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Fwd: In the 'Greened' World, It Isn't Easy to Be Human

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  • Bruce at Island Resources
    [Our thanks to Franklin McDonald for this article from the Saturday NY Times about the conflict between traditional policies of human exclusion from nature
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 17, 2000
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      [Our thanks to Franklin McDonald for this article from the Saturday
      NY Times about the conflict between traditional policies of human
      exclusion from nature preserves and the need to accommodate human
      activities. In the tightly constrained environments of small tropical
      islands, Island Resources Foundation has always insisted that
      planning for parks and protected areas needs to derive from residents
      needs, not from preservationist dogma. bp ]

      >Reply-To: "Franklin McDonald" <fmcdonald@...>
      >Organization: Natural Resources Conservation Authority
      >Subject: In the 'Greened' World, It Isn't Easy to Be Human
      >Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000 07:54:33 -0500
      >July 15, 2000
      >In the 'Greened' World, It Isn't Easy to Be Human
      >Related Articles
      >* <http://www.nytimes.com/environment>The Natural World: Environment
      >* <http://forums.nytimes.com/webin/WebX?13@@.f03bc6d>Join a
      >Discussion on The Environment
      > hat could be wrong with saving a rainforest? Quite a bit, say a
      >number of anthropologists who have become increasingly critical of
      >what they call "green imperialism." Portraying environmentalists as
      >latter-day missionaries of a new universal truth, many see
      >third-world conservation as a form of neocolonialism, the latest
      >attempt by wealthy Westerners to move into poor, tropical countries
      >and tell the local residents what they should and should not do with
      >their land.
      >"Environmentalists are trying to save landscapes from the people who
      >live in them," said Simone Dreyfus, a French anthropologist who
      >contributed to a recent volume called "Nature Sauvage, Nature
      >Sauvee" ("Wild Nature, Saved Nature"). "many of them seem to care
      >more about animals and plants than about people.
      >Too often, efforts to save the environment are being imposed from
      >the outside and not from the inside."
      >Though the term "biodiversity" was coined as recently as the 1970's,
      >it caught on so quickly that by the 1980's preserving species had
      >become an important part of American foreign policy. The Department
      >of State, the World Bank and other leading purveyors of foreign aid
      >often made the creation of national parks a condition of receiving
      >it. The policy has paid off: ecologists have succeeded in placing an
      >area the size of China, the United States and Canada under protected
      >status, most of it in the last 20 years.
      >But these efforts have come at considerable human cost, the critical
      >anthropologists say. Approximately 70 percent of the protected areas
      >are inhabited by homo sapiens as well as other species. Between 1986
      >and 1996, about three million people were forced to move as a result
      >of both development and conservation schemes, according to World
      >Bank statistics.
      >The brunt has generally been borne by extremely poor indigenous
      >people. "I'd like to see what would happen if a delegation from
      >Madagascar arrived in New Jersey and told people they couldn't use
      >their cars to drive to work," said Maurice Bloch, who teaches at the
      >École Polytechnique in Paris and has worked in Madagascar for more
      >than 30 years.
      >Although many of the anthropological critics concede that protecting
      >the environment is ultimately in everyone's interest, they feel that
      >Western environmentalism needs to examine some of its deepest
      >The idea of wilderness, of pristine, untouched nature is not a
      >universal truth but an idea of Western urban civilization, said
      >Phillipe Descola, a leading French anthropologist who has worked
      >among Indian groups in Brazil. Virtually everything Westerners
      >regard as "nature" has been significantly modified by tens of
      >thousands of years of human presence. Many indigenous peoples do not
      >have a special word for nature and do not see themselves as separate
      >from the environment in which they live.
      >This seemingly abstract point has had powerful practical
      >consequences for the environmental movement, the anthropologists
      >insist. The world's first national park, Yellowstone, specifically
      >forbids people to live within its borders even though Shoshone
      >Indians were living there at the time. In the first years after the
      >creation of the park in 1871, some 300 Shoshone were killed in
      >conflicts with the Army.
      >The idea of a park that excluded human habitation was then exported
      >to the third world by various colonial administrations, particularly
      >by the British and French in Africa and Asia. The big game parks in
      >Kenya and Tanzania involved mass expulsion of the Masai people. The
      >French in Madagascar created a series of nature preserves, and in
      >the 1940's tried to force the people living in the country's
      >rainforests to leave their villages. When people resisted, some
      >20,000 were killed in conflicts with the French colonial authorities.
      >Although methods have gotten gentler in recent decades, expulsions
      >have continued at some of the big parks in places like Kenya,
      >Botswanaland, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, said Marcus Colchester of the
      >Rainforest People's Program in Britain.
      >Many ecologists feel that this criticism, while valid, is out of
      >date. "I think the conservation movement has become much more
      >sophisticated in the last 20 years," said Don Melnick, a professor
      >of biology at Columbia University and the director of the Center for
      >Environmental Research and Conservation.
      >Increasingly, Mr. Melnick insisted, environmentalists have come to
      >see that local cooperation is essential to the success of their own
      >work. At Chitwan National Park in Nepal, he explained, the
      >government recently reversed its policy of preventing local
      >residents from entering the forest. "They designated a certain
      >number of weeks in which people could come in and collect grasses
      >and plants they use for baskets and as building materials, as long
      >as they use traditional and nonmechanized means for doing so," he
      >said. "It resulted in a kind of festival of harvesting, and those
      >people became the greatest protectors of the resouces of the park.
      >It became theirs, and they were very vigilant about outsiders going
      >into the park."
      >Mr. Colchester agrees that environmental groups have become better
      >about recognizing the rights of local people. But he said the
      >problem is that, in many places, "this has yet to translate into
      >change on the ground -- national governments have not kept pace with
      >the international guidelines." Recently, Mr. Colchester went on, in
      >defiance of the international organizations that financed the
      >project, the government of Guyana extinguished the rights of local
      >residents in extending the boundaries of Kaietur National Park.
      >Some environmentalists think this kind of pressure smacks of the
      >same neocolonalism that the anthropologists see in others. "If the
      >federal government of Brazil decides it's strategically important to
      >set aside millions of acres for protection, isn't it neocolonial if
      >groups from outside tell them they shouldn't?" asked Mr. Melnick.
      >Indeed, the question of who has final say about land -- the people
      >who have traditionally lived on it, the regional and national
      >governments in the surrounding area, or international groups who see
      >the environment as a world heritage -- is extremely complex.
      >Ultimately, both enviromentalists and anthropologists agree, at
      >least in theory, that they are working on two sides of the same
      >problem. Conservation groups have estimated that 60 percent of the
      >world's biodiversity is contained in less than 5 percent of the
      >world's land mass. At the same time, the indigenous peoples who
      >generally inhabit those tropical-biodiversity "hot spots" account
      >for as much as 60 percent of the world's 6,000 spoken languages,
      >according to the British ethnolinguist Suzanne Romaine of Oxford
      >"The interests of forest people and the interests of the
      >environmental people are similar," says Richard H. Grove, a
      >professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of
      >Canberra in Australia and the author of "Green Imperialism." As he
      >explains: "The same environmental threats that are wiping out
      >species are wiping out indigeneous cultures as well."
      >Ask questions about
      >and more. Get answers and tell other readers what you know, in
      >new from The New York Times.
      ><http://www.nytimes.com/subscribe/help/copyright.html>Copyright 2000
      >The New York Times Company

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