April readings

Source: Grist / Amelia Bates

Once a month, we put together a list of stories we’ve been reading: news you might’ve missed or crucial conversations going on around the web. We focus on environmental justice, radical municipalism, new politics, political theory, and resources for action and education.

We try to include articles that have been published recently but will last, that are relatively light and inspiring, and are from corners of the web that don’t always get the light of day. This will also be a space to keep you up to date with news about what’s happening at Uneven Earth.

This month’s list is a little shorter than usual, but maybe that’s not a bad thing! In April, we read stories about India’s Covid catastrophe, the dangers of the concept of net zero, toxic USA, an Aboriginal family beating back a fossil fuel conglomerate, the death and post-Covid comeback of “third spaces”, as well as a fact-check of the new Netflix documentary Seaspiracy and a general critique of nature documentaries, to name a few. There’s also been quite a bit of discussion around Malmology — a very serious term we coined to describe Andreas Malm’s work. And, as you probably know by now, degrowth, global environmental justice struggles, radical municipalism, and new politics are recurring themes in our readings.

A small note that the articles linked in this newsletter do not represent the views of Uneven Earth. When reading, please keep in mind that we don’t have capacity to do further research on the authors or publishers!


Uneven Earth updates

We hit 5k followers on Twitter this month — join the party!

Is green growth happening? | The answer is no. Decoupling will not be enough to ensure ecological sustainability without a downscaling of production and consumption.

The commons | The commons opposes and transcends the logic of capitalism by building relations based on cooperation, solidarity, mutualism and direct democracy

Review of Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador by Thea Riofrancos | Resource Radicals marks an important contribution to burgeoning literature on resource politics and democratic practice

Well diggers tackling water woes in a megacity: The case of Bangalore, India | The ever-fast growing metropolis Bangalore is running out of groundwater. Yet traditional water practices might be key to a sustainable use of the blue gold below us.


Top 5 articles to read

Did climate change cause societies to collapse? New research upends the old story.

Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

How an Aboriginal family beat back a fossil fuel conglomerate

How value weaponises the machine. In Breaking Things at Work, Gavin Mueller reminds us that the new antagonism between consumer and platform over data capture is not unlike the struggle between worker and capitalist over wages and the working day.

Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe: ‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’ 



News you might’ve missed

Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine research ‘was 97% publicly funded’

Rich countries are refusing to waive the rights on Covid vaccines as global cases hit record levels

Environment protest being criminalised around world, say experts 

A top U.S. seller of carbon offsets starts investigating its own projects

French lawmakers approve a ban on short domestic flights 



Toxic USA

‘No community should suffer this’: Florida’s toxic breach was decades in the making

The toxic legacy of the US military in the Pacific

Nuclear colonialism and the Marshall Islands



Global environmental justice struggles

Georgia: guardians of the Rioni Valley face off the dams

Land grabs and other destructive environmental practices in Cambodia test the International Criminal Court

Attacks on forest-dependent communities in Indonesia and resistance stories

Canada: hummingbirds succeed in halting controversial pipeline construction 



Where we’re at: analysis

SILENCE = DEATH, ACTION = LIFE: New relevance of HIV/AIDS organizing in COVID pandemic times

The rise and fall of multilateralism

Revenge of the plans. Why do we keep reviving technocratic climate politics when it has consistently failed?

Digital colonialism: the evolution of American empire 

Joe Biden’s new Climate Pledge isn’t fair or ambitious 



Just think about it…

Deepfake satellite imagery poses a not-so-distant threat, warn geographers

Why bitcoin is bad for the environment 

Learning a new language can help us escape climate catastrophe. Many Indigenous languages have been forcefully wiped out by white people. Turns out, they’re some of our main hopes for beating the climate crisis.

The problem with nature documentaries

What Netflix’s Seaspiracy gets wrong about fishing, explained by a marine biologist

The 7 reasons why nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change

To save the Earth, dismantle individuality



Malmology

The kaleidoscope of catastrophe – On the clarities and blind spots of Andreas Malm

Can sabotage stop climate change?

How to blow up a movement: Andreas Malm’s new book dreams of sabotage but ignores consequences

Andreas Malm’s Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency



Degrowth

Why Malthus’s gospel of growth was, and still is, wrong

Beyond the growth imperative 

Degrowth in demand. Lexie Smith and Jamie Tyberg on degrowth, decolonization, and agriculture.

On sacrifice



New politics

From fossil capitalism to green democracy

Book review: Enlightenment and ecology: The legacy of Murray Bookchin in the 21st century

A youth revolt is under way in South Korea

Farmers are using their stimmys to grow free food for their communities



Sci-fi

Born to rewild: Jeff VanderMeer on what it means to restore your own little part of the world



Cities and radical municipalism

The death and post-Covid rebirth of ‘third places’. “Third spaces” like coffeeshops, gyms and libraries are critical for building community ties and boosting social cohesion. What happens when they almost disappear for more than a year?



Resources

Gender bias in Academe: An annotated bibliography of important recent studies



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Encyclopedia of the mad gardener

by Marcus Yee

“Encyclopedia of the Mad Gardener” takes place in a fictional future where the equatorial line has thickened to become a zone, forcing mass migrations to the ends of the planet. This equatorial zone is the dampscape, where things are irremediably hybrid and contaminated (human/nonhuman, virtual/real, organic/inorganic) and the boundary-edges of solids are fuzzy, mushy, and moist. The zone undecipherable of the equator stands in contrast to the Garden, which is an inhabitable heterotopia, a site of purification, albeit precarious. Desperate for resources in this hollowed-out planet, the Department’s priority is to create a new classification system to determine ‘pure rubbish’, elements from which no further value can be extracted. The narrative focus is on “this Clarice”, who is tasked to draft this taxonomy, but reaches a point of saturation where she herself melts into the humid dampscape.

This piece was developed in a writing workshop, Post Super Future Asia, organized by Jason Wee, founder of Grey Projects in Singapore, and Esther Lu, director of Taiwan Contemporary Art Centre.

.UNTITLED_ORDER_DRAFT2
Things that provide humans with energy
Things that provide humans with energy that are not edible
Construction materials with a five-year life-span
Construction materials with a ten-year life-span
Organic matter
Inert matter
Plastics with origins in inorganic compounds
Plastics with origins in organometallic compounds
Plastics with origins in organic compounds
Solids that look like solids
Solids that look like solids but are actually
Gases
Bio-aggregates
Things with bio-traces
Ambivalent things that could be considered human with further research
Sluices and foams
Databytes
Incomprehensible databytes
Things that appear to be useful (but are not)
Things that appear to be useless (but are not)
Things that are very useful
Things that are very useless
Etcetera.

They need to hear its airless breathing, ozone skin and metal spines heaving in and out.

Words weigh on this Clarice with their inclusions and exclusions, non-sequiturs and false dichotomies, mistakes lodge themselves into their windpipe, air thinning out. Walking out into the labyrinth has turned into a nightly habit. They need to hear its airless breathing, ozone skin and metal spines heaving in and out. Under the genteel face of the pink moon, the orchids appear to droop slightly, providing no compensation. They are no longer the verdant and beautiful, immortal stalks standing erect and sitting out of time. Only the sweet smell of smouldering plastic and aircon refrigerant, perhaps, already leaking through the pores of the triple-layered glass.

They feel the smells seep into their nasal channels, dioxins boiled under the pink moon, flooding neural pathways, gases slowly encrusting, lining the PVC walls of veins and arteries.[1] This Clarice would then become rock, an eternal orchid.

Other projects were lighter, more definite, like the implementation of picture-windows onto every edge of the garden, the first of many ingenious contributions by this Clarice for the Department. The message of the picture-windows were simple: look at what’s outside and look at yourself. The outside would be burnished into the day-to-day lives of the garden’s inhabitants, instilling gratitude, and more importantly, keeping the outside within a frame, as an image, an undesirable horizon, to be viewed from a comfortable distance.[2]

.UNTITLED_ORDER_DRAFT1
Construction materials
Plastics/Non-Plastics
Solid/Liquid/Gas
Metals
Organic compounds/Inorganic compounds
Biomatter
Vibrant/Inert matter
Databytes
Pure Rubbish
Et cetera

This project was like slime, neither fluid nor solid, categories sliding past one another, sticking and mixing like weekday adulterers under warm neon. These were words for contaminated things and the boundaries drawn drew no blood. From past experiences, the Department’s campaigns with compounding, hyphenation and other terminological transplants were unviable options. Surgical as they were, these words quickly dissolved into obsolescence.

The Department, tired from the Babel-like confusion in the administration of the tropics, placed the renovation of existing classification systems as its top priority.

Et cetera was the other problem. The problem was equatorial, a line thickened from a hairline to a stroke to a wet stain: zone undecipherable. Three planets and a fraction already exhausted, causing in a mass migration from the maladies and mercurial weather of the yawning tropics. The Department, tired from the Babel-like confusion in the administration of the tropics, placed the renovation of existing classification systems as its top priority. The most urgent was to delimit pure rubbish, waste for which no value could be extracted. But this Clarice began from nowhere, the agglutinating mush offering neither entry nor exit, fleeing from definition, by definition, this Clarice could not dissect and examine its pieces.[3] It was an admission of defeat.

.UNTITLED_ORDER_DRAFT3
Things that belong to the Department
Things with tentacles

This evening that Clarice, letting their feet navigate the sinews of the labyrinth, find themselves in another pavilion. One could tell that not many have visited the Pavilion of Benevolent Knowledge, with its carbonfibre seats splintered and frayed, the onceluminescent orange of its pillars now off-colour, browned by the moon.[4] Cloaks of dust settled on the miniaturized Banyan. The eyes direct themselves, contouring along the tangents and angles of the pavilion, all lines leading towards the picture window. Towards the outside, an anachronistic dampscape, wetland and swamp. Perhaps from the affliction of the wandering mind, in this sweltering evening, the glass surface of the window saturates itself, as though looking back at this Clarice were the lace of hairline cracks, the undulating light that breaks apart, dappled and dappling layers of dust, rainwater stains, and their reflection onto the uneven glass coming together and torn asunder, one of thousand other countenances sunken into the mush, tangled with gossamer plastic and sewer-lalang floating in deadwater, rafflesian rot blooming with silicon-sand particles of circuitboard, eroded, haunted by the great drift of spectral vibrations from databytes, undeletable. What remains of wet banana leaves, crushed, a halo of flies starving for polyethylene.[5]

.UNTITLED_ORDER_DRAFT3
Things that belong to the Department
Tentacled Ones
Slimes and other aggregates
Pdf. documents
Those that look more human with your eyes squinted
Unnamed names
Et cetera

 

[1] “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober sense his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)

[2] “The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world. The garden has been a sort of happy, universalizing heterotopia since the beginnings of antiquity (our modern zoological gardens spring from that source).” Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopia, 1967

[3] “The unfinished Chthulucene must collect up the trash of the Anthropocene, the exterminism of the Capitolocene, and chipping and shredding and layering like a mad gardener, make a much hotter compost pile for still possible pasts, presents, and futures.” Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 2016

[4] “I leave to the various futures (not at all) my garden of forking paths.” Ts’ui Pen quoted in Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths, 1941

[5] “What matters is through this daily gesture I confirm the need to separate myself from a part of what was once mine, the slough of chrysalis or squeezed lemon of living, so that its substance might remain, so that tomorrow I can identify completely (without residues) with what I am and have. Only by throwing something away can I be sure that something of myself has not been thrown away and perhaps need not be thrown away now or in the future.” Italo Calvino, La Poubelle Agréée, 1977

Marcus Yee is an artist and writer working at the intersections of waste cultures, infrastructure, and new materialism. He recently presented his first solo exhibition, Altars for Four Silly Planets in soft/WALL/studs, Singapore.

This piece is part of Not afraid of the ruins, our series of science fiction and utopian imaginings.

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