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Counting Species

Counting Species: Biodiversity in Global Environmental Politics

Rafi Youatt
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Counting Species
    Book Description:

    Three decades of biodiversity governance has largely failed to stop the ongoing environmental crisis of global species loss. Yet that governance has resulted in undeniably important political outcomes. InCounting Species, Rafi Youatt argues that the understanding of global biodiversity has produced a distinct vision and politics of nature, one that is bound up with ideas about species, norms of efficiency, and apolitical forms of technical management.

    Since its inception in the 1980s, biodiversity's political power has also hinged on its affiliation with a series of political concepts. Biodiversity was initially articulated as a moral crime against the intrinsic value of all species. In the 1990s and early 2000s, biodiversity shifted toward an association with service provision in a globalizing world economy before attaching itself more recently to the discourses of security and resilience.

    Even as species extinctions continue, biodiversity's role in environmental governance has become increasingly abstract. Yet the power of global biodiversity is eventually always localized and material when it encounters nonhuman life. In these encounters, Youatt finds reasons for optimism, tracing some of the ways that nonhuman life has escaped human social means.Counting Speciescompellingly offers both a political account of global biodiversity and a unique approach to political agency across the human-nonhuman divide.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4382-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Biodiversity, Agency, and Environmental Politics
    (pp. 1-24)

    “Biodiversity” is difficult to define precisely. As an ecological concept, it refers to the diversity of species that make up life on earth. But as it circulates in the world, biodiversity is at once a natural fact, a species-extinction event, a scientific field of inquiry, a political referent, a moral discourse, an abstract pattern, and a tool of governance. It embroils humans and nonhumans, spans institutions, and attaches to many sorts of political projects. In spite of all these valences, biodiversity is still a traceable cluster of things that has affected political and environmental outcomes in important and identifiable ways...

  5. Chapter 1 The Awful Symmetry of Biodiversity Hotspots
    (pp. 25-46)

    ONE OF THE EARLIEST OBJECTS of global biodiversity conservation and science was the hotspot, which explicitly fused the new knowledge and language of biodiversity with a politics of efficiency. Referencing places in the world with particularly high densities of species that are also highly at risk, hotspots involved overlapping imageries of heat. In their first iteration in the 1980s by conservation biologists, they were identified as being predominantly in tropical regions, contrasting with the air-conditioned corridors of Western capitals where global conservation policy was often worked on. Tapping into long-running colonial and postcolonial narratives about tropical fecundity, biodiversity hotspots grew...

  6. Chapter 2 Biopower, the Global Biodiversity Census, and the Escapes of Nonhuman Life
    (pp. 47-64)

    DRIVEN BOTH BY THE GLOBAL LOSS of biodiversity and by the lack of knowledge about the vast majority of species that are being lost, conservation biologists and some of their allies in the environmental movement called for and started a massive global census of biodiversity in the 1990s.¹ Most prominently, E.O. Wilson (1992, 318) proposed a new mobilization of scientific resources to complete a global survey of species. The identification of biodiversity hotspots, considered in the last chapter, was merely the first step in a cascade of biodiversity investigation, Wilson hoped, which will culminate in a full inventory of global...

  7. Chapter 3 World Heritage Sites, Rocks, and Biocultural Diversity
    (pp. 65-100)

    IN THE TWO DECADES before the World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) heritage-protection efforts were largely ad hoc campaigns, aimed at saving cultural places on the verge of disappearing. After a number of historic sites that were in immediate danger were saved, UNESCO began working to find a way to protect the “common cultural heritage of humanity.” Given the organization’s name and past history, the focus on cultural heritage was not surprising. However, at the urging of the U.S. government and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN),...

  8. Chapter 4 Urban Biodiversity in New York City and the New Rewilding
    (pp. 101-126)

    BY THE SECOND HALF OF THE 2000S, biodiversity was increasingly framed through a new conception of nature. Leaving behind the arguments for the intrinsic value of nature and the moral imperatives to stop species extinction that structured biodiversity in the 1980s, and building on its connection with sustainable development in the 1990s, the paradigmatic environmental idea that came to frame biodiversity in the 2000s was the Anthropocene—a nature in which humans are the prime movers, usurping natural processes for better or ill, and the originators of the major decisions about evolutionary trajectories, climate, and basic geophysical processes. While the...

  9. Conclusion Agency Revisited and the Future of Biodiversity
    (pp. 127-138)

    THIS BOOK HAS TRACED THE POLITICS of global biodiversity from its inception in the 1980s to the end of the 2000s. Some aspects of biodiversity—including the centrality of species, the generative power of abstract differences, and conceptual scalability and contextual mobility—stayed relatively constant over that period, providing continuity to the concept and to the practices associated with it. So too did much of the narrative and reality of species loss and the general decline of biodiversity at global scales. While these aspects localized in particular ways, they nonetheless provided a somewhat stable reference point for conservation policy and...

  10. Appendix Mixed-Criteria World Heritage Sites
    (pp. 139-142)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 143-164)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-182)
  13. Index
    (pp. 183-198)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)