Archive for March, 2010


Posted in Natural Disasters, Uncategorized, War with tags , , , , on March 31, 2010 by jessicabarranco

Societies are  programmed to self-destruct regardless of actual experience, historic accounts, or even coming to an understanding of the environmental issues are at stake in order to address the problem and find a solution to it.  If this history is true, then why not lay down and play dead?

Jared Diamond, addresses the possible reasons for society’s ignorance:

First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives.  Second, when the problem does arrive, the group may fail to perceive it.  Then after they perceive it, they may fail even to try to solve it.  Finally, they may try to solve it but may not succeed … Why, then, do some societies succeed and others fail, int he various ways discussed in this chapter?  Part of the reason, of course, involves differences among environments rather than among societies: some environments pose much more difficult problems than do others. (Diamond, 421 and 438)

As Diamond points out, it is the challenging aspect of the environment that is responsible for society’s demise.  In his chapter, Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?, he lists many examples of disastrous behavior of society given many different environments, under different types of governments.  The most interesting account, involves his fourth point, that societies may try to solve the problem, but a solutions may be beyond its capacity to solve it, due to lack of expenses or efforts.  He describes the cold climate of Greenland, and notes that for 5,000 years, “its limited, unpredictably variable resources have posed an insuperably difficult challenge to human efforts to establish a long-lasting sustainable economy” (p. 436).  If the answer to why societies are unsuccessful, lie in the fact that it does not have the capacity to solve it, this is my response:  If you have 5,000 years of history proving that life in a particular area is unsustainable, then there is absolutely no way that some measly little environmentalist or big bad government is going to magically take the earth by her horns, and force her to yield to this society that wants to live in that particular area.


Millenarian Revolutions on the other hand have a bone to pick with man-made disasters, and the corruption among governments that refuse the survival of the masses.  To counter Jeffrey Ellis’ argument for finding a comprehensive understanding to problems, I would argue that Mike Davis sets up a clear account of over-population.  If arguing through Paul Ehrlich’s perspective, it is only natural for governments to allow victims of natural disaster and catastrophe to fend for themselves.  These people are not going to be the next heroes for the next generation, and will not contribute to maximization of profits for anyone anywhere.  The victims of drought and famine are those that do not have power or worth, except through rebellion and mere survival.  Even as these catastrophes unfold, the governments in place use tactics that nature has demonstrated against those who are already devastated.  “It was impossible to disentangle the victims of drought from the casualties of warfare, or to the clearly distinguish famine from epidemic mortality” (Davis, p. 199).  In this description, it is the fate of the victims to perish under exploited environments.  And so, society dwindles.

Ellis argues that the problems that arise in nature are not consequences of only one problem, nor do they have any one solution.  Regardless of the perspective, he proposes, “Instead of arguing with one another about who is most right, radicals must begin to consider the insights each perspective has generated and work toward a more comprehensive rather than a confrontational understanding of problems that have multiple, complex, and interconnected causes” (Ellis, p. 267).  As he sets up his argument in On the Search for a Root Cause, it would not matter my own personal perspective on the effects of society or environmental collapse, or even the possible solutions to them.  The real matter is that people are placed in strategic settings in order to play a game of Climate Risk.  As Davis points out in The Origins of the Third World, “Climate risk is not given by nature but by ‘negotiated settlement’ since each society has institutional, social, and technical means for coping with risk.  Famines thus are social crises that represent the failures for particular economic and political systems” (Davis, p. 288).

Returning to my orignial argument, if society chooses to play the game, it is up to them to survive.  The given society has the means to survive, if it addresses the environment with keen instinct and a unified collective of understanding.  “There havebeen many such courageous, insightful, strong leaders who deserve our admiration … China’s leaders who mandated family planning long before overpopulation in China could reach Rwandan levels.” (Diamond, p. 440)

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2010 by rudweiser

We are some of the most fortunate people to be  living in Southeast Alaska, and also some of the most blind. We live in such a pristine environment its difficult to perceive the damages that are being inflicted on the environment everyday. Because we are so isolated, we must ship most of our state supplies via boat, airplane and trucking. We import 90% of our food from other states. Alaska’s harsh environment requires vast amounts of fuel to keep our state running. Yet, we don’t perceive the damage we inflict because we cannot physically see it nor feel it when the damaging effects could well be underway.

Pristine Tongass Forest

For example, logging in the Tongass National Forest. This hasn’t been happening on a large scale, but President Obama has recently approved a contract for logging to re-open in the Tongass. The objective to open logging was to give jobs to loggers that are quickly becoming unemployed. Like in the Diamond reading, there are jobs that benefit some while they tend to hurt others. Logging would be a temporary solution to creating an economy while it destroyed our forests which would be permanent for our lifetime and decades to come. Also from the Diamond reading, there is no reason to wait to save a resource for another day when we can use it today. If the day comes where our forests are being logged around us, will we finally realize the severity of our actions? Will we finally get the motivation to go green when it’s too late?

The point is, we don’t perceive the danger of our actions until we see it. Once we see bare mountains, we are likely to make a change with our daily lives to commit in being greener. People need to anticipate problems before they happen, because once they happen, it might not be reversible.

Charles’s Job Part III

Posted in Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Risk & Fear with tags , , , on March 31, 2010 by Conor

As the warmth from the water has loosened up his joints, so also did it loosen his memories allowing them to fall back into the vaults of recollection. He opened his drawers and stared down at his clean clothes.

“How about we mix it up today. I’m thinking, gray.” He reached down and picked up one of his three identical shirts, each the color of cigarette ash. As Charles pulled it over his head he walked into the observatory. Every time Charles walked into the observatory, he felt like he was walking onto the bridge of the Enterprise. There weren’t any windows, but three enormous screens covered the walls opposite the entryway. The monitor to the far left was on, but was completely blank, showing only black. The center monitor was cut neatly in half, the lower section a mottled blue, white, and gray, while the upper section was a roiling, gaseous, dark gray and black. This monitor was currently viewing the glacier that sat just above the bunker and also the sky just above it. The far right monitor showed a view of stumps, all black and jagged. Acres of hills covered with these ashy, sharpened shadows of a once lush environment, like the short bristled hair of a cancer patient in remission. He went to the station for the far left screen and selected input four. Instantly the black vanished, replaced by a frothy expanse of water, as dark and ominous as the sky it shared a horizon with. This was the window through which he had watched, fifty years ago, as the four horsemen rode down from the sky upon their flaming frozen chariot. Death decimated the denizens of Earth, from Dijon to Denmark, delivering devastatingly destabilizing vibrations directed through every diameter of the Earth destroying foundations and felling buildings. Pestilence’s particles flew ‘round the earth perforating lungs, plunging people into paroxysms of sputum spewing coughs. Famine salted our earth by shrouding our Earth, fumes and phosphorous flying furiously, full-blown and unfurling from France to Fairbanks. War was late. War drug its well-worn heels, wielding its great weapon of wanton opportunism and willful wasting of life and blood.

The comet, christened Iblis by the astronomer who spotted it and plotted its course, lived in the Haley-family of comets, and was pulled out of the Oort Cloud and towards the inner solar system. Since Charles had been locked down there, he’d had a lot of time to study up on his astrophysics. While he couldn’t do the math, the theories (outside of black holes) made enough sense. Yet, as much sense as it made to him, on all his computer projections and actual data recorded by satellites and scientists in the months afterwards, the chance of it still haunted him. Some passing asteroid, or transient astral body had to swing through the Oort Cloud and pull Iblis out of that silent riot of ice and stone in quiet space to come hurtling into the solar system. While traveling in, slowly moving towards the largest gravity well (Sol) it had to not hit a single other planet, or meteor, or asteroid, or space alien, and transect the orbital path of the Earth at the perfect moment to smash into Europe and hit the special reset button that gets bumped into every few million years. As far as Charles could tell, no one had ever bothered to calculate the odds. For that he was grateful.

The astronomer who discovered Iblis contacted NASA to let them know what he had just learned. In 13 months the planet would be changed forever. Some special group, some committee in some sterile room with calculators and computers and chrome and cold lighting decided that it wouldn’t be possible to save a community of full-grown people. That this cold committee, trained not to feel but only to think, could only guarantee the survival of one grown man for approximately 60 years. That was when they began to build his compound.

The Voice’s View

Posted in Popular Culture, Post-Apocalypse on March 31, 2010 by coolaccordionest

Josh’s heart seemed to beat out of his chest.  For months he had figured he was the only one alive in this godforsaken city, possibly the only one in the country or the world.  Now though, he had been proven wrong as he found himself standing in the dark with a girl pointing a gun at him.  Her dog was near, the fur on its back standing straight up.  She walked closer to him, her flashlight in his eyes.

“It’s okay.  I promise.  No need to shoot,” he said as calmly as possible attempting to block the extreme shine of the flashlight.

“How do I know that?  I have no idea who you are.”  She tilted the flashlight down.  From here he could get an outline of her and some details:  medium height, athletic figure, dark cherry red hair.  The song “Apocalyptic Love Song” by The Pop Culture Suicides starting playing in his head at the sight of her. God, how could he get so lucky?  The only other person on this planet and it turns out she’s an incredibly hot girl who knows how to use a gun?  Life doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

“I’m Josh, Josh Kane.  I’ve been living in this building since, well since everything happened.  Who are you?”

“Remy, this is my dog Ruby.  We live in a flat about an hour away in the city…” Josh stopped her.

“Woah, woah, woah…. In the city?  Are you insane?! Don’t you understand the dangers of living in the city?  I mean, the left over pesticides and toxins from the final cloud and the creatures from all the government experiments, just to name a few things.”  Remy glared at him.

“You’re going to lecture me on the city why you live her in the forest?  I don’t think you understand how dangerous it is to live out here.  I basically had to gear up for war just to walk out here.”  She shook her head as Ruby growled.

“Why do you live out there anyways?  What’s the point of risking your life so much?”  He looked at her as she held her breath.  Slowly exhaling, she started to speak.

“I live there because my mother prepared it for me.  When the cloud was coming she was incredibly sick and ended up dying while it passed over head.  Before she passed, she had created what she called a ‘safe spot’ so if anything happened, I would be okay and have a place to live.  That’s how I got the flat.  It’s equipped with everything I need and Ruby and I are comfortable and safe there every day and night.  Why’d you lock yourself up in here?”  Josh just stared at her for a second.  Add tough to the hotness factor, he thought.

“I had family working in the building and before the huge cloud came I was visiting them.  You must know they have a huge kitchen in this building right?”  She shook her head yes.

“Well, I thought it would be a good idea to hide inside the fridge when the cloud was overhead why everyone panicked and got in their cars or hid in open areas.  In the end, I was the only one who survived. Granted, it was really cold but I managed.  I’m one of those strange folks who wears hoodies in the middle of summer.”   He laughed watching Remy smile.  Glad she thought he was somewhat amusing.

“So… do you just plan to continually point that gun at me and have your dog growl at me?  I mean, that’s fine if you want but I could give you a tour and hook you up with some more supplies.”  He pointed at her.

“Oh right,” she said stumbling over her words.  “That would be great.  I’m sorry.  You don’t seem too deadly, at least for now.  I’ll follow.”  Josh nodded and turned around making his way towards “his place.”  He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she saw how he had hooked himself up in this building.  Not only did he have the whole place to himself, but he had the best room with the best view.  Not many people realized that the building was sitting on the edge of a cliff out looking the only oasis of Waverly.  He kept his hand on the string attached to the wall to find his way back to his room.

He smiled hearing Remy and her dogs’ footsteps following him.  It had been too long since basic human contact, let alone any contact with a very beautiful woman.  His guy thoughts were hoping that she needed to get her emotional stress out on him in a physical way.  He wouldn’t mind.  But for now, he would have to act somewhat normal because he would hate to lose his one connection to the human species.

