It’s been a long, long while. Just about two and a half years. I’ve been busy living and it’s been intense in a myriad of ways I won’t get into – but it has also meant not having the energy to write entries for this blog. Today I’m deciding – with a happy heart – to take up the keyboard again. To re-boot editorial activity, I’ll begin by not writing too much myself but by showcasing my colleague and friend from the University of New Mexico, Gregory Cajete, about whose thought I have written extensively in one of my previous posts of now more than three years ago.
Note: This post was initially published on March 8, 2018.
This is the most difficult post I have had to write to this day. I’ll spare you most of the details. Some things can’t be fully communicated, can’t be communed with or put in common. So I’ll pare it down.
My partner Agnieszka’s 19-year-old son, Mathias, committed suicide in the night of February 17 to February 18, 2018. We’ve been hollowed out, devastated, stopped in our tracks, shattered, sent on a roller-coaster of sobbing and shaking and wailing, then of staring blankly into hour after empty hour. We’ve been “active” – going to the coroner’s to identify Mathias’ body, organizing and living through his funeral, attending commemorations, making and answering flurries of phone calls and e-mails, cancelling his insurance policies and his gym membership, gathering his letters and artwork and musical compositions, and whatnot. We’ve been “busy” even as our inner time has stopped and as the world outside has arrogantly, callously kept on turning.
The chair to which I was appointed at the University of Lausanne is labeled “Sustainability and Economic Anthropology.” This can mean many things. I take it to mean an area of research and teaching that deals with the connections between economic culture (what, how, and why people produce and consume) and the possibility for a human community to exist in a sustainable fashion.
These days and for the foreseeable future, one of my main research projects is called “An economic anthropology of urban growth, water consumption, and (un)sustainability in the semi-arid Southwestern United States.”
On September 20, 2017, I was invited by Paola Viganò’s Lab-U urbanism team to give a talk on Los Angeles and Switzerland at the EPFL (Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne). The talk was one among various contributions gathered for the “Bernardo Secchi Day 2017,” organized annually by Paola and her team in memory of the late, great Italian architect, urbanist, and engineer Bernardo Secchi (1934-2014). The topic of the 2017 edition was “The urbanism of hope,” and you can see the whole program by clicking here.
My colleague Dominique Bourg (also from the University of Lausanne) and myself have just released a new book in French, entitled Ecologie intégrale: Pour une société permacirculaire(translation: Integral Ecology: Toward a Permacircular Society), published in Paris by Presses Universitaires de France. It’s the culmination of a two-year effort we engaged in between mid-2014 (when I arrived at Lausanne) and mid-2016 to spell out (a) what sustainability really means and (b) what the social, cultural and political conditions for the emergence of a genuinely sustainable society are. It’s during this period that we published our article, “Vers une économie authentiquement circulaire: Réflexions sur les fondements d’un indicateur de circularité” (“Toward a Genuinely Circular Economy: Reflections on the Foundations of a Circularity Indicator”), in which we first coined the word permacircularité.
This fourth and last installment continues, yet again, where the previous post left off. We’re finishing the stay in New Mexico and heading back towards southern California via central and southern Arizona.
10. Permacircularity lesson from the past: Chaco Canyon and the Anasazi collapse
The archaeological wealth of the Southwest is immense. Sites such as Chaco Canyon are also one of the region’s most consistently successful tourist attractions. In and of themselves, these vestiges of a past civilization – commonly called “Anasazi” or “Ancestral Puebloan” – and of places and cultures such as Chaco, Mogollon, Hohokam and Mimbres attest to the complete absurdity of the frontier thesis of an empty land waiting to be “settled” by 19th-century white colonists. A mixture of settlement and movement prevailed in this vast region for millennia – with a complexity that is still baffling historians today, and with a number of enigmas still unsolved.
This third – and penultimate – installment continues, once more, where the previous post left off. We’re now heading out of southern New Mexico towards the middle and more northern parts of the state.
7. Looking to the mountain of Indigenous education: Greg Cajete
Bernalillo (NM) north of Albuquerque is not a place where we would have stopped of our own accord. But it’s the town where, after a couple of phone calls to make an appointment, Gregory Cajete offered to meet us for lunch. Greg, who is the Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and an Associate Professor in the College of Education, is one of the US’s foremost scholars of indigenous education and Native American epistemology and ethics.
This continues where the previous postleft off. We’re now leaving Los Angeles and southern California to enter the rest of the Southwest – Arizona and New Mexico, mainly.
4. Unsustainable oasis in the Sonoran Desert: Phoenix
Phoenix is routinely displayed in writings and talks about the Southwest as the paradigm of unsustainability – America’s, or even (in the words of Andrew Ross, author of Bird on Fire) “the world’s least sustainable city.” It is located in the northern part of the Sonoran Desert (which extends far to the south into Mexico), on the Salt River upstream from where it merges with the Santa Cruz River to become the Gila River. As you approach the sprawling metropolis from the west, the surrounding landscape of dry sagebrush gradually gives way to a mix of sinister suburban subdivisions and strangely green fields, with beautiful mountains in the background. Phoenix is a gigantic artificial desert oasis, engineered from scratch starting in the 1870s on the very lands that, for four centuries up to the 1250s, harbored the ancient Hohokam civilization with its elaborate irrigation systems.
Before the academic year gets into full swing and I am swallowed up by the maelstrom of daily chores, I wanted to send off this four-part post with my impressions of the second Southwest USA trip that my partner Agnieszka and I took this past summer. It isn’t meant to be a tedious travelogue – nor is it, I hope, the equivalent of the proverbial slide show a distant relative puts you through during a weekend family brunch. Rather, I’d like to record and reflect on certain things about the United States’ past or present that I think might be relevant for all those of us who care about perma-circularity (by that name or any other) and about a lastingly maintained one-planet footprint.
In my previous post, I offered some thoughts about how, in our quest for a perma-circular economy and society, we could learn – or re-learn – from the great cycles of the Earth’s biosphere. In this post, I want to dwell on one of those cycles: the water cycle and, more specifically, the “water wisdom” we might gain from flowing water, in the form of rivers and streams – a wisdom I will call “hydrosophy.” While I live and work in a country blessed with beautiful watercourses and majestic watersheds circumscribed in part by formidable mountains, I couldn’t have written this post if my partner and I hadn’t traveled in the Southwestern United States this past summer and the one before. So I will begin from over there even though, as I am writing, it’s so far away from here… and I’ll end up suggesting that, perhaps, the Southwest’s most iconic river, the Colorado, might be the right place to start on our hydrosophical journey.