Reflections from first plenary on “The role of place-based research for global sustainability and how global drivers affect place”
Wednesday morning at Hotel Misión de los Angeles. The air is still a bit chilly, but the milky morning sunlight promises yet another hot day in Oaxaca, Mexico. Entering the big plenary hall is disorienting at first – it is so dark! Plenary chair Professor Patricia Balvanera, La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, enters the stage and welcomes us to the opening plenary session of the second PECS conference.
We are asked to move again. Due to the recent earthquakes in Oaxaca and Mexico City, we are instructed to go through an earthquake drill, just in case. We have to remember that we are in Mexico, where people have had to adapt to the tectonic forces for thousands of years. So, find one of the emergency exits, follow the signs, meet at the meeting point outside the hotel. I think, maybe, this little walk outside into the sunlight, the movement, gives us just the tiniest bit of more energy. Once everyone is seated again in the dark plenary hall, the mood feels lighter somehow.
The first keynote speaker is Sandra Diaz, professor at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in Argentina. The focus of her talk is how the conceptualisation of people’s relationship to nature has evolved from “people despite nature” to “peoples and nature” over the last century. As an example of the latter, she brings up IPBES and its conceptual framework, which acknowledges multiple worldviews, knowledge systems and values, but also puts governance and institutions in the center. However, this pluralistic approach also poses many challenges. “Will IPBES work? I don’t know”, she says, and the whole room laughs. Power asymmetries is just one of the major challenges. Diaz concludes that conflict has long been the elephant in the room, and we have to start acknowledging it as a strong driver in social processes.
Second keynote speaker, Victor Galaz, associate professor and deputy science director at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, takes us into the world of economics. His focus is on how finance shapes the Earth system. Specifically, his recent work on the role of “tax havens”, that is, countries with tax and financial secrecy, in driving ecosystem change. In an audience of, I am assuming, mostly ecologists and case study focused social scientists, Galaz does a great job at pedagogically explaining global finance. In this case, how money moves between a company and its subsidiaries in “tax havens”, and then back again, effectively avoiding taxation. As an example, he brings up the case of big soy and beef companies driving deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The use of “tax havens” is partially funding companies’ deforestation, and consequently causing great losses in tax revenues for the Brazilian state.
At a first glance, these two topics seem very far apart, but listening to the concluding discussion, I realise there are several overlapping themes. Diaz and Galaz are both talking about global processes, how these have the potential to influence local places, and how global analyses need to be anchored in local cases. Diaz’ call to acknowledge conflict and learning to work with it instead of ignoring it, along with Galaz’ reflection to develop tools for better connecting scales, can be two sides of the same coin. Isn’t it so that conflicts often occur between scales, local populations and national governments, or between local farmers, ecosystems and large agribusiness? They both stress that PECS plays a key role in this space, in advancing excellent social-ecological science, allowing rich case studies to connect across scales and fostering an environment where unexpected alliances can happen.
Stepping out into the bright sunlight and heading to the pergola for some fruit salad and hot chocolate, I feel this was an inspiring start to the second PECS conference, setting the stage for diverse discussions in and outside of sessions.
I am a PhD candidate at Stockholm Resilience Centre. My PhD project is about analyzing bundles of ecosystem services together with stakeholders in the Helge å catchment in southern Sweden. Through my research, I have become interested in figuring out ways to communicate and foster resilience thinking with practitioners and policy-makers. Ever since I was a kid, I have used writing as a way to make sense of the world – so now, when writing for this blog, I hope to make sense of and communicate glimpses of the second PECS conference.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY