Tag Archives: Biogeography

Drones for wildlife: the securitization of conservation?

By Helen Pallett

Drone_Flying_Eye

Image credit: Flying Eye (CC SA-BY)

We have come to know drones as one of the newest technologies of warfare and surveillance, a weapon central to how the war on terror is now being fought: remotely and increasingly through the use of computerised devices or robots. But another perhaps surprising use for drones has been developing in parallel, perhaps explaining why the World Wildlife Fund has been a major supporter of drone research since 2012.

On the same day last week the Guardian newspaper published two separate reports on drone usage. The first described how drones are going to be used in Kenya’s national parks in an effort to prevent poaching, whilst the second reported that in Germany drones will be used to protect young deer from being injured by combine harvesters.

These developments raise challenging questions about the development of new technologies. Do the intended purposes of a new technology matter when it is used for something different? Should we be interested in who the funders of technological research and innovation are? Can we assess and understand the uses of drones in wildlife conservation and, increasingly, research without understanding the use of drones as a technology of violence and surveillance? Is this the latest step in what some have referred to as ‘the securitzation of the environment’?

A recent themed section of The Geographical Journal, edited by Michael Mason and Mark Zeitoun, focuses on the issue of environmental security, both as a driver and consequence of increasing anxiety and apocalyptic accounts of the environment. In their introduction the editors argue that such fears about dangerous climate change or species extinctions work rhetorically to justify certain actions as urgent or emergency measures, from solar radiation management to crack downs on human behaviour and liberties.

Whilst few would doubt the seriousness of the threat from poaching to elephant and rhino populations in Kenya, by treating recent population depletion as an emergency scenario or a matter of security the Kenyan Wildlife Service and other conservationists may be serving to legitimate the use of a highly questionable conservation method. The use of drones for surveillance in Kenyan national parks represents a new method for policing ways of acting and being in a national park. The appropriate usage of national parks has long been a matter of controversy, not least because during the creation of many national parks, human populations had to be forcibly removed or regulated. Drones will potentially collect data not only concerning suspected poaching, but also other activities within the national park; all national park users can now be watched and surveilled. This may result in the management not only of poaching in the national parks, but also much more ambiguous activities such as attempts at settlement or the use of other resources.

Whilst it may be convenient to tell a simplistic story about ‘evil’ poachers and ‘good’ conservationists, such narratives can mask the more complex realities and the many negative implications the creation of national parks had for affected communities. Individual poachers may often be acting out of desperation, for example the lack of an alternative source of livelihood. Furthermore, poachers rarely act alone but rather are part of often transnational networks of capital, connecting them to infrastructures and markets for the sale of goods such as elephant and rhino horn.  So surveillance may be unlikely to act as a deterrent on its own.

The Kenyan drones project has been jointly funded by the US, Netherlands, France, Canada and Kenya, and also includes supplies of other military equipment such as firearms, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment. In the Kenyan national parks, drones are to be used in areas considered too risky for surveillance by manned aircraft, already a common practice. In the context of such efforts to radically reduce the risks faced by wildlife rangers in the field and the increasing panic about the loss of elephants and rhinos, how long will it be before it is acceptable to shoot suspected poachers on sight? Furthermore, once the infrastructures for drone use are in place it would be relatively straight-forward to substitute surveillance drones for armed drones, and this could be justified as a further means of protecting national park employees.

As we have seen with the military uses of drones, robots can make mistakes and claim innocent lives. Photos too can frequently be ambiguous and misleading, without other supporting evidence. Furthermore, these potential developments would further circumvent the justice procedures upheld by all the countries financially supporting the drones programme. In the context of albeit justified hysteria about the fast depletion of certain endangered populations, do we risk sanctioning an equally unpalatable solution? Claims of 96% reductions in poaching in some of the Kenyan drone pilots, alongside the circulation of horrifying images and statistics about the effects of poaching, also mean that other potential methods for conservation and poaching management may increasingly be ruled out and foreclosed.

books_icon Michael Mason & Mark Zeitoun 2013 Questioning environmental security, The Geography Journal, 179 (4): 294-297 (Open Access)

60-world2 Google cash buys drones to watch endangered species, BBC News, 6 December 2012

60-world2 Kenya to deploy drones in all national parks in a bid to tackle poaching, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

60-world2 Germany deploys drones to protect young deer from combine harvesters, The Guardian, 25 April 2014

A British Arctic Policy for the Twenty-first Century

by Benjamin Sacks

HMS Alert's 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Alert’s 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Britain retains significant interests in the Arctic Ocean, according to a recently published commentary in The Geographical Journal. To the general reader, this point may be somewhat surprising: physical geography aside, the United Kingdom’s more famous interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctica tend to make headlines. The Cold War, in particular, popularised the Arctic environment as the preserve of Russia, the United States, and Scandinavia. In 2007 and 2010 the House of Lords formally discussed Britain’s supposed lack of a coherent and tangible Arctic policy, proposing that the House of Commons, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the National Oceanographic Centre formulate at least a mission statement outlining British objectives in the region. Britain’s intimate relationship with Canada, and increasingly with Norway, have also been cited as key motivators to both expanding Arctic goals and defining the terms of Arctic activity. Various Parliamentary committees have discussed the possibility of establishing a powerful Arctic scientific research body similar in scope and size to the British Antarctic Survey.

The Arctic has long drawn British explorers, entrepreneurs, strategists, and naval planners. The British Empire brought Canada’s vast Arctic territories into the public imagination, and the Second World War catalysed a strong bilateral British-Norwegian relationship which continues to the present. In the twenty-first century, this exploration- and defence-based relationships have been complemented with an increasing range of corporate and public interests, from environmental activism and scientific inquiry to petroleum and rare earth minerals exploration.

Yet as of present, the British government has yet to publish or promote a formal Arctic policy. Duncan Depledge (Royal Holloway) suggests that this is because London remains concerned ‘about over-committing itself where the UK’s interests are often peripheral in relation to wider global concerns’ (p. 370). But as Depledge contends, Britain’s economic and strategic interests require a strong Arctic presence.

From a defence point-of-view, Britain both retains and will need to increase its Arctic interests. In a 2012 white paper authored for the United Royal Services Institute, Depledge and Klaus Dodds recalled their first-hand experiences observing a series of joint operations between Britain and Norway. Referring to it as the ‘forgotten partnership’, the authors stress Norway’s strong reliance and confidence in its North Sea neighbour to ensure the North Atlantic’s protection in the event of conflict. Physical geography also plays an important role: extreme weather training remains as important as ever for British forces.

Scientific and corporate interests are no less important. Beyond never-ending Parliamentary quibbling over white paper naming and policy terminology (pp. 370-72), London has repeatedly claimed that it wishes to become a leader in environmental protection and rehabilitation. World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and BBC Earth awareness programmes have accomplished significant strides in raising public awareness for ‘saving’ the Arctic from excessive human development. Ultimately, Depledge stresses the need for clarifying British Arctic policies across defence, scientific, environmental, and corporate spheres, as well as recognising Britain’s position as a non-Arctic state. Britain will need to work with Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and the United States to seek common ground while respecting national interests.

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Duncan Depledge 2013 What’s in a name? A UK Arctic policy framework for 2013, The Geographical Journal 179.4: 369-72.

books_icon Duncan Depledge and Klaus Dodds 2012 Testing the Northern Flank: The UK, Norway and Exercise Cold ResponseThe RUSI Journal 157.4: 72-78.

Rewilding as a new paradigm for nature conservation?

By Helen Pallett

polar bear

Image credit: Maartenrus from nl

The news that the residents of a small town in subarctic Canada are teaching the polar bears they encounter to fear humans has strong resonances with wider debates about the future of conservation and environmentalism in the face of global environmental change. Seasonal migration patterns of animals like polar bears have been affected by reduced sea ice in the Arctic alongside other climatic and environmental changes, in this case bringing them more closely in contact with humans for a longer period of the year. These increasingly stressed and hungry polar bears have resorted to attacks on humans, putting a strain on human-polar bear relations in Churchill, Canada.

This story forms part of world-wide picture of community responses to global environmental change and other human induced impacts on their surrounding environments. What is new about recent developments, in comparison to more conventional forms of conservation which have long been a human response to changing environments, is that communities and conservation groups are not intervening to conserve – to try to keep things as they are or stabilise declines in certain populations or environmental quality – rather they are intervening with the explicit motive of altering these environments. The aim of this new wave of projects is to enrich environments and ecosystems in line with understandings of the palaeoecology of the areas – i.e. what the environments would have been like before human influence, shifting the baseline of conservation efforts further back into history – sometimes involving the re-introduction of species which had long left the region and explicit attempts to de-domesticate flora and fauna (as the residents of Churchill have been doing with their polar bears). These initiatives have been labelled ‘Rewilding’.

The mission of the Rewilding Europe project is to ‘rewild’ 1 million hectares of European land by 2020. Some of the projects they support include: increasing Iberian Lynx populations in Western Iberia; the reintroduction of beavers and bison in the Romanian mountains; and improving the habitats of bears, wolves and other wild animals in the Eastern Carpathians of Slovakia and Poland (for more information see here). The commentator George Monbiot has recently argued for similar approaches to be tried in Britain, accusing British conservation groups as having a lack of ambition in failing to push for the reintroduction of carnivores such as wolves into the landscape.

Advocates like Monbiot are particularly concerned with the ‘wildness’ of environments; promoting the creation of wildness through planned and in some cases far reaching interventions and evoking a sense of delight and wonder in the face of the wild. The idea of wildness too has been of interest to geographers who have explored how wildness is constructed and used as a device in debates about land use. With regards to the supposed pristine wildness of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands, geographer Fraser MacDonald has argued that such romantic views mask the human labour which goes into to maintaining such environments, detracting from the lived human experience of these lands and drawing attention only to the visual characteristics of such landscapes.

In a recent paper in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Jamie Lorimer and Clemens Driessen examine a rewilding initiative in the Oostvaaredersplassen, a public polder near Amsterdam. The polder is on land reclaimed from the sea in the 1960s for an industrial development which was never followed through. Instead the polder was colonised by greylag geese whose intensive grazing of the area eventually made it an ideal habitat for other migratory birds. And in the 1970s the authorities decided to diversify and de-domesticate the land further by introducing red deer. In their account of this initiative Lorimer and Driessen emphasise the accidental or even experimental nature of these developments, in contrast to the close planning and management which have characterised other forms of conservation.

The experiment at Oostvaaredersplassen has proved controversial and grabbed popular attention precisely because of the challenges it raises for conventional understandings of conservation. The experimental environment is not a completely wild one, it was not ‘found’ as we imagine most field science projects to be, but neither does it operate in carefully controlled laboratory conditions. The ecologists working on the area reject theories which would predict the orderly and linear succession of flora on the land , thus adopting a much more speculative approach to their management which is open to surprise and unexpected developments.

It is important for geographers to respond critically to romantic justifications of conservation efforts which conjure up pictures of pristine wildness, or even wilderness, or seem to exclude marginalised human voices from having a say in conservation and landuse decisions. On the other hand, the paradigm of rewilding offers opportunities for geographers to conceive of and intervene in conservation initiatives differently; to become involved in more open-ended experiments including both human and non-human actors, which both acknowledge the labour and intentions of humans and also the potential for environments to develop in unexpected directions.

books_icon Jamie Lorimer & Clemens Driessen 2013 Wild experiments at the Oostvaaredersplassen: rethinking environmentalism in the Anthropocene Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Online first

60-world2 Fraser MacDonald Unwilding Scotland Bella Calledonia, 2 November 2013

60-world2 How a Canadian town is teaching polar bears to fear humans in order to save them  – video Guardian, 25 November 2013

60-world2 Making Europe a wilder place – interactive Guardian, 15 October 2013

60-world2 Why are Britain’s conservation groups so lacking in ambition? Guardian, 18 October 2013

New perspectives on an aquacultural geography

Boy holding a pangasius catfish (photograph by Ben Belton)

Boy holding a pangasius catfish (photograph by Ben Belton)

by Ben Belton and Simon Bush

So how many people realise that more than half the fish eaten by human beings will very soon come from aquaculture? The answer may well depend on where you live, which raises a series of questions about the geography of where and how farmed fish are produced and consumed.

The rise of aquaculture over the last four decades has been as uneven as our understanding of its development. Our recent paper published in The Geographical Journal, explores this apparent deficit in knowledge about aquaculture by asking whether geographers have responded in any substantial way to a call to arms published by Barton and Stanifordt in Area in 1996 urging them to do just this.

Our results are not as positive as one might hope. While a potential global deficit in food fish has been averted by the growth of the industry, geography’s contributions to understanding patterns of aquaculture development have been less expansive. Work has focused largely on species exported from, and areas  exporting to, the global North, rather than on the more significant production, trade and consumption that occurs in the South. In other words, why focus on ‘booms’ in catfish from Vietnam or shrimp from Thailand which end up on dinner plates in North America or Europe, when other fish consumed in the South make up more than 90% of the world’s production? A geographical attention deficit is clearly evident.

What then should an aquacultural geography look like? In addition to the big questions of politics and trade that have been asked of export crops, researchers should be unpicking the intricacies of everyday food production and consumption. In spite of globalisation, domestic (often urban) markets in the South remain the main sites of global consumption. Overlooking the importance of these markets and the production systems which feed them, means ignoring some of the most important trends in food production for the coming decades.

Geographers are extremely well placed to develop a more considered understanding of what further growth of aquaculture will mean, not just in terms of export trade, but also in terms of both a growing urban middle class and marginalised rural communities. Given that the forecast is for a further 50% expansion of the industry simply to meet the demands of an increasingly affluent global population by 2020, the need for closing the knowledge deficit has never been greater.

The authors: Ben Belton is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at The WorldFish Center, Dhāka, Bangladesh; Simon Bush is an Associate Professor in the Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

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Belton B and Bush S R 2013 Beyond Net Deficits: New priorities for an aquacultural geography The Geographical Journal DOI:

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Barton J R and Stanifordt D 1998 Net deficits and the case for aquacultural geography Area 302 145-55

60-world2The New York Times 2013 Fish in the global balance 10 February

60-world2WorldFish and Conservation International 2011 Blue Frontiers : Managing the environmental costs of aquaculture June

60-world2BBC News 2011 Global fish consumption hits record high 1 February

Knowing ‘Terroir': a Sense of Place

by Fiona Ferbrache

'Terroir' near Castelnau de Montmiral, South West France

‘Terroir’ near Castelnau de Montmiral, South West France

‘Terroir’ is not a word to be found in my Dictionary of Human Geography, but geographer Tim Unwin (2012) locates the notion of terroir “at the heart of Geography”.  While this French word is frequently used to talk about food and wine production, it can also be linked to a sense of place and other key geographical ideas.

A recent article from The New York Times entitled ‘Vive le Terroir’ reappeared in the International Herald Tribune as ‘A sense of place that defies globalization’.  The narrative introduces a family who reside in the rural village of Castelnau de Montmiral, South West France.  It explains the family’s deep and emotional connection to the land (Jérôme is a farmer), to the extent that one “knows every inch, every stone, and which parcels are for what”. It describes terroir.

The article defines terroir as a concept “almost untranslatable, combining soil, weather, region and notions of authenticity, of genuineness and particularity – of roots, and home – in contrast to globalized products designed to taste the same everywhere”.  The elements of soil, weather and region are important here, but the quotation also captures notions that are keenly geographical: roots and home (dwelling perhaps), as well as authenticity and genuineness.  The ideas also capture a sense of knowing a place through practice and performance, as well as debates that examine local and global geographies of food production and consumption.

This latter theme ties in well with an article by Bathfield, Gasselin, López-Ridaura and Vandame (2013), exploring impacts of globalisation on small-scale coffee and honey producers in Guatemala.  Their paper examines, in particular, how smallholders responded to market shocks during a period of coffee crisis.  It is the research methodology that is of particular interest, in relation to the newspaper article above, for Bathfield et al. contribute to a growing field of studies at the level of the smallholder household (SHh) by exploring what unfolds within families.  The methods, for example, include family life histories; a technique that captures the individual emotional links and sense of identity between the smallholders and the land.

While it is widely understood that rural smallholders are increasingly connected to international markets (Bathfield et al. p.1), there are those families, such as the newspaper’s example, for whom the essence of particular local knowledge (local at the scale of an inch, or a stone), is something to value, cherish and pass on to future generations. Terroir is central to the continuation of their way of life. The idea of terroir then, is not all that distant from geographical concepts, and may be useful as a tool for capturing a notion more deeply in qualitative or ethnographic research at the micro-level.

60-world2  A sense of place that defies globalization. International Herald Tribune 02 September 2013. (also available online: Vive le Terroir The New York Times. 31 August 2013)

books_icon  Bathfield, B., Gasselin, P., López-Ridaura, S. & Vandame, R. 2013 A flexibility framework to understand the adaptation of small coffee and honey producers facing market shocks. The Geographical Journal DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12004

books_icon  Unwin, T. 2012. Terroir: at the heart of Geography, in Dougherty, P. (ed.) The Geography of Wine: Regions, Terroir and Techniques. Amsterdam: Springer pp.37-48

The Local vs Global in Caribbean Sugar

by Benjamin Sacks

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

The Caribbean, with over five hundred years of continual direct Old and New World involvement, remains a unique world region. At present, the Greater and Lesser Antilles comprise a motley collection of European and North American overseas possessions (including four French département d’outre-mer, two American unincorporated territories, and one French, six British, and six Dutch overseas territories), independent democracies, and one of the world’s last remaining Communist states. It is home to some of the world’s poorest nations by GDP per capita (Haiti) and some of its wealthiest (Cayman Islands). Few independent countries, however, enjoy full autonomy; most remain subject to strong European and American influence. Consequently, the Caribbean has often been subject to European Union economic, political, and social policies. Sugar has been at the centre of Europe-Caribbean relations since the late sixteenth century, and continues to play a dynamic role.

Most pre-existing scholarly studies of the lucrative EU-Caribbean sugar relationship have focused on high level negotiations, or generalised trends between islands and regions. Peter Jackson (University of Sheffield), Neil Ward (University of East Anglia), and Polly Russell’s (The British Library) 2009 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers article sought to bridge the gap between thematic and local conceptions: they carefully examined moral questions and concerns in the international sugar industry, albeit from a Euro-centric perspective, interviewing British farmers and market trade representatives.

But what of the sugar growers themselves? The labourers who harvest sugarcane, process it, and prepare it in an uphill battle to somehow satiate the world’s ever-growing demands? In the most recent issue of Area, Pamela Richardson-Ngwenya (University of KwaZulu-Natal) sought to examine the local impact of EU-Caribbean sugar policy reforms, particularly in recent light of what she described as ‘the on-going entrenchment of neoliberal principles in the EU’s trade regime’. Richardson-Ngwenya followed Clarence Thompson, a Barbados sugar farmer, through his daily routines and his negotiations with other farmers and local agencies concerning prices, wages, and regulation. Thompson and his colleagues remain steadfast supporters of the Caribbean sugar industry, a trade that, according to the World Bank, the West Indies should wind down and ‘move on’ from in favour of considerably larger Brazilian production efforts. Thompson, in recorded video interviews, articulated the centrality of sugarcane beyond its immediate EU-centric impact: ‘Let me tell you something: if we ever stop planting sugar cane in Barbados, the whole island is finished. Because sugar cane is the only crop that keep the island into cultivation. It’s the best crop we have’. The lives and experiences of such farmers as Thompson remind us that industries are often more than the ‘bottom line’ – they represent ways of life, and can resound with deep historical and cultural meanings.

60-world2 2013, Country Comparison: GDP – Per Capita (PPP)The CIA World Factbook 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

60-world2 2013, The EU’s relations with the CaribbeanEuropean Union External Action, 25 January 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

books_icon Jackson, P, N Ward, and P Russell, 2009, Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibilityTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series, 34, 12-24.

books_icon Richardson-Ngwenya, P, 2013, Situated knowledge and the EU sugar reform: a Caribbean life historyArea45, 188-97.

On the history of sugar, see Sidney W Mintz’s extensive scholarship:

books_icon 1960, Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

books_icon 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking.

Consumption, Behaviour Change and Sustainability

Taken by John O'Neill: View from lookout hill of Japanese Gardens, Cowra, NSW, Australia.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.Jen Dickie

On Tuesday, the House of Commons International Development Committee published a report on global food security.  Issues around the changes in the supply and demand of food at a local and global scale are discussed and calls for food wastage to be reduced, nutrition programmes expanded and a revision of agriculturally derived biofuels are some of the recommendations made.  However, in The Guardian yesterday, Fiona Harvey focussed on a more specific warning from the MPs’ report, stating that the British public “should eat meat less often, in order to help ease the food crises in the developing world”.  Although only one of many factors contributing to the global food crises, the MPs’ suggest that by cutting down meat consumption, pressures on agricultural land will ease, deforestation and obesity will be reduced and recent food price inflation will stabilise.  The report emphasises that this is not just a national issue but a global one, highlighting that China has doubled its average meat consumption per person per year from 20kg in 1985 to 50kg today; whilst high, this consumption level is still shadowed by the UK, who averaged at 85.8kg in 2007.  However, the report recognises that simply “urging the Western world to stop consuming meat is neither feasible nor desirable”, and instead suggests a campaign for behavioural change is needed where we see meat as an “occasional product rather than an everyday staple”.    

The timing of the International Development Committee’s report is of particular relevance as it was UNEP’s ‘World Environment Day’ on Wednesday.  The theme for this year’s celebrations is Think.Eat.Save, an anti-food waste campaign that encourages you to become more aware of your food choices and the environmental impacts they may have.  Sustainable consumption is described by UNEP as being about ‘doing more and better with less’, not just in terms of food, but for all renewable and non-renewable resources.  

Whilst food consumption behaviours are the main focus of these activities, Meryl Pearce et al. report on the consumption and conservation behaviours of water in three parts of Australia in an article for The Geographical Journal.  They compared householders stated water use with their actual consumption and found that high water users knew that they were high consumers of water, and that location, household size and annual household income were good predictive factors for high per capita water use.  Interestingly, their study also found that having a healthy garden was seen as a “symbol of economic status in the neighbourhood”, and therefore more important than conserving water.  Pearce et al. suggest that successful behavioural change campaigns need to offer “alternatives that do not lead to any loss in social welfare or status” and that by promoting the growing prestige associated with sustainable living consumption behaviour could change for the better.             

books_icon Meryl Pearce, Eileen Willis, Loreen Mamerow, Bradley Jorgensen, John Martin, 2013, The prestige of sustainable living: implications for water use in Australia, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12016

60-world2 Eat less meat for greater food security, British population urged, The Guardian, 4th June 2013

60-world2 Global Food Security: First Report of Session 2013–14, House of Commons International Development Committee, accessed 4th June 2013

60-world2 United Nations Environment Programme, Think.Eat.Save.  World Environment Day, accessed 5th June 2013

The Rise of the South: Beyond Expectations or a Warning about Our Future?

Jen Dickie

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: A Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk black deposits a 6,000 pound-plus bag of sand and gravel on-target, Sunday, September 4, 2005as work progresses to close the breach in the 17th Street Canal, New Orleans. (U.S. Army Corp of Engineers photo by Alan Dooley).  This work is in the public domain.On the 14th March, the United Nations Development Programme published the 2013 Human Development Report, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, which describes how the “rise of the South is radically reshaping the world of the 21st century, with developing nations driving economic growth, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class”.  Crediting sustained investment in education, health care and social programmes as well as increasing international engagement, the report states that the “world is witnessing an epochal global rebalancing”.  Whilst the UN’s press release focuses on the “massive poverty reduction” and that more than 40 developing countries have demonstrated growth beyond expectations, Claire Provost highlights some of the more negative findings from the report in her article for The Guardian.  Her article focuses on the warning from the UN that unless action is taken to tackle environmental threats such as climate change, deforestation and air and water pollution, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050.  The report highlights that climate change is already exacerbating “chronic” environmental threats, and stresses that although everyone is affected, “they hurt poor countries and poor communities the most”.

