America Recycles Day Roundup

recycle-logoToday is America Recycles Day, so I am popping in late with a few related links to interviews on the subject.

Time magazine’s feature on the history of recycling, featuring interviews with Susan Strasser, Bartow Elmore, and me.

BBC’s The Compass 3-part show from earlier this year on “The History of Wastefulness” featuring interviews with Kathryn Kellogg, Veena Sahajwalla, Agnes Sandras, Eiko Maruko, Gay Hawkins, and me.

A piece I wrote for Process: A Blog for American History a couple of years ago based on my book Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America (Rutgers UP, 2005).

A piece I wrote for Resource Recycling Magazine a couple of years ago based on my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017).

The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s current exhibition “Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling,” on display now through April 2020. I was one of the advisors on this exhibition and will speak at the Museum in February.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake Thirty Years Later

 

SFChronicle1989quake

The San Francisco Chronicle initially reported hundreds dead in the massive 1989 earthquake.

Thirty years ago today at 5pm PT, I was in a condominium in downtown Santa Cruz. Game 3 of the Giants-A’s “Bay Bridge” World Series game at Candlestick Park was about to start when the TV began acting like a basketball, slamming screen-first into the carpet and bouncing up and down. A few minutes later, when the earth stopped shaking, we walked out to see some houses sitting at 45-degree angles from their foundations, some buildings completely collapsed, every chimney in the area in rubble, and a cloud of dust enveloping downtown. (Our building was untouched, aside from every dish in the kitchen shattering on the floor. When the electricity eventually came on, we found that the TV even worked.)

Somehow the phones never got knocked out, so we were able to get tabs on many of our friends and help where we could. Pretty much every able-bodied person in the area had the same instinct, so as darkness fell, we arranged for as many people as possible to get the perishables out of their refrigerators and come down to use our grill. We had a delicious feast that night as the aftershocks — some of which were larger than most of the quakes the area had seen in recent memory — rocked the building.

STC-L-eiquake-1017-01

That was the last good food we would have for quite a while as we quickly relied on peanut butter, ramen, and other durables in the days before power was restored while fielding phone calls from friends and family from around the world (when they could get through the jammed lines). The downtown area — including the historic Cooper Building that had undergone a retrofit to withstand seismic activity just a few months earlier — was so devastated that most of the businesses that didn’t go under would move into giant “temporary” tents for the next three years or so. STC-L-eiquake-1017-04building

Miraculously, the number of people killed in Santa Cruz could be counted on two hands; judging by the number of collapsed buildings one would have thought that hundreds had perished (as the Chronicle headline in this post feared). The entire Bay Area suffered sixty-three deaths (most in the collapsed I-880 Cypress Structure), but those of us near the epicenter were very, very fortunate.  I don’t know if subsequent plate shifts have since altered it, but there was a huge chasm in the woods not far from the UC campus for years afterwards.

The condominium complex we were in was of postwar construction, and it survived relatively intact. When I returned to UCSC several days later, little damage to the campus buildings (built largely after 1965) was evident (though the collections at McHenry Library and KZSC required many hours to reshelve).  Older and cheaper housing fared less well. In Santa Cruz and Watsonville, the large structures that survived became shelters for thousands of displaced residents whose houses had been destroyed. Many more buildings suffered moderate amounts of damage; it seemed that every brick chimney in town had crumbled.

SantaCruz_1989_Highway17Eventually the chimneys were restored, demolition of unsavable buildings took place, and a major rebuilding effort was evident by the time I moved away in 1992. When I visited Santa Cruz five years later, there were no gaping holes where houses and businesses stood, but the town looked much different than it had on the morning of October 17, 1989.

One lesson from the 1989 earthquake (and the 1994 Northridge earthquake) was a focus on planning to make cities “earthquake-safe” rather than “earthquake-proof” through modeling. This approach seeks to reduce risk while recognizing it is never eliminated; the 2011 Fukushima disaster is in part a lesson that natural events may be more powerful than what reasonable models project, and that the human-built world can vastly exacerbate the scale of disaster that results. The major earthquake that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand that same year was not on one of the faults that worried area seismologists. Safety is not guaranteed; that lesson certainly resonates when “storms of the century” become more frequent on the eastern seaboard.

Thirty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed downtown Santa Cruz, I live in another metropolitan region at risk from disasters. When searching for our last home, I consulted information about which neighborhoods were more dangerous than others. I did not consult violent crime statistics, but rather NYC’s hurricane evacuation map revised in the wake of Sandy. Our home is not in an area presently rated as a potential evacuation zone, though I understand that the map may be revised in light of new information, and a powerful storm could overwhelm the existing model of risk.

Earlier this month, Pratt hosted historian Ted Steinberg, whose work on how what we call natural disasters involve damage produced by human designs has led him to criticize the aggressive development of the waterfront as an act of “environmental machismo” in the face of rising sea levels. Yet I remain here, perhaps in part out of the irrational belief that storms come with warnings. The earthquake that shook Santa Cruz thirty years ago caught us by surprise.

2019 NYC Climate Strike Actions

Pratt Climate Strike Poster - 1

Information in this post came from a September 13 session in Main Building.

The Global Climate Strike organized by young people all around the world begins with mass protests on September 20. As an educator discussion global sustainability issues with young people at Pratt, I am compelled to share information about what my students and their peers are doing to address the environmental and social problems the planet faces.

A group of Pratt students will join Friday’s New York City protest (September 20). A contingent is leaving Pratt’s Brooklyn campus from the Chapel in East Building shortly before noon and joining others in Manhattan’s Foley Square before the 2:30pm march in Battery Park. For more information on the larger event, see the Facebook page.

