Slaying the Climate Crisis

Below is a video featuring Jane McGonigal, game theorist and author of Reality Is Brokena book about the use of games as heuristic devices for solving problems. Here, she talks about the way she overcame the despair that followed a serious head injury. Essentially, she made her recovery into a game, in which she deployed strategies, recruited allies, and told herself a story that enabled her recovery.

It seems to me that the environmental humanities, especially those of us who work in rhetoric, have a lot to learn from this approach. As many have noted, American environmental rhetoric has often depended on fear as a motivating force. McGonigal details a technique that could be used en masse to mobilize hope. That’s really important, especially at the interface between scholarship and activism.


A Picture of the Damage in New Jersey


This is a picture of the damage in my neighborhood in Highland Park, NJ. We were struck by sustained hurricane-force winds for several hours, and lost power for days and, in some cases, weeks, but we were spared major structural damage, otherwise.

It’s hard not to read this picture as an allegory of Sandy’s psychic impact on the region. Thanks for John Paxton for the photo.

The Bloomberg Plan for New York City in the Era of Climate Disruption

Those of us who address sustainability, resilience, petroculture, infrastructure, and other issues related to climate disruption may be unaware that Mayor Bloomberg commissioned a series of reports on these topics well before Sandy hit. One of the most important reports, “PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York,” can be accessed here.

This is the way the site describes the plan:

“Released in 2007, PlaNYC was an unprecedented effort undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The Plan brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York. Since then, we have made significant progress towards our long-term goals.

In just four years we’ve built hundreds of acres of new parkland while improving our existing parks. We’ve created or preserved more than 64,000 units of housing. We’ve built whole new neighborhoods with access to transit. We’ve provided New Yorkers with more transportation options. We’ve enacted the most ambitious laws of any city in the country to make existing buildings more energy-efficient.  And we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions 13% below 2005 levels. Over 97% of the 127 initiatives in PlaNYC were launched within one-year of its release and almost two-thirds of its 2009 milestones were achieved or mostly achieved.

The updated plan has 132 initiatives and more than 400 specific milestones for December 31, 2013.

CFP for 2013 ASLE Conference

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE)
Tenth Biennial Conference, May 28-June 1, 2013.
University of Kansas, Lawrence

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) invites proposals for its Tenth Biennial Conference, to be held May 28th through June 1st, 2013, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The decennial conference theme is intended to reflect some of the mostengaging current conversations within the environmental humanities and across disciplines, and to link those discussions to the transnational nexus of energy, labor, borders, and human and nonhuman environments that are so fundamentally “changing nature,” and with it the widely varied kinds of environmental critique we practice, art we make, and politics we advocate. Migrations–of humans, of non-human creatures, of “invasive species,” of industrial toxins across aquifers and cellular membranes, of disease across species and nations, of transgenic pollen and GM fish-have changed the meanings of place, bodies, nations, and have lent new urgency to the old adage that “everything is connected to everything.” Energies–fossil, renewable, human, spiritual, aesthetic, organic-radically empower our species for good and for ill, and make our individual and collective choices into the Anthropocene. And those choices are profoundly about Limits on resources, climate, soil, and water; about voluntary and involuntary curbs on individual and collective consumption and waste; about the often porous and often violently marked borders of empire, class, race, and gender.

For the full CFP and more information, click here.

Resilience after Hurricane Sandy

This op-ed was published in the New York Times today. In “Learning to Bounce Back,” Andrew Zolli argues that we need to think sustainability differently, by incorporating the idea of civilizational “resilience,” the ability to anticipate, resist, and recover from environmental trauma.

Writing in central New Jersey less than a week after landfall, I can only agree. The northern Jersey shore is, literally, a disaster area. Monmouth County, where I grew up, is entirely in the dark and cold. Atlantic City spent days under water. The people of Staten Island had to beg, on television, for relief, even as they pulled bodies out of the marshes. Hundreds of thousands in the Hudson Valley and Long Island remain in blackout. The subways are flooded. The bridges and rails of the NJTransit’s North Jersey Coastline were swept into the sea. Police guard the rest stops on the NJ Turnpike and Parkway to curb the fights breaking out over gasoline. Residents of the Lower East Side had to dumpster-dive for food.

It’s chapter one of the Zombie Apocalypse, because the undead are in charge of infrastructure and  climate policy.

At the height of the storm, as hurricane-force winds tore through my neighborhood, I stood on my porch searching the sky. I thought I saw lightning in the clouds. It was the transformers in the local power grid exploding, again and again, for over half an hour.

Resilience sounds like a good idea right about now. Those of us who teach the environmental humanities should consider teaching it to our students.




The Silly Season

Greetings from the Intermountain West, where the silly season is underway.  The Utah State Legislature is in session, and the first week or two are always the best show in town, since legislators show up with the pet projects they’ve spent all off-season dreaming up.  Already we’ve had the ineffable Chris Buttars suggest that public schools cancel 12th grade to save money, since many European countries don’t have such an extended school career.  They’re also in a mood to “send messages to Washington.”  In the words of the founder of the Patrick Henry Caucus, a states’ rights group, “this will be a session where citizens and the state government will unite together to push back against this leviathan called the federal government” (Salt Lake Tribune, 26 January 2010).  Health care and the stimulus package are likely targets of “message” bills. 

But my favorite is the pet project of State Senator Allen Christensen, who wants to kill any wolf that wanders across the imaginary straight lines that define our fair state – even if it’s protected by the Endangered Species Act.  Although it was pointed out to the senator that our Constitution’s supremacy clause means that federal law trumps state, he still wants to be on the record with such a message.  (There was also that messy War Between the States some time back that seemed to have settled federal vs. state sovereignty.)

No wolves are currently known to be resident within the state, and Utah has not written a wolf management plan, but this is hardly an academic question.  Several years ago a wolf from a Yellowstone National Park pack was trapped alive in Morgan County, only a few miles from my home.  Utah wildlife officers quickly boxed up the wolf and returned it to its home range.  Many biologists think it’s only a matter of time before Wyoming, Idaho, or Montana wolves find their way south to the Wasatch and Uintah ranges. 

So Utah wants to send a message to Washington.  Doesn’t Western Union still send telegrams?  Or perhaps they can Twitter our national representatives while they pretend to pay attention to the State of the Union address.