Mark Dowie (markdowie) Tue 25 Aug 09 09:05
Of course urbanization makes a beneficial contribution to nature, simply by staying out of it and concentrating human impact in dense communities. But urbanization also uses a lot more resources and raw materials per urban resident than per rural resident. And the extraction of those resources has a negative impact on non-urban parts of the planet. But this is really not what I was talking about in the sentence you quote. There I was lamenting the fact that when human individuals urbanize themselves, ie. live most of their lives inside a city, surrounded by urban infrastructure, urban culture and urban food systems, they tend to lose sight of what the rest of the planet means to them and their survival. Their sense of "nature" becomes a hike, on a well tended trail, through the woods bordering their city or the site of their cottage, not the complex of services provided by ecosystems far from the city limits.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 25 Aug 09 10:04
I think the concept of ecosystem services is at best very dimly understood. Of course, nature bats last...
Gail Ann Will (gail) Wed 26 Aug 09 16:24
<scribbled by gail Wed 26 Aug 09 17:09>
William Pauly (almedia) Wed 26 Aug 09 16:42
Interesting tension between humanity as part of the ecosystem, acting as benign agents within that intricate web, and as self-interested, and self-aware proprietors of that selfsame "wilderness". Throws into high relief the notion of "indigenous"; does the latter have a clear and unproblematic definition? Specifically, can a culture which we regard as indigenous be exposed to and utilise all of the technology currently available without somehow becoming "corrupted" thereby?
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 26 Aug 09 17:11
Sorry I had to delete my post above. I messed up the formatting on the pasted-in quote! I'll repost it, though almedia asks plenty for interesting discussion.
trying again.... (gail) Wed 26 Aug 09 17:15
There's a lot to think about. I'm in favor of greenbelt wildlife corridors, "overripe" timber that supports owls, and much of what imperfect conservationalists have fought for. I'm not overly romantic -- for one thing, I lived and worked in Yosemite for a year when I was 21, and saw a lot of the painful compromises and urban pressures on the valley, studied conservation in college, and spent a little time at Hopi pondering the ironies of the old tradition of throwing stuff off the sides of the mesas. (Ancient pot shards and putrid pampers bring some of the contradictions into relief!) I do wonder how wildlife habitat and "open space" can be preserved in the face of poverty and the desire for prosperity, anyplace. I was not one of the readers who has your book, however, I found an interesting article of yours from Orion magazine that covers some of the territory at: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/161/ I was taken by the examples you gave, such as this one: We are enemies of conservation, declared Maasai leader Martin Saningo, standing before a session of the November 2004 World Conservation Congress sponsored by IUCN in Bangkok, Thailand. The nomadic Maasai, who have over the past thirty years lost most of their grazing range to conservation projects throughout eastern Africa, hadnt always felt that way. In fact, Saningo reminded his audience, ...we were the original conservationists. The room was hushed as he quietly explained how pastoral and nomadic cattlemen have traditionally protected their range: Our ways of farming pollinated diverse seed species and maintained corridors between ecosystems. Then he tried to fathom the strange version of land conservation that has impoverished his people, more than one hundred thousand of whom have been displaced from southern Kenya and the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania. Like the Batwa, the Maasai have not been fairly compensated. Their culture is dissolving and they live in poverty. We dont want to be like you, Saningo told a room of shocked white faces. We want you to be like us. We are here to change your minds. You cannot accomplish conservation without us. Have the Maasai made progress in getting access to their grazing lands since then? Is Saning'o still leading this initiative? What are the experiences with modern technologies: if people return their lands and not all of them agree that they "dont want to be like you," then are we certain to slowly lose those habitats to urbanization?
Mark Dowie (markdowie) Fri 28 Aug 09 10:04
Indigenous: This is the tough one. The central issue for indigenous peoples is recognition, and recognition depends partly on the definition of indigeneity. There is no legal definition of indigenous peoples, partly because there is no legal recognition of the word peoples. Some Africans say that all black Africans are indigenous to Africa, so there is no point in differentiating between Batwa and Bantu, Basarwa and Tswana. The government of Botswana in fact declares that all of its citizens are indigenous from the ancient Basarwa Bushmen who arrived there some 22,000 years ago to the most recently settled colonist. By contrast Richard Leakey insists there are no indigenous people in Kenya. Are the Karen, Hmong, Akha and other hill tribes of Southeast Asia indigenous to Burma, Thailand and Laos or to Yunnan China from where they migrated a few hundred years ago? To where are the Maasai, Qashqui or the Tuareg pastorals indigenous? The International Labor Organizations Convention 169 defines indigenous peoples as tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs rejects all definitions. We assert our inherent right to define who we are. We do not approve of any other definition, reads their official statement on the matter. Since there is so much confusion about who is and who is not indigenous, for the purpose of my text, I used the following definition: A people are indigenous to an area if they occupied the land where they reside, or in the case of pastoral nomadics, if they grazed their livestock in a region, before the particular area in question was absorbed by the nation state or states within which it now exists. _______________________________________________________________ The Maasai are still being mistreated in Tanzania and Kenya, particularly right now in Tanzania where they are being evicted from Boumas on land claimed by a United Arab Emirate corporation. The interest there appears to be bug game hunting rather than conservation. But then colonial big game hunters have always claimed to be ardent conservationists.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 28 Aug 09 11:01
Mark, what would be an effective solution at this point? We can't go back to hunter-gatherer days (unless, I suppose, we nuke our way there). So how does our modern, resource-dependent, eco-depleting civilization protect the fragile relationships, human and wild, that you describe so beautifully in "Conservation Refugees"? Is there evidence the BINGOs, as you call them, are finally listening to the representatives of the indigenous groups? And how should a large government such as we have here in the U.S. respond?
Mark Dowie (markdowie) Sat 29 Aug 09 11:08
Of course I'm not suggesting or expecting that we go back to hunter-gatherer days, although it may well be the hunter-gatherers who ultimately "inherit the earth" ..... or what's left of it when we, the plundering classes have consumed ourselves into extinction. Part of any future strategy for biodiversity conservation should, I believe, be to defend and encourage any and all communities and cultures that are proving themselves to be worthy stewards of their homelands. And I found most hunter-gatherer cultures to pass that test. So I'd let them be. Don't mess with their land or their lifeways. Yes there are many people in the employ of the BINGOs who are hearing and heeding the native message, respecting traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and vocally opposing the eviction of indigenous peoples. Hopefully they will rise into leadership positions in their respective NGOs and create a vital new paradigm for global conservation,one that blends TEK with western textbook biological sciences and includes indigenous peoples as equal players and rights holders in the management of protected areas.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Sat 29 Aug 09 11:21
"A people are indigenous to an area if they occupied the land where they reside, or in the case of pastoral nomadics, if they grazed their livestock in a region, before the particular area in question was absorbed by the nation state or states within which it now exists." But doesn't that definition, then, include the British, Dutch, French, and Spanish colonists who arrived in the Americas before the Americas were divided into nation states?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Mon 31 Aug 09 08:46
I said at the outset of this discussion that I found the Epilogue, "Vital Diversities; Balancing the Protection of Nature and Culture," to be the perhaps the most provocative section of the book. Here, Mark sums up the many failures and injustices of the 'fortress conservation' model, which is based upon the still deeply ingrained Western belief that humans are separate from nature, and discusses the possibilities of alternate models of conservation. He observes that the "central strategy" of conservation science - creating protected areas and attempting to keep them free of human influence - has not only unjustly evicted people from their lands, but has also failed to stem the tide of biodiversity loss, which has only accelerated as more and more 'protected areas' are created. Mark goes on to suggest that community-initiated and managed conservation can be a better model, along with "turning more human beings into true conservationists by teaching the value of natural capital at every level of education, and creating incentives in every society to conserve natural resources." Finally, "The next step would be to find ways to produce economic wellbeing without compromising vast ecosystems, or to put it in more spiritual terms, without assaulting creation. Of course, eventually that would mean regarding the entire planet as a protected area, a sacred site if you will, worthy of equal protection - no