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
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May 11, 2017

Dominic and Cymene hide in the bushes to talk existential terror and low carbon pleasure. We then (10:23) chat with famed geographer Mike Hulme, author of Can Science Fix Climate Change? and Why We Disagree About Climate Change, about his 35 years of research on climate. We talk about the many meanings of the term “climate” and its ancient roots as a concept. Then we turn to the early days of research on human-induced climate change in the 1980s and Mike's work on global rainfall trends that later caught the attention of the IPCC. We discuss his most recent book, Weathered: Cultures of Climate (Sage, 2016) and the entanglements of weather, place and meaning. We talk about different ways of measuring climate across time and culture, why we need to embrace a multiplicity of knowledge forms of climate, the danger of paternalist thinking about climate change, different narratives of blame and responsibility, and why Mike thinks that moral and religious accounts of climate change need to be foregrounded. Mike also shares why he is skeptical about humans trying to take over the atmosphere, and his thoughts about the appropriate role for technology to play in addressing climate change and the tragedy of the human condition. We close on why climate change has been so psychologically disturbing and why Mike finds the cultural politics of climate in the United States so fascinating. Mike may not believe that we will “solve” climate change but he does see in our efforts at remediation profound opportunities for addressing inequality. Listen on!

May 4, 2017

Cymene and Dominic discuss possible raccoon attacks that may have occurred near Marfa, the cuteness and moxie of javelinas, and the worst table service in Texas. Then (14:13) we welcome long time CENHS co-conspirator Kairn Klieman, from the University of Houston’s History Department, to the podcast. Kairn talks about her dissertation research, which challenged western and Bantu assumptions about the primordialism of pygmies. Then she shares how living in Houston as an Africanist inspired her current research on the history of oil in Africa. We talk about the straight line between slave economies and extractive economies, the challenges of doing critical pedagogy of fossil fuels in a town dominated by oilmen and whether there is glamour to be found in the oil & gas industry. We cover the relationship between oil, Africa and the Middle East, as well as what “following the oil” reveals about international politics. We interrogate the “resource curse” argument in light of African modernity but also explore what that curse looks like in Houston, Texas and the United States. Kairn talks about her current efforts to educate young people going into the energy industry as to oil’s complex ethics and impacts in the hopes of sparking culture change toward better self-analysis and self-criticism. Are attitudes inside the fossil fuel industry regarding climate change beginning to shift? Listen on and find out!

Apr 26, 2017

Cymene and Dominic talk globalist cucks and S-Town and then (16:58) we sit down to a lovely cup of coffee with the multitalented Joe Dumit, author of Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (Duke University Press). We talk to Joe about the amazing game about fracking he and his students at UC-Davis are developing and how they managed to capture the spirit of the game we are already playing. Joe shares his thoughts about game design as a mode of critical research and pedagogy and how games can help us to understand the logic of complex social issues. We move from there to discuss Joe’s current research on fascia, the web of connective tissue that holds the parts of our bodies together. We learn about the constant rebalancing that fascia allows the body to perform complex motions. Joe explains ideokinesis to us and how it refutes body/mind separation and tells us about his fieldwork with choreographers, movement practitioners and bodyworkers. Joe explains why he’s come to think about fascia as a kind of helpful alien creature with peripheral intelligence. Finally we talk substance as method and ecosexuality, in which nature becomes lover rather than mother.

Apr 21, 2017

Dominic and Cymene talk diet soda, dementia and the art of titling books and then (13:40) we welcome to the pod UNC English professor Matthew Taylor, author of Universes without Us: Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature (U Minnesota Press, 2013), to talk about, among other things, the ethics and politics of posthumanism. Matt shares thoughts about how posthumanism can veer into superhumanism and on how both ecophobia and ecophilia are entwined in our thinking about the Anthropocene. We touch on Edgar Allan Poe’s dark ecology, race and imperialism, Christianity, growth metaphysics and whether there has been a distinctively American contribution to Anthropocene philosophy. We turn from there to questions of ethics and agency and Matt’s current work on the problems of equating politics with action. Matt argues that doing less may be precisely what we need to move forward. We talk about narrative as experimentation, the narrative beats of Anthropocene discourse and the promises and perils of speciesism. Matt shares with us what he finds exciting in science fiction and we close on his thoughts on teaching critical thinking at a public university in an age of alternative facts.

