Settler colonial environmentalism: Ellen van Holstein, Lesley Head,’Shifting settler-colonial discourses of environmentalism: Representations of indigeneity and migration in Australian conservation’, Geoforum, 94, 2018, pp. 41–52


Abstract: Western environmentalism and conservation are deeply entangled with histories of colonialism. This entanglement has marginalised Indigenous and migrant perspectives on the environment to protect settler norms and interests. This paper approaches those two types of othering together in the context of environmental debate, using the lens of a mainstream conservation magazine. We analyse representations of indigeneity and migration in a shifting settler-colonial discourse on the environment, throughout the 45 volumes of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s magazine Habitat (1973–2016). The Australian Conservation Foundation was Australia’s first nation-wide conservation organization. Its magazine exemplifies a settler-colonial discourse that initially aimed to conserve pristine nature but that over time has responded to increasing awareness that environmental crises have transnational causes and consequences, and require intercultural and international cooperation. We found that, while contributors to the magazine increasingly represent Australian conservation issues as connected to international processes and closely collaborate with remote Indigenous communities, they continue to assume the settler as norm and prioritise the protection of wealth and lifestyles. These goals are achieved through the conditional inclusion of others and through the treatment of environments as having zero-sum limits. The colonial imaginaries of ‘wilderness’ and carrying capacity are repurposed to frame migration as being at odds with Australian people’s wealth and wellbeing. The reiteration of settler-colonial environmentalism as a dominant way of protecting the environment stands in the way of the greater pluralism of environmental relationships that will be needed for coping with environmental change.

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