Panel 4: Fossil Fuels



Panel 4: Fossil Fuels

Red, White, Blue, Green, Magenta?: Possibilities of Solidarity in the Anti-Fracking Movement

Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara

This presentation explores the diversity found in the anti-fracking movement across the nation. Rather than being a source of division for the movement, the author suggests that this diversity is a great asset to the movement, and a necessary one if it is to grow and succeed in curbing the fracking industry (more).

The Aesthetic Disvalue of Burning Fossil Fuels

Ewan Kingston, Duke University

This talk calls for a reduction of individual carbon emissions not on the ground of moral grounds, but of aesthetics. By looking at the energy flow of burning fossil fuels and by assuming the world has aesthetic value, the author concludes that burning of fossil fuels coheres less with the natural world than their green alternatives. The author touches upon the implications of this idea as well (more).

“Keep It In the Ground”: Global Warming and the Challenge of Redefining Hydrocarbons

Bart H. Welling, University of North Florida

In this talk the stage is set for humanities to change how we interact with fossil fuels. While science can inform us about the relationship of fossil fuels and global warming, it is the responsibility of the humanities to change our relationships with the fuels. If we are to avoid the worst of climatic events this will be a necessary step to ensuring we leave these fuels in the ground and pursue greener alternatives (more).

Q & A

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34 replies
  1. Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

    Dear viewers,
    Thank you for watching my talk and engaging with this conference! Please let me know if you have feedback or questions. I’d also love to know if you have seen any other research or work in activist circles that address the topic of solidarity building in the climate justice/anti-fracking movement. If so, please send literature my way (
    Thank you,

    • Nicholas Guzowski, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

      You mention how important the horizontal structure of an organization should be which i completely agree with. My only question would be: do you think that its best to start a movement with a horizontal structure? Or would it benefit the movement more if it was established as a vertical organization and once the goals/priorities/course of action/etc. were determined, those in power can step down and maintain a horizontal structure?

      A sense of direction i feel always helps people out and gets them thinking about alternatives, what they agree/disagree. Just curious

      • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

        Thanks Nick! Great point. Yes, I find that typically, even with a horizontal structure, there are a couple or a few people that have more time to devote to something or have been focusing on a particular issue/element of the group. Thus, they have expertise to share. I do find this kind of direction beneficial, but I don’t think that it is necessarily hierarchical. The group can have someone who “bottom lines” things – i.e. someone who instigates a project or the setting up of the group – but that person can be dedicated to horizontalism, to taking input from everyone and setting up a decision making structure where everyone shares responsibility. I think shared power is most effective for making people committed, even if they are learning the ropes. However, the best way to handle your question is probably to decide as a group what sounds best for the particular group, people, and context.

    • Tamara Slater, Washington University School of Law says:

      Corrie, I really loved your talk. The two examples you highlight — uniting across political divides for a discrete cause versus uniting social movements — seem absolutely key to building a more powerful and intersectional movement (and, for that matter, more civil public discourse broadly). However, they also strike me as potentially incompatible given how politicized social movements usually are. For example, I look at that three-part issues table (left, center, and right) and think the intersectional racial justice work and sensitivity to different gender identities that the UCSB students engaged in would likely not fall within the center category.

      I wonder first whether you even agree with that concern? If so, do you think those two models can be combined through relational organizing or other methods? Or, rather, that they should remain separate models to be utilized in different contexts?

      • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

        Tamara, Thank you for your supportive feedback and for raising the important point of the extent to which these “models” are compatible! I haven’t thought of them as models and appreciate this framing. I share your concern and am working on how to articulate where and how the strategies these activists use come together. I think two primary things unite them.

        One, as you identify, is the importance of relational organizing. The youth use relationships to build enough trust to enact anti-oppression organizing practices and to call each other in to collaborations across social movements, campaigns, and identities. Idaho activists use relationships also, to build enough trust to come together for a common goal despite disagreement, and in some cases, to be able to have conversations about disagreements and agree to disagree. They have to have relationships to know what central issues are in their community and Jim, who originally explained the three columns to me, noted how these columns might shift to the left or right depending on where you are organizing.

        Another commonality that I didn’t have time to get into in this presentation is that both groups try to, in youth’s terms, “meet people where they’re at.” This is an element of relational organizing. For youth, this looks like meeting people where they’re at in terms of knowledge about climate change, activism, and issues like intersectionality. For Idaho activists, this inspires them to focus on core issues that will not turn people off – focusing on land, air, water, accountability to meet people where they’re at in terms of political ideology, party affiliation, and climate change beliefs and to bring them together. In both cases, because of the focus on relationships and trust, I see activists building the kind of collaborative community-focused organizing cultures that I think the movement needs to be powerful. To some extent, the points I raise are definitely context dependent. The “models” should be adapted by those who know their communities. But I do see all of the strategies I outline as part of the same movement, against extreme energy extraction and for climate justice. In general, I see the youth as the leading, most justice-oriented, edge of the movement and the Idaho activists as moving in that direction with a very specific strategy that they’ve created to work in their particular context. Ultimately, both sets of practices work to respect people as people and to recognize the complexity of their identities and perspectives and then, to find common things to work on that will further the good of community (climate justice for youth and accountability and integrity for Idaho activists).

