Category: Environmental History

Saving the Last Ocean

We hear a lot in the news about the Antarctic ice sheet melting – but other than climate change, it’s hard to imagine what else threatens a place so cold, so remote, and so seemingly barren. What other ecological protection could the southern continent possibly need? But Antarctica is…a really weird place. No single country “owns” or governs Antarctica, so decisions about conservation are a huge challenge that involve diplomacy and cooperation. On today’s show, we learn about polar history and the recent fight to save the surprisingly biodiverse waters of Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

Image: John B. Weller

Interview: Camille Dungy

How do cultural constructs, like race, influence our relationship to the natural world? Poet and professor Camille Dungy explores this question by highlighting African-American voices in her 2009 anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. In this conversation with producer Jackson Roach, Camille shares her perspective on the intersection of race, identity, history, and the human-environment relationship.

Interview: Odile Madden

One word: PLASTICS! Plastics get a bad rep when it comes to the environment, but at the same time, we all benefit from this often maligned material. Today on the show, producer Miles Traer talks to materials scientist Odile Madden of the Smithsonian. What plastic artifacts define the modern era, and what should we preserve in museums? Are we in the Plastic Age, and if the Anthropocene boundary were defined by plastics, what would the global marker be?

Climate Change: The Beginning

Humans have been altering the climate for a long time – but how long, exactly? This question is central to the Anthropocene debate. When did the human population collectively achieve colossal power that can be equated with geologic power? Was it at the start of the Industrial Revolution? Back during the Agricultural Revolution? And how on earth do climatologists pinpoint a date? This week, producer and resident READ MORE

The Nature of Disney

Disney movies have captured the imaginations of children and adults for decades. The endearing characters, the colorful landscapes, and the epic tales of heroism carry a sense of wonder and playfulness. But what we rarely notice is that woven into many of these films is a deeper story about the natural world. In Disney movies we learn the rules of the forest, the hierarchy of the jungle, and humankind’s relationship to nature. READ MORE

Scars of the Past

Beneath Cambodia’s troubled history with the Khmer Rouge lies a complex agricultural legacy that reaches back centuries. Once the symbol of a thriving region, we see how a prolonged El Nino brought drought and increased human conflict, and how the ruthless Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge looked back to the temples at Angkor Wat and their proud agricultural heritage to motivate the atrocities of the Cambodian genocide. READ MORE

The Evolution of Fire

Fire is evolving. The three necessary ingredients for fire – heat, fuel, and oxygen – each appeared at different times in geological history, meaning that fire wasn’t always around on Earth’s surface. Fire historian Steve Pyne describes the origin and evolution of fire over the past 420 millions years on Earth, including history’s true Promethean moment.

In a bonus segment, producer Mike Osborne chats with paleoclimate scientist Jud Partin about his new publication exploring the Younger Dryas, the most recent time in Earth’s history to experience abrupt climate change. Hear Jud describe what happened as Earth left the last ice age and why he’s still optimistic about abrupt climate change today.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

Fire recordings by matucha and dynamicell.

Rondonia

In the late 1970’s, tens of thousands of Brazilian agricultural workers found themselves out of work due to technological advances on farms.  To combat the problem, the government, with help from the World Bank, set up a program to settle people into the rainforest and allow them to farm commercial crops.  The hitch? No one had tested the soil to see if it could support the crops being grown.  From there, the ambitious social and ecological experiment quickly turned into a nightmare of Hollywood proportions involving strife between ranchers and local tribes, clear cutting of the rainforest, and disease outbreaks of all kinds.  What can we learn from what went wrong in Rondônia?

 

 

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

History is a Mess

The very idea of an Anthropocene suggests that the world is changing faster than ever before.  And a growing number of historians, archeologists, and geologists are looking at our modern world in the context of deep time to place the rapid changes in their proper context.  In today’s show, Ian Morris discusses how societies have developed through all of human history – from Neanderthals to iPhones – and points out some trends we can extract and investigate from archeological data.  Specifically, Morris explains how geography drives human social development, but development changes the very meaning of geography.  If that sounds a little complicated… well, it is. But we speak with Ronan Arthur about the Native American Navajo as a sort of case study of this geography/social development concept.

This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (License available here)

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