“It’s just around this corner.  I think you’ll really like it.”  She mumbled yes and continued to follow.  “And here it is.”  He unlocked the door and swung it open.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 by briannichols

brian Nichols Says:
January 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Brian Nichols
English 418/Ray
First Blog Post
This week’s reading about the origins of Apocalyptic Rhetoric, made it clear that contemporary discussion about environmental owes much of its development from history. The Stephen O’Leary reading claimed that its purpose was “to provide a theoretical framework of understanding millennium and apocalyptic discourse” (O’Leary 1-2). In doing so he looks to the Greek definition of the word apocalypse and defines it as, “a discourse that reveals or makes manifest a vision of ultimate destiny, rendering immediate to human audiences the ultimate end of the cosmos in the last judgment” (O’Leary 5). He continues to argue that historically apocalyptic theory then, “has function[ed] as symbolic resource to define and address the problem of evil” (O’Leary 6). He elaborates on this line of reasoning by claiming that this rhetoric has become a form of storytelling that has traditional served to build communities, “in which human individuals and collectives constitute their identities through shared mythic narratives that confront the problem of evil in time and history (O’Leary 6).
Greg Garrard seems to agree with O’Leary as he quotes Lawrence Buell who claims that, “Apocalypse is the single most powerful master metaphor that the contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal” (Garrard 93). Garrard continues to argue that, “several of the most influential books in the environmentalist cannon make extensive use of the trope, from Carson’s Silent Spring [to] Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance” (Garrard 93). He even explains that,” Apocalyptic rhetoric is deployed in the activist literature of Earth First” (Garrard 93).
Garrard further explains that Earth First! “combined revolutionary inhumanism, apocalyptic beliefs and direct action to protect wilderness areas” ( Garrard 103). He continues to explain that the organization eventually became fractured because some members considered humans as less important than other forms of life while others, “ saw people as differentiated in their responsibility for environmental problems according to gender, class, and ethnicity, and envisaged radical political change through negotiation as well as direct action” (Garrard 104). Garrard’s writing then becomes a good introduction to Martha F. Lee’s book Earth First!
Lee explained that Earth First! was created out of a discontent for the environmental politics of the time. The founders of Earth First! believed that older radical environmental organizations such as Green Peace had become had become too entrenched into government machinery. Earth First! believed that grass roots activism and direct action then was the only real solution to make changes in environmental policies. Earth First, however, did meet political opposition as right winged factions of government pursued campaigns to discredit them. Frederick Buell’ s book, From Apocalypse to Way of Life then goes into greater details on this subject following how radical environmental organizations fit into the conflict between preservationists and conservationists values from the 1980s into present.

Postmodern Repersentations of Eco-Collapse

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 by briannichols

Introduction: This outline is meant to be a starting point for class discussion on Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise. In doing so it explains some characteristics of postmodern theory and fiction. It also explores how environmental disaster is represented in the novel. Finally, it will ask how the characters of the novel perceive risk.

  1. “Postmodernism has been the focus of many conflicting and complementary definitions, but the term is usually applied to certain social and cultural trends since 1945. Most theories and fictions about postmodernism include certain common assumptions” (Smith 134-35). Some of these found in Deillo’s novel  are:

A. The subject is not unified, but divided and multiple; we all have many different selves.

  • How does the character Babette seem to have different selves?
  • Although Jack is the authority of the world’s biggest mass murder (Hitler) he perceives himself different from his son who plays chess someone imprisoned for murder. Why is this?

B.  Postmodern fictions are not necessarily realist. Rather they use Allegory, fantasy and the construction of new worlds, to escape from-or enlarge on- realist writing and the straightjacket of representation. This is a way of opening new psychological and social dimensions.

  • Critics have claimed that DeLillo’s novel represents a hyper-reality world because events seemed trumped up and almost unreal. How so?
  • Is the novel speculative like science fiction?
  • How does Jack feel about being diagnosed by a computer?

C. Representation is somewhat illusory: language is not a transparent window on the world (even a very lifelike text is a construct of words).

  • Why does Murray only buy generic foods at the grocery store?
  • While in the shopping mall, Jack enjoys having a choice of stores of different names. Why does this empower him?
  •  When Jack confronts Mink we see how Dylar misses with ideas of language when it is supposed to stop the fear of death. How does this relate to the characters perceptions of risk?


D. Gender and race are social constructions rather than simply biological states. Human beings are caught up in social discourses, and power relationships: these constrain and dictate their actions, rather than allowing them to act entirely as free individuals.

