Arquivo da tag: Florestas

How the Amazon’s Cashews and Cacao Point to Cultivation by the Ancients (New York Times)

Scientists studying the Amazon rain forest are tangled in a debate of nature versus nurture.

Many ecologists tend to think that before Europeans arrived in the Americas, the vast wilderness was pristine and untouched by humans. But several archaeologists argue that ancient civilizations once thrived in its thickets and played a role in its development.

Now, researchers have found evidence that indigenous people may have domesticated and cultivated Amazonian plants and trees thousands of years ago, further supporting the idea that ancient humans helped shape the forest.

“Large areas of the Amazon are less pristine than we may think,” said Hans ter Steege, a tropical ecologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, and an author of a paper published in Science on Thursday. “The people who lived there before Columbus left serious footprints that still persist in the composition as we see today.”

He was one of more than a hundred researchers who found that domesticated tree and palm species — like cacao, cashews, the açaí palm, the Brazil nut and rubber — were five times more likely to dominate the modern Amazonian forest than nondomesticated plants.

Carolina Levis, a doctoral student at the National Institute for Amazonian Research in Brazil and Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands, was the lead author on the study. She and her team looked at a database from the Amazon Tree Diversity Network containing 1,170 plots of forest. Most plots measured approximately 2.5 acres each and had previously been investigated on foot by ecologists who counted and identified the plant species in the plots. Ms. Levis then identified 85 domestic plants to analyze.

One way the team determined that a plant had been domesticated was a look at its fruit. They found, for example, some peach palms that bore fruit weighing 200 grams, or 0.44 pounds, when the fruit grown in the wild matured to about one gram. Several of the domesticated plants they identified are still grown by South Americans.

The harvesting of peach palm in the Amazon. Credit: Tinde van Andel 

Ms. Levis compared her list of 85 plants to another database of more than 3,000 archaeological sites, including ceramics, dirt mounds and rock paintings, dating back before the Spaniards and Portuguese arrived in the Americas 500 years ago. The domesticated plants flourished near the archaeological sites, far more so than nondomesticated ones.

“It’s the first time that we show these correlations between plant species in the forest today and archaeological finds,” she said.

The findings suggest that either the ancient civilizations grew and cultivated the plants, or that they purposely settled in areas that had plants they could eat and use. Ms. Levis said she suspected that people were domesticating the plants, although the study did not definitively pinpoint how settlements were chosen. In some plots, more than half of the plant life consisted of domesticated trees and palms.

Jennifer Watling, an archaeologist at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, who was not involved with the study, said in an email that “the large number of data points sampled by these authors gives good reason to believe that the distribution of domesticated species in many areas of Amazonia is strongly linked to the actions of pre-Columbian societies.”

But Crystal McMichael, a paleoecologist from the University of Amsterdam, said the database comparisons were not convincing. New direct evidence, like fossils of domesticated plants at the archaeological sites, would help advance such theories, she said. While the study shows a potential association between ancient people and modern forest composition, it does not preclude the possibility that the domesticated plant patterns occurred with more modern settlements, she said in an email.

Dr. ter Steege disagreed. The study “changed my view of the forest,” he said. “It’s not only the ecology or the environment that created this forest, but also the people who lived there before.”

Anúncios

Study explores how past Native American settlement modified WNY forests (Buffalo University)

June 2, 2015

Charlotte Hsu

Fire-tolerant trees that bear edible nuts were unusually abundant near the historical sites of Native American villages, research suggests

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A new study by University at Buffalo geographers explores how humans altered the arboreal make-up of Western New York forests before European settlers arrived in large numbers.

The research looked at land survey data from around 1799-1814, and used this information to model which tree species were present in different areas of Chautauqua County, New York, at that time.

The analysis placed hickory, chestnut and oak trees in larger-than-expected numbers near the historical sites of Native American villages, said co-author Steve Tulowiecki, who conducted the research as a geography PhD candidate at the University at Buffalo and is now an adjunct lecturer of geography at SUNY Geneseo. This finding is important because these species produce edible nuts, and are also more likely than many other trees to survive fires.

PHOTOS: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2015/05/048.html

“Our results contribute to the conversation about how natural or humanized the landscape of America was when Europeans first arrived,” Tulowiecki said. “Our society has competing views about this: On one hand, there is the argument that it was a wilderness relatively untouched by man. Recently, we’ve had this perspective challenged, with some saying that the landscape was dramatically altered, particularly through burning and other clearance practices.”

The findings of the new research — more fire-tolerant, large-nut-bearing trees than expected within about 15 kilometers of village sites — suggest that Native American communities in the study area modified the forest in ways that favored those species, Tulowiecki said. He noted that flame-sensitive beech and sugar maples, which burn readily in forest fires, appeared in smaller numbers than expected near village sites.

Forest modifications may have impacted upwards of 20 percent of total land area in modern-day Chautauqua County, according to Tulowiecki’s analysis.

The research is important, he said, because it uses data to address questions surrounding historical forest modification.

“There have been contentious debates over the past few decades regarding the spatial extent of Native American impacts upon pre-European landscapes,” he said. “Yet, very few studies have offered exhaustive methods to understand or quantify these impacts. Our study utilizes advanced quantitative models, geographic information systems, original land survey data, and historical-archaeological records of Native American settlement in order to understand these impacts.”

Tulowiecki, who finished his PhD in 2015, conducted the study with his advisor, UB Associate Professor of Geography Chris Larsen, PhD. The research was published online on May 19 in Ecological Monographs, a journal of the Ecological Society of America.

Picturing a 19th-century forest

To predict how the forest looked 200 years ago, Tulowiecki and Larsen synthesized several sources of information.

They began with the observations of surveyors from the Holland Land Company, who documented the terrain of Chautauqua County between 1799 and 1814. These assessors included details on which types of trees they found at thousands of locations in the region.

