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My Gund Institute research talk from a few months ago, on “Navigating Earth’s ‘Zone of Alienation’: Chernobyl and the Search for Adequate Images of the Anthropocene,” can now be viewed online (see link below). It consists mostly of out-takes from my book Shadowing the Anthropocene, forthcoming later this year from Punctum Books.

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The 5 D’s

… that might get humans to pull through the next few centuries relatively intact as a species (if not undiminished or unscathed): Decarbonization, Deplasticization, Demilitarization, Decolonization, and Demographic Transition.

The first, Decarbonization, entails a dramatic reduction in industrial production of atmospheric carbon (and other greenhouse gas) emissions. It will keep conditions for the flourishing of human life from getting too unstable and unreliable. As it’s mainly a technical task, it should be pretty doable, as long as the interests vested in maintaining current carbon-heavy systems can be overcome.

The second, Deplasticization, entails the dramatic reduction in industrial production of (relatively) nonbiodegradable polymers (including microplastics). It will keep us from choking on our own industrial puke. Like the first, it’s also a technical task, so in principle it’s pretty doable.

Those two are the easy ones.   Continue Reading »

Or, Things I love, like, dislike, and hate about it…

I love that I can research, write, talk, think, and teach about things that I’m passionate about, or at least care very much about. And because that passion derives from a sense that the world needs certain kinds of engagement and that my activity can contribute to them, that is immensely satisfying. Curiosity and the desire to engage with the world is what drove me to academe, and, happily, it’s kept me there. This part of my work has been making up about 25-60% of my workload, depending on the year, which makes me one of the blessed ones. (It’s far from the norm in academe, a norm that’s been generally receding, and it usually takes some time to get there, but it’s possible.)

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This course (an Honors College course I’m happy to be to teaching this year) is already in progress, but I’d be curious to hear any comments on it. What would you include in a comparative overview of spiritual practices? What’s missing? 

Self-Cultivation and Spiritual Practice: Comparative Perspectives

This course introduces students to the comparative study of religious, spiritual, and psycho-physical practices — exercises by which individuals and groups deepen, develop, challenge, and transform their perceptions and capacities for action in harmony with religious, moral-ethical, or philosophical ideals. The course covers a range that spans from ancient Greek and Roman philosophers (such as Stoics, Epicurians, and Neoplatonists), yogis and monks of South and East Asia, Christian and Muslim ascetics and Renaissance mages, to practitioners of modern forms of westernized yoga, martial arts, ritual magic, and other forms of physical and psycho-spiritual practice. Readings of ancient texts and contemporary philosophical and sociological writings are complemented by practical exercises, writing and presentation assignments, and a practice project.

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Rant for the day

Let’s face facts: Life in such cold climates as the one I live in (it was 8°F/-14°C here this morning) would hardly be possible, for us in such numbers as we are, without fossil fuels.

The harnessing of fossil fuel energy has enabled tremendous innovation — innovation that, if managed well, could help us get to the kind of new socio-ecological era that some have (contentiously) called a “good Anthropocene.”*

Proponents of that “good Anthropocene” tend to make it sound far easier to get there than it would be. Continue Reading »

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 »

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