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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political life of mangroves Irvine-Broque, Audrey


“Limb for limb, the mangrove is perhaps the most important tree species on Earth,” declared Conservation International in a recent update. Detailing the abilities of these trees to palliate the threats of a warming and degraded planet, this piece appealed to a now-dominant logic of conservation practice: that protecting nature might not only be a problem to solve, but a solution itself. The ascent of the mangrove forest as a “nature-based solution” marks a shift towards climate and conservation policy that promises to remedy numerous social, ecological, and economic crises at once. But what kind of approach to managing socio-ecological problems does this solution reproduce? In this thesis, I aim to historicize this solution by following the political life of mangroves: how the fate of the mangrove forest became entangled with the ideology of the Washington Consensus, first as its victim, and now as its savior. Through historical research, interviews, and document analysis, I follow the mangrove through its most significant period of decline, its subsequent emergence as an object of international conservation concern, and its current articulation with finance capital as a leading market-based environmental solution. In Chapter 1, I trace how mangrove loss becomes explained as an issue of improper values, a problem that requires solving via the financial revaluation of the mangrove ecosystem, which obfuscates broader political economic drivers of mangrove degradation. In Chapter 2, I show how a lack of state capacity and structural limits on access to capital frame the problem of the financing gap for nature, a gap that subsequently justifies the need for private financial investment in mangroves. I argue that such conservation finance projects should not be understood simply as technical fixes to generate more funds, but as political economic projects with specific aims beyond mangrove conservation. Further, I show how “the mangrove”, as a dominant policy solution, promises that socioecological wellbeing can take place within the current structure of the global economy, while creating solutions that selectively narrate which conditions of socioecological inequality and vulnerability are in need of repair.

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