Reflections from the Wednesday morning session “Inequality and the Biosphere: Exploring the Interactions between the Biosphere and Human Well-Being through the Lens of Inequality”

Could fairer distribution of burdens in human well-being foster nature stewardship?
Human well-being is a complex concept that has been contested across the social and political sciences. In nature conservation, human well-being is commonly understood as including three conditions: meeting needs, pursuing goals, and experiencing a satisfactory quality of life.

Inequality refers to the uneven distribution of something in society. That something includes factors affecting well-being of people, such as environmental burdens, access and control over natural resources, material goods, and also abilities and capacities to make positive changes in one’s life. This last reason is deeply related to power relations and the recognition of rights. Changes in biosphere, such as climate change, have uneven impacts in their perceived or actual well-being for different people. In turn, inequity has an impact in people`s attitude and behaviour regarding biosphere stewardship.
Presenters in this session have described one or another of the inequality conditions described in the previous paragraph. The perception of insufficient distribution of benefits from marine protected areas, which is a natural resource “common,” shared by many individuals, led to over-exploitation of natural resources in Philippines. On the other hand, the creation of a small privileged user group in Swedish fisheries fostered marine stewardship. Two cases in South Africa and Alaska described historical inequalities that still persist.

What are the solutions then? I asked presenters about their views, and Tracie Curry from University of Alaska Fairbanks answered, “decentralization and empowering of local people could help in addressing the case of Alaska historical inequalities”.

Inequality needs to be considered in a context of international, national and local institutions, and dynamic societal relations with nature.

Inspiring readings and references
Ostrom, E. (2009) A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science 325 (5939): 419-422
Hackfort, S. (2012). Social-Ecological Inequalities. InterAmerican Wiki: Terms – Concepts – Critical Perspectives.
Milner-Gulland, E.J.; McGregor, J.A, Agarwala, M, et al. (2014), Accounting for the Impact of Conservation on Human Well-Being. Conservation Biology 28: 1160–1166. doi:10.1111/cobi.12277

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Noelia Zafra-Calvo is a transdisciplinary conservation social scientist. Her work aims to understand the human and social dimensions that enhance or hamper nature conservation. She is currently a postdoc at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (University of Copenhagen). Noelia moved from systematic conservation planning approaches to focus mostly on including social justice in conservation after ten years of professional experience working with multiple non academic actors in African countries.

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