By Michael D. Beevers
The visit by Ruth and Peter Bechtel was interesting on a variety of levels. However, what strikes me as the most significant for both for the country, and the world as a whole, has to do with the vast deposits of commercially-viable natural gas (and coal) in Mozambique. It would not be an exaggeration to describe what is happening in the country as a “resource boom” driven by the energy needs of the world.
At first blush the resource “boom” looks promising in a country that throughout the 1980s was shaken by a brutal civil war. Even today, Mozambique measures almost at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. As such the extraction of natural gas and coal provides a tremendous opportunity to foster economic development and in doing so alleviate poverty, provide jobs, deliver basic services, improve infrastructure. However, based on my experience in West Africa, and my reading of the literature on the so-called “resource curse”, substantial challenges will confront Mozambique and its people as it works to turn its natural resource endowment into genuine development that is equitable and sustainable. Here are some traps that Mozambique needs to avoid in the years ahead.
As the Mozambican economy becomes increasingly dominated by the extractive resource sector, it is likely to have effects on the country’s economic structure. What I mean by this is that developing countries that are heavily dependent on exports of oil or other mineral resources tend to (paradoxically) suffer from economic decline and political dysfunction. There is a fairly robust literature that suggests resource-dependent economies growth more slowly than resource poor ones partially because developing countries with global commodities tend to suffer from poor terms of trade, which undermines the local currency (Sachs and Warner 2001; Easterly et al. 1993). Likewise, once countries become dependent on resource revenues they become more sensitive to the inevitable “boom and bust” cycles that destabilize economies in ways that can create political problems (Ross 1999). Finally evidence suggests that in resource dependent economies – to which Mozambique aspires — economic growth often slows to a halt because profits are gradually captured by foreign companies and political elites with little of the revenue actually accruing to the government for investment in basic services (health and education), state institutions, infrastructure and/or human capital (Ross 2003). For this reason, it is common for developing countries with natural resource-based economies to maintain high rates of poverty and infant mortality.
While resource dependence can corrupt economic development, it can also have an impact on governments and governance, particularly in developing countries like Mozambique. Not surprisingly perhaps, governments that get substantial revenue from natural resources are likely to be more corrupt because the sheer volume of the profits encourages “rent-seeking behavior.” Experience shows that in “boom times”, political leaders, military commanders and foreign investors in countries similar to Mozambique tend to seize revenues instead of investing in economic development (Dunning 2008; Ross 2003; Karl 1997). This is in part because political leaders and members of the military often have the power to grant contracts and concessions to investors, wealthy landowners and other elites in exchange for kickbacks. And finally, countries like Mozambique generally do not have the institutional capacity to manage substantial revenues in a transparent manner or put into place robust processes of government accountability.
Finally, it is worth noting for the record, that countries that receive substantial revenue from natural resources tend to tax the population less, and therefore, their leaders tend to be less accountable to the population (Fearon and Laitin 2003). Put another way, governments that get a large share of income from natural resources become less democratic over time, and more willing to quell dissent by dispensing patronage and/or building up security forces.
This does not suggest that Mozambique is doomed. But without a significant amount of due diligence by the international actors, Mozambican government officials, and a robust civil society there could be a bumpy road ahead. In order to turn the country’s resources into a development opportunity, several issues that need to be on the front burner
First, agreements and contracts with mining companies need to be transparent and openly disclosed to the Mozambican people and the international community. Although corrupt government officials do find ways to launder money and get rich, openness helps hold public officials accountable and ensures that laws are being upheld. Second, civil society groups and non-government organizations need to be empowered and consulted about agreements and concessions. This will reduce disputes and to some extent make sure that the government is there to serve the people and not the natural gas or coal companies. Third, although transparency of resource revenues is critical so too is ensuring that the revenues directly benefit the population in ways that set the course for long-term human development. What this means is that communities adjacent to mining operations must have a voice in any decisions that affect them and revenue accrued to the Mozambican treasury must be invested in the country’s future. And lastly, considerable thought needs to be given to the relations that make countries like Mozambique vulnerable to the resource curse in the first place. For example, rather than a model that prioritizes natural gas exports in exchange for royalties and tax revenue should the government mandate that companies invest in developing local capacity for electricity generation. In other words, could Mozambique’s natural gas be used in part to power its own development? It is something worth discussing.
One final observation here is apt. The economic and human development needs notwithstanding, the irony of all this is that Mozambique’s future (if framed as one based on coal and natural gas extraction) revolves around the precise “dirty” energy resources that are disrupting our climate in a serious way. Even if Mozambique can find a way to effectively harness its natural resources, it will spend increasingly dollar amounts on adapting to climate change and building resilience to the end product of the resources that lie under the country.
Dunning, Thad. 2008. Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and Political Regimes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Easterly, William et al. 1993. “Good Policy or Good Luck? Country Growth Performance and Temporary Shocks.” Journal of Monetary Economics 32: 459-483.
Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.
Karl, Terry Lynn. 1997. The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petrol-States. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ross, Michael L. 1999. “The Political Economy of the Resources Curse.” World Politics 51:297-322.
Ross, Michael L.2003. “The Natural Resource Curse: How Wealth Can Make You Poor.” In Natural Resources and Violent Conflict, edited by Ian Bannon and Paul Collier, 17-42. Washington DC: The World Bank.
Sachs, Jeffrey and Andrew Warner. 2001. “Natural Resources and Economic Development: The Curse of Natural Resources.” Economic Review 45: 827-838.
In some ways, Peter and Ruth Bechtel’s presentations seemed to be the perfect rejoinder to Michael Shellenberger’s criticisms of environmentalism. Their multipronged projects seemed supremely constructive and hopeful, acknowledging the real, inescapable, material needs of the people they hope to enlist and serve.
Like Maria I came into their presentation skeptical. In environmental history we expect that the development of “wilderness preserves” will lead to human dispossession and the destruction of human landscapes. The American notion of “pristine wilderness” implying the total absence of humans, has been used to make human landscapes illegitimate. In landscapes from Yellowstone to Mt. Kenya, conservation legislation has turned subsistence hunters and fisherpeople into “poachers” and wood-users into “thieves.” Such legislation has turned landscapes of work into landscapes of elite recreation. The Bechtels’ work with fishing preserves seemed to acknowledge this history and learn from it. I was impressed and encouraged and moved.
However key aspects of the Bechtels’ success in Mozambique highlight dimensions of difficulty in the American context with great force. As the Bechtels’ pointed out, their negotiations with local communities on Lake Malawi took advantage of the fact that the people endangering the fishing themselves relied on the fish. A local conversation about self-interest naturally came around to fish preservation. The same conversation seems a lot harder to imagine with an Amazon logistics expert in Carlisle. The specialization and depopulation of the American countryside means that most Americans do not depend for their livelihood on any particular landscape or resource. Even if we turned Chesapeake into a dead zone, stretches of ocean from Alaska to Thailand to Chile would still supply us with fish, at least for a while.
This separation and competition hides our limits from us. As the nets of the people of Lake Niassa grew finer, they saw the fish growing smaller. As our fish stocks are depleted we simply see shifts to new fish from new places—the orange roughy of the 1990s, the monkfish of the 2000s. Ann Vileisis’s Kitchen Literacy shows us that this process is of long standing. During the nineteenth century, as railway lines lengthened and market hunting intensified, metropolitan consumers ate their way unthinkingly through hundreds of wild bird species, of which the passenger pigeon was only the most famous. The gap left by each species was filled by a new one—giving a mass extinction the feeling of a cornucopia. For them as for us, depletion could be disguised by novelty. For them as with us, lengthening transportation lines made local pollution acceptable. As long as lobster could be caught in Maine, it didn’t matter that nothing could be caught in the Hudson.
If we move beyond fish, of course things get even more complicated—it’s hard to imagine any area of the United States where a single resource would attract unanimous local allegiance, where tourism isn’t competing with lumbering, or farming, mining, or oil refining.
I realize looking back over this post that I’m characterizing the Bechtels’ work (which is clearly appallingly difficult and often personally dangerous) as somehow simpler than similar efforts in the U.S. I don’t mean to do this. I also don’t want to downplay the incredible promise their work holds. However, I’ll be thinking hard about about how to practice Community Based Natural Resource Development here, in a place where communities are so far flung, with such heterogeneous, and so torn between different interests. I’d love any thoughts (or readings) people in our group have to suggest that describe the process of coalition-building and negotiating among groups with conflicting interests.
Did you catch the story on NPR Thursday morning about the launch of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development? A consortium of oil and gas development corporations, Environmental Defense Fund, PennFuture, the Heinz Endowments and others has formed to set environmental standards for gas and oil development in Marcellus Shale formation. See the article in Philly.com. Also see a negative view from the Sierra Club.
What are your thoughts? Is this a positive step? Or is this bad for the environment, the climate and/or communities in the Marcellus region?
By J.J. Luceno
The personal stories of those who live at the borderlands of natural resource extraction remind us that the path and promises to economic development are murky. Despite large gaps in latitude, a common storyline became apparent in the experiences of energy development in Mozambique and that of Marcellus Shale fracking in our state of Pennsylvania. Both areas face a common paradox: environmentally rich in resources but fragile economically and politically.
The prospect of natural resource extraction poses questions of compromise, autonomy, wealth distribution, and degradation. At the same time it also challenges the capacity of pre-existing infrastructure to bear its costs and the transformations it will invariably yield on the communities involved. Ruth Bechtel explained these impacts go beyond the environmental landscape; they affect patterns of migration, family well-being, disease transmission, and the overall public health of communities. The informal settlements that emerge around newly-discovered extraction sites oftentimes fight a losing battle as populations swell and the public services and infrastructure to support them lag far behind community needs.
The visual landscape built by the stories shared by the Bechtels,Veronica Coptis and Erika Staaf brought to mind an image I recently saw.
The image drew on an experience I had during my first year at Dickinson. It was the moment I understood and came to recognize the important difference between equality and equity. Almost like the moment as a child when you realize the pickles relegated to the back of the fridge weren’t gravity-defying blobs suspended in kryptonite juice but instead were cucumbers in disguise. When we perceive that which lies in sight as the whole picture something infinitely important is lost. These moments of realization make us confront the often self-constructed sense of certain realities we hold.
The branding of “equality” growing up had seemed to dwarf any meaningful understandings of what equity could possibly mean. One of these blazingly American ideals sprinkled in school choir songs and scrawled across glossy multicultural posters in elementary school classrooms. Equality paved the road for justice and moral wholesomeness, right? Later on I came to understand equality meant everyone gets the same, whereas equity meant everyone gets the same quality of outcome. Divvying up the pickle jar suddenly became a more complicated task.
Equity seems often misunderstood and absent in the impact evaluations of those most affected by natural resource extraction: whether fracking, mining, forestry, or other extractive industries. As we have seen with the drilling companies exempt from parts of the Clean Water Act, campaigns to diminish industry long-term accountability, and grossly disproportionate distribution of profit by transnational mining companies, issues of equity are often left out of the equation. Historically, those who labor and live near the extraction sites often incur the greatest damages and inequities. Their experience challenges the notion of true economic development for the communities most directly effected by extraction methods. These people are the unseen, or “cucumber” of this pickle of a natural resource extraction situation. Efforts are being taken in some countries to improve the visibility and power of these populations within natural resource extraction.
Resource extraction efforts taken in Mozambique though still fraught with complexities, seem to be moving in a direction towards increased community participation and overall more equitable outcomes for those most neglected in resource extraction. Natural resource extraction implications are not universally translatable; however, the resource development story offered by Mozambique provides a working model for future improvement and more inclusive extraction strategies. Better governance and oversight can provide better capability to hold accountable extractive industry. The cultural, social and health “ripple effects” must equally be considered. Ruth Bechtel spoke extensively about the shifts in population dynamics and degradation of public health extraction can cause. The community based natural resource management model (CBNRM) at work in Mozambique still needs fine-tuning, however, I find it exciting that community participation is becoming more prominent in planning. It is my hope that as these models are improved, greater checks and balances will help to ensure the longevity of inclusion, equity, and comprehensive community-based management strategies.
By David Dean
From recent presentations made to our Baird Colloquium by Ruth and Peter Bechtel, and Veronica Coptis and Erika Staaf, I have learned about a group of environmental organizations that have engaged communities and worked to allow the voices of community members to be central in the management of local natural resources. I began to reflect upon the ways in which the ideals of these community organizers seem to contradict common critiques of environmentalism.
Although I often disagree with the arguments of Michael Shellenberger, I think he is correct in saying that the human needs of food, water, and shelter must be satisfied as a “precondition” for concerns unrelated to immediate survival to emerge. In his book Break Through he notes that “Social scientists often label these quality of life concerns postmaterial, because they emerge only after individuals and societies have met their basic material needs” (27).
Shellenberger and many others have heavily criticized the environmental movement for not explicitly focusing upon this truth. In the video below and within the same line of reasoning, Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade provides an understanding of why the urban poor are often unwilling to give their attention to the green movement. At one point he exclaims, “The insulation of my house does not matter if there are bullets coming through my window!” I couldn’t agree more.
Our recent speakers showed me a truth that adds nuance to the comments made by Shellenberger and Duncan-Andrade: Not all environmental issues are “postmaterial.” Picture a water source in Pennsylvania that becomes contaminated from fracking. Everyone in town has to attach outdoor water tankards to their homes. If you can’t, you don’t get water. Think of a Mozambican community who is forced by a mining company to move away from the river they have lived off of for generations, and can no longer sustain themselves in their new arid home. With this lens, social impacts can be seen within issues that too quickly become labeled solely environmental, and postmaterial needs quickly become material again.
I believe that the first role of any organizer should be to search for ways to meet the survival needs of communities. When an environmental concern directly affects immediate survival needs, it is the organizer’s job to bring that connection to the forefront and initiate strategizing efforts to confront the problem. When environmental issues are not threatening survival in the short term, organizers must still tend to immediate survival needs before anything else. They should then continue to promote healing in areas where the community needs it most. Often, this would include finding ways to address silenced historical traumas and the ways they continue to create inequality and psychological stress today. Community empowerment such as this must be a part of any genuine and holistic sustainability movement. Not until the scars of the past and the wounds of the present are healed can a community engage in a broad movement to create a sustainable future.
By Erik Love
The thoughtful presentation by Ruth and Peter Bechtel demonstrated the power of community-based organizing. In Mozambique, where extraction-based industries have really only begun to ramp up their operations, some significant victories have already been won. The Bechtels have worked closely with all of the stakeholders in Mozambique, and through what sounds like a painstaking process of consensus, they have enacted effective protections to benefit everyone involved. The community based natural resource management (CBNRM) model worked in Mozambique, although Peter Bechtel noted that CBNRM practitioners often fail to recognize not only the utility value but also religious, cultural, and aesthetic values for resource extraction. He suggested adapting CBNRM based on a traditional cooking method that uses three stones. For CBNRM to succeed, Peter finds all three of these cornerstones are required for a successful CBNRM project. First, you need a sense of ownership to avoid the tragedy of the commons. Second comes a set of concrete benefits that identify ways that the new community based rules will benefit everyone involved, and then finally extraction management becomes possible with new regulations and careful supervision. Most successful CBNRM projects have all three of these pieces in place, and instances of CBNRM failure almost always lack at least one of these three pieces. Ruth Bechtel noted that the best way to develop this tripartite CBNRM comes by listening directly to concerns, rather than showing up with a plan.
