FOREST MANAGEMENT: Deforestation, Afforestation and Environmental Rule
Concerns over forest loss in the tropics are longstanding, and many global and local policies have been implemented in the past 50 years to try to arrest the rate of tropical deforestation, with little success. Vietnam is an ideal case study for examining how and why households make decisions to deforest or afforest in response to different pressures and policies, as for the past few years, Vietnam has simultaneously had both the tropical world’s second highest deforestation rate and the third highest afforestation rate. I have a new book out titled Forests are Gold: Trees, People, and Environmental Rule in Vietnam which outlines these issues. Using detailed ethnographic, survey, archival, and biological data, and working with archival materials in several languages, the book draws on my fieldwork in multiple forest sites subjected to a number of different policies, and incorporates interviews with government officials, NGOs, and donors. I argue that many (if not most) policies directed at forests and the environment in Vietnam are not aimed at conserving nature for nature’s sake, but at changing people and society, a process I term “environmental rule”. Environmental rule emerges through the ways in which knowledge about forests is generated, and by whom, and how this knowledge is used by different actors engaged in forest policy, leading to a more contingent and often unexpected picture of how deforestation and afforestation happen. Several other articles on my forest and biodiversity research in Vietnam have been published in Environmental Conservation, Environmental Management, Ambio, and other journals.
BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION: New Technologies and Capital in the Anthropocene
I am currently working on a new book about biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene, the idea that no space on the globe has been untouched by man. For decades, conservation organizations have urged all nations of the world to set aside 10% of their country’s land area as sites for conservation, a goal first developed at the Bali World Parks Congress in 1982. Many countries, including poor developing ones, have subsequently followed this advice and organized extended protected areas in the past three decades to meet this goal. Indeed, by 2010, more than 13% of the earth’s surface was under some form of conservation protection. This book project looks at what happens after such a territorial goal of conservation is met: what follows next? And does a property-based approach to conservation still make sense in the Anthropocene, given new deterritorialized threats like global wildlife smuggling, climate change, and potential genetic collapse of endangered species populations? These novel threats raise the question of how conservation in the 21st century ought to be practiced. Yet in addition to new threats, advances in science and technology may also present new opportunities for conservation, in the form of the ability to ‘rewild’ degraded areas with new species, including some genetically engineered novelties or regenerated previously extinct animals, or through assisted migration whereby species are helped to move out of harms way from threats like climate change.
But what has not been explored in a systematic study is what these changes mean for conservation in poor, developing countries. Will advances in synthetic biology and genetic engineering reduce the urgency of responding to conservation threats? Will deextinction, rewilding or assisted migration only be possible in richer countries? These are troubling questions, given the fact that the most biodiverse nations are those that cluster around the tropics, and which tend to face the most challenges in terms of financing, science and research capacity, and labor for conservation, let alone general economic development for poor rural populations. In other words, what will conservation in the twenty-first century mean for countries like Vietnam? My book project explores these ethical and scientific issues through a case study of novel conservation threats in the biodiverse country of Vietnam. I have framed the book by taking Foucault’s concept of biopower as a way to explore new approaches to the Anthropocene and biodiversity conservation. Although Foucault posited the ideas of “biopower” and “biopolitics” to originally mean new forms of governance of human populations facilitated by technologies like censuses and medical institutions, I extend his definition to address a new a world in which similarly novel technologies have enabled new types of conservation: monitoring of poachers from satellites, rewilding with resurrected extinct species, in vitro captive breeding and cloning, among others. Using ethnographic work with rangers, captive breeders, and conservation biologists in Vietnam, this book will explore how conservation is changing in the Anthropocene via new technologies, new sources of capital, and new threats.
Two undergraduates will be working on this project with me in 2016-7: one will be documenting the changes in biodiversity instigated by hunting in French Indochina from the 1860s to 1960s, and one will be mapping the wildlife trade impacts of captive breeding facilities in Vietnam.
ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: Neoliberal Capital for Conservation
With funding from the NSF’s Geography and Spatial Sciences division, I was PI of a project that aims to assess the social and environmental implications of market-based policies to conserve water and carbon. Payments for environmental services (PES), which provides funding from users of ecosystem services to those who provide them, is one of the most well-known of these approaches, as is a global policy in development for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Analyzing these new market approaches and how they might be compared to other types of regulatory instruments for environmental conservation is a pressing new area of research that many in geography, anthropology and economics are now tackling. My work contributes to this field through analysis of neoliberal market-based approaches to environmental policies, and their impacts on forest-dependent peoples in Vietnam. This project used a multi-scale, multi-method research design, including observational data, surveys, key informant interviews, policy analysis, forest monitoring, and spatial analysis of land-use change. My collaborating institutions are the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies in Hanoi and Tropenbos International Vietnam in Hue. More about this award can be found at the NSF’s website. My Vietnam partners were awarded one of the first Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) awards from the National Academy of Sciences, funded by the US Agency for International Development, to assist in this work. More information on their grant can be found at the NAS website.
