Reply To: National Parks, civilisation and globalisation

Author Replies # Posted on May 21, 2014 at 13:37

Reflection paper, Jane Carruthers May 20th, Kristina Berglund

I think National Parks constitute a truly relevant topic in global environmental history, as they is one of our oldest forms of nature protection, with even older roots. National parks exist all around the globe, and are part of the nature conservation history so relevant for the environmental debate and history. The more I read about the matter I find my prejudices dissolve more and more. For example I for long thought that there were international rules and requirements to follow to in order for a conservation area to be allowed to be called a National Park. In later years I learnt this is truly not the case, as Carruthers also so clearly reminded us about this week.
With the theme National Parks, Civilization and Globalization, Carruthers discussed the history of conservation and national parks in South Africa but also how the concept of National Parks have spread throughout the world as part of modern globalization. I found it very relevant and suggestive to connect the National Park into a global context, and I think this is one of Carruthers many strengths.
I also find it interesting how the notion of a National Park generates a specific picture in mind, like it is something similar regardless where you find it. On the contrast, there are no international regulations or standardizations for National Parks whatsoever; they are diverse and different depending on where they are located. As Carruthers described, the world national, and thus the word National Park, brings with it an “appealing aura of goodness” – it seems to represent civilized modernity and brings benign connotations like cherished western concepts such as ‘democracy’. But the question is; what is really a National Park? And what do we want national parks to be? Should they exist to promote ‘development’, for generation of jobs and income, for tourism, research, or for protecting valuable natural resources? Who should be involved in the management of the parks? What value do we put in words like wilderness, nature and conservation? There are no simple answers, and although the National Park as a concept is global, there are no global solutions. An important point I take with me from Carruthers is that all national parks were created in a specific historical context, with specific political, economic and social structures. Thus, there can only be context-based management strategies and characteristics for the park in question.
One of the principles of a national park seems to be that it should be accessible for people, in other words open for tourism. They should also provide sights for research. However, as Carruthers pointed out, the research part seems to have fallen into oblivion on behalf of the tourism activities, which generates income for the country/area in particular. What is somewhat sad is that money in many cases seems to be the only force keeping the national parks intact, not any intrinsic value of the natural resources and habitats they hold. But again, there are so many interests and actors involved in these areas, and the view of these actors are likely not always to correspond.
As Carruthers concluded in her epilogue there is much more to uncover in the regard of National Parks, and it will be truly interesting to further deepen my knowledge on this topic.