Tag Archives: Environment and Society

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

Academic Writing and Geography Narrated

by Fiona Ferbrache

The ruins of Erskine Beveridge, is Fraser MacDonald’s (2013) narrative essay available as an early view article in Transactions. It tells the story of a house – Taigh Mòr, built by Erskine Beveridge on an intertidal island in the Outer Hebrides – and its inhabitants – the Beveridge family, who used the property as a summer retreat. It is also a first class piece of geographical writing.

Ruined_house_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1428145

House ruins (Source: Wikimedia Commons: Graham Horn)

MacDonald’s narrative non-fiction is unusual in style and form, and may at first appear unconventional for some geographers. This is not a style that appears frequently in published journals of our discipline, but may be situated within a renewed interest in literary geographies, including geographies of storytelling, and bio-geo-geography (see for example Lorimer and Wylie). In another way, the text reminded me of the personalised and enquiring travels made and recounted by Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways. The style and methods are not dissimilar.

MacDonald’s aim in this piece is to “maintain a primary commitment to storytelling as an exemplar of geographical writing” (p.2). Yet, it goes further than this as it is inherently about (historical) geography. The deteriorating Taigh Mòr is situated at the centre of the tale, around which the lives of its inhabitants are explored and retold. The work touches at least three geographical themes: ruins, spaces of science and antiquarian knowledge, and fieldwork. The methods underpinning the ‘fieldwork’ included walking, interviewing, synthesising published sources, interpreting material remains in the landscape, and triangulating observations against other archives. Thus, the rich text is descriptive and analytical as it probes, explores and lays a thread for the reader to follow.

MacDonald argues that geographers “have some way to go before matters of form and style receive the same sort of attention currently given to methodology” (p.2). For young geographers, this commitment to storytelling, as an exemplar of geographical writing, will hopefully inspire creativity and originality, beyond geography’s more familiar writing conventions.

books_icon  MacDonald, F. 2013 The ruins of Erskine Beveridge. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.  DOI: 10.1111/tran.12042

books_icon  Lorimer, H. 2003 Telling small stories: spaces of knowledge and the practice of geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 28, pp.197-217

books_icon  Wiley, J. 2009 Landscape, absence and the geographies of love. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, pp.275-289

60-world2  Stylish Academic Writing – a guide

Doing flood risk science differently?

By Helen Pallett

uk flooding 2007

The Summer 2007 UK foods. Image credit: Mat Fascione

A group of scientists at the University of Oxford have launched a new citizen science project to help them better understand the 2013-14 winter storms and flooding in the UK. Flooding events over the last decade have received increasing media attention and have been the object of controversies around the official responses. Debates have centred around the contribution of urbanisation to the increased frequency of flooding events, as well as the inadequacy of flood protection and flood response systems. But perhaps the most consistent topic of public debate has been the connection between (human induced) climate change and these extreme weather events.

The Oxford University project Weather@home 2014 asks whether and how much climate change has had an effect on the winter 2013-14 storms and floods and seeks to answer this question through the use of climate models. As the Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington explains here, running climate models can be time consuming but the more runs the team has to compare and plot, the clearer any trend will be. So the scientists invite anybody who is interested to sign up and help complete up to 30,000 climate model re-runs of winter 2013-14 with different assumptions about the influence of climate change on weather patterns.

This is an innovative citizen science project in that it expects its citizen scientists to contribute to the work of scientific analysis, rather than simply data collection (though the practice of climate modelling rather blurs this distinction). And it does seem an appropriate project in what has been labelled, ‘the year of the code’ (see for example, here). As with any citizen science project, however it has its limitations, especially in the role carved out for the citizen scientists. Assuming the participants are able to code (and clearly many people cannot), they are free to run as many model runs as they like, set within the scientific and technological framework provided by the Oxford University scientists. The participants, cannot for example, come up with competing models, do runs which seek to answer different questions about the floods, or draw on their own knowledge or experience of the winter floods in their engagement with the project. The scientific framing of this project is a highly contentious one within the climate science community, with many other scientists arguing that the task of attempting to attribute extreme weather events to climate change is impossible and unhelpful. Yet the participants have no say in this.

This shouldn’t surprise us of course, and does not prevent it from being a potentially productive and enriching experience for the both the scientists and citizen scientists involved. But another group of researchers has also been experimenting with involving non-scientists in flood-risk science in a very different way. The flood scientist Stuart Lane along with an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists attempted an experiment in flood management involving scientific experts and citizens with experience of flooding, but without giving them pre-defined roles. Natural and social scientists and citizens worked together to generate new knowledge about a flooding event, and to negotiate the different assumptions and commitments of each group, in order to inform public interventions in flood risk management. Thus all members of the group were seen to have relevant and useful knowledge, and efforts were made to develop collective understandings which were not differentiated between academics and non-academics. This research project contributed to scientific understandings of flood hydrology through the creation of new models for example, and also the collection of qualitative understandings and experiences of flooding. But it also helped to overcome an impasse in the management of floods in Pickering, the area under study, where no decision had been made about the appropriate use of resources for flood risk management, by helping to reconfigure relationships between the scientific ‘experts’ and local people.

These contrasting citizen science projects, both focussed on flooding, help to showcase the wide range of ways in which non-scientists can be involved in research projects. However, they also show the importance of aims and framing in determining the outcomes of the project and the ways in which non-scientists participate. The Oxford University project was framed as a conventional scientific study aiming to show how climate change had influenced recent extreme weather events, and co-opting citizen scientists as volunteers to help get the scientific work done more quickly. In the case of the Pickering flooding experiment, the researchers had no clear scientific aim, but rather were deliberately attempting to unsettle power relations between so-called experts and non-experts, and to see if this had an impact of the flood management plans people emerged with. Whilst many will claim that the scientific robustness of the knowledge and flood models generated by the latter project are undermined by the researcher’s determination to involve non-scientists at all stages, the project’s political and practical outcomes (and therefore the impacts on the citizen scientists) were overwhelmingly positive.

S N Lane, N Odoni, C Landstrom, S J Whatmore, N Ward & S Bradley 2011 Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific methodTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36(1): 15-36

Citizen scientists test influence of climate change on UK winter deluge: results poor in Guardian – Damian Carrington’s Environment Blog, March 24th

Weather@home 2014: the causes of the UK winter floods, climateprediction.net

Time to rethink the e-waste problem

By Josh Lepawsky

My eye is caught by a recent news headline that proclaims “U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World with E-waste“. In the article, journalist Adam Minter – who in January spoke at the RGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture series – reports that the export of e-waste from the US is a trickle, rather than the flood it is often portrayed to be in a variety of NGO reports, news media, and academic publications. Tracing global flows of e-waste is a challenging task, one I take up most recently in The Geographical Journal.

After an analysis of 16 years of trade data for 206 territories and more than 9400 trade transactions, I’ve found that, indeed, it is necessary to rethink common representations of e-waste flows. Instead of a flood of e-waste flowing from so-called ‘developed’ countries to ‘developing’ countries, between 73-82 percent of total flows are traded between countries designated as ‘Annex VII’ signatories (the EU, OECD, and Lichtenstein) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – a key international agreement regulating the trade of hazardous wastes, including e-waste. More importantly, I’ve found that flows from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’ countries – the opposite of the usual e-waste storyline – grew substantially over the 16 years of available data. Indeed, flows of e-waste from non-Annex VII territories (or ‘developing’ countries’) to Annex VII territories (‘developed’ countries) climbed from just of 6.5 million kilograms in 1996 to over 140 million kilograms in 2012.

These findings offer crucial conceptual and policy insights into the issue of e-waste. Conceptually, the intense focus on e-waste dumping means that efforts at amelioration remain fixated on end-of-pipe solutions. As a consequence, insufficient effort is directed by those concerned about e-waste toward changing how the extraction of raw materials for them, their design, manufacturing, or their durability is done. Policies premised on halting the flow of e-waste from the global ‘North’ to the global ‘South’ via industrial recycling mean that a variety of environmental and economic benefits of repairing, reusing, and refurbishing digital equipment are destroyed. Moreover, trade bans like those envisioned under the Basel Convention, are increasingly irrelevant to present and likely future e-waste trade patterns – such trade is occurring almost entirely in directions that are either permissible under extant rules or in patterns not even imagined by those rules to be worthy of regulation. It is time to rethink the e-waste problem.

About the Author: Josh Lepawsky is a Professor in cultural, economic & political geography at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

open-access-icon Lepawsky, J. (2014), The changing geography of global trade in electronic discards: time to rethink the e-waste problem. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12077

60-world2 Minter, A., U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World With E-WasteBloomberg View, 26 May 2013.

Movie Icon Minter, A., Our junkyard planet: travels in the secret trash tradeRGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture Series, 20 January 2014. [Members and Fellows of the Society can re-watch this lecture online].

