Conference CFP: Grabbing ‘Green’: Questioning the Green Economy.


Grabbing ‘Green’: Questioning the Green Economy.

17 May – 19 May 2013
University of Toronto, Canada

Abstracts due: Nov. 7, 2012
Papers due: March 1, 2013

Over the past two decades ‘the market’ has increasingly been represented as the solution to issues of sustainability and conservation, leading to a reimagining of ‘nature’. Market forces are now deeply embedded in the policy, planning and practice, of environmental management and conservation leading to constructs such as ecosystems services (and payments for them), biodiversity derivatives and new conservation finance mechanisms like REDD, REDD+, species banking, and carbon trading. These changes reflect a larger transformation in international environmental governance—one in which the discourse of global ecology has accommodated an ontology of natural capital, culminating in the production of what is taking shape as “The Green Economy.” This “Green Economy” is not a natural or coincidental development, but is contingent upon, and tovarying degrees coordinated by, actors drawn together around familiar (UNEP, States, World Bank, etc) and emergent institutions of environmental governance (TEEB, WBCSB, investment companies, etc). While case studies have begun to reveal the social and ecological marginalization associated with the implementation of market mechanisms in particular sites, this conference seeks to explore the more systemic dimensions involved in the production, circulation and consumption of “The Green Economy,” and the neoliberal ‘logics’ within environmental policy, conservation, development, and business that are mobilizing it.

We seek papers focused on the formation of associations,articulations, alignments, and mechanisms of circulation andimplementation that produce the social relations and metrics that markets require to function. We also seek papers that identify the ‘frictions’ that inhibit the production of these social relations.  This is not meant to avoid the empirical value of case studies but is an effort to link particular cases to the scalar configurations of power that mobilize and give them shape.

This conference builds on ‘Nature™ Inc.’ held at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague from 30 June – 2 July, 2011 and a number of earlier workshops and conferences that have addressed market engagement with environmental policy and conservation in the context of neoliberal capitalism.  In this meeting we want to build dialogue around substantive papers.  However, rather than host a conference based only on short presentations, we are encouraging moderated discussion sessions with panels of authors, whose papers have been circulated in advance of the meeting. Panels will consist of 4-5 authors. Half of each session will be dedicated to discussion among the authors, and the remainder will consist of engagement with the audience. There will also be round-table discussions and a poster-session to compliment the panels.

Paper Workshops: panels that will focus on a moderated dialogue around 4 full papers.  Papers will be circulated to authors and audience in advance of the sessions so that the session will take the form of a moderated discussion among the authors, opening into a dialogue among the authors and audience.  Proposals for complete panels are encouraged.

Presentation Sessions: 90 minutes sessions of four papers.  Each presentation will be 15 minutes leaving 30 minutes for audience discussion and dialogue.  Proposals for complete panels are welcome, but individual submissions will be accepted, reviewed and organized into sessions.

Round-table Sessions: 90 minutes. Round-table sessions can involve a groups of panelists and are best-suited to address issues that do not necessarily lend themselves well to standard paper or presentation session – e.g., dialogue over innovative methodological practice required to study transnational governance.

Posters: poster sessions will be best suited to the presentation of case study research.  Posters will be allotted a regular conference session allowing authors to engage with the audience.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Accumulation by dispossession, property regimes, and “new” enclosures
  • The role of institutions in the production of “The Green Economy”
  • Alignment and articulation in environmental governance
  • Spatial variations in market relations    
  • Scales of environmental governance and biodiversity conservation
  • Configurations of Transnational Institutional Space
  • The green economy and spectacular consumption
  • Points of friction in the circulation and implementation of market mechanisms
  •  Strategies and practices of organizational alignment
  • Practices of institutional enrollment and capture
  • New conceptualizations of property and waste
  • Financialization and performativity in producing markets for nature.
  • The production of metrological regimes for ‘natural capital’.


The conference website will be available soon, with more information on registration and online submission of abstracts. 

Abstract and panel proposals are due by November 7, 2012. Abstracts can be submitted online at under the “Call for Papers” section. Click on ‘Log In’ in the menu bar. This will prompt you to create an account. After you create an account you will be able to log in, submit abstracts, register, view accepted abstracts, and access the conference program. Abstract submission will open Sept. 16, 2012. 

To help us in planning please preregister at:

Conference language is English. Authors will be notified of acceptance by Dec. 7. Complete papers are due by March 1st.

More information can be found on the conference blog and on the Facebook page:


The conference is sponsored by:

  • Centre for Critical Development Studies, University of Toronto, Scarborough
  • The Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto
  • Department of Geography, University of Toronto
  • Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto, Scarborough.

Conference Organizing Committee:

Ken MacDonald (Chair)

Scott Prudham

Matt Hoffman

Thembela Kepe

Marney Isaac

Ryan Isakson

Neera Singh

Zach Anderson

 Advisory Committee
Jun Borras (ISS, Erasmus University)
Bram Buscher (ISS, Erasmus University)
Noel Castree (SERG, Manchester University)
Catherine Corson (Mt Holyoke College)
Ashley Dawson (CUNY Graduate Centre)
Jim Igoe (Dartmouth College)
Melissa Leach (IDS, University of Sussex)
Tania Li (University of Toronto)
Jason W. Moore (Umeå University)
Alejandro Nadal (El Colegio de Mexico)
Nancy Peluso (University of California, Berkeley)
Robin Roth (York University)
Sian Sullivan (Birkbeck College)
Erik Swyngedouw (SERG, Manchester University)
Sudha Vasan (Delhi University)
Paige West (Columbia University)
Peter Wilshusen (Bucknell College)
Anna Zalik (York University)

Worlds apart: Mike Lofgren on the ‘revolt of the rich’

Mike Lofgren’s recent article on The American Conservative caught my attention.

It is essentially about the different worlds that people inhabit; a contrast made by comparing the ‘super rich’ to the ‘everyman’.

The article can be found here. I am no expert on American politics, and my interest in this piece is on its motivating idea that we can parse out the political economy of different worlds based on what people can afford and how they interact with the systems of which they are a part.

Bakker on water security

Karen Bakker, professor of geography at UBC and co-director of the Program on Water Governance has a new article in Science (subscription required) on the topic of water security:

Here is the summary:

“An estimated 80% of the world’s population faces a high-level water security or water-related biodiversity risk (1). The issue of water security—defined as an acceptable level of water-related risks to humans and ecosystems, coupled with the availability of water of sufficient quantity and quality to support livelihoods, national security, human health, and ecosystem services (2, 3)—is thus receiving considerable attention. To date, however, the majority of academic research on water security is relatively poorly integrated with the needs of policy-makers and practitioners; hence, substantial changes to funding, education, research frameworks, and academic incentive structures are required if researchers are to be enabled to make more substantive contributions to addressing the global water crisis.”


Book Launch: The global water crisis: addressing an urgent security issue

There is a new book coming out that is being launched in Hamilton just ahead of the faculty search for a Chair in Water Policy at McMaster University.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
The Atrium at McMaster Innovation Park
175 Longwood Rd. South, Hamilton, Ontario


Earlier this year, United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) produced a book titled The global water crisis: Addressing an urgent security issue together with the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation and the InterAction Council, a group of former heads of state and government.

The book was presented to the IAC at their 30th annual plenary meeting earlier this year in May and was well received by its members.

UNU-INWEH will be hosting an event on September 11, 2012 for the book’s official launch and wide release. The event is being held together with the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation and the InterAction Council.

UNU-INWEH is honoured to be welcoming The Rt. Honourable Mr. Jean Chrétien, former Prime Minister of Canada and co-chair of the InterAction Council, to be attending as the keynote speaker.

READ MORE…The itinerary of the book launch, including a list of all speakers and times, is available here.


Ecosystems valuation; colliding notions of things

In a recent article for the Guardian, George Monbiot argued that the idea of ‘ecosystems services’ is a prelude to the privatization of nature.

It didn’t take long for Robert Costanza, who has forwarded the idea of ‘ecosystem services valuation’ as a way to protect hitherto unvalued aspects of nature, to respond with this article (along with colleagues Simone Quatrini and Sive Oystese).

What are ecosystem services?

Generally speaking, and especially since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ‘ecosystem services’ include all of the things that the Earth and its component parts and processes get up to that support human well-being. Examples would include the purification of water performed by some wetlands, waste assimilation, these sorts of things.

So that is what ecosystems services are. And, in general, these services are in decline. So a key question is: how to prevent their degradation?

A few years ago some of my former colleagues at McGill published a paper titled “The environmentalists paradox: why is human well-being increasing as ecosystem services degrade?” Their paper, which appeared in Bioscience, can be read here (pdf). Their terminology is a little imprecise; they are really probing the assumption that ecosystem services are linked to human well-being such that if the former suffers, so does the latter. Many environmentalists (i.e. envr. ethicists) already have their own theories on this, of course, but that is a different topic…perhaps one to write more on later.

These issues notwithstanding, one of the solutions to preventing the degradation of ecosystem services is to find ways to value them. Often this has taken the form of valuing them in market terms. Such as, for instance, calculating how much it would cost for us to produce the same benefits we now receive from a healthy wetland or watershed. Once we know how much it would cost us to do what a wetland or watershed does, then we have a ballpark for valuing the services it provides.

One of the concerns that people like Monbiot appear to have, is that ‘ecosystem services’ represent a way to enclose the value provided by a watershed (or some other resource ‘unit’ like a forest or bioregion) in a way that gets an increasing share of the Earth’s things and processes into the global economy. This is not uniformly the case, as Jessica Dempsey and Morgan Robertson argue in their new paper.

But not “uniformly the case” does not mean that it can’t happen. So there appears to be some room between the views of Monbiot and Costanza. There is certainly room to carefully consider whether the valuation of ‘ecosystem services’ is functionally dissimilar to the valuation of more discrete parts of the total environment – those things we like to call ‘natural resources’.

