What have you learned about anthropocenics in this place?


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August 15, 2019

My interest in NOLA anthropocenics pivots on water, and particularly the ways in which capitalist regimes of value and waste specify, appropriate, and/or externalize forms of water. My research is concerned with water crises more generally, and geographically situated in Flint, Michigan. I thought I could best illustrate these interests with a sampling of photographs from a summer visit to NOLA back in 2017. At the time, four major confederate monuments around the city had just been taken down. For supplemental reading, I'm including an essay from political theorist Adolph Reed Jr. (who grew up in NOLA) that meditates on the long anti-racist struggle that led to this possibility, and flags the wider set of interventions that are urgently required to abolish the landscape of white supremacy. 

Flooded street after heavy rains due to failures of city pumping infrastructure.

A headline from the same week in the local press.

Some statues are gone but other monuments remain (this one is annotated).

A Starbucks in Lakeview remembering Katrina--the line signifies the height of the water at the time.


Adolph Reed Jr., “Monumental Rubbish” https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/25/monumental-rubbish-statues-torn-down-what-next-new-orleans

P.S. In case the photos don't show up in the post I'm attaching them in a PDF document as well! PDF iconnola_anthropocene_pics.pdf

Tim Schütz's picture
August 14, 2019

In my research on civic data infrastructure in different US cities, I noticed the steady news coverage and websites that present New Orleans as a new tech hub, rivaling Silicon Valley with cheaper labor and more affordable housing prices. A 2015 piece in the Observer documents the startup scene that has formed a decade after hurricane Katrina, presenting an interesting link between labor standards, tech innovation and resilience imaginaries that Jen is doing research on. While New Orleans continues to be listed as a top tech hub throughout 2018 and 2019, there is increasing coverage of the city's simmering affordable housing crisis

2015 was also the year that ridesharing services like UBER launched in the city.  I am interested in whether such services contribute to or alleviate environmental stress (traffic congestion, air pollution, ...). However, my brief data ethnography didn't give me any further reporting or data sets on this particular issue in NOLA.

Ramah McKay's picture
August 14, 2019
I haven’t gone as deeply into this as I’d like, but I started by trying to find out which private firms/actors were associated with disaster response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (beyond the groups, like Blackwater, that made headlines). What I actually found was the way in which New Orleans- and Louisiana-based firms and individuals are positioning themselves as disaster experts (or, as seems to be the preferred language, experts in resiliency and preparedness) in the wake of Katrina and subsequent storms (e.g. Isaac). So, groups involved in the initial response include companies like Beck Disaster Relief, AshBritt, Shaw Group, Korte, Fluor, Halliburton spin-offs, and Akima site contractors, but these groups have also used Katrina to position themselves or consolidate their position as disaster relief specialists. Other organizations, like Greater New Orleans Inc (GNO), Royal Engineers, Hammerman and Garner International and others, expanded from local contracting or civic bodies to national or international actors, as experience navigating not only the material landscape of Katrina but also the bureaucratic and financial landscape of FEMA became a selling point for further projects — for instance, many of these organizations went on to bid for public contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and subsequent preparedness activities. 
If these firms point to a genealogy of expertise spooling forward from Katrina, there are also financial genealogies that predate the privatized response to Katrina — for instance, the way Housing and Urban Development’s community development block grants (CDBGs), originally designed to promote “urban revitalization” became used as disaster relief funds. I also have not included here the key role played by humanitarian agencies and NGOs, both nationally and overseas.
The other way I’ve been preparing for the Field Campus is by thinking about the stakes of claiming - in my own work or in the work of these firms - New Orleans (and especially a mass-mediated event like Katrina) as a site for authorizing and producing knowledge. To that end, thinking with Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds, and Tina Campt’s work on refusal has been helpful, since these authors are concerned in part with how the hypervisibility of Black suffering underpins so much of American political life, and locate Katrina as part of that; those texts are helping me to start thinking about what possible starting points for my thinking might exist in relation to this analytical/geographical/empirical anthropocenic space.
Some media accounts and reports:
Maka Suarez's picture
August 14, 2019

I was interested in learning about how air pollution has been talked/researched in the New Orleans area. Mainly, the need to highlight local specificities and historical analysis. A 1950s study on air pollution in New Orleans (Air Pollution and New Orleans Asthma), for instance, documented asthma incidence among black communities (sadly the article still uses the N word), and its relationship to underground fire burning in nearby dumps. The study is more comprehensive and did a census in part of the city as well as a number of medical tests on 84 individuals.

A second study, this one from 2007, documented asthma in children (Prevalence of Indoor Allergen Exposures among New Orleans Children with Asthma). It has a relevant focus of the differences between document indoor allergen exposure in different areas of the US and how subtropical weather in NOLA plays an important role in the kinds of allergies that children with asthma face. One of the main findings of the study can be summarized in the following quote “our data show that asthmatic children in New Orleans may be exposed to a greater number of allergens at moderate to high levels compared to asthmatic children living in other inner cities and to the general population.”

