Tag Archives: political ecology

Political Ecology and Resilience

posterI will be participating in a public discussion Resilience and Political Ecology at Upssala University April 27th in a moderated discussion with Prof. Alf Hornborg a professor of Human Ecology at Lund University, which will be moderated by Eva Friman from the Uppsala Centre for Sustainable Development, Uppsala University

The discussion will be Friday 27 April 2012, 14.15-17.00,  Hambergssalen, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16, Uppsala University. More information is on the DevNet website here and here.

Alf Hornburg and I previously had an online discussion on this blog where I tried to understand and respond to his critique of resilience, based on a review Victor Galaz had of a recent paper of his.  I expect that the discussion will be interesting and I hope that there will be some fruitful discussion.

While the discussion has been framed by the organizers as a debate, I do not see political ecology and resilience as opposed.  Indeed, I wrote a 1999 paper in Ecological Economics -Political ecology and ecological resilience: An integration of human and ecological dynamics - (doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(00)00217-2) that suggested some ways I thought ideas from political ecology could be included in resilience thinking.  While resilience researchers have long argued that issues of power need to be included in resilience thinking there hasn’t been a mass movement towards their integration, but there have been a fair number of researchers how have attempted to explicitly combine aspects of political ecology and resilience thinking.

For people that are interested in thinking I’ve stated a group on Mendeley to share papers that attempt to integrate resilience and political ecological theory and methods.  Right now there are about 30 papers in there, but I expect there are a number that have been missed, and I hope Resilience Science readers can add them to the group.

I haven’t carefully read all the papers in the Mendeley group, but three papers that I found particularly interesting are:

  • Karl S Zimmerer’s 2011 The landscape technology of spate irrigation amid development changes: Assembling the links to resources, livelihoods, and agrobiodiversity-food in the Bolivian Andes.  Global Environmental Change 21(3) 917-934. doi:  10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.04.002,
  • McSweeney and Coomes 2001 Climate-related disaster opens a window of opportunity for rural poor in northeastern Honduras<.  PNAS 108(13)  5203-5208.doi:  10.1073/pnas.1014123108
  • Turner and Robbins 2008 Land-Change Science and Political Ecology: Similarities, Differences, and Implications for Sustainability Science.  Annual Review of Environment and Resources 33(1) 295-316. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.environ.33.022207.104943

Conceptual diagram from Turner and Robbins

Marine parks, forced removal and global politics

Mauritius suing UK for marine park around US airbase

The Internet version of BBC News just released notice that the island nation of Mauritius is suing UK for legislating a Marine Protected Area around British islands close to Mauritius (1000 km). The reserve is named Chagos Marine Park, argued by then UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband to “double the global coverage of the world’s oceans under protection” (in April 2010). With its 545 000 sq-km area the are includes some 220 coral species (half the recorded species of the Indian Ocean), and more than 1,000 species of reef fish. However, the islands was before the 1960′s home to a local people that the British government forcefully removed to give space for a US military air base.

Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos
archipelago and the site of a
US military base. Photograph: Reuters

The reserve is therefore hotly contested demonstrating with all clarity the multi-level politics of any natural resource management or biodiversity preservation project, and the various and contested ways by which human and nonhuman relations are being forged. Parsing from three BBC News articles from 2004-2010 (see here), and The Independent (here), a short story can be given on how geopolitics, national and international efforts of protecting biodiversity, overlap with ‘local’ dynamics, and the dignity of a people.


US air base and forced removal

People of Chago protesting for the
right to return to their island.

In the 1960s the British island colony was leased to the US for an air base, which since then has been in use, not least during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In leasing the island the British government took actions that forcefully removed some 2000 people living on the island, and moved them to the neighboring nation Mauritius. The removal was accomplished through that the British government bought the only company employing people on the island, and then closing the company down leaving island people without an income. This was paired with blocking goods coming to the island, leaving people without income and food forcing them to move.

The forced removal of people has, it seems, been converted to an argument for the current high biodiversity and good state of the ecosystems observed at the islands. This in turn has of course been made into an argument for conservation. As reported by The Independent:

The absence of human habitation has been a key factor in the preservation of the pristine coral atolls, the unpolluted waters, rare bird colonies and burgeoning turtle populations that give the archipelago its international importance.

The removed island people, the Chagossians, have run a case before in the British courts to return to their island. In 2008, the British Law Lords voted 3 against 2 in favor of the British government, but islanders continue their case. Although some of the islanders express that they could – in the event of them returning – co-live with a nature reserve if only some fishing and use of the area was allowed, others mean that it “would effectively bar them from returning“. This interpretation was enforced by the recent diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, which also triggered the Mauritius government to sue the British government in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. In this cable, “[a] UK official is quoted as saying it should put an end to any possibility of the displaced islanders returning“, according to BBC News.

Scaled networks of power
This intriguing example draws together different networks and scales of power that generate not only dynamic debates, but also intervenes – and tries to intervene – in a certain physical space and its social-ecological dynamics. A recent move in political ecology has traced such scaled networks, partly drawing on actor-network theory, see e.g. work by Erik Swyngedouw [2, 3] and Nik Heynen.

In Chagos these scaled networks seems to be mainly shaped through historical connections to colonial power and empire ambitions, cold war geopolitics, scientific community networks of fact-making, national sovereignty claims, and local identity and claim-making.

Whereas local residents were robbed of their homes, dwellings and resources, the British government could earn money on the strategic position of this old colony lying close to the Middle East by leasing it to the escalating military ambitions of post-war US. A side-effect of this, it seems, was to sustain well-working ecological functions in the seas around the islands, preserving species and habitats being lost elsewhere due to fishing and other exploitation activities.

Enter the international community of scientists, that by the time of 1990′s had produced arguments and facts of why these types of protected areas are globally important for the protection of marine species on scales greater than just the islands. In confronting the many thousands of fishing vessels and distant fish markets that put global pressure on marine ecosystems, Marine Protected Areas are thought to function as havens and sources of species in networks of energy exchange and species interaction over greater spatial scales. A speculation is then that the quoted UK official, and Mr Milliband, could use the weight of these natural scientifically produced facts to effectively also put an end to the claims by the Chagossians, and come out as triumphant savers of the seas at the same time.

Similar cases of how scaled networks influence especially land-based protected areas are plenty in the literature, however, this is one of the most intriguing marine examples I have heard of. Furthermore, the current suing process by Mauritius, and the reason why Chago Archipelago again became news, is due to another novel network of power, namely WikiLeaks, whose activities continue to ripple through the interconnected world of media.

Note: The different articles from BBC News can be found here, here, here, and here. More on this news and the Chago Archipelago, see here.

Ecological Imperialism during the Cold War

During the Cold War there was a a faint reprise of the Columbian Exchange.  Science Now reports on a study by François Chiron and others in Biological Conservation (doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2009.10.021) in Cold War Split Birds, Too in ScienceNOW:

The Cold War divided the people of Europe for nearly half a century, and it turns out humans weren’t the only ones stuck behind the Iron Curtain. Trade blockades led to vastly different numbers and types of invasive birds in Western and Eastern Europe, new research reveals. The findings, say experts, highlight the dramatic impact human activity can have on the success of alien species.

… Western Europe saw the introduction of 96 species of birds during the Cold War, while Eastern Europe only saw 24. The relative freedom of movement and high levels of global trade in the West account for the difference, says co-author Susan Shirley, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis. “Trade is an important factor in the movement and establishment of alien species across the world.”

The way the Cold War carved up the globe also impacted the type of birds that were introduced. There was a rise in North American bird species, such as the ruddy duck, intentionally introduced to Western Europe many times between 1945 and 1989, but not much of a rise in the East. At the same time, people from former French and British colonies immigrated to Western Europe, toting along 23 African bird species. “They brought their caged pet birds with them–if not physically, then they brought the demand,” Shirley says.

While connections between Western Europe, the Americas, and Africa boomed, trade across the Iron Curtain withered: Exports from Western Europe to the East represented less than 5% of Western European’s total trade volume. The few invasive species that established themselves in Eastern Europe during the Cold War tended to come from other parts of Eastern Europe, or from Asia.

Since the Cold War ended in 1991, the pace of bird introduction events has picked up. Looking at records from 1989 to 2000, the study’s authors found more than 600 instances of alien species released into the wild in Eastern and Western Europe, versus almost 900 for the roughly 40 years of the Cold War. Trade and movement across the former Iron Curtain and rising prosperity in Eastern Europe has made the problem of invasive species worse, they say. “It’s speeding up exponentially, not just for birds but for many other groups, like plants, mammals, insects and fish,” says team leader Francois Chiron, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem when this research was conducted.