August/September 2022 Updates

Dear POLLEN Members and Friends,

It was a dry and hot end of summer in southern Sweden, where the POLLEN Secretariat now resides. Since we skipped the August newsletter, brace yourselves for a two-month newsletter. It is a bit longer than the usual newsletter, but it is full of lots of new content!

Has your POLLEN node NOT been introduced to the rest of the network? If your node is keen to share your work in upcoming newsletters, please write to us at:

politicalecologynetwork@gmail.com

We also welcome proposals for the latest publications, CfPs, and more from our lively community.

With best regards from your POLLEN Secretariat,

Torsten Krause | Mine Islar | Wim Carton | Juan Samper | Lina Lefstad | Fabiola Espinoza | Kelly Dorkenoo

Getting to know your fellow POLLEN members

From next month’s newsletter forward we will continue the monthy practice of getting to know your fellow POLLEN members. If your node is keen to share your work, please do not hesitate to tell us! You can do so by sending us an e-mail to: politicalecologynetwork@acaroldoll

Promoting POLLEN collaboration 

Do you write with other members of POLLEN?
To gain visibility for collaborations across our network, we invite you to consider adding something along these lines to your acknowledgments: 
“This paper represents collaborative work with colleagues in the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN).”

PUBLICATIONS 

Books & Book Chapters

Baruah, M. (2023) Slow disaster: Political ecology of hazards and everyday life in the Brahmaputra Valley, Assam. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Slow-Disaster-Political-Ecology-of-Hazards-and-Everyday-Life-in-the-Brahmaputra/Baruah/p/book/9780367509774

Dunlap, A. & Brock, A. (2022). Enforcing ecocide: Power, policing & planetary militarization. Pallgrave Macmillan. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-99646-8

Gemählich, A. (2022). The Kenyan cut flower industry & global market dynamics. Boydell & Brewer. https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781847012951/the-kenyan-cut-flower-industry-and-global-market-dynamics/

Herbeck, J. & Siriwardane-de Zoysa, R. (2022). Transformations of Urban Coastal Network(s): Meanings and Paradoxes of Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Adaptation in Southeast Asia. In: Misiune, I., Depellegrin, D., Egarter Vigl, L. (eds) Human-Nature Interactions. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-01980-7_6

Ponte, S., Noe, C. & Brockington, D. (2022)
Contested sustainability: The political ecology of conservation and development in Tanzania. Boydell & Brewer. https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781847013224/contested-sustainability/. OPEN ACCESS!

Selby, J., Daoust, G., & Hoffman, C. (2022) Divided environments: An international political ecology of climate change, water, and scarcity. Cambridge University Press. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/divided-environments/0621F20A4464C4E05BF76980BBF25D3F#fndtn-information

Vehrs, H.P. (2022) Pokot Pastoralism: Environmental change and socio-economic transformation in North-West Kenya. Boydell & Brewer. https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781847012968/pokot-pastoralism/

Journal articles 
Godamunne, V. et al. (2022) Shored curfews: Constructions of pandemic islandness in contemporary Sri Lanka. Maritime Studies (21), 209-221 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40152-022-00262-5#citeas

Gonzalez-Duarte, Columba. 2022. Borders of Care: Ethnography with the Monarch Butterfly, American Ethnologist website, 18 May 2022, [https://americanethnologist.org/features/reflections/borders-of-care-ethnography-with-the-monarch-butterfly]

Kass, H., 2022. Food anarchy and the State monopoly on hunger. Journal of Peasant Studies (Ahead of print), 1-20. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2022.2101099?src=

Selby, J. (2022) International/inter-carbonic relations. International Relations (36). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00471178221116015

Siders, A.R., 2022. The adminsitrator’s dilemma: Closing the gap between climate adaptation justice in theory and practice. Environmental Science and Policy (137), 280-289. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901122002714

Voicu, S. & Vasile, M. (2022) Grabbing the commons: Forest rights, capital and legal struggle in the Carpathian Mountains. Political Geography (98). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0962629822001329

Way, R., et al., 2022. Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition. Joule (6), 1-26. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S254243512200410X

Events

Hybrid Roundtable on Agroextractivism

Date: 21st of October 2022

Workshop Topic 

The motivation for this roundtable is to advance the definition and understanding of agro/agrarian extractivisms. We want to have a serious debate on the different nuances and meaning of extractivism, extrativismo (from Brazilian Portuguese), and other variations of the concept that are used in theory and practice. There are four broad guiding questions that will be explored during this roundtable discussion.

  1. How are agroextractivisms defined?
  2. What are the roots (and consequences) of the different language’s uses of the extractivism concept?
  3. What should be included in the definition of extractivism and what should not?
  4. Do the resistance efforts against agroextractivisms differ from resistance and transformative alternatives to other types of extractivisms?

The roundtable features an exciting line-up! We will have an opening greeting by Anja Nygren, University of Helsinki to introduce the event. 

Facilitator: Markus Kröger, Univeristy of Helsinki

Speakers:

  • Sérgio Sauer, University of Brasilia
  • Maria Ehrnström-Fuentes, Åbo Akademi University
  • Alberto Alonso Fradejas, Utrecht University

More speakers to be announced!!

Discussants:

  • Barry Gills, University of Helsinki
  • Franklin Obeng-Odoom, University of Helsinki

Language: The discussion will be conducted in English and simultaneous interpretation will be available in Spanish on Zoom (on Zoom you can choose to listen in Spanish or English). The English discussion and Spanish interpretation will both be recorded and made later available on the EXALT YouTube channel.

Registration: There is no cost to attend either in-person or on Zoom, but registration is required. Please register by October 19 using this form. Please note there is limited space to attend in person.

Please do not hesitate to contact EXALT via e-mail (exalt@helsinki.fi) if you have any questions or need additional information. We look forward to seeing you on October 21, 2022.

Stories from the Anthropos-not-seen

Date: 29th of September 2022

Link: https://ppeh.sas.upenn.edu/events/stories-anthropos-not-seen

Description:

Feminist critiques of the Anthropocene suggest how this name for a new geological time risks uncritical assumption of an unmarked concept of history, humanity, and the geologic record. Native scholars in particular point out that the environmental impacts of settler colonialism have long created a present that their ancestors would have characterized as a dystopian future (Whyte 2018). Historically, countries in the Global South have the smallest carbon footprint, yet today they are on the frontlines of planetary overheating, facing extreme weather, and the increasingly frequent socio-natural disasters endemic to global warming. Black, Indigenous, and diverse communities of the Global South possess practical knowledge and lived expertise of climate change that should be shaping policy, energy transitions, and alternative economic proposals. 

During the 2022-2023 academic year, this four-part conversational series brings feminist philosophers, humanists, and social scientists in dialogue with lawyers, natural scientists, engineers, policy makers, and other transdisciplinary and community-based practitioners.

Curated discussions build on what Marisol de la Cadena (2015) calls the “anthropos-not-seen”: those ways of making and doing life disappeared or marginalized by colonialism and capitalism and further perpetuated by a singular optics of Anthropocene thinking (Myers 2019).  The series introduces conceptual and methodological frameworks that actively expand legal paradigms, foster transdisciplinary collaborations, nurture anti-colonial sciences, and develop participatory-action research praxes. It is designed to listen for the silences and exclusions too often perpetuated even within progressive agendas for climate justice, rights of nature rulings, and citizen science projects. 

Centering ontological diversity and intersectional justice struggles, the series explores proposals and practices that pose renewed questions about the politics of solidarity and alliance-building.

Kristina Lyons, Topic Director 

Bethany Wiggin, Program Director 

Online book talk: Chao, In the Shadow of Palms

Date: 26th of September 2022

Link: https://stavanger.zoom.us/j/65253287040?pwd=UktqOFdkclNGYXZXQURtUmRrTEp1dz09

Description:

With In the Shadow of the Palms, Sophie Chao examines the multispecies entanglements of oil palm plantations in West Papua, Indonesia, showing how Indigenous Marind communities understand and navigate the social, political, and environmental demands of the oil palm plant. As Chao notes, it is no secret that the palm oil sector has destructive environmental impacts: it greatly contributes to tropical deforestation and is a major driver of global warming. Situating the plant and the transformations it has brought within the context of West Papua’s volatile history of colonization, ethnic domination, and capitalist incursion, Chao traces how Marind attribute environmental destruction not just to humans, technologies, and capitalism but also to the volition and actions of the oil palm plant itself. By approaching cash crops as both drivers of destruction and subjects of human exploitation, Chao rethinks capitalist violence as a multispecies act. In the process, Chao centers how Marind fashion their own changing worlds and foreground Indigenous creativity and decolonial approaches to anthropology.

Feminisms and degrowth workshop

Date: 14th-16th of October 2022

Where: Lund University

Preliminary programme: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gGRg1Q4-Xu68GaV6m1_4H0Wu_lFoMB9Qy8Jd8M8rgYs/edit

Registration: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=lICmegRhpkG0Q9S1JFH2Fw3gr-Z7Q4tIlUqc9U2LEqFUOVdTNVpZRlJYVE9SN0w3SlJMWVZGTDZZOS4u

 
Conference: Decolonizing geograpjy and environmental studies?

Date: 6th-7th of October 2022

Info: https://www.unil.ch/igd/decolonizing-geography-and-environmental-studies

Vacancies
Call for three (four) PhD positions in the Medical Humanities graduate programme at Uppsala University

Deadline
: 7th of October 2022

The graduate programme in Medical Humanities at Uppsala University will commence in January 2023, involving five PhD studetns with interdisciplinary projects relating to Medical humanities. The PhD students will have supervisors from both the medical and humanistic/social science desciplinary domains, and will be affiliated to and receive support from the Centre for Medical Humanities through the graduate programme.

More info: https://www.idehist.uu.se/news/?tarContentId=1019894

PhD position the University of Oulu’s (Finland) Biodiverse Anthropocenes Research Programme.

Deadline: 6th of October 2022

More info: https://rekry.saima.fi/certiahome/open_job_view.html?did=5600&lang=en&id=000013883&jc=1

PhD position at the Marine Governance Group at Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (Odenburg, Germany).

Deadline: 22nd of September 2022

More info: https://recruitingapp-5442.de.umantis.com/Vacancies/1123/Description/2

Post-doc position with IRD/G-EAU (France)_Cambodia hydrosocial territories

Deadline: 30th of September 2022

More info (in French):https://www.ird.fr/post-doctorat-etudier-les-transformations-des-territoires-socio-hydrologiques-du-haut-delta-du

Tenure-track position –  Associate professor in Development Geography at Mount Holyoke College.

Deadline: 1st of October 2022

More info: https://careers.mtholyoke.edu/en-us/job/493052/assistant-professor-of-geography

Social Science Researcher at University of Oregon Ecosystem Workforce Programme (Job type: Permanent)

Deadline: Until filled – Reviews started September 2022

More info: https://www.conservationjobboard.com/job-listing-social-science-researcher-eugene-oregon/4499681185

Two tenure-track Asst. Prof. in Environmental Studies positions at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Deadline: Until filled – Reviews begin 1st of October 2022

More info:https://apply.interfolio.com/112034 & https://apply.interfolio.com/112030

Tenure-track position in Latinx Studies with a focus on Afro-Latinx issues and social movements at the Latin American Studies Program of Bucknell University

Deadline: Review of applications will begin 15th of October 2022

More info:https://careers.bucknell.edu/cw/en-us/job/497165/tenuretrack-position-in-latinx-studies-with-a-focus-on-afrolatinx-issues-and-social-movements

Calls for Papers/Applications/etc.
CfPapers: Understanding the embeddedness of individuals within the larger system to support the energy transition

Deadline: Abstract submission to  katharina@biely.net by 31st of October 2022

More info:https://resource-cms.springernature.com/springer-cms/rest/v1/content/23402504/data/v1

CfPapers: Climate, justice, and the politics of emotion – A symposium at University of California, Riverside

Deadline: 1st of October 2022

More info:https://www.asle.org/calls-for-papers/climate-justice-and-the-politics-of-emotion/

CfPapers: Land and sustainable food transformations – Elementa special issue

Deadline: 14th of January 2023

More info:https://online.ucpress.edu/elementa/pages/land_and_sustainable_food_transformations

CfProposals: 3rd European Rural Geographies Conference in Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadlines:
– Call for session proposals: Mid-October
– Call for papers: Mid-December
– Paper submission: Mid-January
– Acceptance of papers: Early to mid-February

Short description:

The conference themer is Rural Geographies in Transition. Rural aereas in Europe are under increasing and intersecting pressures, but many of these areas seem to be resilient. The landscapes, the actors, the uses, the challenges, and how the rural is produced and reproduced, are all changing rapidly. This brings forward new research questions and asks for new approaches, both in term sof theoretical perspectives and in terms of empirics, on topics such as Population Developments, Socio-spatial Inequalities, Governance and Policies, Economic Challenges, Quality of Life, Smart Villages, Landscape transitions, Rural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Transformations, Rural Housing, Energy Transitions, and Climate Change Adaptation.

More info: https://www.ruralgeo2020.nl/

CfProposals: 10th East Asian Regional Conference in Alternative Geography

Deadline: 22nd of September 2022 (Very soon!)

Short description:

In this year’s conference, we invite world-class scholars as keynote speakers, including Roger Keil (York University), Tania Li (University of Toronto), Timothy Oakes (University of Colorado), Jamie Peck (University of British Columbia), James Sidaway (National University of Singapore) and Branda Yeoh (National University of Singapore). There are also a series of fascinating sessions organized from researchers arouns different disciplines and regions. The session topics include:
– Post-covid geography: Inequality of health, mobility and security
– Hong Kong after the National Security Law
– Geographies of Smart-Led Regeneration: Perspectives from the Global South
– Digital and Geo-Political transformations of cities
– Migration of “somewhere in between” in East Asia
– Redefining “Geo” in geopolitics

More info:https://sites.google.com/view/earcag2022/session-topics?authuser=0

CfProposals: 35th Annual Political Geography Speciality Group Preconference to the 2023 AAG Annual Meeting

Deadline: 10th of January 2023

More info: http://www.politicalgeography.org/pre-conference/

CfProposals: New directions in popular culture and geography at AAG

Deadline: 1st of October 2022

Short description:

Over the past several years, popular culture has made its presence increasingly felt across the field of Geography. In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency – alongside the ascendancy of other ‘pop culture’ icons to the status of world leaders (e.g. Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Imran Khan) – the role of popular culture demands ever greater attention in the field. The rising importance of deterritorialized, user-friendly platforms for content creation such as TikTok, alongside the proliferation of imaginary worlds shaped and sustained by conspiracy theories(theorists such as QAnon, are just two prevalent examples of popular culture’s impact on space, place, and power across the globe. Elsewhere, pressing geopolitical concerns of our world are increasingly present in popular media products; likewise, contemporary debates around bodies, identities, and ideologies are evermore reflected in ‘new’ geographies of existing pop-culture imaginaries, from the alt-right discourses of DC’s The Peacemaker and gender politics of Marvel’s She-Hulk to the racialization of reception of the recent iterations of the Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and other fantasy/franchises. Consequently, such ‘safe spaces’ – as redoubts from the so-called ‘real world’ – are being increasingly compromised by globalized social media practices.

More info: Robert A. Saunders (robert.saunders@farmingdale.edu), Darren Purcell (dpurcell@ou.edu), and Katrinka Somdahl (somdahl-sands@rowan.edu).

CfChapters: From legacies of extraction to environmental health governance

Deadline: 10th of October 2022

Short description:

Vernon Press invites chapter proposals for the volume entitled “From Legacies of Extraction to Environmental Health Governance: Collaborative Research and Responses to the Impacts of Mining among Indigenous Communities”, edited by Thomas A. De Pree, Valoree Gagnon, and Jessica Worl.

More info: TADepree@salud.unm.edu

CfAbstracts: 18th Annual Conference of The International Association for the Study of Environment, Space and Place in Hochschule Pforzheim (Pforzheim, Germany).

Deadline: 1st of February 2023

Short description:

Human beings work with, alter, and manipulate their environments, transforming ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’ space into a place designed to meet specific needs or goals. The scale and type of manipulation of environments depend on whether the agent is an individual, family, or larger community and on goals and intentions. Over the course of time, some designed environments become obsolete, are repurposed, or are simply built over. For example, the ancient city of Trow has nine archaeological layers dating from 3600 BCE to 500 CE. Further, designs can be communal – e.g open source codes allow and encourage individuals to add to code to improve performance – or open-ended, enabling others to fill in the ‘blank’ space in a design.

More info: Jodie Hayob-Matzke at jhayob@umw.edu.

Other news items

Just Stop Oil:A long video of what seems to be the cutting edge of climate activism in the UK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUTiAfrNn7o

Green Anarchy and Eco-socialism: A discusssion with Benjamin Sovacool and Matt Huber, facilitated by Alexandra Koves. Youtube recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-yTZK2X_1M&feature=youtu.be

Documentary “The Territory”: Provides an immersive look at the tireless fight of Amazon’s Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people against the encroaching deforestation brought by farmers and illegal settlers. https://films.nationalgeographic.com/the-territory

(Hyperlink fixed!) These are the new members of the POLLEN Secretariat 2022-2024

In mid-August LUCSUS (Lund University’s Centre for Sustainability Studies) became the new home of POLLEN’s Secretariat. We present you the eight people who will be actively involved with the duties of the Secretariat:

New POLLEN Secretariat (from left to right): Juan Samper, Kelly Dorkenoo, Torsten Krause, Fabiola Espinoza, Lina Lefstad, Mine Islar & Wim Carton

Torsten Krause: Torsten is a Senior lecturer at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, Sweden. His research involves the fields of forestry and forest governance, conservation science, traditional ecological knowledge, ethno-biology, and environmental justice. He is part of the MaCoBioS project (https://macobios.eu/) on Marine Coastal Ecosystems, Biodiversity and Services in a Changing World. MaCoBios is a four-year project funded by the EU H2020. Its main objective is to ensure efficient and integrated management and conservation strategies for European marine coastal ecosystems to face climate change. He is also part of the new 3 year BiodivERsA project EPICC (funded through FORMAS in Sweden) with a focus onEnvironmental Policy Instruments across Commodity Chains Multilevel governance for Biodiversity-Climate in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia. Within EPICC I will study gold and cattle commodity chains in Colombia.

Mine Islar: Mine Islar is an associate professor at LUCSUS. She obtained her PhD degree in sustainability science. Her expertise is on transformative governance, social and environmental justice as well as collective action towards sustainability in both urban and rural settings. Apart from this, she also acts as a scientific expert in UN Intergovermental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services (IPBES) as a Lead Author (2017-2020) for  policy tools and instruments for the Values Assessment and Global Assessment of Biodiversity where she leads a section on governance challenges of SDGs with a special focus on SDG7 goal on energy and its potential implications on biodiversity.

Wim Carton: Wim is a Human Geographer with a background in Development Studies, International Relations and History. His main academic objective is to help understand society-nature relations, and how these are changed and articulated through various sustainability challenges. His primary research focus is on the political ecology of climate change mitigation in carbon forestry and agriculture, and related discussions on negative emissions in climate policy. His current research centers on the politics, political economy and political ecology of climate change mitigation, with a particular focus on negative emissions / carbon removal. The research projects that I am part of for example study the politics of modelling negative emissions in integrated assessment models; the assumptions underpinning projections of large-scale carbon removal; the extent and form in which these are being taken up by policy makers in different countries; and the various narratives and imaginaries about negative emissions that are being produced by corporations, policy makers and in civil society.

Kelly Dorkenoo: Kelly is a Ph.D Candidate at LUCSUS. Her doctoral research focuses on the differentiated socio-economic and ecological impacts from extreme weather events associated with climate change, and how they affect people and society. In particular, she explores the occurrence of disproportionality or disproportionate losses and damages and their relationship with socio-economic development processes. Kelly holds undergraduate degrees in international business administration from Montpellier Business School and applied economics from Paris South XI; and a master’s degree in environmental management and policy from the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University.

Fabiola Espinoza: Fabiola is a doctoral student at LUCSUS. Her research takes place in the context of the MaCoBioS (Marine Coastal Ecosystem Biodiversity and Services in a Changing World) project. The aim of the project is to fill the knowledge gaps on the inter-relation between climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem services to ensure an efficient and integrated management and conservation strategies for European Marine Coastal Ecosystems (MCE) to face climate change. MaCoBioS will study three ecoregions with different climates.She holds an undergraduate degree in biology with a specialization in fisheries management from the National University of San Marcos and a master’s degree in environmental science, policy, and management from the Central European University. Prior joining LUCUS, Fabiola was working as a fisheries and finance consultant at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Additionally, she worked on marine protected area management in Peru

Lina Lefstad: Lina is a Ph.D Candidate at LUCSUS. Her doctoral research is about the imaginaries of carbon capture and storage in Scandinavia. She has an interdisciplinary background with a degree in International Business Management from the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, and a MSc in Ecological Economics from the University of Leeds. She is working towards driving change through, among other things, her role as a core member of the Post Growth Institute, the activist-researcher platform “DegrowthTalks” and as an elected coordination committee member of the Post Growth Economics Network. Lina is interested in degrowth, post-growth and equity in just socio-ecological transformations.

Juan Samper: Juan is a Ph.D Candidate at LUCSUS, where he investigates the symbolic and material elements of the defense of the territory in the Colombian Amazon. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Law from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Bogotá, Colombia) and a master’s degree in environmental studies and sustainability science from Lund University. Prior to his doctoral research, Juan conducted ethnographic research in the Andean-Amazonic region of Putumayo, Colombia, and policy analysis of climate politics focused on Green New Deals.

How EU public money finances environmental sacrifice: A call for change

By Alexander Dunlap

 This is a lightly edited and expanded testimony made at the European Parliament PETI Hearing, “Environmental and Social Impacts of Mining Activity in the EU,” on December 2, 2021. It confronts the European Commission for publicly funding practices organized to persuade publics to accept mining operations. This funding stream, it is argued, should be re-directed to degrowth research and development schemes.

I want to frame this intervention by stating something obvious, but largely neglected in public policy. While this hearing is about mining today, it is really about the unrestrained industrial production, consumption and profiteering that generates enormous energy and material needs. This includes the production and rapid spread, and profiteering, of additional low-carbon infrastructures dependent on iron ore, aluminum, copper, rare earth elements and more. Modernist infrastructures and consumerism necessitates more mines, larger tailing dams, waste dumps, transportation logistics and smelting plants that have severe ecological impacts and are among the main contributors enabling and propelling the current climate catastrophe. We should not speak past the root cause of the current socio-ecological problem, which also serves to justify the expansion of mines for electric vehicles and low-carbon infrastructures.

I have studied copper mining in Peru and a coalmining in Germany, the latter research lead by Dr. Andrea Brock. Likewise, I have also conducted research on the socio-ecological impacts of wind turbines, large-scale energy transformers and high-tension power lines in Mexico, France, Catalonia and Spain.

Figure 1: Presentation Power Point Slide 3.

Now that we have heard about the insufficient ecological standards of mining in the EU and their impacts (see figure 1 & 2), let me focus on the social impacts of mining and infrastructure projects (see figures 3, 4 & 5).

Buying the Social License to Operate (SLO)?

While extraction and infrastructure companies claim to generate employment and social development, in reality these claims are often grossly overstated—especially with the rise of automation and digitization. Likewise, there are profound psychosocial impacts on people that are rarely acknowledged in public policy, such as socio-cultural change from project development, long-term landscape degradation, technological integration and changing labor regimes. This raises the question: what does “social acceptance” or gaining a “social license to operate” really entail?

The general idea is that by gaining approval for mining or infrastructure projects from the local or regional population, companies can minimize conflict, create mutual social benefits and, most of all, prevent unexpected costs, delays and maintain a steady profit stream from a given project. This, in actuality, is a negotiation process attempting to persuade people to give up their local environments, collective resources and, it many instances, their livelihoods. Social acceptance and corporate social responsibility schemes attempt to organize the sacrifice of ecosystems to enclosure, privatization and extraction to create manufacturing materials to be bought and sold on national and transnational markets. Frequently, this also involves writing off basic rights, such as informed public participation, and the duty to report environmental offences and crimes of corruption associated with mining and infrastructure projects.

People recognize extractive impositions as attacks on where they live, and as processes of unequal exchange. This is apparent by watching people with closer connections to their environments, who value the quality of water, air, food and social relationships where they live. Research has shown, contrary to the easy claims of the Not in My Backyard “syndrome,” that people recognize extractive impositions as being connected not only to environmental degradation and corruption but also to wider patterns of consumerism, profiteering and unsustainable urban lifestyles. The causal connection between mining and large-scale infrastructure projects with capitalism and climate change are all too apparent.

Gaining a social license to operate for mining, or corresponding infrastructure projects, leads us to believe that environmental justice is occurring through inclusion in project planning and decision making; equitable social development; and maintenance of the highest ecological standards. Yet, in reality, everything is done by companies to avoid addressing the hard scientific realities of water, air and soil contamination, land–use changes, the impacts on flora, fauna, existing social fabrics and governance practices. The EU, as Dr. Emmerman just reminded us, has lower environmental standards and mining regulations than four Latin American countries (e.g. Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru). Not to forget, mining is used for generating more profit and, in the case of wind and solar panels, privatizing common resources to extract more kinetic energy. More still, companies are designing “social license” standards that are voluntary and with minimal public oversight or enforcement. The EU, even more than other countries, foots the bill for this maneuvering, already convinced these activities are ‘green’, ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’. This is nothing short than insanity.  

Figure 2. Power Point Slide 4, the Hambach Coalmine. Source: Perschke

Welcome to the Social Engineering of Extraction

At this point, the real issue emerges. Social license to operate, in actuality, is a weapon to control land and people, degrading ecosystems and generating profit. Take the Hambach forest coalmine (shown above), which resembles systematic attributes we can find in mining projects all over Europe, like the proposed lithium mines of Cáceres in Spain, Covas do Barroso in Portugal, or Jadar in Serbia.

Figure 3. Power Point Slide 5, RWE CSR initiatives.

In Germany, mining and energy major RWE, found various ways to sponsor politicians, town halls, and police departments. The company built coal mining museums, created bar-restaurants that celebrate mining (Terra:Nova), organized festivals and sponsored schools. They even hired ecologists to manage (required) ecological reclamation schemes, which claim ecological degradation and ancient forests eradication can be compensated using environmental ‘offset’ schemes. In Spain, Portugal, and Serbia, populations are confronted with massive public relations campaigns by Infinity Lithium, Savannah Resources, and Rio Tinto. Yet these companies ignore public risks, as Dr. Emerman has already shown us. The social response to such plans is usually branded as the uninformed opinion of a few. While this sounds innocent, it is far from it.

Figure 4. Power Point Slide 6.

This approach to obtaining a social license to operate is public relations or, more accurately, propaganda—nothing objective by any honest standard—which works to pre-empt local economic, social and ecological concerns through discursive manipulation, money, gifts and token social development. This includes setting up astroturf groups or proxy-NGOs, such as “Our region—our future” in Germany or “Mineros Touro-O Pino” in Galicia, Spain.

Figure 5. Power Point Slide 7. Terra Nova coal mining tourism site.

In Germany, Peru and elsewhere, company representatives—formally and informally—walk door-to-door, make speeches at public events or schools, companies dispense money, roll out an entire public relations apparatus. Yet these efforts to win over the public are also matched by the deployment of armed forces, whether local police or private security, to ensure local submission to ecological extraction and business as usual. These efforts display slow and long-term attempts, which erode people’s critical facilities, their ability and—and more so—their willingness to identify and report corruption and ecological damage created by the mine.  My research, and others, have demonstrated how this maneuvering closely mimics military manuals and population-centric counterinsurgency tactics deployed to occupy foreign countries.

This does not only happen in particular sites, but is systemically encouraged by the European Commission. In its 2020 Communication on “Critical Raw Materials Resilience” it identified “public acceptance” as one of four major challenges while its 2021 Raw Materials Scoreboard actually lists and recommends many of the methods used in Hambach to mitigate reactions to mining:

Tailings dam failures, chronic pollution, and fatal accidents are abrupt drivers of opinion. Changing public opposition to passive tolerance or active support requires a lot of persistent effort. Public relation campaigns, transparent stakeholder dialogues, cultural heritage (mining museums, local heritage ceremonies) may help develop positive public opinion (p. 27).

Horizon 2020 funding scheme, hosted by the European Commission, seeks to support research relevant to Europe. The Horizon 2020 grant scheme, however, has and continues to fund ‘soft’ counterinsurgency initiatives designed to enforce mining and industrial production—regardless of the ecological and climate catastrophe slowly taking place as we speak. Think about the “Vectors to accessible critical raw materials” (VECTOR) or the controversial “Mining and Metallurgy Regions of EU” (MIREU) research initiatives. The latter meanwhile admitted that key parts of their results do not comply with scientific standards.

Counterinsurgency is about capturing the ‘hearts’ and ‘minds’ of local populations, working by every means to pre-empt potential resistance. This is attempted by buying the support of local leaders; popularizing corporate science; distributing t-shirts and inundating entire regions with multi-media advertisements;  sponsoring sports clubs and events; organizing school visits and creating “educational’ materials with a distorted vision of mining. This social engineering initiatives promote a surreptitious vision that mining is good for their lives and the environment.   This, on the flipside, entails the criminalizing resistance and allowing violent action to be carried out against concern citizens.

Figure 6. Power Point Slide 9, Protests in Spain and Portugal against mining.

Take for example, the arson attacks carried out to intimidate locals protesting the EU funded San Finx tin and tungsten mine in Spain. In the name of ecological and climate policy, the EC must stop criminalizing land defense activities.

In her 2019 mission letter to Thierry Breton from Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the importance of strengthening “the link between people and the institutions that serve them”. She also stated that: [And I quote] “A stronger relationship with citizens starts with building trust and confidence. I will insist on the highest levels of transparency and ethics for the College as a whole. There can be no room for doubt about our behaviour or our integrity.”  

Meanwhile the Commission, the last five years, has allocated over 100M€ to over a dozen of Horizon2020 projects with objectives of both researching and at the same time influencing social acceptance of domestic raw material extraction. This includes mapping civic actors and campaigning at primary schools. All of the projects consortia have rejected NGO requests to disclose their public funding agreements, referring to “commercially sensitive information.” The European Commission has endorsed this activity in all cases, negating a public interest in disclosure and transparency. The Commission, moreover, has nearly financed 30 “Wider Society Learning” projects through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) RawMaterials, with a similar objective of “building the social license” and to “achieve society acceptance” by targeting NGO’s or initiating social engineering efforts against citizens through schools and museums.  The European commission must stop the various funding streams aimed at social engineering extraction in or outside the EU in order to comply with its own standards of ethics and transparency.

Conclusion: Stop Green Washing and Reallocate Funds

Equally alarming as these insidious and repressive maneuvers are the attempts at justifying this mining by calling it “green”, “environmentally friendly”, “responsible” or the even more preposterous “sustainable.”  There is nothing ecologically sustainable about these projects, except the green 100€ notes backing and being made from these projects. The low-carbon infrastructures necessitating mining, fossil fuels, chemical leaching, smelting, manufacturing and operation are an expansion of ecologically destructive projects that are being added to the existing energy mix of coal, gas, nuclear and hydroelectric dams.  Carbon accounting is not enough for understanding ecological and climate catastrophe. Life cycle assessments are not enough for understanding the real socio-ecological harms of low-carbon technology supply webs. This money used to pacify conflict in favor of ecological and climate catastrophe must be put into actually trying to mitigate and remediate ecological destruction, not renewing and extending it. Research funds should be urgently dedicated to developing degrowth and post-economic growth strategies so the European Commission can actually start taking environmental policy seriously. Members of parliament, this destructive socio-ecological trajectory must be derailed and transformed immediately.

The final showdown – ZAD Rhineland vs RWE, Germany

By Andrea Brock

A small earth wall separates the tiny village of Lützerath from the enormous diggers operating in Garzweiler II, one of three opencast lignite coal mines operated by energy company RWE in the German Rhineland. Lignite is a type of heavy coal that is extracted and burnt locally.

The mine is 235 metres away and coming closer every day. A number of houses in Lützerath have already been torn down, the area covered with gravel, grass, and some wildflowers. It is hard to imagine that people lived here just a couple of years ago. Other houses are fenced off, with RWE security in front, twenty-four hours a day. Most people have long left the area, have been resettled, or moved away.

But one farmer is holding out. Eckhard Heukamp is challenging the imminent eviction from his farm in the courts, arguing that the coal mining plans from the 90s should no longer allow for continued extraction, in the light of climate change and coal phaseout. He was already displaced once, 15 years ago – his farm in Borschemich demolished, the land long dug up. Now he is fighting for his parents’ house and farm, which dates back to the 18th century.

He is not alone – citizens initiatives and groups are organising regular demonstrations, events, and a permanent vigil at the edge of the village facing the mine. Activists set up a permanent occupation on Heukamp’s land – the ZAD Rhineland. The term ZAD comes from the French Zone à défendre – a militant occupation to stop big development projects. The most well-known ZAD is probably the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes that stopped a new airport being built near Landes, France and famously resisted militarised eviction by the French state.

The ZAD Rhineland was set up to defend Lützerath against RWE and police, and to stop coal extraction in the Rhineland. People are ready to put their bodies in the way in what might be the final showdown, the decisive battle. “If Lützerath stays, they won’t be able to get to the next five villages”, someone tells me. “But it will be hard”.

Some of the defence structures built by ZAD Rhineland

We spend all day building defence structures. Treehouses, barricades, lock-ons, and towers are popping up everywhere. People are giving climbing workshops and sharing blockading skills, discussing police repression and state violence, building up solidarity structures and a new kitchen, plotting and planning for day X – when RWE come to cut trees or police show up to evict the camp.

The last big eviction in the Rhineland – the eviction of Hambacher Forst in 2018, which was recently declared illegal –lasted 5 weeks before it was stopped by the courts. Thousands of police officers were brought in, but many more people came to defend the forest. Police were heavily criticised for the brutality with which they treated activists and the little regard for their safety. One journalist died during the police operation, many activists ended up in precarious and unsafe situations.

Brutal repression of protests is happening all over Germany– only last year, during the eviction of the Dannenröder forest in central Germany, a protester was seriously injured when he fell four meters from a tripod after police officers had cut the safety rope which held the tripod in place. The occupation was set up to stop another ecologically destructive infrastructure project – the new A49 motorway. Another protester, Ella, was sentenced to over 2 years in prison for allegedly injuring a police officer during the eviction – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The collaboration between police and private security services in the Rhinish coal mining area has been well documented; repression, criminalisation and violence go hand in hand. Few companies are as powerful as RWE, structurally entrenched in the local political economy, and protected by German police forces who frequently act as private security. Many villages and towns are themselves RWE shareholders, and numerous politicians on RWE’s payroll. Already in 1979, the German news magazine Spiegel warned: “Unrivalled and barely manageable, RWE is ruling over one of the largest monopolies of the Western world”.

Today, Europe’s largest emitter continues to lobby for continued lignite coal mining, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Successfully – the German government’s coal phase-out is set for 2038, much too late. Meanwhile, RWE is suing the Netherlands for 1.4 billion euro compensation for phasing out coal by 2030.

As the COP negotiations in Glasgow have ended, with a final agreement that allows for the continued extraction of coal, people in the ZAD Rhineland know that it’s up to them – to all of us – to stop climate catastrophe.