Apr 19, 2017

A special bonus podcast this week offers a mosaic of keywords and reflections from participants in CENHS’s annual energy humanities extravaganza. Cymene and Dominic lead things off with a discussion of Margaret Thatcher’s own private restroom and what it takes to be identified as an artist these days. Then (14:25) Leah Stokes (UC Santa Barbara) talks “Republicans” and why we need them to make progress on climate change; (18:05) Timothy Moss (Humboldt U Berlin) engages the complexities of “municipalization” when it comes to energy; (21:20) our own postdoctoral fellow Abby Spinak explains why “craft” has become so meaningful to her of late; (25:39) Jón Gnarr returns to the pod to muse on “cycles” of energy addiction; (31:20) Conor Harrison (U South Carolina) discusses “islands” as sites of experimentation with renewable energy and finally (34:22) artist and engineer Natalie Jeremijenko (Environmental Health Clinic and Lab) talks “taxidermy” in the context of her Museum of Natural Futures project. Thanks for all your support and kind wishes, dear listeners. Get ready for Cultures of Energy 7 coming your way in April 2018!!

Apr 13, 2017

Your co-hosts chat about the return of Veep and a new indie film under production by the rogue AI of the American Anthropological Association’s panel submissions system, Being Chris Kelty. Then we welcome architectural historian Daniel Barber from Penn Design to the podcast to talk about the history of solar homes and what past ventures in solar design can teach us about our solar futures. Starting with his recent book, A House in the Sun: Modern Architecture and Solar Energy in the Cold War (Oxford UP, 2016), we discuss how the Second World War and early worries about peak oil spurred solar thermal home designs in the 1940s and 1950s. We explore the relationship of modernism to solar energy and how modernism’s experimental capacity was harnessed and focused on homes to solve social problems. We also examine the role suburbanization played in this story and what we’ve forgotten about the environmental and cultural utopias that were once associated with suburban communities. Daniel explains how energy experimentation in the 1950s can be seen as alternative origin story for contemporary environmentalism, how the solar homes of the past have influenced solar homes today and how solar suburb projects in the U.S. were eventually redirected toward solar development projects in the Global South. We turn from there to Daniel’s current book project, Climatic Effects, which explores climate-focused architectural design methods from the 1930s to the 1960s and how architects contributed to the emergent science of climatology. We close on Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, the true story behind the “arcology” and the amazing plan to move all of New Jersey into one building.

Apr 6, 2017

Your co-hosts chat about hyperloops, hydrarails and that time Newt Gingrich flirted with Cymene. Then (16:54) renowned sociologist Saskia Sassen joins us to share her thinking about our contemporary environmental predicament. We talk about finance as the steam engine of our era, the reasons for its recent rise, and whether Saskia feels that finance can contribute to reversing environmental degradation. We then turn to her most recent book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard UP, 2014), in particular to her discussion of the impacts of mining, and explore her argument that we need new concepts to replace the American-centric categories of mid 20th century social science. Saskia shares her thoughts on the Anthropocene and the Chthulucene and why she is interested in the problem of the “systemic edge” where our categories of analysis cease to capture the intensity of contemporary social and environmental conditions. We turn from there to the current crises of liberalism, water, and immigration and Saskia explains why she thinks that political classes across the world seem so checked out now. She details the unremarkable instruments that have scaled to produce planet-wide environmental destruction and asks whether it’s possible to imagine equally simple instruments for doing good in the world, perhaps by thinking and acting more like the biosphere itself. Finally we return to one of Saskia’s favorite topics—cities—and how urban space contains our future frontiers of politics and life. What are the ethics of the city? What’s it like to walk the city with Saskia Sassen? Listen on and find out!

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, 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 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!

Feb 24, 2017

On this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene processes the news of the clearance of the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock with the help of Jaskiran Dhillon (New School). They talk about the origins of the #NoDAPL resistance, what it achieved, the new front lines of the struggle and what will come next. At the podcast we are standing with Standing Rock, now and forever, dear listeners! PS Remember that the work to defund the Dakota Access Pipeline continues! DefundDAPL offers an incredible list of resources that allows you to follow the divestment trail and add your money to the $65,136,498.17 already divested from the project. See for more information.

Feb 16, 2017

Cymene and Dominic take a break from the political chaos and happily nostalgize the 1970s. Then (13:57) to help us better understand what kind of carbon autocracy democracy we’re living in these days, we welcome to podcast political theorist, historian and zen master of all things carbon, Timothy Mitchell from Columbia University. Tim explains that autocracy and populism have always been part of carbon politics but that what really strikes him about our current situation is how visible those politics are becoming. He notes that while the contemporary threat of illiberalism is real, liberalism itself has not done nearly enough to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. We talk pipelines and the material and political relations they make visible, what the term “energy” elides, and we hear about how his magnificent Carbon Democracy project (Verso, 2013) originated. Tim explains why the 1970s were such a pivotal moment in both energy and politics, how growth is a petroknowledge, and why petronostalgia seems all the rage these days. We then turn toward his current work on contemporary capitalism and talk about how it is designed to make us pay taxes on the future through the capitalization of future value. And, a special shoutout to the band Overcoats whose single Hold Me Close is our outro music on this episode. Catch them at SXSW next month!

