ABSTRACTS & BIOS
“Adapting to Changing Climates” argues that, because digital exchange of knowledge minimizes environmental and monetary costs (as this very conference attests), the rising costs of maintaining traditional infrastructures will lead to the exponential growth of lower-cost digital education. Grounded in economic theories of cultural exchange, this presentation discusses how changing climates – ecological and institutional – are pushing humanities in particular out of traditional physical edifices. While scientific research requires working with physical capital (such as equipment in laboratories), humanities research is primarily concerned with the currency of texts, which are being digitized at an exponential rate. As online databases replace the need for physical library access, online humanities classrooms will continue reaching a wider market of students who no longer need to travel to centralized institutions to access knowledge, allowing rural and international students to connect with instructors to whom they could not physically travel. Moreover, the last decade’s advances in streaming technology have changed the digital environment online, and videos are now beginning to take the role texts have traditionally held in humanities research (Žižek’s youtube videos, for example, reach audiences that have never read his texts). As a result of the emerging possibilities to share ideas through new media on the internet, “Adapting to Changing Climates” contends that, because ecological degradation is continuing to make travel more prohibitive while technological development is continuing to make digital pedagogy more available, it is ethically and economically exigent for humanities instructors to reach out to more globalized audiences through distance technologies.
Danen Poley is a PhD candidate in the Dalhousie University English Department. An interdisciplinary philosopher studying the economics of cultural productions, he teaches material ranging from Aristotle and Shakespeare to Film and Graphic Novels, and earned Dalhousie’s President’s Graduate Student Teaching Award for innovative pedagogy. Funded by the Centre of Learning and Teaching, he produces podcasts to supplement traditional courses (2014-16).
The Aesthetic Disvalue of Burning Fossil Fuels
Some (Sinnott-Armstrong 2010) (Johnson 2003) have argued that individuals don’t have obvious moral obligations to unilaterally reduce their carbon footprint through lifestyle choices, because the causal effect of individual emissions are highly uncertain. In this talk, I will suggest that, regardless of the effect that carbon footprint has on the moral status of an action, actions with a higher carbon footprint are less aesthetically valuable than those with a lower footprint, all else being equal. The talk begins by assuming that the natural world has aesthetic value. (For support, see (Carlson 2011). I then proceed to show that activities powered by fossil fuels cohere less with the natural world than their green alternatives, and thus are, ceteris paribus, less aesthetically valuable compared to the greener alternatives. Note that my argument does not proceed by tracing the effects on nature of individual emissions – this would fall foul of the same problem of uncertain effects that the moral approach faces. Rather, it draws on the unusual temporal patterns of energy flow in the fossil-fuel case. Finally I consider implications of my view. It explains the intuition, shared by many, that something is wrong with individual’s high emitting acts without necessarily concluding that such high emitting acts are morally wrong. It also might suggest a problem facing carbon capture and storage systems.
Ewan Kingston is a Philosophy PhD student at Duke University. He has published on the fair distribution of climate change burdens and the question of whether climate change presents a novel ethical challenge. He is currently working on the problem of transboundary aggregative harms in general.
My paper will argue that while the Anthropocene may be a necessary paradigm in the Environmental Humanities, it ought not to become hegemonic. While it is undeniable that humanity has inflicted fundamental changes on the planet, the Anthropocene in ecocriticism, for example, threatens to exclude perspectives that contest the dualism within its epistemological stance. Importing the Anthropocene into the Environmental Humanities risks erecting a new humanism with many of the colonial assumptions of the old humanism about rational objectivity and Western philosophical and scientific superiority. Scholars more qualified than I will decolonize the Anthropocene from the perspective of indigenous cultures. My argument proceeds from the Gothic other within, those excluded discourses of the unconscious, feminine, body and eros. These are captured in psychoanalysis, specifically C.G. Jung’s founding principle that the existence of psyche beyond rational control means that all knowledge is inevitably partial. Imagination, stemming from an embodied and intrinsically creative unconscious, is a way of knowing based on regarding humans as part of the planet’s ecosystem to an unknown degree, as well as capable of inflicting critical damage upon it. Therefore what we know of climate change remains open and receptive to epistemologies of intuition, embodied knowing, feeling, eros, connectivity and creativity, as well as the rational disciplines that dominate the scientific Anthropocene. Indeed I will suggest that the new paradigm of transdisciplinarity offers a better home for the Environmental Humanities by manifesting a Dionysian disciplinary fertility. Tackling climate change requires re-membering the humanities as necessary partner to rejuvenation.
Susan Rowland (Ph.D.) is Chair of MA Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and teaches on the doctoral program in Jung and Archetypal Studies. She is author of a number of books on literary theory, gender and Jung including Jung as a Writer (2005); Jung: A Feminist Revision (2002);C. G. Jung in the Humanities (2010) and The Ecocritical Psyche: Literature, Evolutionary Complexity and Jung(2012), The Sleuth and the Goddess in Women’s Detective Fiction (2015). She will be presenting from her forthcoming book, Remembering Dionysus: Revisioning Psychology and Literature in C. G. Jung and James Hillman (Routledge 2016).
In an attempt to understand the manner in which apocalyptic rhetoric bears influence on and becomes ascribed to the persuasive possibilities and limitations of climate change discourse, this paper analyzes Al Gore’s public presentations made between 2006 and 2016 along with how his arguments have been taken up and manipulated by antagonistic media sources. This focus considers most closely the extent to which apocalypse as a frame for understanding the climate crises and as a subsequent motivation for change was and was not employed in the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth along with the talks Gore gave at the 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2016 TED conferences. While Gore has moved from what Laura Johnson identifies as “a tempered apocalypticism” in An Inconvenient Truth to a more overt application of Biblical imagery and language to empower his argument in his February 2016 TED Talk, many of his detractors have worked since 2006 to connect his message to dismissible doomsday prophecy. This episodic case study exemplifies the way in which the same rhetorical strategy of linking climate change to apocalypse has been sometimes utilized as a means to add persuasive weight to the message and at other times to undermine that message’s import or relevance. This paper applies the methodologies of discourse analysis to Gore’s argumentative practices and the criticism his message has received in order to showcase the utilitarian possibilities of apocalyptic rhetoric and suggest applications of its use as a persuasive appeal in the context of climate change.
Matthew Fledderjohann is a PhD student studying Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin. He is most interested in the language, literature, and applications of apocalypse and the practical implications of composition pedagogy. He lives and bikes in Madison with his spouse and two-year-old son.
Ben Van Overmeire
BBC’s science fiction series Black Mirror, a series of episodes internally connected only by their figuration of deeply disconcerting futures, has been a widely successful and global phenomenon. In my paper, I propose to read perhaps the most disturbing of these episodes, “Fifteen Million Merits,” an episode that satirizes a whole series of contemporary phenomena, from the music provider Spotify’s manner of advertising to the popular show American Idol. The brutal manner in which Black Mirror treats its protagonists and the world’s they inhabit is more, I argue, than a satire of capitalism. In circumspect but nevertheless visible ways, it engages with the question of an environmental utopia, and what this might mean. In doing so, it relies and reinterprets the traditional glossing of the word “utopia” as “good place” and “no-place,” with the latter term of the dyad also meaning “fictional place.” However, as the final minutes of “Fifteen Million Merits” reveal, the no-place of an environmental utopia might very well be a “no-place for humans,” an earth where humans refrain from any interaction with the environment at all, having locked their whole species in a concrete bunker that only provides simulacra of the natural environmental, but not the real thing. Thus, the episode inverts a dimension of ecocriticism that asserts that the best way of protecting the natural “wilderness” is to stay away from it altogether. In doing this, Black Mirror literalizes William Cronon’s critique of “wilderness” in contemporary ecocritical discourse.
Ben Van Overmeire studied Germanic Languages and Literatures at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). He then came to the US funded by a scholarship of the Belgian American Education Foundation, and completed his MA-degree in Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University. Currently he is enrolled in the PhD-program in Literature at the University of California: San Diego, where he is finishing his dissertation on the interpretation of Zen Buddhist koans in the twentieth century.
