Telling the Right Story: Environmental Violence and Liberation Narratives

By Barca, Stefania | Environment and History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Telling the Right Story: Environmental Violence and Liberation Narratives


Barca, Stefania, Environment and History


ABSTRACT

Half a century ago, Silent Spring showed the world how violence against living and non-living matter, by way of petrochemcial contamination, is related to violence against humans. This is a fundamental lesson of twentieth century environmental thinking, I argue, that environmental historians should carry with them into the twenty-first. The first part of the paper draws attention on the category of environmental violence. I argue that environmental degradation and social inequality have common historical roots, lying within the sphere of corporate and/or State 'development' policies, premised on the production of sacrifice zones and disposable bodies. Environmental violence, in other words, acts according to configurations of environmental injustice. In the second part, I call attention on the ways in which industrial development in post-war Europe has produced certain forms of environmental violence which have deeply affected human and non-human life in a multitude of places, and offer some insights into how this could be analysed by environmental historians.

KEYWORDS

Petrochemicals, environmental (in)justice, post-war Europe, development

1. UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTAL VIOLENCE

In the February of 1959, while working on the book that was to become the very manifesto of the environmental movement, the American biologist Rachel Carson wrote to her editor:

As you know, it has always been my intention to give principal emphasis
to the menace to human health, even though setting this within the
general framework of disturbances of the basic ecology of all living
things. As I look over my reference material now, I am impressed by the
fact that the evidence on this particular point outweighs by far, in
sheer bulk and also significance, any other aspect of the problem. (1)

Published in 1962, Silent Spring showed an astonished public all over the world the extent to which the toxic elements of modern production had contaminated the bio-physical environment and all living organisms through the widespread use of agro-chemicals and domestic poisons, and were a true menace to human health. Silent Spring was centred on the analysis of industrially produced toxins and their impact on the chain of life, in which no precise boundary exists between plants, animals, water, the soil and human beings. What harms other living beings, Carson suggested, harms humans as well. A simple and intuitive principle, against which the business world, and the petro-chemical sector in particular, launched a de-legitimating campaign, based on an imputation of feminine irrationality that had presumably compromised the author's scientific objectivity. (2)

Half a century after the publication of Silent Spring, the significance of Carson's lesson for environmental history writing, and the Environmental Humanities in general, is livelier than ever: in his Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, literary critic Rob Nixon acknowledges Carson as a major source of inspiration for understanding the 'slow violence' of environmental degradation, i.e. the long-term and often invisible effects caused by modern 'development' in its multiple aspects: industrialisation, megaprojects, mining, war, deforestation, nuclear waste and fallout, climate change. (3) Focusing on texts by activist/writers (like Carson) from the post-colonial world, Nixon sheds new light on the environmental history of the global South in the post-World War Two era.

The permanence of environmental harm and damage, exemplarily testified by the bioaccumulation in living systems of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), radiations or asbestos fibres, is a crucial concern for environmental historians, who have learned to trace back those flows of contaminants to their origins in the factory, the law, the laboratory and the trade agreements that regulate and organise them into what Chris Sellers and Jo Melling call global 'industrial hazard regimes'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Telling the Right Story: Environmental Violence and Liberation Narratives
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.