It’s become a cliché for people in environmental, policy, and even corporate circles to talk about the “triple bottom-line,” or the “three pillars” or “three-legged stool,” of sustainability. Those “pillars” are almost universally understood to be the economic, the environmental, and the social (sometimes rendered, more trenchantly, as social justice). Some have argued that a fourth, the cultural, should be added (incorporating heritage, identity, well-being, and related indicators); occasionally, another fourth is proposed (such as “governance”). The point with most of these models is that society, economy, and environment (and sometimes something else) are seen as interconnected and interdependent, and that measuring the success of any one of them independent of the others may be a futile exercise. So far, so good.

But given the divergent uses to which this language has been put — many of them coupled with terms like “growth,” “development,” “capitalism,” and the like — critics have found sustainability talk to be vague and unsatisfying. (I won’t even get started here on “natural capital,” “ecosystem services,” and the other terminological sleight-of-hand intended to convince the powers-that-be that nature is good for capitalism.)

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The Washington Post reports that “Ruthenium-106, named after Russia” has been wafting all across Europe.

Two quick observations here.

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The frame game

Spin the dial and see where it lands. Take several steps in that direction. Look around. Spin again.

1. Struggle, or The World at War Frame: We are at war. The war is between the good guys and the bad guys. We must triumph. (Variations: The war is between those who are plundering the planet for their own benefit and those who are trying to rein in the plunder and set us onto a better, more viable and sustainable track. The war is between the capitalists and the people, between patriarchy and women, between the state/authoritarianism and freedom, between the racists/colonizers and the rest of us, between the North and the South, between the godly and the godless, et al. Make your own variations.)

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Here’s something I’ve written to accompany a reading and discussion of Arturo Escobar’s piece “Thinking-feeling with the Earth: Territorial Struggles and the Ontological Dimensions of the Epistemologies of the South,” which I proposed as my suggested reading contribution for an intro graduate class in Environment and Society. I’m sharing it here as a brief think-piece. 

1. If we could somehow momentarily shed our western cultural lenses and see the world both trans-culturally and trans-historically, we would see that the relationship between people and land is perhaps the central issue for any study of either people or land.

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There is an irony in The Nature Conservancy’s headline heralding a “new study” that “finds nature is vital to beating climate change.” The sub-title adds that “Nature could cost-effectively deliver over a third of greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.”

For one thing, what is the “nature” that would be “cost-effectively” corralled into doing this work? And for whom? (For us, of course.)

What is climate change if not “nature’s” response to the carbon emissions and other things that industrial systems have been spewing into the atmosphere for two centuries. Continue Reading »

I think it’s fair to say that the United States is in a state of cultural civil war.

It is cultural war in the sense that it is a war fought with signs and symbols rather than with guns — signs and symbols intended to elicit affiliation, allegiance, and identification with one or another party to the war.

It is civil war not only because it concerns a rift within the civic order of the society, but also in the sense of its relative civility, in contrast to the incivility of physical or military conflict. The relationship of this kind of cultural civil conflict to real civil conflict is similar to the relationship between “civil religion” — or the assumed quasi-religion of a civil society, the glue that holds it together — to “real” religion: it is conducted in the same ways, but without the overt manifestations that make it “war” (or “religion”).

Cultural civil conflicts work on the affective and emotional registers much more than they work on the cognitive and rational registers. Continue Reading »

For those following the debate over the article “The Case for Colonialism,” the following adds little new. It’s mostly a way of summarizing the issue and collecting some useful links in one place. 

There’s a lesson for academia in the flare-up over the Third World Quarterly article “The Case for Colonialism” by Bruce Gilley. The article was published after undergoing peer review in which multiple reviewers recommended its rejection. One of these specifically rejected its publication as a “Viewpoints” article, which in the journal’s lexicon designates articles that are more in the vein of an opinion piece than a scholarly research piece. Continue Reading »

R.I.P. Cassini

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”

62 moons orbiting in and around the grooved rings of Saturn. Winter and spring, hurricanes, jet streams, and auroras. Rivers and deltas pelted by methane rains on Titan. Hydrothermal vented oceans, and geysers shooting plumes of water that fall back as snow on Enceladus. Moons forming spiral waves cresting in the mother planet’s B ring. Janus and Epimetheus relay racing in the same orbit. Pan and Daphnis leaving rippled wakes in their passing. Prometheus and Pandora, and the tiny pinprick of Earth visible through the rings.

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

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Based on its title and on the snippets I saw being quoted, I fully expected to dislike Lee Jones’ article “Charlottesville and the Politics of Left Hysteria,” posted a few days ago at The Current Moment.

Instead, I’ve found it nuanced, cogent, and well worth reading. I myself have tried to broach this topic of the two lefts — the economic (or economistic) left, and the cultural or identitarian left — before (see here). The argument I’ve made there applies to this article as well. I think Jones is more or less correct in arguing that identitarian politics have a down side, which is that they can easily degenerate into a politics of resentment. What he misses is that they can have an up side as well — which is that they can generate a politics of meaning, and that is exactly what the economistic left has lacked.  Continue Reading »

This post is a follow-up to my “case for a non-mammalian food ethic.” I’ve given that case some more thought and have decided that honesty requires more nuance than either continuing to call myself a (straight) vegetarian or calling myself a “non-mammalian.” The latter term is confusing in any case, since “mammalian” could either mean someone who eats mammals or someone who doesn’t (because they love and defend them).  Continue Reading »

Here I go wading into a type of debate this blog does not often venture into: the debate surrounding Google employee James Damore’s firing for his ‘Ideological Echo Chamber’ manifesto. I find this to be a complicated and interesting conversation, and I’m curious to know how my thoughts align with others.

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I recently visited Detroit (for the ASLE “Rust/Resistance” conference) and was interested in seeing how it’s changed since I wrote this (brief) piece. Given how little time I spent there, my impressions aren’t worth much, but here they are.

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