#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2014

Lemon Creek, Staten Island, New York, "Under Rossville Avenue, a clogged control structure filters the water out of a small pond." Photo Credit: Nathan Kensinger

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Every month I carefully track the most popular and significant environmental history articles, videos, audio, and other items making their way through the online environmental history (#envhist) community. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from December 2014.

1. The Big Kill: New Zealand’s Crusade to Rid Itself of Mammals

Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker discusses the history of mammal introduction in New Zealand and the current efforts to exterminate rats, weasels, and other mammalian predators. All mammals in New Zealand, Kolbert demonstrates, are invasive species, having been brought to the region by Maori and European settlers. The mammal population has exploded and is now threatening the native ecology, leading to a call by a leading scientist for the extermination of all of the country’s mammals. Kolbert tackles the issues surrounding the impracticality of trying to restore native ecosystems when the line between native and invasive becomes ever thinner. Much of the article revolves around the fact that New Zealand represents an island ecology.

2. No Island is an Island

“Islands are a natural laboratory for science, they gave us evolution. But isolation is no model for a cosmopolitan age,” reads the subtitle of Libby Robin’s article on aeon.co. Robin demonstrates the scientific, as well as the cultural utility, of the island concept. There is something particularly tangible about an island. An “island is as much a metaphor as it is a real place,” writes Robin. However, as an analytical model, island theory oversimplifies ecological reality. In an academic atmosphere in which the concept of the Anthropocene is gaining steam and areas not touched by mankind’s influence become more elusive or nonexistent, Robin argues that the concept of an ecological or even cultural island is no longer relevant for scientists, historians, and others.

3. How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir

December 24th marked the 100th anniversary of John Muir’s death. “The inevitable outpourings of praise,” in relation to this anniversary, Chris Sellers states, “need to be tempered with both historical awareness and wariness.” Muir’s teachings, Sellers argues, which emphasized appreciation of “islands” of pristine wilderness, is connected to contemporary issues revolving around our inability to take care of the natural places in which we live. Using the example of Richard Lillard and the Sierra Club, Sellers shows how early environmentalists and environmental organizations gained popularity by moving away from Muir’s wilderness preservation initiatives to pay attention to urban and suburban issues like smog and public health.

4. Little-Known Lemon Creek Winds Through Staten Island History

This article about Lemon Creek on Staten Island is a photo essay by Nathan Kensinger on curbed.com, which is an installment in a series about the lesser-known bodies of water in New York City. Providing detailed photographic evidence, Kensinger follows the creek from inland to its delta, demonstrating how the creek has been managed, altered, and even forgotten by local people. Kensinger is particularly adept at showing how environmental engineers reshaped the creek.

5. The Year Climate Change came to Norway: The Great Drought of 1947

In this post on his personal blog, Sean Munger discusses the extreme weather that took place in Norway during 1947 and the early example of climate change research that resulted. Munger states that in 1947, Norway experienced a very cold winter, followed by an extremely dry season. Agriculture suffered, rivers and streams dried up, and electricity was rationed. These conditions were made especially severe because Norway was still recovering from Nazi occupation, Munger explains. The Norwegian Academy of Science reacted by creating a task force to study the “indications of Norway’s climate in the past in order to form a baseline that could help them determine what climate might do in the future.” Munger demonstrates how the lofty goals of the task force were soon derailed by the realities of the time period.

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