SCALE, ECOLOGY AND COMPLEX SYSTEMS
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The relationship between political jurisdictions and ecologically-sensible geographic areas is a central concern of political ecologists; few are the cities, provinces, states or countries which map closely onto watersheds, airsheds, aquifers, ranges of migratory birds or top predators, or any other terrestrial space which makes (more-than-human) ecological sense. As the need becomes more pressing to devise policies which help to reduce human impact on ecological systems, the inefficiencies and dysfunctionalities which result from this disjuncture between political spaces and ecological spaces are becoming more readily apparent. It is extremely difficult to devise and implement policies to protect Monarch butterflies, the ozone layer, North Atlantic groundfish stocks, or even the Oglalla aquifer, due in large part to the many political jurisdictions which must commit to policies and their enforcement. Ecological issues which are of central concern for some jurisdictions matter only peripherally or are swamped by other economic or foreign-policy considerations for other jurisdictions, leading to the familiar gridlock in environmental policy -- which of course exists not just at the international level, but also at regional and local scales (Press, 1994:84-107; Bhaskar and Glyn, 1995; Borgese, 1995:151-166; Schreurs and Economy, 1997; Adam, 1998:104-125; Altvater, 1998:34-39; O’Connor, 1994; Eckersley, 1998; Harvey, 1996:203-204; Rifkin, 1991:288-289). Even in the unlikely event that political (and other) ecologists were to reach a consensus on how to create a global, nested series of political jurisdictions and boundaries which respected the earth’s most important ecological features and systems, it would not be at all easy to redraw political boundaries in this way, especially if democratic principles were to be employed (Low, 1997). Moreover, much of the literature on globalization stresses the declining importance of political jurisdictions and policy-making anyway, in the face of increasing global corporate power (Korten, 1995; Sachs, 1993). So what is the point of discussing the relationship between political scales and ecological scales? In this paper, I will try to argue that the importance of political scale (both as a concept and in its grounded, appropriate ecological application) extends far beyond policy-making and supersedes corporate erosion. Political scale provides a primary means for humans to “make sense of” the world and come to terms with our place in it, as individuals and as a species.Its value is educational, epistemological, ontological, and cultural; in fact, political scale can be seen as both a motivator and agenda for action.Complex systems theory offers a number of insights about scale questions. After discussing some of these theoretical issues, I will return at the end of the paper to the role of political scale in a practical sense for activists.
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