Modernity’s Dirt: Carbon Emissions and the Technique of Life
Under colonialism, the concept of dirt was frequently employed ideologically to make judgements about relative worth. In Africa, a particular European cultural idiom or "technique of life" was presented as superior because of its "cleanliness." This paper is concerned with modernity's "technique of life" at a particular historical moment when, as a result of environmental crisis, it is suddenly called upon to give an account of itself. I undercut modernity's claim to cleanliness by suggesting that what it introduces alongside regimes of order and sanitation is a much more globally destructive form of dirt in the form of increasing carbon dioxide levels. The CAIT Climate Data Explorer is a website that compares carbon dioxide emissions across a range of categories. This paper reads three graphs generated by this website as incomplete figures for making visible modernity's "technique of life." Realist fiction, read as a supplement to the climate graph records, is able to reinvest some of the abstract categories employed by the climate data tool - transport, fugitive emissions and electricity use - with the details that characterise particular techniques of life and to reveal the way they continue to be defined, at this historical moment, by narratives of development and consumption.