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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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)!!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Cymene and Dominic talk drug awareness to open this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast and then (6:10) share laughs and ecological thoughts with their marvelous and occasionally hallucinatory colleague, Tim Morton, author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (Columbia University Press, 2016). Tim explains how his brain works, why object oriented ontology isn’t your granddaddy’s philosophy, how ambiguity is a signal of reality in the Anthropocene, and what we need to put into the drinking water to save the world. We talk about how comedy is the same as thinking, why Interstellar is ecological and sooo much more. In a dramatic last-minute reveal, we also learn Tim’s pick to direct Dark Ecology: The Movie.
This episode is our first recorded out of the studio and on the road in St. Andrews, Scotland. Dominic and Cymene appreciate all that St. Andrews has to offer by way of golf, gulls and edible money and then (7:11), in the comfort of lovely 5 Pilmour Place (http://www.5pilmourplace.com), speak with writer, poet and ethnographer Laura Watts (http://sand14.com) about her longstanding research in Orkney. We learn about an extraordinary place where the world’s renewable energy future has already been realized, where wind, wave and tidal power provide over 100% of the archipelago’s electricity, where people talk and think energy constantly. Laura reads from her new poetic primer on marine renewable energy, Ebban An’ Flowan, and introduces us to The Electric Nemesis, Victor Frankenstein’s Orcadian bride, born out of electricity and abandoned by hubris, a reminder of the importance of what is happening in the “energy islands.”
This week’s Cultures of Energy podcast is brought to you by the number zero. Our co-hosts cover the need for more fun in academic life and Hollywood takes on the Anthropocene. Then (9:11) Cymene speaks with the ever joyful Diane Nelson, Professor of Anthropology at Duke University and author of Who Counts? The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide (Duke University Press, 2015). They talk hot-tub feminism, the power of numbers in how we think and feel about the world, genocide in the Capitalocene, and the politics of land, forests and hydroelectric power in Guatemala today. Diane offers us lessons from living in a country that has experienced massive human and environmental losses but also reminds us that, like the number zero, every end is also a beginning.
This week’s Cultures of Energy podcast is a double episode focusing on two art shows that CENHS has sponsored for Houston’s FotoFest 2016 biennial, “Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet” (http://2016biennial.fotofest.org). In the intro segment, Cymene and Dominic talk to Rice English Professor Joseph Campana, Director of CENHS’s Arts & Media Research Cluster. Joe curated the CENHS-FotoFest show and realized it in collaboration with the Rice Building Workshop. We discuss the concept for the show and it’s many reinventions and creative partnerships along the way.
Then we delve deeper with the artists themselves. First, (12:53) we speak to Marina Zurkow about the collaborative project Dear Climate (http://dearclimate.net) that she has developed together with Una Chaudhuri, Oliver Kellhammer, and Fritz Ertl. Dear Climate juxtaposes punky agitprop posters with podcasts encouraging meditation and compassion for our environment. It unfolds from the certainty that no paradigmatic changes are coming without changing how we think about the world. With Marina, we talk about how art should hybridize instead of proselytize, creating material encounters that can short-circuit expectations. Jellyfish and dandelions also make special guest appearances.
In the final segment (44:46) we interview Judy Natal about her latest multimedia project, Another Storm is Coming. Judy describes her research adventures in East Texas and Southern Louisiana. She talks about the beautiful people she met in places like Port Arthur and Cameron Parish and how they have struggled to remain resilient in one of the world’s most active hurricane corridors. We talk about the cultural complexity of storms, about the entanglements of oil culture and nature, and what is fascinating about shorelines and other liminal spaces. Judy asks us (all): What kind of light and air do we want to live with in the future?
Dominic and Cymene debate what Albertan city is most like Houston and then (6:44) talk to Imre Szeman, Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta. They discuss Imre’s work with the Petrocultures Research Group (http://petrocultures.com) and the many dimensions of its After Oil project (http://afteroil.ca/). What is the allure of the tar sands? How does petroleum steer politics in Alberta and Canada? Why are First Nations at the forefront of blocking new fossil fuel infrastructures? Can energy humanities get involved in game design and secondary school education? These answers (and more) on this week’s podcast.
Cymene and Dominic embrace amateurism as they have trouble pronouncing names on this week’s podcast. Then (8:28) they talk to Stephanie LeMenager, Professor of English and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon, author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford University Press, 2014) and founding co-editor of the journal, Resilience. The conversation explores how we live with oil and how oil lives in us, speculative fiction, teaching climate change, and how the arts and humanities can chart new ways of being together.