        One final thought: CAIA’s organizing principles are as follows, and I think highlight how issues like intersectional justice work might not be as far out of the talking across lines diagram as we may assume:
        CAIA Core Values (in parenthese I type the things listed in their values most relevant to our conversation):
        “Respect (civility, courtesy, honor, decency, dignity, autonoy, tolerance, acceptance), Responsibility, Trustworthiness, Caring (appreciation of others, self after others, love for people/humanity/life, giving without the expectation of return), Fairness (incluiveness, equity, impartiality, nonpartisan, nondiscriminatory), Citizenship (aware and informed, engaged, do more than your fair share, work for ocmmunity wellbeing, active oversight of elected leaders to ensure genuine representation).
        Please let me know if you’d like to continue the conversation! I am easily reached at

        Thanks again for your comments, I’m looking forward to thinking more on this and if there is some “master model” of working across lines that incorporates youth and Idaho practices.

        • Tamara Slater, Washington University School of Law says:

          Corrie, I really appreciate your thorough response!! It is a lot of really useful information and I’m taking time to absorb it all. I would love to continue the conversation offline in the coming weeks… especially with regards to how these movements use respect to build bridges and find commonalities that may not seem apparent at first.

    • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

      Thanks so much Corrie – great talk and an important topic. I’m not sure if it’s outside your scope but the national group Citizen’s Climate Lobby is dedicated to the non-partisan approach which CAIA seems to embody, and the idea of relational organizing might apply there too. I’m interested in the prevalence of local groups such as CAIA – do you have the impression that their group is an anomaly or if there are many similar anti-fracking groups like it? You also mentioned that many members in CAIA are focus on property rights as a value that is threatened by fracking. Is the main concern that, roughly speaking, regardless of whether a landowner allows fracking on their land, water pollution can affect other people’s land?

      • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

        Hi Ewan, thanks for the feedback! Yes, I know about CCL, but hadn’t thought of them in connection with CAIA – a great idea! I think CAIA is probably a bit of anomaly (though I have much reading to do about other anti-fracking locations like PA, CO, and TX), but other unlikely alliances over energy like the Cowboy Indian Alliance and Green Tea Coalition have occurred. Yes, the focus on property includes a concern for air, water, and land in general, all things that can be affected whether or not the fracking is actually on or under your property.

        • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

          Thanks for the info on those alliances – I’ll look into them. Let me know if you want me to put you in touch with anyone at CCL in the Southeast.

  2. Ewan Kingston says:

    As Corrie said – I’m keen to hear your feedback. I’ll be watching the other panelists’ talks and asking questions myself in the next few days.

    • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

      Hi Ewan. Very interesting ideas! I don’t know if you’ll get this in time, but I was wondering how you felt about the idea of trying to re-vision fossil fuels themselves–not the burning of them, but the substances in their own right–as beautiful (albeit in a rather strange way). One idea I’m playing with, suggested by Stephanie LeMenager’s account in her book *Living Oil* of visiting the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, is the notion that we could cut down on fossil fuel use by honoring the status of these substances as *fossils,* as remarkable remnants of ancient ecosystems. Of course we could also memorialize some of the lives they have saved, the amazing feats of travel they have powered, etc. (in addition to mourning for the tremendous amounts of destruction they have participated in). But it strikes me that framing fossil fuels as simply ugly (abject, dirty, etc.), as environmental rhetoric has done for decades now, (among other things) unintentionally feeds into the fossil fuel industry’s own narratives, in which they refine disgusting, otherwise worthless “resources” into things and activities of transcendent beauty. What do you think?



  3. Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

    Ewan, thank you for your argument and accessible and engaging talk! I have not thought much before about the philosophical components of climate change and think your point that whether or not an action makes a difference, some actions are more beautiful because of their relationship to nature and fresh energy (great term!), is a useful addition to the educator/activist toolbox on how to change culture for climate justice. The idea that we may be able to have a little bit of reliance on stale energy like the hydrogen sulfide communities is a good point as well – it would be nice to have the luxury to use some fossil fuels in plastics for medical purposes. Both terms – stale and fresh – help spark the change needed to recognize the different aesthetic values of energy. One question I have is in reference to your statement that seeing nature through the lens of science reveals its beauty. How does this apply to indigenous knowledges and cultures? What do you mean by science? Western science? Thanks! Corrie

    • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

      Hi Corrie

      I’m glad you got something out of this talk, it’s a real work in progress but an idea that not many philosophers are talking about. I’m glad you like the deep sea communities analogy. I also think we needn’t be purist about reducing reliance on fossil fuels as energy sources to absolutely zero. As to fossil fuels being used for plastics and other materials, that’s another issue again – with regards to my talk I would say I think this really is still in line with the way biological organisms use *resources* – much of the physical matter that plants absorb may have been out of the biological cycle for a huge amount of time.

