Tag Archives: environment

Following the Tracks of Yu

by Danielle Bermudez

Water can often be seen as a source of life, but it can also lead to loss. In this seminar, Ruth Mostern, Associate Professor of History at UC Merced, explores how water may have led to immense change of landscape and life in eleventh century China. While research is still being conducted, Mostern provides fascinating insights about the soil of the Yellow River and how this impacted the defensive strategies of the Song dynasty. These dynamics may have altered the environmental history of the region, based on the timing and scale of loess plateau fortification, leading to numerous disaster floods during the eleventh century.

The Yellow River, or Huang He, is the third-longest river in Asia, and is the sixth-longest river in the world, with an estimated length of 5,464 km. It flows through nine provinces, and empties in Shandong province. During the eleventh century, military strategy was important, and ambitious fortification with garrisons, as well as the presence of more than half a million soldiers, had an immense impact on an ecologically fragile region.

According to Mostern, the natural landscape of the Yellow River is prone to soil erosion without vegetation cover. Fortifications in Northern Song were strategically built near the edges of the Yellow River. The exposed erosion-prone sand and soil made its way into the Yellow River, and ultimately drove disastrous flooding downstream. This resulted in one of the most rapidly rising sedimentation rates in history.

Flowing with our ongoing theme of “water,” seminar participants agreed that the environment is not a fixed place, it has agency, is dynamic, and ever-changing, but what is the scale of that change? As the seminar came to a close, participants lingered on the following central question: how do humans shape the natural environment, and conversely, and how does the environment continuously shape us?

Climate Feedback and Media Coverage

by Danielle Bermudez

Only 23% of people living in the United States say that they have enough information to make up their minds about climate change[1]. How does media coverage affect our understandings about climate change? And, what if scientists could provide their own feedback on climate media coverage?

These are some of the questions that led Emmanuel Vincent, Project Scientist for the Center for Climate Communication at the UC Merced, to create the website climatefeedback.org. This online platform allows the scientific community to annotate and comment on climate media coverage, while giving the public access to this information.

Vincent’s talk was the first UC Merced Seminar in the Humanities of the academic year, launching the Center for the Humanities’ biennial research theme on “Water” for 2015-2017. In his presentation, Vincent reiterated that oftentimes climate media coverage can be confusing, and that the climate feedback website is intended to be a community resource both for scientists and the public alike. The process of the website includes (1) identifying a media piece on climate change, (2) matching scientists to evaluate the article, (3) having scientists annotate the article (includes highlighting, adding figures, charts, and images, commenting, etc.) and (4) assigning an overall rating on the media piece. Members of the public can then access these annotated articles on the climate feedback website and read the annotations and comments provided.

With contributing scientists from prominent research institutions all over the world (over 50+), the climate feedback website has led to media modifying their articles to reflect the comments provided by scientists. The website is intended to make an impact on journalists, concerned members of the public, and has garnered enthusiasm from scientific experts worldwide.

Ruth Mostern, Associate Professor of History at UC Merced, served as a respondent to Vincent’s talk, raising important questions of authority, power, and access. How do communities become permeable? Who can comment on these platforms? Whose voice becomes validated? Who is authorized to provide validation? And, what is the meaning of “expertise”?

Mostern discussed the creation of communities of practice, meaning, and discourse as exemplified through the climate feedback website and as a continuation of ancient practices of annotation and commentary on texts deemed worthy of attention. Mostern discussed both ancient and modern expressions of annotations and commentary, such as hypothes.is, open source and open code platforms, annotations on maps, and other social media websites. The climate feedback website has become a mechanism of community-building within and beyond the scientific community, as a form of public scholarship; as well as a form of publicly and socially engaged work, through the use of common domains and shared language and expertise.

[1] Leiserowitz et al (2011) Climate change in the American Mind. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.