Fake news in conservation: Overfishing or over-reacting?

Pan1

Rafael Morais Chiaravalloti

University College London

I started my career as a conservationist in the Pantanal, Brazil. I remember the first thing I heard was that the local fish population was decimated. Some people even called the Paraguay River an empty river. The widespread belief was that the river had been devastated and that it was an area where local people impetuously harvested everything.  As an early career biologist out to save the world, I was easily convinced by the passion behind this crisis portrayal.

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Scarcity, Climate Change and the Construction of Conflict

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-Picture courtesy New York Times

Catherine Clarke

University College London (UCL)

Editor’s Note – Although not explicitly discussing narratives of sustainability, this essay examines the political subversion of climate change discourse from narratives of mitigation and sustainable development to the apolitical rhetoric of military mobilisation. This essay was written in 2014, and as such omits the current humanitarian horrorshow occurring throughout Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, I strongly urge you to examine the climate narratives surrounding these conflicts after reading this piece.

 

A global discourse has emerged, causally linking climate change with conflict. This discourse is employed by a striking array of actors, from national governments, to UN agencies and the military. It is not limited, however, to these powerful institutions – publications from development NGOs, think tanks, policy reports and the media have all bought into this apocalyptic vision, largely outpacing the findings of academic research. As this discourse gains momentum, it is critical to ask who it serves, what other kinds of violence it conceals and who is most vulnerable to its impacts.

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“What is it we are trying to sustain?” – Working towards understanding the ‘Pluriverse’

lime_kiln_lighthouse_by_rj – Picture courtesy of VisitSanJuan.com

Dr. Sara Friend
University of St. Andrews

Nootsack, a place truly set apart from the world I had known. As an island off the northwest coast of America the feelings of remoteness did not necessarily come from this area’s physical distance from central nodes of human activity. At night from North Beach I could see the flickering lights of Vancouver, Canada, with Seattle, Washington, lying about eighty miles to the south as the crow flies. But oceans, borders and the intent of a small community can all be great barriers.

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In Memory of Gill Conquest

Gill

­In Memory of Gill Conquest

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Gill Conquest on May 5, 2017.

Gill was an exceptional researcher and an exceptional person. Her interests were broad-ranging, extending well beyond the academic through performances of traditional stories and pantomimes, to writing plays and science fiction, sailing and playing games, and to music and dancing, all alongside her passionate commitment to developing the interfaces of technology and citizenship to support cultural and ecological diversity. She brought a sense of wonder and fun to all of her activities, embracing new experiences and opportunities at every chance with good humour and enthusiasm.

Gill joined the anthropology department as a Masters student in Anthropology, Environment and Development in 2011. Her masters’ dissertation examined the potential of new technologies to support environmental justice movements lead by indigenous peoples. During her Masters studies 2012, she joined the activities of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) project, and the success of this research led to her recruitment as a PhD student in 2013 to study the ExCiteS supervised by Jerome Lewis and Haidy Geismar. Characteristically, her research project crossed many disciplinary and international boundaries, as she undertook fieldwork with groups of Indigenous peoples in the Congo Basin AND the geographers, computer scientists, and anthropologists working with them to develop mobile applications to address pressing issues that they identified. Working in Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic and DR Congo she examined how different ways for expressing environmental knowledge by disparate groups such as Pygmy hunter-gatherers, forest farmers, commercial loggers and international conservation NGOs could be organised so as to interact more equally to reduce discrimination and biases in representation. Her fieldwork, and the anthropological perspectives she was developing, were groundbreaking; interrogating the idea of a pluriverse and how facilitating and supporting it might translate in anthropological practice, and as digital technologies and tools. She contributed to the development of new ways for presenting these knowledges side by side so that more just and environmentally sound management decisions are made concerning the exploitation of forest people’s land and resources.

Diagnosed with late stage cancer in 2016 Gill approached her illness with dignity, courage and positivity, bringing out the best in the community of friends and family that surrounded her until the end. We want to mark here the significant impact Gill has had on those staff and students lucky enough to have known her in the anthropology department. We will continue to honour her memory with a number of different activities over the upcoming months. In the meantime, our thoughts and condolences are with Gill’s friends and family.

Gill received great support from both the Shine Cancer Support charity, who seek to provide help specifically to young adults diagnosed with cancer, as well as from Macmillan Cancer Support. She had planned to participate in future events to fundraise for them. If you wish to make a donation to either of these charities this can be done here. The family have also requested that donations be given to these charities in lieu of flowers. Finally, family and friends are also planning events in memory of Gill. If you are interested in receiving news of those as they are worked out then please email uniteandconquest@gmail.com.

The Calculable and the Incalculable – A Brief Note on Sustainability and Post-Industrial Identity in the First Quarter of 2017

Eric Boyd

University College London (UCL)

But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”

Ta-Nahisi Coates,

Between The World And Me

“You’re either at the table or on the menu.”

Michael Parr,

Senior Manager of Government Affairs, DuPont

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Performing sustainable agriculture in the Peruvian Amazon

Faure notes from the field

Agathe Faure
MRes Social Anthropology
University College London

I conducted ethnographic fieldwork from May to July 2015 in villages of cacao farmers along the river of Alto Huayabamba, Peruvian Amazonia. Employed by an international company providing environmental services, I was to observe environmental programmes through their local implementation in the area. I quickly realised that the Alto Huayabamba had been the arena of complex dramaturgies.

