Category Archives: policy

COVID-19 Pandemic Resources

Some quick links on the pandemic, organized from local to global:

Pratt Institute (includes resources for students, discussion of current schedule, online teaching, and updates for the campus community).

New York City (includes factsheets, public health posters, and citywide resources, as well as current case count in the city).

New York State (includes hotline number and statewide case count organized by county).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (nationwide public health tips and case count organized by state).

World Health Organization (FAQ, updated news on global responses).

If one of your responses to the pandemic is to curl up with a good book, here are a few titles that can provide historical perspective. (This is not even an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography, just a small selection of relevant titles.)

Alfred W. Crosby, America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (2003 edition).

Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 (1987).

Suellen Hoy, Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (1995).

Melanie Kiechle, Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth Century Urban America (2017).

Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present (2005 abridged edition, 2000 original Johns Hopkins University Press edition).

Geoffrey W. Rice, Black Flu 1918: The Story of New Zealand’s Worst Public Health Disaster (2018).

George Rosen, A History of Public Health (1993 revised expanded edition).

Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (1987 edition).

Kara Murphy Schlichting, New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore (2019).

Daniel Schneider, Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem (2011).

Joel A. Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective (1996).

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.

 

 

 

The Discard Studies Blog Is Back! (And Could Use Our Support.)

SimsMRF_conveyor

New York City’s curbside recycling collections being sorted at the Sims facility in Sunset Park.

September brings with it the resumption of posts on the remarkably generative Discard Studies blog edited by Professors Max Liboiron and Josh Lepawsky and graduate student Alex Zahara of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Over the last several years, the authors of the blog have generated some of the best critical thinking across disciplines assessing the power relations, systems, culture, and economics of how and why modern societies discard. What Is Discard Studies?

We tend to think that we are familiar with waste because we deal with it every day. Yet,  most aspects of waste are entirely hidden from common view and understanding, including the wider social, economic, political, cultural, and material systems that shape waste and wasting. Unlike studies that take waste and trash as their primary objects of study, discard studies looks at wider systems that make waste and wasting they ways they are. For instance, rather than asking how much people recycle and why they don’t recycle more, discard studies asks why recycling is considered good in the first place (MacBride 2011, Liboiron 2009, Ackerman 1997).

The field of discard studies is  united by a critical framework that questions premises of what seems normal or given, and analyzes the wider role of society and culture, including social norms, economic systems, forms of labor, ideology, infrastructure, and power in definitions of, attitudes toward, behaviors around, and materialities of waste, broadly defined. As its starting point, discard studies holds that waste is not produced by individuals and is not automatically disgusting, harmful, or morally offensive, but that both the materials of discards and their meanings are part of wider sociocultural-economic systems. Our task is to interrogate these systems for how waste comes to be, and our work is often to offer critical alternatives to popular and normative notions of waste.

Discard Studies is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures. We produce and host: monthly research-based articles on discard studies; compile a monthly report on recent articles, jobs, and calls for participation relevant to discard studies called “The Dirt”; and maintain a repository of definitionsbibliographies, and syllabi as resources.

The kind of reader who would wander onto my blog would certainly get a lot out of reading Discard Studies, and I recommend it for anyone interested in STS, environmental studies, urban studies, material culture, critical waste studies, political economy, ethnography, or environmental history. (A few of us environmental historians, including Martin Melosi, Steve Corey, Ruth Rand, Peter Thorsheim, and I, have structured sessions at ASEH to advance the approach Max, Josh, Alex, blog founder Robin Nagle, and their colleagues have championed on this site.)

The blog is back, and it has costs to meet, including paying for the server, compensating the collaborating editor who is a graduate student, and (if enough of us donate) allowing the writers of each piece to be compensated for their labors. If this strikes you as a valuable endeavor, consider supporting Discard Studies on Patreon.

A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice. (New RCC Perspectives issue.)

The 2014 Rachel Carson Center workshop Whose Waste? Whose Problem? revealed many fascinating perspectives on the topic of waste, and now several of these contributions (including articles by Tian Song, Michael Braungart, Zsuzsa Gille, Jutta Gutberlet, Stafania Gallini, Herbert Köpnick, and me, as well as a roundtable) are available in the new RCC Perspectives issue “A Future without Waste? Zero Waste in Theory and Practice.”

A PDF of the issue is free at this link.

The White Privilege of Henry Loeb

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb, 1968.

Today is the 95th anniversary of onetime Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb’s birth. As I discuss in my forthcoming book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (available from NYU Press January 8, 2016, and available for preorder now) Loeb’s life and actions reflect the shifting power relations around white identity in the 20th century, and the ways those power relations were used to exacerbate environmental racism.

