Lucas Foglia: Human Nature will be available as a traveling exhibition. Please direct exhibition booking inquiries to Karen Irvine email@example.com.
Reposted from DoGood4Chi
Humans have been able to eradicate diseases that threatened to wipe us off the planet. Most of us have supercomputers that fit in our pocket and allow us to contact friends and family across the globe in just seconds. We are able to see and document planets, stars, and galaxies that are billions of light years away. We have accomplished extraordinary things in our relatively short time on this planet. As a species, we have been able to conquer and reshape our physical surroundings for hundreds of years, often using fossil fuels to power our tools and machines. That, combined with the seemingly endless natural resources available within U.S. borders has helped us to become the richest country in the history of the world. Why then is the issue of climate change different than any other challenge we’ve faced before as a species?
The distinction this time around is we are creating such an elegant chaos that humanity will not be able to counteract the effects generated by the planet’s warming of even a few more degrees. We’re dealing with centuries of consequences compounding upon themselves and quickening their pace just as we’re fully understanding our own impact in the equation. Climate change is going to touch every single person on this planet. Even in Chicago, which is positioned next to the largest freshwater resources in the world, we are battling for our water security. Invasive aquatic species such as Asian Carp have the potential to devastate our lake ecosystem, microplastics have contaminated 94.4% of all tap water samples tested in the US as recently as September of 2017, and an aging citywide water distribution system has been leaking lead into our water supply. Can you say with certainty that you personally will never have to deal with rising prices for water that is safe enough to drink? If you answered yes, would you be willing to bet your or your children’s lives on it?
With all that said and even assuming a worse case scenario, climate change will not be what destroys our planet. With a >99.9% certainty, Earth will outlast us and a percentage of its species would adapt and thrive in the worsening conditions we could see in 5, 50, 500, or even 5,000 years without massive climate change interventions. Our planet has weathered ice ages, meteorites striking and covering entire continents in shadow & clouds of ash, and other periods of extreme changes before, yet life has found a way. Most scientists agree, the Earth will be swallowed into the sun when it reaches the next stage in a star’s life cycle and turns into a red giant, generally expected to happen within the next 5 to 7.5 billion years. Personally, it would be easier for me to bet on humanity finding a way to colonize other planets beyond our solar system if we had that much time to innovate in the type of technology advancements that would allow us to terraform another life-supporting planet. However, humans may not even make it another 100 years if we continue to ignore the warning signs that over 97% of climate scientists, whose entire job is to analyze any and all information available on the subject, have been raising for decades.
It is becoming harder to grow staple crops in large swaths of historically fertile land because of excessively hot temperatures during growing seasons. We are sapping our freshwater resources so fast that major cities are on the verge of running out of water entirely. The refugee crisis is worsening with every day, as millions of people are being displaced from their ancestral homes by civil wars and infighting over dwindling resources. Natural disasters caused a total of $306 billion in damages during 2017 alone, the highest total in U.S. history. This is only a handful of examples that don’t even get into the extinction of species and how their losses affect the global food web, increased disease rates due to conditions where mosquito-borne illnesses thrive and smog-filled cities where residents are forced to wear oxygen masks to even go outside, or lost arable land and potential for food production as we see entire islands being swallowed up in the ocean. Not to beat a dead horse, but the point is this – you have to try not to see the writing on the wall and ignore the inescapable reality of climate change and its consequences.
