New book on Water Justice

9781107179080This looks like quite a nice collection from Cambridge University Press.

Water Justice

Edited by Rutgerd Boelens, Tom Perreault, and Jeroen Vos

Book description

Water justice is becoming an ever-more pressing issue in times of increasing water-based inequalities and discrimination. Megacities, mining, forestry, industry and agribusiness claim an increasingly large share of available surface and groundwater reserves. Water grabbing and pollution generate poverty and endanger ecosystems’ sustainability. Beyond large, visible injustices, the book also unfolds the many ‘hidden’ water world injustices, subtly masked as ‘rational’, ‘equitable’ and ‘democratic’. It features critical conceptual approaches, including analysis of environmental, social, cultural and legal issues surrounding the distribution and management of water. Illustrated with case studies of historic and contemporary water injustices and contestations around the world, the book lays new ground for challenging current water governance forms and unequal power structures. It also provides inspiration for building alternative water realities. With contributions from renowned scholars, this is an indispensable book for students, researchers and policymakers interested in water governance, environmental policy and law, and political geography.


Advance praise:’This is a major book on the political ecology of water conflicts by the top experts in the field. It defines a new field of study, ‘water justice’. It’s a great addition to the study of local and global movements against environmental injustice with a focus on water-grabbing and unequal access to water for irrigation, mining, urban sanitation, and hydroelectricity.’

Joan Martinez-Alier – Emeritus Professor of Economics and Economic History, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Advance praise’Boelens, Perreault and Vos have assembled a genuinely impressive set of authors to tackle the nature, meaning, and drivers of water injustices across the world, and to explore the possibilities of water justice. While the picture is far from rosy, the book provides rich theoretical and empirical perspectives through which to understand the inequities surrounding the control and use of water and to imagine alternative futures. This text will be a point of reference for many years to come.’

Anthony Bebbington – Australian Laureate Fellow, University of Melbourne, and Milton P. and Alice C. Higgins Professor of Environment and Society, Clark University, Massachusetts

Advance praise:’This timely and engaging volume by some of the world’s foremost scholars on water constitutes a loud sound of alarm. Not only that, it shows why liberal and neoliberal water rationalities … won’t work. Proposed instead is a sophisticated approach to the question of water as nature, and of its relation to justice, from which emerges a powerful framework for alternative hydrosocialities. By reminding us that what is at stake … is people’s very right to exist, Water Justice enables us to imagine and construct other paths for fair and wise water policies.’

Arturo Escobar – University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Advance praise:’It would be difficult to overstate the global significance of water injustice, which continues to be a major obstacle preventing millions of human beings from enjoying a dignified life. Water Justice addresses key aspects of this complex problem, bringing together a unique international team of scholars. This is not only a timely collection, but also one that provides access to rich theoretical arguments and empirical examples that allow an in-depth treatment of the topic. The book is a welcome contribution for academics, students, and practitioners, and will attract a wider readership among those concerned with the future of civilized human life.’

José Esteban Castro – Newcastle University

Advance praise:”Water justice!’ is the rallying cry of this book. It explores in a readable, illuminating and comprehensive way the multiple dimensions of water injustice and the diverse struggles to change these.’

Cristóbal Kay – International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


John McNeill: The Industrial Revolution as Global Environmental History

Donald Worster on Wilderness: From the American West to the World

Visualizing the Anthropocene – part of special issue in Public Culture

Access the full issue here and here is the table of contents:

Guest Editors’ Introduction

Environmental Visualization in the Anthropocene: Technologies, Aesthetics, Ethics
Allison Carruth and Robert P. Marzec


Visualizing the Anthropocene
Nicholas Mirzoeff
Militarized Ecologies: Visualizations of Environmental Struggle in the Brazilian Amazon
Robert P. Marzec
Satellite Planetarity and the Ends of the Earth
Elizabeth DeLoughrey
Plasmatic Nature: Environmentalism and Animated Film
Ursula K. Heise
The Aesthetics of Environmental Visualizations: More than Information Ecstasy?
Heather Houser
The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy
Allison Carruth


Rob Nixon
Allison Carruth and Robert P. Marzec

Canadian environmental news blast

Yesterday Environment Canada reported that Canada won’t meet even the watered down targets the current government set for itself on emissions.

While that was happening, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was in Washington saying he supports the Keystone XL pipeline. I believe that makes all three major parties into the same place, with varying qualifiers around polluter pays, environmental protection and so forth on the Oil Sands.

Quietly, the federal government has resurrected a $500 million fund for the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project. This project has a big history in Canada, stretching back to the 1970s. The latest round is for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as part of the governments northern resource development plan.

What else. Oh yes, Alberta decided not to allow First Nations to participate in hearings about Oil Sands expansion near their territories. This is more than an odd decision. But I don’t know the details. In other Alberta news, the air quality down wind of the refineries near Edmonton is loaded with as bad as the world’s worst cities. The Benzene level is over 70 times the normal level.

Also yesterday, yet another voice in the choir on problems with Canadian science and policy. This time in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, read it here (pdf).

Newly appointed: next disappointment? Canada names new environment minister

Yesterday the Canadian Government announced a new cabinet minister for the environment. The previous minister, Peter Kent, was recently eviscerated as quite possible Canada’s worst environment minister ever.

He certainly has presided over a precipitous fall. But the trend towards poor environmental regulations did not start with him. In fact, a 2010 article in Ecology Law Quarterly asks: What ever happened to Canadian environmental law? (PDF).

So, all this to say, the new minister is not inheriting a particularly envious portfolio.

The new minister is Leonna Aglukkaq the former minister of health and also the current chair of the Arctic  Council. When the latter post was assigned to her, researcher’s at McGill wrote an open letter stressing the need for an emphasis on food and housing security. Unfortunately, the tone so far set is one of development as a priority and everything else as a trickle-down effect.

A rising tide floats all boats, so they say. But it can also flood a lot of people out.

Anyhow, this emphasis on the North is all being set in a broader context of Arctic security, First Nations rights and a host of geopolitical issues regarding climate, sovereignty and the like. With that said, there is an interesting new article freely available on the the “New North” – a phrase that recurs often but which is laden with a set of assumptions about for whom the area should be governed and how. You can download it here (pdf).

And here is the abstract:

References to a “New North” have snowballed across popular media in the past 10 years. By invoking the phrase, scientists, policy analysts, journalists and others draw attention to the collision of global warming and global investment in the Arctic today and project a variety of futures for the region and the planet. While changes are apparent, the trope of a “New North” is not new. Discourses that appraised unfamiliar situations at the top of the world have recurred throughout the twentieth century. They have also accompanied attempts to cajole, conquer, civilize, consume, conserve and capitalize upon the far north. This article examines these politics of the “New North” by critically reading “New North” texts from the North American Arctic between 1910 and 2010. In each case, appeals to novelty drew from evaluations of the historical record and assessments of the Arctic’s shifting position in global affairs. “New North” authors pinpointed the ways science, state power, capital and technology trans- formed northern landscapes at different moments in time. They also licensed political and corporate influence in the region by delimiting the colonial legacies already apparent there. Given these tendencies, scholars need to approach the most recent iteration of the “New North” carefully without concealing or repeating the most troubling aspects of the Arctic’s past.

Mass nouns: Where did the “environment” come from?

Have you ever wondered where the term “environment” came from or how it came to be a mass noun – a catchall for, well, everything?

I did.

And I wondered because even though you get conceptually blistered with that term today, you can barely find it in books like Darwin’s Origin of Species. Back then, organisms related to their ‘circumstances’.

Turns out, there is a really great article on just this topic from Trevor Pearce. It traces how the idea of the ‘environment’ arose in the middle of the 19th century and was established most prominently by Herbert Spencer. Yes, the same Herbert Spencer who misconstrued evolution as “the survival of the fittest.”

Here is a link to Pearce’s article and below is the abstract. Very good stuff.

The word ‘environment’ has a history. Before the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of a singular, abstract entity—the organism—interacting with another singular, abstract entity—the environment—was virtually unknown. In this paper I trace how the idea of a plurality of external conditions or circumstances was replaced by the idea of a singular environment. The central figure behind this shift, at least in Anglo-American intellectual life, was the philosopher Herbert Spencer. I examine Spencer’s work from 1840 to 1855, demonstrating that he was exposed to a variety of discussions of the ‘force of circumstances’ in this period, and was decisively influenced by the ideas of Auguste Comte in the years preceding the publication of Principles of psychology (1855). It is this latter work that popularized the word ‘environment’ and the corresponding idea of organism–environment interaction—an idea with important metaphysical and methodological implications. Spencer introduced into the English-speaking world one of our most enduring dichotomies: organism and environment.

Losing control of ethical oil: lessons for environmental ethics

Since it began distinguishing itself as a sub-discipline of philosophy, environmental ethics has faced a tough question: will changing our values affect how we treat the environment?

When Christopher D. Stone took stock of the effect of environmental ethics on public policy over its first three decades (1970-2000) he concluded that not much direct influence took place [pdf]. But that isn’t a reason not to do ethics since it could take much longer for effects to become apparent. There might be a time lag.

OK, this is a round-a-bout way into what I was thinking about last night, which is how the Canadian government has completely lost control over the discourse about what it once termed ‘ethical oil’. I think there might be similarities between the relative ineffectiveness of both environmental ethics and the ‘ethical oil’ campaigns to steer public policy in neat and tidy ways. Not that anybody thinks policy is either neat, or tidy, of course.

The ‘ethical oil’ campaign started some time ago and I have written on its lack of cogency here and here. Earlier this week, it has come under attack by Al Gore, who stated that there is no ethical oil, only dirty oil and dirtier oil. But the conceptual bankruptcy of the concept is not what I’m interested in here. What seems more interesting is the attempt to funnel public policy through a single set of moral claims.

The ethical oil campaign was somewhat successful in capturing the mainstream discourse in Canada – shouldn’t we promote our own resources rather than those that come from places with poor records on human rights, labor conditions and so forth? Now, if we ignore the fact that eastern Canada imports most of its oil, this does seem like a plausible piece of rhetoric. And yet it has failed.

The reasons for the failure are numerous, but here are two:

1) Canada launched a sustained undermining of environmental policy in 2012. So the notion that resources are being stewarded in any meaningful environmental framework lacks credibility. Yesterday, for instance, environment minister Peter Kent stated that Canada wears many of its “fossil of the year awards” with honour. (Yes, in Canada we add “u” to honor). The awards are given out to countries who perform abysmally on environmental issues.

2) Canada has engaged in a direct war or words with leading international figures, like James Hansen. Hansen, in turn, called the Canadian government ‘neanderthals‘ when it comes to environmental policy. I doubt Hansen was trying to be ironic, but it was a funny comment since it is an open question as to whether our minister of science and technology, Gary Goodyear, actually believes in evolution. He says he does, but not everybody is convinced.

So what should we take away from this? Are there any commonalities between the failure to secure public policy through normative discourse?

I think we would do well to acknowledge that the claim to morality is not situated hierarchically in public policy, as though values are what steers things. Values matter, but they are not all that matter. This has been part of the broad critique of environmental ethics as being primarily for the rich – for those who can afford the cultural category of a “wilderness” that is made untouchable. Likewise, the ethical oil motif is only one piece of a bigger policy game involving international actors and this thing called science.

Second, it would seem worthwhile to consider how the attempt to be internally consistent in your moral claims inevitably closes off some good policy options. For instance, the attempt at logical consistency in environmental ethics often doesn’t reflect how individuals reason in complex scenarios where they use judgment, heuristics (rules) and customs to determine what matters. Likewise, the ethical oil campaigners tried to secure a basic set of western values to oil development, such as human rights and labour relations (yes, we add a “u” there too). But this is also problematic, because the  category “western” is not homogenous (even if hegemonic). So when the time came to promote Canadian oil development in the face of opposition, the government had to stick to its guns – we are already ethical! See? See?

At any rate, I think it is worthwhile to keep thinking about how real-time failures in environmental ethics – even if they are of the ‘ethical oil’ sort that environmental philosophers might seek to eviscerate – can provide lessons for how values link up to environmental policy.

Green Philosophy: Roger Scruton on “thinking seriously about the planet”

One of Roger Scruton’sgreen philosophy latest books is Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet.

The book has been getting a number of reviews (here, here and here) regarding its arguments that conservatives are best positioned to be planetary stewards.

I’ve read the book and will not weigh in on it fully here – if only because the book is fairly lengthy and touches on everything from the nature of the person, to territory, economics, psychology, history and environmental thought. And Scruton skips quickly across a lot of terrain (made easier by some off-handed dismissals, such as stating that Heidegger did “armchair philosophy”)

But another reason I won’t put a lot of time into writing about this book is that it starts out by making a set of incorrect claims. Here is one:  Scruton argues that “conservatism” as a political philosophy and “conservation” as a resource management philosophy share the same ethos of conservative thought. And that is flatly not true. The ‘conservation’ of natural resources was situated within an explicitly–and even extended–liberalism.

Those sorts of mistakes are easily avoidable; even a cursory glance at history would suffice. But what makes them more disappointing is that there probably are good arguments to be made from conservative lines of thinking that are lost on these sorts of errors.

These mistakes are also a bit frustrating since finding an alternative to liberalism is a very interesting project. Here is Scruton giving a talk on the book: