#EnvHist Worth Reading: August 2018

"Yellow Window; I remember my grandmother washing the (few) plastic bags she had and hanging them to dry." by petalouda62, Flickr

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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. You can watch all of our #EnvHist Worth Reading videos right here. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from August 2018:

1. Fire and Rain

The 2018 wildfire season was/is brutal in the United States and Canada, which has lead to a plethora of wildfire content. In this episode of the podcast 99% Invisible, the show’s producers look at both the contemporary and historical fire landscape of California, as well as the history of the state’s flooding, focusing specifically on the city of Montecito. A design podcast, 99% Invisible focuses on the zoning, architectural design, and planning strategies that residents, planners, etc. have used through the years in order to try to avoid the worst outcomes of the fire and flood hazards that the community regularly faces. See Also: “People Are Extending Fire Seasons More than Climate Change Is

2. “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” and Responses: “The New York Times Fails to Name and Shame Climate Villains” and “Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”

In August, The New York Times published a long-form. visually stunning (photos and videos by George Steinmetz) and polarizing article on the history of climate change and science by Nathaniel Rich. The article opens with the provocative statement: “Thirty years ago, we had a chance to save the planet.” Rich’s main argument is that humanity had a chance to stop climate change in its tracts during the 1980s. Rich details a group of scientists, politicians, and activists that understood that climate science and tried to warn of environmental problems to come. “That we came so close, as a civilization, to breaking our suicide pact with fossil fuels can be credited to the efforts of a handful of people, among them a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming,” he writes. This article led to a number of response pieces. At Mother Jones, Rebecca Leber writes that Rich “he does not target the oil and coal industries that had the most to lose, or conservative Republicans for scuttling action in these early years.” In another response, Naomi Klein also criticizes Rich for not holding the fossil fuel industry economy. Klein asserts that Rich’s piece is “spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.”

3. American Beauties 

In this thoughtful essay on the plastic bag, Rebecca Altman traces the origins of the ubiquity of this item in our everyday lives and the way its presence is intertwined into our culture. “The story of the plastic bag…” Altman writes, “is a story of persuasion, one that began with a battle between paper and plastic in the hearts of the American people.” Altman traces both the introduction of the plastic bag and the history of the plastic that the bags are made of. The essay also brilliantly looks at the way in which the plastic bag is linked to the concept of disposability, despite the way in which the bags collect and stay in both natural and built environments.

4. When the World Was Cold: Five Questions for Dagomar Degroot

In this interview with Tom Cassauwers for Undark Magazine, Dagomar Degroot discusses his recently published book, The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560-1720. Degroot discusses the difference between “climate change” and “anthropogenic climate change,” the Little Ice Age, and what humanity can learn from the way in which the Dutch dealt with this period of climatic change. Degroot wraps up the interview by stating that all courses in all disciplines should be integrating climate change into their syllabi. He states that he has “found the greatest satisfaction in helping my students become part of the solution.”

5. “Interpreting Britain’s Second World War Experience From an #EnvHist Perspective” and the Environmental History Workshop Blog Series

This past month, the Environmental History Workshop, a new and now-annual workshop at the Institute of Historical Research in London, UK, released a series of four blog posts leading up to their first meeting. The blog posts fit into the workshop’s theme: “Intersections.” In this first post in the series, Gary Willis discusses how he uses environmental history to highlight new aspects of the British experience during World War II. “Environmental history,” Willis asserts, “can also discover previously unknown or ignored material.”

Remember to follow #envhist hashtag and NiCHE (@NiCHE_Canada) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with the latest environmental history content.

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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, and digital communications strategist. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Saskatchewan in 2019. She is an executive member, editor-in-chief, and social media editor for the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE). She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon. A passionate social justice advocate, she focuses on developing digital techniques and communications that bridge the divide between academia and the general public in order to democratize knowledge access. You can find out more about her and her freelance services at jessicamdewitt.com.

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