Analysis

Research Roundup: Critical Readings for A Vortex Postmortem

ice storm
Power and telephone lines sagging after heavy icestorm. Image: NOAA

Marisol Cortez

Y’all know Deceleration is Texas based, so like millions of others around the state, we just survived brutal Arctic storms followed by a near-collapse of the electric grid—brought about by centuries of secessionist ideology and decades of deregulation—on the heels of water and food shortages. All things considered, we came through it fine compared to many who lost lives, health, homes, and income.

We also witnessed, and participated in, the beauty and optimism that is ordinary folks stepping up to help vulnerable neighbors amid official neglect and collapse. Indeed, one of the things that most excites me about the present moment is the possibility of coming together in new ways to figure out how to live well outside of/beyond/beneath/within/despite the systems that repeatedly generate crisis.

“When you’re stressed,” a friend told me the other day, “just keep telling yourself you’re excited, and eventually your brain will believe it!”

Toward that end, I’ve been earmarking readings that help us frame (and in some cases reframe) the forms of thinking and action now needed in this post-vortex context.

Here are a few of my faves (mostly from the site Resilience this round), in what I hope becomes a standing feature of Deceleration. Just as Greg does his weekly roundup of news items from around the watershed, I hope to launch something like a regular research roundup, bringing you the most interesting and accessible new ideas within the fields of political ecology, degrowth, ecocriticism, post-development, and liberatory ecologies of all stripes (feminist, decolonial, anarchosocialist, anti-racist, anti-fascist). We gotta know what’s going on, but we also need to place local developments within wider contexts—both theoretical and global.


“Remembering the Weather of the Future” by Eliza Daley 

Review of The Weather of the Future, a book by Heidi Cullen on some of the temporal weirdness involved in communicating the realities and risks of climate change—which get constructed as future events even as they are already happening. Cullen suggests that instead of talking about future-oriented “climate,” we talk about “weather” instead.

“You see, the real problem with predicting the weather of the future is that the climate is changing. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? Isn’t that what the models are supposed to be modeling? The changes? Yes, they are. Except the models can only predict things that can be predicted—variables that we understand sufficiently to incorporate into models. We must at least know these variables exist before they get plugged into an equation.

“We can’t predict Black Swans. But the climate of the future, that which is driving the weather, is different from anything we have experienced. It is riddled with Black Swan things that we’ll learn about as they happen.

“We can’t look at the past for help. We have no data for our modeling equations. The models can only predict what we know about, and we’re already leaving that known territory into “Here Be Dragons” land. Until this week, we didn’t know about ice covering Texas, yet here we are.”


“Resilience Lacks Radicality. Let’s Cultivate Our Imagination Seriously” by Anthony Cara and Rob Hopkins

Interview with the originator of the term “resilience” on how the mainstreaming of this term has enervated it (much like “sustainability” a generation ago) and how we can recover its original radicality.

“When we live on a planet where, in the course of a lifetime, 70% of creatures and species will have disappeared, feeling a deep sense of anxiety and despair is sometimes the natural response. Collapsologists may well be right and for some people it is a powerful way of looking at things. In Buddhism, for example, the first of the Four Noble Truths states that there will be suffering, that we live in a world of impermanence. It teaches us to live with the awareness that the world around us is deeply fragile. And at the same time, if collapse is the only possibility we can see, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“For me, it is still possible to create something extraordinary and phenomenal if we bring enough imagination, power and work into it. … We need stories that bring people together and let us imagine a profoundly different world. But how do we create longing for this future? That is the proper question.”


“Mexico’s 4T Government in a Global Context” by Victor Toledo

A brief but compelling assessment of AMLO’s 4T government (the “fourth transition” government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador) from the standpoint of planetary and pluriversal well-being:

“There is no doubt that in Mexico we are not facing a government of the ‘left,’ but a hybrid government, where emancipatory projects coexist with projects that continue and even increase the neoliberal modality.”


“Caring for Change: Our Degrowth is Intersectional!” by Corinna Dengler and Giacomo D’Alisa

Lastly, the 3rd annual Global Degrowth Day is coming up, and the theme this year is care—of which we witnessed both an appalling institutional deficit during last week’s disaster, but also a ground-level upswell as people rushed to take care of family, friends and strangers abandoned by the state at all levels.

“A life without pain and free from all kinds of caring obligations is the promise of the modern western capitalist world, but this only becomes a reality in exceptional and rare cases, and at the cost of systematic exploitation and inequality. For degrowth scholar-activists, the body’s materiality comes with the immanent vulnerability of what it is to be alive, and shows the condition of interdependence and eco-dependency of existence. … Centering care and the sustainability of life is fundamental not only to overcome the social, ecological, economic and care crisis that many people face, but to promote an ecosocial transition towards a post-carbon society.”


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