Earth systems governance papers: complex architectures, multiple agents

The Earth Systems Governance Conference in Tokyo will be at the end of this month. Already there are several papers available for download here. These are on a wide range of topics (biodiversity, climate, REDD, income inequality, and so on) so lots of interest for all.  Below is a description of the conference.

Earth Systems Governance Tokyo Conference: Complex Architectures, Multiple Agents


The challenge of establishing effective strategies for mediating the relationship between humans and the natural world represents one of the most daunting tasks in the quest for environmental sustainability at all levels, from the local to the global. Environmental problems, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water quality and access problems, soil erosion and others, call into question the fundamental viability of how humans have organized the relationship between society and nature. There is an urgent need to identify and develop new strategies for steering societies towards a more sustainable relationship with the natural world.

The Earth System Governance Project was launched in 2009 to address these problems of environmental governance. In this project, “earth system governance” is defined as the interrelated system of formal and informal rules, rule-making mechanisms and actor-networks at all levels of human society (from local to global) that are set up to steer societies towards preventing, mitigating, and adapting to global and local environmental change and earth system transformation, within the normative context of sustainable development. The Earth System Governance Project’s Science Plan (available at is organized around five analytical problems. Architecture relates to the emergence, design and effectiveness of governance arrangements. Agency addresses questions of who governs the earth system and how. Adaptiveness research explores the ability of governance systems to change in the face of new knowledge and challenges as well as to enhance adaptiveness of social-ecological systems in the face of major disturbances. Accountability refers to the democratic quality of environmental governance arrangements. Finally, allocation and access deal with justice, equity, and fairness. These analytical problems are united by the cross-cutting themes of power, knowledge, norms and scale.

The Earth System Governance Tokyo Conference will address these five analytical problems with a focus on complex architectures, multiple agents.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Welcome to the Anthropocene website up and going, here is the opening video:

Threads: Idle No More, resource rights, colonialism and its discontents

I have not posted much on the large and on-going First Nations movement known as Idle No More. That is not because I am not interested in it but because, although I am generally supportive, it presents some significant and interesting tensions.

Of course, Idle No More is now widely known around the world – even The Economist is weighing in on the Canadian government’s policies and attitude towards First Nations.

I have been thinking of the relationships between First Nations rights, specifically those to resources, and broader issues regarding the possibility of privatizing First Nations territory for the last year or so. I recently came across a new article from the Indigenous Law Journal on this topic (PDF HERE).

Since I’m still thinking on the issue, and the broader discourses it mobilizes, I won’t say a whole bunch more. But I will leave the picture below, which puts a twist on the nexus of de-colonialization in Canada, respect for treaty rights, and equality. On the last score, it should be noted that last October’s Amnesty International report gave an abysmal grade to Canada and its treatment of First Nations (Human Rights in Canada 2012 PDF).

Anyways, here is the image, which appeared as an advert in Briar Patch Magazine:


Democracy and ecological crisis: the case of the climate

Today’s ecological crisis has long been identified as also a democratic one. Lynn White Jr.’s famous essay (“The historical roots of our ecological crisis,” Science 155 1203-07.) is often used to rail against anthropocentrism, but White starts out by arguing that:

Our ecological crisis is the product of an emerging, entirely novel, democratic culture. The issue is whether a democratized world can survive its own implications. Presumably we cannot unless we rethink our axioms.

For my part, it seems clear that democracy is not “entirely novel” since it has no essential format and has been around in various cultures for some time. But White was talking about a “democratized world”. Clearly then, something either remains ambiguous for White (since this was written during the Cold War and hence worldwide democracy was very far from existing, or even guaranteed) or White had something else in mind. The latter is more likely to be closer to the truth, since the article is about a particular way of constructing moral and political obligations within a new view of the world – an ecological one.

These quick thoughts are just a lead in to the set of publications from the Center for Humans and Nature that were recently released. Here they are:

Can democracy in crisis deal with the climate crisis?

In the wake of superstorm Sandy and an election process that all but ignored climate change, looks ahead.  As Obama begins his second term, our Scholars and Contributors initiate a critical discussion, reflecting on if—and how—the “last, best hope on earth” can tackle one of the most significant challenges the world faces. We invite you to join the conversation and share your thoughts on how we can reshape the democratic process and meet the climate crisis.

Senior Scholars Ben Barber and Carol Gould take the lead on this series.  Click here to read their essays.

Four other Contributors are also kicking off the conversation:

Bill McKibben: Currencies of Movement Are the Key

Robyn Eckersley: The Tyranny of the Minority

Tim Hayward: Why Taking the Climate Challenge Seriously Means Taking Democracy More Seriously

John Dryzek: Deliberative Democracy and Climate Change

Simon Dalby on Climate Geopolitics for 2015

Simon Dalby, who is now at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo offers his thoughts on Climate Geopolitics after the most recent round of negotiations:

Zizek on democracy and finance

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has followed George Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian (“If you think we’re done with neo-liberalism, think again”). The two pieces aren’t in conversation with each other, but I think they should be read together insofar as they are both gesturing towards the particular version of democracy that is attempting to govern a particular moment in economics.

The west’s crisis is one of democracy as much as finance

“In one of the last interviews before his fall, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad although freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer was in the best tradition of Stalinist sophistry: true, the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right to a safe, prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: if Romanian citizens were to be allowed to leave the country, the prosperity of their homeland would be threatened. In this conflict, one has to make a choice, and the right to a prosperous, safe homeland enjoys clear priority …

“It seems that this same spirit is alive and well in Slovenia today. Last month the constitutional court found that a referendum on legislation to set up a “bad bank” and a sovereign holding would be unconstitutional – in effect banning a popular vote on the matter. The referendum was proposed by trade unions challenging the government’s neoliberal economic politics, and the proposal got enough signatures to make it obligatory.

The idea of the “bad bank” was of a place to transfer all bad credit from main banks, which would then be salvaged by state money (ie at taxpayers’ expense), so preventing any serious inquiry into who was responsible for this bad credit in the first place. This measure, debated for months, was far from being generally accepted, even by financial specialists. So why prohibit the referendum? In 2011, when George Papandreou’s government in Greece proposed a referendum on austerity measures, there was panic in Brussels, but even there no one dared to directly prohibit it.

According to the Slovenian constitutional court, the referendum “would have caused unconstitutional consequences”. How? The court conceded a constitutional right to a referendum, but claimed that its execution would endanger other constitutional values that should be given priority in an economic crisis: the efficient functioning of the state apparatus, especially in creating conditions for economic growth; the realisation of human rights, especially the rights to social security and to free economic initiative.” READ MORE HERE

Podcasts from Generation Anthropocene

Generation Anthropocene is an innovative project investigating many dimensions of human impacts on the planet and the ways that those impacts, and our recognition and responses to them, reverberate through science, culture, religion, geo-engineering, the cosmos and many other fascinating topics. The best part?  Podcasts! They are downloadable or can be streamed here.


New Book: “Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies”

Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp, and Thomas Love have edited the new book Cultures of Energy with Left Coast Press.

[Thanks to David 51vJ9uyJ+RL._SL500_AA300_Groenfeldt for sending this along]

From the editors website:

This path-breaking volume explores cultures of energy, the underlying but under-appreciated dimensions of both crisis and innovation in resource use around the globe. Theoretical chapters situate pressing energy issues in larger conceptual frames, and ethnographic case studies reveal energy as it is imagined, used, and contested in a variety of cultural contexts. Contributors address issues including the connection between resource flows and social relationships in energy systems; cultural transformation and notions of progress and collapse; the blurring of technology and magic; social tensions that accompany energy contraction; and sociocultural changes required in affluent societies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Each of five thematic sections concludes with an integrative and provocative conversation among the authors. The volume is an ideal tool for teaching unique, contemporary, and comparative perspectives on social theories of science and technology in undergraduate and graduate courses.


“This remarkable collection achieves two important goals. The first is to place the central challenges of energy and environment in a globalizing world in a truly cultural perspective, one which takes account of issues of meaning, value, diversity and agency. The second is to allow its authors to engage in debate and dialogue within the book itself, thus presenting ethnography as dialogue on a topic of vital public interest. These dual accomplishments will make the book valuable for scholars in anthropology, geography, environmental studies and social policy and to students seeking a clear and accessible introduction to key debates on the social life of energy.”

– Arjun Appadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“One of the most important anthropology books published this century, Cultures of Energy is a guide to all the hot-topic issues which the next generation of researchers (and citizens) will face. This volume signals the emergence of a mature anthropology of energy; comprehensive, ambitious and deeply engaged. The authors demonstrate the adaptive magic of an old discipline, moving back and forth between the concrete and abstract, the tangible resistance of chemistry and physics, and the complexity of culturally defined needs and comforts. This is the only book that gives a comprehensive view of the range and depth of a flourishing field of research. The authors guide us from the most abstract questions about the nature of energy itself, to the pragmatics of markets and regulation. Along the way they give us the intellectual tools to address a troubling future where energy will no longer be cheap and abundant.”

– Richard Wilk, Provost Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University

“This bracing collection returns anthropology to the topic of energy. Uniting theory with contemporary problems, and both with conversations among anthropologists, local folk and developers, the volume shows how energy sustains our lives and how we hoard, sell and share it. Energy is anthropology�s lodestone for it brings together the discipline�s special perspectives from ecology to health, from the occult to the commons, and from power to culture. To have a livable and sustainable earth, the subject of energy requires anthropology�s touch just as for every reader there are touchstones in this collection.”

– Steve Gudeman, University of Minnesota


Will Cronon’s 2013 Presidential Address to the AHA

Eminent environmental historian Will Cronon; always worth listening to. The video won’t embed properly but can be viewed here:


Cold Matters: Bob Sandford on Canadian freshwater

9781927330197A new book from Bob Sandford, with details from the publisher below.

I’m looking forward to this book, especially because the Rosenberg Policy Forum should have its report on the Mackenzie River Basin any day now.

“Cold Matters is a vital and approachable work that distills the scientific complexities of snow, ice, water and climate and presents the global implications of research put forth and funded by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. This timely book gives the concerned reader an opportunity to take part in the conversation about our global environment in a way that transcends traditional scientific journals, textbooks, public talks or newspaper articles that are so often ignored or forgotten. In the end, Cold Matters will change the way you think about ice and snow.

The impassioned narrative and sophisticated illustrations found within the pages of Robert Sandford’s latest work offer ecologically and globally minded citizens an understanding of the behaviour of our ever-changing climate system and its effect on cold environments in western Canada over the past 400 years. Using revolutionary prediction scenarios to model glaciers and glacier meltwater in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Yukon, NWT and throughout the world, Cold Matters presents a clear snapshot of how altered ecosystems will impact future climates, urban centres and agricultural landscapes.”