THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

PLOWSHARES FILM

image of smoke from an explosion

This film is perfect for The Anthropocene, Cabinet of Curiosities Slam for many reasons: 1) The global radioactive signature from atmospheric nuclear tests is one way of dating the start of the Anthropocene (the geological societies are debating this point at we speak). 2) The Plowshares project was an explicit geoengineering effort by Lawrence Livermore scientists and thus is both iconic of the industrial impact on the planet in the 20th century and a cautionary tale about scientific efforts to consciously engineer earth systems. 3) The fallout from Plowshares tests were much higher than anticipated, illustrating the complexity of earth systems as well as the law of unintended consequences in the nuclear/industrial age. 4) Plowshares proposed building a new Panama Canal and tests took place largely on indigenous lands. The overall project created a global backlash against the concept of nuclear engineering, particularly from the global south and indigenous communities, marking a successful public counter-mobilization on public health and environmental terms. 5) The formal promise of the film is to make the earth profitable - unlocking energy and reengineering landmasses for easy transportation - thus it is iconic of the modernist technoscientific projects that created our highly destructive extractive petrochemical economy (the film even proposes a nuclear geological fracking economy). And finally, Plowshares is a 16mm film, and thus is recorded on a petrochemical medium; it is part of the larger extractive oil industry and carbon economy in its essence as well as its content.

In the end, Plowshares documents the transformation of air, water, and land through nuclear detonations marked as "tests" that were actually planetary environmental events. It remains one of the clearest and least apologetic statements ever made for human extractive economic engagement with the planet. It participates in the unprecedented transformation of the global biosphere through energy economies (petrochemical and nuclear) while installing a set of ideas, ambitions, and goals for managing earth systems with an eye not on sustainability but on profit.

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