It’s easy to paint a very bleak picture of our future, especially if we don’t act collectively and immediately to mitigate the effects of climate change. In the past year alone, huge strides have been made in the fossil fuel divestment revolution. New York has joined the growing movement recognizing the danger of continuing to operate an economy based on fossil fuel consumption. Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York have announced that they plan on divesting almost $400 billion in state budget and pensions away from fossil fuels and reinvesting in clean energy tech. Illinois began implementing the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), which is a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that positions our state as a leader in the Midwest. The bill requires electric utilities to become more efficient, funds job training in the renewable energy sector, lowers consumers’ utility bills, increases access to financing options, and creates incentives for billions of dollars in green energy investments. Chicago even hosted the 1st annual North American Climate Summit, which had mayors from dozens of North American cities in attendance at the Chicago History Museum. Their objective was to discuss how cities that are committed to the ideas of the Paris Agreement, which President Trump pulled the US out of in June, could continue operating toward those goals. Why then, is Chicago not actually joining the rising tide of the green revolution by committing to 100% fossil fuel divestment with a clear and firm deadline right now?
Mayor Emmanuel and his sustainability department have already publicly committed to running all of the City’s public buildings on 100% renewable energy by 2025. This pledge is an encouraging promise from the City; however public buildings represent only 8% of Chicago’s total energy usage. Additionally, the amount of our City’s operational budget still tied up in fossil fuels is less than one percent. But that <1% represents upward of $80 million dollars, and another $330 million goes through the City’s largest pension funds. We could be in a lot worse shape, but even more aggressive action is needed in order to send a message to both fossil fuel companies and our own federal government. Over 60 U.S. cities and municipalities have already made the 100% Fossil Free pledge, and Chicago needs to join that group immediately. Mayor Emmanuel himself has been quoted saying, “I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world, and I am committed to fostering opportunities for Chicagoans to make sustainability a part of their lives and their experience in the city.” It’s time for him to follow through on those words and commit to divesting Chicago completely away from fossil fuels. I urge you to make this issue an important factor in your voting choices both in this election cycle, and all those in the future. Chicago’s mayoral elections are coming up in 2019. Let’s hold Rahm (or whomever leads the Second City in one year’s time) accountable to leave a legacy of climate change activism to be proud of for future generations.
Even conservative estimates of fossil fuel reserves remaining on Earth gives us under 100 years left at our current pace of consumption. Since the beginning of 2017, the percentage of financial experts who believe a theoretical carbon bubble will burst within the next 5 years has doubled, leaving personal and governmental investments in those industries severely devalued. Even some of the largest fossil fuel companies have begun joining the movement, although their motives are most likely motivated more so by public opinion than their consciences. Knowing what the impending future holds for fossil fuels, doesn’t it make fiscal sense for Chicago to go all in on the type of technologies that our future economy will be based on, rather than ones we will soon have to leave behind? For a city that continuously has to raise property taxes and is losing residents by the thousands in recent years, this seems like a no-brainer.
The case for fossil fuel divestment has made moral sense for quite some time now. It has become increasingly clear to anyone paying close attention that now it makes economic sense, as well.
“I’m not a fan of fiction that’s totally hopeless,” says Jeff VanderMeer, author of Annihilation, in an interview with The Atlantic, animated in the video above. “You find ways of documenting the world as it is, [with its] beauty, and you wind up redefining utopia and dystopia.” VanderMeer goes on to explain how, in writing fiction about climate change and environmental crises, he hopes to “push us out of our complacency.”
“We can’t live the way we live now,” he says, “but there are ways in which we can live in a useful and interesting and comforting and satisfying way within what’s happening.”
Author: Caitlin Cadieux
See video here.
Liam Heneghan’s Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children’s Literature conjures a world of natural magic and wonder. Animals are more than animals, trees are more than trees, the moon and the stars draw close, and they are all mysteriously intertwined.
This marvelous book is an introduction to environmental themes in children’s literature as well as a model of literary criticism accessible to a broad audience—because it must be. Such work must be accessible, because environmental issues are so critical and the need for increased environmental literacy so urgent. The genius of the work, however, is Heneghan’s ability to speak from a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with one exceptionally lively, congenial, and coherent voice. On the surface we encounter a scientist, teacher, and father; but in the depths we see flashes of a child, animal, and sprite.
Read more here.