Loeb is most famous (or infamous) for his role in the events leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assassination. Dr. King was in Memphis to support a strike of sanitation workers when he was killed. That strike was triggered by Mayor Loeb’s actions.

Loeb became mayor as a champion of white supremacy. That fact does not set him apart from George Wallace, Lester Maddox, or the many politicians who used racist ideology to win and retain office in the 1960s. Loeb’s history, however, illuminates an aspect of white supremacy usually not remarked upon — its association with hygiene.

Loeb was descended from German Jewish immigrants who arrived in Memphis during the nineteenth century. His grandfather opened a successful chain of laundries that employed African-American women to do the hard work of keeping the customers’ clothes clean. The Loeb family grew prosperous off this labor; Henry was born in 1920 into a family of wealth and privilege. He attended Philips Academy prep school and Brown University. His friends included John F. Kennedy (who, like Henry, served on a patrol boat during World War II).

Henry tended to the family business after World War II. He resisted efforts from black workers to organize unions, kept wages and overhead low, and continued to keep the enterprise profitable. He married Mary Gregg, the 1950 queen of the Memphis Cotton Carnival (a celebration of the Cotton South and the Confederacy) and converted from Judiasm to the Episcopal Church.

Having assimilated into the upper crust of white Memphis society, Loeb began a political career. He got elected to the Memphis City Commission in 1955 and began his oversight of the Public Works Department, which included streets and sanitation.

As historian Michael K. Honey observed in his terrific book Going Down Jericho Road, the workers in Memphis’s Sanitation Department charged with collecting garbage were overwhelmingly African American and male. Under Loeb, they were subject to dangerous working conditions and often forced to work an additional hour each day without pay.

Loeb used his experience to run an explicitly racist campaign for mayor in 1959, serving a term before stepping down to run the family business after the manager had died of a heart attack. After four years away, he ran again for the office in 1967, once again winning an explicitly racist campaign.

Mayor Loeb refused to entertain workers’ desire to have their union recognized or their desire for improved working conditions. With tensions rising, two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were killed on a garbage truck. They were riding on the back of the truck as was procedure in Memphis’s Department of Public Works. In a pouring rain, the two men tried to take cover as best they could by climbing onto a perch between a hydraulic ram used to compact the garbage and the inner wall of the truck. Somewhere along the drive, the ram activated, crushing the two men to death. One had tried to escape, but the mechanism caught his raincoat and pulled him back to his death.

C&WcoverThe men’s deaths led to an immediate walkout. Loeb did not back down, refusing to negotiate with the workers. The history of the strike, Dr. King’s involvement in it, its marches, its violence, Loeb’s refusal to negotiate, and the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination are discussed in Chapter 8 of Clean and White. Available January 8 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Loeb’s actions in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Loeb is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other. This is how I remember him on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

George Waring and the Legacy of Clean and White

george_waring_mdToday is the anniversary of Col. George E. Waring’s death. Waring, most famous for the sanitary reforms he developed as Street Commissioner of New York City, had been appointed by President McKinley to investigate sanitation in Cuba. There, he contracted yellow fever, which killed him at the age of 65.

Waring had immediate and enduring influence on the sanitation of two major American cities. He developed a sewer system for Memphis that alleviated that city’s chronic cholera and yellow fever epidemics. In New York City, he modernized waste management, establishing the “White Wings” street-cleaners (teams dressed in immaculate white uniforms to sweep the streets), and transforming sanitation work from patronage to a necessary city service.

Waring’s work saved thousands of lives and made urban life both cleaner and safer. The way he conducted his work also revealed attitudes about waste and race widespread in late nineteenth-century American life. In New York City, Waring expanded the department to scavenge value from discards. To do so, he hired Italian immigrants, “a race,” Waring reasoned, “with a genius for rag-and-bone picking and for subsisting on rejected trifles of food.”

C&WcoverThis attitude is jarring in 2015, but was commonplace in the 1890s. Sanitary engineers, sociologists, and advertisements have all left evidence that peoples other than native-born whites in the United States were seen as somehow more fit to handle waste or otherwise be exposed to waste. How this attitude developed, how it was resisted by many affected people, and what consequences it has had for American society is the subject of my new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States. Available Nov. 13 from NYU Press, the book contextualizes Waring’s work in a time when fears about waste and racial purity intertwined, producing new labor markets and spatial arrangements to manage the materials Americans classified as waste. Waring is one of the actors in a long history of Americans’ often troubled relationship with those wastes and with each other.

Waring’s death from yellow fever was a reminder that the hazards he sought to eliminate endured in the Americas. His life, and his life’s work, showed the complex ways in which perception of those hazards shaped American society. He should be remembered for both his accomplishments and these complexities, and that is one of the goals of the book.