badly behaved petrostates; a scrying glass
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
It’s another huge news day here on planet earth.
Today is IPCC day, in which the entity continues to outdo itself with bleaker and bleaker warnings for the future—this one being its bleakest yet. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to do…basically anything.
Per Friday’s call to ~hit Russia in the oil and gas~ it seems like BP is pulling out Rosneft, the state-controlled oil company. This is something; if it expedites the process of ending the senseless attack on Ukraine, great. But as Amy Westervelt, climate accountability journo extraordinaire, points out: this doesn’t really mean less oil and gas.
Perhaps more importantly, this is a selective response to conflict. Saudi Arabia, another petrostate, has long been an aggressor in Yemen, a conflict which media has consistently ignored. The fossil fuel industry hasn’t been bothered to change its relationship with Aramco, the Saudi equivalent of Rosneft.
What rises to the top for me here is: the fossil fuel industry calls shots the way major governments might, if they weren’t controlled in some or all parts by that industry. It’d be great to end the conflict in Ukraine soon, and what’s really evident is the need to rapidly disempower the entire fossil fuel industry.
Later today, I’m excited to spend some time reading this interview with Helen Thompson on what’s fueling this century’s global “disorder.” A tidbit:
“Taking the global energy economy as its starting point, Thompson’s book seeks to explain how changing geopolitical dynamics in the fossil fuel industry have destabilized the economic and political systems of Western nations.”
I’ll leave you with some buffalo friends in Yellowstone, the oldest national park where Indigenous people, at “the heart” of conservation, are finally having their voices heard. Here’s to navigating big struggle with those who know those struggles best in the lead.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
“See that silver shine”
Arcade Fire’s debut album Funeral ends with the soothing image of a backseat nap. “I like the peace in the backseat / I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak / I can watch the countryside, I can fall asleep.” But where Funeral is driven by the urge to soothe, to speak honestly, to build new worlds in the wake of disaster, the band’s second album Neon Bible is driven by frustration and fruitless attempts to escape a self-destructive surveillance state.
“I don’t want to see it at my windowsill”
I’ve revisited Neon Bible these past few weeks as a way to process my own reactions to the invasion of Ukraine and *gestures at everything.* The album has a bit of a prophetic quality both in its tone and its uncanny representations of today’s world. The lyrics of opening track Black Mirror call upon the powers of a darkened scrying glass to “tell me where them bombs will fall,” and several lyrics throughout the album call directly to front-of-mind issues. For instance, here’s a few lyrics from my top track, Windowsill:
I don't wanna live with my father's debt
You can't forgive what you can't forget
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more
Set me free! What have you done to me?
I can't breathe! I can't see!
World War III, when are you coming for me?
Been kicking up sparks to set the flames free
The windows are locked now, so what'll it be?
A house on fire, or the rising sea?
When I listen I hear our nested crises, I hear Eric Garner and George Floyd, I hear Putin’s warped reference to “denazifying” Ukraine and am reminded that my genitalia leaves me eligible for a military draft. I hear Greta Thunberg’s speech and the Bronx apartment fire and catastrophic climate change. Neon Bible has often been a kind of sacred text or scrying glass to me, a way to reflect my own thoughts and gain some internal insight.
On these recent listens I think about whether the album’s characters believe escaping their dystopias is futile, or if they even want to escape. In the band’s first album, the characters “crawl out the chimney… and forget all [they] used to know” while their parents cry. But in Neon Bible, despite repeatedly declaring “I don’t want to live in my father’s house no more,” the speaker locks windows and anxiously awaits fire or flood. They seem too afraid or possibly too comfortable in the house they despise to actually leave it behind. Even the refrain of “I don’t wanna see it at my windowsill” speaks to a threat that looms in the distance, causing pain and suffering elsewhere.
This is the sinister nature of the world Neon Bible reflects. Folks either set a Ukrainian flag to their profile picture or critique others for doing so while proposals to expand military budgets in the United States and here in Ireland sail through without critique because we don’t want to see it at our windowsill. We Minneapolitans and New Yorkers march for Black lives over months and then grumble as a re-elected Jacob Frey and a newly-elected Eric Adams cite rising crime in order to double down on racist policing. Why is it easier for me to focus on how war exacerbates the climate crisis than the immediate death and displacement it causes in Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, and elsewhere? As the voice from The Well and the Lighthouse chides, "You fool, now that you know your end is near / You always fall for what you desire or what you fear!"
“hold a mirror up to the world”
To return to the backseat: cars are common in Arcade Fire’s discography, symbolizing both freedom and our dependence on engines of violence. At the end of Funeral, the protagonist laments “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life,” but still prefers to take the backseat and go along for the ride. In Neon Bible, cars promise escape and urge the listener to “keep the car running” while waiting to flee. But in a fossil-driven world, the escape of the open road is illusory; even behind the wheel you’re along for the ride. The album’s actual escape instead lies in “a place where no cars go… between the click of a light and the start of the dream.” It isn’t a place one can physically enter and it's one to which we must all venture alone, but unlike the promise of the car it represents a genuine - if fleeting - escape from a fear that feels like a desire.