Cymene and Dominic kick off the last podcast of 2017 with an emotional year in review; there is talk of resolutions for 2018 and then Cym informs the world about what it’s like to be in a float cabin that’s a little too cold. We are then (18:03) so happy to share our last 2017 podcasty moments with the ever-dynamic Macarena Gómez-Barris from Pratt Institute. We do a deep discussion of her new book, The Extractive Zone (Duke U Press, 2017), its queer and porous analytics, and the project of foregrounding “submerged perspectives” from the Americas against the backdrop of racialized extractive capitalism. We talk about how to localize a phenomenon as vast and complex as extractivism, New Age settler colonialism, and how Andean phenomenology can offer different modes of ecological thinking and social praxis to northern norms. Maca explains why she thinks undoing our sense of mastery in academic work is itself a contribution to an anti-extractivist politics and the conversation moves from there to decolonizing the anthropocene and capitalocene concepts with the help of southern ecofeminisms and the arts. Maca introduces us to the fish-eye episteme and how it can counteract the drone/surveillance logic of technocracy and also to “geochoreography”—moving with the earth and being moved by it. We close by discussing the work of the new Global South Center she just founded at Pratt and her effort to widen the audience for critical theory. Wishing all of our listeners a very happy new year. We’ll see you on the other side in 2018. And meanwhile remember that it’s all about the tease.
On this holiday edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic discuss redistributions of wealth and what they are looking for in a holiday robot. Then (10:51) we welcome someone who we’ve been dying to talk to for some time—Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. We begin with her long-standing interest in climate science and where she thinks the epistemic and institutional roots of U.S. climate skepticism lie. We talk about the broader problem of transcendental facts vs. situated experiences, how civic epistemologies of climates are formed, and what it means to talk about “belief” in climate change (and Santa Claus for that matter). We move from there to technologies of humility, efforts to democratize science, knowledge silos, inter-expert rivalries and the possibilities of epistemic charity. Sheila explains to us why matters of fact and matters of concern are inseparable and why critique has never run out of steam. Finally she shares her thoughts about how institutions like the IPCC could pay greater attention to justice issues and about how we can work to create a global democracy commensurate with global knowledges and global publics.
Dominic and Cymene wonder if they could drink 12 diet cokes a day. That makes us thirsty for water and the life aquatic and so (11:44) we welcome the brilliant Marianne Lien from the University of Oslo to the podcast. We begin with faunal and floral settler colonialism in Tasmania and discuss early ventures in aquaculture and acclimatization around the world. Then we dive into Marianne’s fabulous and influential book, Becoming Salmon (U California Press, 2015), and hear how a project that started with a focus on globalization made its own multispecies turn toward the study of domestication. We talk about the salmon domus, terrestrial vs. aquatic modes of husbandry, unmaking the wild/domesticated distinction, what invisibility means for human/animal relations, mirrors and boundaries, and the diversity of salmon cultures. From there we cover salmon aesthetics and caring for swarms, the trouble with killing animals, the growing recognition of the sentience of salmon, the value of anthropomorphism for multispecies understanding and the complexity of trying to engineer an ecology. We close by talking about Marianne’s new work on landscapes and assimilation in Norway’s north and what anthropology can contribute to public understanding of the multiplicity of the world. Listen and enjoy! PS Cymene had to disappear half-way through the main interview to be on a AAA panel; rumors of her having had enough of her co-host are totally or at least 75% untrue :)
Coming to you this week from Kreuzberg, Cymene and Dominic imagine Truman Show Berlin. Then (9:04) we connect to Australia at long last with the help of Astrida Neimanis from the University of Sydney. We talk about her recent book, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (Bloomsbury, 2017), and her efforts to rethink embodiment and relationality via water. Astrida explains to us the difficult capaciousness of “water” as a concept and the need for more particular phenomenological engagements, weighs in on “blue humanities” and talks with us about what seems distinctive and exciting about feminist environmental humanities today. We talk misogyny and the erasure of feminist voices, the politics of citation, and toxic masculinities and that brings us to Astrida’s new body of work on water as a queer archive of feeling. She explains why she thinks we need to talk more about our crazy attachment to a fossil-fueled life and what we can learn about desire from what is dumped in the deep watery places of the world. We talk about the multiplicity of anthropocene temporalities, tidalectics, and building antichrononormative communities. We muse on fathoming and the messy contingencies of water and knowledge and why we need more relating and better imaginaries. We close on which archives Astrida wants to work on next, in particular chemical weapons in the seas around Australia and “rehabilitated” wetlands near Hamilton Ontario, and how water always forgets but also always remembers.
Cymene and Dominic report from the AAA meetings in Washington DC and talk love, monsters, vodkasts, sodcasts and godcasts. Then (10:49) we are joined by the delightful Kregg Hetherington who transports us to the soylands of Paraguay. We talk about his book Guerilla Auditors (Duke UP, 2011), discourses of corruption and transparency, the pathologization of campesino life and the social life of documents. We turn from there to the soy boom in Paraguay, the fragility of monoculture and the impact of soy agriculture’s extensive chemical infrastructure. Kregg explains why he views soy as a hyperobject and what he sees as the potentials and limits of “soy democracy.” We discuss the statist trap of environmental progressivism, infrastructure, how to avoid a “monoculture of the mind” and we debate the ethics of the future perfect as we wrestle with the anthropocene. Wondering what “agrobiopolitics” is? Listen on!
Cymene and Dominic explain “trunk cake” and then (9:27) we welcome to the podcast the fabulous Joe Masco, author most recently of Theater of Operations (Duke UP, 2014). The conversation starts with the relationship between affect and knowledge in the U.S. security state and whether Joe thinks biosecurity has maintained its noir character in the Trump era. We discuss the critical role the imaginary plays in counter-terrorist statecraft, how the war on terror helped to lay groundwork for the spread of propaganda and “alternative facts” today, and how today’s condition of climate emergency draws upon discourses and infrastructures of nuclear emergency developed in the 20th century. Joe explains how radioactive fallout studies helped shape the science of ecology and prompt the first international environmental treaties and why the department of defense today views climate change through the lens of weapons of mass destruction. We talk about what institutions of national security and a “deep (petro)state” are contributing to resistance to climate action and Joe tells us how the nuclear era is entering into a new phase in the 21st century even as nuclear statecraft appears to have abolished both “war” and “peace” from the political imagination. We close with a discussion of nuclear renaissance and nuclear sublime and why we must resist a climate sublime that is emerging to take its place.
On this week’s landmark 100th episode of the podcast, the artist-almost-known-as-Bebeny tells the true crime story behind her name. Then (14:07) we welcome to the centenary party celebrated writer (and walker!) Robert Macfarlane, author most recently of Landmarks (PenguinRandomHouse, 2015) as well as a frequent contributor to The Guardian. We start with how Rob got from his humble beginnings in 19th century Victorian literary studies to the marvelous entanglements of language and landscape that have been his muse and craft for many years now. Rob talks about his work to salvage the linguistic attentiveness to nature found in the cultures of Britain as well as his fascination of late with what happens when a rapidly changing climate outstrips our lexical resources. That leads us to “solastalgia,” the existential distress we experience through rapid environmental change and dwelling loss. And to Rob’s landscape word of the day project which reveals a hunger for biodiverse terrain language. We ruminate on the “English eerie” as an alternative to the pastoral and how it impacts our peripheral vision of environmental disruption. We touch on the plastics crisis, apocalyptic dreams, shifting baseline syndrome, the gap between childhood and nature, and children as wondernauts. Rob tells us about his trip to the Onkalo nuclear waste storage facility in Finland, a structure devoted to the time scale of eternity, and the problem of communicating danger to future cultures. Then we share our encounters with ice, talk cryo-human relations and the true meaning of nostalgia. If you enjoyed this conversation, please check out Rob’s new film, Mountain (dir. Jennifer Peedom, 2017), and his beautiful new children’s book done together with Jackie Morris, The Lost Words (Hamish Hamilton, 2017), which we’ll go ahead and call our official Cultures of Energy holiday gift recommendation. Please also take a moment to review the pod at iTunes and support the indiegogo campaign for the graphic novel The Beast https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-beast-is-a-comic-about-two-dirty-industries-art-comics#/ which thematizes the entanglement of the oil and advertising industries in Canada.
Cymene and Dominic review this week’s blue wave and talk about becoming a more multispecies household. Then (10:57) we welcome to the podcast the brilliant and wise Kath Weston to talk about her new book Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World (Duke UP, 2017). We begin with the persistent siren song of modernity even in the face of ecological destruction, yes/and thinking, what it is was like to be in Tokyo for the 3/11 disaster, atomic divorce, and how our close visceral encounters with compromised environments might be politically generative. Kath explains how experiential empiricism can contribute to what is generally known as “climate denial” and how our high tech industrially damaged planet is remaking us. We discuss kinship, animisms new and old, and what Kath is terming “steampunk anthropology.” Then we talk about the cool thing that happens in the final paragraph of the book—but you’ll have to read it to see!—and how the political ecology of precariousness we live in resists modernity’s desire to know how the story ends. For us, the story ends with Kath’s reflections on life in Charlottesville after this August’s violence. Listen on!!
