Author Archives: Carl Zimring

About Carl Zimring

I study junk and talk trash. Author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of The Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage.

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.

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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.

 

Celebrate the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator June 3

BF+DA_entrance

Celebrate the BF+DA June 3.

“Make the Future Here.”

That’s the slogan of the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. In the five years since Debera Johnson and her team made the BF+DA a reality, that is exactly what the venture fellows and research fellows working in the Pfizer Building have done. Pratt is an amazing place to practice sustainability education because our colleagues and students are so creative. That creativity shaped BF+DA’s work, and will no doubt continue to shape the community’s work after the BF+DA shuts its doors on June 30.

Before that happens, however, the space will host one more event: “Mainstreaming Sustainability: A Conversation with Changemakers at a Time of Change, June 3 at 6pm.

The BF+DA is bringing together our community to celebrate on June 3rd. Come toast the BF+DA team and share one last evening with amazing people.

Lewis Perkins, President, Apparel Impact Institute
Deb Johnson, Executive Director, BF+DA
More panelists to be announced

As we approach 2020, the benchmark year for achieving sustainability targets for many companies and institutions, it’s time to assess our success. How are we faring, what gains have been made, what do we need to accomplish by 2030? From supply chains to policy change, investment to education, labor justice to bio-generated materials, sustainable solutions are gaining traction globally. Leveraging this traction and scaling change is key. Maintaining our passion amidst the complex set of interrelated levers that drive change is critical, especially when the goal requires a massive change to how we think and act.

Join us for an inspiring conversation to examine the future and current state of sustainability with leaders who are implementing real-world solutions from the perspectives of circularity, policy, business and education.

This will be our farewell event at our old home and the inauguration of a new series in thought-leadership events to come.

There is limited seating so please RSVP (see the registration details at the bottom of this page).

One of the highlights of teaching Pratt’s Sustainable Core course has been bringing undergraduates to the BF+DA to introduce them to the amazing work done there. Whether BF+DA Executive Director Debera Johnson or Center for Sustainable Design Strategies Director Carolyn Shafer showed the students the production facilities, venture fellows’ workspaces, s.Lab, and meeting places, the students were thrilled to see BF+DA’s approach to creative business practices. Visiting from semester to semester and year to year, I got to see businesses like Kirrin Finch and Make It Black grow and thrive. As an author, I was fortunate to participate in the BF+DA’s book fair and discuss sustainability with likeminded scholars and writers. At the end of every year, the Positive Impact Awards ceremony was a great way to toast the work of the year (and buy holiday gifts from the various venture fellows).

The mission of Pratt Institute is “to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society. Pratt seeks to instill in all graduates aesthetic judgment, professional knowledge, collaborative skills, and technical expertise.” The BF+DA has been an inspiring force advancing that mission.

“Make the Future Here.” Even after June passes, I expect the lessons the BF+DA gave the venture fellows, Pratt’s students, and the world will continue to inspire people to make a more sustainable future.

RSVP to “Mainstreaming Sustainability.”

Join Pratt’s 9th Annual Sustainability Crash Course Saturday March 23, 2019

crashcourse-470x260On Saturday, March 23, Pratt’s Brooklyn campus (200 Willoughby Avenue) will host the ninth annual Sustainability Crash Course. The Crash Course runs from 9am to 5pm with talks, workshops and a keynote discussion. Whether you are interested in policy, activism, art, history, or design, the Crash Course will have events of interest.

On Saturday, March 23, 2019, Pratt’s CSDS will host the 9th annual Sustainability Crash Course, a day-long series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops with a host of experts from Pratt’s faculty and elsewhere.  In years past we have had over 20 different speakers present topics including Ecology, Biomimicry, Packaging Design, Life-Cycle Assessment, Fashion, Architecture, Policy and Environmental Activism. This year we have an entirely new line up of exciting and inspiring presenters. As in the past, the event is free and open to the Pratt Community as well as the general public, but registration is requiredView the eventbrite page.

The Crash Course is a production of the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies, and this year will feature speakers from the Pratt community, New York City, upstate New York, and around the world. It begins Pratt’s annual Green Week activities, a detailed list of which are available from the Pratt Sustainability Coalition. For free registration and more information, please visit the Eventbrite page.

Ashley Dawson “Energy Democracy and the Green New Deal” at Pratt, noon, March 21

 

Dawson_author_photo

Ashley Dawson is an author, activist and professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, and at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

I will have more to say about Pratt’s Green Week (scheduled to begin March 23 on the Brooklyn campus) in this space shortly. I want to first mention an event that serves as a preview of Green Week. We are proud to present CUNY Professor Ashley Dawson speaking on “Energy Democracy and the Green New Deal” on Thursday March 21 from noon to 1:30pm in ARC E-02 (200 Willoughby Avenue).

The future is electric. At least, it had better be if we are to survive as a species. We know that we must decarbonize societies the world over with all due haste in order to avoid climate catastrophe. The scale of this task is mammoth: contemporary energy systems must be switched to 100 percent renewable energy within the next decade or so. In addition, other key infrastructures such as transportation and the heating and cooling of buildings must be converted to running on electricity derived from renewable power. This means that we have to triple the current amount of energy being generated while also ditching fossil fuels. Although renewable power has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, this expansion has taken place in tandem with a massive expansion of fossil fuels. We are not, in other words, experiencing a transition of the scale and scope necessary to avert planetary ecocide. Feel-good bromides about a market-led transition to a green capitalist future will no longer do. We need an emergency plan for a rapid and massive transition, one grounded in ambitious ideas about how to heal the deep economic and social wounds inflicted by decades of neoliberal governance. This presentation will define energy democracy, explore the models for Green New Deal and just transition being advanced by the contemporary climate justice movement, and examine historical precedents for a democratic and equitable transformation of the energy system.

Professor Dawson currently works in the fields of environmental humanities and postcolonial ecocriticism. He is the author of two recent books relating to these fields: Extreme Cities (Verso, 2017) and Extinction (O/R, 2016). Extreme Cities argues that cities are ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion’s share of carbon to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea levels. Today, the majority of the world’s megacities are located in coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise. Extreme Cities offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities, describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff, Alaska residents to relocate; Holland’s models for defending against the seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, the book argues, but rather with urban movements already fighting to remake our cities in a more just and equitable way.

Extinction: A Radical History argues that the current devastation of the natural world, which affects not just large rhinos and pandas but humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats and butterflies, is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole. This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, the book argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics.

This event is free and open to the public.