Earth Day and the Anthropocene

This post concludes our Earth Week blog series. Thank you for reading!

by Jason M. Kelly, editor of Rivers of the Anthropocene

On November 4, 2016, the Paris Climate Agreement went into effect. Signed and ratified by the vast majority of members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement wasn’t perfect. But, it was an important step forward in mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Four days later, the United States elected a president who had previously claimed that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

In the months that have followed, the new president and his administration have begun implementing a wholesale attack on climate science and environmental regulations. The new administration’s policies point to the close connections between society — politics, culture, and economy — and environmental systems. Rejecting scientific warnings, it has doubled down on its support of fossil fuel consumption and economic opportunism at the expense of the environment. Its justifications and appeals to the public — economic necessity, individual freedom, and nationalism — are framed through ideologies that have historical roots going back centuries. The actions that their policies enable will have environmental consequences that last far beyond the lifetimes of those currently serving in office.

The interrelations between society, culture, economy, politics, and environments have deep histories. In fact, to imagine sociocultural and geobiophysical systems as distinct entities would be a mistake; they are entangled. Historically, environmental contexts have played key roles in shaping sociocultural systems. And, humans have had greater or lesser impacts on their regional ecologies over tens of thousands of years through clear cutting, slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting and fishing, and flood control and irrigation systems.

Over the past several hundred years, the relationship between humans and their environments has intensified as human populations have grown. Consumption of resources, magnified by the energy unleashed by burning fossil fuels, has resulted in fundamental transformations of earth systems (e.g. carbon cycle, water cycle, nitrogen cycle). And, political contingencies, cultural beliefs, and economic desires have reinforced behaviors that continue to destabilize the planet’s systems.

Because humans have become such a powerful environmental force, a growing number of scientists have suggested that we have entered a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene. Humanity’s impact on the planet can be measured in sediments and ice cores. Its actions have entered the geological record.

Understanding the Anthropocene requires more than just researching the environmental effects of human actions however. As important is understanding the role that human systems play in shaping behaviors — for example, the ways that capitalism and imperialism have encouraged certain practices of resource extraction and modes of thinking. Doing so allows us to address more than just the consequences of human action. It helps us understand the root causes as well.

At its core then, research on the Anthropocene is focused on exploring the historical entanglements between sociocultural and geobiophysical systems. This necessitates multidisciplinarity — of scientists, social scientists, humanists, artists, policy makers, and community organizers working together to tackle environmental challenges in all of their complexities. This work includes descriptive and analytical approaches, but also public engagement meant to influence policy and public attitudes. In the current political context, this type of work is one important tool in mitigating the worst effects of climate change denial and attacks on environmental protections.


Jason M. Kelly is Director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute and Associate Professor of History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


A Right-Now Battle for the Future of America’s Public Lands

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Stephen Nash, author of Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change

America’s national park system is the most familiar component of our vast estate of federal public lands: forests and grasslands, wildlife refuges, millions of acres of rangelands. These landscapes all add up to more than a fourth of the U.S. national dirt. Earth Week 2017 finds the survival of their natural systems increasingly vulnerable, politically and biologically.

The plan long promoted by conservation biologists and environmentalists, and seriously contemplated by the federal government in the recent past, was to move toward connecting these lands to help ensure their protection from industrial exploitation and development pressures, and to enable species to adapt and migrate in the face of quickly arriving climate change.

But a powerful, well-funded political movement is pushing in the other direction: to atomize federal public lands, hand them over to the states, and privatize them. My book Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change details this conflict, its origins, and its political and ideological supporters, from ranchers to billionaires. The Trump administration has been both equivocal and non-vocal on this issue so far — hard to prophesy how this map will look on Earth Week 2018, and beyond.

With Grand Canyon National Park as the foreground example, we can also see the biological threats to the future of public lands: recurring waves of imported invasive species that disrupt ecosystems, a lengthening list of endangered species whose populations steadily diminish and, especially, climate change. These factors are already transforming public lands, including Grand Canyon.

Fortunately, natural scientists and their allies spend whole careers on research and field work to mitigate these losses and plan for a radically different climatic future. Their work, too, is embattled. Many of them will celebrate Earth Day around the U.S. this weekend by taking part in a March for Science. For public lands and for science both, we’ll see what direction the coming year takes…


Stephen Nash is the author of award-winning books on science and the environment, and his reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BioScience, Archaeology, and The New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond


Big Sur and California’s Beloved Coastline

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Shelley Alden Brooks, author of Big Sur: The Making of a Prized California Landscape

California’s world-famous coastline is integral to the state’s economy, to residents’ sense of well-being, and to the California Dream, but only since the 1970s has a groundswell of support emerged to protect this prized resource from spoliation. Alarm over rapid change along the coast, including its deterioration from residential and commercial development, disappearing wetlands, new marinas, and the proposed freeways and nuclear plants, catalyzed the people who had come to know the coast as the geographic “soul” of California. In 1976, the state legislature passed the Coastal Act to make permanent the California Coastal Commission, an agency created out of a ballot initiative passed four years earlier. The Coastal Commission’s efforts to guide sustainable coastal land use and increase coastal access have prompted support and appreciation from many Californians, as well as emulation from coastal governments around the country and the world. But there has also been pushback and resistance from the California industries, government officials, and private citizens who believe the Coastal Act gave the state agency too much power to regulate private property.

My book explores how locals in Big Sur (an exceptionally beautiful 75-mile stretch of California’s central coast) have worked alongside county and state officials to seek a balance between the priorities of preservation and property rights. Built into the parameters of Big Sur’s well-preserved scenery is an unusual conviction that preservation and habitation can be mutually supportive endeavors. In part this has been achieved because Monterey County and Big Sur residents began in the mid twentieth century to pioneer open-space planning, conservation easements, intergovernmental collaboration and citizen activism, and transfer development credits to accommodate the needs of Big Sur’s natural and human communities. But Big Sur’s unique status also derives from the mystique created by iconic writers such as Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller who used their talents to showcase this unusual meeting of beauty and culture. Today, the name ‘Big Sur’ conjures up images of a place uniquely Californian, carved out of the geologic and cultural forces of which the state has a disproportionate share. While Big Sur’s well-preserved vistas and minimal development embody the Coastal Act’s mission, its high-end real estate and vacation homes reflect the steep social costs associated with preservation.

Big Sur, like any landscape, is not static; shifting economic realities and perceptions of nature’s worth can alter the place. Ansel Adams acknowledged this in 1980 when he unsuccessfully campaigned for a federal seashore. However, if the integrity of Big Sur’s Coastal Commission-approved land use plan is maintained, including the protection of Highway 1 as a two-lane road, minimal change will come to the built environment. But it is not so much the physical boundaries (though these are formidable) that prevent overdevelopment in Big Sur, as the social boundaries erected to preserve something unique along the California coast. Considerable momentum backs the commitment to Big Sur’s wild and storied land, and the status of both of these elements will continue to reveal a good deal about Californians’ relationship to their beloved coast.


Shelley Alden Brooks teaches Twentieth-Century U.S., California, and Environmental History at the University of California, Davis. She also works for the California History-Social Science Project and serves on the statewide Environmental Literacy Steering Committee.


The Problem within Environmentalism

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Laura Watt, author of The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore

Earth Day is often celebrated with an iconic image of Earth as seen from space; against the black void, our curved home swimming with blue oceans and swirling with weather systems looks fragile and delicate. The message is unquestionably, don’t mess it up!

Inspirational as it is, this sort of image contributes to core problem within environmentalism—it perpetuates the notion that humans are somehow outside of nature, separate and distinct. It positions the natural world as observed from afar, at a great distance—a piece of gleaming treasure to be nestled in a velvet-lined box for safe keeping.

In contrast, my recent book The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore argues that we must consider natural and cultural elements of protected areas as essential components of whole landscapes, rather than as separate concerns diametrically opposed. Point Reyes is often heralded for its wild coastline, its plentiful bird and marine life, its winding trails through dappled forests and rolling grasslands. Yet much of what is perceived as wild nature is the product of centuries of human use and management. Like elsewhere across the Americas, Point Reyes was inhabited for centuries by native peoples, in this case several bands of coastal Miwok. Recent studies suggest extensive burning and other forms of indigenous vegetation management occurred over thousands of years. Since Mexican rancheros settled this part of California in the 1830s, the peninsula has been used extensively for raising cattle—drawn to the lush grasslands created and maintained by Miwok land management practices. Nearly two centuries of ranching has profoundly impacted the landscape, and kept the land open and relatively undeveloped, making it an attractive location for a national park unit. This natural landscape is full of the work of human hands.

And perhaps even more surprising, even our most urban landscapes are full of thriving nature. For example, Peter Alagona’s book After The Grizzly points out that a stable and growing population of the adorable, and formally endangered, San Joaquin Valley kit fox, for example, can be found in urban Bakersfield, even while the species is struggling in other, more “wild” parts of its range. Yet these city dwellers are invisible to most conservation efforts, except as a source of additional genetic diversity for their cousins living in nature reserves. Similar work documenting the habits of urban wildlife—a colleague recently explained how automatic cameras at Chicago intersections, intended to catch red-light runners, have revealed urban coyotes waiting for the light to change, having learned that it is easier to cross on the green—is forcing us to rethink our categories of natural and cultural as more organisms adapt themselves to “our” world.

John Muir famously described his beloved Sierra wildernesses as distant cathedrals where visitors should experience awe and wonder, which became the guiding vision for U.S. national parks. But have we listened solely to Muir for too long? Another voice deserving more attention is that of Aldo Leopold, whose pioneering advocacy for wilderness also wrote stressed the importance of re-establishing a personal and collaborative relationship with the natural world through working the land. For Leopold, admiring from afar or as an occasional visitor is not enough; we need to recognize our reliance on and co-existence with nature through living and working with it: “Conservation means harmony between men and land.” Point Reyes has long been ideally suited to be managed as a Leopoldian park, a place where the wild and the pastoral are not in competition but are complementary, thriving side by side. It provides an important reminder for Earth Day, that we are all in it together.


Laura Alice Watt is Professor of Environmental History and Policy at Sonoma State University.


The Mountains That Remade America

This is the first post in our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Craig Jones, author of The Mountains That Remade America: How Sierra Nevada Geology Impacts Modern Life

Earth Day falls the day after John Muir’s birthday, an apropos juxtaposition as Muir’s influence can be found in the concept of lobbying on behalf of the earth. Although Emerson and Thoreau promoted nature, theirs was an eastern nature that was recovering from settlement; Muir’s untamed western nature led him to a far more active role.

When John Muir began wandering the Sierra Nevada in 1868, its western foothills were already savaged by the Gold Rush. Forests were being felled for timber to support the deep mines in the Mother Lode and Comstock. Yet, almost peculiarly, the High Sierra where Muir wandered was free of settlements, and mines, and loggers. It was also relatively empty of Native Americans, largely because of disease, warfare, dislocation and starvation, but also because the high part of the range was never more than a seasonal refuge for the tribes that otherwise lived on the range’s flanks. The absence of miners and Indians was because of the granite backbone of the range, too high to settle and barren of minerals. It was the absence of nearly all things human, quite distinct from eastern lands, that led Muir to state “that wildness is a necessity” and note “in God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.” Muir had removed people from wilderness.

Muir’s literary excision of native peoples from these wild lands they had used elevated unsettled land to a higher plane. While Easterners hiked through second growth forest between towns, Muir demanded landscapes wholly untouched by civilization. In observing the growth of timbering and sheepherding, he saw his touchstone lands at risk. This led him to political activism instead of mere literary adventurism; he began to write advocacy pieces for Eastern magazines; he would lobby politicians to create new parks. In his struggles to protect lands around Yosemite Valley, Muir recognized that a broader organization was needed. And so he helped to found the Sierra Club.

Muir’s Sierra Club had a unique aspect to its mission, stating in the original Agreement of Association in 1892 to “enlist the support and co-operation of the people and the government in preserving the forests and other features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” This was no mere hiking club, though that was part of the club’s persona; this was a genuine lobbying organization from its start in 1892.

In the year prior to the first Earth Day, the club went to court on behalf of a mountain valley named Mineral King in the Sierra that would lead, about a year after the first Earth Day, to a cherished opinion made by Justice William O. Douglas: “Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. This suit would therefore be more properly labeled as Mineral King v. Morton.” Muir’s club had helped make it possible for the earth itself to be a plantiff in U.S. courts.


Craig H. Jones is Professor of Geological Sciences and Fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published peer-reviewed research in ScienceNature, and in prominent earth-science journals. He is also the coauthor of Introduction to Applied Geophysics, and he blogs as the Grumpy Geophysicist.


UC Press Wins AAP PROSE Awards + Design Recognition from the AAUP

UC Press is proud to announce and congratulate recipients of this week’s Association of American Publishers‘ 2017 PROSE Awards, as well as the honorees of the Association of American University Press‘ 2017 Book, Jacket, and Journal Show.

About the PROSE Awards:

“The PROSE Awards annually recognize the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by bringing attention to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content in 53 categories.

Judged by peer publishers, librarians, and medical professionals since 1976, the PROSE Awards are extraordinary for their breadth and depth.”

ecosystems-of-california

2017 PROSE AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN PHYSICAL SCIENCES & MATHEMATICS

Ecosystems of California

Edited by Harold Mooney and Erika Zaveleta

 

 

 

 

mf6t14uh2017 PROSE AWARD JOURNAL/AWARD FOR INNOVATION – HONORABLE MENTION

Collabra: Psychology

Editors Simine Vazire, Rolf Zwaan and Don Moore

 

 

About the AAUP 2017 Book, Jacket, & Journal Show:

“Judging for the 2017 Book, Jacket, and Journal Show took place January 26-27 at the AAUP Central Office in New York City.  This year, 241 books, 2 Journals and 320 jacket and cover designs were submitted for a total of 563 entries.  The jurors carefully selected 50 books and 50 jackets and covers as the very best examples from this pool of excellent design.

The 2017 Book, Jacket, and Journal Show will premiere at the AAUP Annual Meeting in Austin, June 11-13, 2017. Afterward, the show will be exhibited at member presses around the country from September 2017 through May 2018. Forms to request the show for exhibit at your campus or institution will be available in the summer.”

9780520285958TRADE ILLUSTRATED

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Designer: Lia Tjandra

Production Coordinator: Angela Chen

Acquiring Editor: Niels Hooper

Project Editor: Dore Brown

 

principiaJACKETS/COVERS

The Principia by Isaac Newton, translated by Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman

Designer: Lia Tjandra

Production Coordinator: Angela Chen

Art Director: Lia Tjandra

 

 


The EPA and the Future of Flint, Michigan

ScottPruitt-EPANominee

On February 1st, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on sending current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R) nomination to the full Senate. During his hearing two weeks ago for the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the scientific research on lead poisoning. But it should be noted that the debate still continues amongst scientists on how much is too much, or too little, to consider harmful.

Because of President Donald Trump’s recent media blackout and freeze on EPA grants, the people of Michigan are now asking if Flint will be impacted in the wake of their lead crisis.

Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, have prominently discussed their concerns about lead. Markowtiz and Rosner write about what lead has meant to Flint and other communities like it:

Lead Wars[L]ead poisoning as it has been commonly portrayed does not affect all of us in society evenly but rather is particularly damaging to those who live in the older, rundown, more dilapidated neighborhoods of our fading urban centers, where lead paint is most likely to be exposed. As such, those who make the decisions about what our priorities are as a society and what risks we are willing to take with our children’s lives often feel immune from the consequences of lead. … We can believe that lead poisoning—along with other environmental childhood threats such as asthma linked to mold and cockroaches, for example—will at some future date be all but eradicated as the rebuilding of our urban infrastructure, the gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the movement of peoples out of dilapidated structures eliminates the primary source of lead poisoning: the nation’s leaded housing stock.

But the authors note that we must continue to research lead’s full impact, especially children:

But self-satisfied complacency born of the successes of the past thirty years must be tempered by the growing body of research that shows lead to be a multiheaded hydra whose dangers are constantly being revealed in new forms. Each time we believe we have one lead danger under control, we are forced to confront another set of problems that challenge our science, our epidemiology, our morality, and our sense of social justice. …

Children at risk, 1960s.
Children at risk, 1960s.

