Accepted paper:

Elemental violence: military entanglements, toxic waterscapes, and the human appropriation of the Earth's nitrogen cycle

Author:

Siad Darwish (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

Following the nitrogen cycle through space and time, this paper explores the multi-scalar violence of the Anthropocene from the molecular to the planetary.

Paper long abstract:

The Anthropocene is defined by the human appropriation of earth's biogeochemical cycles and the unequal, multi-layered distribution of harm that emanates from this appropriation. Seizure of the nitrogen cycle, which governs plant growth and underlies agriculture, has been achieved through the Haber-Bosch process, which draws atmospheric nitrogen from the air and transforms it into ammonia-based fertilizer. To achieve this near alchemical feat, the Haber-Bosch process breaks a triple chemical bond under forces so immense that they consume about 1% of world's energy. This elemental form of violence reverberates in the military entanglements of the technology and the unequal effects of nitrogen pollution, which results in freshwater eutrophication and the rapid spread of oceanic dead zones across the globe. Following the nitrogen cycle through space and time, this paper explores the multi-scalar violence of the Anthropocene from the molecular to the planetary. Based on historical research on the invention of the Haber-Bosch process and ethnographic research with communities affected by nitrogen pollution in Tunisia, this paper follows chemical relations to link seemingly disparate forms of harm in the age of humans.

panel P35
It's elemental: anthropologies of fundamental things