EMMC Spring Symposium

The slideshare is embedded below.

Also, happy Earth Day!

Slide One: In the future, there will have been no more water.

This is a picture of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, located on the boarder of California and Nevada. The Lake has fallen below its natural rim for the longest time in recorded history because warming and low precipitation has reduced snow pack in the Sierra’s to just 3% of average levels. California and Nevada’s ecosystems, like the Lake, rely on melting snow pack to sustain them. In the absence of snow melting into fresh water and replenishing reservoirs via streams and rivers, the American West stands on the precipice of ruin. As the LA Times reports, satellite data cited by Jay Famiglietti, a senior climate scientist at NASA recently, “explained that the state’s reservoirs have only about a one-year supply of water remaining” (Tony Barboza, “No, California Won’t Run Out of Water in a Year,” 20 March 2015). While the LA Times and Famiglietti have walked that claim back, the reality of drought stricken California suggests the life in the world to come. For example, the New York Times recently publishes a series of anecdotes from California residents on how they save water. Residents respond to drought by hoarding water in ways different from the scale of misuse that brought California to the terrible circumstances they find themselves in. For example, Clairmont resident N.A. Davis and his family,

…have several buckets, containers and small garbage cans in the shower. [They] use one set to catch the water that is not yet heated to shower temperature and another set to capture shower water we have used. We then reuse the water. The clean pre-shower water gets used for watering plants and washing dishes (we microwave a bit of it; we don’t have a dishwasher), and then used shower water gets used to water outdoor plants. (NYT, Samantha Storey, 2 April 2015).

Other residents report they only shower once a week and when they do they collect that water so they can wash their cars and water gardens they raise in the yards. Residents’ parsimony offers a challenge to the vast exploitation of resources that both defines the American west and has caused the dire situation in which they find themselves.


Slide Two: Desalination Versus Reclamation

California is out of water.[1] In this, as in so many things, California’s present is our future. So as some California residents hoard water through hybrid modern and premodern life style choices, and huge conglomerates like Nestle hoard water liquidating into money, the people of the pacific coast are faced with fewer choices over where they should get their water. Since snow pack run off doesn’t fill reservoirs, and ground water is at an all time low because precipitation evaporates in higher than average temperatures, there are only two options left: desalination or reclamation. What does it mean to drink the world’s oceans? To drink the world’s oceans is to drink the world’s weather; destroy already fragile coastal ecosystems; and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that helped precipitate the warming that contributes to the lack of a available drinking water. The second alternative is reclamation. “Water reclamation is a process by which wastewater from homes and businesses is cleaned using biological and chemical treatment so that the water can be returned to the environment safely to augment the natural systems from which it came” (Wikipedia, “Reclamation”). It is the choice between these options that I plan to focus the remainder of this presentation, and I have a list of questions to help guide the talk. I’d like if we could talk about these questions at the end, because I think I might really want to answer them:

  • What work can desalination and reclamation accomplish to decenter human agency? In the Renaissance, reclamation meant the act of renouncing or revoking (Florio 1611), and also protesting or expressing a formal objection (early 1533). The term doesn’t take on the connotation of “claiming something (formerly in one’s legal possession) back or of reasserting a legal right” till 1626—Royalist implications? But during the interregnum the term also meant, “moral and spiritual conversion or reformation.” It’s not until the very beginning of the 19thc. that the term means what it does today in the context it appears above: the conversion of wasteland, esp. land previously under water, into land fit for use” (#6).
  • Why advocate drinking urine as means to redress climate crisis? Why advocate removing salt and other substances? What emphasis do both place on “purity”?
  • What resources do Renaissance playwrights provide for thinking through the reuse and retention of liquids?
  • How do the plays under consideration here—city comedies that feature a miser figure and trick, and were written ten years, give and take, around the turn of the century—offer resources to think through drought that potentially also mitigate liquid shame?
  • Is it just the news reports, or people in general who refuse to take seriously the agency and threat of nonhuman things—humans, rightly, are cast as the having laid waste, but there is also drought or poisoned water that will be at least as dangerous as humans. What would happen to the state of the state if news reports took seriously the notion that nonhuman things are agents too?


[1] If that’s not sad and scary enough, just this week news outlets around the world have reported the record number of dead sea lions, many of which are just babies, because the 5% increase in sea temperatures of the pacific coast have resulted in food shortage for the mammals.



Allegory of the Toxic Barrels


The image below shows so many toxic barrels that it seems as if the photographer had to struggle to fit them all in the frame. Sludge is spilling out of each to form rivers of toxic fluids. The barrels in the background are slightly more ordered than those in the foreground. That is as the image comes closer to the viewer, any order breaks down. The breakdown is caused in part by the two or three human figures in the foreground. At first it is hard to distinguish these figures form the mess of waste that surrounds them. They are wearing suits to protect themselves from the chemicals that fill the barrels. The figure on the right seems to be smashing the barrels with a bat. The progression to chaos and the indistinct line dividing humans from garbage suggests this image is more than just another picture of garbage.

The image above is an allegory for human destruction of the natural world that has lead to the impending environmental crisis.  The rows and rows of bare contained and seemingly uncontainable toxic liquid stands for disposal methods in general. The pressure to contain garbage in landfill and dumps is too great.  The desire for order and security results in the rows and rows of stacked barrels, and then results in humans beating back the threat with bats. That is the same impulse to order created the garbage to being with.

The extent to which the garbage is about to overwhelm the human figures at the foreground, is a powerful metaphor for the precarious state of human/nonhuman relations. Just as the humans effort to beat back the toxic barrel is as futile as trying to stem the tide of natural desecration with recycling campaigns.


Fashion and Sustainability

Green Peace. Detox: How People Power is Cleaning Up Fashion. Online video clip. You Tube. You Tube. 24 October 2013. Web. 15 November 2013.

The authors of the video argue that the fashion industry produces glamour, profit, and environmental ruin. The greatest devastation caused by textile and garment factories around the globe is water pollution. Specifically, manufacturers dump waste from dyes and petrochemicals used to manufacture cloth into streams, rivers, and oceans. The waste contaminates waterways and contributes to the lack of clean drinking water around the globe. The video persuades audiences to only purchase clothing brands committed to reducing water pollution through a combination of data laden narration, scrolling images, scary music, and a problem/solution structure. For example, the first minute or so of the video is effective because the authors contrast clips of models in beautiful clothes and fancy urban department stores with images of toxic waste pouring into rivers and oceans. The authors reinforce the alarming images with statistics about China where a majority of textiles are produced: “320 million people have no access to clean drinking water; 40% of surface water is polluted; and 20% of urban drinking water is contaminated.” The video does not rely solely on scare tactics and exotic statistics to persuade audiences; instead, the authors devote the second half of the video to providing suggestions for problems they outline in the first half. To help clean-up water polluted by textile manufacture and stop more water from being polluted, Green peace and clothing brands/retailers such as H&M,Levi, and Zara have joined together as past of the “global Detox campaign.”  Those companies have taken steps to eliminate toxic chemicals and waste from their supply chains, and participants in “Detox” continue to demonstrate and protest to encourage more companies to follow suit and to direct consumers toward earth friendly brands. For my video on songbird devastation I will draw on the following techniques from this video: juxtaposition of imagery, problem solution structure, and awareness of audience.

Shooting the Golden Eagle

SEAGULLSRichard Manning records a catalogue of horrors that the fracking boom has just begun to visit on the North Dakota ecosystem in his recent article for Harper’s Magazine, “Bakken Business: The price of North Dakota’s Fracking Boom.” A short anecdote about the effect boring into the Brakken with thousands of gallons of chemical laced water has on the eagle population stands out as particularly demoralizing amid other spectacles of environmental devastation. Manning explains,

Anne Marguerite Coyle is an eagle biologist, and just before the boom, she tagged eighteen juvenile golden eagles as part of a routine monitoring effort. All are now dead or gone. In one case, a drilling rig landed close to one of the eagles’ nesting sites, so when that bird disappeared she asked people nearby what had happened. ‘Oh, somebody shot that one,’ they said. (35-36)

This anecdote shows that the people working on the rig are as insensible to life and living things as the drilling machines they operate.  Beyond the comparison of humans to machines, in which the humans come off far worse, Manning also invites the audience to make a comparison between his anecdote and “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.” I don’t think Manning wants to make a post-humanist intervention into readings of ST Coleridge’s poem, so much as remind readers that the guy who shot the Albatross is so chastened by his experience that he can’t shut-up about it long enough to enjoy a wedding. Unlike the Mariner, the shooting of the eagle in Manning’s account barely registered in the community.

Manning’s article generally, and the anecdote and citation specifically, calls into question the status of writing about nature in the face of impending environmental apocalypse. If the crisis can be averted, writing about the effects of 21st century industrialization, such as fracking in North Dakota, has to avoid polemic. One way for environmentalists to avoid remonstrations from drilling advocates might be to write, as Coleridge does, about the human and the animal as part of a single ecosystem. I wonder if telling the story of a man in North Dakota, who is unable to join in celebrations because he has been marked by the same senseless destruction of life as the Mariner, would effect positive change?

Going to the Birds


“Aware of Birds”: Analogies and Environmentalism


Rob Nixon advises environmental writers who wish to communicate the slow pace of natural degradation to inspire affective shifts in their readers to “Reconfigure big stories on a human scale” and “Find powerful analogies that resonate” (par 10 & 13). In his article, “For the Birds,” David Gessner makes good on Nixon’s advice.  Throughout his piece, Gessner opens up a space for his audience to grieve for the general loss of birds and bird habitats by connecting his specific emotional response to the potential demise of Atlantic Puffins. Gessner’s first encounter with a Puffin was for him, “a invitation to a new world, and a new way of thinking about this one” (par 2). That is to say the figure of the Puffin, in this text, reoriented his point of view from “…anthropocentrism to biocentrism” (par 9). His shift in perspective is analogous to the larger shift in social thinking, he argues, Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds initiated. Peterson’s Guide encouraged readers to look at and interact with living birds and bird habitats. Because the guide enabled a closeness between bird watchers and birds, authors such as Douglas Carson and Douglas Clapp, argue Peterson can be credited with starting the modern environmental movement: “‘Those field guides opened a door, and culturally all of America walked through it. By becoming aware of birds, we essentially opened up all of our environmental thinking'” (par 7). In his article Gessner also “opens a door” for readers by exploring the analogy between his personal changes and the shifts in environmental/scientific thinking.  The loss of the animals resonates with readers because Gessner figures his experience as analogous to both larger social forces and our own.