Edge Effects: 2014 In Review

Although Edge Effects only just launched in the final months of last year, we on the editorial board thought the site still deserved a 2014 retrospective—not that we’re biased or anything.

This marks the 30th post on Edge Effects, joining a broad stream of content ranging from essays and reviews, to “listicles” and even audio. A few themes have stood out during the site’s relatively brief tenure. The Anthropocene often held the spotlight on Edge Effects in connection with the Center for Culture, History, and Environment’s (CHE) Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities Slam. Our authors also regularly explored questions of environmental inequality in posts that examined everything from the politics of garbage in Cairo to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And while a host of other important themes have emerged on Edge Effects over the last three months (e.g.,  animalsfood and agricultureurban environmentswaste) it’s worth noting just how prominently the arts have featured in our posts. Film and photography, poetry, and even video games have all helped Edge Effects live up to its mission of publishing environmental content that lies at the intersection of the sciences and humanities.

In what follows, our editors offer their thoughts on some notable, and perhaps overlooked, posts from Edge Effects in 2014.

—Adam Mandelman, Managing Editor

Mohammed Rafi Arefin

Emmanuel Urey standing over the ruins of the once-grand Ducor Hotel and looking over the slum community of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Sarita Siegel.

Emmanuel Urey standing over the ruins of the once-grand Ducor Hotel and looking over the slum community of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Sarita Siegel.

As one of our first posts, “The Invisible War: Emmanuel Urey on Ebola in Liberia” highlighted CHE’s engagement with inequality and environmental politics. Marred by racialized fears of contagion, the coverage of the Ebola crisis lacked a human voice. Emmanuel Urey not only brought a personal story to the crisis, but also forefronted Ebola’s lasting implications for a range of issues affecting global megacities, including food security, the public’s fear and distrust of government, and public health. This post emerged out of a collaboration between a CHE faculty member, a graduate associate, and the editorial board. For me, this post and the process of putting it together represents the exciting opportunities Edge Effects allows for our community to address timely concerns in environmental politics.

Rachel Boothby

Directors Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno in “The Yes Men Fix the World.”

Having just recommended a nightmarish post-apocalyptic film featuring cannibalism, it is with great joy that I call your attention to Peter Boger’s delightful post from October, Serious Laughs: Environmental Films that Provoke Thought… and Chuckles. Rather than relinquishing environmental film to the depressing or esoteric, Boger encourages us to allow humor to “open minds and hearts” to the often difficult issues that the genre tackles. This curated list includes both the whimsical and the bizarre, with films that are light-hearted but not dismissive. So why not ring in the New Year with Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, or perhaps Pixar’s Wall-E? We can undoubtedly look forward to more of Boger’s attentiveness to human emotion and its transformative potential in November 2015 when the Nelson Institute’s environmental film festival Tales from Planet Earth returns with the theme “Belief.”

Spring Greeney

Elizabeth Kolbert. Photo by Barry Goldstein.

Elizabeth Kolbert. Photo by Barry Goldstein.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Sarah Dimick’s very smart interview with New Yorker staff writer and environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, consider this your second prompting to do so. Dimick’s incisive questions inspire the environmental journalist, who was in Madison in November as keynote speaker for the Anthropocene Slam, to speak at length about her writing process: the challenges of storytelling at hyper-disparate scales (planetary, microbial), the conditions under which one should include—or exclude—oneself as a character in one’s reportage, and the meaning of an “honest ending” in a book about rapid species extinction. If that doesn’t leave you inspired to think differently about your own writing, then add another voice to the conversation: that of Gillian Blake, editor of Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction and featured co-conspirator in this lively recent Slate interview. Blake and Kolbert’s conversation serves as useful reminder that smart readers make us better writers—so thanks for your readership, Edge Effects followers!


Nathan Jandl

Algae Bloom at Fish Lake, WI. Photo by David H. Thompson.

Algae Bloom at Fish Lake, WI. Photo by David H. Thompson.

It is perhaps predictable that the only English PhD student on the editorial board would choose a poetry post, but I make no apologies for wanting to highlight Heather Swan’s “An Incantation to be Spoken Lakeside,”  which is a gorgeous and devastating poem about blue-green algae blooms. In it, we are lulled by wave-like, sparsely punctuated lines that gently amplify the “embrace of the unconditional” that watery places offer; then we feel the insidious effects of phosphorus runoff, which flows into the lake and, it seems, into the poem itself. Swan’s words wilt even as they persist, infused by the qualities of a lake that “trembles,” “doubles the birds passing through,” “reflects the things we love,” but “does not discriminate or warn.” And yet the poem does warn: “An Incantation to be Spoken Lakeside” is a spell meant to enchant us out of complacency, to conjure forth the magical qualities of the waters that we love and must therefore learn to protect.

John Suval

A relict mining landscape surrounds The Big Pit Museum in Blaenavon, Wales. Photo by Andy Davey.

A relict mining landscape surrounds The Big Pit Museum in Blaenavon, Wales. Photo by Andy Davey.

A lovely camaraderie invariably takes hold during the CHE’s annual Place-Based Workshop, but what makes these events so remarkable, for me, is the subtle engagement that occurs between individual participants and the landscapes they encounter. Andy Davey and Rebecca Summer exemplify that engagement in their evocative reflections on the Miners Memorial Heritage Park in Ironwood, Michigan, one of the well-chosen sites from this past spring’s workshop on Landscapes of Extraction. Andy contemplates the riddle confronting the park’s creators: how to honor a mining past that was a source of livelihood and pride, but also of danger and disappointment? In a beautifully crafted piece, he turns for insights to Blaenavon, a Welsh town that has created a museum out of its Big Pit mine. Rebecca, meanwhile, keeps to the green spaces and scarred hillsides of Ironwood, taking readers on a vivid tour that gradually, hauntingly peels back layers of the past, recovering stories that continue to reverberate. We hope many others will follow in Rebecca and Andy’s footsteps and experience for themselves this place where past and present converge in surprising ways. (Readers who revisit Rebecca and Andy’s posts will have the added treat of encountering Daniel Grant’s gripping essay on an 80-foot headframe near Hurley, Wisconsin that punctuates the landscape like an exclamation point on the region’s mining past).



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