Author Archive

Leopold’s Land Ethic- Influencing New Deal?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 by Sarah

Check out this site on Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, just for some background.

Political vs. bioregional boundaries

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 by Sarah

visualizing one kind of boundary


a very different way of perceiving the land- bioregionally

Great Depression, Dust Bowl, New Deal, Dams: Environmental Crisis as Social Crisis

Posted in Natural Disasters with tags , , on February 23, 2010 by Sarah

As we prepare to discuss the Dust Bowl and Egan’s text, it might be helpful to get somewhat familiarized with this historical period.  The late 20s through the 30s were a particularly important period in US history.   The Great Depression challenged Americans’ faith in the nation and its heretofore treasured myths of abundance and the pursuit of happiness, to say the least.  Furthermore, Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to address the Depression was unprecedented: he invested in the country by– gasp!– supporting the arts, of all things.   Imagine this approach in our own economic crisis; the first funding to go is for the arts, music, and anything deemed inessential to turning around the economy.  Roosevelt, in contrast, pumped funding into what would seem counterintuitive to us in our era, when economic crisis is an excuse for compromising the public good.  Can we imagine Bush or Obama getting away with promoting environmental conservation and the humanities in our downturn, as Roosevelt did? 

You should spend some time looking up New Deal or Works Projects Administration (WPA) projects and consider writing about them in your blog posts.  Dorothea Lange, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and all kinds of other great things came of the New Deal.  All those gorgeous bridges across the Pacific Coastline highways in Oregon and California– those were built in this era under the WPA program.  All those awesome log cabins throughout the Northwest and California (such as Crater Lake)– also built by the CCC.   The New Deal put people to work, but it did so in ways that would sound absolutely crazy today.

But equally, Roosevelt’s approach involved an unprecedented effort to control nature.  Consider the Tennessee Valley Authority (1933) and the Bureau of Reclamation (just consider that name, for starters!), the latter of which, although set up in 1902, found new purpose under the New Deal. This was THE era of dams across the West.   Getting out of the Depression and into a new era meant overcoming nature’s grip on Americans, as the Dust Bowl illustrated, and dams were the silver-bullet answer to all of America’s problems (including its desire to have a stake in WW II).   

Another major consideration is (as you might have anticipated) what were the causes of the Dust Bowl?  What are the different stories that claim different causes?  We’re particularly interested in understanding how an environmental crisis, such as the Dust Bowl, is really a cultural crisis.  That is, cultural, economic, and political ignorance of ecological processes created the conditions for the Dust Bowl.

Just some context to get us started…

Enviro-Sci-Fi Call for papers

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2010 by Sarah

Chekc out this call for papers to present at a conference in Arizona in June.  If anybody is interested in putting together a paper or just interested in knowing what the process entails, I’d be very happy to talk about it and encourage you along the way.  Conferences are really fun, and papers are only about 8 pages maximum, so they’re often not expected to be tight and expert; indeed, they’re often initial forays into new ideas, and the point of conferencing papers is to get feedback to develop an inchoate idea. 

Note the focus on “the unique contribution of sci-fi to environmental thinking”!  This is precisely what we’ve been asking in class: what does the genre of sci fi add to our understanding of environmental problems?  What does it do that other genres or forms don’t? 

Just thought you’d be interested to see what kinds of discussions are going on “out there” within which our class discussions are situated.


The Science Fiction Research Association’s 2010 Annual Conference

Carefree, Arizona

June 24th, 2010-June 27th, 2010

Environmental Science Fiction

Proposals are invited for presentations that explore science fiction through the lens of ecocritical studies. There is no shortage of science fiction writers whose works demand analysis using the tools of ecocriticism that have emerged over the last two decades. The purpose of this panel is to highlight science fiction’s unique contribution to environmental thinking, and hopefully to work toward a deeper and much-needed understanding of the genre as “an environmental literature par excellence” (Gough).

Please submit 300-word paper proposals by April 12th, 2010 to See for more information about the conference.

Eric Otto, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities
Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd. S.
Fort Myers, FL 33965

phone: (239) 590-7250

“This living flowing land / is all there is, forever”–Gary Snyder

GMOs: A Case Study in Risk Perception

Posted in Atwood, Rhetoric, Risk & Fear with tags , , on February 18, 2010 by Sarah

As you all know, I’m always trying to get us not just to be more enlightened about the environmental problems out there, but to become more critical about how we come to perceive what and which environmental problems to focus on or care about.  Follow me?   I want us to be always vigilant about the rhetoric of environmental crisis; that’s one of the top “learning outcomes” of our class, recall? 

