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Interviews with Environmental Scientists about their New Books

New Books in Environmental Studies New Books Network

    • Naturwissenschaften

Interviews with Environmental Scientists about their New Books

    David Sepkoski, "Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene" (U Chicago Press, 2020)

    David Sepkoski, "Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene" (U Chicago Press, 2020)

    We live in an age in which we are repeatedly reminded—by scientists, by the media, by popular culture—of the looming threat of mass extinction. We’re told that human activity is currently producing a sixth mass extinction, perhaps of even greater magnitude than the five previous geological catastrophes that drastically altered life on Earth. Indeed, there is a very real concern that the human species may itself be poised to go the way of the dinosaurs, victims of the most recent mass extinction some 65 million years ago.
    How we interpret the causes and consequences of extinction and their ensuing moral imperatives is deeply embedded in the cultural values of any given historical moment. And, as David Sepkoski reveals, the history of scientific ideas about extinction over the past two hundred years—as both a past and a current process—is implicated in major changes in the way Western society has approached biological and cultural diversity. It seems self-evident to most of us that diverse ecosystems and societies are intrinsically valuable, but the current fascination with diversity is a relatively recent phenomenon. In fact, the way we value diversity depends crucially on our sense that it is precarious—that it is something actively threatened, and that its loss could have profound consequences. In Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene (University of Chicago Press, 2020), Sepkoski uncovers how and why we learned to value diversity as a precious resource at the same time as we learned to think catastrophically about extinction.
    This interview was conducted by Lukas Rieppel, a historian of science and capitalism at Brown University. You can learn more about his research here, or find him on twitter here.
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    • 49 Min.
    Ian M. Miller, "Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China" (U Washington Press, 2020)

    Ian M. Miller, "Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China" (U Washington Press, 2020)

    Ian M. Miller’s book Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China (University of Washington Press, 2020) offers a transformation of our understanding of China’s early modern environmental history. Using a wide range of archival materials, including tax, deed, and timber market records, Miller presents a picture of China’s forestry regime, something that, while not centralized—as in European states—was highly effective. Though China never adopted a forest bureau system, Miller shows how China managed, through fiscal policies alone, to engender a remarkably productive commerce in timber and other forest products. Revising the narrative of deforestation, this history of China’s distinct form of forest oversight is sure to be a must-read for anyone interested in the history of China, or environmental history more broadly.
    Though this is a sweeping book—beginning in China’s early empires and stretching through the Song, Yuan, and Ming to end in the nineteenth century—it is also filled with a number of much more local case studies. With chapters on forest deeds, fleet construction, and the logging of the last old-growth forests for palace construction, this book not only tells a story that will have wide impacts for the field, but manages to create an intimate look at what China’s forest management system looked like to those trying to operate and profit from it.
    Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard. She works on Manchu language books and is interested in anything with a kesike.
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    • 1 Std. 10 Min.
    Chris Hamby, "Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice" (Little Brown, 2020)

    Chris Hamby, "Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice" (Little Brown, 2020)

    Today I talked to Chris Hamby about his book Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice (Little Brown, 2020). Hamby looks into why there has been a surge in black-lung disease in West Virginia and elsewhere in recent years. Poor self-policing and rapacious business practices go a long way in explaining the upsurge. Add in a tradition of fatalism caused by King Coal, and it becomes a minor miracle –but a miracle all the same—that some miners have been able to secure a measure of justice.
    Chris Hamby is an investigative reporter for the New York Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2014 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting in 2017.
    Dan Hill, PhD, is the author of eight books and leads Sensory Logic, Inc. (https://www.sensorylogic.com). To check out his related “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” blog, visit https://emotionswizard.com.
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    • 36 Min.
    Sharika D. Crawford, "The Last Turtlemen of the Caribbean: Waterscapes of Labor, Conservation, and Boundary Making" (UNC Press, 2020)

    Sharika D. Crawford, "The Last Turtlemen of the Caribbean: Waterscapes of Labor, Conservation, and Boundary Making" (UNC Press, 2020)

    In The Last Turtlemen of the Caribbean: Waterscapes of Labor, Conservation, and Boundary Makin (University of North Carolina Press 2020), Dr. Sharika Crawford tells the story of Caymanian turtle hunters, men that plied the sea in search of the green and the hawksbill turtles. Using the personal stories of turtlemen collected by the Oral History Programme at the Cayman Islands National Archive, and governmental and diplomatic documents collected in archives of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the United States, Crawford presents the circum-Caribbean as a waterscape, a region where imperial polities (mostly the British but increasingly the United States) and national governments (Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua) sought to control maritime frontiers. 
    By focusing on turtle hunting, this book challenges the monolithic portrait of the Caribbean as rural and plantation-based and argues that turtlemen helped to redraw the boundaries of the region. By the late 19th century, these maritime harvesters had depleted local supplies of turtles and turned to hunt them across national waters. In doing so, they drew the ire of nation-builders in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Colombia, for they endangered the limits of sovereignty and outright refused to comply with the increasing legal restrictions imposed by these Latin American nations. This book resonates with broader stories about labor, conservation, kinship, and processes of nation-building. A transnational story in which local actors are at the center and that the NBN listeners will surely love to hear more about!
    Lisette Varón-Carvajal is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. You can tweet her and suggest books at @LisetteVaron
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    • 1 Std. 8 Min.
    Jemma Deer, "Radical Animism: Reading for the End of the World" (Bloomsbury, 2020)

    Jemma Deer, "Radical Animism: Reading for the End of the World" (Bloomsbury, 2020)

    Jemma Deer’s Radical Animism: Reading for the End of the World (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2020) invites the reader to take a moment and to ponder on the way of reading. In her book, the author challenges the narcissistic position of the human being: a status that has been established for some time and which has already been challenged before but does not seem to be changing quickly. The Anthropocene reveals the dangers which are connected to the human centrality and power; on the other hand, it requires new ways of engaging with the environment. These new ways are not limited to the gestures of consideration in relation to the profound changes that led to climate change in particular. They ask for a new mode of thinking when the inanimate is part and parcel of the human being. In this regard, Jemma Deer draws attention to reading and writing as ways and modes of engaging with the inanimate and with the environment that serves as a habitat for the acts of reading and writing. The book offers strategies for reading literary texts across cultures and times: the works by Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf reveal new echoes in the context of the Anthropocene. Radical Animism is a gentle invitation to abandon human superiority and to explore the ways that subvert a conventional hierarchy of the human and the non-human.
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    • 45 Min.
    Daniel A. Barber, "Modern Architecture and Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning" (Princeton UP, 2020)

    Daniel A. Barber, "Modern Architecture and Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning" (Princeton UP, 2020)

    Modern Architecture and Climate explores how leading architects of the twentieth century incorporated climate-mediating strategies into their designs, and shows how regional approaches to climate adaptability were essential to the development of modern architecture. Focusing on the period surrounding World War II—before fossil-fuel powered air-conditioning became widely available—Daniel Barber brings to light a vibrant and dynamic architectural discussion involving design, materials, and shading systems as means of interior climate control. He looks at projects by well-known architects such as Richard Neutra, Le Corbusier, Lúcio Costa, Mies van der Rohe, and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and the work of climate-focused architects such as MMM Roberto, Olgyay and Olgyay, and Cliff May. Drawing on the editorial projects of James Marston Fitch, Elizabeth Gordon, and others, he demonstrates how images and diagrams produced by architects helped conceptualize climate knowledge, alongside the work of meteorologists, physicists, engineers, and social scientists. Barber describes how this novel type of environmental media catalyzed new ways of thinking about climate and architectural design.
    Extensively illustrated with archival material, Modern Architecture and Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning (Princeton UP, 2020) provides global perspectives on modern architecture and its evolving relationship with a changing climate, showcasing designs from Latin America, Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and Africa. This timely and important book reconciles the cultural dynamism of architecture with the material realities of ever-increasing carbon emissions from the mechanical cooling systems of buildings, and offers a historical foundation for today’s zero-carbon design.
    Daniel A. Barber is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design.
    Nushelle de Silva is a PhD candidate in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work examines museums and exhibitions, and how the dissemination of visual culture is politically mediated by international organizations in the twentieth century.
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    • 1 Std. 2 Min.

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