Research Seminar | Convivial Conservation: Obstacles and Opportunities in Transforming Socio-ecologies for the 21st Century | November 21

Thursday November 21, 2019 | 13.30 -16.00 | Leeuwenborch building, room V72

This research seminar is organised by the Political Ecology@WUR cluster of CSPS.


Neoliberal authoritarianism as environmental governance: Conservation, biodiversity decline, and denial in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

Laila Sandroni (University of São Paulo) | Robert Coates (Wageningen University)

The picturing of environmental crisis as a ‘lie’ now represents a key tenet of a number of significant regimes. We present here a preliminary discussion of this urgent matter through a reflection on the Brazilian case made in the context of the project “Towards Convivial Conservation”, by two of its members, from University of São Paulo and Wageningen University. The Bolsonaro government’s use of this discursive strategy cannot be separated from the expansion of neoliberal authoritarianism – and thus we contribute to debates on the relationship between the new anti-environmentalist right and the governance of global biodiversity. Discourses of the environment as ‘there for the taking’ remain central to Bolsonaro’s nationalist-territorial appeal, and his administration has granted numerous concessions to (extractivist) livestock, soya and mining interests intent on removing environmental and minority protections, and helped along by (social) media manipulation with scant regard for the truth. We highlight controversies surrounding government bureaucratic obfuscation and confusion with regard to biodiversity conservation, especially by the Ministry for the Environment, which ultimately allows private (and nominally illegal) forces to operate with few constraints. These considerations lead us to the problematic of post-truth and the need to address the denial of environmental crisis without abandoning political ecology’s well established critique of western science. Under Brazilian neoliberal-authoritarian social and economic policy, environmental justice has no place, and efforts to delegitimize academics, the environmental movement, and public employees pushing for environmental awareness represent a clear strategy of political persecution. Combatting ideological manipulation is not to endorse uncritical readings of science in achieving nature conservation that works for humans in biodiverse nature. We conclude with reflection on what is being done to counter the nefarious consequences of these discourses, and with the acknowledgement that the political ecology agenda must be pursued as a force to inspire worlds beyond neoliberal authoritarianism.

Unpacking hegemonic ideas in SDG 15, its targets and indicators: Conserving what, how and for whom?

Judith Krauss (Sheffield University)

In response to rampant biodiversity loss, diverse approaches to promote conservation have been proposed in recent years, prominently including new conservation, which arguably builds on pre-existing market-based instruments to further conservation, and restriction or exclusion-based notions which reaffirm protection for up to half the earth. This paper aims to unpack to what extent Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15, dubbed ‘Life on land’, relies on these two hegemonic strands of conservation thinking throughout its targets and indicators, and the wider implications of these framings. Among the 17 goals formulated by the United Nations as arguably the most universally agreed global governance framework, SDG 15 aims to protect, restore and sustainably use ecosystems, thereby shaping conservation policy and practice. However, this paper argues that SDG 15 replicates market-based and exclusion-based hegemonic thinking through its what, how and for whom of conservation. In particular, its framing arguably silos conservation from other human development pursuits, fails to challenge the broader socio-economic issues at the root of biodiversity loss, and constitutes a step back on prior conservation agreements, all of which in combination dramatically reduce the likelihood of SDG 15 being attained. The paper will conclude by initiating the conversation on what a more transformative, convivial alternative to SDG 15 could look like, a discussion which a follow-up manuscript will deepen.

Bridging worldviews for conservation of the Pehuén: An inclusive conservation model for the Araucaria Araucana

Darko Lagunas (Valley of the Possible)

In La Araucanía region in southern Chile, cultural and environmental issues go hand in hand. Conservation efforts for the endangered (EN) Araucaria araucana species (IUCN Red List, 2013) are restricting the recollection of its seeds, the piñon. But in effect, they are unwittingly depleting the main food resources of indigenous Mapuche Pehuenche people, who depend highly on recollecting piñones for their basic nutrition. There is growing (academic) consensus that indigenous ways of being should become protagonist in conservation efforts. Pehuenches have a strong reciprocal and spiritual relation with the Araucaria araucana (Pehuén) since 600-500 B.C.. They say careful recollection of piñones – based on ancestral knowledge – facilitates the regeneration of these millennial trees. In turn, the Pehuén feeds the Pehuenches in times when other food is scarce. Additionally, Pehuenches fought against overexploitation and for protection of the Pehuén since the ‘70s. Nonetheless, the Pehuén has lost close to 30.000 hectares over the past 15 years (effects from climate change, overexploitation, and exotic tree-plantations). In some coastal areas, the tree is even classified in danger of extinction. There is common ground on the environmental issue, but the 2 solutions to protect the species create cultural frictions. Classic conservation efforts create national parks and prohibit the recollection of piñones. Pehuenches, are excluded from the solution, recollecting their main food resource becomes illegal, and their culture becomes marginalized. This project develops an inclusive conservation model for the Pehuén, based on the relationship between Pehuenches and the Pehuén. The ambition is that the model will be implemented by the new Kütralkura UNESCO Global Geopark.