In September 2010, fifteen prominent senior French geographers, under the auspices of the Société de Géographie, held a one-day colloquium entitled Le ciel ne va pas nous tomber sur la tête (The sky will not fall on our heads). The participants critiqued the “prevailing obfuscation, radical environmentalism, de-growth, denial of science, and faith in humanity”. While many geographers can sympathise with critiques of simplified or overly catastrophic environmental narratives, as well as with critiques of bad science, this book went much further. It verged on climate change denial and was underlain by the assumption that we need no changes to our lifestyles. In direct response, two younger geographers named Denis Chartier and Estienne Rodary organized a conference entitled Géographie, Écologie, Politique: un climat de changement at the Université d’Orléans in September 2012 (see my blog entry at the time). Participants in Orléans expressed frustration with what they saw as the dominant school, the old guard. This conference also led to an edited volume, titled Manifeste pour une géographie environnementale, finally published a few months ago – the reason for this blog entry.
I’m on the flight home reflecting on the ENTITLE “Undisciplined Environments” conference, a gathering of 500 (!) people, mostly academics, but also activists and artists, under the banner of political ecology. What is this ‘political ecology’ that brought so many people to Stockholm? Does it mean the same thing as when Land Degradation and Society was written some 30 years ago, a spirit of disciplinary crossing and plural epistemologies but rooted in a cross fertilization of cultural ecology and Marxist political economy? What I found was an open collective of intellectuals engaged in red-green issues of social justice and environment and keen to use social theory. Read the rest of this entry »
What does the Anthropocene mean for subsistence farmers Lele or Rakoto? At first glance, nothing. It is, after all, just a fashionable term amongst the intelligentsia; the latest jargon to adorn project proposals to do more of the same. But on second thought, for these already marginal farmers, the Anthropocene might concretely mean less rains, stronger cyclones, new weeds: new stresses, challenges, and perhaps opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »
What does it mean to live with bioinvasions? Low-wage labourers donning chemical suits and goggles to spray herbicides in tropical heat? Exurban homeowners cutting back an invasive vine near their back porch, but letting it run wild at the other side of the property? State environmental managers making difficult choices about what weeds to spend money on? In a recent collective paper inspired by the Wollongong Weeds Workshop (Head et al. 2015, see below), we seek to draw attention to the practical, lived side of managing weeds.
The paper is organised around five themes that arise from managers’ reflections on their work. It identifies tensions between the ideals arising out of invasion biology, resulting regulatory and policy frameworks, and practical on-the-ground experience. Read the rest of this entry »
How do plants that move and spread across landscapes become branded as weeds and thereby objects of contention and control? In a chapter recently published in the International Handbook of Political Ecology, Priya Rangan and I outline a political ecology approach that builds on a Lefebvrian understanding of the production of space, identifying three scalar moments that make plants into ‘weeds’ in different spatial contexts and landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »
Just rediscovered a scribbled note from a few days in the “brousse” of New Caledonia late last year. We visited landscapes pounded by grazing, from a 600 ha cattle station turned into a horse farm and gîte in the more wild, mountainous nickel mining country around Thio, to the yellow-grass cattle and goat ranches in the semi-arid rain shadow country of Boulouparis. In these places, I found myself in the company of a variety of familiar thorny and weedy plants like mimosa bush, lantana, and coffee bush. Different bouquets of the same suite of plants decorate pastoral landscapes I’ve encountered in Fiji, Vanuatu, Madagascar, Australia, Reunion… and probably many more places too.
Seeing these ‘old friends’ reminded me of a simple message about biological invasions that does not get enough consideration: it’s not the plant’ fault. The plants themselves – or the plant species – do not really deserve the lables as invasives and weeds. It is us humans that need to be branded: they are there because of us, because of our land uses and Read the rest of this entry »
In just the span of a decade or two, it seems that nearly all environmental management writing (whether scientific reports, public awareness brochures, or policy briefs) has come to call on the notion of “ecosystem services” to defend the importance of healthy, functioning “natural” systems. What is this concept, where does it come from, what does it mean, and what doors does it open or close?
Is “ecosystem services” the ultimate win-win idea that translates abstract values of a healthy environment into policy-relevant and policy-actionable chunks? Does it allow ecologists and economists to speak the same language, leading to better outcomes for the environment and for the rural (often marginalised) people who manage it? Or is it a tool of the “neoliberalization” of nature, another means by which capitalism penetrates into new terrains, creating new forms of accumulation in the hands of a global elite, further marginalising the poor? Or is it all of this – and more – at the same time?
The thorny bush Lantana camara, with its attractive pink, yellow, and orange flowerlets, covers vast areas of forest understory, fallow lands, and hedges in the hilly mountains fringing the southern end of Karnataka state, India. These upland areas are also home to several marginalized cultural groups (‘scheduled tribes’, or ‘indigenous people’) as well as a diversity of wildlife – elephants, tigers, bears, gaur, three kinds of deer, monkeys, boars, wild dogs, leopards. On our recent scoping trip to the Biligiri Ranganaswamy Hills some four hour south of Bangalore, we discovered that there were at least three ways one could talk about the lantana situation, each following familiar tropes: as a story of invasion, of dispossession, or of creative redemption. Read the rest of this entry »
Oil palm gets all the attention, but what about acacia? Oil palm has become synonymous with deforestation in Indonesia and resulting losses of orang-utan habitat, increased carbon emissions, and unhealthy smoke haze. But equally large areas of peatland are being converted to pulp and paper plantations of tropical salwood wattles like Acacia crassicarpa and A. magnum, trees that now cover many millions of hectares in South East Asia. In Riau province, Sumatra, the two big pulp mills (operated by Asia Pulp and Paper [APP] and Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd [APRIL]) have around 75 and 45 per cent (respectively) of their pulp plantations located on peatland. The ways in which such forestry concessions have been granted and implemented have inspired dramatic protests: 28 residents of the Meranti Islands in Riau Province stitched their lips shut while demonstrating in front of government buildings in Jakarta (Jakarta Post; Transparency Int.). Read the rest of this entry »