Gaynor

In a more romantic life, my love of nature would have begun in early childhood, fostered by hours spent in bushland on the family farm finding delicate flowers, collecting outlandish seed pods, and watching the intricate manoeuvrings of drab caterpillars seeking places to pupate. In fact I grew up in a middle-ring suburb, in a modest, modern house near the edge of a swamp—not so close that we ever saw a tiger snake on the back lawn, but near enough that an old paperbark tree flourished down the bottom of the yard. I would peel its bark into delicate sheets and write secret messages on them. We had ducks with names derived from suburban industrial food culture (Coco and Kellog), and a vegetable patch where I attempted to grow oddities like loofah gourds and okra. Some of my earliest memories of the bush are from a summer walk in the hills east of Perth. It was hot, and it seemed as if everything was trying to prickle or bite me—spiny wattles and hakeas, ants, sticks. I much preferred the familiar and comfortable domestic nature of my back yard.

Later, we moved to a new house built on recently-cleared bushland. Remnants of the previous ecosystem were all around us, from the scorpions in the basement and frogs in the swimming pool, to the bobtail lizards that turned up on our front lawn and the big old jarrah tree framed by my bedroom window. We fed the bobtails snails with strawberry jam, and made cubby houses with grasstree leaf flooring in the bush on the vacant block next door. Here was the bush as domestic nature and I was captivated, even as I was implicated in its suburban destruction.

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As a child, holding a bobtail. Photograph: Andrea Gaynor.

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