Tag: environment

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...)

At the Edge of Land and Water: Navigating sea level change in Chennai

It was 8am in Ennore, a coastal region at the northern-most tip of the city of Chennai and home to artisanal fishers who have traditionally lived along the shores of the Bay of Bengal.  I had recently started my fieldwork on property relations at coastal spaces around Chennai there. The sun was out, the fishers were busy sorting through the catch of the day, and the smoke from the factories around made everything look hazy. My neighbor and long-time Ennore resident, Kumar uncle, decided to introduce me to fishers he knew at Periyakuppam, a fishing village in the area. We met the fishers and as we stood facing the sea, I asked them about the history of the village and changes in the landscape over time. In response, they pointed at the sea and said, “Look! Do you see the sand there, the sea water extended till that point until last week, but it has receded further now…come again next month and see what we’re talking about!” Just a few minutes later, they shifted their gaze to the left and asked, “Can you see those ships in the distance? That is where the port is. They built it for the ships bringing coal to the power plant. They put in sea-walls around there…” and once again, shifting their gaze towards the shore and the sea they said, “Look there, half the land in that village is now under water; it’s because of those stones from the sea-walls over there.” (read more...)

The Nature of the Copy

From the dead center of an all-white eye, a lone sapling rose two feet tall. Cyclical ridges and valleys, etched in bioplastic by an unseen watchmaker, encircled the solitary lifeform and separated it from the mottled, decaying plant matter that had been strewn about nearby with intention, detritus by design. Lying adjacent on the table-in-sylvan-drag, a digital tablet and paper pamphlets displayed the word Nucleário.[1] Nucleário and the five other prototypes exhibited at the 2018 Biomimicry Launchpad Showcase in Berkeley, California, were, according to the event’s online marketing, projects from a “new species of entrepreneur” who practices “biomimicry,” the “conscious emulation of life’s genius,” a refrain I would hear repeatedly during my fieldwork on contemporary chimeras of biology and design. “Genius,” a cultural category once reserved for the presence of spiritual inspiration, here refers to the technical creativity of a re-animated nature that designers attempt to imitate in new devices like Nucleário.[2] Under the solar-paneled roof of the David Brower Center, whose eponym served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club, teams from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and the United States had gathered to compete under the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which, this year, prompted designers to devise solutions for the mitigation and reversal of climate change. The prize: a cash award of $100,000 given by the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a new generation of sustainability innovators” through educational initiatives.[3] (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...)

Description/Classification/Threshold: Experiments with Renewable Energy Taxonomy

This is not renewable energy:   Nor is this some clever, Magritte-esque meta-commentary on how it is impossible represent or think about renewable energy separate from the technologies that harness it. No, it is simply an issue of taxonomy: hydropower is only counted as “renewable” some of the time. This is confusing, because if the term “renewable” has any meaning, after all, it is first and foremost a description of a process, one that specifically refers to the fact that the natural resource from which said energy is produced either does not significantly deplete upon use to begin with, or can be easily replenished within a human time scale. Hydropower, harnessed through the most abundant substance on our “blue planet”, seems to easily fit the description, which makes the exception worth exploring. (read more...)

Voided Spaces: Architectural indices of ravines in Guatemala City

Disponible en español aquí! Deep, canyon-like ravines fracture forty-two percent of Guatemala City. Covered in thick, wet, and dense foliage, these ravines are contentious ecological forms for Guatemala City residents, who have often described ravines as physical borders that disconnect their city; opportunities for landfills that are out of sight, out of mind; informal housing for gangs, violence, and the city’s poorest[1]; as well as precarious locations where damage from earthquakes, floods, and landslides is felt the most. However, in 2006, the city municipality reclassified these ravines as an “ecological belt” (Cinturón Ecológico Metropolitano), identifying them as sites in need of ecological and developmental attention. Architects in particular have taken special interest in these ravines, arguing for sustainably-minded designs that would develop and connect ravines to the broader city landscape. Ravines, they argue, are underutilized and contaminated spaces that work against, rather than with, the built environment. Interested in the classification and production of space, in what follows, I describe the conditions that led architects to recognize ravines as sites of developmental potential in Guatemala City. In order to be designated as spaces for development, I argue that ravines first needed to be redefined volumetrically and epistemically, revealing new parameters for thinking about where the built environment can reside. (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...)

Race, Rural Livelihoods, and Contested Conservation Landscapes

A visit to Basu Farms in Pembroke Township, about 60 miles south of Chicago, provides a glimpse into the entanglement of land tenure, black history and self-determination in rural Northeastern Illinois. On one side of the main building at Basu Natural Farms, shelves line the walls containing rows of dark bottles of tincture and salves labeled ‘black walnut,’ ‘St. John’s wort,’ ‘horsetail,’ and many others.  Pam Basu makes these herbal medicines primarily from plants that she grows organically or wild harvests. The Basus also sell vegetables and flowers produced on the farm. On the other side of the building is a small museum displaying objects that highlight the African-American experience in this region.  For many Pembroke residents, land tenure and the form their livelihoods take cannot be disconnected from local black knowledge traditions and the struggle for post-Jim Crow enfranchisement. The annual Marcus Garvey festival held on the Basu Farm, (read more...)