On Monday, September 23 at 5:30pm, people will gather ahead of the Climate Strike with Greta Thunberg. For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

On Friday, September 27 at 2:30pm, the Communities Strike for Climate over Colonialism takes place in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

On Sunday, September 29, the SOS Amazon festival takes place in Tompkins Square Park. “Celebrating Preservation of Amazonian Ecosystem and all Ecosystems, indigenous culture, human rights  with DJs, Live music, dance, art, speakers, drummers and ceremonies. THIS IS A FREE PARTY!” For more information on this event, see its Facebook page.

Related, Leonel Ponce, who coordinates Pratt’s Sustainable Environmental Systems MA program has helped draft an open letter from the academic community demanding United Nations action in support of the Amazon and its peoples. You may read and sign the letter at this link. Related to this letter is the petition to call on the United Nations to #CancelBolsonaro at the UN General Assembly.

 

 

 

In the News.

Catching up on summer happenings, media coverage of the Republican Party’s continued devolution into a political movement serving white supremacy referenced Clean and White. P.R. Lockhart’s Vox story “How Trump used a centuries-old racist trope to attack Baltimore” describes how Trump’s racist attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) tap into the same 19th century stereotypes described in chapter 4 of Clean and White.

The recent tweets from the president fit into a broader way that Trump often talks about predominantly black cities and neighborhoods, framing these areas as consistently impoverished areas struggling with the highest rates of violence in the world (even when they aren’t even that violent compared to other cities). But it was his claim that Cummings’s Baltimore district is “rat-infested” that got a lot of early attention over the weekend. And it’s not hard to see why: that claim in particular fits into centuries-old stereotypes of black places — and people — as being dirty and unhygienic.

It’s a stereotype that dates back to slavery and the Civil War, when concerns about infectious disease gave fuel to racist arguments that African Americans were more likely to be carriers of disease. And the concept gained even more traction as whites looked to justify the adoption of segregation under Jim Crow laws. “The rhetoric and imagery of hygiene became conflated with a racial order that made white people pure, and anyone who was not white dirty,” Carl Zimring, a historian at the Pratt Institute and author of Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States, wrote in 2017.

Zimring notes that by the 1890s, this conflation had become so embedded in popular culture that ads for soap companies not only included caricatures of African Americans, they openly associated cleanliness with whiteness, with some companies using ads that would “explicitly racialize dirt…”

There’s more at the link. Readers curious about just how closely the racism Donald Trump, Josh Hawley, Steve King, and their ilk compares to the constructions used by white supremacists during the rise of Jim Crow can find the paperback here and the audiobook here.

My book isn’t a comprehensive text for explaining white supremacy in the Republican Party and its practices of stochastic terrorism targeting people of color, Jews, LBGTQ Americans and pretty much everyone who doesn’t look, love, or pray like them – readers would be better served checking out Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. But if you want to see the roots of Trump’s “shithole countries” slurs, Clean and White will provide context.

Megacities and Water Panel at 3rd World Congress of Environmental History, Florianópolis

FlorianapolisThe 3rd World Congress of Environmental History begins in Florianópolis, Brazil this week, organizing around the theme “Convergences: The Global South and the Global North in the Era of Great Acceleration.” For more information on the venue, keynote speakers, program and schedule of sessions, please click the links on the conference website.

As part of the conference, I will participate in a panel on Water and Megacities in the 20th Century on Thursday afternoon, with participants presenting cases from the Americas. I will discuss Newtown Creek as New York City’s aquatic discardscape, a site with several narratives of waste informing both its history and its future as a site for sustainable (or unsustainable) urban development. How do we think about waste? How do the answers to that question inform the ways discarded materials have shaped the land, water, and economic processes that interact at Newtown Creek? Join me for consideration of those questions and how they relate to water issues in the world’s megacities.

40% off sale of Aluminum Upcycled ends July 15

zimringpostedThe Johns Hopkins University summer sale ends Monday. Between now and July 15, you can get my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective for 40% off plus free shipping. Buy the book at this link; at checkout, enter code HHOL.

The first sentence of the book reads: “Waste is a product of design.” If that argument interests you, consider purchasing Aluminum Upcycled.

Aluminum Upcycled on sale (40% off) through July 15

zimringpostedJohns Hopkins University Press is having a summer sale. You can get my book Aluminum Upcycled: Sustainable Design in Historical Perspective for 40% off plus free shipping between now and July 15, 2019. Buy the book at this link; at checkout, enter code HHOL. About the book:

Beginning in 1886 with the discovery of how to mass produce aluminum, the book examines the essential part the metal played in early aviation and the world wars, as well as the troubling expansion of aluminum as a material of mass disposal. Recognizing that scrap aluminum was as good as virgin material and much more affordable than newly engineered metal, designers in the postwar era used aluminum to manufacture highly prized artifacts. Zimring takes us on a tour of post-1940s design, examining the use of aluminum in cars, trucks, airplanes, furniture, and musical instruments from 1945 to 2015. 

By viewing upcycling through the lens of one material, Zimring deepens our understanding of the history of recycling in industrial society. He also provides a historical perspective on contemporary sustainable design practices. Along the way, he challenges common assumptions about upcycling’s merits and adds a new dimension to recycling as a form of environmental absolution for the waste-related sins of the modern world. Raising fascinating questions of consumption, environment, and desire,  Upcycling Aluminum is for anyone interested in industrial and environmental history, discard studies, engineering, product design, music history, or antiques.