“Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings,” writes Rebecca Solnit. “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”1 Names matter. What we call things matters. In the same vein, Naomi Klein writes: “The grossly unequal distribution of climate impacts”— hurricanes, flooding, forest fires, drought, etc.—“is not some littleunderstood consequence of the failure to control carbon emissions. It is the result of a series of policy decisions the governments of wealthy countries have made—and continue to make—with full knowledge of the facts and in the face of strenuous objections.”2 Those decisions, informed by a language that hides things, place 1 Rebecca Solnit, “Climate Change Is Violence,” Truthout, February 5, 2015, http://truth-out .org/progressivepicks/item/28933-climate-change-is-violence. 2 Naomi Klein, “Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate,” Nation December 12, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/article/what-does -blacklivesmatter-have-do-climate-change/. Capitalocene Violence Chapter Four 63 Capitalocene Violence 62 Chapter Four lives at risk, and not just any lives, but particularly the lives of the vulnerable, the lives of the impoverished, women, Indigenous peoples, migrants, and people of color. Naming can call attention to these invisibilities. Indeed, “Racism is what has made it possible to systematically look away from the climate threat for more than two decades. It is also what has allowed the worst health impacts of digging up, processing and burning fossil fuels—from cancer clusters to asthma—to be systematically dumped on indigenous communities and on the neighborhoods where people of colour live, work and play.”3 One way to “call violence by name” is to opt for the Capitalocene—the geological age of capitalism—as the term of choice, rather than the misdirected and obfuscating Anthropocene. The terminological distinction invites further critical analysis of Anthropocene conceptualization and imagery, especially in regard to popular media and its image making. Take National Geographic, and science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2011 essay “Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man,” which accepts and thereby provides one more legitimation of the Anthropocene thesis in its opening lines: “It’s a new name for a new geologic epoch—one defined by our own [sic] massive impact on the planet.”4 Kolbert’s text accompanies a photo gallery with images by Edward Burtynsky, the Canadian photographer whose large-scale prints of industrial landscapes are as seductive as they are horrific, as revealing as they are aestheticizing—and aestheticizing in an extremely disturbing manner when it comes to Anthropocene visualizations. Consider Burtynsky’s Oil Fields #19ab, Belridge, California, USA (2003), a diptych that shows the San Joaquin Valley’s desert petroscape overtaken by an expansive network of pumpjack oil rigs. Captured from a low aerial perspective with an elevated horizon 3 Ibid. 4 Elizabeth Kolbert, “Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man,” National Geographic, March 2011, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/age-of-man/kolbert-text. line, the exploited terrain appears patterned by extraction machinery, extending nearly as far as the eye can see. “Discovered in 1911, this field pumped on as cities were rebuilt for cars and as ancient petroleum molecules were spun into household products such as plastics, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals,” National Geographic’s caption explains. “South Belridge today produces 32 million barrels a year—enough for nine hours of world demand.” That is, even as Southern California is ever threatened by ongoing climate change violence, including heat waves, a multiyear drought, and catastrophic forest fires. The photographer’s explanation, found on his website, opts for the sanguine: “When I first started photographing industry it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to. Our achievements became a source of infinite possibilities.”5 Such is typical of Burtynsky’s tendency to make monumental, awe-inspiring photographs from scenes of environmental violence—violence defined not only locally in terms of the damage to regional landscapes, but also globally in relation to the contribution of industrial fossil fuel production to climate change. At the same time, those scenes are interpreted as depicting the origins of modern development and the 5 “OIL—Artist’s Statement,” Edward Burtynsky, accessed June 9, 2016, www.edwardburtynsky.com/site_contents/Photographs/Oil.html. Edward Burtysky, Oil Fields #19ab, 2003. Belridge, California. © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/Galerie Springer Berlin. 