What is a petroculture? Conjectures on energy and global culture

What is a petroculture? Conjectures on energy and global culture


My name is Martha Broad I’m the
executive director of the MIT Energy Initiative—a little out of breath, it was
a good workout getting here. I want to welcome you to our October seminar
sponsored by IHS. And we collaborate with faculty and we’re—I’m really pleased to
introduce the faculty who have helped us bring our speaker here today. Rania Ghosn is assistant professor of architecture and urbanism here at MIT
and she’s of course with the School of Architecture and planning. She has a
really interesting organization practice called Design Earth and she along with a
partner have founded it. They’ve—they’re award-winning and she leads the office’s
work to engage the geographic—to open up a range of aesthetic political concerns
for architecture and urbanism. Her work engages the geographic to open up a
range of aesthetic and political concerns and critically frames the urban
condition at the intersection of politics, aesthetics, and technological
systems, be they energy, trash or farming. She uses architecture to explore how urban
systems change the earth and speculate on ways of living with legacy
technologies such as oil fields and landfills. And I will leave it at that—
it’s a fascinating set of work that she does and I’m going to have Rania now
introduce our speaker. Thank you, Rania. Good evening everyone and thank you for
joining tonight’s event. It’s my distinct pleasure to welcome Imre Szeman for a talk and a subsequent panel conversation on what is petroculture. I’d like to begin by thanking the MIT Energy Initiative for sponsoring
this event and for the Department of Architecture for hosting us. I was
delighted when this past spring the MIT Energy Initiative Director of
Communications Emily Dahl and her team expressed interest in an event that
expands the Initiative’s pivotal role beyond the excellent scientific and
engineering research to engage methods and insights from humanities, aesthetics,
and design and conversations on energy and energy transitions. In 1833, Joseph Etzler, a young German engineer, published a utopian treatise promising a paradise
within the reach of old man without labor by powers of nature and machinery.
The inscription of them the frontispiece offered an immediate gloss to the social
ideal. It reads: “toil and poverty will be no
more among men. Nature affords infinite powers and wealth.” Over the last two
centuries, Etzler’s world was made possible, in part at least, by an abundant
energy machine of fossil fuels—of coal gas and oil—that are cheap, accessible,
and a rich source of energy. Petroleum and its extraction, refining,
transformation, subsequent refining, and consumption has shaped our physical and
cultural environment across scales and yet most of its technological
geographies remained for most of us out of sight and external to representation.
Scholars have recently begun to address oil’s essential role in modern life and we
are lucky tonight to host one of the most important voices in this emerging
field of energy humanities. How do we think today about geographies of energy
at the point when oil has shed its developmental promises and when
projections about fossil fuel depletion and the need to manage climate change
formulate the desirability of a future energy transition? The
task of making visible the oil landscape seems important to me at least
on two fronts. One is the question on how do we live with legacy technologies such
as oil fields and pipelines? In 2012, the French philosopher Bruno Latour
wrote that the real lesson of Frankenstein was not that we should or
could prevent the creation of technological monsters, but that we
should love our monsters—that creators need to care for their creation. The age
of oil invites us to revise our disciplinary framework to think, for
example, on the intertwined dimensions of history, urban, cultural, aesthetic,
literary, and environmental when narrating the past and future of oil
world capitals becomes significance. How do we think of site such as Baku, Tulsa,
Los Angeles, Houston, Dammam and Stavanger. On a second point, the lessons
of the age of oil also present telling stories for contemporary efforts in
energy diversification and transitions to avoid possibly that the Green
Revolution produced dirty matters of geography. Much of the promotional
culture of sustainable alternatives often perpetuates a series of energy
myths to quote the historian George Basalla. Most importantly, that any newly
discovered source of energy is assumed to be without faults, infinitely abundant,
and to have the potential to affect utopian changes and society. These myths
persist until a new source of energy is deployed to the point that its drawbacks
become apparent and the failure to establish a utopian society must be reluctantly admitted. The next new source of energy is not treated any
differently. Instead, the recently discarded energy myths are resurrected
and bestowed upon the newcomer. The transition to future energy regimes
should maybe be accompanied by a reflec— by reflection on the geographies
upon which the current petroculture rests. No little task. I’m very
happy to host Imre this evening to start to make this conversation—to move
this conversation on how do we make visible and speculate on oil
significance as a prominent material and for structural and imaginary in the
early 21st century? Imre is Canada Research Chair
and cultural studies at the University of Alberta and professor of
communications and culture at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He
conducts research and teaches in the areas of energy and environmental
studies, as well as critical and cultural theory, and social and political
philosophy. Imre has been curating a series of conversations on how we
understand the questions of energy and actively engage the social and cultural
changes that are necessary to enable energy transition, namely the transition
from oil to other energy systems in our time of uncertainty and climate change.
Recent books that he’s co-edited include —and of course I forgot the couple of
images that come to that—but this is the recent books that he’s recently
co-edited which includes Fueling Culture, Energy Humanities, and Petrocultures,
all published within the past few months along with others that maybe do not fit
neatly into the theme of tonight’s evening, but it’s been a it’s been a good
year so far—a few more months to go. So these three books integrate energy and
in particular petroleum as a key partof contemporary culture. They bring together
an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on insights from literary and cultural
studies, environmental history and eco criticism, political economy, political
ecology, post-colonial and globalization study, and materialism old and new. Such
collection of works investigates the discourses surrounding oil in
contemporary culture while advancing and configuring new ways to discuss the
cultural ecosystem that it has created. They also contemplate the imaginaries
and meanings when life is no longer shaped by the consumption of fossil
fuels. Rosalind Williams and Caroline Jones
have generously made the time to respond to Imre’s talk this evening. Rosalind is
Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology and has served
as program head of STS from 2002 to 2006. Her main scholarly affiliation is the
Society of the History of Technology (SHOT) of which she served as president in
2005-2006 and from which she received its highest award the Leonardo da Vinci
medal in 2013. Her first three books— Dream Worlds, Notes from the Underground, and Retooling—addressed the question of what are the implications for human life
both individual and collective when we live in a
predominantly self-constructed world? Her new book, The Triumph of the Human Empire, surveys the overarching historical event of our time—the rise and triumph of the
human empire, defined by the dominance of human presence on the planet. Caroline
Jones is professor at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. She studies
modern and contemporary art with a particular focus on its technological
modes of production, distribution, and reception. And on that, she’s responding
to a talk by the artist Mark Dion tomorrow night around his exhibition
here in town at the ICA. She’s published on subjects ranging from Clement
Greenberg to John Cage to new media to biannual culture in her most recent book,
The Global Work of Art. Her edited volumes integrate the possible agency
of representation and experience more precisely in our cultural context, and
these include picturing science, producing art, sensorium,
embodied experience, technology and contemporary art, and experience cultural
cognition and the common sense. She’s a fellow at the National Humanities Center
and part of her project is to advance an ongoing research tentatively entitled
“Contested Visibilities and the Anthropogenic Image,” a book that she’s
writing in collaboration with historian of science Peter Galison and through
which she examines historical cases that show contested moments of picturing
human generated ecological catastrophe. In a modest way, I contribute to this
conversation as an educator, an urbanist, and a designer with works on and
research on energy. These include ongoing design research on
territories of oil in the Middle East or a graduate research seminar that
advances the role for designers in the physical and cultural environment of
energy. This is part of a wide array of research here in the Department of
Architecture which along with Caroline and myself extends to environmental
modeling and building technology, urban studios from the Center of Advancement,
urbanism and material research on automated composite housing, and portable energy harvesting solar textile kits—only to name a few. I very much look
forward to how tonight’s talk and conversation will continue to grow here
and without further ado please join me in welcoming Imre Szeman to MIT. Thanks very much for that introduction.
Thank you everybody for coming today. So when I had an idea of a different
presentation than the one I’m gonna give. When I looked at the poster that Rania
sent me, this was what it was listed that I was going to talk about and I was a
little bit surprised, but what I had kind of indicated—what I had sent to my…my respondents was actually the— something about the first one—how you
can use energy as a critical component of cultural and literary studies. But it
seemed to me that it was equally important, and especially for people who
are not already doing this work in what’s called energy humanities, to
address together kind of give you some background on these other two elements
and so that’s what I’m going to be talking about today. And I’ll transition
at the very very end into it talking about energy and relationship to a
literature and culture. So six years ago, about six years ago, the petrocultures
research group was established with the aim of developing a sharper
understanding of the ways that we use and abuse energy. Its immediate intention
was to examine the social, cultural, and political implications of Canada’s
turn-of-the-century leap into the ranks of the world’s oil superpowers. Our
interest in energy arose in part as a result of working at the research
university closest to the Athabasca tar sands. In Edmonton, where the University
of Alberta is located, it’s hard not to see oil everywhere, and not only in the
physical infrastructure of refineries, but also in its social costs and
consequences—labor dislocation, inflated housing prices, alcohol and drug abuse,
and rates—higher rates—high rates of sexual violence and family dysfunction.
Very quickly however, petroculture scholars also began to grapple with
other, larger questions. What is energy for in our society? How
does the availability of relatively cheap energy affect how we socialize and
relate to one another? How does energy shape the form of culture that we
inhabit and of cultural development? What are the inequalities that come with
fossil fuels and what is stopping renewables from carrying these same
inequalities forward? I have to just mention on this last point, I feel like
there’s a kind of a a very strange connection that we’ve made, and we
imagine that if we have solar power or other kinds of renewables suddenly
there’ll be all other kinds of social inequalities will be addressed as well.
I’m not sure how this kind of connection got made but I feel like it’s there in
our social imaginary. We moderns still tend to take energy as a largely neutral
aspect of social life, as little more than a dead input into the motors of a
society’s form and rationale originates at a distance from coal mines and oil
fields. But the forms of energy we use, and how we use them, shape society
through and through, and not just in how we work, say in factories instead of
fields, or in how we move around using horsepower instead of horses. This is
what we mean by petrocultures, the term that gives our group its name. Petrocultures is the global culture we find ourselves in today. It is the name for a
society that’s been organized around the energies and products of fossil fuels,
the capacities it engenders and enables, and the situations in context it creates.
It’s not just that our physical infrastructures depend on oil and gas, or
that our social and economic practices have been organized around easy and
cheap access to fossil fuels. The relationship to our dominant energy form
is deeper, pervasive, and constitutive. To say that we inhabit a petroculture is
to say that we are fossil fuel creat— creatures all the way down, all the way
through. Our expectations, our sensibilities, our habits, our ways of
being in and moving across the world, how we imagine ourselves in relation to
nature as well as in relation to one another, these have all been sculpted by,
and in relation to, the massively expanded energies of the fossil fuel era.
To give just one example, in the potential shift from gas to electric
powered cars now promised us, what is rarely questioned, all too rarely
questioned, is the necessity of the automobile itself. As inhabitants of a
global petroculture, we have all come to expect the mobility, freedom, and
autonomy of mechanized movement by land, air, and sea. Those parts of the world
that don’t yet have a car in every garage see it as an index of economic
and social progress, a sign of having joined the modern community because at
long last they are able to use energy at the same level as those in the global
north. Over the course of this century, we will need to undergo an energy
transition— a shift from an economy and society based on energy derived from
fossil fuels to an economy and society based on a mix of energy forms. This
transition, if we in fact undertake it, will constitute the greatest experiment—
the greatest social experiment— in human history. A planned, plotted, and predetermined shift from one kind of society to
another— from the petrocultures we inhabit today to some other form of
society. Real energy transition has to involve
social, political, and cultural transition too, with attention to how energy has
shaped us and the importance of energy to human collectivities. We should not imagine that we carry out
in our environmental duty when it comes to energy by asserting that we all stay
away from the dirty stuff and hope scientists come up with lots of clean
stuff. At petrocultures, we see this energy transition as an opportunity for
a transition too to the kind of society many of us have long imagined—collective,
equitable, and just in all of its practices and principles. Just how might
we trigger a transition like the one I’m describing? My comments today draw, in
part, on an experiment in collective thinking and writing that petrocultures carried out in which I lead called After Oil School. Thirty-five scholars,
politicians, and artists spent four days together mapping out how we might engage in transition which resulted in this small book here called
After Oil, which there’s free copies of up here if you’re interested and you can
grab at the end of the talk. And I guess what I’m gonna be talking about connects
energy transition with cultural transition and then at the very end I’m
going to turn to a discussion of cultural analysis in relation to energy.
