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Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Mathilde Roussel’s drawings for The Philosopher’s Plant, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, for the feature’s final post, we would like to share a Pinterest board displaying Mathilde Roussel’s elegant drawings that accompany each chapter in The Philosopher’s Plant, along with a brief quote from the book explaining how each respective drawing refers to a philosopher that Marder discusses.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Follow Columbia University Press’s board Mathilde Roussel's drawings for The Philosopher's Plant, by Michael Marder on Pinterest.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds”

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, the final day of the feature, we are happy to share video of a lecture in which Marder “approaches the spatial and temporal meaning of seeds as the vehicles for preserving and augmenting life.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Affective Habitus, Seeds: Michael Marder on “The Sense of Seeds” from History of Emotions on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Michael Marder talks to BOMB Magazine

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview BOMB Magazine conducted with Michael Marder and artist Heidi Norton. We were only able to excerpt sections from Marder’s responses here, but be sure to head over to the BOMB Magazine website to read the interview in its entirety!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Monica Westin: I’d like to ask more about plants as a formal problem in each of your work. Michael, is there a way in which using an alternative hybrid form of writing about plants and philosophy is a deliberate choice to rethink plants as subjects, as living beings? Could there exist, whether or not you’re doing it here, a sort of “new writing” that can speak about plants better than those that we have? (I’m thinking about Irigaray’s famous work on women’s writing.) And Heidi, in describing that moment when you knew that plants were going to be central materials for you, you listed their formal properties: their adaptability, their strength, their simplicity. Can you say more about how they have posed formal issues to in your practice?

Michael Marder: Indeed, plant-thinking had to free itself from a purely theoretical approach to plants in order to explore the intersecting trajectories of living, growing beings, both human and vegetal. Some of these changes happened as I was working on The Philosopher’s Plant, where I re-narrate the history of Western philosophy through plants. In that book, each of the twelve thinkers I discuss, from Greek antiquity to the twenty-first century, is represented by a tree, flower, cereal, and so on, which was in one way or another featured in her or his thought. Each chapter begins with a biographical anecdote that puts plants on the center-stage and continues in a more theoretical key, explaining the key concepts and notions of that philosopher through vegetal processes, images, and metaphors. The idea is that plants play a much more important role in the formation of our thinking, “personality,” and life story than we realize. (more…)

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Nietzsche’s Jungle

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In The Philosopher’s Plant, Marder takes a close look at how different forms of plant life played important roles in the work of philosophers throughout history. Today, we are happy to present a blog post crossposted from Marder’s LARB Channel adapted from Marder’s chapter on Nietzsche in The Philosopher’s Plant.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Nietzsche’s Jungle
Michael Marder

Rumor has it that Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, began on January 3, 1889, when in broad daylight he embraced a horse that was being whipped on a street in Turin, Italy. It is, of course, tempting to see in this “mad” gesture a kind of cross-species identification of a beleaguered philosopher with an abused animal. We will never know with any degree of certainty what Nietzsche felt or thought at that precise moment. But we might surmise from his writings the common foundation of life, shared by humans, animals, and even plants. The name of this foundation is the will to power.

For Nietzsche, an attempt to understand life in all its manifestations could not afford to exclude either animals or plants from the general formula that only philosophy, rather than biology, could get at. Human, animal, and vegetal vitalities had to be viewed as variations on the same theme, namely a striving for existence. That is why roughly one year prior to his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche jotted down a question in his notebook: “For what do the trees in a jungle fight each other? For ‘happiness’?” And immediately responded: “—For power!—”[1]. Plato and his followers deduced the fact of vegetal desire from the wilting of plants that were deprived of water and therefore experienced something like thirst. Nietzsche goes further than that. His implicit conclusion is that, beneath a physical craving in all kinds of living creatures, we find a metaphysical longing for power. Or, to put it differently, for being. (more…)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Plant Lessons, by Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. Today, we are happy to present an article by Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, in which they discuss the need for an “environmental pedagogy” and explain some of the lessons that plant life can teach us. The post can also be found on Michael Marder’s Los Angeles Review of Books Channel

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Plant Lessons
Luce Irigaray and Michael Marder

One crucial measure of human maturity is the way we treat our environment. A careless and destructive approach toward the world, which is usually conceived as a kind of playground for the enactment of our phantasies, is irresponsible and childish. It shows no respect for other forms of life, a lack of concern with the future, and the inability to think and to grow beyond the demands of sheer physical survival.

Historically, there has been little change in the direction of a more adult behavior toward the environment. Among other living beings, plants have been particularly mistreated as a result of this attitude because they have been thought of as infinitely malleable matter, on which human form could be stamped or imposed, generally to the detriment of their own biological life. Indeed, Aristotle, who was the first to come up with the notion matter in the West, derived it from the common Greek word for “wood.” Like plants, matter was supposed to be a passive receptacle for the form that was, in many cases, alien to vegetal life. Although Aristotle was still attentive to living forms, after him, a tree converted into a table or a bed became the preferred example of formed matter, while the self-formation of the tree itself, amenable to patient cultivation and care, was dismissed.

When it comes to respect for the environment we are still children, or even infants. More than that, we are terrible, unruly children because, for the most part, we are not open to being educated on the subject. Only punishments, in the shape of natural disasters attributable to global warming, have had some effect on human behavior, awakening in us a consciousness of the negative consequences that accompany immature environmental conduct. Still, a genuine change of attitudes is unlikely as a result of threats and punishments alone. What is sorely needed is an environmental pedagogy—not one formulated by our fellow humans, but one imparted by parts of the world we inhabit. (more…)

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Herbarium Philosophicum, by Michael Marder

The Philosopher's Plant

This week our featured book is The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium, by Michael Marder, with drawings by Mathilde Roussel. In his prologue, Marder explains his goals in writing The Philosopher’s Plant, and briefly looks at the important role plants have played in the history of philosophical thought.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Philosopher’s Plant!

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

America’s Surging Rivers — A Post by Daniel McCool

Daniel McCool, River RepublicThe following is a post by Daniel McCool, author of River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers:

The movement to restore America’s rivers has seen tremendous progress in the last two years. The restoration of the Elwha River is nearing completion. Two dams, Elwha and Glines Canyon, were successfully removed by the summer of 2014, and salmon are already repopulating the river. The restoration of the Elwha required more than two decades of unyielding effort by restoration “instigators” (people I profile in River Republic), and their persistence finally paid off. The Elwha will undoubtedly become a model for other large restoration projects.

Another big victory occurred when a massive hole was blasted through Condit Dam on the White Salmon River; the dramatic blast and subsequent reservoir draining can be seen in a video produced for National Geographic:

(more…)

Friday, August 29th, 2014

H. H. Shugart on Comprehending the Earth

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. Shugart

“Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? … Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.”—H. H. Shugart

Fittingly enough, we conclude our week-long focus on H. H. Shugart’s Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job with an excerpt from the book’s conclusion “Comprehending the Earth”:

We live in a time of great need to understand our planet. We have the challenge of comprehending Earth as we simultaneously change the Earth. Are we creating the intellectual environment for creative, synthetic, and revolutionary researchers that can push us across the old boundaries into new paradigms? It is a not a question of letting scientists do what scientists do. It is a question for us all. Sadly, the politicization and the businessification of science may be taking the intellectual and creative environment in the opposite direction.

The tools at our disposal for the challenges in Earth-system science would be the envy of the environmental researchers who have come before us. We have satellite systems capable of remarkable measure­ments, along with a repository of innovative new systems on the shelf. Products of several of these are shown as illustrations in this text. However, the satellite constellation of the U.S. space agency, NASA, is falling into a state of disrepair. Some of this lost capability is being replaced by the orbiting instruments developed by other nations or by international and even commercial consortia. But overall, there is a loss of capability at this critical time. The conversion from satellite data provided free to researchers of any nation by NASA to a more nationally oriented, pay-as-you-go system may have a negative effect on creative, small-budget exploratory research.

(more…)

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Can We Change the Weather? H. H. Shugart on the Peril and Promise of Geoengineering

H. H. Shugart, Foundations of the Earth

One of the issues H. H. Shugart explores in Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job is whether and to what extent should humankind should see itself as “masters of nature”.

