The 1984 Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India continues to be regarded as the “world’s worst industrial disaster,” exposing over half a million people to toxic gases, killing thousands. The legal response to the disaster is nonetheless widely regarded as a failure of justice. Efforts over the last thirty years to build better capacity to govern and reduce industrial risks have also been disappointing. Extending from fieldwork in Bhopal in the early 1990s (when the Bhopal case was before the Indian Supreme Court), Kim Fortun has spent her career trying to understand these failures, and why – particularly since the 1980s – it has been so difficult to make environmental sense. Focusing on both fast and slow disaster (Bhopal and Fukushima, air pollution and epidemic incidence of asthma), as well as on the methodological and political challenges of the environmental health sciences, she has worked to understand environmental problems as cultural, discursive and institutional problems. This, in turn, has provoked her effort to delineate the contours of “late industrialism” as a historical era, and what she has come to think of as analytics for the Anthropocene. This talk will briefly lay out Fortun’s analysis, concerns, and commitments.
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