Stoekl, Allan. 2021. The Three Sustainabilities: Energy, Economy, Time. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 307 pp. ISBN 978-1517908188.
Since its popularization by the Brundtland Commission Report in 1987, the meaning of sustainability, both as a word and practice, has been debated by theorists. In The Three Sustainabilities, Allan Stoekl analyzes the different scales and moments of the theory of sustainability and considers the alternative sustainabilities that animate the Anthropocene. The book approaches sustainability as a science of continuation, where the human is to be found in several disproportionate sustainabilities, which partially connect with each other, but also “conflict, break apart and reunite in a non-hierarchical fashion” (14).
Stoekl effectively mounts the scale-critique by proposing three orders of sustainability: unqualified, restricted, and general. The book is divided into three parts corresponding to the three orders of sustainability. For Stoekl, “the closed economy of sustainability is not sealed” (12). The book brings together a range of thinkers from Sade to Marx telling various stories of the city, of energy, and of transmission as the “universe of first order sustainability returns to intersect with a third order posthuman economy reestablished ‘on the scale of the universe’” (21). Throughout the book, Stoekl draws on a rich genealogy of the term sustainability by making use of scientific and policy reports, media texts, and philosophical arguments.
In the first part of the book, Stoekl describes “unqualified sustainability” as one where the human species is largely irrelevant, where “vibrancy and stasis (in relation to time and energy) are not simply opposed within each other” (48). He intuitively asks: If the world without us is real, what is to become of us? This leads to the questioning of fundamental sustainability's power of sustenance, where both linear time and energy cannot be taken for granted, which he terms a “non-anthropomorphically wounding question.” Sustainability here is not human. It is an effect of time and is in turn affected by time. Using animals as a conceptual instance, Stoekl states that the radical neediness of organisms or ecologies as they come face to face with death cannot simply be countered but leads to a momentary encounter with the need for an ecological Other. He notes in the first part that as humans become self-aware, they are forced to think about machines and technics. This rhetoric leads to subjectivity as an aftereffect of functioning. Humans, thus start self-identifying with machines, in and through difference.
This becomes the point of genesis of “restricted sustainability” and the second part of the book. Using objects characterized through their energetic inputs, Stoekl places the human at the center. Through a structural analysis of energy inputs (using a technocratic framework), he asks: How might a responsible practice of consumption be imposed from the outside? This outside is composed of “the world of resources and objects, living and inert, quantifiable, waiting for our grasp, yet fragile, susceptible to entropy, depletion and ecocide” (112). Le Corbusier's ideal city, Benjamin's machine, and Ernst Junger's affectless technological world of production and energy flows point to a future that is not utopian but one that is “messianic (without a Messiah), the (cinematic?) ‘aperture’ through which we see a world perhaps (as in Kafka) always beyond our grasp, a promise as much a fulfilment” (19).
“General sustainability” forms the third part of the book and is defined as that which is “a practice that embraces the wasting of time instead of stuff” (226). Stoekl uses the Buddhist notion of Tanha as a typical object of everyday consumption (the motor of capitalist consumer society), questioning how might one conceptualize total unliveability, not just global climate change. Stoekl uses the figure of Benjamin's Angelus Novus and Bataille's accursed share to explore postconsumer waste—plastic scrap, food waste, and automobile graveyards. The practice of scrounging in the wastelands becomes key to facing back into a redemptive history. Furthermore, he says that reclamation becomes a transgression and violation of the limits of privacy, economy, and life that is closed off from the wishes and plans of others. He argues that third order sustainability must recognize and avert humanity's death in isolation, where “death with understanding, with acceptance, no matter how improbable, might indeed be linked to another birth; if not of humanity itself, then at least that of the planet” (251).
In his analysis of the work of Vinciane Despret, Robert Constanza, Steve Hinchliffe, and Sarah Whartmore, Stoekl works towards a powerful critique against singular ideas of sustainability that animate technocratic frameworks of climate action. Writing on the usefulness of the term, Stoekl asserts that sustainability is “in the larger sense about time, and objects (living and inanimate): all the aspects of how objects are in time, and pass—or do not pass-away” (2). These arguments undergird the cognitive dissonance that marks ecological sustainability as a principally anthropocentric notion. Stoekl is suggestive of the connective tissues between the subject and object. The book requires familiarity with Bataille, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Lacan, Deleuze, and Guattari, and contemporary theorists like Žižek. Stoekl effectively maps an empirically grounded exploration of how and why sustainability can be remade. For him, sustaining involves a subject open to “radical consumption.” While Stoekl does elaborate on the concept of the subject, we are left wondering: Who exactly is a subject? How would we know the boundaries or permeabilities between the human and the subject? Stoekl builds a complicated picture of subject–object relations by suggesting that “human consciousness is inseparable from autopoietic systems that constitute it and open it out” (193). Readers will have to ascertain if they are satisfied by the measures of the human as subject.
The Three Sustainabilities covers a wide range of theoretical horizons and is inventive in its analysis of textual materials. It is a pleasure and challenge to read due to the dense arguments and expansive writing style. Other themes that will be of interest to readers include sovereignty, agency, labor, aesthetic theory, and concepts like prosopopoeia. Geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and environmental scientists will find the work exciting and will likely be eager to advance some of the challenges that are put forward in the book, especially around the politics of sustainability in contemporary thought.
University of Pennsylvania
Carrasco, Anita. 2020. Embracing the Anaconda: A Chronicle of Atacameño Life and Mining in the Andes. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 182 pp. ISBN 978-1498575157.
Anita Carrasco's Embracing the Anaconda is a dynamic account of Atacameño Indigenous people's relationships to copper mining companies in Chile. The book follows multiple communities and time periods to construct a multilayered narrative centered on struggles over water. Atacameños are descendants of Quechua-speaking groups conquered, first, by the Inca Empire then by the Spanish. They have lived for centuries herding and practicing horticulture in the arid Atacama region, undertaking seasonal migration between pasturelands, and constructing elaborate canals for irrigation. Since the early twentieth century, this region has also been home to large-scale copper mining companies that constructed water pipelines that diverted precious and scarce water resources. Carrasco borrows from Rob Nixon to frame water diversion as a form of “slow violence” in which environmental destruction is slow-moving but long-lasting, devastating Atacameños’ livelihoods and cultural attachments to water.
Carrasco's analysis of community–corporate relationships resists simplification. The book examines how waves of privatization, nationalization, and Indigenous rights laws have transformed and diversified community–corporate relationships. The author draws on perspectives from rural and urban Indigenous populations, as well as from several generations of Atacameños with differing political perspectives. Carrasco grew up in another copper mining region in Chile where her father was a geologist for Codelco, Chile's state-owned copper company. Her entry into the Atacama region began when she worked as a consultant for Codelco to evaluate local Indigenous communities’ perceptions of a radio antenna on the sacred Quimal mountain range. That consultancy led her to ask deeper questions about corporate–community relationships, which she explored in a master's thesis and a PhD dissertation that yielded much of the book's interview and ethnographic data.
Carrasco's book traces the shifting and diverse relationships between Atacameños and copper mining companies over a century. Each of the six chapters lays out a particular struggle over water rights. The chapters are not chronological, and Carrasco states in the introduction that the reader can approach them in any order. This format is effective as each chapter relies on different sources and explores distinct themes. Among these, chapter six focuses on Atacameños’ labor histories. The histories are told by Atacameños who built water pipelines for the US-financed Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which operated the mine from 1923 until 1971. Many workers had fond memories of this corporate patronage model that paid them a real wage and made them feel respected. Yet, under this model, “Indigenous peoples themselves got involved in the slow violence that eventually ruined the sustainability of their livelihood in the present” (119).
Carrasco contrasts these dynamics with the corporate charity model adopted by Codelco, the state-run company that took over operations in 1976. A particularly good vignette in chapter three illustrates how and why the latter felt petty and insulting to local people. Carrasco narrates a day spent with a group of Atacameños living near the sacred Quimal Mountain as they travel up to the summit to perform a ritual cleansing. The journey up the mountain is tense as they pass through mine security and then arrive to find that the company officials who had promised to provide lunch never arrived. Carrasco shows how this is a lopsided form of reciprocity in which the mining company can use their community work to manage its public image while community members must negotiate to receive gifts from the company that is ruining their land and water. Community members felt disrespected by this corporate charity model, based on voluntary gift-giving, rather than on incorporating Atacameños into the profits generated by mining.
Chapter two illustrates what Carrasco refers to as “the social life of water.” As part of neoliberal reforms in the 1980s, Chile developed water markets that allow private property owners to lease water rights to others. This chapter shows the diversity of Indigenous relationships to mining companies and how water rights are determined by histories of land privatization as well as international norms that give Indigenous peoples consultation rights. For example, the community of Turi stopped the company's attempts to lease its water by proving it held a collective land title that dated back to the early 1900s as part of its consolidation of their collective land rights as an Indigenous community, while the community of Toconce had no collective title and thus struggled to control their water sources.
Carrasco's long-term commitment to the region and her past position as a company insider give her a unique and complex perspective. She also conducted significant archival work, which yielded intimate insights into the relationships between mine employees and communities. She uses that archival work in chapter five to tell the story of a US American engineer working for Anaconda who developed respect and affection for Atacameño people while acknowledging that his work was destroying their way of life.
At times, the author draws too heavily on comparative insights from other works, rather than fully analyzing the richness of the ethnographic and archival material. For example, in chapters five and six, there is some discussion of colonialism and imposed models of development that could have been used more extensively to inform the framework of the book and to explain how and why communities developed distinct strategic relations, ranging from resistance to incorporation, with copper companies. I found myself wanting to know more about how Atacameños understand and negotiate their insertion into extractive capitalist relations, and from my reading, it seems evident that Carrasco's rich material and nuanced perspective have much to offer in answering that question.
This book is accessibly written and could easily be taught in undergraduate classes centered on environmental conflict, water politics, or Indigenous peoples. It is also a valuable read for scholars of extractivism, water conflicts, and mining companies. Carrasco's use of multiple fieldsites, attention to the long history of mining, and diverse methods make this book an important contribution to the literature on environmental conflicts and corporate–community relationships.
Sullivan, Kathleen M., and James H. McDonald, eds. 2020. Public Lands in the Western US: Place and Politics in the Clash between Public and Private. 226 pp. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-1793637062.
In Public Lands in the Western US: Place and Politics in the Clash between Public and Private, editors Kathleen Sullivan and James McDonald aim to present “historical, ethnographic, local and fine-grained” analyses that “unpack the stories and complicated dynamics of the myriad struggles and collaborations over public lands” (8). At last, a book that illustrates the contributions that anthropology can make to understanding the complexities of public land management in the US (although not all contributors are anthropologists). Most authors refrain from using obscure academic jargon, so the volume should be engaging for anyone interested in public lands issues, as well as for social scientists, land managers, conservation professionals, and students.
The book focuses on the US West, where 47 percent of the land in eleven states is owned by the federal government, and where armed standoffs over public land recently gained national attention. The US governs public land via a complex array of laws and a variety of agencies with different mandates, priorities, and sometimes overlapping jurisdictions that support many different and sometimes competing uses, from resource extraction to scientific investigation to recreation. This sets the stage for various levels of conflict as well as for collaboration.
The nine contributed chapters are linked by two crosscutting themes: “senses of place” and “settler colonialism.” Part I describes the editors’ aims and provides a literature survey. The chapters in Part II explore in depth senses of place. Those in Part III consider how senses of place are shaped and constrained by the legal, policy, and managerial context of land management agencies.
In the first chapter of Part II, James McDonald situates recent standoffs at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in a long history of “range wars” over livestock grazing on public lands. He shows how new “range warriors” turned to religious ideas to discredit federal government land ownership and reinforce their claims to a right to graze and characterizes these divinely authorized “range wars” as a revitalization movement intended to preserve warriors’ way of life. McDonald seems unaware of relevant scholarly contributions (such as the work of Nathan Sayre and Peter Walker) and enthralled by the “Wild West” imaginary the volume aims to interrogate (even choosing it for the title of his chapter). Additionally, rather than approaching local festivals as an opportunity to delve into warriors’ sense of place, his commentary on them drips with disdain. The chapter constitutes an infelicitous beginning that subsequent chapters are able to overcome.
The chapter co-authored by Bruce R. Tebbs and McDonald describes the Tebbs family's long-term struggle to manage their private ranch, which is surrounded by Forest Service land. Written from the perspective of a rancher (who is not a “range warrior”), this chapter provides a better understanding of how sense of place is disrupted by US Forest Service policy, and of the associated feeling of being disregarded, even persecuted, by one's own government.
Anthropologist Sayd Randle's chapter presents a compelling analysis of activists who create new senses of place to recruit various segments of “the Public” in support of projects to repurpose the Los Angeles River. Viewed as a “hazard,” the Army Corps of Engineers contained it in a concrete bed and fenced it to prohibit public access. Activists construct new identities for the river—as a water resource to be rationally exploited and as a place for nature to be enjoyed and cared for by the public—creating new futures for the river at the same time as the potential for conflict.
The chapter by David Knowlton explores the sense of place arising from, and from which arose, the state nickname for New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment.” Created in 1935 to brand the state for tourism, the name targets Anglos as the subject for enchantment. To contrast the sense of place constructed for settler colonial tourism, Knowlton frames the chapter around place sensed via the experience and diverse geographies of chile.
On the whole, Part II does not quite live up to its promise to explore in depth senses of place of people in particular places. It is strengthened most by Randle's contribution.
In Chapter 6, the first in Part III, Jonathan P. Thompson considers how in the Nuclear West the military–industrial complex informs sense of place over and above the project of “settler colonialism.” The nuclear legacy enters into memories of swimming in polluted rivers, playing on piles of tailings, and of family and friends who died of cancer or have persistent health problems. This chapter would be more compelling if we could hear from these people.
Chapter 7, by Jacqueline J. Russell, examines how the tension between federal and local law enforcement on public lands, informed by different national and local senses of place, contributes to a lack of collaboration in law enforcement. Some county sheriffs claim they have the only authority in their county and actively obstruct federal enforcement. This situation threatens both conservation efforts and the safety of federal employees.
The next three chapters focus on collaborative efforts among federal and state land management agencies, Native American governments, environmentalists, ranchers, and others to address specific public lands management issues. In Chapter 8, Scott Turner examines the economic, environmental, and social complexities that have arisen around “The Interagency Bison Management Plan” in Yellowstone National Park. The buffalo evokes very different senses of places for diverse participating groups, reflected in the contentious and seemingly interminable planning process. Turner suggests that the emergence of a private conservation project may hold more promise for the future of the buffalo than the Interagency Bison Management Plan.
Rochelle Bloom and Douglas Deur's chapter highlights Native Americans’ efforts to be recognized and included as government- to-government partners in collaborative management initiatives on public lands. In 2016, the concept of “traditional association” between Native American tribes and public lands was encoded in the legal framework for federal land management, enabling tribes to make agreements with the National Park Service for plant gathering in areas where it traditionally occurred. However, the authors show that the same nineteenth-century ontologies that informed the creation of national parks by dispossessing Native Americans are still evident in regulations governing these agreements and environmental groups’ continued opposition to traditional plant gathering and management in national parks.
In Chapter 10, Paul Burow examines the discourse of “conifer encroachment” in a collaborative landscape-scale effort along the California–Nevada border to keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list. He argues that settler-colonial violence is fundamental to environmental management, premised on the erasure of Indigenous peoples and nonhuman species who defy resource exploitation. “Collaborative conservation” is also implicated in the ongoing project of settler colonialism because it excludes alternative understandings of environmental change and pushes members to converge on solutions that do not disturb existing power relations. In Burow's analysis, “settler colonialism” is such an overwhelming and all-encompassing fact that it seems to foreclose any possibility of addressing conservation on public lands.
Although uneven, the volume does a great service by introducing and informing about a wide variety of public lands issues: the history of public land and the federal land management agencies with their different mandates and priorities; ranching; the nuclear legacy; law enforcement; wildlife management; and changing conceptions of the role of Native American tribes in managing these lands. The chapters grounded in specific places and based on at least some ethnographic research were the most compelling for me and held the most promise for contributing to thinking about how to address conflict and further collaboration on public lands.
Research on conflict and collaboration on public lands inevitably brings researchers into contact with the rural residents who live adjacent to these lands, who are often conservative, religious, and opposed to environmentalists’ and the urban majority's visions for these lands. Hopefully, this volume will encourage more anthropologists to turn their ethnographic attention to conflict and collaboration on US public lands, where ethnographic analysis can provide insight into and help address not only intractable conflicts and interminable collaborations, but also the divisions that plague and cripple local and national politics more generally in the US today.
Hirsch, Shana Lee. 2020. Anticipating Future Environments: Climate Change, Adaptive Restoration, and the Columbia River Basin. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 232 pp. ISBN 978-0295747293.
In this timely and thoughtful book, Shana Lee Hirsch examines how restoration ecologists respond to and anticipate climate change in the Columbia River Basin. Hirsch is interested in the pathways for adaptation employed by these scientists, who, she explains, form an epistemic community characterized by their participation in a professional network dedicated to ecological restoration. Hirsch identifies three primary adaptive strategies: emergence refers to the development of new ideas at the nexus of engineering-based and process-based restoration practices, such as the cultivation of beaver habitat; acclimation signifies the ways restorationists adapt their practices to a changing climate; and anticipation describes their use of modeling to mitigate climate uncertainty and imagine potential futures. These strategies arise out of the scientists’ “environmental imaginaries” (180), “collective, socially constructed ideas about the world” (69), rooted in a larger imaginary of the American West. In the Columbia River Basin, these imaginaries are exemplified by the seemingly contradictory management desires of both supplying hydropower and cultivating salmon spawning habitat. Hirsch joins other scholars like Jessica O'Reilly, Naomi Oreskes, and Michael Oppenheimer who use ethnography to interrogate the production of scientific knowledge, in this case within the context of scientific practices co-produced by individuals and institutions, what Hirsch refers to as “knowledge infrastructures” (36).
The Columbia River Basin spans multiple states, protected tribal fishing access, and an international border; therefore, it is jurisdictionally complex to manage. Thus, Hirsch traveled more than 50,000 miles across the basin over a period of four years interviewing restoration practitioners, managers, and modelers, attending restoration ecology conferences, and visiting restoration sites. This period of research included one of the hottest years on record (2015), a bellwether for how warming trends may affect ecological outcomes. Restoration ecologists typically restore ecosystems based on understandings of historic ecological regimes. Given that some “historic conditions no longer exist” (15), the question of how scientists are grappling with a paradigm shift characterized by an increasing focus on the future becomes a particularly generative and intriguing domain of inquiry.
In Chapter 1, Hirsch reflects on past restoration work in the Columbia River Basin. She explains that change in scientific management practices occurred “not because the fish or the river or the water are fundamentally different” (85), but because of the changing social and political desires to which restoration work responded over time. Hirsch's analysis is valuable because of her attention to the ways that different knowledge formations facilitate different kinds of decision-making. Yet I found myself wondering whether accepting that the fish and the river may, in fact, be fundamentally different opens another pathway for understanding how scientific knowledge also emerges from the materiality of the water and the species it sustains. How do human and other-than-human formations shape and respond to each other in the context of ecological restoration happening in the basin?
An ethnographic vignette begins and frames each of the six chapters. Hirsch begins Chapter 2 describing a conference on river restoration, then explores how designs for the movement and distribution of water evolved as a scientific practice. This evolution began with an understanding of streams as single channel frameworks, shaped by agricultural and human land use needs. While still influential, restorationists increasingly subscribe to the idea of “multi-threaded” (63) channels that occupy greater areas of the floodplain while increasing habitat diversity. Vignettes like this, and the book's structure, lend themselves to a wide audience, those interested in the Columbia River Basin and the fate of the salmon populations it supports, along with social scientists, historians of science, and ecologists and biologists.
Chapter 3 follows the work of an aquatic ecologist and a fisheries biologist as part of a large-scale watershed restoration project to examine how they contend with what Hirsch refers to as “shifting baselines” (95), socially constructed references against which they measure environmental change. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss the three strategies of adaptation employed by restoration ecologists of emergence, acclimation, and anticipation.
Of the three adaptation strategies Hirsch categorizes in her book, readers can, perhaps, learn the most from restoration ecologists’ anticipation of the future. Reckoning with the ecological impacts of a changing climate affects everybody, not just scientists. Yet for scientists this anticipatory future orientation means a greater prevalence and reliance on modeling to drive decision making. Modeling enables scientists with limited time and funding to account for uncertainty and multiple spatial and temporal scales, guiding restoration work in the present with the future in mind. Although Hirsch recognizes modeling as situated within her larger project of evaluating how and by whom knowledge is produced, I wanted to learn more about how the modeling employed by restoration ecologists is embedded within social and political processes constructing knowledge in particular ways.
Hirsch understands environmental imaginaries to have continuity across change, expressed most powerfully, she argues, in the persistent assertion of treaty rights by tribes across the Columbia River Basin. Hirsch alludes to the restoration efforts of tribes as exemplifying a kind of anticipatory ideal, such as by designing for long timescales in their restoration plans. I found myself wanting to know more about the restoration practices of these tribes and how they are adapting, not for the first time, to a changing environment. Hirsch references the emergence of new environmental imaginaries, shaped in part by greater value associated with tribal treaty rights and environmental justice and protection. It would be interesting to know how Indigenous knowledge infrastructures relate to and inform these basin-wide imaginaries and management objectives.
Hirsch's book is a valuable contribution examining the complexities of evolving scientific practices in response to climate change among restoration ecologists in the Columbia River Basin, a critically important watershed for people, salmon, and various other plant and animal species. Faced with an uncertain, but certainly changing, ecological future, the question of how individuals, institutions, and society adapt to new realities is a pressing one.
University of British Columbia
O'Gorman, Emily. 2021. Wetlands in a Dry Land: More-Than-Human-Histories of the Murray–Darling Basin. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 288 pp. ISBN 978-0-295-74915-0.
Wetlands in a Dry Land is an absorbing examination of Australia's Murray–Darling Basin. Each of the chapters in this book represents a brief but deep dive into a specific constellation of humans, non-human species, and hydrology across the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Together, they give the reader a multi-faceted picture of how the socio-ecological system that is the Basin in the twenty-first century came to be, and what kinds of ideologies and trailing power relations shaped this process across time.
As Emily O'Gorman notes, chapter one deviates from the pattern of the rest of the book, focusing primarily on the present and the struggle of Aboriginal women from the Murray–Darling Basin to regain and maintain voice and rights to cosmologically important practices—specifically a form of weaving that manages wetland environments—within resource management systems currently governing their ancestral Country. The chapter is structured primarily around conversations with Danielle Carney Flakelar, a Wailwan weaver. The conversations explore her efforts to bridge her work with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Aboriginal women's organizations, and her own weaving practices, as well as with two other Aboriginal women weavers within the Basin. O'Gorman is intentional in foregrounding the book with an engagement with present day Indigenous worldings of the region. While the section could potentially have included more discussion of what is understood to be a broader interview base, Carney Flakelar's place is clearly a vital one and O'Gorman's expansion of her and others’ discussion through historical sources makes for an important framing for the following historical chapters.
Chapter two is a case study of Toowoomba, a southeastern Queensland city built on swamps. It opens with a description of how the swamps were used by Aboriginal groups prior to colonization and takes the reader through to the present period, where the swamps have been almost entirely channeled and paved over. Along the way, the author examines how class and race-based beliefs mixed with evolving understandings of biology, epidemiology, and zoonotic disease, resulting in exclusionary and dispossessive practices against Aboriginal, Chinese, and poor European settlers. These groups frequently lived at the margins, making different, often very productive, use of the swamp ecology, and were thus affected by successive waves of engineering and drainage done in the name of public health. The chapter begins and ends by contemplating the swamp as a “recalcitrant agent” in its own right (46). Chapter three expands on the issue of zoonotic disease, race ideologies, and environmental control to examine how the Australian government investigated a possible outbreak of malaria in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) between World Wars I and II. In an analysis reminiscent of medical anthropologist Emily Martin, O'Gorman looks at how this process was affected by a war-influenced Western rhetoric that depicted mosquitos in highly gendered and racialized ways and the appropriate responses as highly militarized, but also at how evolving understandings of mosquito ecology, and the difficulty attaining simple fixes for mosquito eradication in the MIA, led to new “imagined ecologies” (95).
Chapter four remains focused on the MIA but turns to the evolving relationships between agriculture, environmental engineering, and avian wildlife. It considers the period between the 1920s (when farmers began cultivating rice in the MIA) and the present, and tracks attitude and policy changes specifically regarding nomadic native ducks. At the heart of the chapter is an unresolved disagreement “between farmers, and between farmers and ecologists” about whether ducks damage rice crops—and the related question of whether and how to hunt them (119). As field studies and political conditions evolve, O'Gorman argues, both Australian and international policy on ducks and wetlands habitats in the MIA move from framing ducks as game at best and dangerous pests at worst, to framing ducks and other waterbirds as necessary parts of a functioning ecological landscape. This latter framing was boosted among some farmers during the Millennium Drought when wet rice-cultivation was criticized for overuse of water, and the importance of rice paddies as avian habitat became expedient. Throughout the struggle, O'Gorman states that “ducks have occupied a space at the interface of wildlife and agriculture” and that their shifting roles reflect “some of the complexity of this interface” (119).
Chapter five moves to the Coorong Lagoon and analysis of pelicans and protected areas focused on core political ecological themes of racism, enclosure, and conservation. The chapter traces the formation of an ornithology association-run waterbird reserve on islands in the Lagoon, created in the wake of a mass slaughter of a pelican rookery there in 1911, and which eventually became a part of what is now the Coorong National Park. Along the way, O'Gorman examines: (1) the role of private reserves on crown lands, (2) the scheduling of protection for different birds, and (3) how pelican conservation represented a growing Australian nationalism tied to local flora and fauna, while at the same time dispossessing local Aboriginal Ngarrindjeri peoples from bird hunting and egg collection in their Country. Though the chapter is artful in its deeply layered local focus, broader engagement with political ecology's extensive theorization of dispossession and protected areas might have expanded the discussion.
The focus of chapter six is the development of the category of “wetlands” in conservation biology in the 1970s, and how migrating birds influenced this process. O'Gorman examines how Australia's joining of two international bird-centered conservation agreements—the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and the Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement—shaped an ultimately failed attempt to perform a nationwide survey of Australian wetlands, including those of the Basin. The survey failed, Gorman argues, because of disagreements over what constitutes a wetland and how those wetlands should be valued. Efforts at both tasks were limited by problems with data collection technologies such as early satellite imagery. O'Gorman shows how the problematic nature of the survey continues to shape wetland ecology research in Australia today.
The final chapter moves back to the Coorong Lagoon and examines a poignant present-day conflict between exploding long-nosed fur seal populations and a coalition of local fishers and Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal communities. The growing seal population, in concert with immense salinity changes, have crushed the viability of the fishery. Both groups argue that the seals were never present in the lagoon before and favor culling or live removal; the state government has responded to neither. The chapter balances this exploration with a problematization of the current use of historical baselines in natural resource management, showing how pre-sealing industry population numbers and distributions cannot be reliably determined. O'Gorman brings in recent critiques from across the biological and social sciences about belonging and invasiveness and proposes the term “rippling” to describe how historical capitalist interventions into environmental systems continue materially into the present (190).
The writing style and empirical bulk of the book is grounded in environmental history, but O'Gorman also braids in elements of other social science and humanities approaches, including ethnography and multispecies thinking. The book will appeal to an interdisciplinary audience and is well-formatted for course assignment. Self-described in the Afterword as multi-scalar, multi-sited, and multidisciplinary in its effort to represent the Basin in all its complexity, O'Gorman's book represents an ambitious and engaging example of environmental humanities scholarship.
University of Oslo
Styles, Megan. 2019. Roses from Kenya: Labor, Environment, and the Global Trade in Cut Flowers. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 232 pp. ISBN 978-0-295-74650-0.
In Roses from Kenya, environmental anthropologist Megan Styles examines how people in Naivasha, Kenya have engaged with the cut flower industry, which has grown dramatically since the first flower farm was founded there in the early 1970s. She argues that through floriculture, Naivasha has become a political and economic “nerve center” (8) in Kenya, sparking moral concerns about labor exploitation and environmental degradation while serving as a key site for economic development and political innovation. Based on research conducted between 2004 and 2014, she explores how people occupying different positions relative to the industry see commercial horticulture: as opportunity (a means of achieving personal and national aspirations) and as threat (a force that exploits workers and natural resources and must be controlled).
Styles succeeds in her aim of drawing a complex “ethnographic portrait” (9) of floriculture in Naivasha. While media accounts and scholarly studies tend to focus on low-wage workers, she gives a more well-rounded portrayal of the industry, contributing to a broader effort to study better-paid professionals on the African continent. Besides low-wage laborers, she interviewed labor advocates, technical professionals, government officials, industry lobbyists, and expatriate managers as she sought to understand how people reaped benefits from and worked to transform an industry which had become notorious for labor and environmental problems. She complemented these interviews with archival research and with participant-observation research at sites such as a farm self-audit, an employee appreciation party, and a waste management stakeholders meeting.
After the introduction, chapter one tells the “social and environmental history” (27) of Naivasha. From the Maasai pastoralists removed by British colonial officials to make room for white settlers through the profound impacts of the 2008 postelection violence, we learn how people from different ethnic, national, and racial backgrounds have built lives here, asserted claims to belong, or challenged the claims of others, and sought to shape this place.
