Tim Ingold: What on Earth is the Ground?

Clara Han: Echoes of Death and the Life Story. Keynote at Urbanization, Gender, and the Global South

Katherine McKittrick: Living Just Enough for the City, Volume VI, Black Methodology

Settler Geology: Earth’s deep history and the governance of in situ oil spills in Alberta

lined pit pkg 1 249

Contaminated soil from an in situ flow-to-surface event in northern Alberta

In my latest article, I examine 4 related events in which processes that superheat bitumen into a hot emulsion deep underground forced it to Earth’s surface…rather than having it stay put for long enough to be pumped out. I have a lot of data I gathered on the governance response, but this article targets just one part of it (the rest will be in a new book I’m writing on Alberta). Namely, what was the official ’cause’ of the bitumen flowing to the surface?

Here is the paper (free for 50 days from this link, and available from my publications page). If you have a subsription to Political Geography click here.

At first glance, the answer seems straightforward: the technology used to extract the bitumen was clearly the driving force. But things are more complicated than this for a variety of reasons. The most interesting part for the argument in this paper is how Earth’s deep history (i.e. geologic time) was used to explain causal relationships as ancient marine environments, glacial advances and retreats, and floods from the geologic record were used to explain causal relationships in the present. By looking closely at this case, we can see how geologic and human time are made commensurate with one another…that is, how they are put on the same scale of time.

Of course, these temporal scales are not brought together in just any old fashion. Instead, they are brought together in ways that fit with existing governance structures designed to extract value from land. That is, from the structures put in place through settler colonialism. As it happens, settler colonialism has a very peculiar, and quite flawed, idea of time underpinning it and which make it appear natural despite its violent effects on Indigenous peoples, lands, and relations. I have created the term ‘settler geology’ as a shorthand to refer to how this temporal framework is extended to make Earth’s deep history a natural fit with the cultural time of settler colonialism.

Those who follow debates around the Anthropocene will be familiar with a very prominent premise: that the scale of the Anthropocene is incommensurate with human time. Or, in other words, that the two not only operate on vastly different time scales but that, in addition, geologic time cannot be explained in terms of human time (or vice versa). This premise, and adjacent ideas of incommensurate aspects of the Anthropocene (like Tim Morton’s idea of hyperobjects like climate change that are too big to be candidates for experience) are the target of my latest article in Political Geography. In it, I show how geologic time is made commensurate with the governance of one of the planet’s largest fossil fuel extraction operations: the Alberta oil sands (or tar sands, if you are looking to battle it out over terminology).

Settler geology: Earth’s deep history and the governance of in situ oil spills in Alberta

Abstract

Alberta’s bitumen industry is frequently identified as a key site of environmental politics in the Anthropocene owing to the scale of its fossil fuel extraction operations. While popular images of surface mining activities often focus these discussions, approximately 80% of the bitumen reserves in the Canadian province lie too deep for surface mining and are extracted through in situ technologies, including processes that inject high-temperature, high-pressure steam to mobilize geologic formations of the tar-like fossil fuel. This article examines how in situ extraction was governed in response to four flow-to-surface (FTS) events in which bitumen unexpectedly migrated to Earth’s surface as the result of in situ operations. The governance response to these events is of particular interest because it counters the assertion that existing governance institutions operate on time scales that are incommensurate with those relevant to the Anthropocene. The Alberta case shows the opposite owing to how Earth’s deep history was used to provide temporal syntax for a geotechnical debate that ensued over what caused the FTS events. By detailing the controversy over what caused the FTS events, and the search for “enabling conditions” that would link causal explanations to the spatial distribution of the four bitumen seeps, Earth’s deep history was also made commensurate with the political geography of settler colonialism in Alberta. The article introduces and develops the notion of ‘settler geology’ in order to capture the naturalization of geologic forms of reasoning about Earth’s deep history, the geologic force of anthropogenic in situ operations, and the temporal framework of settler colonial governance in Alberta.

Wendy Brown’s Tanner Lectures on Human Values: Politics and Knowledge in Nihilistic Times – Thinking with Max Weber

Leanne Simpson: As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance

A great talk by the formidable Leanne Simpson; the talk has the same title as her excellent book that is available with the University of Minnesota Press here.

Anthropocene Lecture: Philippe Descola

Clive Spash on the Lies they Tell: The pitiful state of environmentalism and its neoliberalization

Clive Spash, never one to leave you wondering what he thinks, on how environmentalism has been captured by new forms of economic reasoning. Always worth revisiting his critique of the Paris Agreement too.

Amazing triple set of resources on Indigenous waters: from Standing Rock to Australia (book + 2 special issues)

There are three recent (and really good) resources that have come out on Indigenous waters in the past several weeks: a book and two special issues, each below and many open access.

Standing With Standing Rock: Voices from the #NoDAPL Movement (University of Minnesota Press)

From the Publisher Website:

image_miniIt is prophecy. A Black Snake will spread itself across the land, bringing destruction while uniting Indigenous nations. The Dakota Access Pipeline is the Black Snake, crossing the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The oil pipeline united communities along its path—from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois—and galvanized a twenty-first-century Indigenous resistance movement marching under the banner Mni Wiconi—Water Is Life! Standing Rock youth issued a call, and millions around the world and thousands of Water Protectors from more than three hundred Native nations answered. Amid the movement to protect the land and the water that millions depend on for life, the Oceti Sakowin (the Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota people) reunited. A nation was reborn with renewed power to protect the environment and support Indigenous grassroots education and organizing. This book assembles the multitude of voices of writers, thinkers, artists, and activists from that movement.

Through poetry and prose, essays, photography, interviews, and polemical interventions, the contributors, including leaders of the Standing Rock movement, reflect on Indigenous history and politics and on the movement’s significance. Their work challenges our understanding of colonial history not simply as “lessons learned” but as essential guideposts for current and future activism.

Transformative Water Relations: Indigenous Interventions in Global Political Economies

This is a special, open-access issue in the journal Global Environmental Politics [click here if the direct links below are off]. It is edited by Kate Neville and Glen Coulthard and includes pieces from many scholars that are part of the Decolonizing Water project.

There are six articles, here are the titles/authors.

Kate J. Neville and Glen Coulthard
Including Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Environmental Assessments: Restructuring the Process, Rachel Arsenault, Carrie Bourassa, Sibyl Diver, Deborah McGregor, and Aaron Witham

Indigenous water management

This is a special issue in the Australasian Journal of Environmental Managment  and it is edited by Sue Jackson and Bradley Moggridge (Not all of it is open access but the lead article is…at least it was when I posted this).

Indigenous water management, Sue Jackson & Bradley Moggridge
Indigenous nation building for environmental futures: Murrundi flows through Ngarrindjeri country, Steve Hemming, Daryle Rigney, Simone Bignall, Shaun Berg & Grant Rigney

Andrea Ballestero’s new book! A future history of water

Ballestero.jpgIf, like me, you’ve been waiting for this title, it will be out next month. Details below on Andrea Ballestero’s fascinating research:

From Duke University Press here:

Based on fieldwork among state officials, NGOs, politicians, and activists in Costa Rica and Brazil, A Future History of Water traces the unspectacular work necessary to make water access a human right and a human right something different from a commodity. Andrea Ballestero shows how these ephemeral distinctions are made through four technolegal devices—formula, index, list and pact. She argues that what is at stake in these devices is not the making of a distinct future but what counts as the future in the first place. A Future History of Water is an ethnographically rich and conceptually charged journey into ant-filled water meters, fantastical water taxonomies, promises captured on slips of paper, and statistical maneuvers that dissolve the human of human rights. Ultimately, Ballestero demonstrates what happens when instead of trying to fix its meaning, we make water’s changing form the precondition of our analyses.

Praise:

“Andrea Ballestero masterfully brings analytic complexity to wide-ranging fields while simultaneously showing us that these fields are not as separate as they first seem. If this sounds like ethnographic magic, that’s because it is: the magic of a most creative method carefully and brilliantly pursued to provide awareness of scholarly habits of thought, in the process, offering alter-inspiration.” — Marisol de la Cadena, author of Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds

“Andrea Ballestero is one of the most eloquent environmental ethnographers of her generation and one of the most important ethnographers of scientific practice that I have ever encountered. Her writing is beautiful, her theoretical and analytic ability are stunning, and the connections that she makes between her empirical evidence and larger conversations in the social sciences are breathtaking. While there are other anthropologists who write about the kinds of techniques that Ballestero dissects, historicizes, and theorizes, nobody does it while always grounding them in social relations and social reproduction.” — Paige West, author of Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea