Beyond Manapouri: 50 years of environmental politics in New Zealand. Canterbury University Press, 2018. Examines the evolution of environmental governance since the national Save Manapouri campaign, credited with the emergence of the ‘environmental era’ in New Zealand. Seeks to explain why, despite the great advances made in government institutions, legislation and public awareness and participation, there has been a continued decline in freshwater quality, biodiversity, soil fertility, and a failure to address the biggest environmental (and economic) challenge of all – climate change.
New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history. Canterbury University Press, 2016. Through lushly illustrated, thematically organised chapters, this book explores the relationship between New Zealanders and our rivers, explaining how we have arrived at a crisis point, where fresh water has become our most contested resource and many rivers are too polluted to swim in. One of The Listener’s Best Books of 2016, longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, shortlisted for the Heritage Book Awards.
Ravaged Beauty: An environmental history of the Manawatu. Dunmore Press, 2014. This richly illustrated book traces the history of the Manawatu from the time that people first settled along its coastline, through its transformation by fire, axe and saw to a largely forestless pastoral landscape, to recent developments such as the expanding windfarms and intensification of farming. The book shines light on the patterns and paradoxes revealed through this indepth examination of the interactions between people and environment in New Zealand, and suggests lessons for us today.
‘Creating a pastoral world through fire: the case of the Manawatu, 1870-1910’. Journal of New Zealand Studies. 16 (2013) Abstract: This article examines the role of bush burning in the opening up of bush country in the Manawatu for pastoral farming. Within only a few decades, bush burns had transformed a densely forested environment into one of verdant pasture, scattered with the charred stumps and limbs of incinerated forest. The paper explores the perceptions of bush burning at the time, before examining the voices of doubt and dissent in respect to the rapid destruction of New Zealand’s native forest, both at a national and local level. Finally, the paper will seek to explain why, compared in particular to the South Island, the local voices of protest were only weak, and failed to lead to any effective action (political or otherwise) to preserve Manawatu’s forests. Download here.
‘Between the profane and the spirit worlds: the conceptualisation of uplands and mountains in Japanese and Maori folklore’. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, (11(2) December 2009). Abstract: This paper explores the parallels evident in the traditional Japanese and Maori conceptualisation of mountains, which dominate the landscapes in both Japan and New Zealand. Pivotal to the geomentality of both cultures is the idea that mountains are an intermediary zone between the human and spirit worlds. They are seen as a dwelling place of gods and other supernatural beings and are intimately connected with death and the “other world”. Underpinning these parallels are commonalities in the cosmologies of each culture and the way in which people have traditionally interacted with their natural environment. Both have strong animistic, polytheistic traditions, sensing gods in all parts of nature, of which humanity is an integral part. Both cultures use ritual, taboo and propitiation to keep the omnipresent gods—and thus, the natural world—favourably disposed to humans. In terms of their environmental histories, there are also parallels. People in both cultures originally lived in coastal regions, moving inland in response to population growth and changes in climate and resource levels. In this process, mountains became more prominent in people’s physical and cosmological landscapes, and came to be perceived as a highly sacred realm—a conduit between the profane and spirit world.
‘The Paradox of Discourse Concerning Deforestation in New Zealand: A Historical Survey’, Environment and History 15 (2009): 323-342. Abstract: When the European settlement of New Zealand began in earnest in the mid-nineteenth century, the landscape too underwent a dramatic transformation. Much of the forest was destroyed by milling and fire, and the land converted to pasture for farming.While seen by many as firmly within the prevailing ‘doctrine of progress’, this transformation was viewed with misgivings by others, who observed how deforestation led to erosion and floods, and advocated more prudent forest management. This article explores the historical discourse on deforestation around the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries and how it contrasts with the recent discourse following major floods in 2004, in which the discussion of deforestation as an underlying cause of floods and erosion is notable in its very absence. This paper will seek to explain the paradox apparent in the development of New Zealanders’ understanding of the connection between deforestation and the devastating flood events and severe erosion occurring in New Zealand today. While this is a connection that was repeatedly and cogently expressed by our forebears over one hundred years ago, it is one that most New Zealanders today are ignorant of.