May 9, 20182:05 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air
New York Times reporter Eric Lipton says the response to a recent FOIA request shows that Scott Pruitt and his staff have gone to great lengths to keep the public and the news media at a distance.
ERIC LIPTON: One after another, Scott Pruitt has gone after the Obama-era regulations intended to clean the nation’s air and water and to limit the pace of climate change, and he’s been eliminating them – at least, attempting to. And so for Trump, you know, it’s hard to think about getting rid of a guy who is really executing on your strategy perhaps more effectively than any other member of the Cabinet.
[ . . . ]
LIPTON: Well, for example, he was going in August to Nevada, Iowa, to meet with a cattle rancher and to talk about his intention to roll back a Obama-era program that’s supposed to protect drinking water supplies. It’s called Waters of the U.S. And so Pruitt is in the process of repealing that regulation, and farmers did not like it because it was going to restrict their ability to work some of their land, potentially. So he went to this place where the cattle ranches worked. And it was supposed to be what they call invite-only press, which means you pick certain reporters who you know are friendly, you invite them and you don’t tell anyone else.
[ . . . ]
LIPTON: I actually have in front of me here a copy of his agenda from that trip, which was June 8 through June 10 of 2017. And we just got this full agenda last week through the Freedom of Information Act. And so what it shows you when you look at it is that while he spent just on the airfare alone $16,000 – and The Washington Post has added up numbers. I haven’t actually done this myself – to say that they think that the trip costs about $100,000. But what the agenda shows you is that most of the time that he was in Italy on the ground, he was actually sightseeing. He visited the Vatican Library. He visited the palace for a whole afternoon. Another part of the – he went to an underground area in the Vatican, which is very hard to get a tour of. He had dinner at La Terrazza – at a restaurant at the Hotel Eden, which is one of the most expensive restaurants in Rome. He had dinner at another restaurant called Al Ceppo.
He had that dinner with Leonard Leo who is the head of the Federalist Society, which is a group that’s working with other anti-regulatory groups to try to get reductions in Obama-era regulations and get judges appointed to federal courts. He had dinner there at Al Ceppo with Leonard Leo, and Leonard Leo paid for that dinner. And only after The New York Times asked about whether or not Leonard Leo paid for that dinner – because we’d heard that he had – did the agency tell us that Pruitt had reimbursed Leonard Leo for that dinner. And so, I mean, again, what the agenda tells us from that trip is that most of the time, he was sightseeing. And then among the meetings he actually had – as I literally sit here and page through it – was one meeting that he had is – he met with a bunch of executives from major United States chemical companies, like Chemours and DuPont and 3M. But these are the Italian executives of their affiliates in Italy. He had a roundtable with business leaders on environmental innovation at the Embassy of the United States in Rome. And then he also met with the charge d’affaires at the Embassy of the United States, and he met with some officials from the Vatican. But for the most part, he was sightseeing.
[ . . . ]
LIPTON: I was writing about state attorneys general and what I perceived as their conflicts of interest as they were taking millions of dollars in contributions from companies that they were investigating – pharmaceutical companies, auto companies and, you know, across the board, food companies. And as I began to investigate the state attorneys general – because at the time, I was writing about lobbying out of Washington – and I saw that the – that corporations were beginning to lobby attorneys general more. I saw that there were a great number of energy companies that were contributing a lot of money as well. And when I began to investigate which attorneys general they were most focused on, I found Scott Pruitt. And it was just a matter of me sort of saying, well, who’s the guy who they go to the most to challenge the Obama regulatory rule?
So what Devon Energy, for example – which was an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company – was doing, it was turning to Scott Pruitt to try to challenge Obama’s rules. And they would hand Scott Pruitt drafts of letters that they wanted him to send to Lisa Jackson at the EPA or to the Department of Interior or even to President Obama. And Scott Pruitt took those letters and essentially put them on the Oklahoma attorney general stationery, signed them and sent them in.
