Jan 11 2017

Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The emergence of and reactions to environmental litigation in China.

Environmental Litigation in China

 

by Rachel Stern Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 314 pp.

What happens when tons of industrial waste are dumped in a Chinese river? Rachel Stern’s insightful book Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence explores the shifting conditions under which the Chinese legal system is being used to address pollution issues. While the book is written in clear and accessible prose, it complicates common narratives around the Chinese legal system and exposes its many contradictions. The first half of the book provides a nuanced picture of environmental litigation including exploring specific pollution cases with different approaches and outcomes and is fascinating as it reveals the strengths, limitations and creativity within environmental litigation. The second half of the book analyzes the issue from the perspectives of judges, lawyers and NGOs. While the voices of state actors are notably absent, given the limitations of research in China this is understandable. Stern rallies a range of evidence to support her argument.

She demonstrates how actors are reacting to a state that sees the advantages of using the law to control pollution, but also recognizes how the law could undermine the state itself. Stern terms these conflicting state signals political ambivalence and analyzes how they provide space for bottom-up experimentation and incremental change. It is, however, also clear that the legal system alone will not be enough to address the variety of forces that allow pollution to continue.

The book focuses on the Hu period and should be taken as a slice in time. The legal landscape is changing as the new environmental law makes it easier for some groups to sue polluting industries. The first public interest case under the new law in 2016 was successful. Most cases, though, are still not making it to the court. The book would be a great choice for an undergraduate or graduate course on environmental politics. It is also likely to engage anyone interested in the intersection of law and the environment.


Oct 8 2016

Ecopolitical Homelessness: Defining Place in an Unsettled World

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma

We are all experiencing a kind of homelessness in relation to the places where we live.

ecopolitical-homelessness-defining-place-in-an-unsettled-world-by-gerard-kuperus-1317232704

By Gerard Kuperus Ecopolitical Homelessness: Defining Place in an Unsettled World, Routledge, 2016, 188pp.

With increasing mobility and the growing homogeneity of living spaces, the idea that ‘home is where the heart is’ may be losing its meaning. With the same corporations not only invading but in many cases constituting the public space in which we live, traditional notions of ‘home’ are being suppressed. We now seem to favor a false home that makes us think we know who we are. In fact, it is more likely that we are utterly lost. The universal marketplaces, automated teller machines and coffee shop chains provide a false sense of home and a fanciful identity. Conversely, we are experiencing a kind of ‘homelessness’ that does not reflect who we are in relation to the places we live. At a philosophical level, we face a crisis: core values of community are eroding and, as a result, we have nothing to hold on to. Instead, we hang on to what celebrities are wearing, the cars our neighbors drive and the brand of mobile phone our friends carry. We have lost our sense of our unique selves.

Drawing on Nietzsche’s philosophy to diagnose this unique form of ‘homelessness,’ Gerard Kuperus argues that a lack of any real grounding in the places where we live is unsustainable and dangerous. Development has turned a majority of humans into nomads, desperately trying to solidify and commercialize the places around them. This nomadism focuses on transformation of the places that we move to and from, but not on transformation of ourselves. This is the crisis of our times: we create homes by immunizing ‘ourselves’ against ‘the other,’ both human and environmental.

Gerard Kuperus, a professor of environment philosophy at the University of San Francisco, proposes an eco-politics that calls for a very different interaction between humans and nature. At the interface, he argues, humans and nonhumans need to coexist by reacting more carefully to each other. Within this interface we must recover a sense of home rooted in homelessness. Esoteric as this may sound, his proposition is distinctly practical. Drawing on the work of Heidegger, Deleuze and Guattari, Kuperus argues for a fundamental shift in human–ecosystem relationships. We are losing ecosystems at an alarming rate; restoration efforts do not match the pace of loss. Perhaps the shift Kuperus advocates means that we ought to restore or recreate forests in which people are able to live. Only by blurring the boundaries of what we call ‘home’ can we integrate the ‘other’ into it.

Loaded with philosophical insights, Kuperus offers a wake-up call. He urges us to think differently about ourselves, our relationship to other people and our connections to the places around us. His book encourages us to let go of prevailing notions of household and rethink our interactions with strangers. The challenge, he suggests, is to find ourselves in the wild and the wild in ourselves. After all, as Nietzsche observed, man is but a bridge and not an end.


Jun 13 2016

GLOBAL ECOLOGIES AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES

Reviewer: Tarique Niazi, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities examines how postcolonial theory and critical theory have a bearing on environmental and social realities.

 Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities

Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur and Anthony Carrigan (eds.) Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches, Routledge, 2015

How environmental and social realities are presented and represented is the question that is critically engaged by the field of environmental humanities. Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities is a testament to the scholarly sophistication that defines this discipline. The editors, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur and Anthony Carrigan, are the leading lights of environmental humanities. They bring critical approaches, especially postcolonial theory and critical theory, to bear upon a range of topics that are of concern to a planet divided between the privileged and the underprivileged. Postcolonial theory bears kinship with subaltern studies, while critical theory is inspired by Marxian thought and the Frankfurt School. Both theories bind texts to context to demonstrate their inextricability and ‘relations of definition’.

Texts matter in shaping human perception of the environment, its defilement and despoliation, ‘natural’ disasters, commodification of nature, the Anthropocene and climate change. As such, the volume’s real strength rests in situating contemporary environmental concerns in colonial (imperial) and postcolonial contexts to understand their historical constitution. The collection deploys a number of innovative methods to address the past, present and future state of ‘global ecologies’. All this enriches the ecocriticism presented in Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities to determine the ways in which the environmental predicament is interpreted and mitigated.

Divided into five sections, the volume argues that a critical study of narrative is vital to human understanding of the environment. The first section focuses on colonial and nationalist framings of ecology while conducting postcolonial readings into ‘particular environments’ (provincializing the environment). The second section is devoted to the study of disasters and resilience in different cultural contexts. How ‘natural disasters’ come to be defined is where postcolonial theory and environmental humanities shine best. The third section centers on political ecology, environmental justice and ‘environmentalism of the poor’ in African, Indian and Latin American contexts. Contributions in the fourth section delve into the ways in which ‘world ecology’ was constructed over time. In particular, it examines how ‘globatarian’ approaches to ecological manipulation caused a drift to neoliberal globalization, and asks how the capitalist world system can be considered in terms of ‘world-ecology’ The last section accounts for human transformation of the environment in the Anthropocene.

The real challenge for environmental humanities is to reconcile its postmodernist, postcolonial, critical knack for deconstructing ‘grand narratives’ with the organic unity of global ecology.

 Global Ecologies is destined to become a classic text in environmental humanities.


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.


Dec 21 2012

POWER AND WATER IN THE MIDDLE EAST: THE HIDDEN POLITICS OF THE PALESTINIAN–ISRAELI WATER CONFLICT by Mark Zeitoun

Review by Professor Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Zeitoun’s work argues that attempts to monopolize control of the water supply in the Middle East is seriously undermining hopes for peace in the region.

Power and Water in the Middle East: The Hidden Politics of the Palestinian–Israeli Water Conflict, by Mark Zeitoun, IB Tauris, 224pp

Mark Zeitoun is an experienced water engineering affiliated with the Center of Environmental Policy and Governance at the London Science of Economics and Political Science. His focus is on the ‘hidden politics’ behind the Israeli–Palestinian water conflict. As Elon Tal says in his long review of this book, “Zeitoun argues that Israel has successfully made its domination of water resources part of the subconscious paradigm that drives the decisions and menu of policy options held by Palestinian water managers and politicians. In so doing, it has turned the pragmatic Palestinian professional community into accomplices in Israel’s post-colonial larceny of its neighbors’ hydrological resources.”

I take Zeitoun’s analysis very seriously, but I also find parts of Tal’s defense compelling. Having interacted with a number of Palestinian water professionals, I don’t think Zeitoun’s charge is fair. The water professionals in Palestine know exactly what is going on at every level. And, having talked with a number of senior Israeli water policy analysts, I don’t find Tal’s defense entirely convincing. Israel is preoccupied with its long-term security (what country wouldn’t be?). It won’t agree to sort out questions of fundamental rights to water on a permanent basis until all the details of a stable two-state solution are clarified. Palestinian water professionals don’t want to wait, and who would blame them, given that the small share of the region’s water that goes to the Palestinians is unacceptable.

What if Israel offers to sell the Palestinians (and Jordanians) all the water they could possibly want? The National Water Plan for 2040 calls for Israel to provide 70% of its water from desalination. If this happens, there should be more naturally occurring water available for the Palestinians. If Israel agrees to sell unlimited amounts of water (generated through multiple use of the same water supplies, more efficient agricultural production, reductions in the loss of ‘virtual water’ by cutting back shipments of fruits and vegetables out of the region, and massive investment in desalination), at modest prices, is it further evidence of hydro-hegemony? Or, is it a step toward economic interdependence? While future attacks on Israel might be met by turning off the water spigot, Palestinian investment in independent desalination facilities—and Israel’s willingness to share new low energy desalination technology—might be jointly planned moves toward peace.


Dec 21 2012

WATER DIPLOMACY: A NEGOTIATED APPROACH TO MANAGING COMPLEX WATER NETWORKS by Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence E. Susskind

Reviewed by W. Todd Jarvis, Oregon State University

Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence E. Susskind provide an interesting new framework that is both innovative and complementary to existing water negotiations frameworks.

Water Diplomacy: A Negotiated Approach to Managing Complex Water Networks, by Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence E. Susskind, RFF Press, 334pp

The days of groundwater problems being solved by hydrologists watching water move through well screens or across computer screens is quickly being replaced by the political melodramas typically found on the movie screen – negotiating over water use and reuse. This is where the new book by Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence Susskind is an important addition to the library of postmodern hydrologists. The objective of the book is to provide “a 21st century approach to water management that acknowledges the complexity and uncertainty of natural and societal systems, accepts the increasing interconnectivity and consequences of important decisions, and rejects the unquestioned authority of hierarchical governance structures.”

Water Diplomacy reads like three books under one cover. The first book develops the water diplomacy framework with an introduction to complexity theory, scale and networks through the clever use of a fable about a fictitious river basin, Indopotamia. The second book sets the stage for negotiations by examining a non-zero sum approach to water negotiations. Special features of the first two ‘books’ include many excerpts from selected journal articles related to each chapter topic, followed by short commentary by the authors.

The reader revisits Indopotamia in the third book, where a well-documented role play simulation is offered as a capacity-building exercise. I participated in this role play simulation during the 2012 Water Diplomacy Workshop. The book, the annual workshop and the role play are wonderful additions to the many other trainings and frameworks on negotiations over water resources.



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