Furthermore, this is a political and ethical kind of dilemma, since it asks us to position ourselves, the world of things around us and the interactions of those things that have nothing to do with us in a particular sort of relation. But that relation cannot be determined apart from what sorts of things we are asked to consider. So there is a sense in which we entangled with our own ideas of what things matter and on what temporal and spatial scale. This anthropocentric assumption is one that I’ve been uncomfortable with for awhile. For instance, if we are to value a watershed then we need some semblance of the scale of the services that a watershed provides both spatially and temporally. In this sense, once we consider a watershed as an object, we are caught up with that object in particular ways.

Maybe that is too philosophical for some. But if you are interested there are some interesting thoughts on our relationship to things, and what (surprise!) the relationships of things amongst themselves might look like here and here. A good introduction is Tim Morton’s book, Ecology without nature.

More practically, it is hard to avoid normative implications once you make the move from acknowledging ‘ecosystem services’ to valuing them. And it is not just because ‘valuing’ is a normative category (since different folks argue there are ways around that problem). Rather, it is because ‘ecosystem services valuation‘ brings out the implicit environmental politic that sets us in relation to the world, and its things thereof, that we inhabit.

Just published: a new tool to measure worldwide groundwater sustainability

Dr. Tom Gleeson, at McGill University, along with his colleagues, has recently published on a new way to measure groundwater – what they refer to as a groundwater footprint . There are links to more of the media coverage here including newspapers, podcasts, etc.

Here is a bit from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), where Dr. Gleeson is a Junior Fellow:

“Scientists develop a new tool to measure worldwide groundwater sustainability

Groundwater is a life-sustaining resource for both humans and the environment, yet according to scientists, precious groundwater aquifers are being depleted at rates that are unsustainable on both a regional and global scale.

In a recent study published in Nature, Junior Fellow Tom Gleeson (McGill) and colleagues found that humans are overexploiting groundwater in many large aquifers critical to agriculture.

By combining data on groundwater use with current hydrology models, the team created a new way to measure global water use relative to water supply, which they call the ‘groundwater footprint’. The team found that certain countries, including the United States, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, greatly overused the groundwater available to them. This overexploitation by a few nations managed to drive up the global net value of the groundwater footprint…”

You can read more of this report from CIFAR here.

NY Times: Charles Fishman on the American Drought

Charles Fishman, author of The Big Thirst, published this in the NY Times a few days ago.

Op-Ed Contributor

Don’t Waste the Drought

Published: August 16, 2012

WE’RE in the worst drought in the United States since the 1950s, and we’re wasting it.

Though the drought has devastated corn crops and disrupted commerce on the Mississippi River, it also represents an opportunity to tackle long-ignored water problems and to reimagine how we manage, use and even think about water.

For decades, Americans have typically handled drought the same way. We are asked to limit lawn-watering and car-washing, to fully load dishwashers and washing machines before running them, to turn off the tap while brushing our teeth. When the rain comes, we all go back to our old water habits.

But just as the oil crisis of the 1970s spurred advances in fuel efficiency, so should the Drought of 2012 inspire efforts to reduce water consumption.

Read more here.

Stuart Elden, who blogs at Progressive Geographies, has put up these respective quotes from Foucault and Lefebvre on ‘the space of the world.’ I am familiar with the Lefebvre quote but had to dig out my copy of The Order of Things for Foucault, having not flagged that reference previously.

I find the problem of the ‘world’ fascinating, particularly as it has become a commonplace problematic, such as in Russell’s arguments on our knowledge of the external world in which he attacks Bergson – who gained so much influence in the early 20th century. Or in the later Wittgenstein, such as we get in On Certainty, where a defense of Moore’s common sense and what it is reasonable to doubt is inevitably caught up with what sorts of things we understand to be part of the world.

I have a preliminary paper comparing some of these sorts of issues and these posts by Dr. Elden have sparked my interest in picking them back up come September.

Progressive Geographies

A la limite, le problème qui se pose c’est celui des rapports de la pensée à la culture : comment se fait-il que la pensée ait un lieu dans l’espace du monde, qu’elle y ait comme une origine, et qu’elle ne cesse, ici et là, de commencer toujours à nouveau.

Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses, p. 64.

Ultimately, the problem that presents itself is that of the relations between thought and culture: how is it that thought has a place in the space of the world, that it has its origin there, and that it never ceases, in this place or that, to begin anew?

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, p. 50.

Le paysage urbain medieval inverse l’espace antérieur, celui du «monde». Il muliplie les lignes brisées, les verticales. Il bondit hors du sol ; il se hérisse de sculptures.

Henri Lefebvre, La production de…

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New open access journal: Environmental Humanities

A new journal, Environmental Humanities, has been launched. Here is the blurb on the sort of high quality, interdisciplinary work they seek to publish:

“Environmental Humanities is an international, open-access journal that aims to invigorate current interdisciplinary research on the environment. In response to a growing interest around the world in the many questions that arise in this era of rapid environmental and social change, the journal will publish outstanding scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences.”

Center for Humans and Nature – Relaunched!

The Center for Humans and Nature has revamped and relaunched their website. The new format looks very engaging, as does the work they have been doing for some time now. The Center also published its journal: Minding Nature. The journal is open access and explores issues of conservation, values, ecological democracy, economics, the place of people on the planet and so on.

There is a place to submit questions for the Center’s fellows and associates and it is great to see this platform for discussion.