It might well be that this time, too, the courts will rule that the eviction of Luetzerath is illegal – the court ruling might come any day. But by then, and even if Eckhard Heukamp’s land is saved, thanks to his action and the fight of so many people who have stood up against RWE for decades, many trees will have already been cut, land dug up, too many villages destroyed.

It is windy at the edge of the mine where I’m sitting – ever since RWE cut down the trees that once protected the village, I am told. And yet, the windmills next to the mine are not moving – the power grid is overloaded, they continue – too much wind, and coal power stations take too long to switch on and off.

The digger keeps moving towards us, ruthlessly. The power stations in the background keep burning coal, generating electricity for a system that requires abundant cheap energy to power endless growth, to generate profit for those in power, at enormous ecological and social costs.

The ZAD Rhineland shows that a different system is possible – a system that operates on the basis of solidarity, not competition; of degrowth, not growth; on climate justice, not green capitalism. It gives hope and motivation to keep fighting against coal and for abolishing the mechanisms that protect coal. True sustainability needs not just an end of coal, but the abolishing of the mechanisms that enforce coal interests – police, security, prisons – and of the economic and political system they are part of. Joining the ZAD Rhineland is a good place to start this fight. Whether you want to build barricades, defend a treehouse, or cut veggies – please join, if you can. Everybody counts. More infos here.

Note that the original post can be found here: https://www.thecanary.co/opinion/2021/10/12/people-are-preparing-for-a-final-showdown-to-stop-coal-extraction-in-the-german-rhineland/

Courting justice: when legal challenges to corporate land grabs go wrong

Contributed by: Sango Mahanty, Jean-Christophe Diepart and Sarou Long

In July 2021, a French court ruled against a group of Indigenous Bunong farmers from Mondulkiri in Northeastern Cambodia. Represented by French Laywer Fiodor Rilov, and with civil society support, the group accused the French Bolloré Group and their subsidiary company, Compagnie du Cambodge (controlled by Socfinasia) of illegal land seizures and the wanton destruction of Bunong sacred forests and their way of life. The disputed land consists of agricultural concessions granted by the Royal Government of Cambodia in 2008 and 2010 to Socfin-KCD (a joint venture of Cambodian company Khao Chuly Development and Socfinasia). Court cases of this kind are familiar to Socfin, who has faced similar complaints in Africa.

The outcome was striking not only for the ease with which the court dismissed the case, but also for the unprecedented requirement that the Bunong plaintiffs pay Euro 20,000 in reparations to Bolloré and its Cambodian subsidiary. In light of recent discussions on the potential and constraints of legal activism, we aim here to highlight entrenched structural factors that can hinder communities in legal challenges to corporate land grabs.

The political and economic power of corporate actors like Bolloré and Socfin run deep. Established in the early 1900s, Socfin (Société Financière des Caoutchoucs) played a key role in mobilising European capital to French Indochinese frontiers to develop rubber plantations. As a holding company, Socfin then designated these lands to various subsidiaries for development – a pattern that served to complicate regulation of these corporate actors and their landholdings even in colonial times. The Compagnie du Cambodge cited in this court case was one such subsidiary and shares Socfin’s colonial origins. The high-level connections of companies like Socfin were central to their economic success. In one example cited by French economist Charles Robequain (1944), when Socfin’s Adrien Hallet arrived in French Indochina 1910 he quickly gained agreement from the Colonial administration to mark off ten square kilometres of forest on the Cochinchina-Cambodia border for future development into rubber. In a mark of Hallet’s influence, “the border was pushed back a little” to accommodate this land grant.

Socfin: a key rubber investor from French Indochina to contemporary Cambodia

Socfin-KCD’s lease of the three Mondulkiri concessions at the heart of the current legal case similarly gained easy government approvals, given KCD’s connections with Cambodian political leaders. These include the concessions known as Varanasi (2,705 ha, granted in 2008), Sethikula (4,273 ha, granted in 2010) and Covyphama (5,345 ha, granted in 2008). In Cambodia, government approvals for plantation investments by domestic companies routinely avoid the consultation, environmental and social assessment requirements of the Sub-Decree on Economic Land Concessions, as well as the national environmental impact assessment guidelines. The involvement of European finance might have invoked international safeguards if investors had sourced funds from the IFC or from banks that subscribe to the Equator Principles, but Socfin’s annual reports suggest that it used other sources of finance for this purpose.  

With Cambodian due-diligence procedures by-passed and in the absence of formal international safeguards, Socfin’s operations were only subject to ‘soft laws’ such as the OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and to the company’s own voluntary corporate social responsibility principles. Socfin explains on its website that the company voluntarily follows a range of international performance standards (World Bank, RSPO Principles, and the Sustainable Natural Rubber Initiative) and also “adheres scrupulously” to national land ownership and environmental legislation. Yet many countries where the company invests, Cambodia included, are settings where land rights, environmental laws and human rights are routinely flouted.

Socfin has become a visible target for community anger, but there are complex financial relationships between companies at play in this case, echoing the opaque colonial financial networks mentioned earlier. Socfinasia is the key company in the Socfin-KCD joint venture. Registered on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, Socfinasia is a subsidiary company owned by Socfin (58%) and the Bolloré Group (22%). The Bollore group also owns the Compagnie du Cambodge mentioned in this case, and 39% of the share in Socfin. These intricate corporate relationships can serve to muddy the lines of accountability.

The French legal case addresses this corporate accountability issue. Rilov observed that the Bunong case would be the first in France against a parent company for actions overseas by a subsidiary, although such cases had been heard in the US and the UK. In reflecting on the challenges of mounting such a cross-jurisdictional legal case, he noted the important facilitating role of international and Cambodian actors such as Global Witness, British legal firm Leigh Day, the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA) and Cambodian lawyer Sek Sophorn. It was through these connections and relationships that Rilov ultimately developed the case with a group of 80 Bunong farmers against Socfin-KCD and the Bolloré Group for their loss of vital income and sacred forests.

The court ruled the Bunong case inadmissible on the grounds that none of the plaintiffs held title documents to prove their personal right to use the land, and for their alleged delays in submitting documentation. This emphasis on individual land titles is at odds with the customary and collective land tenure system that governs land access in Bunong communities. Yet, the Cambodian legal framework does recognise Indigenous Peoples’ rights to possess land and to use forest products (Civil Code; the 2001 Land Law and the 2002 Forestry Law). In particular, the 2009 sub-decree #83 under Cambodia’s Land Law enables formal recognition of lands where Indigenous people have cultural ties and that they have traditionally used for forest products and shifting cultivation.

The court might have been satisfied if the Bunong plaintiffs held a communal land title (CLT) for the contested areas under the 2009 sub-decree mentioned above. However, the process of formalising CLT is known to be complex, costly and time-consuming, with only 33 titles registered so far around the country. Furthermore, the 2009 sub-decree came after the ELCs had already been allocated to Socfin-KCD and clearance work commenced. Although the Cambodian Ministry of Interior has recognised Indigenous community bodies, meeting the second step in the land registration process, titling has been complicated by the existing land allocations. A community leader explained in 2016 that many of the areas they could potentially claim in a communal title application were already occupied by Socfin. Thus, the Bunong community has been unable to secure Indigenous communal title.

The option of gaining private land titles has also bypassed many Bunong families around the Socfin-KCD concessions. The Cambodian government’s fast-tracked private land titling campaign in 2012-2013 aimed to address land conflicts between economic land concessions and smallholder farmers across the country. The focus on individual private titles rather than communal lands caused friction within Bunong communities, but some families were keen to gain land security on these terms. Gaps and inequities in implementation are well documented with this intervention. Here too, a 2020 study found that some 26 percent of their studied land plots were titled during this process, of which around 71% went to Khmer migrants rather than Bunong people. A key constraint was that company did not permit the measurement and titling of land inside the concessions. The Bunong community thus lost out both on private titles and communal titling, further weakening their legal standing in the French case.

Importantly, none of the international protections for Indigenous peoples (e.g. the International Labour Organisation Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, Convention No. 169 of 1989; and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the World Bank’s Environmental and Safety Standards No. 7) are predicated on formal evidence of land ownership. The French decision thus reflects a particularly narrow reading of the law where land rights are equated with formal titles.

Notably, other non-judicial processes have been mobilized by the company and non-state parties to compensate the villagers and address their grievances. The company has offered to address the conflicts through monetary compensation, land swaps for other locations or leasing of some concession lands as smallholder rubber plantations. The implementation of these options was problematic in many respeccts, however some community members accepted the small cash compensation (150-200 USD/ha) offered to them (Chan et al. 2020 and FIDH). In 2016, the company and three groups of villagers (not those involved in the trial) agreed to use an independent mediation process. The process is a locally contested, however, and concerns a limited section of the disputed land.

As far as the trial is concerned, the Bunong representatives and their French supporters are appealing the decision on the grounds of their ancestral ties to land. Yet, it is difficult to see how the case can progress through a system that is so heavily swayed towards politically and economically powerful actors, who can position themselves favourably within legal systems that disenfranchise Indigenous groups for their lack of formal property rights.

The case points to larger challenges for Indigenous communities in using judicial processes to counter corporate land grabs. Here, legal activism has forged important alliances and community action, but also exposes a highly unequal playing field both within Cambodia and Europe and the associated challenges in seeking land justice across jurisdictions.

New Two-year Postdoc Opportunity: Military Supply Chains & Environmental Footprints

https://images.theconversation.com/files/280914/original/file-20190624-97789-11t31n3.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&rect=0%2C413%2C3000%2C1500&q=45&auto=format&w=1356&h=668&fit=crop
US Air Force fighters during the 1991 Gulf War. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

We welcome applications for a Research Associate to join this new initiative funded by the Economic Social Research Council Secondary Data Analysis Initiative investigating military environmental footprints, led by Benjamin Neimark, Kirsti Ashworth, Patrick Bigger and Oliver Belcher.

The initiative is a partnership between Lancaster University, and the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), and in collaboration with the Data Science Institute, and the Institute for Social Futures and Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs. The postholder will join a lively, interdisciplinary department, Lancaster Environment Centre, with a strong tradition of quality research and impact with government, activists and business.

While the casualties and humanitarian costs of war are well-reported, wider socio-economic and in particular environmental impacts are generally overlooked. For instance, if the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would put it in the top 50 largest emittersof greenhouse gases in the world. Yet they, like other global militaries, are entirely unaccountable. You will develop an open source virtual data laboratory to consolidate and make accessible data around the carbon and pollution impacts of military supply chains from a wide range of sources, bringing transparency to this currently opaque issue.

You will have a PhD in a relevant field (or equivalent experience in a relevant research-intensive role), and experience in economic and political geography, climate or energy policy and governance, geographic information systems, acquisition and managing large datasets and/or deliberative research. This experience could have been gained in an academic or other context. You will have strong skills in collaborating with external stakeholders, as well as managing your own time and contributing to the project team.

You will join us on an indefinite contract however, the role remains contingent on external funding which, at this time is due to come to an end on 30th August 2023.

You are encouraged to contact Ben Neimark (b.neimark@lancaster.ac.uk) before applying, to discuss the role in more detail. 

HOW TO APPLY: https://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/Vacancy.aspx?ref=A3406

Check out a recent new article in DW: Scorched earth: The climate impact of conflict https://www.dw.com/en/the-bootprint-of-war-carbon-emissions/a-57682807

We encourage applications from people in all diversity groups, and with expertise beyond the academic. Applicants will be assessed within the context of your previous study/work environments by, for example, the research facilities available to you, and whether you had opportunities to attend conferences/scientific meetings and develop transferable skills. Applications from those seeking flexible working patterns or jobsharing or wishing to return after a career break are welcome. LEC offers a highly collegial and stimulating environment for career development based on departmental values and embedded Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) considerations and actions. We are committed to family-friendly and flexible working policies on an individual basis as well as the Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises and celebrates good employment practice undertaken to address gender equality in higher education and research. Furthermore, we are active and progressive around sustainability, wellbeing and decolonising agendas.

Convivial Conservation: book review and authors’ response

Read Rogelio Luque-Lora’s review of “Convivial Conservation” with a response from the authors, Rob Fletcher and Bram Buscher – comments are very welcome!

Living with Nonhumans
The Conservation Revolution: Radical Ideas for Saving Nature Beyond the Anthropocene
by Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher
Reviewed by Rogelio Luque-Lora

This is a shortened version of a review published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Philosopher. You can download a free copy of the full review here.


Despite conservationists’ best efforts, global biological diversity continues to disappear at alarming rates. According to political ecologists Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher, this is, to a large extent, a consequence of mainstream conservation not addressing biodiversity declines in the right ways. The authors acknowledge that there is significant variation in mainstream approaches to conservation, but that two fundamental premises are dominant. Firstly, a stark dualism, both material and epistemological, between human and nonhuman nature. This dualism carries the normative implication that nature ought to be saved from humans – hence the historical focus on protected areas as the cornerstone of global conservation. The second premise of mainstream conservation is its embrace, ideological or pragmatic, of the capitalist development model. As the authors explain, the histories of capitalism and conservation are entwined, with conservation having emerged as a response to the increasing destruction wrought by capitalist development. In practical terms, conservationists often decide that it is more productive to partner with capitalist interests to generate the funds needed for their projects than to fight against the dominant political economy.

According to Büscher and Fletcher, the recognition that mainstream conservation is failing to save biodiversity has triggered the recent appearance of more radical approaches. As the authors explain in the opening paragraph of their book, the last decade has seen growing urgency and pressure on both the natural world and the conservation community, which has led many to conclude that gradual, stepwise improvements to mainstream conservation will not suffice to prevent worldwide ecological catastrophes. Taken together, the authors contend, these are good reasons to believe that a revolution in conservation is underway.

Büscher and Fletcher identify two major radical alternatives to mainstream conservation, the main features of which can be apprehended from how they position themselves with respect to its two fundamental premises. The first group, new conservationists, reject nature-culture dualism while showing enthusiasm for working within capitalist processes and logics. They endorse the view that in the Anthropocene pristine nature independent of human impacts no longer exists. Therefore, rather than try – and fail – to protect perceived wilderness areas from human activities, new conservationists argue that the natural world ought to be integrated into the capitalist economy. The hope is that once the (capitalist) value of nature is taken into consideration, humans and nature can develop in harmony.

The dehesas of the Iberian peninsula have developed through the action and coexistence of wildlife, livestock and humans. In them, any notion of stark dualism between humans and nature falls apart. Source: author’s own.

The second group, neoprotectionists, firmly oppose both these claims. According to the loudest voices within neoprotectionism, it is a gross exaggeration to think that because human activities are leaving a mark on planetary processes, all species and ecosystems are now dependent on human will. The only real way to save biodiversity is to have more numerous, larger and better-connected areas where nonhuman natures can continue to live in ways largely independent of human activities. The most radical neoprotectionists think that at least half of the Earth’s surface must be set aside for “inviolable” nature reserves. For the most part, neoprotectionists see the rising consumption trends and endless economic growth that characterise capitalism as key drivers of biodiversity loss.

A closer reading of the history of conservation ideas, however, calls into question the authors’ accounts of new conservation and neoprotectionism as recent, radical challenges to mainstream conservation. While new conservation presents itself as a novel approach fit for conservation in the Anthropocene, the ideas behind it are at least decades old. In a paper published in 1999, development scholar David Hulme and social anthropologist Marshall Murphree described the then-recent shift in African conservation toward approaches that were people-centred and promoted economic growth. Strikingly, they named this shift “new conservation”. Similarly, the fact that new conservation’s radical counterpart is effectively called new protectionism should also raise suspicions about its novelty. Conservation interventions that aim to protect pristine nature from human activities date back at least to the nineteenth century Romantic cult of wilderness.

To be sure, new conservation and neoprotectionism are not carbon copies of their respective predecessors. It is clear that the advent of the Anthropocene has given new conservation and neoprotectionism scalar dimensions not seen in the traditions from which they derive. In the case of new conservation, this is manifested in their call to embrace the global ubiquity of human influence on the rest of nature. In neoprotectionism, it is the scaling up of protected areas to set aside half of the planet’s surface for inviolable nature reserves that is novel. Yet these differences are operational rather than ideological. New conservation’s embrace of human influence stems from their pragmatic belief that protecting wild areas for their own sake has not worked. In the case of neoprotectionism, the values behind proposals to protect half of the planet are indistinct from twentieth century ecocentrism and deep ecology.

The similarities between new conservation and neoprotectionism and their respective predecessors are not exclusively theoretical. The ideologies promoted by new conservationists and neoprotectionists, far from rejecting mainstream conservation practices, actually align with many of them. For instance, decades-old community-based conservation and payments for ecosystem services both fit the new conservationist paradigm of promoting human wellbeing and integrating the natural world into the economy. Similarly, the fact that neoprotectionism has also been called “back-to-the-barriers” indicates that many of the practices they endorse have been deployed for a long time. If the ideological stances and the practices promoted by new conservation and neoprotectionism, which Büscher and Fletcher identify as new and radical, are in fact decades old, the authors’ claim that a revolution is brewing is compromised.

Perhaps most worryingly for their accounts of new conservation and neoprotectionism as radical challenges to mainstream conservation is the number of caveats the authors find in this very classification. Büscher and Fletcher successfully show why both new conservationists’ rejection of nature/culture dualism and neoprotectionists’ scepticism of the capitalist economy are shallow and unfounded. As the authors demonstrate, nature/culture dualism is inherent to capitalism, so by embracing the capitalist political economy, new conservationists fundamentally undermine their aim of overcoming dualism. With respect to neoprotectionism, Büscher and Fletcher convincingly argue that, although neoprotectionists are right to claim that integrating biodiversity into the global capitalist market will not save it, the protected areas they promote cannot be sustained indefinitely against capitalism’s inherent need to grow beyond its own frontiers. Moreover, in practice, the strict protected areas championed by neoprotectionism are often funded by processes that rely on capitalist exchanges, such as ecotourism and philanthropy. A more accurate conclusion of these critical analyses is that these supposedly radical approaches are merely episodic and rhetorical variations on a more broadly defined mainstream conservation.