It’s been a big week in Houston between Halloween and the World Series (Go Astros!) and your co-hosts process all that as well as recent developments in the investigation of Honduran land activist Berta Caceres’s murder. Then (9:17) we are delighted to welcome OG energy humanist (and birthday boy!) Allan Stoekl to talk about his work at the juncture of energy, philosophy and literature. We begin with Allan’s very influential book Bataille’s Peak (Minnesota 2007) and how it responded to the peak oil worries of the mid 2000s. Allan explains how he became interested in the finitude and expenditure of energy in the first place and why he thinks Bataille remains an important muse for thinking through our energy dilemmas today. We talk energy-as-wealth, the need to spend, and whether there are different ways of wasting than the ones we have now. From there we turn to Allan’s concept of orgiastic recycling and to possibly the most powerful nonsense word of our times, “sustainability.” Talking about his current book project, we cover the scales and time horizons of sustainability and ask why the term is so difficult to avoid. Allan offers a quite fascinating set of observations about populations blooms, the excessiveness of other species and why the Anthropocene may not exist. We learn about terraforming assemblages, wonder what isn’t a city anymore, imagine how metal speaks, and eventually come to doubt that a “balance of nature” really exists. Listen on!
Cymene and Dominic talk about Al Gore’s visit to Rice and share thoughts on going solar both at home and in Puerto Rico. Then (12:25) we welcome Nikhil Anand from the University of Pennsylvania to the podcast to talk about his fascinating new book, Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai (Duke UP, 2017), which examines the evolution of “hydraulic citizenship” in Mumbai. We begin with the Mumbai floods and why they were no “natural disaster.” Turning to a discussion of liberalism in cities, Nikhil explains how water pressure and political pressure interact in Mumbai to create fickle yet efficacious modes of citizenship. We compare the wasteful yet essential character of electric and hydraulic “gridlife” and discuss how people are increasingly being forced to provide their own infrastructure not only in India but also in places like Detroit and Philadelphia. Nikhil explains how talk of scarce resources connects to a conservative politics of place, how leakiness and porosity are actually crucial to how water infrastructure operates, and how he thinks about the intersection of materiality and publics. We conclude by talking about the promise of infrastructure, what we learn from thinking about cities through water rather than land, and his new research project with Bethany Wiggins, Rising Waters, which investigates racialized and class-based geographies of injustice along rivers and in the wetlands of Philadelphia and Mumbai.
Dominic and Cymene talk surprise interspecies encounters. Then (11:08) we talk to composer, musician and sonic activist Matthew Burtner (http://matthewburtner.com , http://www.ecosono.org) about his work in ecoacoustics that touches on environmental issues ranging from multispecies relations to climate change. Matthew explains how his upbringing in Alaska created an early interest in the environment and led him toward an accidental kind of climate activism. Then we talk wind and breathing, why he composed the world’s first climate change opera (Auksalaq), how he collaborates with scientists to sonify and perform scientific data, and why he feels that music can allow us to experience time scales and environments differently. We hear the fascinating story behind how Matthew became the world’s most famous composer of music for moths, the challenges of writing music for multiple species, and how creating new sonic environments could help to address environmental crises like pollination. Finally, Matthew explains why he feels it’s so important to decenter humans in his art and activism. Listen on!
Ofcymene and Ofdominic share their thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale and then (17:20) we are delighted to welcome to the podcast, Gretchen Bakke, anthropologist and author of the celebrated The Grid: The Fraying Wires between Americans and our Energy Future (Bloomsbury, 2016). We begin with this week’s announcement of the termination of the Clean Power Plan and the politics of “baseload energy” today. From there, we cover why electricity is a commodity like no other, how electricity is actually like polyamorous love, the challenges of writing for a wider public, and the infrastructural revolution that we are experiencing (but not always aware of). Gretchen explains how the future of electrical infrastructure has come into focus only very recently and discusses how subtraction (from the grid) may become a key resource in the future. We talk about the unreliable state of the U.S. grid and how it prompted the military to pioneer the use of microgrids. We ask whether we can trust utilities to work with us on creating a more distributed and decarbonized electrical infrastructure. And Gretchen suggests that the utility model may already be dead. We wrap up with the place of conservation in the transition, how hyperlocal production could reduce our electricity consumption 40% with no immediate change in lifestyle, and why government (and not markets or philanthropy) needs to drive the transition.
Your co-hosts compare inaction on gun violence to inaction on climate change and rant a little about how we can hope for a better future world when we can’t even make our communities safe in the present. Then (17:57), in the name of improving our political edutainment, we welcome to the podcast The Yes Men, the activist duo who over the past two decades have made impersonating authorities and hoaxing news media into an art form. We find out how they got started in the early days of the Internet and later adapted their craft as the ecology of media evolved. That leads us to the challenges and opportunities of hoaxing in the era of fake news and why they think the rise of Trumpism means that getting involved in grassroots politics is now more important than engineering spectacles. They explain why climate change has become such an important focus of their activism, how they balance seriousness and humor, and why it’s so important that we get past our own guilt about the bad choices we’re forced to make and get active and communicative. Something’s coming, Houston. If you’re interested in getting involved, say yes at yeslab.org. For more information on The Yes Men’s past actions see http://theyesmen.org
Dominic and Cymene chat about community wind power, bioplastics, sucropolitics, and the inevitability of edible children’s toys. Then (11:10) Cymene sits down to talk with economist-turned-philosopher John Broome, Emeritus Professor at Oxford and author of Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World (Norton, 2012) to talk about morality, ethics and climate change. John explains why he thinks moral messaging around climate change has been ineffective thus far and how we can appeal to self-interest to stimulate climate action. We talk about the intergenerational externalities of high carbon lifestyles, how large scale actions like a carbon tax could change the identity of future generations, and the need to reform mainstream economic theories of efficiency, value, goodness, and nature. John argues that our duty to future generations is not a duty of justice but of making the world a better place. Does economics have a place for ethics? Listen on and find out!
Dominic and Cymene share fun facts about ice worms and water bears on this week's bonus episode of the podcast. Then (9:27) we continue our effort to process this storm season philosophically by welcoming old friend and new dad, Roy Scranton, to the podcast. We start with his now all-too-prescient NYT article, “When the Next Hurricane Hits Texas,” and discuss why Harvey was not even the worst kind of hurricane we might anticipate in Houston. We talk about what’s worth preserving, reincarnation in the Anthropocene, rethinking ontological relations, climate change as hyperobject, the election of Trump as a collective threat response, why we can’t put off addressing societal relations and ethical commitments any longer, and what to tell our children about catastrophes now and coming. Roy explains why he doubts the efficacy of individual action to solve climate change but also why he thinks it’s so important that we continue to live and find joy in our world. This leads to some moving reflections on parenting and climate change and we close with Roy’s new work and what we can and can’t learn from collective action during the WWII era for the fight against climate change today.
Cymene and Dominic wonder whether haunted houses can help in the fight against climate change. Then (11:55) we welcome Britt Paris (UCLA) and Sara Wylie (Northeastern U) to the podcast to bring us up to speed on what the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI, https://envirodatagov.org) has been doing to monitor the unfolding anti-science agenda at the EPA and other federal agencies, especially recent cuts to environmental justice initiatives. We talk about how they both got involved in EDGI, the important of open source infrastructure to their work, the language and practice of data rescue, what the collective has discovered about what went on in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, what we can learn from the successful resistance to the Reagan administration’s efforts to dismantle the EPA, and what is contained in their remarkable new report, “Pursuing a Toxic Agenda: Environmental Injustice in the Early Trump Administration” (http://100days.envirodatagov.org/pursuing-toxic-agenda/). We discuss the EPA’s “starvation diet” even under Obama, how to optimize the relationship between communities and data and why a move toward a decolonizing and feminist principles of “environmental data justice” would be a step in the right direction. Finally we close with climate change as an environmental justice issue, the need to build alternative data gathering systems, the future of EDGI and how you can get involved with their work if you feel so moved, dear listeners.
