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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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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.

Apr 8, 2016

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.

Apr 1, 2016

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.”

Mar 25, 2016

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.

Mar 11, 2016

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?

Mar 4, 2016

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.

Feb 24, 2016

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.

Feb 14, 2016
Dominic Boyer and former Lost Boys extra, Cymene Howe, banter easily on this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast. Cymene then (6:16) talks to anthropologist, multispecies ethnographer and national treasure, John Hartigan, about many things, including: the story behind the ‘stache, animal domestication, culture as medium, infrastructural racism and the Flint water crisis, and his newest project on the social life of horses. Want to know how dogs made humans fall in love with them? Worried about cancer bats in Austin? Listen on!
Feb 8, 2016

On this week’s Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic share getting up close and personal with the Anthropocene in the form of Tropical Storm Jonas. Then (6:26) Dominic talks with Roy Scranton, the author of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (City Lights, 2015) and our most recent postdoctoral fellow at CENHS. Dominic and Roy talk about how philosophy can help us come to terms intellectually and emotionally with the Anthropocene and about Roy’s recent cruise through the Northwest Passage.

Jan 19, 2016

Cultures of Energy Podcast is now on iTunes! Stitcher soon! We celebrate Anna Tsing, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz, one of the world’s greatest analysts of globalization and the environment and the author (most recently) of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Then (6:16) Cymene and Anna talk about feminist legacies, more-than-human anthropology, capitalist ruins and how to think with weeds and mushrooms.

Jan 19, 2016

Here's a little preview of the Cultures of Energy Podcast! Look for episodes on iTunes and Stitcher as soon as all the tubes get connected and all the magic podcast elves work through their holiday shopping. Cymene and Dominic answer the question ‘why do an energy humanities podcast?’ and confess their past radio sins. Then (9:14) Dominic interviews Hugo and Nebula award winning science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the The Windup Girl and The Water Knife, about what science fiction can do in the era of climate change.

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