Imperial Ecology Seminar Resources

This page is for participants in the “Imperial Ecology” seminar/community-action research working group.  Please note that the page will be updated over the next four weeks so please check back regularly.

In preparation for the discussions, I strongly encourage you to explore the links in the paragraphs, and if you have the time and the interest, the supplementary links listed below.


Session 1 – Wednesday, April 25

Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Center speaking about the Nine Planetary Boundaries is essential for moving our discussion about social and ecological relationships beyond climate change.  This is not to say that I think climate change shouldn’t be considered.  Not at all.  Rather, climate change reflects an important planetary boundary, but there are a number of others that are barely talked about, and could end up being major drivers of socio-ecological change.  From Rockstrom’s global perspective, change is something that will be inflicted upon local communities that will then have to innovate and adapt.  But what forms could that adaptation take?

Reflecting a scenario that some have called the “New Sustainability Paradigm” or “Ecocommunalism”, Permaculture tackles “the complete way we live” through deep transformations of our habits and habitats.  Parts 1, 2 and 3 of David Holmgren’s short talk provides a good introduction to the origins and ethics of this dawning horti-cultural movement (there are, however, other possible futures: there’s the continuation of business as usual, which can’t continue for too much longer, and the “barbarization scenarios”, which are being taken very seriously by the military as a sort-of default future).

Throughout the entire seminar, we will be working through the ideas of Nobel Prize winning economist and political scientist Elinor Ostrom, whose work pushes us to reconsider the institutions we currently have in place to manage the complexities of our socio-ecological existence.  Moving beyond the panaceas of market and state, Ostrom’s work reveals a much more complex and nuanced world that is often glossed over by what I would call, ‘lazy’ social science research (that isn’t research per se, but rather a reproduction of implicit attitudes and sentiments that the researcher is comfortable using).  *Please read Ostrom’s article even if you don’t ‘get it’, as we will be bringing her findings to bear on our explorations over the next four weeks!  Ostrom challenges us to reconsider empirical research (albeit in a more conventional vein), much as Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory (ANT) does (in a much more unconventional vein–explore at your own risk!).  I’ve included some rough notes I’ve made on Latour’s work here to help navigate the method: Morales_ANT-INTRO

Additional Resources:

– More ANT… and boats (you’ll see): Dolwick_Boats&ANT

– Whiteboard Seminar with Elinor Ostrom

Climate Wars with Gwynne Dyer

Bullock Brothers Homestead (Orcas Island)


Session 2 – Wednesday, May 2

As you all know, this session we will be joined by special guest Bob Simpson (Independent MLA, Cariboo North). Please read the message I received from his legislative assistant Stephen Harrison below:

“Bob has asked me to pass on the following resources for the upcoming seminar:

Bob’s blog post on streamlining the environmental review process. “Fallacies of ‘One Project, One Review’ Logic”:

Leaked Cabinet document considering options to increase the timber supply in the Burns Lake region:

Bob’s commentary on the Cabinet document:

Vancouver Sun article on the Pacific Carbon Trust, by Gordon Hoekstra. “Carbon Trading: Projects outside trust’s criteria but reaping benefits criticized”:

Additionally, as promised here is a breakdown of each of our Research Project ideas.  These remarks are shorthand responses to my question: “what would you research if you had the time and the resources to, or put another way, what do you think is an important thing to know more about given our present-day challenges (and the promise of an imperiled future)?”

  • Dianne was generally pessimistic about the state of things (who couldn’t be sometimes!), and would like to continue to work through climate change since she has been studying up on it for the past few years and considers the topic to be very important.
  • Kathleen is a collective member of the Wayward School, and director of the school’s upcoming summer season of programming.  She is interested in learning about new economic structures and how they can be implemented in our communities.
  • Given the result of humanity’s past well-intentioned efforts to change things for the better, Ben finds that it’s difficult not to be cynical.  If Ben could research something, he would explore mental health, in particular, how our behaviors and lifestyles need to be examined in relation to global problems.
  • Marlaina is interested in how people approach problems, and found David Holmgren’s talk (above) to be very inspiring in regards to just this concern.  In particular, she would like to study and learn more about motivation, “that step that comes before group-organized activity.”
  • Cynicism is a running theme, as Kate also felt a bit hopeless in the face of global problems, but she also emphasized the fact that perhaps a bigger problem is that people are too serious.  One’s seriousness seems to disenfranchise another’s engagement.  That being the case, Kate would study the problem of seriousness.
  • Heather is co-founder of the Wayward School.  She is interested in studying neighborhood governance, and how people make decisions about the place where they live.  In particular she often wonders how different approaches to municipal government (like the ward system) can be instituted and experimented with in a give locality to affect change.  She believes that one shouldn’t be able to own land, if one doesn’t live on it and care for it.
  • Pessimism about the provincial government’s capacity to abide by its various environmental laws and actually monitor development has led Beth to the conclusion that communities have to re-organize locally, and articulate for themselves what a healthy socio-ecological system would look like.  From her perspective within the field of environmental assessment, the situation looks good on paper, but in reality things could be further from the truth.
  • Karl wants to understand why progressive politics is in decline, and how we can turn this trend around.  In line with his work at the Dogwood Initiative, Karl is interested in why decisions are continually made without a local community’s consent, and how communities can reclaim decision-making power.
  • Coming from an “undisciplined background” Davis has dabbled in many different fields of study over the years, and in particular, has studied the history of BC Utopian movements, their short-lived existences and the connections they formed between one another.  If he could pursue a research project, it would probably be a continuation of this (informed, of course, by many other interesting tidbits of knowledge from the sciences, humanities and arts–to name a few!).
  • Margaret describes herself as a “wannabe social activist” when in fact she is anything but.  Over the past few years she has tried to attend as many talks, meetings, film-nights, and protests as she could manage–certainly not a wannabe in our books!  Throughout all of this civic action, she has remained consistent in her commitment to ally herself in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of this province.
  • Another Wayward School collective member, Laticia, has been researching the politics of nature and the potential for ecological politics for her Masters thesis in the UVic political science department.  She is interested in the pragmatic question of how we can use a local environment and sustain it, and in how we can better take the bigness of the province into account in our decision-making.
  • Gaelen hailing from L.A. (where there is a different freeway-per-square-foot distribution than Victoria), is currently working on his Phd in the UVic English Department, studying Medieval poetry in relation to questions of political order.  His research is focused on how we can learn from the forms of the past, to better understand where we can go in the future.
  • Fellow Waywaard School collective member Luke is interested in doing things with his hands, and how can we build the future we want, now.  To this effect, he understands the need to consolidate the land and take it back for purposes of local sustenance and enjoyment.


Session 3 – Wednesday, May 9

PLEASE WATCH this documentary: parts 1 and 2.  It will give you some well-needed perspective on the issue of governance in relation to complex ecosystems that we will be discussing in the next session (and if you have ever taken an anthropology class, you may have already seen it, its a classic)!

As you know, this week we will be joined by Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law.  Andrew will be giving us an orientation to the legal system, and has provided these interesting resources to look through in advance of our discussion.

First, the Center for Environmental Legal Defence Fund’s (CELDF) “Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools”.  These schools are an inspiring example of how local communities are reclaiming democratic control at the municipal and regional level.  This video is a great introduction to what they do, and I would suggest watching it first.  There is a lengthier video of CEDLF’s executive director Thomas Linzey presenting on their work, as well as his 2009 keynote speech at Bioneers: part 1, 2, 3, and 4 (the Bioneers keynote is 25min long). (Also, this chart is a very helpful breakdown of the problem in the U.S.)

Second, Global Community Monitor’s fantastic Bucket Brigade project is an example of how communities can reclaim scientific authority over environmental monitoring by doing it themselves.  As Andrew emphasized to me in an earlier meeting, it’s often scientific authority that comes first, and then legal council: get the evidence first (and if you can get it from an expert, all the better!) and then take your grievance to the legal level.

Finally, please have a look through and follow Andrew’s blogging at the Environmental Law Alert Blog, which will keep you updated and informed on regional and provincial legal environmental and legal issues.

Since we will be discussing legal systems and how communities articulate rules, we will also explore examples of different successful polycentric governance systems from around the world.  Elinor Ostrom’s work is important in this regard, so have a look at the article I linked to for Session 1’s resources above if you haven’t already (and watch the short video from her whiteboard seminar as well).

*After our meeting, Andrew also sent us these helpful resources: Public Environmental Rights: A New Paradigm for Environmental Law? and Drinking Water Wins in Jefferd Creek Logging Battle.  Finally, since we talked about future generations near the end of our discussion, here is a link to Our Children’s Trust which Andrew spoke about briefly.  On this note, here are some amazing videos of kids standing-up and doing everything they can to fight against the short-term mindset of “adults”:


Session 4 – Wednesday, May 16

Fellow participant and presenter Karl Hardin of Dogwood Initiative has asked that we read the following pieces in preparation for our final session.

George Lakoff on environment and framing.

Here’s a paper by Matt Price (that’s fairly laudatory of Dogwood–Karl apologizes) called “Revenge of the Beaver.”


Session 5 – Thursday, May 31

In preparation for our “bonus” session–a Skype discussion with Henrik Osterblom of the Stockholm Resilience Center–please watch these helpful and insightful videos and podcasts:

  • These podcasts are helpful, but not all of them are the best quality.  I would recommend listening to: #74, #73, #70, #68, #67, #65, #64, #56, #38, #34, #25 (Henrik himself!).  There are others in addition to these that are great listens, but rather than list them all, I will leave it up to you!
  • The whiteboard seminars are also helpful to watch, and can be found here.
  • Henrik’s powerpoint orienting us to the concept of reslience: HenrikOsterblom_ImperialEcology_Presentation


Coming Soon: A Reading List.



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