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Cultures of Energy

Cultures of Energy brings writers, artists and scholars together to talk, think and feel their way into the Anthropocene. We cover serious issues like climate change, species extinction and energy transition. But we also try to confront seemingly huge and insurmountable problems with insight, creativity and laughter. We believe in the possibility of personal and cultural change. And we believe that the arts and humanities can help guide us toward a more sustainable future. Cultures of Energy is sponsored by Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS, pronounced ‘sense’). Join the conversation on Twitter @cenhs and on the web at culturesofenergy.com
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Jan 4, 2018

Cymene and Dominic report on the insane fireworks situation in Reykjavík. Then (16:02) Dominic chats with our esteemed energy humanist colleague Michael Watts from UC-Berkeley. Michael explains how he accidently backed in to studying Nigerian petroculture in the 1970s and how he has traced the formation of the Nigerian petrostate from the Biafran war through the insurgencies of the 1990s and 2000s. We discuss the legacies of those insurgencies for the politics of oil in Nigeria today, the epistemological challenges of trying to comprehend the global character of the petroleum in its local/national manifestations especially when “the numbers make no bloody sense” and the industry shrouds itself in secrecy. We analyze the characteristics of oil frontiers and discuss whether an end to the boom/bust cycle of oil development is nigh. Then we turn to Michael’s recent volume, Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas (Cornell U Press, 2015) edited together with Hannah Appel and Arthur Mason, and especially his chapter on “accumulated insecurities” and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Michael shows us the parallels between the neoliberal deregulation of, and actuarial logics within, the energy and financial industries and this brings Deepwater into a generative comparison with the 2008 financial crash. We move from there to Michael’s partnership with Ed Kashi and why photography has always been a passion of his. We close by talking about Michael’s ongoing interest in agriculture—in particular the future of Californian agriculture in a time of drought and fire—and about his work to demystify the research proposal as an element of graduate training.

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