In her acclaimed first book, “Floating Coast,” historian Bathsheba Demuth explores how capitalism, communism and ecology have clashed for over 150 years in the remote region of Beringia, the Arctic lands and waters stretching between Russia and Canada. Demuth trekked through the landscape and historical archives in search of answers to questions such as: How did whales become known through the labor of their killing? What happened when human ideas of “progress” were subject to the pressures of arctic life? Why did the superpowers’ grand attempts to cultivate a reindeer farming industry fail? In this episode, we speak with Demuth about these questions and about how creatures like bowheads whales were understood, imagined, and treated vastly differently by three distinct groups of hunters over the past two centuries — indigenous Yupik and Inupiaq whalers, capitalist whalers, and communist whalers — and the fundamental role animals themselves played in how its history unfolded.
For the past ten years, journalist Christopher Ketcham has documented the confluence of commercial exploitation and government misconduct on public lands across the West, the role of the livestock and energy industries in their despoliation, and the impact of rampant federal land management agency capture on wildlife. We speak with Ketcham about his fierce new book, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West, which Outside Magazine called “the Desert Solitaire of our time.” The national commons that Ketcham focuses on — hundreds of millions of acres stretching across 12 Western states — are managed on the public’s behalf by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Both agencies operate with a “multiple use mandate.” This means they are required to strike a balance between using the land for purposes that generate economic profit and protecting the health of the ecosystem. But today, Ketcham says, “multiple use” is multiple abuse and our public lands — and the wild animals and plants that depend on them — are being pillaged, poisoned, and assaulted by industries and the government agencies captured by them.