#EnvHist Worth Reading: December 2021

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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 2021:

1. The Tragically Human End of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

In this article, Isaac Schultz retraces the history of the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was declared extinct in 2021. Schultz describes the bird and its unique characteristics that charmed humankind and contributed to their demise. He also recounts the early 20th century logging practices and species collection practices that led to a swift decline in the bird’s population. The last confirmed sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker was in 1944, but claimed sightings of the bird continued into the 2000s. Debate over the status of the bird’s population has been heated for decades, and some claim that the call to declare the species extinct is a bureaucratic move rather than a scientific one. Our collective North American fascination with the ivory-billed woodpecker is uniquely human, he argues. “In an era where we lose three football fields of the Amazon every minute or the recent past where tracts of ancient redwoods were cleared, it’s hard to grasp the enormity of the natural world’s destruction. It’s easier to focus our attention on a species rather than an ecosystem. We mourn habitat lost through the species that lived there, and a bird that makes people exclaim in exhilaration when spotted is liable to be a focal point,” Schultz writes.

2. Climate Clues from the Past Prompt a New Look at History

This Yale Environment 360 article by Jacques Leslie underlines the inherant interdisciplinarity of climate history. In recent years, scientific climate studies have changed the way that we view specific historical events and periods. The most recent of these studies published is “Volcanic climate impacts can act as ultimate and proximate causes of Chinese dynastic collapse” in Communication Earth and Environment, which correlates 62/68 dynastic collapses to volcanic eruptions. “The emerging data suggests that many historians have overlooked climate’s impact on human events,” Leslie writes.

3. Touching Power: White Womanhood, Colonial Spectacle, and the “Forces of Nature” at the Boulder Power Inaugural

In this article, Sarah Kanouse demonstrates how the history of gender, race, and energy combine to culminate in a celebration of the technological sublime. Focusing on the 1936 Boulder Power Inaugeral in Los Angeles – which celebrated the completion of the Boulder (now Hoover) hydroelectric dam – Kanouse describes how Elizabeth Scattergood’s, daughter of Ezra Frederick “The Father of Modern Power” Scattergood, role in the ceremony was symbolic as a white and feminine endorsement. “For utilities whose business model rested on expanding home energy consumption through the mass adoption of modern conveniences, linking the domestication of power consumption to the White, heteropatriarchal family reinforced carefully crafted advertising narratives,” Kanouse writes.

4. The Orphan Tree

In this Tyee article, Diana Beresford-Kroeger recounts how a unique tree came to reside in her arboretum. Thirty-five years ago she received a call that a unique nursery in Merrickville, Ontario was in danger of being destroyed because the Dominion arborist was ploughing the nursery’s trees into the ground. She was able to save two unique evergreen saplings that caught her eye, one of which survived. A Russian forester told her that the surviving tree, which is a Abies concolor candicans, was exceptionally important and needed to be propogated, which she has done. This tree has natural genetic mutations that make it especially drought and fire resistant and thus particularly well-adapted to climate change.

5. COMMONS – MINING #6 Diamonds of Attawapiskat

COMMONS current podcast series, “MINING,” is examining the environmental issues, particularly environmental injustice and racism, surrounding Canada’s mining industry. In this episode, they look at Ontario’s Attawapiskat community, which they write has “become a byword for the toxic legacy of Canadian colonialism.” Attawapiskat is the site of a De Beers diamond mine that has caused many environmental problems for the community.

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

Feature Image: Village of Attawapiskat, [Ont.] looking East. 1935. Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development / Library and Archives Canada / a094986-v8.
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is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States, editor, project manager, 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). Additionally, she is the Managing Editor for the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. She is also a working board member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society and Girls Rock Saskatoon and a Coordinating Team member of Showing Up for Racial Justice Saskatoon-Treaty Six. 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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