The quantification of human environments has a history—a relatively short history. This article explores how the notion of quantifiable reality has become naturalized through the privileging of predictive utility as the primary goal of knowledge production. This theme is examined via the invention and application of temperature— how it was sociomaterially constructed and how it is globally restructuring social organization today. Temperature does not exist pervasively throughout all space and time. Physicists may affirm that fluctuations in relative heat are ubiquitous, but as a measurement of these fluctuations, temperature only emerges through arrangements of political and environmental observations. What phenomena do populations deem worthy of observation? How do populations manipulate materials to make such observations? By tracing the origins of thermometry and investigating modern efforts to reconstruct and model ulterior temperatures, I illustrate that temperatures, like other measurements, are cultural artifacts pliable to sociopolitical efforts of control and domination.
Measuring the Future with Quantified Heat
Scott W. Schwartz
Australian railway historiography, like its railway history and indeed like Australia itself, poses a curious paradox. Why is such a fortunate and civil polity so parochial and so divided geographically? It is now more than 230 years since British colonisation began. Ever since, Australia has been prosperous; relatively egalitarian, at least for its white population; generally free from civil strife; and efficiently and effectively governed. The temperature of its debates and conflicts rarely has risen above levels characterised by civil disobedience and strikes, which have been controlled by police and courts within usual legal frameworks.
The 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris (COP21), December 2015, reached a consensus to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, including by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (UN 2015: 22). The agreement has to pave the way for rules, modalities, and procedures and all Parties have to “recognize the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches being available to Parties to assist in the implementation of their nationally determined contribution, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, in a coordinated and effective manner, including through, inter alia, mitigation adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity building, as appropriate” (UN 2015: 24). Of interest to note is that sustainable development and poverty eradication seem to be presented as two sides of the same coin.
Sexual Autonomy and the End of the French Republic in Michel Houellebecq’s Submission
Michel Houellebecq has an unusual gift for revealing the nervous underside of modern life, so when his “futuristic” novel about an Islamic France, Submission, was released on the very day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the coincidence was both horrific and apropos. Most criticism focuses on the anti-Muslim and anti- Enlightenment elements of the novel, but in this article I argue that Submission should be seen primarily as an engaged work of cultural politics. Houellebecq, measuring the temperature of today’s France, presents a culturally collapsed nation of the near future and focuses on women and Jews as the victims— sacrificed, as it were, by the secular elite. In so doing, I maintain, he pulls heavily from current events, all the while drawing on the memory of Vichy and the Occupation. The novel’s premises, topical at the time of its publication, are even more so today.
Ongoing climate change has led to an increase in extreme temperatures, which influence both the environment and human beings. However, not everyone is affected by heat stress to the same degree. This article analyzes who is affected by subjective heat stress. Individual and social indicators of vulnerability and exposure—mediated by conditions of housing and living environments—are considered simultaneously, from the sociological perspective of social inequality influences. Using local data from an empirical survey in Nuremberg, Germany, the article shows that age, individual health, and social contexts all explain variations in how people experience heat stress. It is further hypothesized and confirmed that heat exposure due to disadvantaged housing conditions or distance from green space increases the levels of subjective heat stress. When looking at differences in levels of subjective heat stress, the consideration of heat exposure due to social vulnerability and socioeconomic reasons offers some explanations.
Germany has reduced its emissions of greenhouse gases more than almost any other industrialized democracy and is exceeding its ambitious Kyoto commitment. Hence, it is commonly portrayed as a climate-policy success story, but the situation is actually much more complex. Generalizing Germany's per-capita emissions to all countries or its emissions reductions to all industrialized democracies would still very likely produce more than a two-degree rise in global temperature. Moreover, analyzing the German country-case into eleven subcases shows that it is a mixture of relative successes and failures. This analysis leads to three main conclusions. First, high relative performance and high environmental damage can coexist. Second, we should see national cases in a differentiated way and not only in terms of their aggregate performances. Third, researchers on climate policies should more often begin with outcomes, work backward to policies, and be prepared for some surprises. Ironically, the most effective government interventions may not be explicit climate policies, such as the economic transformation of eastern Germany. Moreover, the lack of policy-making in certain areas may undercut progress made elsewhere, including unregulated increases in car travel, road freight, and electricity consumption. Research on climate and environmental policies should focus on somewhat different areas of government intervention and ask different questions.
Gijs Mom, Georgine Clarsen and Cotten Seiler
At Eindhoven University of Technology, which has a modest reputation for collecting contemporary art, an exhibition of large machines and poetic video clips by father and son Van Bakel invites passersby to reflect on mobility. Gerrit van Bakel, who died more than a quarter century ago, became known for his Tarim Machine, a vehicle that moves at such a low speed that it almost does not matter whether it moves or not. The propulsion principle—for those who love technology—rests on the dilatation energy of oil in tubes propelling (if propelling is the right word …) the contraption a couple of centimeters over a hundred years or so, as long as there is change in temperature to trigger the dilatation. Emphasizing his father’s insights, Michiel van Bakel, exhibits a video clip of a horse and rider galloping over a square in Rotterdam, where the position and camera work are operated so that the horse seems to turn around its axis while the environment rotates at a different tempo. Mobility, these Dutch artists convey, is often not what it seems to be.
Eco-dystopias – Nature and the Dystopian Imagination
Rowland Hughes and Pat Wheeler
When, at the climax of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 film Planet of the Apes, the astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) discovers the torch of the Statue of Liberty poking through the shifting sands of a postapocalyptic world, his horrified, despairing cry – ‘We finally really did it! You maniacs! You blew it up!’ – encapsulated the nuclear anxiety of dystopian fiction and film in the 1950s and 1960s. Thirty-five years later, that iconic image of Liberty’s torch engulfed by natural forces was knowingly echoed in both Steven Spielberg’s AI and Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, but in the first decade of the new millennium, the imagined apocalypse waiting to engulf the human race was not nuclear, but environmental: New York is swallowed by the rising waters of the Atlantic ocean, and frozen solid by the plunging temperatures of a new ice age. As these high-profile cinematic examples indicate, climate change has made its way towards the mainstream in recent years, on both the screen and the page, and has now eclipsed nuclear terror as the prime mover of the apocalyptic and dystopian imagination.