more 'sacrifice zones' anywhere on Mother Earth." When I read these words - which Mark goes on in the next paragraph to say are possibly "too radical"! - it suggests to me that we not only need better and more wholistic strategies for protecting and maintaining surviving areas of high biodiversity, but that it also follows that we need new approaches and techniques for restoring biodiversity and natural function to the whole landscape - including the parts of it that we might, under our existing paradigm, write off as hopelessly degraded ... including cities, industrial and infrastructural areas, contaminated places. In my field we have a concept called "regenerative design," which is meant to go beyond mere "sustainability." Various definitions can be found of what "regenerative" means in this context, but I would sum it up as a belief that our design and planning efforts can be inspired by a greater understanding of natural processes and systems, and an attempt to work in harmony with those processes and systems in the environment we build. Also inherent in the concept of regenerative design is a vision of regenerating communities - renewing the relationships of people to one another as well as to their world. We touched earlier on the question of what happens when indigenous people gain access to technology, and how it might change their relationship to their landscapes - whether a destructive relationship is inherent in that technology, no matter who is using it. In answer to that question, Mark suggests that it's not the technology itself that's the problem - in the words of the book, "The modern transformation of societies from primitive to technological cultures has proved to be disastrous for ecological health and biodiversity. It needn't be that way." Along those lines, I wonder whether indigenous peoples, and the concept of traditional ecological knowledge, might have something to offer the rest of us and the landscapes we inhabit, in learning how to relate to the landscape and actively manage it for biodiversity and sustainability, or even to restore/rebuild those things where they have been degraded or lost. I think I'm going to disagree with Mark in his earlier reply to a question, in which he said that "urbanization makes a beneficial contribution to nature, simply by staying out of it" and that urban dwellers necessarily "lose sight of what the rest of the planet means to them and their survival." Ecosystem services are not only provided "far from the city limits" - they are, or can be, provided right in the midst of our cities. And urban dwellers can potentially have access to a great wealth of cultural and natural information - ecoliteracy as well as the cultural kind - and can learn to use that knowledge to reimagine every part of the human relatoinship to the environment. I don't think cities should be considered "sacrifice zones" any more than other parts of the landscape should. Mark, you argue that we should turn "more human beings into true conservationists by teaching the value of natural capital at every level of education." We do have a lot to learn from indigenous people and their forms of ecological knowledge and management; maybe some of those lessons can be applied even in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York...
Mark Dowie (markdowie) Mon 31 Aug 09 09:04
Maria, In some cases yes. The Bayou Cajun (French) in Louisiana, the Spanish landholders of Chimayo NM and others would fit my definition of indigenous. Problem is most colonialists didn't stay on the land they first occupied, they simply turned the whole place into their state and in doing so subsumed and claimed the ancient "nations" of people who now claim indigeniety and sovereignty. Anne, Let's agree to disagree on the urban question
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 31 Aug 09 12:16
Anne, when you posted: >In my field we have a concept called "regenerative design," which is meant to go beyond mere "sustainability." I remembered a topic on The WELL way back in the early 90s which was called something like "Terraforming planet Earth." It was a great phrase, borrowed from science fiction where some harsh far world would be sculpted, planted and warmed or cooled for human habitation with the use of bacteria, plants, animals and energy. There the term was, oddly applied back onto this place, Terra, that was supposed to be the model environment. There was a lot I liked about the idea of re-greening our own planet as science fiction, but there was also something troubling. I like the Mojave, and I cringe to see residents try to terraform a little bite of the desert into a slice of midwest suburbia with a lawn. But then again, the Anasazi practiced corn and squash farming where there was water. Humans have been trying to terraform for many thousands of years. Humans like to apply both sentimental and survival contexts in working the land. It may be the myth of Shangri-La, or the desire for a grassy golf course, or the traditional imperative for more open meadows for grazing lands. Garden-making! So old and so human that it got attributed to God and Eden. Whatever we do to preserve biodiversity and wild places, we will be balancing those garden-making values, traits and trends with science, demand for land and our current sense of justice. Hopefully we can preserve traditional ways of life and do a better job for all the reasons this book details, but I hope we don't stop trying to give other species besides humans top priority in some habitats. I sure hope you can see some smart choices on the horizon that can keep some of those magical places where people are not primary gardeners, but just visitors. Places where that idea of a garden not touched by the hands of man can still inspire, and the species we might not like as pets or in our garden plots can thrive.
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Mon 31 Aug 09 13:19
Well, I think the idea of nature as separate from man, as Mark points out throughout the book, stands in the way of real understanding of the nuances of our relationship with the natural world. We don't face a binary choice between an unspoiled, untouched, "wilderness" that we can somehow keep under a glass bubble to admire forever, and a totally cultural artifact called a "garden" or a "city" that is not inhabited by any authentic nature. We have, instead, a whole series of negotiations between culture and nature, which are taking place in the furthest "wilderness" just as surely as they're taking place on our street corners. Here's a quote from William Cronon's essay "The Trouble with Wilderness," which Mark also quotes in his book. It comes after a discussion of a tree in the wilderness and the same tree planted in a garden, where "both trees stand apart from us; both trees share our common world": "Our challenge is to stop thinking of such things according to a set of bipolar moral scales in which the human and the non-human, the unnatural and the natural, the fallen and the unfallen, serve as our conceptual map for understanding and valuing the world. Instead, we need to embrace the full continuum of a natural landscape that is also cultural, in which the city, the suburb, the pastoral, and the wild each has its proper place, which we permit ourselves to celebrate without needlessly denigrating the others...In particular, we need to discover a common middle ground in which all of these things, from the city to the wilderness, can somehow be encompassed in the word 'home.' Home, after all...is the place for which we take responsibility, the place we try to sustain so we can pass on what it best in it (and in ourselves) to our children." I did a project recently where I studied the natural lore of the Tongva (Gabrielino) people who originally inhabited the Los Angeles basin, in an attempt to understand how they related to their landscape and used its natural resources. Although members of this tribe still survive, most of their cultural knowledge was wiped out when their way of life was obliterated by the Spanish missions; the source material that survives is pretty thin and vague, written down second-hand by people who didn't begin to understand the complexity of what they were being told. Europeans didn't hesitate, for instance, to apply the names of plants they knew to the local plants, and so much of the time you can't even tell what native plant is being discussed in the documentation. People think of the natural condition of Los Angeles as a barren desert, inhospitable to life, but it was once rich and abundant and diverse and supported its human population very well, so well they never developed agriculture, but had a pretty high population density for hunter-gatherers. (Of course many orders of magnitude less than the population density of today's megalopolis, but still.) It's heartbreaking to think of the knowledge base that was lost when the native culture was wiped out; and worth thinking about on a day like today, when we're all cowering under the massive clouds of another destructive wildfire ... which, my geographer and natural restoration specialist friends remind me, is not reflective of our "natural condition" at all, but of our altered terrain and hydrology, invasive plants, building patterns, history of fire suppression, etc. Back a few posts ago, Mark quoted an Inuit leader describing a person who understands and uses both traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and Western science as 'strong like two people.' I suppose the epilogue to Mark's book inspired me to think that traditional ecological knowledge could be a very powerful contributor, not just to the preservation of areas that are already biodiverse and functioning well ecologically, but to the restoration of areas that have been damaged and degraded. And that would be across the whole spectrum of culturally influenced landscapes: in some places, restoring more 'natural' landscapes that have been damaged; in others, reimagining our suburbs and parks and cities and even our own backyards to play a more functional role in larger ecological systems. I sure do wish that so much of what the Tongva knew had not been lost. Those moving descriptions of traditional ecological knowledge in Mark's book really made me think about those scarce and vague records that I looked at so hard, trying to learn what they were really talking about. Even paving over the Los Angeles Basin isn't as irrevocable an act as losing that knowledge.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 31 Aug 09 14:48
Yeah, the choices are not binary, that's for sure.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 31 Aug 09 23:15
I am very sorry to have been absent form this discussion, friends. I ran into a spot of trouble on the road last week and lost severeal days of reading and work. Having been deeply affected by the Yosemite chapter of Mark's wonderful book, I got in touch with my friend Stu Levy, a photographer (and physician) who worked closely with Ansel Adams. I post the following with his permission: I must confess that I haven't read of lot of Muir's original writings and I'm not an environmental history expert, but the historical context he lived in included three hundred years of removing indigenous people from their land, the deforestation of much of the Midwest, such as Minnesota, and the engineering capability of damming Hetch Hetchy. I think that the feared (and eventual) loss of the actual land forms, coupled with the greed of resource based industries (timber, mining) made the creation of sanctuaries of the land a better alternative than their destruction. I do remember hearing stories of logging of Yosemite Valley floor by the native people before white men came. Their use was most likely sustainable, but they were not blasting huge rock forms out of existence. I do remember hearing about deforestation in the Himalayas and the environmental damage that caused. What I've read about Anasazi groups in the Four Corners area a thousand years ago hypothesized that over-harvesting of the land used up the water table and perhaps contributed to severe drought years, the need for migrations and the collapse of their cultures. Re: Ansel - his early photographs were influenced by his predecessors in Yosemite - Watkins, Muybridge and Fiske, as well as by painters such as Bierstadt. There were occasionally people in Ansel's photos of Yosemite, and these can be seen in some of his early publications, but they were neither his greatest photos nor the ones that sold. He did produce a book called Michael and Anna in Yosemite, a photo book of his two children's various adventures living in Yosemite Valley. Ansel's people pictures tended to be more formal portraits as opposed to anything resembling spontaneous or "street" photography. Photos in New Mexico (especially Taos Pueblo) and Manzanar are the two areas where he photographed daily activities. In Carmel, there is currently an Ansel show of his Portraits at the Center for Photographic Arts (closes August 30). I think Ansel resigned from the board of the Sierra Club when the new Tioga Road was built because he didn't like how the land was being destroyed (again, blasting out rock forms). He did rejoin later. An analogous failure to preserve land occurred in the late 1950's - early 1960's when the Glen Canyon was flooded by the creation of Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam as part of political deals which set aside Dinosaur National Monument in Utah to "satisfy the conservationists". Again, resource greed trumped any consideration of Native Peoples, much less preserving unique land forms filled with cultural artifacts. A good account of this appears in Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. That's my humble perspective. Hope all is well. Stu <http://www.stulevyphoto.com/>
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Tue 1 Sep 09 08:57
Mark, we're drawing to a close soon on our discussion here and I want to thank you once again for participating. This book opens up a whole lot of really provocative questions and raises a lot of awareness of issues that I'm sure many people did not have much information about. My final question to you (once you've struggled with the above!) will be to ask what your next upcoming project(s) are. Will you be researching the issue of conservation refugees further, or are you on to other topics?
