Dominic and Cymene talk about the carbon footprint of war, the best paper airplane design and map out an adventure to the center of climate change. Then (15:13) Jennifer Wenzel from Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature joins us to talk about her long and varied career in energy humanities. We start off with the ties between ecofeminism and energy humanities and her interest in oil’s place in society, bodies and literature. We talk about how to disenchant petromagic, the unrepeatable feat of cheap and easy energy, what Jennifer calls the “politics of the pedestrian,” how the Fueling Culture volume came together, and the importance of short form public writing for the humanities. Jennifer explains why she thinks we need to start popularizing “energy transition” as a concept alongside “climate change” and “global warming” to counteract public fatalism that there is no alternative to the status quo. Then we circle back to how Jennifer first became interested in energy through her work on West African novels and her frustration that literary criticism didn’t give her adequate tools to analyze what was happening in place like the Niger Delta. Jennifer emphasizes the need to think critically and comparatively about sites of extraction and our attachments to energy. And she shares her sense that an “energy unconscious” haunts cultural production in many parts of the world. Can energy humanities be a revitalizing engine for the humanities as a whole? Listen on!
To help us sort through a week dominated by spiraling Russo-American political intrigue, we welcome (13:01) to the podcast Berkeley anthropologist, Alexei Yurchak, analyst extraordinaire of all things late Soviet and post Soviet, and author of the award-winning Everything was Forever Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, 2005). We trace the connections between that project’s exploration of culture and politics at the end of state socialism and Alexei’s current research on the scientists who have been working to preserve Lenin’s body since 1924. We talk about the fascinating intersection of biopolitics and necropolitics involved in the effort to maintain Lenin’s body in a lifelike state for almost a century, how discursive hegemony of form in the late Soviet period also informed corporeal hegemony of form, the results of this science that you can find in your own pharmacy, and the network of political leaders’ bodies across the world that Soviet and now Russian scientists have worked to preserve. Alexei dispels the idea that cloning was ever on the table in this project; but explains that his interlocutors do believe that they can now keep Lenin’s body in a near-life state in perpetuity. We return from there to the contemporary political chaos and what Alexei makes of the Trump-Putin entanglement stories currently dominating the headlines. Alexei shares his concerns about the powerful return of Russophobia to the United States, about what popular characterizations of Russia get wrong, and about how anti-Russian sentiment may provide a convenient excuse to defer a serious examination of the root causes of Trumpism. Ready to take a break from the political hysteria? Then listen on!
Dominic and Cymene hide in the bushes to talk existential terror and low carbon pleasure. We then (10:23) chat with famed geographer Mike Hulme, author of Can Science Fix Climate Change? and Why We Disagree About Climate Change, about his 35 years of research on climate. We talk about the many meanings of the term “climate” and its ancient roots as a concept. Then we turn to the early days of research on human-induced climate change in the 1980s and Mike's work on global rainfall trends that later caught the attention of the IPCC. We discuss his most recent book, Weathered: Cultures of Climate (Sage, 2016) and the entanglements of weather, place and meaning. We talk about different ways of measuring climate across time and culture, why we need to embrace a multiplicity of knowledge forms of climate, the danger of paternalist thinking about climate change, different narratives of blame and responsibility, and why Mike thinks that moral and religious accounts of climate change need to be foregrounded. Mike also shares why he is skeptical about humans trying to take over the atmosphere, and his thoughts about the appropriate role for technology to play in addressing climate change and the tragedy of the human condition. We close on why climate change has been so psychologically disturbing and why Mike finds the cultural politics of climate in the United States so fascinating. Mike may not believe that we will “solve” climate change but he does see in our efforts at remediation profound opportunities for addressing inequality. Listen on!
Cymene and Dominic discuss possible raccoon attacks that may have occurred near Marfa, the cuteness and moxie of javelinas, and the worst table service in Texas. Then (14:13) we welcome long time CENHS co-conspirator Kairn Klieman, from the University of Houston’s History Department, to the podcast. Kairn talks about her dissertation research, which challenged western and Bantu assumptions about the primordialism of pygmies. Then she shares how living in Houston as an Africanist inspired her current research on the history of oil in Africa. We talk about the straight line between slave economies and extractive economies, the challenges of doing critical pedagogy of fossil fuels in a town dominated by oilmen and whether there is glamour to be found in the oil & gas industry. We cover the relationship between oil, Africa and the Middle East, as well as what “following the oil” reveals about international politics. We interrogate the “resource curse” argument in light of African modernity but also explore what that curse looks like in Houston, Texas and the United States. Kairn talks about her current efforts to educate young people going into the energy industry as to oil’s complex ethics and impacts in the hopes of sparking culture change toward better self-analysis and self-criticism. Are attitudes inside the fossil fuel industry regarding climate change beginning to shift? Listen on and find out!