Two important books now available for pre-order:
-Timothy Morton's Dark Ecology (coming out April 2016), which extends Morton's previous work on this concept, which posits an uncanny self-knowledge so key to getting beyond "green" approaches to ecology: the world is not "out there" as some external situation; we are it, all intertwined.
-and JeffreyJerome Cohen's edited volume, with Lowell Duckert (due out December 23, 2015), Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, which offers a new voice to elemental materiality. Another attempt to force us into and back from estrangement vis-à-vis the "world."
As Phil Plait explains in Slate, this new image isn't quite a new Earthrise, from a technical point of view, because this isn't really a photograph but a composite image produced by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on October 12, 2015. But that hasn't stopped it being seen as an updated version thereof, e.g. when Cnet headlines: "Sublime new NASA Earthrise image shows rare view from the moon." The composite nature of the image somehow makes Earth feel a bit more distant, a bit more interfered with, compared to the original photo, but of course a camera, too, is technology. There would be a more rigorous argument to be laid out here, but now is not the time. Perhaps the update is fitting: the more "we" play with DNA and pollute ourselves, the more we should perhaps see "our" world through increasing layers of our own intervention. It's harder and harder to "step outside."
The Humanities are playing an ever greater role in "grasping" what is going on in terms of the planet. Take for example the field of Energy Humanities: “Energy humanities” is a rapidly emerging field of scholarship that overcomes traditional boundaries between the disciplines and between academic and applied research. Like its predecessors, energy humanities highlights the essential contribution that the insights and methods of the human sciences can make to areas of study and analysis that were once thought best left to the natural sciences."
There is some fabulous work being done in this area.
-The work of Imre Szeman (Alberta) is key here:
-Also at Alberta, co-directed by Szeman and Sheena Wilson, there is the fabulous Petrocultures project, "a new research cluster at the University of Alberta whose aim is to support, produce, and distribute research related to the socio-cultural aspects of oil and energy in Canada and the world today."
-Danine Farquharson and Fiona Polack, both at Memorial University, have been working on a joint research project called "Cold Water Oil": "We are examining how the North Atlantic offshore oil and gas industry is imagined in a wide range of high and popular contexts – everything from oil company websites, to government-sponsored documentaries to literary fiction."
-See also the After Oil project.
With COP-21 over, what we take away from this deal that defines how "we" relate to "our" planet, how we think about the "stuff" we take from the planet, in a word our collective understanding of the planet and that which is "ex-terranean," perspectives continue to jostle for our attention.
In the Times, the economist Paul Krugman is, somewhat, hopeful: "Did the Paris climate accord save civilization? Maybe. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s actually the best climate news we’ve had in a very long time." He is hopeful because of two majors changes: (1) China's role has change--the country is cutting coal consumption; and (2) while the Republican party continues to fall "ever deeper into a black hole of denial and anti-science conspiracy theorizing," we now realize that this might not matter as much, for Obama is taking executive action in certain areas. Krugman's hope derives most of its energy, however, from "new technology [which] has fundamentally changed the rules": "costs of solar and wind power have fallen dramatically, to the point where they are close to competitive with fossil fuels even without special incentives." Krugman's final words are hopeful: "I don’t think it’s naïve to suggest that what came out of Paris gives us real reason to hope in an area where hope has been all too scarce. Maybe we’re not doomed after all."
But can we really be that hopeful? Or at least that tritely hopeful... Camille Seaman's piece sobers us up from too much hope, quickly: "We’ve Already Reached the Tipping Point on Global Warming. I’ve Seen It." Her stunning photos of the snow-less terrains near the North Pole tell us what's already happened: "we" are not separate from "nature." (For more on Seaman, see here)
Democracy Now's reflections on where COP-21 leaves us.
In theory, at least, the fact that an agreement was reached at the COP21 suggests that “we” have now defined a new relationship between “we” humans and the planet, fundamentally by remembering what exactly it means when we extract “stuff” from the earth and burn it. Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film “Home” (2009) already put the emphasis here, by referring to oil as “ces poches d’énergie solaire” (these pockets of solar energy); just as Tim Morton, in the conclusion to one of his books, notes that when we turn the key in the ignition, dinosaur bones starts to run through the pipes. In any case, the COP21 agreement seems to define a wider awareness. But of course, let’s not buy into that too quickly, let’s not believe an awareness is where we thin it is. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. There’s been a lot of reporting about the agreement since it happened.
