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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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Sep 29, 2016

This week’s podcast dives into ‘the chemical turn’ in the human sciences. Dominic and Cymene talk intoxication and wonder whether there’s a drug that could cure patriarchy. Then (9:04) we welcome Prof. Vanessa Agard-Jones from Columbia University to the studio to learn about her fascinating research on toxicity and chemical kinship in Martinique. We hear the story about how the pesticide chlordecone/kepone—a chemical now banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants—was introduced to Martinique by the owners of its banana plantations. Widespread use of the pesticide for over a decade has left the island and its citizens living in a plume of toxic contamination even over two decades after the pesticide was finally banned. We discuss the North/South, racial and postcolonial dynamics of Martinique’s situation and how ambient toxicity undermines both the possibility of “eating local” and the idea of political independence. Then Vanessa explains her theoretical approach to chemicals, how she seeks to balance the concerns of old and new materialisms in concepts like “chemical kin/esthesia” and “molecular ethnography.” We talk about vectors and scales of exposure, why she wants to study the body memory of the Caribbean and why she is looking to geology to think about accretion and sedimentation. In closing Vanessa explains why the chemical turn is also a queer turn and why she thinks it should be queerer still. Enjoy! PS For more on the chemical turn and Vanessa’s work, see www.agardjones.org and www.toxicsymposium.org ; PPS “Kepone Factory” is a Dead Kennedys song. Indulge your punk souls here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a41PUZ2oRc

Sep 22, 2016

Cymene and Dominic compare their ecospirituality on this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, appreciate the mystical connectivity among all Californians and then Dominic explains the two aspects of Nature that frighten him the most. After all that (10:44) we welcome to the podcast our true spirit guide, Bron Taylor, Professor of Religion and Nature, Environmental Ethics, and Environmental Studies, at the University of Florida (brontaylor.com). We talk about his landmark book Dark Green Religion (U California Press, 2010) and Bron explains the increase in naturalistic and Gaian spirituality across the world today. We discuss the struggle between biocentric and anthrocentric ethics, how collaborations between indigenous and environmentalist movements have helped create green countercultures and we debate Lynn White’s thesis that Christianity has helped to accelerate contemporary ecological crisis. We cover the mainstreaming of green spirituality in popular culture, science and media and whether the “dark” in “dark green” also has something to do with violence. Finally, we turn to Bron’s most recent book, Avatar and Nature Spirituality, (Wilfrid Laurier U Press, 2013) and discuss what role films like Avatar might play in spreading green spiritual ideas and feelings. Why have most humans been so slow to react to their environmental predicaments? How is Abrahamic spirituality connected to agriculture? Is surfing an aquatic nature religion? All these answers and more on this week’s episode!

Sep 16, 2016

Until a few weeks ago, most of us hadn’t heard about the lawsuit and protest of the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Now the resistance is the subject of national and international media coverage. Still, there is much we do not understand about the history and stakes of what is happening at Standing Rock in terms of Indigenous rights and sovereignty, climate justice, and the struggle for energy transition. By way of comparison, Cymene and Dominic briefly discuss Indigenous resistance to energy projects in their fieldwork in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Then (11:08) we welcome to the podcast Jaskiran Dhillon and Nick Estes. Jaskiran is a first generation academic and advocate who grew up on Treaty Six Cree/Métis Territory in Saskatchewan. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at The New School and author of the forthcoming Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (U Toronto, 2017). Nick Estes is Kul Wicasa from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow, and a co-founder of activist organization The Red Nation. A winner of a Native American Journalist Association award for his writing, Nick’s research focuses on the history and politics of the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation), border town violence, colonialism and decolonization, and Indigenous internationalism and human rights. Together we discuss what led to opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the legacies of settler colonialism and empire in the region, and the impact Indigenous youth are having on the climate justice movement. Jaskiran and Nick explain to us why what is happening at Standing Rock is truly unprecedented and why it might give us hope despite how deeply pipeline politics remain invested in traditions of settler violence. Finally, we discuss what they think will happen next and how people wishing to support the resistance can help; for those with the resources to help, donations to the legal defense fund and to support the community can be made at standingrock.org PS special thanks to Audra Simpson for helping to make this episode possible!

Sep 9, 2016

It's our back to school episode this week! And to make some of us feel a little better about being back at school, we want to highlight all the good green work that goes on, often behind the scenes, on our college campuses. Dominic and Cymene share their views on the necessity of office space and then welcome (10:40) to the podcast Rice University’s chief sustainability officer, Richard R. Johnson, Director of ACSEM (sustainability.rice.edu) and Professor of the Practice of Environmental Studies in Sociology. Richard walks us through the history of the campus sustainability movement and explains why jobs like his these days are more about things like rethinking building design, improving power purchase agreements and getting students engaged in changing the carbon footprint of their campus than they are about recycling. Richard makes the case for the benefits of using less and explains how a shift to solar energy could revolutionize campus life. He shares his mixed feelings about divestment campaigns and discloses what “sustainability” means to him. We close on how to change the sprawl mindset in campus development and Dominic eventually agrees to give up his office in exchange for a coffee card. Does your campus have a frivolous building project that is driving you crazy? Do you want some good ideas for how to make your campus, academic or otherwise, greener? Then this episode is for you!

Sep 2, 2016

Big news this week, friends, it turns out we’re living in the Anthropocene after all. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of the International Union of Geological Sciences released its report at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town that we have left the Holocene behind. Cymene and Dominic find themselves more melancholy than they expected to be about this. But fortunately we’re able to talk it over (12:50) with Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Paleobiology at the University of Leicester, author of the marvelous The Planet in a Pebble (Oxford, 2010), and the Chair of the AWG. Jan walks us through the Working Group’s process of investigation, the forms of evidence that mattered to them and the ensuing debate over whether to make the Anthropocene a new geological time unit. We discuss the early history of climate science, the origin of the Anthropocene concept, what skeptics of the concept are thinking, and the study of deep time as a labor of love that may be able to help us all with the transition to a new sense of time. Is the Anthropocene an age or an epoch, when exactly did it begin, what are its key markers? What is the “golden spike” we are now hearing about? Even if we can’t make anyone feel better about the Anthropocene, we can at least answer some of your questions about it :)

Aug 26, 2016

Dominic and Cymene discuss air conditioning, fathers who don’t listen, and share certain VC-ready ideas for revolutionary technology. Then (10:04) we welcome to the podcast esteemed and delightful Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen to talk about his recent book Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change (http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/O/bo25051909.html) and the collaborative research project from which it originated. We talk about intertwining crises of economy, environment and culture in the context of the mind-boggling acceleration of social change over the past 25 years. Thomas muses on how modernity has lost its nerve and faith in progress as endless cheap energy has finally turned against us. This brings us to the double-bind of modernity between growth and sustainability and why today’s goals for development should focus more on improving relationships than on securing material luxuries. Thomas concludes that we need more political imagination about what constitutes a good life. We then turn to his fieldwork in Gladstone, Australia, a city “marinated in fossil fuels,” and its struggle with “solastalgia,” the sense of loss connected to the rapid deterioration of natural environment. Thomas agrees that it’s no accident the Overheating project is based in Norway given the country’s somewhat paradoxical situation—“the vegetarian that runs a butcher shop”—as a petrostate strongly commitment to environmental sustainability and future-oriented ethical investment. We close by musing on how increasing climate refugeeism might impact European multiculturalism in the future. Concerned that the treadmill of modern life is moving ever faster? Then this episode is for you.

Aug 19, 2016

This week’s episode takes a close look at New Orleans and shines some light on the legacies of Hurricane Katrina and the impacts of climate change as Louisiana suffers under another round of mass flooding. Our guest and guide (11:39) is the brilliant Shannon Lee Dawdy—Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, author of Building the Devil’s Empire: French Colonial New Orleans (U Chicago Press, 2008), and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow—who weaves together anthropological, archaeological and historical methods in her research and writing. We talk about her most recent book, Patina: A Profane Archaeology (U Chicago Press, 2016) and what it teaches us about the importance of materiality and narrative in the history of New Orleans. We talk about New Orleans’s distinctive critical nostalgia and how it challenges the temporality and utilitarianism of the fast capitalism that surrounds it. We talk about collective care of objects and responses to trauma. And we talk about contemporary ruins, living with ghosts, how Louisiana’s relationship to the oil industry and riverine commerce has undermined its environmental stability, and whether the levees will hold in the future. We agree on the revolutionary potential of everyday practices and small acts. We then (58:00) turn toward her current ethnographic research and film about contemporary American death practices, which Shannon convinces us is a happier topic than it sounds. We touch on popular ontologies of the afterlife, the rise in green burial practices, cremation and carbon footprint, and the beauty of cemeteries. The takeaway: death affirms life, but also reminds us that what we do with our finitude makes all the difference. So, dear listeners, please send energy and support to our brothers and sisters in Louisiana and tend to the people and places you love.

Aug 12, 2016

Your co-hosts wonder why coal seems so sinister and they’re pretty sure it has something to do with all those Santa-related threats. Then (8:51) we welcome University of Chicago environmental and intellectual historian Fredrik Albritton Jonsson to the podcast to discuss his two remarkable books, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (Yale, 2013) and Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin’s Lake District (co-authored with Vicky Albritton; U Chicago, 2016). Fredrik takes us back to mid 18th century Scotland and 19th century England to discuss the deep historical roots of contemporary concerns about fuel, growth and the natural limits of growth. We talk about competing energy and environmental visions in 18th and 19th century political economy and natural history. We touch on 18th century climatology, the nuances of Adam Smith’s value theory and how British imperialism contributed to undermining the importance of land and population in economic theory. We debate whether physiocratism is on the rise again and Fredrik let us eavesdrop on his conversations with Dipesh Chakrabarty about how to think about the Anthropocene. Finally (51:10) we turn to art historian and renegade political economist John Ruskin, whose concerns about anthropogenic climate change in the 1860s and 1870s led him to form an early “post-carbon” community in Britain’s Lake District. Yet, surprise surprise, his “simple life” turns out not to have been that simple after all :) Are fossil fuels really the edifice of modern notions of equality and freedom? Listen on! PS -- Special thanks go to Anthony Penta from UChicago Creative for producing this episode and to Elise Covic, Deputy Dean of the U of Chicago’s College for helping to set up the recording.

Aug 5, 2016

Cymene and Dominic test out the identity of “semi-professional podcasters” by reeling off impressive sounding words like “load-shedding” and “blackout” and then (10:21) we welcome University of Washington political scientist Sunila Kale to the podcast. She indulges our twin fascinations with electricity and India by discussing her landmark book—wait for it—Electrifying India (Stanford, 2014). We discuss the colonial legacies that shaped the making of India’s power system and also the important regional differences that explain why in some states in India only 30% of homes have reliable access to electricity. We discuss the differential experiences of grid in India and how the middle-classes have adapted to an unstable electricity supply with inverters and generators. We touch on why the recent flood of international green energy investment has not been able to successfully address the complex social and political questions around electricity distribution. Indeed, Sunila’s new collaborative research focuses on how India is coping with a growing abundance of expensive green electricity, innovations in demand side management and a new political emphasis on increasing competition in the electricity market. We talk about Akhil Gupta’s argument that countries like India cannot repeat the mistakes made by the Global North as they increase their electricity usage and Sunila points out that India is already diverging from the northern model in terms of the supplementation of grid by batteries and rooftop solar. Sunila finally debunks the argument that more coal-powered electricity will be vital for India’s future social and economic development. What will it take to make energy a civil rights issue in India? Listen on!

Jul 29, 2016

It’s Dominic’s birthday and he’ll cry if he wants to. Your co-hosts first talk green virtue and anthropocenic temperance and Cymene’s childhood close encounter with a tiger. We then (9:02) welcome to the podcast a very distinguished guest, Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy at New York University and author of Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford University Press, 2014). We talk at length about his moving collaborative project with novelist Bonnie Nadzam (author of Lamb and Lions) and their recently published collection, Love in the Anthropocene (http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/love-in-the-anthropocene-by-jamieson-and-nadzam/). Dale posits love as the antithesis of narcissism and describes why contact with the real is so much more important than enveloping ourselves in fantasy. We talk hierarchy and class and why the Anthropocene will be better for some than for others. Yet, Dale emphasizes the newness of our present situation and says we should spend more time thinking and trying to understand our problems and less time relying on familiar categories and chasing solutions. Tracking back to Dale’s earlier work, we touch on the virtues, our need to recover agency, why we should tax email, and the intergenerational ethics of climate change. Then we turn to his current research on how the Anthropocene has challenged the categories and practices of liberalism, eroding both our traditional agency presupposition and public/private distinctions. The point being that we really don’t know how to govern in the Anthropocene—and, maybe we didn’t in the Holocene either! But in any case we live in a time in need of a great deal of political experimentation. We close with how surfing brought Dale to Environmental Studies and why philosophy matters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Do you think we have too much populism and not enough democracy? Listen on!

Jul 21, 2016

Cymene and Dominic briefly highlight the plight of refugee polar bears in Iceland and pitch PolarBearLand as a creative response. Then (9:34) we welcome to the podcast celebrated Icelandic actor and director, Benedikt Erlingsson. We talk about his first feature film, Of Horses and Men (Hross í Oss, 2013), Iceland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, and what he finds fascinating about human-horse relationships. We discuss the differences between Icelandic and American horse cultures and what he thinks horses reveal about humans as dangerous animals. Then Benedikt gives us a glimpse of his current film project, A Woman at War, an “action-arthouse-ecological thriller.” It concerns a middle-aged musician who takes it upon herself to save the world by sabotaging the electricity to Iceland’s aluminum smelters. This leads us to a conversation about self-sacrifice, dangerous ideas, and what he views as an inevitable coming radicalization of politics. Benedikt discusses the struggle to change our environmental doomsday trajectory and why he finds the myth of Prometheus such an apt analogy for our present situation. He also shares his reaction to a remarkable meeting with the World Bank in which they asked filmmakers to do more to change popular attitudes about climate change. In closing we discuss his support for a landmark project to limit further development in the Icelandic highlands and how to find the stories that will inspire people to accept radical change. Our thanks again this week to Iceland’s national broadcasting service, RÚV, for graciously allowing us to use their studio space and to CENHS fellow Magnús Sigurðsson for engineering and editing the recording.

Jul 15, 2016

Water, water everywhere. The human sciences have become animated by the politics, ethics and materiality of water of late and for good reason. Our guest (11:13) on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast was one of the first to get this conversation started. Anthropologist Veronica Strang, currently Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Durham University, is the author of The Meaning of Water (Oxford, 2004) and Water: Culture and Nature (Reaktion, 2015) and a recipient of UNESCO’s International Water Prize. We talk about how the transgressive and transformative properties of water cut across cultures and how its material liquidity complicates our cultural and legal understandings of ownership and property. Veronica explains why we have to think water across scales, from its mediation of individual bodies to how its flows form communities. We talk about the infamous case of Bolivia’s water privatization, efforts to enclose water resources across the world and how contemporary politics of water are undermining democracy. Veronica also reminds us though that efforts to centralize control over water are ancient and that the movements that are now seeking to decentralize water resources also have hope. In closing we discuss cosmological and mythological water beings ranging from rainbow serpents to Chinese water dragons to the Lambton Worm, reputed to live in Durham’s own River Wear. Is our concern with hydration and floods these days informed by the moral economy and sacred vitality of water? Has urbanization caused us to lose touch with the hydrological cycle that so powerfully informed the cultural imaginations of our ancestors? Pour yourself a glass of water and listen on.

Jul 8, 2016

Dominic and Cymene may or may not enjoy an evening cocktail on a perfect Berlin evening on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast. Then, we turn (4:05) to a lively and fascinating conversation with legendary anthropologist and philosopher, Annemarie Mol, author of The Body Multiple and The Logic of Care and recent winner of the Spinoza Prize. We talk with her about nature as process instead of object and knowledge as technique. She explains her interest in practices and why taking technologies seriously explodes “the human.” We talk about why “eating bodies” are good to think with and about why she wants to rethink embodiment via metabolics beyond older neuromuscular models of bodies. But she also wants to push metabolics beyond the legacy of 19th century energetics (think calories). From there we talk about the difference between logics of choice and logics of care and why she views her work as resolutely political. Why should we attend to ecology and care today? Listen on!! PS: Special thanks to Catherine Alexander for opening her home to us for the conversation!

Jun 30, 2016

Coming to you straight outta Reykjavík, Cymene and Dominic chat about the many remarkable things happening in Iceland this summer, the Melt research project and what “cryohuman relations” look like in a country with 300 glaciers that are now losing 11 billion tons of ice each year. Then (13:59) we speak with Heiða Helgadóttir (former Member of Parliament and co-founder of Iceland’s Best Party and Bright Future Party) and with Guðmundur (Gummi) Jónsson, a Reykjavík based urban planner, about the energy and environmental challenges facing Iceland today. We talk about Iceland’s changing relationship to its natural environment in a time of climate change, skyrocketing tourism, and rapid urbanization. They give us insight into the politics and economics of geothermal energy and hydropower and the effort to create a national park in the Icelandic highlands, often known as Europe’s last wilderness. Can Iceland manage its tourism boom sustainably? Is it ethical for Iceland to supply aluminum smelters and server farms with green electricity? How can Reykjavík address its climatological and public health concerns through better policy, planning and infrastructure? Special thanks this week to Iceland’s national broadcasting service, RÚV, for graciously allowing us to use their studio space and to CENHS fellow Magnús Sigurðsson for arranging and engineering the recording. Áfram Ísland (Go Iceland)!!

Jun 23, 2016

Cymene and Dominic debate the merits of season 1 of Bloodline and quickly agree to disagree on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast. Then (9:25) we get to the main event, our conversation with Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award winning writer Jeff VanderMeer, author of the NYT bestselling, Southern Reach Trilogy (FSG, 2014). Our friend Roy Scranton joins us on the line as well—since you last heard him, Roy has published his own novel War Porn (Soho Press, 2016) and become a Professor at Notre Dame: way to go, Roy!—and together we all get deep into Area X. We ask Jeff about the challenges of language and knowledge in the trilogy, whether Area X could be a metaphor for the Anthropocene, and what is going on with the doppelgangers. Jeff talks about his fascination with fungi and how they show we are always already contaminated. He discusses his use of dreams and how the speculative and uncanny elements of fiction can be a way of gaining new perspective on the world without lecturing the reader. He drops a terrific idea for a VR device that could make us see the invisible vectors in the world around us and we rashly promise to help him build it. There’s a film in the works for the first volume of the trilogy, Annihilation, and we talk about how not to let the Southern Reach be reduced to Hollywood formula. And, finally, we talk about Jeff’s upcoming projects including his novel about a Godzilla-sized psychotic flying bear, Borne. If you, like Jeff, are doing your best to contribute to a lack of bullshit in the world, then this episode is for you!

Jun 16, 2016

Cymene and Dominic talk about the future of low carbon city, Dominic learns about “subsidence” and then we welcome to the studio (10:55) our esteemed colleague and CENHS co-conspirator, Albert Pope, who is the Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture at Rice and author of the influential Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press). Along with his colleague Jesús Vassallo, Albert has formed Present Future, whose work is being featured right now at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (http://news.rice.edu/2016/05/09/wood-would-suit-a-future-detroit/). We talk to Albert about his ideas for the renovation of Houston’s impoverished Fifth Ward and what it should look like fifty years from now. At the core of Albert’s project is figuring out how to adapt urban systems to natural systems in the era of climate change and he explains how we need to update our model of urban density to incorporate open spaces and the carbon cycle. Albert argues there is no technical fix for climate change and that we need to change our habits of energy use, which makes the future of the city ground zero for climate change remediation. Could Houston, epicenter of the fossil fuel industry, actually lead the way toward low energy dwelling? What would it be like to live in a high-rise tower made of wood? Listen to this week’s podcast and find out!

Jun 10, 2016

After the usual nonsense, we welcome to the podcast this week (5:11) Dipesh Chakrabarty, theorist and historian extraordinaire from the University of Chicago. Dipesh recounts an amusing encounter from his visit to Rice that helps prove that the 1950s dream of limitless plenitude is still very much alive (and not only in Houston). We then return to his seminal/ovular essay, “The Climate of History,” and Dipesh shares his thoughts on how he might augment his four theses with a discussion of humanity’s ecological overshoot and of the deep connection between geology and biology. Then we talk about why the recent polarization between Team Anthropocene and Team Capitalocene is a bit silly, how climate science originated out of interplanetary studies and what it means for our species being that we don’t have an effective species-level political apparatus. Dipesh explains why it’s important to think about capitalism in terms of geology and suggests that attaining an epochal consciousness could possibly restore content to the idea of the “common concern” of climate change. Finally, we ruminate on Cymene’s concept of the “betacene” and the necessarily experimental status of politics today. There’s much to provoke and digest in this week’s podcast: enjoy!

Jun 3, 2016

Back home in Houston, Cymene and Dominic discuss their efforts to save small animals (with mixed results). Then, in London, (11:05) Dominic talks to Dr. Anna Galkina from the remarkable organization Platform London (http://platformlondon.org) who have woven together artistic, activist, environmentalist, human rights and social justice commitments over the past thirty years. Anna explains Platform’s concept of the “carbon web” and how it is seeking to sever the links between governments, oil companies, financial institutions and cultural institutions. We talk about finding unlikely allies, reinventing the arts of protest for the 21st century, and Platform’s collaborations with other artist-activist groups like Liberate Tate (@liberatetate). We talk about what a post-oil, post-neoliberal energy system might look like, municipal public energy projects, and their latest projects with unions seeking a just transition for workers in the oil and gas economy. Should BP and Shell start winding down in the next few years? Have a look at Platform’s recent energy manifesto here: (http://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Manifesto_energy_beyond_neoliberalism.pdf) and, as always, enjoy the podcast!

May 27, 2016

Live from Ithaca NY, we talk (8:35) to OG energy humanist (and sometimes rockstar) Karen Pinkus, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at Cornell, about what attracted her to writing about energy and fuel. She introduces us to her remarkable forthcoming book, Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary (https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/fuel) and its cornucopia of real and imagined fuel forms. We talk bad faith futurity, the need for expansive reading and radical thinking, and why "sustainability" is one of the most pernicious words circulating today. Karen explains to us why it’s so important to distinguish “energy” from “fuel” and how that move helps us to move past a discourse on energy conservation. We talk about Jules Verne as her greatest inspiration, her new research on geoengineering and why the future belongs to small people. Finally, she shares her reflections on COP 21. What does rock and roll have to say to climate change? Listen on!

May 20, 2016

It’s a deep dive into “degrowth” this week on the Cultures of Energy podcast. We welcome (6:57) Giorgos Kallis, a political ecologist and ecological economist based at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who has authored several influential papers on the theory and practice of degrowth as an antidote to contemporary notions of green economy and sustainability (http://www.degrowth.org/giorgos-kallis). Giorgos talks about the birth of the degrowth concept in the early 2000s and how it confronts the fetishism of growth in economic theory and political culture today. He explains why “green growth” is a fantasy and how attempts to provide technological solutions to social problems usually backfire, displacing and amplifying negative effects elsewhere. We get his take on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and hear why changing the nature of work and paying more attention to care have to be cornerstones of our way forward. Can there be prosperity without growth? Are we living through a second edition of the 1930s or the 1940s? Listen on!

May 13, 2016

Welcome to a special bonus double episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast! This week we offer new perspectives on two countries—China and Denmark—that have become touchstones for contemporary debates over energy futures. But before all that serious business, Cymene explains why it’s advisable to wear sunglasses underground. We then (7:57) talk to Michael Hathaway, an anthropologist from Simon Fraser University and author of Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2013). Michael offers a different perspective on Chinese air pollution; we talk about wind as medium, metaphor and material force and about how the rise of environmental sensibility is changing politics and society in China today. What is China’s role as a global citizen? Then (56:15) we welcome Brit Ross Winthereik to the Houston studio. Brit is based at the IT-University of Copenhagen where she organizes the Alien Energy project (http://alienenergy.dk/). With Brit, we talk about the history, complexity and contradictions of “green energy” in Denmark and learn about the secret history of Danish energy powerhouse Vestas. Brit makes a case for thinking about the environment at different scales and then discusses the Land Art Generator Initiative (http://landartgenerator.org) a project that seeks to make renewable energy beautiful.

May 6, 2016

This week Cultures of Energy welcomes the brilliant (and fully certified) sound artist and composer Lawrence English (http://lawrenceenglish.com) to the podcast. Lawrence explains his relational approach to listening and how he became interested in the practice of field recording. We discuss the difference between hearing and listening, field recording as a political act, aesthetics of signal and noise, and how different ears have different horizons of listening. As a non-linear medium, Lawrence emphasizes the endlessness and promiscuousness of sound and how listening can help us reconnect to our immediate environments and to the world at large. Relish the incidental! In our final segment, (63:18) we mix for your audition and pleasure several clips from Lawrence’s 2012 field recording collection, Songs Of The Living And The Lived In (http://emporium.room40.org/categories/lawrence-english-editions). See if you can recognize the Antarctic fur seal sleeping, Amazonian howler monkeys, Cormorants flocking at dusk, Australian chiroptera, Adele penguin chicks, Antarctic fur seals very much awake, white-throated toucans’ dawn display and a trigona carbonaria hive invasion.

Apr 29, 2016

This week’s energy humanities podcast recaps and takes inspiration from CENHS’s fifth annual spring research symposium, otherwise known as Cultures of Energy 5 (http://culturesofenergy.com/cultures-of-energy-april-21-23-2016-poster-and-schedule/), which took place at Rice last week in the afterwash of Houston’s historic flooding. Cymene and Dominic share fond memories from the symposium and then, inspired by the Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen project, (http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights/803-lexicon-for-an-anthropocene-yet-unseen), several of our distinguished visitors offer short takes and keywords for the Anthropocene. Cara Daggett (Johns Hopkins) goes to “work” (13:50), Andreas Malm (Lund) offers “resistance” (17:47), and Lynn Badia (Alberta) muses on “free” (22:50). Graeme Macdonald (Warwick) shows us his “passport” (24:58) and smudge studio (Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, http://www.smudgestudio.org) walk us through “ippo” (30:00). Finally, Toronto-based poet Mathew Henderson reads (36:30) from his remarkable collection, The Lease (http://www.chbooks.com/catalogue/lease). All in all, we celebrate energy humanities as an alien intelligence in our petrocultural system. Get ready for Cultures of Energy 6 in 2017!

Apr 22, 2016

It’s all about plants on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast. Our guide is anthropologist Natasha Myers, director of the Plant Studies Collaboratory at York University (https://natashamyers.wordpress.com) and author of Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter (Duke University Press, 2015). We talk about Natasha’s work in savannah ecosystems millennia in the making, how to sniff out chemical atmospheres and queer environmental monitoring practices. Natasha explains how plants conduct inquiry in their worlds, their sense and sentience, how they both catalyze and epitomize ecological relations. We discuss how plants trouble human notions of subjectivity, the possibility a plant-based phenomenology, end-of-time botanical tourism in Singapore, and whether gardening can be a redemptive practice. Natasha envisions plants as photosynthetic world-makers and tells us that if we humans want to thrive, our plants needs to thrive too. It’s time to embrace the Planthropocene.

Apr 15, 2016

This week’s Cultures of Energy podcast turns toward the Middle East as Dominic and Cymene speak (8:35) with Rutgers historian Toby Jones, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Harvard University Press, 2010) and Running Dry: Essays on Energy, Water and Environmental Crisis (Rutgers University Press, 2015). The conversation reveals the knotted history of energy, water, security and infrastructure that has led to a seemingly endless war machine in the region. We talk about how the politics of water in the making of the Saudi Arabian state, how American energy and military agendas became fused together in the Gulf, the relationship between sovereignty and shipping and how to use seawater as a theory machine. Toby encourages us all to acknowledge energy’s place in the war machine and to commit ourselves to ending war for energy.

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