Edgy Stuff: November 2014 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.
Mohammed Rafi Arefin
This month I recommend an article and a few related links that explore extraterrestrial litter. An article in the Washington Post discusses what we’ve left behind on our missions to the moon—namely, a lot of trash. NASA keeps a fascinating catalog of moon garbage that is both revealing and hilarious. Extraterrestrial trash is not limited to bags of urine, golf balls, and wet wipes strewn on the surface of the moon. Space trash or as it is officially known orbital debris, exists in surprisingly large quantities. Caught in Earth’s orbit, space trash is tracked by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office. Visualizations of this data are at once beautiful and terrifying, forcing us to reconsider the reach of our environmental impacts.
“History was secreted in the glands of a million historians,” or at least so writes John Steinbeck in his 1952 classic East of Eden. After languishing on my bedside table for far longer than I’d like to admit, Steinbeck’s sweeping tale of struggle, love, time, and place carried me over the holiday weekend to the Salinas Valley, just south of my own hometown in California’s Santa Cruz County. The prose is place-bound, winding its way through oaks and willows, the plot periodically anchored to the ways water moves differentially through the landscape. References to the valley’s geologic time scale make the sweep of Steinbeck’s narrative feel all the more significant—as though his characters’ lives and the formation of mountains are equally important to the story of Salinas Valley. Steinbeck’s ability to span decades while making my own reading time disappear is inspirational.
There’s been a lot of fuss about Christopher Nolan’s grand and grandiose film, “Interstellar.” In a sentence: Earth is turning into an oxygen-starved dust bowl thanks to a “blight” that’s taking out food crops one by one; Matthew McConaughey plays an ex-NASA farmer who blasts off to another galaxy in search of a replacement planet. No matter how you cut it, the film is full of problems; maybe the best term for it is “preposterous epic.” But it’s worth seeing, both to wallow in its visual splendor and to consider its environmental position. Is it claiming that Earth is a lost cause? Does it participate in post-apocalyptic fantasy? Is it a call to action? Or is it an ultimately vacuous story about love with a catchy hook? I say, see it and make up your own mind.
Richard C. Keller
Although it’s not quite a new release, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007) has been on my nightstand for the past week. The book is a fascinating meditation on what would happen if humans suddenly disappeared from Earth—by the Rapture, through a virus, or some other human-specific cause. How long would it take for nature to reclaim the planet from our doings? What results is a marvelous story about the Anthropocene, indicating at once how permanent and how ephemeral the human presence is. Of particular note are chapters about nature reclaiming New York (faster than you’d think) and plastics in the oceans (longer than you’d think), as well as the African paradox: the site that has experienced the longest human presence may bear the fewest of our traces.
The human microbiome—the complicated ecologies of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other micro-critters inhabiting our bodies—has been on my mind quite a bit this month. But it turns out that plants also have a microbiome. The latest episode of Nicola Twilley and Cynthia Graber’s Gastropod looks at one particular plant microbe—mycorrhizal fungi—and the role they play in everything from agricultural productivity to heat tolerance. In fact, the emergence of plant probiotics suggests we’ll be seeing a second Green Revolution in the coming decades: a Microbe Revolution.
“Charming.” “Ingenious.” “So, so weird.” These are some of the adjectives that friends—and, more recently, my students—have used to describe Berlin-based filmmaker Robert Loebel’s 2013 animated short “WIND” (watch it below). Part fable, part imaginative romp, Loebel’s four-minute piece depicts a world in which inhabitants must shape their daily lives around a continually blowing stiff breeze. What’s the moral of the film? That’s yours to decide, but certainly play remains central to Loebel’s mission—a charge I take to heart in the midst of my serious academic studies.