Feb 17 | Soil Health and its Maladies: Field Notes with Farmers in the Global South

Industrial agriculture most often focuses on what we can see – that which is above ground, such as yields, production, cropping systems, and profits. Plant physiologist, David Wolfe, calls this a “surface chauvinism”, or the tendency to think that what we see on the surface tells the whole story when equally or more important is what goes on out of sight and below ground. Soil health is emerging as an alternative perspective among scientists and international agricultural development agencies to unsettle dominant perceptions of soil as simply a growth medium for crops that emerged along with the Green Revolution and its emphasis on “improved” seeds and agri-chemicals. Growing attention to soils as living bodies (perhaps with rights to flourish and determine their own course) suggests we need to repair or build anew our relationships with what some soil practitioners refer to as “the skin of the earth”.  Before we ask if “soil health” is a useful paradigm to inform this kind of reparative work, it is prudent to inquire: What is soil? Then: What is health? Who decides if a soil is healthy, and for whom does it matter? Where do the boundaries of soil health begin and end? Is there a continuum between soil-human-ecosystem health? Many farmers also find themselves in a transitional moment in which the destruction of their livelihoods is vitally linked to the destruction of local soils. How might the agricultural practices of diverse rural communities be informed by concepts of “soil health” - and not only health-oriented paradigms? We draw upon our research with small farmers in Uganda and Colombia to discuss the way emergent ideas about “soil health” may serve to build collaborations between soil scientists, agricultural extensionists, and farmers in the global South. We also explore how a concern for soils pushes us beyond human-centric frameworks, and towards understanding the shared ecological nature of justice, ethics, well-being, and food production.

Co-Sponsored by the departments of Anthropology and Environmental Studies

Kate Scow is Professor of Soil Science and Microbial Ecology in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis. She is Director of the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility that hosts the Century Experiment (http://asi.ucdavis.edu/rr). Scow’s research program investigates the role of soil microbial communities in providing ecosystem services in agricultural and polluted ecosystems.  Specifically, she investigates linkages between diversity and greenhouse gas emissions, responses of soil functional diversity to long-term management practices, effects of co-contaminants in organic amendments on soil communities, and works extensively in Uganda on irrigation and soil management for enhancing vegetable production for smallholder farmers.

Kristina Lyons is Assistant Professor of Feminist Science Studies at UCSC with affiliations in the Department of Anthropology, Latin American and Latino Studies, and the Science & Justice Research Center. She is currently working on a book project entitled, Decomposition at Life Politics: Soil Practitioners and Vital Spaces in the Colombian Amazon. This manuscript is based on more than ten years of fieldwork in Colombia where she engaged in an ethnography of human-soil relations across laboratories, greenhouses, gardens and farms with soil scientists in the capital city of Bogotá, and small farmers in the Andean-Amazonian foothills of Putumayo. She has worked closely with rural social movements in southwestern Colombia, and her work has focused on the ways soils become (or not) matters of concern within the militarized U.S.-Colombia "War on Drugs" and its discontents.

4:00 - 6:00PM, Engineering 2 room 599

"Soil Health and its Maladies: Field Notes with Farmers in the Global South"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
17 February 2016
Rapporteur Report by Vivian Underhill
In an integrated, back-and-forth conversation, Lyons and Davis discussed soil, health, and their relationships with ecosystem and human dynamics. A product of their ongoing conversations since 2008, their interdisciplinary approach shifted from the micron-scale to global climate regulation, crossing and complicating scales of thinking, and showed the co-transformation of each other’s work through that long collaboration. Beginning with how they each know soil from their respective intellectual backgrounds and engagements with academia and farmers, they asked: what is soil? Then, what is health? And what do we mean by soil health, especially in regard to dominant perceptions that link soil with industrial agriculture? Scow, whose work focuses on soil microbial communities and their role in providing ecosystem services, provided her definition of soil as a “natural body of solids (mineral and organic), liquid, and gas that occurs on the land surface, occupies space, and is characterized by distinguishable horizons or layers, which are the function of additions, losses, transfers, and transformations of energy and matter.” Yet soil also includes the entanglement of life within its mineral/organic matter matrix, including a tremendous diversity of microbes, insects, fungi, animals, plants. As such, soil calls into question divisions between species and between living organisms and nonliving matter.

