Preface – Why the Environment Is Political
- Vii – The exhibit condenses landscapes and idealizes their elements by, for example, including live orchids, which are relatively rare features in such forests, but not the biting gnats that are ubiquitous. By allowing us to walk from understory to canopy the exhibit makes the forest visible in a way that does not occur in an actual walk through the forest. The exhibit presents a picture that is better than life, or “hyper-real” in Baudrillard’s (1994) term. But this is not merely an augmentation of the real: it also remakes our vision and our understanding of the forest, substituting a virtual environment (Carrier and Miller 1998; Carrier and West 2009) for the actual environment one might encounter on a real walk in the woods. What is the rain forest vision?
- Ix – The rain forest of Chimalapas is a peopled, forested agrarian community. Rain forest fetishization hides the histories of forests and peoples, their dynamic interaction and interdependence. It hides the fact that these are and have long been peopled landscapes. By suggesting that healthy rain forests are pristine, removed from the social realm, forest inhabitants must either be seen as predatory or, equally problematic, as pure as the forest stream.
- When valued in terms of its biological contributions to science and medicine, the rain forest becomes a commodity of a kind. But it is a kind of commodity that is so valuable to the global community as a whole that its local value must be of no importance. Moreover, its inhabitants come under scrutiny for their stewardship. When a forest or woods gets discovered, when it becomes re-valued as a rain forest, it gets “accumulated” by the people who have just discovered it (Luxemburg 1951).
- In the case of Chimalapas, this space was already well preserved because its vast forests were part of commonly managed lands largely inaccessible to development or forest exploitation.
Introduction: Practicing Political Ecology in Chimalapas
- 2 – This book traces the history of the uneasy alliance between ecologists and campesinos in the region. It argues that environmentalists motivated by the “consumer claims” of the environmentalist movement of the global North were not, despite rhetoric to the contrary, able to accommodate the “producer claims” of the campesinos involved in the alliance. Much like the producer-consumer commodity chains linking rurally produced products in the periphery to buyers in the core in an unequal power relationship (Wallerstein 2004), transnational environmentalism links local land-use issues to powerful core ideologies in a way that inherently privileges the core concerns.
- 9 – This book documents the paradoxical process through which a weakened federal system that is capitulating to a global neoliberal political-economic model reasserts its control through the extension of decentralized state agencies and processes, often using executive power and privilege to bypass existing procedures and bureaucracies. Decentralization is often equated with the decline in centralized authoritarian rule. Locally based agencies have the potential to be more sensitive and responsive to local needs, or to generate their agendas out of local demands. But “the local” can also be reduced to the politics of patronage. Local agencies may be highly personalistic and unaccountable to the universal standards that govern federal bureaucracies. As a result, decentralized systems allow universal values and lofty ideas about rights to flourish at an abstract level and in certain domains while enabling “capillary” power to extend into communities in murky and localized ways.
- 15 – Explicitly environmentalist content within indigenous movements appears globally. Tania Li’s (2000) work in Indonesia shows how conservationist documentation of “traditional environmental knowledge” within rural communities supported their ongoing struggle to defend the existence and integrity of customary land-use practices vis-à-vis the modernizing state. Amita Baviskar (2000) documents the use of the Indigenous Knowledge (IK) rubric by locals and NGOs to legitimize grazing and collection rights inside the Great Himalayan National Park despite a variance between actual practices and the IK ideology. Nora Haenn (2002, 2005) demonstrates that Maya peasants in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve are willing to adopt an environmentalist discourse in order to attract environmental projects to the area, but may not as readily adopt the agricultural practices environmentalists promote. Jane Fajans (1998) describes how the Baining people of Papua, New Guinea resorted to an environmental alliance when their lands were threatened after an unfavorable political change—this despite their avoidance of “nature” and their decided preference for social (transformed by work) spaces.
- 16 – This book documents the disintegration of the alliance between Chimalapas’s communities, Maderas del Pueblo, and the WWF. The reasons for this failure are numerous and complicated: Maderas was beset by internal conflicts, it was under siege by the state government, and it had become “too political” for the WWF.
