The geopolitics of Madagascar’s environment

January 8, 2013

Who controls Madagascar’s flora, fauna, and landscapes?  How, and for whom, are its forests, grasslands, and waters governed?  Over the past three decades, Madagascar’s local environments have become more and more internationalized – subjected to western worldviews and gazetted into protected areas with foreign funding.

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The Third Wattle War: environment versus development?

December 12, 2012

Are Australian acacias planted overseas miracle plants for rural development, or are they the worst kind of environmental weeds?  The battle lines appear rather stark at times.  At least when one reads environmentalist Tim Low’s rebuttal to a critique that Jacques Tassin and I wrote of his views.  We thought our statement to be tempered and tried to build a reasonable case for responsible use of exotic agroforestry trees (see also previous blog).  But Low calls us “in denial about dangerous aid”, flogs a misplaced example about mesquite in an argument about acacia, all the time preaching his argument to the converted in the journal Biological Invasions.   Read the rest of this entry »


On French geography and political ecology

September 6, 2012

During a live radio interview today on Radio France Culture (info / listen), the host Sylvain Kahn put me on the spot, asking whether, as an Australian geographer I thought that French geography was missing out on the environment question.  I deflected the question, not feeling qualified to judge an entire disciplinary tradition I have only partial exposure to.  But as far as I understand from my conversations with French geographers, his question was not innocent. Read the rest of this entry »


Do plants need passports?

August 7, 2012

The landscapes that characterize different places on the earth, and from which many people earn their livelihoods and their sense of place, and which support diverse flora and fauna, are often built with a mix of local and introduced plants.  Sometimes, introduced plants succeed so wildly in their new home that people come to see them as weeds or pests, crowding out crops or native species, changing soil conditions, altering fire regimes, or affecting the water table.  The field of invasion biology emerged over the past few decades seeking to document, understand, and stop such “alien invasions”.   But the fervour of this effort has at times crashed head-on with alternative worldviews.  One of South Africa’s top weeds, for example, is the Australian native silver wattle, also naturalized in France where it is celebrated for its winter flowers and as an ingredient for Chanel No. 5 and other perfumes [1][2].  Such conflicting outlooks were on stark display at a workshop I attended in October 2010 at Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Australian acacias as a global experiment in biogeography.

Picture 1: Do plants need passports? Who should control plant movements, and on what basis? Silver wattle (Acacia dealbata), native to Australia, invasive and assimilated as mimosa in the Côte d’Azur, France.

Picture 2: Do Australian acacias need passports? Australian passports specify “free passage without let or hindrance”…

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