Tulowiecki and Larsen mapped this information, then overlaid it with data showing the temperature, precipitation, soil conditions and other environmental variables at different locations. This helped the researchers understand what types of trees typically grew under various conditions, and they used this information to build predictive models showing how all of Chautauqua County would have looked, tree-wise, at the turn of the 19th century if environmental conditions were the only factor at play.

Apparently, they were not, because in some places the distribution of tree species predicted by the model didn’t match the reality of what surveyors saw.

The sites where these discrepancies occurred coincided with the historical location of Native American villages as mapped or described by various sources, Tulowiecki says. This suggested that Native American societies – particularly the Seneca – modified the areas surrounding their communities.

To account for this possibility, the researchers refined their predictive models. In addition to the original environmental variables, they incorporated a new variable that captured information related to proximity to village sites.

The models improved as a result.

Plantio de florestas é estratégia de enfrentamento do aquecimento global (Fapesp)

08 de outubro de 2014

Por Karina Toledo

Agência FAPESP – Em um artigo publicado na seção de opinião do jornal norte-americano The New York Times, em 19 de setembro, Nadine Unger, professora da Yale University, afirmou serem fracas as evidências científicas sobre os benefícios proporcionados pelo reflorestamento e pela redução do desmatamento na mitigação das mudanças climáticas.

O texto causou forte reação na comunidade científica. No dia 22 de setembro, um grupo formado por 31 pesquisadores – vários deles membros do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) – divulgou uma carta aberta na qual discordam veementemente das declarações feitas por Unger.

Uma versão resumida do texto foi publicada na seção de opinião do The New York Times no dia 23 de setembro, mesma data em que começou em Nova York a Cúpula da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) sobre o Clima.

Na carta resposta, o grupo de cientistas contesta a afirmação de Unger, de que estaria incorreta a “sabedoria convencional” segundo a qual o plantio de árvores auxilia no combate ao aquecimento global. Na avaliação dela, a medida poderia até mesmo agravar o problema climático.

De acordo com os cientistas, as florestas promovem um efeito de resfriamento do clima porque armazenam vastas quantidades de carbono em troncos, galhos, folhas e são capazes de manter esse elemento químico fora da atmosfera enquanto permanecerem intactas e saudáveis.

Segundo o grupo, as florestas também resfriam a atmosfera porque convertem a energia solar em vapor d’água, o que aumenta a refletividade da radiação solar por meio da formação de nuvens, fato negligenciado no trabalho de Unger. Concordam, em parte, com a afirmação da professora de Química Atmosférica em Yale, de que “as cores escuras das árvores absorvem maior quantidade de energia solar e aumentam a temperatura da superfície terrestre”.

Unger afirmou que plantar árvores nos trópicos poderia promover o resfriamento, mas em regiões mais frias causaria aquecimento.

“Ela (Unger) aponta corretamente que florestas refletem menos energia solar do que a neve, as pedras, as pastagens ou o solo, mas ignora o efeito das florestas de aumentar a refletividade do céu acima da terra, por meio das nuvens. Esse efeito é maior nos trópicos”, afirmaram os cientistas.

Unger disse não haver consenso científico em relação aos impactos da mudança de uso da terra promovida pela expansão da agricultura e se o desmatamento resultante teria contribuído para esfriar ou aquecer o planeta.

“Não podemos prever com certeza que o reflorestamento em larga escala ajudaria a controlar as temperaturas em elevação”, disse ela. Argumentos semelhantes já haviam sido apresentados pela cientista em artigo publicado em agosto na Nature Climate Change.

Ainda segundo Unger, os compostos orgânicos voláteis (VOCs, na sigla em inglês) emitidos pelas árvores em resposta a estressores ambientais interagem com poluentes oriundos da queima de combustíveis fósseis aumentando a produção de gases-estufa como metano e ozônio.

Por último, a cientista de Yale afirmou que o carbono sequestrado pelas árvores durante seu crescimento retorna à atmosfera quando elas morrem e que o oxigênio produzido durante a fotossíntese é consumido pela vegetação durante a respiração noturna. “A Amazônia é um sistema fechado que consome seu próprio carbono e oxigênio”, argumentou.

Benefícios indiscutíveis

A carta resposta divulgada pelos cientistas ressalta que os próprios estudos de Unger mostraram que qualquer potencial efeito de resfriamento promovido pela redução das emissões de compostos orgânicos voláteis resultante do corte de árvores seria superado pelo efeito de aquecimento promovido pelas emissões de carbono causadas pelo desmatamento.

“Esta semana, as negociações das Nações Unidas sobre o clima abordam a importância de dar continuidade aos esforços para frear a degradação das florestas tropicais, que são uma contribuição essencial e barata para a mitigação das mudanças climáticas. A base científica para essa importante peça da solução do problema climático é sólida. Nós discordamos fortemente da mensagem central da professora Unger. Concordamos, no entanto, com a afirmação feita por ela de que as florestas oferecem benefícios indiscutíveis para a biodiversidade”, concluem os cientistas.

O grupo de autores é liderado por Daniel Nepstad, diretor executivo do Earth Innovation Institute, dos Estados Unidos, um dos fundadores do Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Ipam) e um dos autores do quinto relatório divulgado pelo IPCC.

Também fazem parte do grupo Reynaldo Victoria, professor da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) e membro da coordenação do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais, e Paulo Artaxo, professor da USP e um dos autores do quinto relatório do IPCC.

“O artigo divulgado por Unger na revista Nature Climate Change tem erros elementares e não leva em conta aspectos fundamentais, como a importância das florestas tropicais na formação de nuvens, que altera a refletividade da superfície e também atua no controle do ciclo hidrológico”, disse Artaxo à Agência FAPESP.

“Esse episódio mostra como a ciência, quando negligencia aspectos importantes, pode ser muito prejudicial do ponto de vista de políticas públicas. Reflorestamento e redução do desmatamento são umas das melhores estratégias de redução dos efeitos do aquecimento global”, afirmou.

If trees could talk: Forest research network reveals global change effects (Science Daily)

Date: September 26, 2014

Source: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Summary: Permafrost thaw drives forest loss in Canada, while drought has killed trees in Panama, southern India and Borneo. In the U.S., in Virginia, over-abundant deer eat trees before they reach maturity, while nitrogen pollution has changed soil chemistry in Canada and Panama. More than 100 collaborators have now published a major overview of what 59 forests in 24 countries teach us about forest responses to global change.


In addition to identifying, mapping, measuring and monitoring trees in the CTFS-ForestGEO study plots, researchers describe the relatedness of trees, track flower and seed production, collect insects, survey mammals, quantify carbon stocks and flows within the ecosystem, take soil samples and measure climate variables like rainfall and temperature. The thorough study of these plots provides insights into not only how forests are changing but also why. Credit: Beth King, STRI

Permafrost thaw drives forest loss in Canada, while drought has killed trees in Panama, southern India and Borneo. In the U.S., in Virginia, over-abundant deer eat trees before they reach maturity, while nitrogen pollution has changed soil chemistry in Canada and Panama. Continents apart, these changes have all been documented by the Smithsonian-led Center for Tropical Forest Science-Forest Global Earth Observatory, CTFS-ForestGEO, which released a new report revealing how forests are changing worldwide.

“With 107 collaborators we’ve published a major overview of what 59 forests in 24 countries, where we monitor nearly 6 million trees teach us about forest responses to global change,” said Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, first author of the report and CTFS-ForestGEO and ecosystem ecologist based at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Many of the changes occurring in forests worldwide are attributable to human impacts on climate, atmospheric chemistry, land use and animal populations that are so pervasive as to warrant classification of a new geologic period in Earth’s history — the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans.

Measuring and understanding the effects of all these changes — collectively termed “global change” — are easier said than done. Some of the best information about these global-scale changes comes from CTFS-ForestGEO, the only network of standardized forest-monitoring sites that span the globe.

Since the censuses began at the first site on Barro Colorado Island in Panama in 1981, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 16 percent. The forest sites in the network have warmed by an average of over 1 degree F (0.6 degree C) and experienced up to 30 percent changes in precipitation. Landscapes around protected sites experience deforestation.

The plot network now includes forests from Brazil to northern Canada, from Gabon to England and from Papua New Guinea to China.

In addition to identifying, mapping, measuring and monitoring trees, researchers describe the relatedness of trees, track flower and seed production, collect insects, survey mammals, quantify carbon stocks and flows within the ecosystem, take soil samples and measure climate variables like rainfall and temperature. The thorough study of these plots provides insights into not only how forests are changing but also why.

Climate change scenarios predict that most of these sites will face warmer and often drier conditions in the future — some experiencing novel climates with no modern analogs. Forests are changing more rapidly than expected by chance alone, and shifts in species composition have been associated with environmental change. Biomass increased at many tropical sites across the network.

“It is incredibly rewarding to work with a team of forest scientists from 78 research institutions around the world, including four Smithsonian units” Anderson-Teixeira said. “CTFS-ForestGEO is a pioneer in the kind of collaborative effort it takes to understand how forests worldwide are changing.”

“We look forward to using the CTFS-ForestGEO network to continue to understand how and why forests respond to change, and what this means for the climate, biodiversity conservation and human well-being,” said Stuart Davies, network director.

Journal Reference:

  1. Anderson-Teixeira, K.J., Davies, S.J., Bennett, A.C., et al. CTFS-ForestGEO: A worldwide network monitoring forests in an era of global change.. Global Change Biology, 2014

Rainforests in Far East Shaped by Humans for the Last 11,000 Years (Science Daily)

Jan. 24, 2014 — New research from Queen’s University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years.

New research from Queen’s University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years. (Credit: © Juhku / Fotolia)

The rain forests of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam were previously thought to have been largely unaffected by humans, but the latest research from Queen’s Palaeoecologist Dr Chris Hunt suggests otherwise.

A major analysis of vegetation histories across the three islands and the SE Asian mainland has revealed a pattern of repeated disturbance of vegetation since the end of the last ice age approximately 11,000 years ago.

The research, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, is being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It is the culmination of almost 15 years of field work by Dr Hunt, involving the collection of pollen samples across the region, and a major review of existing palaeoecology research, which was completed in partnership with Dr Ryan Rabett from Cambridge University.

Evidence of human activity in rainforests is extremely difficult to find and traditional archaeological methods of locating and excavating sites are extremely difficult in the dense forests. Pollen samples, however, are now unlocking some of the region’s historical secrets.

Dr Hunt, who is Director of Research on Environmental Change at Queen’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, said: “It has long been believed that the rainforests of the Far East were virgin wildernesses, where human impact has been minimal. Our findings, however, indicate a history of disturbances to vegetation. While it could be tempting to blame these disturbances on climate change, that is not the case as they do not coincide with any known periods of climate change. Rather, these vegetation changes have been brought about by the actions of people.

“There is evidence that humans in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo burned fires to clear the land for planting food-bearing plants. Pollen samples from around 6,500 years ago contain abundant charcoal, indicating the occurrence of fire. However, while naturally occurring or accidental fires would usually be followed by specific weeds and trees that flourish in charred ground, we found evidence that this particular fire was followed by the growth of fruit trees. This indicates that the people who inhabited the land intentionally cleared it of forest vegetation and planted sources of food in its place.

“One of the major indicators of human action in the rainforest is the sheer prevalence of fast-growing ‘weed’ trees such as Macaranga, Celtis and Trema. Modern ecological studies show that they quickly follow burning and disturbance of forests in the region.

“Nearer to the Borneo coastline, the New Guinea Sago Palm first appeared over 10,000 years ago. This would have involved a voyage of more than 2,200km from its native New Guinea, and its arrival on the island is consistent with other known maritime voyages in the region at that time — evidence that people imported the Sago seeds and planted them.”

The findings have huge importance for ecological studies or rainforests as the historical role of people in managing the forest vegetation has rarely been considered. It could also have an impact on rainforest peoples fighting the advance of logging companies.

Dr Hunt continued: “Laws in several countries in South East Asia do not recognise the rights of indigenous forest dwellers on the grounds that they are nomads who leave no permanent mark on the landscape. Given that we can now demonstrate their active management of the forests for more than 11,000 years, these people have a new argument in their case against eviction.”

Journal Reference:

  1. C.O. Hunt, R.J. Rabett. Holocene landscape intervention and plant food production strategies in island and mainland Southeast AsiaJournal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.12.011

Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (somatosphere)

September 23, 2013

By Frédéric Keck

This article is part of the series: 

Editor’s note: As part of our new series, Second Opinion (not to be confused with the SMA’s similarly titled newsletter) we ask two contributors to review the same book, respond to the same question, or comment on the same set of issues.  For our first pair of Second Opinion posts, we invited two reviews of Eduardo Kohn’s new book, How Forests Think. The second review will appear within the next few weeks.

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

 By Eduardo Kohn

University of California Press, 2013

$29.95, £19.95; Paperback, 228 pages.

There is a long genealogy of anthropologists who have borrowed their titles from the translation of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s La mentalité primitive — How Natives Think.  Running from Marshall Sahlins’ How “Natives” Think to Maurice Bloch’s How We Think They Think, these transformations run parallel to those of the discipline itself. By entitling his book How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn indicates that he doesn’t study the way the people he worked with in Ecuador thought about forests, but the way forests actually think. By making a claim about the relation between life and thought, this book takes part in the ontological turn (Candea 2010) that decenters anthropologists’ longstanding focus on cultural representations to ask how representations emerge within forms of life. Following Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn shows that Amazonian ethnography challenges our conceptions of life and thought in a way that raises the ontological question of what there is. As the ecological crisis leads to a proliferation of new entities that both blur the opposition between nature and culture and ask for political recognition – “pets, weeds, pests, commensals, new pathogens, ‘wild’ animals, or technoscientific ‘mutants,’” (9) this kind of ethnography cautiously scrutinizes the continuities and discontinuities between humans and nonhumans. The book is ethnographic in a classical sense, and yet its chapters follow a theoretical progression, while powerful images plunge into an “enchanted” world – a term Kohn takes up deliberately – entangling humans and nonhumans in puzzling ways.

The main thesis of the book is about semiosis, the life of signs. If we are troubled by the idea that forests think, it is because we conceive thinking as a conventional relation to the world. Following 19th century American philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce, Kohn argues that all signs are not conventional symbols, and that there are other ways to learn the meaning of signs than to relate them to each other in a cultural context. When a hunter describes the fall of a palm tree under the weight of a monkey as pu’oh, the meaning of this sign is felt with evidence, without knowledge of Quichua (the language spoken by Kohn’s informants), because it relates hunters, monkeys and trees in a complex ecosystem. Kohn asks for “decolonizing thought” and “provincializing language” by looking at relations between signs that are not symbolic. Hence the program of an “anthropology beyond the human” that places human symbols in the forms of life from which they emerge. Without romanticizing tropical nature, Kohn argues that most of our problems are ill-shaped, or filled with anxiety – as in a wonderful description of the bus trip that led him to Avila – if we don’t place them in a larger semiotic field.

Following Terrence Deacon’s interpretation of Peirce (2012), Kohn is less interested in the classifications of signs into indices, icons and symbols than in the process through which they emerge one from the other. A sign refers to something absent that exists in futuro, just as the crashing of the palm tree under the weight of a monkey refers to a coming danger for the monkey, and a possible catch for the hunter. Habits fix the meaning of signs by producing similarity, and are considered as “interpretants” of signs. Using the example of the walking-stick insect, Kohn argues that what appears to look similar is actually the product of a selection from beings that looked different. Signs thus refer to the past as a memory of beings who have disappeared. Since this relation to the past and future is what, for Peirce, constitutes selves, all living beings, and not only humans, can be considered as selves.

The strangeness of Kohn’s text come from the way it interlaces these theoretical analyses of signs with an account of the life of the Runa people, considered not as a cultural context but as “amplifying” certain ontological properties of life itself. “Living beings are loci of selfhood,” Kohn writes. “I make this claim empirically. It grows out of my attention to Runa relations with nonhuman beings as these reveal themselves ethnographically. These relations amplify certain properties of the world, and this amplification can infect and affect our thinking about the world,” (94). This is an original intervention in the ontological reappraisal of animism. Kohn neither contrasts animism to naturalism as two inverse ontologies in the mode of Descola, nor does he engage in the paradoxes of perspectivism like Viveiros.  Instead, he considers living beings as selves in relation to past and future relations, and social life as an amplification of this process of self-formation.

Thus, puma designates both predators like jaguars and shamans who can see the way that jaguars see. Runa people need to learn how jaguars see in order not to be eaten by them. The soul, as what exceeds the limits of the body, is “an effect of intersubjective semiotic interpretance,” (107). What Kohn calls “soul blindness” is an inattention to the effects of the souls of other living beings. The problem is how to live with runa puma: jaguars who act like humans, and kill to revenge other killings, who are dreaded but also considered to be mature selves.

Dreams, analyzed in Chapter 4, are common ways of communication with souls and remediating “soul blindness.” Runa people give hallucinatory drugs to dogs so that they will dream, and their barks during dreaming are interpreted literally—in the same way as their daytime barks–while human dreams of hunting are interpreted metaphorically. Rather than doing a symbolic analysis of dreams, Kohn places them in the semiotic life they express, between humans, dogs and jaguars. Dreams are ways of communicating between species without abolishing them, constituting a “trans-species pidgin.”

In Chapter 5, Kohn makes an important distinction between form and sign. “Whereas semiosis is in and of the living world beyond the human, form emerges from and is part and parcel of the nonliving one as well,” (174). The question he asks is that of the efficacy of form, the constraint it exerts on living beings. Taking the example of the distribution of rubber trees in the Amazonian forest, which depends on the ecology of parasites as well as on the network of rivers, he argues that shamanistic hunting and the colonial extraction of rubber were both constrained by the same form. Forms have a causality that is not moral but that can be called hierarchical: signs emerge from forms, and symbols from signs, in a hierarchy between levels of emergence that cannot be inversed. This is a powerful interpretation of the insertion of colonial extraction in forms that historically precede it: if power brings with it moral categories, this insertion cannot be thought of as an imposition from above, but rather as a fall-out or an incidental movement.

Kohn links this morphodynamic analysis of colonialism to Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of “la pensée sauvage” – a form of thought emerging from relations between signs rather than being imposed upon them. Through forms and signs, Runa people have “frozen” history in such a way that they can interpret events through their dreams. The dream of Oswaldo, who saw a policeman with hair on his shirt, is ambivalent: does it mean he will be caught by the white man, or that he will be successful in hunting peccaries? The final chapter of the book analyses the reversals in relation between the Runa and White missionaries or policemen, as well as the pronouns by which Runa people refer to themselves as subjects, such as amu. “Amu is a particular colonially inflected way of being a self in an ecology of selves filled with a growing array of future-making habits, many of which are not human. In the process, amu renders visible how a living future gives life some of its special properties and how this involves a dynamic that implicates (but is not reducible to) the past. In doing so, amu, and the spirit realm upon which it draws its power, amplifies something general about life—namely, life’s quality of being in futuro,” (208). The question for Runa people is how they can access the realm of the White masters, that is also the heaven of saints: what is generally called the “super-natural.”  To live is to survive, Kohn argues, that is to live beyond life, in the many absences that constitute life as a semiotic process.

The strength of this book is to propose a rigorous demonstration while never leaving empirical analysis. Starting on the level of signs in their triadic mode of existence, Kohn finds form on one side and history on the other, and describes their constraints and ambivalent relationships. This is not a dualism between nature and culture that would be solved through the concept of life – and Kohn tries to avoid an all-encompassing anthropology of life – but a logical tension that is amplified by humans, almost in the way that genetic material is amplified inside and outside the laboratory (Rabinow 1996). Kohn’s anthropology “beyond the human” – but not of the “post-human” – grounds itself in the life of signs where humans emerge to amplify them. The ambition of this ontological claim, its clarity and its theoretical productivity will not doubt be amplified by other ethnographic inquiries on life.

Frédéric Keck is a researcher at the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale (CNRS) in Paris. He has published works on the history of philosophy and social anthropology in France (Comte, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss) and translated Paul Rabinow’s French DNA into French. He now works on the management of animal diseases transmitted to humans, or zoonoses (Un monde grippé, Flammarion, 2010, Des hommes malades des animaux, L’Herne, 2012)

References:

Candea, Matei
 (2010) Debate: Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture.Critique of Anthropology 30 (2): 172-179

Deacon, Terrence (2012) Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: Norton.

Descola, Philippe (2005) Par-delà nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo (1998) Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, n.s., 4, 469-488.

Rabinow, Paul (1996) Making PCR, A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (Somatosphere)

September 23, 2013

By 

Editor’s note: As part of our new series, Second Opinion (not to be confused with the SMA’s similarly titled newsletter) we ask two contributors to review the same book, respond to the same question, or comment on the same set of issues.  For our first pair of Second Opinion posts, we invited two reviews of Eduardo Kohn’s new book, How Forests Think. The second review will appear within the next few weeks.

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

 By Eduardo Kohn

University of California Press, 2013. $29.95, £19.95; Paperback, 228 pages.

There is a long genealogy of anthropologists who have borrowed their titles from the translation of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s La mentalité primitive — How Natives Think.  Running from Marshall Sahlins’ How “Natives” Think to Maurice Bloch’s How We Think They Think, these transformations run parallel to those of the discipline itself. By entitling his book How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn indicates that he doesn’t study the way the people he worked with in Ecuador thought about forests, but the way forests actually think. By making a claim about the relation between life and thought, this book takes part in the ontological turn (Candea 2010) that decenters anthropologists’ longstanding focus on cultural representations to ask how representations emerge within forms of life. Following Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn shows that Amazonian ethnography challenges our conceptions of life and thought in a way that raises the ontological question of what there is. As the ecological crisis leads to a proliferation of new entities that both blur the opposition between nature and culture and ask for political recognition – “pets, weeds, pests, commensals, new pathogens, ‘wild’ animals, or technoscientific ‘mutants,’” (9) this kind of ethnography cautiously scrutinizes the continuities and discontinuities between humans and nonhumans. The book is ethnographic in a classical sense, and yet its chapters follow a theoretical progression, while powerful images plunge into an “enchanted” world – a term Kohn takes up deliberately – entangling humans and nonhumans in puzzling ways.

