The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

A research blog exploring animal reintroduction history by Dolly Jørgensen

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The wild side of Hong Kong

Caged birds for sale at the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

Caged birds for sale at the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. Photo by D. Jørgensen.

Hong Kong is a noisy metropolis, but bird song fills the air in the Yuen Po Bird Garden in the Mong Kok district. The garden features stalls selling songbirds, carved wooden cages, and bird food including lots of live creepy crawlies. In American and European pet stores, birds are also commonly for sale, but they tend to be brightly coloured parakeets, budgies, or parrots. At Yuen Po, most of the birds were sandy brown or black and white. They were not being sold for their feathers as much as for their songs.

The bird species were almost all local to Hong Kong, like the oriental magpie-robin and red-whiskered bulbul. They were the same birds we saw while walking in the Chinese Garden of Nan Lian and the mountain forests near Ngong Ping. While we were at the market, we even saw one seller catch a bird that had landed nearby and swiftly stuff it into a cage. It would seem that these birds are caught and then sold, rather than bred for the purpose.

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Animals and authority in the Arctic

I have a new article out co-authored with Peder Roberts (KTH Royal Institute of Technology) on the many attempts and plans by Norwegians to move animals to and from the Arctic during the Interwar period. We teamed up together on this because while I had looked into the muskoxen relocated from East Greenland to Svalbard and the plans to introduce lemmings and rabbits as fox food on Svalbard, Peder had done work on penguin, seal, and reindeer relocations involving the Antarctic. The sheer number of these attempts was mind boggling.

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Animal history at ASEH 2016

Last week I was at the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) meeting in Seattle, Washington. I took part in two sessions on animal history that I wanted to reflect on here.

The first was a roundtable “Animal History: Opportunities, Problems, Controversies, Politics”. The session was put together by Susan Nance (University of Guelph) to highlight some of the approaches and questions brought out in her edited volume The Historical Animal (Syracuse University Press, 2015). The panelists had all contributed to the volume: Susan who wrote the introduction; Zeb Tortorici (New York University) who reflected on animal bodies in Mexican archival sources; an interdisciplinary team of Charles Gunnels IV and Nicola Foote (Florida Gulf Coast University) who looked at early contact accounts of animals and humans on the Galapagos Islands; and myself. My piece in the volume “Migrant muskox and the naturalization of national identity in Scandinavia” had challenged conventional scientific analysis of animal translocation by seeing the muskoxen using analytical frames applied to human migration.

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Belonging to country

What does it mean to belong? When something belongs to someone, it means that person has ownership or title to it. When something belongs to a place, it means that it is accepted there, often making its home there. But I’ve come to think belonging is much more than that after two weeks down under.

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From tiger to devil

The island of Tasmania, Australia, was the final home of the large carnivorous marsupial thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger because of its stripes. The last known thylacine died in September 1936 in a private zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. Because I’ve been interested in extinction and extinction stories, I visited Hobart earlier this week to see the home of the thylacine.

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Dead as a dodo

In all likelihood you’ve heard the phrase ‘dead as a dodo’. The phrase probably has Victorian origins and built upon the existing older saying ‘dead as a doornail’ according to an article by Turvey and Cheke in Historical Biology. The earliest record of the phrase listed now in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1904 and the phrase grew in popularity beginning in the 1940s, if you believe the Google n-gram chart.

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The gifts of 2015

It’s the end of the year and time for reflections over this blog and my research year. Since it is Christmas time and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard various versions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, I let the song inspire this wrap-up.

On the 1st day of Christmas my research gave to me: A starling in a blooming tree

The starling in the US from May Thatcher Cooke, The spread of the European starling in North America (to 1928), US Department of Agriculture. In June I posted about Rachel Carson’s essay “How About Citizenship Papers for the Starling?” which postulated that the European starling is a fully integrated American bird. The starling is a great case for thinking about belonging rather than native/non-native labels as a key element of human/non-human relations.