An article in the Guardian seems to suggest success: “Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era.” And it is a big thing, for sure: “After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the past two weeks spent in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a legal agreement on Saturday evening that set ambitious goals to limit temperature rises and to hold governments to account for reaching those targets.”
The photo of François Hollande and others shows applause and thumbs up. And knowing how hard it is to accomplish anything in any meeting, I’m not surprised they look happy. But if we take a few steps back, if we ascend like Menippus in Lucian’s story, then things don’t look so happy, for sure.
Bill McKibben in the Times (December 13), for one, emphasizes just how far the agreement is from what it should be: “the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995.” The pledges made are both voluntary, and modest. The calculations show, quite simply, why the agreement is not enough: “If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much.” As we’re starting to realize, McKibben reminds us, Exxon Mobil is largely responsible for this state of affairs: back in the 1990s when an agreement like the present one might have made some meaningful difference, Exxon Mobil was busy spreading confusion. As the LA Times, notes: “Exxon [claimed to have] studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action.” McKibben closes his article with these three signs: . . . You can tell he doesn’t want to say the agreement serves no purpose, but the article—and perhaps all of us—clearly need to be overwhelmed by the fact that, all around us, we see more and more signs of impending climatic doom. His conclusion to another article, on Grist.org this time, ends instead with a period: “We’ll be the nagging parent/teacher/spouse. We’ll assume [world leaders] really want action. And we’ll demand they provide it.”
James Hansen, similarly, the former chief NASA climate scientist who did ring the warning bell back in 1988, doesn’t have much good to say about the agreement—if only the politicians had listened to him way back when. Again, the question is mathematical, and simple: “This is really a total fraud. You know, there’s no — we’re not going to reduce emissions as long as we let fossil fuels be the cheapest form of energy. There are lots of countries that want to lift their people out of poverty. And of course, they should do that. But everybody would be better off if the price of fossil fuels was honest. It should include its cost to society.” He’s (rightly) harsh on Obama: “Well, we have to decide, are these people stupid or are they just uninformed? Are they badly advised? I think that he really believes he’s doing something. You know, he wants to have a legacy, a legacy having done something in the climate problem. But what he is proposing is totally ineffectual.” And Hansen, like McKibben, rightly reminds us that there IS a key agent in all this: “I remember writing letters complaining about the fact that ExxonMobil was funding changes to textbooks in grade school and junior high school to make it sound like we didn’t understand climate change, and we didn’t — there was no evidence that humans were causing climate change.”
Meanwhile, and this was McKibben’s point, the climate news isn’t really “in” or “coming from” Paris, but elsewhere and everywhere. Thus, we might take a look at the Times’ piece on “China’s Coast Cities, Underwater.” Paris happened-but was it an event? It’s like telling smokers who started smoking in the 1940s that now there are labels on the packets-what do they care? The industry already got their lungs.
What of the draft agreement itself? It’s here (in PDF form).
I salute the New York Time's decision to give a front-page, courageous and much needed, editorial to the question of gun control in the USA: "It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency." It says a lot about our world that the first NY TImes front-page editorial since 1920 is about how humans shoot humans, rather than about global warming and what's happening at the conference in Paris. The world is already full of climate refugees, and Paul Krugman in the Times wrote a fabulous piece this week: "Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe." The slow violence of global warming however is so much harder to see than gun killings. As scholars one of our jobs is perhaps just that, to make the hard-to-see more visible, even if only by talking about it.
Nice article in the Guardian about Nut Brother, a Chinese artist who vacuumed pollution particles from the air to make a brick. "For the last 100 days, the activist, whose real name is Wang Renzheng, has used the industrial appliance to extract dust and other lung-choking pollutants from the city’s atmosphere before transforming them into a dark brown “smog brick”." If you can make a brick about 100 days, then just think of the lungs of those who inhabit such smog-filled places.
