Dominic and Cymene start off with a review of the new Apple TV Cli-Fi series Extrapolations especially its killer walruses and then recap a chat with German climate activist Luisa Neubauer and former US National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy about how civilizational change is coming, either by design or by disaster. Then [23:51] we are thrilled to have USC’s Christina Dunbar-Hester join us on the podcast to talk about her new book Oil Beach (U Chicago Press, 2023), a study of toxic infrastructure and more-than-human relations in the Los Angeles port complex. We begin with how her interests in media became interests in energy and climate and how underneath silicon there is petroleum. Then, we turn to the challenges of seeing organismic life under the “lethal sublime” of petro/military/industrial infrastructure and to Christina’s concept of “infrastructural vitalism.” We ask: What if pipelines carried water instead of oil? How much of LA’s “green port” mythology is real? We close talking about what Christina means by trans-species supply chain justice” and how one of the LA ports’ greatest products is the making of scale itself. Enjoy, dear listeners, and remember that walruses will save us from all the evil villains of the Anthropocene.
Cymene and Dominic natter a bit about holiday misadventures and then (13:49) happily welcome Mike Degani (Cambridge U) to the podcast to talk about his new book, The City Electric (Duke UP 2022). We begin with how Mike became interested in electricity as an ethnographic object through experiencing power failures in Dar es Salaam. Then we talk about how electropolitics threads through various key moments in Tanzanian history. We turn to Tanzanian postsocialism, the durability of socialist habitus and how Mike’s concept of modal reasoning connects to the moral quandaries of neoliberal transition as well as to European and African conceptions of parasites. We move from there to illegal connections and pirate electricity, electricity as a mode of state intimacy, the electrified sensorium of the city, and northern fantasies of energy without consequences. We close on why getting infrastructure right is key to surviving the Anthropocene. Listen and enjoy!!
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!
Wow, we made it to 200 episodes and 250k downloads this week. Thank you everyone for listening for the past nearly four years. It also seems like a good milestone for a change of pace. Your tireless cohosts need to take an extended break from weekly podcasting in order to commit ourselves more fully to a couple of other creative opportunities that have emerged during our time away from Rice. But please know that Cultures of Energy has been a project that brought us much joy (and helped us to meet so many amazing people!) It also helped to keep us sane through some dark times. And the kind words many of you have sent our way over the years have meant the world to us. Go you!! The channel will stay active for the foreseeable future in case you’d like to access the back catalog for listening or teaching purposes. And it's very likely that we’ll upload new episodes and content from time to time connected with special events. But for now please just enjoy our conversation with someone who has long been on our wish list, Laura Nader, a founding mother of the field of energy humanities. We speak to her about how her scholarship and activism became entangled with energy over the years, starting with her experience as the only anthropologist (and only woman!) on the US Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems during the Carter presidency. Super big thanks to Daena Funahashi for her work behind the scenes to make this episode possible!
Your co-hosts talk clonal trees and dispense important advice about relationships, breakups, and having “the conversation” with your children on this week’s podcast. Then (17:16) we talk to Brown University’s Bathsheba Demuth (http://www.brdemuth.com) about her new book Floating Coast (https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393635164) a beautifully conceived and written environmental history of the Bering Strait from the 18ththrough the 20thcenturies. We start with how American and Soviet modernist projects differentially impacted Beringia during the 20thcentury and why the oceanic productivity of the Arctic attuned her to the energy transformations that then became a powerful red thread throughout the book. We turn from there to the temporality of whales, baleen as infrastructure and path dependency, Soviet vs. American conceptualizations of progress, the place of indigenous memories and knowledge in her historical methodology, and much much more.
Dominic and Cymene discuss Swiss silence and whether soup can be a meal on this week’s podcast. Then (13:53) we sit down with Christoph Rosol and Tom Turnbull, two of the organizers of the baroque and fascinating project of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (https://www.hkw.de/de/index.php) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de), Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. Christoph and Tom talk with us about this project evolved out of the celebrated Anthropocene Curriculum and Anthropocene Campus series. We discuss what the research and artistic activities are that are associated with the project’s five field stations, exploring themes such as deindustrialization, land restoration, indigenous-settler politics, invasive species, and ecocide. We talk about issues of scale and the search for the most apt critical zones through which to engage Anthropocene processes, the Mississippi as canal instead of river, and close with the little known history of the Mississippi Valley Committee and the idea that watersheds could form the basis of new kind of democracy. Find out more information on the Mississippi project at https://anthropocene-curriculum.org
In this week's special guest episode, Leah Stokes (UC Santa Barbara) and Bina Venkataraman take over the Cultures of Energy podcast to discuss Bina's new book, The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780735219472?aff=penguinrandom). This interview is part of the Twitter discussion, #climatebookclub, which is an informal group that Leah runs to get people to talk about climate books on Twitter. We will be discussing the book on Twitter on Wednesday Oct 2 at 5:30 EST / 2:30 PST so feel free to look up the #climatebookclub hashtag and join in the conversation!
To learn more about Bina's writing: http://writerbina.com
To learn more about Leah's research: http://leahstokes.com
Cymene and Dominic wonder whether Brexit or Impeachment will make for better political theater in the months ahead. Then (14:22) we talk to three wonderful folks who are in the process of assembling the Routledge Handbook of Energy Democracy, an interdisciplinary gathering of contributions spanning scholarly and activist engagements. Our three guests are Danielle Endres (https://www.danielleendres.com), Andrea Feldpausch-Parker (https://andreafeldpausch-parker.weebly.com) and Tarla Peterson (https://www.utep.edu/liberalarts/communication/people/faculty/faculty-pages/tarla-peterson.html). We talk about the distinctive forms that the energy democracy movement is taking both inside and outside the academy, some of the projects that inspire them, strategies for making energy systems more visible and open to citizen intervention, whether renewable energy can renew democracy, the danger of participation fatigue, and much much more!
Cymene and Dominic tease a family revelation and describe a museum full of caricatures of East Germany (a regime that tbh itself kinda caricatured socialism). Then (17:03) we welcome back to the podcast the one and only Laura Watts (https://sand14.com), now at Edinburgh, who has a marvelous new book out with MIT Press, Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga. We start there and talk about how the remains of a Neolithic city first brought her Orkney and inspired her with its archaeology of the future. Inverting traditional conceptions of center and periphery, future and past, seemingly remote Orkney has now become the center of a marine energy future. We chat about her use of the Saga form as a structuring principle in the book, why she finds hope in the relational character of the “Orkney electron,” and the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) as a global beacon of renewable energy science and industry. We talk about the troubles of harvesting energy from dangerous water, the ambivalence of life in a “living lab” and the intertwined futures of Orcadian humans, marine wildlife and marine energy. We close on writing, and how the choice of words can make some worlds more or less possible. Finally, folks, just a reminder to drop whatever you are doing and go out and strike for climate action this Friday, September 20. To find the nearest march to you check out, https://globalclimatestrike.netSee you on the streets!
Dominic and Cymene take a trip down MTV memory lane to the romantic 1990s on this week’s podcast. Then (16:00) we welcome the brilliant Christine Folch from Duke U to the pod to talk about her brand new book, Hydropolitics: The Itaipú Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America (Princeton U Press, 2019 - https://press.princeton.edu/titles/30066.html). We start with the dam itself; Itaipú is both the largest dam in the world and the world’s largest power plant. Christine explains how it came to be that South America is the lone continent where renewable energy is the dominant source of electricity and what the political consequences of hydropower have been. We talk through how different energy materialities influence politics and economies, the differences between modes of sovereignty defined by land, water and electricity, and frequency patriotism. We turn from there to the politics of debt and hydrodollars, the necessity of studying up, and what fieldwork among technocrats and engineers is like. We close on what the world might learn from the Brazil-Paraguay partnership in renewable energy generation as it contemplates even larger scale coordinations of decarbonized energy.
Your cohosts talk chihuahuas and squirrels on the verge on this week’s podcast. Then (14:56) we are delighted to welcome Orrin Pilkey Jr., Professor Emeritus at Duke University, to the podcast. Orrin is one of the world’s foremost experts on sea level rise and has just co-authored a new book with his son Keith Pilkey called Sea Level Rise: A Slow Tsunami on America’s Shores (Duke U Press, 2019; https://www.dukeupress.edu/sea-level-rise). Orrin tells us how it was a hurricane that first prompted him to start studying coastal environments. We talk about how sea level rise is finally beginning to see some real political attention in threatened areas but about the limits of what can be done to hold the oceans at bay. Orrin explains how, for example, Miami and New Orleans are doomed, if for different reasons, and asks what will become of their millions of climate refugees. We talk about the need to take retreat seriously as the best option for dealing with sea level rise and how costly measures like seawalls and beach nourishment programs create their own environmental problems. We touch on subsidence, rebounding and other factors influencing coastal erosion, and then discuss the hundreds of critical infrastructure facilities that are sited no more than four feet above sea level. We close on the book’s recommendations to people already living on the coast about what to do now, including sample letters one could write to family members to get them thinking about the impacts of sea level rise.
Cymene and Dominic talk about Jakarta sinking and Greta rising in this week’s intro. Then (14:32) we are thrilled to welcome Elizabeth DeLoughrey (https://english.ucla.edu/people-faculty/elizabeth-deloughrey/) to the conversation! We start with her latest book, Allegories of the Anthropocene (Duke UP 2019), and its effort to provincialize Anthropocene concept by taking more seriously the history of empire which produced some of its more problematic universalisms. Liz talks about the need to bring indigenous, feminist, decolonial and Global South perspectives more centrally into Anthropocene discourse and discusses her love-hate relationship with allegory. We turn from there to the relationality of islands, salvage environmentalism, settler apocalypticism, the militarization of the atmosphere, and allegory as a form for staging other worlds. That leads to a spirited discussion of encounters between human and nonhuman bodies and between geology and culture, and finally we turn to the critical potentials of ocean studies, blue humanities and her next project on extraterritorial spaces (atmosphere, ocean, poles). PS You can find an Open Access version of Allegories of the Anthropocene at http://oapen.org/search?identifier=1005202. But considering purchasing a copy since proceeds are going to support the important work of RAICES (https://www.raicestexas.org), the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Dominic and Cymene compare denialist and evangelical hate mail on this week’s podcast and then share a few reflections on Sunday’s trip to the top of Ok mountain. Then (16:53) we welcome the marvelous Amanda Boetzkes (https://amandaboetzkes.com) to the conversation so we can talk about her terrific new book, Plastic Capitalism (MIT Press, 2019). What is “waste art,” when did it take shape and with what motivations? We talk about how waste relates to energy and how “zero waste” sustainability discourse might paradoxically reinforce capitalist ideology and economy. We discuss how Bataille, Irigaray and Zizek inform an ethics of waste, the kinship of excess that exists between much art and waste itself, and the sado-masochism of plastic. From there we turn to the materialities, relationalities and temporalities that plastic creates, its refusal of degeneration and whether the looming shift from petroplastics to bioplastics makes any difference. We close on energy expenditure, the “carnal sun” and plastic as a condensed form of solarity.
Dominic and Cymene talk airbnb for flies, slime-mold residencies and close encounters with hypothermia to get things going. Then (11:36), hey, it’s primary debate season and if you’re like your co-hosts you probably find evaluating the sprawling field of Democratic candidates for the U.S. Presidency fairly bewildering. So in this week’s pod we drill down into climate policy among the Democrats. Where do the various candidates stand? Who is recognizing climate change as a political priority? Who has the best climate action plan? Who is stuck in the carbon pricing past and who is being imaginative or even realistic about what it will take to address today’s climate emergency? What are the important climate issues that are not even being talked about? Here to break it all down for us is climate policy expert Leah Stokes (https://www.leahstokes.com) from the University of California Santa Barbara. In closing we talk about why leaning in to collective political action on climate is so much more important than policing individual consumption decisions. So in that spirit, join the movement, get ready to protest on September 20th (https://globalclimatestrike.net)!!