#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2020

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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 read all of our past #EnvHist Worth Reading lists right here. Here are my choices for items most worth reading from December 2020:

1. Hawaii’s Beaches Are Disappearing

This ProPublica piece by Ash Ngu and Sophie Cocke is an interactive report that uses images, maps, and other media to illustrate the erosion of Hawaii’s beaches over the past century. On three of its islands, a quarter of the sand has eroded; this problem is particularly prescient in relation to rising sea levels due to climate change. The culprit of this beach erosion is connected to class and economic disparity. In the 1960s, the state imposed conservation measures that prohibited the building of seawalls, which cause beach erosion. However, as the report shows, wealthy oceanfront property owners have figured out over the past several decades how to find loopholes to build these walls. They found that Hawaii has granted more than 230 environmental exemptions that have let property owners get around these regulations.

2. The Appalachian Mines Claimed by Christmas

In this BELT Magazine article, Amanda Page explores a fascinating example of mine reclamation. The White Gravel Mines in southern Ohio closed in the 1970s. In Ohio, the state is not responsible for underground mines, so after their closure they were abandoned to nature and the occasional antics of local youth. In 2016, a Christian non-profit teamed up with the mine’s current owners to reclaim the mine for Christmas for several days a year. At “the Christmas Caves, you witness a theatrical production from Tim and Mindy Martin of White Gravel Mines Productions, featuring holiday light displays, trees decorated by local community groups in Scioto County (where the caves are located), and sculptures and scrolls that tell the Christian story of the birth of Jesus.” Page discusses how this holiday event is an imaginative example of how society can repurpose defunct industrial infrastructure.

3. Crab-22: how Norway’s fisheries got rich – but on an invasive species

This Guardian article by Gloria Dickie provides an angle on invasive species that I do not come across often: the positive and economically beneficial invasive species story. In the 1980s, king crabs made their way to Norway’s coastlines. “Unknown to the fishermen, the crustaceans had traveled from Russia, where scientists had introduced red king crabs on the Murman coast during the 1960s with the goal of establishing a new, lucrative fishery. Slowly, the crabs scuttled the 60 or so miles over the border into Norway,” Dickie writes. Referred to as “Stalin’s red army,” the crabs were unwelcome and considered a nuisance at first. Then Norwegians realized that they could market these crabs and revitalize their coastal economies. In October this past year, alone, Norway exported 9 million USD worth of king crab.

4. What Extremely Muscular Horses Teach Us About Climate Change

This Atlantic article by Robinson Meyer features data visualization and research conducted by Robert Suits that traces energy transitions in the United States between 1800-2019. “I’m featuring this project,” Meyer writes, “because it has a lot to teach us about how the energy system got to be the way it is today – and how it might change, and be made to chang, in the future.” Meyer highlights parts of this data, presented in a Sankey diagram that shows relative flows in and out of a system, and periods of the United States’ energy system, such as the country’s coal use. Meyer also discusses how this project demonstrates the importance of technology in fueling (pun intended) and determining the speed of energy transitions.

5. Modern Environmentalism’s Identity Politics; or, the Vocabularies We’ve Inherited

In this post for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), Alexander Menrinsky highlights some of the main arguments in his recently published book, Wild Abandon: American Literature and the Identity Politics of Ecology (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Menrinsky discusses how environmentalists adopted language of authenticity and identity politics, akin to other social movements organized along lines of race, ethnicity, and gender, in order to push forward their agenda and claim legitimacy. Analyzing the environmental movement as an identity politic better enables us to situate them historically amidst other social movements, as well as critically assess how environmentalists can co-opt and alienate marginalized groups. “Identity and environment exist in close relationship in what we read, write, teach, advocate for, and live. My goal in Wild Abandon is to show how environmentalism writ large has historically navigated that relationship and how it still does,” Menrinsky writes.


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


Feature Image:  Hapuna Beach, Hawaii, October 25, 2016, pfly, Flickr Commons.

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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, 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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