In the chapter, “Making Weather and Influencing Climate,” Shugart looks at geoengineering, one of the ultimate examples of humans trying to master nature. He examines both the possible benefits, such as remedying global warming, and the possible dangers. Here is the conclusion to that chapter:

It is no surprise that the power to control the weather is a principal dimension of divine omnipotence. Does the sensitivity of simulations of the Earth’s climate to inadvertent human changes in the atmosphere and the planet’s surface imply that geoengineering could be effective to manifest planetary-scale changes? In other words, if we can change the climate by accident, just think what we could do if we really put our minds to it. The stakes to control the weather have always been high.

Certainly, control of weather has both tactical and strategic war-fighting implications. Choosing to fight battles under favorable condi­tions has been an aspect of warfare since time immemorial. Predict­ing these conditions is intrinsic to modern warfare. Modifying the environment to favor one military opponent over another has been deployed in the past but is currently under international injunction through treaties.

If to intensify storms, blizzards, hurricanes, and hail is the ultimate weapon, then to moderate these same calamities is the ultimate magna­nimity. Breaking or causing droughts could control the fates of regions and cultures. Simply being able to produce rain at critical times during the growth and maturation process of crop plants could determine eco­nomic success or failure of agriculture at a myriad of scales. Issues asso­ciated with the geoengineering of the Earth have parallels with these issues. One problem is to know when and how geoengineering might favor one people or one nation over another. This was a persistent con­cern with respect to the USSR’s climate modification plans. The melt­ing of the Arctic Sea was one of the preferred Soviet schemes. The possibility of this event worsening climate elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere was a worrisome consequence of this action. Ironically, at the time of writing there is a decline in Arctic Sea ice attributed to a general warming of the Arctic.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

H. H Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth, takes the “Page 99 Test”

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartEarlier this summer, H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job took the Page 99 Test. Taken from a Ford Maddox Ford quote, the Page 99 Test asks authors to explain how page 99 of their book reveals larger themes and ideas that shape the entire work.

Here is an excerpt from Shugart’s response:

Page 99 of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and The Book of Job is the penultimate page of Chapter 4, “Freeing the Onager: Feral and Introduced Animals.” Foundations of the Earth poses global environmental problems in the context of a set of biblical questions, the Whirlwind Speech, found in Job: 38-40. The Joban questions initiate chapter discussions on such topics as, “Where did the solar system come from? How were animals domesticated? How do changes in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere imply global warming? How do climate and its change alter the world’s vegetation and vice versa?” Foundations of the Earth intends to demonstrate the intrinsic connectedness of the Earth’s systems, their dynamic change and their interactions with humans using these divine questions as a framework to provide additional connectedness. The book emphasizes environmental synthesis at large scales—regional to global scales in space; century to millennia to even longer scales in time. The mutual interactions among different Earth systems provide a unity to the text, so does the framework provided by the extraordinary questions from Job.

(more…)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth

“Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.”—H. H. Shugart

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartThe following is an interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Question: Science and religion are often seen as antagonistic and while you are not interested in “reconciling” the two, you have brought them together in Foundations of the Earth. How can science learn from the Book of Job, and religion more generally, in its approach to understanding some of the issues you consider in your book?

H. H.Shugart: Perhaps it’s best to answer from the specific case to the more general. The Whirlwind Questions in Job 38 to 41 begin with God’s challenge, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’” Many of following questions, asked by God to a man, are remarkably current—How did the cosmos form? Where did the oceans come from? What happens to the light that falls upon the Earth? What controls the boundary between ocean and land? What are the consequences of the changes we made to the land through domesticated animals (and eventually machines)? … Today, these whirlwind questions are compelled by scientific observations that we are changing our planet through our actions. It is rewarding to think that some of the questions that I see as immediately important as a scientist have such deep antiquity. They reach back two and one-half millennia to the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judea and likely even deeper in time.

Religion, particularly ethics, occupies a domain that extends from knowledge of how the planet functions to the essential human issue, “If our actions are altering Earth with potential risk to the survival of our species, how can we stop ourselves?” Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.

Q: How can a religious understanding of the “foundations of the earth,” and the environment be deepened by the scientific approach?

HHS: The Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki or “Rashi” (France 1040-1105) distinguished what a biblical text “says” from what it “means” in his Talmudic commentaries. Rashi was a remarkable scholar and his medieval biblical insights transcend history to be read, considered and studied today. His exemplary search for meaning and the consequently deeper appreciation of religious texts is central in many religious studies. I hope that Foundations of the Earth can provide a more profound appreciation of just how powerful the questions from the whirlwind really are from a scientific viewpoint. These questions are not merely clever riddles or tricky puzzles. They challenge us to appreciate Earth from multiple scales ranging from the greatness of the Oceans to the details of migrations of tiny birds. The whirlwind questions identify complete knowledge of Earth systems as the provenance of the Divine. One can pursue these questions but never completely understand them at their fullest depth. Such pursuit of always deepening questions also is the procedural manifesto of the scientific approach.

Q: How do both the “Whirlwind Speech” and recent environmental thinking move us away from seeing humans as masters of nature and more toward understanding humans as in nature?

HHS: The Whirlwind questions and recent thinking about the environment share the view that we lack and need better knowledge of the Earth and its systems. The wisdom to use this knowledge to understand our role in nature is a common thread in both.

From the environmental point-of-view, our modern stewardship of the Earth would seem a substantial disaster. Species are being lost at alarming rates. Local-scale environmental problems involving pollution, erosion and ecosystem misuse are legion. Global systems, such as the oceans and the atmosphere, due to our profligate use of the planet’s resources, are displaying measurable change with potentially dark consequences. If we are the masters who manage the Earth, we aren’t doing a bang-up job of it.

In the Whirlwind Speech, God’s questions are edgy with comments to Job of, “ … —surely you know!”; “Declare, if you know all this,”; “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, …” etc. It is pointed out that it rains in the desert were there are no people to benefit from the water. Through the text, animals laugh at people, ignore them, or conduct their lives independent of people’s actions. The Behemoth, a gigantic semiaquatic creature, is the “first of the great acts of God” and created before man. The Leviathan is a great fire-spitting sea-dragon that thoroughly intimidates humankind. In toto, the interrogation from the whirlwind substantially deflates the notion that the world was created for the mastery of humans.

(more…)

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job

Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job

“In this engaging and illuminating primer on environmental science, world ecosystems scholar Shugart… demonstrates that science knows a lot about the questions God asked Job, questions pertaining to the birth of the universe, the taming of wild beasts, the course of the stars and heavenly bodies… and more.” — Library Journal

This week our featured book is Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job, by H. H. Shugart

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, August 29 at 1:00 pm.

H. H. Shugart, W. W. Corcoran Chair in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, calls attention to the rich resonance between the Earth’s natural history and the workings of religious feeling, the wisdom of biblical scripture, and the arguments of Bible ethicists. Shugart offers a universal framework for recognizing and confronting the global challenges humans now face: the relationship between human technology and large-scale environmental degradation, the effect of invasive species on the integrity of ecosystems, the role of humans in generating wide biotic extinctions, and the future of our oceans and tides.

Read the introduction to Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Bangladesh, New York, and Florida after the Great Collapse of 2093

We conclude our week-long feature on The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway with three maps from 2393 that illustrate the ravages of climate change on Bangladesh, New York, and Florida. The commentary comes from a twenty-fourth century historian looking back at how twenty-first century leaders failed to react to the growing threats to the environment:

The Collapse of Western Civlization
Bangladesh Among North Americans, Bangladesh—one of the poorest nations of the world—served as an ideological battleground. Self-described “Climate Hawks” used it to levy moral demands for greenhouse gas reductions so that it would not suf­fer inundation, while so-called “Climate Realists” insisted that only economic growth powered by cheap fossil fuels would make Bangladeshis wealthy enough to save themselves. In reality, “unfettered economic growth” made a handful of Bangladeshis wealthy enough to flee. The poor were left to the floods.

The Collapse of Western Civilization, New York City
New York City in the twenty-fourth century Once the financial capital of the world, New York began in the early twenty-first century to attempt to defend its elabo­rate and expensive infrastructure against the sea. But that infrastructure had been designed and built with an expectation of constant seas and was not easily adapted to continuous, rapid rise. Like the Netherlands, New York City gradually lost its struggle. Ultimately, it proved less expensive to retreat to higher ground, abandoning centuries’ worth of capital investments.

(more…)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Naomi Oreskes on Why We Should Trust Scientists

In the following TED Talk, Naomi Oreskes, coauthor (with Erik M. Conway) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, discusses why we should trust scientists.

From the TED description:

Many of the world’s biggest problems require asking questions of scientists — but why should we believe what they say? Historian of science Naomi Oreskes thinks deeply about our relationship to belief and draws out three problems with common attitudes toward scientific inquiry — and gives her own reasoning for why we ought to trust science.

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Erik M. Conway on The Role of Neoliberalism in Climate Change

“Market fundamentalism allows us to continue believing that we’re not responsible for climate change or its impacts.”—Erik M. Conway

Erik M. Conway, The Decline of Western CivilizationThe following post is by Erik M. Conway, the coauthor (with Naomi Oreskes) of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

One of the important intellectual underpinnings of the American refusal to undertake significant efforts to mitigate climate change has been the economic doctrine of neoliberalism. The term is rather amorphous, and means different things to different people. Naomi Oreskes and myself use it in the sense of what George Soros called market fundamentalism. Market fundamentalists believe in the perfection of economic markets as they currently exist, and that only markets “free” of government interference can protect individual liberty.

There are many things wrong with market fundamentalism, but the aspect of it that’s preventing us from dealing with climate change effectively is that markets as they currently exist don’t account for the cost of pollution. It’s free to dump carbon dioxide and methane and many other things into the atmosphere. In other words, we use the atmosphere as an open sewer, and don’t charge anyone for dumping stuff into it. In economic terms, pollution is an “externality,” a thing that exists outside the market system.

Market fundamentalists like to speak of the “magic of the market place.” Somehow, they think, markets will magically fix these externalities. But markets can’t fix problems that are external to those markets, no matter how hard we wish they would. That sums up the problem. Market fundamentalism is a form of magical thinking. And unfortunately, otherwise reasonable people routinely engage in this sort of magical thinking.

The good news is that, at least in principle, it’s fairly easy to fix this externality. In the 1970s, economists interested in reforming environmental regulation away from what they called “command and control” restrictions towards more market-friendly policies revived an old idea, the idea of pollution pricing. Emissions trading, what we now refer to as “cap and trade,” was one way to establish a price on pollution. Pollution taxes are another (economists often call this kind of tax “Pigovian,” after their inventor, Arthur Pigou). Both are simply ways of extending the market system to cover air and water pollution as well.

(more…)

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Interview with Naomi Oreskes, author of The Collapse of Western Civilization

Interview Naomi OreskesThe following is an interview with Naomi Oreskes, coauthor of, with Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future:

Question: In The Collapse of Western Civilization you approach climate change as a fictionalized future historian of science. How does science fiction in this form provide a new way to look at climate change?

Naomi Oreskes: Scientists keep talking about disruptive climate change as something in the future, but the reality is that it is already underway. The post hoc voice (ironically) gives us a powerful way to talk about the present. It also allows us to convey what is at stake, not just for polar bears, or people in Bangladesh, but for us—our safety, our security, our way of life, even our national identity.

Q: You and Erik are both historians of science, how does an historical perspective help citizens and policymakers better understand the issues surrounding climate change?

Oreskes: In contrast to scientists, historians reject reductionist approaches. Viewing climate change as historians, we are able to consider not just the scientific dimensions, but also the political, the cultural, and the ideological aspects.

Q: What is the relationship between our current market-based economy and climate change? Is it the problem or can it offer a solution?

Oreskes: Both. A major point of the story is that the climate change was a market failure, but one that could have been fixed had people not been gripped by magical thinking.

Q: What are the threats to democracy and personal freedom posed by climate change and its effects?

Oreskes: Disruptive climate change threatens democracy—threatens democratic institutions—and personal freedom, because natural disasters require massive governmental responses, and invite the federal government to usurp local and individual authority.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen movements on college campuses to divest from fossil fuels gaining momentum. Do you think this will likely have an impact on climate change and the politics surrounding it?

Oreskes: Absolutely. It’s having an impact already.

Q: Finally, do you think climate change will be a prominent issue in the 2016 presidential campaign?

Oreskes: We’re historians. We don’t predict the future. At least, not unless it’s in fiction.

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Collapse of Western Civilization, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

The Collapse of Western Civilization

This week our featured book is The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Collapse of Western Civilization to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 11 at 1:00 pm.

