December 14, 2011

Political Ecology: Where is the politics?

At the entrance to not so small Mexican pueblo not far from the where I am doing my fieldwork, a homemade banner waves in the afternoon breeze. It's not really a banner—it's a white sheet that has been spray painted with a message for all passersby. The sign proclaims support for a large scale mega-development that has everyone in the region in an uproar. Some people are against it, since they fear that it will pillage the environment, rob them of fresh water, and turn these desert landscapes into scenic afterthoughts for the eighteenth hole. This is a distinct possibility. Others, however, cry out in support of the project. They want the jobs. And who can blame them? It's not like there are exactly a ton of jobs around here. Nobody is getting rich, so when some large international developer says that they are going to bring in 19,000 new jobs, people listen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the once verdant wetlands have been completely ground away to carve out the beginnings of a new harbor and marina. Soon, the hotels will be built—and the golf courses. Always golf courses. All of this will require water, which isn't exactly abundant around these parts. Down the road, the conservationists fight to save the region, to make their case for finding a way to keep things as they are—at least to an extent. But the pressure of possibilities—those 19,000 jobs—pushes people apart. Real estate values skyrocket, people make the hard decision to sell their lands. But where does all of this lead? Where can it lead? If this isn't an ecology laden with politics, I don't know what is.

So here I am: the researcher, putting myself in the middle of all this. And the question is this: What am I going to do? Write a nicely worded article that will appear in some handsome and reputable academic journal? Or will I actually do something? Because these political ecologies aren't just here, they are everywhere. The politics of human-environment relationships are undeniably pervasive. See, for example, the ways in which the landscapes of my own home town are also being churned and transformed to make room for 18-holed, water sucking, wetlands-destroying leisure-scapes: 

Golf course in process.  Carlsbad, CA, 2005.  Photo: RA.


Ryan Anderson said...

Side note: Nothing against golf courses per se. But golf courses in the middle of an arid environment where there's not much fresh water? Ya, not the best idea.

pmbigger said...

For other thoughts on politics in political ecology, see