On the 2nd day of Christmas my research gave to me: Two beaver testicles

The beaver castrating himself before hunters. British Library, Harley MS 4751, fo.9r.In August I discussed a story told in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History about the beaver. Supposedly the beaver will bite off his testicles when in danger, and the testicles are then used for castoreum. Of course, beaver don’t really bite off their testicles and castoreum comes from glands not testicles anyway. But this tale, which was told and retold over the centuries, reminds us of the power of stories in shaping the human-animal relationship.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my research gave to me: Three badger babies

Reddet i sikkerhet" (Taken to safety), one of the photos accompanying the news article "Dagens helter reddet grevlingbarn fra storbrannen," Dagbladet, 18 May 2008.It couldn’t have been a more dramatic story. Firemen rescued three badger kits from a smoldering building and were hailed as heroes. Yet a day later the babies had been euthanized—not because they were not in fine condition, but because there was no place to send them within the city for care. The story speaks poignantly to conflicting ideas of care, as well as the contested role of animals in urban spaces.

On the 4th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Four museum visits

Barbary lions. MNHN, Paris. Photo by D Jørgensen.I had the chance to visit four natural history museums for research this year. First up was the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, where I got to see the body of Martha, the last living passenger pigeon. Next was the Muséum nationale d’Historie naturelle in Paris, where the extinction room weighed heavily upon visitors as a dark and foreboding space. Third was the small local museum Elvarheim in Åmli, the home of Peder Jenson-Tveit and all the beavers which where reintroduced to Sweden. Finally I ventured to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where I admired the newly refurbished muskoxen in Greenland diorama. What all these museum visits have impressed upon me is the value of evaluating what histories of extinction, endangerment and recovery we tell to the public.

On the 5th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Five extinction statues

Lost Bird Project, Labrador duck, April 2015As part of the memorial activities for the 100th year anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, the Smithsonian in Washington DC had a display of five statues of extinct North American birds created by the Lost Bird Project. Four of them (the great auk, hen harrier, Labrador duck, and Carolina parakeet) were in the garden next to Smithsonian Castle; the passenger pigeon was on display in the garden next to the Natural History museum. These statutes really got me thinking about how extinction is memorialised and publicly remembered and I’ve been working to develop a follow-on project on this topic.

On the 6th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Six conferences

The American flag carried out at the end of the Breeds Barn show at Kentucky Horse Park. Photo by D Jørgensen.An important part of being an academic is sharing my research with other scholars and finding out what they are working on. There is always much to learn at conferences and workshops. In 2015, I went to six international conference/workshop events: Urbanizing Nature. The Transformation of City-Nature Relations 1500-2000 (Antwerp); Agricultural History Society (Lexington), American Society for Environmental History (Washington DC), European Society for Environmental History (Versailles), Sawyer Seminar on the Environmental Humanities at UCLA (Los Angeles), and Dam removal: New Environments and New Landscapes? Social, cultural and political issues (Poitiers). I gave papers or participated on round tables at all of these. But more importantly I got to listen to and make connections with others around the world.

On the 7th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Seven muskox posts

New postmark issued in 1973 for Svalbard's Sveagruva featuring a muskoxIn 2015, I posted more about muskoxen than any other animal. Muskoxen have been a valuable resource since the early explorers in the North relied on them as human & dog food, so it’s not surprising that muskoxen meat has been touted as a way of making the Arctic fruitful and wool production as a new business in northern Norway and Alaska. Attempts to domesticate muskoxen even inspired a poem by Marianne Moore. Although muskoxen are officially considered an alien species in Norway and Sweden, the animal has been commemorated on a postmark in Svalbard and a stamp series for the Swedish mountains, revealing its cultural integration. The tension between acceptance and rejection makes the muskox a case worth thinking with.