Rapid land-use changes are creating the geology of the Anthropocene

By Eli Lazarus

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia.

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

From a historical perspective, land grabbing – deals involving acquisitions of large-scale land assets – is not a new global phenomenon. But it is a resurgent one. Investigative journalists and non-governmental organisations have been reporting on land grabs with particular attention since 2008, when a market-driven spike in food prices triggered a widespread geopolitical crisis over food security. The crisis is ongoing, further complicated by conflicting interests in land for water access, biofuel production, timber, mineral wealth, industrial expansion, environmental conservation, and the protection of local and indigenous peoples’ rights. Academic researchers have begun to examine the social, political, and institutional dynamics of land grabbing, but such expansive land-use transitions can also have profound, lasting effects on physical landscapes. In my article, published in Area, I consider land grabbing as a peculiar force of change in human–environmental systems.

Through agriculture, construction, resource extraction, and other activities, humans move around a lot of dirt. In terms of mass, we displace more of the planet’s surface on an annual basis than any natural agent of geomorphic change, including rivers, glaciers, wind, hillslopes, and waves. Sediment cores from Central America reveal erosion signals coincident with land clearing by Pre-Columbian empires. Lakes across the western US retain the sedimentary record of the catastrophic 1930s Dust Bowl, which followed the introduction of industrial agriculture to the Great Plains. Environmental historians suggest that humans have caused thus far three global-scale pulses of soil erosion in our time on Earth, and the volume of soil and rock we have moved since early millennia BCE has increased nonlinearly as a function of population and technology.

What makes land-use transitions driven by land grabbing so remarkable is their scale: no natural process of environmental change (aside from a cataclysmic event) operates as rapidly over such vast areas and in so many settings. Global landscape changes driven by human activities are the precursors to what will become the geology of the Anthropocene, an epoch characterised by the legacies, material and indirect, of our built environment. Could this new era of land grabbing ultimately register in sedimentary records around the world? Much as past climates have left their own geologic signatures, humans are already leaving our own in the volume of sediment we move – and in the astounding rates at which we move it.

About the author: Dr Eli Lazarus is a Lecturer at School of Ocean Earth Sciences at Cardiff University.

open-access-icon Lazarus E D 2014 Land grabbing as a driver of environmental changeArea, 46: 74–82. doi: 10.1111/area.12072

60-world2 Image of the Day: Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia NASA Earth Observatory, 7 July 2012

60-world2 Lakhani N, World Bank’s ethics under scrutiny after Honduras loan investigation The Guardian, 13 January 2014

60-world2 MacFarquhar N, African farmers displaced as investors move in The New York Times, 21 December 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab The Guardian, 7 March 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises The Guardian, 6 November 2013

Accommodating Students: recent trends and the University of the Channel Islands

by Fiona Ferbrache

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Like many Channel Islanders, I attended university in the UK as there is no such establishment in the islands. Proposals are in place, however, to realise ‘The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey’ – an institution that would eventually host up to 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students (from across the globe).

Accommodating students can be challenging anywhere, but the issues are often intensified on an island where space and land are at a premium.  While there has been much positive feedback for the proposals, concerns have been raised over where students would live, and what impact they might have on the existing community. In a radio broadcast, Susan Jackson (Executive Project Director) commented: “we will be very careful about preserving Guernsey as it is now” and “we aim to insert ourselves delicately in all around existing structures”.  These intentions differ to current trends of UK studentification, identified by Smith & Hubbard (2014), but I argue that this might be a key marketing perspective for the Islands’ University.

Providing an overview of student housing markets since the 1990s, Smith and Hubbard identify a shift from the integration of students within socially mixed neighbourhoods, to concentrations of student accommodation in purpose-built blocks, often on the margins of other social groups. This trend towards segregated living has had considerable consequences on social relations between students and longer-term residents.

In the case of Guernsey, there seems little inclination (or scope to build at the margins) to construct purpose-built student accommodation.  Hence, it seems likely that students and existing populations will have to reside more closely. Although Smith and Hubbard note that students appear to like living apart, the opportunities for students to live among Islanders could be employed as a key marketing strategy for the University of the Channel Islands.  Rather than a life apart, it might be an opportunity for students to interact with longer-term residents through daily encounters, and to the benefit of both groups.

 60-world2 BBC Radio Guernsey: Plans for a Channel Island University in Guernsey

60-world2  Channel Island ‘well equipped’ for university students

60-world2  The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey – Vision statement 

books_icon  Smith, D. P. & Hubbard, P. 2014 The segregation of educated youth and dynamic geographies of studentification. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.1205

Climate Change Adapatation: Greening Urban Environments

by Fiona Ferbrache

IMG_1248

Examples of green infrastructure from an exhibition entitled ‘La Ville Fertile’ (Gaillac, 2012)

What happened to your Christmas tree at the end of December?  Did you recycle wrapping paper and Christmas cards?  Perhaps you experienced some flooding from the severe weather during the festive season?  This post explores environmental and climate change adaptation strategies – namely green infrastructure – but first a light-hearted piece of research with a festive theme.

In December, academics from Leeds University calculated Santa’s carbon footprint if he successfully delivered stockings to 7.7 million UK homes.  Travelling roughly 1.5 million km, Santa’s carbon footprint would be equivalent to 9 tonnes per stocking (UK annual CO2 emissions are roughly 7 tonnes per person).  Exploring less costly ways of delivering Christmas gifts, the scientists calculated that stockings arriving from China by container ship, and then to one’s home by van, would result in lower CO2 emissions at 800 grams per stocking.Xmas sack0001

We are asked to take environmental and climate change seriously, not least because without adequate adaptation, lives and landscapes may be put at risk.  This point is made by Jones and Somper in an Early View article exploring how climate change adaptations in London are being integrated into the landscape.  Their focus is on green infrastructure: “natural or semi-natural networks of green (soil-covered or vegetated) and blue (water-covered) spaces and corridors that maintain and enhance ecosystem services” (p.1), and how such spaces can be encouraged and used more effectively (e.g. the Green Roofs Scheme).  Jones and Somper present some examples of existing measures towards green infrastructure in the capital, and also make three key recommendations for policymakers, highlighting, among them, the need for stronger planning initiatives to turn ideals into standard practice.

Next time you visit London, you might observe what measures have been taken towards furthering green infrastructure, and consider whether such strategies might be successful in your own hometown.

60-world2  Greening Roofs and Walls in LondonGreater London Authority

books_icon  Jones, S. & Somper, C. 2013 The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal. DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12059

60-world2  Santa’s EmissionsUnited Bank of Carbon

60-world2  “Are We Whistling in the Wind?”, Turner, B. 2012 Geography Directions 19 October

 

Ordering vulnerability: transitions in flood risk management

By Helen Pallett 

Hemsby flooding

Picture from the Guardian

On Thursday December 5th the east coast of the UK was battered by high winds and rain, causing a tidal surge which flooded many homes and caused wide-spread travel disruption. It is estimated that 1400 properties were flooded, with some of the worst damage being experienced on the Norfolk coast where several towns were evacuated and where seven houses were lost to the sea in the village of Hemsby.

Like earlier extreme flooding and tidal surge events, the most recent storm raises pressing questions about the relative responsibilities of the government, private insurance companies and individual home-owners for both assessing and managing the risks of flood damage. Memories of the 1953 North Sea flood, where a tidal surges over-topped sea defences and led to the deaths of more than 300 people, have been frequently evoked this week. It was after this flood that British government was forced to reassess its responsibilities towards those living in areas vulnerable to future flooding and storm surges, and consequently embarked on a programme of constructing flood and sea defences across the country.

According to a recent paper by Tom Ball, Alan Werritty and Alistair Geddes in the journal Area, this paradigm of hard-engineered flood defences was dominant until 2004, when a number of factors such as the projected impacts of climate change, the unexpected impacts of certain engineering solutions and the prohibitive cost of sustaining flood defences around all vulnerable settlements led this approach to be de-emphasised. The approach moved towards bolstering the resilience of vulnerable communities, rather than offering comprehensive protection, creating a much greater role for the insurance industry in mediating flood risk and vulnerability, along other ‘softer’ management approaches.

This transitional arrangement between the Government, private insurers and home-owners shifted again with the 2007 summer floods in the UK which are thought to have cost insurers £1.7 billion. In the aftermath of the floods the Government intervened to encourage insurance providers to agree to a ‘Statement of Principles’, where they committed to adopting a cross subsidy between homes in low and high risk flooding areas, rather than simply refusing to ensure or charging astronomically high premiums for those most vulnerable to flood damage. The relevance of this fragile settlement to the most recent storm, is that this Statement of Principles expired in June of this year, creating the possibility for yet another transition in how the burden of risk and vulnerability management is shared between our three central actors.

