5 High-Impact Articles in Sustainability Transitions & Sustainable Engineering

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of announcing that Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene has been accepted into the Science Citation Index Expanded and is expected to get an Impact Factor in June 2018, as confirmed by Clarivate Analytics. We thought his news would be of interest to attendees of the AGU Fall Meeting, and we invite those at #AGU17 to visit Elementa at booth #1820, where the journal is featured alongside DataONE and DataCite.

We are pleased that we can soon add an Impact Factor to the many ways we measure Elementa‘s impact. Today, as part of Elementa‘s #AGU17 blog series, we present high-impact content—as measured by views, downloads, Scopus citations, and Altmetric scores—from our Sustainability Transitions and Sustainable Engineering domains.


Sustainability Transitions
Editor-in-Chief: Anne R. Kapuscinski, Dartmouth

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Expert opinion on extinction risk and climate change adaptation for biodiversity
Javeline D, Hellmann JJ, McLachlan JS, Sax DF, Schwartz MW, et al. 2015.
Impact: 510,200 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 69 since original publication on July 15, 2015

Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios
Peters CJ, Picardy J, Darrouzet-Nardi AF, Wilkins JL, Griffin TS, et al. 2016.
Impact: 92,506 views/downloads, 5 citations, and Altmetric Score 669 since original publication on July 22, 2016

Enhancing agroecosystem performance and resilience through increased diversification of landscapes and cropping systems
Liebman M, Schulte LA. 2015.
Impact: 19,518 views/downloads, 12 citations, and Altmetric Score 19 since original publication on February 12, 2015

Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050
Barnosky AD, Ehrlich PR, Hadly EA. 2016.
Impact: 16,882 views/downloads, 4 citations, and Altmetric Score 69 since original publication on March 15, 2016

Sustainable Engineering
Editor-in-Chief: Michael E. Chang, Georgia Institute of Technology

4 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Geoengineering redivivus
Allenby B. 2014.
Impact: 18,297 views/downloads and Altmetric Score 10 since original publication February 12, 2014

Educational materials on sustainable engineering: Do we need a repository?
Davidson CI, Allenby BR, Haselbach LM, Heller M, Kelly WE. 2016.
Impact: 8,257 views/downloads, 3 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication February 23, 2016

Holistic impact assessment and cost savings of rainwater harvesting at the watershed scale
Ghimire SR, Johnston JM. 2017.
Impact: 322 views/downloads and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on March 10, 2017

Shipping and the environment: Smokestack emissions, scrubbers and unregulated oceanic consequences
Turner DR, Hassellöv I-M, Ytreberg E, Rutgersson A. 2017.
Impact: 206 views/downloads since original publication on August 11, 2017


5 High-Impact Articles in Atmospheric Science & Ocean Science

To mark the second day of Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting, we are sharing the 5 most-read articles from Elementa‘s Atmospheric Science and Ocean Science domains. As you’ll see, Elementa articles have high usage, download, impact, and citation metrics (and if you’d like a more sweeping view of the journal’s overall impact, click here). By publishing your research open access in Elementa, your work could also receive high exposure (view submission information here).

For those attending #AGU17, we hope you’ll stop by booth #1820, where Elementa is featured at the DataONE/DataCite booth.


Atmospheric Science
Editor-in-Chief: Detlev Helmig, University of Colorado Boulder

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Global distribution and trends of tropospheric ozone: An observation-based review
Cooper OR, Parrish DD, Ziemke J, Balashov NV, Cupeiro M, et al. 2014.
Impact: 33,419 views/downloads, 94citations, and Altmetric Score 13 since original publication on July 10, 2014

Influence of oil and gas emissions on ambient atmospheric non-methane hydrocarbons in residential areas of Northeastern Colorado
Thompson CR, Hueber J, Helmig D. 2014.
Impact: 24,606 views/downloads, 10 citations (source: CrossRef) and Altmetric Score 14 since original publication on Nov 14, 2014

Anatomy of wintertime ozone associated with oil and natural gas extraction activity in Wyoming and Utah
Oltmans S, Schnell R, Johnson B, Pétron G, Mefford T, Neely III R. 2014.
Impact: 21,352 views/downloads, 16 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on March 4, 2014