      With regard to your excellent question, the “scientific cognitivist” argument I rehearse here had tended to focus on western science and ecology. Of course, it is just one of many possible routes to the idea that nature is inherently beautiful. I imagine that working within indigenous cultures could arrive at the same conclusion, via a similar “the more you know, the more you appreciate” route, alternatively it might be just a norm in some cultures/worldview that nature is beautiful.

      As to the big picture, I guess I focused on the western scientific view, partly because I know very little about indigenous cultures but also because I suspect that the practical problem of “but my contribution doesn’t make a difference” may spring from a particularly materialist worldview and western individualist view of the self anyway, so I wanted to work within that paradigm. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

      • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

        Ewan, your point in the last paragraph – how the problem of people not thinking they can make a difference springs from western individualist views – resonates with me. I think brining this point to the fore could be a useful addition to the presentation. By focusing where you do, you are addressing the culture and people most responsible for the climate crisis.

  4. Kian Mintz-Woo, University of Graz says:

    Hello Ewan!

    First, I think this is a very valuable project–an alternative way of objecting to using fossil fuels that does not have to do with causal links (as with WSA’s no-difference view). I think that WSA’s argument only works because he has unusual metaphysical views (i.e. I think his argument is more metaphysical than epistemological, as you seem to indicate), especially some strong sense of emergent causation.

    A couple initial reactions, which I haven’t thought through very well:

    (i) You ended by summarizing that stale energy is ‘more removed from nature in that sense’. I think that is not a true statement, either understanding ‘nature’ in terms of non-anthropogenically affected (in which case ‘stale’ and ‘fresh’ energy sources are equally part of nature), or as understanding nature as involving human beings. In order to make this work, you need to have a sense of nature which is curiously temporalized, which you seem to have. However, this is going to be difficult to make work: nature (and energy flows) work on many physical and temporal timescales. Here’s an example: you want the recently arriving solar energy to be more natural/aesthetically positive. But what if the solar energy were to come from a very distant sun, such that it took millennia to reach us. I think, as you define it, this source would be ‘fresh’ since it enters our biosphere very recently, but this seems parochial on an astronomical scale.

    (ii) When we step away from energy, this claim about the aesthetic quality of fresh versus stale seems to be inaccurate. In fact, often we judge the most stale objects as the most aesthetic (e.g. diamonds). So perhaps energy might be a special case where the fresher things are more natural/more aesthetically positive, but then this needs to be motivated. (Or perhaps you might hold that diamonds are not aesthetically positive in the special sense that you are describing, although then your concept is in tension with common sense.) I also have a nagging suspicion, although I could be wrong, that the distinction between material and energy flows are harder to make than we usually think.

    Regardless, I think it’s a very unique and interesting argument, and I look forward to hearing you develop it.

    • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

      Hi Kian.

      It’s so great to see you “here” at this conference. I always learn a lot from your own research on climate ethics and economics and your insightful questions and comments, These are no exception.

      i) You raise the issue that I’m drawing an distinction between stale and fresh energy, which is defined (curiously, you say) by when it entered our biosphere. True. But it’s not that I think of the border of our biosphere as being important spatially. I should have made it more clear that I was using “nature” as shorthand for “biological nature” (This was one “footnote” that I tried to include but my ineptitude with the video editing software effectively removed, unfortunately).I guess to be more precise it would be be “biological nature minus human culture” (I discuss this below a little). The upshot is that *biologically* natural systems tends to not lock energy away as chemical potential energy (or radiative, in your sunlight case) for very long at all, and when we rely in our daily lives on such long-locked chemical potential energy our activities are less similar to natural biological systems and thus less beautiful for it.

      Hopefully the above will help me respond to ii) rather easily. Our processes are more beautiful, all else being equal, when they utilise fresh energy, just because *biologically* natural processes (almost universally) use fresh energy.

      A note on distinctions. Both the matter/energy distinction and the biological nature/culture distinction may not go as deep as one might always want. However, I’m confident that, when we are talking about aesthetic judgment, superficiality can be less problematic than in other realms. It is after all, the surfaces of objects and processes are going to be heavily involved to our judgement, even if not the only determinants of that judgement. So drawing a (perhaps somewhat superficial) line around our biosphere and excluding both outer space and our own cultural creations is legitimate, as is a rough-and-ready distinction between matter and energy. But I’d be keen to hear more about your worries, especially on the matter/energy distinction. Where you just thinking of the upshot of E=mc^2?

      • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

        I should have added about ii) that I’m trying to say that the freshness (non long-lockedness) of energy does not have aesthetic value per se, but its value is derived from its prevalence in (aesthetically highly valuable) biosystems. So yes, diamonds can still be beautiful, for other reasons.

      • Kian Mintz-Woo, University of Graz says:

        Thanks Ewan. Those comments do help me understand the position. (Yes, I was thinking about E=mc^2.)

        Here’s another thought I had: it seems that dissimilarity from biological nature is sometimes a source of extreme pride (here, I suspect that you & I will deviate from most people). For instance, we denigrate behaviour that we associate with animals, and think of humanity as different from nature and different from other animals. You are suggesting that activities which mimic biological nature are beautiful. While not a contradiction, I think there’s a tension between most people’s understanding of the relationship between humanity and nature and your claim. For instance, if a human acts like another non-human animal, most people will think of behaviour that is distinctly non-beautiful.

        • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

          Thanks Kian. I think the worry about the lack of a clear distinction between matter and energy can be dealt with in a similar way – I would appeal to my distinction being a superficial, not a fundamental distinction, but superficial distinctions are important in aesthetics.

          Your point about pride in our non-animal nature is more challenging. I’m reflecting on the kinds of features of humanity that we take pride in. One would be our ability to follow moral codes, which seems to provide a source of value other than the aesthetic, so it doesn’t seem to be a strong counterexample to the idea that, all else being equal, more natural is more beautiful. Another would be our ability to reason – but here it seems the best model again is to approach nature – for our beliefs to match not just biological nature, but the whole world “out there”. Maybe I could explain all pride in human nature as springing either from its moral (rather than aesthetic) aspect, or as being a case where the closer we mimic nature the better. But this might be a stretch.

          We also might draw attention to the right units of nature to compare ourselves with. Although Joe acting like a sloth or a sea slug may be ugly, Joe acting like a rainforest or a coral reef might seem beautiful!

          • Kian Mintz-Woo, University of Graz says:

            To many non-philosophers, I’m pretty sure ‘Joe acting like a rainforest or a coral reef might seem beautiful’ will probably sound like a reductio of your position. I think this gets to the heart of my worry; the sense of ‘beauty’ you need for your argument is very far (both intensionally and extensionally) from any folk notion–people will think that it is aesthetically valuable to be beautiful, but then think that your sense of beauty gives you very different intensions and extensions of beauty so it is not clear that it is aesthetically valuable to be beautiful in your sense. As you continue to develop this argument, I suspect this is the main criticism you will see (although I imagine you’ll have to contend with versions of each of the thoughts I had). But obviously keep working on it; it’s a valuable additional argument.

  5. Peter Kalmus says:

    Bart, I loved your talk — so many great points, and so hopeful. Great reminders that for most of our existence we’ve lived without fossil fuels, and that we’re the only species living out of balance with the global biosphere — if tens of millions of species (which are ostensibly not as “smart” as us) can live in balance, maybe we can too. Here are a couple of questions.

    You mentioned S. Lemenager’s attempts to emerge from the inaccessible language of academic discourse. For faster action on e.g. global warming, perhaps it would be helpful if some of the great ideas being discussed by academics (e.g. the role of myth and mindset in our ecological predicament) were to percolate into the mainstream. Should academics try to catalyze this seemingly slow (or perhaps nonexistent) process of percolation, and if so how? What is the relationship between the academic world and the mainstream, and do we need to re-examine it?

    Apropos my comment above — there’s a myth of progress, that operates with the subconscious fervor of fundamentalist religion in my opinion even and perhaps especially amongst the most devout atheists, and that makes it very difficult, perhaps taboo, to suggest that we can live happily without fossil fuels and to point out that indeed we did live without them for most of human existence. When suggesting this, the word “luddite” hangs over the discourse because this is seen as “going backwards,” which flies in the face of the myth of progress. How can we reframe this discussion to envision e.g. a future that doesn’t discard technology entirely (which would in my opinion be impossible, as we are fundamentally “technological animals”), but which is choosier about technology and recognizes that there are some technologies we might want to do without, i.e. a melding of the best ideas from modernity and from “primitive” cultures?

    • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

      Hi Peter–thanks very much! I can’t believe you sat through the boring video–thanks!

      Yes, we clearly need to do a lot more to engage the larger culture. I’ve tried to do it in various ways–by bringing environmental films and speakers to campus, for instance. And of course classes, field trips, and so on are important venues for transforming how young citizen-consumers view fossil fuels and global warming. Here in the heart of Sprawltopia, a lot of my students at the beginning of the semester don’t have a clue about climate change, besides what they’ve seen on Fox News, and many of them report that learning about it in class has a great impact on how they live. But how do we reach non-students and non-enviros? I’ve been a bike commuter for twenty years and like to think that some of my most important “petrocritical” work is done on two wheels. Every time I ride to and from work on six-lane Beach Boulevard–one of the most unpleasant and dangerous roads I’ve ever lived off of–I’m not only getting great exercise and choosing not to use my car, but I’m bearing witness to a few hundred people of the possibility of something that our petroculture works hard to train us to regard as impossible. Many of the drivers undoubtedly don’t notice me (some of them *definitely* don’t notice me!), and many more probably just think I’m crazy, but friends, colleagues, and students regularly tell me they’ve seen me out there, and I can tell that some of them (those who don’t think I’m crazy!) have started re-thinking the desirability of fossil-fuel-powered transportation, at least a little bit. Bike commuting certainly doesn’t require a Ph.D., but it embodies a simple, beautiful logic that most people in the U.S. can’t yet appreciate, and maybe this is one way in which academics can set an example for everyone else. (Anyone who hasn’t tried bike commuting should feel free to consider this a challenge; I would be more than happy to answer any questions about practical or philosophical concerns relating to cycling to work.)

      Since I’m on my soapbox anyway, I’ll go ahead and put in a plug for vegetarianism, ovo-pesco-lactarianism, or whatever works for anyone reading this who hasn’t yet tried switching to a low-meat or no-meat diet. Cutting back on meat, or eliminating it from our diets entirely, is not only one of the best ways to reduce our personal dependence on fossil fuels and otherwise shrink our carbon footprints, but as academics it can open up many opportunities for transformative conversations with people in and out of the university–conversations which can test our rhetorical powers in very interesting ways. Like riding a bike down a six-lane arterial boulevard, the refusal to eat meat at a faculty dinner, say, can constitute a meaningful and effective provocation (as long as we don’t merely rant about factory farms and so on).

      In terms of getting a bigger “loudspeaker,” I did my first local TV interview last year (and survived!), and have been thinking since then about how to use traditional and social media to help spark more widespread debate about fossil fuels and climate change. I’m a fan of “culture jamming” and “laughtivist” efforts like these, and think they can be a very effective way in which academics with a bit of media savvy can help redefine energy:

      Re: Peter’s second question…I was at a Break Free from Fossil Fuels march and rally in St. Augustine, Florida on Sunday (yes, I cycled there and back) and was talking with one of the other participants about the Tesla Powerwall he’s installing in his home to store energy from his solar panels, and about how lower and lower alternative energy costs are going to change capitalism’s definition of progress. (Also, my friend recently gave me a test ride in his new Tesla, and floored it without warning, which nearly gave me a heart attack; I think that every driver in America needs to experience the horsepower of the new electric cars.) Academics can do a lot, I think, to challenge misconceptions about alternative energy–to essentially re-brand it as cool, much cooler (in every sense) than fossil fuels.

      How do we re-brand a lower-energy future as cool? I need to cut this short, but would be interested in hearing other conference participants’ ideas about this–in particular, how we can challenge the post-apocalyptic narratives that seem to be the visions of the future that American culture is most proficient at coming up with.

      Bart W.

      • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:


        Thanks for your presentation! You raise many important concepts that resonate with my thinking and work. I really like the idea of reinhabitory discourse and how you stress the importance of recognizing and situating our actions and work in local contexts. Your points about the importance of place, people’s energy to work for place (your example of the gulf coast), and working to understand what types of rehabilitory discourses can take place in areas beyond the green choir (rural places, suburbs, sacrifice zones) are all things that come up in my research as well. I look forward to thinking about what rehabiliatory discourses would look like in rural Idaho.

        In relation to your point about visioning a future that recognizes the present (where we stand) and starts to rebuild culture, I’m hopeful about the climate movement’s centering of justice in recent years. I see this among youth activists I organize and research with in Santa Barbara as well as in’s diversification of its image and mission. The Break Free Action in LA I attended last week did this really well – Spanish and signed translations were available for each speaker and speakers were truly diverse, with those on the frontlines of extraction front and center in the rally and march. I think part of reinhabiting is recognizing how social injustice is at the root of climate crisis and then working to live (in our personal and group relationships as we move to change broader culture) the world we want to see – one where social relationships are based on egalitarian, horizontal, and respectful forms of being with one another. In Santa Barbara, I’ve been writing about how youth are making this happen by creating climate justice cultures.

        To Peter and your response:
        I love that you both are bringing up how important it is to go beyond academia with our work. Congrats on the local TV spot! In sociology, many of us talk about our commitment to engaging the public as public sociology and scholar activism. See Burawoy, Michael. 2005. “For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70(1):4-28. and Pulido, Laura. 2008. “FAQs: Frequently (Un)Asked Questions About Being a Scholar Activist.” Pp. 341-65 in Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship, edited by Charles R. Hale. Berkeley: University of California Press. for good reads on these topics. For me, being a public sociologist/scholar activist is about disseminating work broadly (online blogs/magazines, at teach ins, in the community, in newspapers), being part of the movement and working alongside people who form the basis of my research, and doing research that is helpful to the communities I research. With this topic though, I thing that we play a huge role in reaching beyond students through our teaching. Think of how amazing it is to turn whole classes of people into people who are aware of the climate crisis, and in some cases, want to join the climate justice movement. How many people will they tell/share with/affect/convince as they move through the world? Pretty powerful!

        On veganism and climate: At UCSB, I and another professor have been showing Cowspiracy to students since the film came out. Though the film overstates the emissions of the animal agriculture industry (see Chivers for a great critique), it sparks great student discussion, surprise, and behavior change. Since it is available on Netflix, it is something students can share with others beyond the classroom. The personal topic of diet is something that many of my students say is accessible. Some try to convince their friends to make diet changes. * Note with all of this, that it is key to balance this discussion with ones focused on system change and also on respect for cultures in which meat plays a big role (First Nations, for example) and that there are inequalities in accessibility to fresh food and time to prepare good food. Students of color often raise these issues even as some of them work to change their diets.

        Finally, thanks for sharing the links. I love the Shell “Live with it” i Phone spoof and will share it with my students this week. This discussion inspires me to see if they have any ideas for how we can best brand climate justice and new energy forms as cool, how we can reinhabit our culture to recognize valuable ways of living together that we’ve always had.


        • Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

          Thanks very much for your response, Corrie! I enjoyed and learned a lot from your presentation, and have been meaning to ask you more about the idea of “calling in”–how this might pertain to our scholarly work. One of the things I’ve been trying to work out for the last few years is how effective critique can come from a place of deep complicity, hypocrisy, moral filthiness, messiness, and so on–even if we are trying to *limit* our investment in the petrocultural status quo. “Break Free” is a great idea, and I want to become more involved in the movement myself, but of course there is no breaking free in absolute terms; the impacts of petromodernity, as various scholars (such as Timothy Morton) have pointed out, are going to keep shaping the biosphere for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years to come regardless of how successful we are in limiting/stopping our emissions. It seems that “calling in” would be a good way of acknowledging this complexity, and of resisting the temptation merely to blame Exxon et al. for our predicament. But I would like to hear more about how the practice works.

          Also, I didn’t have time to discuss this in the presentation, but one of the problems I’m exploring in my book is the challenge of applying one core bioregional principle–the importance of carrying on bioregional conversations with *all* stakeholders fully represented at the table–to debates over fossil fuels., Break Free, and other groups have taken up a highly adversarial position vis-a-vis hydrocarbon corporations, but in a truly bioregional conversation, representatives from the corporations would be working towards a consensus alongside traditional environmentalists, climate justice activists, farmers, city dwellers, and so on. Of course, the problem, as I have written in a part of the book I’m working on now, is that for so many years these corporations have virtually *owned* the proverbial table, and “partnerships” between Big Oil, etc. and Big Green groups have resulted (at least as Naomi Klein represents them, and maybe she exaggerates…) in little more than greenwashing, embarrassing double-crosses of environmental groups, and even horrendous betrayals of core principles, such as the Nature Conservancy’s decision to allow oil and gas drilling on land set aside to protect a critically endangered bird called the Attwater’s prairie chicken (see Klein). Any thoughts on how green groups might engage such insanely hierarchical corporations in “egalitarian, horizontal, and respectful” ways without selling their souls in the process? Could the current slump in prices represent an opportunity for these kinds of engagement? Are there options other than publicly vilifying/shaming the corporations, taking them to court, blocking oil trains and shipments of coal, and so on, or do they have to be beaten and shrunk down to much smaller entities before this kind of work can take place? Have you come across instances in which the groups you’re studying have reached out to petro-workers or smaller-scale producers, perhaps, to try to encourage them to change their plans?

          I will definitely check out *Cowspiracy*–someone I met at the Break Free rally in St. Augustine actually recommended it to me, and I’ve seen numerous references to it in other comments sections here. By the way, regarding Break Free, it could be an awful lot bigger and more diverse here in north Florida–any suggestions for contributing to the strength and diversity of the movement would be welcome!

          I’m glad you liked the links. I was running short on time when I tossed in the note about making renewable energy “cool,” and am not sure that’s exactly what I meant. Would it be better to have a freeway full of Teslas than a freeway full of Ford trucks? Absolutely, but an even better option would be a freeway full of bikes, a freeway mostly covered over and planted with grass, trees, and community gardens, or transformed into a wildlife corridor…I’m not just interested in “de-energizing” fossil fuels and changing the public’s view of alternative energy sources, but in re-framing how most people think about the pleasures of taking part in energy cycles over which they have the most possible direct control, and in which they have the greatest possible personal stake. I agree with everyone who complimented Peter on his garden–he’s way ahead of me there!


          • Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

            Hi Bart,

            This is the best description of calling in that I have seen (the practice is rooted in anti-racist organizing): Your idea about using it to acknowledge how we have benefited from and are complicit in fossil fuels is interesting – as a parallel to recognizing privilege – a very provocative connection! This is good as long as we are also recognizing the structures that allow fossil fuels to function and that will require more than individual actions to change – a whole culture change, as you stress.

