Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Toxic Floods: Let’s Talk about the Weather

By Simone M. Müller

We’ve probably all been thinking about the weather lately. Our officemates are sneezing, others are coughing, the first one is turning in a sick note. It’s the time of year when weather-related topics start dominating our everyday conversation: the change of the season, the turning of the leaves from deep green to ruby-red, tangerine, or a sun-soaked yellow. Fall is reigning. And let’s not forget, fall is also hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere. As the difference in temperatures between the North Pole and, let’s say, the South of Italy grows, storms and even hurricanes become an everyday weather phenomenon across Europe and the Atlantic. With the storms, we usually get it all: wind, flood, and destruction—and if we’re not immediately affected by these events ourselves, they are neatly brought to us via our daily news feeds in easily digestible news snippets and images from the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, or Northern Germany.

Yet when, in recent weeks, those of us lucky enough to be watching from our cozy armchair at home, from our office, or while squeezed up close to our fellow commuters on the metro saw images of, for instance, Americans wading waist-deep in mud-brown water, few of us realized, perhaps, that some of these people trying to save their life and livelihood had also been in there waste-deep.

There is more to these floods than meets the unsuspecting eye. These mud-brown waters are not solely the result of an everyday weather phenomenon in the fall in the Northern hemisphere gone a little out of control. Beneath the surface, these waters harbor a story of unresolved toxicity and waste management. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading


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Day 4. Danube Excursion: Linz—Krems

by Stefan Bitsch


Linz → Hütting → Grein → Melk → Krems


Dangers of the Danube: Floods and Rapids throughout History

On the fourth day of our excursion, the group had the opportunity to learn from Christian Rohr (University of Bern) and Severin Hohensinner (University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna), who shared their expertise with us during the various stops along the way.

Hütting and the Machland Dam

The first series of stops were concentrated around the small town of Hütting, part of the longest connected dam-building program in Central Europe, which cost around €180 million and was completed in 2012. Forty-five kilometers of dams and flood retention areas now follow the course of the Danube in this region. The area has a long history of flooding, and the town has learned how to deal with these events over time.

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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.

Fotos produzidas pelo Senado

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

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