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


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.


Learning to See from Thoreau

by Richard Higgins, author of Thoreau and the Language of Trees

I once sat in an old barn to soak up the quiet before heading in the woods. A rusty iron hay rake hung from the rafters, and light poured through warped boards. One minute turned into three, then five. As I sat motionless, the swallows that scattered when I entered slowly returned. Soon dozens of them were pecking ever closer to my feet, oblivious to me. I was enjoying my sudden intimacy with nature when the devil whispered in my ear, “Hey Saint Francis, what about a photo?” My camera was next to me. I thought if I could just slide my hand out and drag it to me ever so slowly, the birds would be none the wiser. I moved a finger to start—and every single bird flew off as if I had yelled “OK everybody, say cheese!”

For much the same reason, I used to wonder if carrying a camera in the woods ruined the purpose of a walk. Was I out to experience the beauty of trees or to shoot them? Thoreau helped me shed that ambivalence.

We only truly see, he said, when we look. “The scarlet oak must, in a sense, be in your eye when you go forth,” he wrote in “Autumnal Tints.” “We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of it, take it into our heads.” Even the hunter “must take very particular aim, and know what he is aiming at….So it is with him that shoots at beauty.” He may wait all day but won’t bag it “if he does not already know its seasons and haunts, and the color of its wing—if he has not dreamed of it.” When he has, “he flushes it at every step.”

Thoreau knew what he was aiming at and was always ready to see it. His eye was sharp, but, more important, his soul was able to appreciate beauty. That was the inner “film” that let him receive its impression. “There is just as much beauty visible to us in the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate—not a grain more.” Seeing a beautiful tree isn’t about capturing anything, but about wanting to see it and letting it in. Ansell Adams, who saw the world much like Thoreau did, agreed. You don’t take a photo of nature, he said. You make one with it.

I think that, over the years, taking a camera into the woods has actually increased my desire to see the miraculous things nature presents and made me more inclined to notice the expressions, character and beauty of trees.

One tree that I see might remind me of others I have known or photographed for this book—Big Guy, Doubletree, Hutchins Oak, Soldier Pine, Davis Elm or Shadow Tree. Or it might call to mind other trees I have seen in a certain light or in a certain stance, and make me hope to see something similar. I go off trails, down ravines and up hills because I never know what I will see—but I want to find out. In the woods right after a snow storm, I am sometimes so excited that I fairly race from one favorite haunt to another.

Seeing the possibility of a photograph in a particular tree or thinking about where to stand or how to frame it can now produce a second reaction in me. I pause and really look at it, take in its wonder. On those occasions, the camera in hand is telling my eye to be ready to see. If I’m lucky, I’ll carry that image in my mind.


Richard Higgins is a former longtime staff writer for the Boston Globe, the coauthor of Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion after 50, and the coeditor of Taking Faith Seriously. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Christian Century, and Smithsonian. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.


Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene Call for Papers: Ecology

We invite you to submit your next paper to the Ecology domain of Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal whose mission is Open Science for the Public Good.

Elementa publishes original research with the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact. Structured into six distinct knowledge domains, the Ecology domain will consider research centered on the ways in which humans are intentionally and unintentionally altering the conditions for life on Earth and the resulting ecological implications. These anthropogenic effects manifest at molecular levels and can cascade into physiological, population, community, ecosystem, landscape and global responses. Elementa will report new breakthroughs across these levels of ecological organization as well as for all domains of life.

For the full Aims & Scope of the Ecology domain, please click here.

In addition to innovative features including a value-sharing business model and an article-promotion partnership with Kudos, Elementa articles are highly used and downloaded (see highlighted articles below). For the full Elementa story, visit our website at elementascience.org.

For Elementa news and updates, be sure to follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

There has never been a more important time to ensure that transparent, evidence-based, peer-reviewed research has the widest and most impactful dissemination as possible. Please consider submitting your ecological science papers to Elementa or developing a Special Feature or Forum, and feel free to get in touch with Donald R. Zak, University of Michigan, Editor in Chief for Ecology, should you have any questions.


Recent Special Features from the Ecology domain

New approaches to understanding urban aquatic ecosystems

High-impact Ecology content from Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 

(All metrics from March 23, 2017)

Warming, soil moisture, and loss of snow increase Bromus tectorum’s population growth rate
Compagnoni A, Adler PB. 2014.
Total usage: 23,947 views/downloads since original publication on Jan 08, 2014

Quantifying flooding regime in floodplain forests to guide river restoration
Marks CO, Nislow KH, Magilligan FJ. 2014.
Total usage: 21,709 views/downloads since original publication on Sep 03, 2014

Biotic impoverishment
Naeem S. 2013.
Total usage: 20,328 views/downloads since original publication on Dec 04, 2013

Towards a general theory of biodiversity for the Anthropocene
Cardinale BJ. 2013.
Total usage: 17,863 views/downloads since original publication on Dec 04, 2013


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 Intersection of Religion and Environmental Activism

by Amanda J. Baugh, author of God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White

On Monday afternoon, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham spoke in front of the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein as part of #DayAgainstDenial, a nationwide series of events asking senators to block climate change deniers from serving in the Trump cabinet. Leaders of the ecumenical Christian group Creation Justice Ministries and the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life, and even evangelical and Catholic pro-life Christian groups have also banded together to oppose the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. These groups appeal to their scriptures and faith traditions as they urge legislators to advance a biblical mandate to be good stewards of God’s Creation.

This type of religiously grounded environmental activism has become increasingly prevalent in the last decade, but the motivations inspiring religious communities to act are much more complicated than a simple hunch that God wants us to “go green.”

In God and the Green Divide, I examine religious environmental organizing in Chicago to show how dynamics of race, ethnicity, and class have shaped contemporary “greening of religion” movements. Focusing on the interfaith environmental organization Faith in Place, I analyze differing environmental values and motivations among the organization’s black and white participants. Faith in Place’s leaders suggested that every religion supports concern for the earth so all people of faith must take measures to protect the planet. Yet participants engaged in environmental activism based on a complex set of factors specific to their own communities, including concerns about job opportunities and health, urgencies of displaying positive civic identity, and feelings of guilt that arise from white privilege. Attending to the complex array of factors that shape individuals’ decisions to “go green” can offer a more complete understanding of the intersection of contemporary religious and environmental worlds.


Amanda J. Baugh is Assistant Professor of Religion and Environment at California State University, Northridge.


The Rhythms of History

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Historical Association conference in Denver, January 5-8. When sharing this post on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AHA17!


by Jeremy Davies, author of The Birth of the Anthropocene

The American Historical Association’s annual conference begins today, and the panel I’d most like to attend is no. 142, “The Anthropocene in History,” chaired by John McNeill (I wrote about Prof. McNeill’s most recent book here). Being used to more modestly-sized British conferences, I’ve never seen an academic conference panel take place in a ballroom, as the programme claims this one will.

It’s an interesting title: “The Anthropocene in History.” Does the proposed new “Anthropocene” epoch of geological time really belong inside history? Or, on the contrary, does historical time belong inside geological epochs like the Anthropocene? Or neither? Perhaps instead we should think of historical and geological time units as coupled to but distinct from one another: they might weave together like, well, dancing partners.

If y9780520289970ou’re like Jedediah Purdy, and think that the Anthropocene means “the end of the division between people and nature,” then for you the Anthropocene obviously isn’t a historical concept (because when exactly were people divided from “nature” in a way that they aren’t today?). But if you’re a geologist, and you think that the Anthropocene can be dated to the year 1952, then you’re at odds with normal conceptions of history in a different way. If the Anthropocene began in 1952 then the geological epoch that preceded it, the Holocene, must have lasted from 9700 BC to AD 1952. That’s a much, much longer and yet much more specific periodization than the ones historians are usually comfortable with (compare, say, the “Gilded Age”). And you’re implying that the Anthropocene itself might run from 1952 until—when? AD 13,604?

Either way, can the Anthropocene really be made to fit “in” history? I think that all depends on what you mean by history. The geologists’ idea of the Anthropocene suggests that the planet has changed so radically in the last few centuries that a whole new chapter of geological time has begun. That new beginning will still be recognisable through changes in the fossil record in hundreds of thousands of years from now.

In other words, although it used to be practical and convenient to study the geological history of the Earth in one corner of a university, and to go somewhere else to study “history” in the only sense that matters to 99% of the panels at the AHA conference, that’s no longer the case. Now, the two have started treading on each other’s toes.

So I’m glad that there’s a panel on the Anthropocene at the AHA. It won’t be easy for geologists and historians to end up in each other’s arms, intellectually speaking, but it might be worth it.

One of the panellists is Julia Adeney Thomas, the author of a brilliant essay arguing that if historians of the human-sized world must now start listening to the slow music of the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere, that means they’d better also tune in to the microscopic level as well. 90% of the cells in your body are actually bacterial rather than “human,” Thomas notes, and this “microbial part of us” alters “with such rapidity that the number of bacteria, in the right conditions, can double every twenty minutes.” I like the idea of a ballroom in which so many clashing rhythms might all be heard at once. But then I’ve never been much of a dancer.


Jeremy Davies teaches in the School of English at the University of Leeds. His book The Birth of the Anthropocene is available now. For more of his writing on the anthropocene era, please visit Made Ground.

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”