Finally, a third reference, the book Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina: Struggles to Reclaim, Rebuild, and Revitalize New Orleans and the Gulf Coast talks about something, others have already pointed out (@Omar Perez Figueroa for instance) regarding areas that undergo dramatic change and hardship after natural disasters like hurricane Katrina and Rita. This book, particularly chapter 5 (though I can’t access the full text) explains the highly toxic environment that resulted (and remains) in the New Orleans area due to little clean-up action following the disasters. Lack of funding, deference to poorly resourced local authorities, and policy-failure all affect New Orleans (and many of our sites of research) particularly the fate of vulnerable communities.

Kristin Gupta's picture
August 14, 2019

As a researcher interested in the growing relationship between ecological grief and rituals surrounding death and dying, New Orleans has always been a place of special curiosity. The city’s historic cemeteries are arguably some of the most beautiful and certainly some of the most visited graveyards in the world. Since New Orleans lies below sea level and generally has soil too water-saturated for earth burial, the dead have historically been buried above ground in “Cities of the Dead,” where rows upon rows of mausoleums are designed to protect casketed bodies from the defilement of water, microbes, and ‘vermin’ as a means of warding off decay. Gesturing towards anxieties about the ontological pollution of the human subject, these structures often seem to be constituted through desires to remain intelligible after death and act to inhibit the incorporation of the corpse into subterranean, more-than-human worlds. 

However, as anthropogenic climate change threatens these kinds of normative deathways, the sustainability of such practices have begun to be called into question. It is estimated that on average, burials in the United States annually use 30,000,000 board feet of wood, 104,000 tons of steel, 1,600,000 tons of concrete, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. (I'm interested in finding out about more specifics about material usage in NOLA, but am still searching for that information.) This becomes even more important when considering that cemeteries within the city have repeatedly been disturbed by hurricanes and floods in recent years, an issue that remains even further inland from Lake Pontchartrain due to now regular flooding.  When a storm hits, it can wreak havoc by destroying or displacing mausoleums, buildings, signs, and decorations. Even more disturbingly, vaults and caskets buried below ground can surge to the surface and float away. This has become a macabre pattern across the South in recent years: the waters brought by Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, Ike, Irma, and Harvey all washed away caskets, in some cases breaking them apart and leaving local medical examiners and federal mortuary response teams with the rather grim task of identifying remains and parsing the environmental damage caused by potential leakages and run-off. 

This new normal has brought wider attention to how the ways we “do death” affect built and natural environments, enmeshing funeral practices in broader questions of ecologically responsible citizenship and collaborative survival with nonhuman life. How has New Orleans responded to these crises, both materially and existentially? Is there growing recognition of individual and earthly mortality, and how is that reflected in mortuary practice? What options best attend to these forms of climatic upheaval?


James Adams's picture
August 14, 2019

When it comes to energy governance, New Orleans is set apart from the rest of Louisiana, in that their utilities are regulated by the New Orleans City Council, rather than a Public Service Commission. However, the city council's ability to effectively regulate its primary energy provider, Entergy, has continually been called into question. One of the primary  critiques leveled on the council is its over-reliance on outside consultants. The New Orleans Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that "the Council’s regulatory approach and practices lacked basic controls to ensure transparency, prevent misconduct, and promote effective decision-making." This fact was made evident by Entergy's subcontracting of professional actors, feigning to be local constituents, to counter local opposition and fool the Council into supporting the construction of a new natural gas plant in New Orleans East. This scandal drew harsh criticism from members of local environmentalist community, putting pressure on the council to make appreciable changes to their extant regulatory model. In response, and at the reccomendation of the OIG, the council is currently taking steps to develop in-house, energy expertise so as to minimize their dependence on outside consultants. The council has also recently responded to the local community's demand for higher renewable energy portfolio standards, commissioning a new 90 Megawatt solar energy plant.

August 14, 2019

I am currently at the Ecological Society of America annual conference, so I am a bit limited on time to dig into New Orleans. I want to share the link below to the NoLA Urban Water plan. Even the nomenclature of 'urban water' allows us to think a bit deeper about how natural resources take on new characteristics, transformations, and meanings based on the spaces they inhabit. For instance, what does it mean for water to be Urban and how might that designation change how it is governed or interpreted?  

Furthermore, in thinking through the Field School's call to investigate Slavery and Labor, what might be the work of creating specifically urban waters? What forms of scientific knowledge and technological devices make urban water legible?

In asking these questions I'm thinking through a recent presentation I saw by Billy Hall who called attention to the wedding of environment and race in Baltimore City as a mechanism to encourage policies of segregation. I'm inclined, as we move into New Orleans, to think further on this provocation to examine how powerful social perceptions are wedded to techniques of governance to achieve publicly oriented outcomes. 


Danica Loucks's picture
August 14, 2019

Looking at a map of the New Orleans area I am struck by how many Wildlife Management Areas there are. I wonder if some of these areas are a result of dealing with spaces that cannot be readily developed due to their geo/eco features rather than explicit pushes for wildlife conservation/creation of green space. In some places it seems that green spaces can be created through spaces being unfit for building (e.g. in Orange County, CA).

Although I'm unable to dig into these spaces at this moment, many questions arise:

How accessible are these spaces to visitors? Are they designed for visitors/for environmental education or are they primarily spaces left alone for wildlife habitat? If they are visited, who uses them and how? (e.g. subsistence fishing and hunting? birding?) When were they officially created/designated? What differences in management exist between the national wildlife areas and state-managed areas? What perceptions exist among New Orleaneans about how these spaces are managed and about state vs. federal management? Has the management of federally-managed spaces changed since the beginning of the Trump administration/with the tumultuous activity within the Department of Interior? What challenges do these spaces face (e.g. ecosystem health/wildlife well-being, human use, land management) with changing eco/atmo conditions?

Danica Loucks's picture
August 14, 2019

I found an article announcing the release of an environmental mapping tool meant to improve the process of planning "green infrastructure projects." The tool was developed by the Trust for Public Land (which has also played a role in the rebuilding/repairing of parks/other public green spaces in New Orleans following Katrina) as part of its Climate Smart Cities Initative. The mapping tool draws from numerous sources to put multiple kinds of information in one place (e.g. flood prone areas, head islands).

In April 2016 (the date of this article) the mapping tool was only available to city officials and organizers from the Trust for Public Land. I looked on the Trust for Public Land website to see if it was now accessible to anyone but was unable to find it (the description on the website still says the tool is being developed, though that may be a feature of the webpage not being recently updated). What would it take for such a tool to become something anyone could look at and use?

In 2016 with the debut of this tool, the Gentilly area of New Orleans was stated to be the model space for starting to use this tool, which according to Wikipedia is a predominantly middle-class and racially-diverse neighborhood. The area is right on Lake Pontchartrain. I wonder what the decision-making process was for deciding where to test/develop this tool was and what factors were considered went into making that decision (eco/geo features? socioeconomic conditions? etc.). Has the tool now been expanded to be used in other areas of New Orleans?

August 13, 2019

This comment is about how NOLA’s disaster history shapes the risk sensibilities in NOLA anthropocene and the effect of it on discourse of Nuclear Energy in the region. What are the possibilities that Mississippi as an anthropocenic river pose for re-inventing radiation contamination as a risk sensibility of anthropocene and thereby to construct memory as nomadic spatialities in the epoch of anthropocene? 

As I have been working on social movements around nuclear energy and ways of knowing, sensing and representing radiation (contamination), I look for spaces of nuclear cultures. After doing a brief research on the anthropocenics of New Orleans, I pushed myself to know about the Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) in NOLA. There are three NPP that lines the Mississippi river as it flows through Louisiana: Waterford and Riverbend nuclear energy generating stations, Grand Gulf Plant (Port Gibson, Mississippi bordering Louisiana). Of these three NPPs, New Orleans falls within 50 miles of Emergency Planning Zone and on the Ingestion Exposure Pathway of the Waterford NPP[refer to image enclosed (or) shorturl.at/cwG05]. It is also important to note that New Orleans is the headquarters of Entergy Corporation, a fortune 500 company and the second largest generator of nuclear power in the US. Entergy's Indian Point Energy Centre, NY, which I am engaged with, is set for decommissioning in 2021 after polluting the Hudson River with multiple safety events that spanned across 4 decades.

The anthropocenics of New Orleans and environmental groups working against (environmental) degradation focuses mainly on the flooding, rising waters, storming, land use. Conversations about NPPs or safety events, based on what I could gather from secondary resources, seems almost absent. As an article written in the aftermath of Fukushima disaster points out (shorturl.at/bdlmn), "there is no independent watchdog group with expertise in nuclear plant safety keeping a close eye on River Bend, Waterford and Grand Gulf." In addition, the safety infrastructure of the Waterford NPP has largely to do with protection against rising water, flooding and hurricane thus making disaster imagination of Waterford NPP more exterior than interior (shifting focus from disasters arising from the functionality of the plant). How should we read the erasure of radiation contamination risk from the toxic history of New Orleans: as an absence, a construct or a lacunae considering its close proximity to Entergy headquarters?

This may open up spaces for future research in many directions. But what seems particularly interesting to me is how disaster memory fraught by water imageries in NOLA (rising water and hurricanes) shapes risk sensibilities of the New Orleans anthropocenics. If risk sensibilities are shaped largely by water imageries playing a key role in constructing what a disaster means in the region, for me the question remains: How Mississippi can be constructed as waters of anthropocene and as Ivan Illich's Waters of forgetfulness (Lethe), for it to embody the nuclear legacies of radiation contamination at St.Louis, Missouri as the river flows/cuts through the Eastern US? Meticulous archiving of toxic and anthropocenic histories and stories around river and water may bring to them the quality of Mnemosyne, river of remembrance in the epoch of anthropocene. It can be regarded as an effort to render the invisible more than visible and more so, a shift from the temporal significance of memory to a spatial significance of memory with water/river as nomadic spatialities.

The wiki page about the powerplants looks so sanitized for a nuclear energy skeptic like me: