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)
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
This week on the Cultures of Energy podcast we do a deep dive into a fascinating project, The Climate Media Net (https://theclimatemedia.net), which seeks to make climate change a bigger part of television comedy and drama in the UK. First, Cymene and Dominic brainstorm their own climate TV ideas. Then (18:45) we’re joined by one of the architects of the Climate Media Net, producer Nick Comer-Calder, formerly of the BBC and Discovery Networks Europe. Nick takes us behind the scenes of television making in the UK and talks about the challenges the issue of climate change poses from the perspective of commissioning programs and project development. Nick explains why he nevertheless feels that climate change represents one of the greatest creative opportunities of our era. We discuss the limitations of the documentary form in terms of changing opinions, the need to create emotional stakes and attachments regarding climate change, and why he thinks turning toward comedies and dramas might be the route forward. He shares the surprising results of his research on how much UK citizens actually know about climate change, his thoughts on bringing climate change into weather forecasts and the reasons why he is generally wary about dystopian narratives. If all this TV talk gets your synapses firing, let us know! It’s time to Trojan horse this whole Golden Age of TV thing :)
Summer’s a good time to just relax and have a little fun, no? This week we’re introducing a new occasional feature on the Cultures of Energy podcast, a lively discussion of a work of climate fiction. After debating what to call the feature (Ecoflix, Drowned Worlds, Soylent Rainbow, even Unicorn Time—whaaaat?—) we transport you (14:29) to a Volvo rocketing across the Icelandic Highlands and a conversation about the cult-favorite 2013 Bong Joon Ho film, Snowpiercer. Together with our special guest, Icelandic filmmaker, comedian and podcaster, Ragnar Hansson, we do a deep dive into the film and the controversy surrounding its release in the U.S. Do you think insect bars get a bad rap? Concerned about Chris Evans’s emotional range? Unflappable in the face of raver mobs? Then listen on!
Dominic and Cymene eat crow about Larsen C, discuss d-bags and make an exciting announcement about next week’s episode. Then (16:29) we welcome to the podcast former CENHS postdoc and current Arizona anthropologist Gökçe Günel. We learn about Gökçe’s fascinating work on Abu Dhabi’s prototype city-of-the-future, Masdar City, a project which recently culminated in her forthcoming book, Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change and Urban Design in Abu Dhabi (Duke Univ. Press, 2018). We talk about the early hype surrounding Masdar and what actually came to be, some of the most interesting experiments (driverless pod cars, an energy-based currency system), the aspirations of Arab urbanism, and why the project as a whole has often been called a failure. Gökçe shares with us her thoughts about the true legacies of Masdar, urban retrofitting, labor theory of value vs. energy theory of value, and proleptic temporality (the telling of the future before the future happens). We turn from there to Gökçe’s more recent work on desalination and carbon capture in the Arabian peninsula and finally to her current work on power ships, floating generators that are being used to power cities across the world. Listen on!
With Antarctica back in the news again, Dominic and Cymene share their feels about the imminent Larsen C calving and the possibly less probable rise of penguins and puffins against human governance (#thepuffrising). Then we talk to the only anthropologist we know who works in Antarctica, the fabulous Jessica O’Reilly from Indiana University. We start by discussing how public and scientific narratives about Antarctica have changed over the past 15 years, the disintegration of Larsen B during Jessy’s research, and the rise of “crack tourism” at Larsen C. We turn from there to her new book, The Technocratic Antarctic: An Ethnography of Scientific Expertise and Environmental Governance (Cornell U Press, 2017), and talk about charismatic data and charismatic ice, Antarctica as a society of experts, the Antarctic treaty and what’s happening with polar politics today. Jessy discusses the inherent conservatism of climate scientists, what they say to each other beyond the public eye, and whether she can imagine Antarctica morphing into a resource frontier as the Arctic has. Finally we turn to her exciting new research project, an ethnographic study of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Listen on! PS A big late-breaking Cultures of Energy pod shoutout to Volvo for accelerating the phaseout of internal combustion engines; the news broke just after we’d recorded this episode.
Cymene and Dominic talk drone dreams, disappearing glaciers and boring sagas and then (13:07) the wonderful Sophia Roosth (Harvard, History of Science) joins the pod to talk about, among other things, her excellent new book, Synthetic: How Life Got Made (U Chicago Press, 2017). We begin with synthetic biology, where it came from and what counts as “life” and what counts as “making” in the field. We then discuss how synthetic biologists think their way between creation, construction, and design, the noise and signal of life, exegesis as an evolutionary force, whether genetically modified organisms are queer lifeforms, and how synthetic biology and maker culture intersected in the amateur DIY bio community. We talk about intellectual property, venture capital and how bioengineering came to be captured by the logic of industrial capitalism. We turn from there to bioterror and why synthetic biology doesn’t make Sophia’s top ten list of things to be scared about. We cover biological salvage and deextinction experiments like Pleistocene Park and Sophia explains how synthetic biology has unsettled scientific understandings of “species.” Finally we hear a bit about her fascinating new work with geobiologists on the origins of life. Listen on!
Dominic and Cymene expose the truth behind a rabid raccoon attack and then (16:46) former CENHS star Matthew Schneider-Mayerson (now Yale-NUS) joins the podcast to talk about his book Peak Oil: Apocalyptic Environmentalism and Libertarian Political Culture (U Chicago Press, 2015). Matthew reminds us how much the threat of “peak oil” and energy depletion was a topic of public concern and commentary in the late 2000s and explains how he came to study the community of hardcore “peakists.” We talk about the racial and gender dynamics of the movement and whether they echo the anxieties of white masculinity on display in recent right wing populism. Matthew explains how he came to view peakism as a distinctively neoliberal social movement, what the emotional and spiritual landscape of the movement looked like, the difficulty of imagining a positive life after oil, and whether peakism foreshadowed contemporary reckonings with the Anthropocene. Matthew then tells us about his work to help establish the Fossilized Houston art collective (www.fossilizedhouston.com) and a new project, Loan Words to Live By, which will curate a set of ecologically significant terms that don’t exist in English but should. Finally we turn to Matthew’s current research and reflections on Singapore including eco-authoritarianism, sea-level rise, floating buildings, and the paradox of Singapore as a massively carbon intensive "garden city."
Cymene and Dominic speak ecological truth to nostalgia and then (16:09) welcome to the pod Greta Gaard, Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, and, once upon a time, a co-founder of Minnesota’s Green Party. We all know ecofeminism is back but Greta reminds us how it never really went away. She takes us back to the beginning and the diverse intellectual and activist projects and intersectional alliances that helped inform ecofeminism’s birth in the 1980s. We talk about the backlash against ecofeminism’s perceived essentialism and speciesism, the balance between theory and practice that evolved over time, and how to compare posthumanism, animal studies and ecofeminism today. Greta shares her disappointment at the ideas that have been borrowed from ecofeminism without due recognition. And we discuss whether feminism can be relevant today without engaging the environment and environmental justice. We then turn to her forthcoming book, Critical Ecofeminism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), which seeks to recuperate the pathbreaking philosophical work of Val Plumwood. We turn from there to ecomasculinity, ecoerotics and erotophobia, we talk about good and bad kinds of milk/ing, and Greta shares what went wrong with the Green Party of the United States in the 1990s and what she thinks about third party politics now.
Cymene and Dominic speculate about fonts and life after academe. Then the fantastic Claire Colebrook joins us on the pod. We begin by discussing her recent two volume collection, Essays on Extinction (Open Humanities Press, 2014) and what got her interested in thinking about extinction in the first place. We talk about whether human existence has more than simply parochial value, our attachments to life, why recognition of the anthropocene should be more of a game changer, and how thinking about end times can also make us consider what is really worth saving. Claire explains why she feels the way we live ethics today can be an indulgent practice and why tough ethical decisions are becoming more urgent. We turn from there to how figures of “the caring human,” indigenous culture, and nature are mobilized in reckonings with the anthropocene. She tells us why Deleuze is not a vitalist and takes on popular readings of Deleuze as a “philosopher of becoming” including the lines that are being woven in the blogosphere between Deleuze, accelerationism and, gulp, Steve Bannon. We cover philosophical concepts of life, the roots of contemporary climate skepticism, the everyday violence of affluent western lifestyles, and the possibility of low carbon philosophy. We discover why Claire thinks that the “Trumpocene” has now trumped the anthropocene. And we close by discussing her current project on fragility. Wondering which of Claire’s collies has a better grasp of the anthropocene condition? Listen on and find out!
Cymene and Dominic process today’s news about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement as well as yesterday's ExxonMobil shareholder insurrection, which will force the company to start measuring the size of its carbon bubble. Then (18:03) we turn to sunnier places and faces and welcome Amelia Moore from the University of Rhode Island to the pod. With Amelia we talk about the Caribbean as a foundational experimental space—increasingly for energy transition—and the illusions of smallness and boundedness that accompany today’s experimental projects. We focus in on her research in the Bahamas, and discuss the islands’ reliance on fossil fuels, the massive carbon footprint of island tourism, the small island as an iconic anthropocene space, and the solar core of paradise. We talk about the politics and publics surrounding sea level rise in the Caribbean, the ethical quandaries of the tourist industry, and how colonial legacies matter. We turn from there to Amelia’s current work on coral, that wondrous combination of animal, vegetable and mineral. We talk acidification and bleaching and how coral has joined polar bears and glaciers as sentinel beings of the anthropocene. Amelia explains how anthropocene disaster tourism is beginning to become a thing and describes her latest research on new corporate social responsibility initiatives underway in the Caribbean and Indonesia that are designed to help people learn how to care for and help rehabilitate coral communities. We close with a teaser for her latest project on social acceptance of the U.S.’s first offshore wind park project near Block Island. Listen on!
Dominic and Cymene talk about the carbon footprint of war, the best paper airplane design and map out an adventure to the center of climate change. Then (15:13) Jennifer Wenzel from Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature joins us to talk about her long and varied career in energy humanities. We start off with the ties between ecofeminism and energy humanities and her interest in oil’s place in society, bodies and literature. We talk about how to disenchant petromagic, the unrepeatable feat of cheap and easy energy, what Jennifer calls the “politics of the pedestrian,” how the Fueling Culture volume came together, and the importance of short form public writing for the humanities. Jennifer explains why she thinks we need to start popularizing “energy transition” as a concept alongside “climate change” and “global warming” to counteract public fatalism that there is no alternative to the status quo. Then we circle back to how Jennifer first became interested in energy through her work on West African novels and her frustration that literary criticism didn’t give her adequate tools to analyze what was happening in place like the Niger Delta. Jennifer emphasizes the need to think critically and comparatively about sites of extraction and our attachments to energy. And she shares her sense that an “energy unconscious” haunts cultural production in many parts of the world. Can energy humanities be a revitalizing engine for the humanities as a whole? Listen on!
To help us sort through a week dominated by spiraling Russo-American political intrigue, we welcome (13:01) to the podcast Berkeley anthropologist, Alexei Yurchak, analyst extraordinaire of all things late Soviet and post Soviet, and author of the award-winning Everything was Forever Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, 2005). We trace the connections between that project’s exploration of culture and politics at the end of state socialism and Alexei’s current research on the scientists who have been working to preserve Lenin’s body since 1924. We talk about the fascinating intersection of biopolitics and necropolitics involved in the effort to maintain Lenin’s body in a lifelike state for almost a century, how discursive hegemony of form in the late Soviet period also informed corporeal hegemony of form, the results of this science that you can find in your own pharmacy, and the network of political leaders’ bodies across the world that Soviet and now Russian scientists have worked to preserve. Alexei dispels the idea that cloning was ever on the table in this project; but explains that his interlocutors do believe that they can now keep Lenin’s body in a near-life state in perpetuity. We return from there to the contemporary political chaos and what Alexei makes of the Trump-Putin entanglement stories currently dominating the headlines. Alexei shares his concerns about the powerful return of Russophobia to the United States, about what popular characterizations of Russia get wrong, and about how anti-Russian sentiment may provide a convenient excuse to defer a serious examination of the root causes of Trumpism. Ready to take a break from the political hysteria? Then listen on!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.