Monthly Archives: April 2020

Earth Day at 50: Pratt’s Virtual GreenWeek

GREEN-WEEK-2020Earth Day 50 is Wednesday. Adam Rome discusses the significance of Earth Day’s founding in his history The Genius of Earth Day:

In September 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin vowed to organize a nationwide environmental teach-in in spring 1970, and his call to action inspired thousands of events across the country. Roughly 1,500 colleges and 10,000 schools held teach-ins. Earth Day activities also took place in hundreds of churches and temples, in city parks, and in front of corporate and government buildings. The teach-ins collectively involved more people than the biggest civil-rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s.

But the numbers do not begin to tell the story. The first Earth Day had a freshness and intensity that are difficult to imagine today. Because Earth Day 1970 was unprecedented, the organizers had to plan everything from scratch, and the effort often was life-changing. Tens of thousands of people spoke on Earth Day – and many had never spoken publicly about environmental issues before. The discussions at Earth Day teach-ins sometimes were soul-searching: Many participants truly were struggling to get to the roots of “the environmental crisis.”

That freshness and intensity gave Earth Day 1970 tremendous power. Thousands of organizers and participants decided to devote their lives to the environmental cause. Earth Day built a lasting eco-infrastructure: national and state lobbying organizations, environmental-studies programs, environmental beats at newspapers, eco sections in bookstores, community ecology centers.

Fifty years later, we observe Earth Day as climate change accelerates and a global pandemic lays bare the vast inequalities that have emerged in the abandonment of the social contract in liberal democracies since the rise of Reagan and Thatcher.

This is inescapable in Brooklyn. I live a couple blocks from a firehouse, so the abstract numbers of hospitalizations and death rates reported in each day’s news represent the series of ambulances racing down the street in front of my window each day. Neighbors have died. More will die in the days ahead. We have already lost so much, and have much unease about what is to come.

I live in Brooklyn in no small part due to the history Adam Rome writes. I moved here eight years ago to develop Pratt Institute’s Sustainability Studies minor. My work is concerned with the consequences of consumption and waste on the environment and society, including unintended consequences of the disposal of mass-produced goods, stigma associated with handing wastes, and particular attention to the ways in which attitudes concerning waste and society shape each other over time. Pratt is one of the centers of training the world’s artists and designers who will shape art, fashion, industrial design, and the built environment in ways that will affect consumption, waste streams, ecosystems, and societies long after I am gone.

Our commitment to this project includes an annual public celebration called Green Week. Normally, Green Week is a series of events, installations, and forums highlighting the ways our different disciplines engage with sustainability.

This year is different. The pandemic precludes us from gathering on campus, but thanks to the heavy lifting of Sustainability Coalition leader Tetsu Ohara, CSDS director Carolyn Shafer, and Communications Design Professor Eric O’Toole, we present Pratt Virtual GreenWeek. Beginning today, see the work our community has done, including:

Examples of faculty-directed course projects (including an online version of the presentations we usually do at the Student Union).

Examples of student work.

A timeline of the history of sustainability initiatives at Pratt, and link to Pratt’s most recent sustainability report.

• The Pratt Library’s sustainability resources, including faculty-authored books on sustainability issues held by the library.

I am thankful to be part of a community of teachers, students, and staff at Pratt who are committed to making the world a safer, healthier, more equitable world. The linked work is testament to this commitment, and includes some projects related to the pandemic developed before we had to move from in-person to virtual work in March.

Today’s Virtual GreenWeek launch aligns with larger observations of Earth Day that includes the Virtual Earth Day celebrations. May this year’s crisis renew the spirit and action of 1970’s Earth Day and lead to a safer, healthier future for Brooklyn, the US, and the world.

Two Fall 2020 Environmental History Books Available for Preorder

With colleagues, I am working on a pair of books that are now available for preorder.

Sara B. Pritchard and I are preparing Technology and the Environment in History for Fall 2020 release through Johns Hopkins University Press.

Today’s scientists, policymakers, and citizens are all confronted by numerous dilemmas at the nexus of technology and the environment. Every day seems to bring new worries about the dangers posed by carcinogens, “superbugs,” energy crises, invasive species, genetically modified organisms, groundwater contamination, failing infrastructure, and other troubling issues.

In this compelling book, Sara B. Pritchard and Carl A. Zimring adopt an analytical approach to explore current research at the intersection of environmental history and the history of technology—an emerging field known as envirotech. Technology and the Environment in History discusses some of the important topics, historical processes, and scholarly concerns that have emerged from recent work in thinking about envirotech. Each chapter focuses on a different urgent topic:

• Food and Food Systems: How humans have manipulated organisms and ecosystems to produce nutrients for societies throughout history.
• Industrialization: How environmental processes have constrained industrialization and required shifts in the relationships between human and nonhuman nature.
• Discards: What we can learn from the multifaceted forms, complex histories, and unexpected possibilities of waste.
• Disasters: How disaster, which the authors argue is common in the industrialized world, exposes the fallacy of tidy divisions among nature, technology, and society.
• Body: How bodies reveal the porous boundaries among technology, the environment, and the human.
• Sensescapes: How environmental and technological change have reshaped humans’ (and potentially nonhumans’) sensory experiences over time.

Using five concepts to understand the historical relationships between technology and the environment—porosity, systems, hybridity, biopolitics, and environmental justice—Pritchard and Zimring propose a chronology of key processes, moments, and periodization in the history of technology and the environment. Ultimately, they assert, envirotechnical perspectives help us engage with the surrounding world in ways that are, we hope, more sustainable and just for both humanity and the planet. Aimed at students and scholars new to environmental history, the history of technology, and their nexus, this impressive synthesis looks outward and forward—identifying promising areas in more formative stages of intellectual development and current synergies with related areas that have emerged in the past few years (including environmental anthropology, discard studies, and posthumanism).

Steven H. Corey and I are editing Coastal Metropolis: Environmental Histories of Modern New York City as part of Martin Melosi and Joel Tarr’s Histories of the Urban Environment series at the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Built on an estuary, New York City is rich in population and economic activity but poor in available land to manage the needs of a modern city. Since consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898, New York has faced innumerable challenges, from complex water and waste management issues, to housing and feeding millions of residents in a concentrated area, to dealing with climate change in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and everything in between. Any consideration of sustainable urbanism requires understanding how cities have developed the systems that support modern life and the challenges posed by such a concentrated population. As the largest city in the United States, New York City is an excellent site to investigate these concerns. Featuring an array of the most distinguished and innovative urban environmental historians in the field, Coastal Metropolis offers new insight into how the modern city transformed its air, land, and water as it grew.

Click on the links for ordering information. Both should be available from the respective publishers in late 2020.