This class stands out from the many electives I took because it was conceptually, very close to sustainability. So close, in fact, that this class proved to be a great challenge for me in discerning its difference from sustainability all together. Although the subject of political ecology entails examining human-environment relations, this course emphasized social science approaches while integrating biophysical sciences; I was outside my comfort zone of science analyses. The social sciences were unfamiliar to me, especially from a geographic perspective. The learning environment of this class was also very different from my typical classroom experience at UNH. I was used to lecture style, or technical information analysis for the life and nature sciences. The seminar style was reading and writing intensive outside of the classroom and discussion based during class. This class truly reinforced taking charge of my own learning and helped develop my voice by sharing personal viewpoints based on literature evidence. Instead of comprehension and application like my other classes, it was thorough analysis and synthesis that enforced my critical thinking skills.
Similar to sustainability, I didn’t grasp the definition of political ecology until the end of the class. With each new reading, I understood a little more about what the subject encompassed and how to define it in my own terms by arriving to the conclusions myself. Not only was I able to explain what it was, I gained insight to the significance the various studies had in multiple sectors and scales. Although each reading was extensive and had tough jargon, the papers were fascinating because they were studies done by political ecologists that raised very interesting ethical, belief, and political issues and viewpoints. We analyzed a range of issues through a human-environment geography, environmental justice, and political ecology lenses. The issues we reviewed overlap with sustainability issues; food systems, resource conservation and management, urban development, land use and rights, etc. By the end of the course, I concluded that the difference of sustainability and political ecology is that political ecology is a field within a socio-economic studies, with a focus on power relations, like government, effecting the relationship between society and nature, within a much broad political economy. Sustainability doesn’t focus on power influences like political ecology does. Although, it is intricately tied to socio-economic systems.
One of the readings that greatly impacted me was called Killer App. It shed light on how the refining of rare earth metals that are in our cell phones and majority of technology, negatively affect the livelihood of those living in the developing countries that deal with the waste. It showed me how corporations and government have all the power, and not only allow, but enable the toxic industry to pollute the environment and expose their people to toxic waste. I was able to analyze the political ecology of this system by being exposed to a real world issue that I felt I am unfortunately apart of. This class provided me with real world insight that political ecologists apply through analysis.
Below is the Killer App article