“A chilling view of what our history could be. Ignore it and it becomes more likely. Read this book, heed its warning, and perhaps we can avoid its dire predictions.” — Timothy Wirth, vice chairman, United Nations Foundation, and former U.S. Senator and Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Read the introduction and the first chapter, “The Coming of the Penumbral Age”:

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Interview with Steven Cohen, Author of Understanding Environmental Policy

Steven A Cohen

“You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.”—Steven Cohen

In a recent interview with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Steven Cohen discussed the second edition of his book Understanding Environmental Policy.

In the interview, Cohen considers the distinctively interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy and how that is both a positive and a negative:

One of the things that has always struck me about environmental policy is that it’s very interdisciplinary. It incorporates law, politics, environmental science, engineering, and more. At the same time, most of the experts only know one field: economists consider the environmental problem one of market failure and engineers think of environmental protection as an issue related to pollution-control technology. I wanted to develop a framework that explicitly looked at all the factors I considered important to environmental policy—the underlying values, science and technology, economics, public policy and management.

Cohen also offers a fascinating overview of how studying the environment has changed over time and the ways in which Bloomberg’s policies in New York underscored these developments:

The environment as an issue has evolved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries [in the United States], it was Teddy Roosevelt preserving the west, preserving wild areas, and creating national parks. In the 1960s and ’70s it became an issue of public health. People like Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson talked about the spread of toxics through the ecosphere. By the time I got to the EPA in the late 1970s the health aspects of the environment were starting to dominate. And in the last decade, the field of economic development and the environment seem to have combined; we talk about sustainability and protecting the environment because it’s the source of our [collective] wealth.

You can look at [former New York City mayor] Mike Bloomberg as an illustration of this. He’s didn’t enter office as an environmentalist. But in the middle of his first term, his planners said the city will gain a million people by 2030. He quickly understood the impact of that growth on our quality of life and insightfully asked: How does that kind of growth affect the city’s use of energy and water? How will it affect traffic? So Bloomberg developed PlaNYC 2030 [which took these factors into consideration]. A lot of environmental policy is about preserving scarce resources, and in New York City one of the scarcest resources is surface space on streets south of 59th Street.

The field has really morphed over the years. I use the word environment and sustainability almost interchangeably now. We have to preserve the planet because we’re all biological creatures. You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.

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Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Arnold van Huis Discusses Eating Insects with Nature

The Insect Cookbook

In a recent interview with Nature, Arnold van Huis discussed eating insects and the recently published The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet:

Question: How did you get involved in entomophagy?

Arnold van Huis: I’m a tropical entomologist, very much involved in pest management and biological control in the tropics. Locusts are one of my specialized areas. I had a sabbatical and I spent that studying the cultural aspects of insects in Africa. So I visited about 24 countries, interviewing a lot of Africans about insects as medicine, insects in proverbs, et cetera, but often half of my interviews were about edible insects. In the beginning for me it was kind of a hobby. But when we started to look at it more seriously, we thought, ‘Well, this is a very good alternative to what we are currently doing’.

Q: What excites you the most about the upcoming meeting [a conference opening on 14 May in Wageningen]?

AVH: It’s the first time that everybody in this field will come together on a world scale. Insects are still more or less considered a poor man’s diet. It still has that reputation. In the tropics they don’t talk about it, because they know that in the Western world people consider it primitive. I also found that a lot of people say, ‘When we have more wealth, we will switch to a Western diet’ — the hamburger instead of the insects. And I hope we can change this perception of insects as food during this conference.

Q: Is the scientific field of entomophagy growing?

AVH: In the Western world it was rather limited ten years ago. I was one of the few who really started to work on it. There are people who have done quite some research on it — mainly in the fields of ethno-biology and ethno-entomology. But it was considered a peculiar habit of people in the tropics. Never was it looked at as something we could do as well.

The last ten years I’ve seen an exponential increase in interest. When we published the book last year, it had 6 million downloads. It just shows the tremendous interest.

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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Michael Mann Discusses Climate Change on Charlie Rose

Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, appeared on Charlie Rose to discuss the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change most recent report on global warming.

Joined by Jeffrey Sachs and Michael Oppenheimer, Mann discussed what the report had to say about climate change’s impact on agriculture and extreme weather, and how global warming is likely to further impact the world’s economy in the coming years. He also considered how politicians have responded to and failed to respond to the looming challenges presented by climate change: