MICRO: What labors have contributed to and go on within this quotidian Anthropocene? What practices (for flood management or controlling toxic contamination, for example) have anthropocenics provoked?


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Ramah McKay's picture
August 28, 2019
I began my research for these field notes by thinking about what kind of labor becomes available in the context of disaster relief/climate change? In my teaching this week, I have been talking about Cyclone Idai and mold as an example of one of how disasters unfold over different temporalities, as in Kim’s work, and via ‘aftershocks’ (Bonilla and Lebron 2019). Thinking about mold got me googling respiratory infections/respiratory health in New Orleans, which lead me to various sites that offer hazardous waste worker training programs (including under the auspices of environmental justice/community development work - e.g. http://www.dscej.org/our-work). This seems one example, among others, of how exposure to environmental harm is transformed into new sites of professionalization. This called to mind discussions of risky labor in the context of disaster, such as in Fortun 2001 or Petryna 2002, and to the centrality of respiration to thinking about anthropocenic processes (Kenner 2019). It highlighted how that transformation of geographical exposure into professional opportunity is then refracted via race and class; while some become hazardous waste clean up experts, others become climate change experts and professionals, who deploy expertise in the wake of other storms. Other accounts (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/03/06/meet-the-refugees-fighting-for-the-future-of-new-orleans/) highlighted specific communities, such as refugee communities, as key sites of resistance to energy infrastructures including a new gas plant, which is being constructed in a FEMA-designated high-risk flood zone.
This short stint of googling also lead me to a number of studies of respiratory health, many using spirometric readings to calculate the impact of exposure (for instance to remediation workers involved in cleaning after Hurricane Katrina) (eg. Rando et al 2012). Having recently read Lundy Braun’s book about race and spirometry (2014), these accounts highlighted for me how racialization is built into these processes in multiple ways: not only does race (along with class, professional background, geographical situation, etc) shape who is exposed and in what ways, it also shapes the how health and harm are measured and made visible in this context.
Rando, Roy, John Lefante, Laurie Freyder, & Robert Jones. 2012. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/462478/