So four parts: just what is oil? Oil composes space and shapes culture. It
modulates our lives including on the clothing we wear, the objects we use, the
buildings we occupy, the spaces we move through, the daily routines that
structure everyday existence, our habits and perception,s our commitments and
beliefs. Oil, as a metonym of the larger fossil economy, names a way of organizing
society of bring— of bringing people together and of keeping them apart. Oil
modulates everything not because of some natural or magical property of the
energy source itself. Rather, oil expresses a social system bound up
historically with the rise of modern industry and industrial capital,
including the creation of an industrial working class, the birth of middle class
opportunity and material privilege in the West, and the mirrored
acceleration of precarity and mass unemployment across the globe. Energizing the labor process at the site of production increased the productive
capacity of workers, but it also gave business owners a solution to the rising
cost of labour. Today, we call these phenomenon automation, offshoring,
and capital deepening, yet as economic strategies all three depend on more and
more non-human energy in the form of transportation and more efficient
machinery. To describe oil in this way is to view the problem of energy transition
from an unfamiliar perspective— as the object of a social challenge. For to
transition from oil to some other energy source will entail—whether we like it or
not, whether we participate in the process or not—it will entail the
unmaking and remaking of our social worlds. Undeniably this prospect is
daunting, even overwhelming, but might its challenges also offer surprising promise
and possibility? What is intentional transition? If oil so
saturates our cultural and social imaginary then what is one to do? What
options are available to us in the midst of this tectonic transition that is
moving underneath our feet and circulating in the air we breathe? Given
that we are already deep in the midst of transition, if perhaps not an intentional
one, not an intentional and focused one, where should we locate ourselves? The
default position is a disabling one. It is to assume that this transition is a
purely technological problem that will be resolved through technocratic
solutions. Such a position assumes that responsibility can be entrusted and hand
it off to someone else. Reinforcing this default resignation is
the embedded assumption that the market will resolve the crisis. This
due.. too presumes that only—that the only intentionality needed is that of market
forces, and that we as individuals and communities need
not participate in shaping, hoping, or imagining except along narrowly defined
consumerist lines. To accept this default position is to abdicate agency.
It’s to abandon to someone else the creative act of making the world and the
values that it will hold. An intentional transition reframes the energy question
as a humanistic one requiring our vote in the matter,
our intentionality, agency, and the assertion of values and desires that we
hold. As such, it begins by taking account of where we sit historically, where we
find ourselves in terms of our infrastructural dependencie, and our effective, and indeed even our erotic attachments, to the fossil economy. An intentional
transition begins by reckoning candidly with the problem of the path
dependencies that are required for survival in a post oil economy and with
an acknowledgement of the attachment to desires realized under the fossil
economy. But it then moves beyond oil to a reckoning with the failures, the block
desires, the pain and the penury, the inequality and injustice which the
fossil economy could not resolve under its terms of management. The principles
of intentional transition— people always ask me like “what, what do we do about it?”
so I’m finally going to tell you. An intentional transition, as I said, is
premised on agency, on the conscious participation and mobilization of people
in communities. In this respect, conscious participation cannot be reduced to the
meager practice of constituencies being brought into a discussion after the
terms of the debate have already been set. It means people being brought
together to establish the framework for the debate from the start so that its
terms and its conduct conforms to their hopes, their needs, and their values as
individuals and communities. That should be the very first one of
that—that’s agency mobilization. Second: collective stewardship. An
intentional transition is premised on collective stewardship, on the avowed
right of people in their communities to own, manage, and develop the energy
resources that conform to their desires and needs, and their support for ideals
for reproducing and producing the health of their communities and the values they
hold. In this sense, public control is distinct from the prevailing tendency
toward private control and increasing private management of this epical of
transition. Why can’t energy be something akin to water? Something—a good—that is
managed by all of us? Third: quality. An intentional transition has to be premised on
equality, on the rights of all peoples and communities to adequate
energy resources for survival. It’s to acknowledge that life under the
fossil economy did not fulfill for many people or communities this basic human
right and that the fossil economy produced wild inequalities that left
much of the world behind while conferring the privileges of energy
along unfair and wholly undesirable racial, national, gender, and class lines.
In the old world prior to transition, you were rich because you happen to inhabit
a part of the world that had oil under it. That can’t be possible going forward.
Fourth: ethics of use. An intentional transition is premised on a clear
understanding of the ethical dimensions of energy use and the hierarchy of human
priorities. Intentional transition means collectively sorting out the moral
differences between the use of energy for more elementary needs—that more
elementary needs we all have for food water and the basic essentials of life—
and the surplus material and immaterial desires that energy quite literally
feeds and fuels. Fifth: sustainability. An intentional transition has to be premised
on sustainability. It distinguishes quite clearly between accepting the risk
of an increasingly obsolescent fossil economy and embracing the opportunities of an after oil economy in
opportunities of an after oil economy in which energy is thoroughly socialized
and generated within a framework of sustainability. Sixth: a redefinition of
growth. An intentional transition is premised on growth and development, but
it does not take these terms as self-evident. Instead, it redefines these
much abused terms as something distinct from business as usual. In the after oil
economy, growth and development are tied to the social values articulated above
and joined to a new ethics of resilience and sustainability. Growth and
development are taken out of the hands of the economists and given back to the
people— apologies to any economists who happen
to be here. Final section: transition desire. Some of the challenges involved
in intentional transition can be grasped by considering just one of its
many dimensions—shifts in how desire is coordinated by and in relation to the
use of fossil fuels. We live, especially in the Western world, in an era of
unmatched material plenty in which desires are indulged and encouraged
encouraged no matter how trivial. A consumerist ethos pervades our culture and for man it appears that we inhabit, in the words of former American President
President Herbert Hoover, the world of the constantly moving happiness machine.