Following last week’s floods, the Observer newspaper reported on the Government’s new flood insurance scheme, which is designed to cater for houses in high risk flooding areas which will no longer be covered by conventional private insurance schemes. As Ball et al point out in their paper, the UK is unusual in not having had provision for state-subsidised flooding insurance until now. However, as the Observer reported, this new government insurance scheme seems unlikely to produce any long-lasting settlement in the management of flood risks and vulnerabilities, as it proposes to cover only 500,000 homes; a much smaller figure than the number of homes projected to experience a high risk of flooding in the 2020s by the Government’s own climate change impacts assessment.

The history of approaches to flood risk and vulnerability over the last 60 years alerts to the ways in which the methods, rationalities and bureaucratic arrangements have shifted substaintially over time. However, it is also important to be attentive to how these moves have interacted with changing relationships between the state, insurance providers and ordinary citizens in the face of the threat of flooding, and the different degrees of responsibility and financial burden these sometimes subtle changes place on each actor.

books_icon Tom Ball, Alan Werritty & Alistair Geddes 2013  Insurance and sustainability in flood-risk management: the UK in a transitional state Area, 45(3): 266-272

60-world2 Half a million homes at risk are not covered by flood scheme Observer, 7 December

60-world2 UK flood defences praised for saving lives and property on east coast Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Storms, floods and tidal surge devastate the UK’s east coast in pictures Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Norfolk floods: seven Hemsby homes badly damaged by waves BBC News, 6 December

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

Spatial exclusivity and anxiety: on and beyond our planet

by Tijo Salverda and Iain Hay

A view on Tamarin, a seaside village with a substantial portion of Franco-Mauritian inhabitants. Photograph by Tijo Salverda.

A view on Tamarin, a seaside village with a substantial portion of Franco-Mauritian inhabitants. Photograph by Tijo Salverda.

Mauritius may not the first thing that comes to mind when watching Elysium, a 2013 Hollywood sci-fi movie. However, in our understandings of elite geographies the film makes an interesting allegory for the Indian Ocean island known for its pristine beaches.

In the film, the wealthy have abandoned planet Earth and settled down on Elysium, an exclusive and luxurious space habitat. Elite symbolism is displayed nicely: Elysium appears as a large, shiny piece of jewellery, with its inhabitants living in luxurious villas and (some) speaking the ‘ultimate’ elite language, French! Evocative of contemporary exclusive elite gated communities, the residents of Elysium are surrounded with likeminded people and shielded from unwanted visitors and residents, notably the have-nots who are forced to remain on an overpopulated and chaotic Earth. In short, the wealthy have shaped a perfect elite life, yet they remain anxious to prevent the Earth’s poor inhabitants entering their exclusive space.

As with many allegories, some of the similarities to Mauritius may be a little farfetched. Nevertheless, the comparison highlights a matter that tends to be overlooked in much of the literature on elite geographies. In our article ‘Change, anxiety and exclusion in the postcolonial reconfiguration of Franco-Mauritian elite geographies’ in The Geographical Journal we make the point that the role of anxiety in shaping elite geographies is not something that exists only in the fantasies of Hollywood producers. In the (re)shaping of their elite geographies, Franco-Mauritians – the white former colonial elite of the island of Mauritius – are to a large extent driven by worries about others entering their exclusive spaces: their residential areas, their schools, and their clubs. Most of the newly emerging literature examining geographies of the super-rich and elites overlooks this matter of anxiety, focusing instead on how elites and the super-rich tend to have the upper hand in shaping residential and other social geographies. The Franco-Mauritian case, especially in the period since Mauritius’ independence, helps to illustrate how elite geographies are also shaped in response to external changes. Feelings of anxiety and consequential desires to regain some measure of control over their milieux have influenced Franco-Mauritians’ shaping of exclusive cultural, educational, recreational, and residential enclaves in ways that create new patterns of exclusion and segregation. As we illustrate, such enclaves on Earth – and perhaps even in Elysium-like futures beyond our planet – are simultaneously and paradoxically a root of anxiety and the foundation of continued exclusivity.

About the authors: Tijo Salverda is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human Economy Programme, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, South Africa; Iain Hay is Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Human Geography at the School of the Environment, Flinders University, Australia.

books_icon Salverda T and Hay I 2013 Change, anxiety and exclusion in the post-colonial reconfiguration of Franco-Mauritian elite geographies The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12041

globe42Mohn T 2012 America’s Most Exclusive Gated Communities Forbes 3 July

60-world2Elysium official movie site 2013