Our common-sense assumptions, long held by toxicologists as well as the general public, that the higher the level of a poison, the more damage it causes, may not always be true. New research shows that the most serious damage from lead occurs at some of the lowest levels of exposure, often in utero or in the first years of life, when the neurological structures of the brain are forming. For example, compared to children with virtually no evidence of lead in their blood, the greatest effect of lead on IQ occurs in children with blood lead levels below 5 µg/dl. As blood lead levels climb above 5 µg/dl, IQ continues to decline but at a much slower rate. Similarly, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A have their greatest impact on physiological structures at the lowest levels of bioaccumulation, if exposure occurs at critical moments in fetal development. This raises troubling issues for toxicology and for society, because these data imply that other toxins may also defy the traditional dogma that the “dose makes the poison” and that lowering exposures lowers the risk. Unlike toxins whose acute effects disappear with the elimination of the poison, lead’s effect on the child’s brain is immediate and often permanent.

What are your thoughts on how the EPA, along with the Center for Disease Control and other agencies, should move forward with future research on lead?

And to read Lead Wars and save 40%, use code 16W6968 at checkout on our site.


Call for Papers: Human Health and Environmental Change

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We invite you to submit your research related to human health and environmental change to Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

Published by University of California Press and organized around six knowledge domains—Atmospheric Science, Earth & Environmental Science, Ecology, Ocean Science, Sustainable Engineering, and Sustainability Transitions—Elementa is a not-for-profit, open access scientific journal publishing original research reporting on new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems; interactions between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to global change.

Elementa welcomes your research related to human health and environmental change, including article submission related to:

  • Biodiversity loss and human health
  • Connections between happiness, health and GDP
  • Connections between healthy ecosystems and healthy communities
  • Ecosystem approaches to controlling emerging threats from infectious diseases
  • Health impacts of the shift to clean energy
  • Healthy food systems, healthy communities
  • Human health and sustainability
  • Human health consequences of climate change (direct and indirect)
  • Mental health-environment connections

We also welcome your contributions to a related Special Feature, Oceans and human health in a changing environment, guest edited by Erin K. Lipp (University of Georgia).

Start your submission here, or contact Managing Editor Liba Hladik at lhladik@ucpress.edu for more information.

On behalf of Editors-in-Chief Jody W. Deming (Ocean Science) and Anne R. Kapuscinski (Sustainability Transitions), we look forward to your contribution to this timely and important topic!

—the Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene Team
p.s. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene includes a number of innovative features, including a novel mechanism that gives back to the research community by recognizing and sharing the value contributed by editors and peer reviewers; and an article-sharing partnership with Kudos to increase the reach and impact of your work. To learn more please visit elementascience.org.

 


Germ Wars

by Melanie Armstrong, author of Germ Wars: The Politics of Microbes and America’s Landscape of Fear

9780520292772I teach in an Environmental Management program. When I give my elevator pitch biography, brows often furrow as listeners try to reconcile my research on bioterrorism preparedness with my academic position. In explanation, I challenge them to consider why it is that among the many studies of how people have managed and manipulated “the environment,” we have largely ignored microbial nature.

Human societies have spent vast amounts of time, effort, and money trying to control microbes. The modernized world, with its sewer systems and soap dispensers, looks this way because of our work to manage microbes. Moreover, while government spending on climate change research or species conservation often meets with political strife, few question large-scale allocations for disease control. It is socially ratified environmental management.

Continue reading “Germ Wars”


Editor-in-Chief Joel D. Blum explains the benefits of publishing cross-domain articles

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“The Elementa Editors feel that this publication model fits much of the research carried out on the Anthropocene.”

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene was established with the intent of helping to break down traditional disciplinary barriers within natural science, sustainable engineering, and sustainability transitions. To help accomplish this goal contributions to six Knowledge Domains, each with an editorial staff of experts, form one overarching journal. But we have found that many articles cross between the Knowledge Domains, making their assignment into a single domain somewhat arbitrary.

To accommodate publication of this interdisciplinary research we now accept “cross-domain” articles that can be submitted simultaneously to two domains and if published will be included in both domains. This will provide additional visibility of appropriate articles across disciplines. As an example from my own research, when I publish work on the transformations and cycling of mercury between global reservoirs, I frequently face the difficult question of which disciplinary journal to publish in.

With cross-domain publication in Elementa, projects such as these can now gain visibility in multiple fields such as Ocean Science plus Atmospheric Science, or Ecology plus Earth and Environmental Science. The Elementa Editors feel that this publication model fits much of the research carried out on the Anthropocene, and encourage authors to submit “cross-domain” articles.