What is apolitical ecology? Logically it would seem that anything apolitical would be non-political. Ecology without politics would then be an approach to environmental and conservation concerns without any ideology attached to that approach. To wit, an example of apolitical ecology would seem to be those who objectively review the empirical data for climate change objectively. Over 190 scientists have been working on data related to the overheated planet for thirty years, and hence, their view of ecology is apolitical. However, logic in this case is not necessarily the right way to define apolitical ecology.
Author Robbins writes in Chapter 1 ("Political vs. Apolitical Ecologies") that there are myriad numbers of definitions for "political ecology" but basically it is the complex relationship between society and nature. And moreover, Robbins explains, because exploding populations of "impoverished African people" are negatively impacting the environment, there is a "declining biodiversity" and "destroyed landscapes" and it is depressing and frustrating. Because of the pressure on Kenya, for example, to continue to grow cereal grains and produce enough to keep up with the "…globalized food economy," habitat for wildlife is being destroyed. The facts presented in the paragraph above "…undermine widely help apolitical views about ecological relations" in a high-profile wildlife area. To wit, Africa just isn't as "wild" as it is pictured to be. In other words, the political ecology of western Africa (environmental change) exists side-by-side with an "apolitical ecology"(Robbins, 14).
Three main assumptions vis-a-vis apolitical ecology: Apolitical ecology then is described by Robbins as scarcity of resources, modernization of farming which harms the land and takes away habitat. Apolitical ecology related to "ecoscarcity," Robbins continues; that is, populations are growing rapidly and that causes "disease-based mortality" along with starvation and land ruined by deforestation and cropland that has been overused and lacks nutrients (14). Secondly, the key to "the ecological crisis" is controlling the population, Robbins asserts (18), not reconfiguring the "global distribution of power and goods"; those who argue that "natural limits" answers the challenge for the ecological crisis are using "an apolitical natural limits" position which ironically is "implicitly political" (Robbins (18).
Three more apolitical ecologies include: "diffusion" (western and northern technologies need to be spread (diffused) throughout the Third World); "valuation" (there must be a value placed not only on products and crops, but also on wildlife, the air that people breather and the quality of water); and "modernization" (if technologies can be implemented that bring benefits to the environment, that is a positive apolitical upgrade) (Robbins, 18-18).
Continually -- throughout Chapter 1 -- Robbins returns to the point that most aspects of the apolitical argument and approach (such as modernizing and making necessary institutional changes) end up being "inherently political" (19). Without a careful eye, a reader can become confused by the apparent contradiction being presented (e.g., apolitical aspects of the ecology are in reality political). Still, Robbins argues articulately that political ecologists have come to accept that indeed, environmental change brings with it "costs and benefits" and the benefits generally are not equally distributed, reinforcing social and economic injustices; it will always be that way, according to the theme of Robbins' narrative.
Robbins' five "dominant" narratives relating to political ecology are broken down by Robbins and in each one an aspect of apolitical ecology is built in. The degradation and marginalization thesis (overuse of natural resources creates poverty; technology leads to unsustainable resource distribution); the conservation and control thesis (pushing the concept of "sustainability" on local people and local systems disables people's livelihoods); the environmental conflict and exclusion thesis (when resources are scarce conflicts occur between groups based on class, ethnicity, and gender); the environmental subjects and identity thesis (new cultures of power are not tuned into ecological realities); and the political objects and actors thesis (the material items like roads, refrigerators and tropical soils are interrelated with human struggles) (22-23).
Part 2: Stereotypes in Conservation-Related Ads and Promotional Materials
Meanwhile, a frequently viewed stereotype in advertising by energy companies links companies like ExxonMobil to smart strategies vis-a-vis conservation and ecology. ExxonMobil has run numerous television and newspaper ads extolling the greatness of their approach to the environment. The ad shows a pastoral scene with wildlife plentiful, especially birds, and the copy refers to how far ExxonMobil goes to protect the environment. In the American Petroleum Institute's website ExxonMobil is the featured company, with a photo of a scuba diver swimming through a beautiful underwater environment.
"ExxonMobil Pipeline Company joined with regulatory agencies to increase habitat for protected coastal birds near the busy Houston Ship Channel in Texas," the ad reads. The company explains that it worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to "recreate habitat for ground colonial birds, upland and wading birds," the promotion continues. It's a cliche and a stereotype for oil companies to show beautiful scenes which imply that their focus is on conservation rather than on drilling offshore, and on the restoration of habitat rather than their less altruistic policy of using disruptive fracking technologies near urban areas.
How does the stereotyping advertising policy of ExxonMobil relate to political ecology What are the implications of perpetuating stereotypes in the context of nature conservation problematic?
In Chapter 4, political ecology is described as not a theory and not a method. In fact the concept of political ecology defies easy description, according to Robbins; what political ecology (the opposite of apolitical ecology) embraces is an ongoing contribution to the creation of "general theories" which posit that the accumulation of capital "…necessarily undermines the eco-systems upon which it depends" (Robbins, 84). Of course capitalists at ExxonMobil would not agree that just because they get wealthy (netting billions of dollars in every quarterly financial report) at the expense of the planet, and at the expense of wildlife. In their eyes they are not evildoers; but a fair-minded, informed and educated person engaged in a serious study of ecology can clearly see the negative impacts that the obsession for drilling offshore has created.
Robbins spends several pages attempting to nail down an appropriate definition for political ecology, and certainly, as he notes, political ecologists are aware of what is going on around them. On page 87 Robbins relates indirectly to the arrogance of ExxonMobil (and by inference all energy companies like British Petroleum, the negligent corporation that caused massive environmental degradation in the Gulf of Mexico). "Political ecology stories," he writes, "are stories of justice and injustice… [like] the "loss of urban community gardens, or the degradation of a fishery" (87). He is alluding here to the fact that the costs of environmental degradation are "offloaded onto communities, people, or spaces with inadequate political or financial resources to resist." Hence political ecologies pull on threads of the global environmental system, "…to better explicate how it works" (88).
How it works is shown graphically in the advertisements put out by ExxonMobil, a company so fabulously wealthy it can produce ultra-slick advertising programs that seem at once to prove how much they care. And they don't just care about birds; in the American Petroleum Institute (API) pages, it is asserted that ExxonMobil cares about: a) Asia's wild tigers ("…over the last 13 years, ExxonMobil has contributed more than $15 million to tiger conservation efforts…"); b) seals (ExxonMobil has funded fur seal tracking research); c) protecting forests in Venezuela; and d) the most ironic project ExxonMobil has funded is money it has given to the "International Oil Spill Response Centers," which of course are desperately needed given all the spillage worldwide over the past few years. who put out slick advertising but in fact they create carnage in the environment.
Robbins explains that abuse of the environment and specifically destruction of ecosystems are part of the injustice that newspaper reporters talk about. But political ecology is different from those accounts because political ecology reveals "…the deep structiural economic drivers of unjust outcomes," and moreover, looking at environmental degradation through the lens of political ecology means addressing the "…simultaneous marginalization of disempowered people" (88). If political ecology focuses on the disempowered, then if one believes the advertising narratives of ExxonMobil it could be seen as empowering, since they give Nigerian students training and funds "Vital Voices" in Africa, a program to empower women to become leaders (API).
Interesting that ExxonMobil would be funding training programs for low income, uneducated persons in Nigeria because on page 91 of Robbins' Chapter 4, he alludes to the political ecology in the book, Silent Violence about the famine in Nigeria. Robbins asks a pertinent question: Weren't the farmers and herders that were present for centuries in Nigeria aware of how to adapt to drought?
Political ecology is about keeping track of the winners and losers in the competition that is out there, Robbins explains. The battle to conserve what is left is being fought by conservationists and the battle to suck the last drop of crude oil (or tar sands oil) out of the ground is being fought by the likes of Shell,…