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!