Life-support: The Political Ecology of Urban Air (Presentation)


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Humans, increasingly, manufacturer their own air. In and around the three-dimensional aerial environments within and above urban regions, this manufacture of air reaches particular levels of intensity. For a species which expires without air in two or three minutes, this anthropogenic manufacture of air is of incalculable importance. Curiously, however, urban air remains remarkably neglected within the political-ecological literatures. Accordingly, this paper suggests a range of key themes which a political ecology of urban air needs to address. These address, in turn, the links between global warming, urban heart-island effects and killer urban heat-waves; urban pollution crises; the paradoxes of urban pollution; horizontal movements of polluted air; the vertical politics of urban air; the construction of vertical condominiums structures for elites; the vicious circles that characterised air-conditioned urbanism; heat-related deaths of workers building air-conditioned structures in increasingly hot climates; and, finally, the growth of large-scale air-conditioned environments.

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Life-support: The Political Ecology of Urban Air (Presentation)

  1. 1. Life-­‐Support:     The  Poli2cal  Ecology  of  Urban  Air         Stephen  Graham   Newcastle  University  
  2. 2. ‘City  air  makes  one  free’?     (The  words  carved  over  the  city  gates  of  the  Hansea2c  League,  a   network  of  trading  ci2es  in  medieval  Europe)  
  3. 3. Introduc)on:  1915  and  the   “Defencelessness  of  Breathing”   (Elias  Cane),  1987)     “At  first  we  feel  nothing,  we  are  insensi2ve,  we  are  naturalized.   And  then  suddenly  we  feel  not  something  ,  but  the  absence  of   something  we  did  not  know  before  could  possibly  be  lacking.   Think  of  the  poor  soldiers  on  the  front  line,  deep  in  their   trenches,  the  22nd  of  April  1915  near  Ypres.  They  knew   everything  about  bullets,  shells,  rats,  death,  mud,  and  fear—but   air,  they  did  not  feel  air,  they  just  breathed  it.     And  then,  from  this  ugly,  slow-­‐moving,  greenish  cloud  lingering   over  them,  air  is  being  removed.  They  begin  to  suffocate.  Air  has   entered  the  list  of  what  could  be  withdrawn  from  us.  In  the   terms  of  the  great  German  thinker  Peter  Sloterdijk,  air  has  been   made  explicit;  air  has  been  reconfigured;  it  is  now  part  of  an  air-­‐ condi2oning  system  that  makes  our  life  possible.”  Bruno  Latour    
  4. 4. “An  implicit  condi2on  of   existence”  (Sloterdijk,  2009).      
  5. 5. Anthropocenic  Atmospheres:  The  Machinic  Manufacture  of  Air  
  6. 6. Urban  Domes  
  7. 7. Where  is  the  Poli2cal  Ecology  of  Urban  Air?      “Urban  poli2cal  ecology  research  has  so  far  been  focused  on   natural  resources  for  consump2on,  produc2on,  and  recrea2on,   rather  than  on  environmental  pollu2on”  (Véron,  2006)    
  8. 8.  ‘Technical’,  depoli2cised,   medicalised,  physical-­‐geographic     and  public  health  policy  discourses   dominate     Raymond  Bryant    diagnosed  over   fieeen  years  ago  that    “the  exis2ng   literature  [on  changing  air  quality]   is  largely  devoid  of  poli2cal   analysis'',  a  problem  which   inevitably  works  to  obfuscate  the   ways  in  which      ``unequal  power   rela2ons  are  []  `inscribed'  in  the   air”  (1998)    
  9. 9. Some  Progress:    Environmental  Jus2ce    and  Medical  Anthropology.  
  10. 10. But  These  Fail  to  Situate   the  Poli2cal  Ecology  of   Urban  Air  Within  Socio-­‐ Natural  and  Techno-­‐ Natural  Metabolism  and   the  Mul2scale  Poli2cs  of   Urban  Nature   “The  cars  burning  fuels  from  distant  oil-­‐deposits  and  pumping  CO2   into  the  air,  affec2ng  people,  forests,  climates,  and  geopoli2cal   condi2ons  around  the  globe,”  they  wrote,  “  further  complete  the   global  geographic  mappings  and  traces  that  flow  through  the   urban  and  ‘produce’  London  as  a  palimpsest  of  densely  layered   bodily,  local,  na2onal  and  global—but  depressingly  uneven   geographically—  socioecological  processes”(Erik  Swyngedouw  and   Nick  Heynen,  2003)  
  11. 11.  “Air  maqers  too  liqle  in  social  theory.  Aside  from   signifying  a  loss  of  grounding,  air  is  as  taken  for  granted   in  theory  as  it  is  in  most  of  our  daily  breaths.  []  Air  is   lee  to  drie  […]  neither  theorized  nor  examined,  taken   simply  as  solidity’s  lack.  There  seems  at  first  to  be  no   reason  not  to  let  it”  (Tim  Choy,  2010)    
  12. 12. Curiously  Ignored  by  Debates  on  Ci2es  and  Climate  Change,  a   Ver2cal  Turn,  ‘Planetary  Urbanisa2on’,  Urban  Affect  and   Atmosphere...  
  13. 13. A  cri2cal  poli2cal  ecology  of   urban  air  needed  to  make   explicit  the  systema2c   anthropogenic  and  machinic   manufacture  and  material   condi2oning  of  both  ‘good’  and   ‘bad’  air,  through  design,   technoscience,  capitalist   industrialism,  militarism,   warfare,  commodifica2on,     consumerism,  and  so  forth.      
  14. 14. “This  is  Sloterdijk’s  explicitness.  You   are  on  life  support,  it’s  fragile,  it’s   technical,  it’s  public,  it’s  poli2cal,  it   could  break  down—it  is  breaking   down—it’s  being  fixed,  you  are  not   too  confident  of  those  who  fix  it.   Our  current  condi2on  merely  relies   on  our  more  explicit  understanding   that  this  tenta2ve  technological   system,  this  “life  support,”  entails   the  whole  planet—even  its   atmosphere.”  (Bruno  Latour,  2005).     “You  Are  on  Life-­‐Support...”.  
  15. 15. Eight  Themes...   (i)  links  between  global  warming,  urban  heat-­‐island  effects   and  killer  urban  heat-­‐waves;     (ii)  urban  pollu2on  crises;     (iii)  paradoxes  of  urban  pollu2on;     (iv)  horizontal  movements  of  polluted  air   (v)  ver2cal  poli2cs  of  urban  air  and  the  construc2on  of   ver2cal  condominiums  structures  for  elites;   (vi)  vicious  circles  that  characterised  air-­‐condi2oned   urbanism;     (vii)  heat-­‐related  deaths  of  workers  building  air-­‐condi2oned   structures  in  increasingly  hot  climates;  and,  finally   (viii)  growth  of  large-­‐scale  air-­‐condi2oned  environments.    
  16. 16. (i)  Heat  Islands  and  Killer  Heat  Waves     “The  U.S.  Environmental  Protec2on  Agency  es2mates  that,   between  1979  and  2003,  heat  exposure  has  caused  more  than   the  number  of  mortali2es  resul2ng  from  hurricanes,  lightning,   tornadoes,  floods,  and  earthquakes  combined.”  (NASA,  2010).  
  17. 17. Urban  Planet,  Warming  Planet..      
  18. 18. Systema2c  inequality,  housing  policies,  poor  urban   design  and  hopelessly    inadequate  emergency   response  arrangements  can  combine  together  to   allow  urban  heat-­‐waves  to  become  mass  killers  of   the  poor,  the  lonely,  the  old,  the  weak  and  the   vulnerable   .   Epidemiological  studies  have  shown  that  there  is  a   “significantly  increased  risk  of  hospitaliza2on  for   mul2ple  diseases,  including  cardiovascular  disease,   ischemic  heart  disease,  ischemic  stroke,   respiratory  disease,  pneumonia,  dehydra2on,  heat   stroke,  diabetes,  and  acute  renal  failure,  with  a   10°F  increase  in  same-­‐day  apparent  temperature”   due  to  urban  heat  waves  (Ostro  et  al,  2010).      