On the 8th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Eight publications

2015 was a good publishing year for me with 8 published articles. Almost all of them are related to ecological restoration, reintroduction, and rewilding. Here’s the list:

  1. Jørgensen D. 2015. Ecological restoration as objective, target and tool in international biodiversity policy. Ecology and Society 20 (4):43. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08149-200443
  2. Bell D., Hjältén J., Nilsson C. Jørgensen D. and Johansson T. 2015. Forest restoration to attract a putative umbrella species, the white-backed woodpecker, benefited saproxylic beetles. Ecosphere 6(12):278. http://dx.doi.org/10. 1890/ES14-00551.1
  3. Jørgensen D. 2015. Rethinking rewilding. Geoforum 65: 482-488.
  4. Hasselquist E. M., Nilsson , Hjältén J., Jørgensen D., Lind L. and Polvi, L.E. 2015. Time for recovery of riparian plants in restored northern Swedish streams: a chronosequence study. Ecological Applications 25(5): 1373-1389.
  5. Jørgensen D. 2015. Illuminating ephemeral medieval agricultural history through manuscript art. Agricultural History 89: 186-199
  6. Jørgensen D. 2015. The conservation implications of parasite co-reintroduction. Conservation Biology 29: 602-605.
  7. Jørgensen D. 2015. Migrant muskoxen and the naturalization of national identity in Scandinavia. In The Historical Animal, ed. S. Nance, 184-201. Syracuse University Press.
  8. Jørgensen D. 2015. Remembering the past for the future: The function of museums in science fiction time travel narratives. In Time Travel in the Popular Media, ed. J. Ormrod and Matthew Jones, 118–131. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
On the 9th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Nine featured animals

WildBoar_RigaOf course I wrote a lot about beavers and muskoxen on this blog, since they are the animals featured in my primary source research. But I also wrote about other animals. I discussed extinct animals like the passenger pigeon and thylacine, as well as animals that have been reintroduced to previous habitats like the great bustard and Przewalski horse. I even found an aborted attempt to introduce lemming onto the Svalbard archipelago. While humans have a tendency to think they can control and move animals at will, as wildlife numbers grow, tensions between humans and animals have also grown, as demonstrated in the cases of the wild boar and brown bear. I like thinking broadly and applying the lessons of my primary cases to the wider world of human-animal relations.

On the 10th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Ten months of flying

IMG_7986All the conferences, workshops, speaking engagements, museum visits, and archival research I’ve done in 2015 translated into a good bit of time in the air. I had a flight to somewhere every month except January and August. At least I kept my gold frequent flyer status, so I can make use of the showers at the SAS lounge after those long international flights!

On the 11th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Eleven speaking engagements

Androids_DreamMy calendar was packed in 2015! In March, I gave invited talks at Brown University (Providence, USA) and University of Virginia (Charlottesville, USA), as well as participated in the plenary roundtable at the Agricultural History Society meeting (Lexington, USA). In April, I taught a class about science fiction and extinction at KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden); presented a summary of a workshop “Visions of the Premodern North” in a public seminar on Premodern Studies at Umeå University (Umeå, Sweden); and gave a presentation at a symposium on wild reindeer reintroduction in Umeå. In May, I spoke at the graduate school “Transdisciplinary Animal History” organised by Tallinn University (Altmõisa, Estonia). September took me to University of Agder (Kristiansand, Norway) where I talked about blogging and the research process. In October, I gave a talk “History for a Sustainable Future” at the Environmental Humanities event organized by the Sällskapet Riksdagsledmöter och Forskare at the Swedish Parliament (Stockhom, Sweden). In November, I was an invited speaker at the Pratt Institute for Design (New York, USA) and I presented a workshop on writing articles at Luleå University of Technology (Luleå, Sweden) where I started working in August. Whew!

On the 12th day of Christmas my research gave to me: Twelve months to go

It’s been quiet in December (and pretty quiet all fall) here because (1) I started a new job at Luleå University of Technology that is 50% teaching, and (2) I am trying to write my book manuscript based on this research. This ‘Return of Native Nordic Fauna” project goes through next year so I still have more to share with you in 2016! Hopefully one of those things will be a book. Keep an eye out here for more great stories of reintroduction, extinction, belonging, and more.

Explorers and muskoxen

I visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York yesterday. They have an excellent series of dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals, which were originally opened in 1943 and elegantly restored in 2011-12.

The muskox exhibit at American Museum of Natural History. Photo by D Jørgensen, Nov 2015.

The muskoxen on display at American Museum of Natural History. Photo by D Jørgensen, Nov 2015.

One of the dioramas features muskoxen from Ellesmere Island, the third largest island in Canada. The pair were killed by Robert Peary’s Arctic expedition in 1898. This was the first of Robert Perry’s series of expeditions attempting to reach the North Pole (1898-1902, 1905-6, 1908-9) — he claimed to have finally gotten there on the last of those expeditions.

The diorama is framed in terms of Arctic exploration. The sign places the scene at ‘The Bellows’, a Canadian high Arctic valley on Ellesmere Island named by a British expedition team in 1875. The name was chosen because of the valley’s ‘unrelenting winds’. Within this context of exploration, the muskox is claimed to have been critical to the survival of early Arctic explorers like Peary:

Although sometimes musky in taste, musk-ox meat was vital to the survival of many Arctic explorers. Fresh meat supplies some vitamin C, necessary to ward off scurvy. During the British Arctic Expedition of 1875, fresh game was often scarce–and so scurvy debilitated half the crew.

This is true enough, but what the sign doesn’t tell you is that muskoxen like these were much more important as food for dogs than people.

'Royal banquet of my dogs'. Robert Peary, Northward over the 'Great Ice', vol. 1 (1898), p341

‘Royal banquet of my dogs’. Robert Peary, Northward over the ‘Great Ice’, vol. 1 (1898), p341

Peary was one of the great dog sledders. His book Northward over the ‘Great Ice’ about his earlier expeditions in Greenland, 1886 and 1891-96, contains detailed descriptions of muskoxen hunts. Although the men consumed some of the muskox meat, it was primarily for the dogs, which he called his “faithful shadows”. Peter Lent (Muskoxen and their Hunters) estimated that Peary’s 1898-1900 expedition on Ellesmere took at least 180 muskoxen. Considering that a dog sled team needs something around 9-10kg of meat a day, most of the muskox meat was consumed by the dogs. Hunts for muskoxen were thus as motivated by the needs of the dogs as they were the needs of the humans:

With the utmost eagerness we scanned every new prospect for the coveted animals; for we knew that musk-oxen meant fresh meat for ourselves, and an abundant supply of food for our dogs. (332-33)

While hunting animals in order to provide human food might be more palatable than realising that hundreds of muskoxen became dog food, the sign at AMNH misses an important aspect of the story: the muskoxen of Ellesmere, Arctic explorers like Peary, and the sled dogs which powered the exploration were tied up into one history. The multispecies entanglements of the Arctic explorations should not be forgotten.

Stamp of approval?

Muskoxen have been roaming the Swedish mountains only since 1971 (at least this time around – they were present also several thousand years ago). That small group of animals had migrated by themselves over the Norwegian-Swedish border, so it was not a given how people would respond to these ‘new’ animals. For the most part, muskox quickly became understood as a central element in the mountains of Härjedalen, probably because of its novelty and distinctive appearance.

When a Swedish national postage stamp series titled “Fjällvärld” (“Mountain World”) was issued in March 1984, the images chosen were a general mountainscape, the angelica flowering plant (also known as wild celery), the lemming, and the muskox. This human inclusion of muskox in the Swedish fauna came only 13 years after the herd had immigrated over the border.

Fjällvärld series, issued by Swedish Post, 27 March 1984. Personal collection of D. Jørgensen.

Fjällvärld series, issued by Swedish Post, 27 March 1984. Personal collection of D. Jørgensen.

Myskoxe, Fjällvärld series, issued by Swedish Post, 27 March 1984. Personal collection of D. Jørgensen.

Myskoxe, Fjällvärld series, issued by Swedish Post, 27 March 1984. Personal collection of D. Jørgensen.

The muskox stamp’s image was designed by the artist Ingalill Axelsson and engraved by Majvor Franzén. Axelsson, born in 1933, is a major Swedish stamp artist (she has 119 stamps in the Swedish Postmuseum database) and in 1993 won the prestigious Asiago International Award in Philatelic Art. Much of her stamp work features nature images and portraits. Franzén was Sweden’s first woman engraver. She worked for the Post in the 1960s, 70s and 80s; 105 stamps are attributed to her hand in the database. Axelsson and Franzén produced both the lemming and muskox images for the Fjällvärld series.

The text printed (in both Swedish and English) with the first day issue card for the stamp series is telling of the rapid integration of muskox: “In 1971 the musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) came back to the Swedish fauna. The occasion can be seen as a return to the fold, and today there are some 30 animals in the province Härjedalen.” In this text, the muskoxen coming to Sweden was “return to the fold”, or a return home. The idea was that muskoxen were native Nordic animals that had at last come back to Sweden. 

Had muskoxen won a stamp approval in this stamp issue? Certainly some people thought they belonged in the Swedish mountains, but that was not a universal feeling. To this day muskoxen are considered non-native species in official Swedish policy. Their future in the Mountain World of Sweden is uncertain. Like I discussed with a postage mark of a muskox used in Svalbard, iconic status doesn’t guarantee a continued life.

—-

I recently published the larger story of muskoxen as migrants in Sweden and Norway in the article “Migrant Muskoxen and the Naturalization of National Identity in Scandanavia” in The Historical Animal (Syracuse University Press, 2015) edited by Susan Nance. The collection is an impressive exploration of animal history and I’d highly recommend getting a copy.

Change, history, and a talk before Parliament

Förstakammarsalen in Riksdagen where I held my talk

Förstakammarsalen in Sveriges Riksdag where I held my talk was an impressive space

Today I had the opportunity to speak before a group of parliamentary representatives and researchers on the topic of the environmental humanities at Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament. The event, put on by the Sällskapet Riksdagsledamöter och Forskare (RIFO), featured presentations by four Swedish researchers: an environmental scientist, an environmental philosopher, a professor of gender studies, and me as the environmental historian. The description of the event stressed the Anthropocene as a new era and asked us to consider what humanities research could contribute to new modes of thinking. My talk was titled “History for a Sustainable Future” — a title I unabashedly borrowed from fellow environmental historian Michael Egan who has a book series at MIT Press with that name. I wanted to stress the role that history needs to play in environmental policymaking and the real ways that knowledge of the past helps us understand our present, which is how we can get to a better future.

Here is the text of what I shared with the audience:

The discussions of the Anthropocene as a new era do not centre on the presence of humans on Earth but rather on the actions of humans on the planet. The concern with the Anthropocene is a concern about change—more specifically, change brought about by humans to our planetary systems, whether the change affects the ground, the air, or the water. To make the claim that humans are now living in the Anthropocene is to make a claim that things have changed from one thing to something else. To talk about the Anthropocene means that we need to know what change is.

This concern with change is necessarily bound up with time, comparing things past and present. This is where the environmental historian must come into discussions of our sustainable future in the Anthropocene. If we are truly going to work toward a sustainable future for humanity, then we have to know where we are in the present – where we are working from. To really know where we are, we must know where we’ve been and how we got to this place. I study history not to understand how people were in the past, but rather why we are the way we are now. History is the road from the past to the present and the future.

Trained historians are the people best equipped to explore change over time. I acknowledge that other disciplines contribute to these historical inquiries—archeology, paleoecology, literary studies, and more—but environmental historians put the pieces together in ways that look beyond what happened to why something happened. Environmental historians are keen to expose the complex cultural, technological, and economic factors that contribute to the nature-human relationship. We want to reveal the desires and decisions that led to particular patterns and practices. We provide accounts of how environmental problems arise, how problems are defined, and the solutions that have been tried in the past (whether they worked or not). Environmental historians are interested in the symbiotic relationship between the human and non-human, seeing humans as not just a destructive force acting on nature, but also a creative force that is part of nature. Humans are agents of change in the world, but they also change in response to it.

Historical change in the human-nature relationship can develop very slowly over time, a change that would be nearly imperceptible to people living at the time, or it can happen very quickly within a matter of years, as the policy cycle from the late 20th century has operated. The historian looking back from a present perspective can analyse both types of change and how they affect the present. I want to give you three short examples of this from my own research.

I’ll start with the long-term change. I have spent many years researching the waste handling and cleaning practices in late medieval towns. Contrary to popular belief and portrayals of the Middle Ages like Monty Python’s jest that only a king “hasn’t got shit all over him”, keeping a town free from waste and dirt was a big concern in European cities from at least the fourteenth century. Administrative records show that people were not permitted to throw their waste haphazardly in the town. Lists were made of the acceptable waste disposal pits, typically located on the borders of the town. In an age before modern wastewater treatment plants and engineered waste disposal facilities, residents of towns had to do their part to make sure that the city was clean. Here in Stockholm, for example, the city government implemented a complex biweekly neighbourhood street cleaning program in 1557. First, the householder living furthest up the hill from the sea began by sweeping the street and rinsing it with one barrel of water when the town clock struck. Then, as the runoff reached the next neighbour down the street, the neighbour rinsed the street in front of his house with another barrel of water. This proceeded down toward the harbour so that by the end, all of the accumulated dirt and filth was washed into the harbour. Anyone failing to comply with the bi-weekly cleaning was fined. Such a specific plan of action reveals both that the council was keenly interested in city cleanliness and that the responsibility had to be divided among residents in order to achieve that goal.

We handle waste very differently 500 years later in the twenty-first century. Today the average European city dweller is distanced from waste, which is handled by specialists and technological systems. We only see our waste as far as the toilet or the trash can—from there, it disappears and becomes someone else’s problem. Individuals, particularly urbanites, assume that the waste that disappears from their doorstep has vanished as a concern. Yet it hasn’t. Instead, that waste has to be managed by someone else—which might mean incineration in the local plant or recovery of metals from e-waste in Africa. From a historical point of view, we have reallocated who is responsible for dealing with waste disposal from ourselves to others.

The long history of waste management can give us valuable insights for environmental policymaking for a sustainable future. For one, it would be easy to look at the physical technological artifacts of a street with a gutter, an open waste pit or a basic latrine and assume that street maintenance and waste handling in the medieval city was simple and ineffective. But this approach overlooks the complex social relationships that made them work. Social responsibility was key to maintaining a cleaner environment. Secondly, giving personal responsibility came along with having an intimate knowledge about what happened to waste you made. You cannot really be responsible to something you don’t understand. Personal knowledge and responsibility for waste reached their limitation in the modern period. As wastes became more and more toxic, especially as industrial byproducts, specialist knowledge was needed to handle them properly. Likewise the growing numbers and concentration of people in cities demanded efficient infrastructures to manage waste in a centralised fashion. The trend from the mid-1980s onward has been to promote personal responsibility and knowledge again through sorting and recycling programs. A historical view shows that these approaches are not new, both rather the re-envisioned old, so we could learn something by looking at the successes and failures of past efforts to involve people in their own waste management.

For my second example I turn to a more short-term study of the modern offshore oil industry and its environmental effects. I have worked on the policies about rigs-to-reefs – the idea of converting a disused offshore oil platform into an artificial reef – which have developed differently across the globe since the 1970s. In the Gulf of Mexico, making artificial reef habitat from old oil industry structures has been a standard allowable practice since the mid-1980s. In the state of California, it only became permissible in the last 5 years. In the North Sea, rigs-to-reefs is not technically banned, but has never been practiced. So my question as a historian was: Why did the policies about the same thing develop differently in the three places? What I found was that science had little to do with it. Instead, particular events and people led to particular policy outcomes.

