Anthropologists to speak on climate change

How can we illustrate the gravity of climate change? Is it possible to grasp such a loss? Rice University anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, working to humanize the abstract concept of climate change and provide opportunities for dialogue, will deliver a free public lecture, “Of Flood and Ice,” on Wednesday Nov. 13 at 4:30 p.m. at the A.D. White House. The lecture, sponsored by the Society for the Humanities, will be followed by a Q&A with the audience and a public reception.

A free screening of Boyer and Howe’s documentary, “Not OK,” will be offered at Cornell Cinema in the Willard Straight Theatre, on Monday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., in advance of their visit to Cornell.

Boyer and Howe created the “Not OK” documentary with Icelandic filmmaker Ragnar Hansson to humanize climate change, a human-created problem. The film is narrated by the personified voice of the OK mountain, adding humor and perspective to this staggering ecological issue. “I’ve been around here as long as there’s been here to be around,” says the mountain in the film’s preview. “And for most of that time, I’ve had a glacier on my back.”

Now, that glacier is gone, a casualty of climate change. While creating the film, Boyer and Howe decided to host a funeral for the glacier. More than 100 people, including Iceland’s prime minister, scholars, artists, and local families, gathered at a ceremony of loss that quickly became an internet sensation --googling “glacier funeral” turns up over four million results. A bronze plaque was installed at the site where the glacier once resided that reads forebodingly: “A Letter to the Future: We know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

Howe and Boyer’s public lecture will focus on recent and tangible effects of climate change, like the melting of the OK glacier and floodwaters in post-Hurricane Harvey Houston, exploring a concept the scholars call “hydrological globalization.” As crushing and dangerous as these effects are, they also may reveal material connections that could “potentially be mobilized in the struggle against climate change and the petroculture that produced it,” according to Boyer and Howe.

Howe is associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Anthropology and founding faculty of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research at Rice University, and Boyer is professor of anthropology and founding director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences, also at Rice University. Both have published extensively in the field of “energy humanities,” and have written a duograph together, “Wind and Power in the Anthropocene.”

The visit by Howe and Boyer, who are 2019-20 Invited Society Scholars, is sponsored by the Society for the Humanities to engage its current focal theme, Energy. Cornell Cinema is co-sponsor of the film screening.

Kina Viola is program coordinator for the Society for the Humanities.

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