65 Capitalocene Violence 64 Chapter Four guarantee of the American way of life. It is true that Burtynsky goes on to signal his own concern with such images, adding the following: “But time goes on, and that flush of wonder began to turn. The car that I drove crosscountry began to represent not only freedom, but also something much more conflicted. I began to think about oil itself: as both the source of energy that makes everything possible, and as a source of dread, for its ongoing endangerment of our habitat.”6 Indeed. Yet his images are less about staging that ambivalence—between consumer complicity and industry-led development—and more about dramatizing in spectacular fashion the perverse visual beauty of a technological, and even geological, mastery devoid of environmental ethics. While Burtynsky is right to point out the consumer-based 6 Ibid. participation in the oil economy, that frequently made observation is also part of the ruse that universalizes responsibility for climate disruption, diverting attention from the fact of corporate petrocapitalism’s enormous economic influence on global politics that keeps us all locked in its clutches. Consider also Burtynsky’s Oil Fields #27, Bakersfield, California, USA (2004), which depicts a hydrocarbon geography, not far from Belridge, where the oil infrastructure appears woven into a gold-bathed chiaroscuro that dramatically patterns this hilly topography. Here too technology merges with nature, unified aesthetically, composing a picture that is, monstrously, not only visually pleasurable, but also ostensibly ethically just—an image of American “freedom” whose historical progression, according to the familiar patriotic narrative, is necessary, inevitable, even—as pictured here—beautiful. What the photographer constructs is the petro-industrial sublime, emphasizing the awesome visuality of the catastrophic oil economy’s infrastructure founded on obsessive capitalist growth, which “we as a species,” as Burtynsky says, have created. The problem is that such images tend to naturalize petrocapitalism, with a mesmerizing imaging machine in thrall to the compositional and chromatic elements of the very framework responsible for our environmental destruction. Far from being alone in this endeavor, Burtynsky’s aestheticist version of photography is also taken up by photographer Louis Helbig in his catalogue Beautiful Destruction (2014), which provides similarly disturbing and seductive imagery of the Albertan tar sands. For instance, Effluent Steam, Muskeg River Mine, Fort McKay, Alberta, Canada (2014), offers an aerial shot of steam rising as warm discharge is poured from a large pipe into a frozen, snow-covered tailings pond. The image, positioned in such a way that the steam appears to rise above the ground toward the bottom of the frame, conveys the mixture of Edward Burtynsky, Oil Fields #27, 2004. Bakersfield, California. Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/ Galerie Springer, Berlin. © Edward Burtynsky. Louis Helbig, Effluent Steam ( Tu ch’ele t’ok’é helį) (nipiy kā pe sākicowak piwāpiskohk ohci sīpīsis), +57° 14‘ 0.59“, -111° 33‘ 10.50, 2012. Muskeg River Mine, Fort McKay, Alberta, Canada. Courtesy of Louis Helbig, beautifuldestruction.ca. 67 Capitalocene Violence 66 Chapter Four bin nicht sicher: steuerzeile und Seiten - zahl lassen oder wie auf 75/76 wegnehmen? 69 Capitalocene Violence 68 Chapter Four natural and industrial elements resulting from the processing of bitumen (the viscous black hydrocarbon found in the area), as its noxious byproducts merge with the formerly pristine ecosystem of this previously forested area. But here environmental toxicity is transformed photographically into visual splendor. In his catalogue, Helbig includes a range of essays by diverse commentators on tar sands development, including those from a pro-industry position, such as Rick George, former president and CEO of Suncor Energy and Greg Stringham of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who stress the tar sands’ value in providing energy security for North America, while pundit Ezra Levant describes the pictures to be of “a liberal, peaceful, democratic society” based on “ethical oil,” distinct from the “conflict oil” of Middle East dictatorships.7 There are also critics, including chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who discusses the Albertan tar sands’ violation of First Nations rights; Elisabeth May, leader of the Green Party, emphasizes the development’s environmental destruction; and Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch highlights the political corruption enabling petrochemical Canada—all speaking to the fact that if “conflict oil” exists anywhere at all it is here. However, it is 350.org founder Bill McKibben’s analysis, excerpted from his Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” (2012), that offers the most structural account of the link between the tar sands and global warming. He points out that if we were to stay below 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warming (as is consistently recommended by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate 7 Ezra Levant, “This Is What Ethical Oil Looks Like,” in Beautiful Destruction (Victoria, BC: Rocky Mountain Books, 2014), 57 and 93. Conversely, analyst Timothy Mitchell argues: “In tracing the connections that were made between pipelines and pumping stations, refineries and shipping routes, road systems and automobile cultures, dollar flows and economic knowledge, weapon exports and militarism, one can see how a particular set of relations was engineered among oil, violence, finance, expertise and democracy.” Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (London: Verso, 2011), 253. Change), then our worldwide carbon budget over the next thirtyfive years is 565 gigatons of carbon; yet there currently exists 2,795 gigatons of carbon in proven coal, oil, and gas reserves, which corporations have already factored into their share prices and financial calculations, counting on that money for their current operations.8 In other words, they possess a massive economic incentive to burn through those reserves, a game-over scenario for a livable climate. It is for this reason that the fossil fuel industry figures as a “rogue industry,” in McKibben’s terms, and the tar sands, for its extensive environmental destruction, its most visible symptom. That said, it is not so much the visible damage in Alberta that should be in our focus, but rather the invisible accumulation of greenhouse gases that represents the central imminent threat to the environmental viability of life on planet Earth. For Helbig, seemingly unconcerned with such invisibilities, photography’s greatest value lies in its direct presentation of the world without polemics: “Whatever opinions I might have reflexively harboured as a contrarian, to think and believe that this must be bad, melted into a heady, singular experience of simply responding without editorializing, to just see it for what it is, unfiltered. It was easy to respond with honesty, with integrity to this thing below.”9 The problem is that his images are far from direct and honest. The aerial shot discussed above, for instance, isolates the poisonous industrial exploitation from its larger socioeconomic and politico-cultural environment, thereby transforming it into a putatively innocuous silvery-white composition of painterly abstraction (the photographs of which are then commercialized in editions via art gallery representation and online shopping). The disorienting perspective, cropped and at an 8 Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in Beautiful Destruction (Victoria, BC: Rocky Mountain Books, 2014), 223. For further analysis of the Alberta tar sands, also see Jon Gordon, Unsustainable Oil: Facts, Counterfacts and Fictions (Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press, 2015). 9 Louis Helbig, “About Beautiful Destruction,” in Beautiful Destruction, 281. 71 Capitalocene Violence 70 Chapter Four angle, produces the sensation of abstract visual pleasure that corresponds to the belief that industry is doing the right thing in Alberta, a result of the fact that Helbig’s images were almost all shot from a plane flying overhead, thereby displacing the scene from the misery of those living in or near this industrial apocalypse. The above whitewashing, if not greenwashing, provides examples of what Nicholas Mirzoeff has called “the aesthetics of the Anthropocene,” which, according to his analysis of its nineteenthcentury conditions, as evidenced in the Impressionist painting of Claude Monet, “emerged as an unintended supplement to imperial aesthetics—it comes to seem natural, right, then beautiful— and thereby anaesthetized the perception of modern industrial pollution.”10 The logic reminds me ultimately of Walter Benjamin’s oft-quoted insight about fascist aesthetics: “Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure.”11 Is that not what is happening when we admire these images of the tar sands, or of California’s oil fields, translating scenes of destruction into compositions of aesthetic beauty? Part of our alienation, in this case, is the perverse enjoyment the photographs afford of images of our own annihilation. Burtynsky’s Oil Fields, and Helbig’s tar sands photography, can be productively compared and critically contrasted to Richard Misrach’s Petrochemical America, a photo exhibition, and later a book project put together with landscape architect Kate Orff, which hones in on the damaging socio-environmental causes and effects of oil industry development, imaged as a pollution-filled apocalyptic landscape. One photograph, entitled Abandoned Trailer Home, Mississippi River, Near Dow Chemical Plant, Plaquemine, Louisiana 10 Nicholas Mirzoeff, “Visualizing the Anthropocene,” in “Visualizing the Environment,” ed. Allison Carruth and Robert P. Marzec, special issue, Public Culture 26, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 220. 11 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings: 1938–1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael William Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 270. (1998), shows the major waterway dishonorably reduced to a sewer, depopulated ostensibly from the toxic emissions of industry historically dumped directly into the water and released into the air. By loading the river with this noxious chemical freight, the petrochemical industry has created an enormous hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, estimated at seven thousand to eight thousand square miles (for which the American Environmental Protection Agency has recently been sued by environmentalists, including the Gulf Restoration Network, for failing to protect).12 Unlike Burtynsky’s pictorialism, and Helbig’s aerial beautification of destruction—and opposite the remote-sensing imagery that tends to fetishize mastery of the visual field as a compensatory maneuver against recognizing the techno-scientific failures of geoengineering—this photograph rejects the Anthropocene’s terminological obfuscations and disavowals of culpability. It shows its on-the-ground environmental and human costs. As such, Misrach’s photograph invokes the Capitalocene’s insistence on linking geological alteration to the current political economy, showing the “Cancer Alley” of Southern oil development as part of petrocapitalism’s necropolitics of ecocide.13 It thereby inspires criticality and encourages viewers to participate in the growing opposition to fossil fuel extractivism and its unevenly distrusted effects—a political (and politicizing) relationality otherwise absent in Anthropocene discourse. Misrach shot his images of the 150-mile Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 1998 at the 12 Dahr Jamail, “Environmentalists Sue EPA Over Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico,” Truthout, August 14, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32354-environ mentalists-sue-epa-over-dead-zone-in-gulf-of-mexico. 13 With this phrase, I reference Achille Mbembe’s discussion of the colonial governmentality of death in “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 11–40; and link it to Polly Higgins’s legal defense against the destruction of natural environments, in Eradicating Ecocide: Exposing the Corporate and Political Practices Destroying the Planet and Proposing the Laws Needed to Eradicate Ecocide (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 2010). Richard Misrach, Abandoned Trailerhome, Mississippi River, near Dow Chemical Plant, Plaqueville, Louisiana, 1998. Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York; and Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles. © Richard Misrach. 75 Capitalocene Violence 74 Chapter Four invitation of the High Museum in Atlanta (for its exhibition “Picturing the South”). He was subsequently joined by Orff, along with her New York–based firm SCAPE, to collaborate on the photo-book Petrochemical America (2012), reprinting the original photographic series along with Orff’s “Ecological Atlas,” the latter providing a stunning analysis of the industrial, economic, sociopolitical, and ecological conditions that frame the “petrolized” landscapes Misrach’s images depict. For instance, one of Orff’s diagrams links an assortment of chemicals—such as isopropylamine, methanol, melamine, and polyisobutylene—to the places along the Mississippi where they are produced by corporations like Monsanto, Shell, Union Carbide, Syngenta, Exxon, and Dow Chemical, providing a detailed infoscape that usefully footnotes and contextualizes Misrach’s photographs. Other images catalogue the health problems— including cancer, endocrine disruption, premature birth, leukemia, asthma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—associated with those and other chemicals, which bioaccumulate in animal and human bodies and the environment, wreaking havoc on the interconnected web of life. Produced along this stretch of the Mississippi River, those chemical ingredients are omnipresent in consumer culture, where fossil fuel derivatives help bind together clothing, produce cars, tires, and seat covers, fertilize corn, make product packaging and cleaning products, and create pharmaceuticals and cosmetics—all paid for typically with plastic polyvinyl chloride-based credit cards, as Orff and SCAPE observe.14 Still, Cancer Alley impacts certain populations more than others, which Misrach’s images and Orff’s texts make clear. Formerly enslaved low-income African-American and working-class white communities, without resources to move to cleaner areas or lacking the resolve to abandon their homes, bear the brunt of petrochemical 14 Kate Orff and SCAPE, “Ecological Atlas,” in Petrochemical America (New York: Aperture Foundation, 2012), 127. exposure, while corporations enrich distant shareholders living safely in clean, affluent environments. Injustice builds on inequality. These former communities are the tragically absented in Misrach’s spectro-poetics, his stagings of the ghostly disappeared, images that pay attention to the invisibilities of the zones shaped by the entanglement of racial, economic, and environmental violence. In this regard, if forced to retain the term Anthropocene, we might consider qualifying it, given the violence of its differential impacts, its inequality and injustice, as Misanthropocene, making it more descriptive and accurate. Or, as Mirzoeff suggests, let us take into account the term’s colonial and genocidal roots, carried over into contemporary forms of environmental injustice: “It’s not the Anthropocene, it’s the White Supremacy Scene,” which amplifies Klein’s point in the language of #BlackLivesMatter.15 Comprising maps, informational diagrams, and flow charts, the “Ecological Atlas” of Petrochemical America also visually integrates Misrach’s photographs, offering a remarkable opening up of the pictures, unfolding their visuality to rich politico-ecological interpretation. And it is not only human communities that the project investigates, but also their connection to the region’s wider web of life. The dead stumps of once-lush evergreen trees, for example, as shown in Misrach’s Cypress Swamp, Alligator Bayou, Prairieville, Louisiana (1998), are integrated into Orff’s Requiem for a Bayou, which schematizes on its left side how the polluted wasteland was formerly a vibrant ecosystem, linking alligators to blue herons, barred owls to crawfish, which supported Cajun fishing 15 Nicholas Mirzoeff, “It’s Not the Anthropocene, It’s the White Supremacy Scene, Or, the Geological Color Line,” in After Extinction, ed. Richard Grusin (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming, 2016). Or, as Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin put it, less polemically, “The Orbis spike implies that colonialism, global trade and coal brought about the Anthropocene. Broadly, this highlights social concerns, particularly the unequal power relationships between different groups of people, economic growth, the impacts of globalized trade, and our current reliance on fossil fuels.” Lewis and Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” 177. 77 Capitalocene Violence 76 Chapter Four SCAPE Landscape Architecture, Requiem for a Bayou, 2012. Photomontage from Petrochemical America (Aperture 2012). Courtesy of SCAPE Landscape Architecture. 79 Capitalocene Violence 78 Chapter Four SCAPE Landscape Architecture, Requiem for a Bayou, 2012. Photomontage from Petrochemical America (Aperture 2012). Courtesy of SCAPE Landscape Architecture. 81 Capitalocene Violence 80 Chapter Four communities—a vibrant and complexly inter-joined habitat now devastated by industrial ecocide: “The disappearance of old-growth cypress trees and the linear scars of pipes and canals are only the most visible signs of distress […] regional aquatic systems and human livelihoods are under threat.”16 In view of this incredible devastation, Orff rightly wonders if the local environmental justice movement that has grown in opposition to the petrochemical industry in this area is now out of date, given the fact that such development has expanded worldwide, with Cancer Alleys proliferating in places like Russia, China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, and Myanmar, as shown in another of Orff’s diagrams.17 Without discounting local resistance, she and her associates at SCAPE advocate for a bio-regional, and indeed globally interlinked, comprehensive approach directed toward a post-petrochemical culture of sustainability. Among the diverse practices and concrete policy proposals detailed in Orff and SCAPE’s “Glossary of Terms and Solutions for a Post-petrochemical Culture” attached to the back of Petrochemical America, are suggestions for citizen action networks, green chemistry, sustainable agriculture, ecological land use, public transportation, and environmental law. The solutions would reject the “linear, mechanistic narrative of endless growth based on extracted hydrocarbons and distributed waste in favor of looped and living paradigms centered on human energy and renewable resources.”18 Against the backdrop of the environmental justice campaigns and activism discussed here and in previous chapters, one might 16 Kate Orff and SCAPE, “Ecological Atlas,” 171. 17 Ibid., 191; see also 166–67. 18 “This companion booklet, the Glossary of Terms and Solutions for a Post-Petrochemical Culture, collects anecdotes, strategies, and case studies that demonstrate how change is happening and how to get involved. No example is a silver bullet. Some are controversial, some whimsical. All help shift away from our collective dependency on fossil fuels. Each offers a solution that we can choose individually, participate in collectively, or pressure our government to implement.” Kate Orff and SCAPE, “Glossary of Terms and Solutions for a Postpetrochemical Culture,” pamphlet insert in Petrochemical America. Also see the proposals of question the methodology of the Anthropocene Observatory, a project by Territorial Agency (John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog) in collaboration with artist Armin Linke and curator Anselm Franke. Presented at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, in 2013, among other exhibition venues, the piece investigates the genealogy of the Anthropocene thesis, focusing on the scientifico-mathematical calculations of global Earth-systems-altering processes, and archives its findings in the form of texts and videos shown in galleries and on websites. As Palmesino explains in an interview in the book Architecture in the Anthropocene, the Anthropocene Observatory practices a form of “neutrality” toward its subject, a “politics of non-action”—“not to take a position, not to engage with conflicts, not to partake in territorial conditions and the reorganization of factions and parties”—according to which it advocates simply witnessing and studying the unfolding of the Anthropocene.19 Yet, as we have seen, the Anthropocene itself is far the Petrocultures Research Group, as presented in their book After Oil (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2016). 19 Quoted in Etienne Turpin, “Matters of Observation: A Conversation with John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog,” in Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy, ed. Etienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2013), 23. Armin Linke, Museum of Evolution of Life, 2014. *no permissions/please check credit 82 Chapter Four from neutral. As such, I find such calls for neutrality to be inevitably complicit in the very non-neutrality of Anthropocene ideology. If we are to survive the Anthropocene—which is indeed a big if— what we need urgently is more activism, not neutrality, to rescue the democratic political process from corporate oligarchs, to enact a just transition beyond the fossil fuel economy, to reassert the priorities of equality, and to eliminate discrimination and prejudice. Whatever we do, we cannot sit back passively and witness our own destruction as a source of either visual pleasure or neutral observation. What is required is “a revolt against brutality,” against the violence of climate change—and the language that perpetuates it—as Solnit contends, not the neutral observation of the fossil-fuel-driven destruction of planet Earth.2