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Transcript - "Pale Blue Dot": History of Our Environment

 

Eminent environmental historians from the Ohio State University Department of History share how environmental history informs our shared future in a world confronted by pandemics, climate change, droughts and floods, unstable food supplies, changing energy needs, and the threats of pollutants and toxins.

Panelists:

  •     Nicholas Breyfogle, Associate Professor, Department of History; Director, Goldberg Center
  •     Kip Curtis, Associate Professor, Department of History
  •     Jennifer Eaglin, Assistant Professor, Department of History
  •     Bart Elmore, Associate Professor, Department of History

[Listen to the podcast here.]

Transcript Begins Here:

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Greetings, thank you for joining us to celebrate Earth Day. Today's show is brought to you by the College of Arts and Sciences in the history department at The Ohio State University, the magazine Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, and the Bexley Public Library. My name is Nick Breyfogle. I'm an associate professor of history and a specialist in the environmental history of water. And I'll be your host and moderator today.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
In a world, confronted by pandemics, climate change, droughts and floods, unstable food supplies, changing energy needs, extinctions and the threats of pollutants and toxins, what insights from environmental history can be learned to help solve today's problems? To help us answer this question, we're joined today by three environmental historian Kip Curtis, Jennifer Eaglin, and Bart Elmore. Let me introduce them. Kip Curtis is an environmental historian who describes himself as a post romantic ecologist with ambitions to make urban agriculture into a sustainable business. Jennifer Eaglin is a Latin American historian of energy, cars and the environment and tries to improve her carbon footprint wherever and when she can. Bart Elmore is an environmental historian who believes history can be used to create a sustainable future for his two young boys, River and Blue. Folks, you can unveil yourselves and come on to the screen if you'd like. Welcome thank you for joining us. Kip, Bart, and Jennifer, thank you so much.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Here's the plan for the day. In a moment, we'll open discussion among our panelists, and ask them to respond to your questions. Many of you submitted questions when you registered, and we'll answer some of those to begin with. We'll also be collecting questions during the event through the question and answer feature of Zoom. So please do send them in. We received a lot of questions and so we'll do our best to answer as many as we can. Now, before we join our panelists, I'd like to take a moment to pay homage to the title of this webinar, Pale Blue Dot, which comes from the title of the astronomer, title of the astronomer Carl Sagan in the 1994 book by the same name. As you can see on the screen right now, here's a photo of that image. I'd like to read an excerpt from the book that was inspired by this image that was taken of Earth. That little arrow is pointing to our planet. It's an image that was taken at Sagan's suggestion by Voyager One on February 14 of 1990. And as the spacecraft was kind of leaving our planetary neighborhoods, for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager One was about 4 billion miles away when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays, Earth appears as a tiny point of light. Now, about this image, Sagan wrote this, and I think these are great words to think about as we begin a discussion of the environment and Earth Day. So this is what Sagan wrote, "Have a look at the dot." He says, "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love. Everyone you know, everyone you've ever heard of. Every human being who ever was, lived out their lives, the aggregate of our joy and suffering, 1000s of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, adventurer and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every Supreme Leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a small, is a very," excuse me, "the Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of that dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill women. How fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there's no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. There's perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
With these words from Carl Sagan in mind, let's turn over to our panelists. One of the questions that we've received from several of you has to do a little bit about what Earth Day is, and its history. So what I'd like to start off with is the question, so what is Earth? What is its history? Why does it why it sorry, why is it important? And has the institution of Earth Day changed over the years? What's different now than say, we're just, its 51st celebration? What's different now than when humans began to mark the day in 1970? And has it been successful in bringing greater awareness of environmental issues in all their myriad forms? It's a big question. But let me throw that out to Kip to start to tell us a little bit about Earth Day.

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
Sure. Yeah. That's a lot of questions. We could talk for days. We could have a course. We could probably have a graduate field in Earth Day on, based on all that. But, so let's just kind of get down to the the deets, as they say, right? So it happened April 22nd 1970. And when it happened, it was the single largest public protest in the history of the United States. It was mind blowing. In fact, it has hardly ever been surpassed two times. It's been surpassed in 2003, when the world came out against the war and invasion of Iraq, we had more people. And in 2017, when everyone came out in favor and for women's rights and equality, at the beginning of the Trump administration, we surpassed 2003. So it's the third largest public protest in the history of the United States still. It came from a number of sources. There's a wonderful book by Adam Rome, which I recommend anybody interested in the history of Earth Day read, but in a nutshell, he says changing political ideals in the Democratic Party, changing knowledge in ecological science, this growth of activist housewives in suburbs, student activists, and I'm forgetting one other group, oh, conservationist, came together in the 1960s around the idea and the image. So we've got Carl Sagan's image, the image of Earth from space, Earthrise in 1968, was really the first image of earth. And it was perspective. And it was a perspective that said, we can't keep doing everything we've been doing in the way we've been doing it or we're going to just absolutely destroy ourselves. And the world listened. The country listened. The nation listened. And what followed, were the most groundbreaking laws ever written in the history of humankind, to protect our air, our water, our soils, to keep hazardous and toxic waste from going everywhere, to keep pesticides herbicides out there. There were 13 major laws, about 27 significant, that have been copied around the world. So Earth Day was a pivot around which a significant consensus of humanity said we got to do it all differently. And so we celebrate every year since then, as we make progress towards that goal.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Jennifer, Bart what would you add in terms of how things have changed or what successes have we had in terms of Earth Day that have been brought about by Earth Day?