            In terms of engaging corporations in the kinds of relationships advocated by the climate justice movement, I agree with Klein that capitalism, and the corporations at its helm, are incapable of addressing the climate crisis. I see power in grassroots movements and little else at this point. Some are doing good work to play with and within the logic of corporations – fossil fuel divestment, for example. Ultimately, I would want to see local cooperatively owned energy rather than giant corporations. If Shell transitions to renewable energy, will the world be a better place? (emissions would go down, but the whole structure of power would stay the same and this structure is at the heart of the crisis). I understand the need to recognize where we are and the structures in which we live (the realm of practical), but also want to strive for something beyond working within those structures, to imagine alternatives. I’d like the movement to be at the table with government, to change government, rather than to be at a table with corporations. I’m not optimistic about the prospects of conversations at the second table. I do think we need to shut corporations down and am sympathetic to direction action and the break free campaign. I also, however, think it IS ABSOLUTELY the job of the movement to recognize the working people in extractive industries and to reach out to build coalitions with them and support their transition to renewable jobs. I don’t have successful examples from my own work. Josh Fox made a great short film called Gaswork that goes into this issue – demonstrating (from the perspective of workers) that the industry is not good for workers who are typically already marginalized in society. Supporting workers is a challenging thing to do in practice and I’d love to search out examples if we have any.

            Reframing how we think of pleasures completely resonates with me and is especially important for students I think – get them to think beyond the coolness of Tesla. Challenging indeed!

            Thanks for all the thoughts – great things to consider!!


          • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

            Interesting thoughts, Bart. On reframing how most people think of their interaction with energy, have you looked at “cradle to cradle”? Their model is more about materials than energy, but I think their approach of stressing biomimicry is definitely applicable here. As well as the more decentralised nature of much renewable energy – looking at the way natural systems use energy (almost completely solar energy, with some stored as chemical potential energy for short amounts of time geologically) can give us something to aim at. .

  6. Bart Welling, University of North Florida says:

    Hi, everyone. It clearly took a lot longer than expected, but my new, improved video is now available. Incidentally, it would be nice if you could see the whole courtyard where I’m sitting in the little video clip at the start. We have a statue of Gandhi on one side, a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. facing Gandhi on the other, and I’m seated at a beautiful stone table in between them dedicated to Thoreau, with one of his most famous quotes engraved on it: “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.” I used to joke that I would build a little Thoreau cabin in the courtyard with some quotes illustrating his influence on Gandhi and King, but my colleague Jason Mauro beat me to the punch with the table. Anyway, greetings to everyone from the University of North Florida!

  7. Peter Kalmus says:

    Ewan, would you mind rehearsing the main reasons why you’ve dismissed morality as a valid reason for leaving fossil fuels? There are some tricky tradeoffs to be sure, which in my mind mostly amount to not being able to morally justify leaving fossil fuels in one moment (i.e. if we did so, our fossil-fueled agricultural system would collapse, and a huge fraction of humanity would starve). So I’d argue that we are morally obliged to do everything we can to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, with uses on which someone’s survival depends being morally privileged over other uses. To my mind, it’s clear that burning fossil fuels is warming the planet, and that warming the planet is causing real harm, to humans and nonhumans, now and far into the future. Indeed, it will take about 10 million years for the Earth to recover from the extinction event that is being driven in no small part by global warming. (Note, I also felt a moral obligation to have no more than two children.)

    So to me (a layperson) there seems to be a reasonable degree of moral clarity, and I’m wondering what I’ve missed.

    • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

      Hi Peter… yes, this is a very important issue that I skipped over to get to the discussion on aesthetic value. You’ll see why, because it’s hard for me to explain succinctly, but I’ll do my best. First, just to clarify, I , like most philosophers I know, don’t deny that human induced climate change brings about a morally very bad outcome. I also believe, as you do, that humanity has a moral responsibility to shift to renewable energy rapidly. When we emphasize our part in a collective, it seems obvious that we have duties together, as a group, and perhaps individually, to influence the group. The tricky issue morally is trying to say what moral responsibility individual people have to reduce their own emissions specifically.

      Here’s the worry on that front: A common position in ethics is that to have moral responsibility for some outcome, you have to have caused that outcome in some significant sense. And a standard way of figuring out if one act causes is to consider how things would have turned out had that act not occurred. But there seems to be good reason to think the harms of climate change will be the same whether I go on my Sunday drive in a gas-guzzler or not. It seems the most we can say is that by going on my Sunday drive (emitting 100kg of CO2, say) I might be raising the probability of some extreme weather events by some tiny amount. And raising the probability of significant harm by a tiny amount is something we tend to accept in our society – I do this when I cycle somewhere instead of staying home, since I might cause an accident. But I’ve been wanting to talk to climate scientists about this – I’d love to hear your views.

      It’s not that there’s no responses to the argument I just gave in the paragraph above, indeed, there is a large debate going on, and it gets really interesting when one considers how the political and the personal intertwine. I’m still developing my own position on that (it’ll probably be part of my dissertation). Also, as Corrie pointed out above, the problem really only arises if one takes a rather individualist approach to moral responsibility (but that’s the norm in Western liberal political systems, which are spreading across the world rapidly). In this talk I just wanted to add an alternative route to the conclusion that we have a different kind of reason (as well as any controversial moral ones) to reduce our own carbon footprint.

      • Peter Kalmus says:

        Yes. This reminds me of the response I often get when I talk about emissions from flying: “well, the plane’s going to fly without me, so I may as well be on it.” Might this not be an argument at all, but actually a fallacy due to a lack of numeracy? Do you see merit in the “plane’s going to fly” argument? I don’t.

        Here’s another way to look at it. What distinguishes your bicycle scenario from your Sunday drive scenario, I think, is coherence and cumulativeness. Going on your bike ride is a random act (not coherent) and when you’re done, assuming it went well, there’s no lasting damage (not cumulative).

        Going on your Sunday drive emits a certain amount of CO2, which we can easily estimate, and we know this warms the planet. And lots of people are doing actions just like this, all over the planet, all the time. So it’s coherent. If we assume a particular climate sensitivity we could even find a number expressing how much your single Sunday drive will add to global surface temperature increase (it will be a very small number, but it will be greater than zero). And much of that CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years — the effect of all these Sunday drives is cumulative.

        Maybe this is a good place to invoke Timothy Morton’s problematic hyperobjects?

        • Ewan Kingston, Duke University says:

          First thanks for introducing me to Morton’s work – I hadn’t seen that. It looks pretty interesting.

          The “plane is going to fly anyway” argument is a different route to a similar conclusion, although it only applies to a small subset of emissions. If it is to be successful, needs to explain why there is no (or a sufficiently low) chance of being the passenger that tips the threshold to the airline scheduling another flight etc. I don’t think it’s fair to call it a fallacy though especially given that the business models of airlines may be quite complicated and supply may not be highly elastic in response to demand. But it’s incomplete as it stands. I don’t think the true impact of buying a seat on an airline is the same as the total emissions of the plane divided by the amount of passengers, but it seems implausible that it is zero (or just the increased emissions from the extra weight) either.

          One thing I noticed is the way you use “coherent” your response seems to be pointing back towards the collective responsibility framing – I have a duty not to sunday drive, because we as a collective are doing something that coheres together. So a skeptic about individual responsibility to reduce one’s footprint would remain unconvinced. And even if they accept that the sunday drive adds a trillionth of a degree, tracing that particular miniscule level of warming to any particular harms to humans is the really tricky part.

          Thanks again for pushing me on this, Peter, I welcome your input.

  8. Sara Cazares, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

    I watched Corrie Ellis’ video on Red, White, Blue, Green, Magenta?: Possibilities of Solidarity in the Anti-Fracking Movement. She mentions the California Student Sustainability and the importance on intersectionality and how we cannot obtain climate justice or a sustainable planet without racial justice. I agree with the statement that we lead intersectional lives, and many different topics are important to us. However, my question is how do we determine the most important aspect requires our attention first? When we have so many aspects of our lives, I believe it is too difficult to focus on all the topics at once. Solidarity is important as Collie states for getting people together and seeing eye to eye on various topics to create the general understanding that changes need to be made. But with everyone’s passion and idea of what is the important being different, it’s hard for me to determine how one could decide what needs to be addressed first.

  9. Corrie Ellis, University of California, Santa Barbara says:

    Thanks for this comment Sara! The core of the idea and practice of intersectionality and some of the many critiques of how it was first articulated by Crenshaw (scholars like Kum-Kum Bhavnani and Sarah McClintock have argued that it should be a more fluid concept and one more aware of how each issue or identity forms the others, rather than thinking of them as if they all just intersect and then go their separate ways) is that you can’t separate issues. They are all interconnected and inform one another. So, there are definitely issues which people are most passionate about, and those are how people should* get involved. Then, however, it is critical that people work to understand how the issues they are passionate about interact, are shaped by, and are configured with other issues. Youth climate activists, for example, say that climate justice cannot be achieved without racial justice. They work on climate, but recognize how their struggle is bound up with other struggles and how movements should work together, how privileged activists especially should stand in solidarity with movements on the front lines of oppression. The idea is that movements will only gain broad based support and identify core ways of addressing crisis if they recognize the multidimensional quality of the crisis (here, injustice along all lines, succinctly stated as capitalism or, in other terms, as lack of integrity and accountability by corporations and governments). So, in terms of issues of justice, I think there’s less of a need to determine which topic goes first and more of a need to make connections. I’d say do what you are passionate about, connect it with other struggles, and work to find the root causes of what people fight against. If people are working on other things and you think climate is the issue, work to understand where they are coming from and how you both can work together.

    Please check out the below readings for more on these ideas.

    Thanks again! – Corrie

    Bhavnani, Kum-Kum and Krista Bywater. 2009. “Dancing on the Edge: Women, Culture, and a Passion for Change.” Pp. 52-66 in On the Edges of Development: Cultural Interventions, edited by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, John Foran, Priya A. Kurian and Debashish Munshi. New York: Routledge.
    Crenshaw, Kimberle. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” The University of Chicago Legal Forum 140:139-67.
    McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.

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