Here in the North Sea area, the policy decisions were heavily influenced by specific historical events. In the North Sea, scholarly consensus as of the mid-1990s was that a North Sea rigs-to-reefs program was a viable alternative, yet the debate over the environmental impact (or benefit) of offshore disposal of the rigs heated up in 1995. That year, after Shell had received permission from the UK government to dispose of the offshore installation Brent Spar in deep water, Greenpeace launched a massive protest campaign. Shell eventually changed their decision and moved the Brent Spar to land for scrapping. In many ways, this dashed most hopes for a North Sea rigs-to-reefs program. During the media discussion, Greenpeace used “dumping” of the installation as a verbal framework for Shell’s proposed disposal. “Dumping” with all of its negative associations became the key word around which the opposition rallied. European legislators picked up this discourse and it still dominates the thinking about what a rig conversion really is. In the aftermath of the Brent Spar incident, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR) who governs the disposal of decommissioned oil rigs, issued a total prohibition against toppling structures in place, as well as taking an unprecedented step of banning the use of offshore oil structure material in the construction of artificial reefs in June 1999. The consequences have been far-reaching: no oil structure has ever been made into an artificial reef in the North Sea.

Today there are groups interested in exploring the possibility of making artificial reefs from oil industry structures in the North Sea. As more of these structures become available as their production life ends, it is a reasonable thing to think about since scientific work has stressed the habitat value of such structures. But the proponents of rigs-to-reefs cannot forget history. They need to understand why the policies in Europe have been formulated as they have if they have any hope of changing them.

Comparing the historical development of the same environmental policy enacted in different places and why it has taken a specific shape in each exposes the competing values and goals of the actors involved and the role of specific historical events. Environmental policy is interwoven with social concerns, so if we want to untangle the policy we have to look at its historical development. Policy outcomes are never a given. Policies may not exist for the reasons that we would think of at first glance. They are the results of specific and unique historical circumstances.

My final example involves a rare animal in Scandinavia—the muskox. There is a small herd of wild muskoxen living in the mountains of Härjedalen, currently nine animals. These come from a group of five Norwegian muskoxen who crossed over the border into Sweden in September 1971. They were descendants of muskoxen reintroduced into the Norwegian Dovre mountains from Greenland in the 1940s and 50s. A decision was made in the 1970s to allow the muskoxen to stay in Sweden as “migratory” Scandinavian animals. They ended up staying permanently. In the early 1980s, the herd size was over 30, but it crashed in the late 1980s and has remained low. In response to the crash, a movement started to get environmental protection for the herd, but since the muskox is listed in Sweden as an “invasive species”, it is not possible to have a species protection plan for it. In spite of the lack of official environmental status, there is a muskox breeding centre and an individual female was released into the wild herd in 2013.

The history of the Swedish muskox is a study in contradictions. The muskox doesn’t belong according to the scientists who wrote the Swedish Red List, but it does belong according to passionate local supporters and environmentalists. The history of the animal—that the muskox was last in Sweden three or four thousand years ago—is used by both groups to support their positions. One argues that it has been gone so long that it is no longer native; the other argues that it was once in Sweden so belongs here now. As an environmental historian, I want to expose the ways that history is being mobilised in this debate. Decisions about whether or not the muskox should be protected have everything to do with the way the species’ history is interpreted. Contemporary Swedish policies are being directly affected by even really old history.

In these three examples I hope I’ve showed you that to understand what humans are doing to the planet and why, Anthropocene must be a situated in time and space. Even with the Anthropocene as planetary phenomenon, change happens at local levels. We need deep empirical historical studies to make sense of that change. The way history plays out in particular places and times is unique. This makes it difficult to generalise to all situations, yet there are certainly lessons to be learned for the future from the past.

The political drive to promote environmental sustainability – defined as a long-term, looking forward to the implications of production, consumption, and social structures – has got to take into account human history. We need more integration of history within environmental policymaking to fight against “policy amnesia” and “shifting baseline syndrome”, but also to reveal the positive lessons of history. Humans as a species have proved remarkably resilient, thus learning from how people have faced environmental issues in the past is key to making our sustainable future. In both long term and short term studies of the past we discover why we are the way we are now, a precursor to deciding what we want to be the future.

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