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
Alright, you jump in there first.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
It was good to see. So one thing I think Kip laid out such a great, the deets as he says, so perfectly there. One thing I'd add to that so we get 20 million people, it's about 10% of the United States population, coming out in 1970. And the other group of people I think we'd want to think about and some of them may be in the audience today are young people, especially associated with the anti-war protests of the Vietnam War. So if we're thinking about 1968, the Tet Offensive, and then the increase in deployments overseas, the frustrations over the draft. My father, for example, was in Vietnam at this time, a very tough time to be, you know, a young person in America thinking about all this. And I think that mobilized a lot of people into questioning a lot of things about the world and the world around them. And in Adam Rome's, great, great book, "The Genius of Earth Day," you see people who weren't even necessarily the biggest tree huggers in the world get pulled into this movement, in part because of their history of activism and protest. The only thing I think that that's significant about that, for thinking about today is one could argue that we're in a similar position right now, right? When we think about the, the social justice, Black Lives Matter Movement, of course, happening here in Columbus, which we should acknowledge, today, you know, thinking about the ways in which there's a lot of different activism going on at the same time. And much like in 1970, the ways in which those kind of bleed into one another create a kind of synergy for change. One could argue that we're not seeing the repeat of history, I think all of us think, you know, history does not necessarily repeat itself, but some similarities there. So that's what I'd add to the story.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
So Jennifer, I was curious, sorry, I'm going to just ask, so as a specialist, not just in energy history, but of, of Brazilian history, has the experience of Earth Day been similar in, you know, in Brazil and other parts of the world?

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
So I have kind of two comments, I want to come at this from like, kind of an energy history perspective, and also from a global perspective, and perhaps particularly talking about Brazil, as you have queued up, Nick. Um, so one, from an energy history perspective, I think it's important to acknowledge that history, Earth Day did not come, just kind of emerge out. 20 million people didn't just take to the street because over the last year, they were starting to feel something right. Like, this is actually something that had been building over decades, right. And one of the more visible things that people, that got those housewives out of their homes was actually air pollution, particularly connected to carbon emissions and car emissions, right. And so it, you know, the first great smog in LA, which really happened in the '40s, like, what was, I think was like, '45, '46, something like that. It might have even been a couple of years earlier than that, I actually think it's '43. Because people initially thought when, when the smog covered the entire city, they actually thought that they just been bombed in relation to, as an extension from the Pearl Harbor bombing not so long ago, right. And so these are some of the ways that, these are some of the lived experiences that were starting to show people that we have to do something. And that's where I think Bart's comment about how that experience, we're seeing those same things. We're seeing these, these crazy fires, right? We're seeing, like, I mean, all of these, all of these things are becoming very visible, which means that we are at a tipping point. But I think we also find ourselves at this opportune time, again, not the same time, right, but an opportune time, again, to say, you know, we can't keep doing what we're doing. We couldn't keep doing what we were doing and '70 we can't keep doing what we're doing in '21, right in 2021. And so those are some of the ways that I think that the tradition of Earth Day, the precedent that Earth Day set of saying this is, this is not good enough, and I know we've set up a kind of infrastructure, and we've been going along this particular way, this way, is not working anymore, and demanding that we make some kind of change. I think that's where, that's what that history kind of continues today. In an international perspective, particularly as an historian of Brazil, I think when we get into conversations about the long-term impact of Earth Day, outside of the United States, Brazil has a really particular relationship with questions of the environment and international intervention, right. So in some ways that that tradition, that trajectory, which then brought the Clean Air Act, the EPA in the United States, then also in 1972, brought the UN Conference on the environment, a global event. And it also kind of put Brazil in a leading position to say, guess what, you all of the industrialized countries don't get to tell us of the developing countries what we're going to do with our land. And this continues to be a part of the rhetoric of kind of a global coalition to try and to address the environment, right. So that's been something that I would actually say in some ways that international pressure that the Earth Day kind of helped, help foster has also, has, has, um, maybe a backlash, right. But then you also have this kind of, in Brazil particularly, their own kind of domestic demands for environmental change. And I think that an international or an event that got so much attention like Earth Day helped draw attention to other countries, other domestic demands for environmental change that had already been there, right, had already had local support, and regional support. That then people could say, you know what, we care about this too, right. We have water pollution issues, too. We have these things, too. So.

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
Can I just add on the international, I think you're absolutely right. In fact, you know, following Earth Day, was Stockholm in '72. And I think it's really important to point out that when, when the world started talking about these questions, it was always, it was always human well-being and the environment, right. And those were sort of these twin, paired, and sometimes at odds, agendas, but necessary agendas. If the world was going to move forward on, you know, we need to address this together and sort of make sure we don't develop the future in the same profligate wasteful, poisonous, toxic, dangerous, harmful way that we developed the past. And it has been, it's been a difficult conversation of late in large part well, the world is changed recently. But in large part, because even when we have had presidents who were interested in participating in this it's been difficult to get a national consensus to participate globally in some of the some of the standards that other nations almost every other nation is willing to set around in particular carbon releases. But there's a whole, there's a whole list of things that are, that the Stockholm convention laid out and that the agenda 2021 sort of codifies about how we build a sustainable world and how we don't make the mistakes of the past.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Can we build on that question, what you were just saying they're Kip, because when just a reminder for everybody in the audience, please, if you have questions for our panelists, you can type them in the Q&A, which is a button at the bottom of your zoom screen, and we'll be delighted to take them. But one of the things you guys have pointed out is the ways in which many of the, you know, coming off of the first Earth Day in many of the laws, that kind of primary environmental laws in the United States, clean air, clean water, EPA, all these sorts of things were implemented. And I guess the question we should ask ourselves is, I mean, how is that legislation holding up these days? And what are ways in which we might want to reconsider these policies because these are our founding ones? Bart, can I throw that question your way first?

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Yeah, it's a good question, Nick, I think there's two things to tackle there, because we're talking about legislation. So the first thing that I think I'd point out is just how different that time period was when it came to environmental politics. I mean, think about it right after this, we're going to have a republican president, you know, creating the EPA, and Richard Nixon. If we fast forward that further, and so again, we think today about this being drawn, you know, environmental politics, as a Democrat or Republican issue, and that just was not the same way back then. And if we fast forward that just a little bit further, and go down to Brazil and talk about the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, who is it that's signing that first climate agreement? It's George HW Bush.  And if you go back to 1988, and the campaign against Dukakis, you'd be surprised that actually George Bush, the republican is out in front on climate against the democrat? I think that's the kind of thing that we have to teach history well, because we think of these things as sacrosanct. I'm either in part of this group, the Republicans, or the Democrats, this is my view. Well, that's just not true. It's ahistorical to think about this in those terms. You know, one of the things I'd say, Nick, though, in terms of your good question about we passed all these laws, not only the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act in the early 1970s, but then the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976, Tosca, you know, affecting Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976. Then later in 1980, the circle Act, the Superfund act, looking at toxic sites. Hey, we did it. We saw the problems we passed all these laws and it's great and Kip heard a group of students yesterday, that were pointing out that no, no, no, this is not the case. That in many ways, what we see is the ability for the EPA to enforce many of these regulations has been diminished over time, in part because of lack of resources, in part because of budgetary cuts and other things. And so one of the things I'd recommend folks do, this will be my last comment on this, is to go check out a website, and we'll send out a link in a second, I'll see if I can get the website together for you, that's called the ECHO website, EPA Enforcement Compliance History Online database, ECHO, Enforcement Compliance History Online website. And what you'll see now is a whole map of the country and every single business in the country, and their current status in terms of Clean Water Act violations, and Clean Air Act violations and RCRA violations and all these other laws. And you'll see clearly what it is. Now what's going to startle you, when you start clicking on those flags around your house, is companies that have been non-compliant with the hazardous waste control laws of our country, not for two quarters or three quarters, but for the past three years. And you'll go down and say, well, what violate, you know what enforcements had been put on these companies? You'll see, in many cases, nothing or handed, you know, a written violation, a letter sent to the firm. So one of the things I've pushed for on Earth Day today is to realize that those, that legislation is only effective if we as citizens make them effective, either by supporting the agencies that are supposed to enforce that by funding them, or as public citizens by raising awareness about them. So check out that ECHO website, see what's happening around your town and raise a ruckus if there's something going on in your backyard that you don't agree with.

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
And could I tag on that? Because Bart is absolutely right. And it is shocking to see the amount of noncompliance that exists in any one given zip code. The, a lot of the noncompliance is nonreporting, and a lot of the nonreporting is, is part of a larger push. And so what we have to realize and what we watched happen after the 1970s was this, this bipartisan kind of idea, it did become politicized, and significantly politicized. And so the word Big Government is just a code for the EPA in particular, that's usually what's talked about, when you scratch a little bit of the surface on conservative Republicans, when they're concerned about the overreach of the administration. The EPA, again and again and again, is considered a space where rulemaking is exceeding the rights of the federal government, and they believe even they have a constitutional issue there. So there's some hardball going on with all of this, and really some big questions about all of it. And so some folks do decide not to comply, etc. But what we also see there, and I think this is the beautiful thing that you can click on a map and become empowered as a citizen. And so when CERCLA  was written in 1980, there wasn't an Internet, there were hardly personal computers and the ones that existed, like didn't talk to other computers at all. There wasn't a way of getting information out to the public in this, in this really ease of access way. And now they're there. And now we're able to and I'm going to be working with Bart and his students this summer begin to say, how do we take this information and translate it into citizen empowerment, to do what needs to be done on the other end. And Bart is absolutely right about this, the EPA has been gutted. It's been gutted. So and this has been true for a long time. My first job out of college was at the  Natural Resources Defense Council, on the enforcement projects. This was a not-for-profit organization that collected money just to enforce the laws that existed around clean water, clean air, etc., because the EPA doesn't have the attorneys to enforce it all as well. And it took, it took charitable investments and ongoing and that's what NRDC continues to do. So there's an ongoing challenge of putting the resources in the space behind these laws. These are the best laws that have ever been written about the environment. They cleaned up our rivers, they cleaned up our soils, they cleaned up our air, and our biggest nagging problem is what we might call the nonpoint source problem. If you're moving through some regulated, you've got a pipe, you've got something that can be controlled, we got it under control. If you're an independent thing out there, a farm, dry cleaner, a paint shop, we don't have that under control. And that's where some of this knowledge that then the requirement to report that Bart and his students are going after is going to be very critical in helping us to push further.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Oh, I want to jump in here real quick. So obviously agree with all this. And I think that I mean, when we talk about the politicization, and the kind of stripping of power of the EPA, part of the issue, as we talk about it now is these really, really, really progressive laws were passed in the 1970s. That said, we don't necessarily know exactly what all of the kind of emitters are, we're going to we're going to set some thresholds, right. But we weren't talking about it in a more cohesive format that we talk about it now is greenhouse gas emissions, right. And so those things are, so we have this awesome, awesome framework that has been politicized and, and disempowered, like disenfranchised, basically, because of this politicization. But we also now find ourselves at a moment where we need to update these laws, right, we need to update them, add some teeth to that to that bite, and also start using words that we're using now, right, like greenhouse gas emissions, like global warming, climate change, all of these things that really just weren't how we talked about in the 1970s. And so that is part of how we continue to not be able to address it on a more comprehensive level, even with some really great laws in place right now.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
We, we have some questions, big questions, and I apologize, this is not from me, this is from our audience. These are big questions for you guys. And they're coming in actually in two forms. Interestingly enough, one is questions about what do you guys see as the sort of greatest environmental concerns that humans face today? And what do you learn from environmental history that you think helps us to confront those greatest concerns? And then on the flip side, we have questions. So what insights from environmental history make you hopeful? So what are the things that you see as the real threats? And what do we learn from environmental history that could perhaps confront those threats? But then, what makes you hopeful from environmental history? About? Yeah, about our future and about our possibilities, in particular? So I'll throw out both. Maybe you can pick one or the other, you can go dark, or you can go light, whichever makes you happy. And Jennifer, you want to jump in on that first?

