Calling for Global Climate Justice

The Illimani glacier as seen from the Bolivian city of La Paz (Source: Raoul Kaenzig/Université de Neuchâtel).

The current state of climate policy in Bolivia is one of caveats: activists have carved out a legal space for indigenous concepts such as “Mother Earth,” but state policies simultaneously encourage the expansion of agriculture further into the Amazon. In addition, CO2 emissions have reached an all-time peak, contributing to the melting of the Andean glaciers and emerging environmental crises in Bolivia like drought. In a recent article in the Journal of Political Ecology, Anders Burman theorizes a corrective to the contradictions that are inherent to the Bolivian’s conservation efforts. The divide, as he sees it, exists along the axis of differing ontological practices—what forms of existence are deemed rational and acceptable to indigenous and non-indigenous actors. By bringing the capitalist and the indigenous into sincere dialogue, he seeks to resolve these growing climate disturbances.

Indigenous voices are by no means quiet in Bolivian politics, and indeed indigenous cultures have even been celebrated by the government since a wave of neoliberal multiculturalism took root in Bolivia in the 1990s. But Burman argues that the Bolivian government, even in legally granting subjectivity to entities like mountains, glaciers, and rivers, failed to actively integrate the ontological legitimacy of those indigenous spirits. Indigenous Aymara practices have been treated as folklore—as imperfect embodiments of scientific truth. In other words, the Bolivian state pays lip service to notions of multiculturalism without actually accepting those other cultures as existentially valid.

Quinoa farmers in the Bolivian countryside (Source: Alfredo Camacho/Bioversity International).

The gap in ontological rendering also intervenes between non-state activists and indigenous leaders. Even where climate activists and indigenous organizations are in fundamental agreement, they express the problems of climate change in fundamentally different ways, preventing them from working together. For climate activists, climate change is coded into a terminology that emphasizes greenhouse gas emissions, CO2, and the Keeling curve, while indigenous Aymara people speak about climate in terms of achachilas, awichas, ajayu uywiris, and maranis. Indigenous delegates are invited to participate in climate meetings, but they are not called upon to speak; rather, they listen to urban activists recount the proceedings of the Kyoto Protocol. 

A migrant woman in La Paz (Source: Raoul Kaenzig/Université de Neuchâtel).

The climate movement in Bolivia, while characterized on the surface by plurality and heterogeneity, is effectually a non-indigenous, middle class movement. The form of climate action in Bolivia that receives media attention and political space does not emerge from any progressive synthesis of differing ontological positions, but from a select group of well-positioned actors. This asymmetrical power dynamic, in which scientific knowledge is seen to constitute legitimate knowledge, participates in the greater global system of power asymmetries, whereby capitalist, western-centric, colonial levers continue to extract value from the non-western world.

In climate negotiations within Bolivia, Burman sees the vestiges of European colonial expansion, which was characterized not only by the colonization of peoples, but of knowledge itself. With the expansion of the colonial sphere came the destruction of different ways of conceiving of the world and one’s place within it. Indigenous and local forms of knowledge were brutally repressed, and even after former colonies became liberated, the coloniality of knowledge lingered.

Part of Burman’s task is to integrate extant indigenous knowledge into the project of environmentalism. But what exactly do those forms of knowledge look like? In contrast to the prevailing Western notion of nature as an amoral, outside entity, in Andean conceptions of nature, mountains, rocks, glaciers and rivers are agents with intentionality, perceptive to human actions. Human beings and non-human entities are equally endowed with ajayu, the force of living agency and subjectivity. Powerful actors, like ancestors, are the same substance as the mountains, and they control the weather. If the human world does not adhere to a certain ceremonial and ethical standard, the natural world responds by punishing the local community. 

From 1963-2009, the Illimani glacier lost 35% of its ice area (Source: Candelaria Vasquez/Creative Commons).

So the indigenous concept of “pacha usu,” which can be translated as “climate illness,” while linguistically similar to the scientific notion of climate change, refers not merely to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but to the ethical degradation that attends to modern practices such as mechanized agriculture, industrially processed foods, ritual disappearance, and community alienation. To indigenous activists, the snow is melting on the mountains and glaciers because of an ethical failure on the part of one segment of humanity. For the Aymara people, the segment of the population responsible for climate change are called Q’ara. They exploit the land and the labor of others and do not participate in the moral economy of the indigenous community. The Jaqi, however, are those whose lives are characterized by reciprocity—with the land, the community, and the spirits. These are ethical labels related to specific livelihoods and social practices and are not limited to any individual ethnic category.

The city of La Paz is a popular destination for rural migrants (Source: Cliff Hellis/Creative Commons).

Burman sees the epistemological practices of the Aymara as an alternative approach to structuring relations between the self and the world, and as a challenge to the colonial, extractive apparatus that is destroying the planet. This effort, which he calls “ontological disobedience,” is a mode of securing the space necessary for alterities to transform the dominant capitalist framework. Under this framework, CO2 molecules coexist with maranis, and INDCs and achachilas cohabit the conversation about climate justice.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Burman described ontological disobedience as acts that do not comply with the reality that is mandated by the powerful. “It might be as simple as introducing other concepts and notions – and, in the end, other beings – than the ones sanctioned by modernity into the environmental justice debate. This may be the basis for a radical critique of capitalist extractivism – a critique from outside of the modernist ontological concepts that underpin the current world-system. Environmental conflicts are often also ontological conflicts, and as an anthropologist working with environmental issues, I see it as my responsibility to try to face up to that analytically,” he stated.

 

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Photo Friday: The Canvas of Phillip Baumgart

Phillip Baumgart is a Colorado-born photographer and educator who has recently been working in the heavily glaciated terrains of China and Kyrgyzstan. He specializes in travel and portrait photography, and his images have appeared in Lonely Planet Magazine and China Daily. He has taken on pro-bono assignments for numerous NGOs, such as Catalyst Asia and Babushka Adoption. See more of his images at philbaum.com or on Instagram at @ladystem.

 

A Nepali mahout (elephant keeper) stand atop his elephant during “Elephant Bathtime” in Chitwan, Nepal (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A horseback rider atop a ridge near Toktogul, Kyrgyzstan (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A performer at Mongolia’s 2016 Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony. The festival celebrates the three traditionally masculine pursuits of archery, horse-racing and wrestling. (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A pilgrim spins the prayer wheel at Boudhanath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

The Village of Kochkor in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

Fishermen afloat Inle Lake, Myanmar at sunrise (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

Briksdal Glacier in Western Norway (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A young Buddhist monk runs along the road near Mandalay, Myanmar (Source: Phillip Baumgart).

 

A spectator at the horse races of Mongolia’s Naadam Festival just outside the nation’s capital, Ulaanbaatar (Source: Phillip Baumgart).
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Women of the High Plateau: An Interview with Eleanor Moseman

Eleanor Moseman is a photographer who works on women’s issues among ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans living in Western China. Her photographs relay the everyday struggles and triumphs of women in places that few journalists are able to access. Her portraits evoke stories of perseverance, courage, power and loss. Her work has appeared in PBS Newshour, The Atlantic, Sidetracked, and Transgressor, and she joins GlacierHub today from the Tibetan Plateau.

Steam rises to the opening in a nomad’s tent, as she boils water for drinking, cooking, and washing (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

GlacierHub: What role does environmental change play in your work on the Tibetan Plateau? What have you noticed on the ground? 

Eleanor Moseman: Aside from exploring communities and learning about local cultures, my travel throughout China has opened my eyes to environmental issues. Besides cycling or trekking to remote areas to spend time in the shadows of some of the most beautiful mountain ranges, I take notes of how the environment is rapidly changing.

What instigated my work was a two year bicycle tour around China and Central Asia. As I began to get further from the East and closer to the great Gobi, water became something very important to my life and sustenance.

A Bangladeshi woman stacks wet bricks to set before firing in the massive kiln (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

Along the Grand Canal and into the Gobi, I saw water turn from a method of travel to something nearly non-existent. As a self-supported traveler scanning the landscape continually for natural resources, you begin to take notice of environmental issues. From the Gobi, the land of sand and wind farms, I would climb up to the Tibetan plateau where I would see my very first glaciers: the Chola Range, Yading, Amnyemachen, to name a few.

Since 2011, I have continued my travels in Western China and watched how one of the most beautiful regions of Asia is changing. What I’m noticing is a higher water level of glacier melt during the summers. Also, I’m witnessing small landslides along river banks and roads. Could the landslides be contributed to road construction or the river mining? 

This summer, I really worked to get off the main roads and was appalled at the amount of river beds being destroyed by mining. I have also been to neighboring Tajikistan, where I had a battle with a river that nearly took my life. All travelers had been warned that summer that rivers were higher than usual. By bike or foot, I avoid glacier areas during the summer because of the rapid flowing rivers.

Shabana, at the age of 18 or 19, shows a picture of her husband, Forid. Shabana and Forid’s marriage was arranged and he lives a few hours away from Dhaka with his family.(Source: Eleanor Moseman).

But the worst thing I’m watching develop is the amount of trash being left behind by the yak herders (nomads), migrant workers, and tourists. We have regions that used to be untouched, with a variety of wild animals, and all of this is disappearing, replaced with chunks of white styrofoam flowing down the emerald green rivers. Tree branches are now decorated with Red Bull cans; an 800-year-old temple is now littered with instant noodle containers and plastic bottles.

The rapidly growing infrastructure and the growing middle class of China, in my opinion, is opening the doors to environmental disaster in this area. People can now afford to travel, on new roads that will lead them to remote and absolute magnificent views of mountains, plateaus, and crystal green Alpine lakes. Northern Tibet is home to the Chang Thang region, which is home to the disappearing chiru. It’s one of the last untouched regions of the world, with countless lakes and mountains. A super highway is now being built that will ultimately connect Urumqi to Lhasa. These two provinces are rich in natural resources and this road will boost the economy while allowing tourism to grow.

GH: Please describe your current project.

A man recites Tibetan prayers near a holy mountain in Tibet. (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

EM: This year I set out forth with some ideas, but as usual, things changed during research and travel. One of the keys to survival in these regions is being very flexible and patient. Politics or weather are usually my main causes of rerouting but I persevere and look for the next best option. Life moves slow in these areas, so there’s also a lot of watching and waiting. Working and traveling alone with no fixers or translators, I’m often influenced by the people I meet as to what to pursue. I invest a lot of time just talking and revisiting families, creating a level of intimacy and comfort between us which allows for more candid photographs and a deeper understanding of their story.

Earlier this year, I spent time in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, just over the border from Myanmar. In these refugee camps, I focused on the faces and stories of the brave and heroic women where I was able. I collected stories that can help us connect with these women, such as their pleasant childhood memories or hopes for their children. These women are victims of heinous crimes, things we can’t even possibly relate to, but my hope is to give them a power to reach us with simple, humanistic commonality.

Teenage girls flip through instant messages and photos on a mobile phone. (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

With the echoes of genocide, I moved onto China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, one of my favorite places in the world. I had intended to focus on Uyghur family dynamics among the working women that work in the office, school or among the crops with their husbands. I have found women choosing to work being unique compared to the neighboring countries of Central Asia. Upon my return this summer, what I was exposed to is women losing their husbands, sons, and friends to strictly enforced regulations, such as prohibited mosque visits for prayer or questionable material on their phones.

I’m currently in Amdo Tibet, where I’ve spent the last two months between Kham and Amdo. I split my time between trekking and visiting with local families, again focusing on the lives of women. I’ve always been in awe of the hard-working Tibetan women, like nothing I’ve ever seen. They remain in good spirits with their laughter and songs echoing along the plateau and mountains.

An elderly, and senile, woman sits and prays in the warm afternoon sun. (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

My other goal here is to show Tibetans as the people they are: exceptionally hard-working, loving and very involved in their family and community. The infrastructure developing in remote regions has allowed them to modernize at a very quick rate, and I wonder what effect this will have on their culture.

GH: What informs your approach to visual representation? How do you choose what to portray?

EM: What has helped is talking with locals and listening to their stories. My goal is to disappear behind my camera, which is a bit ironic considering how involved I am within their lives. There are things I do avoid, such as exoticism and highlighting someone’s misery or victimhood. Even if the story is one of pain, I want them to portray their strength even if it’s for 1/100 of a second in front of my lens.

GH: What brought you to photography? Is there a type of project that most appeals to you?

EM: After landing in China ten years ago with absolute ignorance, I began trying a route of photojournalism. Even though I studied photography in college and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, I still consider myself self-taught. The projects that appeal to me the most are those in which I am allowed access into the intimate lives of others, where I disappear as the foreign photographer and watch things play out before me. Women’s, cultural and environmental issues are the things I am passionate about, so I seek out those stories.

Sisters dress in the early morning light, as they prepare a trip to the closest town for supplies. (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

GH: How does having a camera change the nature of your relationship to the subjects in your photographs?

EM: The majority of the time it doesn’t change much because I generally don’t introduce the camera until I feel we are all comfortable. I’ll keep my camera in the bag or even leave it at my guesthouse so as not have the guilt for not taking photographs and to encourage trust between us. I generally can get an idea how people will react around a camera pretty quickly. If there seems to be a lack of comfort or possibly a dangerous situation, I won’t reveal the camera and move on.

GH: What are the advantages or disadvantages to being a female photographer working in some of the more remote regions you travel to?

Shabana works in a small factory that manufactures wigs out of human hair (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

EM: It’s really hard to say there are disadvantages; all the things I’ve faced have just made me wiser and stronger. I’m given access that perhaps wouldn’t be granted to men. Just tonight, I had a five-year-old boy cuddle up with me on the couch, and the family thought it was adorable. I’m invited into homes and welcomed to stay as long as I would like. I focus on women’s issues and family life so it’s important to be given complete access to their lives. A man would never be able to have a slumber party with a group of Uyghur women.

Often, I get access into men’s lives as well. Perhaps not at the same depth as a male photographer, but often young men are very willing to help and see nothing wrong with letting a foreigner see things that are off limits to women of their own culture.

A mother gently tips a cup of hot yak milk into her son’s mouth (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

As for the unfortunate moments when I feel threatened or touched inappropriately, I actually take pity on these men. They have been exposed to Western media with really no idea what a western woman is like. For instance, I just explained to a man that it’s not commonplace for a woman to have a boyfriend even if she’s married. I often lie about marital status if it’s a one-on-one situation. It often does not deter advances even by telling them I have a husband at home…

Tibetans and Han have a relaxing dinner in the mountains after a long day of working on a dangerous mountain road (Source: Eleanor Moseman).

I’m not going to let gender be the thing that holds me back from work, travel and personal dreams. I’ve met too many women with no choice to walk away, who can’t just put on their backpack, say a few ugly words, and walk off to safety. There are no disadvantages, just different challenges, and I’m ready to face them all, personally and professionally.

 

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Roundup: Lakes Grow, Fish Feed, Pruitt Seethes

Marine-Terminating Glaciers a Boon for Fish

From Global Change Biology: “Accelerated mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet leads to glacier retreat and an increasing input of glacial meltwater to the fjords and coastal waters around Greenland. These high latitude ecosystems are highly productive and sustain important fisheries, yet it remains uncertain how they will respond to future changes in the Arctic cryosphere. Here we show that marine-terminating glaciers play a crucial role in sustaining high productivity of the fjord ecosystems.”

Read the research paper here.

Model comparing hydrodynamic circulation in marine-terminating and land-terminating glaciers (Source: ETH Zurich/Global Change Biology).

 

Why Are Lakes Growing on the Tibetan Plateau?

From Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: “Since the late 1990s, most closed lakes in the interior TP expanded and deepened dramatically, in sharp contrast with lake shrinkage in the southern TP. Although some evidence shows that glacier melting and permafrost thawing within some lakes may influence lake level changes, they can not explain the overall lake expansion, especially for lakes without glacier supply. More and more evidence from lake water balance modeling indicated that the overall lake expansion across the interior TP may be mainly attributed to a significant increase in precipitation and associated runoff.”

Read the paper here.

Tso Moriri high in Ladakh (Source: Jochen Westermann/Creative Commons).

Scott Pruit (EPA) Fires Shots at Glacier Enthusiasts

From The Onion: “Oh my god, what is it with you people? It’s like you’re obsessed. It’s all you ever talk about: Wah, wah, wah, the glaciers are melting! We just can’t live without our precious glaciers! I hear it so often I’m seriously starting to wonder if maybe there isn’t something else going on here. So tell me, are you guys totally in love with glaciers, or what?”

Read more parody journalism here.

EPA director Scott Pruitt (Source: Creative Commons).
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Photo Friday: Along the Karakoram

Known to many as the “roof of the world,” the Pamir Mountains are spread over one of the world’s most glaciated regions, cutting across parts of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China. It is a region dominated by curtains of clouds, rocks, glacier ice, and snow, as well as pastoralists and their sheep.

Muztagh Ata, which translates directly to “ice-mountain-father” in the Uyghur language, is one of the region’s most picturesque peaks. Standing tall at over 7,509 meters, the mountain has a magnificent relationship to the lake at its feet. Located near China’s borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the glaciated peak is accessible through the marvel of engineering and perseverance that is the Karakoram Highway, the world’s highest international paved road. But it’s Photo Friday, so nobody has to try their luck on the Karakoram today.

 

A lone Kyrgyz horseman walks along the shore of Lake Karakul (Source: Dan Lundberg/Creative Commons).

 

Muztagh Ata makes the rule of thirds look easy (Source: Colegota/Creative Commons).

 

The Karakoram Highway offers stunning scenery, but conditions can be quite dangerous (Source: Saadzafar91/Creative Commons).

 

But who are we kidding? It’s worth the risks (Source: Nabeel Akram Minhas/Creative Commons).

 

The sign cautions drivers about sharp bends over the next 62 kilometers. Your Friday afternoon isn’t looking so bad anymore? (Source: Mahnoorrana11/Creative Commons).

 

 

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An Interview on Patagonian Imaginaries

A recent paper in the Journal of Latin American Geography, “The Patagonian Imaginary: Natural Resources and Global Capitalism at the Far End of the World,” analyzes the construction of southern Andean Patagonia as an “ecoregion,” a label that has come to dominate the representation of the glaciated territory of Chile and Argentina. Through this representation, resource extraction and environmental preservation coalesce within a shared framework of green development, which then circulates globally and perpetuates the ecoregion narrative.

The incomparable beauty of the Patagonian Andes near Ushuaia (Source: Trey Ratcliff/Creative Commons).

The paper is a collaborative research effort by five scholars, and it differs from other work in the region in that it attempts to produce a unifying regional framework via a coterie of academic interests and field sites. GlacierHub spoke with the anthropologists Marcos Mendoza and Laura Ogden, two of the paper’s authors, about their findings.

GlacierHub: Briefly describe the importance of your research.

Marcos Mendoza: There are three contributions that the paper makes. It provides the first theorization of southern Andean Patagonia as an ecoregion that simultaneously examines multiple resource regimes. Most previous studies have focused rather narrowly on one type of resource. Instead, we sought to build our argument across three resource domains: land conservation, forestry, and hydropower. Second, we have developed a conceptual model for understanding the Patagonian ecoregion as an example of what we termed a “regional territorial imaginary.” To understand the Patagonian territorial imaginary, we attended to the: 1) geopolitics of space, particularly the development of protected areas in the wake of ongoing border conflicts between Argentina and Chile; 2) the intersection of global neoliberal capitalism with green development; and 3) the diverse forms of natural capital at work within “conservation” and “extraction.” Third, we hope it shows how useful it can be to theorize across resource regimes and bring together like-minded scholars working on similar problems. 

 

GlacierHub: Describe your own work, and how that fits into this collaboration.

Laura Ogden: Patagonia, like Amazonia, has functioned as a mythic imaginary for a very long time [see Hugh Raffles’ classic “In Amazonia”]. Every hostel in the region seems to have several well-worn copies of Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” lying around, which says something about how and why a particular figuration of Patagonia endures. For the last several years, I have been doing fieldwork in southernmost Patagonia, in the Fuegian archipelago, both on the main island and on Navarino Island. My project, which I am calling an alternative archive of loss, change, and wonder, explores the ways global environmental change articulates with other histories of loss and change in the region, as well as the limitations of this optic.

For the past few decades, environmental anthropologists, and particularly political ecologists, have been interested in understanding how neoliberal forms of capitalism are transforming conservation efforts and forms of environmental concern. I have always been fairly skeptical of totalizing critique, and so was not surprised that some of the key manifestations of neoliberal conservation— interest in carbon markets, ecosystem services, eco-tourism, etc. — are mostly rhetorical or strategic devices in the parks, estancias [estates or ranches], and communities where I have been working. In reality, the infrastructure just isn’t there yet — even though a range of communities evoke that language in hopes that the places and livelihoods they care about will be protected and/or remain economically viable. Of course, this could change quickly. Yet, our collaborative exercise showed me how the idea of Patagonia is becoming operationalized in new ways to support conservation and ecotourism throughout Chile and Argentina— sometimes to counter older forms of capitalist extraction and development initiatives, such as hydroelectric power. 

The jagged ice has captured the imagination of tourists from across the globe (Source: Killy Ridols/Creative Commons).

GH: If past research within Patagonia has been limited to specific sites and has failed to tell a broader regional story, what are the limits of the spatially and temporally multitiered methodology you and your co-authors implement in studying the region?

MM: The obvious next step to this methodological approach would be to perform a similar “regionalization” study of the eastern/non-Andean zone of Southern Patagonia, which has its own history of resource exploitation and representational value. However, eastern Patagonia has been primarily focused on agro-extraction—mining, petroleum, and livestock farming— with less coverage by protected areas. There is a fundamental asymmetry within the global imagination of Patagonia, which privileges its Andean landscapes (glaciers, mountains, lagunas, forests) and erases its non-Andean landscapes (steppe, monte, and coastal ecologies). This is one limitation to our study, which should be expanded to include the rest of Southern Patagonia.

 

GH: In what ways does the regional territorial imaginary of Patagonia as ecoregion create a new space for indigenous rights? I assume the ecoregion label and the commodification of pristine natural beauty also comes with foreign desire to experience indigenous cultures. What role does the territorial imaginary grant to the indigenous?

MM: The ecoregion is a green developmental framework to which indigenous groups— most located in Northern Patagonia— could tether their projects, goals and movements. This provides indigenous groups with a framework for potentially opposing mining, forestry, and hydropower companies and interests. However, green capitalism also presents its own set of risks to indigenous groups in the form of land grabs, control of water rights, inequality, etc.  

The ecoregion does entail the commodification of sublime nature and indigeneity/heritage. However, the armed forces and settler colonists were quite successful in killing, dispossessing and marginalizing indigenous societies in southern Andean Patagonia. Since the late 19th century, part of the colonization effort has been to erase or suppress the existing indigenous presence that remains. Rather than indigenous societies, the ecotourism industry has primarily sought to commodify Patagonian rural heritage. Gauchos [cowboys from southern South America] and paisanos [country people], working on estancias [estates], have become representative of “native Patagonian frontier culture.” This heritage industry draws upon tropes of indigeneity to construct a “wild other” living on the margins of Chilean and Argentine society.

 

GH: There are obviously limits to place-making, and one cannot readily attract visitors to any site. Why do you think mountains and glaciers in particular are such place-makeable spaces? I am curious about the importance of glaciers in constituting the Patagonia imaginary, and how that ties into a larger ecotourism trends in other glaciated parts of the world. Why, in your opinion, is Los Glaciares the “crown jewel” of Patagonian parks? What drives these sites as spaces of bourgeois aesthetic distinction?

The mesmerizing alpine landscapes lends themselves well to the ecoregion imaginary (Source: roman korzh/Creative Commons).

MM: As someone who has worked in Argentina, let me speak to that country’s history. One of the interesting things about the founding of the National Parks Administration of Argentina was that it involved elites who had spent substantial time traveling throughout Europe. They were well versed with the connection between the Alps, tourism and the leisured class. The founders sought to refashion Argentine and foreign understandings of the Patagonian Andes in explicit reference to creating Argentina’s version of the Swiss Alps. From the 1930s onward, mountains and glaciers became crucial to the state-led tourism industry in Northern Andean Patagonia. It took many decades, however, for tourism and conservation to become integral to Southern Andean Patagonia.

The Perito Moreno Glacier in the iconic Los Glaciares National Park (Source: Dimitry B./Creative Commons).

Since the 1990s, Southern Andean Patagonia has begun to market itself more aggressively as the “end of the world” and the region with some of most accessible glaciers on the planet. Sure, you can hike 12 hours round-trip to see a glacier up close, but you can also take a charter bus to the observation deck positioned directly in front of Perito Moreno Glacier. Or you can board a boat to sail through the fjords and see dozens of glaciers. For those people who either cannot hike or choose not to, accessibility is a major selling point. Because of this suite of options, Los Glaciares National Park is the most visited park in Patagonia, for now. Indeed, the primary ecotourism circuit involves Los Glaciares, Torres del Paine, and Tierra del Fuego. The place branding of the region really revolves around these three parks, but there is a lot of work going on in Chile’s Aysén Region to add more high-profile destinations to the primary circuit.

 

GH: The paper refers to a new phase of global capital, in which the extraction of resources and the conservation of biodiversity operate according to the same capitalistic logic. What future do you see to this pairing?

MM: In this article, we try to show how the Patagonian ecoregion is emerging through processes of natural capital formation across industries traditionally labelled as “conservation” or “extraction.” However, one of the points we make is that these terms are themselves slippery, underdetermined and contested. The case of hydropower is a good example. Some argue that building mega-dams is an example of “energy extraction” and should be opposed in order to preserve the green development framework. Others argue that mega-dams are actually “green energy” and align with the ecoregion paradigm. Our point is that scholars need to pay closer attention to the politics of meaning surrounding these two terms, which are often opposed to one another in an uncritical fashion.  

In terms of the future of this new phase of global capital, I imagine we will continue to see the growing expansion of natural capital, of various kinds. Much of the cutting-edge work in the neoliberal conservation literature looks at financialization and the new mechanisms and technologies allowing different permutations of natural capital to circulate globally. What our paper underscores is that we should expect to see different regimes of natural capital formation begin to interlock with industries we typically think of as “extractive.” In this way, corporations and industries can make money through the extraction and exchange of natural resources, but also make money off of conserving its resource stock for a set amount of time or by certifying its products as sustainable/green/eco-friendly.

The popular Patagonia brand has profited from and contributed to the Patagonia ecoregion imaginary (Source: Yukiko Matsuoka/Creative Commons).

 

GH: Ecotourism seem to have a long future, but what are the ecological risks to the region if the tourists, for whatever reason, stop coming?

MM: Certainly, there are many socio-ecological risks to Patagonian societies given their increasing specialization as an ecoregion. There will be more forest fires in popular national parks like Torres del Paine. We will see increasing urbanization in towns like El Calafate and Ushuaia. And there is always the fear that Patagonia will cease being a hyped, high-status destination to visit.

As such, communities recognize that they are dependent on macroeconomic factors and exchange rates over which they have little to no control. However, Patagonia continues to benefit from its global image as an archetypal wilderness. Its ecotourism industry–based on touristic access to glaciers–will endure for many more decades to come, despite climate change. Given the scale of the Southern and Northern Patagonian Icefields (combined they are approximately the size of the state of Vermont), Patagonian ecotourism destinations will have a comparative advantage over other alpine destinations that are rapidly losing their glaciers.  

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Photo Friday: Lake Issyk Kul

Located high in Central Asia’s Tian Shan Mountains, Issyk Kul is one of the world’s largest alpine lakes. Though Issyk Kul literally means “warm lake” in the Kyrgyz language, the crystalline waters vary in surface temperature from as high as 73 degrees Fahrenheit in July to as low as 36 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Still, warmth is relative, and at 1,607 meters (5,272 ft) above sea level, summer surface temperatures seem practically balmy.

The lake is picturesque, with glaciated Tian Shan peaks flanking its northern and southern shores, and is a popular tourist destination for both Kyrgyz nationals and foreign visitors. Don’t have time to trek to Kyrgyzstan just yet? Photo Friday has you covered!

 

The color contrasts of the foothills, water and glaciated peaks are mesmerizing (Source: Ronan Shenhav/Creative Commons).

 

Horses are integral to the semi-nomadic lifestyles found across the region (Source: Ronan Shenhav/Creative Commons).

 

The Kyrgyz practice a form of Sufi Islam, which has deep historical roots in the region (Source: Ronan Shenhav/Creative Commons).

 

A lonely tree, quiet and austere with the enormous Tian Shan in the background (Source: Ronan Shenhav/Creative Commons).
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Glacial Change in China’s Central Asia

A grassland flanked by China’s Central Tian Shan (Source: William Julian).

Though I lived in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for almost two years, it was only when I was in the heart of the Tian Shan mountains, my motorcycle meandering its way around fallen rock, sheep herds and horses, that I felt truly at home. Just a few hours outside of the city of Shihezi, inspiring peaks soared over 4000 meters. Though I had no scientific data to support my feeling that these stunning vistas were impermanent, over the course of my stay there were fewer and fewer clear days to see the cresting glacier-capped peaks from my apartment window. The haze even began to influence my weekend trips deep into the mountains, sometimes choking off the views far outside of the city. There is too much pollution in these mountains, not like when I was a child— a common refrain that echoed among many Kazakh and Mongol herders who made their home there.

Kazakh Chinese men bring their Golden Eagle home (Source: William Julian).

In a recent article in the journal of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Baojuan Huai and a team of Chinese researchers use remote sensing to put scientific data in the place of the herders’ and my own perceptions. The glaciers of the Tian Shan— the impressive mountain range that historically has divided the region’s agrarian oasis-states to the south and nomadic communities to the north— are in danger of disappearing. The authors demonstrate that in the Chinese Tian Shan, the total area of the glaciers studied has decreased by 22 percent over a fifty year period. The data also shows that glacier retreat is a variable within different regions of the Tian Shan— the result of a convergence of factors both human-caused and natural.

The picturesque Narat Grassland (Source: William Julian).

China is home to a baffling 46,377 glaciers. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region contains 18,311 of them. The Tian Shan, which cuts across Xinjiang into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, boasts the largest number of glaciers in northwest China. These glaciers provide invaluable solid reservoirs to agriculture, animal husbandry, and industry in the region. When considering the Tian Shan range alone, the glacial loss will continue to have a severe impact on the livelihoods and ecology of Xinjiang, according to Weijun Sun, one of the paper’s authors. “Warming temperatures are causing a real reduction to glaciers across China, and ablation is occurring constantly, negatively impacting regional ecology,” he said in an interview with GlacierHub.

The two sections of the No. 1 Glacier were once joined together (Source: Josh Summers/Far West China).

To acquire data for so many glaciers, the team utilized remote sensing technology, which relies on satellites to monitor different sites, using automated glacier mapping technology to distinguish glaciers from other features. Remote sensing alleviates many of the difficulties typically faced in conducting research on glaciers, which are often remote and difficult to access, according to Sun. “Remote sensing is a fantastic tool, expanding the scope of what we are capable of measuring. With this technology we can now measure things like the amount of reflectance coming from under the surface, or the temperature at the base,” he stated.

Inside a yurt, an elderly Kazakh woman rolls a cigarette (Source: William Julian).

For the study, the team selected glaciers that covered a range of variables: glaciers large and small, debris-covered and debris-free, and at high and low elevations were all represented. The research shows that over the period studied, 182 Tian Shan glaciers disappeared, and several large glaciers divided into multiple small glaciers. The percentage of area reduction tended to be higher in small glaciers than in large glaciers, with small glaciers more likely to shrink significantly or disappear entirely.

Glaciers across the Tian Shan experienced a real loss over the period studied, but the rate of change between regions within the mountain range showed significant variability. While glacier loss in one region was as low as 12 percent, total glacier area loss reached 42 percent in another. This variability is caused by a constellation of factors, according to Sun. “Regional variation is primarily caused by differing historical climatic factors, such as temperature, precipitation, and radiation,” he said.

A snack in the foothills of the Tian Shan (Source: William Julian).

Over the period under consideration, the annual temperature increase in Xinjiang was 0.29 degree Celsius per decade, almost double the global average. Additionally, annual precipitation increased at a rate of 10.6mm per decade, which increased the sensitivity of glaciers at lower elevations to rising temperatures. However, the extent of these increases were not constant throughout the region.

When considering the causes of intensified areal loss in certain parts of the Tian Shan, looking at the specific topography of individual glaciers is critical, according to Tobias Bolch, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich. “The glaciers in Central Tian Shan receive more accumulation during the summer while glaciers in the outer rages receive more accumulation during winter. These summer-accumulation type glaciers are more sensitive to climate change. In addition, the Central Tian Shan is higher than the outer ranges; hence, the glaciers in the Central Tian Shan can have larger accumulation areas,” he stated in an interview with GlacierHub.

The glacier-covered Tian Shan is an increasingly popular tourist destination (Source: William Julian).

In the decades considered in the study, the mean equilibrium line altitude (ELA)— the point on the glacier at which annual ablation and accumulation are equal— increased in altitude. The increases ranged from only 5 meters for one glacier, to as many as 151 meters in another. The increases in mean glacier elevation indicate that glaciers are unable to survive at the lower elevations they once thrived in. Glaciers have been retreating before the eyes of pastoralists for decades; that Chinese researchers have put data in the place of their inaudible perceptions is cause for celebration, if not another motorcycle trip.

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Roundup: Ultra Denials, Temperatures, and Marathons

Trump on Climate: Deny, Deny, Deny

From HuffPost: “Perry went on to defend his and others’ denial of near-universally accepted climate science, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent. Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting ‘right after the end of the Ice Age’ and that it has ‘been a consistent melt.’ He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.”

Read more about the Trump cabinet and its tenuous relationship to evidence here.

An artistic rendering of the world if climate change is ignored. (Source: Kevin Gill/Creative Commons).

Ski No More

From Reuters: “High temperatures that have hit Italy over the past weeks have taken their toll on the country’s glaciers, with a summer ski resort at the Stelvio Pass having to make the historic decision to suspend its activities due to worsening conditions at the Alpine glacier. Swathes of southern and eastern Europe have sweltered in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) this week in a heat wave nicknamed ‘Lucifer’ that has fanned forest fires, triggered weather warning alerts and damaged crops.”

Watch the short video here.

The Stelvio Pass, photographed in August 2015. (Source: Matteo Gugiatti/Creative Commons).

A Mountain of an Ultra Marathon

From the Bellingham Herald: “12 runners set out from Bellingham Bay for the top of snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. To get there and back — a round trip of 108 miles during a hot, sunny weekend — they ran, hiked and climbed to the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker over two nights and two days. Eleven of them completed the arduous journey, a trek known as the Mount Baker Ultra Run.”

Read more about this impressive feat here.

The few, the proud, the extreme. (Source: Mount Baker Ultra Marathon).
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From Sea to Summit: the Māori and the Crown

New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki, at sunset (Source: Andrea Schaffer/Creative Commons).

