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People Vs. Conservation

One of the unfortunate things about political ecology is how pessimistic it often seems. Even after the poststructuralists' attempts to reinvigorate ideas of agency and resistance, the usual impression you're left with is that marginalized people are only getting more squashed between the twin forces of capitalism and the state. So it's nice to occasionally see a small bit of good news, such as this (via Savage Minds):

Court vVictory For One Bushman Family

The Botswana High Court ruled on Friday 28 October that the government must allow Bushman Amogolang Segootsane and his family to return to their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It must also return his goats to him and allow him to bring water into the reserve.

The conflict between human rights and nature conservation -- specifically the type of nature conservation based on keeping people away -- is a long-standing topic in political ecology. I've written before about the fact that often such a conservation strategy is ineffective. And in many cases -- of which Segootsane's appears to be one -- the moral dilemma is even smaller, because conservation is a mere pretext. Environmentalists need to be careful that they don't praise things done in the name of conservation that actually have no such effect.

This isn't just a Third World problem. As James McCarthy (2002, Environment and Planning A) has pointed out, the parallels between people like Segootsane and the American ranchers in the Wise Use movement -- a comparison that complicates both the animus directed at Wise Use as well as the praise of people like Segootsane. I would add as well the off-road vehicle enthusiasts who will now have more say in the rules regarding the practice of their hobby on nearby federal lands.


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