Biologists of the World Unite!

I draw on organizational-ethnographic research conducted inside the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to explore Noel Castree’s (2017) recent suppositions about actualizing a more “deeply radicalized” global change science. More specifically, I consider his admonishment that critically-oriented environmental scholars forgo detached criticism and “get stuck in”—that we earnestly engage these scientific communities and try to leverage their growing recognition of the momentous political-ecological implications predicted in their own findings toward the building of new solidarities and the pursuit of more “richly radical ends.” I explore these speculations empirically by analyzing a unique site where critical scholars actually tried to accomplish something like this: IPBES. I highlight the presence of a handful of critically-oriented social scientists, humanities scholars, and heterodox scientists embedded in the process. There, I observed them trying to dislodge ecosystem services from its more epistemically and politically problematic “mainstream” tendencies and working to re-direct IPBES itself toward the production of knowledges less bound to neoliberal logics and more amenable to envisioning radical alternatives. To my surprise (and often theirs), I saw them repeatedly albeit modestly succeeding at this task. As the profoundly radical implications predicted in the findings of global change scientists grows ever starker, I conclude—at least in relation to IPBES—that the radical theorizations offered by critical scholars represent not only appropriate but necessary and quite plausible parts of the dialogue. Even more intriguing is that the leadership of IPBES has increasingly come to agree.

This paper was presented at the Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference in Lexington, KY in 2018. The image is from a recent press release by IPBES announcing the release of the Summary for Policymakers for each of the four IPBES Regional Assessments.