- 19 – I believe the events described in this ethnography demonstrate the emergence of “decentralized authoritarianism.” The neoliberal regime of accumulation favors decentralized modes of organization in the name of local democracy. However, democracy is not always the primary motive for such reorganization.
- What are the interests of the state? As discussed above, the neoliberal state has shifted its priorities from the construction of citizenship to the stewardship of markets. The nation is an instrument for the creation of value for the market through the commodification of assets (including land, resources, and identities).
- 20 – Cindi Katz (1998) has suggested that nature can serve as an “accumulation strategy” in a context where community lands are directly commodified for tourist operators through ecotourism. In Chimalapas, efforts to establish this type of project—to commodify landscapes or environmental products—never got off the ground. As a green space, however, Chimalapas added value to whichever organization could claim it as a protected area.
- I increasingly see mainstream environmentalism as effecting a similar appropriation. Accumulation by conservation happens when environmental organizations from the global North appropriate land that is already well preserved. Once an area is re-produced as wilderness, its biodiversity becomes the symbolic property of the conserving institution. Many things get elided with this appropriation: the fact that well-preserved lands appear where alternative land regimes, such as common property, dominate over the private property systems in which conservation agencies are embedded; the history of struggle against state-led development in communities like Chimalapas; and the serious threats to ecology, such as global climate change, that neither start nor stop at the borders of a park enclosure.
- 21- This book is divided into three sections, focusing on historical time-space, environmental time-space, and environmental politics, respectively.
CHAPTER 1 – Shining Rivers: Chimalapas in Time and Space
- 27 – The various landscapes of the Chimalapas region that we will tour in this chapter—indigenous villages, forest hinterlands, regional towns, and cattle ranches—make material a series of distinct historical periods characterized by distinct state-making discourses, visions, and projects. Such projects have shaped not only how places look and feel, but also how the people who inhabit them feel, what political and economic claims they make, and the form their resistance takes.
- 28 – In this chapter, I first look at how colonial space was produced in relation to the political and economic exigencies of the Spanish empire.
- 32 -Moreover, the general project of situating contemporary indigeneity within colonialism, capitalism, and modernity has been fruitful, and is an important foundation for historiography of indigenous subjectivity emerging in recent decades.
CHAPTER 2 – Megaprojects in Mexico’s South: Liberal Shadows in a Global Era
Conclusion: Decentralized Authoritarianism and Accumulation by Conservation in Chimalapas
- 168 – I have no doubt that the professionals in the WWF and the Ministry of the Environment wish to preserve Chimalapas and its wonderful array of flora and fauna. However, it is very difficult to see how this might be achieved using the models for conservation that we now have. These models promote technologies of mapping that lead to “green visibility” and attempt to juridically reconceptualize space in ways that emphasize ecology over agriculture, and that privilege the natural over the social environment. But they do not challenge the entrenched political and economic interests that pit social and natural values against each other.
- 169 – The representation of nature and the environment in relation to its spectacular features is tied to its commodification and accumulation through leisure and spectacle. Our consumption of nature reassures us thus that (over)consumption itself is not incompatible with the moral and practical imperative to save nature (Igoe, Neves, and Brockington 2010). The ecological vision of the forest is a way of seeing that transforms a particular place, home, or community into an accessible universal space. This vision has helped us to understand the presence and the importance of biodiversity. However, the model within which our ecological knowledge is produced and disseminated makes ecology another vehicle for the creation of political and economic value.
- Despite the demonstrable survival of jaguars and other endangered animals in the United States, and the undeniable onset of global climate change, northerners are largely absolved from the essential but difficult task of figuring out how to create a sustainable environment. In this division of labor, scientists and affluent consumers “see” and “know” while rural producers—usually in the global South—are expected to carry out solutions. We need to validate a new model, a productive social space that we humans might co-inhabit with jaguars, orchids, butterflies, and each other.