The Guardian reports on how "The Louvre's closure proves art cannot survive climate change."
We are, indeed, at a moment of generic toppling. By which I mean: as I spoke about at the recent "Epic Geographies" conference: if weather belongs to novels, then climate belongs to epic. So as climate appears in our weather, "we" are shifting surely from novel to epic. This is what it means when the Guardian headlines today that "Meteorologists are seeing global warming's effect on the weather"; this is what it means when Parisians stare on at the Seine, reaching its highest level since 1910 (see here). We leave the novelistic to head into epic, i.e. each gesture, each moment, is as if held onto by Poseidon's trident or Hera's anger or Zeus's lack of libido-control. And there is no way to calm it all with a "banquet des dieux."
Currently at a fabulous conference in Paris, organized by Frank Lestringant and Alexandre Tarrête, about islands in early-modern literature, I’m thinking this evening about the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which are sinking. There are already many climate-change refugees from these islands, many of whom are now in—or trying to get to—Arkansas. As a CNN report puts it: “Climate change is real, and people see it happening now.” If the seas continue to rise due to climate change, then the Islands will all disappear completely. And it’s happening now: “Neighbors told me they woke up floating.” As another report (see video below) notes: the Marshall Islands remind us that life is “precarious.” The conference today didn’t intend to address such questions directly, but many of the papers underlined how, in the early modern period, islands were just a fragile—the threat was generally from other peoples and nations, but in a sense that is perhaps also the case, albeit “via” climate, of climate change. (Image from Porcacchi, source here)
My own talk, on the way that Ronsard depicts the island of Crete in the Franciade, could have been written differently for a different context. I could have argued that Ronsard, who is clearly very close to the isolario tradition, creates a Crete similar to the Marshall Islands.
Q: How does Francus end up there?
A: There is a storm.
Q: And the storm is weather or climate?
A: Clearly climate, for the storm here is epic and part of long-term divine trends.
Q: A hyperobject, as Timothy Morton would put it?
A: Its manifestation, yes.
Q: What happens when Francus gets to Crete?
A: He is welcomed by a Cretan prince, but must battle a Cretan giant.
Q: And that giant is climate change?
A: Perhaps, sort of: he’s the Other, he “guards” the island with no respect for the island, for he entraps the inhabitants and threatens them.
Q: Is he, then, the climate? The rising sea?
A: One could, perhaps, say that, yes.
Q: What about the Venetians, for Crete was Venetian at this point in history?
A: Precisely. In this narrative, they create the conditions for bad climate.
Q: They are the gas-guzzlers?
A: One could say that.
Q: So really, Ronsard already imagined the fate of the Marshall Islands?
A: Of course.
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.
Le Monde today put out a fascinating--and frightening--set of "portraits" of our globe as changed by global warming.
The first volume of the Humanist Anthropocene, or at least a full draft thereof, is now complete and I’m writing to publishers. I have a number of talks based on the draft this fall, including at the Wesleyan University Renaissance, at the University of Vermont, and this coming week at the Harvard University Renaissance Seminar.
It’s been a week of things going wrong in the world for which “we” anthropoi are responsible.
Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane EVER to make landfall, smashed into Mexico- Wired Magazine titled “Thank El Niño and Climate Change for Huge Hurricane Patricia.”
Meanwhile, Slate announces that “For the First Time Researchers Detect Carbon Nanotubes in Human Lungs.”
We’re making our planet uninhabitable and poisoning ourselves.
President Obama announces major action on climate change.
Wendy Koch at National Geographic wrote recently about how NASA satellites are showing China’s efforts to meet their pledge to the UN to cut carbon emissions, by comparing images of China’s Gobi Desert comparing how much land was covered by solar panels in 2012 and in 2015—the covered surface tripled in just three years.
Meanwhile, Switzerland is busy planning to fill the sky with postal delivery drones, reports the Guardian.
And a fabulous little video (see below) at the Guardian explains just how much global warming is affected by the production and consumption of meat and animal products. In a word, meat eating contributes more to global warming than cars, planes, and many other factors all added together.
Do you have to be a vegan to help fix climate change?
This morning in the New York Times, Justin Gillis pens an interesting piece about Naomi Oreskes (at Harvard since 2013) and who, with Erik Conway, has been looking into the "Merchants of Doubt" who have denied the science of various phenomena, from tobacco to global warming. Light shed her on the pseudo-science that makes it onto TV and into the popular media more generally, and which often wins out against the real science. Oreskes and Conway published a book (2010) on the topic; a film is forthcoming.
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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