Anthropo-Earthen Energies

July 05, 2023

Aidan Zeissner

Keywords: human energies, emotional labor, disabilities justice, uranium mining, anthropogenic climate change

Learn more about Aidan's work in Blog Post #21 - Imaginaries

Coming into the Energy Today Lab, I knew very little about various threads of energy humanities. I thought of energy through the scope of what we as humans consume… the energy that fuels homes, vehicles, and buildings. Yet, quite early on, Dr. Stepanov explained the interdisciplinary approach to energy humanities; it is not an exclusive field that boils down to just physics or details of supply. Rather, energy expands beyond the stratified and compartmentalized into the human body, labor, politics, and other areas influenced by and connected to the vastness of energy. As an LMC major with threads in Science, Technology, and Race and Social Justice, such a humanistic lens drew me in. 

Throughout the process of building a skeleton for ETL’s website and researching various topics of energy humanities, my brain traveled between text and topic faster than I could solidify my ideas, which is why some of my writing may be questions-based, incomplete, and unorganized. Sometimes, as I read articles, I would read a page, be reminded of another text I had read, go to a different text, and tunnel through various nodes making up my brain-web. That being said, here are some things that the scope of ETL brought into my line of focus

1. Disability Justice through Energy Humanities

Human labor and most all socio-political spheres are framed through white, able-bodied men. So work laws, requirements, and expectations that exist are manufactured through this “chosen” model, which does not represent the whole of society to any degree. This has inherent issues that make a failure to address accessibility needs the norm, leaving entire populations of people to navigate a system predicated on exclusion. This creates unsafe work environments rooted in ableism that require disabled folks to use additional energy just to access such a space.

A whole invisible network and flow of energy exists beneath the broadness of labor, one of care between people with disabilities. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha discusses this in a manifesto for a “Fair Trade Emotional Labor Economy.” In short, they expose the extra work that disabled femmes of color perform to upkeep the health of other people with disabilities, as well as the little recognition they get (Piepzna-Samarasinha 2017). But, what does this mean for energy humanities? I find that this proposal is deep within the subject: people are not compensated or recognized for their work, but rather exploited and entirely devalued. Creating energy equity that takes into consideration labor done would mean acknowledging this work, providing compensation, and improving power dynamics such that disabled femmes of color are not viewed as expendable and exploitable. It would mean opposing ableism (however this would or could look like) and working against it.

Some questions this very beginning of a hopefully deeper dive into disability and energy are as such:

2. Land and Energy Humanities

One of the first texts a humanistic approach to energy brought to mind was Haunani-Kay Trask’s essay “The Color of Violence.” In it, she makes clear the long-lasting and extensive forms of violence waged on Indigenous peoples, starting through imperialism and colonialism and continuing into the current time (Trask). Though in different forms, this violence exists in unending cycles. She points to an essay by Jacqui Katona titled “No Uranium Mining on Mirrar Land,” which tracks the stripping, invasion, and desecration of Kakadu and Jabiluka, land in what is now called Australia. As they describe, these acts of violence occur at the behest of mining companies and lobbyists, against the clear opposition of the Mirarr who note the “level of toxicity which is created at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle” (Katona 29). There are clear dynamics of power at play: large, exploitative companies versus Aboriginal people that have been relegated near voiceless through continual colonialism. A question here is who gets to voice concerns about the production of energy? What role should companies play in deciding where energy is produced? Can governments even be trusted to ethically determine sites of energy production?

Dr. Stepanov provided very vital information on this too, explaining that the damaging of Earth in the West is oftentimes viewed through the lens of human impact, not through the physical violence against the Earth. In climate discussions, the main avenue of speaking about anthropogenic climate change is the ways that human health, livelihood, and existence will change. Yet, although this is important, it often excludes the Earth as an actor in this world, rendered as a mere backdrop to human behavior and destruction. I do want to note that using such generalized language excludes different understandings of the world not for the purpose of exclusion, but rather to highlight the worldviews that upkeep the idea of humans as separate from the rest of the world. But how can this dynamic change? How does this type of belief influence the sourcing, production, and dispersal of energy? Are there compromises to be made? Can compromises be made between nurturing and destruction?

Some more questions that revolve around these ideas:

There are countless ways to examine energy through capitalism (in conjunction with neoliberalism), domestic labor (as Christine highlighted), data injustices (such as the work of Ruha Benjamin), mental health, and the many different nodes and branches. These are some that came to my mind, supplied with various rich texts.

Works Cited

Katona, Jacqui. “Not Uranium Mining on Mirrar Land.” Pacific Women Speak Out for Independence and Denuclearisation, edited by Zohl dé Ishtar, The Raven Press,1998, pp. 27-33.

Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. “A Modest Proposal for a Fair Trade Emotional Labor Economy.” Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018, pp. 136-148.

Trask, Haunani Kay. “The Color of Violence.” Social Justice, vol. 31, no. 4 (98), 2004, pp. 8–16. JSTOR, Accessed 19 June 2023.