Convener, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE)
Abstract: Most writings on the environmental histories of South Asia have been informed by either of two dominant frameworks. The first ─ widely called the ‘colonial watershed thesis’ ─ claimed that British colonialism profoundly undermined the ecological harmony that previously characterized social organization in South Asia. In contrast, advocates for the ‘continuities-with-change’ approach argued that, while the ‘pace of change’ was undoubtedly ‘rapid and epochal’, radical environmental transitions were not entirely new to the Indian subcontinent, pointing to the need for long term histories about human-nature relationships.
Whilst these two dominant frameworks have generated a rich and productive scholarship, recent concerns about climate change urge us to reconsider whether such conventional plot lines for environmental histories on South Asia are still possible.
In particular, I discuss how notions of the ‘Anthropocene’ have begun to unsettle some of the assumptions that characterized earlier writings in environmental history. Notably, concepts such as the ‘Great Acceleration’ and Earth Systems Sciences now urge us to reconsider periodization and emphasise threats at the planetary scale. Will saving the planet require us to obscure and side step local and regional histories about South Asia’s experience with colonial resource extraction and environmental changes brought on by European modernity? Will the task of ‘saving the future’ via unequal limits on carbon access turn the present into a hostage of the future? Can environmental histories of South Asia survive the loss of the regional, the local and, above all else, the colonial in their narrative design?
Bio: Rohan D’Souza is Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University. His research interests and publications cover themes in environmental history, political ecology, sustainable development and modern technology.
He is the author of Drowned and Dammed: Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India (2006) and has jointly edited with Deepak Kumar and Vinita Damodaran, The British Empire and the Natural World: Environmental Encounters in South Asia (2011). He has also curated and edited Environment, Technology and Development: Critical and Subversive Essays (2012) for the Economic and Political Weekly Series.
Title: "From 'Man Will Defeat Nature' to 'Ecological Civilization': Reflections on China's Policies and Practices Toward Nature in the Past 50 Years"
Speaker: Jim Harkness, National Geographic Society
Date: Monday, 1 February 2021, 6.30-7.45 pm (IST)
Abstract: China's post-Mao economic boom has pulled hundreds of millions out of poverty, but at what cost to the planet? Jim Harkness has worked on environment and development in China since the early 1980s and witnessed its transformation -- for better and worse -- from up close. He will draw on his experience as both a practitioner and researcher to illuminate efforts by China's government, civil society, and international NGOs to protect the environment amidst the boom.
Bio: Jim Harkness holds a Bachelor's degree in East Asian Language and Literature from the University of Wisconsin and a Master's in Development Sociology from Cornell University. Over a 17-year period between the early 1980s and mid-2000s, he worked in China as a field biologist, environmental educator, grantmaker and as country representative for the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). From 2006 to 2014 he was President of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, based in Minnesota, USA. For the next five years he worked on environment and regenerative agriculture projects with US and Chinese NGOs and foundations. He is currently the China Country Director for the National Geographic Society.
Title: Thinking Ecologically about Cities: A Global South Perspective
Speaker: Professor Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University
Date: Wednesday, 31 March 2021, 1.30 pm (IST)
Across the global South, cities are on a breakneck path to growth. Cities are engines of prosperity and promise, but also concentrations of pollution, stress, and disease. Episodes of flood, drought, heat waves, and smog tell us why we must begin to think ecologically about a new global urban future, which will be driven by cities of the global South, amongst which Indian cities will play a prominent role. I draw on our research over the past 15 years, on Bengaluru and other cities in India, to discuss how human populations have transformed the original ecology of the city beyond recognition. We cannot go back to the ecology of the past, but must instead look at the critical role that ecology plays in the social-ecological systems of contemporary and future cities, to collectively reimagine and redesign a better urban future.
Harini Nagendra is an ecologist and Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University. Her research examines conservation in forests and cities of South Asia from the perspective of both landscape ecology and social justice. For her interdisciplinary research and practice, she has received a number of awards including the 2009 Cozzarelli Prize from the US National Academy of Sciences, the 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award, and the 2017 Clarivate Web of Science award. Her publications include the books “Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future” and “Cities and Canopies: The Tree Book of Indian Cities” as well as recent papers in Nature, Nature Sustainability, and Science.
Harini Nagendra writes a monthly column ‘The Green Goblin’ in the Deccan Herald, and a fortnightly column ‘Nature in the City’ in Hindustan Times Bangalore. She is a well known public speaker and writer on issues of urban sustainability in India. Professor Nagendra has been a Lead Author on the IPCC AR5 reports, and a past Science Committee member of DIVERSITAS and the Global Land Programme. She engages with international science and policy through her involvement as a Steering Committee member of the Future Earth
Title: When Lions Roamed Ashoka University and Other Wild Tales from the Past
Speaker: Raza Kazmi, Conservationist, Wildlife historian, Researcher, and Writer
Date: Wednesday, 14 April 2021, 1.30 pm (IST)
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Have you ever wondered what places you are familiar with today might have looked like in past? This fascinating thought, this desire to know what places and landscapes we know well today were like before us, has driven much of Raza Kazmi's research as a wildlife historian. And so He found out, for instance, that not too long ago lions roamed what is now the Ashoka University campus, tigers prowled the roads leading from the campus to Delhi and Sonipat, and that the Delhi airport at Palam was once a favourite hunting ground for blackbucks.
After a decade of poring over thousands of archive sources spanning over more than 200 years and spread across many disciplines in its scope, Kazmi has added a significant amount of new information in the field of wildlife history of India, especially those related to the history of the Asiatic lion and the now extinct Indian Cheetah. Using anecdotes from the past, Kazmi will trace in his talk the broad arcs of Indian wildlife history from the colonial period to contemporary times, the factors and processes that affected the rapid decline of flora and fauna in modern India. Kazmi will also look at the ever-changing dynamics of land utilization resulting in drastic alterations of landscapes just as it happened with the land where Ashoka stands today -- from a lion playground to a state-of-the-art university.
Raza Kazmi's fields of expertise include wildlife history of India, conservation policy, and conservation issues in the country's ‘Red Corridor’ landscape. His writings appear in The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Wire, Sanctuary Asia, RoundGlass Sustain, Journal of Bombay Natural History Society, and other natural history and wildlife journals. He has also contributed essays to edited anthologies. Raza currently works as a consultant with the Ashoka Archives of Contemporary India, Ashoka University.