A characterization of Arctic aerosols on the basis of aerosol optical depth and black carbon measurements
Stone RS, Sharma S, Herber A, Eleftheriadis K, Nelson DW. 2014.
Impact: 19,782 views/downloads, 13 citations, and Altmetric Score 2 since original publication on June 10, 2014

Seasonally varying contributions to urban CO2 in the Chicago, Illinois, USA region: Insights from a high-resolution CO2 concentration and δ13C record
Moore J, Jacobson AD. 2015.
Impact: 19,444 views/downloads, 8 citations, and Altmetric Score 3 since original publication on June 5, 2015

Ocean Science
Editor-in-Chief: Jody Deming, University of Washington

5 High-Impact Articles
(All metrics from December 8, 2017. Citation Source: Scopus)

Evidence of lasting impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep Gulf of Mexico coral community
Hsing P, Fu B, Larcom EA, Berlet SP, Shank TM, et al. 2013.
Impact: 28,269 views/downloads, 21 citations, and Altmetric Score 17 since original publication on December 04, 2013

The evolution and future of carbonate precipitation in marine invertebrates: Witnessing extinction or documenting resilience in the Anthropocene?
Drake JL, Mass T, Falkowski PG. 2014.
Impact: 23,578 views/downloads, 8 citations, and Altmetric Score 7 since original publication on May 7, 2014

Sea ice algal biomass and physiology in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica
Arrigo KR, Brown ZW, Mills MM. 2014.
Impact: 20,946 views/downloads, 19 citations, and Altmetric Score 4 since original publication on July 15, 2014

The changing Arctic Ocean
Arrigo KR. 2013.
Impact: 20,466 views/downloads, 6 citations, and Altmetric Score 1 since original publication on December 4, 2013

Solar energy capture and transformation in the sea
Karl DM. 2014.
Impact: 20,348 views/downloads, 11 citations, and Altmetric Score 2 since original publication on January 8, 2014


Visit Elementa at the AGU Fall Meeting

Today is the first day of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in New Orleans, continuing through December 15, and if you are attending the meeting, you’ll see our open access journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene featured at the DataONE/DataCite booth #1820, alongside friends from Dash. We are especially pleased to appear alongside these organizations this year, as Elementa recently announced a partnership with Dash, the data publication platform from the University of California Curation Center (UC3), part of the California Digital Library, which allows Elementa authors to publish their data at UC Press Dash for free. Head over to booth #1820 to learn more about Dash’s data repository service for Elementa authors!

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene is a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal with the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact. Because such solutions will require collaboration among all research disciplines, and among academics, practitioners, and policymakers, the journal’s trans-disciplinary nature is essential. As such, the journal is structured into six distinct knowledge domains, and gives authors the opportunity to publish in one or multiple domains, helping them to present their research and commentary to interested readers from disciplines related to their own.

Elementa’s mission is Open Science for Public Good, and we believe that publishing scientific research that fulfills this mission is more vital than ever. So throughout #AGU17 this week, we’ll be highlighting Elementa’s high usage, download, impact, and citation metrics, sharing the top 5 most-read articles from each of the six domains (stay tuned for the post tomorrow featuring Atmospheric Science and Ocean Science!).

In the meantime, be sure to check out a recent blog post with key article- and journal-level metrics across the whole journal, demonstrating how Elementa’s open, accessible research has a wide reach and impact across a global audience.


Rethinking a Global Latin America

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check for other posts from the conference. #AmAnth17

By Matthew C. Gutmann, co-editor of Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century with Jeffrey Lesser 

When thinking about Latin America, most people focus on the impact of the rest of the world on the region. But what if we thought about it in a radically different way? Lets flip the orientation and ask (and show)—what is the impact of Latin America on the rest of the world?

As scholars in the field, we attempted to make this shift in Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century, providing researchers, instructors, and students the opportunity to see—and share—Latin America in a new light.

What important experiments in democratic citizenship first developed in Latin America and have now been popularized across the globe? How does Latin America figure in a G20 world in which Brazil is the seventh largest economy and Mexico about to break into the top ten?

How have Brazilian Portuguese, all the Latin American Spanishes, and Latin American indigenous languages affected the way people talk, read, and even think in other parts of the world, including Portugal and Spain? What of the Latin American booms heard around the world in literature, telenovelas, music, and film? When we ask about sex workers and tourists and drugs in the region, it’s often even more fruitful to look from Latin America out and not just from the outside in to understand historic, contemporary, and future relationships.

Another with the former president of Chile Ricardo Lagos shows the global significance of Latin American creations from Che Guevara to Truth Commissions. With contributions from academics, activists, a poet, scientists, a movie star, and manga artists, on topics from the Latin American in the Vatican to Brazil’s trade of water in the form of soybeans to China to the pan-Latin food craze sweeping the earth, Global Latin America offers sharp and spicy chapters written for the general reader and classroom adoption.

Che Guevara image on man’s cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.

As editors we were inspired by explaining how and why the image of Che seemed to confront us wherever we went in the world, from a t-shirt on a football pitch in Palestine to the cap of a Chinese matchmaker in Shanghai. Sure, images of the bearded face and beret were often devoid of deep meaning, but there was his image, and we wanted to make sense of it. Trying to understand global Che led us to the larger meanings of global Latin America.

The history of Latin America is more than the Triple C’s of Conquest, Colonialism, and Christianity, the genocide, slavery, and immigration brought to the continent by rulers from Europe and the United States. This volume, like others in the GLOBAL SQUARE series, serves to remind us that regions are not just victims but also global players – and never more than today.


Matthew C. Gutmann is Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI), and Faculty Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.


Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 2

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

This year’s theme of “Anthropology Matters!” is a call to action that our authors and the Press are proud to support.

Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

Authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fieldsshare their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, sharing thoughts on the fate of Latino immigrants due U.S. policies on policing, detention, and deportation.

Earlier this week, as part of their AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State, they focused on various aspects, including how “[m]assive raids in immigrant neighborhoods and workplaces, the apprehension of DACAmented students—often out of retaliation for their speaking out—and the deportations of long-term residents not previously deemed priorities for ‘removal’ have spread anxiety and panic throughout immigrant communities.”

In Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation, Deborah Boehm shares the social effects that migrant Latinos undergo when they return to their homeland, either by choice or by force:

In a conversation about my research on deportation, a friend from the city of Zacatecas—an urban Zacatecano—made an observation that has stayed with me as I have witnessed and tried to make sense of migrants’ experiences of return and being returned. My friend remarked, almost in passing, that the migrants I work with are “ciudadanos perdidos, ” or lost citizens, and then he repeated a refrain I have often heard in my research with migrants, typically from migrants themselves: “No son de aquí ni de allá  [They are from neither here nor there].” When I asked why he chose this specific word—lost —to describe his fellow citizens, he replied that return migrants are not fully part of either country, excluded from the United States but not entirely Mexican. “Of course, they are my paisanos  [fellow nationals],” he explained, “but their lives are very different from mine. It is difficult to know what will become of them.”

While this sentiment of being “from neither here nor there” has framed my ongoing research with migrant communities, “lost citizens” is a category of alienation that signals a new global order of injustice. We do not all have equal access to citizenship and membership in particular nations. We do not all have the same chances to move across borders. As the world becomes a more connected place for some, the disconnections, barriers, and spaces of exclusion grow for most. This label “lost citizens,” like the many categories explored throughout the book, is shifting and relational. My friend seemed to understand this, identifying with migrants as members of the nation but also recognizing the deep divide of experience that separates them.

So, are deportees, returnees, and their family members in fact “lost citizens”? In the sense that their membership is compromised in the nations in which they live, yes, this is certainly the case. So I wonder if these migrants are lost citizens or rather those who have suffered loss, including a kind of “lost citizenship” or absence of full membership.They have lost, or never had—sometimes even in those nations they consider home—the full right to citizenship. Those affected by return are lost citizens in this sense, or perhaps lost citizens might be more aptly understood as those who lose in an era of global movement. The age of deportation is marked by social injustice and striking inequality as subjects move and do not move—forcibly or not, despite and because of state power—across national boundaries throughout the world.

Read the previous part of Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State. And learn about the physical and psychological stress that U.S. immigration policies inflict on Latino migrants from Sarah Horton’s They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields.

 


Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 1

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

We are so glad to be in attendance again at AAA. This year’s theme of “Anthropology Matters!” is a call to action that we—alongside our authors—have always embraced. Anthropology will always help us make sense of the past, explore our present, and journey through our future.

Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

This year, authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields) share their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, discussing the fate of Latino immigrants due to policing, detention, and deportation policies in the U.S. They note that, “Anthropologists have a central role to play in uncovering and understanding state power but also the social movements that challenge it.”

In They Leave Their Kidneys in the Field: Illness, Injury, and Illegality among U.S. Farmworkers, Sarah Horton discusses the physical and psychological stress that these policies inflict on Latino migrants:

The Everyday Violence of Being a Legal Minority

While recent studies of chronic stress and cardiovascular disease have focused specifically on racial minorities, the findings are suggestive for other minority groups that also face chronic, pervasive stress.. Many researchers observe that being a legal minority—that is, an undocumented migrant or a migrant with tenuous legal status—may provoke unprecedented anticipatory stress and chronic worry in the current anti-migrant climate.  Cecilia Menjívar and Leisy Abrego’s analysis of legal violence focuses on how it exerts material effects on migrants’ schooling, family life, and employment.  Complementing their analysis, this chapter explores on the subjective and physiological effects of such legal violence.

Rogelio Sáenz and colleagues point out that a climate of increasing hostility toward migrants in the United States affects their psychological (and presumably physiological) health. They show that the passage of Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” law in 2010  caused distress and anxiety even among migrants in neighboring states.  They compare the micro-aggressions with which undocumented migrants contend to the “racial battle fatigue” that racial and ethnic minorities experience. Similarly, in her study of eighteen return migrants at a public psychiatric hospital in Oaxaca, Whitney Duncan found that all but two attributed their mental illness to the migration experience—in particular its “solitude, discrimination, [and] unremitting anxiety and stress.” Most of her sample had never experienced mental health problems prior to leaving for the United States. In the current anti-migrant climate, legal minority status may also lead to perpetual vigilance. Like being “Black,” being “illegal” or tenuously legal may result in hyperarousal—the chronic perception of the body’s being under attack.

Stay tuned later this week when we share Deborah Boehm thoughts on the psychological and social tolls of a migrant returning to their home country as a “lost citizen” in Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation.

And attend the AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State.


The Town Where the Asphalt Ends

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

By Angela Stuesse, author of Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South

In 2004 I moved to Scott County, Mississippi, where new Latin American immigrants, recruited by the area’s poultry industry, were arriving from across the continent. There I joined a budding coalition of immigrant and civil rights advocates, communities of faith, union leaders, employment justice attorneys, and working people who were grappling with the changes happening in their neighborhoods and workplaces.

For six years I contributed to their efforts to create a workers’ center to support poultry workers in defense of their rights. I also conducted research on how the area’s transformations came about, their relationship to longstanding political economies of race in the South, and their impacts on poultry workers, their communities, and possibilities for workplace justice. A decade later I told this story in my book, Scratching Out a Living.

While I eventually left Mississippi, many of the relationships I built there were deep, rooted in personal commitment and political struggle. This is especially true of the bonds I formed with injured workers. As Coordinator of the Mississippi Poultry Workers’ Center’s Workplace Injury Project, I spent thousands of hours advocating on behalf of injured workers, including 100+ trips to doctors and lawyers in which I served as interpreter and advocate.

Nearly half of those doctor’s visits were with Gaudenico, who lost part of his hand in a gruesome workplace accident when he was just 17 years old. We spent the next year in surgeries and physical therapy together, including countless hours of conversations on the road to and from appointments. He took to wearing a glove to hide his twisted and amputated digits, a practice I couldn’t convince him to shake. When he returned to Veracruz a few years later, at first he called periodically to give me updates on his life back home, but eventually we lost touch. The number I had for him stopped working, and his phone calls ceased.

