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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: March, 2017
Mar 31, 2017

Dominic and Cymene discuss this week's rollback of the Clean Power Plan and Cymene’s 1980s close encounter with Adam Ant. Then (14:55) we are delighted to welcome UCLA anthropologist Hannah Appel to the podcast. We grade Rex Tillerson’s performance as an oil exec and transition from there to Hannah’s research on the oil industry in Equatorial Guinea. She explains the problems with considering oil only in terms of money and rents and how oil companies have been instrumental in statecraft across the world for a very long time. We learn how the discovery of offshore oil led to what is now the world’s longest running political regime in Equatorial Guinea. Hannah dissects and challenges the assumptions of the “oil curse” argument for us and discusses why Nigeria is the model failure everyone wants to avoid. Then we talk about the places where the licit life of capitalism is made and all the work that goes into making it seem as though capitalism is disembedded from social life. That brings us to expatriate enclave life, what happens when oil does become money, and the limits of liberalism. Finally Hannah shares her thoughts on our contemporary political moment and what she finds new and old about it.

Mar 27, 2017

On this week’s special bonus episode, ClimateKitten45 and CarbonYeti27 kick things off by scheming on how to get a million YouTube subscribers. Then we expand to become a fantastic foursome of climate podcasters when we welcome (10:23) writer Kate Aronoff (In These Times) and writer/sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen (U Penn), co-hosts of the Hot & Bothered pod (hosted by Dissent Magazine). We talk about why we all got started podcasting and how it helps us to seem generally less like killjoys and maybe save a few friendships. Daniel and Kate explain how H&B got started, how they bridge climate and labor politics through their work and we ruminate about what we do and don’t know about our respective audiences. We cover the challenges of communicating expertise in an alternative facts moment, the current government vendetta against the environment, greentech fantasies, the prospects for low carbon populism and a green New Deal, catastrophe porn, the problem with non-unionized green jobs, and how to frame climate change as potentially also bringing positive change to our world. We ask who are the people of climate and how can they be better mobilized and then decide that low carbon hedonism could probably sell itself. We close on dense affordable housing and rural electric cooperatives as important sites of political action to address climate change. Stay hot, stay bothered, dear listeners, and catch up on back episodes of Hot & Bothered at https://www.dissentmagazine.org/tag/hot-bothered, on iTunes or at the low carbon (hedonist) audio provider of your choice!

Mar 24, 2017

Cymene and Dominic honor the new river citizens of Aotearoa-New Zealand and India and try to give certain politicians credit where credit is due. Then (13:53) we welcome to the pod University of Washington philosopher Stephen Gardiner to talk about his philosophical work on climate change. We discuss his background in virtue ethics and how one might conceive living an ethical life given the fundamental moral challenges of climate change. Then we turn to his book A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford University Press, 2011) wherein Stephen talks back against arguments that it is technologically or economically infeasible at present to seriously address the causes of climate change. We discuss temptations to act badly both at a global and a personal level, the ethical and institutional dimensions of intergenerational and interspecies relations, the tyranny of the contemporary, and why he doesn’t think concepts like “wicked problem,” “prisoners’ dilemma” and “tragedy of the commons” are inadequate to understand a phenomenon like climate change. Stephen explains his proposal to form a Global Constitutional Convention on Future Generations and why he feels a policy approach to climate change that does not involve a discussion of values will not succeed. We discuss his concerns about geoengineering and about emphasizing renewable energy development’s capacity to generate wealth. We close then on the question of ordinary ethics and how to stave off moral corruption. Can current governments effectively represent the interests of future generations? Do we need an Integenerational Supreme Court? Listen on and find out!

Mar 16, 2017

On this week’s spring break edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic talk about the dangers of hiking and Trump’s budget. Then [10:37] we welcome to the podcast the ever delightful Geof Bowker. With Geof we talk about why infrastructure studies has become such a lively area of research in the human sciences and muse over some the possible explanations for its rise. Has infrastructure become too broad a category? Is it a nostalgic one? Geof asks not only what is an infrastructure but also when is an infrastructure. And he weighs in on Trump’s infrastructure plan as well. We turn from there to another charismatic topic—data—as Geof reflects on his work on data ethics and how theory gets built into data. We talk algorithms, racist artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the impact of cybernetics on social theory. We then move on to biodiversity, matters of concern and the relationship between science studies and climate skepticism. Geof shares with us the secret behind how he gained access to energy titan Schlumberger’s archives for his pathbreaking book, Science on the Run (MIT, 1994), and talks about how oil companies work to shift senses of time and space in the interests of empire. Finally, Cymene and Geof talk through the graphic novel project, Unda, they are working on with Laura Watts and how media like comic books can offer scholars new opportunities to reach wider audiences.

Mar 9, 2017

Cymene and Dominic read their spam and ruminate on the evolving alien intelligence of the interweb. Then (14:40) our old friend David Hughes from Rutgers joins the conversation. We consider the carbon footprint of academic life and then turn to his excellent and brand spanking new book, Energy Without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity (Duke UP, 2017), which explores the moral shallowness surrounding petrocapitalism and how oil evolved from being a moral issue into a technical one. David talks about his fieldwork with petroleum geologists in the world’s first petrostate, Trinidad and Tobago, and how they think about oil and complicity. David also shares his historical research on Caribbean plantation labor and how slavery helped create the ideological basis for the later fuel economy. We talk about biophysical engagements with different energy forms and whether the materialist turn in the human sciences has had anything to do with the vibrancy of oil. We cover the ethics of combustion, individual vs collective responsibility, and that time David asked Joe Biden what he was going to do about climate change. Finally, we turn to David’s current and (more hopeful!) research on a new energy landscape, the wind farms of Andalucia, Spain. David argues that as we move toward a green energy system we need to confront the fact that there will be less labor and thus we need to learn to build a modern life independent of the wage form. To order Energy Without Conscience at a 30% discount (!) please visit http://dukeupress.edu/energy-without-conscience and enter coupon code E17ENRGY during checkout. Special thanks to Mark Vardy and the Princeton Environmental Institute for helping to make this week’s podcast happen!

Mar 2, 2017

Dominic and Cymene marvel at the rise of transplanetary anthropology on this week’s podcast, as well as outer space films (and sexed up goblins). Then (16:08) we welcome the University of Virginia’s celestial Lisa Messeri to the conversation. A lively chat about her research with exoplanetary scientists follows. Lisa reminds us of the extraterrestrial roots of much climate science and explains why she thinks we now need to “un-earth” the Anthropocene. We talk through the connections between our terran conditions of environmental precarity and our renewed interest in other planets. We compare news coverage of the Standing Rock clearance and the Trappist-1 exoplanets and discuss why the latter seemed to get so much more press. We talk geos vs. bios in the imagination of outer space, Elon Musk and the New Space community, what it means for a planet to be habitable, and how the logic of settler colonialism infiltrates the idea of space frontiers. Lisa shares her hot takes on The Martian, why she thinks we’re seeing so many outer space movies right now, and why the future of humanity obviously depends on Matt Damon. We close on her book, Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Duke UP, 2016) and why she thinks place-making is so important in the human engagement with outer space. Why do planets have to be round? Who was the star surprise guest at Lisa’s dissertation defense? Listen on and find out! PS Shouts out to Abby Spinak and the Rice Space Institute for making Lisa’s visit to Rice possible!

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