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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Harrop

'Men Against the Desert’

‘Men Against the Desert’: Empire, decolonisation and the production of environmental knowledge in the Age of Anthropocene, 1930-1977.


When representatives from across the world gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the 1977 UN Conference on Desertification (UNCOD), they sought to combat a looming environmental threat that they did not understand.[1] Despite this, for the preceding 50 years, ‘desertification’, a term defined at that very conference and often conflated with soil erosion, had occupied the central position in global environmental discourse, currently held by climate change.[2] With this in mind, this essay will use global discourses around desertification between 1930 and 1977 to explore the unresolved tensions between development and the environment. As a frame of reference, it will begin with what Hannah Holleman has termed the ‘global Dust Bowl of the 1930s in which the US and European empires collaborated to combat soil erosion, and will trace the entrenchment of these ideas and personnel into the UN system.[3] In doing so, it will demonstrate how discourses around attempts to combat ‘desertification’, and the production of environmental knowledge as a whole, are rooted in colonial-era misperceptions of deserts as abnormal, underdeveloped environments, and the asymmetries of power left by the unfinished process of decolonisation.[4] These tensions are central to understanding the contested global visions of the environment, and will be explored in this piece through the term the ‘global environmental imaginary’, to conceptualise the environmental awareness of actors at the local, national and international level.

Emerging in the 1980s, the ‘environmental turn’ has sought to reconcile the false dichotomy between human and natural sciences, within which the histories of the ‘global’ scope of imperial exploitation and the production of environmental knowledge have played a central.[5] However, with the exception of Perrin Selcer’s interventions, limited scholarship has investigated the post-1945 development of environmental awareness, and its pre-war origins.[6] Instead, many studies have foregrounded the ‘globalising’ nature of the Cold War and ‘Détente’ in the 1970s as the origin of modern environmentalism.[7] This overlooks the centrality of colonial and developmental thought, as well as North-South tensions between 1930 and the 1970s in shaping the way the environment was understood and debated. This essay will therefore seek to use desertification discourse to explore this gap in internationalist scholarship and complicate the genealogy of modern environmentalism. Furthermore, with the introduction of the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ (the epoch at which humanity can be considered a ‘geophysical force’ due to its impact on the planet) at the turn of the 21st century, scholars like Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz have emphasised the need to recognise the ‘schizophrenic’ ways in which elites at the imperial and international level have received and marginalised warnings about environmental degradation.[8]

With this in mind, starting with the ‘global’ environmental awareness sparked by the US Dust Bowl in the 1930s and the pooling of inter-colonial scientific expertise this generated, this essay will highlight how imperial and developmentalist thought were intimately connected to the production of global environmental knowledge.[9] The soil conservation initiatives initiated by Britain, France and the US, however, privileged technical solutions to the pressure that intensified agriculture had placed on soils. After the Second World War, moreover, colonial officials, many of whom worked on the responses to the ‘global’ Dust Bowl were circulated into the emergent UN system, entrenching these views of ‘deserts’ being desiccated landscapes in need of development. This will be explored through the United Nations Environmental Scientific Education and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) ‘Arid Zone Programme’ (1951-1967), and its influence on sedentarisation policies in post-colonial state-building efforts in the Middle East with specific reference to Syria.[10] Within this, it will emphasise the tensions between local, national and global conceptions of the environment.[11] Finally, the focus will then be shifted to UNCOD, placing it in the context of the ‘failure’ of global environmentalism in the 1970s. UNCOD offers a useful example of the consequences of North-South tensions for environmentalism, in which in the face of incomplete decolonisation, reflected in the Global South’s calls for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), national development in the Global South was prioritised over environmental regulation.[12]

The first global environmental crisis: Colonial scientific expertise and the ‘Global’ Dust Bowl of the 1930s

The embeddedness of imperial and developmental thought in the production of global environmental knowledge is most clearly visible in discourses about soil erosion in the 1930s, which were rooted in rapid expansions in colonial exploitation of the environment. Indeed, scholars like David Worster and Hannah Holleman have illustrated that unsustainable cash-crop agriculture, which expanded in the late 19th and early 20th century was tied to a global culture of settler colonialism in the US and Anglo-French empires.[13] These practices were regionally distinct across the empires, with the US mechanised agriculture exposing soil to wind erosion with the cultivation of the Great Plains, and soil erosion in South Africa stemming from growing sheep populations in white farms.[14] However, they were connected by their state-backed appropriation of native land, evident in the US Homestead Act of 1862, and Anglo-French military support for white settlers in Algeria and South Africa.[15] Within this, Holleman points to how this created a globalised ‘ecological rift’, where capitalist demand for crops and pasture placed more pressure on the soil than it could sustain.[16] Consequently, this pressure on the soil was intensified by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, which sent global commodity prices into a slump, leading to farmers growing more crops to compensate, preventing exhausted soils from regaining their fertility.[17] The environmental crises of the 1930s were, therefore intimately bound up with the expansion of global capitalism, facilitated by the coercive seizure of native land by colonial powers like the US and Britain.

This problematises the perspectives offered by earlier, ‘exceptionalist’ scholars of the Dust Bowl, such as Paul Bonnifield, who present it as a localised and natural phenomenon, obscuring its man-made and trans-imperial origins.[18] Instead, the Dust Bowl is best understood beyond the national level, and integrated into a global system of exploitation, illustrating a 20th century continuation of John Richards’ view of the ‘unending frontier’ mentality of settler expansion.[19] In this respect, this highlights the salience of Bonneuil and Fressoz’s contention that the Anthropocene is best understood as a ‘Capitalocene’, in a world unequally structured around developmentalism and the Global North’s access to resources.[20]

Furthermore, it should not be omitted that the global social, economic and environmental crisis that the Dust Bowl represented was also not unforeseen. Indeed, as Richard Grove has highlighted, the damage that cash-crop agriculture inflicted on the soils of colonial territories was well documented by officials as far back as the 18th century.[21] The same was true of the ‘global’ Dust Bowl, in which a substantial international literature had developed on the rising issue of soil erosion prior to 1930. In the US, this took the form of written material by activists like Gifford Pinchot, and bulletins by the Department of Agriculture such as one entitled ‘Blowing Soils’ identifying problems with settler soil management methods, and predicting the ‘dustbowlification’ of the Great Plains.[22] This also included conferences, such as the 1927 World Congress of Soil Science held in Washington, which was widely attended by representatives from Europe and white settler states like South Africa, similarly demonstrating both the growing infrastructures of environmental knowledge, and their international scope.[23] Despite evidence of environmental degradation, however, Holleman highlights that these warnings never manifested themselves into any significant effort to address soil erosion until the droughts of the 1930s and the Wall Street Crash formed an ‘accumulation catastrophe’.[24] This is illustrative of Bonneuil and Fressoz’s view that, while the concept of the Anthropocene is relatively new, this is not to suggest that power elites were unconscious of the damage they were causing the natural environment.[25]

When severe drought finally led to the emergence of the Dust Bowl finally in 1930, however, the responses to the world’s first environmental crisis of soil erosion cannot be understood without the imperial context that framed them.[26] Indeed, as Diana Davis highlights, the circulation of knowledge about soil erosion and the environment was embedded in the idea of ‘desiccation theory’ in the Anglo-French empires.[27] Within this, deserts were constructed by colonial officials as wastelands caused by soil erosion and deforestation, which were blamed on ‘uncivilised’ indigenous farming practices, rather than seeing them as natural ecosystems in their own right.[28] Consequently, across the British Empire in particular, the widely publicised images of wind-eroded soil in the US Great Plains were connected by colonial officials to increases in soil erosion in their own territories to form a ‘crisis of desertification’.[29] This was evident in influential studies like the 1939 book The Rape of the Earth: A World Survey of Soil Erosion by British agriculturalists Graham Vernon Jacks and Robert Orr Whyte.[30] While Jacks and Whyte recognised the harmful impacts of Western cash-crop agriculture, however, they still conceived of the need to conserve the soil in terms of a new ‘white man’s burden’ of managing the environment and educating native peoples, whose growing populations in the empire were regarded as being to blame for environmental degradation.[31] In this respect, this highlights how central the racialised culture of imperialism was to the ways in which the environment was constructed in international discourse, favouring paternalistic solutions to environmental issues which were divorced from the interests of indigenous people.

Building on this, concerns over desertification additionally prompted the internationalisation of knowledge about soil erosion, reflected in the pooling of knowledge and the growth of imperial scientific bureaucracy regarding the environment.[32] Joseph Hodge in particular has emphasised that in the British Empire, these global fears over soil fertility and desertification in the 1930s contributed to the increased emphasis on science in British agricultural policy.[33] The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad for instance, placed a focus on soil erosion in its courses, teaching methods employed by the US Soil Conservation Service which privileged chemical fertilisers and livestock population control as a way of re-habilitating soil fertility.[34] In this sense, this highlights how the conflation of soil erosion with desertification led to it being understood in narrow technical terms as a problem of ‘mismanagement’ that could be rectified with modern technology, linking it to budding interwar conceptions of developmentalism. Additionally, this also problematises the perspective of interwar environmentalism offered by Peder Anker, who stresses the centrality of British imperial thought and thus overlooks these important connections and circulations of expertise between the US and European empires.[35] Indeed, the interwar crisis of soil erosion demonstrates the merits of integrating the US into the ‘imperial’ world, which helps to conceptualise the global scale of development’s embeddedness in nascent environmental awareness.[36]

The impacts of this internationally legitimised technocratic approach to the management of the environment was most clearly demonstrated by the British settler colony of Kenya in the 1930s, where many graduates from Trinidad went on to serve.[37] Throughout the 1920s and 1930s soil erosion had become a significant problem as a result of white farmers purchasing land and pushing the indigenous population into more confined pastures and farms, placing tolls on soil fertility.[38] The Colonial Office’s response to this represented an intersection between this expert-driven impetus generated by the international crisis of soil erosion and the local dynamics of Kenya’s white settler interests. For example, the prolific colonial agricultural expert Sir Frank Stockdale fostered close connections with Hugh Bennett, director of the US Soil Conservation Service and toured the US in 1937, where he was inspired by the US Federal Government’s direct interventions into farming practices.[39] Stockdale’s approach also interacted with the lobbying of Kenya’s white settler community, who blamed soil erosion on African farming practices in order to shore up their privileged position in the country, which the Depression had dented.[40] This informed Stockdale’s support for the establishment of a British Soil Conservation Service in 1938, which reflected the growing bureaucratisation of human relationships with the environment.[41]

In the interests of maintaining agricultural productivity, moreover, Stockdale helped implement more authoritarian colonial-state interventions to re-order African land use.[42] This included imposing bans on new land being acquired by African farmers, and plans being made to cull their livestock to prevent overgrazing, all of which improved the access of white settlers to land.[43] David Anderson has also connected conservation policies such as these in East Africa to the land-utilisation development schemes that would re-emerge as colonial welfare and development initiatives after 1940, illustrating how questions of soil erosion and desertification became embedded in developmental thought.[44] While it is important to highlight as Laurence Grossman does, that soil conservation policies varied significantly across the empire in terms of their authoritarianism, this speaks to how international discourses about ‘desertification’ converged to shape top-down approaches to environmental policy within the empire.[45] Moreover, this also demonstrates how the racial underpinnings of the global environmental imaginary could be appropriated to marginalise the interests of indigenous people and problematise indigenous knowledge.

With this in mind, in contrast to earlier scholarship, the ‘crisis of desertification’ in the 1930s can therefore be seen as illustrative of how the development of international knowledge about the environment was inextricable from the global system of imperial exploitation. Indeed, by focusing on the circulation of knowledge between empires, within which the US can be integrated, this section illustrates how the racialised nature of colonial misperceptions of indigenous land-use coalesced to favour top-down, technocratic visions of the environment.

‘Reclaiming the Desert’: The Middle East and the continuities of colonial knowledge in UNESCO

Following the Second World War, however, it was the perception of humanity’s relationship with the environment as something that could be rationalised and controlled with technical interventions that became entrenched into the newly established UN system. This largely stemmed from how the early UN represented a receptacle for colonial environmental experts who saw no contradiction between their imperial and internationalist loyalties.[46] This is best illustrated through the early international environmental initiatives, which were largely directed by the British colonial biologist and director of UNESCO Julian Huxley who oversaw the founding of the International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUPN) in 1949.[47] Huxley in particular was emblematic of the widespread optimism about the new international system shared by his fellow liberal internationalists, in that he saw UNESCO as a way of realising his vision of ‘one world’ and global conservation, but within which empire still had a place.[48]

