12: Popular Paleolimnology

“Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do” – Ronald Reagan

In episode 12 of Core Ideas, we continue Into the Weeds of paleolimnology by exploring its entrance into public consciousness. We discuss how popular media covered major environmental topics including eutrophication, acidification, climate change, as well as emerging stressors.

Unfortunately, the widespread shutdown due to the current global pandemic has limited our ability to do episode research (e.g. accessing library microfilm records), so our rambling conversation largely relies on hearsay and half-remembered stories.

The general concept of environmental archives is much older than paleolimnology itself, with Leonardo da Vinci believed to have been the first to recognise the link between environmental conditions and tree-ring thickness in the 1400s. However, the collection of ice cores in the 1950s, would have provided a broader introduction to the ecological records at roughly the same time that radiocarbon dating was gaining fame. As environmental concerns including eutrophication, river fires, climate change, acid deposition emerged, the publication of Silent Spring in 1962 was a seminal event for launching the environmental movement. 

Emergence of environmental issues on Google’s Ngram Viewer

Given its importance to the acid rain debates, Hollywood’s continued neglect of paleolimnology is shocking! The closest portrayal we can think of is the paleoclimatologist in the Day After Tomorrow. However, we remain hopeful that one day a big budget movie will accurately portray a cool paleolimnologist defending the planet against an imminent crisis related to road salt, algal blooms, and microplastics.

In contrast, the small screen may have contributed most to public awareness of paleolimnology, with the Journal of Paleolimnology languishing on The Colbert Report’s “On Notice” board with assorted other enemies of freedom.

JOPL still “On Notice” over a decade after the publication of this article!

We wrap up the episode reflecting on personal experiences when popular media has noticed our own work.

Episode 12 can be found here.