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
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Dec 29, 2016

Cymene and Dominic ring out 2016 by sharing a few energy and environment stories you might have missed. Then (22:11) we welcome to the podcast Annise Parker, three term mayor of Houston (2010-2016), now a fellow at Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders. As Houston’s greenest mayor, we reflect on the major environmental accomplishments of her administration including making Houston—let’s face it, a city not often associated in the public imagination with sustainability—the largest municipal purchaser of renewable electricity in the country with much improved mass transit and a greatly expanded network of hike and bike trails along the city’s bayou system. Annise talks to us about the important role cities are playing in the fight against climate change, including making markets for renewable energy and pursuing their own “para-diplomacy” with other cities to advance initiatives stalled at other levels of government. She explains why making the economic argument for renewables has been so important in Houston and why she doesn’t view Houston’s oil and gas industry as an impediment to forward progress. She also shares her thoughts on bike programs, automated vehicles, public transportation, migration, and hurricanes. Finally (1:09:46) Annise shares her frank reactions to the election, predicts many broken promises to come, and expresses her faith in the republic. Can she imagine being Senator Parker or Governor Parker down the road? Listen in to find out. Wishing all our listeners peace and love and a happy, fighty new year. Let’s make 2017 better in every respect.

Dec 22, 2016

On this week’s episode of the podcast, Dominic and Cymene relate their fave holiday traditions and identify the one thing that any gift-giving culture should absolutely avoid giving. Then (14:51) to help process our season of hyperconsumption, we welcome to the pod Cindy Isenhour from the University of Maine, co-author of Sustainability in the Global City, (, to talk about her recent research on displaced emissions from the Global North to the Global South. We discuss how the quest to green energy production often neglects the problem of rising commodity consumption and Cindy tells us her thoughts on whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from ecological harm. We talk about Sweden, the first country to officially recognize their displaced emissions, and how Swedish corporatism and cosmopolitanism contributed to that move. We cover Sweden’s efforts to improve China’s carbon efficiency, and how its new tax incentives to encourage reuse and repair of existing commodities are in tension with the government’s hesitation to restrict choice and consumer freedom. Then we turn to her new research on secondary consumption and the vibrant reuse culture of Maine. We reflect on how cheap fossil fuels make it easy to replace instead of reuse and what we in the North might be able to learn from the repair cultures of the South. And we debate whether cities can be the leading edge of climate progress given their own metabolic rift with respect to where their food and energy comes from. Finally, Cindy shares her own gift giving tips. Wishing all of our listeners a peaceful and beautiful holiday week. PS Here’s a photo of the Cultures of Energy rainbow xmas tree!

Dec 15, 2016

All this Russia hacking talk has Cymene and Dominic thinking about Boris, Natasha, Rocky & Bullwinkle. To set matters straight (12:02) Yale anthropologist Doug Rogers joins us to talk about the intersections of energy, power and culture in Russia. We cover the Russian hacking story and what the American news media gets right and wrong about Putin. We dissect the key factions of capital that operate in a petrostate—finance, oil, real estate, military—and their different temporalities and interests. Doug talks about why low oil prices are such a concern Russia today and why Putin might be interested in steering a geopolitics that manages the prices of fossil fuels more tightly. Then we turn to Doug’s recent book, The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture After Socialism (Cornell U Press, 2015) and explore the history of world’s first “socialist oil.” We talk about the differences between petrosocialism and petrocaptalism, and why mining and factory work always had higher social status than oil production in the Soviet Union. We cover Soviet era ecological degradation, the role of environmental movements in the perestroika period and their relative disappearance subsequently. We discuss how the Soviet experience of oil challenges Mitchell’s model of carbon democracy and learn how fear of socialist petrobarter led to the kinds of tax incentives and tolerance for cartelism that western oil producers continue to enjoy to this day. We also touch on the introduction of corporate social responsibility in the Russian oil industry, Lukoil’s recycling of petrowealth into cultural sponsorship, and state-sponsored discourse today about how good climate change will be for Russia. Whether you’re feeling petronostalgia or petrophobia this pod is for you! PS And so you don’t have to Google it, here’s shirtless Putin on a horse. You’re welcome.