This incredible cornucopia of the 20th and early 21st centuries—this thing
called the great acceleration, what others called the great derangement
since 1945— would have been unthinkable without a cheap, portable, seemingly
infinite source of energy in the form of petrocarbons or oil. As we’ve
seen our dependence on oil has had unforeseen but profoundly dire
consequences on the ecological health of our planet. Attempts to address this crisis have largely concentrated on advocating
transition to more renewable forms of energy, yet as critics such as the great
geographer, historian, scientist, writer about energy, Vaclav Smil, points out—as he points out, many works, for him at least it seems
unlikely that forms of renewable energy will in the near future be able to
supplement our current energy demands let alone supplant them. Our present
circumstances amount in part to a crisis of desire whose resolution may depend
less on finding new forms of energy than on restraining, curbing, or reshaping what
looks to be a limitless desire provoked and fueled by consumerism. Such a
formulation sits uneasily with the modern temperament. And in the face of
promises of unrestrained plenty the suggestion of restraint smacks of
puritanical sanctimony. Who are you to tell me to forget forgo my desires,
you might ask? Nevertheless, tackling the question of desire need not require the
suppression or even renunciation of desire, but as many critics have argued,
its redirection. If life in consume—if if life in consumer society promises a
dream of endless ease and joyful satiation and satisfaction, its
critics for a century now have pointed out, have pointed precisely to the
profound gap between this dream and actual lived experience, noting that the
actual pleasures and happiness experienced fall fall short of those
promised. To such critics the consumer citizen appears very much akin to a dog
chasing its own tail, pursuing an elusive goal that can that it can never achieve
no matter how fast it runs. Given the frequently noted intimate connection
between petroleum as primary energy source and the deterritorialization, intenification and acceleration of production,
it is to be wondered whether the transition from fossil fuels might
itself offer new opportunities to satiate human desires for things as a
more intimate connection to local, social, and natural communities, fulfilling work,
and free time. I lied, there’s one other section. And this is back to that
beginning part about culture and relation—energy in relation to examining
culture. And I guess I could speak to the— I gave a paper to my colleagues who are
gonna comment on it, but I think this short page will will speak to
that as well. Like no other text that I’ve encountered
to date, a book by the novelist and critic Amitav Ghosh called The Great
Derangement, links the modern novel to the era of oil. In part, this book by Ghosh
constitutes an extended and expanded analysis of what he has called the
novel’s failure to take on the oil encounter. What Ghosh has said, Ghosh is
originally from India, he’s puzzled why in an era in which oil has been so
important over the 20th century, there are very few novels at all that speak
about oil, that address it directly. He’s surprised that the American novel in
particular seems to have no interest whatsoever in the substance that gave it—
gave the United States its power, much of its power in the 20th century. He’s
surprised that it only appears as a subject matter in some novels—in very
few novels and generally in post-colonial novels.
And we can argue with Ghosh about this, but I would say that one of the
surprises that I have had as somebody who’s been more and more interested in
energy is the degree to which I don’t find it represented in the objects that
I’m most interested in. Then one can run around and find like
examples where counter-examples… but they’re really just minor examples given
how essential this commodity has been to our lives, to shaping who and what we are.
It’s interesting how this very very dominant, important, culturally important
form seems to have no interest in it whatsoever. But Ghosh poses another
question now—he asks why hasn’t the novel made climate change central to its
depictions of contemporary reality? Ghosh remarks “few indeed were the quarters
that remained unperturbed over the last few years by climate change but literary
fiction and the arts appear to have been among them.” Shortlist for prizes reviews
and so on betray no signs of a heightened engagement of climate change. And
indeed, that’s true of the last year of literary lists for literary prizes. We
seem to be interested in the—in narrative self development, in the
unfolding of the liberal subject, in the encounters that a subject has societally.
That seems to be our fascination—with the with this subject, with the
individual, with the individual’s experience—that’s what the novel has
become about. And what Ghosh says about that is that, in a way, it has to do with the
fact that literary fiction, and this is a quote from him, it derives from the
grid of literary forms and conventions that came to shape the narrative
imagination precisely the period when accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere
was rewriting the destiny of the earth. The forms and conventions that he points
to are ones in which the novel mirrors developments across the humanities and
social sciences—the production of the modern worldview in which nature was
moderate and orderly, when regularity and predictability came
to inform the practices of science as much as the operations of governmentality, and when the individual is championed over the collective in
liberal philosophy as much as in the novel’s individualizing imaginary. These are more specific claims than the
production of the expansionary drive of the… the cultural, the kind of energy
unconscious that I’ve been narrating here, but they articulates some of the
same intuitions about the link between culture and society and energy and name
some of the limits and problems of the literary and other representational
forms when it comes to global warming. Ghosh asks, “is it possible that the arts
and literature of this time will one day be remembered not for their daring, not
for their championing of freedom, but rather because of their complicity in
the great derangement?” End quote. Is it that they’re going to be remembered for
their collective imaginative failure in the face of global warming? We need to
consider a transition not just in energy forms, but in our social forms and
practices too as I’ve been saying throughout this presentation. Might this
include one of my objects of interests— my object of scholarly
interests—the novel and other cultural forms that grew to life when energy was
cheap and abundant? Thanks very much. So possibly to respond to the
provocation of literary and cultural works responding to energy and energy
transitions, Rosalind do you want to follow up on
literary attributes of the works? Yes, thank you. Because I want to take on Ghosh. Yeah, I think he’s wrong. But actually, not about, not talking about today’s work.
I double majored in history and literature, so I’m here to tell you about, there’ll be two examples from history and three from literature, works that absolutely
address these issues. And the problem with energy is that it’s
everywhere and so it’s hard to see. It’s not a thing; it’s a relationship; it’s a
force and we often see the thing, but you know it’s like seeing the petroleum, but
not the energy—it it doesn’t have to be petroleum in your car, anything that
could drive it would work—but we see the petroleum and that becomes what we
focus on. So first of all I just want to say there
is a sub-discipline called the History of Technology and it has a lot to say
about the history of energy, but it’s often intertwined with the history of
material things. Some matter and energy, as we all know, are transferable and they
go together and they often go together in in history. But what’s interesting
about the history of technology is that people who practice this also try to
work in social organization so it’s the intertwining history of energy, matter,
and social organization. So I…one book I wanted to describe as an example of this
has just come out, or quite recently, and this is James C Scott’s book Against the
Grain that’s titled after a novel, a French novel, if you don’t already know
that, subtitled A Deep History of the Earliest
States. And his history of energy begins with fire and he talks a lot about the
invention of fire as being so important in increasing human energy ability
because it allows you to digest food much more quickly. The colon can be a lot
shorter in the brain can be a lot bigger. So he describes this as kind of the
beginning of human history in and of itself is the technology of fire and he
also talks about the transformation of the landscape and claims that the age of
the Anthropocene really began back as soon as you had fire, you were
transforming—you being humans—you were transforming the face of the earth. But
he also has a very interesting description of the use of grains as
opposed to other sources of food for humans, other sources being legumes or
root crop,s but he talks about the favoritism for grains because they are
more readily measured and weighed and can be seen when they’re harvested and they’re
harvested all at once and you can’t hide them and therefore they’re very good for
states or state-based actors that want to tax. They’re much more amenable to the
taxation—that is the the grains of wheat, barley, rice, maize—than other forms
of food. So he’s claiming that the extraction of energy from grains was
favored because of social organization and it was not necessarily just a sun
given preference. That started me thinking about whether fossil fuels
could be thought of in a similar way. In other words is…to make money off of
fossil fuels it’s a lot easier, I think, this is my hypothesis, than looking at
wind or water. Anyway, I just throw that out of something to think about.
