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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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Nov 17, 2016

On this week’s podcast, Dominic and Cymene continue to process election aftermath and offer thoughts on how to escape the dungeon. Then (14:20) things get wavy when Stefan Helmreich from MIT—author of Alien Ocean (U California Press, 2009) and Sounding the Limits of Life (Princeton U Press, 2016)—joins the conversation and we talk about his recent work on waves and water. We start with the submarine trip that got him interested in the sound of fieldwork underwater and these strange entities known as “waves.” He then introduces us to the world of wave science and explains how it can be viewed as anthropology by other means given its constant attention to social concerns like coastal infrastructure, shipping, recreation, and insurance. Stefan discusses why the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the waterline—rising sea level, changing sea surface, and wavy dynamics that modulate sea level. He also explains that even though current models of wave action are based on northern ocean data, it looks increasingly likely that the future will belong to southern ocean dynamics. We visit the largest tsunami simulation basin in the world, learn what “rogue waves” are, and come to understand how, with the coming of wave energy, waves are being reimagined not as enemies but rather as allies whose labor can be harnessed in the struggle against climate change. Stefan offers some reflections on “blue humanities,” the shipwreckocene and Haraway’s Chthulucene. Finally, we turn toward his current research in the Netherlands with its long and complex relationship to water. And, yes, Cymene asks him about surfing and his answer is the best. Listen on!

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