META: Water seems to be one important medium through which NOLA envisions the “impacts” of the Anthropocene—scarcity, abundance, temporalities and spatial distributions, management of, and hazards that emerge in its context. Less is said about the causal or attributional aspects of the Anthropocene. How might water function as an entry point into the assemblages of local anthropocenics?
I found the NOLA Hazard Mitigation Plan for 2018, which frames the impacts of the Anthropocene as an intersection of weather extremes amid climate change and evolving vulnerabilities of its people. Four of seven items in the executive summary note water as central to local interventions: flood awareness, flood repair, flood mitigation, flood infrastructure. Too much water or water in the wrong places and the aftereffect of water on infrastructure and lives. One expression, then, is preparedness.
MACRO: Mitigation is an interesting analytic for the Anthropocene. In the US mitigation plans are shaped by the 1988 Stafford Act (which amended the 1974 Disaster Relief Act). Constraints on communities come through rules, regulations, policies, (dis)incentives, and surveillance by state and federal authorities. Much of this is bound by economic and administrative discourses.
Goals are set in this document—broken out by timelines, activities, priorities, and capabilities. Another expression is classification of anthropocenics by subfields and accounting metrics. How do we measure progress and what is deferred to the future, 5-10 years out from today, a goal that has no tangible accountability but is named and acknowledged. What are the practices of naming, responsibility, and making (in)visible in the Anthropocene?
BIO: One new initiative, Ready for Rain, in particular is of interest to me as it highlights the more neoliberal vision for how the public should self-regulate risk and mitigate harm. I hear this as an extension of a government agency program to make the nation Weather Ready. Other bullets highlight “green” buildings, energies, and infrastructures. These could be examples of how the city envisions the Anthropocene feedback loop of humans changing/planning for climate alterations, which is a fairly typical lens.
Some questions: What does the water do? What does the water know? If we trace water in all its instantiations (e.g. historical water, flow of water, chemistry of water, application of water, temperature of water), what do we learn about the future imaginaries of what NOLA will / could / ought to become?
I found this summary (Sinking into the Anthropocene: New Orleans nature writing) of a visit to New Orleans made by a group of young writers, and what surprised me was their preocupation and insistence in linking the problems and even the nice or "typical" touristics things and landscapes of the city to the ongoing Anthropocene and Climate Change. Is just a piece of exercise of a collaborative writing and the approach to the topic is made by classical anglophone writers, Mary and Percy Shelley among others are quoted, but they talk about important issues like the Sinking, the Chemical Horizon andDaily Commutes. I leave an extract of the text to encourage its reading:
One sculpture that struck the class was an assemblage of tall slabs of glass towering from the grass: Mirror Labyrinth by Jeppe Hein. This is a tri-spiral maze of mirrors that reflect anything and everything the entering viewer sees. This piece conjured the feeling of a funhouse as we stumbled our way through, titillated by sudden sensations of disorientation. But thinking about this sculpture alongside the city’s ongoing gentrification and expansion, in tandem with denial of ecological realities and political resistance to enact real social justice, we could not help but think more along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s use of the word “funhouse” in his novel The Road: “the ruins of a vast funhouse against the distant murk.” What is new here, now, cannot help but intimate a post-apocalyptic ruin to come.
It has become a common refrain to ask how the Anthropocene is experienced locally, but what about corporeally? A growing body of evidence (such as this report from the APA) demonstrates that climate change and its effects are linked to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and a host of emotions including anger, hopelessness, and despair. After Hurricane Katrina, it was estimated that 1 in 6 survivors experienced PTSD, and Harvard researchers found that suicidal ideation heavily spiked. While discussions of these forms of ecological grief (or "ecoanxiety" by psychologists) have largely focused on mental health, economic impacts, and big storms rather than less spectacular forms of ecological change (especially in New Orleans), I am particularly interested in finding how embodied apprehensions of human vulnerability are experienced within the city, and how these have affected approaches to mortality and practices around death and dying.
Aside from talking to more deathcare professionals in the area (something I hope to do once we arrive), I have found rather robust evidence that there is increased engagement with mortality in New Orleans. Death Cafes, which are community gatherings to discuss death and combat taboos that make it an inappropriate topic of conversation, have regularly met for the past two years. Furthermore, preliminary research on funeral homes in NOLA seems to indicate increased interest in green internment options, with multiple organizations framing green/natural burial as a gentle option that "returns the body to nature." While means of casket burial and cremation have historically worked to “correctly” order death and the dead through preservation or means of obliterating the body as quickly as possible (organizing principles that have that rendered death as an interruption rather than a natural process), these endeavors seem to accept to the pressing realities of individual and earthly mortality by framing death as an opportunity for renewal - a sort of "circle of life."
Although it is less related to my own area of expertise, one of most surprising discoveries I made was that New Orleans was home to the original "Before I Die" wall. In 2013, artist Connie Chung created a participatory chalkboard in an abandoned house with a fill-in-the-blank question of “Before I die, I want to ______.” (The next day, the wall was completely filled with responses.) Iterations of this project are now in over 75 countries. While Chung does not specifically cite anthropogenics as a source of interest or inspiration, its original placement on a building that stood as a sort of monument to ecological devastation makes me strongly think that there are broader connections to be made here about somatic attunements to climate change.
The Weldon Spring Interpretive Center was a discursive jamboree for those of us curious about how anthropocenics are narrated. This particular display at the center stood out to me becuase of its resemblance to other interpretive center or science museum displays representing the "life cycle" of an organism or of cycles of ecosystem conditions (e.g. forest succession). One of the first displays visitors see upon entering the center, the display's format and captions read to me as a clear attempt to control the discourse about nuclear contamination and remediation in the area. The image--or its creator--wants to do the work of suggesting that the clean up process has brought the place "back to how it was," cycling back to a good beginning. The text used in this display is exclusively neutral or positive. The arrows moving from each circle to the next purports to display how "this area has served many purposes over the years." It states "these exhibits are designed to educate you on the history, science, and efforts of many to bring the Weldon Spring site full circle." In this cycle, Weldon Spring is not a hazardouse waste site or contaminated site but rather "a site for remedial action." Thus we are to see the space as a "home to many people," then "a TNT and DNT plant," then "a uranium feed and matierals plant," then "a site for remedial action," "an extensive cleanup effort," "a successful solution," and, finally, "a place to enjoy and learn." In this emphasis on a "return" to good conditions, the displacement of residents, health issues plant workers and others' faced, and the uncertainties or messiness of what adequate clean up is are omitted. In this image, and in much of the interpretive center, the discourse around nuclear materials, its effects and cleanup, is neatened, simplified, into a narrative that de-emphasizes the actual health impacts of these processes and of the political wherewithall that was required to make that remediation happen.
The notion of cycling back to something is a particularly intriguing move
This 7-minute 'image film' was produced in light of the 100 year anniversary of the Wood River refinery. It briefly touches on the company's products, history and guiding values. I first saw the film in a small cinema room at the Wood River Refinery Museum and found this upload on YouTube. I was curious to see how anthropocenic effects are or are not depicted. At about 90 seconds into the clip, a plant operator states: "This piece of land, this refinery has been here for a hundred years and it has changed with the world over the last hundred years, through world war two, but now we have women in the refinery." However, the narrative is not further developed, as the film cuts to another worker who recounts visiting the facility with his father. Certainly, a promotional film like this is supposed to present the company in the best light possible. When it comes to social and environmental change, a vague acknowledgment of World War II and a positive framing of women entering the company's workforce might indicate the limits of this visual mode of communication.
Project managers at the Army Corps of Engineers are not concerned with the Anthropocene. Their job at SLAPS and other FUSRAP sites revolves around a different contestable term: remediation. What exactly does Anthropocenic remediation look like in St. Louis? As the ACoE project managers informed us, remediation consists of removing contimated soil and shipping it to approved waste management sites in Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio. It would be interesting to further investigate how ACoE practices of remediation have historically been shaped.
The Tribute to the Mallinckrodt Uranium Workers is perhaps the most reflexive display in the Interpretive Center at Weldon Springs. By listing the names of the Mallinckrodt employees and acknowledging their sacrifices, the tribute at least intimates how the toxic process of uranium refinement, including the secrecy and deceit that surrounded it, impacted the lives of the local community. And yet, given the juxtaposition of the exhibit next to the "Timeline of the Nuclear Age" and an encompassing display on "The Process" of refinement, the critical nuance of this quotidian, human level is muddled by both the macro events of history and the micro details of scientific practice. It is also worth noting that in the online tour of the exhibit, the purpose and the meaning of the tribute bears no mention all. An image of the arch is provided, but not a single bit of context as to what it signifies. Instead, what we are given access to is only the timeline, the process description, and a romanticized version of the Mallinckrodt story taken from a tour guide that was written in 1959.