In an article for The Geographical Journal, Nigel Clark, Vasudha Chhotray and Roger Few discuss the relationship between natural hazards and disasters and how best to address the “uneven exposure and resilience of different social groups”.  They argue that human-induced climate change and its associated impacts have further added to the already complex nature of natural disasters.  Questioning the concept of global environmental justice, they discuss issues such as the tendency of powerful political and economic actors to take advantage of disasters and how traditional coping mechanisms have been eroded by ‘global modernising forces’; however, they state that whilst aid responses can be distributional and/or rights-based, the idea of justice is likely to stem from “ordinary human virtues of care and compassion”.  Following this argument, Clark et al., offer the notion that current generations of humans may be more likely care about the environment and the challenges it, and our future generations, face if we consider ourselves as owing an incalculable debt to past generations who survived a magnitude of natural disasters and therefore made our existence possible.

As growth in developing nations continues, the challenges facing them will change.  The UN highlights that sustainable economies and societies will rely on new policies and structural changes, and that these are needed if human development and climate change goals are to be aligned.  However, it is clear that policies alone will not be enough.  If we can show the same resilience and respect for our environment as our ancestors did, and view our actions as something we ‘owe’ our future generations, perhaps attitudes will change.

books_icon Nigel Clark, Vasudha Chhotray, Roger Few, 2013, Global justice and disasters, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12005

60-world2 Environmental threats could push billions into extreme poverty, warns UN, The Guardian, 14th March 2013

60-world2 Press release: “Rise of South” transforming global power balance, says 2013 Human Development Report, accessed 18th March 2013

60-world2 Human Development Report 2013, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, accessed 18th March 2013

Forest decline in the eastern U.S.?

Covering much of central New York State is a mosaic of forest, pasture, and cornfields punctuated by lakes, small towns, rural residences, and sometimes wind turbines (© Peter Klepeis)

Covering much of central New York State is a mosaic of forest, pasture, and cornfields punctuated by lakes, small towns, rural residences, and sometimes wind turbines (© Peter Klepeis)

by Peter Klepeis

Most news coverage of forests tends to focus on deforestation. And for good reason. The Food and Agricultural Organization concludes that from 2000-2010 upwards of 13 million ha of forest per year were converted to other uses or lost to natural causes. Most of the clearing occurs in the tropics, and the resultant biodiversity loss, carbon dioxide emissions, and threats to local inhabitants are among the reasons to be concerned.

Global trends in forest cover hide regional differences, however. Many temperate and rich-country contexts have been experiencing forest recovery for decades. In the eastern United States, for example, cleared areas reached their peak in the mid-to-late 19th century, but this was followed by widespread natural forest regeneration. This forest expansion is celebrated for increasing carbon sequestration and improving water quality, reducing flood risk, decreasing soil erosion, expanding wildlife habitat, and providing opportunities for recreation and extractive industries. But it is not entirely positive. As described in Jim Sterba’s new book Nature Wars, extensive forest cover, a decline in hunters, and a lack of natural predators has led to a boom in wildlife – and deer in particular – with tick-bearing disease, auto accidents, and munched veggie gardens among the negative consequences.

Regardless of its positive or negative impacts on nature and society, what explains the shift from net forest loss to net gain? In the early 1990s the geographer Alexander Mather started to develop forest transition theory: economic development, the abandonment of lands marginal to agriculture, and the movement of rural inhabitants to urban areas tend to stimulate forest recovery. The theory captures fairly well the recovery trends seen in the U.S. and Europe over the past few hundred years. But the theory is not without its critics. Forest change is dynamic, non-linear, and the factors involved are linked to specific places and time periods. Not surprisingly, therefore, recent scholarship documents how – after decades of net gain – forest cover in the eastern U.S. started to decline in the 1970s.

In a new article in the journal Area, my co-authors and I use aerial photographs to evaluate changing forest cover between 1936 and 2008 for a town in central New York State. As expected, a decline in the farming sector and changing life and livelihood goals within farming families led to 25.8 % of the town reforesting. Two new trends emerge, however. First, there is a pronounced increase in the percentage of forest recovering on prime agricultural soils, which holds the potential to diversify habitat and increase biodiversity. Prior to 1994, reforestation on high quality soils was rare. Second, alternative land uses and invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis), represent possible new forms of forest disturbance. Landowners are starting to develop wind power and natural gas, and practice silviculture. Also, there is steady growth in amenity-oriented land use and rural residential development. These new dynamics challenge theories of forest change, and raise questions about the prospects of sustainable land and forest use in the region.

The author: Peter Klepeis is Associate Professor of Geography at Colgate University, N.Y., U.S.

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Klepeis P, Scull P, LaLonde T, Svajlenka N and Gill N 2013 Changing forest recovery dynamics in the northeastern United States Area DOI: 10.1111/area.12016

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Mather A S and Needle C L 1998 The forest transition: a theoretical basis Area 30 117-24

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Grainger A 1995 The forest transition: an alternative approach Area 27 242-51

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Mather A S 1992 The forest transition Area 24 367-79

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Sterba J 2012 America gone wild Wall Street Journal 2 November

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2012 State of the world’s forests FAO, Rome

Stop Horsing Around – Governance of the Meat Industry, Consumer Confidence and the Blame Game

Jen Dickie

Basashi (raw horsemeat) from Towada. Photograph taken by Richard W.M. Jones and released under the GFDL. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.On the 15th January the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published a report stating that horse and pig DNA had been detected in beefburger products available from retail outlets in Ireland.  The FSAI reported that whilst the presence of pig DNA had a plausible, although clearly still unacceptable, explanation –cross contamination in meat processing plants, there was no reasonable explanation for the presence of horsemeat.

Since then, the ‘horsemeat scandal’ has dominated our headlines with a steady stream of shocking revelations about the meat industry and its regulations, supply chains and possible links to the criminal underworld.  The timeline of findings and events published by the UK Food Standards Agency demonstrates not only the extent and seriousness of the investigation, but the unfolding complexity and (to some) the surprising lack of transparency of the meat industry.  What is clear, however, is that as the number of products testing positive for horse DNA rise, consumer confidence is plummeting and accusations of blame are flying. 

Whilst Felicity Lawrence provides an ‘essential guide to the horsemeat scandal’ in The Guardian, explaining the involvement of Europe in our meat supply chains in particular, Reuters report on the “accusations, denials and threats to sue (that) reverberated round Europe on Friday as meat traders, food processors, retailers and governments all rejected blame”.  However, as the pressure on Governments to act grows and claims of mis-labelling, negligence and fraud ricochet across Europe, Reuters describe how the accused believe they are being used as scapegoats for the politicians who are struggling to explain these breaches in food safety controls.     

As the saga continues, and questions are raised about how this substantial quality control failure has been allowed to happen, the meat industry will find itself under increasing scrutiny.  In a timely article for The Geographical Journal, Laura Devaney provides interesting insight to the operating logics, performance and impact of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (the institution that first reported the presence of horsemeat in beef products) since its formation 10 years ago.  Using interviews with food industry stakeholders, Devaney highlights the “dynamic coexistence of both neoliberal and biosecurity agendas” in the work of the FSAI, which reflect the “new ways of securitising food… (that attempt to) protect society and allow it to prosper, but enable the deregulated free trade of safe food”.  However, Devaney also discusses the conflict between the neoliberal agendas that promote self-regulation in the food industry and the biosecurity measures related to ensuring public health and food safety.  It is this conflict that appears to be the key component in the current horsemeat scandal.  

In these times of economic austerity the demand for cheap, mass-produced processed food has grown, it is therefore not a surprise that the complex nature of supply chains and the de-regulation of the food industry have been taken advantage of.  As always, ‘lessons will be learned’ from this latest food scare but in the meantime, instead of pointing the finger of blame, regulations need to be tightened and consumer confidence regained.

books_icon Laura Devaney, 2013, Spaces of security, surveillance and food safety: interrogating perceptions of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s governing technologies, power and performance, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12001

60-world2 Horsemeat scandal: the essential guide, The Guardian, 15th February 2013

60-world2 Horsemeat blame game ricochets across Europe, Reuters, 15th February 2013

60-world2 Timeline on horse meat issue, The Food Standards Agency, accessed on 19th February 2013

60-world2 FSAI Survey Finds Horse DNA in Some Beef Burger Products, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, accessed on 19th February 2013