Prof. Jesse Ribot Discusses Ecological Risk and Vulnerability in Myanmar, Mexico City, and Beyond

Posted on 02/03/2016 | Matt Cohn
Geography & GIScience Professor Jesse Ribot is traveling the world this spring, delivering several keynote addresses on risk, vulnerability, and climate change adaptation. On January 26th and 27th, he took part in a National Dialogue on Myanmar, in the capital city of Yangon. Myanmar is beginning a difficult transition from fifty years of military rule to civilian government with a very centralized state and weak forms of popular representation, and a major goal of this meeting was to bring together farmers and environmentalists to negotiate land-use and conservation policies.

Dr. Ribot’s talk, “Generation of Climate-related Vulnerability in a Forest-dependent Community,” examined how farmer's rights and representation, or lack thereof, shape their climate-related vulnerabilities. Ribot explained that “forest-based farming communities are being hemmed in and displaced by agricultural concessions given out by their government, and by environmentalists pushing for park and reserve expansion. This meeting was aimed at bringing land-rights activists and environmentalists into dialogue so this unjust displacement can be stopped.”

On February 25th, Dr. Ribot gave a keynote address, "Vulnerability, Cause and Responsibility under Changing Skies," at the Third International Conference of the Thematic Group of Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty . This year’s conference is entitled “Risk, Uncertainty, and Social inequality – Practices and Rationales.” Ribot discussed the role of moral theory in society's ability to understand 'causality' and its relation to 'blame' and 'responsibility' for climate-related crises.

On May 10 – 13th, he attended the European Meeting of the International Association for the Study of Commons, in Bern, Switzerland. The conference, titled Commons in a “Glocal” World: Global Connections and Local Responses, examined the role that large institutions, such as governments and multinational corporations have in changing local governance structures, and the effects of these changes on local communities, or "the commons." According to Dr. Ribot, the term “glocal” can be used to reflect the integration of scales. However, he does not find this term particularly useful, since, as he says, “all phenomena have causes or effects at multiple scales; the objective is to analyze the causes of events so that we can show the multi-scale chains of causality. This way, for climate-related disasters, for example, we might find solutions at multiple geographic, social, institutional, political, and economics scales.”
Photo: Jesse Ribot
Aside from speaking engagements, Dr. Ribot also traveled to his research site in eastern Senegal, where he interviewed families of the 200 young men who drowned when their boat traveling from Libya to Europe capsized on April 18th, 2015.

“Many young men die crossing the desert from Senegal to North Africa. Many die crossing the Mediterranean. Perilous out-migration cannot be attributed to erratic rainfall and poor harvests – which these people live with. Rather, they are desperate because of low state-fixed or buyer-imposed forestry and agricultural prices, usurious credit arrangements, and lack of access to transport, which leave farmers broke or in debt at the end of each season. The resulting poverty, combined with a failure of government to invest in schools, roads, grain storage and social security systems, leads youth to take this grave risk; their vulnerability does not fall from the sky -- it is not about climate.”