These three stones have yet to be placed in Pennsylvania, a state which sorely needs some CBNRM. This is a state where extraction-based industries have a long history, and in the latest chapter the industry is operating nearly without restriction. With the advent of horizontal hydro-fracturing technologies — or “fracking” — the natural gas industry has opened up massive new fields of extraction, threatening the environment. The industry has worked carefully to avoid any hope for CBNRM. The natural gas industry spent an amazing $3.5 million on lobbying in 2010, and an additional $1.3 million in the early months of 2011 as the state government considered enacting an “impact fee.” Governor Tom Corbett made a campaign promise to stop Pennsylvania from taxing the natural gas industry, arguing that the jobs provided by fracking would vanish. Faced with a $4 billion budget deficit, Corbett suggested slashing the education budget rather than tax natural gas. Corbett recently said that the $1 million campaign contribution from the natural gas industry didn’t influence his decisions at all, that he believes fracking’s benefits outweigh the problems. The lobbying efforts of the natural gas industry have paid off handsomely. Pennsylvania has the lowest effective tax rate for natural gas extraction in the United States.
Communities in Mozambique, meanwhile, appear to have exerted much greater influence on the extraction industry than Pennsylvanians have been able to muster. For one, thanks to the hard work of community organizers, Mozambique is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The United States is not. The EITI ensures that companies and governments disclose their finances. This simple provision helps to enable CBNRM, making it much more difficult for officials like Governor Corbett to hide behind inaccurate and misleading statements. Corbett insists that additional taxes on natural gas extraction would cost Pennsylvania jobs, and industry-funded studies suggest that he’s correct. More independent studies find that the natural gas jobs haven’t been as helpful to Pennsylvania as the industry says, and no proposed tax rate would significantly change the number or quality of jobs available in Pennsylvania. The failure of the United States to join EITI inhibits community discussions around these issues. More work like Ruth and Peter Bechtel’s is needed in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, West Virginia, and everywhere that the public’s natural resources are converted into private wealth.
By Sarah Ganong
After having had the amazing opportunity to speak to Ruth and Peter Bechtel during class last week, as well as Veronica Coptis and Erika Staaf this week, I feel like I’ve gained a much wider appreciation for the role of extractive industries and fossil fuels in the lives of everyday people, both here in Pennsylvania and across the world in Mozambique. As someone who considers herself an environmentalist, I often rail against the dangers of fossil fuels for a wide variety of reasons, predominately climate change. But after these two opportunities to speak to these individuals in class, as well as attend outside lectures, I feel like I have a broader and more nuanced understanding of the role that extractive industries play directly in the lives of millions of people and acres of land around the world.
Like several people have already mentioned, I find the lack of responsibility on the part of many extractive industries to address social, environmental, economic, and health benefits they leave in their wake to be shocking, something that must ultimately change on our way to an equitable and clean energy future. A balance must ultimately exist between the community where these industries are working and the industries themselves, but to me this balance and responsibility does not come out to be 50/50. A community absolutely must understand what is going to happen and the likely consequences for those actions on the part of the extractive industry, and require the industry to hold up its own end of the bargain. But the industry must take responsibility for payment of preventative measures and damages, as well as providing other positive benefits to the community. The community must be able to ask for these types of actions and assurances, but the extractive industry must deliver.
Social problems emerging from extractive industries are many, from the migration of male workers in Mozambique to the new distributions of wealth in fracking communities throughout Pennsylvania. Difficulties abound when addressing social problems, as it can often be hard to determine which existed before entry of the industry and which came about as a result of industry itself. For communities without extractive industries already, then, responsibilities must include determining a baseline of different factors before industry enters. This will then make determining the problems associated with industry easier, and potentially easier for the industry and community to address together.
