On this week’s special bonus episode, ClimateKitten45 and CarbonYeti27 kick things off by scheming on how to get a million YouTube subscribers. Then we expand to become a fantastic foursome of climate podcasters when we welcome (10:23) writer Kate Aronoff (In These Times) and writer/sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen (U Penn), co-hosts of the Hot & Bothered pod (hosted by Dissent Magazine). We talk about why we all got started podcasting and how it helps us to seem generally less like killjoys and maybe save a few friendships. Daniel and Kate explain how H&B got started, how they bridge climate and labor politics through their work and we ruminate about what we do and don’t know about our respective audiences. We cover the challenges of communicating expertise in an alternative facts moment, the current government vendetta against the environment, greentech fantasies, the prospects for low carbon populism and a green New Deal, catastrophe porn, the problem with non-unionized green jobs, and how to frame climate change as potentially also bringing positive change to our world. We ask who are the people of climate and how can they be better mobilized and then decide that low carbon hedonism could probably sell itself. We close on dense affordable housing and rural electric cooperatives as important sites of political action to address climate change. Stay hot, stay bothered, dear listeners, and catch up on back episodes of Hot & Bothered at https://www.dissentmagazine.org/tag/hot-bothered, on iTunes or at the low carbon (hedonist) audio provider of your choice!
Cymene and Dominic honor the new river citizens of Aotearoa-New Zealand and India and try to give certain politicians credit where credit is due. Then (13:53) we welcome to the pod University of Washington philosopher Stephen Gardiner to talk about his philosophical work on climate change. We discuss his background in virtue ethics and how one might conceive living an ethical life given the fundamental moral challenges of climate change. Then we turn to his book A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford University Press, 2011) wherein Stephen talks back against arguments that it is technologically or economically infeasible at present to seriously address the causes of climate change. We discuss temptations to act badly both at a global and a personal level, the ethical and institutional dimensions of intergenerational and interspecies relations, the tyranny of the contemporary, and why he doesn’t think concepts like “wicked problem,” “prisoners’ dilemma” and “tragedy of the commons” are inadequate to understand a phenomenon like climate change. Stephen explains his proposal to form a Global Constitutional Convention on Future Generations and why he feels a policy approach to climate change that does not involve a discussion of values will not succeed. We discuss his concerns about geoengineering and about emphasizing renewable energy development’s capacity to generate wealth. We close then on the question of ordinary ethics and how to stave off moral corruption. Can current governments effectively represent the interests of future generations? Do we need an Integenerational Supreme Court? Listen on and find out!
On this week’s spring break edition of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic talk about the dangers of hiking and Trump’s budget. Then [10:37] we welcome to the podcast the ever delightful Geof Bowker. With Geof we talk about why infrastructure studies has become such a lively area of research in the human sciences and muse over some the possible explanations for its rise. Has infrastructure become too broad a category? Is it a nostalgic one? Geof asks not only what is an infrastructure but also when is an infrastructure. And he weighs in on Trump’s infrastructure plan as well. We turn from there to another charismatic topic—data—as Geof reflects on his work on data ethics and how theory gets built into data. We talk algorithms, racist artificial intelligence, the internet of things and the impact of cybernetics on social theory. We then move on to biodiversity, matters of concern and the relationship between science studies and climate skepticism. Geof shares with us the secret behind how he gained access to energy titan Schlumberger’s archives for his pathbreaking book, Science on the Run (MIT, 1994), and talks about how oil companies work to shift senses of time and space in the interests of empire. Finally, Cymene and Geof talk through the graphic novel project, Unda, they are working on with Laura Watts and how media like comic books can offer scholars new opportunities to reach wider audiences.
Cymene and Dominic read their spam and ruminate on the evolving alien intelligence of the interweb. Then (14:40) our old friend David Hughes from Rutgers joins the conversation. We consider the carbon footprint of academic life and then turn to his excellent and brand spanking new book, Energy Without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity (Duke UP, 2017), which explores the moral shallowness surrounding petrocapitalism and how oil evolved from being a moral issue into a technical one. David talks about his fieldwork with petroleum geologists in the world’s first petrostate, Trinidad and Tobago, and how they think about oil and complicity. David also shares his historical research on Caribbean plantation labor and how slavery helped create the ideological basis for the later fuel economy. We talk about biophysical engagements with different energy forms and whether the materialist turn in the human sciences has had anything to do with the vibrancy of oil. We cover the ethics of combustion, individual vs collective responsibility, and that time David asked Joe Biden what he was going to do about climate change. Finally, we turn to David’s current and (more hopeful!) research on a new energy landscape, the wind farms of Andalucia, Spain. David argues that as we move toward a green energy system we need to confront the fact that there will be less labor and thus we need to learn to build a modern life independent of the wage form. To order Energy Without Conscience at a 30% discount (!) please visit http://dukeupress.edu/energy-without-conscience and enter coupon code E17ENRGY during checkout. Special thanks to Mark Vardy and the Princeton Environmental Institute for helping to make this week’s podcast happen!
Dominic and Cymene marvel at the rise of transplanetary anthropology on this week’s podcast, as well as outer space films (and sexed up goblins). Then (16:08) we welcome the University of Virginia’s celestial Lisa Messeri to the conversation. A lively chat about her research with exoplanetary scientists follows. Lisa reminds us of the extraterrestrial roots of much climate science and explains why she thinks we now need to “un-earth” the Anthropocene. We talk through the connections between our terran conditions of environmental precarity and our renewed interest in other planets. We compare news coverage of the Standing Rock clearance and the Trappist-1 exoplanets and discuss why the latter seemed to get so much more press. We talk geos vs. bios in the imagination of outer space, Elon Musk and the New Space community, what it means for a planet to be habitable, and how the logic of settler colonialism infiltrates the idea of space frontiers. Lisa shares her hot takes on The Martian, why she thinks we’re seeing so many outer space movies right now, and why the future of humanity obviously depends on Matt Damon. We close on her book, Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Duke UP, 2016) and why she thinks place-making is so important in the human engagement with outer space. Why do planets have to be round? Who was the star surprise guest at Lisa’s dissertation defense? Listen on and find out! PS Shouts out to Abby Spinak and the Rice Space Institute for making Lisa’s visit to Rice possible!
On this week’s episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene processes the news of the clearance of the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock with the help of Jaskiran Dhillon (New School). They talk about the origins of the #NoDAPL resistance, what it achieved, the new front lines of the struggle and what will come next. At the podcast we are standing with Standing Rock, now and forever, dear listeners! PS Remember that the work to defund the Dakota Access Pipeline continues! DefundDAPL offers an incredible list of resources that allows you to follow the divestment trail and add your money to the $65,136,498.17 already divested from the project. See http://www.defunddapl.org for more information.
Cymene and Dominic take a break from the political chaos and happily nostalgize the 1970s. Then (13:57) to help us better understand what kind of carbon autocracy democracy we’re living in these days, we welcome to podcast political theorist, historian and zen master of all things carbon, Timothy Mitchell from Columbia University. Tim explains that autocracy and populism have always been part of carbon politics but that what really strikes him about our current situation is how visible those politics are becoming. He notes that while the contemporary threat of illiberalism is real, liberalism itself has not done nearly enough to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. We talk pipelines and the material and political relations they make visible, what the term “energy” elides, and we hear about how his magnificent Carbon Democracy project (Verso, 2013) originated. Tim explains why the 1970s were such a pivotal moment in both energy and politics, how growth is a petroknowledge, and why petronostalgia seems all the rage these days. We then turn toward his current work on contemporary capitalism and talk about how it is designed to make us pay taxes on the future through the capitalization of future value. And, a special shoutout to the band Overcoats whose single Hold Me Close is our outro music on this episode. Catch them at SXSW next month!
Cymene and Dominic talk acupuncture, evil clone henchmen, environmentally questionable NYT recipes, and the interpretation of dreams. Then (15:30) we are joined by Jessica Barnes, author of Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke UP 2014), from the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. We talk about how water is not just a given resource but also how it is made through everyday practices of use and management. We compare the politics of water rights in the U.S. and Egypt and discuss how those politics extend into the realms of subsurface instrastructure like drainage systems. We talk salt and poverty, hydraulic citizenship, drought and crises of scarcity and abundance. We cover desalination schemes and the spread of desert agriculture. And then we turn to her current research on the social life of wheat and bread in Egypt. Finally we talk gluten, why it has fallen into such disrepute, and how it could be taken to epitomize the Anthropocene. What’s up with all this water/fire/earth/air elemental research these days? Listen on and find out!
In a fittingly bizarre intro for these political times, Cymene and Dominic share weird fantasies and actual plans for resistance. We then (11:57) welcome to the podcast renowned historian and ethnographer of nuclear energy, Gabrielle Hecht from the University of Michigan, author of Being Nuclear and The Radiance of France (MIT Press). Gabrielle tells us why she first became interested in nuclear power growing up in Reagan’s Cold War. We compare fears of nuclear war then and now and explore different historical constructions of “the nuclear” more generally. We talk about her concept of “toxic infrastructure” and how it can apply to places like Flint, Michigan. Gabrielle then explains how France became the country in the world most reliant upon nuclear energy for its electricity and why the French nuclear industry is in now in such a state of panic. We talk about why nuclear energy hasn’t lost its utopianism—including as a climate change fix—but why we think the nuclear solution to global warming is a red herring. We turn to Fukushima and Gabrielle reminds us that it’s also important to pay attention to the less spectacular but more common environmental and human impacts of using nuclear fuel, including the fate of people who clean reactors under normal and catastrophic conditions. We discuss uranium mining in Africa and the struggles miners have fought to have their “biological citizenship” recognized by their governments. That leads us to talk about the real costs of nuclear energy. And we close on Gabrielle’s latest work on toxicity and what she calls the African Anthropocene. Hang in there, everyone, be kind to yourselves and stay strong for the long run of resistance.
Dominic and Cymene briefly review The Disaster (week 1) and remind themselves that the best way to resist the schemes of evil rich men is to make full use of our strengths as a diverse majority. Turning to concrete projects that we should all be getting excited about and involved in, we happily welcome (8:51) Michelle Murphy (U Toronto) and Nick Shapiro (Chemical Heritage Foundation) to the podcast, two brilliant and courageous scholars who are founding members of the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI, pronounced “edgey”). Together with partners like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive, EDGI is working nonstop to preserve critical environmental data from agencies like the EPA, NOAA, NASA, DOE among others, data we fear may be lost or tampered with by an incoming administration that is blatantly opposed to both science and responsible environmental stewardship. Michelle and Nick talk to us about EDGI got started and how it has accomplished so much in just a few months time. Michelle mentions her experience with the similarly pro-oil anti-science Harper administration in Canada but how she and her colleagues were able to make evidence-based governance a “charismatic object.” Nick reminds us also of the efforts of the George W. Bush administration to destroy environmental archives and programs. They talk about how data rescue actually works, what version tracking is, and the secrets of the hackathon trade. We learn about how the norms of feminist scientific practice and organization have informed EDGI, how they are planning on getting news out to the public, and how we can take back the politics of evidence and build a better world of environmental data together. In closing we hear a bit about their own research interests and how they are hoping we can reexamine the ontology of chemicals less as objects and more as relations that could prompt new kind of solidarities. EDGI would love to have you involved, dear listeners, if you are inspired to join. Find more EDGI info at http://envirodatagov.org and if you want to help or have resources to offer please email the group at their end-to-end encrypted account, EnviroDGI@protonmail.com
Cymene and Dominic talk about, what else, the future tomorrow will bring. To sprinkle a little comedy on our tragedy, [12:37] Dominic has a chance to catch up with old friend Jón “Houstonsson” Gnarr, famed Icelandic writer, actor, comedian, former mayor of Reykjavík, co-founder of The Best Party, and now part-time Texan. Jón explains why the situation in America right now seems like a surrealist play to him (or maybe an episode from the Twilight Zone). He shares some tips on how to handle demanding angry alpha males in politics. We plan Trump and Putin’s perfect day in Reykjavík and then talk about the TV series he just completed, The Mayor, in which he played a more corrupt and soulless version of his former self. We talk about the paradoxes of cars and coal in Iceland and why he wishes Iceland could be more of a role model on environmental issues. Then we turn to his new project, Elves, which tackles environmental issues and multispecies relations in Iceland in a unique and amazing way and we contemplate how trolls might be infiltrating Icelandic politics. We briefly touch on the TV series Jón is helping us to develop on climate change and Houston and, finally, talk about his idea for a #fuckclimatechange campaign. Jón finds the phrase appealing because of its multiple possible meanings that help to express both a sense of anger and hopelessness and resignation. It’s a provocative and darkly comic take on individual and governmental accountability, perfect for a time when the Icelandic government is buying more coal and 80% of Icelandic youth say they are not interested in climate change. What would Jón would ask Putin and Trump if he were President of Iceland? Listen on to find out! PS Sending everyone out there especially big hugs this week. Be kind to your people who are probably having as hard a time as all of us are. And please don't stop marching and protesting and filling the world with enough good to turn the tide.
Cymene and Dominic talk secret information, anxious white masculinity, emotional labor and neoliberal America’s bus to nowhere. Then (17:48) Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild joins us to talk about her five year long foray among Louisiana Tea Party supporters that led to her marvelous book, Strangers in their own Land (New Press), a National Book Award Finalist in 2016. We focus in on the deteriorating environmental conditions and widespread environmental pollution in the communities where she did her research, which have become some of the most toxic in the United States. We discuss the apparent paradox of attachment to nature and resistance to environmental protection. Arlie shares her thoughts about how people can live in different truths, the need for empathy bridges and her take on the great political divide in the United States now. She explains why government is so often positioned as the cause of environmental ills rather than as their remedy by the far right and we discuss how environmentalist movements' use of guilt and shame tactics may actually be counterproductive to environmental defense in this part of Louisiana. We talk about the roles religion and media play in shaping environmental ideas and Arlie shares her strong conviction that environmental justice can become a crossover issue for the right and the left. Looking for common ground? Or just a better understanding of the divide? Then listen on!
Dominic and Cymene talk about the past, plans for the future, and socks. Then (12:35) Ohio State environmental anthropologist Nick Kawa joins us on the podcast to talk about his research in Amazonia and his new book, Amazonia in the Anthropocene (University of Texas Press, 2016). We talk about deforestation, stereotypes and realities of Amazonian rural life, and the politics of indigeneity in the region. We learn about the history of Amazonian agriculture and “dark earth” and why Nick feels it’s as compelling evidence for the Anthropocene as the steam engine. We discuss Amazonian biochar and recent proposals that seek to cultivate more dark earth as a carbon sequestration technique. Nick shares his skepticism about industrial agriculture trying to solve its own problems. And we move from there to talking weedy species, the planthropocene, and how some plants may be benefitting from anthropogenic change. We touch briefly on how Amazonians and Floridians are adapting to climate change even as urban planning struggles to understand amphibious ways of living. Turning to Nick’s current research on the use of human waste in agriculture (“nightsoil”!) we discuss how the urban metabolic rift is linked to when people stopped using their own shit in agriculture. Nick explains how nightsoil is making a comeback—now euphemized as “biosolids”—but also how the shit that gets into shit is making it toxic. Is it time for a nightsoil manifesto? Is it possible that 2017 being a shit year could be a good thing? Listen in and find out!
Cymene and Dominic ring out 2016 by sharing a few energy and environment stories you might have missed. Then (22:11) we welcome to the podcast Annise Parker, three term mayor of Houston (2010-2016), now a fellow at Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders. As Houston’s greenest mayor, we reflect on the major environmental accomplishments of her administration including making Houston—let’s face it, a city not often associated in the public imagination with sustainability—the largest municipal purchaser of renewable electricity in the country with much improved mass transit and a greatly expanded network of hike and bike trails along the city’s bayou system. Annise talks to us about the important role cities are playing in the fight against climate change, including making markets for renewable energy and pursuing their own “para-diplomacy” with other cities to advance initiatives stalled at other levels of government. She explains why making the economic argument for renewables has been so important in Houston and why she doesn’t view Houston’s oil and gas industry as an impediment to forward progress. She also shares her thoughts on bike programs, automated vehicles, public transportation, migration, and hurricanes. Finally (1:09:46) Annise shares her frank reactions to the election, predicts many broken promises to come, and expresses her faith in the republic. Can she imagine being Senator Parker or Governor Parker down the road? Listen in to find out. Wishing all our listeners peace and love and a happy, fighty new year. Let’s make 2017 better in every respect.
