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May Day (Beltane, Walpurga’s Day, et al.) is a good time for reflecting on politics, ecology, and possibility. The following can be considered part of a series on this blog.

When neoliberalism is understood as the alliance between economic liberalization and social liberalization — that is, between those who would “liberate” capitalist markets (who sometimes get called fiscal conservatives, but who are always economic globalists) and those who would liberate us, individually, from the rigidity of communal social norms — then it becomes understandable why the primary popular alternative on offer today is the kind of “populism” that would defend “traditional” social values while claiming (even if mostly just pretending) to also want to reign in market forces. Thus the popularity of Trump, Farage, Le Pen, and their ilk.

The left’s decline is due in no small part to Continue Reading »

Opening the ISSRNC conference on Mountains and Sacred Landscapes with a set of images from anti-pipelines and indigenous solidarity events, Karenna Gore (daughter of Al and founding director of the Center for Earth Ethics) said something that struck me as an evocative distillation of what’s really at stake in the world.

The Trump administration’s Inquisition-like demolition of environmental governance, she suggested, is “no match for a metaphysics of humanity interconnected with its sacred landscapes.”

Let’s think about this for a bit. What’s at stake, she is saying, is metaphysical.

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We all know the media ecosystem has been changing rapidly, with media scholars scrambling to understand how and where things are headed. “Fake news” and “post-truth” are the glib catchwords of the day; “filter bubbles,” “echo chambers,” “ideological segregation,” “information cascades,” “algorithmic filtering” (along with the all-encompassing “Algoricene“), and “meme magic” are among the more, or less, helpful technical terms being proposed. Exactly when the post-truth era began is harder to pinpoint — as is the point at which “fake news” becomes (real) “information war.”

An interesting forthcoming article by University of Washington researcher Kate Starbird examines the “alternative media ecosystem” by focusing on the production of the kinds of narratives that are fairly exclusive to the “alternative,” as opposed to mainstream, “media ecosystem.” Continue Reading »

Paul Kingsnorth’s “The Lie of the Land: Does Environmentalism Have a Future in the Age of Trump?“, published in last Saturday’s Guardian, has elicited some interesting responses, for interesting reasons.

Kingsnorth is a well known novelist and environmental public intellectual, a back-to-the-land “dark ecologist,” former deputy-editor of The Ecologist (which for decades played an indispensible, if politically ambiguous, role in global environmentalism), and co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project. The article includes a public admission of his pro-Brexit stance.

Some of the reactions I’ve seen to it are typified by novelist Warren Ellis’s “Poisonous Little England” rejoinder, where Ellis equates Kingsnorth’s eco-localism with a

“creepy Heideggerian dasein that… actually means being in a familiar landscape surrounded by lovely white people with no connection to the wider culture, preferring localism over multiculturalism and not being disturbed in your eternal idyll in the black forest (or on the dark mountain) by any of those nasty foreign types.”

Whoa. Let’s start from the beginning.

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Not that this blog has been very active recently, but with Inauguration Day upon us, a little reflection on our situation seems warranted…

So, here’s where I see us.

If a Clinton-led Democratic administration would have brought to power a coalition of neoliberal plutocrats and social and environmental progressives (with the balance probably tilting towards the former group), a Trump administration is bringing us a coalition of neoliberal plutocrats, right-wing populists (like Trump himself), and social and environmental radical regressives, with the balance leaning towards the latter group. Those who fail to see the difference are a good part of the reason for how we got here.

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Here’s the abstract I’ve just sent in for the keynote I’ll be giving at the Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource conference in Oslo in February:

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Returning to Sedona

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Three things have drawn me repeatedly to the red rock landscape around the small north-central Arizona city of Sedona.

First, and most obvious, is the landscape itself, which counts among the most distinctive and stunningly beautiful in the world. Second is the set of processes that landscape has set in motion in the conditions of late capitalist modernity — specifically, these include the recreational and spiritual impulse among those who visit it, with earth- or land-based spirituality being a crucial part of that; the voracious appetite of the tourism and real estate industries, which have dominated politics in the city for decades; and the various conflicts these have set the town up for. It is this concatenation of forces that were the primary focus of my book Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona (and see update here).

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So, Donald Trump will be president of the United States and both Congress and Senate will be dominated by Republicans. Environmentalists and social justice activists, almost universally, find this idea horrifying. But there are silver linings to be found amidst the wreckage. Let’s explore a few of them.

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A friend shared a post about a seemingly unbelievable “opportunity” for the world’s ultra-rich — to “circle the globe on an inspiring and informative journey by private jet, created by The New York Times in collaboration with luxury travel pioneers Abercrombie & Kent.” On this 26-day itinerary, you’d be taken “beneath the surface of some of the world’s most compelling destinations,” which would be “illuminated” for you through “the expertise of veteran Times journalists,” including Nicholas Kristof and three others.

The cost of this “exclusive private charter for 50 guests”? $135,000 per person for double occupancy, $148,500 for singles. (I’m not sure what “double occupancy” means on an airplane, with “first-class, fully lie-flat seats.”)

Intrigued by the idea of flying “beneath the surface” (?) of such compelling places as Marrakesh and El Rashidia in Morocco, Isfahan in Iran, Yanggon in Myanmar, Bogota, Havana, Easter Island, and Apia, Samoa, I decided to take the plunge.  Continue Reading »

I’ve written about ethical witnessing before — both in the eco-trauma chapter of Ecologies of the Moving Image and in my reflections on Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Seeing Serhii Loznitsa‘s latest film, Austerlitz, at Kyiv’s Molodist Film Festival a few days ago, prompted me to think some more about how a seemingly neutral camera, viewing the world but not commenting on it, can enable such a witnessing. (The film’s title is an oblique reference to the W. G. Sebald novel of the same name; there is no mention of the book in the film.)

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Kyїv, Ukraine

Since my review of urban geographer Roman Cybriwsky’s excellent book on Kyїv, Ukraine, has not been published yet by the journal I wrote it for, though a second edition has already come out, and since I’ll be visiting the city in a couple of days, I thought I might as well share that review, here.

(I’ll be giving a talk on Chernobyl and the Anthropocenic sublime at the Visual Culture Research Center on Oct. 25, and another, on the environmental humanities and the Anthropocene, at Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University this coming Friday.)

Given what has happened in the city over the two years since the book first came out, Continue Reading »

Sabbatical note

It gives me pleasure to share the news that I’ve been named the Steven Rubenstein Professor for Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. The position provides some teaching release and a budget enabling me to work on my proposed project of developing a new center for eco-arts, media, and culture (or something of the sort), to be based here at the university.

While it’s an outgrowth of things we have been doing for a while here (such as the recent Sixth Extinction Howl), the center is a few years away, and its ultimate form will be dependent on various contingencies. But I take the committee’s decision as welcome recognition that the arts and humanities are — and ought to be — central to environmental scholarship and action today. Those of us in the environmental humanities have long argued that, but its recognition in a school of “environment and natural resources” is unusual.

There’s irony in that term “natural resources” for me.  Continue Reading »

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