Link to video:
Many thanks to the University of Edinburgh for sharing the video.
Link to video:
Many thanks to the University of Edinburgh for sharing the video.
Congratulations to James Rhatigan – a TCD geography alumni currently at UBC – whose work “Afterlife of a Mine: The Tangled Legacies of the Britannia Mine” won the CSN-REC’s prize for best MA Thesis.
The jury adjudicating the competition wrote this about the thesis: “Afterlife of a Mine: The Tangled Legacies of the Britannia Mine” examines the complicated environmental and social legacy of the Britannia copper mine and examines efforts to remediate the space polluted by the mine and to commemorate the history of mining in the area. Drawing on a wide range of theoretical approaches and grounded in a variety of primary sources, this thesis is an impressive piece of work, one that all committee members agreed was a pleasure to read.”
“Africa needs an estimated $100 billion a year for the foreseeable future to close the infrastructure gap but raising that kind of cash isn’t easy. Banks generally think Africa is still too risky and the U.S./Europeans are cutting back on foreign aid, so that leaves China as the lender of last resort.”
Congratulations to Niamh Donnelly and Patrick Gaynor, whose submissions have been Highly Commended in the Social Sciences: Anthropology & Cultural Studies category of The Undergraduate Awards Programme 2017!
The Undergraduate Awards assembled a panel of experts from around the world to assess the entries submitted to Social Sciences: Anthropology & Cultural Studies and their’s were ranked in the top 10% of all submissions. Additionally, they are still in the running to be the Global Winner of this category, which will be announced on September 19th.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, as measured by species richness. But over the past half century it has also been home to a brutal civil war, inflicting death and displacement on its citizens, with negative repercussions on its natural environment. However grim, conflict itself is not necessarily bad for biodiversity. While the lack of governance in war zones can encourage illegal mining and deforestation, a resulting reduction in development can also mean the natural environment is not exposed to pressures it might otherwise face. So, peace brings a fresh environmental challenge.
In November 2016 the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement to put an end to more than five decades of conflict. The optimism has since been tainted by delays in the process and an increase in the number of human rights activists murdered this year.
All this makes it a delicate time for Colombia and its natural riches. Brigitte Baptiste, director of the Humboldt Institute in Bogotá, described the period as a “great ecological experiment”. Throughout the text of the peace agreement, the goal of maintaining social and environmental sustainability was stressed. It called for the establishment of agricultural workers’ associations, for example, with the aim of protecting the environment, while substituting illegal drug crops for food production. The agreement also set out plans for environmental zoning to mark out the agricultural frontier.
It’s not going to be easy. Since the signing of the peace agreement there have been some worrying trends. Deforestation increased by 44% in 2016, primarily in areas previously controlled by the FARC. These figures are aligned with some recent research showing a correlation between the presence of the FARC and lower levels of deforestation, due to the guerrilla group maintaining a level of control over the forests in its territory.
Production of coca (which goes into making cocaine) is also on the increase, due in part to a perverse incentive for coca farmers to increase the size of their crops in order to receive greater subsidies for switching to alternative crops as part of the peace strategy. Aside from illegal activity, there are major national plans for development, including mining concessions and a massive infrastructure programme of 8,000km of roadways, all of which put Colombia’s biodiversity under threat.
However, peace also creates opportunities. Colombia could now improve its governance and conservation policies, and properly monitor the biodiversity of zones previously off limits during the conflict. For instance, 88 new species have been discovered in Colombia since the peace agreement in areas previously considered too dangerous for research.
At the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) held in Cartagena, Colombia in July 2017, conservationists from Colombia and across the world discussed some of these key opportunities. Protected areas are being expanded, and there is a major drive for more eco-tourism – especially for bird lovers.
Colombia’s national development plan promotes a strategy of green growth and “as much market as possible, and as much state as necessary”. Consequently, new market-based conservation initiatives are emerging that attempt to find a compromise between economic development and nature conservation.
One example is the emergence of “biodiversity offsetting”. This aims to compensate for the environmental impacts of large mines, dams or roads by conserving or restoring an ecosystem of greater or equal biodiversity value as to that that is being damaged. But these mega projects still tend to become sites of conflict. In fact, the Environmental Justice Atlas lists 125 environmental conflicts in Colombia (only India has more), most of which arise from mining or drilling for oil and gas.
Popular consultations are now cropping up around Colombia, where communities have been voting against mining in their territories. Many feel that their livelihoods and the extractive industries are strongly incompatible: “agua, vida o minería” (“water, life or mining”).
Meanwhile, Baptiste, in her plenary speech at the ICCB, spoke of “minería sí, pero no así” (“mining yes, but not in that way”), outlining a wish for responsible mining and a belief in the existence of solutions that can make development compatible with nature conservation. Baptiste presented a breakdown of where biodiversity is located in Colombia and who is in charge of it, with protected areas representing 14-18% of the national territory, and mining and energy concessions representing 25%, around 1% of which has thus far been transformed by mining activity.