The subsequent four chapters comprise the heart of the book. They focus on the perspectives, experiences, and activities of people who are variously connected to floriculture. Chapter two describes the struggles of low-wage laborers, many of them women, who came to Naivasha in search of economic opportunity; they hoped to earn enough to invest in their children's education and/or to buy farmland or start a business back home, but they often struggled to find work and support themselves on their wages. They made sacrifices in the present (working hard and taking on debt) in the hope of securing a better future.
Chapter three focuses on Black Kenyan professionals, mostly men. Some are labor advocates working to improve pay and conditions for low-wage workers. Others are technical experts who aimed to develop their own capacities to run modern farms and conduct environmental and health audits. All were motivated to ensure that the industry benefitted Kenyan workers and the Kenyan nation-state, but as part of an “upwardly mobile cosmopolitan elite” (94), they also hoped to leverage their professional credentials and accomplishments to move into more lucrative positions in business, politics, or the international non-profit sector.
Chapter four looks at industry lobbyists and state officials developing public–private partnerships in “the creative phase of neoliberalism” (118). The Brand Kenya initiative promoted Kenya as a site for investment, while the Grown in the Sun campaign successfully sought to counter concern about the carbon footprint of Kenyan flowers sold in European markets. A new Water Resource Users Association, formed in the process of “devolving governance to local or regional levels” (137), featured flower growers and civil servants eager to work together to manage water resources in Naivasha.
Chapter five examines the perspectives of expatriate farm managers and white Kenyan residents. All felt a need to justify their presence, whether by highlighting their contribution to developing Kenya or by emphasizing their roots in and extensive knowledge of Kenya. While expatriate farm managers were committed to floriculture, many expected to move on to jobs in the industry elsewhere; while white Kenyans were committed to Naivasha, they were divided on the benefits of floriculture.
Each of these chapters highlights several people whose stories illustrate key themes, and Styles carefully situates each person's perspective within her larger body of data, explaining where it coincides with or diverges from the perspectives of similarly positioned people. She also indicates who was interested in talking with her and why (such as Black Kenyan professionals and state officials eager to explain their accomplishments and goals) and who expressed concerns about talking to her and why (such as expatriate farm managers defensive about negative coverage of the industry or White Kenyans defensive about their colonial roots).
The book's conclusion offers updates on people's lives and on the recent rapid growth of geothermal energy development in Naivasha, helping Styles emphasize her point that floriculture is a means to an end for most people involved in the industry and will not necessarily continue to dominate economic life as this nerve center evolves.
Styles shows convincingly not just how people seek to build their own lives and careers through engaging with floriculture, but also how floriculture in Naivasha is influenced by and contributes to national and global economic and political processes. The environment comes less clearly into focus. After explaining in chapter one how people in the Lake Naivasha region have historically made a living in (and thereby impacted) the natural environment, it appears only sporadically in the rest of the book, and even then, it is often reduced to water volume and quality, with only human interests considered. By the end, it is not clear exactly how floriculture has impacted the environment and whether the lake is at serious risk, as some fear, and in what sense. While this may very well be an artifact of how the people portrayed talked about the environment, it would have been helpful for the author to address this explicitly in the conclusion, at least. Nonetheless, her book provides a valuable ethnographic study of commodity production, economic development, regulatory institutions, state-making, and nation-building in a particular place.
Wendi A. Haugh
St. Lawrence University
Boyce, James K. 2019. The Case for Carbon Dividends. Medford, MA: Polity Press. 140 pp. ISBN 978-1-5095-2655-0.
In this book, James Boyce makes a succinct and compelling case for carbon dividends as a viable policy that can help the United States tackle both climate change and inequality at the same time. The idea is simple: revenue from carbon tax would be distributed equally to everyone as dividends based on “the principle of common ownership of our environment” (3). Consumers with bigger carbon footprints would pay more while those with smaller carbon footprints get back more than they pay. This would create an incentive for everyone to keep fossil fuels in the ground, which is the ultimate goal of this and any carbon policy. The logistics of such payments could be similar to Social Security payments, where money is deposited into people's bank accounts.
The book begins with some basic facts as to why we need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels: beyond the negative impacts of climate change, reducing our carbon emissions also improves the quality of the air we breathe, thus preventing millions of premature deaths around the world. While the moral imperative of climate change is intergenerational equity—“our duty to safeguard the Earth for future generations” (9)—the public health impacts of air pollution in the current generation—“saving lives here and now” (20)—is in itself significant enough to take urgent action to cut our emissions. A cleaner and just energy transition would also lead to green growth, which would employ more people than the fossil fuel industry. The costs for such a transition can be covered by redirecting existing government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry—estimated in 2015 to be $333 billion a year worldwide (34).
Boyce argues that we can achieve this transition by limiting carbon emissions through putting a price on them. Existing carbon pricing, Boyce argues, is too low to cut our emissions to the level that is needed to meet the Paris Agreement. Determining the “right” price is the focus of chapter 2. Here we learn about the “social cost of carbon” promoted by economists and the “target-priced carbon prices,” and the different kinds of carbon pricing—a carbon tax, a cap-and-permit system, or a combination of the two. Whatever form it takes, Boyce explains that a carbon pricing policy that helps meet our emissions targets is one that sets a limit on the amount of fossil fuels burned and that implements the pricing “upstream” where fossil fuels first enter the economy. Chapter 3 provides details on carbon rent, which is the money—as Boyce notes, a potentially very large amount—paid by consumers as a result of policies that reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Cutting the fossil fuel supply results in a price increase, which is passed on to consumers, hitting poorer households hardest. While the top 20 percent income households account for nearly 50 percent of total household carbon use—twelve times more than the bottom 20 percent—carbon rent would have a more significant impact on poorer households than richer households (6 percent and 4 percent in terms of the percentage of their incomes, respectively) (72). When fossil fuel supply is cut, oil prices go up, as we experienced in the oil shocks of the 1970s. The beneficiaries of the higher prices paid by consumers are the oil producers. On the contrary, Boyce argues that carbon rent should go to us, the people, in the form of dividends.
In chapter 4, and the FAQ section that follows it, Boyce makes the convincing case for carbon dividends not just as a solution to the climate crisis, but as a way to address the income inequality brought about by carbon rent. Carbon dividends can be called a universal property—a “common property owned in equal measure by all members of society” which is “individual, perfectly egalitarian, and inalienable” (77)—only when carbon rent is distributed equally as dividends to everyone. Boyce provides details on how carbon dividends can benefit the poorest more—carbon prices coupled with dividends would be 11.6 percent of per capita income for the poorest 20 percent as opposed to −0.9 percent of per capita income for the richest 20 percent—as the dividends would be more than what they would pay from increased fossil-fuel prices due to carbon pricing. A bipartisan carbon dividend policy could become reality if we take action to make it happen by electing leaders who would push for such a policy.
Boyce's discussions on carbon dividends, however, does not fully address how such policies could or could not work at the global level, and more specifically in the global South, especially in countries that are emerging to become large emitters. This would have completed discussions at the end of chapter 4 on the need for a clean energy transition to solve climate change, which is a global issue. While the book does mention that such a system would need to be implemented at the national scale and that the principles could be applied worldwide, the reader is left wondering: What kind of measures could be taken by intergovernmental organizations, multilateral banks in particular, to implement such a policy at global levels or, at least, facilitate it in emerging economies? Further, while references are made to “international cooperation obstacles” (6) that have not led to adequate climate action so far, the claim that carbon dividend policies at the national level could lead to an international climate agreement seems unrealistic.
This latest book from Boyce, an economist who has published prolifically on the topic of environmental justice since 2002, is significant in its focus on the solution to the climate crisis. Solution-oriented climate policies such as this are all the more important now in the face of the rapid increase in the price of gasoline we have been seeing, particularly since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022. The Russian invasion has highlighted the way in which fossil fuels build autocracies and how the unequal distribution of fossil fuels gives power to autocrats. The solution detailed in Boyce's book, when implemented, would be a significant contribution that would help the world move towards a just energy transition. Clearly, carbon dividends has the potential to be a form of intra- and intergenerational justice as well as distributive justice that could reduce income inequality worldwide, and serve as a pillar of climate justice.
Rahder, Micha. 2020. An Ecology of Knowledges: Fear, Love, and Technoscience in Guatemalan Conservation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 316 pp. ISBN 978-1-4780-0691-6.
In An Ecology of Knowledges, Micha Rahder provides an important intervention into the anthropology of conservation through her rich, detailed observations and analyses of the complex interaction of knowledges that work together to construct the conservationist landscape of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) in Guatemala's Petén region. This book fills a critically important gap in the literature on biodiversity conservation by providing an in-depth, ethnographic understanding of conservationists as opposed to typical analyses that center the perspectives of local or indigenous peoples on conservation initiatives originating from outside national and international institutions.
Rahder's book illuminates not only the multiple worlds that conservationists inhabit, but also how they work to create actionable knowledge from the impossibly complex variables of the MBR. This does not mean that local people and contexts are forsaken. They are found throughout the book, but An Ecology of Knowledges employs their perspectives and context as an avenue into the individuals and organizations that inhabit the “conservation apparatus.” Rather than presenting conservation and conservationists as monolithic, totalizing, hegemonic forces, Rahder's analysis guides the reader through the complex interplay of NGOs, communities, and government institutions that attempt to successfully govern a region of Guatemala (the Petén) with a reputation for a lack of such governability and governance.
A significant contribution of Rahder's ethnography is the use of the nooscape as its central heuristic. The concept combines the prefix of “noo-” from noosphere with the -scape suffix based on the Appadurai's concept of -scapes in the context of globalization. Rahder borrows from the theory of the noosphere, originally theorized as the “mind of the earth,” to focus on the ways in which the interactions of complex, more than human assemblages collectively think and produce materiality. Yet, because the noosphere concept is too systemic and too global, Rahder combines it with the concept of “-scapes” precisely to capture the situated, historical, political, and economic interactions across time that influence actors and create irregular, contingent, and multi-faceted knowledge, which then work on the material world of the MBR. An Ecology of Knowledges does a masterful job of demonstrating the potential utility of this new concept by documenting how the epistemological approaches utilized by conservationists to make the MBR knowable also then work to make multiple MBRs possible (the nooscape), which are themselves reflections of the interplay between conservationists and the region's ecology, politics, and history.
While the nooscape provides an overall theoretical perspective regarding the MBR as emergent from these multiple processes, the bulk of the ethnography provides the reader with insight into the production and enactment of conservation knowledge. Rahder expertly weaves together a multitude of sites and interactions to develop our understanding of the competing forces, narratives, data, and (eventually) facts that have driven a palimpsest of conservation interventions in the MBR over the last thirty years. Via extensive ethnographic participation in the technoscientific production of GIS maps and statistical reports, community-based survey work, high-level political meetings, and field biology, Rahder provides us with a thorough accounting of the ways in which conservationist knowledge of the MBR is produced, modified, reproduced, and transmitted. Importantly, this is not done in a disembodied form, but is instead brought to life by vignettes, stories, and quotes from those working within conservation from the computer lab to the campo and conference room. Front and center in the analysis is the violent and dangerous threat of both the historical and contemporary Guatemalan state; it is a reality faced by conservationists not only working in the field but also those working at a state-NGO collaborative research center that produces maps and reports prized for being objective and trustworthy.
Rahder employs novel forms in the book intended to help the reader see the complex interactions and looping between various histories, actors, and institutions rather than a singular, linear explanation. In so doing, the book wonderfully illustrates the emerging MBR nooscape. A particularly innovative approach is the use of references in the right margin to guide the reader to concepts and connections that exist both forward and backward in the ethnography. Less innovative, but very effective, is the use of interludes before each chapter to provide vignettes and reflexive thoughts that provide meaningful preludes to the content of each chapter.
In sum, An Ecology of Knowledges is an important addition to interdisciplinary conservation scholarship. Rahder expertly illustrates the influences that the shifting winds of international development, electoral politics, and NGO funding have on conservation knowledge and action. As well, the work gives insight into the ways that technologies, from GIS to community surveys, interact with individuals, institutions, and histories to produce expert knowledge(s). Lastly, and most importantly, the book moves us away from the simplistic, monolithic depictions of conservation with its unique view into conservationists’ minds, actions, and outcomes. Rahder helps us to see conservationists working from a place of both fear (of loss, of violence) and love (of the plants, animals, and people of the MBR) in an effort to, at best, stem the tide of change. In telling the complex, contradictory, and reactive story of conservationists in the MBR, Rahder allows us to see the web of knowledges that interact and emerge to produce and reproduce conservation in the forests of northern Guatemala.
David M. Hoffman
Mississippi State University
Lewis, Simon L., and Mark A. Maslin. 2018. The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 496 pp. ISBN 978-0-241-28088-1.
What does the emergence of the Anthropocene concept mean for geology? Geology, after all, is the discipline that names and studies epochs. And an epoch where humans define present and future for the first time in the Earth's 4.5-billion-year history is a major geologic concept. Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin's The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene bridges the gap between the concept of the Anthropocene and geology, to interrogate what the Anthropocene is and when it actually began. The authors noticed that the claim being put forth, that the Anthropocene begins with the industrial revolution, went against the even most basic scientific definition of an epoch. The concept is commonly attributed to Paul Crutzen, who is a geologist, but the Anthropocene and its beginnings had not yet been properly interrogated by geologists.
Thus, Lewis and Maslin invite the readers to embark on a search for the “golden spike,” “the marker [that] says: after this point Earth is moving towards a new state.” Chapter 1 defines the books two main concepts, the Anthropocene and the epoch, as it moves from early geological observations about human impacts on the world all the way to Paul Crutzen's famous assertions about the end of the Holocene. The authors identify the need for an analysis of the Anthropocene that closely follows existing scientific evidence, rather than being motivated by politics and ideologies.
In chapter 2, the authors discuss the definitions and markers of geological time periods. They reflect on the process of naming the epoch, fraught with conflict and bureaucracy, from the inconsistent outcomes of the Anthropocene Working Group to the refusal of the geologist community to name it at all. By contrast, Lewis and Maslin argue that naming can be a rallying point of political and social action.
In the body of the book, chapters 3–8, Lewis and Maslin place human and geologic history side-by-side to understand the history of human impact on the planet. The authors begin from megafauna extinctions, the advent and expansion of agriculture, colonial growth, dramatic carbon dioxide-level changes, energy revolutions, and move through all the way to modern globalization and industrialization.
