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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: November, 2017
Nov 30, 2017

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!

Nov 23, 2017

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.

Nov 16, 2017

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.

Nov 10, 2017

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!!

Nov 3, 2017

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!

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