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Environmental Degradation and Activism

Panel VII-26, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Turkey, along with many other countries that follow the neoliberal developmentalist path, had to face various ecological issues ranging from climate change to plastic, chemical, and air pollution. These issues necessitate an immediate response at the individual and societal levels. Within this backdrop, our purpose was to address two gaps in our knowledge. First, the role that non-western religious, non-religious, and hybrid identities play in the way people respond to environmental challenges. Second, the vast majority of research on Islam and the environment has been theoretical and theological. There has been very little social scientific research into how people in Islamic cultures think about environmental issues, including whether and to what extent scientific understandings influence environment-related values and behaviors. For this reason, we examined various characteristics and attributes that hinder or promote proenvironmental behaviour in Turkey. We asked one key question: What affective, religious, psychological, and ecological perceptions influence environment-related values and practices in Turkey? To answer this question, we conducted a survey with individuals having diverse demographic and socio-economic profiles. We particularly aimed at individuals who are affiliated with environmental NGOs, activist groups, and universities. We drew on a novel survey instrument that has been developed by Taylor, Wright, and LaVasseur (2020), combined with an additional and novel survey scale focusing on the world’s most prevalent religious perceptions and beliefs. We evaluated the survey data using structural equation modelling. The results of our multiscale, multidimensional analysis indicated that our responses to ecological issues can benefit from alternatives to the “secular” scientific understanding, considering that values, beliefs, and norms play an important role in proenvironmental behaviour. Therefore, it is significant to encourage initiatives aimed at fostering a dialogue between science, religion, and spirituality in diverse cultural settings and regarding various ecological issues.
  • Decades of armed conflict, ecologically unsustainable and damaging development projects, state repression, and unchecked commercial exploitation of land, air, labor, and water, have created veritable social and environmental crises in southern Iran and Iraq. This paper is a comparative study of the causes and consequences of ecological pollution and degradation in the Khuzestan and Basra provinces of Iran and Iraq, and their significant long-lasting social, spatial, and political-economic consequences. The region’s social-environmental polycrisis range from recurring and intensifying cycles of drought-floods, accompanied by increasing air, water, and soil toxicity. The increasing precarity of economic and social life is compounded by authoritarian central government policies toward these marginalized regions populated by migrants, displaced populations, and impoverished ethnic and religious minorities. Recurring social protests in southern Iran and Iraq are complex reactions to these toxic and discriminating legacies. These crises did not begin with the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), nor have they stayed neatly confined behind formal national borders. The paper’s comparative and historical perspective aims to analyze the polycrisis at different interconnected scales: local, national, regional, and global. The paper is based on the author’s three decades of fieldwork and research on Khuzestan and a synthesis of comparative ethnographies and geographic analyses of southern Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf region. The paper focuses on the experiences and agency of local and subaltern populations in Khuzestan and Basra regions confronting the transformative ecological impact of warfare and large scale development projects- oil extraction, multipurpose dams, agribusinesses, and unregulated industrial pollution.
  • In recent years, multilateral development banks (MDBs) and international financial institutions (IFIs) have revived their interest in financing infrastructure as a form of sustainable and inclusive development. Though supposedly meant to pool resources from both public sources and private financiers to improve public service delivery and access in the Global South, these infrastructure investments have largely benefitted global financial investors, donors and beneficiary states at the expense of their intended beneficiaries (i.e. Gabor 2021; Bayliss and Van Waeyenberge 2018; Tawakkol 2023). In many cases, they have contributed to the commodification of public services and the so-called ‘financialization’ of development (Bayliss 201x; Bayliss, Romero and Van Waeyenberge 2021; Mawdsley 201x). Emerging debates on this infrastructure development and financing overwhelmingly focus on the global politics and material interests underlying these projects, however, largely implying their top-down imposition (Gabor 2021; Bayliss and Van Waeyenberge 2018; Tawakkol 2023; Schindler and Kanai 2018). Using the case of Lebanon, I argue that these infrastructure loans/projects are better understood as inter-scalar and contradictory relations, shaped and constrained as much through public contestation and resistance at the local scale as through global agendas and national development plans. The World Bank and Lebanese state reintroduced the Bisri Dam project in 2014, justifying it amidst broader initiatives to provide much-needed support to Lebanon in the face of its dwindling public services, skyrocketing debt and hosting of one of the world’s largest refugee populations in proportional terms. Despite the vested interests of donors, capitalists and the Lebanese state in the project, which predates the country’s contemporary challenges, the World Bank eventually cancelled the project in 2020, in large part due to a large-scale public opposition movement, the Save Bisri Valley Campaign (SBV). Through the Bisri Dam project’s introduction and its eventual cancellation, I draw on semi-structured interviews, conducted between 2019 and 2020 in Beirut, to showcase the inter-scalar struggles underlying global development projects and the significant role of national and local actors, including the state, in negotiating them, alongside global donors and financiers.