Tamara L. Slater
Current efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change often reinforce hierarchies that nearly guarantee the sacrifice of less powerful people and nations, benefiting those who contribute the most to climate change. The communities that are disproportionately harmed by environmental degradation and climate change are often both the least responsible and further marginalized by many other aspects of our current legal system.
In this paper and accompanying lecture, I use a critical race theory lens to explore why we are unable to effectively use existing legal regimes to confront climate change. I argue that the principles for promoting peace, public health, care for refugees, food security – all threatened by climate change – exist within our many legal regimes. There are other forces, however, that undermine the strength of the available tools. As we move into an era where the Clean Power Plan and Paris Agreement are under legal threats, further critical study of climate change law could be of value.
Tamara L. Slater is a Fellow at the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law. She received her B.A. in religion and political science from the University of Rochester and J.D. from Washington University School of Law. She recently published a student note on international trade law and the environment in the Washington University Global Studies Law Review.
somebody has written ‘CLIMATE CHANGE’ in capital letters on
Facebook. In three minutes it is gone
— Jonty Tiplady
There has been an increasingly sophisticated consideration of the ways that climate change
bends time out of joint. The preponderance of apocalyptic and utopian futures imagined by CliFi have been modified by an awareness of how climate change might be rendered in terms of a ‘slow violence’ (Nixon), as a ‘catastrophe that resists the revelation of apocalyptic narrative’ (Menely), as negotiable through a sense of ‘messianic time’ that might engender a more ethical
relationship to past, present and future (Callaway).
Drawing on a several examples from British and American poetry, including the work of Jorie Graham, Joshua Clover and Julianna Spahr, and Jonty Tiplady, this talk will consider some of the ways that writers render the various types of temporality important to considerations of climate change: the relationship between technics and time; the ‘deep time’ of geological processes; personal emissions histories; the urgent call to act now in order to prevent the destruction that occurs even as one reads the lines of a poem; the moments that might constitute a tipping point between different possible futures; and the disorientating knowledge that, caught between past emissions and a future known through models and algorithms, we do not yet know what we have done, or what we might yet do.
Sam Solnick works primarily on contemporary British and Irish Poetry and on representations of climate change across the arts. After completing his PhD at Queen Mary, University of London he taught at University College London before joining the University of Liverpool as the 2015- 2018 William Noble Postdoctoral Fellow. His first monograph, Poetry and the Anthropocene is due out in summer 2016 and he has published peer-reviewed articles on irony and climate change, JH Prynne and Jacques Derrida, site-specific performance and carbon, and Ted Hughes.
Ecocriticism and queer theory have not always gotten along. Ecocritic Greg Garrard, for instance, argues that “anti-social” queer theory uncritically embraces biophobia, or fear and distrust of the “natural world.” Biophobia is an understandable reaction to homophobia, of course; ideologies of “naturalness” have been used to demonize and pathologize queer people and so it is unsurprising that queer theory has tended to reside, so to speak, in the city rather than “in the wild.” And yet, biophobia also leads queer theory down some dangerously nihilistic paths which undercut rather than bolster queer activist ambitions. What is the point, Garrard seems to ask, of theorizing queer presentist oblivion when climate change might put an end to “us” as a species? In my paper, I begin to answer this question by way of Tony Kushner’s 1993 play Angels in America. I argue that the play’s representation of competing temporal systems demands a merging of human and natural history; Kushner collapses human time and earth time, fast time and glacial time, by linking the temporality of the AIDS crisis to the temporality of climate change. Thus queer life and queer theory, and earth life and eco-theory, are linked via Kushner’s parallelization of queer and earth crisis. I ultimately argue that Angels is an ecofeminist drama of the Anthropocene that illustrates the necessity of a queer environmentalism in the age of climate change.
Kristen Angierski is a second year PhD. student in English at Cornell University where she studies postcolonial ecofeminisms, environmental law, and the “World Anglophone novel.” Her most recent work centers on the ecological effects of oil wars and the gendering of oil culture in the work of Ken Saro-Wiwa and in George Miller’s recent eco-apocalypse film Mad Max: Fury Road. She lives in Ithaca, NY, with her cat, Milo.
Stefan Gaarsmand Jacobsen
Since the late 1990s, there has been a great rise in books, articles, white papers and policy recommendations from authors, activist groups and organizations, demanding fundamental changes in the world economy to prevent disastrous climate change. The onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 has given the movement a greater platform for demanding political and epistemological answers to interlinked phenomena of social, economic and environmental fragility. For this growing number of actors, new economic ideas are crucial, but they are only valuable if these ideas can be shaped to make a difference for the economy and the environment in both the short and the long run. While the overall aims of the movement seem very clear, scholars have not yet arrived at solid interpretations as to what the economy is imagined to look like post-transition and how movement’s struggle has unfolded thus far. The call for an economic transition is simultaneously an epistemological, practical and political issue. Focusing on the output of leading writers and activists that have guided the economic thinking of Friends of the Earth, Global Justice Now and 350.org, this paper aims to make sense of this new intertwined approach to climate facts, development, radical democracy and political mobilization. It argues that the concept of climate justice, increasingly applied since 2000 by these organizations, is capable of carrying both the technical and political apparatus necessary for a broader mobilization and an ensuing displacement of global economic power relations.
Stefan Gaarsmand Jacobsen is postdoctoral researcher at Copenhagen Business School, working on the project ‘Sustainable/Green Rationalities’, which investigates the economic imaginaries of contemporary critical environmental organizations. He is currently working on an edited volume on this subject to be published on Routledge Earthscan. Prior to working at CBS, Jacobsen was part of the research project Economic Rationalities in History (ECORA) at Aarhus University where he provided a critical perspective on the development of liberalist economic thought in the 18th and early 19th centuries and shed light on different attempts to democratize political economy from below.
Despite a shift away from privileging the human subject as central to the humanities, studies of the awe and terror inspired by the sublime have persisted and proliferated in the 21st century. The quantity of material dedicated to the sublime is nearly matched by the quantity concerning J. Robert Oppenheimer and the sublimity of the Trinity test in the Los Alamos Desert. However, John Adams’s opera Doctor Atomic, with libretto of found sources compiled by Peter Sellars, offers a productive study of how the sublime can be reconceptualized toward understanding the position of the anthropos within the Anthropocene. More than an opera about the psychological tribulations of the Manhattan Project team on the eve of the sublime explosion, a key moment in defining the Anthropocene and the Great Acceleration of climate change, Doctor Atomic is an exploration in the upsetting of time-scales. Adams’s post-minimalist composition collapses past and future by means of persistent repetition, creating what Edmund Burke terms the “artificial infinite,” and Sellars’s libretto, consisting of fragments of poetry and declassified documents, carries the plot toward the inevitable future while simultaneously referring to past texts. Temporalities collapse as the opera is held in a repetitive stasis, gesturing toward a newly comprehended past and yet also toward a predestined future. My paper argues that the undermining and complicating of anthropocentric time-scales in Adams’s and Sellars’s project figure the sublime as a reorganization of temporal frameworks, a reorganization necessary in an epoch of nuclear capabilities and accelerated climate change.
Patrick Milian is a doctoral student and instructor in the University of Washington’s English department. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has been the recipient of the William Ralph Wayland Fellowship, the Joan Grayston Prize, and a grant from the Klepser Endowment. His research interests and publications include work on twentieth century poetry and poetics, word and music studies, and multimedia studies.
Ann Dale & Jaigris Hodson
Climate change adaptation and mitigation is one of the greatest imperatives of the 21st century as it holds great promise for the extinction of the human species. It is clear we need wholesale transformation of how we move, what we eat, government decisions, industry leadership and day-to-day behaviour choices. However, despite the almost unanimous warnings from scientists about the dangers of client change, the issue is still framed in the popular media as a debate, and discussions of this issue on new media platforms remain isolated and polarized within an online echo chamber (Pariser, 2011).
Clearly, the social sciences and humanities research community can play a role in solving messy wicked problems such as climate change, since they offer us tools that can help reach diverse audiences, span cultures, and move from promises to action on the ground. Professors Dale and Hodson bring their expertise to bear on these questions discussing the role of social media, such as video animation, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and other channels for building an online action research community aimed at addressing the human factors in the climate change problem. In their talk, Hodson will show the challenges and opportunities present in existing online climate change communities and Dale will discuss the opportunity for engaging in new spaces, such as her Changing the Conversation platform as a venue for engaging key social actors in deliberatively designed dialogues for ‘actionable’ solutions.
Jaigris Hodson’s research specializes in using computer-assisted discourse and content analysis of large multimodal online and digital texts. She has published research in a wide range of academic publications including the Canadian Journal of Communication, Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies and Loading… Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association. She has also published in non-academic publications such as The Evolllution and spoke at TEDX Victoria 2012. She is currently working on two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded research projects. The first examines the importance of soft skills for social science and humanities students, and the second focuses on Canadian social media use during election time.
Since being awarded Royal Roads’ first Canada Research Chair in 2004, Ann Dale has received national and international recognition for her research in the field of sustainable community development. Her research on governance, innovation and community vitality is designed to provide useful knowledge to Canadian decision-makers. Dale is deeply committed to online conversations on critical public policy issues and novel research dissemination tools, such as her YouTube channel, HEADTalks. An active researcher, Dale leads MC3, a climate change adaptation and mitigation research program studying best practices and innovations in community responses throughout British Columbia. Learn more by visiting her personal blog and her Canada Research Chair blog.
Emily Williams works with the Climate Hazards Group in Geography at UCSB and is a co-founder of the Climate Justice Project. She graduated from UCSB in 2013 with a B.S in Environmental Studies and concentration in Geography. After graduating, she worked for the California Student Sustainability Coalition as a Campaign Director for Fossil Free, and attended COPs 19, 20, and 21. Her focus is on climate justice, and her research interests are in the interdisciplinary study of climate science, social science, and policy.
Brogan Bunt, Lucas Ihlein, Kim Williams
Climate change is a global phenomenon with diverse and often unclear local indices. This project is concerned with the artistic negotiation of a particular local context of environmental transformation – the creek systems of the Illawarra region, New South Wales, Australia. Subject to industrial and suburban development, directed into sluiceways and drains, and criss-crossed with roads and railway lines, the creeks flow from the inland escarpment to the sea. Informed by contemporary socially engaged art practice and notions of ‘ground-truthing’, our approach is to walk the creeks – to start at the beach and to follow the creeks upstream as far as we can. We encounter weeds, trash, fences, dead-ends and occasional bits of carefully crafted ‘natural creek line’. We walk in small groups and invite people to join us. We take photographs and write about the walks. The walks are structured as conversations in which we collectively engage with neglected everyday indices of environmental change.
In pursuing this project we regularly encounter questions concerning the role of art in engaging with both local and global environmental issues. Our aim here is to produce a video of one of our walks in which we not only explore a particular creek line but also discuss issues related to art and environmental activism. It will be framed as a plein air dialogue considering issues such as: the role of art in discerning local features of global environmental change; the shifts in art entailed in rendering it as literal experience and conversation; and the potential risks associated with subsuming art into activism. Our specific interest, in this context, is in discovering whether our local activities can be effectively communicated via a short film and contribute to another level of discussion that innovatively ties together local and global concerns.
Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra(2014-)
A project by Brogan Bunt, Lucas Ihlein, Kim Williams
Associate Professor Bunt is Associate Dean (Education) within the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia.
Brogan’s work involves aspects of software authoring, writing, photography and lived action. He has produced the spatial-exploratory documentary Halfeti—Only Fish Shall Visit (2001), software projects such as Ice Time (2005), Um (2009) and Loom (2011) and the writing and installation work, A Line Made By Walking and Assembling Bits and Pieces of the Bodywork of Illegally Dumped Cars Found at the Edge of Roads and Tracks in the Illawarra Escarpment (2013).
Dr Lucas Ihlein is an artist, and Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) Fellow at University of Wollongong. Alongside Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra, Lucas is collaborating with a group of sugar cane farmers in Queensland, who are trying to reduce the environmental impact of sugar on the Great Barrier Reef: http://lucasihlein.net
Kim Williams is a sessional lecturer in Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong and a practicing artist. In addition to the collaborative project Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra, Kim works on three-dimensional multimedia projects which focus on the environment and climate change in Australia. Her most recent solo exhibition, Watermarks (October 2015), documents significant waterways in southern New South Wales.
At the crux of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things is a critique of “History,” a term that in her use signifies the full range of oppressive forces. These forces include patriarchy, class exploitation, casteism, colonialism, and anthropocentric assaults on nature. Critics have argued that in opposition to “History,” Roy advances a “radical ecology” that dismantles the privileged position of the human over the non-human. While acknowledging the profound ecological sensitivity of the novel’s narrative, my paper will argue instead that the “radical” potential of her ecological vision can only be grasped by retaining an emphasis on certain core humanistic ideals.
These humanistic ideals include self-reflexive reason and human agency, enabling the human to know that which it has created (in the Vichian sense). Given that “History’s” violence is the product of human thought and action, critiquing it is only possible by knowing its mechanisms (through self-reflexivity) and by allowing for the possibility of undoing it (through human agency). This self-knowledge is made possible in the novel through the omniscient third person narrator, and as such is not available to the characters who both perpetuate and suffer “History’s” violence. Their lack of self-knowledge thus becomes cause for lament, which is only recognizable by the novel’s readers who can access the third person narration. This paper is thus positioned against recent turns to anti or posthumanism within the humanities, insisting instead that core humanistic ideals must be reaffirmed even while critiquing human violence against the nonhuman.
Abhay Doshi is a third-year PhD student with the department of English at the University of Minnesota. His research interests include postcolonial and cultural theory, dialectics, and psychoanalysis.
Paul Hawken admonishes us to “[l]eave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do.” Let us assume we do the opposite. Then whom do we wrong? It takes a philosopher to find fault with the obvious answer of future generations. Here is a short version of the argument: assume potential people don’t have rights even if actual people do. Suppose we act as Hawken’s evil twin and set out to destroy the planet. Destroy it so much that no humans can follow us. Then there will be no actual people in the future for us to have wronged! How could this be right? For it seems to sanction the following absurdity: if there are future generations and we damage the planet, we do them a wrong. But if we damage it enough so there are no future generations, then we do not. So, all other things being equal, it would be better to damage the planet a lot rather than a little. In this talk I consider a number of thought experiments to examine this seeming paradox. I argue that it is not easy to answer directly. Instead I defend an indirect approach through consideration of our obligation to other species as well as to each other in the here and now.
Martin Bunzl teaches philosophy at Rutgers University and is the author of Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change published by Routledge (2015). For more see www.bunzl.org
Climate scientists are also human beings. Some of us find the scale of catastrophic climate change difficult to bear. Some of us have children who will inherit a damaged planet. Some of us have opinions about climate policy.
Yet we routinely attend talks about the rapidly dying biosphere after which we ask a few polite questions and then shuffle back to our offices. We also routinely have some of the largest carbon footprints of any humans on Earth due to frequent flights to conferences and meetings. And we have a cultural taboo against publicly calling for urgent climate action.
My talk will discuss the bizarre tribal practices and inner lives of climate scientists, employing a combination of anecdote and survey. I will argue that it’s past time for a cultural shift in climate science so that scientists are no longer punished for speaking out, but are instead encouraged to do so.
Peter Kalmus is an atmospheric scientist studying boundary layer clouds and climate change at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (speaking on his own behalf). He received his PhD in physics from Columbia University and spent eight years searching for gravitational waves with the LIGO collaboration before switching fields. He has systematically reduced his own use of fossil fuels to less than a tenth of the US average. He no longer flies, and is interested in moving the needle on the culture of flying in academia, which is even worse in climate science than in astrophysics. He is attempting to form a coalition of climate scientists who don’t fly (there aren’t many), and he recently published an article about the outsized carbon emissions from flying in YES! Magazine.http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/life-after-oil/how-far-can-we-get-without-flying-20160211.
Bart H. Welling
For years, peak oil writers and activists have been warning that the depletion of the world’s petroleum reserves could produce worldwide economic and social upheavals. Global warming has greatly complicated the “nightmare” of our dependence on petroleum, as author Benjamin Kunkel frames it. To paraphrase Kunkel, the problem is no longer (merely) that we may run out of oil; the problem is (also) that we may not. Most of the oil, coal, and natural gas that currently remains in the ground—including approximately 85% of Canada’s giant bitumen reserves, for example, according to a 2015 study—must never be extracted if we want to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising to catastrophic levels. Clearly, this situation demands that we redefine oil and other fossil fuels—that we stop thinking of them as fuels to begin with.
Writers, filmmakers, and scholars in the humanities will have a crucial role to play in this difficult process. Science can tell us many things about hydrocarbons’ relationship with global warming, but science’s capacity to deal with our current predicament is clearly limited, not least of all because the problem is only partly scientific in nature. The idea of hydrocarbons as energy depends at least as much on mythic assumptions about humanity’s rightful place in the world as it does on chemical formulas and computer models. This paper explores the power (and in some cases the inability) of literary, cinematic, and larger cultural narratives to “de-energize” and “re-place” hydrocarbons, and, by the same token, to help humanity re-partner with the sun, the wind, and other renewable energy sources—not just in the name of carbon neutrality, but with a more equitable and fulfilling future in mind.
Bart Welling is an associate professor of English and an Environmental Center fellow at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where he has been teaching courses in environmental literature and film, ecocriticism, and animal studies (in addition to general literature classes) since 2003. His work has been published in journals including the Mississippi Quarterly and Green Letters and in such recent essay collections as Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies and The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place. He is currently working on a book titled No Blood for Oil: Rethinking Energy, Reinhabiting the Modern World.
Climate communication has been marked by denial, silence and coercion. Driving a fossil-fuel powered vehicle with the knowledge you are contributing to climate change — and all its dire consequences — may trigger avoidance and denial. This is understandable, even predictable. But when the burden of guilt becomes too much for an entire society to bear, that denial can become collective. We enter into a socially constructed “conspiracy of silence.”
As a result of her seminal work exploring climate change communication in Norway, Norgaard (2011) came to believe that during denial “people actually work to avoid acknowledging disturbing information in order to avoid emotions of fear, guilt and helplessness, follow cultural norms and maintain positive conceptions of individual and national identity” (p. 400). Yet denial and collective silence are not always consensual. They can also be coerced.
Hegemonic coercion asserts a powerful influence on public discourse. The ban on discussing the terms “climate change” and “global warming” by officials in Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection along with the muzzling of climate scientists by the Harper administration in Canada demonstrate the power of institutionalized silence.
The phenomenon of collective denial is not exclusive to climate communication. Cohen (2001) wrote extensively about a childhood lived in apartheid South Africa and the “not seeing” that surrounded him. These early experiences inspired him to explore similar events in Israel, Rwanda and Brazil.
Why do individuals, groups and communities swathe themselves in collective denial when grappling with complex — and potentially unpleasant — issues such as climate change? What can we learn from societies that have engaged in collective denial in the past? How can we apply this knowledge to climate communication in the future?
I will answer these questions as I attempt to gain insight into the phenomenon of collective climate denial.
Roberta Laurie completed her Master’s degree in Environmental Education and Communication at Royal Roads University; her thesis explored the framing of “ethical oil.” She is the author of Weaving a Malawi Sunrise: A Woman, a School, a People —published by the University of Alberta Press. She has contributed to numerous anthologies — Chicken Soup for the Soul and others — and periodicals including On Spec and fillingStation. She has edited a number of novels as well as anthologies: In Their Own Words: The Girls of Atsikana Pa Ulendo Tell Their Stories, Christmas Chaos, and others. Roberta is an instructor in the Bachelor of Communications Studies program at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, where she teaches Introductory Rhetoric, Applied Communications, Visual Communications, Grammar and Compositional Foundations, Online Communications, Communication Theory, Sustainability Communication, and Communications and Human Interaction. She has spoken at the University of Alberta’s International Week, the Parkland Institute’s Annual Conference, Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and other major events on subjects ranging from the framing of “ethical oil” to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
While climate change is now becoming visible in U.S. public policy, its uneven impact is often unaddressed. Countries from the global South that have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions are projected to be the most severely impacted. While U.S. cost-benefit analyses situate climate change policy within a framework of national monetary gain or loss, they fail to account for the role the United States has played as a colossal contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Addressing climate change through the context of environmental justice, wherein its socio-cultural disparity is highlighted, is thus crucial, and is a context through which the humanities can intervene in climate change studies.
In particular, disaster is a key arena wherein literary studies can contribute to our understanding of climate change. While disaster is often a material marker of climate change, it also has a material presence in many literary works. I argue that a transpacific approach to disaster literature, one which accounts for movements and exchanges across the Pacific, can help us move beyond restrictive national frameworks that dictate climate change discourse and policy. This paper traces a network of disaster in various texts from Asia and the Pacific in order to highlight both the inherent vulnerability of specific countries, as well as the transpacific reach of such disasters. This transpacific network of disaster ultimately highlights the need to re-assess the geography of climate change and the atmospheric processes that cannot be contained within national borders.
Danielle Crawford is a Ph.D. student in the Literature Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has a Designated Emphasis in Environmental Studies, and her research focuses on the environmental humanities. In particular, Danielle’s research investigates the intersections between environmental disasters and the socio-ecological impact of U.S. militarism in Asia and the Pacific.
An ongoing debate among those concerned with combatting climate change and other ecological challenges associated with the Anthropocene is the question of personal versus systemic change. For many, a focus on individual consumption is unhelpful. Political scientist Michael Maniates, for instance, contends that individualization of responsibility diverts attention from powerful institutional forces responsible for environmental degradation. Sociologist Andrew Szasz suggests that such a focus constitutes an “inverted quarantine” one by which we try to keep at bay what is seen as the bad collective by protecting ourselves individually (e.g. by making good consumer choices). And for anti-racism writer Tim Wise, individual boycotts of ecologically-destructive practices are “less than meaningless” and “self-righteous, self-referential, ascetic bullshit” aimed at phenomena that can only be overcome through concerted mass action. While acknowledging some value in such critiques, this paper will interrogate four major limitations: 1) the implicit assumption that nature only unfolds on one scale—that of the biosphere; 2) an understanding of nature as singular, rather than plural; 3) a perception of the individual and collective as distinct, thus suggesting a sharp divide between the private and public, the individual and the collective; and 4) a failure to appreciate that “nature” is produced in such way that it is inextricably tied to power and inequality, and thus the ugly “isms” that inform the uneven life and death circumstances people experience across the world. In conclusion, the paper argues for the value of focusing on the individual and everyday as a necessary component of bringing about ecological sustainability and justice.
Joseph Nevins is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Science and Geography at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. His research interests include socio-territorial boundaries and mobility, violence and inequality, and political ecology. Among his books are A Not-so-distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor (Cornell University Press, 2005); Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid (City Lights Books, 2008), and Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2010).