  • How does Murray feel about gender? Why does he no longer want to live in the city?
  • Why do you suppose Babette cheats on Jack?
  1. DeLillo’s novel was published January 1985 a month after the toxic gas leak in Indian city of Bhopal. As readers, we must then ask if post-modern fictions are able to represent the significance environmental disasters have on our lives.
    1. In the novel, TV plays a major role in how the characters perceive themselves as well as current events. However, in the novel, The Air-Born Toxic Event is given no TV footage. Here are a few questions that might help us understand why DeLillo represents this environmental disaster in such a manner:
  • How is The Air-born Toxic Event in the novel similar to the toxic gas leak in the Indian city of Bhopal? How is it different?
  • When the Gladney family fled from their homes to Iron City, they encounter a man carrying a TV set and making a speech about how their situation was not being televised ( DeLillo 161). The man’s speech then asks readers why isn’t The Air born Toxic Event televised. What might be some reasons it is not? 
  1. Postmodern fictions do not necessarily have a plot, or they have a plot which do not resolve. It is through the subversion of plot that postmodern fictions play with, and questions, the notions of objective truth. To understand how DeLillo’s novel fits this definition we might ask:
  • How does the novel open? What elements of prose (exposition, character, setting, action) do we see as readers?  
  • How does The Air Born Toxic Event move the plot along? That’s if it does.
  • How does the novel end? Does the novel seem to have a point?
  • How does the form of the novel replicate the society it attempts to represent?
  1. Finally, the characters in Deillo’s novel seem to perceive risk according to what they are told by scientists, television, magazines and other media, even computers. We then might ask questions concerning the characters class, sex, and ethnicity.
    1. As head of the Hitler Studies department at College on the Hill, Jack lives in an upper class neighborhood. Because of his social class then: 
  • What is the significance of Jack as professor of Hitler studies?
  •  How then does he perceive his chance of being in an environmental disaster as compared to the poor?
  • To what degree of risk do the evacuees rate The Toxic Air Born Incident- high or low?  as opposed to how the government does?  The Air Born Incident
  1. Jack is under the impression that he has a good marriage. That is until he finds out otherwise. Why then:
  • Does Babette start popping pills?
  • Does she perceive risk differently from Jack?

Conclusion: This outline is meant to be a starting point for class discussion on Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise. In doing so it explains some characteristics of postmodern theory and fiction. It also explores how environmental disaster is represented in the novel. Finally, it will ask how the characters of the novel perceive risk.

Tried, and epically failed

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 by Courtney

So, I was supposed to post last night before, 9pm. Well, obviously that did not happen. Why? Because the is by far the worst book I have ever been asked to read: every chapter is disjointed, with diction that is over elevated and rather absurd, and then to top it of, it has quotes such as “”Are you people telling me,” Babette said, “that a rat is not only a vermin and a rodent but a mammal too?”” (page 121). This insults me as a reader. Now, one possible explanation for the disjointed nature of the chapters where one does not follow the other and they do not build to give the reader a since of growing plot, is to reflect the nature of American society where we travel about from one thing to another quickly, and have many random tasks to do throughout the day. The elevated diction and rather absurd commentary is possibly to try to fit the level of education that the main character has as a college professor, but it fails epically. I have finally gotten to page 125 after trying desperately to read this book for 2 weeks, and feel only anger towards the characters. Finally (from reading the synopsis I know something about a toxic could should happen) we have gotten to the point of the book. Honestly, you could start reading from here and I don’t think you would be missing anything. When the sirens sound for people to evacuate their homes, the main family tells there children that they don’t need to now, and keep telling them that they don’t need to leave and it won’t drift towards them. This is absurd beyond belief and if they all die then that’s fine because they were dumb. I doubt that they would sound emergency sirens if it wasn’t an emergency. To top off the absurdity, the main character Jack says things like “I’m not just a college professor. I’m the head of a department. I don’t see myself fleeing an airborne toxic event. That’s for people who live in mobile homes out in the scrubby parts of the country, where the fish hatcheries are.” (page 115) Really? Really? This ignorance hurts me as a human being. I think that this book was trying to get at a cool idea, but massively epically failed. Hard.