Alongside the presence of Jean-Paul Harroy, a Belgian colonial scientist influenced by interwar texts like The Rape of the Earth as its General Secretary, moreover, the IPUN also drew from the expertise of US New Deal veterans like William Vogt and Harold Coolidge.[49] The IPUN’s presence at the 1949 UN Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources (UNSCCUR) that same year, therefore, contributed towards shaping the continuity of the technocratic approach to the environment forged during the interwar years, which Perrin Selcer has termed the ‘view from above’.[50] This was reflected in UNSCCUR’s discussions on the need to set regulations on the consumption of natural resources on a global scale, which took place with the presence of representatives from the colonised world.[51] This exemplified the ‘imperial’ nature of the early post-war international system, within which the global environment and its ‘rationalisation’ remained a topic of discussion for the Global North, who set their own terms for its exploitation. This integrates the internationalisation of the environment into Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and José Pedro Monteiro’s view of the intimate and co-constitutive relationship between internationalism and imperialism.[52] Within this, environmental internationalism had significant overlaps with imperial internationalist aims of securing global access to resources.

With the onset of decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s, however, this technocratic view of the environment only became more entrenched, as exemplified by the UNESCO Arid Zone Programme, which straddled the period of post-war imperialism and decolonisation between 1951 and 1967. Indeed, the fact that this programme, a global research project into desert environments, was one of the first major projects launched by UNESCO highlighted the continued centrality of the ‘crisis of desertification’ in the minds of environmental internationalists.[53] In 1950, for instance, UNESCO ran its popular ‘Men Against Deserts’ media campaign, in which the British former war-time propagandist Ritchie Caldor travelled across the world’s deserts, using war metaphors about the need to “reclaim the desert”.[54] This was similarly evident in the project’s many continuities of personnel with the US response to the Dust Bowl, with Walter C. Lowdermilk, former chief assistant of the US Soil Conservation Service chairing the committee establishing it.[55] Consequently, Davis and Selcer have both emphasised the important role played by UNESCO in entrenching desiccation theory and the need to ‘develop’ deserts into the infrastructures of global knowledge.[56]

This was additionally facilitated by the process of decolonisation which led to the emergence of a new class of ex-colonial international environmental experts.[57] This included Théodore Monod, a former French official from West Africa, who went on to represent the IUPN at the meetings of the Arid Zone Research Advisory Committee.[58] Monod’s influence was vividly demonstrated through the IUPN’s ‘Arab States Fundamental Education Centre’, which manufactured and distributed textbooks to schools in the Middle East containing narratives that problematised desert environments and propagated the view that they were caused by nomadic misuse of the land.[59] This can be integrated into Hodge’s view of the post-colonial careering trajectories of former colonial experts into the UN system, in which officials went on to institutionalise colonial development practices and privilege technical solutions.[60] From this perspective, the Arid Zone Programme and its role in entrenching desiccation theory highlights the salience of looking beyond the dichotomy of the colonial and post-colonial period to recognise the important continuities between the two, which informed the character of environmental debates into the 1960s.[61]

In a similar vein, the Arid Zone Programme additionally reflected the complex genealogy of the global environmental imaginary in the 1960s, which drew on prevalent discourses about post-independence development in Global South. Indeed, the institutionalisation of expert views of deserts as ‘unproductive’ environments that could be corrected with technology also intersected with the UN’s emphasis on development as a part of the UN Development Decade, launched in 1961.[62] In this respect, the promotion of irrigation technologies and fertilisers during this period led to desert environments being reconceptualised as areas of potential productivity and wealth, particularly among emerging economies in the Global South.[63] This was reflected by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) liaising with the expertise developed through the Arid Zone Programme to support agricultural schemes in arid and semi-arid countries.[64] This was particularly evident in the case of agricultural development in Saudi Arabia, in which the FAO collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Water to survey the Kingdom’s water resources for expanded irrigation in 1964.[65] This assisted in expanding the country’s cultivated land from around 200,000 hectares in the 1960s to as much as 525,000 hectares by 1975.[66] This integrates deserts into Thomas Robertson’s contention that post-war technologies opened new biomes to economic exploitation to include arid environments, reflecting how the global environmental imaginary of this period significantly overlapped with the development discourse prominent in the Global South.[67]

With this in mind, however, this shift in humanity’s relationship with arid environments also led to significant social and political consequences on the international, national and local level. These became especially apparent in state-building efforts in the Middle East, in which the desiccation theory promoted by UN agencies like UNESCO legitimised the sedentarisation policies pursued by national elites.[68] Between 1956 and 1962, for instance, the Arid Zone Programme launched a 6-year study of living conditions and soil fertility in desert areas across the Middle East and North Africa, which ended by recommending the settlement of environmentally ‘destructive’ nomadic populations.[69] The impacts of these views are best examined through the case of Syria where, as a part of the post-colonial state-building process, the government continued French colonial strategies of asserting control over the Bedouin population of the Badia (Syrian Desert).[70] While international agencies concerned with development viewed nomadic pastoral agriculture as a cause of environmental degradation, the Syrian government saw the Bedouin as a threat to their sovereignty and an obstacle to their post-colonial development plans.[71] The Bedouin, on the other hand, derived their identity and economic practices from their centuries-old symbiotic relationship with the desert, which is now recognised as being the most effective, and least destructive human use of arid lands.[72] However, with the association between the environment and development embodied by desiccation theory and global discourses on post-colonial development, these local and national conceptions of deserts were brought into conflict.

This tension was illustrated in state policies from the 1950s, particularly during Syria’s union with Egypt (1958-1961), which included widespread land confiscations from Bedouin populations, justified by labelling their land management as environmentally destructive, and agricultural expansion into the Badia.[73] When drought in 1958 produced significant land degradation and declines in livestock populations, however, government actors, legitimised by international technicians from the FAO, resolved that it was the product of nomadic ‘overstocking’.[74] This informed state attempts to rehabilitate livestock populations by enclosing land from nomads until 1968, which Dawn Chatty states failed largely due to the marginalisation of Bedouin environmental knowledge in international and national structures.[75] In this respect, this highlights how the entrenchment of desiccation theory perpetuated a global/local division over how the environment was understood, that dislocated the interests of local people and problematised indigenous knowledge, remains an obstacle in addressing land degradation today.[76] This therefore challenges Selcer’s focus on the ‘view from above’, which obscures the way these multiple contested relationships with the environment excluded local forms of knowledge, and delegitimised certain land uses in a manner reminiscent of the colonial-era.[77]

Additionally, in contrast to studies which emphasise the centrality of the Cold War to growing environmental awareness in the 1950s and 1960s, the Arid Zone Programme also highlights the salience of looking beyond the East-West binary to illustrate moments of global collaboration.[78] This was reflected in the national composition of UNESCO, in which Soviet soil scientist Viktor Kovda, was made Director for the Department for Natural Sciences between 1958 and 1965, highlighting the relative irrelevance of Cold War rivalries in the face of the global threat of desertification.[79] Indeed, whereas the Dust Bowl served as an important connection between the US participation in projects related to ‘desertification’, the Soviet Union was also concerned with its own problems of land degradation and perceived desertification.[80] Following Khrushchev’s ‘Virgin Lands’ campaign (1954-1965), for example, which sought to expand cultivation into the USSR’s arid lands, an estimated 17 million out of the 40 million hectares ploughed under the scheme were lost to wind erosion.[81] In this respect, just as Nils Gilman has contended that both superpowers had similar understandings of progress in terms of their visions of industrial modernity, this also can be extended to their shared understanding of deserts as problematic environments which needed to be made productive.[82] In the context of the Anthropocene, moreover, both the Western and Eastern blocs remained equally engaged in the exploitation of the environment in pursuit of an overlapping model of modernity.[83] Although the Cold War remains an essential framing device for 20th century environmentalism, therefore, debates surrounding desertification indicate that many aspects of modern environmentalism were more shaped by tensions and asymmetries between the Global North and Global South than between East and West, as this final section will explore.[84]

Post-colonial environmentalism? Development, North-South dialogues, and the circularity of global environmental discourses in the 1970s

Moving into the 1970s, moreover, international visions of the environment did not decouple their focus on the planet’s rational exploitation and development, meaning the environment emerged as a site of contestation between the Global North and South. In spite of a growing scholarship on the ‘global’ nature of the 1970s, few scholars have meaningfully engaged with ‘global’ environmentalism and its ‘failure’ beyond the 1972 UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm and the launch of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).[85] What a focus on desertification reveals, however, is the many continuities between the 1930s and the 1970s in terms of climatic conditions, and environmental policy, and how questions over limiting environmental exploitation were foiled the unfinished nature of decolonisation.

