Jul 5 2022

Climate Chaos and Its Origins in Slavery and Capitalism

Reviewed by Shekhar Chandra, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What is the effect of modern capitalist institutions and their effects in colonial history and human misery on our present climate crisis, and how can we redeem our relationship with nature?

Climate Chaos and Its Origins in Slavery and Capitalism

Climate Chaos and Its Origins in Slavery and Capitalism, by Reva Blau and Judith Blau, Anthem Press, 2020, 114 pp.

Human activities are unequivocally leading to the warming of the atmosphere, and causing widespread changes in our climate system. The scale of these changes, and the adverse effects on our current climate, in many ways have remained unparalleled over the past several thousand years. Reva Blau, middle-school ELL teacher and Judith Blau, Professor emerita of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, considerably argue using examples such as: The 1619 Project and The Industrial Revolution to advance our understanding of, the deep-rootedness of modern capitalist institutions, their foundations in racism, slavery, violence, injustice, and the effects of colonial history and human misery in general on our present climate crisis.

So, what is the way forward? Are we doomed? The authors are surprisingly optimistic about the ability of the current generation of social entrepreneurs to reject capitalism, create a circular economy built on promising technologies such as the blockchain, and thus reverse climate change disaster. They cite the success of recent climatic movements led by young social activists such as: Ayakha Melithafa, Carlos Manuel, Greta Thunberg, Raslen Jbeli, and others to redeem our relationship with nature.

Throughout the book, one point that left me unconvinced was their outright rejection of new technologies (such as geoengineering) without presenting any scientific evidence in favor or against them. The book appeals to the emotions of local social activists without presenting a thorough critical evaluation of the existing institutions—which they argue, are destructive of our ecosystem. Despite these shortcomings, the broad claims of the book are well-argued in other social science literature.


Jul 5 2022

Balancing the Tides: Marine Practices in American Sāmoa

Reviewed by Thomas Moorman and Dr. Kelly Dunning, Auburn University of Forestry and Wildlife, Auburn University

The spread of colonial legacy through the lives of American Samoans, and all indegenous people interacting with the western form of governance.

Balancing the Tides: Marine Practices in American Sāmoa

Balancing the Tides: Marine Practices in American Sāmoa, by JoAnna Poblete, University of Hawai‘i Press, 2020, 214 pp

Poblete shows with great skill that there is much to be learned from the historical and ongoing relationships between the United States government and colonized American Samoa. Utilizing the framework of bioregionalism, she clearly demonstrates the relationship between the region’s ecology, contemporary political dynamics, culture, and colonial legacy, making a compelling case for a native rights-based, bioregional approach to contemporary management decisions involving American Samoa’s marine resources. Poblete’s extensive interviews demonstrate that Western management models can easily fall into conflict if vā fealoa’I, or the tradition of American Samoan “social respect”, which includes proper communication along deeply rooted cultural lines and values, is not followed or satisfied.

The first half of the book shows the colonially-rooted tension between the island’s native fishing rights, and socioeconomic reality relative to U.S. fisheries data-based management models, and wage policy. Shown through the tuna industry minimum wage discussions, and commercial vs. traditional fishing access disagreements, Poblete makes clear that U.S. management of industries and waters can easily conflict with native realities if vā fealoa’I is not followed. The second half highlights how U.S. grant reporting, fisheries management decisions, and goals of environmental preservation, require and use specific data at scale, but that the reality of traditional American Samoan fishing practices and culture and the difficulty of local data collection generate tension between traditional American Samoan ways of being, and U.S. Western knowledge-based decision-making. Poblete finds that when traditional customs are followed and respected, co-management approaches and initiatives such as Village Protected Marine Areas found greater success.

Poblete’s work explains/clarifies how colonial legacy spreads through the lives of American Samoans, and by extension all indigenous people interacting with Western forms of governance. Her exploration of this tension, be it discussion of federal minimum wage or the expansion of new protected zones carries globally important insights and lessons for anyone working in governance, especially where indigenous or native rights are concerned. She demonstrates that flexible, adaptive management which incorporates and respects traditional ecological knowledge and social cultures often leads to greater conservation and management success. Her work provides an excellent starting point for both colonial activists and governance managers to improve not only relations, but also global and socio ecological wellbeing.


Nov 10 2021

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger

Reviewed by Shekhar Chandra, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

What environmental threats do the native, tribal, and other vulnerable communities face and what singular challenges do they encounter when trying to secure environmental justice?

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger

Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger, by Julie Sze, University of California Press, 2020, 160 pp.

Environmental justice scholarship emerged in the United States with the historical 1982 protests by civil rights activists who stopped North Carolina from dumping 120 million pounds of contaminated soil in Warren County, which had the highest African American population in the state. Robert Bullard, regarded as the father of the environmental justice movement in the United States, found that the communities most resistant to environmental injustice have higher social capital, better education, higher income, and a smaller number of people of color. Julie Sze argues that we ought to learn from historical environmental struggles and forcefully makes a case that environmental injustices in the United States are rooted in racism, capitalism, militarism, colonialism, and native land exploitation. Different chapters in the book discuss important environmental cases, like indigenous land rights in Standing Rock; the Flint, Michigan water contamination case, Hurricane Katrina, as well as key concepts like “climate change denial,” “police violence,” “just transition,” “radical democracy,” “whiteness,” “skepticism,” and “optimism.” They explain the complexity of the environmental justice movement in the United States.

Sze rightly emphasizes the unique circumstances facing indigenous communities and communities of color with regard to environmental justice. The book challenges traditional approaches to environmental justice that focus solely on the distribution of impacts, ignoring the processes and circumstances that result in such maldistribution. As the world recognizes the multifaceted nature of social injustices, moving away from the consequentialist approach to defining environmental justice seems inevitable.