CFP: The Quotidian Anthropocene

The Asian Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore is convening a workshop on urban Asia’s adaptation to climate change and implications for environmental/disaster governance.  From the ARI website:

“Asia’s urban transition has radically transformed the region’s societies and its ecologies. The evidence is everywhere: factories and concrete tarmac have replaced Bangkok’s wetlands; Japan’s coastal communities are surrounded by ever-growing seawalls; and in China, smog has become a major political concern. If we are indeed living in a period marked by the deep effects of humans on our environment, what many have called the Anthropocene, then such phenomena would seem to exemplify the stakes associated with these changes at their broadest levels. Yet, closer inspection reveals that such macro-level environmental changes are in fact enmeshed in micro-level social shifts, political contestations, and cultural transformations.

“For individuals and communities living in Asia’s burgeoning mega-cities, growing provincial centers, and changing hinterlands, social and environmental rupture has become constant and routine, its logic embedded in everyday practices and emerging policies. In many parts of the region, disaster is no longer relegated to acute, isolated, untoward events; it is now the “new normal.” Even when not coping directly with an ongoing disaster’s impacts, many Asian communities are engaged in either pre-disaster preparation or post-disaster recovery. Moreover, state and non-state actors strategically invoke the memory, or threat, of changing environments in order to justify their own agendas, projects, and policies. Patterns of migration and resettlement, urban infrastructure development, capital investment, and social policy are co-produced along with these shifting environments, modifying social relations, exacerbating inequalities, and generating fierce political struggles. At stake in these conflicts are normative, pragmatic and theoretical questions about citizenship, about the shape and relations of the built and natural environments, about the respective roles of local and expert knowledge, and about the constitution of just and resilient communities, in an age of unprecedented transformation. The lived experience of such contestations, the disruption that provokes them, and the practices that produce that disruption, shows how the epochal Anthropocene is found in the normal, the routine, and the quotidian.

“We are calling for papers to explore The Quotidian Anthropocene in a focused workshop 16-17th October, 2014 at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute. This call is open to scholars from a wide variety of disciplines including the Social Sciences and Humanities presenting diverse analysis from a variety of situated vantage points from across urbanizing Asia. Potential papers may address, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • How do quotidian practices in Asian communities produce or respond to the massive ecological transformations? What sorts of contestations emerge out of our changing environment? What might these struggles tell us about new political practices and emerging forms of environmental/disaster governance?
  • What ruptures or sites of socio-political conflict expose the new hybridities and engagements between humans and the planet?
  • What are the consequences of living in an age of environmental change marked by chronic and periodic disasters? What are the politics of space, place, and memory in a world of frequent disruption? How does the threat or experience of disaster come to inflect contests over the right to the city?
  • What kinds of projects—social, technological, infrastructural, economic, political—arise from and/or emerge in response to the changing planet? What forms of knowledge, contestation, and practice are invoked or produced by such projects?
  • How do experts and officials engage with the diverse sorts of constituencies likely to be caught by such shifts? How do publics engage with experts and authorities? How do all these actors deal with ongoing material and ecological transformations?

“Workshop presenters may explore these issues through studies of contemporary and historical cases from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives. In exploring such topics, The Quotidian Anthropocene: Reconfiguring Environments in Urbanizing Asia will offer a window into the production and re-ordering of local, regional, and global ecologies.  We will consider how, even as seismic ecological rearrangements occur, human actors — including experts, authorities, and citizens — produce, feel, respond and adapt to such changes. This workshop will interrogate these changes from situated vantage points across Asia’s urban-rural matrix as a means of considering how the Anthropocene is experienced in everyday life and how past and present struggles are shaping its future. It will provide insight into how such political endeavors reimagine the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, as well as the roles played by local and expert knowledge, in re-making the new Asian city and preparing it for life in this precarious era.

More information at:

Disappearing Bangladesh

Rising sea levels threaten to flood low-lying delta land along the Meghna, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers, putting pressure on land and swelling economic migrants who continue to leave Bangladesh for India. Photo by Srabani Roy.  From

Rising sea levels threaten to flood low-lying delta land along the Meghna, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers, putting pressure on land and swelling economic migrants who continue to leave Bangladesh for India. Photo by Srabani Roy. From

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to rising sea levels.  A New York Times article published today details the consequences there of a warming climate, which include increasingly intense storms and flooding from surges, along with significant land loss and inundation due to overall sea level rise.

The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences.

At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants.

“It’s a matter of global justice,” said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist. “These migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States.”

The delta that makes up much of Bangladesh’s territory is one of the most densely populated regions of the world.  160 million people live there, on an area one-fifth the size of France and carved up by over 230 rivers and streams.  The article details the multiple vulnerabilities that are disproportionately affecting the region’s poorest residents, as well as the inadequate efforts of the government to stave off the worst effects of rising sea levels.  But Bangladesh faces a problem that can only have a global solution.

“There is no doubt that preparations within Bangladesh have been utterly inadequate, but any such preparations are bound to fail because the problem is far too big for any single government,” said Tariq A. Karim, Bangladesh’s ambassador to India. “We need a regional and, better yet, a global solution. And if we don’t get one soon, the Bangladeshi people will soon become the world’s problem, because we will not be able to keep them.”

Asia’s disproportionate vulnerability to pollution-related deaths

From the New York Times:  A tourist boat navigated through a haze in the  Guangdong Province of China this month. The country’s rapid urbanization was cited as contributing to pollution.

From the New York Times: A tourist boat navigated through a haze in the Guangdong Province of China this month. The country’s rapid urbanization was cited as contributing to pollution.

A World Health Organization report released yesterday finds that 1/3 of the 7 million pollution-related deaths worldwide in 2012 occurred in Asia.  Air pollution, the report argues, is the world’s single largest environmental health risk.  Much of this risk occurs indoors, as a result of poorly ventilated cooking fires, and disproportionately affecting poor women.  But rapid urbanization in Asia was also identified as a factor.  According to the New York Times:

The report found that those who are most vulnerable live in a wide arc of Asia stretching from Japan and China in the northeast to India in the south.

China’s sprawling cities, in particular, have contributed to an increase in air pollution.  A separate study, also released yesterday by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of China’s State Council, suggested that rapid urbanization was a major cause of pollution-related health problems in China:

Based on current trends, the study said, Chinese cities in the next decade will gobble up land equal in area to the Netherlands, leading to longer commutes, higher energy consumption and continued high levels of air pollution.   Sprawl will cost China $300 billion a year in premature deaths, birth defects and other health-related problems, the study said.


The world’s most vulnerable cities to natural disaster are Asian

Stormy skies over Hong Kong, from The Guardian

Stormy skies over Hong Kong, from The Guardian

The Guardian recently published a list of the world’s top ten cities at risk of natural disaster.  All are located in Asia with the exception of one, Los Angeles.  The list was compiled from a Swiss reinsurance company’s assessment of risk in 616 cities worldwide.  The primary risks are associated with earthquakes and flooding from rivers, tsunamis, typhoons, or rising sea-levels.  The top cities all suffer from a combination of these vulnerabilities.  Here’s the list:

  1. Tokyo-Yokohama region, Japan
  2. Manila, Philippines
  3. Pearl River Delta region, China
  4. Osaka-Kobe region, Japan
  5. Jakarta, Indonesia
  6. Nagoya, Japan
  7. Kolkata, India
  8. Shanghai, China
  9. Los Angeles, USA
  10. Tehran, Iran

Shigeru Ban wins Pritzker

Hualin Temporary Elementary School, designed by Shigeru Ban, after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

Hualin Temporary Elementary School, designed by Shigeru Ban, after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

Yesterday, the top prize in architecture and design, the Ptritzker, was awarded to Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, largely because of his work designing temporary shelters for natural disaster victims in places like Rwanda, Turkey, India, China, New Zealand, Haiti, and of course Japan.  As reported in the New York Times:

“His buildings provide shelter, community centers and spiritual places for those who have suffered tremendous loss and destruction,” the jury said in its citation. “When tragedy strikes, he is often there from the beginning.”

Mr. Ban is credited with challenging traditional notions of domestic space and what it means to have a roof over your head. His Naked House in Saitama, Japan, features four rooms on casters within a house clad in clear corrugated plastic and surrounded by rice fields. He stepped in after the 19th-century Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand was ravaged by a 2011 earthquake, designing a transitional sanctuary fashioned mainly from cardboard tubes.

Yet, in a way, Mr. Ban also represents a kind of anti-architecture, a rejection of the aura of celebrity status pursued by many in the profession. In public remarks this month, for example, Mr. Ban took architects to task for not putting their expertise to work for a greater social good.

“I’m not saying I’m against building monuments, but I’m thinking we can work more for the public,” he said in London at Ecobuild, an annual conference on sustainable design. “Architects are not building temporary housing because we are too busy building for the privileged people.”

Catastrophe and Aesthetics: The Arts after Fukushima – Columbia Symposium

The Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture  is hosting a symposium on ‘Catastrophe and Aesthetics: The Arts after Fukushima” on Monday, March 31st, 2014.  See the symposium flyer here:  The symposium will feature new work in Japanese visual art, literature, theater, and media responding to the triple catastrophe of March 11, 2011.

China’s nuclear winter

a nice day for a picnic in Beijing

apocalypse?  or just another day in Beijing?

An article in The Guardian reports on He Dongxian’s research on the effects of China’s air pollution on plant growth, in which she claims that should the country’s chronic smog persist, Chinese agriculture will suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter,” severely stunting agricultural production and threatening the country’s food security.  This comes on top of a series of other alarming reports on the severe impacts of pollution in China on health and economic well being.  Earlier this month, for example, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claimed in a report that Beijing’s pollution made the city almost “uninhabitable for human beings“.  Emergency measure are being taken, schools are being closed, factories shut down, use of cars restricted. People are starting to sue their local environmental protection bureaus for not upholding China’s pollution regulations.  In perhaps the first lawsuit of its kind, Shijiazhuang resident Li Guixin claimed that, “Besides the threat to our health, we’ve also suffered economic losses, and these losses should be borne by the government and the environmental departments because the government is the recipient of corporate taxes, it is a beneficiary.”

Recently, Xi Jinping was seen strolling through a Beijing neighborhood, deliberately not wearing a face-mask, just to prove how breathable the air was.  And recently local environmental officials have been swimming in local rivers just to prove to people that they’re not deadly.  But on the internet, people tend to be less convinced.  Xi’s stroll through  Beijing was roundly mocked – given the general belief on the streets that China’s leaders breath highly filtered and purified air within their leadership compound at Zhongnanhai.  Xi’s health can afford a few minutes unmasked out in the putrid air of the Beijing streets.  For most people who must breath that air on a daily basis, though, the health consequences are serious and seemingly growing worse by the day.