Mark Dowie (markdowie) Tue 1 Sep 09 09:35
A lot of great commentary in the last few hours, but not much I really disagree with or need to respond to. So let me leave off by correcting an idea I am often accused of harboring. I have been accused of opposing the preservation of wilderness. I am all for wilderness preservation. I supported the 1963 Wilderness Act when it was passed (at some risk to family relationships)and I still do. But the sentiment I support in the Act is that of preserving existing wilderness, roadless areas that remain pristine and, as the Act says, "untrammeled by man." I also have no problem with the idea of natural restoration -- attempting to return a trammelled area to a relatively untramelled state. But attempting to turn human-occupied land, particularly land under cultivation, into wilderness is creating an artiface, a theme park of wilderness, which of course is exactly what has become of Yosemite Valley. I think Ansel Adams was right to resign from the Sierra Club in protest over construction of the Tioga Road, as that road and all others like it end forever the potential for true wilderness. As the reprised Grinnell study recently demonstrated, once you turn wilderness into park you alter permanently the biological character and diversity of the local ecosystem. So wilderness to wilderness I am all for. Native land to wilderness is artiface. And that's the most polite thing that can be said about evicting native people from traditional homelands in the interest of conservation or wilderness preservation. What next? I'm headed down to the Bayous south of New Orleans where the Houma people have lived and fished since the mid 17th century. Like so many remote communities around the world the Houma are losing land and livelihood to chaotic climate changes that are overwhelming the impressive adaptive mechanisms they have developed over the centuries. So I guess you could say I have made a subtle shift in interest from "Conservation Refugees" to "Ecological Refugees."
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 1 Sep 09 11:49
Mark, this has been a terrific conversation, and I wish it could go on as it has for another month or two. In any event, it's been nice, too, to catch up a bit. Good luck on your next endeavor -- and I wait anxiously for the published result.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 1 Sep 09 13:08
Wow, Houma is going to be great for food and music during your research stay! There's another set of advantages to looking at cultural contexts. I'm sure you've read the essay on Louisiana in John McPhee's "Control of Nature," must-read for lower-Mississippi River visitors. And while we're mentioning books, let's be sure to get a link to your book on your publisher's site in here too: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11679
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 2 Sep 09 16:17
Anne, Mark and everybody who posted, thank you for sharing your insights and questions with us here! The two-week conversation is officially finished, but feel free to keep this going at whatever speed you want for as long as you want. Other places to talk about similar issues are the ongoing WELL conferences on <wildlife.> and <see.> which is a sustainability conference, for those who wish to add them to your regular rounds. Thanks!
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 16 Nov 09 04:09
And on it goes... November 15, 2009 Forest People May Lose Home in Kenyan Plan By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN MARASHONI, Kenya With the stroke of a pen, the last of Kenyas honey hunters may soon be homeless. Since time immemorial, the Ogiek have been Kenyas traditional forest dwellers. They have stalked antelope with homemade bows, made medicine from leaves and trapped bees to produce honey, the golden elixir of the woods. They have struggled to survive the press of modernity, and many times they have been persecuted, driven from their forests and belittled as dorobo, a word meaning roughly people with no cattle. Somehow, they have always managed to survive. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/world/africa/15kenya.html?th&emc=th
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