Greenwashing, Gaia and the absence of holistic geographies.
Greenwashing, Gaia and the absence of holistic geographies. Dr Charles Rawding, Edge Hill University The wild boar is standing 30 or 40 yards away, at the bottom of a grassy bank, staring right at me it's far bigger than I expected, maybe chest-high to a man. When it trots away, it moves powerfully, smoothly, on spindly, graceful legs twice as long as a pig's, and vanishes into the trees. We meander along the sleepy brown river. Occasionally the wind picks up, flicks a ripple along the surface. This must be what life was like 1,000 years ago, when the entire human population of the globe was roughly 250 million. There's space for everyone, time for everything. On our way down off the bridge, we spot a slender
roe deer 200 yards up the road. A little farther on, we spot an elk between two bushes. He looks at us, head lifted, then strolls out of sight. ? Today there are around 5,000 adult wild boars. There are 25 to 30 wolf packs, a total of maybe 180 adults. Many more lynx live here than before, along with foxes, hundreds of red deer, and thousands of roe deer and elka paradise of wildlife. The Garden of Eden is regenerating. Chernobyl Are Green geographies too negative?
Nuclear power is dangerous and represents a threat to humanity (but does it represent a threat to the entire planet ?). Also climate change is dangerous and represents a threat to humanity. The Environment Agency in Britain has recently developed the Thames Estuary 2100 plan to manage the future flood threat to London. The motivation was a fear that due to accelerated sea level rise as the climate changed it might already be too late to replace the Thames Barrier (completed in 1982) and other measures that protect London, because such major engineering schemes take 25 to 30 years to plan and implement.
Are Green geographies too negative? David Harvey (1996:177) quotes Jonathan Porritt as stating that the aim of many ecological and environmental movements seems to be: nothing less than a non-violent revolution to overthrow our whole polluting, plundering and materialistic industrial society and, in its place, to create a new economic and social order which will allow human beings to live in harmony with the planet. Green approach Problem
Alternative eco-perception Modern life is bad Human advances have been amazing and hugely beneficial. BUT they have had serious environmental impacts.
Urbanisation concentrates humanity within a relatively small area of the land surface, thereby minimising our impact on the whole planet. Shops and other services are more concentrated, urban dwellers are more likely to have a lower carbon footprint than suburban and rural dwellers. Rural depopulation around the world is leading to forest regrowth in abandoned areas. Developing transport infrastructure is bad for the planet.
The entire world economy depends on the movement of people and goods. Transport developments can also have unexpected environmental consequences the development of habitats for salt-tolerant plants along roadside verges. Wildlife havens within inaccessible areas created within motorway junctions (M60/M61 jnct). Birthing female moose used visitors to Yellowstone National Park as human shields by choosing calving grounds near roads, which trafficaverse predatory brown bears avoid (Lynas,2012:112).
Do such geographies also suggest that once upon a time humanity lived in harmony with nature (until big, bad, industrial capitalism came along) ? Economic growth is unsustainable and undesirable BUT. The alternative is contraction, unemployment and political instability. Alternative eco-perception Economic growth and increased affluence can result in less resourceintensive consumption, for instance Chinese food production rose by nearly 200% between 1981 and 2007 at the same time as fertiliser production rose by only 50%. ( Lynas (2012) p240).
Genetically modified crops are undesirable Organic agriculture is preferable Problem Alternative eco-perception Without GM crops there would be insufficient food on the planet GM crops can be developed which reduce the needs for pesticides and fertilisers (between 1995 & 2005, 7% less pesticide was used globally). Creating new strains of rice, wheat and corn that fix their own nitrogen could achieve large scale food production without the environmental
consequences of using nitrogen-based fertilisers. Using organic production alone would result in insufficient food on the planet. Greater areas of land would be required reducing the possibilities for biodiversity and nature reserves. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to UK biodiversity. Farmers need to take the best of modern science and ecology to deliver maximum yields with minimum environmental damage.
Growing crops intensively could allow other areas to be kept free from agriculture thereby fostering greater biodiversity than is possible within organic farming. (44% of plants and 35% of animals are confined to 25 hotspots covering only 1.4% of the land surface of the Earth (Lynas,2012:117). Are Green geographies too simplistic? Environmental issues are both complex and multi-faceted (and therefore intellectually interesting). For instance, some landscapes are more likely to be affected by climate change than others (where they are close to important thresholds (such as melting ice) or where the climate is predicted to change more rapidly so called geomorphological hotspots. Equally rising sea levels may be
being exacerbated by falling land levels due to removal of groundwater or mineral extraction (eg the Mississippi delta) (Goudie & Viles,2010:8692). At the same time, cultural geomorphology is becoming an increasingly important element in the work of geomorphologists (Goudie & Viles,2010:ch8). Are Green geographies too simplistic? In the 1950s, malaria was a problem in Borneo, so the WHO sprayed with DDT, as a result the mosquitoes died and malaria declined. BUT, peoples houses began to collapse because the DDT had killed the tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled the thatch-eating caterpillars, so the government issued tin roofs, under which people couldnt sleep when it rained! Meanwhile the DDT-poisoned bugs were being eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. So the DDT built up
in the food chain and began to kill the cats. Without the cats, the rats multiplied threatening typhus and sylvatic plague. (Hawken et al (2000) 285-6) Are Green geographies too simplistic? The migration of the wildebeest, and its concomitant implications for grasslands and lions does not occur outside the influences of a broader political economy. Land tenure laws, which set the terms for land conversion and cash cropping, are made by the Kenyan and Tanzanian states. Commodity markets, which determine prices for Kenyan products and the ever-decreasing margins that drive decisions to cut trees or plant crops, are set on global markets. Money and pressure for wildlife enclosure, which fund the removal of native populations from the land, continue to
come largely from multilateral institutions and first-world environmentalists. All of these spheres of activity are further arranged along linked axes of money, influence, and control. Robbins (2012:13 ) Are Green geographies too simplistic? How do we tackle capitalism? Hawken et al (2000:4) identify four types of capital: Human capital, in the form of labour, intelligence, culture and organisation Financial capital, consisting of cash, investments, and monetary instruments Manufactured capital, including infrastructure, machines, tools and factories
Natural capital, made up of resources, living systems, and ecosystem services Do we spend enough time on natural capital as an integrated part of capitalism ? For instance, do we consider ecosystem services in capitalist terms? Ecosystem services Ecosystem services are the functions that are provided by ecosystems that are of major importance to human well-being. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (www.millenniumassessment.org ) describes four categories of ecosystem services; Supporting: such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and primary production, Provisioning: such as the production of food, freshwater, materials or fuel, Regulating: including climate and flood regulation, water purification, pollination
and pest control, Cultural: (including aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational) services. Are Green geographies too doom-laden? Too many green ideas seem to be based on austerity measures colder houses, fewer journeys, holidaying at home, for instance: Most experts agree that our current mode and rate of development on earth is not sustainable. The way we are living is over-taxing the planets supply of natural resources from fresh water supplies to fish stocks, from fertile land to clean air. (QCDA, 2009 cited in Morgan (2011:9). if we are to inspire pupils to want to protect the world, surely it is important to offer a more positive vision
Are Green geographies too doom-laden? Even if petroleum becomes scarce, the rising price per barrel will encourage the use of otherwise expensive alternatives like wind and solar power, or simply cause consumers to drive less, endlessly stretching the worlds energy supply. While such optimistic prognoses are themselves fraught with problems, they do point to an important and increasingly well-accepted truism: resources are constructed rather than given. (Robbins,2010:17) Are Green geographies too doom-laden? Over-simplistic, doom-laden, Green geographies can be very effectively undermined by good news.
Doom and gloom Forests are shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, wetlands are disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, rangelands are deteriorating, rivers are running dry, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are dying and plant and animal species are disappearing. Worldwatch True Institute (1998) cited in Hawken et al (2000:309)
Good news Increased life expectancy Decreasing child mortality Improved nutritional intake Improving living standards as populations grow True Are Green geographies too fixed? Situating oneself in the full flood of all the fluxes and flows of social change makes appeal to any permanent set of values with which to animate collective or well-directed social action suspect.
(Harvey:1996:10) Ultimately by putting environmental and social change into a dialectical and historical-geographical frame of thinking, I hope to derive constructive ways to confront the dilemmas of what so often appear to be contradictory and often mutually exclusive social definitions of environmental problems. (ibid:p119) few have stopped to ask how geographys ethical turn impacts [on] the nature of geographical education itself and whether it enhances or hinders the education of young people. (Standish (2009:4) He goes further in arguing that geography has
become subservient to various social and political causes. (2009:39) So what approaches should Geographers be taking to these issues? More scientific, less emotive (Earth system science?) Earth system science is the study of the Earth System with an emphasis on observing, understanding and predicting global environmental changes involving interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, biosphere, societies, technologies and economies. (cited in Goudie & Viles(2010):32-3) Anthropocene geographies understanding the importance of humans in shaping earth systems
More integrated and holistic, less atomistic The replacement of the Millennium Development Goals by the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 provides an opportunity for such an approach. Lynas (2012) discusses planetary boundaries by definition an holistic approach (but do we need to beware of neo-malthusianism?): 1.Biodiversity 2.Climate change 3.Nitrogen 4.Land use 5.Freshwater 6.Toxics 7.Aerosols 8.Ocean acidification
9.Ozone layer Where does Gaia fit in? Crispin Tickell (in Lovelock,2007:xv) defines Gaia in the following terms: Who is Gaia? What is she? The What is the thin spherical shell of land and water between the incandescent interior of the Earth and the upper atmosphere surrounding it. The Who is the interacting tissue of living organisms which over four billion years have come to inhabit it. The combination of the What and the Who, and the way in which each continuously affects the other, has been well named Gaia a metaphor for the living Earth. More global, less personal (?), less local (?)
More balanced ? Are we missing the central insight of ecology that everything connects with everything else? Key question for geography educators to consider Are responses in the classroom too emotional and simplistic? Is Geography becoming a victim of the widespread acceptance of green ideas and the accompanying distrust of Western science? Has school geography become a vehicle for promoting green lifestyles and suggesting that Western models of development are unsustainable? (Morgan,2011: Standish,2009). Who determines environmental narratives? Is a focus on sustainable development risking the production of an anti-modern / antidevelopment view of the world? Are we pretending that capitalism doesnt count? (How we represent capitalism is crucially
important within education). Is a focus on environmental citizenship detracting from a more analytical geographical approach to environmental issues? Are we missing the opportunity to explore more fully the relationship between society and nature? References: Goudie,A & Viles,H (2010) Landscapes and geomorphology: a very short introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Harvey,D (1996) Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Oxford, Blackwell. Hawken,P, Lovins,A.B & Lovins,H (2000) Natural capitalism: the next industrial revolution. London, Earthscan. Lovelock,J (1995) Gaia: a new look at life on earth. Oxford, Oxford University Press Lovelock,J (2007) The revenge of Gaia: earths climate crisis and the fate of humanity. New York, Basic Books.
Lynas,M (2012) The God species: how humans really can save the planet. London, Fourth Estate. Morgan,J (2011) Teaching secondary geography as if the planet matters. Abingdon, David Fulton. Rawding,C, Holden,V & Worsley,A (2010) Contemporary approaches to Geography, Volume 3: Environmental Geography. London, Chris Kington. Rawding, C (2013) Challenging Assumptions: The importance of holistic geographies Geography, 98,3, pp157-159 Rawding,C (2013) Effective innovation in the Secondary Geography Curriculum: a practical guide. Routledge, Abingdon, 2013. ch5. Robbins,P (2012 ) Political ecology: a critical introduction Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell Royal Meteorological Society (2014) Climate Change Updates: Evidence from the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Standish,A (2009) Global perspectives in the geography curriculum: reviewing the moral case for geography. London, Routledge. Sustainable development goals: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1565
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