Archive for ‘April, 2019’

Temporality of the Landscape and Storying

Ingold (1993) reflects on something he calls the ‘temporality of the landscape’, which essentially works to make sense of how the natural world and human culture/activity (what Ingold calls ‘taskscape’) are an integrated whole.  Ingold posits that the landscape and taskcape cannot be understood as separate entities because they work together shaping one another.  As humans interact and operate within a landscape, they cause various changes that mold their surroundings.  However, these surroundings also impact human activity, shaping how culture and behavior form.  For example, consider the differences between agriculturalist and pastoralist livelihoods that are largely dependent on environments that promote and support such activities.  The temporal aspect for Ingold is important, not so much in terms of historical sequential patterns, but as a way of conveying a progressional relationship that exists between the landscape and taskscape.  Ingold states: “it is from the relational context of people’s engagement with the world…that each place draws its unique significance” (p.155).  He then goes on to imagine watching the landscape in a ‘fast-forward’ manner in which the land changes and responds to numerous human generations over time.  While these past generations cease to exist, their imprint on the landscape remains as they have left something of themselves.   This allows one to see how the “rhythmic pattern of human activities nests within the wider pattern of activity for all animal life…which nests within the life-process of the world” (p.164).   

From this perspective, Ingold goes on to reflect a particular ontology in which truth is conveyed through the act of storying.  Different cultures have different ways of experiencing a relationality with their surroundings, and therefore have particular ways of conveying these perceptions, often through the act of storying.  In many instances western technocratic approaches to environmental management have dismissed ‘stories’ from indigenous groups.  However, Ingold warns that: “we should resist the temptation to assume that since stories are stories they are, in some sense, unreal or untrue, for this is to suppose that the only real reality, or true truth, is one in which we, as living, experiencing beings, can have no part at all.  Telling a story is not like weaving a tapestry to cover up the world, it is rather a way of guiding the attention of listeners or readers into it” (153).

Therefore, indigenous perspectives represent novel ways of perceiving the environment that may have profound significance for present-day environmental decision-making.  While much research and global efforts have been made to acknowledge indigenous perspectives, much work is still needed.  Misrepresentation of such knowledge and biased scientific narratives continue to marginalize these perspectives.  Some of the research I have been involved in works to advocate these perspectives.  For example, in a manuscript submitted for publication (Montes, Tshering, & Phuntsho, forthcoming), I have presented the story of Rigo Tsho, a famous lake in the hill country of Haa Dzongkhag (district), Bhutan.  In this story, a fantastic cosmological battle ensues that incorporates deities, landscape features, humans, and historic saints.  What is important about the story is not necessarily the historicity, but rather the relationships portrayed between the various actors.  How are humans positioned within larger cosmological hierarchies with deities and elements of the landscape?  What is found is that humans do not have the advantage of power in which they practice dominance over their surroundings.  Rather, humans are at the bottom of the hierarchy, relying on the landscape and spiritual beings to protect them.  How does such a perspective change environmental management behaviors?  First of all, it does not prioritize ‘management’ as a primary task of humans.  Instead power differentials are inverted, humans are at the mercy of other natural and spiritual forces and they adopt a new ethic/moral towards their surroundings.  What this novel positionality promotes is a set of attitudes towards the environment that contrasts hegemonic perspectives placing humans over and rather places humans within the environment. 

Ingold, T. (1993). Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology, 25(2), 152-174. 

Montes, J., Tshering, S., and Phuntsho, T. (forthcoming). Cosmological Subjectivities: exploring ‘truth’ environmentalities in Haa Highlands. 

Bhutan, Carbon Neutrality, and SDG12

In 2009, at the 15th UNFCCC Conference in Denmark, Bhutan made a valiant commitment to carbon neutrality, which was then re-vocalized at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit.  Further, this commitment has evolved to claims of carbon neutrality, and even negativity (Tobgay, 2016), based upon rates of carbon sequestration and industrial production.  These claims are justified through unpublished figures that show a “potential to sequester 6.3 million tons (Mt) of CO2 annually, easily eclipsing the country’s estimated year 2013 emission total of 2.2 Mt of CO2 equivalent “(Munawar, 2016).  This is certainly good news for the small Himalayan kingdom that is sandwiched between two heavy hitters, India and China, in regards to carbon emissions.   However, the problem I foresee for Bhutan is that their current calculations only seem to account for production values of carbon within the country, and lack consideration of consumption that has broader international impacts. 

The notion of ecological footprint is important here, because this concept looks beyond one’s immediate impact on the local environment, and assumes that one’s consumption of materials, which may be produced from afar, must be calculated into one’s impact.  The products consumed within the country have broader impacts that go beyond the nation’s borders.  For example, Bhutan currently does not produce enough rice for the population, necessitating imports from India.  The rice grown in India requires various inputs such as land use, water, and fertilizers, but also incorporates transportation costs and emissions.  Therefore, as one consumes such rice in Bhutan, their ecological footprint extends to India.  The same situation applies to energy use.  While Bhutan produces ‘green’ energy through hydropower facilities, many Bhutanese are using fossil fuels for cooking, heating, and transportation.  Where are these fossil fuels coming from?  They come from India.  And these fossil fuel imports are on the rise (Jamtsho, 2015).  Therefore, despite Bhutan’s efforts to produce carbon neutral energy sources, their current imports of fossil fuels likely offset such efforts. 

With Bhutan’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), this may be a humbling experience as the country works to come under compliance with SDG 12, which promotes “Responsible Consumption and Production”.  Sustainability will require calculations of not only production, but also consumption.  While rural living is certainly a strength of the country which may attribute to low levels of consumption and carbon emissions, the number of urban residents rose from 5% in 1980 to 45% in 2016 (NEC, 2016).  Such a transition has most certainly put aspirations of carbon neutrality at risk as the growing urban population develops an appetite for foreign goods and increased consumption patterns.       

All this being said, I have not been able to find concrete calculations for claims of carbon neutrality.  Any such references so far seem to be ‘unpublished’.  Rather, we find numerous references that continue to popularize and reify such claims, all of which ignore consumption patterns in the country.  Therefore, while my assumptions may be proven false in the future, I remain cautious about claims to carbon neutrality, and especially carbon negativity.

Jamtsho, S. (2015). Sustainable Energy in Bhutan. Int. J. on Green Growth and Development, 1(2), 75-102.

Munawar, S. (2016). Bhutan Improves Economic Development as a Net Carbon Sink.  Washington, D.C.: Climate Institute. 

NEC (National Environment Commission). (2016). Bhutan State of the Environment Report 2016. Thimphu, Bhutan. 

Tobgay, T. (2016, February). This country isn’t just carbon neutral – its carbon negative. Retrieved from: