Accumulation – Yuriko Furuhata – The Nuclear Geopolitics of Anthropogenic Clouds

Accumulation - Yuriko Furuhata - The Nuclear Geopolitics of ...  E-Flux

Accumulation – Yuriko Furuhata – The Nuclear Geopolitics of Anthropogenic Clouds

Clouds and the Uncertainty of Climate Change

Clouds, with their impermanence and ephemerality, play a significant role in the uncertain factors of climate change. The proliferation of anthropogenic clouds, such as airplane contrails, nuclear mushroom clouds, and factory smoke, has contributed to the history of human-induced climate change. These clouds trap heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect, while the rising temperature of the planet dissolves low-hanging stratocumulus clouds that provide shade and cool down the earth’s surface. The complex feedback loop between global warming and clouds makes them one of the most uncertain factors in climate change. This article explores the classification of clouds and the geopolitical implications of cloud atlases in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Classifying Clouds and Knowledge Infrastructures

Clouds, like plants and animals, are classified into genera, species, and varieties based on taxonomic systems. The International Cloud Atlas, published by the World Meteorological Organization, is a renowned publication that sets the international standard for cloud observations. Cloud atlases offer illustrations and classifications for observing and identifying clouds. However, the classification of ephemeral clouds has always been challenging due to their shape-shifting nature. Clouds can easily move between different categories in a matter of seconds, making it difficult to pin down their definitive characteristics. The inclusion of anthropogenic clouds in the natural-historical domain of cloud atlases disrupts their traditional taxonomic practices.

Geopolitics of Cloud Atlases

The inclusion or exclusion of certain types of clouds in cloud atlases can have geopolitical implications. For example, during the Cold War, cloud atlases published by different countries reflected their geopolitical interests. The English edition of the International Cloud Atlas explicitly omitted mushroom clouds resulting from nuclear explosions, while the Japanese Cloud Atlas included them. This omission and inclusion reflect the complex history of geopolitical realignment between Japan and the United States, as well as the impact of nuclear weapons testing on the perception of clouds in the sky. The decision to include or exclude certain cloud photographs raises questions about the ethical considerations and the erasure of historical events.

The Epistemic Violence of Classification

The classification of clouds and the concept of the Anthropocene are deeply intertwined. The categorization of anthropogenic clouds challenges assumptions about nature and raises questions about the classification of humans as the agents of climate change. The category “anthropogenic” is inseparable from questions of human origins and the beginning of the Anthropocene. However, this categorization can also reinforce the exceptionalism of humans as a species. The history of classifying human species itself has been marked by violence and racial hierarchies. The contested beginning date of the Anthropocene further complicates the classification and understanding of human impact on the planet.

Clouds and Geopolitical Realignment

The inclusion of mushroom cloud photographs in cloud atlases highlights the geopolitical realignment in the Pacific region during the twentieth century. The shift from Japanese to American imperialism in the Pacific coincided with the emergence of anthropogenic radiation from nuclear weapons testing, which had devastating effects on the Indigenous people of the Marshall Islands. The accumulation of anthropogenic clouds in the Anthropocene is deeply geopolitical, reflecting the complex history of imperialism and its impact on climate change.

The Uncertainty of Cloud Classification

Cloud classification and the accumulation of anthropogenic clouds in the Anthropocene reveal the epistemic violence of classification and its geopolitical biases. The photographs of mushroom clouds in the Japanese cloud atlas of the 1950s serve as a reminder of the interconnectedness between the epistemic violence of classification and the accumulation of anthropogenic radiation. The classification of clouds and the categorization of the Anthropocene are political acts that shape our understanding of climate change and human impact on the planet.


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