‘Totara Reserve: A Window into Manawatu’s Environmental History’, The Manawatu Journal of History, 2008 (4), pp.50-8. Abstract: this article explores another paradox in our environmental history: Totara Reserve was originally set aside as a forest reserve in recognition of the economic value of the majestic totara that grew there. Many of these old totara are now only stumps, but thanks to this – one of many ironies in our environmental history, the Manawatu is today blessed with this beautiful and ecologically valuable forest reserve which has been the source of much pleasure for many local families (including the author’s) over the decades.
The concept of satoyama and its role in the contemporary discourse on nature conservation in Japan, Asian Studies Review, 34(4), 421 (December 2010). Abstract: The term satoyama has gained wide currency in Japan in the post-war decades as a term describing a sphere of “encultured” nature that has traditionally existed on the periphery of rural settlements, but which is increasingly threatened by industrialisation, urban development, rural depopulation and changing lifestyles. Satoyama is appealing as a concept because it represents a sphere where nature and culture intersect, and is reminiscent of a more idyllic rural lifestyle of the past, when the Japanese “lived in harmony with nature”. This article examines the role of this term in the nature conservation discourse in Japan, and in particular its appropriation by the Ministry of the Environment and the Japanese host organisations for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was held in Japan in October 2010. The article will explore the way the concept of satoyama has been “show cased” as a model of sustainable resource management based on traditional methods of agriculture. The satoyama concept is used to demonstrate that Japan not only possesses the knowledge for living in harmony with nature, but also offers a model of sustainable resource management that the rest of the world can learn from.
“The nature conservation movement in post-war Japan” Environment and History, 16 (3) (2010). Abstract: Like many other nations, Japan has found itself faced with the challenge of finding the balance between the economic and social needs of its nation on the one hand and the protection of its natural environment on the other, something that has been particularly challenging in the post-war decades of high economic growth rates. In this process, the national nature conservation movement has played an important role in counter-balancing the power of the pro-development forces in Japan. However, owing to a number of factors, both social and political, its influence has remained limited. This paper explores those factors, and outlines recent developments which may lead to a greater emphasis both on the greater participation of non-governmental organisations in the political process, and a greater emphasis on the protection of the natural environment. Click here to view Journal contents, including abstracts.
Natural environments, wildlife and conservation in Japan, The Asia-Pacific Journal, 4-2-10, January 25, 2010. Abstract: Owing to its diverse geology, geography and climate, Japan is a country rich in biodiversity. However, as a result of accelerated development over the last century, and particularly the post-war decades, Japan’s natural environments and the wildlife which inhabit them have come under increased pressure. Now, much of Japan’s natural forest, wetlands, rivers, lakes and coastal environments have been destroyed or seriously degraded as a consequence of development and pollution. Despite increasing awareness of the importance of preserving Japan’s remaining natural environments and wildlife, habitat destruction (both direct and indirect), inadequately controlled hunting, and introduced species pose a threat to these. This paper explores these factors, and the underlying forces—political, legislative and economic—which have undermined efforts to preserve Japan’s natural heritage during the post-war decades. Read full article on Asia-Pacific Journal site.
“The bear as ‘endangered pest’: symbolism and paradox in newspaper coverage of the ‘bear problem’”, Japan Forum, 20(2), 2008. Abstract: This article presents an analysis of newspaper coverage of the so-called ‘bear problem’ in Japan during 2004 and examines the symbolism evident in the media discourse. During 2004, human-bear conflict involving the Asiatic black bear reached a crisis point in Japan, attracting an intense level of coverage in the media. Over the summer and autumn months, the normally elusive forest-dweller entered villages and towns, causing numerous human injuries and damage to crops, homes and other property. At the peak of the incidents, newspaper headlines announced bear attacks and sightings and carried warnings to beware of bears on a daily basis, reflecting the high level of concern and interest these incidents generated. The examination of this coverage provides insight into how the Japanese conceptualize the bear and the ‘bear problem’, and into the Japanese relationship with a ‘wild nature’, rarely explored in the literature. Click here to obtain copy.
“The moon bear as a symbol of yama: its significance in the folklore of upland hunting culture of Japan”, Asian Ethnology, 67(1), 2008. Abstract: The Asiatic black bear, or “moon bear,” has inhabited Japan since prehistoric times, and is the largest animal to have roamed Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu since mega-fauna became extinct on the Japanese archipelago after the last glacial period. Even so, it features only rarely in the folklore, literature, and arts of Japan’s mainstream culture. Its relative invisibility in the dominant lowland agrarian-based culture of Japan contrasts markedly with its cultural significance in many upland regions where subsistence lifestyles based on hunting, gathering, and beliefs centered on the mountain deity (yama no kami) have persisted until recently. This article explores the significance of the bear in the upland regions of Japan, particularly as it is manifested in the folklore of communities centered on hunting, such as those of the matagi, and attempts to explain why the bear, and folklore focused on the bear, is largely ignored in mainstream Japanese culture. Click here to read the article.
“The system of wildlife management and conservation in Japan, with particular reference to the Asiatic black bear”, 9(1), June 2007, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies. Editor’s Introduction: Knight use the experience of the Asiatic black bear to showcase many of the inherent problems of Japan’s wildlife protection laws and management practices. She argues that in Japan “inadequate provision for habitat protection, and the major fissure between legislation and practice” contribute to the failure of many conservation programmes.Click here to download.
“The Bear as Barometer: the Japanese response to Human-Bear Conflict” (Doctoral Thesis, 2007, University of Canterbury, New Zealand). Abstract: The Asiatic black bear, or ‘moon bear’, has inhabited Japan since pre-historic times, and is the largest animal to have roamed Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu since mega-fauna became extinct on the Japanese archipelago after the last glacial period. Despite this, the bear features only rarely in the folklore, literature and arts of Japan’s mainstream culture. This relative cultural invisibility in the lowland agrarian-based culture of Japan contrasts markedly with its cultural significance in many upland regions where subsistence lifestyles based on hunting, gathering and beliefs centred on the mountain deity (yama no kami) have persisted until recently. However, in recent decades the bear has been propelled from its position of relative cultural obscurity into the forefront of mainstream society’s attention. As more and more of the bear’s habitat is destroyed or degraded through forestry and development, the bear is increasingly encroaching onto human territory in its search for food, leading to pestilence and bear attacks. This thesis examines the nature of the contemporary human-bear relationship in Japan, dominated by human-bear conflict, or the so-called ‘bear problem’. To better understand the contemporary response to the bear, the thesis explores the historical relationship of the Japanese with both the bear and its habitat, the forested uplands. The thesis further seeks to understand how cultural, historical, social and geographic factors influence a society’s response to wildlife conflict and what can be learnt from the Japanese example which can be applied to the understanding of human society’s response to wildlife conflict elsewhere. Click here to download.
‘Veneration or Destruction? Japanese ambivalence to nature, with special reference to nature conservation’ (Masters Thesis, 2004, University of Canterbury, New Zealand). Abstract: Japan presents two paradoxical faces in terms of its human-nature relationship. On the one hand it is renowned for its beautiful art sensitively and adeptly depicting scenes of nature, or its poetry evocatively and succinctly expressing a moment in nature. On the other hand, in recent years it has been subject to intense criticism for its seemingly reckless treatment of the natural environment, particularly of the world’s oceans and forests. A number of authors have drawn attention to this apparent paradox, and some have attempted to explain Japanese ambivalence towards nature by examining certain aspects of Japanese culture and thought. Focusing on nature conservation within Japan, this thesis takes the exploration of this ambivalence further, using a multi-disciplinary approach to determine the possible contributing factors to the apparent paradox, not only religious or ideological, but also social, economic, legal and political factors. The thesis first examines the two aspects of the veneration-destruction paradox evident in the Japanese perception and treatment of nature: the veneration of nature as manifested in art, literature and other aspects of culture; and the recent despoliation of nature by the Japanese, focusing particularly on the natural environment within Japan itself. The thesis will seek to reconcile these two realities by examining the various factors contributing to the paradox, and determining the overarching factors especially critical to the development of a society where economic development and nature conservation considerations are more equitably balanced. To view title and contents pages click here. (A PDF version of the whole thesis can be obtained by emailing me at envirohistorynz at gmail dot com.)
“The Concept of Satoyama and its Role in the Contemporary Discourse on Nature Conservation in Japan”, The 18th New Zealand Asian Studies Society International Conference, July 2009, University of Victoria, Wellington. Click here to download this paper.
“Symbolism and paradox in media and public discourse on the bear problem in Japan”, The 17th New Zealand Asian Studies Society International Conference, November 2007, University of Otago, Dunedin.
‘“King of the Forest”, or “Fugitive of the Forest”? The Japanese relationship with the bear: past, present and future”, Environment and Nature in Asia Research Symposium, September 2006, University of Otago, Dunedin.