Call For Papers: “Ethics and Transboundary Waste Movements” at the Annual Meeting of the CAG May 30-June 4, 2016

John-Michael Davis (PhD Candidate, Memorial University) and I will be hosting a special session, entitled ‘Ethics and Transboundary Waste Movements” at this year’s Canadian Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia (May 31st-June 4th, 2016). If interested, please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to John-Michael Davis at jmed45@mun.ca and Alex Zahara at ardz76@mun.ca by March 20th. The following is our CFP:

This session invites papers exploring ethical considerations of transboundary waste movement.

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Abandoned military wastes at the North 40 dump in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo by A. Zahara
Over the last decade, geographers of waste have demonstrated how discards move across various ecological, legal, and cultural boundaries: recycling and ‘Zero Waste’ initiatives move waste across national and provincial borders (MacBride 2011); plastics circulate transnationally through ocean gyres (Liboiron 2015); and emissions from incinerators climb their way through arctic food webs (Downie and Fenge 2003). Among other things, geographical studies have noted how the movement of waste matters, both politically and materially – waste and the consequences of waste are differentially understood and experienced (Gray-Cosgrove et al. 2015). Moreover, the varied stakeholders involved in managing wastes (e.g. industry, government, public and activist groups) often operate within competing ethical parameters, where the difference between right and wrong might involve balancing municipal budgets, tending to industry profit margins, or protecting environment and human health.

In this session, we welcome empirical case studies that critically analyze spatial patterns and local experiences of waste, as well as more conceptual papers that theorize and challenge contemporary understandings of ethics in waste movement. Submissions may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Differences between and competition within formal and informal sectors of waste trade
  • Material geographies of waste (e.g. e-waste, food waste, marine plastics, corpses, feces, volatile contaminants, etc.)
  • Borders and waste, including: physical, ecological, political, or imagined borders
  • Waste management systems and the ‘right to pollute’
  • Transboundary legislation and waste
  • Ethics and methodologies in examining transboundary waste movement (participatory action research, activist methods, ethnography, decolonization, etc.)
  • Non-human geographies and waste
  • The role of geographers in addressing environmental and social justice

References:

Downie, D. L. & Fenge, T. (2003). Northern Lights Against POPs: Combatting Toxic Threats in the Arctic. McGill-Queens University Press.

Gray-Cosgrove, C., Liboiron, M. & Lepawsky, J. (2015). The challenges of temporarilty to depollution and remediation. S.A.P.I.E.N.S [Online]. 8: https://sapiens.revues.org/1740

Liboiron, M. (2015). Redefining pollution and action: The matter of plastics. Journal of Material Culture Online first: doi:10.1177/1359183515622966

MacBride S (2011) Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States. MIT Press.

 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

The (After)Life of Plastics

When we dispose* of plastics, they never really disappear. Plastics live on in bodies of water, are passed around through ecosystems (big and small), and even weasel their way inside the bodies of animals, human and nonhuman alike. In the best case scenario, plastics are entombed inside capped landfills that they will undoubtedly outlast. No one really knows how long plastics remain in the environment, but they are manufactured to endure.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take an undergraduate course at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, entitled Marine Debris in the Pacific Ocean. The course examined the contemporary scientific literature regarding the ‘afterlives’ of ocean plastics. Once plastics end up in the ocean, they photodegrade, meaning that they are broken down indefinitely (by sun, waves, and wind) into smaller and smaller plastic pieces, which are eventually known as microplastics. During this process, plastics are sometimes ingested by fish, plankton, and other animals. They become entangled in wildlife, serve as rafts for invasive species, and even absorb hormone disrupting chemicals. Depending on where they end up, some plastics will combine with coral and lava, forming a new type of rock that scientists have coined ‘plastiglomerate‘.

In order to examine these processes, my class worked on several scientific research projects on Hawai’i Island’s Kamilo beach. Here, plastics were variously sorted, counted, photographed, collected, placed in garbage bags, and discarded.

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Last week, Dr. Max Liboiron of Memorial University photographed two pieces of plastics that I collected from Kamilo: the first, a piece of ‘shark bitten plastic’ (or sharkastic); the second, a fragment of plastiglomerate. Her pictures highlight the very social and material consequences of plastics that become part of ocean ecosystems. Like most plastics in the ocean, these pieces are scratched, fouled, chewed on, and weathered– a display of  anthropogenic ocean ecology, to be inherited by future generations.

All photos have been made available by Max through a creative commons license.

For further reading, see:

Carson, H. (2013). The incidence of plastic ingestion by fishes: From the prey’s perspective. Marine Pollution Bulletin

Carson et al. (2013). The plastic-associated microorganisms of the North Pacific Gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Eriksen et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE.

Liboiron, M. (2015). Redefining pollution and action: The matter of plastics. Journal of Material Culture.

Liboiron, M. (2014) Modern waste is an economic strategy. Discard Studies blog.

*This is not to say that ‘disposal’ is to blame for plastics ending up in the ocean. Rather, the role of government and industry in allowing the creation and continued use and proliferation of these products in the first instance, is a more useful target for activists and others concerned with the effects of ocean plastics.

End of year recap and some updates, 2015

The year 2015 was a big one– though one with very few updates to the blog (thanks for the reminder WordPress Annual Report!). On that note, I’m committed to making more blog updates in 2016, including more original content and writing, along with the usual research updates. That said, I figured I would do a brief recap of some of the conferences and events I didn’t discuss in 2015! Here are the big ones:

 1. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting (April 2015). Paper Contribution: Technostories: (de)Growth in the Aftermath of the Iqaluit ‘Dumpcano’. Chicago, IL.

This talk was part of the ‘Discards, Diverse Economies, and Degrowth‘ session at the AAG, which was organized by Dr. Max Liboiron and Dr. Josh Lepawsky of Memorial University. After our session, papers were work-shopped and submitted as a forum to Society and Space open site. My contribution examines the ‘next steps’ for waste management after a costly dump fire in Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut Territory. While some community members focused on technological improvements to waste management infrastructure, others pointed towards changing community understandings of waste and environment– as caused by the Nunavut’s recent colonization–as the source of increased waste issues. Though I did not submit my paper to the Society and Space forum, a modified version appears in the conclusion of my Master’s thesis.

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Spotted with Cassandra Kuyvenhoven: Some mysterious green goo (waste?) in downtown Chicago.
2. Northern Research Symposium. (April 2015) Poster contribution: Taima: Risk and Uncertainty in the Iqaluit Dumpcano. Kingston, ON.

This poster was an updated (and poster-fied) version of a talk I gave at Arctic Change in Ottawa, ON in 2014. I discuss this poster and the Iqaluit dump fire (which coincided with my fieldwork in Iqaluit in the summer of 2014) in an interview with the Queen’s Gazette, which can be read here.

3. Contested Expertise, Toxic Environments (September 2015). Paper contribution: Taima: Risk Governance in the Iqaluit Dumpcano. Claremont, CA.

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Contested Expertise, Toxic Environments participants in Claremont California. Photo Credit: Hillary Kirkham

The interdisciplinary paper workshop and conference was held at the Claremont Colleges in California, and brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines, including history of science, science and technology studies, anthropology and more. The two day conference involved work-shopping each others papers, which covered topics such as nuclear fallout at Hiroshima, insecticides, garbage dumps, abandoned superfund sites, and radiation. The conference also included a screening of a new film on nuclear waste storage entitled Containmentand a Skype discussion with director and academic, Dr. Peter Galison. My paper, which examines risk management in an Arctic dump fire, is to be included in an edited collection with the group.

4. Next Steps

I am currently awaiting my supervisory committee to review a report that I’ve written for the City of Iqaluit based on my Master’s research. The report includes a two-page summary of my thesis, a bibliography of waste management reports and journal articles previously conducted on waste in Iqaluit, and a list of citizen suggestions for improving waste management in the community. My hope is that the report will be a practical output of my master’s research and helpful for those charged with managing waste in the Iqaluit community. Once the report has been approved, I look forward to submitting it to Iqaluit City Council (likely early 2016). I’ll also post a link to the report on my website and give a copy of it to the Nunavut Research Institute to ensure the report is publicly available.

In the meantime, I look forward to moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland and beginning my PhD research at Memorial University next week!

If anyone is interested in copies of the talks, feel free to e-mail me at ardz76@mun.ca

All best in 2016,

Alex

Anthropocene Curriculum| Campus: Technosphere Issue

I’m very excited to be attending this year’s Anthropocene Campus held in Berlin, Germany, April 14-22nd, 2016.

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Plastics washed ashore on Hawai’i Island’s Kamilo Beach. Photo: A. Zahara

The Anthropocene Campus is an ongoing trans-disciplinary collaboration initiated by Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and is made up of a series of public lectures, seminars, art exhibitions and more. The purpose of campus is to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum for studies of the/an Anthropocene– one that is ethical, inclusive, and (hopefully) recognizes the existence of multiple Anthropocenes and not just those posited through Western philosophy and academia. Other selected participants include artists, members of community and activist groups, and PhD students from natural and social sciences, humanities, architecture, business, and fine arts.

The full schedule of the 2016 Campus is available here.

As a participant, I will be attending the following seminars:

FERAL TECHNOLOGIES: MAKING AND UNMAKING MULTISPECIES DUMPS
-By: Anna Tsing (UC Santa Cruz), Elaine Gan (UC Santa Cruz),  Bettina Stoetzer (University of Chicago)
What are we to make of proliferating crises: environmental degradation, forced migration, species exterminations, unforgiveable debt? These are unfolding simultaneously within a golden age of technoscientifically enhanced discoveries: maze-busting slime molds, coevolving immune systems, more-than-human webs of symbiotic, invasive, artificial intelligence. Every day, we bounce between creativity and catastrophe, grappling with love and rage. The paradoxes are not hard to enumerate. The real challenge lies in describing their entanglement. And yet, the Anthropocene trips up hard-earned categories and practices, pressing for radical approaches to understanding novel social dynamics. Rather than elaborating a straightforward analytical tool for defining a human-centered geological epoch, the Anthropocene presents a multidimensional puzzle structured around complexities and ruptures. When nature and culture—ways of being and ways of belonging— can no longer be studied as exclusively human, nonhuman or machine, how might we approach this puzzle? Who inhabits and orders the Technosphere? This seminar conceptualizes the Technosphere as an unintended muddle of multispecies relationships that emerge from contaminated landscapes, postwar rubble, and garbage heaps—in short, dumps. Such a muddle may be considered through feral technologies—novel and weedy capacities for materially significant change.Critical studies of change call for serious attention to companion species and the making and unmaking of multiple technologies of coordination. This seminar proposes an interdisciplinary exercise in critical description: a mix of fieldwork on ruderal ecologies, digital art, and multispecies ethnography. It is grounded in Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain), one of Berlin’s highest peaks and made from rubble cleared from the city after the war.

 

TECHNO-METABOLISM
-By: Gabrielle Hecht (University of Michigan), Paul Edwards (University of Michigan), Peter Haff (Duke University), and Jonas Loh (Studio NAND)
In the course of its productive and consumptive functions, the technosphere transforms energy, materials, and information. It metabolizes not only fossil and nuclear fuels, but also solar energy, through processes including photosynthesis(agriculture), wind, and hydro. The technosphere also metabolizes information, ingesting some kinds of data as inputs and producing other data as outputs, often in complex cycles of feedback and control. The technosphere uses energy in part to transform information, while information guides the metabolism of energy. The technosphere’s waste products—the metabolites created by its transformation of energy, materials, and information— are in turn transforming both the biosphere and the geosphere. Microplastics, artificial chemicals, and human- made radioactive materials can be detected in the cells of organisms all over the world, including in the deep oceans. Greenhouse gases and particulate aerosols are transforming the atmosphere and the climate. “Data exhaust”—the data generated by individual activity, from web searches to Facebook to online shopping—is being recycled far more effectively than material waste, used to detect patterns, trends, and individual preferences and transforming the relationship between business and consumers, as well as civil society, worldwide. This seminar will develop creative approaches to understanding and visualizing these interplays of energy, materials and information in the technosphere, conceived as metabolic processes.
WHOSE? READING“THE TECHNOSPHERE” AND “THE ANTHROPOCENE” FROM AFRICA
-By: Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga (MIT), Gabrielle Hecht(University of Michigan), Shadreck Chirikure (University of Cape Town), D.A. Masolo (University of Louisville), and Chaz Maviyane-Davies (Massachusetts College of Art)
Does the concept of “the”/“an” anthropocene promote or inhibit the possibilities of a polycentric globalepistemology? Does it de-center or re-center the Western ratio? With what implications? When should the beginning of the anthropocene be demarcated? Why there and according to whom? Anthropocene… in whose language? Is it possible to have more than one anthropocene, along the lines of “modernity in two languages”(“yours” and “ours”) that Partha Chatterjee suggested in 1997? The anxiety is that “the anthropocene” and even “the technosphere” may become, wittingly or unwittingly, a convenient vocabulary to restore Euro-and Western-centricity, taking us back to an imperial or colonial mode of representation of seeing from Berlin,London, and Washington and extending hegemonic worldview without regard to situatedness. Pluralizing (technospheres, anthropocenes–even anthroposcenes) is one step towards a democracy of operative language allowing different markers of time, thought, tools, realities, scales, causalities, effects, and categories to coexist and participate in shaping global vocabularies. This seminar will therefore consider what a (not “the”) technosphere, anatmosphere, and a biosphere might mean from Africa, not just as outcomes of incoming ideas or artifacts in the present, but endogenous modes of thought and practice over a much longer durée. This seminar brings together some of the world’s most renowned scholars of Africa, each addressing the concept of anthropocene (and technosphere) from her/his own special: archaeology, history, history, STS, and graphic design.

Arctic ‘Trash Animals’: New paper on multi-species waste relations in Environmental Humanities

A new paper on Arctic ‘trash animals’, entitled ‘Raven, Dog, Human: Inhuman Colonialism and Unsettling Cosmologies’ (Zahara and Hird 2015) has been published in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Humanities. In the paper, Dr. Myra J. Hird and I argue that particular understandings of humans/nature are bequeathed to future generations along with waste. By analyzing the historical and contemporary relationships between Inuit/Qallunaat/ravens/ and sled dogs, we argue that both settler ontologies and waste work to materially re-configure relationships between humans and the inhuman.

Animal bones in an abandoned military dump outside of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo by Alexander Zahara, 2014.
Animal bones in an abandoned military dump outside of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo by Alexander Zahara, 2014.

The paper is part of a special issue on Inheriting the Ecological Legacies of Settler colonialism, edited by Affrica Taylor, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Sandrina de Finney, and Mindy Blaise– members of the Common World Research Collective.

The latest issue of Environmental Humanities also includes a paper on nuclear waste landscapes in the United States  by Shannon Cram (2015) and a special commentary section on the ‘Ecomodernest Manifesto’ by Bruno Latour and others.

Full Citations:

Zahara, A.R.D. and M.J. Hird. (2015) ‘Raven, Dog, Human: Inhuman Colonialism and Unsettling Cosmologies’. Environmental Humanities 7: 169-190.

Cram, S. (2015) ‘Wild and Scenic Wasteland: Conservation Politics in the Nuclear Wilderness’. Environmental Humanities 7: 89-105.

New article in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

In a new paper published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (Zahara et al. 2015) myself and others from Dr. Christy Morrissey’s avian ecotoxicology lab at the University of Saskatchewan examine latent cognitive effects (learning and memory) of juvenile PCB exposure in the European starling. The research is the major output of my environmental toxicology research internship held with Dr. Morrissey from September 2012-March 2013.

Clutch of 6 eggs, including a 1 day old starling.
Clutch of 6 eggs, including a 1 day old starling. Photo by L. Flahr, 2012.

The study, which tested only birds that were exposed to PCBs (a hormone disrupting chemical) in their first 18 days of life, found that birds dosed with higher amounts of PCBs were more error prone and took longer to complete a learning task than lower-dose or non-dosed birds. This research is particularly important since it deals with the same levels of PCBs that starlings and other birds are readily exposed to in their environment. Impairments to cognition might impact the ability of starlings to learn/remember locations of stored food or reduce their ability to build and remember the spatial maps necessary for long-term migration. A companion study on these same birds (Flahr et al. 2015) provides evidence that low-level PCB exposure also delays the onset of starling migratory behaviour.

Importantly, these papers remind us that scientific knowledge about contaminants is always updating. Even 40 years after PCB usage was banned in North America, scientists continue to discover previously unknown environmental/human/nonhuman health consequences of these and other chemicals. Undoubtedly, there are numerous other latent/unknown consequences of PCBs that have yet to be discovered.

Holding an ~ 7 day old juvenile starling. Photos taken by Leanne Flahr, 2012.
Holding an ~ 7 day old juvenile starling. Photos taken by Leanne Flahr, 2012.

Full Citations:

Zahara, A., Michel, N., Flahr, L., Ejack, L., & Morrissey, C. ‘Latent cognitive effects from low-level PCB exposure in juvenile European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris.Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry DOI: 10.1002/etc.3084

Flahr, L., Michel, N., Zahara, A., Jones, P., & Morrissey, C. (2015). ‘Developmental exposure to Aroclor 1254 alters migratory behaviour in juvenile European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris),’ Environmental Science and Technology 49: 6274-6283.

Masters of Environmental Studies and other updates

I have officially defended and completed my Master’s of Environmental Studies thesis, entitled ‘The Governance of Waste in Iqaluit, Nunavut’ and have been awarded with an MES degree through Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

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Sitting on the Tundra. Photo by Laura Oingonn

While my thesis is restricted until publication of three manuscripts, those interested in obtaining a copy of my thesis may e-mail me directly at a.zahara@queensu.ca. I will be preparing a shortened version of my thesis to submit to Iqaluit city council shortly; this version of my thesis will be disseminated to research participants.

I look forward to attending the Contested Expertise and Toxic Environments paper workshop in Claremont, California next week (September 17-19th), before drinking copious amounts of tea in Sri Lanka (October 15- November 27th), and beginning my PhD in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland in January 2016.

My PhD research will examine the historical and contemporary (material and immaterial) network of politics and power that governs uranium mining, radioactivity, and nuclear waste in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. I will be supervised by Dr. Arn Keeling and Dr. Lianne Leddy as part of the SSHRC-funded Northern Exposures research project. I will be associated with the WaSTE (Waste and Science Technology and Environment) and Abandoned Mines research groups at Memorial University.

Thank you to the Canada’s Waste Flow research group, the community of Iqaluit, and the School of Environmental Studies at Queen’s University for helping me out over the last two years.

Taima!