So what sort of climate do we want? Thoughts on how to decide what is ‘natural’ climate

By Chris Caseldine, University of Exeter

With the meeting in Copenhagen to releasing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis report produced by Working Group I  in early November, it is timely to consider not only our response to likely changes in climate but also to look at just what sort of climate we are hoping to achieve (Caseldine, 2014). Possible implementation of various climate geoengineering schemes (Hulme, 2014), especially those under the banner of SRM (solar radiation management) which seek to mimic the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions to offset anthropogenic warming, has invigorated debate on the rights and wrongs of interfering with the  climate system. The ever increasing concentration of Green House Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere (Friedlingstein et al., 2014) has though already built  climate change into the earth system for the next century so whether we like it or not choosing to reduce GHGs, or deciding to allow concentrations to rise will also impact on global climate.

Stranded iceberg calved from Dawes Glacier, Alaska, 2014. Photograph credit Chris Caseldine.

Stranded iceberg calved from Dawes Glacier, Alaska, 2014. Photograph credit Chris Caseldine.

Because of our increasing understanding of the climate system we are now in a good position to assess the likely effects not only of various forms of geoengineering but also of reducing or indeed increasing GHG emissions – so what sort of climate do we want and what do we understand by ‘natural’ climate? Palaeoclimate studies using a range of sources have provided evidence of climate characteristics before human interference and climate models can now exclude the human factor and determine likely future climate patterns should nature take its course. If however you look at the sort of climate envisaged for a low carbon world it does not easily translate into the sort of climates, and weather, that will be experienced, it is usually defined in terms of global mean temperature, levels of GHGs or increasingly in terms of climate stabilization, a term that is rarely formally defined – usually considered as the prevention of dangerous change, the possibility of exceeding some critical climate threshold or tipping point leading e.g to the total loss of Arctic summer sea ice and subsequent major reorganization of circulation patterns.

However much we manage to reduce GHG emissions or prevent the implementation of geoengineering schemes, climate, especially global climate will not though be more benign, it may not be climate as before, but can only be understood in the context of our knowledge of past climates. There is a real need to understand and explain what a move back to a more ‘natural’ climate will mean, and why if technology is seemingly available to tackle climate problems, to provide what is euphemistically called ‘climate solutions’, we should not adopt such procedures. We need a clear understanding of what we are aiming to achieve climatically, the grounds for following that trajectory and what it means for global populations.

About the author: Chris Caseldine is Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change in Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter. He is a palaeoecologist and has carried out research into palaeonvironmental reconstruction, principally over the Holocene, in a range of environments including Iceland, Ireland, SW England and Southern Norway.

 Caseldine, C. 2014, So what sort of climate do we want? Thoughts on how to decide what is ‘natural’ climate. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12131

 Friedlingstein, P. et al. 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature Geoscience, 7, 707-715

 Hulme, M. 2014. Can science fix climate change? Polity Press, 158pp.

 McGrath M 2014. IPCC preparing ‘most important’ document on climate change BBC

‘Fun gifts for boys’ and the geographies of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’ and ‘cool’

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

As manufacturers and retailers prepare to sell huge quantities of toys and gadgets in the run up to Christmas, at least one seven-year-old girl has protested this week at the marketing of such products according to gender.

Karen Cole tweeted a photo of her daughter, Maggie, next to a sign for Marvel Comics merchandise in a branch of Tesco that read ‘Fun gifts for boys’.

7-year-old Maggie not impressed with 'fun girts for boys' sign

Maggie, who is a big fan of Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Doctor Who, spotted the sign and told her mother that Tesco was “being stupid” as “anybody can like superheroes”. The photo was retweeted more than ten thousand times, forcing an apology and the removal of the signs from all Tesco stores.

These superhero characters and toys are clearly important to lots of children like Maggie; it is this relationship, alongside the role played by popular culture characters and products in children’s lives, that John Horton seeks to examine in a recent edition of Geography Compass. The paper calls for “more direct, careful, sustained research on geographies of children, young people and popular culture.”

Horton outlines ‘classic’ works from cultural and media studies, which, he contends, have been “centrally concerned with meanings of popular culture designed for children and young people”. The likes of Barbie and GI Joe, Horton argues, have often been central to such discussions, with Barbie being widely critiqued as “a ‘condensed’ representation of normative ideals of ‘emphasised femininity’ and female body image”.

While Horton recognises the value and importance of this kind of work, he argues that “if one jumps to write about meanings of popular culture, it is all too easy to overlook how popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena matter in practice within people’s everyday geographies.”

Horton presents an analysis of ‘Toys ‘Я’ Us’ brochures old and new, but reflects that in attempting to write about their meanings and representations “I have suppressed (or at least distanced myself from) what I felt as I browsed the 1975 Toys ‘Я’ Us catalogue and other decades-old toy catalogues: feelings of ‘aww’, ‘umph’, ‘wow’, ‘cool’, ‘I remember that’, that are not easy to put into words.”

Geography, then, has an important role to play in addressing questions of both meaning and Mattering in this context. This involves examining the more-than-representational ways in which popular cultural texts, objects and phenomena are encountered and experienced by children in a diverse range of everyday spaces.

As Horton acknowledges, this raises important questions of how to conduct research attentive to both the political-representational concerns of the sort quite rightly raised by superhero-loving Maggie, and to the complex nonrepresentational materialities that constitute young people’s geographies – the ‘awws’, ‘wows’ and ‘cools’ evoked by the bodily practices of play, the meanings of which may not be sayable or may simply not exist.

 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove ‘stupid’ sign suggesting superheroes are ‘for boys’ The Independent, 25 November 2014

 John horton, 2014, For Geographies of Children, Young People and Popular CultureGeography Compass 726-738

Badgers and bovine tuberculosis: how geographical research can help

By Joseph Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

If I mention bovine tuberculosis (bTB), I imagine that a badger, not a cow, would come to mind for many people. British news has recently reported a push for culling these mammals and calls from others for vaccination, with the intention of curbing the spread of bTB. Some famous faces have also engaged in the anti-culling debate (e.g. see ‘Stop the Cull’). There are strong views on both sides because of the damage that bTB can do to cattle herds and farmers’ livelihoods. All parties, of course, want to see a decrease in bTB cases; it is just the preferred means that differ. Here, I outline the debate and move on to discuss how geographical research can help.

Attribution: By H. Zell (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Attribution: By H. Zell (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) ], via Wikimedia Commons

First, why are badgers getting all of the press? Badgers, along with a number of other mammals, are capable of contracting bTB and spreading it to cattle, the result of which can be devastating because cows that test positive are compulsorily slaughtered. Badgers, perhaps justifiably (they can and do infect cows with bTB), perhaps not (reported infection rates vary but can be very low), are often referred to as a natural ‘reservoir’ of the disease and there is now a strong association between badgers and bTB in cattle. The Government has approved badger culls in England, whilst the Welsh Assembly has favoured a vaccination programme. .

The BBC recently reported on the decision for future culls in England to not be independently monitored as they have been previously. Naturally, this has been heavily criticised and it is disturbing considering the outcome of last year’s pilot culls. However, to many, culling generally seems to not be a sensible or sustainable solution, not least because of the high uncertainty surrounding badger numbers and the associated need for highly costly surveys to decrease this uncertainty and reduce the risk of causing local extinctions, costs which potentially make the whole process financially impracticable (Donnelly & Woodroffe, 2012). Most importantly, such local extinctions would be a tremendous natural loss to an area.

Culls in England were criticised by a Welsh Minister earlier this year who referred to ‘promising’ results from the vaccination efforts in Wales. It has been shown that only a minority (even with varying figures) of badgers actually carry bTB (see The Wildlife Trusts infographic and references therein), meaning that many uninfected, healthy badgers are likely to be killed during a cull. Unlike with vaccinations, culling can also cause badger populations to spread unpredictably (known as perturbation), making control of any infected badgers not killed during the cull more difficult, thus potentially increasing the likelihood of the disease spreading.

Nationally, the Wildlife Trusts are leading the way with badger vaccination efforts and no Wildlife Trust allows culling on its land. Given that badgers live for 3–5 years, it is estimated that herd immunity could be achieved within 5 years (see bottom) as infected animals die over time and the proportion of vaccinated animals increases. How to target vaccination efforts, though? This is where geographers can help.

A recent article in Area (Etherington et al., 2014) recognises the importance of landscape isolation and connectivity, alongside data on badger presence and abundance, in mapping the spatial variation in bTB. Such knowledge is potentially very valuable for bTB management strategies. Indeed, understanding badgers’ local or landscape scale population dynamics and their isolation or connectivity within that broader landscape could allow for more effective vaccine distribution within an area surrounding a farm, for example. Namely, if a population is likely to be connected to certain other populations and a certain farm, it follows that these populations should be vaccinated in parallel. That is of course a simplification of reality, but an enhanced understanding of such dynamics will hopefully be able to contribute to bTB management.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that bTB in badgers represents a small, albeit significant, part of the overall bTB crisis. Overall, it seems to me that targeted vaccination of badger populations in combination with enhanced biosecurity (I have not discussed this here but it is a significant part of the solution; e.g. ‘badger proofing’), is clearly a superior solution to culling when it comes to achieving long-term reductions in bTB. Such an approach also ensures the survival and welfare of the badgers that so many people deeply care about.

(For another Geography Directions blog post on bovine tuberculosis, see ‘Badgers, borderlands and security‘ (by Helen Pallett), which discusses the inherent complexities of disease in nature.)

—–

books_icon Donnelly, C. A. & Woodroffe, R. (2012). Epidemiology: Reduce uncertainty in UK badger culling. Nature 485, p. 582.

books_icon Etherington, T. R., Trewby, I. D., Wilson, G. J. & McDonald, R. A. (2014). Expert opinion-based relative landscape isolation maps for badgers across England and WalesArea 46, 50-58.

Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14

By Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

Spurn Head on the Humber being broken by the December 2013 Storm Surge Photo Credit: Environment Agency (reproduced with permission)

The UK winter floods of 2013-14 were unquestionably severe caused by winter storms that brought with them record levels of rainfall and long standing flooding to southern England, most notably the Somerset Levels. Other parts of the UK were also affected, coastal towns in Wales were battered by stormy weather and parts of the Scotland also recorded some of the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded. Political leaders of all the main parties were swift to visit affected areas, and the government organization responsible for flood management the Environment Agency and its embattled chief Lord Smith endured a barrage of criticism for late and or inadequate flood preparation, warnings and responsiveness. For weeks, stories and images of the flood and its impact on communities and infrastructure filled the airwaves. Some communities were affectively cut off while others lost their homes and possessions. The insurance industry estimated that the cost of the flooding exceeded £1 billion but it was lower than the estimated cost of the 2007 summer floods, which were put at over £3 billion.

As a recent themed section on the UK winter floods 2013-4 published in The Geographical Journal argues, there is a great deal more analytical work to be done in terms of how we make sense of such extreme events and what we might learn in the aftermath. One noticeable element in the 2013-4 winter storms was the presence of social media and the role that tweeting and Facebook played in raising flood awareness (#floodaware #thinkdontsink) and the sharing of images and stories relating to the flooding. This autumn the Environment Agency has taken again to social media to warn audiences about flood risk and prevention measures. Citizens, in potentially affected areas, are encouraged to check the real time mapping and monitoring of rivers and coastlines.

Combining historical and cultural geographers with fluvial geographers and hydrological modellers, the themed section ruminates on the social, economic, political and physical geographies of the flooding and the storm surges. It poses questions not only about how flooding is understood (both scientifically and culturally) but also how it impacts on communities and landscapes, some of whom enjoyed greater publicity than others. Campaigners for the affected Somerset Levels were particularly successful in generating media attention, as were home-owners and businesses along the River Thames. Flood geographers, as we might term it, are also in the thick of things when it comes to flood forecasting and advising agencies on how government and communities should prepare in the future for such extreme events. Preparedness combined with individual and communal resilience have been championed as indispensable and perhaps social media provided a resource of sorts for such resilience as people shared advice and experiences of flooding.

But as our themed section also shows that rivers including flood plains are complex and lively spaces. They vary in terms of flood risk vulnerability and this is as much to do with their materiality as it is due to historic and contemporary patterns of human occupation. For centuries, humans have intervened in such environments and introduced flood embanking, channel dredging, and manipulated the volume and flow speed of rivers. Moreover coastal environments have experienced a patchwork of interventions from hard to soft forms of coastal engineering. We have, over the years, sought to intervene in order to mitigate, and even prevent unwelcome futures.

Lets hope if severe winter storms affect the UK again in 2014-5 we will be able to conclude that we are somewhat wiser as a consequence of our experiences in the winter of 2013-4.

About the author: Klaus Dodds is a Professor of Geopolitics within the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaus is also the Editor of The Geography Journal.

The Geographical Journal themed section in full:

books_icon Dodds, K. (2014), Après le deluge: the UK winter storms of 2013–14. The Geographical Journal, 180: 294–296. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12126

books_icon Thorne, C. (2014), Geographies of UK flooding in 2013/4. The Geographical Journal, 180: 297–309. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12122 (open access)

books_icon Stephens, E. and Cloke, H. (2014), Improving flood forecasts for better flood preparedness in the UK (and beyond). The Geographical Journal, 180: 310–316. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12103

books_icon Lewin, J. (2014), The English floodplain. The Geographical Journal, 180: 317–325. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12093

books_icon McEwen, L., Jones, O. and Robertson, I. (2014), ‘A glorious time?’ Some reflections on flooding in the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 326–337. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12125

books_icon Clout, H. (2014), Reflections on The draining of the Somerset Levels. The Geographical Journal, 180: 338–341. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12088

Other references:

60-world2 Ugwumandu J (2014) Severe winter weather to cost UK insurers £1.1bn, says ABI The Actuary, 13 March 2014

60-world2 Gov.uk (2014) Check flood warnings and river levels  

Another Islamic State? The Shifting Tactics of Boko Haram

By Stuart Elden, University of Warwick and Monash University

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

The Sunni Islamic group known as ‘Boko Haram’, active in the northeast of the country since at least 2007, came to much wider Western attention in April 2014 with the kidnapping of the school girls at Chibok in Borno state. It then somewhat slipped off the radar with events in Ukraine and the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq. The ‘Islamic State’ was formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and then as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham is frequently translated as either the ‘Levant’ or Syria, but part of the point is to encompass a much wider geographical area, and the group has been explicit about its aim of dissolving colonial-era boundaries between states. Foremost among these is the much-hated ‘Sykes-Picot line’ between Iraq and Syria, the result of the 1915-16 agreement between the French and British about how they would divide the lands of the Ottoman Empire if they were to defeat them in the First World War. The peace of Paris, following the end of that war, did indeed set many of these divisions, though it took two treaties for this region: the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which never came into force because of the Turkish war of independence, and then the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The borders of Syria, Lebanon, Mandate Palestine, Iraq and Turkey all result from these agreements.

In West Africa, the territories of states are also determined by their inheritance of colonial-era boundaries. Many boundaries run north-south, whereas Muslim-Christian divisions tend to run east-west. What this means, in Nigeria especially, is a seemingly stark division in the country. All of the northern states that have implemented Sharia legal codes voted for Muhammadu Buhari in the last presidential elections, whereas all the southern states except Osun voted for Goodluck Jonathan. When Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in office in 2010, Jonathan, as his vice-president, succeeded him. Jonathan has since won an election in his own right, and has recently declared he will run again in 2015. To win, he wants to stabilize the situation with Boko Haram, something that seems increasingly out of reach.

Nigeria has seen political violence and challenges to its territorial integrity before, with the Biafran war of independence between 1967 and 1970, and there has been a long-running challenge to the oil industry in the Niger Delta. Boko Haram has to be seen within Nigeria’s political-geographical context, as a group challenging Christian rule, the inequitable distribution of resources within the country, with an aspiration of a stricter form of Islamic law.

But it can also be seen in a wider regional context. Africa has long been seen as a focus of a wider ‘war on terror’, though most attention was paid to the Horn of Africa. But the stationing of a drone base in Niger, the French-led intervention in Mali, and the challenge of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), especially since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, has brought more attention to this region. Many claims for Boko Haram’s links to AQIM or to al-Shabaab in Somalia have been made, though these are likely looser than generally suggested.

In the past few weeks Boko Haram has been back in the news, after the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire had been agreed and the release of the Chibok girls was imminent. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case. Some days later Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, gave an announcement stating that no such agreement had been made, and there have been a series of bombings, kidnappings and battles with the Nigerian military. But alongside these all-too-familiar attacks, Boko Haram have also shifted tactics, seeking to take over territory rather than just launch short raids. Several towns and villages in the northeast have been taken over, including, most recently, Chibok itself. The major town of Mubi was seized and the retaken by the state. Boko Haram have also declared themselves an ‘Islamic State’ and, on some reports, a Caliphate, though by this they likely meant simply an area ruled by Islamic law. While Boko Haram has long worked as more than a military operation, earlier this month former US ambassador John Campbell has suggested they are in the process of ‘moving toward governance’ (2014). Just as Iraq, Nigeria faces a profound challenge to its territorial integrity.

About the author: Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick, in the Politics and International Studies department. In this role Stuart spends two months a year at the Centre for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, and at Monash University where he holds an adjunct appointment as Monash Warwick Professor in the Faculty of Arts.

books_icon Campbell, J (2014) ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram Moving Toward Governance?’, Africa in Transition: Council for Foreign Relations, November 7

books_icon Elden, S. (2009) Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

60-world2 Elden, S. (2014a) Boko Haram: An Annotated Bibliography. Progressive Geographies [open access]

books_icon Elden, S. (2014b) The Geopolitics of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s ‘War on Terror’, The Geographical Journal 180 (4), 414-25

60-world2 International Crisis Group (2014) Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report 216 [open access]

60-world2 Mantzikos, Ioannis ed. (2013) Boko Haram: Anatomy of a Crisis, Bristol: e-International Relations [open access]

60-world2 Walker, Andrew (2012) “What is Boko Haram?”, United States Institute of Peace Special Report [open access]

 

Italy: A Tale of Popular Geographic Circulation

by Benjamin Sacks

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Italy: designed by geography. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

In 2002 Harvard historian David Armitage advanced his groundbreaking ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World’, a part-historiographical, part-theoretical attempt to describe the transnational movement of peoples, goods, and ideas in the early modern era. Admitting, of course, that the Atlantic Ocean cannot be conceived of in isolation to the Pacific, Mediterranean, or Indian oceans, or indeed to non-Atlantic continents (an point since strenuously articulated by Peter Coclanis), Armitage proposed three, intertwined paradigms: Circum-Atlantic, or ‘a transnational history'; Trans-Atlantic, or ‘an international history'; and Cis-Atlantic, or a ‘national or regional history within an Atlantic context’ (15). In sum, Armitage argued that we could not analyse or articulate national histories without critically accounting for time, context, and space. A study of Cadiz, Spain, for instance, historically one of the Atlantic’s most important and dynamic ports, cannot be comprehensively accomplished without: identifying its particular relationship(s) with other ports, nations, peoples, and ideas, its geography; or how ideas, groups, goods, and communications circumnavigate the sea (and the world) before returning in often exotic, repackaged forms.

While still a relatively recent phenomenon in historical study, geographers have long practised precisely the same analytical methods. Federico Ferretti’s recent Geographical Journal article is an excellent case-in-point. In ‘Inventing Italy – Geography, Risorgimento and National Imagination’, Ferretti documents and critiques how politicians, geographers, journalists, and merchants united – both consciously and unconsciously – to promote a modern worldview of ‘Italy’ from 1861, following Giuseppe Garibaldi’s successful efforts to merge the various Italian peninsular states. As their discussions and depictions of a unified Italy spread, so to did global conceptions of ‘Italy’ as a singular national identity, gradually erasing centuries-old perceptions of Italy as a squabbling cornucopia of city-states. From a narrowly topographical standpoint, Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich famously dispelled any notion of a united Italy as ‘a mere geographical expression'; a collection of micro-states connected only by their shared space on a geographically ideal and compact peninsula with convenient physical boundaries (403). But the coterie of writers, politicals, cartographers, and populists who tasked themselves with promoting post-1861 Italy swiftly dispelled this gross misconception.

Recalling Derek Gregory’s conception of ‘geographic imaginations’, Ferretti supports the view that political “realities” are often entire or partial geographical constructs, products of sociocultural and economic belief shifts. Or, to put another way, if they believe it, it is real. Italy had to market itself to become a legitimate force.

In the three decades prior to Italian unification, Count Annibal Ranuzzi devoted his life to the promotion of a serious, unified Italian geographic discourse. He and colleagues developed sophisticated correspondence networks with such established organisations as the Royal Geographical Society and l’Académie des sciences. Apart from his extraordinary technical and networking abilities, Ranuzzi was also an adept political strategist. In 1840, observing the rapid growth of formal geographic study throughout Europe and North America, the Count declared that a vital ‘shift’ must soon occur in the discipline’s maturation: ‘Critical geography, comparative geography, is just being born, and much time will be needed before it penetrates and prevails over the entire field of geographical studies’ (409). Geography, as Ranuzzi and a mélange of progressive European experts realised, could be promoted as a potent political tool – the active, engaged study of people, power, and states.

Geography is a remarkably natural means of political persuasion. Maps, as Ranuzzi depicted, beautifully lend themselves to manipulation, self-interest, and national celebration, á la J B Harley and David Woodward’s scholarship. The printed word – journal articles, journalism, literary accounts, and travel writing – on Italy too promoted a sense of ‘the nation’ both before and after Italian unification. Although Ranuzzi was sadly marginalised following unification for his complex political relationships, his efforts – as well as that of his contemporaries – strongly influenced the establishment of national, pan-Italian learned geographical societies and even, in the mould of the Royal Geographical Society and the National Geographic Society, Italian imperial expeditions serving dual academic-political goals.

books_icon Armitage, D, ‘Three Concepts of the Atlantic World‘, in Armitage, D and Braddick, M, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

books_icon Coclanis, P, ‘Drang Nach Osten: Bernard Bailyn, the World-Island, and the Idea of Atlantic History‘, Journal of World History 13.1 (Spring, 2002): 169-82.

books_icon Ferretti, F, ‘Inventing Italy. Geography, Risorgimento and Natiional Imagination: The International Circulation of Geographical Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century‘, The Geographical Journal 180.4 (Dec., 2014): 402-13.

Cosmopolitan Elephants: Conservation Publics & The Ivory Trade

By Will Andrews, Aberystwyth University

A recent article in Transactions by Maan Barua (2014) discusses the positioning of elephants as non-human participants of cosmopolitanism. Through a multi-sited ethnography of elephant conservation in the UK based around the Elephant Family organised London Elephant Parade in 2010 and Mark Shand’s (1992) journey by elephant across India. Barua (p569) explains that the Indian elephant can be understood by following Ulrich Beck’s (2004) explanation of a global public arena, transnational processes and banal consumption as constitutive features of being cosmopolitan. However Barua’s article positions the elephant, a non-human actor as participant in each of these and as such develops a convincing argument for the understanding of non-human cosmopolitanism. Importantly he concludes that presenting Asian elephants in a certain way can, “evoke global ecological responsibilities and concerns for creatures far removed from the worlds of city publics” (p567).

By understanding elephants as cosmopolitan and interrogating and re-harnessing this circulation, conservation practices can be mobilised to protect endangered non-human actors such as the Indian elephant and other endangered species. This article was published shortly before a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (hereafter, EIA), titled Vanishing Point’, the findings of which showed the importance of such a reading of non-human cosmopolitanism particularly when it comes to African elephants (EIA, 2014). The report’s major findings are related to the transnational trade in illegal ivory, in particular allegations of a Chinese market for illegal purchases made in Tanzania (Kaiman & Vaughan, 2014; Russo, 2014).

800px-Elephant_near_ndutu

African Elephant (Wikimedia Commons, 2007).

Ivory as a transnational product can be understood by some as the commoditisation of the elephant and in this way the ivory trade of both Indian and African elephants is a very different example of elephant circulation through banal consumption and transnational processes (Beck, 2004). In this way the elephant is co-constituted as cosmopolitan by way of its ivory. This cosmopolitan understanding is something which Barua discusses in very different terms with Indian elephant conservation, however viewing the elephant as cosmopolitan also offers a way to redress this.  By presenting the Indian elephant in a certain anthropomorphised way, for example the 2010 London Elephant Parade (p564) it is possible to draw attention to elephants’ distant transnational plight and to garner support to combat this. “It is through rhizomatic becomings-with a plethora of non-human bodies that notions of cosmopolitan connections across difference are co-constituted” (p571).  It is these cosmopolitan connections which surround both the ivory trade and which can help in to promote ecological responsibility.

Elephant_Parade,_Green_Park,_London_(4655933530)

Elephant Parade, Green Park, London (Wikimedia Commons, 2010).

This article has wider implications both within the development of ethnographic research of more-than-human actors and for mobilising conservation of endangered species (p 569) such as Indian and African elephants.

References
books_icon Barua, M. (2014) ‘Circulating elephants: unpacking the geographies of a cosmopolitan animal’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 39(4), 559-573

books_icon Beck, U. (2004) ‘Cosmopolitical realism: on the distinction between cosmopolitanism in philosophy and the social sciences’, Global Networks, 4, 131-156

60-world2 EIA (2014) ‘Vanishing Point- Criminality, Corruption & the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants’, Published online 6th Nov 2014

60-world2 Kaiman, J. & Vaughan, A. (2014) ‘Elephant ivory price ‘spiked as VIPs snapped up thousands of kilos’ ‘,The Guardian,  Published online 6th Nov 2014

60-world2 Russo, C. (2014) ‘Q&A: Report Alleges Governments’ Complicity in Tanzanian Elephant Poaching’, National Geographic, Published online 6th Nov 2014

books_icon Shand, M. (1992) Travels on my elephant, Penguin, London.

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2007) ‘Elephant near ndutu’

60-world2 Wikimedia Commons (2010) ‘Elephant Parade, Green Park, London’