And he was – had become, you know, essentially a lobbyist on behalf of the oil and gas companies in Oklahoma at the same time as he was the top law enforcement official. And he was the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same companies to help get other Republicans elected as attorneys general. So that was a story that I wrote in 2014, and that’s when I first met Scott Pruitt.
Jeff VanderMeer’s corpus renders the conceit “science fiction that rises to the level of literature” obsolete if not absurd. His work is obviously literary. His vision is original and far-ranging, and his writing, masterful and perennially astonishing. However, one really must read a varied selection of his stories and novels to understand the sheer force of his imagination. Though I’ve been reading and following his work only since he published the Southern Reach Trilogy, I’ve also been immensely rewarded by delving backward into his beautiful, utterly convincing, and hypnotic Ambergris trilogy. And still, I am stunned by the imaginative range of work that VanderMeer publishes in one calendar year.
Last year, for example, VanderMeer published This World is Full of Monsters, a long and elaborate story or “novelette” about alien invasion and planetary transformation. The story is a kind of successor to Area X, as well as a new kind of Area X in its generic and stylistic transgressions. Much more than an extension of previous work, This World is a kind of Fibonacci series of iterations, as if every turn in VanderMeer’s imagination was followed by another, which occurred on a higher level because his psyche was somehow expanding in an organic though not quite natural manner. I begin with a pedantic summary, but only because I think it might be of use to future readers and commentators.
At the beginning of This World, a creature disguised as a story enters the home of the narrator. It cuddles up to him but then invades his body and psyche. In the first part of his transformation the narrator becomes a plant creature, part human and part tree. The story-creature plants him in the earth, and the narrator falls asleep for a hundred years. He wakes to a transformed and utterly ruined landscape, finds his way back to his old street, and lives in the exposed, flood-damaged foundation of his former home. There he meets his doppelgänger and learns that the “other” had taken his place and lived with his family while the narrator was asleep. His “brother” is a monster, from which the narrator cannot extricate himself, but he eventually withers away so that the narrator can live.
Lonely, and utterly disoriented in an unrecognizable, hostile landscape, the narrator wanders aimlessly trying to decide, in an existentialist mode, when and how to end his life. He then enters a slightly more coherent environment. It’s wildly surrealistic and troublesome but somehow aesthetically whole. Eventually, the hero realizes he is inside a kind of leviathan, or giant worm, where he is being schooled against his will. What initially appears as a landscape through which the narrator moves and suffers, is actually the interior of a giant beast, sampling and digesting him in a sense. He manages to escape, but is nearly drowned when the beast, pursuing him, falls into a lake and creates a great wave. The narrator holds onto a single-celled creature as a life raft, but kills the creature when they reach the shore, as it becomes apparent the cell is trying to consume him.
At what seems like a turning point in the narrative, the hero settles into a kind of temporary home, the dead shell of a turtle-like creature, and crosses the lake, very slowly because of a “glacial” current, resolved to die when he reaches the other side. However, Dead-Shell grows a mouth and begins to speak, once again transforming the narrator. His interior flows up and out of him and hardens into a golden “honeycomb” exoskeleton. Now, part insect, part marine creature with fins, and part astronaut with a large glassy eye like the helmet of a space suit, he begins to accept his transformation. (I won’t say what happens at the very end.)
Though I would not dare to assert the purpose or meaning of the story, partly because I believe it has no conventional purpose or meaning, I will mention some obvious thematic threads. This is clearly a story about an invasion, though like the Southern Reach Trilogy invasion may be a response to gross human transgressions. If Annihilation was prompted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as VanderMeer has suggested, the ocean expelling humans in This World would seem to follow suit.
The narrative is also obviously about radical transformation. By radical I mean not only that humans and other creatures are transformed, as organisms, but that there is a violation of almost every biological category. Humans become plants, rocks become beasts, landscapes and bodies of water are sentient creatures, and everything merges, or attempts to merge with everything else. VanderMeer has mentioned that the story is influenced by weird biology. This World seems not only an expression of natural weirdness, but the inability of human beings to understand and appreciate what already exists on the planet, including radical and pervasive symbiosis, because of the limitations of our analytic schemes.
There is also a strong theme, throughout, of stories having autonomous existence. The “story” line is, perhaps, the most provocative and important creative and philosophical thread. The topic is so pervasive and the story so insistent on the ontological status of stories, it seems the reader is being provoked to consider the concept at face value. It is generally known that VanderMeer has been thinking about story telling in the Anthropocene. And while Humanities and Social Science scholars constantly assert that culture influences nature, they are less likely to consider stories as nature—that stories are not only tools but creatures, with some kind of unique ontological status.
VanderMeer has also suggested the post human as a descriptor for This World, and while the story certainly resonates with Borne and the Borne story, Strange Bird, VanderMeer’s work here is even more radical than that critically-acclaimed biotech fantasy. While biotech as we imagine it might be regulated and contained, at least for a time, the biotech of story-telling in an age of information warfare and renewed American culture of lies is far more of a threat. Genetically engineered insects and self-aware robots may become another downfall, but the world is already under siege if not defeated by malignant stories.
Echoing Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhhood’s End, VanderMeer’s surrealistic, apocalyptic narrative plays with biblical themes and ends in ecstatic release. The ending may be poetic justice for a race ill equipped to survive on a planet demanding certain types of restraint, or a conclusion so mythic it must be followed by a new beginning. In either case, this is a narrative about beginnings and ends capable of transforming our existing stories about beginnings and ends.
As an experimental work of fiction, This World of Monsters is a resounding success. It’s wildly imaginative, philosophical provocative, and plays authoritatively and productively with literary themes, forms, styles, and voices throughout. Though I consider it a significant literary work, I’m not certain that it must be read as literature. I imagine it can be appreciated by those who understand science fiction as a categorically experimental genre. It may be that This World is less likely to be appreciated by readers who bring preconceptions about VanderMeer’s work, what counts as a story, or even what counts as literature, to this remarkable oeuvre. This is a story about stories, and about the transformative power of stories, that strives to transform everything we know about them. And to the extent that it suggests the world is full of monsters posing as stories, it may strive to transform everything we know about the world.
Circling back to literature, This World is Full of Monsters is teeming with allusions to epic poetry, scripture, and surrealism in various media and historical moments. Ultimately, VanderMeer’s genius here reminds me of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. It cannot be accounted for by the artist’s time, place, or culture. It’s a kind of weird, living organism we didn’t know existed. A work this audacious and ambitious is more than a story, or story about stories. It’s a new world colliding with the old.
Read This World is Full of Monsters at Tor.com.
The DePaul University Institute for Nature and Culture is excited to invite you to a panel discussion with four activists/artists/ecologists who are engaged in crucial struggles for our planetary future and provide models of hope in these arduous times.
Tuesday May 15th 2018, 7 – 9 pm
DePaul University, McGowan South,
1110 W Belden Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (Room TBA)
Taylor Brorby is an essayist, poet, and memoirist whose work centers on hydraulic fracking and climate change in western North Dakota.
Lucas Foglia’s photographs challenge the concept that humans and nature operate in opposition, while simultaneously highlighting the relentlessly uneasy, absurdly comedic integrations of our technologies in the natural world.*
Shannon Heffernan is a reporter with WBEZ. She has covered environmental news and criminal justice issues. She also reports on poverty, labor, and climate change.
Nat Mengist cultivates equitable, land-conscious partnerships through training in garden education, nonprofit leadership, and post-humanities scholarship.
Sponsored by the DePaul Institute for Nature and Culture.
*Foglia’s third book, Human Nature, was just published by Nazraeli Press. His next solo exhibition opens July 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. (Images beneath title by Lucas Foglia.)