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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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Now displaying: September, 2016
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 www.agardjones.org and www.toxicsymposium.org ; PPS “Kepone Factory” is a Dead Kennedys song. Indulge your punk souls here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a41PUZ2oRc

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 (brontaylor.com). 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 standingrock.org 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 (sustainability.rice.edu) 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 :)

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