Friday, May 22, 2015

Maximum Sustained Yield

H-Environment recently posted a Roundtable Review of Carmel Finley's All the Fish in the Sea: Maximum Sustainable Yield and the Failure of Fisheries Management (U Chicago Press, 2011). Particularly interesting are the comments by Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu. Some excerpts:
In her discussion of the surprising flimsiness of MSY as a scientific concept, Finlay points to the “scientific racism” beneath the attitudes of the American public officials and scientists concerned with fisheries regulation at mid-century. They long held the notion, or even truism as it were, that Japanese fish science was at best woefully lacking by Western standards of scientific rigor, and at worst nonexistent. In fact, Finley argues, Japan, because of its dependence on marine living resources, had a long and venerable history of studying fish stocks and their husbandry going back to the industrialization of the nation’s inshore and coastal fisheries in the nineteenth century. Japan was also a respected source of knowledge in the inchoate fish science sought by other nations from the 1930s on, including the United States…. Works by historians of Japanese fisheries such as Yoshitaka Takahashi attest that Finley is right: Japan had indeed developed a sophisticated administrative system of fisheries management based on systematic accumulation of data even before Japan was “forced open” by Commodore Matthew Perry and famously exposed to the benefits of Western science and technology. Another interesting point Finley makes about various iterations of American racism or ethnocentrism tainting the views of American scientists and practitioners is that the United States vilified the efforts by Central American coastal nations such as Ecuador and Peru to curb American bait fishing off their shores as an attempt to extract a “tribute” from US fishermen, and they refused to regard such control as a legitimate administrative prerogative exercised by sovereign states on a par with the United States.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

From NIMBY to civil rights

A couple of weeks ago we posted on the first article in Environmental History's virtual issue on environmental justice. The second is Eileen Maura McGurty's 1997 "From NIMBY to Civil Rights: The Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement". The article begins:
In the summer of 1978, Robert Burns and his two sons drove liquid tanker trucks along rural roads in thirteen North Carolina counties and through remote sections of the Fort Bragg Military Reservation. Driving at night to avoid detection, they opened the bottom valve of the tanker and discharged liquid contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) removed from the Ward Transformer Company in Raleigh onto the soil along the road shoulders. This violation of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) continued for nearly two weeks until 240 miles of road shoulders were contaminated. Robert Ward had hired the Burnses to illegally dispose of the contaminated liquid in an attempt to avoid the escalating cost of disposal that was due, in part, to increasing regulation of hazardous waste. Since the contamination occurred on state-owned property, North Carolina was responsible for remediation. Within a few months after detecting the contamination, the state devised a plan calling for the construction of a landfill in Warren County, a rural area in northeastern North Carolina with a majority of poor, African-American residents. Warren County also suffered the most contamination of any of the thirteen counties effected by the illegal disposal. A farmer in the small community of Afton, facing a foreclosure and bankruptcy, sold his property to the state for use as a final resting place for the contaminated soil.

The article goes on to discuss the Warren County protests and the foundation of the environmental justice movement.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Islamic law and natural resources

In an ecumenical spirit, following yesterday's post on Presbyterianism, today we note the recent publication in Environment and History of Sabrina Joseph's "Islamic Law and the Management of Natural Resources in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Ottoman Syria". The abstract:
Drawing on evidence from seventeenth and eighteenth century Islamic legal sources in Ottoman Syria, the paper examines the laws governing the use and management of natural resources, particularly for agricultural production. Islamic jurists played a key role in mediating the state's relationship with local populations and legitimising local practices and customs that governed land and water use. Often, this translated into laws which prioritised protecting the public good while not necessarily challenging existing power structures. The paper also explains how pious endowments (waqfs) were integral to the management of land and water resources in Ottoman Syria. The study sheds light on indigenous narratives regarding the environment and how Islamic law adapted to social and economic circumstances on the ground. Ultimately, the law contributed to ensuring the socio-cultural sustainability of ‘management’ strategies implemented by local populations vis à vis the environment. 
Sultan's Pool, Jerusalem, 1943 (LOC)
(a 5-min. bike ride from my house, looks a bit different today)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Christianity and environmentalism

Like others, I think Lynn White's "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" reflects a facile view of the connection between western religion and environmental degradation.

Promoting his new book, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Oxford UP, 2015), Mark Stoll recently posted two pieces (at the History News Network and the OUPblog) on the Presbyterian roots of the American conservation movement. Anyone who still thinks that religion is antithetical to environmentalism, or who hasn't noticed its very religious trappings, should take a look.

Monday, May 18, 2015

More on Mono Lake

Mono Lake continues to inspire scholarship, with Erin Ryan recently posting "The Public Trust Doctrine, Private Water Allocation, and Mono Lake: The Historic Saga of National Audubon Society v. Superior Ct.". The abstract:
This article tells the epic tale of the fall and rise of Mono Lake — the strange and beautiful Dead Sea of California — which fostered some of the most important environmental law developments of the last century, and which has become a platform for some of the most potentially important developments in the new century. It shares the backstory and legacy of the California Supreme Court’s famous decision in National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, 658 P.2d 709 (Cal. 1983), known more widely as “the Mono Lake case.” Inspired by innovative legal scholarship and advocacy, the decision spawned a quiet legal revolution in public trust ideals, which has redounded to other states and even nations as far distant as India. 
Mono Lake (BPG)
The Mono Lake dispute pitted advocates for the local ecosystem and community against proponents of the continued export of Mono Basin water to millions of thirsty Californians hundreds of miles to the south. The controversy itself spanned decades, but the story leading up to the litigation stretches back more than a hundred years, adding depth and dimension to the tale that is easily missed on a casual reading of the Audubon Society decision itself. It is a case study on the challenges and possibilities for balancing legitimate needs for public infrastructure and economic development with competing environmental values, all within systems of law that are still evolving to manage these conflicts. And at this particular moment in time, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct that would threaten the lake and the twentieth anniversary of the State Water Board’s ultimate decision to save it, the Mono Lake story is especially worth revisiting.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

No free parking

Jonathan Zasloff recently posted at Legal Planet on the work of Don Shoup, particularly his book (originally an article), The High Cost of Free Parking (APA Planners Press, updated edition 2011). Zasloff writes:
As Shoup observed — and more importantly, proved — land use regulations requiring massive amounts of free parking helped create sprawling urban form as well as incentivizing reliance on the automobile....
But isn’t that what the market was demanding? No, Shoup argued. Although an economist by training, Shoup became an ersatz historian, and demonstrated that most zoning codes’ parking requirements came from model codes in the 1920’s and had absolutely no empirical basis to them. Then urban planners just copied them, because that was easier. Shoup loves to compare the “science” of parking requirements to phrenology, and he’s right. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

International Conservation and the “Naturalization” of Indigenous People

The Journal of the History of Ideas recently published Raf de Bont's “'Primitives' and Protected Areas: International Conservation and the 'Naturalization' of Indigenous People, ca. 1910–1975". The abstract:
This article explores a long-standing discursive tradition within international nature conservation. In this tradition the argument is made that “primitive” people should be allowed to live in the areas the conservationists deem as “pristine” or “natural.” The article explores the (changing) relative importance of this tradition in the conservation discourse as a whole, and analyzes the shifting composition of its argumentative arsenal from the 1910s to the 1970s. Particular attention goes to the uneasy combination of two types of argument: one in which indigenous people are presented as part of nature, another in which their customary rights are stressed.
Tagbanua in Culion, Phillipines (Bulakbol)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hetch Hetchy in the courts

Richard Frank recently blogged at Legal Planet on a lawsuit on which he's working:
A new lawsuit, filed by conservationists on the 177th anniversary of  John Muir’s birth, asserts that the City of San Francisco’s continued operation of O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the Tuolumne River within the Park violates Article X, section 2 of the California Constitution.  Specifically, Restore Hetch Hetchy, the organization that brought the lawsuit against San Francisco, claims that continued maintenance of the dam and reservoir in one of Yosemite’s most spectacular areas, constitutes an “unreasonable method of diversion” of water that violates state constitutional standards.
The 1913 federal Raker Act "authorized the City of San Francisco to build a dam across the Tuolumne River that would flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park in order to deliver water supplies to San Francisco residents and businesses."

Hetch Hetchy Valley in Early 1900’s, Before Valley’s Inundation
Passage of the Raker Act marked the greatest political defeat of John Muir, America’s most famous conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club.  Some historians and biographers go so far as to attribute Muir’s death in 1914 to his heartbreak over Muir’s inability to keep his beloved Hetch Hetchy Valley from being flooded.
Fast forward to 2015.  Bay area businesses and residents have for a century enjoyed the cheap water provided by the dam and reservoir that have inundated the Hetch Hetchy Valley.  At the same time, no one today would seriously propose the flooding of a key part of one of America’s most famous and revered national parks for such offsite uses.  That’s especially true when studies show that San Francisco can fully meet its water demands through relatively modest modifications to the much larger New Don Pedro Dam and reservoir downstream on the Tuolumne–outside Yosemite’s boundaries.
In sum, Restore Hetch Hetchy’s lawsuit provides a welcome forum for a long-overdue debate over whether O’Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir should be removed from Yosemite and the Hetch Hetchy Valley restored to its original splendor and ecological health.  (Muir and others of his generation observed that the Hetch Hetchy Valley was an equally-stunning counterpart to Yosemite Valley, located just to the southeast and the most heavily-visited portion of Yosemite National Park.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Melosi on environmental justice

Environmental History recently posted a "virtual issue" on "Race, Justice, and Civil Rights", in which they republish some previously published pieces from the journal. First up is Martin Melosi's "Equity, Eco-racism and Environmental History", originally published in 1995. Melosi surveys the then-young environmental justice movement in the US, its points of departure from the mainline environmental movement, and its implications for the writing of environmental history. Melosi writes:
Aside from the intrinsic importance of race as an issue for further inquiry, the current public debate over questions of environmental equity, environmental justice, and eco-racism are changing the focus of the environmental discourse in the United States and in other parts of the world. Just as the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped to shape the burgeoning field of environmental history, the current public dialogue over equity and environmental justice ultimately may have a similar impact.
It's interesting to thing about to what extent that has indeed happened, and also how different American environmental history writing is from American legal history writing in this respect.

Melosi goes on:
The Environmental Justice Movement, because of its controversial stances on race, class, and the environment, and its skepticism about the goals and objectives of mainstream environmentalism, is playing a historic role in reintroducing "equity" into the public and academic debate over environmental policy. Equity, however, has been transformed into "environmental justice," with a particular focus on the traditional American underside caught beneath the wheels of an avaricious economy. From the historian's vantage point, this is but one aspect of a larger issue-an issue already addressed broadly by philosophers, as well as by social scientists-especially sociologists and economists-concerned mainly with distributional effects.