Planetary forests: Remote sensing, field sciences and carbon markets in Central Africa

Monday, 4 October, 2021 - 16:00

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This paper is a work in progress. It is about how the climate crisis puts the central African forests centre stage. Earth system models and large datasets show that the world’s forests, especially those located between the tropics, play a central part in the global circulation of carbon: they sequester large amounts of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuel and other industrial activities. In response to what might be the most critical environmental problem of our times, scientific research is developing rapidly to better understand carbon sequestration in tropical forests, while multilateral policy initiatives are set up to try to prevent the loss of these stores of carbon. This paper explores the ways in which a particular place – Gabon and its forests – is acquiring planetary significance. By attending to the work of scientists (field ecologists and remote sensing specialists), I will show how trees, field plots and forest patches are involved in producing data on ecological processes, like carbon storage, and improving the tools available to study such processes. As I engage with the science, I will also seek to pay close attention to its transnational, postcolonial politics and the metrics-based extractive logic it underpins (carbon markets). The objective is to revisit classic questions in the social studies of sciences and techniques (e.g. metrology) to contribute to a discussion of the Anthropocene and Africa (e.g. Hecht 2018).

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