On this week’s episode of the podcast, Dominic and Cymene relate their fave holiday traditions and identify the one thing that any gift-giving culture should absolutely avoid giving. Then (14:51) to help process our season of hyperconsumption, we welcome to the pod Cindy Isenhour from the University of Maine, co-author of Sustainability in the Global City, (http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=1107076285), to talk about her recent research on displaced emissions from the Global North to the Global South. We discuss how the quest to green energy production often neglects the problem of rising commodity consumption and Cindy tells us her thoughts on whether it is possible to decouple economic growth from ecological harm. We talk about Sweden, the first country to officially recognize their displaced emissions, and how Swedish corporatism and cosmopolitanism contributed to that move. We cover Sweden’s efforts to improve China’s carbon efficiency, and how its new tax incentives to encourage reuse and repair of existing commodities are in tension with the government’s hesitation to restrict choice and consumer freedom. Then we turn to her new research on secondary consumption and the vibrant reuse culture of Maine. We reflect on how cheap fossil fuels make it easy to replace instead of reuse and what we in the North might be able to learn from the repair cultures of the South. And we debate whether cities can be the leading edge of climate progress given their own metabolic rift with respect to where their food and energy comes from. Finally, Cindy shares her own gift giving tips. Wishing all of our listeners a peaceful and beautiful holiday week. PS Here’s a photo of the Cultures of Energy rainbow xmas tree!
All this Russia hacking talk has Cymene and Dominic thinking about Boris, Natasha, Rocky & Bullwinkle. To set matters straight (12:02) Yale anthropologist Doug Rogers joins us to talk about the intersections of energy, power and culture in Russia. We cover the Russian hacking story and what the American news media gets right and wrong about Putin. We dissect the key factions of capital that operate in a petrostate—finance, oil, real estate, military—and their different temporalities and interests. Doug talks about why low oil prices are such a concern Russia today and why Putin might be interested in steering a geopolitics that manages the prices of fossil fuels more tightly. Then we turn to Doug’s recent book, The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture After Socialism (Cornell U Press, 2015) and explore the history of world’s first “socialist oil.” We talk about the differences between petrosocialism and petrocaptalism, and why mining and factory work always had higher social status than oil production in the Soviet Union. We cover Soviet era ecological degradation, the role of environmental movements in the perestroika period and their relative disappearance subsequently. We discuss how the Soviet experience of oil challenges Mitchell’s model of carbon democracy and learn how fear of socialist petrobarter led to the kinds of tax incentives and tolerance for cartelism that western oil producers continue to enjoy to this day. We also touch on the introduction of corporate social responsibility in the Russian oil industry, Lukoil’s recycling of petrowealth into cultural sponsorship, and state-sponsored discourse today about how good climate change will be for Russia. Whether you’re feeling petronostalgia or petrophobia this pod is for you! PS And so you don’t have to Google it, here’s shirtless Putin on a horse. You’re welcome.
Cymene and Dominic talk fake news and our alleged 'post-truth' condition and then (19:13) we are fortunate enough to welcome to the podcast distinguished Harvard historian of science Naomi Oreskes who—together with her collaborator Erik Conway—has been drawing attention to disinformation campaigns for decades. We talk about their legendary book Merchants of Doubt (http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org) and Naomi shares her opinions about the current manipulation of public opinion and what impact social media and the Internet have had. We talk about journalism’s reliance on “two sides” reporting and how that has contributed to exaggerating the facticity of climate denial. We discuss how her collaboration with Erik originated and how their most recent book The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia U Press, 2014) began as something of an accident. Then Naomi shares her thoughts on how to persuade people that climate change matters, especially when they are convinced that climate discourse is being used as a pretext to expand governance. She explains why she thinks satire and science fiction can help the cause and we reflect on why partnership between the human sciences and the natural sciences is so important right now even though we still need to work to balance realism and relativism. Finally, we talk about why scientists need to talk about climate change in the present tense and why we all need to articulate the stakes of climate change in an economic register that people seem to be willing to listen to. Ready to become a citizen journalist? We need you, listen on!
Dominic and Cymene talk Trumpism vs. Reaganism and whether we are somehow cycling back to the "culture wars" on race, gender and sexuality from the 1980s. We drop a (conspiracy?) theory about climate denial and then (16:15) share our recent conversation with J.C. Salyer and Paige West about their work in Papua New Guinea (PNG). J.C. is a lawyer and anthropologist who works as the Staff Attorney for the Arab-American Family Support Center and as an Assistant Professor of Practice at Barnard College, Columbia University. His legal practice focuses on immigration and his research focuses on migration and human rights. Paige is the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, she has conducted research in Papua New Guinea for twenty years and is the co-founder of the Papua New Guinea Institute for Biological Research. Paige talks to us about her latest book, Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (https://cup.columbia.edu/book/dispossession-and-the-environment/9780231541923), in which she explores how rhetoric of the PNG's alleged "savagery" operates as a mode of dispossession in domains like tourism, conservation and resource extraction. We discuss how racism and imperialism impacted PNG historically and how some of these ideas filtered into classic anthropological theory. Paige explains how the arrival of the natural gas industry in PNG helped prompt her to write the book and how gas has helped transform PNG's capital, Port Moresby, into one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Then we turn to their current collaborative research focused on Australia’s (insane) plan to divert asylum seekers to the Manus Regional Processing Centre in PNG. They explain how this plan activated the long history of colonial relations between Australia and PNG but also miscalculated the extent of PNG’s contemporary connectivity to the rest of the world. We talk about the blurring distinction between different causes of migration (war, economy, climate change) and they argue that the Manus plan should be viewed as an experimental venture that reveals how states like Australia intend to handle increasing refugeeism in the future. J.C. & Paige discuss their sense of why it’s important to develop new categories and ways of thinking for engaging the Anthropocene and the teaching projects they've developed to accomplish that goal. We close on the networks and projects needed to move climate action forward in the Trump era even as we grapple with the genealogies of dispossession and racism that have formed white working class America. One silver lining? Our prediction that punk music is going to come back stronger than ever :) Listen on!
We’re offering some food for thought on Standing Rock this Thanksgiving week. Our guests are the brilliant scholar-activists Nick Estes and Kristen Simmons who help us to better understand what has happened with the water protectors over the past two months and especially during dramatic recent events at the camp. Nick Estes is Kul Wicasa from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, an Andrew W. Mellon Dissertation Fellow, and a co-founder of activist organization, The Red Nation. Kristen Simmons is a member of the Moapa Band of Southern Paiutes (NV). She is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the Department of Anthropology. Her work engages toxicity and settler colonialism in the American West. In the conversation (9:40), they explain to us the evolving carceral geography of the camp and how it is functioning as an experimental space for military suppression of native people and social movements. We talk about the recent intensification of violence with the arrival of private security forces, mainstream media blackouts and the importance of social media and drones for both sides of the conflict. Nick emphasizes the intersectionality of the struggle and Kristen reminds us that the Obama administration’s current position to “let it play out” is an ancient strategy of American empire. We find out what Nick and Kristen think will happen next and whether they believe a peaceful resolution is still possible. As they put it, “For our nations to live, this pipeline has to die.” You can find out more information about Standing Rock at the following websites (where donations are also being accepted!): ocetisakowincamp.org, standingrock.org, sacredstone.org . And please check out the excellent Standing Rock syllabus page too at: https://nycstandswithstandingrock.wordpress.com/standingrocksyllabus/
And if we may add a plea from CENHS and the podcast to all our listeners: The situation at Standing Rock is incredibly urgent and a powerful reminder of how our colonial past is entangled with our energy future. Please talk about Standing Rock this Thanksgiving weekend with your families, please do something to support the water protectors, please work to counteract blackouts and misinformation, and please help to keep pressure on the political establishment to reach a peaceful solution that respects native rights and sovereignty.
On this week’s podcast, Dominic and Cymene continue to process election aftermath and offer thoughts on how to escape the dungeon. Then (14:20) things get wavy when Stefan Helmreich from MIT—author of Alien Ocean (U California Press, 2009) and Sounding the Limits of Life (Princeton U Press, 2016)—joins the conversation and we talk about his recent work on waves and water. We start with the submarine trip that got him interested in the sound of fieldwork underwater and these strange entities known as “waves.” He then introduces us to the world of wave science and explains how it can be viewed as anthropology by other means given its constant attention to social concerns like coastal infrastructure, shipping, recreation, and insurance. Stefan discusses why the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the waterline—rising sea level, changing sea surface, and wavy dynamics that modulate sea level. He also explains that even though current models of wave action are based on northern ocean data, it looks increasingly likely that the future will belong to southern ocean dynamics. We visit the largest tsunami simulation basin in the world, learn what “rogue waves” are, and come to understand how, with the coming of wave energy, waves are being reimagined not as enemies but rather as allies whose labor can be harnessed in the struggle against climate change. Stefan offers some reflections on “blue humanities,” the shipwreckocene and Haraway’s Chthulucene. Finally, we turn toward his current research in the Netherlands with its long and complex relationship to water. And, yes, Cymene asks him about surfing and his answer is the best. Listen on!
Cymene and Dominic share honest thoughts from the morning after the morning after. Then, because we all need a new superhero right about now, (27:07) Beth Povinelli of Columbia anthropology fame joins us for a conversation that riotously veers between serious philosophical discussion and Scooby Doo. Our dreaming is Beth’s latest work, Geontologies: A Requiem for Late Liberalism (Duke U Press, 2016). She explains what she means by “geontopower,” how it challenges our common biontological distinction between life and non-life, and why she is not arguing for a new metaphysics of power or objects. We talk about how Anthropocene conditions may have made geontopower more visible to some, but how it has been felt for a long time in places on the fringes of settler colonialism like the aboriginal community of Belyuen where Beth has been doing fieldwork for decades. She explains the three figures of geontological discourse and governance—the desert (nonlife is encroaching into life), the animist (everything is life anyway) and the virus (the tactical use of both life and nonlife that yet has unexpected outcomes)—and how they connect to late liberalism more generally. Beth then shares her concerns about contemporary philosophical movements like speculative realism and object-oriented ontology and explains why her intervention isn’t part of any “ontological turn” but rather a contribution to the revelation that our northern metaphysics of being are deeply biontological and epidermal, part of a love affair with the concept of life and its difference from non-life. So Geontologies means to offer a monstrous twist to that tradition. Turning back to Belyuen, Beth explains how Karrabing analytics offer by comparison probative epistemics, a testing of the world, rather than a bounded “belief system” or “body of knowledge” as normally construed. Karrabing analytics say that all forms of existence have extimate material relations to one another and illuminate how settlers prize the tight integrity of their bodies and overdramatize their lives and deaths as absolute beginnings and ends. In the end Beth explains that she’s not saying, and we quote, “Screw life. Who gives a fuck. I like rocks”—but rather underscoring the point that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine other modes of existence becoming dominant.
It turns out that one of your co-hosts is a magical creature – feel free to guess which one. This week we are thrilled to welcome to the podcast (9:35) fellow Oaxacanist anthropologist Andrew Mathews who shares his thoughts on states and statecraft and how best to conceptualize and study what they do. We talk about his excellent book, Instituting Nature: Authority, Expertise and Power in Mexican Forests (MIT Press, 2011) and focus in specifically on the Mexican state and whether it is indeed as weak as is often claimed. Speaking of forest management, we discuss why states fear fire even as they frequently act to parasitize crises as opportunities for political intervention. We talk about how bureaucracies produce both knowledge and non-knowledge and about the gap between rhetorics of state power and the reality of disorder and transience within bureaucracies. We discuss the emotional landscape of patron-client relations and the political landscape of resource conservation. Then, we pivot toward Andrew’s new research on forest protection, biomass energy and climate change in Italy. He explains why modeling and “hypothetical futures” are becoming such key features of statecraft in the Anthropocene. Ever wonder what exactly constitutes “a forest”? That answer and much more on this week’s episode!
On today’s special bonus Tuesday episode of the Cultures of Energy podcast, Cymene and Dominic share their election season nerves and then have the chance (9:05) to talk to novelist Fred Stenson (http://fredstenson.ca ) about his recent and moving work, Who by Fire (Doubleday Canada, 2014), which explores the history of oil and gas development in Canada through its impact on two generations of one family. Fred shares his own family’s history with sour gas plants, which helped shape certain events in the novel and we talk about the complex legacy of wealth, toxicity and precarity that oil and gas extraction has left in his native Alberta. Fred explains why he wanted the novel to be about trauma and how fossil fueled progress has often been bought at the expense of rural people. But he also explains why he needed to represent the situation in its full complexity, including the efforts and idealism of many engineers working in the oil and gas industry. We discuss the codependence of government and industry in energy development and compare the dynamics of early oil and gas production with today’s fracking and tar sands production. We touch on the history of indigenous peoples’ relationship to oil and gas in Canada and Fred concludes by explaining why publishers aren’t very supportive of novels about oil, which can be both depressing and technical. His point well-taken is that readers need to back up their concerns with curiosity.
Cymene and Dominic define (finally!) professionalism and offer a brief review of Leonardo DiCaprio’s soon to be released climate change documentary, Before the Flood. Then (11:43) we are very pleased to welcome to the podcast acclaimed novelist, Amitav Ghosh, author of The Shadow Lines (1988), The Hungry Tide (2004) and The Ibis trilogy (2008-2015), among many other works. We talk about his latest work of non-fiction, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and why he thinks it has proven so difficult to bring climate change into literature. We discuss the worldview of the novel and how its emphasis on creating believable narratives has excluded precisely the kinds of unlikely anthropocenic encounters that are becoming increasingly frequent across the world. Amitav argues that before an alternate world can become a reality, it needs to become an imaginative reality and this is why the arts are so crucial to coming to terms with the Anthropocene. We also discuss “serious” art’s fear of being deemed merely “illustrative” and how this may be linked to a Cold War aversion to the aesthetics of socialist realism. Now, Amitav warns, the world has risen up as a protagonist even as our means of representation aren’t up to engaging it. He predicts that the mansions of serious fiction will suffer a similar fate to the mansions of Miami beach as our waters rise. We talk about what is really being denied in climate change denial and how the privileges and comforts of a carbon-fueled lifestyle is something which neither the West nor Asia is prepared to give up. We close with Amitav’s own next novel project and how climate change inspires him personally and artistically.
Cymene and Dominic say hello from Copenhagen and muse about the humanities’ expanding color spectrum. We then welcome (12:12) to the podcast the fabulous Stacy Alaimo, Professor of English at the University of Texas-Arlington and author of the celebrated Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Indiana U, 2010). We discuss her new book, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (U Minnesota 2016), in light of her thinking about trans-corporeality and ethics in the Anthropocene. Stacy shares her concerns that an abstract sense of species identity and pride is too often smuggled into the Anthropocene concept and explains why she thinks material feminism and feminist science studies have become such important resources for understanding our present condition. We discuss why the turn toward materiality and material agency demands that we engage science in new ways. We talk about the unruly agency of xenobiotic chemicals, deep sea creatures, epigenetics, and how to remake human sprawl to take other creaturely interests into account. Stacy explains that she is not in the hope business but that she does support ecodelics—the mind altering exercise of trying to imagine and feel the Anthropocene from nonhuman perspectives. Stacy’s German Shepherd, Felix, kindly helps us grasp this last point and he shares his thoughts on squirrel metonymy and his unease when the postman cometh. The lesson of the Anthropocene? There is no someplace else. So be present for all the species in your ecology, dear friends!