First covered by cornfields, providing just enough to cover farmers’ basic necessities, the region became a red zone of coca production in the 1960s. According to the U.S. State Department (1991), 200,000 acres of coca were cultivated in the region in 1990, being 40% of the world coca crop. Under growing pressure from the United States, the Peruvian government began a series of U.S. funded coca eradication in the region (Kawell 1995: 405). Alto Huayabamba was left completely depleted, socio-economically and environmentally. National and transnational environmental organisations, orchestrated by USAID, decided to re-construct a profitable space to grow another plant, cacao[1], setting up a new production scenery, in response to global trends of neoliberalised nature. Environment was then built as what Dasgupta (2007) calls “natural capital”, i.e. a resource base for wealth to grow through the dynamics of extracting from, polluting and conserving.

During my fieldwork, I could observe the evolution of environmental conservation towards neoliberal concerns. Environmental programmes there approached conservation as being potentially achieved through the sustainable development of economic markets that are based on in situ biological diversity. These markets were seen to enable the flow of income to reach “poor people” living in biologically diverse places (see West 2006: xii). In turn, these people were to conserve the biological diversity on which the markets they now rely on are based.

Consequently, environmental programmes there created what West (ibid.) calls “conservation-as-development projects”, which assume that environmental conservation can engender economic development for rural peoples, and that what the latter need and want in terms of development is to be met by biodiversity on their lands. The script was clear: in exchange for modernisation and good cacao production, farmers had to take on the role of conservationists in order to justify the market of environmental services now recruiting them.

I first feared that farmers were taking their new parts too seriously, as, during my first weeks there, they seemed to be shaped beyond their discourses, i.e. in their own subjectivities. The analysis of everyday practice in lived experiences however revealed that farmers were actually re-enacting themselves in a place they were themselves actively producing. Fieldwork allowed me to nuance my first judgements. I now agree with Mohan (2001: 164): if inequalities of power in spaces exist, they create hybrid places that those viewed as powerless can actively contribute to produce. Intersections of spaces allow new possibilities for challenging hegemonic power relations (Gaventa 2004: 39). In Alto Huayabamba, the opening of previously closed spaces (corn and coca) has indeed actually contributed to new mobilizations and critical consciousness. Environmental programmes did provide possibilities for transformational change. Environment was then used to construct a socio-political and ecological place, seen as a place of “tranquillity”[2]. Slowly growing, cacao trees allowed farmers to benefit from a socio-economic rebirth and re-create a space of support and security. Farmers were often comparing the strength of trees, the difficulties in growing them and taking care of them through time to how strong they were feeling socially in a new environment of union and cohesion. Cacao trees were depicted as the emblem of “stability”[3]. As opposed to coca plants, growing quickly and easily everywhere, impoverishing soil, giving what people described as “quick money”, cacao trees were environmentally and socially constructive.

Far from merely parroting discourses or acting as ventriloquists, farmers were actually playing their own role in order to benefit socio-economically from a new opened environment. They were using neoliberalised power relations to construct their own place of tranquillity and locality of agricultural communities.

 

Bibilography

Dasgupta, P. (2007) ‘Nature And The Economy’, Journal of Applied Ecology,
44 (3), pp. 475-487.

Gaventa, J. (2004) ‘Towards participatory governance: assessing the
transformative possibilities’. In S. Hickey and G. Mohan (eds) Participation: From tyranny to transformation, London: Zed Books, pp 25-41.

Kawell, J.A. (1995) ‘The Cocaine Economy’ In O. Starn, C. Degregori and R. Kirk (eds) The Peru Reader. History, Culture and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mohan, G. (2001) ‘Beyond Participation: Strategies for Deeper

Empowerment’. In B. Cooke and U. Kothari (eds) Participation: The New
Tyranny? London: Zed Books, pp. 153-67.

U.S. State Department (1991) International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

West, P. (2006) Conservation is our government now: the politics of ecology
in Papua New Guinea. Durham: Duke University Press.

 

Footnotes

[1] a small tropical evergreen tree, which bears cacao seeds, from which cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate are made.

[2] “tranquilidad”

[3] “estabilidad”

Climate Change: War Footing or Peaceful Solidarity?

In recent years, prominent voices in the public sphere have drawn an analogy between climate change and warfare. This has led, for example, to calls for massive, coordinated interventions akin to the Manhattan Project[i] – the Second World War era project which led to the development of the first nuclear weapons – or drawing on British wartime propaganda calling for a ‘war footing’[ii] among the general public to deal with climate change. While not all of those drawing this analogy have explicitly claimed that a Hobbesian ‘Leviathan’ approach is necessary to force cooperative action, the link between State power and climate change was clearly articulated by US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who recently promised supporters that, if elected, she would “make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century”[iii].

The increasing trend to militarise environmental and common pool resource problems has also been criticised from multiple corners[iv]. Some environmental and indigenous rights activists see top down government intervention as an aggressive imposition of the will of those most responsible for climate change upon the lives of those least responsible[v], while conservative voices (at least those who admit the science behind climate change), voice skepticism regarding the efficacy of governmental or inter-governmental institutions to broker and administer a truly global effort. Looking beyond climate change specifically, the militarisation of conservation has been shown to have perverse human rights implications, and in some cases may even cause more ecological harm than good[vi].

On the one hand, the application of military analogies in policy making carries its own risks, misconstruing and simplifying the nature of the problem[vii]. On the other hand, the scale of the problem is such that any real solutions leading to the mitigation of carbon emissions, as well as adaptation to the changes already under way, cut across such a broad array of facets and domains of human affairs[viii] that dealing with them individually may be impossible. As much as the decentralisation of decision-making may appeal in procedural terms, it can be difficult to imagine disconnected, individual initiatives ever leading to a common solution. Further, one could provocatively argue that the exclusion of governance favours ‘the market’ as an inevitable mechanism for resource allocation decision-making.

Authors are invited to engage with the question: Does the challenge of climate change warrant a war footing? If so, who is the enemy?

Read the responses:

 

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