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Ariela Zycherman

The expansion and intensification of agriculture is a major driver of deforestation in tropical forests and for global climate change. However, over the past decade Brazil has significantly reduced its deforestation rates while simultaneously increasing its agricultural production, particularly cattle and soy. While, the scholarly literature primarily attributes this success to environmental policy and global economic trends, recent ethnographic depictions of cattle ranchers and soy farmers offer deeper insight into how these political and economic processes are experienced on the ground. Examples demonstrate that policy and markets provide a framework for soy farming and ranching, but emerging forms of identity and new cultural values shape their practices. This article argues that to understand the full picture of why Brazil’s deforestation rates have dropped while the agricultural industry has flourished, the culture of producers must be present in the analysis.

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Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The Social Worlds of Wheat

Jessica Barnes

Wheat is one of the world’s most widely grown, traded, and consumed crops. This article reviews the interdisciplinary literature on human-wheat interactions, tracing how various actors engage with wheat up until its point of consumption. I look first at wheat as a seed, examining efforts to transform wheat over time through farmer selection and scientific breeding, and the emergence of high-yielding wheat, hybrid wheat, and genetically modified wheat. Second, I look at wheat as a plant and what it means to farm wheat. I highlight two key dimensions of farmer-wheat interactions—farmers’ choice of variety and their management of risk. Finally, I look at wheat as a grain and the practices of transportation, sorting, and trade that mediate flows of harvested grain from field to market. Through reviewing these three areas of literature, the article reveals the social worlds that both shape and are shaped by this globally significant crop.

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Neoliberal Water Management

Trends, Limitations, Reformulations

Kathryn Furlong

The impact of neoliberal policy reform on water management has been a topic of significant debate since the mid-1980s. On one side, a number of organizations have generated an abundant literature in support of neoliberal reforms to solve a range of water governance challenges. To improve water efficiency, allocation, and management, supporters have advocated the introduction and/or strengthening of market mechanisms, private sector ownership and operation, and business-like administration. Other individuals and groups have responded critically to the prescribed reforms, which rarely delivered the predicted results or became fully actualized. This article endeavors to articulate the varying sets of claims, to analyze the trends, to test them against their forecasted benefits, and to examine certain prominent proposals for reforming the reforms. The water sector experience with neoliberalization reveals several sets of contradictions within the neoliberal program, and these are discussed in the final section of the article.

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Robert Eastwood

This article is a non-technical review of the economics of global policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Quite a lot is known about the likely physical consequences of anthropogenic climate change, but much uncertainty remains. In particular, account needs to be taken of possible catastrophes such as ice sheet melting. How are we to balance the known costs of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the present against the uncertain benefits of such action for future generations? How convincing is the case for substantial measures to be undertaken now? If the case for such action is accepted, should emissions be controlled via Kyoto-style national emissions targets or by the imposition of carbon taxes? How can the challenges of burden sharing between developed and developing countries be addressed?

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Richard J. Ladle and Paul Jepson

The concept of extinction is at the heart of the modern conservation movement, and massive resources have been spent on developing models and frameworks for quantifying and codifying a phenomenon that has been described by American researcher and naturalist Edward O. Wilson as an obscure and local biological process. Scientists, environmentalists, and politicians have repeatedly used extinction rhetoric as a core justification for a global conservation agenda that seeks to influence a wide range of human activities despite the inherent difficulty and uncertainty involved in estimating current and future rates of extinction, or even in verifying the demise of a particular species. In this article we trace the historical origins of the extinction concept and discuss its power to influence policies, agendas, and behaviors. We argue that conservation needs to develop a more culturally meaningful rhetoric of extinction that aligns scientific evidence, cultural frames, institutional frameworks, and organizational interests.

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Climate Changing Small Islands

Considering Social Science and the Production of Island Vulnerability and Opportunity

Amelia Moore

This article argues that climate change has influenced the way in which small island nations are viewed and understood by the international climate community. Climate change has become an internationally recognized and specific language of vulnerability that is deployed in requests for international aid to fund adaptation and mitigation measures in some small islands, for population relocation plans and human rights advocacy in other islands, and for overhauling the 'tourism product' and creating new markets for travel in others. Vulnerability is a powerful idiom, especially in the contemporary climate context that has come to imply crisis, change, uncertainty, and immediacy. Importantly, vulnerability also gestures unambiguously toward seemingly limitless scientific and even commercial opportunity. These developments come with new forms of expertise in the natural and social sciences and the travel industry, as well as with new or reinstated forms of inequity. As the areas of small island expertise increasingly overlap, they come to reproduce the very context and form of small islands themselves.

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Adaptation--Genuine and Spurious

Demystifying Adaptation Processes in Relation to Climate Change

Thomas F. Thornton and Nadia Manasfi

In climate change discourse and policy, adaptation has become a critical byword and frame of reference. An implicit assumption in much of the strategizing is the notion that adaptation can be rationally planned, funded, and governed largely through existing frameworks. But can adaptation really be managed or engineered, especially given the significant unpredictability and severe impacts that are forecast in a range of climate scenarios? Over millennia, successful societies have adapted to climate shifts, but evidence suggests that this was often accomplished only through wide-ranging reorganization or the institution of new measures in the face of extreme environmental stress. This essay critically examines the concept of human adaptation by dividing it into eight fundamental processes and viewing each in a broad cultural, ecological, and evolutionary context. We focus our assessment especially on northern indigenous peoples, who exist at the edges of present-day climate governance frameworks but at the center of increasingly acute climate stress.

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Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation

Perspectives from a Century of Water Resources Development

Clive Agnew and Philip Woodhouse

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the influential Stern Report both reinforce the warming of the earth's climate system. The alarming environmental, social, and economic consequences of this trend call for immediate action from individuals, institutions, and governments. This article identifies parallels between the problem of adaptive management presented by climate change and an earlier 'global water crisis'. It explores how adaptive strategies have successively emphasized three different principles, based on science, economics, and politics/institutions. The article contends that the close association between climate change and water resources development enables a comparative analysis to be made between the strategies that have been adopted for the latter over the last 100 years. It argues that the experience of water resources development suggests a strong interdependence between the three principles and concludes that conceptualizing them as different dimensions of a single governance framework is necessary to meet the challenge of climate change adaptation.

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Debarati Sen and Sarasij Majumder

The global circulation of food and agricultural commodities is increasingly influenced by the ethical choices of Western consumers and activists who want to see a socially and environmentally sustainable trade regime in place. These desires have culminated in the formation of an elaborate system of rules, which govern the physical and social conditions of food production and circulation, reflected in transnational ethical regimes such as fair trade. Fair trade operates through certifying producer communities with sustainable production methods and socially just production relationships. By examining interdisciplinary academic engagements with fair trade, we argue that fair trade certification is a transnational bio-political regime; although, it holds the potential for reflecting global counterpolitics. By reviewing the literature on the emergence and history of fair trade certification, agro-food chains, case studies on certified producer communities and the certification process, this article shows that fair trade certification is a new governing mechanism to discipline farmers and producers in the Global South by drawing them into globalized market relationships. However, recent studies suggest that fair trade also leaves open the potential for creative iterations of the fair trade idea in producer communities to give voice to their situated struggles for justice. Thus, fair trade constitutes a contested moral terrain that mediates between the visions of justice harbored by producers and activists in the Global South and reflexive practices of the Western consumers. To map these critical developments around fair trade and fair trade certification, close ethnographic attention to the material and symbolic life of certification is vital.

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Nature’s Market?

A Review of Organic Certification

Shaila Seshia Galvin

As organic food becomes more widely available, great faith is placed on the seal or logo that certifies organic status. This article treats the mark of certification as a starting rather than an end point, critically reviewing literature from diverse national and regional contexts. Exploring questions concerning the extent to which organic certification assists or undermines the goal of ecological sustainability, abets the advance of large-scale agricultural capital, and supports the livelihood of smallholder farmers, the article considers the theoretical foundations, methodologies and modes of inquiry that have guided studies of organic agriculture and certification. It brings this research into conversation with literatures on audit cultures, quality, and with ongoing nature-culture debates. Through critical review of the literature and the author's extensive fieldwork with organic smallholders in northern India, the article suggests possible directions in which the literature may be expanded and advanced.