Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


1 Comment

Hazardous Cruises: Welcome to Toxic Paradise

by Jonas Stuck

figure 1 Cruiseship_passing_Venice

Cruiseship passing Venice. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder, via Wikimedia Commons. Available under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The summer is over, but the holiday season hasn’t stopped. Going on vacation is how many people calm down from a hectic work life and enjoy a good time. Cruise ships offer this experience all year round in the most naturally beautiful holiday destinations in the world: from the Arctic Circle or the Norwegian fjords to Mediterranean beaches. The urge to explore the world by cruise ship and see spectacular natural beauty has risen dramatically. Around 25 million people will board cruise ships this year, meaning the demand for such luxurious vacations has increased more than 68 percent during the last 10 years. Maybe you too would like to go on a cruise, but think twice: while you may be expecting to enjoy the fresh sea breeze, you are more likely to end up breathing in toxic pollutants.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Day 3. Danube Excursion: Passau—Linz

by Lea Wiser


Passau → Linz


Our third day on the Danube excursion was both eventful and thought provoking, packed with activities covering a broad range of subjects: from environment and sustainability to modern history and the Nazi regime, to where these two subjects intersect—the city of Linz.

Jochenstein

Our first stops, the Donaukraftwerk in Jochenstein and Haus am Strom in Untergriesbach, were already familiar to us, but during this visit we were able to admire the views from the other side of the Danube. On the way, we passed the Schlögener Schlinge, a meandering part of the river that created a loess-rich agricultural land below the steep slopes of the Bohemian Massif.

jochenstein bridge

Hydropower plant Jochenstein. The German-Austrian border runs through the center of the structure.

Continue reading


1 Comment

Radical Hope: Inspiring Sustainability Transformations through Our Past

Conference Report (Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, 3–4 July 2017)

By Erika Bsumek and John Barry

Hope by Vaclav Havel

Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world
Either we have hope within us or we don’t.
Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit.
You can’t delegate that to anyone else.
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy
when things are going well,
or the willingness to invest in enterprises
that are obviously headed for early success,
but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.
Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism.
It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live
and to continually try new things,even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.
In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing
to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily,
without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

In early July 2017, the Rachel Carson Center, together with University of Austin, Texas hosted a two-day workshop on “Radical Hope.” It brought together 21 people from a variety of continents and disciplinary perspectives to explore and exchange ideas on that renewable and essential resource: hope. A resource that is often sadly and noticeably lacking in academic and popular conversations on the dominant framing of the Anthropocene in terms of ecological “crisis,” pragmatic pessimism, and scientific “realism.” Continue reading


Leave a comment

Making Tracks: Lisa Pettibone

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.

By Lisa Pettibone

I have had to justify my academic path to many people in numerous contexts on two continents. Moving from a BFA in film production to work in the US Senate and the German Bundestag seems to clash about as much as my MPA (like an MBA where you get paid less in the end) and year of long-distance hiking. The culmination of these experiences—a doctorate in political science—seems a fair synthesis, but just as far from environmental humanities. I’m still not sure how easily the moniker sits with me, but I’m honored to accept it from others.

IMG_5565

The author contemplating a “Lewis and Clark” tree—and thorny environmental questions—in Glacier Peak Wilderness during a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. Photo by Amanda Lee “Miss Parkay” Tumminelli.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Nurturing My Greens with High-Tech? Reflections on Vertical Farming and the PlantCube

by Marlen Elders

When I first saw designs for the plantCube, a smart, fully automated machine for producing perfect vegetables, it seemed more like a high-fashion kitchen device than a sustainable alternative for growing vegetables. The plantCube was created by Munich-based start-up agrilution, whose cofounder, Maximilian Lössl, spoke with us at a Tuesday Discussion at the RCC last July. The company is developing and manufacturing an automated small-scale vertical farming machine meant to enable urban citizens to grow their own food at home. With the plantCube, you don’t need a balcony or garden—not even sunlight or soil. The only thing you need is a white machine that looks like a freezer, electricity, an Internet connection, and a mobile phone. Via app you can remotely control everything from ordering seed mats to the development of your plants inside the cube.

IMG_4581_klein.jpg

The plantCube developed by agrilution. Used with permission.

Although it has obvious benefits—it avoids long transportation, is free of pesticides, produces little waste, and is nearly non-perishable (thanks to a “holiday mode” that allows you to put your plants to sleep for a while)—I was skeptical about this invention. I was concerned by the idea that the fresh healthy vegetables I eat would not have touched juicy chilly dark soil, nor felt fresh breezes; I was concerned that they are not even able to experience a single ray of real sunlight. Could a plant growing on a nutrition mat in a clean white cube that automatically provides it with LED light, maintains a suitable temperature, and dispenses water in precise doses really be healthy at all? Continue reading


Leave a comment

Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 4

Last year, students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop with Jochen Koller, Diploma Permaculture-Designer and Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Permakultur und Transition (FIPT). Students gained an insight into the ethics and design principles of permaculture, the diverse spheres of activity, and the practical possibilities. In this short series of posts, students reflect on their experiences at the workshop and on permaculture as an interdisciplinary approach to thinking, planning, and designing.


“Science and Permaculture”

By Theresa Kuhl

There is only one wrong view: To believe that your view is the only right one.” (Nagarjuna)

Permaculture is a holistic concept of sustainable agriculture developed by Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgreen. It includes the essential principles of caring for the Earth, caring for people, limits to consumption and growth, and redistribution of surpluses.

The study of natural science, especially agricultural science, contrasts with the approach of permaculture. “Science” is often mentioned as the big “evil” compared to permaculture. But it is important to distinguish between different scientific disciplines. On the one hand, there is biotechnology, which tries to alter ecosystems to generate the highest possible yield by using genetic manipulation of plants and strong chemical toxins. For example, glyphosate is a potent herbicide that kills any plant that lacks genetically engineered resistance. On the other hand, the discipline  of environmental science also focuses on productivity of soils, but in a more sustainable way, because environmental scientists also know that permanent exploitation of soils has no future. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Student Research: Permaculture – Alternative Agriculture, part 1

Last year, students of the RCC Environmental Studies Certificate Program had the opportunity to attend a three-day workshop with Jochen Koller, Diploma Permaculture-Designer and Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Permakultur und Transition (FIPT). Students gained an insight into the ethics and design principles of permaculture, the diverse spheres of activity, and the practical possibilities. In this short series of posts, students reflect on their experiences at the workshop and on permaculture as an interdisciplinary approach to thinking, planning, and designing.


“Let’s Save the World by Gardening!”

By Marlen Elders

“Permaculture”—a neologism combining “permanent” and “agriculture”—is all about sustainability with the aim of creating a self-preserving world (Koller 2009, 9ff.). A permacultural gardener aims to create a symbiotic interaction between soil, plants, animals, and microorganisms, each of which profits from the other—ideally resulting in a positive outcome for the gardener too. Clearly, the concept comes with an ideology: the ethics of diversity and care that goes beyond bare agricultural methods. This idea is alive and kicking, still evolving, still improving, as the father of permaculture, Bill Mollison, hoped it would. He referred to permaculture as a tool that needs to be tested, modified, and developed further. He encouraged the creation of permaculture networks to exchange experiences and to spread knowledge amongst practitioners (Mollison and Holmgren 1985, 13).

pic1

Jochen Koller (right) with Alexander H. at Hummelhof, Elmatried. Photo by Ursula Münster.

Continue reading