This week in ENVS, we examined tuna, lawns, and bottled water. The textbook examined tuna as at the center of many marine ecological issues, including the over-exploitation of fish stocks, political economy issues around international fishing, the effectiveness of eco-labels, and environmental ethics. Much of the textbook’s discussion of tuna centered on the issue of dolphin bycatch, highlighting how dolphin-killing purse seine techniques arose because of capitalist pressures. The textbook examined legislative and consumer attempts to eliminate dolphin bycatch in the east Pacific, and then pointed out how the US embargo of tuna not certified as “dolphin-safe” has certain real-politick dimensions—namely, that the MMPA trade embargo only occurred after the US fleet lost access to most ETP tuna fisheries as a result of Latin American nations extending their exclusive economic zones. While these dimensions are interesting and important, I did find this chapter and our class on tuna to be lacking in information on the actual state of tuna fisheries. The inclusion of a section on environmental ethics—which mentioned how ecological discourse on managing fish harvests has centered on distributing anthropocentric rights to fisheries while protecting marine mammals—only underlined how anthropocentric and mammal-centric the rest of this discussion was.
The chapter on lawns was largely a review for me, since I did my situated project on lawns. It gave a history of how lawns expanded greatly throughout the American landscape over the course of the twentieth century, with suburban zoning, a lawn aesthetic, and commercial lawn chemicals creating a verdant, fenced American savannah. The textbook’s discussion of lawns then focused on lawn chemicals, examining how consumer use of pesticides and fertilizers is a socially-rational risk, how lawn chemicals have been pushed on consumers, and how perfect lawns convey a socially-constructed narrative about communities. I found our class debate on this topic invigorating, though the strict time limits were frustrating. At the end of the debate, the majority of our class agreed with the “lawns as constructions” viewpoint, and a large amount of people even thought this vague emphasis on the multi-dimensionalities would be the most convincing position to the average American. While this position’s attention to nuance is commendable, I found it very unconvincing in a debate setting, as there was no over-arching argument to bind the separate points together.
The textbook’s discussion of bottled water centered on the geographic differences in the reasons for bottled water consumption. It drew contrasts between three countries with high per capita bottled water consumption: the UAE, the U.S., and Mexico. The UAE was characterized as having a natural shortage of water supplies, which must be remedied by bottled water imports, while American consumption was portrayed as driven by manufactured demand, and Mexico was depicted as suffering from an infrastructural failure to provide clean municipal tap water. The news report we watched in class blurred this distinction in the case of Mexico. It showed that risk perception, rather than accurate risk assessment, drives Mexican demand for bottled water. The vague consumer fear of tap water, vigorously debunked by municipal authorities, seemed remarkably parallel to the attitudes of affluent, bottled-water consuming Americans. With this in mind, it seems appropriate to consider manufactured demand as at play even in developing countries.