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.