What have you learned about anthropocenics in this place?


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August 31, 2019

My interests center around soil--its preservation, regeneration, and remediation. Living farther up North on the Mississippi in Saint Louis has changed my thinking around the relationships between soil, water, and contamination. Saint Louis and New Orleans are linked not just through their shared river and its attendant water management issues, but through patterns of extraction and contamination. New Orleans may also provide some clues (and potential solutions) to my community's changing relationship with water as we confront climate change. My work as an artist explores our relationship with landscape through tours of contaminated sites and remediative interventions in the landscape, so I approach New Orleans with questions about contaminated environments and water management through landscape design, gardening, and education. 

August 31, 2019

I situate my research at the crossroads of history, philosophy, sociology and anthropology of science. In the past, I have focused on epigenetics, environmental research, empirical bioethics and environmental justice, within and outside the academia, as you can read here, or here. Now I am focusing on antibiotic resistance, and I use it as a lens to interpret the contradictions of the last century derived by industrial production, environmental degradation and biomedical cultures.

What interests me is the (at that time) new epistemic discourse that since the Forties has been produced to explain morphological changes of organisms produce when they experience new environmental conditions or perturbations. Through an important experiment at the base of the so-called concept of genetic assimilation, Conrad H. Waddington showed that a thermic shock can produce changes in wings’ veins of fruit flies, changes that can eventually be inherited across generations, without the environmental trigger that caused them.

This focus on production and (genetic) storage of biological differences elicited by the environment is nowadays coupled with the knowledge produced through microbiome research that explains the phenotypic patterns that recur across generations.

In a thought-provoking twist, with microbiome research, the focus shifts from production and inheritance of biological differences to production and inheritance of biological similarities. Microbiome research shows that some phenotypic patterns are allowed by ecological communities of microorganisms composing all animals. Bacteria allow the development and functioning of our bodies within an epistemic framework that is now key to understand biology. The network of vessels composing mammals’ stomach is formed through cellular differentiation and expression of genes coordinated by bacteria. The same is true for our immune system that is coordinated by gut bacteria. Food, which is an important aspect of our lives also impacts on this microecology and mediates between our biological functions and functioning of means of production whose parts dedicated to food production have immense importance for our biology and our internal and external ecologies. Antibiotic resistance is one of the crossroads where culture, biology, history and the Anthropocene meet. Indeed, Antibiotic resistance shows that means of production of our societies have an even more widespread, deep and allegedly unexpected impact on the biology of animals and plants. The microorganism can indeed adapt to resist the selective toxicity of antibiotics. Moreover, bacteria can transfer their genetic code horizontally, by touch, so that we can acquire antibiotic resistance by eating food that functions as a vector, by hosting lice on our heads and many other contacts. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics that have been used as growth factors in animal husbandry and to prevent diseases in livestock and aquaculture, spread in natural ecosystems and can be found in wild species. Rivers and estuarine waters are places hosting antibiotic resistance.

Searching on PubMed (the search engine for biomedical literature) titles of articles containing the terms ‘antimicrobial’ and ‘Louisiana’ I retrieved just one twelve-years-old article. No results with terms such as 'Mississippi' or 'New Orleans'. The authors collected and analysed Oysters from both waters of Louisiana Gulf and in restaurants and food retailers in Baton Rouge. In most of the samples gathered, scientists recognised the presence of bacteria (Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus) resistant to specific antimicrobials. Food production is indeed the first factor in terms of the quantity of antibiotics used. This use and related antibiotic resistance impact all the living beings present in a specific area, and can easily travel around the globe through many channels. As Littman & Viens have highlighted, a sustainable future is a future without antibiotics as “there may be no truly sustainable way of using antibiotics in the long-run, as microorganisms have shown to be almost infinitely adaptable since the first introduction of antibiotics” (Littman & Viens 2015). But in the meanwhile, we need to use them and antibiotic resistance is a phenomenon that can be better studied through environmental research, by analysing wild species and emissions nearby livestock, for instance.

The study that I retrieved focuses on Oysters. But what about antibiotic resistance conveyed through food that is consumed by the most?

What about exposures of communities that are living in highly polluted areas?

And what is the additive value on antibiotic resistance for individuals who experience the presence of industrial pollutants and that live in areas where cancer epidemics are registered?

In this respect, there is a strategy to cope with the issue of antibiotic resistance promoted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The document doesn’t mention any action to monitor and regulate the production and usage of antibiotics in livestock. Nevertheless, the CDC wants to scrutinise, through genome sequencing, “Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli and uploads sequence data into PulseNet for nationwide monitoring of outbreaks and trends.” Moreover, the document reports that “In Fiscal Year 2019, Louisiana will begin simultaneously monitoring these isolates for resistance genes. When outbreaks are detected, local CDC-supported epidemiologists investigate the cases to stop spread.”

The questions that I would like to ask (to local ppl, activists, researchers, practitioners..) are:

What could be the epidemiologic characteristics (socioeconomic status, gender, residence..) of the populations more vulnerable to antibiotic resistance?

What is the additive role of antibiotic resistance for people living in highly polluted areas?

What is the impact of antibiotic resistance for people and patients living in areas where cancer incidence is high?


And on the long run I am interested in imagining possible strategies to not only living with the problem but also to tackle the problem itself, which means to develop strategies to answer the questions:

Why antibiotic resistance, which is known since a century, it’s a problem on the rise?

What is the role and interest of capitalism, in terms of profit-making of corporations, knowledge production and environmental degradation, in not being able to resolve antibiotic resistance?

What can be strategies of local communities to tackle the problem and to promote environmental justice in terms of alliances with ecologists, doctors, epidemiologists and other activists?

Alberto E Morales's picture
August 30, 2019

As a participant in the NOLA Anthropocene Campus, I have gained insights on how communities, stewards, and managers of ecosystems in New Orleans have rolled out forms of interspecies care vis-à-vis ongoing environmental changes, coastal erosion, climate catastrophes and their deeply present and current effects (i.e., the 2010 BP oil disaster). Whilst much analytical lens has been given to geospatial changes in the study of the Anthropocene, here, I focus on how relations to non-human beings, also threatened by the changing tides of NOLA’s waterscapes, can enrich our understanding of such global transformations.

After disasters like Katrina, urban floodwaters harbored many hidden perils in the form of microbes that cause disease. Pathogenic bacterial exposure occurred when wastewater treatment plants and underground sewage got flooded, thus affecting the microbial landscape of New Orleans and increasing the potential of public health risks throughout Southern Louisiana. But one need not wait for a disaster event like Katrina to face these perils. Quotidian activities like decades of human waste and sewage pollution have contaminated public beaches now filled with lurking microbes. Even street puddle waters, such as those found on Bourbon Street, contain unsanitary bacteria level from years of close human exploitation of horses and inadequate drainage in 100-year old thoroughfares. More recently, microbial ecologies have also changed in the Gulf of Mexico due to the harnessing of energy resources like petroleum. Lush habitats for countless species are more and more in danger sounding the bells of extinction for the imperiled southern wild.

Human-alteration has severely damaged the wetland marshes and swamps that would have protected New Orleans from drowning in the water surge that Hurricane Katrina brought from the Gulf of Mexico. The latter is something that lifelong residents (i.e., indigenous coastal groups) of the Mississippi River Mouth have been pointing to for a  long time. Over the past century, the river delta’s “natural” infrastructure has been altered by the leveeing of the Mississippi River. Consequently, much of the silt and sediments that would generally run south and deposit in the river mouth to refeed the delta get siphoned off earlier upstream by various irrigation systems.

August 27, 2019

I am currently a Ph.D. student interested in exploring the entanglements of scale, especially in the context of environmental sensing.  My primary research seeks to engage in discourse around the value of scalability that is presented as inherent in computation. While the term scale-up is almost synonymous with computation, sustainability; on the other hand, is known as a problem of scale. Take for example, the discourse on climate change where the actions required to combat climate change requires interventions at different scales. In this context, demanding changes at individual scales while no corresponding changes happen at larger scales would not yield much.

In looking at New Orleans, I came across a video on IoT cameras developed by Cisco, the networking giant. What struck me other than the apparent rise of surveillance capitalism was the narrative of one of the police officers highlighted in the video. The officer mentions that it is not feasible for the city to place police officers on every corner. In the context of scale, the police officer is implying that cameras are useful as they extend the police officer's ability to surveil the city. In other words, cameras and the networks help scale up the police officer, making it possible for them to cover a larger scale than before.

One of the police officers, in the video, also mentions that New Orleans is a tourist and hospitable town. Which brings up the question at any given period, what scale of visitors can New Orleans support without stretching the city's resources? Several other cities in the world have made efforts to limit visitors, in order not stretch city resources. The recent crisis at Mount Everest is an excellent example of what happens when resources are stretched to accommodate the increasing number of local visitors. How could something of this nature similarly impact New Orleans?