We’ll spend quite a bit of time talking about “risk perception” in upcoming weeks, but this article gives us a little forecast of the importance of risk perception to the aforementioned vigilance.  The basic premise of risk perception is that there are all kinds of forces–some corporate, some media, some social/cultural, etc etc– that shape what we perceive to be problems we should take seriously.  It really has nothing to do with what are truly the greatest threats.  We purchase home insurance based on 5% risk of anything happening to it, but many of us don’t believe that climate change is occuring, even when “scientific uncertainty” amounts to far greater likelihood than 5%.   This is an example of how risk perception is influenced by a whole gamut of forces– laws, corporate interest, media portrayal of home disasters, fear of ‘others’, time-scale of the given risk, scope and geographical scale of that risk, perceived origins of that risk, ability to imagine threats to home better than threats to planet, etc– rather than the reality of the threat. 

Framing all of this in terms of GMOs, we might ask, “why don’t we care about GMOs?”, “Why are GMOs less scary to us than environmental refugees?”  

Check out the article’s treatment of GMOs by scrolling down.  Here’s a taste:

Imagine you are back running your media company. Following reports from Europe that consumers are demonstrating against GMOs, a biotech industry organization asks you to come up with a good risk communication strategy in the US. Realizing just how complex a task this is, you decide to study the field extensively.

…Before going forward you decide this time to set up some focus groups and commission some quantitative opinion research. And you immediately learn something astonishing. When you ask people if they have ever eaten any GM food, most say no. A majority of Americans are very surprised to learn they have been eating GM food—notably foods with GM corn and soy ingredients—for five or six years. And when they find out, they get angry, asking such questions as “Why weren’t we told?” and “Why isn’t the food labeled?” (Palfreman, 2001).

…You conclude that things are perilous. Any adverse reports about GMOs are likely to be reported, published, and picked up by the popular media, and any perceived risks amplified and ratcheted up. So, what is the best risk communication strategy? You cannot do much about the fact that GMOs are not perceived as necessary. You also feel it might be dangerous for biotech companies to make too much of the fact that GMOs will feed the world, given that most people realize they are, like all private companies, trying to make profits. But one variable appears very promising: choice. The ideal strategy is staring you in the face: labeling!

… You hand in your report, recommending your employer to lobby the FDA intensively to introduce mandatory labeling. Unfortunately, your advice is too counter-intuitive for your client. The biotech organization fires you and retains another media company instead.  Welcome to the thankless world of risk communication!

Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Posted in Rhetoric on January 28, 2010 by Sarah

Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire” reflects the Western teleology from which so much environmental sentiment and discourse emerges.  We may be so unaware of how imbricated these views of civilization are in Western culture that these images may seem “obvious” to you.  But one of the things I want us to become critical about is the fact that this view of civilization’s rise and fall— and the various relationships to nature each stage presents– is uniquely Western, and uniquely American.  Our notion of time and where we are in these stages of the course of empire shape our politics and our environmental values.   What kind of eschatology does this narrative present?  What ‘moral’, if any, is implied?

Cole Thomas The Course of Empire The Savage State 1836.jpg

Cole Thomas The Course of Empire The Arcadian or Pastoral State 1836.jpg

Cole Thomas The Consummation The Course of the Empire 1836.jpg

Cole Thomas The Course of Empire Destruction 1836.jpg

Cole Thomas The Course of Empire Desolation 1836.jpg

Apocalypse: CJ Reeves II

Posted in Popular Culture, Religious Roots, Rhetoric, Uncategorized with tags , on January 27, 2010 by Sarah

Is it just me, or does it seems like the idea of an impending apocalypse is the hot topic of conversation now days? Everywhere we turn the notion of proleptic danger looms steadily closer to our stratosphere. To put it bluntly, the phrase “The end is near” doesn’t hold a candle to the extensional melt-down that we seem to be facing in our sooner rather- than- later future. Gone are the days of scholars and academia burrowing into their books to crack the long encrypted code of our earths end. This is something everyone (and I mean everyone) is talking about. From movies, books, YouTube videos, essays, and media coverage, the apocalypse (also known as 2012) is exploding faster than our planet. But where does this mass mania come from? When and how did we even begin to think of an end to our planet?
Author Greg Garrard has one possible answer. In his fairly recent book Ecocriticism, Garrard makes it clear that some of human’s most ancient text are to blame. He claims widely accepted religious works (such as the Bible) helps enforce the idea of a rather violent apocalypse. This in turn causes the veil of social psychology to become rent and the magnitude of believers of this crisis thrives.
So why not save ourselves from a whole lot of headaches, and simply come to terms with not believing. This answer is not as easily done as it may sound. In Earth First: Environmental Apocalypse by Martha F. Lee, she references another critic whom states it is because America was built around the very notion that we were chosen by God that faith in such religious aspects persist. We can then assume that it is in our very nature to hold accountable some form of that faith, and use it to map out the continuation of our world.
Though many scholars debate the idea of religion blazing the trail of apocalyptic studies, it is not up to debate that some sort of dynamic change of our solar system will enviably take place. Whether it is 2012 or later; the world at large is cautioned to fasten our seat belts in hope to survive this bumpy ride.