Our initial findings suggest that there is potential for PES and market-based policies to alter or exacerbate gender inequalities in project participation and benefits, and there are considerable challenges to ensuring equity in projects to maximize participation and benefit sharing. Most studies of market-based policies, particularly by economists, have focused on whether or not payments cover opportunity costs for households. But our findings suggest that additional concerns such as the gender or the migration status of the household head, as well as how payments are used within the household, have a potentially greater impact on policy success. Our work on this project has been published in Geoforum and the Journal of Rural Studies. We have organized a series of panels on these topics related to PES at the 2016 Association of American Geographers conference titled “Beyond Neoliberal Natures“. We will have more work forthcoming on gender and PES, protected areas and PES financing, and tradeoffs among ecosystem services in the financialization of PES soon.
I have also been selected to be a lead author of the upcoming global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services of IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services). I will be contributing to chapter 6 on decisionmaking for biodiversity.
CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION: Vulnerability and Impacts in Coastal Vietnam
I have been involved in several projects in Southeast Asia focused on determining social vulnerability to climate change in at-risk ecoregions, particularly coastal and mountainous areas, as well as determinants of successful adaptation to climate threats. This new research is driven by the fact that Vietnam is estimated to be one of the most affected countries from sea level rise this century in terms of land area inundated and populations affected. My initial work in this area began in the Red River Delta’s coastal areas, focusing on past adaptation practices used to cope with a variety of natural hazards (sea level rise, droughts, storms, floods, and groundwater scarcity). The project seeks to extrapolate from these practices to explore how adaptive capacity can be built for future climate change. Funding by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) to support the Vietnamese side of the project permitted field research in two provinces in 2009, in which we surveyed 300 households affected by extensive floods in 2003 and 2008. My collaborators and I have been producing articles based on this work, including a paper on household flood vulnerability out now in Natural Hazards.
On the basis of this work in the Red River Delta, my colleagues in Vietnam and I were invited to participate in the global Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change project implemented by the World Bank in 2009-2011, which attempted to provide a first global scale estimate of the possible costs of adaptation to climate change. This project came up with the widely cited figure that global climate adaptation costs are likely to be on the order of $100 billion US/yr. Fieldwork was conducted by teams in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Samoa, and Vietnam to try to extrapolate the likely costs of local impacts and adaptation actions. A report on the Social Dimensions of Climate Change in Vietnam with our overall findings can be found here.
I have two undergraduate assistants currently helping with one aspect of this research on documenting the size and type of climate adaptation projects being funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vietnam.
GLOBALIZATION AND ACCESS TO RESOURCES: Equity and Justice in the Search for Sustainability
Another crosscutting theme is my interest in ensuring that environmental policy takes into account the specific experiences and subjectivities of women and indigenous peoples. My focus on household-level characteristics that influence resource use has highlighted the importance of gender and ethnicity, and has led to additional theoretical and comparative work in this area. I am co-editor of a book published in 2012 by University of Arizona Press, titled Gender and Sustainability: Lessons from Asia and Latin America.
Another research focus of mine is the role of ethnic differentiation in serving to establish claims and counterclaims to environmental resources, and potential conflicts arising from these dynamics. Two major projects have focused on this theme. The first was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation‘s Program on Global Security and Sustainability, on the environmental impact of rural-rural migration in Vietnam and Indonesia, where I and a co-PI conducted research in both countries with several major field sites to understand the motivations of migrants to rural areas of high conservation value, and their interactions with existing indigenous peoples. We looked at how different types of migrants adjusted to new environments by documenting land use change over time (such as conversion of forests to agriculture), as well as what impact these new migrants had on indigenous households. Results from this project were published in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology and the Journal of Vietnamese Studies. Another major project was undertaken with the World Bank in Hanoi in 2006-8 to assess the impact of development policy on ethnic minorities, who consist of 15% of Vietnam’s population. The Bank wanted to know why, given Vietnam’s rapid growth rates in the 1990s-2000s, non-Vietnamese were lagging behind in poverty reduction rates despite considerable investment in what are seen as ‘pro-poor’ development interventions. A report titled Ethnicity and Development in Vietnam, of which I was the lead author, was peer-reviewed and published by the Bank in 2009, and which led to new directions in the Bank’s funding priorities for indigenous people in Vietnam.