This semester I have been on research leave in Mexico, and last weekend, while attending the XVIII Encuentro de Pueblos Negros in Veracruz, my young children and I embarked on a journey in search of Gaudenico. I had no idea whether I might find him in his village, living in a nearby city, back in the United States, or even alive, but I’ve long wondered what became of him, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by. Armed with his birth certificate, an old student ID, a handful of photos, and bunches of curiosity, we headed into the mountains of Veracruz.

While inquiring about the best routes and state of the rural dirt roads at our hotel, an employee called her father, a retired long-haul trucker from the area, for guidance. Don Tibursio offered to accompany us on our journey, and we were delighted to have a local guide and native Nahautl speaker on our team. Several hours into our journey, talking to folks in the town where the asphalt ended led us to believe we could reach Gaudenico’s community along a sharp shale road up the mountain in 1-2 hours, as long as we had a spare tire and attempted by day. But nearly to the village, my realization that I had failed to fill the gas tank that morning forced us to turn back.

I felt a flood of disappointment as we searched for gas in the town where the asphalt ended. We had come so far but had been unable to find Gaudenico or his family. Don Tibursio insisted it was too late in the day to make a second attempt. Not to be defeated, after partially filling the tank with a questionable substance using a homemade soda bottle funnel, I started asking who in town might have contact with people in Gaudenico’s village.

We eventually found ourselves in the home of a woman who had married a man from the village. Though skeptical at first, her husband shared by phone that he knew the family. He had seen Gaudenico sometime in the last few years and believed he was living several hours away in the city of Xalapa. Unable to stay, I left a note for Gaudencio, one for his mother, and a copy of my book along with a request that they be delivered. I hoped that one day with the help of kind strangers and technology I might hear from one of them.

Little did I know that my notes would be taken to Gaudencio’s mother in person by someone heading up the mountain that very night! My phone rang early the next morning. The delight in Gaudenico’s voice when I answered matched my own, and he wept as he told me of the time nearly a decade ago that his phone was stolen and all his contacts lost. Our families joyfully met up later that day outside of Xalapa. “I love you like a sister, and I’ll never forget the role you played at such an important time in my life,” he said as he held my hand. “I didn’t do anything,” I replied. “It was what anyone would do when seeing another human being suffer. I’ve missed you.”

What a heartwarming reunion it was. At 30 years old, today Gaudencio is married with an infant daughter. He drives a taxi for a living. He appears happy and healthy, and his disability doesn’t seem to slow him down in the least. Oh, and that glove he used to wear? He proudly boasts that he tossed it as soon as he returned to Mexico. Today we’re all smiling, inside and out.


Angela Stuesse is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her book, Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South, has been selected as the recipient of the 2017 Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (SLACA) Book Prize, to be awarded at this week’s American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington, DC. Learn more about Stuesse’s work at www.AngelaStuesse.com.


Why Comedy, and Why Now?

Professors and scholars are in a unique position to guide the next generation in reshaping our values to be more equitable and just. During the National Communication Association conference last week in Dallas, it was clear that social justice communication is not simply a topic for a course but an overarching educational goal that shapes how students, scholars, and citizens communicate. #NCA17 

We spoke with Caty Borum Chattoo and Lauren Feldman, authors of the forthcoming A Comedian and An Activist Walk Into a Bar: The (Serious) Role of Comedy in Social Justice, part of the Communication for Social Justice Activism Series. Here, Caty and Lauren share how they hope students, scholars, and citizens will learn how comedy encourages activism for social justice.


What inspired you both to write the book?

Caty Borum Chattoo

Unquestionably, mediated comedy is a powerful contemporary source of influence and information. In the still-evolving digital era, the opportunity to consume and share comedy has never been as available – both in the United States and around the world. At the same time, socioeconomic and other inequities continue to widen. The need for public engagement in social justice issues is crucial, and it can be challenging to encourage audiences to pay attention to dire problems. Humor, by offering frames of hope and optimism, may help encourage participation in social problems.

And yet, despite its vast cultural imprint and potential for public engagement, mediated comedy is a little-understood – and perhaps under-appreciated – vehicle for social change.

Our book addresses this challenge and timely opportunity, asking and answering new questions about the intersection of mediated comedy and social justice: What works, what doesn’t, and why, when it comes to leveraging comedy for social justice efforts? When can comedy effectively challenge problematic norms, and when does it merely reinforce them? How do social change comedy projects balance key tensions between creative processes and strategic goals?

What is the role of comedy in social justice and activism?

Lauren Feldman

Around the world – in places that face daunting social challenges, including gender-based violence, institutional racism, extremism, and political corruption – comedians are speaking truth to power and reaching millions. Intentional social-change and public engagement campaigns from humanitarian and advocacy organizations, such as global poverty group Comic Relief, increasingly leverage comedy to raise awareness, encourage public donations and more.

Here in the U.S., the present-day comedy ecology includes a heavy dose of social-issue consciousness, ranging from TV comedy sketch programs that delve into topics like gender politics, gun control, and social class, such as the Peabody-Award-winning Inside Amy Schumer, to scripted entertainment shows like Modern Family, Black-ish, and Master of None that take on gay rights, race relations, and gender equality. Satirical news programs like The Daily Show and HBO’s Last Week Tonight continue their dominance as media agenda-setters and sources of viral social commentary – and, in some cases, fuel for policy change. Online, comedy sites like Funny or Die churn out short-form sketches, faux public service announcements, and other humorous treatments of the news and social issues of the day.

Across these distinct forms, mediated comedy can engage audiences on serious issues by attracting attention, reducing cognitive resistance to persuasion, offering a way into complex social issues, re-framing issues, breaking down social barriers, and encouraging sharing. But fostering intentional efforts between comedians and social justice advocates is its own creative and strategic proposition, and one we plan to unpack in the book.

What do you hope audiences—from communication professionals and advocates to scholars and students—will learn?

Our book will include a rich synthesis of existing theory and research across disciplines, along with dynamic case studies and interviews with comedians and social justice leaders around the country and the world. We hope that by highlighting the opportunities and challenges inherent in using comedy for social change – and by doing so through a joint scholarly, practical, and creative lens – our book can facilitate engaged teaching, research, and social justice strategy, and help to foster synergies between the scholarly, creative, and activist communities in the service of social justice.


Caty Borum Chattoo is Director of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI), an innovation lab and academic research center at American University and Executive in Residence at the American University School of Communication.

Lauren Feldman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University.


Expanding the Environmental Imagination

By Dan McKanan, author of Eco-Alchemy: Anthroposophy and the History and Future of Environmentalism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


The time is ripe for environmentalists to expand our imaginations. By withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and threatening to exploit Bears Ears and other national monuments, President Trump has sent us a clear message. We must be the ones who will protect and heal the world that we love. When political leaders refuse to lead, cities, towns, neighborhoods, schools, and religious communities must step forward. Together, we can cultivate a truly ecological response to global warming, mass extinction, declining soil fertility, and the resulting devastation of poor communities. An ecological response eschews top-down and one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, it builds a resilient network of organic farmers and university scientists, bankers and spiritual leaders, preschool teachers and practitioners of civil disobedience. Like the ferns and fungi, predators and herbivores of a forest ecology, each group has a special contribution to make.

As a Divinity School professor, I am fascinated by the ways spiritual traditions fill distinct ecological niches within the environmental movement. I am especially fascinated by anthroposophy, an offshoot of theosophy that has been interwoven with environmental activism for the past century. If you have ever purchased a share in a community supported farm, sipped a glass of biodynamic wine, or read Silent Spring, you have felt the influence of anthroposophy and its founder, Rudolf Steiner. Students of Steiner created the first system of organic certification, initiated the campaign to ban the spraying of DDT, invented community supported agriculture, and founded the world’s largest “green banks.” Increasingly, they work in symbiotic partnership with Buddhists, Sufis, seekers of the New Age, and even Roman Catholic religious orders. My new book, Eco-Alchemy, tells these stories and invites environmentalists of all stripes to learn from the distinct approach of anthroposophy.

I was inspired to write Eco-Alchemy not because I was personally committed to anthroposophy, but because it puzzled me. Anthroposophy is a small spiritual movement. It has unusual ideas about reincarnation, the evolution of humanity on multiple planets, and the presence of Christ in the soil. In developing the “biodynamic” approach to agriculture, Steiner blended experimental science with homeopathy, astrology, and alchemy. As I learned more, I realized that anthroposophy’s commitment to the alchemical principle of balance has great potential to stretch the imagination of environmentalism. Students of Steiner work creatively with the polarities of human and nature, matter and spirit, macrocosm and microcosm. This has allowed them to pair farming with care for persons with developmental disabilities, green banking with artistic creation, and scientific research with meditative practice. While many environmentalists assume that they must choose either modern science or antimodern magic, East or West, or the political left or right, anthroposophy challenges us to work creatively with both sides of each polarity. As one part of an ever-expanding movement, it invites us all to broaden our vision and escape ideological monocultures.


Dan McKanan is the Emerson Senior Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and the author of several books on religion and social transformation, among them Touching the World: Christian Communities Transforming Society and Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition.


Cosmic Narratives, Ecology, and Religion

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17

By Lisa H. Sideris, author of Consecrating Science: Wonder, Knowledge, and the Natural World


A lively discussion on Edge.org asks prominent thinkers to address the question, “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” The answers provide a handy resource for anyone wanting to brush up on epigenetics or confirmation bias or case-based reasoning. The term that caught my eye is the “noosphere.” Its advocate is David Christian, the leading proponent of “Big History,” a science-based approach to history that melds the human and cosmic story into one grand narrative. Big History is exciting, TED-talk-ready stuff, and Christian obligingly narrates the whole shebang—14 billion years ago to the present—in under 20 minutes. It is presented as a modern origin story for all people, a vehicle for restoring meaning in the way that institutional religions did in the past.”

In resuscitating the noosphere, Christian claims it had a brief efflorescence “and then vanished.” It has not vanished, I assure you. You just need to know where to look.

My research on cosmic narratives like Big History and its (overtly) religious counterpart, the Universe Story, has led me down the noosphere rabbit hole. The noosphere designates a planetary sphere of mind, a thinking layer of the planet, that evolves and unfolds much like the biosphere (animate matter) or the geosphere (inanimate matter). It originated with the Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863–1945) and the French Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), among others.

A version of the noosphere concept is alive and well in scholarship on religion and ecology today, and in contemporary discourse about the Anthropocene. Some see the noosphere as a precursor concept to the Anthropocene because both signal a geological stage in which humans have become the dominant—and directing—force on Earth systems. In the words of Julian Huxley, “Whether he likes it or not [man] is responsible for the whole future evolution of our planet.”

So, how do we like it? I, for one, am uneasy. Others, not so much. Christian sees scientists’ recent announcement that the Anthropocene began in the mid-twentieth century as vindication of Vernadsky’s ideas. Why that date? Many researchers mark the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945 as the official start of the Anthropocene epoch. Of course, this is hardly an auspicious beginning to our career as planetary managers! Nevertheless, this was the moment, Christian argues, when “the sphere of mind joined the pantheon of planet-shaping spheres [namely] cosmos, earth and life.”

Pantheon. Mind you, we are talking about a geological epoch that began with world-destroying weapons and is proceeding apace with catastrophic climate change.

I worry that cosmic perspectives on human planetary dominance may frame it as a natural, even inevitable, evolutionary stage. My concerns were not allayed when researchers proposed recently that the Anthropocene seems a “predictable planetary transition” from the standpoint of astrobiology. Elsewhere that study’s lead author opines that our environmental crises are “simply another thing the Earth has done in its long history.” Better yet: the Anthropocene marks our “coming of age as a true planetary species.”

Such observations are both unscientific and irresponsible. If asked what scientific concept ought to be relegated to the dustbin of history, I would vote for the noosphere.


Lisa H. Sideris is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, where her research focuses on religion, science, and environmentalism. She is the author of Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection.