Cymene and Dominic relate tales from their harrowing weekend of having to deal with the absence of Henry Rollins in Black Flag and the presence of an active shooter down the block. Then (15:35) we welcome Harvard’s own Victor Seow to the podcast to discuss his remarkable book, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (U Chicago Press, 2022). We start with how studying labor migration in Manchuria first led him to the largest open coal mine in Asia, Fushun—now a pit with three times the excavated material of the Panama Canal—whose story became the crux of the book. We talk about Victor’s engagement with Tim Mitchell’s concept of “carbon democracy” and how some of Mitchell’s ideas about energy and politics were anticipated by Japanese administrators during their occupation of Manchuria. That gets us to chatting about the mechanization and automation of coal mining as a technopolitical responses aimed at managing potentially unruly coal miners. We cover the rise of petropolitics in the coal belt and the idea that coal could be made to serve the purposes of oil. We discuss the enduring allure of technocracy today as well as Victor’s observation that technocracies seldom achieve what they set out to achieve. What is a world in a mine? Is there such a thing as carbomelancholia among coal miners? Why does modern energy fear scarcity? These questions answered and more on today’s episode!
Cymene and Dominic talk about hauling ice, champagne socialism and the mystery of Viennetta cakes on this week’s intro. Then (16:07) we are joined by Troy Vettese, an environmental historian, and Drew Pendergrass, an environmental engineer, to talk about their bold and imaginative new book, Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics (Verso 2022, https://www.versobooks.com/books/3818-hal). We begin with the value of thinking in impractical ways and how utopian socialists past like Edward Bellamy, William Morris and Otto Neurath inspired this project. We discuss how high growth expectations have bedeviled planning in the past and talk about the flaws in the utopia of automated luxury socialism. Is capitalism an inherently irrational system? Does planning have irrational tendencies too? We cover where the idea to make a game version of the book came from (https://play.half.earth). We move from there to what the Left could stand to learn from the tactics of the neoliberal revolution, the necessity of utopian imagination for mass organizing, how intellectuals underestimate the readiness of the working class for change and much, much, more. Also please check out Drew and Troy’s Noema essay based on the book at: https://www.noemamag.com/planning-an-eco-socialist-utopia/
Dominic and Cymene begin this week’s episode with a medley of Hawaiian experiences, everything from 25-foot waves to energy utopias to whether watching Sharknado can actually help someone overcome fear of sharks. Then, we welcome to the podcast the brilliant Dr. Daphina Misiedjan from Erasmus University Rotterdam (https://www.eur.nl/en/people/daphina-misiedjan) to help us better understand the evolving legal and cultural debates concerning Rights of Nature. Daphina surveys the places around the world where Rights of Nature has become an active political discussion, beginning with Ecuador and its pathbreaking constitutional recognition of Pachamama. We talk about the challenges Rights of Nature interventions face in overcoming European colonial law and legal principles like terra nullius that naturalize extractivist and individualistic property relations. We compare Rights of Nature movements to Universal Human Rights movements and discuss where rights meet obligations. We turn from there to Daphina’s research on Yemen, the first country projected to run out of drinking water. We talk about the ethical questions raised by endemic water shortages in places like Yemen, South Africa and California. We close on Daphina’s current work on climate justice in the Dutch Caribbean, where colonialism and climate change are intersecting in an increasingly troubling way. Enjoy!! P.S. Here's a teaser for our next episode: https://play.half.earth
Dominic and Cymene share first impressions of Honolulu and query why there are chickens everywhere. Then (16:50) we are thrilled to welcome economist Timothée Parrique (https://timotheeparrique.com @timparrique) to the podcast to bring us up to speed with the latest news from ecological economics and its signature degrowth paradigm. We start with the basics. There’s more talk about degrowth now than ever before. But what are degrowth proponents really advocating? Timothée explains how degrowth is not meant to deprive poorer countries of prosperity, it’s best understood as a diet for countries already overshooting the world’s ecological carrying capacity. We talk about the problems with the “green growth” paradigm and how it usually just moves pollution around the planet despite the existence of a few decoupling unicorns. With the IPCC report mentioning degrowth for the first time in a recent report, is degrowth ready for the mainstream? What can the pandemic teach us about degrowth and the effort to distinguish the more and less essential parts of the economy” We talk about how the world can no longer afford the profligate emissions of the super-rich. And, finally, we discuss the cooperative economy movement and how it is already helping to create the better world that degrowth imagines.
Cymene and Dominic talk about flying chihuahuas and playground chamomile in this week’s intro. Then (12:26), we welcome Cornell’s Sarah Besky (http://www.sarahbesky.com/index.html) to the podcast to talk about her latest book Tasting Qualities: The Past and Future of Tea (U California Press, 2020). We start with how and why Sarah first became interested in tea. From there we move on to the relationship between quality, distinction and standardization in Indian tea making. How did the experience of British colonialism shape the experiential qualities of tea? Has the digitization of tea auctions reinforced or disrupted those colonial trends? Sarah explains plantation sickness to us and why is it spreading. We talk about tea jitters and the chemical life of tea and why Sarah thinks about tea as a tentacular form. We close by discussing climate change and how it is impacting the Indian tea industry from monsoons to landslides. Enjoy!
Cymene and Dominic begin with a speculative analysis of malfunctional laptops. Then (11:32) we welcome the brilliant landscape architect Dilip da Cunha to the podcast to talk about his longstanding collaborative work with Anuradha Mathur on wetness, rivers, monsoons, estuaries and so much more (https://www.mathurdacunha.com). Dilip explains how it was the Mississippi landscape that first got them thinking about rivers and how the representation of rivers impacts design. He encourages us to think wetness beyond the divide of land and water (and about rivers as the colonization of rain for the purposes of development). We move from there to how geometry precedes geography and the ancient roots of our terrestrial centrism. We discuss the supposed islandness of Mumbai and why Dilip and Anu think that Mumbai would be better described as an estuary in the monsoon. Dilip challenges the current “living with water” paradigm of imagining coastal communities in an era of sea level rise and explains why he thinks living creatively and agilely between clouds and aquifers might the better way of conceiving our wet future. We close on estuarian thinking and the need to develop a conceptual language beyond fair weather landscapes. This episode of Cultures of Energy is dedicated to the memory of Anuradha Mathur who passed away in the weeks between the recording of our conversation and its broadcasting.
Dominic and Cymene share a close encounter with a phantom raccoon and offer two ideas for sure-to-succeed new TV shows. Then (12:17) we are thrilled to welcome Gail Simmons—star judge of Bravo’s Emmy and James Beard-award winning show Top Chef as well as a food writer and culinary expert—to the show. We get started with how Gail‘s background in anthropology influenced her career. Speaking of cultures and cuisine, we ask whether non-western cuisines finally receiving the recognition and respect they are due from the world of fine dining. Do standards of taste still bear the imprint of colonial legacies? We talk food justice and insecurity and what is problematic about the concept of “food desert” as a way of talking about what might be better called “food apartheid.” We touch on the impact of climate change on the culinary industry and the stigma vegetarians still face in some restaurants. We close on why Top Chef finally decided to come to Houston, the most diverse city in America and what surprised and delighted Gail once she arrived. You can find this season’s run of Top Chef at: https://www.bravotv.com/top-chef Enjoy!
Cymene and Dominic talk war, sunglasses and unexpected colors and then (10:27) we pivot to the main event, a discussion of intersectional ecologies featuring three brilliant minds: Bridget Guarasci (https://www.fandm.edu/bridget-guarasci), Amelia Moore (https://web.uri.edu/maf/meet/amelia-moore-2/) and Sarah Vaughn (https://anthropology.berkeley.edu/sarah-e-vaughn). We start with their 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology article, “Intersectional Ecologies: Reimagining Anthropology and Environment” and talk about how their reading group became a writing group. We discuss how environmental anthropology has evolved over time and its need to diversify its citational practices. What are the environmental stories that need to be told in our troubled times? Turning toward their individual research projects, we talk about how those projects have been influenced by their intersectional ecologies collaboration. We hear about alternative histories of Block Island, mining and trans-Mediterranean mobility, and the role of Bermudian insurance companies in place creation and in shaping knowledge of climate change. We close talking about collaboration, how it has become a part of their practice, and how audit culture needs to accept collaboration as a new standard.
Cymene and Dominic discuss extraterrestrial lavatology, evil corporate accounting software, skyfarms and chinchillas on this week’s intro. Then (14:15) we are so delighted to welcome David Farrier (U Edinburgh) to the podcast to discuss his justly acclaimed latest book, Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils (FSG, 2020). David talks about how the Anthropocene has distorted our sense of time and new relations with deep time inspired him to wonder about what humanity’s material legacy will look like far in the future. Whose material legacy is that exactly? Who might discover our future fossils? How do we decenter the human without indulging in extinction fantasies? What could story and myth do to protect future beings against some of the more toxic colonial legacies that are being left behind? What are the implications of the current colonization of the future and how can we become better ancestors? Finally, we talk about walking in the forest as a literary practice. Enjoy!
Cymene and Dominic talk about the vine that’s taking over their house and then (12:30) we welcome the New School’s magnificent Shannon Mattern to the podcast We discuss her new book A City is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences (Princeton UP, 2021) which explores the limits of computational models for understanding knowledge in urban contexts. We begin with the deep history of urban intelligence and the role of cybernetics in offering computation as a universal analogy. We talk about other venerable tropes too, like the city as graft and the city as tree. We cover the limits of datafication to understand urban life. Does Shannon have a perfect urban dashboard model in mind? How much is big tech driving dashboardization and how much the charisma of universal representations? We talk failure and function, access as a tech panacea, smart cities, the politics of shade, libraries and kindred examples of “other urban intelligences.” Finally, we turn to the magic of Shannon’s Twitter work and how it informs her teaching. Enjoy!
Aaaaand we’re back! Cymene and Dominic start off with their usual nonsense, which culminates in a lively discussion of the missile silo now listed on the real estate site Zillow (we were wrong on some of the specs btw, it’s in Abilene, Kansas and only $380,000, survivalist bargain hunters can find all the deets here: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2432-Fair-Rd-Abilene-KS-67410/113177058_zpid/?utm_source=zillowgonewild&utm_medium=zillowgonewild&utm_campaign=zillowgonewild) Then (15:31) we welcome our marvelous guest, Arturo Escobar. We start by discussing Arturo’s latest book Pluriversal Politics (Duke UP, 2020) and how the concept of pluriverse—a world where many worlds fit—emerged from an effort to understand emergence in a time of emergency. We talk about how the contemporary crisis is a crisis of a particular civilizational model and about the need to re/turn to an awareness of radical interdependence and possibility. Can Left politics overcome its reliance on the figure of “the enemy” and deal with its fear of the end of modernity so as to make its politics more pluriversal? What is radical social change? Why have the pathologies of isolation have proven to be worse than the pathologies of connection? We discuss Arturo’s interest in design alongside philosophy and anthropology and what it would mean to shift from an ontology of development to one of care. Arturo closes by gifting us an everyday exercise to help foster greater relational awareness. See you next week!