Edgy Stuff: July 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.
A summer road trip through Oregon and Washington gave me some perspective on how
residents of the Pacific Northwest are dealing with the looming threat of a potentially catastrophic earthquake. In the past year, a great deal of attention has chronicled the so-called Cascadia Subduction Zone that runs south from Vancouver for nearly 600 miles; Kathryn Schulz has written a particularly gripping account. More than just hearing about people’s fears over the scale of the earthquake’s possible destruction, I was curious about how the idea of Cascadia was impacting daily life. These conversations lead me to revisit Thurston Clarke’s 1997 novel California Fault. Traversing the San Andreas Fault–the Cascadia’s better-known yet likely weaker cousin to the south–the novel explores how life in an active quake zone permeates the culture of the region itself. Two decades after the book’s release, California Fault still offers a compelling look into how the invisible threat of climate events help mold our day-to-day realities.
This month I recommend a recent Civil Eats commentary on the relationship between food justice and racial equity. In striking parallel to Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity Laura Pulido’s comments in an interview we posted last week, food justice leaders of color from writer-scholar Raj Patel to Detroit food security activist Malik Yakini argue that white supremacy underpins injustice in our food system, and that it is therefore crucial that conversations about sustainable food include discussions of structural racism.
Helen J. Bullard
Full disclosure: I am outing myself as a world-looper this summer, and I’m not happy about it. Having left Wisconsin in intense heat with air conditioning units pumping to their max, Melbourne felt like a beautiful European autumn, and Sydney like the spring (both technically, of course “the winter”). Now, I am writing to you from an English summer–sunburn-hot and storming–with no air conditioner. My struggles with the ethics of my summer feel only intensified by the range of climates and seasons that I just travelled through. Last year, sustainable design writer Lloyd Alter wrote Why are we so reliant on air conditioning? (It’s not just climate change, it’s bad design). While this short article doesn’t manage to address several important points–not least of all the “just”–it resonated pretty loudly for me when I stumbled across it last week. It’s an interesting starting place for the relatively unenlightened, like me. Transitioning back to an air-conditioned Midwest is going to be a lot harsher for it!
During a trip through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore earlier this month, I drank the cold and clear (and filtered) water of Lake Superior. This easy access to water reminded me of the debates of the last few years about who has the rights to water in the Great Lakes Watershed, which includes eight U.S. states as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Until last month, however, it did not include Waukesha, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee with radium-contaminated groundwater that falls just a few miles outside of the watershed. The governors of the eight Great Lakes states voted in June, 2016 to allow Waukesha to divert water from Lake Michigan. To understand the history of the 8.2 million gallon daily gulps that Waukesha will be taking from Lake Michigan, turn to this popular piece by Kurt Chandler written before the June vote, or this more historically-grounded piece by Daniel Macfarlane, published just after the vote.
Days of caring for a feverish toddler broke my resolve against screen time, and we found ourselves in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The show, which ran from 1966 to 2001, will be remembered for its outsize role in the histories of children’s entertainment, child psychology, and the cardigan. But it is also one of the great chronicles of American landscapes of production amid deindustrialization. Fred Rogers took for granted his young viewers’ curiosity about the material world that surrounds them and routinely escorted them onto the factory floor. He brought my son and me down into a limestone mine, north of his native Pittsburgh, which had become the world’s largest mushroom farm. It owed its success to braided environmental histories: limestone’s role in steelmaking, Quakers’ interest in mushroom growing, substrate made from Hershey’s leftover cocoa shells and the byproducts of local stables, the expense of artificial cooling, as well as the cultural desire for a pure white mushroom, which must be grown in total darkness. It’s a fascinating dispatch from a subterranean neighborhood. Thanks yet again, Mr. Rogers.
You might not be familiar with Murray Bookchin. Depressed and cynical, he passed away in 2006 at age 85. Bookchin was a born radical who took part in many of the momentous social movements of the 20th century, but he broke from his Marxist-Leninist roots over the twin horrors of Stalinist bureaucracy and environmental pollution from industrial society. His critiques of the political Left and the environmental movement earned him the ire of both camps, leading to the repeated failures of his coalition-building projects. But now, writes Damian White in a review of a new biography by Bookchin’s longtime partner Janet Biehl, Bookchin’s groundbreaking theory of Social Ecology is seeing new light. From scholars writing on climate change and the Anthropocene to Kurdish freedom fighters in Syria, “Bookchin seems to be everywhere,” says White. His review suggests that those looking for the kinds of system change and landscape change necessary to head off climate catastrophe might do well to read up on Bookchin’s decentralized, communitarian approach.
In a month filled with news of terrible violence at home and abroad, it is difficult to step back and make meaning of each horrible instance. Drawing connections between our own day-to-day work and the work of trying to make the world more just can be even more difficult. This month, I recommend a piece published here on Edge Effects by CHE graduate affiliates Mohammed Rafi Arefin and Danya Al-Saleh, who urge environmental scholars to make their work relevant in a time of racialized violence in the United States. Their message, just as applicable a year and a half later, is an important reminder that scholars can–and must–apply their knowledge to address present-day injustice. The work of University of California, Davis professors Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze on environmental justice and police violence, profiled this week in CityLab, from The Atlantic, is one example of what this might look like.