Are we on the brink of human extinction? Is civilization destined toward self-annihilation? We must not underestimate the risk of the possibility that we may become extinct fairly soon. Let us examine some cold sober facts: We are facing a planetary ecological crisis due to global warming, despoliation of our natural resources, mass scale industrial pollution, desertification, deforestation, widespread collapse of ecosystems, and extreme climate change; world overpopulation is nearing a record tipping-point, where food and water scarcity will bring about more famine, drought, pestilence, and death; human violence and aggression in concentrated pockets are on the rise worldwide, with every inhabitable continent in turmoil, civil uprising, military conflict, or war; unbridled capitalistic exploitation of consumer masses by corporate conglomerates, financial institutions, Big Pharma, and insurance sectors are unprecedented, with obscene disparities in wealth and poverty to the point of social implosion; global catastrophic hazards have escalated due to the environmental crisis, encroachment by man, destabilized markets, hegemonic national politics, collective ideologies, corrupt governmental policies, deranged despots, nuclear threats, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, Internet espionage, cyber hijacking, space wars, threats to public health, bioterror, infectious diseases, and psychological self-interest driving everything from vain desire to the local economy and international relations, not to mention the anathema of evil, abuse, trauma, greed, and the psychopathology of everyday life. Regardless of the degree of threat we assign to these calculated risks, we cannot ignore the ominous dread hovering over a wishing humanity.
Jon Mills, Psy.D., Ph.D., ABPP is a philosopher, psychoanalyst, and clinical psychologist. He is Professor of Psychology & Psychoanalysis at the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto and is the author of many books in philosophy, psychoanalysis and psychology. Recipient of many awards for his scholarship, he received the Otto Weininger Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in 2015, given by the Canadian Psychological Association. He runs a mental health corporation in Ontario, Canada.
Thomas King’s most recent novel, The Back of the Turtle, was published only a month following a major breach of the Mount Polley mines tailings pond in British Columbia. Fittingly, King’s text examines the environmental and social fallout, particularly for First Nations peoples, of transnational corporations situating profit before preservation.
This paper investigates the representation of environmental degradation in The Back of the Turtle, focusing on the techniques King employs to engage with and critique contemporary economic and political ideologies that inform North American discourses on climate change and climate justice. In this paper I argue that King’s depictions of isolation, developed through the structure of the novel, his focus on storytelling, and his characteristic humour present an ultimately optimistic view on the prospects of climate justice while simultaneously allowing King to reveal and unsettle the deeply entrenched environmental racism affecting First Nations peoples in Canada and the United States today.
Within this paper, I also engage with the motifs of destruction and violence depicted by King, reading his work alongside apocalyptic environmental narratives such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which, like King’s novel, implicates capitalism in the destruction of nature and human health. Finally, this paper considers King’s work as representing and problematizing notions of ecological colonization, contextualizing this in the work of Lawrence Buell’s The Environmental Imagination.
Olivia Pellegrino is a PhD student in English at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on apocalyptic motifs and their relationship to environmental discourses in 20th century Canadian literature.
The “carbon footprint” of the online student is considered to be lower than that of the student that travels to a physical campus. This can be quantified by calculating and comparing transportation methods and distances. The reduced impact due to greater use of online resources rather than printed material can also be calculated. Such a scientific, quantitative approach can build a case for supporting online architectural education as sustainable. This paper discusses an alternative humanities focused qualitative assessment of an online architectural program. This alternative approach takes into account the human-relations impact of students working remotely and independently addressing the challenges of isolation and the need to ensure collaboration. An online cohort reflects a more mature student base, often living in remote areas, in addition to the typical younger city-based student body. This adds an additional layer of diversity of experience. When these experiences are shared through group work, this opens up discussion and increases awareness and understanding of others and their situation. In solving the current design problems, especially those related to climate change, architects rely on this greater understanding to make decisions that minimise impact on the natural, built and social environments. This paper discusses the premise that in order to teach sustainable architectural practices, the educational practices must also be sustainable. This is demonstrated through the use of communication technologies that engage students through a more effective pedagogy and foster sustainability not only through the nature of content presented but also the nature of delivery
B.Com (Prop), B.App.Sc (Arch), B.Arch (Hons)
Former Online Coordinator, Architecture & Interior Architecture, School of Built Environment at Curtin University
Currently, there is a debate among intergenerational and climate ethicists as to whether ‘existing’ moral intuitions and theories suffice to address on-going environmental damages, especially those affecting the far future. ‘Extensionists’, as I will call them, argue that extant theories can be tweaked to cover non-overlapping future people, while ‘revisionists’ deny this and call for more radical conceptual changes, especially with respect to ‘collectivizing’ responsibility and/or tying it to the probability of long-term outcomes, rather than just to causal connections. Though perhaps not yet to the extent it should, this debate has once more foregrounded the so-called ‘ontological problems’ that beset many extant theories of intergenerational justice. This paper intervenes in this debate by arguing that these problems suggest an ontological-cum-normative response that explores the relation between questions of justice and the human time of birth and death. I begin by reviewing, re-describing, and re-classifying the special problems affecting moral relations with future people, from the non-existence challenge and poor epistemic access to problems affecting interaction (e.g. non-reciprocity with future people) and what I call world constitution (the fact that present generations contribute to the very make-up of the world in which future people will live, so that future responsibility has to extend to that make-up, including climate and environment more generally). I then argue that to the extent these problems are indeed social-ontological, they call for express investigations of the being of moral agents in relation to time and world, addressing such questions as the role time and generations play in social and normative relations.
Matthias Fritsch is Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University, Montréal. He has published a monograph (The Promise of Memory), a range of articles in scholarly journals, co-edited two anthologies, and translated authors such as Heidegger, Gadamer, and Habermas into English. He has been a Humboldt Fellow in Frankfurt and a Visiting Research Professor in Kyoto. At present he is working on a book manuscript (for which he has been awarded federal Canadian funding) on intergenerational ethics. A second project develops a concept of deconstructive normativity in relation to metaethics, biopolitics, and environmental philosophy.
This paper posits and analyzes activist capital—a subcultural form of capital that operates in organizations and groups fighting for social change. Activist capital functions across social movement spaces, from meetings and trainings to actions potlucks. I use the case of climate justice organizing, centered around Boston, and demonstrate how language, tastes, and even thought patterns of activists are often geared toward gaining activist capital, which is a form of power in activist spaces.
Activist spaces are highly moralized and thus explicit positioning is typically unacceptable. This is the foundation of the paradox of activist capital. On the one hand, activist spaces and practices become central to the identity of many activists, especially long-term activists. The process of learning and practicing activist capital is subtle and often implicit, largely because of the moralized nature of activism. Mannerisms, tastes, and appearances “mark” activists despite few understanding the “rules of the game.” On the other hand, we know that building power for social change requires recruiting new participants. Activist capital thus becomes a powerful force maintaining interest and investment in activist spaces even while it can be an oppressive and alienating force to those not steeped in its forms.
Explicit attention to intentional and reflexive practices is necessary for climate justice organizers to build the power required for the scale of change ethically and scientifically required. We need more groups teaching and sharing activist capital—though they don’t call it that—and do so in a loving and empowering way.
Bobby Wengronowitzis an instructor, organizer, and sociology Ph.D. candidate at Boston College. He has three projects underway, examining alternatives to inequality-widening business-as-usual, which is ecologically and socially destructive. One project analyzes “activist capital,” a form of subcultural capital operating in activist fields. While largely a force for distinction, activist capital can be rearticulated as a movement-enhancing tool. Another project with Juliet Schor examines the socio-cultural forces operating in the “gig economy.” Bobby’s dissertation uses a multi-method approach to understand the evolution of Community Supported Agriculture in New England, particularly how such endeavors can challenge fundamental aspects of competitive market forces.
My paper seeks to provide a new reading of Japanese American writer Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel Tropic of Orange from the perspective of petroleum aesthetics. Having been extensively studied by scholars in history, literature and politics, oil/oil culture provides a fascinating theme for ecocriticism due to its “ultradeep” connection with the environment and modern society—particularly with our concern over global warming for this conference. While the ecocritical attention to the novel has by far focused on the theme of environmental justice, I will add that the novel’s ecocritical value also lies in its attention to the sustainability of current sociocultural development based on petroleum energy. Tropic of Orange portrays Los Angeles as a petrodystopian space where the social and ecological vulnerability of oil dependency is exposed through a unique transhistorical and transcontinental vision enabled by the technique of magic realism. The novel challenges the economic basis of petromodernity, describes the loss of authentic and immediate life experience in oil media environment, and addresses the psychological dilemma of increased personal mobility with relation to the idea of home. Yet instead of calling for a pre-Columbian state of primitive nature without oil, the novel posits a self-redemptive potential within oil culture. This potential involves a collective political resistance resulting from the increasingly communal base of petromodern life, as well as a posthumanist reconfiguration of the imbroglio of the technological, economic and natural stakes involved in the problem of oil, which alone would do justice to the petromodern space of natureculture.
