December 17, 2017

Environmental History January 2015, 20.1

[portfolio_slideshow id=1224]


TABLE OF CONTENTS January, 2015 | Vol. 20, No. 1


An Environmental History of Roadkill: Road Ecology and the Making of the Permeable Highway by Gary Kroll

Following the Pb: An Envirotechnical Approach to Lead-Acid Batteries in the United States by James Morton Turner

Canada, Aboriginal Sealing, and the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention by Robert Irwin

Beyond the “Ecological Indian”: Environmental Politics and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Modern North America by Gregory D. Smithers


Gallery Editors’ Note by Neil M. Maher and Cindy Ott

Joel Sternfeld’s Empty Places by Kate Palmer Albers



Issue 20.1 – January 2015

Lisa M Brady

What forms of knowledge and technology underlie proper stewardship? What are the requirements for and pathways toward sustainability? Who should be responsible for managing a community’s natural resources? The articles in this issue tackle these questions from widely differing perspectives, offering new insights into debates that have long characterized our field.

In “An Environmental History of Roadkill,” Gary Kroll takes us on a tour of American highways, where since the 1930s a science of roadside ecology developed to understand the relationship between automobiles, wildlife, and infrastructure. As Kroll discovered, naturalists early on realized “that it was a fool’s errand to control the speed of the automobile” and that “it would be easier to manipulate the environment of wildlife.” As larger numbers of Americans took to the roads, animal mortality increased – especially for game species – raising questions about how best to mitigate the problem. By the 1960s, deer became the preeminent road-kill hazard, spawning studies that recommended fences, car whistles, herbicide spraying, and verge mowing, among other options. In the 1980s, endangered species such as the Florida Panther required creative methods of protection from vehicles speeding through their habitat, such as under- and overpasses designed as animal crossings. In the end, Kroll argues that roads and their histories, like “the people who design and maintain them, the vehicles that move through them, as well as the fauna and flora that inhabit them,” became part of a larger story that integrated environmental, technological, and infrastructural analysis that reveals broader themes about environmental management.

Like Kroll, Jay Turner’s article “Following the Pb” examines a technological issue, but with the express intent to critique “any simple claims of environmental sustainability.” Turner acknowledges that, statistically, lead-acid battery recycling in the United States appears to be a standard bearer, with a nearly 100 percent recovery rate of its primary ingredient and a “closed loop” system for many of its other components. When placed in its larger historical and international contexts, however, the industry falls short of its claims and requires attention to its environmental consequences, both visible and hidden. Employing a systems-based analysis to lead’s commodity chain history, Turner “destabilizes the binary between nature (raw material) and technology (product) and emphasizes that such chains are envirotechnical systems, shaped by interrelated environmental, technological, and social factors.” Turner concludes that for an industry such as lead-acid battery recycling to fulfill its claims of sustainability, it must not only address its current practices, but also redress its history with regard to pollution and human health concerns.

Technology’s role in sustainable environmental management is also a focus of Robert Irwin’s article “Canada, Aboriginal Sealing, and the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention.” The Convention intended to halt the precipitous decline of fur seals in the Bering Sea and the North Pacific region by limiting (and eventually banning) commercial hunts using industrial technologies, including rifles and motorized boats. For Irwin, the 1911 treaty, which contains provisions for Aboriginal hunting of seals, reveals a deep conflict between what the signatory governments agreed upon as sustainable and appropriate harvesting techniques and the realities of First Nation hunting practices at the time of the Convention and since. Several groups, including the Aleut, Ainu, and Canada’s First Nations could continue to harvest fur seals, as long as they did so using so-called traditional practices and for subsistence, not commercial purposes. The treaty, Irwin argues, both drew from and “inadvertently contributes” to the contested notion of the “ecological Indian,” which “fail[s] to respect the commercial nature of First Nations’ historical harvest practices and eventually leads to the elimination of their livelihood rights.”

Where Irwin critiques the “Beyond the “Ecological Indian”” concept within the confines of a single treaty, Gregory Smithers examines the trope historically and through a number of modern case studies to demonstrate how its persistence inhibits communication and, therefore, ecological sustainability. In “Beyond the ‘Ecological Indian’” Smithers argues that the stereotype “continues to hamper Indigenous efforts to effectively exercise territorial sovereignty and implement environmental policies” they deem to be in their own best interests. Smithers suggests that recent histories of Native peoples asserting their rights over land management through the application of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and demanding environmental justice “provide a framework for moving beyond the stereotypes associated with the ecological Indians and for beginning to recognize that concepts such as ecology, environment, and sustainability are historically specific, culturally constructed, and yet intimately intertwined.” Such a shift, Smithers offers, may open the path toward broad solutions for past environmental destruction and future sustainability, not only for Native American communities, but across North America.