Feb 10, 2017

Cymene and Dominic talk acupuncture, evil clone henchmen, environmentally questionable NYT recipes, and the interpretation of dreams. Then (15:30) we are joined by Jessica Barnes, author of Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke UP 2014), from the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. We talk about how water is not just a given resource but also how it is made through everyday practices of use and management. We compare the politics of water rights in the U.S. and Egypt and discuss how those politics extend into the realms of subsurface instrastructure like drainage systems. We talk salt and poverty, hydraulic citizenship, drought and crises of scarcity and abundance. We cover desalination schemes and the spread of desert agriculture. And then we turn to her current research on the social life of wheat and bread in Egypt. Finally we talk gluten, why it has fallen into such disrepute, and how it could be taken to epitomize the Anthropocene. What’s up with all this water/fire/earth/air elemental research these days? Listen on and find out!

Feb 2, 2017

In a fittingly bizarre intro for these political times, Cymene and Dominic share weird fantasies and actual plans for resistance. We then (11:57) welcome to the podcast renowned historian and ethnographer of nuclear energy, Gabrielle Hecht from the University of Michigan, author of Being Nuclear and The Radiance of France (MIT Press). Gabrielle tells us why she first became interested in nuclear power growing up in Reagan’s Cold War. We compare fears of nuclear war then and now and explore different historical constructions of “the nuclear” more generally. We talk about her concept of “toxic infrastructure” and how it can apply to places like Flint, Michigan. Gabrielle then explains how France became the country in the world most reliant upon nuclear energy for its electricity and why the French nuclear industry is in now in such a state of panic. We talk about why nuclear energy hasn’t lost its utopianism—including as a climate change fix—but why we think the nuclear solution to global warming is a red herring. We turn to Fukushima and Gabrielle reminds us that it’s also important to pay attention to the less spectacular but more common environmental and human impacts of using nuclear fuel, including the fate of people who clean reactors under normal and catastrophic conditions. We discuss uranium mining in Africa and the struggles miners have fought to have their “biological citizenship” recognized by their governments. That leads us to talk about the real costs of nuclear energy. And we close on Gabrielle’s latest work on toxicity and what she calls the African Anthropocene. Hang in there, everyone, be kind to yourselves and stay strong for the long run of resistance.

Jan 26, 2017

Dominic and Cymene briefly review The Disaster (week 1) and remind themselves that the best way to resist the schemes of evil rich men is to make full use of our strengths as a diverse majority. Turning to concrete projects that we should all be getting excited about and involved in, we happily welcome (8:51) Michelle Murphy (U Toronto) and Nick Shapiro (Chemical Heritage Foundation) to the podcast, two brilliant and courageous scholars who are founding members of the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI, pronounced “edgey”). Together with partners like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive, EDGI is working nonstop to preserve critical environmental data from agencies like the EPA, NOAA, NASA, DOE among others, data we fear may be lost or tampered with by an incoming administration that is blatantly opposed to both science and responsible environmental stewardship. Michelle and Nick talk to us about EDGI got started and how it has accomplished so much in just a few months time. Michelle mentions her experience with the similarly pro-oil anti-science Harper administration in Canada but how she and her colleagues were able to make evidence-based governance a “charismatic object.” Nick reminds us also of the efforts of the George W. Bush administration to destroy environmental archives and programs. They talk about how data rescue actually works, what version tracking is, and the secrets of the hackathon trade. We learn about how the norms of feminist scientific practice and organization have informed EDGI, how they are planning on getting news out to the public, and how we can take back the politics of evidence and build a better world of environmental data together. In closing we hear a bit about their own research interests and how they are hoping we can reexamine the ontology of chemicals less as objects and more as relations that could prompt new kind of solidarities. EDGI would love to have you involved, dear listeners, if you are inspired to join. Find more EDGI info at and if you want to help or have resources to offer please email the group at their end-to-end encrypted account,

Jan 19, 2017

Cymene and Dominic talk about, what else, the future tomorrow will bring. To sprinkle a little comedy on our tragedy, [12:37] Dominic has a chance to catch up with old friend Jón “Houstonsson” Gnarr, famed Icelandic writer, actor, comedian, former mayor of Reykjavík, co-founder of The Best Party, and now part-time Texan. Jón explains why the situation in America right now seems like a surrealist play to him (or maybe an episode from the Twilight Zone). He shares some tips on how to handle demanding angry alpha males in politics. We plan Trump and Putin’s perfect day in Reykjavík and then talk about the TV series he just completed, The Mayor, in which he played a more corrupt and soulless version of his former self. We talk about the paradoxes of cars and coal in Iceland and why he wishes Iceland could be more of a role model on environmental issues. Then we turn to his new project, Elves, which tackles environmental issues and multispecies relations in Iceland in a unique and amazing way and we contemplate how trolls might be infiltrating Icelandic politics. We briefly touch on the TV series Jón is helping us to develop on climate change and Houston and, finally, talk about his idea for a #fuckclimatechange campaign. Jón finds the phrase appealing because of its multiple possible meanings that help to express both a sense of anger and hopelessness and resignation. It’s a provocative and darkly comic take on individual and governmental accountability, perfect for a time when the Icelandic government is buying more coal and 80% of Icelandic youth say they are not interested in climate change. What would Jón would ask Putin and Trump if he were President of Iceland? Listen on to find out! PS Sending everyone out there especially big hugs this week. Be kind to your people who are probably having as hard a time as all of us are. And please don't stop marching and protesting and filling the world with enough good to turn the tide.

Jan 12, 2017

Cymene and Dominic talk secret information, anxious white masculinity, emotional labor and neoliberal America’s bus to nowhere. Then (17:48) Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild joins us to talk about her five year long foray among Louisiana Tea Party supporters that led to her marvelous book, Strangers in their own Land (New Press), a National Book Award Finalist in 2016. We focus in on the deteriorating environmental conditions and widespread environmental pollution in the communities where she did her research, which have become some of the most toxic in the United States. We discuss the apparent paradox of attachment to nature and resistance to environmental protection. Arlie shares her thoughts about how people can live in different truths, the need for empathy bridges and her take on the great political divide in the United States now. She explains why government is so often positioned as the cause of environmental ills rather than as their remedy by the far right and we discuss how environmentalist movements' use of guilt and shame tactics may actually be counterproductive to environmental defense in this part of Louisiana. We talk about the roles religion and media play in shaping environmental ideas and Arlie shares her strong conviction that environmental justice can become a crossover issue for the right and the left. Looking for common ground? Or just a better understanding of the divide? Then listen on!

Jan 6, 2017

Dominic and Cymene talk about the past, plans for the future, and socks. Then (12:35) Ohio State environmental anthropologist Nick Kawa joins us on the podcast to talk about his research in Amazonia and his new book, Amazonia in the Anthropocene (University of Texas Press, 2016). We talk about deforestation, stereotypes and realities of Amazonian rural life, and the politics of indigeneity in the region. We learn about the history of Amazonian agriculture and “dark earth” and why Nick feels it’s as compelling evidence for the Anthropocene as the steam engine. We discuss Amazonian biochar and recent proposals that seek to cultivate more dark earth as a carbon sequestration technique. Nick shares his skepticism about industrial agriculture trying to solve its own problems. And we move from there to talking weedy species, the planthropocene, and how some plants may be benefitting from anthropogenic change. We touch briefly on how Amazonians and Floridians are adapting to climate change even as urban planning struggles to understand amphibious ways of living. Turning to Nick’s current research on the use of human waste in agriculture (“nightsoil”!) we discuss how the urban metabolic rift is linked to when people stopped using their own shit in agriculture. Nick explains how nightsoil is making a comeback—now euphemized as “biosolids”—but also how the shit that gets into shit is making it toxic. Is it time for a nightsoil manifesto? Is it possible that 2017 being a shit year could be a good thing? Listen in and find out!

Dec 29, 2016

Cymene and Dominic ring out 2016 by sharing a few energy and environment stories you might have missed. Then (22:11) we welcome to the podcast Annise Parker, three term mayor of Houston (2010-2016), now a fellow at Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders. As Houston’s greenest mayor, we reflect on the major environmental accomplishments of her administration including making Houston—let’s face it, a city not often associated in the public imagination with sustainability—the largest municipal purchaser of renewable electricity in the country with much improved mass transit and a greatly expanded network of hike and bike trails along the city’s bayou system. Annise talks to us about the important role cities are playing in the fight against climate change, including making markets for renewable energy and pursuing their own “para-diplomacy” with other cities to advance initiatives stalled at other levels of government. She explains why making the economic argument for renewables has been so important in Houston and why she doesn’t view Houston’s oil and gas industry as an impediment to forward progress. She also shares her thoughts on bike programs, automated vehicles, public transportation, migration, and hurricanes. Finally (1:09:46) Annise shares her frank reactions to the election, predicts many broken promises to come, and expresses her faith in the republic. Can she imagine being Senator Parker or Governor Parker down the road? Listen in to find out. Wishing all our listeners peace and love and a happy, fighty new year. Let’s make 2017 better in every respect.

