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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Making Tracks: Mike Hulme

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.

Weather and Culture as a Teenage Boy in Scotland: The Early Days and Development of My Interest in the Environmental Humanities

by Mike Hulme

It is difficult today to talk about the weather without the conversation jumping a few tracks to find oneself somehow engaged in a discussion about global warming or climate change. But it was not always so. I first became interested in the weather in the 1970s as a teenager living on the east coast of Scotland. My passion for the game of cricket meant that I avidly followed the daily summer weather forecasts to find out the chances of my school’s cricket match the following day being interrupted by rain—or in eastern Scotland occasionally by fog (locally termed ‘haar’), or even snow! I wasn’t interested in climate change or even in climate. I was interested in how the condition of the atmosphere where I lived was going to affect the cultural activity with which I was obsessed—the sport of cricket.

I took this interest in weather into my academic study of geography at university where I first learned about theories of climatic change, including the scares of the late 1970s that a premature ice age might be heading our way. Geographers are well trained to study the mutual shaping of human and physical worlds and I became sensitized to an idea of climate that recognized both its physical and cultural manifestations. Geographers should be able to make sense of the statistics of weather as well as understand the bio-social implications of weather. But a unifying theory of climate’s material and symbolic dimensions is harder to construct.

Continue reading