Member News: Frank Popper

I remain a professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University.  Every fall my wife Deborah, a geographer at the College of Staten Island/City University of New York, and I teach a course on land-use planning at the Environmental Studies Program at Princeton University.  We were in South Dakota in June filming a forthcoming documentary tentatively titled “Buffalo Commons: Return of the Buffalo.” We continue our Buffalo Commons work on the land-use future of the Great Plains and are expanding our approach to other depopulating places such as the Lower Mississippi Delta; Buffalo, New York; and comparable regions and cities abroad.  I was interviewed twice on National Public Radio this summer, and in August a front-page story on our Buffalo Commons work appeared in USA Today.

Press Release from Montana Tech

Soon after settling in Butte in 1990, Montana Tech professor and environmental historian Pat Munday became interested and involved in Superfund issues. For many years, he worked with groups such as the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee and Trout Unlimited to promote remedies protective of human and environmental health. Now that the remedies, or Records of Decision, have been completed on most sites in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin, it’s time to step back and examine Superfund as a social and political process.

“As America’s largest Superfund site, this is a story the nation needs to know,” Munday explains. The National Science Foundation agrees, and has awarded Munday a two-year grant to study the role of citizens in shaping Superfund remedy at several sites in the upper Clark Fork. The grant is a Science & Society Scholar Award, and will also support a graduate research assistant in the Technical Communication master’s program.

“Once remedies are implemented, the total cost of Superfund in this area will far exceed one billion dollars,” Munday said. “The sheer amount of money is just one indicator of how hard citizens, grassroots organizations, and activist scientists worked to try and persuade the Environmental Protection Agency and ARCO-British Petroleum to do the right thing.” In his study, Munday will compare the relative effectiveness of citizens in shaping remedy at major sites such as Milltown Dam, Anaconda Community Soils, and Butte Priority Soils. His thesis is that public participation works, with the extent of public participation more or less correlating with the quality of clean-up.

Walker and LeCain Awarded NSF Grant: Will Compare Japanese and American Reactions to Mining Pollutants

By Evelyn Boswell, Montana State University News Service, Bozeman

Originally published in the Spring 2007 Envirotech Newsletter.

Editor’s Note: I hope you all will forgive me in advance for including an article on my own work here, but I think the project will be of interest to many of you. By all means, please send me similar news service reports on your own work and I will be happy to include them. Although it is not readily apparent from this article, the research project draws heavily on the new thinking in envirotech many of you have contributed to over the past few years. A better sense of our intellectual foundations and goals may be had be reading the grant abstract at:

Two Montana State University historians who see insightful similarities between former copper mines in Montana and Japan have received $306,000 from the National Science Foundation to investigate and share their findings.

Brett Walker, Tim LeCain and six MSU graduate students will compare how Montanans and Japanese residents dealt with the technology, science and pollution associated with two huge copper mines that existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One mine was at Butte/Anaconda, the other at Ashio, Japan.

The mines existed in different cultures, environments and religious contexts, but each used highly sophisticated technology that had never been used before, Walker said. They had underground electrical systems. They had railroad systems and complicated smeltering systems.

Each mine helped modernize its country and allowed it to thrive in an international economy, Walker added. Both operations were entrenched in local politics. At the same time, the mines created environmental disasters that appeared first in species that symbolized the earlier economies of those areas — cattle in the American West and silkworms in East Asia. Sulfur dioxide fell onto pastures and poisoned the cattle that grazed around Anaconda and Butte. It also fell on mulberry bushes and killed large silkworm colonies in central Japan.

“If you are a Buddhist and believe that all living creatures are part of a continuum of life and everything has a soul, do you view environmental destruction, particularly the death of animals, differently than you do if you’re raising livestock in Butte and Anaconda?” Walker asked.

LeCain said, “Two key symbols, cattle and silkworms, suffered very similar effects, but more interesting is that Americans and Japanese, because of their respective cultural differences, had very different readings of these two pollution events.”

Walker, head of MSU’s Department of History and Philosophy, is an expert in the environmental history of Japan. LeCain specializes in the history of technology, particularly mining technology. In a blending of interests, the researchers will travel to Japan, Butte and Anaconda to examine the mines and the effect they had on the environment. The area around Ashio is much steeper and damper than the Butte/Anaconda area, Walker said. Walker and LeCain will also study historical documents and interview area residents, then write a book on their findings, develop a web site and create interactive maps to show the impact of each mine.

“A lot has been written about both mines, but there have been no comparisons between the two,” Walker said. “We are asking different questions, more scientific, ecological and technological questions.”

The entire process will continue to develop MSU’s graduate program in history which added a doctorate program four years ago, Walker said. The graduate program will have about 25 students in the fall, 11 of them working on their Ph.Ds. Several of the Ph.D. students are working on dissertations that explore the environmental history of mining in Montana.

“The grant funds our research, but also funds what is a very vibrant, active graduate program,” Walker said. The researchers said their project isn’t meant to demonize copper; they appreciate the computers and other conveniences it allows. LeCain noted that a Boeing 747 contains about 9,000 pounds of copper, a typical house contains 400 pounds, and a car averages 50 pounds. Copper is an important component in video games and computers.

Mining may not be the industry it once was in Butte/Anaconda and Ashio, but it’s big in other areas of the world, the researchers said. Other countries are now dealing with the issues that Montana and Japan once faced.

“It’s not happening in our back yard right now, but it’s not that it’s not happening somewhere,” Walker said. LeCain said, “We all have to grapple with this ecological reality. We are not offering easy solutions, but moral dilemmas.”

Sara Pritchard Moves to Cornell

During the 2006 – 2007 academic year, Sara Pritchard revised her book manuscript, organized Montana State University’s Department of History’s third NSF “Mile High, Mile Deep” conference (a joint workshop with the University of Wisconsin – Madison), gave several papers, and advised her first four Master’s students, all of whom are continuing on with their Ph.D.s in environmental history, the history of technology, and/or the history of science. Other changes are on the horizon. After 3.5 good years at Montana State, Sara will be joining the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University (effective July 1, 2007).

Betsy Mendelsohn accepts new position

My news is that I’ve got a new job in STS that continues to let me adjunct in the History Dept. here at U. Maryland. I’ll be teaching a small urban environmental history lecture course and an agricultural history seminar next year.
Beginning June 1:
Science, Technology and Society Programs
University of Maryland,
Chestertown Hall, Rm. 1108,
College Park, MD 20742