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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 105-113

Under Pressure: Conceptualising Political Ecologies of Green Wars

1 Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; and Department of Geography, Environmental Management & Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
2 Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Correspondence Address:
Bram Buscher
Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; and Department of Geography, Environmental Management & Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg
South Africa
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_18_1

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Date of Web Publication11-Apr-2018


This article introduces the special issue on 'Political Ecologies of Green Wars' and the research papers comprising it. While state-authorised and state-directed forms of violence in support of conservation have been evident in many places for quite some time, the current scope, scale and rhetorical justification of the violent defence of biodiversity seem quite unprecedented in the history of global conservation. We, therefore, ask whether and how the term green wars may be appropriate to describe this new intensity of violence and the changes in environmental governance it signifies. In bringing together a number of important recent discussions around green grabbing, green militarisation/violence, green economy, neoliberal conservation and biopower, amongst others, the special issue emphasises the increasingly central role of environmental and conservation concerns within the global political economy as a whole. In the process, it also points towards an overarching conceptual framing for understanding these conjoined dynamics in terms of an 'intensification of pressure' precipitated by the combined yet uneven magnification and integration of power and capital within the world today. Consequently, we argue that the concept of green wars potentially heralds the new twenty- first century 'real-politik' of the centrality of violence and conflict both to the neoliberal political economy and to environmental conservation, and their integrated socio-ecological manifestations and effects.

Keywords: green violence, conservation, political ecology, intensification, political economy

How to cite this article:
Buscher B, Fletcher R. Under Pressure: Conceptualising Political Ecologies of Green Wars. Conservat Soc 2018;16:105-13

How to cite this URL:
Buscher B, Fletcher R. Under Pressure: Conceptualising Political Ecologies of Green Wars. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Jan 18];16:105-13. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2018/16/2/105/225150

   Introduction: “the Mother of All Wars” Top

Hotspots, a 2008 film documenting Conservation International (CI) campaigns in defence of biodiversity, claims that its subject constitutes “The Mother of all Wars.”1 In this overtly sensationalistic portrayal such rhetoric can be excused as hyperbolic, yet conservation policy and programming in many places increasingly seem to be taking this metaphor seriously. Along with a dramatic rise in global wildlife crime over the past decade and increasing worries about a sixth mass extinction event (Kolbert 2014; Ceballos et al. 2017), conservation actors have intensified the use of military tactics, weaponry and even military personnel to patrol protected areas (PAs) against incursion and to guard endangered species. A quickly growing body of research has begun to document this trend, characterising it as “green militarisation” and “green violence” (Duffy 2014; Lunstrum 2014; Duffy et al. 2015; Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016; Kelly and Ybarra 2016). The growth in physical violence has been accompanied by a rise in violent rhetoric, sometimes advocating extreme forms of punishment for those committing wildlife crimes (Büscher 2016; Lunstrum 2017). We have also witnessed the increasing incorporation of such dynamics within overarching efforts to wage war on “terrorism” and address other issues of global geopolitics by conventional military forces (Duffy 2016).

In one of the latest salvoes in this trend, Niall McCann, Director of Conservation for the non-profit organisation National Park Rescue 2, argues that “The extinction of elephants and rhino and of untold other species is almost unconscionable, and yet, as poaching levels remain so devastatingly high, it is becoming a more realistic prospect as every year goes by. We are not at the eleventh hour, the eleventh hour has gone”.3 As a result of this imminent threat, McCann contends, “without strict regulation, uncontrolled bushmeat hunting will see many communities poach every living thing out of the wild, leaving nothing for future generations”.4 This leads him to argue that professional militarisation entailing violent anti-poaching is the only realistic way forward to save wildlife. McCann and National Park Rescue are obviously not alone in this. From other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including Big Life and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation to states like Botswana to celebrity elites such as British Princes Charles and William as well as Tom Hardy 5, many actors are now convinced that the situation is so dire that only tough violent measures can help turn the tide. Backing Botswana's shoot-to-kill anti-poaching policy, even scholars such as Mogomotsi and Madigele (2017: 54) believe “parks are war zones and that rules and principles of war ought to be implemented.” The list goes on and on.

State-authorised and -directed forms of violence in support of conservation have been evident in many places for quite some time (Peluso 1993; Neumann 1998). The use of the term “war” in relation to conservation is also nothing new (Leakey and Morell 2001). Important furthermore is to emphasise that many actors in conservation feel highly uncomfortable with the current trends and indeed resist it (Annecke and Masubelele 2016), hence showing the trend is not straightforward. Yet the current scope, scale, and rhetorical justification of violent defence of biodiversity seem quite unprecedented in the history of global conservation. At the very least, we argue, they point towards a particular moment in time when, apparently, violence seems somehow more justified or ‘necessary’ in addressing the state of contemporary conservation. We therefore ask in this special issue whether and how the term green wars may be appropriate to describe this new intensity of violence and the changes in environmental governance it signifies. This is important as the current dynamics, we have outlined, make the characterisation of conservation as the “mother of all wars” much closer to present reality than the producers of Hotspots likely ever conceived.

   Violent Neoliberal Environments Top

In invoking the idea of green wars we build on, yet also depart from, the term's previous usage by several different researchers, as discussed below. Our initial conceptualisation is meant to extend Foucault's (2003) inversion of Clausewitz's famous dictum that politics can be seen as war by other means into the arenas of environmental and conservation governance. There are two ‘sides’ to this situation. On the one hand, we observe an intensification of dynamics, such as wildlife crime, resource extraction, land conversion and suchlike, with violent effects on (certain forms of) nature. On the other hand, there is the increasingly violent defence of (certain forms of) nature, so as to ensure its conservation and preservation. In practice, as James Fairhead (2018) argues in his contribution to this issue, this seeming dichotomy is not clear-cut and may hide important nuances and differentiations. Yet, behind the intensification of both ‘sides’ are powerful political dynamics that render this violence very profitable, which in turn may intensify violence still further in a vicious spiral, as commentators have recently warned.6 The implications of these dynamics for conservation and environmental governance are as of yet poorly understood and hence deserve urgent research and attention.

The green wars lens provides an entry-point for this special collection to investigate these dynamics. It also enables us to bring together a number of important recent discussions around green grabbing, green militarisation/violence, green economy, neoliberal conservation and biopower, amongst others. Indeed, we argue that the articles collected here not only help to illuminate points of convergence among these burgeoning bodies of research but also begin to point toward an overarching conceptual framing in which they may conjoin. The concept of green wars, however, cannot be that overarching framing. Rather, we argue in this introduction that the term points to something important ‘within’ an overarching conceptual framing that emphasises the increasingly central role of environmental and conservation concerns within the global political economy as a whole (Büscher and Fletcher 2015; Klein 2017). Below we provide some building blocks for this larger framing by pointing to a global dynamic of an 'intensification of pressure' within a broader context of the combined magnification and integration of power and capital, as suggested by Nealon (2008). Within this framing, we argue, the concept of green wars potentially heralds the new twenty- first century “real-politik” of the centrality of violence and conflict both to the neoliberal political economy and to environmental conservation, and their integrated socio-ecological manifestations and effects.

These relations and their effects, however, are anything but straightforward. They always need to be carefully theorised and empirically clarified, and never simply assumed.7 We therefore want to use the remainder of this introduction to further develop the overall framing around the intensification of pressures and how the green wars concept fit into this. On this basis, we will next analyse how the various articles in the special issue relate to both of these. First, however, we want to situate this discussion within the context of the research concerning conservation policy and practice more generally.

   Theoretical and Empirical Context Top

The study of conservation by social scientists has become increasingly complicated in recent years alongside the phenomena it addresses.8 Several key strands intersect in evermore intricate ways. The long-standing 'people vs. parks' debate has been transcended by the introduction of a wide variety of new proposals, including a ‘landscape’ approach, neoliberal market-based strategies and several land ‘sharing’ and ‘sparing’ plans, including those for large-scale 're-wilding,' among others. At the heart of this complexity lies a growing, heated debate over the so-called “new conservation,” which aims to move decisively beyond a parks versus people dichotomy to ‘mix’ humans and (more or less wild and domesticated) natures in a global “rambunctious garden” (Marris 2011; Kareiva et al. 2012). This, proponents argue, is the proper form of conservation for the brave new era of the 'Anthropocene.' This “new” or “Anthropocene” conservation has in turn been met with a resurgent round of “neo-protectionism” demanding that conservation and development be separated entirely and coercive protection of remaining protected areas resume (Wuerthner et al. 2014, 2015). E.O. Wilson (2016) and others (e.g., Dinerstein et al. 2017) even argue that half of the planet should be set aside for protected nature reserves.

While debates about the future of conservation policy are heating up, so is the practice of conservation under increasing pressures from extraction, wildlife crime and a global (yet highly uneven) resumption of economic growth in the wake of the financial crisis. Scholars have accordingly started chronicling a dramatic recent rise in green violence and militarisation (Duffy 2014; Lunstrum 2014; Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016; Kelly and Ybarra 2016; Massé and Lunstrum 2016; see also Bigger and Neimark 2017) in defence of biodiversity increasingly valued in explicitly monetary terms as a provider of 'ecosystem services' and repository of 'natural capital' (Sullivan 2013; Büscher et al. 2014; Büscher and Fletcher 2015). As these nascent bodies of research struggle to come to terms with these dynamics, they build on, and advance, several earlier lines of analysis in political ecology and connected fields that addressed related phenomena. This concerns, in particular, an extensive literature on the political ecology of violent conflict that takes issue with the determinism of the popular 1990s environmental security perspective (e.g., Homer-Dixon 1994) to explore how political economic structures of inequality help inform conflict over natural resource exploitation and control (see Peluso and Watts 2001; Benjaminsen 2008; Le Billon 2012).9

To bring these discussions together and move them forward, we believe that the use of the term green wars is apposite. While, as noted above, the concept has been employed in previous research, this was done in different ways and this use has been quite limited thus far. In environmental security literatures, for instance, the term refers to violent conflicts stoked by resource scarcity (Homer-Dixon 1994; Benjamin 2000), while Dutt (2014) recently employs it to describe conflicts over conservation and development generally. Even more recently, Ybarra (2017) re-appropriates the term to focus specifically on the ways in which both extraction and defence of “nature,” variously conceived, are increasingly used to justify the mobilisation of economic resources and the use of violent force in complex, intertwined forms. It is this particular understanding that we build on and extend in this special issue.10

   Towards an Overarching Frame: the Intensification of Pressure Top

Before introducing the collection of articles in more detail, we want to explore the overarching frame within which we believe they can be situated, and to which the green wars concept points. Green wars, we argue, are the logical (although uneven and not deterministic) outcome of the most recent iteration in the historical intensification of power as conceptualised by Michel Foucault and how it affects both humans and the non-human natural environment. In this we follow Jeffrey Nealon's (2008) thesis that Foucault's understanding of historical power is centrally concerned with a dynamic of intensification. As he argues:

On Foucault's account, power inverts and expands the functioning of “intensity,” turning the concept against its ordinary meaning of maximum bodily feeling and thereby abstracting, expanding, temporising, and allowing the concept to access more sites. If intensity means “especially great concentration or saturation,” the word itself expands along with Foucault's analysis: power has become more maximal not merely in the direct bodily sense (that feelings are said to be intense), but in the more descriptive or physics-related sense: intensity as maximum saturation or penetration within a given field. (Nealon 2008: 33)

Following Foucault, Nealon undertakes a genealogy of the intensification of power from the 17th to the 20th century wherein sovereign, social and disciplinary forms of power are, most recently, not merely succeeded but indeed intensified through what Foucault terms “biopower.” Biopower, as is now well rehearsed, is “an even more intense and saturated form of power that works throughout entire populations and takes on its target, ‘life’, quite directly” (idem: 45). It “is a form of power that ‘infiltrates’ and intensifies all others” (idem: 72) and, crucially, aligns closely with and indeed reinforces the intensification of contemporary cultural, platform and financialised forms of capital accumulation. This leads Nealon to conclude, “Such is the global logic of intensity, then, on both the economic and cultural levels: in a world that contains no “new” territory – no new experiences, no new markets – any system that seeks to expand must by definition intensify its existing resources” (Nealon 2008: 63).

Importantly, as the growing literature shows, this includes nearly ‘all’ potential resources: human, natural, mineral, intellectual, emotional and many more. Or, in the stifling terminology of contemporary hypercapitalism: human capital, natural capital, intellectual capital and numerous other forms of ‘capital’ that all need to be governed as ‘efficiently’ and ‘economically’ as possible in order to contribute to the ultimate goals of economic growth and capital accumulation. This, as Fletcher (2010), Biermann and Mansfield (2014) and others have shown, increasingly includes efforts to ‘optimise’ conservation of biodiversity so that it, too, can take its ‘rightful’ place in the twenty- first century economy focused on eternal growth and capital accumulation.

The historical intensification of power of and over ‘life’ and capital accumulation across an increasing range of spaces, sectors and actors of/in the world economy and through complex dynamics of 'uneven geographical development' has now led to our current ‘Anthropocene’ world. As intimated above, the idea of the Anthropocene, and concomitant connotations of a ‘damaged’ (Tsing 2015) and ‘overheated’ (Eriksen 2016) planet, have greatly impacted conservation actors. Many of them also see a world characterised by a 'great acceleration' across many socio-economic and ecological variables that point towards the utter unsustainability of the contemporary global trajectory (Steffen et al 2015; McNeill and Engelke 2016). Whether or how this is true is not something we are able to discuss here (but see Patel and Moore 2017). What is important for us is that the combined intensification of power and capital accumulation leads to an enormous 'intensification of pressure' and that this occurs both on the scale of the global political economy as a whole as well as on myriad local and intermittent levels (as argued by Eriksen 2016).11

Here, then, we must introduce Marx into the discussion. Marx, after all, posited very specifically that the global political economy of capitalism develops into a powerful structure that ‘necessarily’ increases the pressure on people, organisations and (other) resources in its quest for continuous capital accumulation. In Marx's own words, the impetus for this drive comes from the very definition of capital itself, as 'value put forth in order to generate more value', or in short, 'value in process'. Capital, for Marx, is therefore a process of the circulation of commodities that continuously needs to be stimulated on all levels, from the local or individual to the (global) economy as a whole. Or, as Marx put it, capital “has to be mediated not only in each of its moments, but as a whole of mediation, as a total process itself” (1973: 255). The totality of the global circulation of commodities and capital–and hence the modes of (bio)power that go with these–has to be constantly renewed and stimulated. This not only leads to an enormous pressure to speed things up, consume more, travel faster, and so forth, but also to Marx's contention that capital develops into a 'coercive external force' that becomes 'an end in itself' (Marx, 1976: 253, 381).

Here is thus what we mean with the intensification of pressure: a 'coercive force' that (unevenly) impacts people, organisations, environments and animals, and in its intensification with reference to conservation puts increasing pressure on actors to ‘save’ these, and on national states to cope with all of these dynamics. Green wars, then, are the material, symbolic and ‘political’ expression of a global political economy that should be seen as a systemic yet highly uneven 'pressure cooker.' All the articles in this special issue show how, in their respective cases, there is or has been an intensification of pressure on environments and biodiversity and on the actors to save, govern or guide this. At the same time, they show that these pressures test the endurance of people, organisations, ecosystems, animals and indeed the global dynamics of power and capital themselves.

   Political Ecologies of Green Wars Top

These initial thoughts are meant as a first step towards the overarching frame that we believe needs to be further developed to understand our current situation. Many others, fortunately, are already at work on the elements of this frame, including the various contributions to this special issue. Thus, while not all directly use the green wars concept, they do all contribute to the broader framing within which this concept takes on (new) meaning and raises pertinent questions. Several of these questions include: Is this new reality of green wars merely biopolitical business-as-usual where the ‘optimisation’ of some forms of human and non-human life requires the making live and/or letting die of others? Or is there a novel form of neoliberal biopower at work here? Phrased differently, does this trend signal a new marriage of neoliberalism and violence, or simply more accumulation by dispossession yet again? Are these trends about bringing the logic of war into conservation? Or about incorporating conservation into an overarching war-focused geopolitics (Duffy 2016; Bigger and Neimark 2017)? What is the role of the state in these dynamics? What will happen when the dynamics of intensification continue to be pushed ever further, in the pursuit of the (eternal) renewal of capital and even more effective forms of power? How, finally, might the perspective of political ecology be mobilized to analyse this latest stage in the ongoing saga of environmental conflict and violence?

These are among the key questions addressed by the articles collected here. Yet before we introduce them, we need to further clarify the term green wars and how we approach the term from a political ecology perspective. Central to discussion of ‘war’ in any form is the nature of the key concept ‘violence’. As Nordstrom (2004: 60-61) observes, there remains a strong tendency to assume ‘direct’ violence, that is “the rending of flesh with the intention to harm,” as the “foundational definition of violence” in general. Yet as Nordstrom asserts, this definition obscures a wider understanding of the nature of violence in its manifold forms. As she explains, “violence isn't intended to stop with the crippling of physical bodies. Violence is employed to create political acquiescence; it is intended to create terror, and thus political inertia; it is intended to create hierarchies of domination and submission based on the control of force” (Nordstrom 2004). An expanded definition thus complements direct violence with at least two other forms: ‘structural’ violence, which inheres in social constructs to which many people contribute indirectly but for which no particular person is directly responsible; and 'cultural or symbolic' violence, by means of which other forms of violence are obscured or justified in the realm of discourse or ideology (see esp. Nordstrom 2004; Tyner 2016). While many of our authors focus on direct violence in their specific analyses, it is this expanded understanding that underlies our overarching discussion.

To clarify this point, we move back to the core concern of this special issue: the rise in physical violence in defence of non-human species and ecosystems, referred to as green militarisation or green violence. Crucially, critical analysis of this green militarisation/violence dynamic points out that both its direct and indirect results may well undermine the goals toward which they are deployed, namely the conservation of biodiversity, especially in the long(er) run (Duffy et al. 2015). They also point to the unjust social impacts of green violence (Bocarejo and Ojeda 2016; Ybarra 2017). In a recent response to these critiques, however, McCann argues that they are not just naïve, but actually dangerous. He advances several general arguments to advocate treating wildlife extraction as a crime, and hence subject to the same types of policing as other crimes.12 Notwithstanding the complex social causes of this ‘crime’, he asserts, “armed law enforcement” is simply required “in many cases”. While he acknowledges that atrocities have occurred in the name of nature, he argues that they are relatively few 'bad apples' in an otherwise noble and necessary profession.

But McCann's most trenchant point is that the ‘narrative’ advanced by critics of green militarisation/violence “perhaps most worryingly, does not appear to grasp that wildlife–such as lions, elephants, and rhinos–must be protected today or there will be none left for the future.”13 McCann therefore ends his essay with a section entitled 'There will be nothing left if we don't protect wildlife today', in which he argues:

Of course, we must tackle the drivers of poaching that these articles mention, but if we only focus on tackling these drivers through long-term education and social programs, there will be nothing left to protect in a remarkably short time. Not only is there a legal responsibility to protect wildlife from illegal exploitation, but there is a moral responsibility, too, if we are to prevent the extinction of untold numbers of species on our watch. Although I have focused on poaching of rhino and elephant, it is worth raising the point that unrestricted bushmeat hunting in Africa, Asia, and across South and Central America is a human disaster in the waiting that will precipitate a tragedy of the commons, where nobody benefits in the long-term.14

He thus finishes by proclaiming, “now is not the time to roll back on our efforts to stop the slaughter, now is the time to do all we possibly can to prevent this ecological and moral catastrophe: the destruction of the living planet and the extinction of species”.15

In a nutshell, McCann contends that the emergency of “unrestricted” poaching is so great, the pressure so devastating, that more structural and longer-term analyses and actions are no longer options. Rather, “direct action now” is the only appropriate strategy left. Anything else is “naïve” and, he argues, grounded in armchair “researching conservation” rather than practical “on-the-ground conservation” work. This immediate on-the-ground action, he asserts, must defend the last remaining members of endangered animal species even if this causes human suffering–including loss of life–in the process. And McCann, again, is not alone here. Academics Mogomotsi and Madigele (2017: 57), for example, have the following to say to those who might criticise their position to support Botswana's shoot-to-kill policy:

To the moralists, such a position is very difficult to accept; however, we argue that it is a necessary evil, considering the obligation to protect rhinos from extinction. It appears that poachers will do anything to ensure that they kill these animals, unless they are made aware of the possibility of their own death in the process.

This position raises important questions concerning the relative value and importance of different forms of life in relation to the exercise of green violence. Militant defence of nature, after all, is commonly justified in quite similar terms as McCann's: as an issue of “interspecies justice” (Cafaro et al. 2017) aiming to protect forms of non-human life considered to be unfairly threatened by human action. Taylor (2016) goes so far as to argue that different species should be comparatively valued relative to their absolute numbers, such that the individual members of a highly endangered species (like the black rhino) should be worth much more than any particular member of the human species, who are far more numerous–indeed, for many neoprotectionists, excessively so (see Cafaro and Crist 2012).

This is a thorny issue, deserving of deeper discussion than we are able to offer in the space remaining. Suffice it to point out here that this discussion must address not merely the relative value of different species but what this assessment reflects concerning the underlying values and modes of classification that underpin it. In this a political ecology approach may prove particularly fertile as such issues of value, classification and so forth are the bread-and-butter of its mode of analysis. For people like McCann, the imminent threat of species extinction means that discussions of this sort are a frivolous distraction. Green wars, for him, are simply politics through other means–to again invert Clausewitz' dictum. This sounds familiar when one considers Hannah Arendt (1970), who long ago argued that the capacity for violent acts becomes greatly enhanced when thinking is no longer allowed given the ostensive urgency of the current moment.

Yet it would be too easy to stand on an intellectual high-ground and dismiss these cries for imminent action to protect biodiversity in the face of many all-too-real threats. This, then, is why analysis of political ecologies of green wars, within a broader context of the intensification of pressure, is so important, as it can shed light on the political economic structures and lived experiences of the current wave of green violence and the responses to it. How, then, do the authors in the special issue understand contemporary green wars and help us move towards the overarching conceptual framing that we have called for in this introduction? In the following, we briefly outline the various contributions to our collection.

   The Contributions to the Special Issue Top

Elizabeth Lunstrum and Megan Ybarra (2018) lead the discussion by taking us to Mozambique's Limpopo National Park (LNP) and Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) to explore how racist tropes are mobilised to authorise increasingly violent securitisation in both parks. In this way, states are able to incite and exploit racialised difference as the basis for justifying forcible evictions as well as intensified territorialisation both within these parks and beyond. Yet Lunstrum and Ybarra highlight a key difference in the two cases, namely that in Mozambique biodiversity conservation is the explicit motive for securitisation while in Guatemala national security concerns are able to exploit existing conservation laws and structures in pursuit of other ends. Lunstrum and Ybarra thus emphasize the role of racialised difference in framing and understanding green violence, yet also point to important differences that may be present in the relationship between conservation and securitization across sites.

In the following article, Alice Kelly Pennaz, Mouadjamou Ahmadou, Mark Moritz, and Paul Scholte (2018) turn our attention to Cameroon's Waza National Park. Here, the potent narrative of “poacher-as-terrorist”–in terms of which wildlife extraction is asserted to provide a source of finance to terrorist groups such as Boko Haram–has been used to legitimate intensified security measures, which, in turn provoke green wars. The authors argue that this simplistic narrative obscures not only complex local political-economic realities underlying the rural insecurity fuelling wildlife trade, but also that there is in fact no evidence that Boko Haram has actually benefited from this trade. Rather, Pennaz and colleagues show, the group's main source of funding is the violent seizure of cattle owned by mobile pastoralists, whose victimisation by the group is actually obfuscated by the “poacher-as-terrorist” narrative. In this way and fitting with our broader framing, “direct local violence is intensified by narratives of combatting green violence”, while the structural violence underlying the rural wildlife extraction this green violence targets continues unabated.

In the next contribution, Peter Howson (2018) takes us to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, where REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiatives have been introduced to combat rampant deforestation. This REDD+ is framed as a kinder, softer form of governance than historical ‘fortress’ approaches in its aim to motivate behavioural change through simple provision of economic incentives. In reality, however, as Howson shows, the mechanism is itself quite violent in dispossessing smallholders of their land in the interest of improved forest governance while the “main driver of deforestation that adds further pressure on conservation–large-scale extractive enterprise–is largely ignored.” Paradoxically, then, REDD+ actually serves to exacerbate “the violence and environmentally destructive behaviours it claims to discourage” by driving dispossessed smallholders into illicit livelihood activities and/or violent resistance. In short: the intensification of pressure, Howson shows, encourages complex green wars in his case.

The last four articles, while also based on extensive empirical research, propose more general analytics to help us understand both the case-specific dynamics they themselves present and that are highlighted by the previous contributions, as well as the significant connections among these. While the ideas advanced are distinct, taken together they provide further building blocks to help extend and develop the overarching conceptual frame around the 'intensification of pressure' we laid out earlier.

First, Robert Fletcher (2018) calls attention to a different dimension of green violence: that advocated by radical civil society groups in defence of non-human nature. While such groups have often been branded 'eco-terrorists' for their extra-legal actions, Fletcher shows that in reality very few groups have actually advocated violence against people (as opposed to inanimate property) and even fewer have carried this out. Yet these groups' claims to act in defence of nature, he suggests, are quite similar to how states characteristically justify their own monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in defence of the life they claim to serve. This potentially complicates the way Foucault's “biopower” concept has been developed in the vast literature surrounding it, suggesting that non-state actors can also invoke the right to 'make live' as the basis of their own actions. This points towards “growing contestation within the rise of green wars concerning who can legitimately exercise biopower” and the ways it can be used.

Bram Büscher (2018) then takes us in another direction, arguing that aspects of contemporary conservation governance are moving away from biopower entirely towards what Brian Massumi (2015) calls 'ontopower.' Büscher builds on Massumi's contention that biopower, as a mode of power that aims to optimise life across a given population, is giving way to a new mode of power that is more focused on pre-empting threats to life (especially terrorism, climate change, disease epidemics, etc). Büscher argues that we can see this new pre-emptive mode of ‘ontopower’ in practice in the Kruger National Park in South Africa by analysing how park managers aim to overcome the problem of rampant rhino poaching. Here, the central imperative has moved from enabling the optimisation of life across the population of the park to pre-empt the poaching of rhinos before the kill. Büscher asserts that this is leading to two emerging 'conservation geographies of anticipatory/pre-emptive action': the one focused on controlling wildlife crime threats so as to bring back the possibilities for more technocratic biopolitics; the other more openly ‘ontopowerful’ by focusing on all those actions–close by or far away from the park–that could possibly lead to poaching attacks in the future. He concludes that both of these, but especially the latter, portend a dangerous dependence on green wars as a new pro-active (and pre-emptive) way to conserve critical and threatened biodiversity.

Complicating things still further, James Fairhead (2018) goes on to argue that emerging trends in conservation violence may not be “either against nature or in defence of it,” as predominant in the past, but rather are increasingly about dividing “the included” from “rogues” who fall outside of the protected community. Taking the fight against Ebola as his focus, Fairhead shows how this battle is “fought not just against rogue viruses but against rogue bats, rogue deforesters and rogue patients.” This, he contends, entails a newfound transcendence of the classic nature/human divide, facilitated by emerging digital technologies that give rise to novel combinations of humans and non-humans some of which become “included” among those made to live while others are branded “rogues” and targeted for elimination. Green wars, in Fairhead's case, come to be waged based on complex and ambiguous politics of inclusion and exclusion that again transcends the usual ways in which biopolitics has often been conceptualised.

Rounding out the collection, finally, Jared Margulies (2018) introduces a new voice to the conservation debate–Louis Althusser–to explore what a focus on ideological state apparatuses (ISAs) can contribute to research in political ecology and green wars. Honing in on South India, Margulis explores how violent conflicts between local residents and state agents over access to and use of protected area resources are framed by the latter as a campaign to save endangered mega-fauna. This, he argues, demonstrates an ISA at work, functioning to reinforce ideologies privileging state agents and the capital accumulation they facilitate. Analysis in Althusser's terms, Margulis concludes, thus helps to support an emphasis on praxis that political ecologists often advocate but more rarely achieve. The consequence of his analyse, again, points to a further intensification of pressure.

   Conclusion Top

In conclusion, we believe that the various articles collected here are provocative and insightful in helping to further the vital analysis of the rise of green wars and their implications. However, as we have argued, these can only be the start of a broader search for an overarching frame that brings together various recent debates on the relations between conservation and neoliberalism, green and land grabbing, biopolitics, violence, security, and more. We have suggested that one key to developing this overarching frame might be to expand on the idea of an 'intensification of pressure' as the logical outcome of a global political economy of power that has increasingly become a 'coercive external force' saturating and pressurising many spaces, fields and the actors (both human and non-human) and organisations that inhabit these.

Political ecologies of green wars, as our contributors show, can interrogate these pressures, their structural and agential origins as well as their real-world effects, contradictions and possibilities in particular places and spaces. In this endeavour, an understanding of violence's role in conservation must continue to be expanded, with special emphasis on how and why violence is practised, distributed, negated and/or resisted, and with what effects on different actors and the long(er) term prospects for non-humans. The articles in the special issue offer a valuable first step in this analysis. But since the intensification of pressures deriving from our contemporary political economy of power do not show any sign of subsiding, continued analysis and research remains vitally important.

   Acknowledgements Top

This special issue grew out of a panel on “Violent Neoliberal Environments: The Political Ecology of Green Wars” that we organised for the conference “Political Ecologies of Conflict, Capitalism and Contestation (PE-3C)” at Wageningen University in the Netherlands from July 7 to 9, 2016. Many thanks to all the special issue authors for their contributions, to all reviewers for enhancing the quality of the articles, to Noella Gray for steering the issue through a rigorous review process, and to James Fairhead, Pete Howson, Libby Lunstrum, Megan Ybarra, Noella Gray and Jared Margulies for helpful comments on this introductory paper. The conference this special issue emanated from was made possible by a Dutch NWO VIDI grant, project nr: 016.155.325.

   Notes Top

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY08NIXvrxc; Accessed on May 26, 2016.
  2. https://www.nationalparkrescue.org/, Accessed on October 12, 2017.
  3. Idem.
  4. Idem.
  5. See https://biglife.org/about-big-life/about-big-life--2; https://www.iapf.org/; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/10626071/Prince-Charles-and-Prince-William-unite-for-anti-poaching-video.html; http://www.awf.org/news/jackie-chan-stars-newest-anti-rhino-horn-video; http://killingforprofit.com/2013/08/22/poaching-wars-with-tom-hardy/; amongst others. Accessed on November 13, 2017.
  6. See https://theconversation.com/the-ivory-war-militarised-tactics-wont-work-19164, and https://theconversation.com/why-southern-africas-peace-parks-are-sliding-into-war-parks-53458. Accessed on 11 October 2017.
  7. We would like to acknowledge Dr. Judith Verweijen, Ghent University, whose work inspired this statement.
  8. To be clear: we are here not aiming at providing an overview of the many approaches and directions within the social scientific study of conservation. For overviews, see: Sandbrook et al. (2013) and Bennet et al. (2017).
  9. Next to these, the collection builds upon and adds to a wide range of recent discussions related to the critical analysis of conservation. It draws on special issues on similar themes recently published in The Journal of Peasant Studies (Fairhead et al. 2012), Development and Change (Arsel and Büscher 2012), Human Geography (Corson et al. 2013), Geoforum (Roth and Dressler 2012; Kelly and Ybarra 2016), Journal of Sustainable Tourism (Devine and Ojeda 2016; Büscher and Fletcher 2017) as well as several previous editions of Conservation and Society (Igoe and Brockington 2007; Brockington 2017). It also relates the discussion more broadly to a growing literature on the role and nature of violence within capitalism generally (Tyner 2016) and neoliberalism in particular (Springer 2010, 2015).
  10. During the very final stages of proof-reading, we encountered Keucheyan's (2016) book 'Nature is a Battlefield', in which he also employs the term 'green wars'. Although too late in the process to build on this work, it seems that, at first glance, Keucheyan's understanding of green wars comes quite close to ours.
  11. Importantly, the opposite may of course also be true: that due to the highly uneven forms of capitalist intensification, there may be spaces where there pressure decreases.
  12. To be sure: we are not arguing that wildlife extraction should never be treated as a crime. We are rather interested in what is happening with its intensification.
  13. https://news.mongabay.com/2017/10/attacks-on-militarized-conservation-are-naive-commentary/. Accessed on 12 October 2017.
  14. Idem.
  15. Idem. This argument that 'otherwise there is nothing left' is a key theme in the neoprotectionist literature. See, especially, Oates (1999).

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