People as sentinels of sustainability

People as sentinels of sustainability

In many small-scale communities, people’s health and well-being are intimately connected to their local environments. Indeed, it seems self-evident that healthy ecosystems are essential to people’s well-being. Yet, the relationship often works the other way: many contemporary ecological problems are the direct result of people meeting their needs. This has come to be called the environmentalist's paradox: that solving environmental problems will require some, perhaps significant, costs to society.

We talk about this paradox, and propose an alternative way of thinking in our new publication in Facets.

The "scientific consensus" regarding GMOs

Periodically, I see headlines or tweets referring to a scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods (GMOs). Famously, Bill Nye reversed his initial negative assessment of GMOs, for which he had received much criticism; most recently, the consensus has been invoked again in reference to the new GMO labeling bill that recently passed into law in the United States. 

I've been repeatedly frustrated by this assertion of consensus, as a scientist who studies food and food systems, I have several concerns regarding the social and ecological risks of GMO foods, concerns that are founded in scientific research and that I know I share with numerous colleagues. Further, I also do not see any scientific consensus that these risks are worth taking: that GMO foods solve problems that non-GMO foods, alternative farming practices, and political reforms cannot solve as well.

When courts move faster than peer review

I have a new paper in press on fisheries and social justice, one that reflects on a commercial net ban in Florida and one that was proposed for Alaska. I wrote this paper, along with a second and more detailed social-ecological analysis of the Alaska case, in late 2014 / early 2015 with the goal of contributing my expertise to the policy debate over the proposed ban. 

However, the issue was decided by the courts long before either paper was published.

How does Cultural Coexistence Theory fit with other theories for sustainability?

How does cultural coexistence theory complement existing theoretical frameworks in the world of sustainability science, specifically Elinor Ostrom's Social Ecological Systems (SES) Framework? A true science of sustainability must be able to explain periods of stability in complex human-natural systems; what CCT aims to do is just that: explain how competing groups of people in a shared resource setting come to coexist stably over time, as opposed to a scenario where one or more groups is pushed out because of some disadvantage.

Energy security in the North: Not what it used to be

My team and I at Sustainable Futures North have a new publication on energy security in the rural North. It offers an interesting discussion, I think, on how we think about the challenges that 'progress' have locked us into over time, and what potential there is for replacing vulnerabilities with strategies for resilience and sustainability. 

Community work in a climate of adaptation

Community work in a climate of adaptation

There is no doubt that climate change is real and that it is exceeding our expectations; regardless of what the many nations of the world choose to do following COP21, in the near term, legitimate and often dangerous consequences of climate change will continue to materialize for people around the world. Some of these consequences are dramatic and unpredictable, such as major storms and short and long term droughts, and the certain human costs of these hazards demands that we find ways to be more resilient--to endure and bounce back (or, better, perhaps, bounce forward).  

"We are not humanity"

My work has been inspired by Daniel Quinn in many ways. Today, I have a new essay at Ensia, in which I argue that it's time for a new story of humanity. This essay is my take on what I think is one of the most important messages in Quinn's various books.

In "The Story of B", the main protagonist, known for much of the novel as only "B", tells an audience to whom he is lecturing that he has good news: "We are not humanity," He says, "Can you feel the liberation in those words? Try them out. Go ahead. Just whisper them to yourselves: We . . . are not . . . humanity."

To me, this is the most powerful message in the book. It is his statement of why recognizing and rejecting the Great Forgetting is so important. B continues, 

If we are humanity, then all the terrible things we say about ourselves are true of humanity itself — and that would be very bad news. If we are humanity, then all our destructiveness belongs not to one misguided culture but to humanity itself. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is doomed means that humanity itself is doomed. And if we are humanity, then the fact that our culture is the enemy of life on this planet means that humanity itself is the enemy of life on this planet.

If you want to change what people do, Quinn often opines, you have to change how they think. Hopefully this essay nudges a few minds in a slightly different direction,.