At the communication center where the video feed is analyzed, the IT manager provides reasons as to why they chose Cisco as their vendor. One of the reasons he gives was that the system is easily expandable, allowing the ability to scale out/up the network.

Ronny Rafael Zegarra Peña's picture
August 19, 2019

I am an environmental engineer with a profound interest on providing urban sustainability through the use of biotechnology. I currently research about air pollution in public health and its environmental factors related. My interest is focused on how to adopt greenery as air pollution mitigation strategy in developing cities of south America.
While making this briefly research about NOLA, I observed how air pollution has been historically related to a environmental injustice issue. An example of this is a 1960s study documenting asthma incidence among black communities due its near location to dumps, where subterranean burning happened commonly. This depicts the “southern pattern” in New Orleans, where African American were forced to reside in undesired areas subjected to frequent flooding, unhealthy air and noise levels, as well as unsanitary water and sewerage conditions. Morse (2008) describes Katrina as a turn point, where America’s attention on the enduring legacy of racial segregation and poverty were refocused. Local government remarked the necessity of green restoration in flooding areas, where most of segregated population lived in. Communities and foundations are also working together to sustain the urban landscape mainly for flood control. Therefore, I got interest on know how urban reforestation in NOLA was adopted as a tool for climate change adaptation but also in knowing how it acts as a pathway to reach environmental justice.

Isabelle Soifer's picture
August 16, 2019

I’m interested in how universities, cities, and corporations develop the physical embodiment of the knowledge economy in U.S. city centers in an attempt to foster global connections, and the effect this tends to have on historically black and brown communities. What I find interesting about New Orleans is the manner in which following Hurricane Katrina (which some allege was a human-made disaster), gentrification of the city was spurred on, particularly as predominantly young, white people seeking to work in tech start-ups and corporations moved in to what is deemed yet another potential site for “Innovation.” This made room for corporations and richer residents to move in at the expense of working-class neighborhoods . As council member James Gray argued, “The area desperately needs activity and development…if the city of New Orleans is going to recover, if the Lower Ninth is going to recover- we need development. We cannot turn it away.” I came across an advertisement for an event hosted by INNO that will be held in New Orleans for a “global innovation conference” whereby innovators can “forge the connections that matter.” While I am in the preliminary stages of my research in Houston regarding the Innovation District being built in Midtown Houston, I see astonishing parallels with New Orleans and similar questions arise. Many of the employees at tech companies I have interviewed thus far speak of the notion of the “ecosystem”: the confluence of higher educational institutions, cities, corporations, and start-ups that provides the ideal environment for businesses to thrive and innovation to flourish. However, who is included in this ecosystem and who is left out? What implications (if any) does the use of such environmental terms (ecosystem) to describe innovation economies have for the anthropocene? What does innovation mean and who does it benefit? How do these innovation districts and corridors potentially exacerbate racial inequity in the city, even as they claim to be working for the benefit of all? How do infrastructural neglect and gentrification contribute to health, educational, economic, and environmental disparities, and will innovation in any way seek to address these issues, or merely perpetuate the status quo?

I'm also interested in the narratives that arise surrounding natural disasters, particularly the linear fashion in which events are described. There is a beginning, middle, and end supposedly: but what about before and after, and what about the reoccurence of these disasters? In what ways do these narratives leave out the stories of people who did not get to see the "silver lining" of a disaster? Who did not get to witness the rebuilding of the city? Many of those people moved to Houston and went through another hurricane, Hurricane Harvey. It would be interesting to trace the connections between these two cities. 

Finally, in relation to the topic of slavery, I am interested in the surge of conversations surrounding reparations, particularly in New Orleans and Houston in light of the uneven effects of hurricanes on certain populations. I am intrigued both by memorialization of slavery as well as attempts by elected officials such as Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and celebrities such as Danny Glover to conduct research (bill H.R. 40) on how to compensate for the U.S.'s history and presence of slavery and racism.

Michael Kilburn's picture
August 15, 2019

Thinking about the theme of this campus and after reviewing the material on the Whitney plantation, I was pondering the connections between the history of slavery in Louisiana and the industrial/technical implications and affects of the Anthropocene. I remembered a book by Andrew Nikiforuk called “The Energy of Slaves” (shout out to L Cohen fans)) which draws clear historical and technical parallels between the energy regimes of slavery and the petrochemical industry. Thought it might be interesting/relevant.

From the Greystonebooks publisher’s description:

A radical analysis of our master-and-slave relationship to energy and a call for change.

Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. In the early nineteenth century, the slave trade became one of the most profitable enterprises on the planet, and slaveholders viewed religious critics as hostilely as oil companies now regard environmentalists. Yet when the abolition movement finally triumphed in the 1850s, it had an invisible ally: coal and oil. As the world's most portable and versatile workers, fossil fuels dramatically replenished slavery's ranks with combustion engines and other labour-saving tools. Since then, oil has transformed politics, economics, science, agriculture, gender, and even our concept of happiness. But as Andrew Nikiforuk argues in this provocative new book, we still behave like slaveholders in the way we use energy, and that urgently needs to change.

Many North Americans and Europeans today enjoy lifestyles as extravagant as those of Caribbean plantation owners. Like slaveholders, we feel entitled to surplus energy and rationalize inequality, even barbarity, to get it. But endless growth is an illusion, and now that half of the world's oil has been burned, our energy slaves are becoming more expensive by the day. What we need, Nikiforuk argues, is a radical new emancipation movement.”

Also book review @: https://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/review-the-energy-of-slaves-oil-and-the-new-servitude/

Michael Kilburn's picture
August 15, 2019

If the Anthropocene epoch is characterized by a decadent, mutually destructive dance of human and physical geographies, then New Orleans is the perfect host city. Founded on the exploitation of both human and natural resources, built on the shifting sands of the delta, stripped of natural defenses, sitting below sea level with only earthen levees and ancient pumps keeping out the toxic waters of the Mississippi, Lake and Gulf, the city is a model of social and environmental injustice and unsustainability. The drunk staggering home past the trash and vomit on Bourbon street singing Jock-a-mo while the rats scurry, the levees seep and storm clouds gather in the Gulf is a good metaphor for the state of the planet and human civilization in the current epoch.

Yet, despite the intractable problems of decaying infrastructure, inequality, corruption and the constant threat of disaster, a stubborn spirit of grit, resilience, and even joy somehow endures. I first visited New Orleans in 2007. While the CBD and tourist quarters were open for business, heaps of steaming, mouldering debris still littered the lower 9th ward and outlying districts and half the population remained displaced, the majority-minority of whom labelled “refugees” in their own country. The hurricane had blown the sequins off the Big Easy’s carefree façade, stripping away the ideological veneer and laying bare its stark inequities, yet its soul was somehow intact*.

The criminal incompetence and indifference of the emergency response to Katrina (I remember tractor trailers full of supplies idling for days in Gloucester, MA waiting for instructions from FEMA) illustrated how there is no such thing as a “natural” disaster in the Anthropocene. “Acts of God” are increasingly triggered and mismanaged by acts of man.

As a political scientist and cultural historian, I am interested in how issues of power, control, resources, and justice are framed; how such narratives are deployed and contested; and (as an geographer at heart if not by training) how these cultural systems codependently interact with the environmental systems that underwrite them. The theme of “land, life and labor” exploitation of the New Orleans campus seems to me particularly salient for my interdisciplinary instincts and social science perspective. I look forward to meeting, working, and learning with you all.

*PS: The soul of New Orleans, which restored my faith in America during the dark years of the W administration (remember when we thought it couldn’t get worse?), is also what led my daughter to adopt the city as her own for the past five years, and inevitably led her parents to keep a wary weather eye on the Gulf and cancer alley. Actually both my daughters (like all sons and daughters of their generation) are on the front lines of the Anthropocene, as my youngest is a budding environmental scientist. So, my desire to understand the systems and scale of these issues is personal as well as political.

Luísa Reis Castro's picture
August 15, 2019

As a researcher, I’m interested in the political, ecological, and cultural debates around mosquito-borne diseases and the solutions proposed to mitigate them.

When we received the task, my first impulse was to investigate about the contemporary effects of anthropogenic climate change in mosquito-borne diseases in New Orleans. But I was afraid to make the same mistake that I did in my PhD research. I wrote my PhD proposal while based in the US, more specifically in New England, during the Zika epidemic, and proposed to understand how scientists were studying ecological climate change and mosquitoes in Brazil. However, once I arrived in the country the political climate was a much more pressing issue, with the dismantling of health and scientific institutions.

Thus, after our meeting yesterday, and Jason Ludwig’s reminder that the theme of our Field Campus is the plantation, I decided to focus on how it related to mosquitoes in New Orleans.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito and the yellow fever virus it can transmit are imbricated in the violent histories of settler-colonialism and slavery that define the plantation economy. The mosquito and the virus arrived in the Americas in the same ships that brought enslaved peoples from Africa. The city of New Orleans had its first yellow fever epidemic in 1796, with frequent epidemics happening between 1817 and 1905. What caused New Orleans to be the “City of the Dead,” as Kristin Gupta has indicated, was yellow fever. However, as historian Urmi Engineer Willoughby points out, the slave trade cannot explain alone the spread and persistance of the disease in the region: "Alterations to the landscape, combined with demographic changes resulting from the rise of sugar production, slavery, and urban growth all contributed to the region’s development as a yellow fever zone." For example, sugar cultivation created ideal conditions for mosquito proliferation because of the extensive landscape alteration and ecological instabilities, including heavy deforestation and the construction of drainage ditches and canals.

Historian Kathryn Olivarius examines how for whites "acclimatization" to the disease played a role in hierarchies with “acclimated” (immune) people at the top and a great mass of “unacclimated” (non-immune) people and how for black enslaved people "who were embodied capital, immunity enhanced the value and safety of that capital for their white owners, strengthening the set of racialized assumptions about the black body bolstering racial slavery."

As I continue to think through these topics, I wonder how both the historical materialities of the plantation and the contemporary anthropogenic changes might be influencing mosquito-borne diseases in New Orleans nowadays? And more, how the regions’ histories of race and class might still be shaping the effects of these diseases and how debates about them are framed?

María Elissa Torres Carrasco's picture
August 15, 2019

My reaserch interest is focused in queer population and how its interseccionality lives together with the different challenges that each culture presents to a not heteronormative body. In my research about New Orleans I found that the city praises itself of being GLBTQ friendly being pioneering in U.S. with events like Fat Monday Luncheon, 1949, and civil movements like the Steamboat Club in1953; and remarking that the city has always being supportive of GLBTQ rights (non-discrimination ordinance, 1991; Gender Identity Law, 1998).

But when it comes to disaster situations, the more difficult and discriminatory existence of the GLBTQ community came to light, like in the aftermath of Katrina, because, like several testimois imply, during the tragedy all civilians where equal, but when it came to asking for aid and accesing to health services the failures and lack of resources and information to attend this diverse community was evident. Forcing them to negotiate their existence in heteronormative ways just to access to the basic needs for survival, e.g. transwomen being registered like men, transmen not being able to take showers, lesbian couples being registerd like sisters, among other sobering examples.

Charlotte D'Ooge describes that "While the traditionally gay male neighborhoods of New Orleans such as the French Quarter, the Marigny, and the Bywater were part of the 20 percent of the city that did not flood badly, the areas with a traditionally high proportion of lesbians and queer people of color, notably MidCity, were hit hard." The people that used to live in these prior queer friendly spaces were forced to leave the city, and in many cases hasn't been able to come back, being relocated across U.S., and the city itself hasn't recognized the existence of these neighborhoods as "gay friendly" focusing its regeneration and tourist appeal just in the traditionally white, male and gay spaces, a common reduction of all the GLBTQ community that leads to the concealment of all the gender and sexual diversities, here linked also to their socio-economic background.

The failing public system led queer people to look up for health and aid into the queer community developing support networks independently led by bar owners our event managers that were famous before the disaster, showing that in the disaster context the GLBTQ community couldn't trust neither the services from the State nor international support like the Red Cross. W. L. Leap does an important theoretical remark in this subject pointing out that "For purposes of theoretical neatness, perhaps, anthropologists may not want to assume the identity of the subject before it is actually named. But as the panelists made clear, FEMA made such assumptions repeatedly as matters of policy and practice -- and queer-identified subjects were inconvenienced, sometimes significantly so because of it" making a call to researchers that study this population in disaster situations.

A final anotation, that I wasn't able to fully develop, was my surprise to find out that several religious and fundamentalist groups blamed the gay community and its debauchery for causing the anger of God and consequentely the hurricane Katrina, the linking of climate disasters with religious beliefs in the XXI century strikes me as hidden the actual origins of the tragedy.

Cited articles and web pages:

D’Ooge, Charlotte. 2008. “Queer Katrina: Gender and Sexual Orientation Matters in the Aftermath of the Disaster.” In Beth Willinger (ed.) Katrina and the Women of New Orleans, pp. 22–4. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University.

Leap, W. L., Lewin, E., & Wilson, N. (2007). Queering the Disaster: A Presidential Session. North American Dialogue, 10(2), 11–14.doi:10.1525/nad.2007.10.2.11 

RICHARDS, G. (2010). Queering Katrina: Gay Discourses of the Disaster in New Orleans. Journal of American Studies, 44(03), 519–534.doi:10.1017/s0021875810001210