2017 has been a tumultuous year of environmental and social change. The year started with a new administration in Washington, a change which prompted many to address political division and environmental resentment, to reevaluate commitments to environmental science, and to think about how well geographical divisions and boundaries represent political interests. 2017 was also a record year for hurricanes and wildfires in the United States and around the world, once again drawing our attention to the social dimensions of natural disasters. Controversies over how to memorialize the past on the landscape took center stage this summer, and recent months have seen revived conversation about the role of women in the public sphere, making us question, yet again, why women have often been discredited, especially in the wild, and urging us to tell the untold stories of female ecologists and women’s environmental knowledge.
The Edge Effects editorial board has reviewed the challenging and hopeful writing we’ve published in the past year, and has identified three exciting directions of current environmental thinking. We hope our readers and contributors take these as inspiration for putting issues of equity and justice at the center of our collective engagement with cultural and environmental change across the full sweep of human history.
1. Understanding the past and future of climate change
Our contributors joined the increasingly urgent conversation—across disciplines and across the globe—about the impacts of climate change and how writers, artists, and activists should respond. Two artists gave us visually arresting pieces that help communicate losses and projected impacts of a changing climate: graphic visualizations by Jill Pelto and photographs of a melting Arctic by Nina Elder. We also featured several scholars on our podcast who are seeking to define and understand our present era of human-induced global change: Gregory Cushman explores the origins of the “Anthropocene,” while Jedediah Purdy examines its implications. Jason W. Moore, meanwhile, offers a more specific term, “the capitalocene,” that highlights the uneven complicity and burden of certain ideologies and places. Anna Tsing proposes that learning to live differently requires new ways of paying attention to our world, what she calls arts of living. And Tsing is not alone; in reviews of film, art, and literature, Addie Hopes, Helen Bullard, and Amy A. Free also highlight improbable beauty and affirmation in a changing world.
2. Crediting and celebrating overlooked environmental knowledge
The direct action of Water Protectors at Standing Rock made national headlines in 2016, becoming, what Winona LaDuke called on the Edge Effects podcast, “a Selma moment for all of us.” Responding both to this renewed national visibility of indigenous activism and to the many historically overlooked voices in environmental narratives, our contributors highlighted stories of native land sovereignty and marginalized environmental histories and knowledge. Larry Nesper offers his own account of a galvanized community at Standing Rock, while Louis Warren goes 100 years to the past to tell a lesser-known story of the Ghost Dance religion, not as the end of Native people, but as a map for their future. In podcast interviews, Savi Horne explains the work she does to combat the dispossession of land from African Americans who have farmed for generations, and Jeffrey Jackson and Charles Ross uncover stories of slaves who never held rights to the land they worked but upon which they built America’s college campuses. Writers also gave credit for advancing environmental knowledge where credit has been historically denied; in reviews of recent scholarly works, Maura Capps highlights the overlooked contributions of African ornithologists from the 18th through 20th century, and Jessica George brings to the fore the expertise of Chinese and European immigrants who supplied the Smithsonian’s fish collection in the late 19th century.
3. Examining unequal experiences of urban environments
American cities are growing, but histories of discrimination and segregation mean not everyone benefits from that growth equally. Several contributors engaged with issues of environmental injustice that result from uneven development within and among cities. Simon Balto critically reflects on African American historical engagement with Chicago’s outdoors, offering a reminder that going outside is not simply an embrace of nature but can come from limited access to other public spheres. Leif Fredrickson takes a different view on urban environments, examining the relationship, over the twentieth century, between declining inner-city air quality, racial segregation, and suburban commuters. Dawn Biehler, in a podcast interview, also focuses on health impacts of historical racial segregation, noting the increase in urban pests and mosquito-borne diseases in Baltimore’s disinvested African American neighborhoods. Rebecca Summer examines yet another unintended consequence of spatial segregation: cultural appropriation in gentrifying neighborhoods. But we found much to celebrate in cities as well, as Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues in her defense of built environments that better human welfare, and as Stepha Velednitsky and Jared Wood playfully explore in their review of an urban adventure game.
Thanks to all Edge Effects readers and contributors. We look forward to taking on 2018 with you!
Featured image: a compilation of photographs published in Edge Effects in 2017. Top left to right: Hmong farmworkers pick strawberries in Sonoma County, California. Photo by Ah Zut, June 2010; Glacial erratics. Photo by Nina Elder. Bottom left to right: A dump truck passing piles of flattened cardboard at a recycling center. Wikimedia Commons; Pin cushion. Photo by Sigrid Peterson; A crowded parking lot in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, 1973. U.S. National Archives.