The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
I’m not a big Black Friday shopper, though I do usually take advantage of the deals each year to buy myself some deeply discounted socks or a new pair of winter gloves. This year, I found myself wondering exactly what the environmental impacts of Black Friday and its companion, Cyber Monday, have been. Turns out, I’m far from the only one. In 2009, Treehugger, a website featuring articles on sustainability, published an article claiming that Black Friday’s carbon footprint was 50 times larger than that of Cyber Monday. However, online shopping has grown significantly in popularity since then, and several articles have since pointed out that ordering from home many not actually be any greener than taking a trip to the store. In the end, my inquries led me to Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, Overdressed. While Cline doesn’t weigh in on the driving vs. delivery debate, she points out that it may in fact be my interest in snagging cheap socks rather than saving up for a sturdier pair that does the most environmental damage. Her book points out that since cheap clothes that must be repeatedly replaced, we all pay hidden environmental costs.
Back in August I wrote about the efforts of public health officials seeking to curb the spread of the Zika virus. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of organizations and countries around the world, enough progress has been made that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently downgraded Zika from a “global health emergency.” Although this indeed reflects a promising step, there is still much about the virus that scientists are still struggling to understand, including its long-term effects on male fertility and why, in certain cases, microcephaly can develop months after a child was born with ostensibly no signs of disease. So before assuming that Zika was just another health crisis de jour—and before booking your holiday vacation to a Zika-prone area—be sure to keep monitoring the progress and challenges of avoiding the virus.
On a recent evening walk through a park in New York City, two small creatures tumbled onto the path in front of my feet and then quickly darted off into the night. Accustomed to the cute (though admittedly rather disheveled) bunnies of Madison, Wisconsin, I wondered what kind of wildlife these little playful urban mammals could be. When I realized they were rats, all warm sentiment was immediately replaced with the cold shock of disgust. But why would I find one urban creature cute, and another so repellant? Tara Holmberg, a contributor to The Seed Box Blog, offers one compelling answer in an essay posted earlier this week titled “On ‘wastable’ urban animals.” Like geographer Dawn Biehler’s book, Pests in the City, Holmberg’s post offers insight into the complicated web of relationships we have with the animals that live beside us in our cities.
Helen J. Bullard
This Thanksgiving, the world lost a profoundly inspirational and dear human being, Pauline Oliveros. Founder of the Deep Listening method, pioneering giant of experimental electronic music, lifelong campaigner for gender and racial equality, and champion for sonic environments of all kinds, I know I speak for many when I say that Pauline’s love for community, the earth, and people were also among her greatest gifts. Take a little time to know Pauline this week. I recommend A Love Song (music by Pauline Oliveros, 1985), Bye Bye Butterfly (music by Pauline Oliveros, 1965), “The difference between hearing and listening” (TEDx talk by Pauline Oliveros, 2015), and “Write Soon and Tell All” (article by Shaila Dewan, 1999).
… one of my favorite sounds in the world is the sound of the loon! … on a lake in the upper North East. It’s such an amazing sound, you know? I love that sound!
–Pauline Oliveros, January, 2013
Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Antarctica to bring attention to the global climate change visible in the ice of the frozen continent. His visit, complete with Weddell seals and an Adélie penguin, reminded me of another journey to Antarctica with a similar purpose: the 1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition brought together men from six countries and a large dog team for a seven-month, 3,741-mile trip across the continent. Chief among the expedition’s goals was to bring international attention to the early signs of climate change. Cathy de Moll, who helped organize the logistics for the expedition, recently published a memoir recounting her experiences getting “six men and forty dogs across Antarctica.” Think South will interest readers looking for histories of environmental stewardship as well as extreme adventure.
Allow me to take a quick break from encouraging everyone I meet to subscribe to our new podcast to recommend another. Give a listen to Who Makes Cents? A History of Capitalism Podcast. It’s a collaboration between Betsy Beasley and David Stein, American Studies scholars at Harvard University and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively. Each month they interview historians and social and cultural critics about work coming out of the booming subfield that seeks to “identify capitalism as the object of historical scrutiny—rather than labor or business or the state.”
Fans of Edge Effects might enjoy starting with Episode 6, in which the hosts talk with Andrew Needham of New York University about his book, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest, winner of the 2015 George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society for Environmental History. The conversation begins with Needham sharing how it was a map of the southwestern electrical grid that helped him envision this project that unites environmental, urban, and Native American history.
Long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro died Friday night. Whatever you think of Castro’s politics, he was undeniably a giant of history. He led the Cuban revolution, converted the country to socialism, and thumbed his nose at U.S. policy from 90 miles off the Florida coast for nearly 50 years before stepping down from the presidency for health reasons. This moment provides an opportune time to reflect on one of the most impressive feats of Cuban state socialism: surviving an oil drought. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, Cuba lost billions of dollars’ worth of subsidized sugar and tobacco sales—with which it imported close to 100% of its food supply—along with its source of petroleum and machinery that fueled the most industrialized, export-oriented agriculture system in Latin America. The results were a few years of widespread hunger and a decade-long experiment in post-petroleum survival dubbed by the Cubans the “Special Period in a Time of Peace.” Through a dramatic shift toward small-scale, cooperative, and organic agriculture, the country demonstrated that concerted state policy can bring about the kind of revolutionary system change needed to move away from fossil fuels and climate catastrophe. While Cuba never reached total independence from fossil fuel and food imports, by the late 1990s the country could boast most advanced system of modern sustainable agriculture in the world. The country’s efforts are showcased in the 1996 Food First documentary The Greening of Cuba—which is well worth watching and ruminating on during your holiday feasts.
Having just returned from visiting my large extended family in Pittsburgh, I am brimming with stories about the history and customs of this industrial city. From becoming reacquainted with the city’s own language, Pittsburghese, to eating the trademark sandwich at Primanti’s Bros., to hearing hours of stories from three generations who grew up in the city, I spent three days absorbing the city’s sense of place. One of the Pittsburgh oddities that got a lot of attention this visit was the Pittsburgh Left, and how this unwritten rule of the road will fare now that Uber has initiated its driverless car program in the city. This short video of two Pittsburgh Steelers going for a test ride explains the driving mechanisms. While this promotional video will certainly be appealing to Steelers fans, it remains to be seen if the self-driving cars will be programmed to abide by local customs like the Pittsburgh Left. My bet is no, and as the city and others become more friendly to tech companies, we’ll see how the sense of place changes as well.
Featured image: Large turkey feather. Photo by Gunther Cox. CC 1.0.