Cultures of Energy brings writers, artists and scholars together to talk, think and feel their way into the Anthropocene. We cover serious issues like climate change, species extinction and energy transition. But we also try to confront seemingly huge and insurmountable problems with insight, creativity and laughter.
We believe in the possibility of personal and cultural change. And we believe that the arts and humanities can help guide us toward a more sustainable future.
Cultures of Energy is a Mingomena Media production. Co-hosts are @DominicBoyer and @CymeneHowe
214 - Oil Beach (with Christina Dunbar-Hester)
Dominic and Cymene start off with a review of the new Apple TV Cli-Fi series Extrapolations especially its killer walruses and then recap a chat with German climate activist Luisa Neubauer and former US National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy about how civilizational change is coming, either by design or by disaster. Then [23:51] we are thrilled to have USC’s Christina Dunbar-Hester join us on the podcast to talk about her new book Oil Beach (U Chicago Press, 2023), a study of toxic infrastructure and more-than-human relations in the Los Angeles port complex. We begin with how her interests in media became interests in energy and climate and how underneath silicon there is petroleum. Then, we turn to the challenges of seeing organismic life under the “lethal sublime” of petro/military/industrial infrastructure and to Christina’s concept of “infrastructural vitalism.” We ask: What if pipelines carried water instead of oil? How much of LA’s “green port” mythology is real? We close talking about what Christina means by trans-species supply chain justice” and how one of the LA ports’ greatest products is the making of scale itself. Enjoy, dear listeners, and remember that walruses will save us from all the evil villains of the Anthropocene.
213 - The City Electric (with Michael Degani)
Cymene and Dominic natter a bit about holiday misadventures and then (13:49) happily welcome Mike Degani (Cambridge U) to the podcast to talk about his new book, The City Electric (Duke UP 2022). We begin with how Mike became interested in electricity as an ethnographic object through experiencing power failures in Dar es Salaam. Then we talk about how electropolitics threads through various key moments in Tanzanian history. We turn to Tanzanian postsocialism, the durability of socialist habitus and how Mike’s concept of modal reasoning connects to the moral quandaries of neoliberal transition as well as to European and African conceptions of parasites. We move from there to illegal connections and pirate electricity, electricity as a mode of state intimacy, the electrified sensorium of the city, and northern fantasies of energy without consequences. We close on why getting infrastructure right is key to surviving the Anthropocene. Listen and enjoy!!
212 – Carbon Technocracy (with Victor Seow)
Cymene and Dominic relate tales from their harrowing weekend of having to deal with the absence of Henry Rollins in Black Flag and the presence of an active shooter down the block. Then (15:35) we welcome Harvard’s own Victor Seow to the podcast to discuss his remarkable book, Carbon Technocracy: Energy Regimes in Modern East Asia (U Chicago Press, 2022). We start with how studying labor migration in Manchuria first led him to the largest open coal mine in Asia, Fushun—now a pit with three times the excavated material of the Panama Canal—whose story became the crux of the book. We talk about Victor’s engagement with Tim Mitchell’s concept of “carbon democracy” and how some of Mitchell’s ideas about energy and politics were anticipated by Japanese administrators during their occupation of Manchuria. That gets us to chatting about the mechanization and automation of coal mining as a technopolitical responses aimed at managing potentially unruly coal miners. We cover the rise of petropolitics in the coal belt and the idea that coal could be made to serve the purposes of oil. We discuss the enduring allure of technocracy today as well as Victor’s observation that technocracies seldom achieve what they set out to achieve. What is a world in a mine? Is there such a thing as carbomelancholia among coal miners? Why does modern energy fear scarcity? These questions answered and more on today’s episode!
211 - Half Earth Socialism (feat. Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese)
Cymene and Dominic talk about hauling ice, champagne socialism and the mystery of Viennetta cakes on this week’s intro. Then (16:07) we are joined by Troy Vettese, an environmental historian, and Drew Pendergrass, an environmental engineer, to talk about their bold and imaginative new book, Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics (Verso 2022, https://www.versobooks.com/books/3818-hal). We begin with the value of thinking in impractical ways and how utopian socialists past like Edward Bellamy, William Morris and Otto Neurath inspired this project. We discuss how high growth expectations have bedeviled planning in the past and talk about the flaws in the utopia of automated luxury socialism. Is capitalism an inherently irrational system? Does planning have irrational tendencies too? We cover where the idea to make a game version of the book came from (https://play.half.earth). We move from there to what the Left could stand to learn from the tactics of the neoliberal revolution, the necessity of utopian imagination for mass organizing, how intellectuals underestimate the readiness of the working class for change and much, much, more. Also please check out Drew and Troy’s Noema essay based on the book at: https://www.noemamag.com/planning-an-eco-socialist-utopia/
210 - Rights of Nature (feat. Daphina Misiedjan)
Dominic and Cymene begin this week’s episode with a medley of Hawaiian experiences, everything from 25-foot waves to energy utopias to whether watching Sharknado can actually help someone overcome fear of sharks. Then, we welcome to the podcast the brilliant Dr. Daphina Misiedjan from Erasmus University Rotterdam (https://www.eur.nl/en/people/daphina-misiedjan) to help us better understand the evolving legal and cultural debates concerning Rights of Nature. Daphina surveys the places around the world where Rights of Nature has become an active political discussion, beginning with Ecuador and its pathbreaking constitutional recognition of Pachamama. We talk about the challenges Rights of Nature interventions face in overcoming European colonial law and legal principles like terra nullius that naturalize extractivist and individualistic property relations. We compare Rights of Nature movements to Universal Human Rights movements and discuss where rights meet obligations. We turn from there to Daphina’s research on Yemen, the first country projected to run out of drinking water. We talk about the ethical questions raised by endemic water shortages in places like Yemen, South Africa and California. We close on Daphina’s current work on climate justice in the Dutch Caribbean, where colonialism and climate change are intersecting in an increasingly troubling way. Enjoy!! P.S. Here's a teaser for our next episode: https://play.half.earth
209 - Degrowth (feat. Timothée Parrique)
Dominic and Cymene share first impressions of Honolulu and query why there are chickens everywhere. Then (16:50) we are thrilled to welcome economist Timothée Parrique (https://timotheeparrique.com @timparrique) to the podcast to bring us up to speed with the latest news from ecological economics and its signature degrowth paradigm. We start with the basics. There’s more talk about degrowth now than ever before. But what are degrowth proponents really advocating? Timothée explains how degrowth is not meant to deprive poorer countries of prosperity, it’s best understood as a diet for countries already overshooting the world’s ecological carrying capacity. We talk about the problems with the “green growth” paradigm and how it usually just moves pollution around the planet despite the existence of a few decoupling unicorns. With the IPCC report mentioning degrowth for the first time in a recent report, is degrowth ready for the mainstream? What can the pandemic teach us about degrowth and the effort to distinguish the more and less essential parts of the economy” We talk about how the world can no longer afford the profligate emissions of the super-rich. And, finally, we discuss the cooperative economy movement and how it is already helping to create the better world that degrowth imagines.
Brings enviro research to life
One of the best scholarly podcasts out there. Dominic and Cymene bring cutting edge research across the environmental humanities to life through meaty, entertaining, idea-driven conversations with authors, artists, activists, and more.
Great podcast on energy
Wonderful and informed podcast. Great interviews and discussions. Thank you!
Unlike most academic podcasts, Cultures of Energy captures some of the actual joy of talking about ideas. Also unlike most academic podcasts, this show has hosts with a personal touch, a strong point of view, and real rapport. Strongly recommend.