  19. 19. Chicago,     July1995  
  20. 20. By  Friday,  July  14,  “thousands  of  Chicagoans  had  developed   severe  heat-­‐related  illnesses.  Paramedics  couldn't  keep  up  with   emergency  calls,  and  city  hospitals  were  overwhelmed.  Twenty-­‐ three  hospitals—most  on  the  South  and  Southwest  Sides—went   on  bypass  status,  closing  the  doors  of  their  emergency  rooms  to   new  pa2ents.  Some  ambulance  crews  drove  around  the  city  for   miles  looking  for  an  open  bed.  Hundreds  of  vic2ms  never  made   it  to  a  hospital.  The  most  overcrowded  place  in  the  city  was  the   Cook  County  Medical  Examiners  Office,  where  police   transported  hundreds  of  bodies  for  autopsies.”  (Klinenberg,   2002)  .      
  21. 21. Europe  2003  
  22. 22. Deaths  of  the  “Forgoqen”  
  23. 23. Chambers  de  Bonne:  Hidden,     Ver2cal  Geographies  of  Vulnerability  
  24. 24. (ii)  Toxic  Domes     “Air...from  Johannesburg  to  Tehran,  to  Delhi  to  Jakarta,  isn’t   about  aesthe2cs,  or  even  possible  climate  change  at  some  point   in  the  future:  it’s  about  life  and  death  now”     (Doyle  and  Risely,  2008).  
  25. 25. Not  New:  Miasma,  ‘Pea  Soupers’,    Industrial  ‘Accidents’  etc..  
  26. 26. But  Exponen2al  Growth:     7  Million  Deaths  in  2012  (WHO)    “The  risks  from  air   pollu2on  are  now  far   greater  than  previously   thought  or  understood,   par2cularly  for  heart   disease  and  strokes,     Few  risks  have  a  greater   impact  on  global  health   today  than  air  pollu2on;   the  evidence  signals  the   need  for  concerted  ac2on   to  clean  up  the  air  we  all   breathe.”  (WHO,  2014).  
  27. 27. China  and  India  Dominate...  
  28. 28. Trapped...Topographies  and  Inversions  
  29. 29. ‘Airquakes’   “Can  a  set  of  ontological  rights  —  such  as  breathing  —   actually  challenge  or  even  displace  economic   hegemony?”     The  unbearable  urban  air  within  many  Chinese  ci2es   works  to    “brings  the  elements  of  our  life-­‐world  out  of   a  background  of  neglect  and  foregrounds  them  as  the   ontological  precondi2ons  of  human  existence.”  Albert   Pope  (2009)  
  30. 30. As  an  Addendum...  Poli%cal  Airquakes....  
  31. 31. (iii)  Pollu2on  Paradoxes:  City  Branding    
  32. 32. Re-­‐Engineering  Air  for  Urban  Spectacles  
  33. 33. Propagandist  Pronouncements...  
  34. 34. ‘Nuclear  Winters’:  Interrup2ng     Urban  Poli2cal  Ecologies  of  Agriculture  
  35. 35. Tourism  Economies  
  36. 36. Disneyfica2on  Paradoxes  
  37. 37. Smog  Simulacra  
  38. 38. Aesthe2c  and  Affec2ve  Experiences  of  Ci2es  
  39. 39. Giuditata  Vendrame:  the  thickening  haze  of  Shanghai’s   polluted  air  “oeen  imbue[d]  the  city  with  a  par2cular   sense  of  lightness,  suspension  and  fragility.”        “The  city  gains  visual  and  architectural  quali2es,”  she   writes.  “The  light  of  the  sunbeams  penetrates  this   foggy  layer,  giving  the  city  a  magic  and  fairytale  color.   However,  this  ‘magical  haze”  is  harmful.  It  is  smog,  air   pollu2on.”  (Vendrame,  2012).    
  40. 40. (iv)  Downwind    
  41. 41. Offshoring   Not  a  Complete     Insulator   Between  12  and  24%  of   the  sulphur  pollutants  in   the  Western  United  States   had  been  blown  there   from  industrial  and  urban   sites  on  China  by   atmospheric  wind  systems    
  42. 42. (v)  Airy  Refuges,  Human  Sinks:  Ver2cal   Architectures  as  “Spa2alized  Immune  Systems”     “One  can  […]    discern  a  poli2cal-­‐economic    geography  of  air”  (Choy,  2010)    
  43. 43. Ascension  of  the  Elites   “The  rich  have    access  to  good  air  while  the  poor  are   relegated  to  the  dregs,  to  the  smog  and  dust  under  flyovers  or   on  the  streets”  `  (Tim  Choy,  2010)  
  44. 44. “One  could  [..]  lament  the  splintering  of  the   atmosphere.”  (Caney,  1987).  
  45. 45.  “In  the  typical  street  canyons  of  Hong  Kong,  air  pollutants  tend  to  be   trapped  in  the  boqom  15  m.”  (Wong  et  al,  2012).        Massive  podium  blocks  between  the  streets  and  the  raised  walkways  in   Hong  Kong  “not  only  block  most  of  the  wind  to  pedestrians  (affec2ng   comfort  and  air  quality),  but  also  minimize  the  “air  volume”  near  the   pedestrian  level  (affec2ng  air  quality).”  (Ng,  2009).    
  46. 46. (vi)  Fragmen2ng  Atmospheres:     Vicious  Circles  of  the  Air-­‐Con  City    `’But  where  is  Utopia,  where  the  weather    is  64.4°F...?”  (Le  Corbusier,  1967).  
  47. 47. Major  Urban  and  Demographic  Shies  are    Air-­‐Condi%oned  Geo-­‐Economic  Transforma%ons  
  48. 48. Air-­‐Con     Landscapes  
  49. 49. Heat  Dumping  Further  Exaggerate     Heat  Islands  and  Heat  Emergencies:  Paris,  2003  
  50. 50. Blackouts:  “Turning  buildings  into  refrigerators  burns   fossil  fuels,  which  emits  greenhouse  gases,  which  raises   global  temperatures,  which  creates  a  need  for  -­‐-­‐  you   guessed  it  -­‐-­‐  more  air-­‐condi2oning”  (Hutchinson,  2010).    
  51. 51. From  Comfort  to  Survival:  “Ownership  and  usage  of  air-­‐ condi2oners  significantly  reduce[s]  the  effects  of   temperature”  on  the  wide  range  of  condi2ons,  diseases   and  ailments  that  can  become  killers  during  urban  heat   waves  (Ostro  et  al,  2010).  
  52. 52. Inadequate  Public  Policies:  Market  Hegemony  
  53. 53. Two  vicious  circles:     Heat  displacement  and    Power/Fossil  Fuels    
  54. 54. (vii)  Citadels  of  Death  :       Hot  Bodies,  Cooled  Bodies,  Atmospheric  Apartheid      “As  many  people   are  killed  on   construc2on  sites   throughout  the   world  each  year  as   die  as  a  result  of   armed   conflict”  (Na2onal   Examina2on  Board   in  Occupa2onal   Safety  and  Health,   n.d).  
  55. 55.  880  migrant  construc2on  workers  died  in  the  UAE  in   2004  alone   “As  many  as  5,000  construc2on  workers  per  month   were  brought  into  the  accident  and  emergency   department  of  Rashid  Hospital  in  Dubai  during  July  and   August  2004”  (Human  Rights  Watch,  2006).      
  56. 56. “Dream-­‐   worlds  of     neoliberalism”     Aeer  the  UK’s  shadow  sports  minister,   Clive  Efford,  expressed  revulsion  at  the   latest  revela2ons  of  worker  deaths  in   Qatar,    Maher  Mughrabi  wondered:   “  Where  exactly  has  this  man  been?”   Dubai,  Qatar  and  Bahrain  have  been   hos2ng  the  stars  of  golf,  tennis,   snooker,  formula  one  and,  of  course,   horse  racing  for  decades  now.  And  all   those  holidaymakers  in  Dubai  who   have  sampled  the  shopping  fes2val,   the  mall  with  the  indoor  ski  slope  or   zooming  up  in  the  lie  of  the  world's   tallest  building  should  also  know  that   all  this  was  built  through   the  same  system  of  labour  that  is   suddenly  so  appalling”  (2013).  
  57. 57. (viii)  Climate  Capsules:     Echoes  of  Buckminster  Fuller     “The  air  starts  to  become   private”  (Vendrame,  2012)     “Let  us  not  forget  that  today’s  so-­‐ called  consumer  society  was   invented  in  a  greenhouse  –  in  the   very  same  glass-­‐canopied,   nineteenth  century  arcades  in  which   the  first  genera2on  of  ‘experience   customers’  learned  to  breathe  the   intoxica2ng  scent  of  an  enclosed,   interior-­‐world  full  of   commodi2es”  (Dorrian,  2012).  
  58. 58. “More  pure,  less  polluted,  and  hence  more   ‘itself’  than  in  the  world  beyond,  albeit  now  as   commodity.”    (Dorian,  2012).    
  59. 59. Machinic  Capsularisa2on     of  Urban  Natures  Within     Secessionary,  Elite  ‘Bubbles’  
  60. 60. Dome   Megastructures?  
  61. 61. Conclusion:  The  ‘Right  to  the  City’     as  the  Right  to  Breathe!   •  ‘Poli2cs,  from  now  on,  will  be  a  sec2on  of  the   technology  of  climate-­‐control’.  Peter  Sloterdijk     •  A  ver%cally-­‐sensi%ve  and  cri%cal  poli2cal  ecology  of   urban  air  is  urgently  needed!   •  Cabin  Ecologies  and  elite  utopias:  Commodifica2on,   life-­‐support,  social  abandonment  within    post-­‐natural   urban  ecologies  and  increasingly  inhospitable  ‘techno-­‐ natures’     •  The  poli2cal  ecologies  of  contemporary  urban  air    are   heavily  shaped  by  contradic2ons  between  the  mass   and  density  of  increasingly  hot  and  toxic  urban   atmospheres,    and  prolifera2ng  dreams  of  controlled   and  cooled  microclimates,  both  mobile  and  sta2c,  for   elites,  ,  organised  around  neoliberalised  consump2on,   work  with  oeen  murderous  injus2ce.    
  62. 62. “People  feel  very  strongly.”  writes  Giudiqa  Vendrame  (2012),   “that  their  private  construc2ons  of  immunity  are  endangered  by   the  presence  of  too  many  construc2ons  of  immune  spheres  which   are  pressed  against  each  other  and  destroy  each  other.”        Thus,  urbanites:  “feel  compressed  within  these  overcrowded   spaces.  We  feel  suffocated.  As  if  there  isn’t  enough  space.  As  if   there  isn't  enough  air  for  us.  On  one  side  the  fear  of  suffoca2on,   of  no-­‐breath.  On  the  other  (out)side  the  fear  of  the  unknown,  the   invisible  [hazards  of  urban  air  pollu2on].”     “Which  is  and  which  will  be  our  rela2onship.  to  the  air?  ”,   Vendrame  asks.  “What  sort  of  air  do  we  breath  on  the  inside  and   outside  of  our  spaces?”  (ibid.),    
  63. 63. So  Far  Incremental  Explora2ons:  Geothermal  Air-­‐Con  
  64. 64. ‘Green’  Buildings  
  65. 65. Planning    for     Heat  Emergencies  
  66. 66. Vegeta2on  Roofs  and  Walls  
  67. 67. Urban    Whi2ng