Wenjia (Olivia) Chen is currently a third year Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature, Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interest is 20th century and later American fiction with an emphasis on ecocriticism.
Jess Lamar Reece Holler & Bethani Turley
Environmental humanities discourse — and its urgency — is fairly new; but folklorists have long grappled with questions of the environment. The vibrant and diverse landscape of cultural conservation work in public and applied folklore has much to offer EH — both in its foregrounding vernacular voices and vernacular cultures of environmental response, reception, action and risk perception; but also by pioneering collaborative, applied, public and community-based models of cultural documentation, interpretation and presentation. Drawing from this rich tradition, our paper takes up the urgent opportunity of folkloristic perspectives on environment in the Anthropocene.
Our talk will provide a brief disciplinary and field history of folklore studies’ around environments, construed broadly (built environment, cultural landscapes, cultures of environmentalisms and resistance to environmentalism) and will look to some of our field’s deep models for collaborative, community-based studies of cultures of environmental response. We will also look anew to the role of place and placemaking in studies of vernacular ecological response to increasingly globalized environmental crises.
Bridging this vibrant history and our own emergent projects — on farmers’ responses to environmental crisis in West Virginia, and on sites of home- and neighborhood-based environmental toxicity in Greater Philadelphia — and drawings from a diverse toolkit of applied practice (oral history, folkloristic fieldwork, walking ethnographies, co-curated exhibits, toxic tours) we we will foreground discussion of public environmental humanities method as *the* key issue in humanities perspectives on climate change — and for building a community-collaborative EH more attentive to vernacular cultures.
Jess Lamar Reece Holler is a PhD. student in Dept. of English and Fellow in the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, and is completing her MA in Public-Sector Folk Studies from Western Kentucky University. She works at the intersection of oral history, ethnography and environmental humanities practice. Drawing from both archival and ethnographic method, her work has focused on the rise of ecological farming, vernacular cultures of food and environmental justice, and methods in applied cultural documentation for social change. In 2015-2016, Jess is leading a PPEH team carrying out a community-collaborative oral history and documentation project around cultures of living with sited environmental toxicity in Greater Philadelphia, which will culminate in a community co-curated exhibition at the Slought Foundation in October 2016 and extended local collaborations.
Bethani Turley is an undergraduate student at the Ohio State University studying Folklore and Environmental Science. In 2016, she is working on a thesis project looking at historical discourse, memory, and sense of place after the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia. Bethani is also an urban farmer and small business owner in Columbus, Ohio.
In the February edition of the magazine High Country News (2016), historian Patty Limerick outlines what she sees as “the fractured terrain of oil and gas opposition” in the western United States. To fracture, to break or crack a hard object or material, connotes a permanent disconnection, a distance created between two sides by a violent rupture. Rather than reinforcing division through the recognition of difference, this talk seeks to illuminate possibilities for growing through difference. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with anti-extreme energy extraction activists in Idaho and California, I explore the terrain of coalition building and inclusivity in the anti-fracking movement. Evidence suggests that the anti-fracking movement in these settings, while composed of diverse groups and individuals who, at times, operate independently, or even in tension, is not fractured. To describe the movement in this way, not only ignores movement efforts to build relationships across difference, but is also unjust. Many of the movement’s members give everything they have—psychologically, socially, culturally, physically, and financially—to fight hydraulic fracturing, to fight for their lives. If the anti-fracking movement succeeds, it will nourish democracy and slow the climate crisis. I argue that the diverse nature of opposition to fracking, grounded in the complex political, social, economic, and cultural qualities of the process itself, opens up possibilities for a broad based movement, whose potential for success is particularly strong in the context of climate crisis.
Corrie Ellis is a doctoral candidate in the department of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Climate justice is her research, teaching, and activist passion. Her dissertation explores resistance to extreme energy extraction in three communities in Idaho and in Santa Barbara County, California, with a focus on organizing cultures, coalition building, and gender dynamics. She has taught Feminist Climate Justice and loves spending time outside with loved ones. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scottish expatriate Alexander Wilson’s long poetic travelogue, The Foresters (1804), retraces the author’s 1,300 mile journey by foot from his home in Philadelphia to a cliffside perch near the base of Niagara Falls. At poem’s end, the poet-naturalist looks on in awe as a collection of flotsam and jetsam—logs, broken ships, corpses—slowly circulate in a physical and narrative whirlpool that marks their final resting place and the terminus of Wilson’s own trajectory. Out of the chaos rises a symbol of Wilson’s own troubled past and his confidence about the American future:
High o’er the wat’ry uproar, silent seen,
Sailing sedate, in majesty serene,
Now ‘midst the pillard spray sublimely lost,
And now, emerging, down the rapids tost,
Swept the gray eagles, grazing calm and slow,
On all the horrors of the gulf below.
In my presentation for UCSB’s Climate Change: Views from the Humanities conference, I would like to extend a reading of Wilson that I began to lay out in a talk at UCLA’s Clark Center, this time with special reference to the question of energy. There I argued that Wilson and the ornithological fieldwork revolution he inaugurated are best thought of as reflections, transplanted to the US and transformed into a scientific method, of physical practices of peddling goods in the weaving districts of Ayrshire at a key moment of economic crisis, when traditional weaving techniques were being supplanted by industrial methods powered first by water and then, soon after, by coal (Malm 2015). Wilson’s deep experience of the transition between three prime movers at work in the weaving industry—human muscle, hydropower, and steam—allows scholars an unusual insight into the ways that power signified in early US science and literature, which in turn helps us in the difficult task of distinguishing between what in our cultural past belongs to sustainable energy practices (and is therefore savable) and what is wedded to intensified carbon emissions (and is therefore not).
Michael Ziser is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Davis and co-founder of the Environments and Societies Research Initiative there. His first book was Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge UP, 2013).
In the classic work of economics, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, Frank Knight drew a distinction between what he called “’risk’ proper” and “‘true’ uncertainty.” In Knight’s schema, to gain profit, one must assume risk; yet because risks can be measured and managed through statistical modeling, the assumption of risk is a rational choice. True uncertainty, by contrast, is deplored by Knight as an “essential evil.” Evil because irrational: true uncertainty cannot be measured or managed through predictive models. Essential because, in a world of risk, the potential for true uncertainty is structurally unavoidable.
As a punctuated example, the financial crisis of 2008 may have been a moment of true uncertainty. Or at least that was the claim of Alan Greenspan, for whom the crisis denoted the failure of “the modern risk management paradigm.”
Global climate change brings us to another such moment, though sadly this seems to be a moment that will stretch on for centuries.
Perhaps technocrats in all the requisite fields are busy at work, calculating the means for managing and ending this most modern of risks. I certainly hope so, though as a Sanskritist and scholar of South Asian religions, I have little to add to their calculations. My intervention comes in the voice for a humanist, as a call to risk managers to embrace true uncertainty within their model.
Indeed, humanists have their own vocabulary with which to describe uncertainties that cannot be reduced to an arithmetic of numbers even as they do belong to a calculus of meaning. We call them mysteries. And rather than deploring mysteries as unavoidable evils of the human condition, we use the term mystery in conjunction with other terms – most prominently, love – to celebrate the profundities of an emotionally mature life.
Although humanists don’t have the institutional or financial power to change how science is conducted on the edge of the Anthropocene, we must use our words to transform a fundamentally inhumane (and anti-ecological) risk-management approach to climate change, an approach that does not give full credence to the unmeasurable facts of human subjectivity, emotionality, and spirituality.
Richard S. Cohen is an Associate Professor of South Asian Religious Literatures in the Department of Literature at UC San Diego. He is the author of Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism, Religion, Modernity(Routledge 2006) and The Splendid Vision: Reading A Buddhist Text (Columbia U Press 2012). In addition to his work on Buddhism, he is director of the newly founded Center for Regenerative Wisdom in North Bennington, Vermont.
Jessica Eileen Jones
What might it look like to see the world otherwise, breaking epistemologically with the idealizing visions of nature critiqued by eco-humanities scholars such as Timothy Morton? Following postcolonial interventions into the field of ecocriticism, which have argued for the need for more non-white and non-Western perspectives, I turn to the understudied nature poetry of Ed Roberson to consider this question. Invoking what Roberson calls the “place of [his] blackness in America,” the place of vulnerability from which he writes the world, I argue that Roberson’s visions of nature emerge out of a fundamental shift in the axis of human relation to the world, one which breaks with dominant modes of seeing and the transcendental subject position — and mode of being human — that underwrites them. Through an engagement with the non-Western ideas of vision that Roberson draws upon in his poetics, I first develop his notion of “seeing whole” as a radically ecological way of seeing the world, contrasting it with other theories of ecological or embodied perception (eg. Clark, Gibson). Then, through a close reading of Roberson’s poems, I explore some ways he re-frames not only how and but also what we see when we see the world whole. Ultimately, I want to suggest, Roberson’s poetic visions give eco-critics the chance to move beyond a mode of critique and theorize instead an alternative ethics of envisioning the natural world.
Jessica Eileen Jones is a Visiting Research Scholar in the Program in Literature at Duke University. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature from Duke University (2015), an M.A. in English and US-American Literature from The Pennsylvania State University (2007), and a B.A. in Urban Studies from Brown University (2003). A poet and a scholar, her research and teaching interests are in minor literatures of the hemispheric Americas, postcolonial and decolonial thought, ecology, and the radical imagination. Her publications include “Spatializing Sexuality in Jaime Hernández’s Locas,” in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, and “El espectro descolonial de la izquierda argentina, 1955 – 1976”) in Pensamiento argentino y la opción descolonial (Editores de Signo, 2010). Her current book project, “Ground as an Earth That Quakes: Writing the Americas Otherwise,” is a walking meditation with a motley crew of artists, writers, and philosophers from across the twentieth-century Americas that examines the aesthetic and ethical implications of writing the world from a place in which we do not pretend to dominate it.
Sheryl-Ann Simpson, Bret Snyder, N. Claire Napawan
At the end of an #OurChangingClimate community workshop, one participant explained that they now felt as though they understood the small picture of climate change. A picture of climate change that bypasses melting icecaps in favor of images of crowded trains, golden lawns, neighbors growing food on the sidewalk, and even the beautiful vistas we worry we might loose. #OurChangingClimate is an ongoing participatory environmental design project using social media to construct a corpus of these small picture narratives of climate change. Our proposed paper will 1) describe the project and its development out of ongoing practices in community design, digital humanities, and communicative art; 2) present an analysis and interpretation of the collected narratives; and 3) invite new contributions. One main goal of the project is to preface the voices of people and in places forecast to be the most vulnerable to climate change. To do this we have developed a series of participatory workshops to engage community members, and particularly youth. Workshops present scientific facts about climate change, and encourage communities to add their own annotations and experiences through social media. Using #OurChangingClimate as an indexing tool allows for open, multi-platform participation. A majority of the submissions have been visual, quick snap shots of climate change, which in the aggregate provide a new impression of vulnerability, but also potentials for adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change. Finally, as the network continues to grow we encourage everyone to snap, tag and share their experiences of #OurChangingClimate.
N. Claire Napawan is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Human Ecology at the University of California Davis. Her research focuses on the investigation of urban public landscapes and their role in supporting community resilience. Her recent speculative design work includes landscape design for climate change resilience, including the Hellman Fellowship funded design study of San Francisco’s Eastern Shore and the winning proposal for the 2013 NYC Reinventing Payphones competition, Smart Sidewalks. email@example.com
Brett Snyder, AIA is a principal of Cheng+Snyder and an Assistant Professor of Design at the University of California, Davis. Snyder works at and researches the intersection of architecture, media, and graphics with a particular interest in urban spaces. Recent projects include Smart Sidewalks, a winning entry to the NYC Reinvent Payphones competition, Museum of the Phantom City an architectural iPhone app to view visionary but un-built architecture, and S.Alt City an interactive building mural in Syracuse, New York. Snyder’s award winning work has been exhibited internationally including the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale and SXSW. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheryl-Ann Simpson, is an Assistant Professor in the Landscape Architecture + Environmental Design unit of Department of Human Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on place, how formal and informal processes interact to shape and condition the build environment and social relations within it. Recent work has been published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies and MONU. email@example.com
We have developed a campaign to encourage university and research communities to reduce flying behavior (flyingless.org). The more than 300 academic supporters of this campaign include leading lights in the humanities, social sciences, and environmental sciences.
This presentation will (a) briefly review the climate impact of flying, (b) explain the strategic focus on university and research communities, (c) review the wonderful diversity of methods available for universities and professional associations to reduce flying without greatly impairing academic research productivity or quality of life, and (d) summarize responses to common questions or objections that arise in conversations with academics about this issue.
Our strategic approach is goal-oriented and pragmatic, taking very seriously the aspirations of academic researchers and the constraints they face. When academic professionals are asked what fraction of their flights could be reduced without impairing their productivity and career success, the answer often is surprisingly high, reaching half or more of all flights. They feel pressure not to miss the same events that other people in the field are attending. Collective action and coordination will help us alleviate the air travel arms race, allowing us each to scale back comparatively less productive travel without sacrificing the flights that really are most important.
Parke Wilde is a food economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Previously, he worked for the Community Nutrition Institute and for USDA’s Economic Research Service. He received his Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Cornell University. At Tufts, Parke teaches graduate-level courses in statistics and U.S. food policy. His research addresses food security and hunger measurement, the economics of food assistance programs, and federal dietary guidance policy. He has been a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Food Forum and a member of the research committee advising AGree, a national food policy initiative. Parke keeps a well-respected blog at usfoodpolicy.com and has a book from Routledge/Earthscan in 2013, titled Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction.
This presentation will consider the potentials of using graphic novels to explore both ecological and formal questions in the classroom. I argue that the aesthetics of temporality, or visual time, in graphic novels encourages readings that take notice of the nonhuman presence in plots and narrative events. I will focus on two exemplary graphic novels that make the invisible visible: the scientific love story Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss, and Richard McGuire’s Here, an undeniably influential text in the history of contemporary graphic novels. I will suggest the ways in which these two texts can help demonstrate and complicate notions of environmental justice, slow violence and contamination, and unruly scales of time and space (too small and too large to contain). I explore how the conceptual and aesthetic frameworks of the graphic novel genre can generate productive questions about environmental phenomena that are often difficult to conceptualize, stretching beyond human perspectives.
Laura Perry is a PhD Candidate in Literary Studies at University of Wisconsin – Madison, working in animal studies, environmental studies, and American literature. Her dissertation explores how mid-century rhetoric established and enforced species boundaries in postwar American literature and housing policies. This presentation owes a great deal to the undergraduate students in her course, English 271: Writing with New Media, which she designed and taught in Fall 2015.
Following recent explorations of the sense of ecological apocalypse pervading much of today’s environmental discourse, I would like to explore the implications of reimagining such telos within discourses and representations surrounding “nature” in the late anthropocene. It is often the individual subject’s (un)sustainable orientation that is continually questioned, cajoled, and accosted by ecocritics in readings of both word and world. Although historical philosopher Walter Benjamin was loath to dwell on the future, he believed the contemporary political subject to be clearly motivated by the immanence of teleological concerns, whether those motivations lead to political action, paralyzing fear, or systemic denial. If we expand Benjamin’s reading of progress as a temporality which makes fascism inevitable to the contemporary impetus towards narratives of ecological collapse, the political foreclosure of possibilities of sustainability is revealed to occur in the same fashion as the foreclosure of liberation from the fascist tradition. Although Benjamin never explicitly theorizes “the subject” as others have, there is at least an implied subject position in his model of history. Benjamin’s politics of possibility as laid out in his theory of messianic time, from which the above notions come, therefore, offer hope to the subject imbued with an eschatology of ecological collapse, of which ecocritical historians must ask: how is the historically constituted subject’s (un)sustainable affect related to the temporality of ecology? My talk would, therefore, explore how bringing together the historical philosophies of Walter Benjamin with contemporary concerns about environmental discourse can open up politically agential models for sustainable subjectivity.
Molly Hall is an instructor of English Literature at University of Rhode Island, where she is also a doctoral student in Literature and Culture. She has received an M.A. in English Literature from University of New Hampshire and a collaborative M.Ed. from Cambridge College and the Institute for Humane Education. Her recent work on the ecological in Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical politics was published in an edited collection called Romantic Sustainability. She has presented papers at ASLE, MLA, and will be presenting at ACLA this spring. In her teaching and research she traces the intersections of language, subjectivity, ecology, and modernity.
Food production and consumption are prominent fronts of the climate change battle. Debates over who is responsible for North American eating habits and their social and environmental impact are not new. My research on feminist food activists in the United States and Canada shows that these discussions happened in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Looking at the solutions proposed by these different feminist groups during that period provides valuable insight into how to remedy North America’s current food and environmental health issues while already taking gendered dynamics into account. With the exception of Warren Belasco’s Appetite for Change (1989), academics have largely ignored how some feminists during the period focused on the labor issues surrounding cooking, while being fully aware of the importance of food and cooking for health and environmental reasons.
My research shows the importance of looking at the history of past environmental movements for wisdom on how to fix our current dilemma of climate change. Past generations of activists proffered valuable solutions that although sometimes ignored by their contemporaries can inform current conversations about environmentalism. Valuing histories of activism empowers us in the battle against climate change. My paper uses the specific example of feminist food activists to provide a framework of how history is a valuable field in our current struggle against environmental degradation.
Alex Ketchum is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at McGill University focusing on feminist restaurants, cafes, and coffeehouses in the United States and Canada from the 1960s to present day. Her work integrates, food, environmental, and gender history. She has a MA in History and Women and Gender Studies also from McGill University and a Honors BA in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Wesleyan University. At McGill University, she teaches in the Women’s Studies Program. Her dissertation research is chronicled at http://thefeministrestaurantproject.com/
In addition to her dissertation research, she is founder and editor of The Historical Cooking Project (historicalcookingproject.com), a website dedicated to food history scholarship. For a full list of her publications, go to alexketchum.ca
This paper explores the complexities of the term vanua understanding it as a fluid ontology of being-in-relation. We look first at the ways in which vanua underpins and destabilises dualities, particularly that of land and sea, and then examine the ways in the connections between humans and nature that vanua embodies render sea-level rise caused by climate change not simply a loss of home and livelihood, but an attack on the self.
In Fiji vanua names an interconnectedness between people and place in which people are figured as belonging to the land, and ontology and relationality are prioritised over possession and commodification. Vanua names, in this sense, a deeply situated or emplaced body politic. Vanua also translates directly as ‘land’, and the inclusion of waters and seas within ‘land’ signifies the importance of the ocean within Pacific Island discourse and epistemologies. This is not to imply that the differences between land and sea are erased; rather, it is in the complex negotiation between binaries, and between part and whole, that the precise nature of an ontology of being-in-relation can be understood. This understanding then enables us to examine the implications of anthropogenic sea-level rise in terms of a trespass and intrusion not merely into place, but into self.
Maebh Long is Senior Lecturer in literature, and Deputy Head of School, at the School of Language, Arts, and Media at the University of the South Pacific. She is the author of Assembling Flann O’Brien (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), an award-winning monograph of theoretical engagements with Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen/Brian O’Nolan. In addition to modernist and contemporary literature, Long’s principle areas of engagement and publication are literary theory and philosophy, particularly the works of Jacques Derrida. She has published in a range of journals, including Parallax, Textual Practice and the Australian Humanities Review, and has contributed to collections published by Cambridge University Press, Routledge, Bloomsbury and Cork University Press. She is a member of the Oceanic Modernism, and the Narratives of Climate Change, projects.
What was seldom addressed in COP21 were the underlying cultural and social dynamics that constrain people from acting in ways that fit their espoused values. While there are clearly political, scientific and artistic interventions that impact our culture, what might a psychotherapeutic one look like?
What I want to explore is how to work with unconscious processes outside of the consulting room. How can psychotherapists, as those understanding something of collective dynamics, participate in the urgent need to understand the cultural wounds and complexes that may result in our children inheriting an endangered and impoverished world?
A current example, following Christopher Larsch’s understanding that some symptoms that can be understood within a narcissistic framework, is our cultural love affair with machines. We have as a species clearly withdrawn our interconnection with the earth that has become both an inert object to be exploited and a dustbin for our waste. So much of our language through which our cultural life is propagated has become self-referential and seldom points beyond itself. Our mobile phones have become the fetish objects that support this strange bubble of self-reference and instant gratification whether it is ‘selfies’, Facebook or makeovers. How can such a constricted self-consciousness, shielded by the ever-present mobile, be impacted by events that are ‘outside’ its terms of reference?
Following a shamanic notion of healing, I aim to explore what working at the margins of a group or society might look like.
Chris Robertson has been a psychotherapist and trainer since 1978 and is co-founder of Re-Vision (http://www.re-vision.org.uk) a psychotherapy training centre in London, which includes ecopsychology principles and practice. He contributed the chapter ‘Dangerous Margins’ to the Ecopsychology anthology ‘Vital Signs’ (Karnac), and is author of several articles including ‘Ecopsychology’s Wilding’ and co-author of Emotions and Needs (OUP, 2002). He is on the advisory group of the Climate Psychology Alliance (http://www.climatepsychologyalliance.org).
A relatively recent yet steadily growing body of scholarship termed “critical plant studies” poses sharp critiques of entrenched understandings of plant life in aesthetics (Ryan 2012), critical theory (Nealon 2015), ethics (Hall 2011), linguistics (Vieira, Gagliano and Ryan 2016), ontology and metaphysics (Marder 2013) and other areas of culture and philosophy. Scholars in this interdisciplinary field seek to do what “human-animal studies” has already begun to accomplish for zoological life, namely, ascribing agency and autonomy to the nonhuman world and advocating broader ethical standing for beings historically relegated to the static background of human regard. Extending and interpreting principles of vegetal behaviour, signalling and intelligence empirically supported by new plant science (Trewavas 2014), critical plant studies attends seriously to the lifeworlds of plants and their particular non-animalistic capacities for intentionality, meaning-making, transformation, sensoriality, memory and experience.
This paper represents an initial attempt to think through and propose how some of the ideas surfacing out of the field of critical plant studies might elucidate, deepen or challenge aspects of climate change discourse. Indeed, the deleterious impacts of climate change on plants have been documented by scientists (Rozema, Aerts and Cornelissen 2006; Omasa et al. 2013). However, despite their fundamental role in the carbon cycle of the earth and the disruption of botanical communities in the wake of climate disturbance, plants seem to occupy a marginal role in the discourse of climate change. This contention will be explored, substantiated and expanded more concretely in relation to the concept of “climate change narratives.” I argue, through a number of examples, that the stories circulating in the public imagination about climate change and which provoke debate, action and reflection can be enhanced through the invigorated understandings of the vegetal world offered by critical plant studies.
John Ryan is Honorary Research Associate in the School of Humanities at the University of Western Australia. From 2012 to 2015, he was Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Communications and Arts at Edith Cowan University. His most recent books include Posthuman Plants (2015) and The Green Thread (2015, co-edited with Patricia Vieira and Monica Gagliano).