Lyons then discussed her engagement with Colombian scientists’ sampling and sampleprocessing practices, and the processes of alienation that occur through the act of sampling and processing soil – from removing it from the ground, removing its water content, sieving for individual size fractions, to burning off organic matter. In this way, the soil sample becomes only a representation of the original soil, produced through its engagements with the scientists, and loses its original complex relationality with the soils and ecosystem around it. Scow agreed, noting also the immense heterogeneity of microenvironments within a single soil. Referring to influential soil scientist Hans Jenny’s assertion that soil is a living system, she asked provocatively: “Is soil alive, because it takes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide? Or is it just a place where living things live?”

Dr. Lyons then discussed soil’s relation to colonial histories, the emergence and development of
capitalism, and the Green Revolution, and how even soil science is deeply immersed in histories
and logics of colonialism. For instance, in the export of guano (a fertilizer high in nitrogen,
phosphate, and potassium derived from sea bird and bat excrement) from Peru to exhausted
European soils, we see a literal extraction of land from a colony to empire. She discussed how, in
Colombia, militarized growth-oriented development, the Colombian War on Drugs, and USAID
crop-substitution plans often circle around the soil, but do not often take up soil explicitly in that
discussion. Because of these geopolitical dynamics, soil becomes a matter of economic concern,
often tethered to a specific kind of agriculture that is more akin to soil mining than agriculture
per se. She also discussed how these tactics force farmers into specific relationships with soil that
mimic those of the Green Revolution and industrialized agriculture, severing the complex
dynamics of growth and decay that sustain small farmers’ relationships with the ecosystems and
soils with which they work and live. Kristina argued to bring the integrality back to the fore in
the way we understand soil.

Scow then discussed the ‘rocky history’ of the term ‘soil health,’ and its emergence as a term
within scientific and resource-management communities. Though embraced by the NRCS
(National Resource Conservation Service), there has been significant debate about what it means.
It may present an opportunity to return to a conception of soils as living beings themselves, with
their own requirements for health and well-being, yet what does this look like when implemented
on large scales? Scow explained that soil scientists currently measure a range of physical,
chemical, and biological parameters meant to indicate soil health, and asked: what is the
benchmark condition against which these parameters are measured to determine their relative
health? Further, in basing soil health on discrete measurements, what interrelations are lost?
What can’t be captured in these human-centered ways of studying and categorizing soils?

Lyons explained that for the small farmers with whom she worked in Colombia, there is no
stable entity called soil. Rather, they argue for selva-based farming, in which relationalities
between humans, plants, and soil are retained and nurtured, as an alternative to state-based
militarized agriculture or extractive industries. From here, they struggle to rebuild local food
autonomy and livelihoods and are engaged in struggle against USDA taxonomic standards that
label these soils as “poor,” leading state-based economic growth initiatives to plan for extractive
industry in the region.

These examples bring to the fore a range of questions about soil health, and what we mean by
that term. What is health, and health for whom? What do militarized and economized models of
health do to modes of living well and living well together? What gets taken up and what gets
occluded when we think about health as a paradigm to think and live with? What alternative
ways of living well and dying together might create a more capacious sense of health?

Donna Haraway (Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UCSC) pointed
out the importance of thinking first about access to soil and land in conversations about humansoil
relationships and their degradation or health. She also suggested the possibilities that come
with thinking about healing, as an active process in relation to the soil, as opposed to the more
static ‘health.” Lyons responded that the immediate struggle is always to remain in place, not to
be displaced. As farmers transform their land and their farms, different possible worlds are at
stake as they resist the capitalization of farming. This process in itself is an immensely healing or
transformative process, but access to the soil in the first place is always necessary to then engage
in that healing process.

Birgit Müller (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research) added her experience with
attitudes about soil health in regard to Canadian biotech farming, in which a discourse of caring
goes hand in hand with large-scale industrialized farming and widespread pesticide use. This
entanglement of harm and care applied directly to the discussion of the definition of “health:” is
health related to high crop yields, or to the actual wellness and function of the soil itself? Lyons
pointed out the ways in which discourses of “health” is often used to mobilize logics that support
the continuation of harmful practices.

