Earth Restorative Justice
Restorative approaches to environmental harms

Nurturing care for nature through commoning

How can we stimulate care for the environment? This is the key question in the Positive Green Criminology research that I do with criminologist Anneke van Hoek. I recently came across the work of Neera Singh, professor of geography at the University of Toronto, and I think she has some invaluable insights to share:

Neera Singh writes about about “affective ecologies” — or how as humans we can begin to care for forests and non-human nature in the same ways one might care for their children or friends. “The idea of affective ecologies is trying get past the idea that nature is somehow separate from humans,” Dr. Singh explains. “We always talk about these things as something external. Words like ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’ don’t recognize the inherent interconnectedness humans have with the non-human world. If there are lessons to be learnt from the Covid 19 crisis, these relate to how human health is deeply connected to the health of the natural environment.”

Singh’s research is based on her work in the eastern India state of Odisha, where local, often Indigenous, communities have nurtured degraded forests back to health through caring labor. These forests provide sustenance, are the basis for livelihoods, and a source of culture and spirituality. Not only do they provide immediate economic and social benefits, they also form the basis for an ecologically sensitive worldview.

The villagers in Odisha did not participate in a classic "market solution" by which the state would pay people to act as conservators of state-owned forests. Instead, the villagers were allowed to provide their own self-managed community-based conservation, with other words, forest commoning. They picked berries, pulled out weeds and checked for any signs of pilferage or violations of rules of the commons. They developed affective ties with the growing plants, trees, birds and animals, and in so doing, forests are transformed from nature out there and become a part of the self that is nurtured through care.

The villagers thus developed an identity as “forest people” and “forest care-givers”, and the Odisha example illustrates how people can become commoners through the embodied practices of caring for the forests or other elements of nature.

Neera Singhs' research points to commoning as a key to developing ecological sensitivity and care for nature - I'm curious to hear what you think!

Sources & references for further reading:

David Bollier: Affective Labor as the Lifeblood of a Commons
Neera Singh: Becoming a Commoner
Guarav Madan: In Crisis, Learning from Ecologies of Care