It is critical that conflict between armed groups is not simply replaced by conflict between communities and mega projects over the protection of their livelihoods and environment. It is unclear as yet how life, both human and non-human, will evolve in Colombia after the conflict. Certainly, there is a long road ahead to transition this country into a truly post-conflict nation. The challenge, and the opportunity, is to build a peaceful society while maintaining its biological and cultural diversity, and develop a model for other biodiversity-rich countries affected by war.
It has been described by Chinese president Xi Jinping as the “project of the century”. And the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is certainly ambitious. A massive infrastructural development program that will potentially span 60 countries, and cost an estimated US$5 trillion, it will mean building new rail networks, roadways, and pipelines across Asia, Europe, and Africa.
First proposed in 2013, OBOR is the latest in a line of projects designed to increase China’s economic reach. Though its scale is unprecedented, OBOR’s basic objective is the geographical expansion of Chinese capitalism.
The initiative is part of a massive restructuring of the Chinese economy as the country seeks to move from a “newly-industrialised” economy to a “fully-developed” one. The old drivers of development such as low wage, low-end export manufacturing have been wildly successful. But the system has essentially run its course. Overproduction and cyclical crises have led to social and economic problems such as unemployment, increasing income disparity, and an overheated housing market.
Simply put, capital accumulation and expansion under the old export-oriented model is no longer sustainable. The Chinese economy needs to move towards the production of higher value goods, an expanded services sector, and increased domestic consumption.
OBOR represents the latest, and most aggressive, step in this shift.
From Africa’s point of view, OBOR presents a mixture of challenges and opportunities. Few African leaders made it to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing earlier this year, and there remain big questions about how the initiative will affect projects throughout the continent.
East African nations such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia are seemingly the focus for China. But related projects have popped up everywhere from Cameroon to Namibia and Nigeria.
For many African states, the main question will be how they can leverage the vast sums of money behind OBOR to grow their own economies. They will be wary of an infrastructure heavy agenda resulting in a return to a colonial-style situation in which transport links are simply created to shuttle resources out of the host country, without creating opportunities for growth.
Additionally, OBOR may open up African markets to a wide variety of cheap Chinese goods, undercutting local manufacturers, and stymieing the prospects for large scale industrialisation of their own.
States throughout Africa already have infrastructure projects that they understandably wish to prioritise. Will OBOR interfere with these or cause them to be dropped altogether in favour of Chinese plans?
The enormous project brings with it many vital questions, and, currently, few clear answers. What will the negotiations with Africa look like and who will be represented? How will financing be deployed and debt managed? How will land acquisition take place, will there be large scale land grabs such as those seen in Ethiopia and Uganda? Will OBOR reinforce the political and economic status quo within participating African states or will it lead to substantial change?
The prospect of unsustainable debt presents another serious issue. Projects already underway such as the Standard Gauge Railway and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway have required host countries to take out billions of dollars worth of loans, largely from Chinese state banks.
Debt accumulation is unlikely to slow, yet there are a number of problems with current borrowing practices. Sub-par domestic revenue generation and falling commodity prices can compromise the ability of governments to service debts. Since 2013, for instance, Kenya’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 40% to 53%, far above the government-set preference of 45%.
While investment is sorely needed throughout Africa, some have argued that infrastructure deficits are symptomatic of broader societal and economic problems. Simply contracting outside parties to construct new infrastructure will not ameliorate the conditions that led to the deficits in the first place. Additionally, over-investing in physical infrastructure without establishing corresponding governmental institutions and legal structures can lead to economic and financial fragility.
OBOR investments will bring much needed capital to the continent, yet they must be carefully supervised. Under performing infrastructure projects, slumping commodity prices, and rising debt levels are a recipe for crisis. The situation will be further complicated by China’s own uncertain economic prospects. If the OBOR gamble fails, China could take Africa down with it.
Recently, I watched a TEDx talk by Panti Bliss (AKA Rory O’Neill) that I deeply related to (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIhsv18lrqY). Panti talked about the difficulties that gay people faced in public and that a simple gesture such as holding hands with a partner outside of his home was something that he was unable to do without fear and second guessing himself. Accessing public space is not a given for him or other LGBTQ people… it’s a constant risk assessment. For Panti, it invoked feelings of (rational) fear, jealously, and anger at being denied a basic part of being human.
I relate to Panti because I also find a human right dangerous for myself to exercise.
For most people, using a bathroom comes as second nature. Little conscious thought goes into picking one beyond reputation for cleanliness and convenience. This was my experience, at least, until I came to terms with the fact that I am a trans woman. After that revelation, bathrooms and an array of other public spaces took on entirely other connotations for myself.