Gillian (last name and affiliation unknown) pointed out the complicated biopolitics of thinking
through the heterogeneity of the soil matrix itself. For instance, pathogens, viruses, and
destructive species are also part of the soil’s complex relations. Should these pathogens also be
counted as part of the life that should be nourished, and how does thinking about life as not
always harmonious complicate our notions of health and human/soil relationships? Lyons
responded that this point brings up the questions of living and dying well, and the role of
decomposition in that cycle. She said that defining weeds and pests is a constant negotiation:
what needs to die in order for what else to live? But with the farmers she works with in
Colombia, there’s a sense of dying differently, in order to live differently: with dignity, in place,
unseparated, still in complex relations with the rest of the system around you. This mobilizes a
different scheme of biopolitics and necropolitics than what we usually think with.

Carol Shennan (UCSC, Environmental Studies) pointed out the problem of separating out the
soil in the term ‘soil health.’ There’s a difference between soil health and ecosystem or habitat
health, but they are intricately linked to each other and can’t easily be separated. Further, who
decided the kinds of benchmarks to be used for soil health? Scow argued for a more localized
and nuanced process of deciding health, rather than broad taxonomies. She pointed out that terms
like sustainability and soil health are not valuable in their actual scoring potential, but rather
because they catalyze thought and discussion about what they might mean.

This led to a conversation about the role of funding in the use or disuse of terms like soil health,
and their definitions. For instance, if the USDA has funding for scientific work, then projects
will be built around USDA terminology. Scow pointed out that broadly speaking, public policy
has largely not been directed toward soil until recently with AB 32 (a California bill to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions from all sources across the state) and growing interest in the role of
soil in carbon sequestration. Lyons explained that in Colombia, soils are not part of
environmental legislation. They appear partially in legislation on forests, water, etc, but not on
their own. In public policy, they only have some form of value because of their relations with
other aspects of their ecosystems, which brings up a range of ontological questions for soil
scientists and farmers: how can soil, a distinctly relational entity, and soil scientists, hold
political leverage on its own?

Related Readings:
The Roots of Your Health: Elaine Ingham on the Science of Soil by Lynda Brown
Soil and Human Security in the 21st Century by Ronald Amundson, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Jan
W. Hopmans, Carolyn Olson, A. Ester Sztein, Donald L. Sparks

Jan 29 | Communicating Science to the Public: How does the experience of long-term nuclear waste disposal prepare us to think about climate engineering?

A conversation between Jane Long (California Council on Science and Technology's California's Energy Future committee) and Joseph Masco (University of Chicago, Anthropology).

Climate change is forcing us to think about how we might produce safe energy, and how we might mitigate the impacts of energy use upon the earth system. As these earth system changes are becoming increasingly apparent, in what is coming to be called the Anthropocene era, scientists and engineers are increasingly being drawn into policy processes.  From problems of disposing of long-term nuclear waste, to contemporary geoengineering projects that might remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or reduce incoming solar radiation, scientists and engineers have become hybrid political/technical actors.  Jane Long, an eminent science/policy figure will describe her work on characterizing and communicating the risks of long term nuclear waste disposal and on her more recent work on climate mitigation and geoengineering, and will reflect on her experiences as an engineer who came to work at the interface of science and policy. Joe Masco, an anthropologist at the University of Chicago will describe the influence of histories of atomic energy on American culture and science policy and will interview Jane Long about her career.

Jane Long has had an eminent career working at the interface of engineering science and policy. She has been currently chair of the California Council on Science and Technology's California's Energy Future committee, and recently retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she was Associate Director at Large for Energy and Environment and Fellow in the LLNL Center for Global Strategic Research.  Earlier in her career, she served on the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Board on Radioactive Waste Management and chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee for Fracture Characterization and Fluid Flow Systems. Jane Long has a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Mineral Engineering from the University of California Berkeley, and is the author of numerous books and articles, including the book Rock Fractures and Fluid Flow; Contemporary Understanding and Applications.

Joseph Masco is Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences in the College writes and teaches courses on science and technology, U.S. national security culture, political ecology, mass media, and critical theory. He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006), which won the 2008 Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Studies of Science and the 2006 Robert K. Merton Prize from the Section on Science, Knowledge and Technology of the American Sociology Association. His work as been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His current work examines the evolution of the national security state in the United States, with a particular focus on the interplay between affect, technology, and threat perception within a national public sphere.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology.

Engineering 2 Room 599 1:00 - 3:00PM

"Communicating Science to the Public: How does the experience of long-term nuclear waste
disposal prepare us to think about climate engineering?"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
29 January 2016
Rapporteur Report by Lizzy Hare
At this Science and Justice Working Group event, Jane Long (contributing scientist for
the Environmental Defense Fund, Visiting Researcher at UC Berkeley, Cochair of the Task
Force on Geoengineering for the Bipartisan Policy Center and chairman of the California
Council on Science and Technology's California's Energy Future committee) and Joe Masco
(Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago) discussed possibilities for climate
engineering and public perceptions surrounding these ideas. Science and Justice Research
Center Associate Director Andrew Mathews welcomed the audience and introduced the
participants, explaining that both Long and Masco have conducted extensive research in nuclear
politics and share a capacity to communicate to different kinds of audiences.

Long began the discussion by introducing her own work and background. She described
her dynamic career as “a quest to work on every controversial issue in Earth Sciences”. Long’s
involvement in nuclear waste began when she was working at the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory (LLNL) and was assigned to design a hydrologic modeling system that could help
determine the location for waste storage for the Hanford project. She recalled her frustrations
about the political nature of the project, and compared it against a similar project in Sweden. In
the U.S., the first step in the process of determining where nuclear waste would be stored was a
senate bill. That bill stipulated that the waste would have to be stored in one of five possible
locations. It was determined in Washington that the waste would be sent to the state of Nevada,
which lacks political power due to its small population base. Long and others at LLNL were
then tasked with finding an appropriate location within Nevada. In Sweden, the decision about
where to place nuclear waste began by first tasking scientists with determining the criteria for a
best possible location, and then determining which areas in Sweden most closely matched those
criteria. For Long, the Swedish case represented a safer and more scientifically rigorous
decision-making process.

During her career at LLNL, Long also had the opportunity to work on climate change and
climate engineering projects. This included a report written for the Department of Energy that
looked at the feasibility of climate engineering and included recommendations from
nonscientists. Working on this project was “the hardest thing [she’d] ever done in [her] life”,
because of the difficulty of communicating across disciplinary and ideological lines. The
process of writing the report caused Long to become increasingly concerned with vested
interests. People are often aware of the possibility of economic vested interests, but less so the
scientific and institutional interests that are involved when entire careers and institutions are
dependent on researching one project, something she sees as a legacy of the Cold War emphasis
on big projects like nuclear weapons development.

Masco then explained his interest in nuclear waste and climate engineering. He argues
that the Manhattan project changed the way the U.S. relates to the future by presenting two
options: either the future ends abruptly in nuclear war or technoscientific projects could solve
problems systematically until a form of utopia is achieved. These two competing visions for the
future existed side by side for generations in a sort of schizophrenic state. During this time, the
Civil Defense project instructed people in unifying around fear and collective imaginaries about
nuclear technologies. The Civil Defense model stumbled and failed after the disaster at Three
Mile Island, rendering it ineffective against new existential concerns such as climate change.
There is no longer an optimistic sense that technology will lead us towards utopia, but yet there
are certain problems, such as the question of how to store nuclear waste that require
technological solutions.

One of the unifying threads between nuclear waste disposal and climate engineering is
that both issues require the contemplation of deep futures, a timescale that Masco suggests is too
long for engineering and too short for geology. Long said that the challenge of contemplating
deep futures is that they require a different way of framing the issue, a different ideology.
According to Long, an ideological approach is necessary because people don’t think analytically,
but ideologically. The issue of ideology became central to the conversation, and was returned to
later in a discussion about planetary boundaries.

The Stockholm resilience institute proposed a concept of planetary boundaries that could
be regulated and monitored by global governments. This proposal was brought up by Masco,
who thinks that reframing future concerns as planetary boundaries is an extraordinary shift in
thinking that takes us away from assuming a framework of unlimited growth. Such a framework
had come to be the norm during the “petrochemical era” that relied on inexpensive fossil fuels to
drive technological developments and economic growth. Long is less enthusiastic about the
idea, citing concerns that people in ecology, and especially the Breakthrough Institute, reject this
framework. They are still committed to the idea that technology will overcome, and that is in
part, she believes, because it provides possibilities for facing the challenges of the future. Long
says that she agrees with this position, in part because she believes that climate change
mitigation alone is insufficient to prevent widespread disaster, so climate engineering could be
an important tool.

In concluding the conversation, Long reiterated her position that climate engineering is
another crucial tool that can help prevent climate change disasters in the future. Masco said that
he is inclined to agree, but cautions that engineering cannot be thought of as a “fix” to the
problem. It needs to be thought of as one potential tool in a broader set of changes that include
widespread ideological change of the sort ushered in by the Civil Defense project of the midtwentieth
century. Rather than teaching nuclear fear, however, such a project would instill belief
in and respect for planetary boundaries as fixed conditions that technology cannot outrun.

Feb 11 | Collaborating to Learn about Wicked Problems: Water, Food, and Energy in Rural India

Ashwini Chhatre, Professor of Geography at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Senior Research Fellow/Visiting Professor at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad presented a talk about sustainable development in rural India as a wicked problem.  Hosted by Andrew Mathews, SJRC Acting Director, the discussion following the talk was moderated by Ben Crow, Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Cruz.

A wicked problem is difficult or impossible to solve because of complex interdependencies, and the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem reveals or creates other problems. This is particularly true for agriculture-based rural livelihoods in India’s vast hinterland, which require tightly, connected household strategies to secure water, food, and energy under the shadow of an unpredictable monsoon regime. Interventions to improve rural livelihoods, with the best possible intentions, fail to have an impact in an unacceptably high proportion of cases, and often produce unintended and undesirable consequences for society and the environment. For example, an intervention to increase organic manure to improve soil fertility can easily set off a cascade where cowdung is used as domestic fuel. Women will have to collect more firewood, perhaps from farther forests, decreasing forest condition. The firewood will be of inferior quality, increasing adverse health impacts from indoor air pollution. Greater workloads for women will translate into higher classroom absenteeism and some girls will drop out of school completely. The diversity of disciplinary lenses required to simply outline the boundary of such a cascade is challenging enough; to try and bring these diverse perspectives to bear on improving the actual outcomes is a herculean task. But the pattern of outcomes is not unusual at all. Such a pattern with respect to a long list of well-meaning development interventions can only be described as shooting in the dark, and occasionally shooting ourselves in the foot. This requires a creative response to the design and evaluation of interventions for improvement of rural livelihoods. It requires harnessing research, education, and practice in ways that enable a learning-while-doing approach to sustainable development. By definition, wicked problems do not have a solution. The sustainable development challenge can, however, be formulated as one of identifying the combinations of interventions necessary in specific contexts that improve the possibility of improvements and reduce the incidence of adverse outcomes. This presentation describes such a collaboration between NGOs, researchers, and public agencies in India, with an emphasis on the challenge of producing a body of knowledge that is credible, legitimate, and salient with all relevant actors across multiple scales.

Ashwini Chhatre has recently relocated from the University of Illinois to India from the US to serve on the faculty at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Ashwini has an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke University. In between, he spent 11 years working with local communities and social movements on democratic governance of natural resources in India. Ashwini was the Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard University during 2006-07, and serves as a faculty member in the Department of Geography, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2007. Ashwini’s research investigates the intersection of democracy with environment and development, with a more recent focus on rural livelihood dynamics in rainfed systems across agro-ecological and socio-political contexts. Ashwini has co-authored one book and published articles in Science, PNAS, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Conservation Biology, Journal of Peasant Studies, World Development, and other journals.

Ben Crow is a professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz. He trained and worked as an engineer in London and Africa, and was an activist and volunteer in South Asia, before becoming a social scientist. His PhD is from Edinburgh University in Scotland, and he taught at the Open University in UK and at Stanford and UC Berkeley before coming to UCSC. He has done research on conflict and cooperation over international rivers in South Asia, leading to a book Sharing the Ganges: the politics and technology of river development; on traders, township markets and the making of social classes in rural Bangladesh (Markets, Class and Social Change: Trading Networks and Poverty in South Asia); on global inequalities (The UC Atlas of Global Inequality (online) and The Atlas of Global Inequalities, with Suresh Lodha). His current work explores how access to household water in low-income urban settlements shapes the time and constrains the prospects of poor households and how the global idea of adequate water access promoted by international institutions - ‘safe drinking water’ - limits understanding and social change to improve water access and reduce poverty.

"Collaborating to Learn about Wicked Problems: Water, Food, and Energy in Rural India"Wednesday,
SJWG Rapporteur Report
11 February 2015
Rapporteur Report by Samuael Topiary
Professor Chhatre provided an introduction to the “wicked problems” of sustainable development in rural India
where attempts to alleviate poverty and malnutrition and develop new approaches to agricultural development can
create unintended consequences. He provided us with stories, lessons and insights from his work on
interdisciplinary approaches which seek to link disparate perspectives from academia, journalism and NGO work in
order to change attitudes, restructure public investment in agriculture and produce desirable outcomes.
Professor Chhatre began by explaining that wicked problems are ones in which there is no clear solution to a
problem and that all efforts to address this problem create or reveal more problems. He suggested that this situation
creates a boundary problem whereby issues cascade across disciplines and make the original problem seem
impossible to address. In attempting to seek solutions to the huge issue of rural poverty and malnutrition in India,
Prof. Chhatre described a three-pronged approach in which small-scale “proof of concept” projects are created in
seven different locations in India. He stressed the importance of the scale of each project, which had to involve
several thousand people, in order for the scale to be large enough. These pilot projects involved the integration of
multiple layers of interventions: approaching the issue of rural poverty and malnutrition by intervening in different
aspects of agriculture and food distribution. These multiple layers include soil, seeds and water access, converged
with public investments. The multidisciplinary approach of his work included economic analyses of agricultural
subsidies (who receives what subsidies and where) as well as of food storage systems and places in which food
waste occurs.

Professor Chhatre described a system-wide approach to analysis which includes environmental cost considerations
and can generate alternative ideas, such as implementing incentives which advocate for better food production (what
plants can be most environmentally efficiently grown where) and the distribution systems (how can transportation
and storage needs be modified by growing more food locally). He stressed the importance of collaborating with
government agencies in order to generate knowledge and change behaviors, as well as the importance in generating
knowledge which captures the complexity of rural livelihoods. This approach thinks about agriculture in relation to
other systems and is founded on place-based knowledge about local cultures which can bring an awareness of
unintended negative consequences and can make improvements that learn from problems. This approach, a learning
while doing approach, leads to a research framework which can thus make claims about what works and what
doesn’t work.

After discussing this approach as a general interdisciplinary framework for research, Chhatre described three
concepts that “get in the way,” and serve as ideological blindspots which naturalize the status quo in ways that are
difficult to see. These concepts are 1) the Discount Rate as a predictor of the future; 2) price as indicator of
scarcity; and 3) productivity per hectare as a measure of performance. In each case, the economic assumptions
which underlie the capitalist system at work in agriculture are seen as obstacles which must be understood,
debunked and overcome.

Following Prof. Chhatre’s presentation, Ben Crowe asked how is he able to work with economists in the face of his
underlying critique of standard economic ideologies. Chhatre responded that he cannot collaborate with economists,
but rather he finds it more productive to work with philosophers. Because he questions underlying assumptions
about Economic Growth and “fetishized” assumptions about India’s rate of growth (generally understood to be 5.5%
annually), Chhatre suggested there would be no need to confront tropes of economic growth if people are better fed
and that the question for India should be focused on equity and distribution of wealth rather than growth. He also
suggested that one road to amelioration of India’s poverty issues is in open outcomes, where farmers have the option
of going to market on their own terms. A number of questions in the audience focused on labor issues and the notion
of the aspirations of young people growing up in rural areas.

Donna Haraway (Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, UCSC) asked about the issue of
scale and Chhatre’s early suggestion around thinking about abundance, rather than being trapped with scarcity
thinking. Chhatre responded by explaining that in order for NGO’s to act as a substitute to government and to
become an agent for government change takes a long time. The instinct for NGO’s is to help people directly, but this
does not produce long-term, systemic change. Therefore, Chhatre suggests there must be new approaches tried.
One of these approaches is using middle school children for data collection and reporting. For example, they have
the school children collect rain fall data and when certain flowers start blooming. In this way, they reduce the need
for expensive monitoring equipment, and include students in the process; allowing them to visualize ideas for
themselves and seeing themselves as the drivers of change.

Andrew Mathews asked how to avoid creating wicked problems. Chhatre clarified that his approach reframes
situations not as choices between but rather as a choice to put together elements differently in such as way that a
system of public investments can be put in place and combined in ways which work locally so that it is possible for
these new approaches to happen. For example, in creating an incentive for farmers to use organic manure in order to
replace chemical fertilizers they have to work through the cascades of effects that this change will create. So, being
able to see that this change in fertilizer means that the use of cow dung will be diverted from its previous use as fuel
which will also mean that women will have to spend more time transporting the dung to the fields and collecting
firewood or shift to inferior fuels. In other words, this shift to organic fertilizer will end up increasing a burden on
women and could also result in increasing girls’ absenteeism from schools. People intervening in soil don’t think to
ask about the state of the local forest or whether girls go to school. Chhatre’s approach shifts from a focus on
singular intervention to combining multiple interventions, which can account for the energy deficit and therefore
combine the shift to organic fertilizer with kerosene subsidies, so the cascade effect can be nipped in the bud and
women’s labor valued. This approach necessitates asking what else is missing and how to monitor that? Mathews
points out that this focus on multiplicities avoids “empty world thinking.”

The conversation continued with other questions about water systems and questions which address new ways of
understanding the legacy of the Green Revolution. Haraway added that this approach emphasizes actual knowledges
and practices of actual workings over modeling and abstractions or theory. She suggested that we have outmoded
notions of knowledge and that this complex systems theories in which multi-factor processes allow us to let go of a
certain need for precision. She stressed the importance of interdisciplinary communication and expressed optimism
for this approach.

ANTHROPOCENE CONFERENCE: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Can humans and other species continue to inhabit the earth together? Through noticing, describing, and imagining, we renew conversation about life on earth.

Full schedule: ANTHROPOCENE: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Video documentation of the conference: 

“Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet” begins Thursday evening with a talk by acclaimed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz. The talk has long been sold out, but simulcast video streaming will be available at two locations on the UCSC campus: the Humanities Lecture Hall (Room 206) and Social Sciences 1 Room 110. The talk and broadcast are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

“Through noticing, describing, and imagining, we renew conversation about life on Earth,” is how organizers describe the conference’s objectives.

Le Guin spoke of her views on the subject in an extensive interview with the Good Times weekly newspaper. “Well, we’re at a point where how many species go extinct everyday due to human interference? How many oil spills are we going to have? How many people are running around shooting school children with repeater guns? Things are not going well,” she said.

The conference was conceived by UCSC anthropology professor Anna Tsing and is co-presented by the UCSC Anthropology Department’s Emerging Worlds initiative and Denmark’s Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene project. The term Anthropocene is a new one, used to describe the geologic epoch defined by human disturbance of the earth’s ecosystems.

Last year, Tsing won a $5 million Niels Bohr Professorship from the Danish National Research Foundation with which she is establishing a program encompassing the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts in an exploration the Anthropocene.

Aarhus is Denmark’s largest and second oldest university. Founded in 1928, it is located about 120 miles west of Copenhagen. Tsing spent last fall quarter at Aarhus and will teach and conduct research there during the 2014-2015 academic year. She spent time at the university in 2010 on a Guggenheim fellowship.

The conference will continue Friday and Saturday with series of talks that are free and open to the public. All will be held at the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room on the UCSC campus. A complete schedule can be found at anthropo.ihr.ucsc.edu.

May 8, 2014 7-9pm at the Rio Theater
May 9, 2014 9-5:45pm in the College 9/10 Multipurpose Room
May 10, 2014 9:30-6pm in the College 9/10 Multipurpose Room

Cocktail Hour: Allen Thompson “Inter-generational Justice and Issues in Ecosystem Management”

Intergenerational Justice and Issues in Ecosystem Management

Pervasive and in some cases irreversible environmental change is putting great pressure on normative thinking in the fields of ecosystem management, including conservation and restoration ecology. In this talk I will present an argument based on obligations to future generations to justify decisions about allocating limited resources in the practice of ecological restoration, or under conditions of what we might call “restoration triage.” Thompson will discuss a growing field of ecological thought that concerns the increasing emergence of non-analog or “novel” ecosystems and the subsequent need to develop an “intervention” ecology to supplement historic management principles of non-intervention, arguing that an intervention ecology will be required to achieve our preservation and conservation goals in a new world of rapidly changing ecologies.

Allen Thompson is an Associate Professor of Philosophy in the School of History, Philosophy & Religion at Oregon State University. His research includes Environmental Philosophy, Philosophical Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Practical Reason

Tuesday February 18, 2014  |  4:00-6:00pm | Science & Justice Common Room, Oakes 231