Typically, the stones that have made their way through faraway moraines down to the mouths of glacier-fed rivers never return to their high-altitude origins. But on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi between the British Crown and the indigenous Māori people of New Zealand, Māori and Crown representatives came together to usher two stones from the mouth of the Waitiki river to the base of the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier. A recent article in Te Kaharoa documents the lifework of an indigenous Māori activist, Anne Sissie Pate Titaha Te Maihāroa Dodds, and her efforts to build peaceful relations between Māori and non-indigenous communities.

The colony of New South Wales was founded by Britain in 1788, and while its territory technically included much of what is now New Zealand, Britain didn’t become involved politically on the islands until the 1820s, in response to reports about European lawlessness. Ultimately, the Treaty of Waitingi was signed in 1840, with the Crown and Māori chiefs coming to a contractual agreement over New Zealand’s relationship to settler colonialism. The treaty has been the source of longstanding dispute because of conflicting political agendas and issues of translation that continue to plague relations between sovereign states and indigenous communities worldwide.

In short, notions of rights over property and land emerge within individual cosmological systems, and when these systems are forced to confront one another, it is nearly impossible for each side to understand the other. The article’s author, Kelli Te Maihāroa, explained in an interview with GlacierHub that for the Māori, Papatūānuku (Earth Mother) is considered sacred and does not belong to human beings, although human beings derive from and return to her. This understanding is the complete inverse of that held by the British, for whom land could be possessed and parceled. Any treaty that offered permanent control over the land and its resources was incoherent in traditional Māori culture.

One of the lakes that feeds into the Waitaki (Source: TimN NZ/Creative Commons).

Though Te Maihāroa Dodds recognizes these disputes, she has chosen to dedicate her life to community-building across boundaries, bringing indigenous and non-indigenous parties together in pursuit of a more equitable future. The article is a life-history of Te Maihāroa Dodds that elucidates the many corners of New Zealand life, indigenous and not, that she has touched. A steadfast promoter of Māori tino rakatirataka (self-determination), she has advocated for environmental awareness in keeping with Māori traditional practices.

On December 31, 1989, Te Maihāroa Dodds and others organized an Ocean to Alps celebration (New Zealand’s mountains are known as the ‘Southern Alps’) to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitingi. To commemorate the event, two stones were chosen from the mouth of the Waitiki river by a Māori tribal chief. According to the author, the chief was a deeply spiritual man, and was probably drawn to the Mauri (life force) of the stones. “As we would say, it was speaking or calling to him,” she stated. The two stones were then transported via boat by a group of Māori and Crown representatives up the river, and ultimately placed at two locations: the Tasman Glacier’s moraine and its visitor center (to commemorate the event).

The Waitaki River as it rolls out to sea (Source: grumpylumixuser/Creative Commons).

For Te Maihāroa Dodds, it runs in the family. She is a direct descendant of Te Maihāroa, a Māori priest who in the late 19th century unified Māori living on New Zealand’s South Island against the influx of Western encroachment. Like her great-grandfather, she has a commitment to the land as it was traditionally understood— not belonging to human beings, but acting as the bearer of mankind.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Te Maihāroa emphasized that solidarity lay at the heart of the event— honoring different histories and celebrating a shared vision for the future. Since the Crown and Māori represent the two partners of the Treaty of Waitangi, both parties saw the event as a celebration of the two peoples. Though not all iwi (Māori tribes) agree about the nature of the treaty, the commemoration was widely supported by both Māori and non-Māori.

According to the author, the journey from sea to summit— from Waitiki river to Aoraki glacier— marked a return of a living object to its source. Similarly, the participants were marking a return to the spirit, if not intent, of the treaty: the funds came from the New Zealand government, while the ceremonial objects were provided by Māori chiefs. “The transportation of the kohatu (stone) from the mouth of the Waitaki River to the Tasman Glacier was about honoring the source from where the kohatu came from and the journey down the river. The return of objects to their natural place of origin is often undertaken by the Māori,” Te Maihāroa stated.

The Tasman Glacier lake (Source: ginny russell/Creative Commons).

The river and the glacier are both sacred ancestors of the Māori, and non-indigenous participants were involved in order to celebrate past agreements and forgive transgressions in the name of mutual progress. “The celebration was a return to the spirit of partnership in which the treaty was signed. Unfortunately, it was broken after only a few years by the Crown. This in essence was another extension of goodwill, generosity of spirit and partnership, an opportunity to reset the relationship again after 150 years. The Waitaha people welcomed first North Island tribes and then colonial settlers,” Te Maihāroa said. “It is encompassed in our extension of ‘manaakitanga‘— caring, hospitality, hosting, looking after visitors,” she added. Through marriages, the visitors have become a part of Māori whakapapa (geneology), and they share a future— one that activists like Te Maihāroa Dodds help to facilitate for the well-being of all New Zealanders.

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Roundup: Mysteries, Past and Present, Abound

Climate Experts Removed from Zuckerberg Delegation

From the Washington Post: “Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park on Saturday to tour the melting ice fields that have become the poster child for climate change’s effects on Montana’s northern Rockies. But days before the tech tycoon’s visit, the Trump administration abruptly removed two of the park’s top climate experts from a delegation scheduled to show him around, telling a research ecologist and the park superintendent that they were no longer going to participate in the tour.”

Read more about this unusual move here.

Grinnell Glacier basin in Glacier National Park (Source: Tim Rains/National Park Service).

 

Water Rights Hold Up Washington State Budget

From the Seattle Times: “$4 billion in new construction projects and money for a few hundred state jobs still hang in the balance while the capital budget has been held up by a dispute over water rights. Senate Republicans say they won’t pass a capital budget without legislation aimed at overturning a recent state Supreme Court known as the Hirst decision. That ruling effectively limited the use of new domestic wells in certain rural areas when they may harm senior water rights.”

Read about the complexities of this issue here.

The state capitol in Olympia, Washington (Source: John Colella/Creative Commons).

 

Retreating Glaciers Solve a Family Mystery

From The Telegraph: “The frozen bodies of a Swiss couple who went missing 75 years ago in the Alps have been found on a shrinking glacier, Swiss media said on Tuesday. Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, the parents of seven children, had gone to milk their cows in a meadow above Chandolin in the Valais canton on August 15, 1942.”

Read about what this means to one of the couple’s surviving children here.

The couple’s remains were found on Tsanfleuron Glacier (Source: MattW/Creative Commons).

 

 

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Farmers and Glaciers in Northwest China

A farmer in arid Gansu (Source: Mike Moss/Creative Commons).

Extending across the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, and Gansu, the Heihe River Basin is the second largest inland river basin in China. With a core drainage area of 130,000 km2, it is home to 121 million people, and roughly 74 million of them practice farming or animal husbandry. In recent years, water demand has rapidly increased, while water availability has decreased due to glacier retreat and groundwater depletion. As a preliminary step to combat this looming crisis, a team of Chinese researchers set out to assess whether local farmers and herders were aware of glacial change and, if so, what their attitudes were toward state and local response strategies. The results, published last month in Theoretical and Applied Climatology, offer an intriguing look at the way local knowledge and state media intersect in rural China.

Guofeng Zhu, a professor of geography and environmental science at Northwest Normal University and the paper’s lead author, spoke with GlacierHub in Mandarin about the stakes of this research for farmers in the region. “Alongside population growth and climate change in recent years, the pressures on the Heihe River Basin’s ecological system have become increasingly severe. Over 70 percent of the water used for agricultural irrigation comes from the river. The question of whether farmers can efficiently adapt is of grave importance to sustainable development in the region,” Zhu said.

Researchers interview a local farmer (Source: Guofeng Zhu/Northwest Normal University).

To carry out the study, the researchers conducted informal interviews in five villages. The villages were selected according to their location along the river, with upstream, midstream and downstream villages all represented. Individual villagers were selected to be interviewed so as to provide a diverse sample size across socio-economic, educational, and occupational values. The team asked open-ended questions and also distributed a multiple-choice survey. The researchers surveyed residents about their impressions of glacier change and used data from the China Meteorological Data Sharing Service Network to assess if residents’ perceptions were accurate.

Runoff from the Qilian Mountains (Source: feelings3allen/Creative Commons).

The glacial data itself paints an unsettling picture: from 1970 to 2012, the total glacier area in China’s northwest shrank by 10 to 14 percent. This, when coupled with population growth and reductions in cultivable land per capita, does not bode well for agriculture intensive areas in arid regions, such as the Hexi Corridor, which feeds nearly the entire population of Gansu Province. The farmers living in this fragile ecosystem are faced with annual droughts that in some years can exact a heavy toll on crop yields and animal abundance. Stemming primarily from changes to the permafrost active layer of the Qilian Mountains, the meltwater that accounts for 15 percent of total runoff of this life-sustaining river is in jeopardy.

Rivers sustain agriculture in this arid region (Source: Dan Lundberg/Creative Commons).

In an interview with GlacierHub, Dahe Qin, a glaciologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an author of the paper, emphasized that the story of the Heihe River Basin resounds throughout the region. “The situation of Heihe is the same as that of the other river basins of the Hexi Corridor. Global warming, as well as degradation to glaciers and the cryosphere, is having a profound impact on the oasis regions, impacting the livelihoods of millions,” he said.

The farmers and herders interviewed seem to be acutely aware of the situation. Of respondents, 82.1 percent indicated that glacier retreat was a fact. Unsurprisingly, those living upstream near the glaciers themselves were most cognizant of this fact, having observed firsthand their retreat. Their perceptions of glacier retreat were also the most highly correlated with scientific observations. Education level was another strong predictor of whether farmers were aware of glacier retreat.

A farmer living in the midstream area is interviewed (Source: Guofeng Zhu/Northwest Normal University).

Gender, ethnicity and age had no impact on awareness of glacier retreat. 85.6 percent of farmers reported that they had heard about glacial change from television. However, simply being a farmer who watches television does not mean that one will become concerned with glacier retreat. The team interviewed farmers living in a nearby river basin who had a much lower reliance on glacier runoff and found that farmers there were less concerned about glacier change than those living in the Heihe River Basin. This finding suggests that concern for glacier change is associated with the degree of reliance on glacier runoff for livelihood.

While 90 percent of those polled believed that global warming is the primary cause of glacier reduction, roughly 30 percent of respondents did not believe that waste burning and car exhaust were factors. This attention to global, large-scale factors and the comparative lack of concern with local impact surfaced in other interesting ways. Respondents located the causes of air pollution in other, more industrial regions, and believed that changes to glaciers were the result of complex, trans-regional forces.

A herder living in the upstream area is interviewed (Source: Guofeng Zhu/Creative Commons).

Accordingly, the burden of mollifying the impact of climate change was overwhelmingly seen to be the task of governments and transnational organizations: the U.N. (56.4 percent), central government (52.7 percent), and polluting enterprises (47.8 percent) were most responsible in the eyes of respondents, whereas just 21.3 percent believed that the local government was responsible for ecological restoration and management. Because most farmers did not believe they were responsible for causing glacial changes, only 11.1 percent responded that individuals or households should bear the burden of resolving the problem. The authors point to the role of the media in shaping these views, with many responses being impacted by news of the recent Paris Climate Agreement.

According to the authors, although outside expert knowledge is often inaccessible within these communities, it nonetheless plays a significant role in shaping local livelihoods. Farmers feel powerless before the hegemony of scientific knowledge: they are ever more uncertain of traditional knowledge and thus increasingly incapable of making important decisions for their own future. Zhu emphasized that farmers need to be encouraged to hold on to traditional knowledge and practices. “Our survey showed that farmers commonly view traditional herding and farming livelihoods as backward, and they aspire to urban life. That they psychologically reject farming and herding and are unfamiliar with traditional practices will weaken efforts at curbing climate change,” he said. By understanding farmers’ perceptions of glacier change, policymakers are better equipped to help them adapt to deleterious changes in their environment.

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