Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Lives Wasted: Garbage as a Forgotten Dimension of the European “Refugee Crisis”

by Maximilian Feichtner and Theresa Leisgang

A deflated rubber boat is washed up on the eastern coast of Chios. Once the waves have buried it under rocks and it becomes even more entangled with seagrass, you will hardly be able to see it. But for tourists strolling along the beach, this isn’t the only reminder of the boat landings by refugees who crossed Europe’s borders at night. All across the beaches of the Aegean Islands, where tourists usually swim and sunbathe, refugees leave their life jackets, water bottles, soaked clothes—and the boats on which they started their journey to a new life. The waste is what connects both, tourists and refugees, in their everyday life, as both are caught up in a circle of producing and managing waste. Beyond that, the waste is a material trace of countless people’s struggles to survive and escape violent conflicts. It is a trace that tourists and islanders would like to ignore; a trace, however, that won’t disappear by itself.

About one million people arrived on Greek shores in 2015 and the first few months of 2016, most of them fleeing war and persecution in Syria. Since March 2016, when the EU signed a deal with Turkey to halt the flow of migration to Europe, arrivals via the Aegean Sea dropped dramatically. However, possibly due to rising tensions regarding EU-Turkey relations, numbers are increasing again: 4,609 people reached Greece via boat in September 2017 according to the UNHCR. With them, the amount of discarded rubber dinghies, sports boats, and other waste on the islands will likely amount to tonnes. Their waste comes in addition to the already existing refugee boats, carelessly piled up in the hinterland, turning pastures into ship graveyards. What remains undiscussed in the broader public and political debates is the potential environmental crisis that risks adding another level of complexity to the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe. Continue reading


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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.

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Toward a Beautiful Rural Life

by Zhen Wang

Jenny Chio’s book A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China attracted me because of its connection to my current research project at the Rachel Carson Center. One of the reasons for this is that we share the same research area—southwest China. My own research focuses on the changing landscape of ethnic minority villages in Sichuan Province; Chio’s book tells a story of two ethnic minority villages located in Guangxi and Guizhou provinces respectively. Together, these are three important places in southwest China. Another main reason is that we are both interested in how minority peoples’ living environments and everyday lives have changed and been shaped by the influences which have come from China’s rapid urbanization and economic development during the last nearly four decades. Continue reading


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Worldview: Antarctica

by Ingo Heidbrink

Antarctica is the only continent with a permanent population of zero, and it has a strong international regulation system governing human activities from research to tourism. One might question whether an environmental history of Antarctica, beyond natural history, could therefore even be possible. While I am no native or citizen of Antarctica—these categories do simply not exist—having traveled more than once to the frozen continent and performed historical research I think I can provide some idea of its environmental history. Continue reading