Edgy Stuff: August 2016 Recommendations
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.
As an homage to the two months I just spent in Indonesia, this month I’d like to highlight the bank sampah or “waste banks” that are popping up all over the country. In contrast to ordinary methods of waste management in Indonesia (burning, landfill), bank sampah focus on utilizing multiple processes of recycling including composting, fuel production, and turning trash into art. I was lucky enough to visit Bank Sampah Makmur in my host city of Salatiga. The small facility collects trash from half a dozen nearby neighborhoods. According Bapak Gito, the bank’s owner, for every 30 kilograms of trash collected, only 6 eventually end up in a landfill. Bapak Gito and his crew turn plastics into motorcycle fuel, turn small buts of trash into mosaics, and use organic waste to raise goats. (In fact, even the waste produced by the goats is reused as fertilizer for the garden.) Like the community compost sites mentioned in Guy Schaffer’s “Wasting Space,” bank sampah provide glimpses of exciting new solutions to our waste problems, provided we are willing to get a little dirty.
The Zika virus seems to be everywhere these days. Initially affecting Latin American countries like Brazil and Puerto Rico, the virus has continued to travel north, with confirmed cases now reported in Florida, Texas, and New York. To help inform yourself about the Zika virus—and learn enough fun-facts to keep your hypochondriac friends at bay—the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is offering a free online course. Preventing the Zika Virus: Understanding and Controlling the Aedes Mosquito is a three-week class (four hours per week) led by Dr. James Logan, a Senior Lecturer in medical entomology. You can register now online, or check the website for relevant news and lecture materials.
Somehow August is nearly over, and many of us are preparing to step back into the classroom. This month, I’m sharing three of my favorite web-based course materials with you here as a sort of bundled recommendation. If you’re interested in content related to food and agriculture, check out MIT’s Food and Power in the 20th Century; if a review or an introduction to political ecology is what you’re looking for, ENTITLE’s Political Ecology syllabus for postgraduates is a great place to start; and, finally, CHE’s own Elizabeth Hennessy’s site Teaching the Globe, featuring a number of syllabi and lesson plans developed by students in her graduate seminar in 2015, is an incredible resource for teachers throughout the environmental humanities.
Helen J. Bullard
This week, as the National Park Service celebrates its centennial with a Happy Birthday television commercial, I’ve been distracted by a different advertisement. The Subaru advert, recently circulated by National Geographic, spotlights Denali National Park & Preserve and the Zero Landfill Initiative–partnered by Subaru. Subaru claims “all waste recycled or reused,” making them “America’s first Zero-Landfill auto-maker.” This is great news! But I find it difficult to watch a commercial produced by a player in the petroleum industry that suggests that the real problem is National Park tourism.
Advertisements promoting the next 100 years of the National Park Service got me thinking back to the origins of the NPS. One of the documents that helped lead to the passage of the National Park Service Act in 1916 was Robert Sterling Yard’s National Parks Portfolio, published in 1915. If the pamphlets selling railroad tours and grand hotels piques your interest, check out a century of news coverage of these natural playgrounds in this New York Times assemblage. While I don’t have much nostalgia for the “constant din of automobile horns” one visitor to Yosemite described in 1928, I do appreciate the aesthetics of the interwar park advertising. So do thousands of artists around the country, many of whom have contributed to the See America poster campaign. Drawing on the legacy and often the style of New Deal arts projects, the modern campaign invited artists to contribute to a crowdsourced collection that celebrates “shared natural landmarks and treasured sites.”
Do you remember when you first learned that maps can lie? That might be a needlessly pejorative way of describing the distortions of the Mercator projection, enlarging landmasses near the poles and shrinking those near the equator. But most of us tend to arrive at the topic at an age when our moral trigger finger is itchy. So we equated continent size with geopolitical power, the distortions with nefarious plotting, and cried foul at an India drawn Texas-sized, despite being nearly five times larger.
In this well-reasoned, teachable short piece for Al Jazeera, Nick Danforth dismantles the presumption that the Mercator projection reflects and propagates Euroamerican biases. He puzzles over how little we think of Greenland, “despite seeing it hanging there like a giant icy sword of Damocles atop every wall map.” And he asks why, if European empires were concerned with cartographic square-inches, they wouldn’t want their colonial holdings to appear as large as possible. He makes his case with lots of engrossing illustrations, the kind that populate his terrific blog, Afternoon Map.
In case you missed it on the evening news, thousands of Native Americans organized by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have camped out on the North Dakota prairie to shut down construction of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline. The $3.8 billion pipeline is slated to carry 470,000 barrels per day of crude oil from fracking operations in the Bakken Shale of western North Dakota to Illinois, crossing the Missouri River on historic tribal lands just beyond the boundary of the Standing Rock Reservation. The Camp of the Sacred Stones has met stiff resistance from local law enforcement, who have arrested over a dozen protesters including the Chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, David Archambault II. In an August 24 New York Times Op-Ed, Archambault lays out in succinct and compelling terms what’s at stake in the blockade for his tribe and for a water supply depended upon by millions.
It’s probably safe to assume that food waste doesn’t make you smile. But it might when it makes you confront your own quirky habits. Nora Caplan-Bricker reviews the work of Austrian performance artists and designers Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, also known as Honey and Bunny, in The New Yorker this week. Caplan-Bricker interviews the artists and showcases videos of their performances, in which they enact familiar scenes of consuming food, but always “do something wrong.” These scenes highlight both the strangeness of taken-for-granted social norms, and the ways these norms perpetuate production of environmental wastes and inequality. Their playful and provocative commentary gives new visual meaning to the notion that eating is a political act, and it just might make you smile.