Dec 22, 2016

On this week’s episode of the podcast, Dominic and Cymene relate their fave holiday traditions and identify the one thing that any gift-giving culture should absolutely avoid giving. Then (14:51) to help process our season of hyperconsumption, we welcome to the pod Cindy Isenhour from the University of Maine, co-author of Sustainability in the Global City, (, to talk about her recent research on displaced emissions from the Global North to the Global South. We discuss how the quest to green energy production often neglects the problem of rising commodity consumption and Cindy tells us her thoughts on whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from ecological harm. We talk about Sweden, the first country to officially recognize their displaced emissions, and how Swedish corporatism and cosmopolitanism contributed to that move. We cover Sweden’s efforts to improve China’s carbon efficiency, and how its new tax incentives to encourage reuse and repair of existing commodities are in tension with the government’s hesitation to restrict choice and consumer freedom. Then we turn to her new research on secondary consumption and the vibrant reuse culture of Maine. We reflect on how cheap fossil fuels make it easy to replace instead of reuse and what we in the North might be able to learn from the repair cultures of the South. And we debate whether cities can be the leading edge of climate progress given their own metabolic rift with respect to where their food and energy comes from. Finally, Cindy shares her own gift giving tips. Wishing all of our listeners a peaceful and beautiful holiday week. PS Here’s a photo of the Cultures of Energy rainbow xmas tree!

Dec 15, 2016

All this Russia hacking talk has Cymene and Dominic thinking about Boris, Natasha, Rocky & Bullwinkle. To set matters straight (12:02) Yale anthropologist Doug Rogers joins us to talk about the intersections of energy, power and culture in Russia. We cover the Russian hacking story and what the American news media gets right and wrong about Putin. We dissect the key factions of capital that operate in a petrostate—finance, oil, real estate, military—and their different temporalities and interests. Doug talks about why low oil prices are such a concern Russia today and why Putin might be interested in steering a geopolitics that manages the prices of fossil fuels more tightly. Then we turn to Doug’s recent book, The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture After Socialism (Cornell U Press, 2015) and explore the history of world’s first “socialist oil.” We talk about the differences between petrosocialism and petrocaptalism, and why mining and factory work always had higher social status than oil production in the Soviet Union. We cover Soviet era ecological degradation, the role of environmental movements in the perestroika period and their relative disappearance subsequently. We discuss how the Soviet experience of oil challenges Mitchell’s model of carbon democracy and learn how fear of socialist petrobarter led to the kinds of tax incentives and tolerance for cartelism that western oil producers continue to enjoy to this day. We also touch on the introduction of corporate social responsibility in the Russian oil industry, Lukoil’s recycling of petrowealth into cultural sponsorship, and state-sponsored discourse today about how good climate change will be for Russia. Whether you’re feeling petronostalgia or petrophobia this pod is for you! PS And so you don’t have to Google it, here’s shirtless Putin on a horse. You’re welcome.

Dec 8, 2016

Cymene and Dominic talk fake news and our alleged 'post-truth' condition and then (19:13) we are fortunate enough to welcome to the podcast distinguished Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes who—together with her collaborator Erik Conway—has been drawing attention to disinformation campaigns for decades. We talk about their legendary book Merchants of Doubt ( and Naomi shares her opinions about the current manipulation of public opinion and what impact social media and the Internet have had. We talk about journalism’s reliance on “two sides” reporting and how that has contributed to exaggerating the facticity of climate denial. We discuss how her collaboration with Erik originated and how their most recent book The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia U Press, 2014) began as something of an accident. Then Naomi shares her thoughts on how to persuade people that climate change matters, especially when they are convinced that climate discourse is being used as a pretext to expand governance. She explains why she thinks satire and science fiction can help the cause and we reflect on why partnership between the human sciences and the natural sciences is so important right now even though we still need to work to balance realism and relativism. Finally, we talk about why scientists need to talk about climate change in the present tense and why we all need to articulate the stakes of climate change in an economic register that people seem to be willing to listen to. Ready to become a citizen journalist? We need you, listen on!

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