Because some days, the best thing to do is to re-watch Beasts of the Southern WIld: “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.”
COP21, the climate change summit, has begun in Paris. The official website isn’t working (as of Dec 1, 6pm); Obama’s seemingly “optimistic.” This is indeed, perhaps, the last chance for major action under the UN on this issue.
In the Guardian, Naomi Klein focuses on the fact that the French government has decided “to ban protests, marches and other ‘outdoor activities’,” a decision she calls “disturbing,” precisely because “it reflects the fundamental inequity of the climate crisis itself.” Klein points out that such summits are rare occasions that allow for the voices of those most hard hit by climate change to be heard: “That’s why Pacific islanders and Inuit hunters and low-income people of colour from places like New Orleans travel for thousands of miles to attend.” Klein is not ignoring the horrific November 13 events that shook Paris; rather, she argues that the French government “needed to determine whether it had the will and capacity to host the whole summit – with full participation from civil society, including in the streets,” and that if “it could not, it should have delayed and asked another country to step in.” Klein’s article reminds us that not acting on climate change is a form of violence: “Some of the violence is grindingly slow: rising seas that gradually erase whole nations, and droughts that kill many thousands. Some of the violence is terrifyingly fast: storms with names such as Katrina and Haiyan that steal thousands of lives in a single roiling event. When governments and corporations knowingly fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence.”
With Jason Box, Klein penned another piece in the New Yorker, which opens with a similar emphasis: “While many politicians pay lip service to the existential urgency of the climate crisis, as soon as another more immediate crisis rears its head—war, a market shock, an epidemic—climate reliably falls off the political map.” Box and Klein ask: “What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?” They cite the case of Syria, which right before civil war began, experienced its worst drought ever (as Kerry acknowledged). The authors reconnect the immediate violence of terrorism and the slower violence of global warming, pointing notably to the recent report according to which, by the end of the century, many places in the Middle East will be experiencing temperatures that are quite simply “intolerable” to human beings. In other words, and increasingly as we go into the 21st century, it will be increasingly necessary to think global warming and global politics at the same time. This is a very useful and poignant message, related to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s emphasis that, in the humanities, we must reconnect geological and human time. Lest anyone think “OK, yes, in theory I agree, but just for the time being terrorism must be our first concern,” Box and Klein remind us that such thinking has already happened before: in 2008-09, Obama had said that his presidency would be the moment when climate change would be a primary concern—and then the financial crisis happened: “By the time the world met at the Copenhagen climate-change conference, at the end of 2009, global attention had already shifted away from climate to bank bailouts, and the deal was widely considered to be a disaster.” In other words, there is always something more immediately pressing than climate change—or so at least it is too easy to argue.
One fabulous response to the suppression of voices in Paris is Brandalism, responsible for “600 fake adverts [that] denounce hypocrisy of the COP21.” The official press release explains that “over 600 artworks critiquing the corporate takeover of the COP21 climate talks were installed in advertising spaces across Paris this weekend -ahead of the United Nations summit beginning Monday 30 November.” It’s a pretty amazing selection of images. See a video here
Meanwhile, in a different stratosphere altogether, as reported by Wired, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and other rich tech leaders are getting together to start a new partnership called the the Breakthrough Energy Coalition: “Through the partnership, the group’s members have committed to use a substantial portion of their hundreds of billions of dollars in collective net worth to invest in early stage clean energy companies.” In a video, Bill Gates explains how he sees it (which I would personally summarize as “we can have our cake and eat it”).
As I write, the front page of the New York Times details several aspects of the COP21 talks:
-Obama seems (in some ways) close to Klein’s main point here, as articles suggest titled: “Obama Defends Presence at Climate Change Talks While Syria War Rages” (read here); and “As Obama Pushes Climate Deal, Republicans Move to Block Emissions Rules” (read here)
-the page of “latest updates” makes it clear that the real work begins, the nitty gritty, once leaders like Obama and Putin have left (read here); another part of this update page discusses how “Peruvian Indians Travel to Paris to Fight for Their Existence,” again relating back to one of Klein’s main points.
-the NYTimes also provides a useful set of summaries here
Well, the debates are open. Let’s see what the next days will bring.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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