In his latest book, On the Edge: Water, Immigration and Politics in the Southwest, Char Miller investigates the challenges of living within the region's complex natural systems and the interplay of politics, the environment and the region's residents.
The book, published by Trinity University Press, grew out of Miller's experience living and traveling in the Southwest. When he moved back to Claremont from Texas in 2007 – a relatively straight shot of 1,321 miles along Interstate 10 – he began to realize just how many links bound the broader region.
"The railroad offered the first clue as we followed the sun's arc," says Miller. "Blasting along in the other direction was an endless stream of trains pulling mile-long couplings of boxcars and flatbed containers from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to more easterly markets. Lots of other signs were there too…. SoCal is part of the larger Southwest, bound to it by means of culture and borders [and] because of the politics of water and immigration that define much of its public space."
The book's 43 readable essays are divided into four sections: "Alamo City," "Rough Waters," "Borderline Anxieties" and "Southland." Throughout Miller brings his ability to summarize history and policy to illuminate a variety of issues and to frame ideas and questions about how people might live better, more conscientious lives more suited to their environment and its resources. His essays on Southern California, for example, cover fires, flooding and flood plains, urban sprawl, coastal erosion, water management and environmental policy.
"I explore how we live in this contested land," explains Miller, "how we make our place in the often-arid terrain, an ecosystem that burns easily, floods often and defies our efforts to nestle in its foothills, canyons and washes. If you add climate change to the mix, the issues most concerning to the Southwest will escalate across the century…. We have a really interesting set of challenges, but also an interesting set of opportunities for trying to live more carefully in a landscape of diminishing resources."
Miller, the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Science at Pomona College, is the author Gifford Pinchot as well as the Making of Modern Environmentalism, Deep in the Heart of San Antonio, and On the Border, and the editor of several others. His last book, Between Ruin and Restoration: An Environmental History of Israel, co-edited with Daniel Ornstein and Alon Tal (University of Pittsburgh, 2013) features essays by leading experts in policy, history, and activism addressing Israel's continuing environmental transformation from the biblical era through its future aspirations. Prior to joining Pomona's faculty, he was a professor of history at Trinity University.