For instance, as Ruth Bechtel discussed, problems tied in with male migration to work on extractive industries include a break-up of families (particularly in rural areas), negative impacts on children’s development, a huge increase in sexually transmitted illnesses, particularly HIV/AIDS, polygamy, and increased prostitution rates. Knowing statistics for these social concerns, such as the rate of HIV/AIDS spread throughout a state, before entry of the extractive industry will be helpful in determining that industry’s impact. Additionally, knowing the impacts of extractive industries means that providing solutions can be easier. Perhaps the industry could use some of its profits to construct more health clinics in areas where it operates and the communities think that they would be the most helpful. Or perhaps a more cohesive, affordable, and widely-available public transportation network could be set up, so families would be able to see each other more often while the male figure is away at the extractive industry sites. Thinking about many of the social and health problems that Ruth pointed out with the emergence of extractive industries in Mozambique truly shocked me. I’m used to associating, as I mentioned, extractive industries with environmental pollution and social problems in terms of those living directly near the extractive industries, but I had no idea the extent to which extractive industries could be socially damaging for families, the spread of disease not directly related to pollution, and how widespread those impacts could be. While communities must work to ensure they know their baseline information (obviously much easier said than done), the extractive industries must take responsibility as well.
Environmental impacts, for me, are much more clearly the responsibility of the extractive industry rather than the communities in which they work. I would argue that in many cases, the impacts of extractive industries can be the easiest to see in terms of environmental damage, rather than social, economic, or health. Coal mining in Green County, as Erika discussed, leads to collapse of the soils and gigantic slurry pits. Natural gas refineries off the coast of Mozambique reshape entire coastlines and decimate local fish populations. Fracking in Pennsylvania poisons water supplies and releases methane into the atmosphere. While determining all of this information must be done with community input, if for no other reason than to ensure industries are kept honest about their impacts, the industry must be responsible for preventing as many damages as they possibly can, and for cleaning up and reimbursing the communities for damages that they cannot.
Another challenge, however, is the international community’s role in regulating natural resource extraction, especially in cases where countries do not and cannot regulate on their own. In many countries, including Mozambique, so many different problems exist that even a stable, supported government would not be able to adequately address successful regulation of the extractive industries. Additionally, many countries with extractive industries do not use many of the resources themselves, but instead export them to other countries. While of course they do receive economic benefits and compensation for exporting the resources, they also receive all of the negative social, economic, health, and environmental consequences as well. This, to me, seems like a place where the international community must establish baseline standards for natural resource extraction that would protect countries and communities unable to protect themselves, but whose resources are so valued by the rest of the world.
By Neil Leary
Michael Shellenberger, who visited us earlier this semester, recently co-authored with Ted Nordhaus an article “Fractivists for Global Warming”. The article asserts that NIMBYism by “celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Sean Lenon, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Mario Batali, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, and Matt Damon” have caused the national environmental movement to reverse its support for natural gas as a bridge to zero-carbon energy, and kept shale drilling out of New York state. Nordhaus and Shellenberger ascribe opposition to shale gas development of these ‘fraktivists’ to “what matters most to them . . . the view from their solar-plated eco-compounds, not the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming on the planet.”
Beware those who resort to ad hominem attacks. The disparaged motivations of fracking opponents, claimed but almost certainly not known or knowable to Nordhaus and Shellenberger, are irrelevant to the argument.
There are valid arguments both for and against expanding development of unconventional natural gas through the use of hydrologic fracturing. Spewing venom at one side or the other may get you on Fox News, but it doesn’t build the understanding or trust that should be the basis of good public policy.
Natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than coal, whether measured in carbon or conventional air pollutants. Displacing coal with natural gas for generating electricity can be a bridge to a low carbon future. But absent willingness in the national debate to commit seriously to other steps needed for a low carbon future (e.g. support for EPA to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants), shale gas builds a bridge to a world of >650 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, which is beyond what many consider needed to safeguard against catastrophic climate change. Intelligent, ethical people can disagree on the best course of action for the climate.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger dismiss the social, health and environmental impacts of gas extraction and transport in the places and communities where fracking for natural gas takes place. Yet, as outlined by Frances Beineke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, natural gas fracking poses significant risks (see her Senate testimony). How severe the impacts are will depend on whether appropriate safeguards are put in place, and adequate resources provided to enforce them.
Assurances are offered by the gas industry, and often by legislators and governors, that development will be done responsibly and negative effects minimized. But the record in Pennsylvania is mixed at best. Meanwhile, the gas industry lobbies heavily for, and public officials too often acquiesce on, limited oversight and regulation, continued exemption from monitoring requirements of drinking water, clean water, storm water and air quality laws, weak laws on reporting of the chemicals used in fracking liquids, and limiting taxes that could be used to mitigate harm to paltry amounts.
The moratorium on shale gas development in New York is continuing not because of celebrity ‘fraktivists.’ It continues because many citizens of New York state look across the state line at what is happening in Pennsylvania, and at the bad behavior of many of the gas developers, and are distrustful that development in their state, once started, would proceed responsibly and safely.
If Nordhaus and Shellenberger really want to overcome opposition to gas development, they should aim their criticisms at the gas industry and advise them to change their tune: agree to make shale gas development subject to all relevant parts of the clean water, safe drinking water and clean air acts; cooperate with state government to put in place rigorous monitoring and enforcement; and support taxes on gas that are large enough to effectively mitigate the adverse impacts of their activities. Asking that appropriate safeguards be put in place is not NIMBYism. It’s just reasonable and fair.
By Maria Bruno
I have to admit, going into the Peter and Ruth Becthel lunch, I was skeptical. Skeptical of good-intentioned development projects in Third World countries that bring lots of hope and potential but don’t ever seem to have any long-lasting impact. Having worked and lived in Bolivia for several years now, I have had my fair share of encounters with such projects and their various counterparts: from foreign and national NGO directors and volunteers to the people in the communities where the projects take place. In fact, what drew me to the archaeology of farming in Bolivia in the first place was a development project initiated by a North American archaeologist to rehabilitate the ancient raised-fields on the southern shores of Lake Titicaca that were in use between about 800-1100 BC by the first state in the region, Tiwanaku. This ancient super technology was to help the rural Aymara farmers in the area produce more food, sell it to markets in La Paz, and improve their lives. What a fabulous idea, I thought! Using archaeology for modern problems, putting ancient, indigenous technologies back into practice, what could be wrong about this?!
When I was an undergraduate reading about this project, I saw pictures of abundant potato fields and smiling farmers with bumper crops. When I arrived there as a graduate student about 5 years after the official end of the project, none of the fields were still being used. As soon as the funding and “ingenieros” or engineers (development workers) had left, the farmers simply stopped using them and returned to their usual practices of farming the hillsides. There have been many analyses about why this didn’t work, from the reality that many of the people in these places are now wanting to work in more urban contexts and earn money driving mini buses in the city, to the fact that the initial success of the fields had to do with the virgin soils they were being cultivated on. In all cases, it seems that it simply wasn’t something that was sustainable for these communities to maintain. Perhaps they liked the idea at first but it didn’t fit with their schedules, needs, and desires.
I would say that this is the story of most of “sustainable development” projects in Bolivia, and reading the Pekka Virtanen article on “Community-Based Natural Resource Management in Mozambique” simply supported my skepticism. Despite over 30 years of critique and reform of “Development”, which has lead to these bottom-up, community-based models, it seems that projects are still be initiated from the “top”. This early quote about CBNRM really struck me, “While the CBNRM message has been broadly absorbed by the international and national bureaucratic and political elites, its reception by lower-level state authorities and local populations living in target areas has been more sceptical,” (Virtanen 2003, 2). So, once again, in trying to learn from mistakes of the past, there is still the issue of initiating projects from a place that does not resonate with the very people they are hoping to help. The examples provided in the reading greatly reflected the experiences I’ve seen in Bolivia.
So, when I heard Peter and Ruth’s accounts of their experiences, I was pleasantly surprised! I really appreciated Peter’s discussion and analysis of the different fishing projects they had been involved in, and the recognition that he gave to the communities who already had conservation practices and built upon those. In the ethonobiology circles, we refer to this as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and there have been so many wonderful anthropological studies of how these communities have excellent ways of managing their resources, although they are not “modern”. But, this is often only the case in areas where there hasn’t been significant migration of other groups into the region, which fundamentally shifts the dynamics of resources extraction.
Thus, I had even greater appreciation for their case from Lake Niassa (Malawi) where they were dealing with groups who clearly were not as aware of what impact their fishing practices were having on the fish populations. The group the Becthel’s worked with used a truly bottom-up approach to solving the problem of finding a balancing fishing for profit and sustaining fish populations. Ruth’s quote, which I think struck many of us, “ask the why question enough” and you’ll not only get to the root of the problem, but it will also reveal local, viable solutions to it. I think too many times, even these “community-based development” projects did not take the time to do this. They still come in with preconceived ideas of what might work, and even perhaps with assumptions about what these communities do and want based on what they’ve read about them or from previous projects in the area. People and communities change, so it’s important to start by talking to them first to see what is foremost on their minds.
The people now living along the shores of Lake Titicaca probably did want to earn more money and have more food on the table (although what they produced normally is pretty abundant for auto-consumption, but not for market profits): things promised by the raised-field projects. However, implementing an ancient technology, and in many ways wedding these people to this ancient past in an uncritical discourse of traditional versus modern, clearly was not something that resonated with them. Rather than asking the “why question” about their problems and ideas about how to fix them, an answer was placed upon them. It’s no wonder it didn’t work.
Thanks to Peter and Ruth for making me a little less of skeptic about development projects! I hope to see more projects like theirs in the future in Bolivia.
By Taylor Wilmot
Our conversations and presentation by Ruth and Peter Bechtel lead me to question people’s perceptions of realistic goals verse idealistic visions. People always want to assure others that they are not seeing the world through “rose colored glasses”. Idealism and far reaching goals are looked down upon and pushed away in today’s world. This seems to be the case, based on the experiences I have had throughout college, with natural resource extraction. Environmentalists and other activists are criticized for having unrealistic standards and agendas when they speak out on issues of natural resources extraction in Pennsylvania, and across the world. This divides people who are actually working for the same cause because one may be advocating for a moratorium and the other for a ban on hydraulic fracturing. Observing the scenario in Pennsylvania has made me cautious of having too idealistic visions for the future of communities I will live and work in. When Ruth and Peter Bechtel came to our classroom and presented for the Dickinson Community, I felt a sense of hope in their messages and visions for the future of Mozambique. This feeling is what led me to think further about varying perspectives and mindsets among people interacting, working, and living with these extraction processes.
Just to put my biases out on the table, I often peg myself as an idealist, as do others around me. So as I listened to what Ruth and Peter had to teach us about Mozambique and their goals for the future of natural resource extraction in a country they love, I realized a lot of what they were saying deeply resonated with me. This is when I asked myself, “Are the Bechtel’s being too idealistic?” If I so strongly agree with what they are saying and what they believe in for the future of Mozambique, then they must have the rose colored glasses on too. But no, after so many years of experience working and living and raising a family in this country, they had to understand the realities of resource extraction. Although Ruth and Peter Bechtel know and have experienced first hand the difficulties of international development, they still had hope that these processes could be improved and changed. Even when they are working with a very weak governmental system and a country that is still rebuilding after so many years of civil war, they have hope for the future of their country. Ruth and Peter are clearly driven to provide their country with as most benefits as possible from this bleak future of extraction, while mitigating the health, social, and environmental impacts that the country will be feeling for many years to come. This is just the beginning of the intensive grip resource extraction will hold on Mozambique.
I applaud and admire the Bechtel’s for their ability to send a positive message about what can be done to benefit Mozambique in the midst of such overwhelming future prospects. Although many will continue to shake their heads at people who send messages of hope, I think they play a critical role in these scenarios. It is important for those involved in development, whether national or international, to be able to point out the potential to change the fate of countries and regions across the world who are controlled by resource extraction. Without this hope or ability to see change, these processes will not be driven to evolve and grow. Although these situations are in no way simple to make a lasting impact on, this reality does not provide an excuse to become paralyzed by the complexities and power of resource plays. As the Bechtel’s lead by example, let us also challenge the powers that be.