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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: August, 2017
Aug 31, 2017

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)

Aug 27, 2017

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.

Aug 25, 2017

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!

Aug 18, 2017

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!

Aug 10, 2017

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.

Aug 4, 2017

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.

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