And the work of a historian that really gets us thinking in a new way about the
history of energy. Howeve,r this is not new and I also want to tell you or
remind you maybe about the work of Lewis Mumford called Technics and Civilization,
published in 1934, where he is taking, well let’s see, Scott would call it a
package, Mumford calls it a technological
complex. He’s describing periods of energy use that are coordinated with
periods of material use in social organization. And he terms them the eotechnic, the paleotechnic and the neo technic, and in this fascinating book he
describes each of these technological complexes in the historical order and
weaves in their discussion of energy, matter, and social organization. So just
for example, the eotechnic, it’s about the year 1000 to year 1750 in the West,
when, and he’s very generous in describing the innovations that were
made particularly in service…in harnessing the service of wind and water, and he
says as a result of these, you know, efforts in that period, a large
intelligentsia could come into existence, also great works of art and scholarship
and science and engineering could be created without recourse to slavery. It
was a release of energy, a victory for the human spirit. This is what I like
about Mumford he’s, I mean he’s dated in many ways, but he’s always talking about
human desires as well as matter and energy. He also talks about the material
of wood and glass as being characteristic of the eotechnic. The
paleotechnic—that’s the bad period; that’s fossil fuels; that’s coal and iron.
And then the neotechnic, he’s very positive about this or hopeful. He’s
writing remember right just when electrification is taking place
worldwide and he says no longer, you know, is energy dependent on the coal mine
because electricity can be produced in very different ways. You’ve got much more
variety; it’s much more portable. It’s very optimistic, probably too much
so, but it’s fascinating to go back and look at his predictions for the
neotechnic phase in light of where we are now. And it’s holistic and it’s
exciting and that’s…that’s an example of what a great historian can do. Now, what
can great writers do? What does literature add to this? Literature
reveals the energy that it is often hidden because it’s mixed up with so
many other human activities and matter— materials. In other words, literature can
go back to the incarnation taking the abstraction of energy and showing how it
is embodied and made tangible in human life. Literature also sees energy whole.
It sees energy from human experience from the inside out, where many
dimensions of energy use are integrated in one life. So I’m going to give you
three examples from literature—U.S. literature—and I owe
this whole part of the talk to Leo Marx. Okay, one—Moby Dick is the oil-based
novel and if you know if Ghosh doesn’t know that, he better reread Moby Dick.
This is where the…with the age of sail and wind is turning into the age of oil
before your eyes because you’re chasing whales and you’re chasing them for their
oil. And if you really want to get carried away with the power of what
Melville does in this book, published in, actually October 18th, I looked it up—
October 18th, 1851. Go to the tryworks scene, chapter 96. The tryworks
are where on the ship that’s on the water, between the wind and
the water, you have a fire and you’re… you’re essentially distilling the whale
blubber and extracting the oil from it and you are feeding the fire with it—
kind of leftovers of the blubber, so you start the fire originally with the wood
but from then on it goes with the whale’s own body feeding the fire. The whale
supplies its own fuel and burns its own body and this passage ends, “then the
rushing Pequod”…that’s the boat, the the ship…”thus the rushing Pequod freighted with savages, laden with fire, and burning a
corpse and plunging into the darkness.. the blackness of darkness seemed the
material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.” And if that doesn’t
capture tonight’s news, I don’t know what does. As if, you know, just reread Moby
Dick and and you’ve done the most important thing. Second though, here’s a
book you haven’t heard of, but it was written in the 1890s.
It’s about Maine. It’s called The Country of the Pointed Firs. It’s very quiet and the
reason I bring it up is because it focuses on where energy systems have
retreated. I mean Maine used to be a big shipping
area. It was no longer that way by the 1890s. This is a novel about a place where energy has retreated and used to be there and
is no longer. And I think we always kind of look at where energy systems are
going; I think it’s also worth looking at where they’re sucking away activity and
where they’re, well in Leo Marx’s words, he said you know the Industrial
Revolution is taking place offstage. In other words, you’re in Maine and you’re
seeing the results of it by the retreat of energy from an area, and this
also is very relevant. Second section of The Times today, front-page story about
small cities in the U.S. and how they’re at such a disadvantage compared to large
cities—same story. Third one, again this is the education of Henry Adams, now if
you haven’t done it lately, go back and read chapter 25, The Dynamo and the
Virgin, where Adams is being shown around the Paris Exposition of 1900 by his
friend Samuel Pierpont Langley, as in Langley field. They’re looking at things
and Langley just goes to the energy. He wants to go to where the force is and
it begins a sequence of chapters on force as the clue to human history— the
sequence of force being what Adams recognizes that he is seeing around 1900.
And it’s not just the Dynamo, it’s also all these scientific forces like x-rays
that he can’t understand. They’re just they’re anarchistic; they’re chaotic. And he
asked what does this mean for civilization? So, oh boy, I wish I could
read the whole thing, but let me…let me just say, he’s bowing down to the Dynamo,
worshiping it as if it were the Virgin. And he’s saying the Virgin used to be
the the locus of desire because sex is power, sex is force, but now we don’t
worship the Virgin, we worship the Dynamo. What does this mean for a
civilization when your worshipping man-made force as opposed to supposedly
a god-given force? Anyway, he says, you know, he finds himself lying in the
gallery of machines at the great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck
broken by the sudden eruption of forces totally new. Okay, this is just a little
sampling, history and literature have a lot to say. And okay, that’s all I really
don’t need to say myself. I’ll let them speak for me. Thank you. All right, I’m
going to try and speed through this so we can get to our own conversation. I
tried to do a little bit of applied Szemen so that we could think about the
force of his argument and what he’s recommending in Energy Humanities. I
should wave that book around, but I can do it later…is that we radically rethink
as historians and culture writers of periodization. For myself, I want to
introduce into the conversation the Foucauldian and Delusion concept of
visibility and invisibility, so that when we look at a cultural object we can ask
what is it making visible and what, by extension, is it writing out or not
making visible through the very same regimes? And then finally, I was very
struck in the paper that he sent, which he didn’t give, by this concept of unlike
coal, petroleum’s capacity to be dissociated and to dissociate us as
subjects from the source of our energy. You know, coal was this rock you, you know, shoveled it in to something that you were making energy out of, whereas with,
you know, with electricity you have, you know, the dissociation from the source
which I thought was an extremely interesting heuristic. So taking his idea
of periodizing history differently, we have both the materials that could
periodize these epochs, but we also have the kind of energy produced and…and once
you get electricity of course, everything is fungible, right. The source
that powers the Dynamo could be steam, could be wood even, could be coal, could
eventually be oil, could be nuclear power, and so on and so forth.
But taking these periodizations, I thought it was interesting to just
plunge you into one of the great chestnuts of Modern Art History, which is
Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed and this is dissociation in action, in a certain sense. So so posh a Roz Williams conversation that we just had
the benefit of her insights to literature, it may be about energy, but it
is also making invisible the source in terms of the minds where the coal is
being extracted, in terms of what’s happening in Wales, right, this is outside
Londo,n we’re seeing speed itself. Right, we’re having the ideology of speed and
and kind of fluidity of motion created for us. There’s a lot more to be said, but
I just want to throw this out to help us think about these capacities of the
human you know to not visualize while they’re visualizing, right, this…this
complicated heuristic. Interestingly, we can see in some of the paintings of
modernism the unevenness of energy distribution, even within the supposed
you know hegemony of Europe itself, right. We can see that in Italy, you know, the
futurists are still depicting horses; they’re still struggling with the idea
of animal power building their cities, whereas in Paris by that point, you know
just eight years later, you have a sense of energy completely free-floating,
completely, you know, denying its sources and sort of ideologically producing
itself as a machine turning quickly, right, without…without source without…
without material. What Szeman argues in some of his work is that petroleum but,
you know, I’m going to generalize this, that the human discovery of different
sources of energies are world making devices. Right, that they produce worlds
through their capacities of shrinking space and time and increase
these ideologies of fluid movement. In my own domain, you know this is just what I
talked about, what I find interesting about the art of the 1960’s is that you
do begin to get a visualization or a visibility for the extraction, for the
stuff itself, for the material, and for the complex social costs and
institutions and infrastructures that are built around energy extraction. And
here is just, you know, two well-known examples. Robert Smithson, the great theorist of entropy, engaging in…in a way, returning
the asphalt to the earth, in this gesture that he does in Italy,
Hans Hakka, a much more organized in his institutional critique, creating an
entire narrative around oil industries, extraction industries, funding culture
precisely to make their pollution invisible. Right, there’s a book called
Oil Washing, you know, which is really about these these cultural operations, so
it’s interesting that this enters the art world specifically. But in Walter de
Maria’s lightning field, you know, you have a focus on energy in a kind of pure
form, so what is being made invisible even as the energy of electrical, you
know, electrical forces around the earth are being made visible? Well if you
actually go here, it’s a virtual ritual of beautiful invisiblizatio,n in a way.
Right, you…you don’t…you don’t see the wires that are hidden in this rustic
cabin; you don’t see, you know, I mean, in other words, it’s…it’s all about creating
a kind of technological sublime and what James Nisbet calls this sort of…you know this energic domain, but the art really functions by
mystifying how the poles got there or how they’re attached or how they, you
know, how they, where the titanium comes from to sharpen the points and so on and
so forth. And this is not, I would say, a critique of,
you know, all of art. I think we just have to understand that art is engaged in a
variety of operations where energy is clearly an obsession of artists, but it
doesn’t always get us to this transition that we need to…that we need to make.
Alternative forms in…in Szeman’s work are just trivial in terms of our addiction
to oil, so that’s just something I want to surface for our discussion. I think in…in
the end here I just want to leave you with two broad heuristics of the many
we’ve talked about—a kind of critical Anthropocene narrative, what have we done or what we have done. And here I’m just showing you Richard Misrach’s great…
one of the many photographs from his cancer series where he…he also
talks about petrochemical America, and contrast that with this idea of the
utopian chthulucene, as Donna Haraway has called it, we have to work…practice on pronouncing that, what we might yet manage. And here I’m showing
you a piece from an artist that I’ve recently written about, Annika Yi, in
terms of bio fiction. And I’m finding this realm of what I’m calling bio
fiction—this kind of art that, you know, partners with bacteria in this case or
might involve insect life or, you know, might create a Brancusi sculpture
for a hermit crab to take up in the case of pier weave. I’m interested in these
forms because I think they might propel us toward this kind of radical
reimagining of our place. We are symbionts and almost nothing in our culture helps
us acknowledge that and acknowledge how dependent we are on a million other life
forms, some of which are in our body, right, we have more cells of bacteria
than we have cells that are human in our body. So, you know, in a way I leave us
with this this kind of new edge of the, let’s try it again,
chthulucene, you know, because it kind of returns us to Wilson’s question
of how will humans…how will humans be? How will we evolve? Will we evolve
greater partnerships among ourselves and among other species that we are
symbiotically dependent on or will we, you know, stay with our primate, our small
pri—small group primate, you know, natures so far? So these are questions that
we can discuss. I think there will be a mic moving around for questions from the
audience. I think we can go a bit over time, maybe
overrun by a few minutes, so I think, we’d like to take a few. I think, you know, maybe I can just start you off. I think what I was most interest in was your last point about desire. This is very
high on my list of things to think about because I was in London for the serpentine marathon and there was a
wonderful artist who’s thought really hard about all this stuff, but his main
criticism of AI and of the autonom—you know, the autonomous vehicle was that it
was going to take away his autonomy. You know, it wasn’t—I think you can all hear—anyway, it was…it was…it was fascinating that as critical as he was being and he’s…and
he’s created all sorts of, you know, pathways that will stop the car from
moving anywhere and so on, I mean, his critique was based on the old ideology
that he should be able to drive wherever he wants and he should be in charge and
he should be, you know, Marlboro Man, you know, on the edge of some Western universe. So I think that changing ourselves is a really complicated and long—long job and I don’t know, so that was… Yeah, yeah I thank…I thank both of you for your comments. I’ll just say
in response to what you just said, Carolyn, it’s that if there’s…if there’s
two takeaways I guess from the work that my colleagues and I have been doing, it’s
one is…one is simply to say we have not really given as much thought as we
should to the degree to which energy systems shape who we are. There have been people who have, of course, given thought to energy systems. There’s…it kind of
comes up every once in a while…there’s not just the…the Mumford, there’s Louis
White after World War II in the field of anthropology. He gave a lot of thought
to energy systems in the way that they shape human communities, but it seems to
fade out of existence. I guess what makes this current moment quite distinct is
that we are faced with the necessity to think about how we might be in
relationship to different kinds of energy systems
as a result of an external constraint which is that of the environment. So this
is not something that we were given to have to kind of develop a idea about
previously. If we…if there was some idea, it tended to always be the various kinds
of fantasies about endless sources of energy, utopian ideas about this moment
when we reach some kind of energy source that we’d have indefinitely still exists,
of course, today in various kinds of ideas, models of fusion or fission
energy. But there’s this sort of…this sensibility that we’ve created a certain
kind of society. We’ve done it globally. We’ve done it in a way that our
identities, our sensibilities, our feelings, our desires are mapped into it
in a very strong and powerful way. We’ve done it so that it’s global and now we
have to think about what it means on the other side of this system. I don’t…I
don’t want to kind of take up all of the time, but I will say this. Even a company
