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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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The Afterlives of Degraded Tropical Forests

New Value for Conservation and Development

Jenny E. Goldstein

An extensive body of research in the natural and social sciences has assessed the social, economic, and ecological causes of tropical forest degradation and forests' subsequent reduction in value. This article, however, takes the afterlives of degraded forests as its point of departure to ask how they are being reconsidered as valuable through conservation and development potential. Through a critical review of recent biophysical and social science literature on tropical forest degradation, this article first assesses the definitional and methodological foundations of tropical forest degradation. It then suggests that recent scholarship on the reincorporation of waste and wasteland into capitalist circuits of production offers one route to consider the value of degraded forests. Finally, this article reviews some of the ways in which these tropical forests are being considered economically and/or ecologically valuable through current conservation and developmental trajectories.

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Ruth Mostern

China’s Yellow River is the most sediment laden water course in the world today, but that came to be the case only about a thousand years ago. It is largely the result of agriculture and deforestation on the fragile environment of the loess plateau in the middle reaches of the watershed. This article demonstrates that the long term environmental degradation of the Yellow River was primarily anthropogenic, and furthermore, it explains how the spatial organization of state power in imperial China amplified the likelihood and consequences of landscape change.

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Marit Brendbekken

This essay concerns the paradoxes emerging in the dynamic space of hybridisation between vodou magic2 and the occult science of anthroposophy. These lived imaginaries and registers of interpretation are engaged within countermodernising environmental discourses and practices in the Dominican-Haitian borderlands. Here NGO-affiliated European anthroposophists, orientated by the work of Rudolf Steiner,3 are organising a biodynamic programme in co-operation with marginalised Dominican and Haitian borderlands peasants who live the consequences of radical deforestation. These peasants have for long been subjugated to the often violent dictates of post-colonial ruling élites, and their world of vodou spirits is itself the creation of ‘resistant accommodation’ to the forces of modernity/coloniality and their post-colonial transmutations.

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Between Predation and Protection

Forests and Forestry in Late Tsarist Primor'e

Mark Sokolsky

This article investigates the interaction between late imperial Russian colonization in Primor'e and the region's forest environments. Drawing on the records of administrators concerned with resettlement, as well as naturalists, travelers, and other contemporary observers, the article shows that Russian settlement, together with migration from China and Korea, had evident effects on Primor'e's taiga, but these changes were also accompanied by the emergence of widespread conservationist sentiment. The article argues that both increased exploitation of forests as well as conservation ultimately derived from the desire to project Russian imperial power. Settlement, which had many consequences for the natural world, was primarily a means to hold the territory against competitors. Conservation measures focused on limiting the actions of East Asian migrants and peasant settlers, as their role in deforestation seemed to impede the success of colonization. To conserve forest resources and ensure long-term growth, officials advocated rational exploitation through industrial timbering paired with state oversight, both of which were intended to fulfill the broader goal of securing imperial power in the Far East.

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Introduction

A New Journal for Contemporary Environmental Challenges

Paige West, Dan Brockington, Jamon Halvaksz and Michael Cepek

Social scientists have been writing about the relationships between people and their surroundings for as long as there has been social scientific inquiry. Fields such as anthropology, economics, history, human geography, law, political science, psychology, and sociology all have long and rich histories of contributing to and pioneering socio-environmental analysis. However, the past 20 years have seen a proliferation of scholarship in the social sciences that is focused on environmental issues. This is due, in part, to changes in our environment that have profound implications for the future of both human society and the environment. It is also due, in part, to the ways in which environmental practitioners have portrayed the causes of these changes. In the 1970s, social scientists, concerned with the ways in which the causes of environmental changes were being attributed to some peoples and not others, felt that their knowledge of social processes and social systems could shed light on these issues (see Blaikie and Brookfield 1987). They thought that the methods and theories of the social sciences could and should be brought to bear on questions about contemporary environmental changes. Climate change, the water crisis, deforestation, desertification, biodiversity loss, the energy crisis, nascent resource wars, environmental refugees, and environmental justice are just some of the many compelling challenges facing society today that were identified by these early scholars as sites in need of social scientific analysis.