Jul 31 2017

Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity

Reviewed by Andrea Beck, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Global water governance is based on the hidden philosophy of “normal water”––a finding with important ethical and ecological implications for water management in the Anthropocene. 

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by Jeremy J. Schmidt Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity, New York University Press, 2017, 308 pp.

Is water governance guided by a comprehensive philosophy? Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, geographer Jeremy J. Schmidt answers this question in the affirmative: water governance is based on a hidden philosophy which conceptualizes water as a “resource” to be managed in support of liberal ways of life. Rooted in a particular confluence of early American geology and anthropology, this view of water has attained global dominance through strategies of international development. It has become accepted to the extent that its ethnocentric and utilitarian foundations now seem all but forgotten within the global water governance mainstream. Thinking about water as a resource is commonplace today. Schmidt seeks to challenge this complacency by opening our eyes to the fact that what appears to be “normal” is in fact a normative choice.

The bulk of the book traces the origins and subsequent globalization of the philosophy of “normal water.” Schmidt provides insights into the roots and evolution of the “narrative of abundance, scarcity, and security,” while also discussing the implications of this narrative for water management in the Anthropocene. While the accounts of the thinking of protagonists such as John Wesley Powell, William John McGee, David Lilienthal and Gilbert White are illustrative and engaging, frequent philosophical excursions render the book somewhat impenetrable for readers unfamiliar with the philosophical works of Hannah Arendt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Søren Kierkegaard and several others.

If the book is meant to showcase the results of an interdisciplinary intellectual exercise, its purpose has been achieved. However, Schmidt seeks to go further, spelling out the applied implications of his work. What, specifically, are the problems with viewing water as a resource (a very fundamental question)? What are the mechanisms by which alternate place-based approaches to water are being oppressed or marginalized by “normal water?” Beyond recommendations addressed to social scientists (e.g., disrupt the colonial project of water management within academia, relativize existing “stopping rules”), what are possible action avenues for practitioners committed to promoting water justice and equity in the field? Addressing these questions more explicitly and extensively could enhance the transformative impact of the book and make its important message accessible to a wider audience.

 


Oct 12 2015

ARCTIC MARINE GOVERNANCE: OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRANSATLANTIC COOPERATION

Reviewed by Kelly Heber Dunning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An excellent primer for those interested in or teaching on Arctic governance

cover_artic_marine_governanceArctic Marine Governance: Opportunities for Transatlantic Cooperation, edited by Elizabeth Tedsen and Sandra Cavalieri, R. Andreas Kraemer, Springer, 2013

This book opens with a clear and thorough explanation of European Union and American policies concerning the Arctic. In addition, it provides a supplemental overview of the way these countries approach ocean planning and management in general. Within this discussion, I was interested to see that the authors addressed recent regional policy developments, such as the enactment of regional ocean planning by the Obama administration. Additionally, the authors discuss multilateral institutional arrangements for Arctic management in a way that solidly grounds the sections that follow.

After its opening, the book shifts its attention to the most relevant environmental processes—both natural and man-made—that warrant changes in the way the Arctic is managed. These include the albedo effect, increased CO2 from melting permafrost, and expansion of various industrial activities. Again, the authors provide a clear map of the relevant institutional and governance arrangements, offering an excellent primer for anyone new to the issues of Arctic governance or for those teaching classes on the subject. The first two chapters deliver a succinct overview of the relevance of human and ecological. The third chapter offers a helpful explanation of governance, a nebulous topic. The remainder of the book “zooms in” on important challenges, especially those to be faced by indigenous communities in a changing Arctic. These include ways in which crisis management may be necessary along with resilience thinking and efforts to build adaptive capacity, particularly as these relate to the needs of indigenous groups.

The next section of the book focuses on economic issues, potential impacts of environmental change, and impending shifts in policy or regulation. The chapter on fisheries is excellent and will be appreciated by fisheries management professionals concerned about trans-boundary disputes caused by mobile and valuable stocks. Overall, the book is a thorough and well-edited account of contemporary policy and management issues in the Arctic. It covers environmental as well as socio-economic variables and can be used for teaching purposes as a single text or in sections.


Sep 9 2014

MANAGING OCEAN ENVIRONMENTS IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: SUSTAINABILITY AND ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development

Managing Ocean Environments In A Changing Climate: Sustainability and Economic Perspectives, Elsevier, 2013

Managing Ocean Environments in a Changing Climate provides a state-of-the-science examination of several high profile threats to the ocean environment. These include acidification, warming, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution, and over extraction of resources (the primary focus is fisheries). Where this book differs from others with similar aims is that it does not to discuss each of these global stressors in isolation, rather, it speaks to their relationships to each other, including their synergies, amplifications, and feedbacks across scales. Given such a complex scope, it cannot achieve everything it sets out to do. Some of the more successful chapters include a very practical section on Policy Recommendations, as well as its concluding chapter on Multiple Stressors. At times the discussion of the relationships among the stressors felt a bit vague; however, this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the volume.

This book is written for a diverse audience, including academics, policy makers, and NGO personnel. The book’s concise and well-written literature reviews of the most up-to-date science in the field are very helpful, and they do converse with one another in the later chapters. The authors also use scenarios to be intentionally consistent with the IPCC Assessment Report 5. The use of scenarios, or storylines of possible future development and resource requirements, help to make the book accessible to the wider audience it is seeking to reach. The scenarios generate a narrative feel that makes for more interesting reading as compared to a technical document like the IPCC report it is meant to accompany. The focus on the relationships among six key stressors also helps to achieve consistency with the research aims of the IPCC Assessment Report 5. Thus, this volume is extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development. It is a timely read in the run up to COP 19 in Lima.


Mar 4 2014

SECRETS OF THE ICE: ANTARCTICA’S CLUES TO CLIMATE, THE UNIVERSE AND THE LIMITS OF LIFE, by Veronika Meduna

Reviewed by Michael M. Gunter, Jr, Rollins College

Antarctica holds the key to understanding not only how life evolved on earth and the climate change underway today, but also what lies well beyond our planet.

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Secrets of the Ice: Antarctica’s Clues to Climate, the Universe, and the Limits of Life, by Veronika Meduna, Yale University Press, 2012, 232 pp.

Combining lyrical prose with over 150 colour photographs that capture both the breathtaking beauty and intense challenges of the Antarctic landscape, Secrets of the Ice provides an engaging overview of collaborative international scientific research in Antarctica across a range of disciplines, from astronomy to zoology.

Trained as a microbiologist and now one of New Zealand’s leading science journalists, author Veronika Meduna utilizes both of these backgrounds to produce an attractive and eminently readable work as well as a valuable scientific resource. Based in part on formal interviews with a range of scientists and informal conversations dating back to her first visit to New Zealand’s Scott Base over a decade ago in 2001, Meduna deftly transports readers to the last frontier on our planet and a new heroic age of discovery in Antarctica.

After a short introduction, Meduna’s first chapter explores Antarctica’s climate history, from its warm Gondwana origins teeming with life to the frozen landscape that is the world’s largest desert today. Chapter two then focuses on marine life, highlighting the migration and breeding of the continent’s iconic emperor penguin species as well as lesser known endemic species such as white-blooded fish with an unique chemistry of antifreeze proteins that facilitate their survival in such harsh conditions.

Chapter three targets terrestrial survivors of freeze–thaw cycles and the six-month-long polar night, while chapter four concentrates on microscopic life in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, spotlighting scientists in their search for life on the coldest continent. In closing, a concise coda suggests Antarctica holds the key to understanding not only how life evolved on earth and the climate change underway today, but also what lies well beyond our planet. This section suggests the frozen landscape provides a fresh perspective for astronomers and physicists studying elusive particles known as neutrinos and insights into the Big Bang theory.

An additional section on resources and recommended reading further enhances Meduna’s contribution, including annotations on everything from academic works on fish, penguins and invertebrates to biographies of golden age explorers such as Scott and Shackleton.

In summary, Meduna deftly details a continent of extremes. Antarctica is the coldest, driest, highest and windiest continent. This 10 per cent of the earth’s landmass is also our best archive of past climate conditions and a valuable resource for understanding the climate change underway today. With nearly three-quarters of the world’s fresh water frozen in a precarious balance, moreover, Meduna convincingly points out that Antarctica is not just a ‘passive bystander’ when it comes to climate change but also a major driver.


Apr 19 2013

THE CASE OF THE GREEN TURTLE: AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF A CONSERVATION ICON by Alison Rieser

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Case of the Green Turtle: An Uncensored History of a Conservation Icon by Alison Rieser, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 352pp

Alison Rieser’s new book begins by outlining the history of efforts to conserve the green turtle, depicting its transition from a food source to a beloved conservation icon. Ecologically, green turtles are a bellwether species. Their well-being signifies ocean health while their diseases and population decline reflect oceanic toxicity. They serve as a charismatic symbol behind which people can unite in a broad movement to conserve our oceans.

Rieser begins with a rich historical description of the high demand for green turtle meat, spanning several centuries involving indigenous groups and Columbian-era explorers. The most interesting takeaway from her book is the question of whether, in the face of contemporary demand, a green turtle fishery emphasizing farming could spur conservation. The argument is that farming the species would spare wild populations. Critics assert that any increase in demand would undermine conservation. While leaders of this movement tout the possibility of relabeling the green turtle as the “bison of the sea,” detractors note its role as a conservation symbol.

The book ends by covering the recent push by some to de-list the Hawaiian subspecies of the green turtle so that pilot farming practices could be tested in the Pacific. As a reader, Rieser’s book forced me to reflect on my own ethical stance on endangered species, and if seemingly counterintuitive practices could be better for conservation overall.



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