Dec 8, 2016

Cymene and Dominic talk fake news and our alleged 'post-truth' condition and then (19:13) we are fortunate enough to welcome to the podcast distinguished Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes who—together with her collaborator Erik Conway—has been drawing attention to disinformation campaigns for decades. We talk about their legendary book Merchants of Doubt ( and Naomi shares her opinions about the current manipulation of public opinion and what impact social media and the Internet have had. We talk about journalism’s reliance on “two sides” reporting and how that has contributed to exaggerating the facticity of climate denial. We discuss how her collaboration with Erik originated and how their most recent book The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia U Press, 2014) began as something of an accident. Then Naomi shares her thoughts on how to persuade people that climate change matters, especially when they are convinced that climate discourse is being used as a pretext to expand governance. She explains why she thinks satire and science fiction can help the cause and we reflect on why partnership between the human sciences and the natural sciences is so important right now even though we still need to work to balance realism and relativism. Finally, we talk about why scientists need to talk about climate change in the present tense and why we all need to articulate the stakes of climate change in an economic register that people seem to be willing to listen to. Ready to become a citizen journalist? We need you, listen on!

Dec 1, 2016

Dominic and Cymene talk Trumpism vs. Reaganism and whether we are somehow cycling back to the "culture wars" on race, gender and sexuality from the 1980s. We drop a (conspiracy?) theory about climate denial and then (16:15) share our recent conversation with J.C. Salyer and Paige West about their work in Papua New Guinea (PNG). J.C. is a lawyer and anthropologist who works as the Staff Attorney for the Arab-American Family Support Center and as an Assistant Professor of Practice at Barnard College, Columbia University. His legal practice focuses on immigration and his research focuses on migration and human rights. Paige is the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, she has conducted research in Papua New Guinea for twenty years and is the co-founder of the Papua New Guinea Institute for Biological Research. Paige talks to us about her latest book, Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (, in which she explores how rhetoric of the PNG's alleged "savagery" operates as a mode of dispossession in domains like tourism, conservation and resource extraction. We discuss how racism and imperialism impacted PNG historically and how some of these ideas filtered into classic anthropological theory. Paige explains how the arrival of the natural gas industry in PNG helped prompt her to write the book and how gas has helped transform PNG's capital, Port Moresby, into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Then we turn to their current collaborative research focused on Australia’s (insane) plan to divert asylum seekers to the Manus Regional Processing Centre in PNG. They explain how this plan activated the long history of colonial relations between Australia and PNG but also miscalculated the extent of PNG’s contemporary connectivity to the rest of the world. We talk about the blurring distinction between different causes of migration (war, economy, climate change) and they argue that the Manus plan should be viewed as an experimental venture that reveals how states like Australia intend to handle increasing refugeeism in the future. J.C. & Paige discuss their sense of why it’s important to develop new categories and ways of thinking for engaging the Anthropocene and the teaching projects they've developed to accomplish that goal. We close on the networks and projects needed to move climate action forward in the Trump era even as we grapple with the genealogies of dispossession and racism that have formed white working class America. One silver lining? Our prediction that punk music is going to come back stronger than ever :) Listen on!

Nov 24, 2016

We’re offering some food for thought on Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week. Our guests are the brilliant scholar-activists Nick Estes and Kristen Simmons who help us to better understand what has happened with the water protectors over the past two months and especially during dramatic recent events at the camp. Nick Estes is Kul Wicasa from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow, and a co-founder of activist organization, The Red Nation. Kristen Simmons is a member of the Moapa Band of Southern Paiutes (NV). She is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the Department of Anthropology. Her work engages toxicity and settler colonialism in the American West. In the conversation (9:40), they explain to us the evolving carceral geography of the camp and how it is functioning as an experimental space for military suppression of native people and social movements. We talk about the recent intensification of violence with the arrival of private security forces, mainstream media blackouts and the importance of social media and drones for both sides of the conflict. Nick emphasizes the intersectionality of the struggle and Kristen reminds us that the Obama administration’s current position to “let it play out” is an ancient strategy of American empire. We find out what Nick and Kristen think will happen next and whether they believe a peaceful resolution is still possible. As they put it, “For our nations to live, this pipeline has to die.” You can find out more information about Standing Rock at the following websites (where donations are also being accepted!):,, . And please check out the excellent Standing Rock syllabus page too at:

And if we may add a plea from CENHS and the podcast to all our listeners: The situation at Standing Rock is incredibly urgent and a powerful reminder of how our colonial past is entangled with our energy future. Please talk about Standing Rock this Thanksgiving weekend with your families, please do something to support the water protectors, please work to counteract blackouts and misinformation, and please help to keep pressure on the political establishment to reach a peaceful solution that respects native rights and sovereignty.

Nov 17, 2016

On this week’s podcast, Dominic and Cymene continue to process election aftermath and offer thoughts on how to escape the dungeon. Then (14:20) things get wavy when Stefan Helmreich from MIT—author of Alien Ocean (U California Press, 2009) and Sounding the Limits of Life (Princeton U Press, 2016)—joins the conversation and we talk about his recent work on waves and water. We start with the submarine trip that got him interested in the sound of fieldwork underwater and these strange entities known as “waves.” He then introduces us to the world of wave science and explains how it can be viewed as anthropology by other means given its constant attention to social concerns like coastal infrastructure, shipping, recreation, and insurance. Stefan discusses why the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the waterline—rising sea level, changing sea surface, and wavy dynamics that modulate sea level. He also explains that even though current models of wave action are based on northern ocean data, it looks increasingly likely that the future will belong to southern ocean dynamics. We visit the largest tsunami simulation basin in the world, learn what “rogue waves” are, and come to understand how, with the coming of wave energy, waves are being reimagined not as enemies but rather as allies whose labor can be harnessed in the struggle against climate change. Stefan offers some reflections on “blue humanities,” the shipwreckocene and Haraway’s Chthulucene. Finally, we turn toward his current research in the Netherlands with its long and complex relationship to water. And, yes, Cymene asks him about surfing and his answer is the best. Listen on!

Nov 10, 2016

Cymene and Dominic share honest thoughts from the morning after the morning after. Then, because we all need a new superhero right about now, (27:07) Beth Povinelli of Columbia anthropology fame joins us for a conversation that riotously veers between serious philosophical discussion and Scooby Doo. Our dreaming is Beth’s latest work, Geontologies: A Requiem for Late Liberalism (Duke U Press, 2016). She explains what she means by “geontopower,” how it challenges our common biontological distinction between life and non-life, and why she is not arguing for a new metaphysics of power or objects. We talk about how Anthropocene conditions may have made geontopower more visible to some, but how it has been felt for a long time in places on the fringes of settler colonialism like the aboriginal community of Belyuen where Beth has been doing fieldwork for decades. She explains the three figures of geontological discourse and governance—the desert (nonlife is encroaching into life), the animist (everything is life anyway) and the virus (the tactical use of both life and nonlife that yet has unexpected outcomes)—and how they connect to late liberalism more generally. Beth then shares her concerns about contemporary philosophical movements like speculative realism and object-oriented ontology and explains why her intervention isn’t part of any “ontological turn” but rather a contribution to the revelation that our northern metaphysics of being are deeply biontological and epidermal, part of a love affair with the concept of life and its difference from non-life. So Geontologies means to offer a monstrous twist to that tradition. Turning back to Belyuen, Beth explains how Karrabing analytics offer by comparison probative epistemics, a testing of the world, rather than a bounded “belief system” or “body of knowledge” as normally construed. Karrabing analytics say that all forms of existence have extimate material relations to one another and illuminate how settlers prize the tight integrity of their bodies and overdramatize their lives and deaths as absolute beginnings and ends. In the end Beth explains that she’s not saying, and we quote, “Screw life. Who gives a fuck. I like rocks”—but rather underscoring the point that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine other modes of existence becoming dominant.

Nov 4, 2016

It turns out that one of your co-hosts is a magical creature – feel free to guess which one. This week we are thrilled to welcome to the podcast (9:35) fellow Oaxacanist anthropologist Andrew Mathews who shares his thoughts on states and statecraft and how best to conceptualize and study what they do. We talk about his excellent book, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise and Power in Mexican Forests (MIT Press, 2011) and focus in specifically on the Mexican state and whether it is indeed as weak as is often claimed. Speaking of forest management, we discuss why states fear fire even as they frequently act to parasitize crises as opportunities for political intervention. We talk about how bureaucracies produce both knowledge and non-knowledge and about the gap between rhetorics of state power and the reality of disorder and transience within bureaucracies. We discuss the emotional landscape of patron-client relations and the political landscape of resource conservation. Then, we pivot toward Andrew’s new research on forest protection, biomass energy and climate change in Italy. He explains why modeling and “hypothetical futures” are becoming such key features of statecraft in the Anthropocene. Ever wonder what exactly constitutes “a forest”? That answer and much more on this week’s episode!

Nov 1, 2016

On today’s special bonus Tuesday episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic share their election season nerves and then have the chance (9:05) to talk to novelist Fred Stenson ( ) about his recent and moving work, Who by Fire (Doubleday Canada, 2014), which explores the history of oil and gas development in Canada through its impact on two generations of one family. Fred shares his own family’s history with sour gas plants, which helped shape certain events in the novel and we talk about the complex legacy of wealth, toxicity and precarity that oil and gas extraction has left in his native Alberta. Fred explains why he wanted the novel to be about trauma and how fossil fueled progress has often been bought at the expense of rural people. But he also explains why he needed to represent the situation in its full complexity, including the efforts and idealism of many engineers working in the oil and gas industry. We discuss the codependence of government and industry in energy development and compare the dynamics of early oil and gas production with today’s fracking and tar sands production. We touch on the history of indigenous peoples’ relationship to oil and gas in Canada and Fred concludes by explaining why publishers aren’t very supportive of novels about oil, which can be both depressing and technical. His point well-taken is that readers need to back up their concerns with curiosity.

Oct 27, 2016

Cymene and Dominic define (finally!) professionalism and offer a brief review of Leonardo DiCaprio’s soon to be released climate change documentary, Before the Flood. Then (11:43) we are very pleased to welcome to the podcast acclaimed novelist, Amitav Ghosh, author of The Shadow Lines (1988), The Hungry Tide (2004) and The Ibis trilogy (2008-2015), among many other works. We talk about his latest work of non-fiction, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and why he thinks it has proven so difficult to bring climate change into literature. We discuss the worldview of the novel and how its emphasis on creating believable narratives has excluded precisely the kinds of unlikely anthropocenic encounters that are becoming increasingly frequent across the world. Amitav argues that before an alternate world can become a reality, it needs to become an imaginative reality and this is why the arts are so crucial to coming to terms with the Anthropocene. We also discuss “serious” art’s fear of being deemed merely “illustrative” and how this may be linked to a Cold War aversion to the aesthetics of socialist realism. Now, Amitav warns, the world has risen up as a protagonist even as our means of representation aren’t up to engaging it. He predicts that the mansions of serious fiction will suffer a similar fate to the mansions of Miami beach as our waters rise. We talk about what is really being denied in climate change denial and how the privileges and comforts of a carbon-fueled lifestyle is something which neither the West nor Asia is prepared to give up. We close with Amitav’s own next novel project and how climate change inspires him personally and artistically.

Oct 21, 2016

Cymene and Dominic say hello from Copenhagen and muse about the humanities’ expanding color spectrum. We then welcome (12:12) to the podcast the fabulous Stacy Alaimo, Professor of English at the University of Texas-Arlington and author of the celebrated Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Indiana U, 2010). We discuss her new book, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (U Minnesota 2016), in light of her thinking about trans-corporeality and ethics in the Anthropocene. Stacy shares her concerns that an abstract sense of species identity and pride is too often smuggled into the Anthropocene concept and explains why she thinks material feminism and feminist science studies have become such important resources for understanding our present condition. We discuss why the turn toward materiality and material agency demands that we engage science in new ways. We talk about the unruly agency of xenobiotic chemicals, deep sea creatures, epigenetics, and how to remake human sprawl to take other creaturely interests into account. Stacy explains that she is not in the hope business but that she does support ecodelics—the mind altering exercise of trying to imagine and feel the Anthropocene from nonhuman perspectives. Stacy’s German Shepherd, Felix, kindly helps us grasp this last point and he shares his thoughts on squirrel metonymy and his unease when the postman cometh. The lesson of the Anthropocene? There is no someplace else. So be present for all the species in your ecology, dear friends!

Oct 13, 2016

Fresh off her #SXSL White House appearance with Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, we welcome (10:54) to the podcast this week atmospheric scientist extraordinaire, Katharine Hayhoe, Professor at Texas Tech, and one of the world’s most active and talented communicators about the dangers of climate change ( We discuss how climate change became such a highly polarizing political issue in the United States and what motivated her to become a climate scientist in the first place. Katharine explodes the myth that only a certain type of person cares about climate issues and she describes her work with evangelical communities in West Texas to counteract the misconception that climate science is somehow anti-Christian. We talk about climate change as a tragedy of the commons, her insights into the schizophrenic character of oil companies, and about corporate cultures that lose sight of our collective responsibility to each other and to the planet. We compare climate denialism and evolution denialism and Katharine tells us why, in her view, anyone who reads the Bible carefully would be at the front of the climate change movement. We close on her media projects like James Cameron’s Years of Living Dangerously ( and her new Global Weirding web series in partnership with KTTZ ( Enjoy!

Oct 7, 2016

We talk art and artistic superpowers on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast. Our special guests (9:59) are the celebrated conceptual and multimedia artist Tania Mouraud ( and Allison Myers, the curator of Tania’s new exhibition, Everyday Ogres. The exhibition is composed of three videos, Once Upon a Time, Face to Face and Fata Morgana, which bring to life the immensity and intensity of industrial sites around the world. Fata Morgana, for example, was filmed at an oil refinery in Pasadena, TX, and captures the “invisible death” it sets into motion. We hear the stories behind the making of the videos and Tania explains why she seeks not a documentary process with her work but rather to forge an emotional and sensory connection through our bodies. We go on to cover Tania’s coming of age as an artist, why she burned all her paintings that one time, and why she loves to change mediums. Tania and Allison reflect on death and the Anthropocene as muses and we turn toward how the arts engage our environmental situation today. Tania explains why her view of ecology is not reductive; it is about finding new ways of being a citizen in the world. Everyday Ogres will be shown at the University of Texas-Austin Visual Arts Center until December 10th, . Please check it out!

Oct 4, 2016

On this special bonus midweek episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, we welcome (10:25) qualitative economist and green energy consultant Dr. Woody Clark (, author most recently of Smart Green Cities (Routledge, 2016) and The Green Industrial Revolution (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2014). Woody shares his long and varied experience in green technology beginning in the 1990s with his work as Manager of Strategic Planning for Technology Transfer Lawrence Livermore Lab, as a renewable energy and financial advisor to California Governor Gray Davis, and later as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. We talk about the United States’ missed opportunities in renewable energy development, the coming of a green industrial revolution, why agile energy systems may be more important than energy deregulation, the role of China in securing global energy transition, cap and trade vs. carbon tax, and whether what Woody calls “civic capitalism” could be an antidote to the invisible hand economic thinking of the past few decades. Are we looking at a post-grid future? Is the Chinese state really authoritarian when it comes to its energy planning? How sunny is the future of solar? These questions and more answered right here!

Sep 29, 2016

This week’s podcast dives into ‘the chemical turn’ in the human sciences. Dominic and Cymene talk intoxication and wonder whether there’s a drug that could cure patriarchy. Then (9:04) we welcome Prof. Vanessa Agard-Jones from Columbia University to the studio to learn about her fascinating research on toxicity and chemical kinship in Martinique. We hear the story about how the pesticide chlordecone/kepone—a chemical now banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants—was introduced to Martinique by the owners of its banana plantations. Widespread use of the pesticide for over a decade has left the island and its citizens living in a plume of toxic contamination even over two decades after the pesticide was finally banned. We discuss the North/South, racial and postcolonial dynamics of Martinique’s situation and how ambient toxicity undermines both the possibility of “eating local” and the idea of political independence. Then Vanessa explains her theoretical approach to chemicals, how she seeks to balance the concerns of old and new materialisms in concepts like “chemical kin/esthesia” and “molecular ethnography.” We talk about vectors and scales of exposure, why she wants to study the body memory of the Caribbean and why she is looking to geology to think about accretion and sedimentation. In closing Vanessa explains why the chemical turn is also a queer turn and why she thinks it should be queerer still. Enjoy! PS For more on the chemical turn and Vanessa’s work, see and ; PPS “Kepone Factory” is a Dead Kennedys song. Indulge your punk souls here:

Sep 22, 2016

Cymene and Dominic compare their ecospirituality on this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, appreciate the mystical connectivity among all Californians and then Dominic explains the two aspects of Nature that frighten him the most. After all that (10:44) we welcome to the podcast our true spirit guide, Bron Taylor, Professor of Religion and Nature, Environmental Ethics, and Environmental Studies, at the University of Florida ( We talk about his landmark book Dark Green Religion (U California Press, 2010) and Bron explains the increase in naturalistic and Gaian spirituality across the world today. We discuss the struggle between biocentric and anthrocentric ethics, how collaborations between indigenous and environmentalist movements have helped create green countercultures and we debate Lynn White’s thesis that Christianity has helped to accelerate contemporary ecological crisis. We cover the mainstreaming of green spirituality in popular culture, science and media and whether the “dark” in “dark green” also has something to do with violence. Finally, we turn to Bron’s most recent book, Avatar and Nature Spirituality, (Wilfrid Laurier U Press, 2013) and discuss what role films like Avatar might play in spreading green spiritual ideas and feelings. Why have most humans been so slow to react to their environmental predicaments? How is Abrahamic spirituality connected to agriculture? Is surfing an aquatic nature religion? All these answers and more on this week’s episode!

Sep 16, 2016

Until a few weeks ago, most of us hadn’t heard about the lawsuit and protest of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Now the resistance is the subject of national and international media coverage. Still, there is much we do not understand about the history and stakes of what is happening at Standing Rock in terms of Indigenous rights and sovereignty, climate justice, and the struggle for energy transition. By way of comparison, Cymene and Dominic briefly discuss Indigenous resistance to energy projects in their fieldwork in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Then (11:08) we welcome to the podcast Jaskiran Dhillon and Nick Estes. Jaskiran is a first generation academic and advocate who grew up on Treaty Six Cree/Métis Territory in Saskatchewan. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at The New School and author of the forthcoming Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (U Toronto, 2017). Nick Estes is Kul Wicasa from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow, and a co-founder of activist organization The Red Nation. A winner of a Native American Journalist Association award for his writing, Nick’s research focuses on the history and politics of the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation), border town violence, colonialism and decolonization, and Indigenous internationalism and human rights. Together we discuss what led to opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the legacies of settler colonialism and empire in the region, and the impact Indigenous youth are having on the climate justice movement. Jaskiran and Nick explain to us why what is happening at Standing Rock is truly unprecedented and why it might give us hope despite how deeply pipeline politics remain invested in traditions of settler violence. Finally, we discuss what they think will happen next and how people wishing to support the resistance can help; for those with the resources to help, donations to the legal defense fund and to support the community can be made at PS special thanks to Audra Simpson for helping to make this episode possible!

Sep 9, 2016

It's our back to school episode this week! And to make some of us feel a little better about being back at school, we want to highlight all the good green work that goes on, often behind the scenes, on our college campuses. Dominic and Cymene share their views on the necessity of office space and then welcome (10:40) to the podcast Rice University’s chief sustainability officer, Richard R. Johnson, Director of ACSEM ( and Professor of the Practice of Environmental Studies in Sociology. Richard walks us through the history of the campus sustainability movement and explains why jobs like his these days are more about things like rethinking building design, improving power purchase agreements and getting students engaged in changing the carbon footprint of their campus than they are about recycling. Richard makes the case for the benefits of using less and explains how a shift to solar energy could revolutionize campus life. He shares his mixed feelings about divestment campaigns and discloses what “sustainability” means to him. We close on how to change the sprawl mindset in campus development and Dominic eventually agrees to give up his office in exchange for a coffee card. Does your campus have a frivolous building project that is driving you crazy? Do you want some good ideas for how to make your campus, academic or otherwise, greener? Then this episode is for you!

Sep 2, 2016

Big news this week, friends, it turns out we’re living in the Anthropocene after all. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the International Union of Geological Sciences released its report at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town that we have left the Holocene behind. Cymene and Dominic find themselves more melancholy than they expected to be about this. But fortunately we’re able to talk it over (12:50) with Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Paleobiology at the University of Leicester, author of the marvelous The Planet in a Pebble (Oxford, 2010), and the Chair of the AWG. Jan walks us through the Working Group’s process of investigation, the forms of evidence that mattered to them and the ensuing debate over whether to make the Anthropocene a new geological time unit. We discuss the early history of climate science, the origin of the Anthropocene concept, what skeptics of the concept are thinking, and the study of deep time as a labor of love that may be able to help us all with the transition to a new sense of time. Is the Anthropocene an age or an epoch, when exactly did it begin, what are its key markers? What is the “golden spike” we are now hearing about? Even if we can’t make anyone feel better about the Anthropocene, we can at least answer some of your questions about it :)

Aug 26, 2016

Dominic and Cymene discuss air conditioning, fathers who don’t listen, and share certain VC-ready ideas for revolutionary technology. Then (10:04) we welcome to the podcast esteemed and delightful Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen to talk about his recent book Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change ( and the collaborative research project from which it originated. We talk about intertwining crises of economy, environment and culture in the context of the mind-boggling acceleration of social change over the past 25 years. Thomas muses on how modernity has lost its nerve and faith in progress as endless cheap energy has finally turned against us. This brings us to the double-bind of modernity between growth and sustainability and why today’s goals for development should focus more on improving relationships than on securing material luxuries. Thomas concludes that we need more political imagination about what constitutes a good life. We then turn to his fieldwork in Gladstone, Australia, a city “marinated in fossil fuels,” and its struggle with “solastalgia,” the sense of loss connected to the rapid deterioration of natural environment. Thomas agrees that it’s no accident the Overheating project is based in Norway given the country’s somewhat paradoxical situation—“the vegetarian that runs a butcher shop”—as a petrostate strongly commitment to environmental sustainability and future-oriented ethical investment. We close by musing on how increasing climate refugeeism might impact European multiculturalism in the future. Concerned that the treadmill of modern life is moving ever faster? Then this episode is for you.

Aug 19, 2016

This week’s episode takes a close look at New Orleans and shines some light on the legacies of Hurricane Katrina and the impacts of climate change as Louisiana suffers under another round of mass flooding. Our guest and guide (11:39) is the brilliant Shannon Lee Dawdy—Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, author of Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans (U Chicago Press, 2008), and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow—who weaves together anthropological, archaeological and historical methods in her research and writing. We talk about her most recent book, Patina: A Profane Archaeology (U Chicago Press, 2016) and what it teaches us about the importance of materiality and narrative in the history of New Orleans. We talk about New Orleans’s distinctive critical nostalgia and how it challenges the temporality and utilitarianism of the fast capitalism that surrounds it. We talk about collective care of objects and responses to trauma. And we talk about contemporary ruins, living with ghosts, how Louisiana’s relationship to the oil industry and riverine commerce has undermined its environmental stability, and whether the levees will hold in the future. We agree on the revolutionary potential of everyday practices and small acts. We then (58:00) turn toward her current ethnographic research and film about contemporary American death practices, which Shannon convinces us is a happier topic than it sounds. We touch on popular ontologies of the afterlife, the rise in green burial practices, cremation and carbon footprint, and the beauty of cemeteries. The takeaway: death affirms life, but also reminds us that what we do with our finitude makes all the difference. So, dear listeners, please send energy and support to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana and tend to the people and places you love.

Aug 12, 2016

Your co-hosts wonder why coal seems so sinister and they’re pretty sure it has something to do with all those Santa-related threats. Then (8:51) we welcome University of Chicago environmental and intellectual historian Fredrik Albritton Jonsson to the podcast to discuss his two remarkable books, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (Yale, 2013) and Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin’s Lake District (co-authored with Vicky Albritton; U Chicago, 2016). Fredrik takes us back to mid 18th century Scotland and 19th century England to discuss the deep historical roots of contemporary concerns about fuel, growth and the natural limits of growth. We talk about competing energy and environmental visions in 18th and 19th century political economy and natural history. We touch on 18th century climatology, the nuances of Adam Smith’s value theory and how British imperialism contributed to undermining the importance of land and population in economic theory. We debate whether physiocratism is on the rise again and Fredrik let us eavesdrop on his conversations with Dipesh Chakrabarty about how to think about the Anthropocene. Finally (51:10) we turn to art historian and renegade political economist John Ruskin, whose concerns about anthropogenic climate change in the 1860s and 1870s led him to form an early “post-carbon” community in Britain’s Lake District. Yet, surprise surprise, his “simple life” turns out not to have been that simple after all :) Are fossil fuels really the edifice of modern notions of equality and freedom? Listen on! PS -- Special thanks go to Anthony Penta from UChicago Creative for producing this episode and to Elise Covic, Deputy Dean of the U of Chicago’s College for helping to set up the recording.

Aug 5, 2016

Cymene and Dominic test out the identity of “semi-professional podcasters” by reeling off impressive sounding words like “load-shedding” and “blackout” and then (10:21) we welcome University of Washington political scientist Sunila Kale to the podcast. She indulges our twin fascinations with electricity and India by discussing her landmark book—wait for it—Electrifying India (Stanford, 2014). We discuss the colonial legacies that shaped the making of India’s power system and also the important regional differences that explain why in some states in India only 30% of homes have reliable access to electricity. We discuss the differential experiences of grid in India and how the middle-classes have adapted to an unstable electricity supply with inverters and generators. We touch on why the recent flood of international green energy investment has not been able to successfully address the complex social and political questions around electricity distribution. Indeed, Sunila’s new collaborative research focuses on how India is coping with a growing abundance of expensive green electricity, innovations in demand side management and a new political emphasis on increasing competition in the electricity market. We talk about Akhil Gupta’s argument that countries like India cannot repeat the mistakes made by the Global North as they increase their electricity usage and Sunila points out that India is already diverging from the northern model in terms of the supplementation of grid by batteries and rooftop solar. Sunila finally debunks the argument that more coal-powered electricity will be vital for India’s future social and economic development. What will it take to make energy a civil rights issue in India? Listen on!

Jul 29, 2016

It’s Dominic’s birthday and he’ll cry if he wants to. Your co-hosts first talk green virtue and anthropocenic temperance and Cymene’s childhood close encounter with a tiger. We then (9:02) welcome to the podcast a very distinguished guest, Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy at New York University and author of Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford University Press, 2014). We talk at length about his moving collaborative project with novelist Bonnie Nadzam (author of Lamb and Lions) and their recently published collection, Love in the Anthropocene ( Dale posits love as the antithesis of narcissism and describes why contact with the real is so much more important than enveloping ourselves in fantasy. We talk hierarchy and class and why the Anthropocene will be better for some than for others. Yet, Dale emphasizes the newness of our present situation and says we should spend more time thinking and trying to understand our problems and less time relying on familiar categories and chasing solutions. Tracking back to Dale’s earlier work, we touch on the virtues, our need to recover agency, why we should tax email, and the intergenerational ethics of climate change. Then we turn to his current research on how the Anthropocene has challenged the categories and practices of liberalism, eroding both our traditional agency presupposition and public/private distinctions. The point being that we really don’t know how to govern in the Anthropocene—and, maybe we didn’t in the Holocene either! But in any case we live in a time in need of a great deal of political experimentation. We close with how surfing brought Dale to Environmental Studies and why philosophy matters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Do you think we have too much populism and not enough democracy? Listen on!

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