Beyond Big Dams: Fred Pearce on grass roots water solutions

Interesting article by Fred Pearce (author of When The Rivers Run Dry) at Yale 360. Here is the first few paragraphs, full article here.


Beyond Big Dams: Turning to
Grass Roots Solutions on Water
Mega-dams and massive government-run irrigation projects are not the key to meeting world’s water needs, a growing number of experts now say. For developing nations, the answer may lie in small-scale measures such as inexpensive water pumps and other readily available equipment.

by Fred Pearce

How will the world find the water to feed a growing population in an era of droughts and water shortages? The answer, a growing number of water experts are saying, is to forget big government-run irrigations projects with their mega-dams, giant canals, and often corrupt and indolent management. Farmers across the poor world, they say, are solving their water problems far more effectively with cheap Chinese-made pumps and other low-tech and off-the-shelf equipment. Researchers are concluding that small is both beautiful and productive.

“Cheap pumps and new ways of powering them are transforming farming and boosting income all over Africa and Asia,” says Meredith Giordano, lead author of a three-year research project looking at how smallholder farmers are turning their backs on governments and finding their own solutions to water problems…

Leopold panel at American Society for Envr. History

Just received confirmation for a panel on Aldo Leopold at the ASEH meeting in Toronto next April. I’m looking forward to it. Here is my title and abstract:

Leopold’s classification of things: ecology, nominalism and obligation(s)

Aldo Leopold argued for an extension of moral consideration to the entire community of things that comprise ecological systems: collectively, the land. Foregrounding the extension of ethics to this collectivity, however, was a shift that required reordering ethical obligations, and human participants to them, in ecological terms. This paper explores the re-ordering of humans as a different kind of thing—Leopold’s movement of humans from ‘masters’ to ‘plain members’ of ecological systems—which opens up ecological understandings of relationships among things more generally. It finds that Leopold anticipates critiques of modernity made by later social theorists, such as Bruno Latour, and the recent turn towards the ontology of things. But does Leopold offer an alternate path out of modernity? This is the key question of this paper. Investigating this question is taken along two paths. The first considers whether Leopold held to a version of nominalism regarding how things are classified. It queries whether he perhaps even held a type of dynamic nominalism where classification systems ‘loop-back’ to affect what are considered to be concrete possibilities for governing ecological systems at a given time and place. The second considers how Leopold grounds, in an interactive way, what kind of ethical and political duties are extended to what kinds of things. It concludes by considering how Leopold trades on collectivities of things—the land—and the notion of community through which he augurs for an extension of ethics.

Latour’s new book: Modes of Existence

Bruno Latour’s new book: Modes of Existence is now out. An english translation is due out with HUP in the new year. Details here.

The result of a twenty five years inquiry, it offers a positive version to the question raised, only negatively, with the publication, in 1991, of ”We have never been modern”: if ”we” have never been modern, then what have ”we” been? From what sort of values should ”we” inherit? In order to answer this question, a research protocol has been developed that is very different from the actor-network theory. The question is no longer only to define ”associations” and to follow networks in order to redefine the notion of ”society” and ”social” (as in ”Reassembling the Social”) but to follow the different types of connectors that provide those networks with their specific tonalities. Those modes of extension, or modes of existence, account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and so on. This systematic effort for building a new philosophical anthropology offers a completely different view of what the ”Moderns” have been and thus a very different basis for opening a comparative anthropology with the other collectives – at the time when they all have to cope with ecological crisis. Thanks to a European research council grant (2011-2014) the printed book will be associated with a very original purpose built digital platform allowing for the inquiry summed up in the book to be pursued and modified by interested readers who will act as co-inquirers and co-authors of the final results. With this major book, readers will finally understand what has led to so many apparently disconnected topics and see how the symmetric anthropology begun forty years ago can come to fruition.

Video: Tim Morton on entering the Anthropocene

Timothy Morton, professor of english at UC Davis, and who blogs at Ecology Without Nature, gave this talk recently on entering the Anthropocene. The audio sometimes fades a bit, but it is a good recording. There is a half visible slide in the background advertising the new journal Environmental Humanities I linked to here.

Live symposium webcast October 12: Cloudy with a chance of solutions

From the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studyat Harvard:

“The Radcliffe Institute’s annual science symposium will focus on the important and challenging topic of water. Water is a theme that encompasses issues as varied as environmental contamination, public health, agricultural shortages, and geopolitical disputes. “Cloudy with a Chance of Solutions: The Future of Water” will focus on the ecological and human health hazards of environmental contaminants, the threats to drinking water of fracking, the promise of new technologies for water treatment, the need for national water policy, and the role of urban and other areas in conservation. The majority of the talks will focus on the “hard science” of water-related issues; others will offer the perspectives of experts from the policy, business, or urban-planning worlds to put the scientific discussions in a broader context and to link them thematically.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required by October 5. Register now.

The symposium will be webcast live on this page, in its entirety, on October 12. Registration is not required to view the webcast. Videos of the symposium will be available the following week on this site and on Harvard’s YouTube channel.”
More information, including a line up of speakers and times is available here.

Charles Taylor at Ryerson September 20, 2012

If you are in or around Toronto, the eminent political philosopher Charles Taylor will launch the Jack Layton Lecture series at Ryerson University in 10 days time. Details here or here.

It will be interesting to hear (second or third hand most likely) what Dr. Taylor covers under the listed title: “Reimagining, Restoring and Reclaiming Democracy”.

“Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than
despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
– Hon. Jack Layton

Enigma of revolt: Kafka on Occupy

Every once in a while Adbusters, the self-proclaimed ‘culture jammers’, have an article worth wading through.

This one, by Andy Merrifield (author of Magical Marxism), offers a sort of dual take on how critiques and conceptions of the world affect what appear to be concrete possibilities for action.

It ranges from the suggestion that Marxist critiques of contemporary capitalism have never been more apt to the suggestion that it is Kafka, not Marx, who best understood the constraints of revolt against the union of capitalism and state bureaucracy.

The analysis gets a bit lost once Merrifield tries to link things up with Occupy, which is not too surprising given the diverse forms and aims different groups and individuals claiming that banner held.

The driving premise of the article could be stated much simpler: there has been a slow removal of the shared metaphysical lampposts formerly lighting the way for engaging with, and acting on, the shared institutions of social life. Peter Brown, at McGill University has described this situation as one where there are ‘metaphysical orphans’ whose progeny go on despite the parenting ideas having died or been abandoned. His view is that economics and contemporary political economy is this sort of orphan since the background assumptions about the earth, ‘natural resources’ and the creation of material wealth don’t fit with the way the world works. Nevertheless, the economy marches on.

For my part, I’ve been a big fan of Kafka since I read the opening line of The Trial: “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.”

But while Merrifield’s article throws down the requisite theoretical hashtags to try and motivate an understanding of both our own scope of actions and our affective relationship to the social systems of which we are a part, in the end it doesn’t seem to me to get it done. His main suggestion is that we try to theorize about how the ‘flows of revolt’ operate because there are flows of commodity chains, and the political systems that support them, going on around us. But then, rather than point towards an alternative, he suggests we have been stripped totally bare of guideposts for action. His words are that we live naked lives. That seems a bit of a stretch, if not an outright refusal to acknowledge that human life is embedded in some remarkable and resilient ecological relationships with other humans, non-humans and larger biophysical systems. And this is to say nothing of the relationships between other things that have nothing to do with us at all. In a recent post at Larval Subjects, Levi Bryant takes aim at this underlying anthropocentrism.

My final take on this article is that Merrifield would have done better to follow Vaclav Havel’s advice regarding what sorts of ideas can inspire a bit of action under new, alternate frames (which I think is what Merrifield wanted Occupy to be, or at least represent).

Havel said this: “What makes…the Gaia Hypothesis so inspiring?…the awareness of our being anchored in the earth and the universe, the awareness that we are not here alone nor for ourselves alone, but that we are an integral part of higher, mysterious entities against whom it is not advisable to blaspheme. This forgotten awareness is encoded in all religions.”

One last thing, according to Graham Harman Bruno Latour will be lecturing on the Gaia hypothesis this year at the Gifford Lectures.

And the trivial sign-off: James Lovelock propelled the Gaia hypothesis in the latter 20th century. According to Wikipedia he also invented an electron capture device that was critical for understanding the role of CFC’s in the atmosphere and the effect they have on ozone depletion.

Precarious Alliance: schedule for water ethics conference now online

The conference is titled “The ethics of water: everything flows from here” and will be held at Delaware Valley college Oct 11-12. An interesting line up of speakers; details on paper and presentation topics here.

Protect the Mackenzie River: Int’l experts meet in Vancouver

The Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, based in California, has partnered with Canada’s Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation, in a policy workshop presently going on in Vancouver (Simon Fraser University) regarding the Mackenzie River Basin in northern Canada.

Several news reports have backgrounders and interviews: Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail, Triple Pundit, The Tyee (a favorite site of mine and the place where I grabbed the cool pic) and the Vancouver Sun.

The Mackenzie is a critical site for energy development, now being called the “Amazon of the North” both for its size and the way its cool waters moderate Arctic temperatures, so I’ll be watching the outcomes of this closely and will post an analysis of the final report when it appears. It will also be interesting to be in Northern Canada so soon after, since the Keepers of the Water is just a few weeks away.

The conference runs until tomorrow, Septmeber 7, so there should be additional media content appearing in major dailies and environmental outlets.

Levi Bryant has posted the text of his upcoming lecture at the University of Dundee online here. It is very interesting, and is worth a read for multiple reasons – in particular because of the place it gives to things in relation to space-time. Ultimately Bryant uses a discussion of gravity in Newton and Einstein as an analogy, and since I push harder on this front in the paper I’m working on, I had a selfish motivation for wanting more of that discussion. But that is often the way – reading others through our own lens. In any case, this is an essay well worth reading and a lecture I wish I could attend in person.

Larval Subjects .

For anyone who’s interested, here is the text of my talk for my appearance at University of Dundee on September 12th.  I am not sure whether the event is open to the public, or when and where it is, but will announce these details when they become available.  In this talk, I simply try to draw attention to what onto-cartography is trying to thematize.  There’s still so much to be done at the theoretical level and that work will only become available with the publication of Onto-Cartographies, so don’t beat me up too much!  I’m still working through these things.  At any rate, here’s the talk!  bryantontocartographies

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