***

The authors’ legitimate dissatisfaction with new conservation and neoprotectionism leads them to develop their own radical proposal, which they call “convivial conservation”. Convivial conservation seeks to be truly post-capitalist and offers a range of short- and long-term suggestions for moving beyond capitalist conservation. One example is the transition from traditional protected areas to so-called promoted areas. In and around these areas, people’s livelihoods would be based not on capitalist enterprises like ecotourism, but on activities including the sustainable use of natural resources and a “conservation basic income”, which would be funded through the state, promoted area entrance fees and crowd sourcing. On a broader scale, the recognition that the success of convivial conservation ultimately depends on the global dismantling of capitalism also requires conservationists to challenge hegemonic power through campaigning and other forms of political action.

The second pillar of convivial conservation is its rejection of human-nature dualism. According to the authors, nature and society must be viewed not as separate but rather as mutually related and co-constituted, a conclusion to which they arrive after reviewing a range of Anthropocene scholars, including Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing and Jason Moore. But while convivial conservation wholly rejects capitalism, its takedown of human-nature dualism is partial. Büscher and Fletcher argue that in seeking to bring other species and abiotic processes back into moral and political focus, more-than-human, animal, new materialist, and posthumanist theorists have “swung the pendulum much too far” and erased many meaningful and necessary distinctions between humans and other creatures. While urging us to accept and rejoice in the plurality of connections and similarities between humans and nonhumans, the authors wish to retain some form of human exceptionalism.

The reason for this is the realisation that without some form of human exceptionality, any attempt to establish healthier relations with nonhuman natures are bound to fail. There is little in the natural world that is inherently convivial (which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the quality of being lively and friendly”). Covid-19, malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and crop-raiding elephants are examples of the indifference of nonhuman natures to human wellbeing. Even seemingly harmonious natural states, such as the (perceived) balance of ecosystems, are the product of forces utterly indifferent to the lives of individual organisms (one such force is the killing of prey species by predators at rates that compensate for the production of offspring in far greater numbers than their habitats can sustain). As Lao Tzu may have put it, “heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs”.

For human beings to transcend this ruthlessness and voluntarily establish stable and reciprocal relations with the rest of the natural world, they must have the capacity to function as intentional political and moral agents. As far as we know, this ability is absent in all nonhuman species, at least in the measure that would be required for the major societal changes that this book promotes. Kate Soper has made a similar point:

Unless human beings are differentiated from other organic and inorganic forms of being, they can be made no more liable for the effects of their occupancy of the ecosystem than can any other species, and it would make no more sense to call upon them to desist from destroying nature than to call upon cats to stop killing birds.

Yet the only reason for accepting human exceptionalism that is provided throughout the book is that it is required for convivial ecological politics to emerge. This does not prove human exceptionalism to be true; it only proves that without it, the kind of conservation that the authors envision is an impossibility.

During summer months, drought and high temperatures in the Mediterranean habitats kill all non-woody vegetation and put animals at risk of starvation and dehydration. “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs.” Source: author’s own.

Though it was published nearly two decades ago, John Gray’s Straw Dogs (which takes its title from the Lao Tzu quote above) can be read as a provocative antagonist to The Conservation Revolution. Like many of the posthumanist writers reviewed by Büscher and Fletcher, Gray seeks to present a less human-centred view of the world. The idea that humans are categorically distinct from other animals is, according to Gray, largely a Judeo-Christian invention, which humanist thinkers have unknowingly inherited despite their atheist credentials. Had Darwin published his work in Daoist China or the pre-Columbian Americas, the suggestion that animals are our evolutionary kin would not have caused the uproar it did in Christian Europe.

Straw Dogs is not oblivious to the troubling implications of erasing distinctions between humans and the rest of the natural world. On the contrary: it lays them bare. According to Gray, lacking the qualities that supposedly set us apart from other animals (most notably the capacity for free will and the volition to act morally) implies that we can expect the biosphere to treat us in much the same ways it treats other organisms: eventually, negative feedback processes, like diseases and shortages of natural resources, will push back against Homo sapiens. These are bleak prospects, so one serious challenge for convivial conservationists is to prove not just that human exceptionalism is necessary, but also that there are theoretical and empirical grounds for believing it to be true.

Work in other areas is also needed to show convivial conservation to be viable. There is no shortage of examples of human greed, folly, indifference and ecological devastation from both before the advent of global capitalism and in non-capitalist economies since. While the authors’ contention that capitalism is inherently unsustainable is in principle convincing, they and others now need to show that whatever might replace it will do better at reining in those ecologically undesirable human traits. Büscher and Fletcher have shown that conservationists’ aims of preserving nonhuman natures are unlikely to be met without a revolution in their approaches and partnerships. Now they and their sympathisers need to show that such a revolution is possible, and that its outcomes will be desirable.

Response by Rob Fletcher and Bram Buscher

We would like to thank Rogelio Luque-Lora for his thoughtful and sympathetic treatment of our book. He raises a number of important issues concerning our analysis of contemporary conservation debates and their implications for future practice that warrant discussion and engagement. We want to take this opportunity to respond to two of Luque-Lora’s assertions that we find most significant in the context of ongoing political ecology debates.

First, Luque-Lora argues that the two recent proposals for reforming conservation we single out– new conservation and neoprotectionism – are not really so novel and radical as depicted. In part this is a semantic question concerning how one chooses to define these particular qualities. This framing of positions were also meant as part of a broader heuristic model that through simplification helps to clarify the stakes and issues in current conservation debates. But our main aim in describing these provocative approaches in this way was not necessarily to claim that they were in fact novel and radical, but that they had both been characterized as such – that is, as calls to dramatically transform dominant conservation policy and practice – by their proponents. This common self-characterization – and the invitation it offered to question mainstream conservation approaches in even more transformative fashion – was what we sought to highlight. Given that they have led to major and very heated debates within the conservation community, it is clear that some of their proposals and arguments were also seen as radical challenges by many others. But through illustrating and analysing this in detail, we at the same time concluded that the two proposals were really not as novel and radical as proponents claimed. Besides demonstrating that both positions are indeed rooted in longstanding strains of thought emerging from mainstream conservation approaches, the more important point for us was that both continue to harbour deep-seated contradictions that cannot provide a productive way forward for conservation policy. This is why our analysis led to our suggested and preferred alternative of convivial conservation.

The second, and to our minds more intriguing issue that Luque-Lora raises with our analysis concerns the question of human exceptionalism and its implications for the convivial approach we advocate. As Luque-Lora describes, we pull back from the sort of radical critique of the nature-culture dualism levelled by many other critical social scientists aiming to dismantle (nearly) all divides between humans and other entities. Instead, we reassert that some degree of differentiation between humans and others, as well as between nature and culture more broadly, is not just simple realism, but necessary to be able to wage an effective environmental politics. If this is not done, we argued, there is no way to single out humans’ impacts on the rest of the world as unique and hence uniquely problematic.

But we are not the only ones who assert the necessity of human exceptionalism in this way. While ecocentric critics often decry anthropocentrism in conservation policy, they nonetheless (and paradoxically) demand just this in asking that humans reflect on and change the way we interact with other species to become ecocentric in the manner demanded. No other species (short of outlier proposals such as to alter predators’ behavior through gene-editing; see e.g. Johannsen 2017) are asked to do (or likely considered capable of doing) the same. Hence this stance assumes a unique human capacity on which the politics advocated necessarily relies. In short: a conviction that humans possess the capacity to move beyond human exceptionalism is arguably the most exceptionally human capacity that distinguishes us from other animals.

Yet, as Luque-Lora argues, just because human exceptionalism may be necessary for effective conservation politics does not automatically make it reality. But we believe there is strong evidence to support its reality too. It is true and important that many qualities considered uniquely human by Western thinkers in the Cartesian tradition in the past – language use, sociality, self-consciousness, proactive planning, and so forth – have now been called into question by research that convincingly demonstrates their presence among other species (see e.g. De Waal 2016). Yet even if these qualities are not wholly unique to humans, we still believe that they are consequentially different in humans as compared to other animals (see Büscher, in press). Hence, whether human-nonhuman differences are of degree rather than of kind is in many ways a moot point with respect to ecological politics, since they remain significant in their consequences. One piece of rather straightforward if superficial evidence to substantiate this point is the fact that Luque-Lora is debating these issues with us and other people rather than with non-humans.

Less trite and more important for our convivial conservation proposal is the human capacity to exercise conviviality with respect to the rest of the world, on which Luque-Lora rightly asserts that our proposal depends. Interestingly, he questions whether this same capacity exists not only in humans but also more-than-humans. Drawing on Lao Tzu and John Gray, he contends that “nature” is widely characterized by a certain exercise of and indifference to cruelty and suffering. But this overlooks the fact that various nonhumans also exhibit a capacity for compassion and altruism (see e.g. Sussman & Cloninger 2011).

