Tag: anthropocene

Archiving for the Anthropocene: Notes from the Field Campus

On a chilly Sunday afternoon in March, our Field Campus group walked through downtown Granite City, Illinois. Located just 6 miles north of St. Louis, the downtown was a markedly post-industrial landscape. Many of the red brick buildings were vacant and showed signs of lasting decay. Weedy patches of open land occasionally provided views of a large nearby factory. It was hard to tell if coffee and sandwich shops were closed forever. The factory, a U.S. Steel Corps manufacturing plant called Granite City Works was founded by two German immigrants in 1896, along with the city itself. In 2009, the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) ranked neighborhoods in Granite City at the second highest risk for cancer in the country, highlighting the plant’s coke ovens as a likely source (McGuire 2009). Coke oven emissions include benzene, arsenic, and lead (Earthjustice 2019) – that people breathe, and soils absorb. Another source of toxic air pollution has been the NL Industries/Taracorp lead smelter. Before its closure in 1983, the smelter contaminated over 1,600 households in Granite City and beyond, eventually turning into an EPA superfund cleanup site (Singer, n.d.). The US EPA recognized that the highest concentrations of lead in the air are around smelters. Lead in the air means lead in the soil. Tearing down houses in “blighted” sections of the city exacerbates the problem since demolitions release the lead in the paint of older buildings (Blythe 2019). Granite City is certainly a hot spot. As we walked through Granite City, we were guided by our local collaborator and artist Chris Carl, whose work with the urban renewal group New American Gardening “explores garden making on vacant lots and post industrial land.” Chris led us to the particular plot, pointing to a number of concrete blocks scattered around the ground. One of the blocks featured a warning symbol etched into its top, the other had the letters ‘Pb’ scrawled upon it – which, as he informed us, is the chemical abbreviation for lead. The blocks were Chris’s “DIY version of a lead remediation,” an intervention he began after a project by the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and a visit by EPA officials who confirmed low levels of lead all over the area after conducting the requisite soil testing. The levels on the site we were standing on, however, had proven to be “off the charts.” Notably, both Madison County and the U.S. Steel Trust had provided funding for this pilot plot. (read more...)

Organic Waste and the Looming Putrecene

As an urban compost coordinator I have supervised efforts to increase compost collection both commercially and residentially in New York City over the past five years. The job has offered an intriguing vantage to assess the future of urban waste-driven economies. This post discusses the microbial capitalism on display in the compost pile, looking beyond today’s relatively transient Anthropocene toward the far more enduring Putrecene. (read more...)

Producing the Anthropocene, Producing the Future/Water Futures

Editor’s note: Today we have the final installment of our “Anthropocene Melbourne Campus” series, featuring two related posts by Lauren Rickards and Ruth Morgan. Producing the Anthropocene, Producing the Future Lauren Rickards, RMIT University Images of the future are increasingly cast on the widescreen of the Anthropocene: the planetary-scale shift from the comfy Holocene to an unknown and threatening new ‘operating space’ for the Earth. How humanity inadvertently shifted the whole planet so radically and in such a self-damaging manner is now the subject of intense debate. Different narratives of blame locate relative responsibility with various sectors, activities and groups. Common candidates include farming, colonial plantations, industrialization and urbanisation, and the post-war acceleration in consumption and pollution. From a material perspective, there is a strong geological rationale for naming each as a major source of planetary-scale environmental and social impacts and “terraforming.” Indeed, this is how these various proposed starting dates for the Anthropocene have been identified: through the pursuit of widespread and sharp enough changes in the geological record to count as what geologists call a “Golden Spike”, the prerequisite for declaring  a new epoch. Yet this search for the physical origins of the Anthropocene in the historical record needs to extend far past physical signals and their proximate causes to the visions, goals and assumptions underlying the activities involved, including what Ian Hacking would call styles of reasoning. Reading the Anthropocene in this light reveals many limitations within the outlooks, ideas and values that informed the activities mentioned above, including an often willful ignorance of the immediate impacts on people, nonhumans and the abiotic environment, as well as the “unknown unknown” of the long-term, accumulative changes being wrought. (read more...)

Dramatising the Future

This is the third in a series of posts by scholars who attended the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, an event hosted in September by Deakin University as part of the larger Anthropocene Curriculum project. Over the four days of the Campus, 110 participants from 49 universities (plus several art institutions and museums) attended keynotes, art exhibits, fieldtrips, and workshops based around the theme of ‘the elemental’. Earlier this year, at the Emerging Writers Festival panel on ‘Writing the Anthropocene’, I was asked if I thought that, in imagining a future world for my 2016 novel The Island Will Sink, I also had an ethical responsibility to ‘get it right’. The question was asked by a writer who also worked as a sustainability officer in community organisations. It led to more uncomfortable questions: As a writer of fiction, is it a problem to use the predicted extinctions and environmental catastrophes of the not too distant future to produce (amongst other things) stakes in a literary production? (read more...)

Forecasting Earth Futures

This is the second in a series of posts by scholars who attended the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, an event hosted in September by Deakin University as part of the larger Anthropocene Curriculum project. Over the four days of the Campus, 110 participants from 49 universities (plus several art institutions and museums) attended keynotes, art exhibits, field trips, and workshops based around the theme of ‘the elemental’. Read the first post in the series here. It is not difficult to recognize the ubiquity of nature forecasting in our world. Every day we hear some claim about the future of nature: what it will do, where its consequences will be felt, and by whom. Not only is mundane weather forecasting integral to daily life, even climate change is structured by experts’ claims about the future of oceans, temperature, and carbon levels. In the early 20th century, when weather forecasts began to share media space with economic digests, even the economy took on the language of weather forecasts and began to be described in terms such as “economic barometers.” The fundamental structures of society began to act like the weather; they too were liable to depressions and tempests. My intention here is not to make a forecast but to understand the process of forecasting itself. This means understanding how futures emerge and pass away, how they are discarded, mobilized, distributed, and enacted in the present. The future, in this sense, is not self-evidently given but is something that is brought into being; something that is achieved. (Listen Now...)

Pockets: Reflections on the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne

Preface: this is the first in a series of posts by scholars who attended the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne, an event hosted in September by Deakin University as part of the larger Anthropocene Curriculum project. Over the four days of the Campus, 110 participants from 49 universities (plus several art institutions and museums) attended keynotes, art exhibits, fieldtrips, and workshops based around the theme of ‘the elemental’. In hindsight, the Anthropocene Campus Melbourne can be understood as a four-day attempt at bringing the Anthropocene, that curious container of hyperobjects, to our senses through the elemental. Lying far beyond our abilities of representation and resolution, hyperobjects are omnipresent objects or processes that permeate our lives, gripping us with and into their “always-already” (Morton 2013). Though abstract and planetary in scale, hyperobjects sometimes ooze into our fields of perception and lend parts of themselves to the senses. In what follows, I want to (read more...)

The Nubecene: Toward an Ecology of the Cloud

Imprints of computing are etched into the surface of the earth. Fugitive traces remain captive in its lithic tissues, its waters, and the very air we breathe. Roiling in the most abyssal depths of the seas, coursing through fiber optic cables thinner than human hairs, the amorphous Cloud and its digital ganglia enshroud our planet. By way of its sheer magnitude and complexity, the Cloud eludes human imagination. It is what Bruno Latour might call a “black box” (1987) – a market fantasy of infinite storage capacity, immateriality, and feel-good “green” slogans like “go paperless.” While envisioned by many to be ether, suspended above matter, the Cloud remains a material ensemble of cables and microchips, computer servers and data centers, electrons and water molecules, cell towers and cell phones, spindly fiber coils undersea and underground that firmly tether communities and consumers to the ground, not the sky. (read more...)

Transhumanism, Tragic Humanism, and The View From Nowhere

A number of scholars of post-humanity (such as Hayles and Wolfe) have argued that transhumanism is an unduly optimistic extension of humanism. I can’t agree – not only is it not optimistic, it is not a humanism. Transhumanism is filled with the anxiety of extinction. It also is enthused enough about non-human flourishing that it marks a departure from humanism (besides: is anything more optimistic than humanism in its enlightenment mode?). Transhumanism’s posthumanist stance is the continuation of enlightenment technoscience in so far as it centralizes human technology, even if it projects the technoscientific breakdown of humanity. However, insofar as its ideas and projected technologies propose an almost panpsychic collapse of mind and matter, it pushes us beyond reductive materialist, secular and humanist arrangements, and points to some interesting new openings. (read more...)