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
We're going to go dark and light. All right, we're going to, we're going to just bunch these together. So in my opinion, I mean, the list is long reaching, and I know, Kip and Bart know this, but teaching environmental history can be a downer. I mean, I do feel like some of my students, by the end of the semester, just looking like, there's no hope, right. But one of the, I mean, so my own research is about alternative energy development in Brazil, and I particularly look at ethanol development. Here in the United States, we produce ethanol from corn. In Brazil, they produce ethanol from sugarcane. So to this day, I mean, basically, they develop, they've been investing in ethanol for decades. This is what my whole project kind of talks about this long history beginning in the 1920s. And so in the 1970s, really, after the oil shock, the Brazilian military dictatorship at the time is going to launch a national ethanol program, which to this day, is going to remain one of the single examples of a rapid transition away from fossil fuel based energy fuel for cars to this day, right? So they launch it initially, they're going to say they're moving from a 5% mixture in the national fuel supply, they bump it up to a 20% mixture into the national fuel supply. By the end of the 1970s, they're actually going to develop an ethanol, a car that runs an engine that runs exclusively on ethanol. And so by 1985, over 90% of all new cars on the road run exclusively on ethanol, and about 40% of all fuel for cars consumed in Brazil runs in ethanol, right? And so I mean, the thing that I find so exciting or inspirational about this example is big change is possible. And it's possible very rapidly, right? And so I mean, in the span of five years, they are going to completely change their fuel infrastructure. And we find ourselves at this precipice where we want to completely change our fuel infrastructure. I feel like it is one, it is one of, the list is so long of, one of the most important things that we need to think about. But I think when we're ready to commit to something really big, and obviously, President Biden has just made a very big announcement today that they're just starting, put some, some heft behind that, so to really commit to that. And I think that actually that Brazilian example, which is going to go through highs and lows, I mean, I so I'm presenting the most positive variety of this, this transformation. And certainly, I'm there by the 1990s, ethanol cars are going to represent a very, very small part of the market. So just as quickly as big change as possible, we can also fall back very quickly, right? So I think it is a motivator. And it is also a reminder that big change is possible in a short period of time. But commitment is what we're really looking for, we have to stay the course, we have to keep pushing ourselves and keep pushing each other. And we have to keep pushing our politicians to keep a, keep enforcement, keep enforcing these things.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Kip, I thought you might want to jump in. I don't know.