In her own meditations on the topic, Jane Goodall (2010) has asserted that what distinguishes humans from other animals, even close relatives like chimpanzees, is our uniquely intense capacity both to inflict violence and cruelty and to exercise compassion and kindness. This, Goodall argues, is evidenced by our waging of lethal warfare on a scale beyond any other known species and by the unprecedented ways in which we also care for our sick and injured. The takeaway point for us from this is that a hard-nosed, realistic conservation politics needs to acknowledge both of these uniquely intense human capacities, but especially to emphasise the possibility and need to cultivate the positive capacities in ourselves and others. Moreover, how our different capacities are expressed, we believe, is fundamentally shaped by the sociocultural, historical and political-economic structures in which we exist; hence our emphasis on the importance of attending to these structures in addition to a focus on immediate human-nonhuman interactions in order to foster the (democratic, equitable) conditions in which (commodified) competition (both intra- and interspecies) can be minimized and space for conviviality expanded.

We take the call to push this further very seriously, and deliberately ended our book by saying that we join all of those already working for transformative structural change with hope. Hope, clearly, is not enough to demonstrate that our proposal is better than what currently exists. But in the face of widespread ecosystemic breakdown, species extinctions and obscene inequalities, we do need this yet-again exceptional human quality to give it our best shot. We invite Luque-Lora and others to join us in this movement.

References

Büscher, B. (in press). The nonhuman turn: critical reflections on alienation, entanglement and nature under capitalism. Dialogues in Human Geography.

De Waal, F. (2016). Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? London: WW Norton & Company.

Goodall, J. (2010). Through a window: My thirty years with the chimpanzees of Gombe. London: HMH.

Johannsen, K. (2017). Animal rights and the problem of r-strategists. Ethical theory and moral practice20(2), 333-345.

Sussman, R. W., & Cloninger, C. R. (Eds.). (2011). Origins of altruism and cooperation. New York: Springer.

Political ecology in the courtroom

Contributor: Jacob Phelps, Lancaster University (feature image: Jaclyn Schwanke)

Political ecologists have a particular interest in recognizing diverse values, questioning prevailing policy narratives, and challenging entrenched power dynamics.  It is therefore surprising that the field is not more concerned with discussions of courtroom proceedings, specifically lawsuits enabling governments, citizens and NGOs to challenge environmental injustice via the courts.  This relatively under-explored legal political ecology provides interesting directions for a field where many grow frustrated with the relative lack of applied theory and activist engagement. 

In this post, I discuss www.conservation-litigation.org, a collaboration among lawyers, ecologists, conservationists, critical social scientists, and economists that asks, “How can we sue large commercial wildlife traders?”.  It  explores how environmental liability lawsuits can hold large-scale, commercial traders liable for the egregious harm they cause. Such liability extends to providing remedies to that harm, such as paying for habitat restoration, animal rehabilitation, issuing apologies, funding species conservation and investing into cultural funds. 

Beyond the obvious opportunities for lawsuits to correct injustices by remedying harms, I highlight two reasons why such litigation offers are exciting spaces for political ecology: 

(1) They allow challenges to mainstream narratives about the values of nature, by pressing courtrooms to formally recognise diverse types of values; and 

(2) They enhance environmental democracy, challenging the state monopoly over the enforcement of environmental rights by creating space for other stakeholders.

These are empowering opportunities that remain underutilised globally, including across most of the Global South.

    www.conservation-litigation.org 

Ours is a scholar-practitioner-activist exploration of alternative legal responses to illegal wildlife trade.  Rather than the traditional focus on punishment, which often ends up targeting low-level wildlife traders with fines and imprisonment, we are exploring how strategic liability litigation can hold high-level actors responsible for remedying the harm they cause.  Amidst concerns on the over-criminalisation in conservation, this project shifts enforcement focus away from punishment and onto remedy; away from small-scale harvesters and onto large-scale commercial traders, and from government-led to citizen-directed enforcement actions. 

Environmental liability litigation will be familiar to many readers. The Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills are key examples of how government and citizen litigation can hold polluters responsible for actions such as clean-up, funding restoration and compensating victims.  We are exploring how this approach can be used to address a wider range of harms, including from illegal trade, and across broader geographies.  Enabling laws already exist in many countries, including China, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and DR Congo, but are comparatively new in many countries; unfamiliar to legal practitioners, and rarely mobilised. Their potential to address key drivers of biodiversity loss from IUU fishing, illegal logging, illegal wildlife trade are untapped. 

We developed a practitioner-oriented framework for how these cases might be developed. It integrates ecology, law and geography to present diverse types of harm (to individuals, species, human wellbeing), and help to identify corresponding remedies that might be secured via a lawsuit.   It seeks to lower the barriers to justice by making lawsuits development more achievable.  

Venue for formal recognition 

Such litigation is motivating because it creates opportunities for plaintiffs to seek formal, public recognition of their values and rights. In order for a lawsuit to be successful, a court must recognise that the plaintiff has a right to make a claim (standing), that a specific harm occurred, and that it merits a legal response.  As such, lawsuits are a potential pathway for plaintiffs–including NGOs, citizens, community groups and government agencies–to convince a judge or jury of their values.  Such formal recognition of rights and plural values has legitimising potential, and geographers are uniquely placed to help others articulate these values in ways that are legible to lawyers, jurors and judges.

For example, although we (the public, decision-makers, judges) may often recognise that nature has many intangible values, these are rarely institutionalised into our formal governance processes, where a narrow utilitarian economic perspective prevails.  Indeed, much of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has been guided by “the view that acknowledging and fostering the use of diverse conceptualizations of multiple values of nature and its contributions to people is required for adequately addressing the challenge of achieving global sustainability.”  Conservation litigation provides a vehicle through which to help translate these complex values into tangible, public, formal court orders. 

In our work, we discuss a hypothetical lawsuit against a repeat, commercial wildlife trader that illegally sells one Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutan. The example demonstrates that what may appear like harm to a single individual animal, has diverse, cascading impacts on different communities and types of values.   Notably, these include intangible and sacred values that are potentially non-commensurable with monetary compensation (e.g., moral harm, harm to cultural values).  These types of values merit broad, public recognition, and courtrooms are a way through which to achieve this.

Timeline

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Harm to an individual orangutan has diverse, cascading impacts. Illustration by Alamsya Elang 

Enhancing environmental democracy 

Conservation litigation also challenges the state monopoly on the enforcement of environmental rights.  Enforcing legal violations, which typically includes enforcement of criminal and administrative regulations, is squarely the role of government agencies that have the right to fine and imprison. 

It is no secret that this presents challenges and frustrations for many conservationists, especially in the context of under-resourced government agencies, low capacity, different priorities, corruption and collusion.  Many civil society groups have responded very assertively, not only lobbying and pushing governments to fulfill their responsibilities to the environment, but also privatisation conservation enforcement.  This includes NGO and private sector management and enforcement of protected areas, as well as civil society investigations and prosecutions of wildlife violations.  These represent a distrust of government’s ability and willingness to execute their core functions, and a (sometimes questionable) attempt to deconcentrate and even democratise enforcement. 

Conservation litigation offers a very distinct, parallel space for non-state actors to engage with the enforcement of environmental rights and rules.  In many countries, legislation allows citizens and NGOs the standing to bring forward liability lawsuits for harm to the environment.  This can include making demands that responsible parties undertake remedial actions for harm caused to public goods (e.g., biodiversity, public waterways).  As such, rather than wait for government agencies to undertake enforcement actions or remedy harm, this type of litigation allows citizens to make requests via the legal system.

This is especially important in the context of uncertain government enforcement, and growing demands for environmental democracy. It aligns with the 1998 Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, which has 41 parties across Europe and Central Asia.  Litigation provides a formal forum and pathway through which to increase this access.

Overcoming barriers to justice 

Strategic conservation litigation has the potential to facilitate access to meaningful, just remedies, highlight values that have struggled to achieve formal recognition in other venues, and increase democratic engagement in environmental enforcement.  There are also other  important types of important courtroom actions that speak directly to the interests of political ecologists, including to order injunctions to order the stop to harmful projects; lawsuits to order, revisions of unjust e legislation, and lawsuits to order government agencies to meet their legal mandages. The courtroom thus seems a uniquely appropriate setting for a field concerned with rights, (in)justice, contested narratives and creating meaningful change.

There are huge barriers to courtroom engagement and access to justice–technical, conceptual, procedural, political and financial.  This includes huge challenges for academics that engage with law, particularly those without legal training, for whom the jargon and detailed mechanics of national-level legislation can be daunting.  Importantly, they are even greater barriers for the marginalised communities who are often most affected by environmental harm.  This is precisely the reason for a strategic legal political ecology to operate in the public interest.  

Geographers and conservationists can help to bridge the gaps between how harm and remedies are experienced on-the-ground, how these are presented in lawsuits, and how formal legal processes can be navigated. Progress will necessarily require novel collaborations, including work with plaintiffs, public interest lawyers, public prosecutors and legal aid groups, to help overcome barriers to justice.