Geographers have long investigated commuting and transportation. While that isn’t my academic speciality, every commuter in the world probably has some comments and reflections on the “geographies of mobility” (to use current jargon). Here are my reflections on the city of Lausanne’s shared-bike program, initially sponsored by the two universities EPFL and UNIL.
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.
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 »
In what situations do the practices of small-scale family farmers lead to increased tree cover, particularly on a continent better known for land degradation and deforestation? Research on the “forest transition”, a pattern where net deforestation is replaced by a net gain in forest cover, has so far avoided much mention of Africa. In contrast, it is historically documented in western Europe, eastern North America, east Asia, and seemingly underway in parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia. This research tends to focus on factors such as economic modernisation, rural abandonment, urbanisation, or even globalisation as driving forces of the forest transition. Two recent studies I contributed to focus instead on Africa – one in West Africa, one in Madagascar – and on transitions brought about by rural farmers. 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 »
The baobab, that iconic, majestic, and grotesquely massive roots-in-the-sky tree, teaches us something surprising about “nature”. It demonstrates that what appears to be “natural” has been – for millennia and millennia – also fundamentally “social”, for people have been important dispersal agents of these trees. Researchers like Chris Duvall and Jean-Michel Leong Pock Tsy have shown this for the African baobabs.[1,2] Our recently completed research project, led by Priya Rangan, demonstrates this in multiple ways around the Indian Ocean. Baobabs are such useful and remarkable trees , it is hardly difficult to imagine people not picking up the hard but pleasantly light and fuzzy fruit pods and walking with them.
One part of our project looked at the single species of baobabs found in Australia: Adansonia gregorii, called boab. It grows in the Kimberley region in the northwestern part of the continent. In a study just published in PLoS ONE , we combine evidence from baobab genetics  and Australian Aboriginal languages to show that humans have been the primary agents of baobab dispersal. In particular, we reveal their crucial role in dispersing baobabs inland from now-submerged areas of northwest Australia during the dramatic sea-level rises at the end of the last glaciation. (See also this article in The Conversation as well as Priya’s blog about the study)
A further question is how the baobabs arrived in Australia in the first place. Oceanic dispersal via seed pods floating in currents, several million years ago, remains the most plausible explanation, as our collaborator David Baum has shown . Yet, another one of our baobab collaborators (and veritable Renaissance man) Jack Pettigrew advances an interesting speculative argument about a possible human role in transporting the baobabs, building on evidence from rock art in the Kimberley and in Read the rest of this entry »