|My book, "Environmental Politics: Scale and Power" was published by Cambridge University Press in the fall...just in time for my fall sabbatical! I spent the summer working on a project with the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth, and was also invited to write a chapter on Critical Geopolitics of the Environment for a forthcoming volume on critical geopolitics edited by Jo Sharp, Klaus Dodds, and Gearoid OTuathail.|
Project 1: Geography of Environmental Conflict: The Case of Azerbaijan
I am currently the P.I. on a National Science Foundation-funded project titled “Geography of Environmental Conflict: The Case of Azerbaijan”. This project examines why widespread or sustained conflict related to natural resources is not evident in Azerbaijan despite the fact that this country exhibits key ingredients for conflict cited in the resource conflicts literature. This grant enabled the collection of survey data from 1200 Azerbaijani citizens on their views of the oil industry, perceptions of environmental quality, and political activity as well as the development of a complementary, second dataset derived from in-depth interviews in which people were asked to elaborate on these and related themes.
I am using data from this project to address four research questions regarding the apparent lack of conflict in this context. The research questions— hypothesizing that a lack of political freedom will stifle environment-related dissent, that environmental dissent may be eclipsed by other priorities of day-to-day life, that a minimum population threshold must be met to sustain environmental dissent and that dissent requires an object of focus—structure the methodology of this study and are informed by previous work on resource conflicts and social movements. This study posits that spatial patterns of citizen opinion and activity will help to explain the unexpected lack of environment-related dissent in Azerbaijan.
A slogan of the Azerbaijani government:
A paper, published in Area, considers how environmental concerns compare to other day-to-day concerns of Azerbaijani citizens. The analysis of survey and interview data in that paper points to several reasons why natural resource conditions do not necessarily lead to conflict and raises questions about what is meant by conflict. An excerpt from that paper follows:
“Several respondents indicated that despite the clear presence of a multitude of environmental problems in Azerbaijan, government agencies themselves did not prioritize these matters in the interest of the common good:
It seems hilarious to talk about any ecological problems in the country, because the interest of the responsible organizations for the ecology and environment in this problem is . . . zero. Even if there is a Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, this ministry does nothing more than plant trees to protect the environment. Nobody pays attention to the ecological security in our country. (Male journalist from Baku)”
(From O’Lear, Shannon and Angela Gray. “Asking the right questions: environmental conflict in the case of Azerbaijan”. Area, forthcoming in 2006)
A result of this project, so far, is that my attention is necessarily drawn to geographic work on poverty alleviation and resource wealth as a curse. Since the oil industry in the Caucasus region, together with government management of oil revenues, plays a central role in economic development, I would like to apply the findings of my current project to a theoretically, geographically and methodologically expanded project. I have conducted a pilot study in Azerbaijan and Georgia as a planning step towards my next region-specific project.
Project 2: Geographic critique of resource conflict methodologies
In a parallel project, I consider ways in which studies of resource conflict have over simplified geographical aspects of natural resources and environmental conditions and why this leads to incomplete and at times misguided understanding of the role that a natural resource may have in armed conflict. In a theme issue of GeoJournal focused on territorial conflict, my paper describes several shortcomings of using large-N studies (i.e., studies of a large number of cases as opposed to more focused case studies) to analyze to assess the role of natural resources in conflict. Many of these studies use huge databases of generalized conflict and resource variables to examine relationships between these features. An excerpt from that paper demonstrates a few concerns glimpsed by a geographic perspective:
“…natural resource datasets, such as those depicting the distribution of water or deposits of oil and minerals, also have shortcomings in their usefulness in an analysis of their potential relationship to conflict, particularly at a global or even state-centric scale. For example, such datasets tend to indicate the location or distribution of natural resource features, but they do not necessarily indicate infrastructure that is critical to the exploitation, use, or transfer of these resources. In the case of water resources, attribute and spatial data on water quality, wells, dams and extraction structures could enhance analysis. Similarly for minerals, infrastructural data such as mining technologies
would greatly enhance an understanding of how profitable or likely a change in control over resources might be.” (p. 301)
O’Lear, Shannon. 2006.“Resource Concerns for Territorial Conflict”, GeoJournal 64:4 (journal date December 2005; published in August 2006), pp. 297-306 (Shannon O’Lear, Paul F. Diehl, Derrick V. Frazier and Todd L. Allee, guest editors of theme issue on territorial conflict.)
“World Energy Geology” (US Geological Survey)
(Why is this map problematic for assessing resource conflicts?)
Map source: ‘‘World Petroleum Assessment 2000’’ (http://pubs.usgs.gov/dds/dds-060/, visited 21 November 2006)
Project 3: Geography and Genocide
Together with my colleague Steve Egbert, I am developing a course on the Geography of Genocide. Most often, research interests drive teaching pursuits, but in this case, our collaborative teaching initiative is motivating an investigation into academic and policy dimensions of genocide. Surprisingly, there are very few geographers working directly on the topic of genocide, and we are bringing most of them together for a special session at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Through continued reflection upon and exploration of the complex history of genocide interpreted through a lens of political geography and geopolitics, we aim to initiate a scholarly conversation about on what Geographers can contribute to the study, understanding and alleviation of genocide.