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I recently found myself in a part of Mississauga, Ontario (a bedroom community of Toronto), in which more than 90% of the visible landscape (excepting the sky) appeared to consist of concrete, in the form of pavement, asphalt, buildings, and such. The remaining 5-10% — rows of evenly spaced short trees, shrubs, a few patches of mowed lawn, and windows — looked like one could easily peel them off to reveal the concrete beneath them.

It had been a while since I’d found myself in such a scene, so there was some aesthetic and emotional revulsion to the experience. But what it reminded me of is that our entire social and technological order — from buildings and infrastructure to art forms, values, and religious and family planning practices (or lack thereof) — needs to be reinvented from the ground up so as to accommodate ecological principles. And very soon.  Continue Reading »

I’ll be giving the following talk at the “Popular Culture, Religion, and the Anthropocene” workshop at the National University of Singapore this coming week.

Navigating the Zone of Alienation: Chernobyl and the Anthropocenic Sublime

Abstract:

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Lexington’s Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series just got its own catalogue, which tells us the series is doing well.

As is Wilfrid Laurier’s Environmental Humanities series, Routledge’s series of the same, Bloomsbury’s Environmental Cultures, and others in the same vein. I can hardly keep up.

Note: The original post included an incorrect link to the Lexington series. That has been corrected.

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Today is World Listening Day, a global event held annually to

  • Celebrate the listening practices of the world and the ecology of its acoustic environments;
  • Raise awareness about the growing number of individual and group efforts that creatively explore Acoustic Ecology based on the pioneering efforts of the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, La Semaine du Son, Deep Listening Institute, among many others;
  • Design and implement educational initiatives that explore these concepts and practices.

This year’s theme is “Sounds Lost and Found.” Continue Reading »

Damian White has posted an excellent review of Janet Biehl’s book Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin at the Jacobin blog. Bookchin’s legacy has undergone something of a revival of late thanks to the efforts of Kurdish eco-socialist communitarians in Rojava.

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This post follows up on my previous note about Alfred North Whitehead’s time spent in Greensboro, Vermont. It was updated on July 7, 2016, thanks to information obtained from the Mitchells’ descendants.

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I have found out where the Whiteheads stayed when he was writing his philosophical magnum opus, Process and Reality. It was in a two-story cottage owned by economist Wesley Clare Mitchell and progressive educator Lucy Sprague Mitchell. The cottage Continue Reading »

This post builds on the previous one on the state of the eco-humanities. Here I focus on the substantive elements for narratives adequate to the Anthropocene.

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One of the challenges of our time is to learn to tell an adequate story of humanity’s current predicament.

Next spring’s Stories for the Anthropocene Festival in Stockholm aims to deal with this challenge. Numerous books and statements, from Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet to Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene to Ian Angus’s about-to-be-released Facing the Anthropocene to the Breakthrough Institute’s Ecomodernist Manifesto (and its critiques), vie for the right mix of pessimism and optimism, technical realism and motivating vision. These latter-day efforts add to existing “big story” narratives, like David Christian’s “Big History” and Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme’s “universe story” (see here for a discussion of their limitations), injecting urgency from recent science into the mix.

My own sense is that there are at least three key elements that should be part of any such narrative: Continue Reading »

I was astounded to read the following passage as I sat in a cottage on the shore of Caspian Lake in Greenboro, Vermont, earlier today:

“Work on ‘The Concept of Organism’ began with the summer of 1927, which the Whiteheads spent in a cottage on the shore of Caspian Lake, in Greensboro, Vermont. It was there that Whitehead’s metaphysical system was created and his magnum opus, later named Process and Reality, was shaped.”

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Just as I=PAT serves as a handy, if problematic, formula for thinking about the causes of environmental impact, so I think there is a similar formula underlying tragedies like the massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. It goes something like this:

Hate + Technology + Distress = Carnage/Chaos

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This post is the first of a series of reflections on the state of the Environmental Humanities, or Eco-Humanities, and of where this interdisciplinary field might be headed.

A note on terminology: The term “Environmental Humanities” has caught on in ways that “Eco-Humanities” and other variations have not, but the debate between them has hardly occurred, so I will use those two interchangeably in what follows. The abbreviation “EH” works for both. I’ll leave open the question of whether the Eco-Arts deserve more explicit recognition, as in “Eco-Arts and Humanities” or “EAH,” or if they are a separate entity. I’ll also leave aside the fact that one could say all the same things about “Anthropocene scholarship” — which is even more interdisciplinary in its roots and scope.

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Interviews are funny things: you have to think on the spot, but later realize how deeply and profoundly imperfect (!) was your choice of words.

The Imperfect Buddha Podcast has an interview with me in which host Matthew O’Connor (of Post-Traditional Buddhism) and I talk at length about Buddhism, process-relational metaphysics, panpsychism, social constructionism, cognitive science, meditation (including process-relational analytic meditation, but much later than when he asks me about it), emptiness, subjectivity, Dzogchen, enlightenment, and ecological crisis, plus a host of thinkers from Whitehead and Peirce to Naess, Guattari, Harman, Zizek, Lacan, and meditation teacher Shinzen Young.

Writing, on the other hand, allows for the kind of reflective consideration of one’s words that I’m more accustomed to. The Pomegranate, a peer-reviewed journal of Pagan studies, has published a special issue incorporating autobiographies of some scholarly leaders within that field, and it turns out that I qualify among them. (I’ve been on the editorial board of the journal for many years.)

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While I’ve done no formal surveys, my best guess is that about half my students here at the U of Vermont (at least those in Environmental Studies) would fit into the category of “religiously unaffiliated,” the so-called “religious Nones” — a category that now makes up almost 1 in 4 Americans and over a third of those under 25.

Many, though not all, of my students resonate with the phrase “spiritual but not religious.” If they were offered the option, I suspect they would subscribe to what Elizabeth Drescher calls “spiritual cosmopolitanism.”

Drescher writes:

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