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
You know, I always jump in. So, greatest environmental concern for me, the thing I think we aren't worrying anywhere near enough about and we only occasionally bring up on the radar is the oceans and we got serious, serious issues. We've got a tragedy of the commons on a global scale that we don't even know, we don't even have all the data in for, but we are overfishing beyond our capacity. We are acidifying the oceans and watching our coral reef perish and we don't know the full impacts on what is an enormously complex ecosystem that we, you know, we get a lot of protein out of the ocean. Do the math, this is not, it's not something that we should be taking as lightly as we are. And it's one of those things that exists in the international arena where consensus is difficult, because some of the nations that are dependent on the ocean don't want to be constrained in any way at all. And, you know, what's your what do you do at that point, right? And so, you know, I mean, we've had protesters who go out there and stuff that, but governments haven't taken a step, or they'll say, you know, we'll enforce something here. And we don't really have laws that make it possible. So I worry deeply about the ocean. But I think we, you know, I'm hopeful. We flew a helicopter on Mars two days ago, three days ago, a helicopter on Mars, with a little piece of cloth from the Wright flyer tacked to it, you know, we can do anything. And that's scary. But that's also sort of hopeful to me in a way. When I came up out of college, nobody was talking about climate change. There were nonprofit groups that were fighting the government to try to get them to do things. And it seemed like we were on a cliff we were going to fall off of, and it was, it was an all-out effort to get people's attention on this crisis that would, that was coming. And we banged those drums through the 1990s and into the 21st century. And I'm suddenly participating in a university, where everywhere I look, sustainability is what everybody's doing. It's where the smartest kids are going. It's where the smartest minds are going. It's where this entire R1 University is focusing so much of its energy. And it's not over in the humanities, where it's just happening, or in environmental studies. It's in engineering, it's in agriculture, it's across the university. Because it's become, because there has been, and I'm convinced and hopeful by this, a cultural shift, whether or not our political parties caught up, the culture has shifted. It didn't matter what the last president said about these things, it didn't matter ultimately, and forgive me for this, that we never really committed to an international treaty because we've actually engineered our own flatlining of our fossil fuel use because everybody's interested in this. And to me, that's, it's a really hopeful outcome of what was a really dark set of fears. When I was a child, I grew up on a sustainable farm in the 1970s because the world was going to collapse. I see a world where we are so on top of those problems, that like we got it, we got to check ourselves because we hear about them all the time. And it seems like the world's coming apart at the seams, but it's about surveillance and knowledge and understanding. And we've developed all of this in the, in my lifetime, and they might in my, in the time of my professional career and I think that we're on an accelerated upward slope. To really codify that on a global level, and I think this new Internet thing that we're all doing, participating in right now, is one of those kind of technologies they started, changes everything. We haven't even begun to see the outcomes from that. So I'm really hopeful.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Let me be really quick on this, Nick, because I know we got a lot of things to get through. But I want to show this real quick. I'm going to go gloom, doom, and gloom, and I'm going to go real happy real fast. Okay, so here's the doom and gloom. You know, if I, if I'm looking at something, and I'm teaching environmental history in the classroom, I often share this map, I think this is one of the biggest things we have to point out to folks is that, you know, climate change is not just about saving polar bears, it's about getting control of our economy. You know, every single little yellow line you see on this graph represents a recession, you can look back to the early 1990s. Why is it that Bush is going to lose to Clinton? The early 1990s recession is part of that. What's going on with? Why is Carter so hated? I wonder. What's going on, you know, with the subprime mortgage market? Oh, yeah, but what else was happening in 2008, at the end of that graph? It's, we're tethered to this. I call this scavenger capitalism. We have been, we live, and this is coming from my good friend, Kip Curtis, who's a mining expert, you know, look around you at anything on your desk right now. Point out something that is not made from fossil fuels. And if you're lucky, you might find something, but I certainly don't see anything on my desk, right? Everything from the synthetic fibers in our clothes to the plastic lining of the phone, things we're talking about right now, to the food we just ate with the synthetic pesticides that are in it, everything's tethered to it. It's not just our cars and power plants, it's the entire structure of everything we own comes from things mined from the ground. You could call it a dead economy because it comes from the dead remains of plants and creatures long ago. And so this, so the thing that I think is, I'm pessimistic about, and I'm going to try and get this real quick, is that we're currently living in a moment where we're not fully facing that reality. We have, in recent years, develop new technologies that have enabled us to extend this kind of peak oil, right, this experience of scarcity from finite resources, through hydraulic fracturing wells, and new technologies that allow us to seem as if we still live in a moment where that fossil fuel economy, it doesn't look so bad. You go out to the gas station, the price looks decent, right? But that's because of that relatively recent phenomenon, of these new technologies and extreme forms of fossil fuel. The majority of the oil coming in the United States, you know, post 2009, and into 2015 is coming from this new technology. So what, so that's the pessimistic side to me, is that if we, you know, as students look at this, we're allowed to, we need to really urgently move now. We currently live in this moment, that seems like we're safe because of that explosion in production. But it's short lived because this stuff is finite. As Kip knows, as a mining person, you know, these things are not and this is building off Chloe, a student of mine. I saw a question that she asked. So what gives me hope? Well, today, you know, the last class I taught was environmental history with a bunch of young minds at a university who believe in change. You can see it, you can hear it, you can feel it in that classroom. And you know, that, that this generation is committed to that. Now, I don't want to put this on them. I just had a conversation with Jane Fonda of all people, and she said, we talked about that the youth are the future, but she said don't put it on them. Because unfortunately, you know, they've inherited this situation, and to just put everything on the young people's shoulders to say, you fix this, I think is unfair. We need, you know, the politicians who are in their 60s 70s on board. We need adults to be listening to the youth, but I am inspired by them. In many ways. It's the last day of classes for me. So it's a shout out to Chloe and the other people here. You all are the people who give me hope. You're the ones who make me excited about what we do. So I'll leave it there.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
That's fine. Let's do this. I want to do a bit of a lightning round. I've got lots of questions. I'm going to give it to one of you. We'll do it. We'll move on. And so we can get through some because we got some great questions now. I have one. I'm going to go back to Bart, because this question actually speaks to the generational quest, generational kind of issues that he just raised. And so this is a question from Rhonda Maynard. Can you address the effect the generation gap has on the issue of climate change and environment? Isn't it ironic that the hippies of the late '60,s early '70s have grown up to be reluctant to do anything about the current climate crisis? And to deny the climate change is a serious issue. Can you respond to that, Bart? I was just thinking that would be a good thing coming off of your last generational discussion.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Yeah, you know I think you know what's exciting and when I think about this is, in a way well, maybe I'll go back to the classroom, Rhonda, because I don't see it as stark as that in some ways, you know, maybe I'm off a little bit. What I do see, when I look back at history was there was a lot of people, Kip's one of them, I mean, Kip, weren't you at one of the first early Earth Days, you know, you know, fighting in these in these,

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
I mean, I lived, I lived through it.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
You lived through it, right. So I mean, I think what I saw today in our class was, at OSU for those who are joining us from outside Ohio State, we have a really great program called the 60 Program. And if you're over 60, you can come attend classes. And it's, it's really great, we have students who are able to engage with people from different backgrounds and different periods. And at the end of our class today, won't mention her name, but she was just crying, you know. And it wasn't necessarily because anything profound was said in the lecture or anything else, it was just kind of taking in, as she watched all these students grapple with these issues, something that she's been fighting for a very long time. And so one of the things I actually think is going to happen and is happening right now, is that cross generational conversation, and, you know, we might, and that's actually what some of the students said, she said, I'm sorry, I got emotional folks, you know, it's embarrassing, she said, and the students said, it's not embarrassing. You know, it's not embarrassing that you're doing this, it's inspiring to us, you know, that we know that it wasn't necessarily people didn't care that people have cared. And in some ways, that's a lesson in of itself, like, caring isn't all of it. You really, you know, there are a lot of people that care, and that want to do good in '60s, '70s, onwards. But we've just got to keep building that momentum. And maybe that's the last lesson I'll say is that if you look at any of these big changes, think about the removal of dams. You know, that was unthinkable, pre 1980s, the removal of big dams on rivers. But then the board of, you know, the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1990s. Dan Beard  writes a book that says deadbeat dams time to take these things down. And that was because of activists who, you know, repelled down the front of Hetch Hetchy and repelled down the front of Glines Canyon Dam and drew and did all these things. And maybe in '87, they felt like they didn't do anything, but years later, right, those dams come down. And I think that's the way to think about this is that you're a pebble and you know, it might not feel like you're having an effect, but you are. And that's what history really teaches us. It takes time, but change happens.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Jennifer, and now for something completely different. You've mentioned Brazil, and Amy Batchworth is interested in knowing how concerned should we be about Brazilian cattle ranchers burning down portions of the rainforest?

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
We should be very concerned. I'm going to actually take a moment and ruin your lightning round. I want to respond quickly to Bart's comment,

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
You don't get to do that. [laughs]

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
I can't help it, you know, you gave me the mic. I mean, one of the other things I would say in relation to the generational issue is, uh, I know that Bart and I grew up recycling, right? Like this was something reduce, reuse, recycle. This is something that we learned in a really, really young age. And so yes, I pressure my parents, and I've watched my parents change their decisions because of and make more efforts to recycle because of the pressure that I put on them, that me and my brothers and sisters put on them. And I will also say when we look at like my students, or we look at our kids, our nieces our nephews as digital natives, and the things that they can do that just creeps me out, they do it intuitively. They are also going to be conservation natives, right? They're going to think about, we should not be using these water bottles as much as we should. We don't have to just throw these things out. And so as we rethink consumption, younger generations are leading us in this charge, right? Because it seems it is intuitive in some ways that we need to think about this. And so that is also one of the things that's exciting for me. On to this Brazil thing, which, I love the question. I mean, we find ourselves at a really scary point in deforestation within Brazil, where experts are saying that we are on the cusp of irreparable levels of deforestation, right. 2019 was one of the worst deforestation or years of deforestation in Brazilian history. But one of the things I actually want to highlight and this goes back to something that Kip said earlier, and we are also talking and actually this also connects to Bart's graph that he showed us, Brazil notoriously, when they go into economic recession, they double down on extracting the natural resources, right? And this is something that actually I think most countries are going to actually emulate. And so here we are, Brazil has gone through, it is one of the most unequal countries in the world. They have gone through extensive corruption scandals and dipped into terrible economic broad scale economic issues, some of which are also being exacerbated of course by COVID, like the rest of the world. And so these are some of the factors that are pushing the acceleration of deforestation, the incentive, these are incentivizing the accelerated deforestation for other economic purposes. And so to me, what we need to start, we need to start talking about environmental justice. What does that mean? How does, how do we reimagine a resource consumption, resource distribution in ways that are going to disincentivize people from massive exploitation of natural resources and incentivize different understandings, different economic gains, different industries, different kind of assessments of what is a viable economic option? And I think that relates to this Brazilian option or this Brazilian issue at hand as well.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I have a question here, which is it's about mining and about cars all at the same time. So I could send it down to Jennifer, but I'll send it down Kip's way cuz he is our mining expert. This from Chloe Wells, and she writes, yesterday I watched a story on the nightly news that discussed the discovery of lithium in the Mojave Desert, and the importance of this resource in fighting climate change to create batteries for electric vehicles, etc. However, the car industry is funding this mining initiative, which echoes the history of cars dominating transportation in the early 20th century in the United States. Because of this fact, should we be cautious to support lithium as it is limited resource? And are we bound to repeat history by reinforcing this private individual form of transportation? Additionally, what other forms of energy should we be looking to? Small question, Kip. What do you think?

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
Well, I mean it's a brilliant question because that's the problem we face and in fact, it's not an easy problem to solve. You know, so we make an energy transition, we shift from you know, we shift I mean, so fracking is terrible. They had to change the Clean Water Act to make fracking possible. But it produces natural gas which produces so much less carbon and it's a clean you know, almost a clean fuel right. The paradox of the things that we learn how to do in a sense and that's the challenge with batteries as well that they're ultimately dependent on material resources which are going to be finite. I guess one of the biggest insights as I really got my head around what it meant to be a mining historian was how frickin’ big the earth actually is and we don't, you can't imagine in a sense how big it is. If you've ever been out on the ocean you could get a sense maybe that's 11 miles that's all you're seeing there to the horizon. So you don't really know and so there's a lot of stuff out there and you know there's this, as both Bart and Jennifer know, this debate that back in the '80s, early '90s about whether or not we were going to run out of resources by the year 2000. And then we're going to run out of resources now I know there's nuance in this, but we're going to run out of resources side lost that debate. And ultimately the prices were lower and there was more and it's inexplicable and it has to do with two factors. One, the Earth is huge. You can't even imagine how big it is. Like you can't. Don't think that you can. You can't even if you see it from space. You can't imagine even though it's four pixels for us, you know, scale matters. It's huge. But we also have been capable of pulling more material out of less and that's been the story of the 20th century as well. And so as you know as far as like actually being able to get the resources, well I'll throw in you know, we just flew a helicopter on Mars and just out beyond Mars there are giant asteroids full of metal and don't imagine those won't be mined at some point either. Like there isn't, there is a  lot of stuff, there's a lot of material and so the question actually for me is not about whether or not we have enough material to do what we want to do. But I kind of, I think about Thoreau in this, and he says you know, don't do good, be good, right? Like doing good is just, is I'm telling someone else. Being good is really what we want to manifest and so are we being good? And that's what Jennifer was talking about is the central question, and in fact has become the central question for me as an environmentalist. Are we doing justice? Is this? Is this just as a first question? And in fact, as a place to start asking questions about all the ecological stuff, find a geography where injustice is happening, and ask what can be done there that's sustainable and ecological and is going to mitigate and create justice where there is injustice. And I think there's I think that's an agenda for the environmental movement in the United States and in the globe over the next 50 or 60 years, which would net the greatest good of all. And we'd use more resources. We're going to use more stuff. We use a lot of stuff. We'll do it cleaner. We'll do it more efficiently. And but most importantly, we need to do it all more justly.