like Shell, its future energy systems unit that occasionally tries to come up
with a way to kind of think about what energy will look like…energy systems,
global energy systems will look like down the road, they have suggested that
the maximum amount that we could have per person per year would be something
like a hundred Kika joules of energy. Because there’d be such a large
population of people and they’re imagining that hundred Giga joules would
be mixed forms of energy so probably still would have some fossil fuels, but
lots of other…more…a bigger portion of renewables. So that would be one third of
what an average American uses today and it would be less than an average
person in China uses today. And they’re imagining 100 Giga joules would allow for
decent quality…enough energy input for a decent quality of life. They don’t
describe what what that might be. This still demands a certain kind of re-figuring of our desires and it has to be something more than just a sense that we
cut…we cut down…we do less because that’s not a mode that we work well in
and that just won’t work. So one is this kind of mapping and it is something that
there have been moments all throughout history when people are alert to this,
but I think the current moment is something different in something we have
to attend to collectively. The other thing I will say again is that another
takeaway for me is that I do think that it is quite difficult to represent this
and the degree to which energy shapes us into a certain kind of, for lack of a
better word, society and infects every part of us, inhabits every
part of us. It’s difficult to represent it, I will say again, in literature,
especially in 20th century literature, especially post-1945 when it has the
greatest degree. It seems to be difficult to represent it because it’s not there,
it doesn’t represent it. There are representations of…of oil. Usually oil
just stands in for being really rich. So like in…like the TV series Dallas, which
many of us might know here, they’re…all that oil does is make them wealthy and
it allows JR to wear a cowboy hat or something. It doesn’t…it doesn’t really
have this kind of discussion about like well how does that make us the kind of
creatures we are so that we might do something about it?
It’s interesting, the…the example of Moby Dick. I think Moby Dick does do this
really really intriguingly well. And it does it in form and it does it in terms
of all of the kinds of things—because it’s kind of actually dealing with that
earlier transition from one energy source to another because there’s
already that hint of the oil era on the horizon—but I don’t think that there, I
mean, I think Ghosh says this for different reasons, but I’m not sure we
have the same kind of representative… representational
resource in literature for this moment. There are lots of ones. I say it in an
extreme way to suggest that we kind of have to look for it. There are things in science
fiction, although science fiction too attends less to energy than one might
imagine. I think art is perhaps one of the places, I mean I have spent a lot of
time with…with artists perhaps because I see it there most powerfully in terms of
the way that you’re describing it, Carolyn, where there’s that pushing
towards the edges of what…what the degree to which it inhabits us as
opposed to just like showing a picture of an oil barrel. Yeah, so I think the key
question is whether what will change us resides in the realm of representation. I
mean, I’m not sure that artistic intelligence is best served by, you know,
the Misrach image. It’s an incredible image; it’s a horrifying image—hasn’t
seemed to change us,you know what I’m saying? So I think in my thinking, I’m
trying to think of what art is on the edge of changing us from Homo sapiens
sapiens to maybe homo extensors how much symbiotica or, you know, that…that’s…
that’s to me the challenge of this work. And I Ithink that’s something we can…we can come back to to think of if any of the agency of literary and artistic work in that
radical reimagining of a next energy transition which would require kind of a
genealogy of our past engagement with… with the… with energy systems, with the
oil novel, some of which has resided a lot in post-colonial literature, as you
as you pointed to, but I think what I’d like to do is maybe open the floor for a
series of questions from the audience and maybe in, kind of to respect the
schedule that we’re operating on, take a few questions at a time and then allow
each of our panelists to respond to these. So I’ll probably take three or
four questions if we have from the audience and then…
then hear back from our panelists, yeah. Hi, so the contemporary philosopher
Eugene Thacker begins his book with the words “we are doomed” or in certain
translations “we are screwed.” And I wonder if this idea of doing something about
the future is itself not founded on a certain kind of optimism with energy
itself that comes to us from the dawn of the 20th century or maybe slightly
before. In other words, what Thacker calls cosmic pessimism, is that a resource that
we might deploy today to think about a time where it’s already too late? I have certainly lived most of my life
not seeing energy and it’s now that the transition is happening that I’m
beginning to pay attention to a lot of stuff like it’s very obvious now that
the U.S. tax code has tremendous subsidies— I didn’t know that—I’ve lived most of my
life without knowing this kind of stuff, right, so it’s becoming clearly more
visible. But generally speaking, I think something like IOT and supply chain is
making a lot of stuff visible again that has been invisible to us. I mean, this
this is generally speaking the case and that…that could also be the case
for oil. All right, I mean you could imagine something like buying gas
at the pump or maybe…maybe the sockets in the wall and there would be
signs, you know of, you know, electricity kills and if you see what I mean. What is the, you know, countering the alienation that we have from the
generation of the energy? Yeah, so maybe we can start there and so on the
modalities of narrating the future from techno-utopianism to kind of more cosmic
pessimism and everywhere in between, is there a more…is there more kind of
productive, if I may use the term, or more optimal genre of engaging the future. And
then I guess the question on legibility and…and making visible and the possible
advantages or limits that we have in kind of
that moment of realization of the presence of energy. So maybe Ros, we can
start with.. I would just say the question I think we’re all facing is
whether we have to let go of a vision of history as progress and whether that is
necessary or viable at this point. You use the word pessimism—I think of it more as resignation or just limits…limits. And that…and that means then what, you
know, what do you care about? I do think that’s the big question that is out
there and I’m…I’m not presenting an answer, but I’m just saying I think…I
think you’re asking perhaps one of the… the most fundamental question about this
historical moment? Yeah, and I think, to try and bridge both questions, I’m not ready to give up on
culture. I mean, I do think that literature and art have very powerful
ways of mobilizing us, not through explicit politics always but through
mobilizing a broader aesthetic, so I’ve started thinking about all of the
campaigns for small changes that relied on aesthetic judgments. For example, the
to Boston ladies who decided that it was disgusting to wear birds on your head,
right. They…they worked with the Audubon Society; it was like 1890 or something
and from 300,000 birds that were being slaughtered for the New York hat trade,
you know, that essentially went to zero. Well maybe not zero, I think you can
still buy turkey feathers and things, but that was an aesthetic judgment. Turning
us against tobacco was in some sense an aesthetic of just both empathizing with
bartenders and, you know, kind of understanding health to be secondhand
smoke-elated, you know, in other words, it was as a combination of kind of
enlarging empathy beyond individual choice and legal
apparatuses, but it was also a kind of an aesthetic that revulsion was somehow
produced around that. Corsets, whale bones and corsets, right, this was an aesthetic
recoiling from something that had been highly fashionable and darling and
beautiful to being disgusting and why would you ever do that, you know. So I’m
optimistic in that sense that we can operate culturally to enlarge the
envelope as it were of our connections and make some sort of change in that way.
So, you know, there are lots of studies about this. My own mother was like a
chain smoker at one point she said, “every time I see one of those ads, it makes me
so anxious I just want to light up.” Right, so, you know, having something by the plug
it says you know energy kills or something hmm
people are just like “fuck that,” you know, I want to live my life. But there other…you know, other ways of persuading and aggregating and, you know, so it’ll just
be interesting to see whether we can pull it off and if we don’t, we’ll be
extinct, you know. It’s like a very, you know, the pessimism is justified, you know,
if we can’t pull it off, you know. Most species apparently live for about three
million years. That’s about what we’ve managed so far so, you know, maybe our
time is up. But it is a challenge that, you know, we have achieved tremendous
cultural evolution, so it’s a challenge that we can now own as Imre suggested. We can have an intentional transition if we’re able to work a little more like
ants and a little less like, you know, predators. So I’ll speak about legibility first—I
think that these issues are becoming more legible at lots and lots of
different registers. For a number of weeks and even today, it is front page
news— pipelines are front page news. I
never would have expected that. They’re front page news in Canada for—not just
because they cross a border and not just because a president gets involved—but
because they also come into contact with First Nations territories, which have
newfound powers. And so there’s kind of interesting mixes of political
legibility, environmental legibility, future anxieties, political transitions,
that are all kind of coming together. So I…so I think that it’s…it is in cultural
realm that there’s more attention and feeling for the ways in which one might
have to make it legible and I…and I liked your examples a lot, Carolyn,
because it may be that that legibility isn’t about showing a bunch of
refineries, or it isn’t like the kind of thing that Edward Burtynsky did in his
thing on oil. It might be more like doing this kind of work. And that comes to the
really great question about drawing on Eugene Thacker’s work. I guess I have two
things to say to that. One, on one register, I really think that the
kind of question you asked is that the question we need to ask. So how do we
disrupt the logic—the old logic—that we build into the solution even as we’re…
how do we disrupt the old logic we build in a solution even as we’re identifying
that as the problem and we kind of continue it? This is…this is a difficult
thing to do and it might be the right thing to ask ourselves over and over and
over again, in the kind of, perhaps we can do in a
dialectical fashion though as opposed to just kind of giving up. Second thing to
do however, is I can’t get away from the fact that what that would
not permit are questions about energy justice. So I would like there
still to be a question about energy justice and the kind of the sense
that we’re doomed doesn’t allow that discussion to happen. So the energy
justice question is, in very very simple ways, are “why do I as a Canadian get to
use seventy five times more energy per day with all of the capacities and
possibilities that it allows me than somebody does in Haiti?
What could possibly permit that?” If we have, again, a repeat of the Rawlsian
original position and add energy to it, nobody in the Rawlsian original
position would not make sure that they got to use equal amounts of energy. I
mean…I mean once you kind of add it to older conversations, it kind of
nudges a material element into questions that we have about politics, ethics, and
so on that I’m kind of not ready to give up in a..in a, I guess, a less like
ontological, metaphysical realm of that… like that you’re posing with Thatcher,
although that’s very much the kind of direction that I would say that I…that I
am conscious of as the way that you would have to interrupt this older
desire. So not to say too much, but where this kind of doesn’t work out is the
following: like I’ll often say, when you… when you change habit, you change how
people inhabit a space. My mother, who’s an immigrant from Hungary, doesn’t know how
to use a blue bin. She doesn’t. I mean, you can say to her, “put something, put this
piece of paper in the blue bin” and she’ll say “oh yes, yes, yes, of course, of course.”
My son doesn’t know how not to use it. So that’s an interesting transition of
habit. Now that doesn’t answer your question in the sense that, well, he uses it a lot,
is the problem, because he feels like it’s solved, so there can be more and
more and more and more more paper. And that kind of logic of the
more isn’t interrupted in the way that we’d want through that..that kind of
reframing of habit. So my question will be can we have a reframing of habit that
would keep that sensation that I have of injustice that has happened around
energy while doing the kind of work to nudge aside the the eschatology that
you’re pointing to? Can I throw something else in there? So legibility, there’re people who think about this desperately
every single day for the COP17 and the next generations of these
frameworks. And the one that I heard recently is about planetary frameworks
and so they’re trying to—the economists are literally trying to make legible the
capacity of the earth system to allow waste, in some sense, and to absorb waste
and none of this has been reflected in previous economic models, right. So the
planetary framework which apparently is a phrase that our current EPA doesn’t
allow you to put in your grant application, but it’s a specific approach
to making visible—to making legible—the too much question. Anyway, so I just
recommend to people that they…that they follow these constant efforts to
find better ways. They used to have a Venn diagram of, you know, people and
resources and money, and it became a Mickey Mouse with money—this like giant
swollen face and then people, you know, nothing was intersecting, you know, so the
planetary boundaries framework is a way to image planetary
systems that don’t allow you to disaggregate them from their ultimate…
the ultimate boundary of the planet itself. So it’s just an interesting
address to this legibility question. Ros, any counter point? No, no, just like I know what you’re
talking about, and I think it’s spectacular as a way of yeah, visualizing and therefore thinking. And making legible the capacity of the planet itself to absorb
our…our uses. Okay, so what we do is and the, again, in the interest of time, is
that we can continue the conversation over the reception outside and we’ll get
to continue it for…for much longer, but I’d like to thank Imre for both sharing
the wealth of his work on this subject and giving us the best of all
excuses to come together here at MIT and think of, you know, how we have kind of
an obligation to think of a genealogy of practices, literary and otherwise, on the
question of energy and the environment, to think of the legibility and the
imperative of our present condition and inevitably ask the question of the
future that accompanies both of what forms of any energy transitions, to whom,
and how can broadly aesthetic practice and the three practices contribute such
reimagining. So thank you very much for your time and hope to continue this
conversation.

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