Guerrilla Gardening

Posted in Atwood, Post-Apocalypse with tags , , on January 26, 2010 by Sarah

When we get to reading The Year of the Flood, we’ll find this link to “guerrilla gardening” of interest.    Gardens have a long history of utopic possibility.  One of the spaces of resistance and possibility is the garden, which impossibly emerges in the otherwise blighted, dangerous, post-industrialized scene of the novel.  How does the garden evoke utopic possibility in the novel?  What does the idea of garden evoke to you?

For one, as the rise of guerrilla gardening suggests, the garden in postmodern life can be seen as representing resistance to the enclosure of public space, a “taking into our own hands” of the systems of production and consumption (i.e. subsistence) that modernity has otherwise taken out of our hands.  The industrialization of food production that accompanies postmodernity has served to exacerbate gaps between wealthy and poor, the global north and the global south, and communities of color (often urban) and whites, for instance.    Around the theme of “food”, then, we can articulate the contours of modern injustice, which the novel’s focus on the garden may be attempting to do.

How did the garden become a leitmotif of ecological resistance?  With the increasing real-life loss of public spaces in which to protest, debate, speak freely, perform, etc.– a loss that Atwood dystopically dramatizes in the novel–  the real-life “guerrilla gardening” movement has “cropped up”, so to speak, in resistance to the industrialization of food and as a reclamation of civil society vis-a-vis public space.  

How does Atwood address this tension between lost public space and resistances to that loss through her focus on the garden?   How does this relate to the Biblical “garden” to which she is also clearly referring?  How can we bring all these typologies of “the garden” to deepen our reading of the novel?

Climate Change Perceptions

Posted in Climate Change, Risk & Fear on January 21, 2010 by Sarah

A fellow colleague of mine, Anthony Leiserowitz, has been doing research since I knew him as a fellow graduate student in the Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy Program at UO on “Climate Change in the American Mind.”  Now at Yale, he continues to produce some of the most cutting-edge analyses of the relationship between human psychology, risk perception, and environmental problems.   Working among disciplines (psychology, public policy, communication, geography), Leiserowitz and his colleagues produce documents such as this, which are provocative and hugely relevant to literary and cultural studies.   In this document, the authors outline six categories of Americans (i.e. “the cautious,” “the alarmed,” “the doubtful”–sounds almost apocalyptic, eh?), and investigate the perceptions, attitudes, and values of these different groups.   Take note that this report comes from the same milieu of our “Apocalypse Fatigue” article (Yale).  It’s Leiserowitz and his Yale Climate Change gang who are doing the major research on climate change perceptions….

The report opens with the following quote, which is a fundamental issue for our class:

Communication about the risks posed by climate change requires messages that motivate constructive engagement

and support wise policy choices, rather than engendering indifference, fear or despair.

— Howard Frumkin & Anthony McMichael (2008)

What do we think?

Margaret Atwood- Year of the Flood

Posted in Post-Apocalypse on January 21, 2010 by Sarah

Just thought you’d be interested in the following call for submissions to the Margaret Atwood journal, specifically for pieces related to the text we’re reading in class, Year of the Flood.  If you’d be interested in submitting something, let me know. I’d love to answer your questions about publishing, and, should you want to pursue it, to help with that process for this call.  

CFP :  Margaret Atwood Studies, the refereed journal of The Margaret Atwood Society, seeks submissions–article length or briefer–on Atwood’s The Year of the Flood for special issue (volume 4, number 1) devoted to that novel. All approaches are welcome, as are established Atwood scholars, newer Atwood scholars, and those with an interest in this latest novel because of either its genre or its commentary on environmental or gender issues. Send submissions electronically to the editor at Queries may be sent to same e-mail address.