A space is not simply defined by its physical nature. It is also a product of time, zeitgeist, personal experience, and identity. Panti’s TEDx talk highlights this perfectly: for sexual minorities public spaces have vastly different connotations and levels of danger/exclusion. This is true for racial minorities (as well as other minorities) too. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, has helped bring to light that people of color do not enjoy the same freedom of movement as other groups. Areas must be avoided, clothing altered, and culture masked every day in order to navigate through the public sphere. A “transgression” can result in harassment or death. This situation has not been ameliorated by the election of Donald Trump. On the contrary, Trump’s election led to a spike in hate crimes directed towards religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities. White nationalism and alternative conservatism have also been empowered by his stances. This has been clearly illustrated by the evil manifested in Charlottesville.
Institutional endorsement of discrimination condones bigoted acts by private individuals while destroying the self worth of those marginalized. It sends a powerful message, that should not be underestimated, by helping normalize hate and ignorance. Recently, transgender bathroom and employment rights have come under fire again by Texan politicians and the Trump administration… putting trans persons in both the limelight of social discourse and cross-hairs. As an American trans woman, I hope to give both academic and personal insights into why this issue is so vital.
If you were to ask me if I access a female assigned bathroom… I used to respond with “it’s complicated.” Although I currently study in Europe (which is not universally progressive), the American debate of trans rights has affected me deeply and continues to impact how I perceive this space. Facets of American culture (Exhibit A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIvCh3EQv1Q) and political attack ads (Exhibit B: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYpko86x6GU ) have caused me to view myself as an intruder or deviant. I was faced with constant fear that I will be branded a sex offender or screamed at. There is a sad irony to this. On a personal level, because I volunteer for sexual violence recovery organizations and value consent in every part of my life. On an institutional level, because Trinity College Dublin and my colleagues have been very supporting. Nevertheless, bathrooms remain a source of fear and discomfort for me:
Will someone call the police or security on me?
Will I be physically harmed?
Will I cause another person to feel uncomfortable?
Do I appear female enough to enter this bathroom?
So how does this fear manifest physically? How do I access public spaces? If I am presenting as a female, I used to and still plan my day around bathroom access and safety. I’ve made note of facilities and establishments with unisex and single occupant bathrooms available. I would avoid most forms of nightlife, side-streets, and loitering (if I linger for too long at one location I face unwanted solicitation for prostitution). When I do participate in nightlife, the range of places that I can safely access is limited. Even within this narrow window, I would always be cautious of my makeup and clothing holding up unless it’s a LGBTQ establishment. As a result, I would waste hours of productivity, my mental health was impacted, and businesses that deserve my money are avoided. I would often isolate myself at home rather than confront the stresses of… just being me. Imagine just walking home and a man pulling over with his car asking you how much your “services” are?
I am still new to being an open trans woman, and as time passes I find myself becoming more confident and open. In the preceding text, I used the past tense because I am evolving. One of my turning points was when I discussed my journey with a friend from South Africa. As a man of colour, he could also relate to me about issues of accessing space in the shadow of apartheid and being treated differently as a student in Europe. He also left me with a piece of advice: “Be militant.”
Social injustices and destructive social norms are not broken down by complacency… these barriers are sundered by resisting, ignoring, and actively taking the offensive against them. The boundaries in my life, those I self-impose and find imposed on myself, are breaking down because I am actively re-evaluating how I view them. Rather than view them as obstacles, I have come to see them as opportunities to challenge the status quo and make the future easier for trans people that come after me. I am sorry if using a female assigned bathroom makes some people feel uncomfortable, but how inane is it for me to use a men’s bathroom when I have on a dress, half a pound of makeup, and a two foot long wig?
Although life as a trans person is stressful at times, it is who I am… and coming to terms with my inner self has brought me great joy. There is no going back. I am who I am, and there is no changing the truth… the nature of things. I am a human being. I shall be.
I am writing this post not to invoke pity. I am an empowered and successful person… I do not need pity. I am writing this text to illustrate the difficulties that trans people face every day. We already face a high suicide and murder rate… on top of a myriad of other social issues. What will taking away our employment and bathroom rights do beyond compounding these issues and forcing us into the closet? Nothing beyond furthering the political careers of demagogues that have little substance to offer their constituents. As I have discussed in my personal experience, even if this political posturing is not acted on, the mere discussion of and discourse around it is harmful and inspires those that would do us harm. The public space is already needlessly dangerous and stressful for us. Bathroom bills will take trans lives… they will not prevent sexual deviance (there are no cases of transgender people using their identities to commit sexual crimes).
Space is subjective, but the indomitable will of trans people is not. Trans people will tip “the transgender tipping point” in their favour. We are willing to fight, sacrifice, and lay down our lives for our right to be normalized. Are the politicians and those who advocates against us willing to do the same? Are they willing to be remembered for being on the wrong side of history (something that must eventually acknowledge)? I think not, and for that I wish them luck… because they are outmatched by trans people and their allies… and without righteousness on their side.