The five chapters of historical evidence culminate in chapter 9, which returns to the search for the golden spike by putting forward three hypotheses as to when the Anthropocene may have begun in. First, the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago during an interglacial warming period. Agriculture would have been hard in the ice age, when the Earth was colder, drier, and had lower carbon dioxide levels; therefore, it began after the last ice age. The development and expansion of agriculture and accompanying rise in human populations is recorded through large methane deposits around the world. The second hypothesis suggests that the Anthropocene may have begun at what Lewis and Maslin call the beginning of the modern world: the 1600 arrival of Europeans to the Americas. This new route globalized diseases and, as a result, approximately 50 million people died in the Americas, leading to a decrease in agricultural production and a reforestation of the region, changes marked in the geologic record through a dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures. Third, the nuclear weapons testing of the 1960s, detected through large amounts of atmospheric radiocarbon. After laying out a strict scientific criterion, they settle on the second hypothesis, which links environment, migration, colonialism, inequality, and human health.
Lewis and Maslin begin their book by explaining that “if you compressed the whole of Earth's unimaginably long history into a single day, the first humans would appear at less than four seconds to midnight” (3). Given our relatively short-lived tenure on Earth, it is truly remarkable that humans have become a force of nature radically shaping the future. Moreover, since epochs last approximately 17 million years, today marks 0.002 percent of the way into the Anthropocene. Understandably, these figures create worry for the future.
One major critique I have of this book is that in its attempt to diverge from the politics of the Anthropocene, it doesn't engage with well-known critiques of the concept. Critiques include that by insisting on the term Anthropocene, which implies all humans collectively, we are obscuring the power relations and economic system inherent in all the markers of the current geological epoch. Some scholars argue that we could call it the Capitalocene, which argues that capitalism rather than humans has been the pervasive force, or the Chthulucene, a new geographic era like the Anthropocene and Capitalocene but one that also encapsulates the agency of other beings to react to the changes we are making in the world.
The other shortfall of this book, in my opinion, is that it falls into the trap of trying to solve the climate crisis in the final chapters. In the final two chapters, Lewis and Maslin call for reforms such as Universal Basic Income and rewilding programs. In deciding when the Anthropocene began, they create a parallel between the beginning of the Anthropocene and the rise of global capitalism. But their suggestions for the future are marked with the same thinking that created these problems in the first place. Rather than calling for a radical change, they call for a softer capitalism, one that remains ill-qualified for addressing the climate crisis and related global inequalities and leaves some humans in the human epoch far more vulnerable than others.
This book provides great understanding of geological history that academics across disciplines can continue to build on for a, hopefully, less dismal future. The authors do what they promise to do: pay close attention to the geologic record in conjunction with human history to establish what the Anthropocene is. This contribution was a critical missing step that opens possibilities for how scholars can use, understand, critique, and engage with not just the concept of the Anthropocene but also the overarching ways that humans impact the earth.
University of Pennsylvania
Braverman, Irus, and Elizabeth R. Johnson, eds. 2020. Blue Legalities: The Life & Laws of the Sea. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 342 pp. ISBN 978-1-4780-0654-1.
In Blue Legalities: The Life & Laws of the Sea, Irus Braverman and Elizabeth R. Johnson guide the “blue turn” toward a deeper engagement with matters of ocean law and governance, a critical gap the editors identify in recent ocean-oriented scholarship (2). Over the course of fifteen pithy chapters, the volume explores how “our political frameworks and legal infrastructures have been made, contested, and remade in the oceans” (3). To do so, the contributions unbind the “coproduction of ocean matter, scientific knowledge, and legislative classifications and enframings” (5). The collection is informed by efforts in legal studies that analyze how the law pervades our spatial logics. More broadly, the chapters are frequently in dialogue with explorations of new materialisms and are situated in relation to overlapping discourses in the blue humanities, critical ocean studies, the environmental humanities, and science and technology studies.
Blue Legalities appears almost four decades after the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) opened to signatories in 1982. As Johnson and Braverman explain, UNCLOS is the most important legal document to shape the contemporary political geography of Earth's oceans and seas. UNCLOS defines and frames these waters as territory and renders them governable by nation states (12). Notably, UNCLOS defines a number of legal spaces, including the 12-mile limit to “territorial waters;” the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastal “baseline;” and the freedoms of the “high seas,” areas which are open to all states and beyond any particular state's sovereign claims. UNCLOS also establishes the “seabed” and “ocean floor” (beyond the continental shelves) as the “common heritage of mankind.” While the collection contains no single chapter expressly devoted to UNCLOS, the introduction and eight of the chapters take up the implications of its political geography in some way.
The collection conceives of ocean law and its entanglements with non-human life in broad and plural terms. The first two chapters examine spatial issues of access and environmental risk. Susan Reid interrogates the imaginaries that underpin deep sea mining and ocean law by looking at the vulnerability of hydrothermal vent ecologies deep in the Bismark Sea. Also focused on deep waters, Astrida Neimanis extends Stacy Alaimo's notion of “suspension” to think broadly about precaution in her case study of mustard gas dumping in the Baltic Sea after the World Wars. Katherine G. Sammler describes the political and legal tensions between UNCLOS, the law of New Zealand, and Māori cosmologies of land–ocean authority. They show how Māori land claims extend into the ocean, understanding ocean and terrestrial spaces as an “interrelated whole” (63). The implementation of UNCLOS, Sammler shows, has led to political debates over offshore governance, particularly around the rights to protest offshore, and around the nation's right to exclude whaling ships and nuclear vessels from its EEZ, in defiance of UNCLOS. Philip E. Steinberg, Berit Kristoffersen, and Kristen L. Shake similarly critique the binary logic of law by exploring how the Norwegian government formats the flux of the sea ice edge into a singular object for the purposes of spatial planning used to exploit Arctic oil resources in the Barents Sea. With her examination of dredging and land reclamation projects in Southeast Asia's Tristate Maritime Boundary Zone, Jennifer L. Gaynor explains how coastal terraforming projects have become normalized to make and extend land claims.
Themes of technoscience and sensing run through the middle chapters of the collection. Responding to Sheila Jasanoff's claim that the law socially “embeds” science in the environment, Stefan Helmreich reverses this idea to show how scientific frameworks—in this case, for sensing and describing ocean waves—have in fact “come to condition legal ones” (133). Interrogating how technoscience accesses ocean spaces, Braverman examines how humans and their traces are displaced from ocean scenes of coral loss in her study of underwater robots deployed to kill the crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster planci, a coral predator. On the theme of ocean sensing, Jessica Lehman looks at the technopolitics of Argo, a dispersed fleet of many thousand robotic instruments which gather oceanic and climate data. Their global deployment in the EEZs, she argues, has raised questions about how nation states collect, use, and govern scientific research in other nations’ waters. Staying with the theme of autonomous sensors, Johnson explores the entanglement of oceanographic knowledge with military funding and missions through her study of how the US Department of Defense's research and development of Unmanned Maritime Vehicles has been produced in cooperation with universities and marine laboratories.
Two historically focused chapters examine how fisheries shaped ocean governance in the past. Alison Rieser argues that herring fisheries—particularly English and Dutch competition over these resources—coproduced early modern European concepts of the law of free seas which codified ocean spaces from the eighteenth century up to the 1980s and the establishment of UNCLOS. Zsofia Korosy shows how mapping and representing the indeterminacy of ocean regions became a form of governance that enabled the British empire to extend claims into the Pacific to support mercantile interests in whale products.
While imaginaries and representation are the concerns of many of the volume's chapters, like Korosy's, the later ones deal with these themes most directly. Stephanie Jones offers a probing theoretical reading of the figure of the seawolf as a metaphor for sovereign power. Astrid Schrader thinks with marine microbes—specifically cyanobacteria—to propose a less anthropocentric approach to biopolitics, one based on a different temporality of “sacrifice.” Also exploring the micro, Amy Braun shows how contemporary imaginaries of sustainability have undergirded efforts to enroll marine algae in schemes to produce biofuels, food, and other products. Holly Jean Buck's sobering final chapter demonstrates how imaginaries of geoengineering—particularly solar radiation management—ignore issues of ocean acidification, warming, and deoxygenation. Her chapter then speculates on a multispecies approach to designing ocean and climate futures. Finally, Stacy Alaimo's afterword draws things together, asking what “adequate imaginaries for Anthropocene seas” might look like.
As I read this collection, I imagined ways it might bridge to other archipelagos of environmental, legal, and ocean thought. While military and scientific knowledge continue to shape how ocean laws are imagined, interpreted, and applied—as the collection expertly shows—it may be useful to also consider also how contemporary and everyday relations with ocean life—particularly fishing and aquaculture—continue to intersect with ocean governance in our own century, as overfishing today poses a major threat to ocean biodiversity. Additionally, from this reader's perspective, the diss-anthropocentric reorientation of ocean scholarship that Blue Legalities advocates and practices may still gain useful waypoints by engaging more directly with the sociocentric ocean scholarship from the 1990s, for instance, Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic. As an example, Hugo Grotius's arguments about freedom of the seas—which Rieser carefully showed was linked to seventeenth-century interests in herring fisheries—later limited Britain's authority to board ships suspected of carrying slaves in the nineteenth century. In their introduction, Braverman and Johnson invoke Christina Sharpe's metaphor of a ship's wake to consider the overlapping temporalities of slavery and unfreedom registered in ocean spaces (10–11). This is another critical area where this generally brilliant collection could have made further investigations.
Chaney, Robert. 2020. The Grizzly in the Driveway: The Return of Bears to a Crowded American West. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 288 pp. ISBN 978-0-295-74793-4.
The grizzly bear is one of the most recognizable animals of North America, with iconic status in US culture. Still, the bears almost vanished in the Lower 48 United States before enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The grizzlies’ population rebound prompted environmental reporter, Robert Chaney, to revisit the old questions about the possibility for peaceful coexistence of humans and predators. Based on multiple interviews with people either involved in bear protection or living in their habitats, as well as personal encounters with grizzlies, The Grizzly in the Driveway summarizes the history of grizzly bear recovery and investigates how American people have been, well, bearing with the grizzly bears.
The main goal of the book is to “transparently observe and report the forces at play in the fate of the grizzly bear” (76). By forces, the author means people and their conflicting interests. All major administrative and political organizations involved in the grizzlies’ protection are discussed (e.g., the national parks, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee), but the real asset of the book is a focus on humans and their diverse social perspectives on (and relations with) the bears. Chaney's book is a skillful demonstration of how human–wildlife conflict is actually a conflict among humans about wildlife. For most people, contact with such a charismatic mammal brings an emotional response, so the author begins (chapter 1) with the argument that imaginative perceptions of grizzlies are as crucial to its conservation as scientific research. Chaney organizes the remaining eleven chapters of the book by presenting the varying imaginaries held by diverse groups of people, each with some kind of cultural, technological, legal, or socioeconomic connection to the bears. The author then explains how the conflicting interests of the diverse groups inform diverse human–ursine relationships.
The most numerous of the human groups, explored in chapter 2, bond with the unaware animals virtually, thanks to the countless social media posts documenting the real-life encounters in national parks. The author argues that people watching the bears through the safety of a device screen tend to humanize them and forget about their predatory nature. Moreover, the accessibility of visuals tailored by algorithms to human “liking” creates the illusion that a follower's opinion equals expertise. Throughout the chapter the author provides a spot-on commentary on difficulties of wildlife conservation in the Digital Age, when unpredictable whims of online popularity for particular animals hampers their management and even brings hate to the national parks’ biologists responsible for everyone's safety.
Further, the author intertwines historical relations and modern reporting to present the points of view of another diverse group of people, unified under the shared assumption that the bears are menaces or pests and should be eliminated (chapter 3). Those opinions characterized pioneer explorers in the past, while today farmers and rangers are annoyed or scared by bears’ activity. The next chapter (chapter 4) focuses on Native Americans, whose holistic relationship with bears leads to attitudes opposite to those prevalent in twenty-first-century American culture. When the courts considered removing the bears’ special status, more than 150 tribes overcame disagreements to unite under the Piikani Nation Grizzly Treaty, describing grizzlies’ role in Indigenous eco-cultural lifeways and vowing for further protection. That involvement made Indigenous people critical agents in the efforts to lawfully protect the species.
Chapters 5 and 6 address scientists, intertwining the history of scientific research on grizzlies in the continental United States, the creation of groundbreaking non-invasive methods (e.g., developing the first radio collars), and personal testimonials of scientists devoting their careers to bear protection. The chapters provide a realistic description of multifaceted scientific struggles, starting from harrowing experiences in the field and ending with overwhelming bureaucracy. The further chapters depict people whose interests, sometimes quite literally, collide with bears: the mountain bikers and other athletes exercising in grizzlies’ habitats (chapter 7), drivers hitting the animals on highways (chapter 8), and trophy hunters (chapter 9). The author's interviews with policymakers, activists, and hunters skillfully show the paradox of funding federal programs aiming to protect the bear through the activities directly harming the animals, such as acquiring hunting licenses, or indirect disturbances such as organizing sports events. Similarly, people who actually decide on grizzlies’ fate do so from an environment as distant as possible from their habitat: courthouses and lawyer offices (chapter 10). Looking closely at their work, Chaney poses many rhetorical questions about the goals of the conservation effort: how to define “the success” under the Endangered Species Act, or what does “the recovered species” status mean for the animal reality? The author describes the legal battle between federal organs looking for success of the Endangered Species Act and aiming to delist the grizzly and the activists and biologists who opt for continuous legal protection. I found the contents of this chapter theoretically rich and valuable beyond the case of grizzly bear survival.
The next chapter (11) is a welcome distraction from American perspectives, as it provides a glance at the brown bear situation beyond the northwestern United States. The author summarizes the rewidening programs in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Europe, where denser populations seem to learn to coexist with bears much better than Americans. This chapter is a pointful reminder that in the Anthropocene, epistemologies of nature and nuances of local political ecologies translate materially to wildlife conditions.
The book is easy to read. The author's journalistic background yields straightforward writing, clear narration styles, and the intertwining of vivid storytelling rather than scientific jargon. Still, it concerns serious scientific topics; the final chapter (12) draws on anthropological themes to contrast the American subconscious of a “frontier” myth, based on presumed access to never-ending environmental resources, with multispecies justice if only humans decide to adjust their economic goals for the sake of other species. Although people have diverse and conflicting interests regarding the bears, Chaney builds his hopes for the grizzlies on the uniqueness of the American conservation movement, embedded in egalitarian, democratic ideals and a belief that US landscapes, and the animals within them, belong to its citizens. And, in democracies, citizens may influence wildlife protection programs through the manner in which they vote.
The Grizzly in the Driveway is a well-timed, useful case study for scholars interested in ursine ecology, the politics of endangered species conservation, and broadly defined human–wildlife conflicts. Its vivid storytelling should also appeal to a broader public. The book's only drawback is the poor clarity of the maps due to grey-scale printing. I recommend this volume to anyone interested in disentangling many factors influencing big predators’ survival in the modern world.