Beyond Polar Bears And Penguins

Simplified presentations on polar bears and penguins that do not account for spatial and temporal processes can never engage the types of ecosystem complexities that these two ecosystem examples reveal. In other words, the iconification of globalization through images of single species precludes a deeper understanding of global warming from an ecological perspective. Moreover, the focus on specific species of animals deemed more worthy of protecting and saving from extinction reflects the dominant views of Western societies and cultures, at the expense of alternative cultural views about animals. Different cultures have distinct views of which animals they value most. These views are often related to the different political and economic priorities of various societies. In many cases, however, they are grounded in more direct and long-term interactions with specific ecosystems than the dominant Western view.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to discussions of global warming, and it has long been at the core of tensions around conservation efforts going back to European colonialism and westward expansion in North America. In Tanzania, for example, efforts to create nature parks meant to preserve wild animal life have often produced conflicts with local populations that are displaced as a result. These conflicts have been well documented by social scientists such as Jim Igoe and Dan Brockingon. These researchers have shown that nongovernmental organization conservation efforts in Africa often reflect the political and economic interests of North American and European countries, transnational conservation nongovernmental organizations, and African elites. These groups are interested in protecting animal life so that it can be preserved as legacy for future generations, and as an economic resource for profitable commercial activities such as ecotourism. The local peoples who are displaced, however, often have different cultural and economic priorities, such as securing the sustainability of the local resource management practices on which their livelihoods depend.

While these debates do not pertain directly to global warming and climatic change, they are indicative of the sort of conflicts that emerge in the context of efforts to preserve animal life. They reveal political, cultural, and economic priorities about which species should be protected, for whose benefit, and at whose expense. Such conflicts are likely to proliferate and intensify as the impact of global warming and global climatic change on animals becomes increasingly prominent. As such, it will be important to consider that debates about these issues will need to foster productive communication among views and interests that, although distinct, often reflect equally legitimate perspectives. Most importantly, temporally and spatially complex human understandings of specific ecosystems should not be displaced in the rush to preserve and iconify individual species.

Recent scientific developments allow for the artificial manipulation of the gene pools of animal life. Though it has not yet gained mainstream acceptance, it is now possible through gene technologies to bring back species that may become extinct as a result of global warming and climactic change. Without more complex understandings of the dynamics of living ecosystems, however, it is questionable what value the revival of previously extinct species will have for the future of the planet.

SEE ALSO: An Inconvenient Truth; Conservation; Media, Books and Journals; Oceanic Changes; Phytoplankton; Polar Bears; Public Awareness; Sea Ice; World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

BIBLIOGRAPHY. D. Brockington, Fortress Conservation: The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania (James Currey, 2002); D. Brockington and J. Igoe, "Eviction for Conservation: A Global Overview," Conservation and Society (v.4/3, 2006); I. Christensen, T. Haug, and N. 0ien, A Review of Feeding and Reproduction in Large Baleen Whales (Mysticeti) and Sperm Whales Physeter macrocephalus in Norwegian and Adjacent Waters (Fauna

Norvegica, 1992); W. Cronin, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (W.W. Dutton, 1995); MacGillivray Freeman, Hurricane on the Bayou, Image Entertainment; Daniel Grossman, "Spring Forward," Scientific American (January 2004); J. Igoe, Conservation and Globalization: A Study of National Parks and Indigenous Communities from East Africa to South Dakota (Wadsworth/Thompson, 2003); Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press, 2003); M.A. Moline, et al., "Alteration of the Food Web Along the Antarctic Peninsula in Response to a Regional Warming Trend," Global Change Biology (v.10, 2004); K. Neves-Graca, "Animals," in Paul Robbyns, ed., Encyclopedia of Environment & Society (Sage Publications, 2007); K. Neves-Graca, "Politics of Environmental-ism and Ecological Knowledge at the Intersection of Local and Global Processes," Journal of Ecological Anthropology (v.10, 2006); Roderick Neumann, Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihoods and Nature Preservation in Africa (University of California Press, 1998); S. Reuter and K. Neves-Graca, eds., "Introduction: Genes and Society," Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology (v.44/1, 2007); R.C. Smith, The Emergence of Ecological Restoration Through Perceptual Reframing: Applying Gregory Bates-on's Living Systems Approach to the Minnesota River Basin Environmental Dilemma, dissertation (University of Minnesota, 2005); Mark Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of National Parks (Oxford University Press, 1999); P. West and J.G. Carrier, "Ecotour-ism and Authenticity. Getting Away from It All?" Current Anthropology (v.45, 2004); Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature: North American Landscapes from Disney to the Exxon Valdez (Blackwell Publishers, 1992).

Katja Neves-Graca Concordia University

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