Environmental Issues Colloquia

Two faculty-organized colloquia are bringing speakers to campus this year to focus on issues affecting the environment and society. “The Colloquium on Climate Change” has been featuring experts on global warming this fall and continues with a lecture on November 2 by Marcellus Andrews on “The Political Economy of Earth, Irritated.” A year-long series entitled “Strategies of Visibility: Arts of Environmental Resistance” begins with a lecture on October 20 by Meg McLagan.

Cultural anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Meg McLagan will speak on “Excessive Politics: Human Rights and the Circulation of Suffering.” Introducing the audience to topics of visibility, she will address the construction of public meaning and reaction regarding a socio-political issue, environmental or otherwise. Having examined how Tibetan refugees’ struggle for independence developed into an issue of global concern and how their cause moved through various media circuits, McLagan will explore questions of how an issue is “turned into an object of politics or constructed as an issue around which publics can get mobilized” – and what role the media play in the process.

“Strategies of Visibility: Arts of Environmental Resistance” is sponsored by the Environmental Studies, Visual Culture, and Science, Technology and Society faculties. Charles Zerner, holder of the Barbara B. and Bertram J. Cohn Professorship in Environmental Studies, said of the colloquium: “Invisibility of lethal environmental risks - whether the hazard is mutagenic radioactivity or toxic compounds in air, water, soil, or within our own bodies - has bedeviled environmentalists since the inception of global and local activist movements. Aesthetics, in its broadest sense, is the study of how human beings receive and respond to sensory stimuli, as opposed to the incapacity to feel or perceive sensation, or anaesthesis. In a world of toxic yet invisible realities, the problem then becomes: how can concerned artists, choreographers, writers, scientists and groups of lay persons, organized in local, national, as well as transnational non-governmental networks, create strategies of visibility -- forms of mediation that embody and render accessible to the senses -- the environmental substances and forms of energy that cross ecological boundaries and penetrate human bodies with impunity and invisibility, causing multigenerational harms?”

The Colloquium on Climate Change, organized by chemistry faculty member Ryan Hinrichs kicked off on September 14 with a talk by Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, who discussed the already visible affects of rising average temperatures. Continuing on October 5, Cynthia Rosenzweig, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies gave her lecture “Climate Change Matters: Systems, Sectors, and Solutions.” Read senior Joseph Caputo’s review of their talks, “Colloquium on Catastrophe” to be published in the next issue of the Phoenix. According to Hinrichs, the climate change issue has recently entered into a new phase of public awareness and response with a new relationship being forged between scientists and citizens.