Please enjoy our first live Cultures of Energy show in which Cymene, Dominic and Penn sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen (of Hot & Bothered podcast fame, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/tag/hot-bothered) talk to Nerd Nite Austin about how to expand our emotional range when dealing with the Anthropocene, the limits of environmental austerity messaging for changing high carbon behavior and, while waiting for the global North to finally get around to embracing a degrowth ethos, why we might want to experiment with embracing low carbon leisure and pleasure activities that could help us to decarbonize our modern lives faster while still having fun. Bonus: you’ll also learn about a low carbon drinking game involving the words “capitalocene” and “chicken bones.” Special thanks to Lewis Weil and JC Dwyer for organizing the event and to Jacob Weiss for ace sound engineering. Watch for the event video coming soon to https://vimeo.com/nerdniteaustin
Dominic and Cymene plug low carbon leisure and pleasure and consider the world of competitive dishwashing. Then (8:49) we welcome to the podcast the amazing Naveeda Khan from Johns Hopkins. We compare the experiences and media coverage of recent flooding in Houston and South Asia, noting especially how terms like “shelter” and “refugee” are deployed differently. Then Naveeda shares her reflections on her trips to the COP meetings and explains what she learned about South-South politics and the anthrocentrism underlying international climate remediation efforts. From there we talk about her remarkable ethnographic work with chaura communities living on shifting riverine islands in northern Bangladesh. We discuss whether Bangladesh is indeed the world’s posterchild for climate precarity, how to think with rivers and about their evolving personhood, how local thinking in the riverine communities challenges both Islamic eschatology and northern climate change discourse, Bangladesh as global future, and Romanticism. We muse on Islamic cosmology, creaturely beings, and ecological thought and then close with a discussion of loss vs. damage. Listen on!
The sun is finally shining again over Houston but the process of coming to terms with Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic impact on the city and region has only just begun. Cymene and Dominic share their thoughts about how the storm will affect Houston’s future. Then (24:29) we are joined by our Rice colleague, celebrated environmental attorney and advocate Jim Blackburn, who is the co-director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) center. Jim shares his perspective on what made Harvey an exceptional event but also explains why Harvey is not even the worst kind of hurricane strike on Houston one could reasonably imagine. We discuss the limits of relief that drainage engineering can offer the city and the need to pursue a wider range of non-structural solutions to make the Houston area better prepared for future storms. Jim shares his vision for a circular economy along the Gulf Coast that will reintegrate economic and natural systems, restoring critical ecological infrastructure to the city while preserving the Galveston Bay for future generations. To learn more about Jim’s plan, please read his book, A Texan Plan for the Texas Coast (Texas A&M U Press, 2017). Meanwhile, here are some of the places you can donate to help Houston’s recovery both in the short and longer term: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (ghcf.org), American Red Cross (redcross.org you can also text HARVEY to 90999 to donate $10), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (tejasbarrios.org, #tejasharveyfund), Galveston Bay Estuary Program (http://www.gbep.state.tx.us), Houston Audubon Society (https://houstonaudubon.org)
On today’s emergency shelter in place edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast we speak to Timothy Morton to help process the Hurricane Harvey landfall and catastrophic flooding that Houston and SE Texas is experiencing right now. We muse on hyperobjects, human-nonhuman solidarities, hurricanes vs tornados, the optimal Harvey soundtrack, Charlottesville, samsara, denial, neoliberalism, storm porn, disasters vs catastrophes, and taking responsibility for the things we understand. It’s a little philosophical experiment from inside the storm. Sending love and support to our fellow Houstonians on what has shaped up to be our city’s most challenging day ever.
Hurricane Harvey is bearing down on the Texas coast, which prompts some moments of reflection from your co-hosts. Then (13:02) we welcome dear friend of the pod, Kaushik Sunder Rajan from the University of Chicago, to the conversation to talk about his fascinating new book, Pharmocracy (Duke UP, 2017), which explores the global hegemony of the pharmaceutical industry. We talk about what happens to democracy when health gets appropriated by capital, the logic of capital itself and questions of historical determinism, how much the behavior of the pharmaceutical industry can be explained by its capture by finance capital, what the Shkreli-esque figure of “Evil Pharma” obscures, and how pharma has come to control a variety of states across the world. We then move on to the sacralization of health, pharmapublics in the global South vs the global North, clinical trials, the opioid crisis, drugs as commodities and whether there’s a clean line between therapy and addiction. Kaushik explains what concerns him about corporate social responsibility initiatives and entities like the Clinton Foundation as modes of health governance and he shares his discoveries about Big Pharma’s underwriting by the US government, which leads us in turn to compare the American empire’s pill politics with its petro politics. In closing we talk about current progressive and rightwing politics in the US and India, Kaushik places his bet on how long Trump will remain in office, and we learn about what’s good and not so good about cricket today. Seize the state, dear listeners!
Cymene and Dominic talk capital and Vanilla Isis and then (11:21) we welcome to the podcast the one and only Jason W. Moore from Binghamton University, author of Capitalism in the Web of Life (Verso, 2015) and Anthropocene or Capitalocene? (PM Press, 2016). We chat with Jason about his most recent work, co-authored with Raj Patel, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (U California Press, 2017), forthcoming this October. We talk about why he wanted to write a book for a broader audience, the problems with the “anthropocene” concept in the human sciences, how “capitalocene” can improve our thinking about world history, and how we can avoid vulgar materialism in critical environmental research and activism today. We cover the role that states and agriculture have played in shaping modern capitalism and Jason calls for a seriously engaged pluralism to tackle the urgent challenges of our era. We discuss the cheapening or thingification of life, capitalism as a gravitational field, the importance of frontiers, the violence of the Great Domestication, and why if green energy remains in the mode of “cheap fuel” nothing will change about capitalist accumulation. Jason explains why racial and gender domination are so often lacunae in critiques of petromodernity. Finally we ruminate on how to unmake the capitalist world-ecology and the key principles of the “reparation ecology” that Jason and his colleagues are calling for. Tired of the debate within the left about whether to prioritize jobs or the environment? Then you’ll want to listen on!
It’s all about the Panama Canal on this episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast! Dominic and Cymene sing Van Halen and share tales of self-sabotaging students and then (13:58) the phenomenal Ashley Carse joins us to talk about the Panama Canal research that culminated in his book, Beyond the Big Ditch (MIT Press, 2014). We learn about the early 20th century geopolitics that led to the canal zone and how it helped create the state of Panama. We move from there to the world-making powers of empire and transportation, Panama as a logistics hub, who the “Zonians” are, Panamanian hydropolitics, and growing concerns about drought’s impact on both canal operation and the nation’s future. Ashley shares with us some of the crazier schemes the U.S. and Panamanian governments have come up with over the years to improve the canal and explains how aspects of “nature” like forests and rivers have been made into canal infrastructures. We turn then to his new work on dredging and sediments. That gets us to urbanization and the global shortage of sand, transoceanic shipping, and the deepening of harbors to accommodate still more massive ships. We conclude by returning to the Panama Canal, its retrocession to Panamanian control and subsequent life as a space of post-imperial nostalgia. Listen on! PS Also, we researched it and the Van Halen song has nothing actually to do with Panama. It’s about David Lee Roth’s car. But still it’s fun to sing #noregrets.
Dominic and Cymene go into the vault to talk steam tunnels, heat wells, bland college town food and Enrico Fermi’s ghost. Then (10:41) we are fortunate to be joined by Jennifer Lieberman from the University of North Florida who introduces her terrific new book, Power Lines: Electricity in American Life and Letters, 1882-1952 (MIT Press, 2017). Jenni explains how electricity’s symbolization of both nature and human mastery of nature captured the cultural imagination of the early 20th century and she compares electricity’s deep cultural significance in its early decades with how concepts like “information” and “communication” infuse popular ontologies today. We move from there to electrovitalism, how electricity transformed the industrial era, and early electric fantasies and utopias, not least Tesla’s wireless electricity. We examine how the rise of systems thinking paralleled the institutionalization of electricity and the unique kinds of metonymy that electricity afforded. We delve into her case studies including what Mark Twain, Jack London and Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote about electricity and how racism, feminism and electricity intersected during the period. We close with a discussion of what writers today are doing with electricity at a time when new electric utopias promise an escape route from fossil-fueled climate change.
This week on the Cultures of Energy podcast we do a deep dive into a fascinating project, The Climate Media Net (https://theclimatemedia.net), which seeks to make climate change a bigger part of television comedy and drama in the UK. First, Cymene and Dominic brainstorm their own climate TV ideas. Then (18:45) we’re joined by one of the architects of the Climate Media Net, producer Nick Comer-Calder, formerly of the BBC and Discovery Networks Europe. Nick takes us behind the scenes of television making in the UK and talks about the challenges the issue of climate change poses from the perspective of commissioning programs and project development. Nick explains why he nevertheless feels that climate change represents one of the greatest creative opportunities of our era. We discuss the limitations of the documentary form in terms of changing opinions, the need to create emotional stakes and attachments regarding climate change, and why he thinks turning toward comedies and dramas might be the route forward. He shares the surprising results of his research on how much UK citizens actually know about climate change, his thoughts on bringing climate change into weather forecasts and the reasons why he is generally wary about dystopian narratives. If all this TV talk gets your synapses firing, let us know! It’s time to Trojan horse this whole Golden Age of TV thing :)