Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Worldview: Doce River Disaster

“The Bitterness of the Doce River—One Year Later”

By Lise Sedrez

It was way worse than I thought.


Sludge floating on the Rio Doce. Photographs: Lise Sedrez.

Over the last three days, with a group of colleagues, I looked at the Rio Doce and asked myself how we could have done this to the river. Rio Doce has nurtured Brazilian history for hundreds of years, offering water, wealth, food, joy, and beauty. We repaid it by poisoning it with mercury in gold mining operations in the past, polluting it to critical levels with PET bottles and raw sewage, destroying its riparian vegetation and, finally, burying 600 km of it under tons of mining waste.

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Snapshot: Trip to Herrmannsdorfer Farms


Learning about the lives of organic farm pigs. Photograph: Kirsten Wehner.

Environmental Studies Certificate Program students, with RCC staff and fellows, were lucky enough to take a tour of Herrmannsdorfer, a network of around 70 organic farmers and manufacturers in the Munich region. Continue reading

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Snapshot: Farmers’ Protest in Munich

By Katharina Müller


Tractors line up at Odeonsplatz, Munich. Photograph: Katharina Müller.

Around 3,000 despairing farmers rally at Munich’s Odeonsplatz against the milk price drop. A farmer needs at least 40 cents per liter in order to operate sustainably, receiving an average of 26 cents: this threatens the existence of around 80,000 farms in Germany. The German Association of Dairy Cattle Holders (Bundesverband Deutscher Milchviehhalter) sees the problem in the current surplus of milk, and calls for a prohibition of the surplus production through the European Union. Continue reading


Cicadian Rhythms: How Suburbs Saved – and Threaten – the US’s 17-Year Cicadas

Post by Christopher Sellers

With piercing red eyes and a song like the soundtrack from a 50’s science-fiction film, the 17-year cicadas have stormed up out of the soils of the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. for their single month or so of adult life. Though their brief otherworldly chorus is, in human terms, ancient, only over the last century have Americans started to listen less with rank fear, more in annoyance or wonder.

Cicadia maniaFrom the first English settlers, startling upsurges in what were popularly known as “locusts” drew many comparisons between their visits and that biblical plague visited upon the Egyptians. Early New England colonists thought that their arrival to portend the advent of “pestilent Fever,” a belief they attributed to Native Americans. Far into the nineteenth century, as most Americans continued to farm for living, the cicada grub, sustaining itself underground for years off plant roots, was thought to be an “old enemy” of agriculture.   While some naturalists claimed the mature insects to be harmless, that did not stop New Jersey orchardists from blaming a brood which crawled up out of the ground in summer of 1860 for damaging their fruit trees. Into the early twentieth century, reporters recorded the “stories…told everywhere of broods which ate the lumber on houses and barns ‘until they looked like boards fresh from the mill,’ of crops devasted [sic] in a few hours, and of numerous children who died instantly from the poison of ‘locust stings.’” As late as 1911, the New York Times deemed “the seventeen year locust” to be “the most dreaded of our home-grown pests.”

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