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
Can I just jump in there on the car component of that question? I love Kip's answer. And this kind of aligns with what Kip was saying. But actually, we've been worried about running specifically running out of gasoline since we started driving gasoline fueled cars or running out of oil since we started driving gasoline fueled cars. And actually, in the 1920s, the invention/arrival of leaded gasoline was to help diminish the amount of oil that we were consuming by pumping a whole nother really toxic thing into our fuel that then became another big environmental problem. And so I think on that's a scary example. But on the other hand, I think that we can take it, I mean environmental history as a field is a history about unintended consequences. I don't think people went out there and with the intention of just burning this Earth down, per se, right. But at the same time, we have gone out there with every intention of using these natural resources to our benefit, right? It too, with little repercussion, or really little understanding or, or kind of attention to the repercussions, right? So that's also something that environmental history can help put into historical context. I saw that Rhonda had a question about ethanol, ethanol was also used and is continued is used instead of lead as a fuel supplement to add some of that antinox stuff that the lead, lead used to provide in gasoline. So that we're using something else to actually stretch out the fuel, the oil that we use in gasoline, right? These are some of the good things about ethanol, there are a lot of bad things about ethanol. I'm just specifically, I saw Rhonda's question. There's a lot of bad things about ethanol. Let's see, there is a book by Hal Bernton and Bill Kovarik, and the title of it currently is oh, it's, "Forbidden Fuel." And that actually talks about kind of a broader history of ethanol use in the United States. And it also talks a bit about Brazilian ethanol and global interest and investment in ethanol. And so I'll leave that there.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Bart, let me ask you, I want to send a question your way about global businesses and hope you can answer quickly. But just I think this was an important one. You mentioned how local businesses often sidestep enforcement of environmental laws, and sort of make an argument for activism petition local government as a way to combat this, but what do we do with big multinational corporations that operate transnationally that operate outside the United States, either based outside the United States or based inside, but sort of outsource some of their work outside? How do we confront those kinds of, those kinds of entities?

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Well, Michael, obviously, what you do is you sit around for eight years and write books about them, which is what I've chosen to do, you know, with Coca Cola, and a new project coming out of Monsanto. I see some comments about Roundup in there. So you know, I actually do think that is important work that environmental historians can do, which is too, and one, on the one sense wear an historian's cap but also be almost journalists, you know, helping to, to write histories of corporations that help reveal what's going on behind the scenes. And kind of on that note, I should say, kind of segue, bringing in the Roundup issue, you know, one of the things that I found really interesting as I started thinking about how do you, how do you bring pressure on corporations, part of it is accessing information, historical documents that reveal what the company was thinking internally. Because one of the biggest things that they, corporations, will do, multinational firms will, is you know say, "we didn't know that things were bad." Think about smoking and tobacco companies, "well, we didn't really know the science." Or global climate change, Exxon saying, you know, "well, the science is unclear when in fact internally it's very clear that they knew about the effects of climate change." So I know this is not exactly to your point, I mean, what I'll have another avenue for you that might be helpful too to think about. But I really think that that's one of the key things that we can do as historians is really work hard by filing Freedom of Information Act requests, for example, to get documents that no one's seen before, revealing the data to the public and showing the public these documents and narrative style that is engaging and something that they might want to read. You know, I'll give you an example that's connected with Dye Kamba, I went to the trials for Monsanto recently where they were being litigated against from farmers, peach farmers that were being affected by an herbicide called Dye Kamba that is very volatile, it vaporizes in hot temperatures, and it lifts off of fields and drifts off target. Now if you don't have a Dye Kamba tolerant, genetically engineered seed for your field that provides crops that are tolerant to die Kamba, well guess what, when that stops spreads to your farm, it's going to damage that farm. And this has become a much bigger issue in some ways than Roundup recently in terms of farmers' complaints, because we're seeing this new technology Dye Kamba tolerant seeds, the new generation of genetically insured seeds, where you're spraying Dye Kamba throughout the hot growing season over these crops, and it's drifting off to other farms that don't have Dye Kamba tolerant seeds. Now,  what's the connection here? Well, when you sit in that trial, the judge said, we didn't he didn't want anyone speaking to the press. But I could sit there in the gallery. Now there I could, you know, there was basically I had a notepad, and I was just documenting what was happening in front of me. And sure enough, what I heard in those court cases was just amazing, you know, internal documents where Monsanto said, we know this stuff is going to drift, we know this is going to force compliance that if you don't buy our seeds, well guess what's going to happen, this Dye Kamba is going to drift onto the field. They call these people driftees. And then by the way, in their internal emails, they say driftees is an internal term.  Do not use this publicly. So what I think is important, in other words about the work, and I don't think this is just environmental historians, but really journalists is that, you know, doing that, that really hard work of trying to get in and get those documents, because corporations are, as you noted, very good at saying, putting out a very global brand that says, you know, we do these various things. And I think it's up to us to kind of get at those, to get behind the scenes so that we can expose things that truthfully, the EPA, as we said earlier, doesn't have the resources, the manpower to go after everything and to expose all these things.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
Last thing I'll say, is I actually think the environmental history of banking is an interesting future in some ways. You know, I've been focusing on this a little bit recently. And we could actually think about targeting campaign, financial reform, financial regulations, there's something we haven't really thought about a lot, right? We think about the Clean Water, Clean Air Acts a lot about, you know, making sure the emissions coming out of these plants don't reach a certain threshold, these types of things. I wonder if we started targeting kind of financial reform to include, for example, when we're going to talk about, well you can't do predatory lending for these types of mortgages and things like that? What if we had clauses that you can't do, you can't lend to certain things like this? You can't, you know, there's certain kinds of restrictions on where capital can flow. It's not 100% an answer to your question, but it's a form of regulation if we think about financial firms and environmental regulation of financial firms that could have global scale effects. And so I'm interested in that anyway, went on too long. Thank you.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I'm going to move us forward here. We have a lot of questions about, what do we do? What do we do? What's, how should we live our lives? What are the things we should focus in most on? And so do we focus more on the Amazon or on our oceans? Our clean coal and carbon catching? Are these solutions? How do we, you know, just technology transfer work, can we build kind of enough good solar power to make things work? Can we reduce CO2 levels? How do we deal with overfishing? And so this is the question. Based on all of these ones that we've gotten coming in from the audience, can you in a sentence or two just say, what's like, what's the one thing you think is most important for all of us to do moving forward? There's a lesson from Earth Day and of thinking about the environment, environmental history. What is it in a sentence or two? Jennifer?

Dr. Jennifer Eaglin 
I mean, the “what do you do” is tough. I would say, one, start with, what can you individually do? How do you, how can you reduce your consumption, reduce your carbon footprint, individually in small, like I said, small ways, right? Like, I mean, most of us have been locked at home during the pandemic, which probably means we've reduced our flight, the number of times we fly in the year. How can we maybe commit to doing a little bit more of that in a post pandemic world, right? That's one individual thing. Then on a broader scale, pick one thing that you really care about, and start investing some time in that and, you know, make some calls, do a little bit of research. If the ocean is your thing, if the Amazon's your thing, both of those things need help, right? So it's not one or the other. But if you, which one are you going to commit to and how can you join a community, join a club, something like that, so that community action matters. And that's what we can learn from Earth Day. And so that is part of what I, that's my takeaway, right.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Would you say in answer?

Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis 
Yeah, I mean, it's, it is a difficult question, right? I kind of go back to Thoreau. So like, don't do good, be good, right? And that's going to be different for different people in different circumstances. Jennifer is, I think, absolutely right. If you start thinking globally, you're going to lose your mind that the problems are too big. But if you can think locally if you can find things locally that engage your interest. If I mean even more importantly, if you're at the beginning of a career, if you're starting college, if you're thinking about going back to college, there are a vast variety of environmental careers that are open and legit and pay on the other side. Like this isn't just activism and placards. This isn't, this isn't the '70s environmentalism. It's gone full professional. All of the fields have an environmental focus, both in the humanities and the social sciences and the sciences. So there's enormous opportunities to invest in education. But I think the most important thing all of us can do as we're doing anything, if we feel like we want to be transformative people in this world, is to listen really carefully about what we heard last summer and about, about what we're hearing in our country, and I'm a US focused person, but I think we can say it about the world as well, about justice. We have too much wealth, we have too much knowledge, we have too much everything to be facing the kind of justice problems to have, I'm sorry, a 15-year-old girl shot in their front yard. It's untenable. And that's where the crisis lies like we don't, we have a bigger crisis and how we're relating to each other at the moment. And we have a lot of knowledge about doing things ecologically. Let's marry those, right? Let's think about some real robust solutions for a just future.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Bart, I'll give you the last word.

Dr. Bart Elmore 
First thing I'd say to anyone out there is of course vote. Vote, you know. I think it's critical that we think about these things as structural and that the only way you're going to change it is if, you know. It's one thing to go out and, you know, recycle and things like that, which is great, but you got to vote. You've really got to put our minds behind political change, because that's one of the best ways to get things done. You know, I think in terms of things you can do purchasing wise and in your everyday life. I'm very, I'm captured by the ideas of biomimicry, you know, looking for products and companies that are really thinking about design that respects nature, that thinks about the incredible infinite complexity and power of nature and instead of trying to create technologies that are in many ways antagonistic to nature, right. Let's wipe it out or annihilate this or whatever. What technologies are actually trying to mimic the grandeur and the beauty of nature. I think that's definitely kind of a life motto for me. And the last thing I'd say is, you know, I had the good fortune at one point to drive in a car with Van Jones. And we were going somewhere and he's now obviously on CNN, but at the time, he had been in the Obama White House, working on the green jobs initiatives, and at some point, he said something along the lines of Bart, don't let people make you boring. And he wasn't just talking to me, he was, it's kind of a message he gives to people. And what he meant by that was, and I think this is true that there are going to be powerful forces in this world that, you know, people you encounter, employers, big businesses, that say, just compromise a little bit on those. So you know, like, just give up that little side of your ethics here and do this. I think if we steal ourselves from that, you know, if we don't make ourselves blind and make ourselves you know, who we are, stand up for what we believe in, and be ready for those moments, be ready for those moments of challenge. Whether it's a social justice encounter, like the one Kip's talking about this doesn't just apply to environmental justice, you know, when you're seeing racial injustice in your backyard, or when you're saying climate, you know, having that constitution and preparedness mentally to encounter it. You know, that's, it's easier said than done. And if we don't think about it and practice that I actually don't think we're going to be ready when the time comes to do the right thing. So this that's, that's kind of my, my top three right there.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Well, thank you. Thank you for, all three of you, for all those wise words. And to all of us who have taken part today and have joined us today in the audience, thank you. Thank you for joining us today. I'm super grateful to Drs. Curtis, Eaglin, and Elmore, for sharing their expertise and their very insightful thoughts today. Please join me in giving them a virtual round of applause for their efforts and their time and their knowledge and insight. I'd also like to say a quick thank you to the College of Arts and Sciences here at Ohio State and especially to Clara Davison, Madey Khurma, and Jade Lac for their work in putting this webinar on. And, once again, thank you, our audience, for your excellent questions and your ongoing connection to Ohio State. A very, very Happy Earth Day to everyone, stay safe and healthy. And we'll see you next time. Thank you.