Category: blog

True Men Melt Glaciers

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this 1960’s advertisement, honestly…”Humble” (another joke apparently) Oil & Refinery Co. is bragging about how they supply enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier each day! While I understand we did not know much about climate change 50 years ago, I find it funny that Humble recognized the (albeit very exaggerated) impact that their products could have on nature. Yet, instead of lamenting this issue, Humble saw it as a reason to brag! The 60’s were a strange era, indeed.

Captain Obvious Alert

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-DanyToday Reuters released what is supposed to be the first part of a string of articles by Kyle Plantz, who interviewed me a few weeks ago about our class. Suffice to say that if I knew the article was going to be about Game of Thrones I would have been super-pumped, as it is literally the only TV show I like other than Antiques Roadshow.

But here we are at the end of the piece:

But Ted Howell, who teaches a climate fiction class at Temple University in Philadelphia, said film-goers may be getting the wrong idea about what climate change looks like.

“Some people think (climate change) is going to be this massive tidal wave or giant snowstorm, but it’s actually slower than that,” he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

I jest, but Kyle’s piece is really excellent and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Snowpiercer Think Pieces

Emily has done a great job of reviewing Snowpiercer and providing some links to get us ready. I thought I’d do the same by sharing links to two “think pieces” on the movie — some heavy reading, actually. I’m not avoiding spoilers, so look away if that sort of thing bothers you.

A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons

Snowpiercer is a truly chilling dystopia, then, because its world is fully self-contained, and sufficient. But the most insane thing about it is that it makes sense. And it crystallizes something firghtening about the psychic geography of late capitalism, a technologically-enhanced state of affairs in which the function of the oppressed masses is less and less to work and be exploited than to be excluded and to suffer. The first world, the movie might seem to argue, works less to provide its citizens with pleasure than to shape their desire by constructing others through their pain, lack, and death. Instead of giving Texans a health care system, for example, late capitalism gives them the illegal immigrant, to hate, to fear, and to dis-identify with. Prisons do more and more of the system-maintaining work that was once done by schools and hospitals: instead of giving us something to want, they give us something to fear, hate, and kill. And so, we eat ourselves.

Meta: Snowpiercer

Capitalism’s genius is its ability to co-opt every attempt at resistance; every revolution is engineered within the system, with the permission of the system, according to terms defined by the system. Which is why the exploitative conditions of capitalism–its visceral and mundane horrors–have persisted for so very long: they seem to be driven by a “sacred engine” which will run perfectly forever.



Hi everyone!!!

While I was writing my expert review on Snowpiercer, I found a lot of cool interviews that will help you “pre-game”, if you will, for watching the movie in class tomorrow. It just gives some background on the movie and what some of the actors and producers think about it and it’ll really help get you into the world that we’ll be watching tomorrow. And who doesn’t love Chris Evans? Come on.

Snowpiercer – Chris Evans | Behind the Scenes | FandangoMovies

Chris Evans and Co-Producer Dooho Choi Talk SNOWPIERCER, Elaborate Fight Scenes, the Distribution Model, and More

Interview: ‘Snowpiercer’ Director Bong Joon-ho on Mastering Sci-Fi

I really recommend looking at at least one of these interviews before coming in to watch the movie tomorrow. They’re all super interesting and not too long and the first one is a video.

See you guys tomorrow for pizza and Snowpiercer!!!

The Role of Authors in Climate Change

Recently, The New Yorker posted this piece by acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen. Here, Franzen displays some general foolishness and seems to be entirely ignorant of some general facts of the climate change “movement.” Franzen seems to believe that the environmentalist movement and the climate change movement (for lack of a better phrase) are two disparate entities and supporters of one cannot support the other. To me, Franzen’s defeatist attitude appears dangerous… If Franzen, one of the most acclaimed authors of the century, cannot get behind the push to help stop man-made climate change, how many others will buy into his nonsense? While Mr. Franzen’s defeatist attitude on the subject may be shared by many, I for one believe that we can save the birds AND the planet if we try hard enough.

Problematizing the ‘Anthropocene’

In his essay, The Anthropocene Myth, Andreas Malm argues that “blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook.” Indeed, while referring to our new, climate change entrenched, geological epoch as the Anthropocene might be radical in its assertion that humanity’s actions are the primary source of climate change, Malm is keen to point out how this generalization of the problem misses the key issue.

“Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.”

Arguing over the semantics of climate change might seem silly, but Malm makes a crucial point about why this distinction is necessary:

“Without antagonism, there can never be any change in human societies. Species-thinking on climate change only induces paralysis. If everyone is to blame, then no one is.”

Should we already rename freshly dubbed Anthropocene to something more specifically targeted, such as the Capitalist epoch? It seems unlikely that any such name will be accepted by the mainstream discourse. Naming things is fickle business, and although sometimes useful for establishing a point, is rarely more than a way of summarizing content. Regardless of what we call the current epoch, however, Malm is right to suggest that how we conceptualize this epoch is important if we want to change the way things are headed.  If the Anthropocene must be understood as involving humanity in its totality, then it must be in recognition of the complicated and varied relationships between climate change and humans, not as cause for universal blame.

Let’s take more than an hour next time

Yesterday March 28th, Earth Hour was celebrated all across the globe. Unfortunately many people I know have never heard of Earth hour. Earth Hour occurs every year for an hour in March and encourages people to turn off all of their unnecessary lights to signify that we all must play our part in combating climate change and protecting the Earth. Earth Hour occurred across seven thousand cities in 162 countries. The movement is spreading so much that even the Eiffel Tower participated and turned out its lights. To find out more about Earth Hour visit their website here and make sure you participate next year on March 19th!

Naomi Klein: Shock of Oil Price Plunge Is Opportunity World Must Seize

In this article Klein argues the current moment is ripe for the world to take advantage of the dramatic drop in global oil prices by kicking the fossil fuel industry “while it’s down.” She goes on to says the fall in oil prices since last year should be seen as an opportunity for those concerned about both the prevailing economic order and the dangers of climate change. “Let’s turn this shock,” she says in the nearly five-minute video essay, “into the shift we need.” While this seems to be good idea in theory, our class last night (and Forty Signs of Rain) illuminated how hard it is to actually get anything achieved without added measures tacked on to potential progress.

Talking about Geoengineering

Last week in class we talked for an hour about geoengineering even though not a single one of us is a scientist or capable of fully comprehending the intricacies of the plans we evaluated. Then, the next day, I came across this article from Grist, which had been published the day before: Why we should talk about geoengineering even if we never do it. A team of researchers found that — in addition to its helpfulness in understanding climate systems — geoengineering studies can help to make conversations about climate change less polarizing. And the article’s final paragraph mirrors many of our course’s key themes:

But just like other sci-fi fodder — black holes, time travel, artificial intelligence — geoengineering is the kind of concept that, by stoking imaginations and raising questions of ethics, politics, and the limits of human innovation, can influence society without ever having to become a reality. It’s dangerous, and scientists get that, but neglecting or hindering the broader climate change discussion is dangerous too.

Selections from Red Mars

KRS trilogy 1992-1996 first British editionsI promised to post a PDF with selections from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars for those who are interested in checking out the book. Here’s the PDF: Red Mars.

I’ve taught this selection as a standalone reading before, so it works as introduction to the book. Here’s a reading guide in the event that you want to get started:

Red Mars is a book about the colonization of Mars. In the year 2026, 100 people leave Earth for Mars on the spaceship Ares. Many of the people aboard are either Russian or American, for the mission has been funded and organized by these two countries. Once the “First Hundred,” as they are known, leave Earth, they remain in touch with mission control and the governments (and companies) who have funded their trip; the folks on Earth are ostensibly “in charge,” but because the First Hundred are millions of miles away Earth has few ways of exercising control.

Here are some characters you need to know about:

Nadia (Chernyshevski) – Engineer and contractor responsible for building the first settlement on Mars, which is soon called “Underhill.” The section we are reading is written from Nadia’s point of view.

Ann (Clayborne) – American geologist who comes to study the surface and geological history of Mars.

Sax (Saxifrage Russell) – American physicist known for his detachment and sharp, analytic mind.

John (Boone) – American astronaut. He was the first human to step foot on Mars during an earlier space mission, and as a result is the most famous person on Earth and on Mars.

Maya (Toitovna) – Russian astronaut and politician. She is the leader of the Russian contingent.

Frank (Chalmers) – American astronaut and politician. He is the leader of the American contingent.

Arkady (Bogdanov) – Russian astronaut whose main role as member of the First Hundred is to design simulations that test and provide practice for the First Hundred’s attempt to land their ship on Mars. On their way to Mars, Arkady pointed out that they no longer needed to follow instructions from Earth, and could make their own decisions about the future of Mars.

Is Publishing Books on Climate Change Enough?

This article explains this up and coming genre of sci-fi and it questions whether simply writing a sci-fi book is enough to make an impact on society. In other words, how should we ensure that these ideas continue to perpetuate once a book is published? The article also discussed how sci-fi authors are meeting with scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to discuss bigger goals in relation to climate change. This union is in hope to bridge the gap between sci-fi and hard science. This article shows how sci-fi authors are becoming a true value in the fight of climate change.


Let’s Be Real

A British newspaper, the Guardian, recently announced its new campaign to directly fight against climate change, pledging to ramp up its already ubiquitous coverage of the issue with hard hitting criticisms of the fossil fuel industry and the systems that keep that industry in power.

Commenting on this unusually direct approach from a newspaper, Tim McDonnel, of Mother Jones, notes that “The idea of a newspaper undertaking an openly activist campaign straight from the playbook of Greenpeace or the Sierra Club might seem strange to American audiences, who are accustomed to news outlets at least purporting to adhere to some degree of journalistic objectivity.”

Indeed, Alan Rushbridger, editor of the Guardian, states quite bluntly that the newspaper will be taking a clear stance: “For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the sceptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.”

In response, McDonnel asks: “Is it time for the Washington Post and the New York Times to launch climate petitions of their own? [James] Randerson [assistant national news editor at the Guardian] wouldn’t say, but he did argue that especially in the United States, ‘the media have not done a service to their readers in explaining what’s really at stake here.’”

Here in the United States, we emphasize journalist integrity and objective reporting in spite of, or perhaps because of, how blatantly biased our mainstream news outlets are. It was recently reported that Fox News is America’s the most trusted news source, a frustrating, but perhaps unsurprising fact given that their brand is built on the slogan “Fair and Balanced,” (no matter how much their actual reporting betrays this mantra.) The problem isn’t that outlets like Fox News have a bias, but that by denying this bias, they establish a reputation of legitimacy among viewers, and are then able to get away with lying to their viewers. Conversely, it’s worth considering that some viewers may be aware of and even identify with the positions of outlets like Fox News, but by also believing that their particular views are rooted in objectivity, they fail to how their personal vision of objective is actually rendered meaningless.

For this reason, The Guardian’s decision to embrace a definite stance and tackle climate change head on challenges American media in good way. When faced with a situation as dire as climate change, sometimes rules need to be bent in order to do, ironically enough, what is right. Just as the future consequences of climate change are “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community,” so too, I argue, is the probable threat of these consequences incompatible with the currently established journalistic order. I’m not arguing that media should lie when covering climate change, but that,  like how science’s obsession with (an impossible) absolute certainty on all facets of climate change is slowing us down, pretending that covering idiotic, pseudo-scientific viewpoints for sake of being “Fair and Balanced” is also greatly impeding upon our ability to respond to climate change in a pertinent, timely manner. True objectivity is impossible to the extent that biases in the media, now matter how much we try to deny them, are an inevitability; human perception itself is an act of bias. Having a bias rooted in scientific evidence and logical analysis, however, should not be considered the journalist crime that America’s obsession with “Fair and Balanced” leads us to believe it is.

It’s this  adherence to hollow, journalistic ideals that plays into our naïveté in reelecting the same capitalist puppets to government over and over again. As long as we continually listen to these inadequate, misinformed voices in our political discourse, listening solely on the basis that we are being fair, we stand no chance of improving our situation. I believe that thoroughly changing, if not outright rebuilding our current news media is going to be crucial in the climate change fight, and while this is no simple task to accomplish, calling out the intrinsic errors in America’s conceptualization of what the media is and should be is at least an important first step. The fundamental problem with America’s media driven understanding of climate change isn’t that we’re having a debate; it’s that we’re having the wrong debate, and this is where changing our understanding of media bias is important for considering which voices at least have a point, and which are only procrastinating imminent disaster.

Living in a Sci-Fi World: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

Hey, everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying the fact that we’ve plummeted back into the ice age with this weather (this must mean that global warming doesn’t exist, right?!?). I just wanted to share with you all this interview I stumbled upon when googling Kim Stanley Robinson about his science-fiction writing and science-fiction in general. It’s really long, HOWEVER, in the description of the video it gives what questions are asked at what time in the video, so you can basically pick and choose which answers you want to hear. If I didn’t explain that clearly enough, you’ll figure it out once you click on the link (which in case you didn’t see, is attached via hyperlink to the word “interview” in the second sentence of this post). Also, at the end of this video, he reads a little portion of his book 2312 which we discussed in class yesterday! Please do not be alarmed that Kim Stanley Robinson bares a passing resemblance to Walter White from Breaking Bad, I’m sure he is nothing like Walter White…but how cool would that be?

Cli-fi in the Classroom

Via Dan Bloom, an article about cli-fi classes across the country, including our own. My favorite part? It’s also available in Spanish:

En la Universidad de Temple, Ted Howell da un curso llamado “Clima ficción: Ciencia ficción, cambio climático y apocalipsis” a unos 30 estudiantes. También tienen blogs semanales sobre el curso mediante el cual mantienen intercambios fuera de clase con su profesor y sus compañeros.