Reply To: September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia Reply To: September 8th: History, Conservation and politics, the example of Australia

Author Replies # Posted on December 20, 2014 at 12:14

Summary of the reflections and replies of the students from the seminar and the lecture “The ecology of imperialism” by Libby Robin on 8 September 2014
examine interactions between science and society
I participated in the seminar for the “Current Debates” course, but did not have time for the reflections, although I remember that we did not follow the plan too well with three questions to discuss as the students had prepared, but diverted to a combination of our own planned projects, Libby’s ideas and the prepared questions from the student organizers. The articles for the seminar were about ecology, biodiversity empire and scale, referring in part on Australian (environmental) history. Most of the students had thoughts about scale, both in time and space, and globalization, considering these terms very interesting as general topics for the Global Environmental History program. Although it is hard to grasp a global perspective on many projects, it seems as the seminar opened the eyes for new ideas to weave in a local history. For example, Nisa thought of relating her project, on a small town in Slovenia, to other urban trends globally. To write either on a regional or global scale, rather than for a national level, was proposed by one student. I think one reason for idea is that many nations can be considered to consist of a variety of individual societies with different cultures and traditions. These can give rise to antagonistic relations between geographical areas (north versus south), or populations (agriculturalists versus nomadic herders). Australia could thus be viewed as a “settler” society or a cluster of bioregions. Thinking of Sweden, one of the challenging political, scientific and public issues of the increasing number of wolfs, is who should decide what to do. In the northern part of Sweden, ethnicity comprising questions regarding traditions, livelihood etc are delicate questions to manage.
Another subject for the reflections is the term “empire”, at first spontaneously imagined as a vast geographical area power by a nation, an empire or other institution, but can also mean another kind of category of power. One student mentioned “anthropogenic” as the power of the human society to affect the physical situation on the planet. Furthermore, you must then decide when and who in the “global” society you talk about; the people creating societies after the ice age, the people in the developed countries having a life style with a very high impact on the natural resources, or the large number of poor people in third world societies, having no options to make a difference to climate change. Referring to Griffith, Kristina reflected on the significance of the combined consequences of empire and ecology in environmental history, as these terms actually act jointly. Thus, ecology, as in the example of the white settlers in Australia, was such a powerful mean when overtaking the continent from indigenous population, although the Brits did not bring their “weapon” (dieases, pests) intentionally to get what they wanted.
The “one-size-fits-all” for nature conservation is also discussed. The idea of only one solution to problems arising from multifaceted historical, cultural and scientific sources has been or may still be practiced. With Kenya as an example, a student makes a comparison between the money used for a national program for the parks and the wildlife, and seemingly using the same program for the situation of the traditional agriculturalists’ and the rising problem with soil erosion where they live and cultivate. The locals recognize the origin of the situation, have a history and knowledge, but with increasing pressure from more people and the physical character of the ground, they need more knowledge to their specific problem. In my opinion, a more thorough discussion of the problem together with scientists, local people and policy makers is a basic requirement for finding a solution. Here, Robin’s statement “the context of the knowledge” is a good example of what is needed.
The term biodiversity was also ventilated in the reflections. An interesting question to start with is the definition; do people understand it, and if they do, does its implications and practices for sustainability mean the same for all institutions involved? Furthermore, is biodiversity universal? A question that arise to me is that if biodiversity and ecology are connected, biodiversity may not be a static state, so how and who to decide programs for the future? But for now it seems to have been dominated by Western scientists’ view, as view on a Australian car bumper sticker “bodiversity is a whitefella word” (1997) referring to the discrepancy between Aboriginal and White settler scientists’ opinion. One question that struck me was why Kenyan scientists has a lower number of publications in well respected scientific journals. Yes, may be their research has another focus, but the obvious reason must be a question of education level and economy in developing countries. Even in the Western scientific society, getting funded for research is extremely competitive. To me, a way to help indigenous knowledge to be incorporated in the Scientific sphere of Europe and America would be to study and explain the scientific reason for why and how their knowledge work.
There seems to be a general opinion among many students when reading the reflections also from other seminars, that science and scientific solutions to problems of natural character, like nature conservation, often make the situation to be solved even worse. I agree that indigenous people with long traditions and experience from practicing, what we would call today “nature conservation” and sustainable agriculture, have a valuable knowledge that should have been taken into consideration and still should do. Nevertheless I argue, that in a more rapidly changing world, with increasing population affecting both space and resources, a scientific understanding of the indigenous knowledge must be part of the discussions when looking for solutions. My understanding is that science originated in the humanities hundreds of years ago, and is a natural evolution of the capacity of the human brain, although obviously, it is not sophisticated enough yet to predict the impact of its competence. What would we have been today without the techniques for printing, recording and communication, for example, for studying the humanities!
Climate change is of course a central topic for a debate in global environmental (modern) history. As Carolyn Crumley has shown with her long term study in Burgundy in Franc, people already in the medieval time were aware of the effects of changes in the climate, at least those who directly were involved in nature based activities, like farmers. Without the methods to record and analyze they made notes for future use. But what about the effect on the weather, the quality of the air and water during the emerging industrialization? When did the workers in the dirty and polluting industries, that is, those who first were afflicted, start to reflect on the change in nature and its causes?