The main thesis of the book is about semiosis, the life of signs. If we are troubled by the idea that forests think, it is because we conceive thinking as a conventional relation to the world. Following 19th century American philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce, Kohn argues that all signs are not conventional symbols, and that there are other ways to learn the meaning of signs than to relate them to each other in a cultural context. When a hunter describes the fall of a palm tree under the weight of a monkey as pu’oh, the meaning of this sign is felt with evidence, without knowledge of Quichua (the language spoken by Kohn’s informants), because it relates hunters, monkeys and trees in a complex ecosystem. Kohn asks for “decolonizing thought” and “provincializing language” by looking at relations between signs that are not symbolic. Hence the program of an “anthropology beyond the human” that places human symbols in the forms of life from which they emerge. Without romanticizing tropical nature, Kohn argues that most of our problems are ill-shaped, or filled with anxiety – as in a wonderful description of the bus trip that led him to Avila – if we don’t place them in a larger semiotic field.

Following Terrence Deacon’s interpretation of Peirce (2012), Kohn is less interested in the classifications of signs into indices, icons and symbols than in the process through which they emerge one from the other. A sign refers to something absent that exists in futuro, just as the crashing of the palm tree under the weight of a monkey refers to a coming danger for the monkey, and a possible catch for the hunter. Habits fix the meaning of signs by producing similarity, and are considered as “interpretants” of signs. Using the example of the walking-stick insect, Kohn argues that what appears to look similar is actually the product of a selection from beings that looked different. Signs thus refer to the past as a memory of beings who have disappeared. Since this relation to the past and future is what, for Peirce, constitutes selves, all living beings, and not only humans, can be considered as selves.

The strangeness of Kohn’s text come from the way it interlaces these theoretical analyses of signs with an account of the life of the Runa people, considered not as a cultural context but as “amplifying” certain ontological properties of life itself. “Living beings are loci of selfhood,” Kohn writes. “I make this claim empirically. It grows out of my attention to Runa relations with nonhuman beings as these reveal themselves ethnographically. These relations amplify certain properties of the world, and this amplification can infect and affect our thinking about the world,” (94). This is an original intervention in the ontological reappraisal of animism. Kohn neither contrasts animism to naturalism as two inverse ontologies in the mode of Descola, nor does he engage in the paradoxes of perspectivism like Viveiros.  Instead, he considers living beings as selves in relation to past and future relations, and social life as an amplification of this process of self-formation.

Thus, puma designates both predators like jaguars and shamans who can see the way that jaguars see. Runa people need to learn how jaguars see in order not to be eaten by them. The soul, as what exceeds the limits of the body, is “an effect of intersubjective semiotic interpretance,” (107). What Kohn calls “soul blindness” is an inattention to the effects of the souls of other living beings. The problem is how to live with runa puma: jaguars who act like humans, and kill to revenge other killings, who are dreaded but also considered to be mature selves.

Dreams, analyzed in Chapter 4, are common ways of communication with souls and remediating “soul blindness.” Runa people give hallucinatory drugs to dogs so that they will dream, and their barks during dreaming are interpreted literally—in the same way as their daytime barks–while human dreams of hunting are interpreted metaphorically. Rather than doing a symbolic analysis of dreams, Kohn places them in the semiotic life they express, between humans, dogs and jaguars. Dreams are ways of communicating between species without abolishing them, constituting a “trans-species pidgin.”

In Chapter 5, Kohn makes an important distinction between form and sign. “Whereas semiosis is in and of the living world beyond the human, form emerges from and is part and parcel of the nonliving one as well,” (174). The question he asks is that of the efficacy of form, the constraint it exerts on living beings. Taking the example of the distribution of rubber trees in the Amazonian forest, which depends on the ecology of parasites as well as on the network of rivers, he argues that shamanistic hunting and the colonial extraction of rubber were both constrained by the same form. Forms have a causality that is not moral but that can be called hierarchical: signs emerge from forms, and symbols from signs, in a hierarchy between levels of emergence that cannot be inversed. This is a powerful interpretation of the insertion of colonial extraction in forms that historically precede it: if power brings with it moral categories, this insertion cannot be thought of as an imposition from above, but rather as a fall-out or an incidental movement.

Kohn links this morphodynamic analysis of colonialism to Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of “la pensée sauvage” – a form of thought emerging from relations between signs rather than being imposed upon them. Through forms and signs, Runa people have “frozen” history in such a way that they can interpret events through their dreams. The dream of Oswaldo, who saw a policeman with hair on his shirt, is ambivalent: does it mean he will be caught by the white man, or that he will be successful in hunting peccaries? The final chapter of the book analyses the reversals in relation between the Runa and White missionaries or policemen, as well as the pronouns by which Runa people refer to themselves as subjects, such as amu. “Amu is a particular colonially inflected way of being a self in an ecology of selves filled with a growing array of future-making habits, many of which are not human. In the process, amu renders visible how a living future gives life some of its special properties and how this involves a dynamic that implicates (but is not reducible to) the past. In doing so, amu, and the spirit realm upon which it draws its power, amplifies something general about life—namely, life’s quality of being in futuro,” (208). The question for Runa people is how they can access the realm of the White masters, that is also the heaven of saints: what is generally called the “super-natural.”  To live is to survive, Kohn argues, that is to live beyond life, in the many absences that constitute life as a semiotic process.

The strength of this book is to propose a rigorous demonstration while never leaving empirical analysis. Starting on the level of signs in their triadic mode of existence, Kohn finds form on one side and history on the other, and describes their constraints and ambivalent relationships. This is not a dualism between nature and culture that would be solved through the concept of life – and Kohn tries to avoid an all-encompassing anthropology of life – but a logical tension that is amplified by humans, almost in the way that genetic material is amplified inside and outside the laboratory (Rabinow 1996). Kohn’s anthropology “beyond the human” – but not of the “post-human” – grounds itself in the life of signs where humans emerge to amplify them. The ambition of this ontological claim, its clarity and its theoretical productivity will not doubt be amplified by other ethnographic inquiries on life.

Frédéric Keck is a researcher at the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale (CNRS) in Paris. He has published works on the history of philosophy and social anthropology in France (Comte, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss) and translated Paul Rabinow’s French DNA into French. He now works on the management of animal diseases transmitted to humans, or zoonoses (Un monde grippé, Flammarion, 2010, Des hommes malades des animaux, L’Herne, 2012)

References:

Candea, Matei
 (2010) Debate: Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture.Critique of Anthropology 30 (2): 172-179

Deacon, Terrence (2012) Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: Norton.

Descola, Philippe (2005) Par-delà nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo (1998) Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, n.s., 4, 469-488.

Rabinow, Paul (1996) Making PCR, A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ruralistas não aceitam vetos e já elaboram 50 emendas à MP que altera o Código (Agência Brasil)

31/5/2012 – 10h52

por Danilo Macedo,da Agência Brasil

Capa5 Ruralistas não aceitam vetos e já elaboram 50 emendas à MP que altera o CódigoDeputados da Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuária (FPA) elaboraram cerca de 50 emendas à Medida Provisória 571/2012, que trata dos trechos vetados do Código Florestal. Os parlamentares tem até sexta-feira para apresentá-las. O atual presidente da frente, deputado Moreira Mendes (PSD-RO), disse que vários deputados vão entrar com mandado de segurança contra a MP, por considerarem “uma afronta” e “entendendo que a presidenta exorbitou no seu poder”.

Segundo Mendes, alguns parlamentares entendem que a legislação estabelece que assuntos votados no Congresso Nacional não podem ser objeto de medida provisória antes da aceitação ou derrubada do veto presidencial. Após o veto da presidenta Dilma Rousseff, o Congresso Nacional tem 30 dias para discutir o assunto. “Vamos ouvir o restante da frente para que se tome uma deliberação a esse respeito”.

O deputado Ronaldo Caiado (DEM-GO) disse que ficou surpreso com a MP tratando de matéria derrotada na Câmara dos Deputados e a considerou uma “agressão” ao Congresso. “Ela passa a legislar acima da vontade do Congresso Nacional. Esse que é o ponto sobre o qual queremos entrar com mandado de segurança no sentido de buscar a sustação dos efeitos dessa medida provisória”, disse.

Moreira Mendes disse que o assunto Novo Código Florestal precisa ser liquidado, mas devido ao rito da medida provisória, com prazo de 120 dias, o assunto não será resolvido antes do recesso parlamentar. Em relação às emendas, o presidente da FPA disse que a intenção é buscar um texto de conciliação, nem mantendo o atual e nem resgatando a proposta que saiu das discussões na Câmara dos Deputados.

* Publicado originalmente no site  Brasil de Fato.

Conheça todos os 12 vetos ao novo Código Florestal (EcoD)

29/5/2012 – 10h34

por Redação EcoD

51 Conheça todos os 12 vetos ao novo Código Florestal

Os ministros anunciaram vetos em 12 itens e 32 modificações no texto do Código Florestal, feitos pela presidenta Dilma Rousseff, na última semana. Foto: José Cruz/ABr

Impedir a anistia a quem desmatou e proibir a produção agropecuária em áreas de proteção permanente (APPs) foram alguns dos principais objetivos da presidenta Dilma Rousseff ao vetar parte do novo Código Florestal na sexta-feira, 25 de maio. Os vetos de 12 artigos resgatam o teor do acordo firmado entre os líderes partidários e o governo durante a tramitação da proposta no Senado.

Artigo 1º, que foi modificado pelos deputados após aprovação da proposta no Senado, foi vetado. Na medida provisória (MP) publicada hoje (28) no Diário Oficial da União, o Palácio do Planalto devolve ao texto do Código Florestal os princípios que haviam sido incorporados no Senado e suprimidos, posteriormente, na segunda votação na Câmara. A MP foi o instrumento usado pelo governo para evitar lacunas no texto final.

Também foi vetado o Inciso 11 do Artigo 3º da lei, que trata das atividades eventuais ou de baixo impacto. O veto retirou do texto o chamado pousio: prática de interrupção temporária de atividade agrícolas, pecuárias ou silviculturais, para permitir a recuperação do solo.

61 Conheça todos os 12 vetos ao novo Código Florestal

Artigo 61 previa a continuidade das atividades agrossilvipastoris, de ecoturismo e turismo rural em áreas rurais consolidadas até 22 de julho de 2008 – o governo vetou. Foto: leoffreitas

Recebeu veto ainda o Parágrafo 3º do Artigo 4º que não considerava área de proteção permanente (APP) a várzea (terreno às margens de rios, inundadas em época de cheia) fora dos limites estabelecidos, exceto quanto houvesse ato do Poder Público. O dispositivo vetado ainda estendia essa regra aos salgados e apicuns – áreas destinadas à criação de mariscos e camarões.

Foram vetados também os parágrafos 7º e 8º. O primeiro estabelecia que, nas áreas urbanas, as faixas marginais de qualquer curso d’água natural que delimitem as áreas das faixas de passagem de inundação (áreas que alagam na ápoca de cheia) teriam sua largura determinada pelos respectivos planos diretores e pela Lei de Uso do Solo, ouvidos os conselhos estaduais e municipais do Meio Ambiente. Já o Parágrafo 8º previa que, no caso de áreas urbanas e regiões metropolitanas, seria observado o dispositivo nos respectivos planos diretores e leis municipais de uso do solo.

O Parágrafo 3º do Artigo 5º também foi vetado. O dispositivo previa que o Plano Ambiental de Conservação e Uso do Entorno de Reservatório Artificial poderia indicar áreas para implantação de parques aquícolas e polos turísticos e de lazer em torno do reservatório, de acordo com o que fosse definido nos termos do licenciamento ambiental, respeitadas as exigências previstas na lei.

73 Conheça todos os 12 vetos ao novo Código Florestal

APP em Minas Gerais. Parágrafo 3º do Artigo 4º desconsiderava área de proteção permanente (APP) a várzea (terreno às margens de rios, inundadas em época de cheia) fora dos limites estabelecidos, exceto quanto houvesse ato do Poder Público. Foto: Paula FJ

Já no Artigo 26, que trata da supressão de vegetação nativa para uso alternativo do solo tanto de domínio público quanto privado, foram vetados o 1º e 2º parágrafos. Os dispositivos detalhavam os órgãos competentes para autorizar a supressão e incluía, entre eles, os municipais do Meio Ambiente.

A presidenta Dilma Rousseff também vetou integralmente o Artigo 43. Pelo dispositivo, as empresasconcessionárias de serviços de abastecimento de água e geração de energia elétrica, públicas ou privadas, deveriam investir na recuperação e na manutenção de vegetação nativa em áreas de proteção permanente existente na bacia hidrográfica em que ocorrer a exploração.

Um dos pontos que mais provocaram polêmica durante a tramitação do código no Congresso, o Artigo 61, foi vetado. O trecho autorizava, exclusivamente, a continuidade das atividades agrossilvipastoris, de ecoturismo e turismo rural em áreas rurais consolidadas até 22 de julho de 2008.

Também foram vetados integramente os artigos 76 e 77. O primeiro estabelecia prazo de três anos para que o Poder Executivo enviasse ao Congresso projeto de lei com a finalidade de estabelecer as especificidades da conservação, da proteção, da regeneração e da utilização dos biomas da Amazônia, do Cerrado, da Caatinga, do Pantanal e do Pampa. Já o Artigo 77 previa que na instalação de obra ou atividade potencialmente causadora de significativa degradação do meio ambiente seria exigida do empreendedor, público ou privado, a proposta de diretrizes de ocupação do imóvel.

A MP que complementa o projeto, publicada nesta segunda-feira (28), vale por 60 dias, podendo ser prorrogada por mais 60 dias – ela ainda será votada pelo Congresso.

* Publicado originalmente no site da EcoD.

This Forest Is Our Forest (N.Y.Times)

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By LUIS UBIÑAS – Published: May 31, 2012

Twenty years ago, the world came together in Rio de Janeiro for a historic summit meeting to tackle the environmental issues that threaten the very sustainability and preservation of our planet. Now, as world leaders and thousands of other participants prepare for the Rio+20 Conference, we are facing an even more urgent set of environmental challenges.

Samrang Pring/Reuters. Koh Kong province, in southwestern Cambodia.

The pace of global climate change has worsened, representing a fundamental threat to the planet’s health and environmental well-being. And there is little indication the world’s leaders are ready to meet the challenges of building an environmentally sustainable future.

But there is some good news to report — and it’s coming from the world’s forests, a critical front line in the effort to slow climate change and conserve biodiversity. In a largely unreported global movement, some 30 of the world’s most forested countries have adopted an innovative idea for protecting forests: granting ownership rights to communities that reside in them.

Almost 90 percent of the laws granting such rights have been passed since the first Earth Summit in 1992, demonstrating that a global consensus can produce real change. A new report from the Rights and Resources Initiative — a global coalition of organizations working for forest-use reforms — presents a growing body of evidence that in places where local communities have taken ownership of forests, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Protected areas, owned by indigenous communities in Asia and Latin America, have lower rates of deforestation, forest fires and, above all, carbon emissions.

Since forests also provide for the livelihoods of tens, even hundreds, of millions of people, clarifying and recognizing ownership rights is helping to spur economic growth and raise living standards.

In Brazil, which is hosting the Rio+20 summit — formally the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — deforestation rates have significantly declined, even as incomes in indigenous forest communities have increased. Brazil has moved toward this goal by giving communities the legal protections to keep out ranchers, loggers and others seeking to destroy their forests.

Yet the progress we’ve seen across the globe has been uneven, and the potential to build on it stands at risk. As chronicled in the R.R.I. report, most of the new laws that recognize customary rights circumscribe those rights and are applied at limited scale.

In Africa, nearly eight out of 10 laws that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and communities do not allow them to exclude outsiders — a critical element of land ownership. Even where legal rights exist, complicated bureaucratic procedures often make it difficult to realize them. In Mozambique, for example, to qualify for “community concessions” local communities must provide six copies of a topographical map identifying all the detailed geographical features of the land. Not surprisingly, in 2009 — a decade after the act was passed — no concessions had been granted.

Worse still, some of the countries with rights on the books now find themselves at the center of a growing and troubling land grab by commercial investors focused on clearing forests for agriculture, with little concern for the local communities that call them home.

Recent efforts by wealthy ranchers to weaken land rights in Brazil illustrate this growing threat. In the face of rising food, mineral and energy prices, this fierce competition for land will only increase, making the need for strongly established community rights more important than ever before.

For all of these reasons, Rio+20 must build on the success of its predecessor and serve as a new impetus to expand and strengthen community rights to the world’s forests.

This means ensuring that billions of hectares of forest are turned over to local communities; it means engaging with the private sector to help clarify groups’ rights to land and forest; and it means creating new public/private partnerships, such as those that have been used to combat other global issues like H.I.V.-AIDS and malaria, to build public support for ownership rights. Above all, it means ensuring that the rights already recognized by governments are fully realized in local communities.

Taking action on these fronts will set us on a powerful course for a more sustainable and equitable future — just as it did 20 years ago. Actions that simultaneously strengthen human rights and achieve sustainable development are an unusual win-win. The fact that they also help stop deforestation and climate change makes them an even more attractive and urgent option.

At a time when the struggle against global warming seems more daunting than ever, our two decade-long experience with community forestry shows that we have within our means the ability to turn the tide.

Luis Ubiñas is president of the Ford Foundation.