CANCELLED. The Terror of Soil. Environmental Humanities Lecture
CANCELLED. We hope to bring Libby Robin back at another time in the future.
How does soil intersect with global justice, conservation ideals and changing environmental sensibilities? Environmental historian and museum curator Libby Robin talks about soil in local and global perspectives, in light of the current Australian summer.
Photo: ABC News 20/1/20
Soil grows things at many scales. It can be intimate – under the nails, or expansive – “as far as the eye can see”. Soil arouses passions and works with different logics. Local communities belong to the soil. Wars are fought to defend the soil. Composting is an art-form. Pedology is a science. This talk considers soil both local and global, as it intersects with global justice, conservation ideals and changing environmental sensibilities. Libby Robin comes to Norway from an Australian summer where soil hung thick in the air, curled into smoke and contributed unbreathable particles; where parched soils fostered long-overdue conversations about climate action; where bushfire-damaged soils were washed away in torrential rain.
While soil was once the bedrock of farmers and gardeners, it has become increasingly enfolded into the broader idea of ‘the environment’. Soils themselves are changing the dynamics of ecologies and climates. No longer is there a sense of “improving” soils: rather they are damaged, depauperate, destroyed. There is a new anxiety about the topsoil flying away. When all the elements – earth, air, fire and water – are swirling in the atmosphere, choking your every breath, soil becomes terrifying. There have been dust storms and floods and fires before, but when they all happen at once – a “climate storm” such as Australia experienced in the summer of 2019-2020 – soil is in the clouds, fire is deep in the ground, and waters are muddied by torrents of sludge. Can experiencing climate “weirding” change human behaviour on a national or global scale? Meanwhile can returning to the soil, to gardens, to digging, to composting help us cope with the grief of living in strange times?
Libby Robin is a historian and museum curator, who writes about the Australian environment, art and climate justice, and the humanities and planetary change. She is Emeritus Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, Canberra and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. Her books include The Environment: A History of the Idea (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018, with Paul Warde and Sverker Sörlin) and Curating the Future: Museums, Communities and Climate Change (Routledge Environmental Humanities, 2017, edited with Jennifer Newell and Kirsten Wehner).
The lecture is co-organized by the Anthropogenic Soils Collaboratory, Oslo School of Environmental Humanities.