These continuities were most vividly highlighted by the responses to the Sahelian Famine (1968-1974), which intersected with the rising fervour of environmental awareness during the 1960s. Within this, an extensive dry period in West Africa resulted in a widespread drought and famine across the countries on the Sahel in 1968, resulting in the deaths of upwards of one quarter of the region’s livestock and an estimated 250,000 people by 1974.[86] The images of this famine that were circulated around the world contributed towards another ‘crisis of desertification’ similar to that which emerged in the 1930s.[87] The causes of the Sahelian drought were also understood in similar terms, with Roy Behnke and Michael Mortimore stating that international experts and national elites viewed the famine as being caused by ‘primitive’ and destructive farming techniques by peasants and ‘overstocking’ by pastoralists.[88] The famine was similarly interpreted in the context of rising environmental awareness as a cautionary tale of unchecked development and overpopulation, alongside the popularity of texts like Rachel Carson’s 1962 The Silent Spring which publicised the impact of the intensive use of chemical fertilisers over the previous decade.[89] This was in spite of the fact that the famine has more recently been understood to have been produced by increased sea-surface temperatures, arguably caused by rising atmospheric pollutants.[90]

Consequently, this fed into the global impetus for the 1968 Biosphere Conference, after which the conference’s Secretary-General, Michel Batisse called for a dedicated UN conference on the environment for 1972.[91] In this respect desertification remained at the centre of global environmental awareness into the 1970s and fed into broader questions over the efficacy of development. Moreover, this also highlights the salience of Bonneuil and Frassoz’s approach of viewing the Earth itself as an actor in shaping human perceptions of the environment, with climatic shifts in the Earth’s system informing whether certain decades were dryer than others.[92] The 1950s, for instance, were characterised by an abundance of rainfall particularly in Africa, whereas the 1930s and 1970s were dryer and consequently saw significant levels of drought.[93] In this sense, the 1930s and 1970s were two decades that were also linked by similar climactic shifts that influenced the form and direction of ‘global’ conceptions of the environment.

Debates about environmentalism in the 1970s also cannot be divorced from the overarching context of North-South dialogues about global inequalities. Indeed, as scholars like Adom Getachew have outlined, imperialism was a global system of unequal integration which was economic as well as political.[94] Although the majority of European empires had collapsed by the 1960s, significant economic imbalances and inequitable terms of trade for primary producer countries remained engrained in the international system, which structured how the environment was negotiated in the 1970s.[95] This was demonstrated during the 1972 Stockholm Conference, in which the Global South resisted attempts by the Global North to impose restrictions on their exploitation of natural resources which they deemed vital to ‘catching up’ with industrialised nations.[96] India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s speech at the conference was particularly illustrative of this tension, in which she foregrounded economic inequality caused by the reckless exploitation of resources by the Global North, as the greatest threat to the environment.[97] This questioning of the global order was similarly evident in calls for a New International Economic Order, itself stemming from discussions in the 1960s through the UN Conference on Trade and Development, which presented these issues to the UN in 1974.[98] Selcer and Sara Lorenzini regard this emphasis on the Global South’s assertion of the need for development as a significant cause behind the subsequent UN Declaration on the Environment’s view that environmentalism should not come at the cost of newly independent state’s “right to development”.[99]

Thus, while North-South tensions resulted in the enshrining of the state’s entitlement to economic development over the environment’s regulation, it also came at the cost of marginalising alternative imaginaries which sought to rethink global structures and humanity’s relationship to the environment. This feeds into Dipesh Chakrabarty’s view of the Anthropocene, in which even in a more equitable world, mankind’s damage to the environment would arguably be worse due to it allowing greater exploitation.[100] With this in mind, therefore, although North-South dialogues were certainly influential in deciding the course of global environmental policy at the UN, it is important to highlight how even the 1970s’ radical alternative imaginaries to the global order were still framed by developmental thought.

This was also evident in the way in which desertification was negotiated at UNCOD in 1977, which was one of the first initiatives of the newly established UNEP, symbolically based in Nairobi, Kenya to reflect its importance to the Global South.[101] In line with the spirit of the declaration of the NIEO at the UN in 1974, developing countries at the conference requested that the financial burden of combatting desertification be shouldered by developed countries.[102] This was rejected by the Global North in the face of rising international debt and slow economic growth, with the conference’s Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (PACD) instead recommending that developing countries take action on the national level, financed by the UN Development Programme.[103] In this regard, UNCOD reflected the priorities established at Stockholm through its emphasis on state-led development, demonstrating how the economic asymmetries left by imperialism impeded constructive debates about the environment. In spite of the radical activism by actors like Carson that questioned development in 1960s, therefore, UNCOD still framed environmental issues like desertification as a problem of underdevelopment.[104] In this sense, as Bonneuil and Fressoz outline, global desertification debates illustrate that there was nothing inevitable about the ‘institutionalised’ and limited nature of modern environmentalism, which was contingent on global inequalities, in this instance stemming from insufficient decolonisation.[105]

Moreover, as with the Stockholm Declaration, the conference’s PACD also reflected the contested place of the environment in North-South discourse. UNCOD represented the first UN conference that attempted to address this tension between the environment and its development and was similarly shaped by the ongoing ‘crisis narrative’ of desertification stemming from the Sahelian Famine and ongoing droughts in Eastern Africa.[106] This was evident in the information presented during the conference, which included a 1975 UNEP report by British ecologist, Hugh Lamprey from his surveying of the Sahel, who claimed that the boundary of the desert had shifted by 90-100km over the previous 17 years.[107] This has since been refuted by climatological research, which shows that land degradation in arid lands is less of an advance and more of an unpredictable ‘rash’ caused by climate fluctuations.[108] The conference also saw the presentation of the ‘World Map of Desertification’ (Figure 1), produced through the FAO and research gathered during the UNESCO Arid Zone Programme, which served as a reference point for the conference’s decisions.[109] This in particular can be seen as reflective of the spirit of metaphors in the 1970s about a ‘Spaceship Earth’, the environment of which could be made ‘legible’ with technical interventions, itself embedded in developmentalist thought.[110] This complicates R. S. Deese’s view of ‘Spaceship Earth’ being explicitly ‘post-colonial’ and rooted in the Cold War, instead highlighting the important contributions of colonial-era knowledge to this cybernetic view of modern environmentalism which UNCOD reflected.[111]

The various national and transnational strategies that followed the PACD after 1977 were particularly illustrative of this developmentalist logic, some of which were directly lifted from the rhetoric of the 1930s. This included the proposal for growing a green belt of reforested land across the south of the Sahel to combat desertification in order to ‘stabilise’ moving soils, which drew on a recommendation made by the interwar British colonial forester and proponent of desiccation theory, E.P. Stebbing.[112] The most notable initiative however was the 1984 Keita Integrated Development Project in Niger assisted by the FAO, and framed as a way to address Niger’s environmental problems of desertification which were regarded as a consequence of its ‘underdevelopment’.[113] This involved a large scale campaign of afforestation across 257,000 hectares, in order to address poverty by providing food security, which drew on French colonial initiatives and was appropriated by Niger’s leader, Seyni Kountche, as a means of post-colonial state-building to extend his authority over the country’s rural and nomadic populations.[114] In many respects, therefore, UNCOD and its foregrounding of state-led development can be integrated into the wider shortcomings of the environmental movement in the 1970s, evident in the contradictory approach of continued economic exploitation embodied by emergent discourses of ‘sustainable development’.[115] While Selcer has identified the 1970s as a decade in which the establishment of international infrastructures made the ‘global’ environment into a social reality, therefore, the ‘view from above’ this fostered remained embedded in colonial-era misconceptions and inextricably linked to the process of post-colonial state-building.[116]


What this essay’s focus on global desertification discourse and its connection to global environmentalism between 1930 and the late 1970s reveals is that the production of environmental knowledge was inextricably bound up with colonial and developmentalist thought. Whereas some scholars have foregrounded the Cold War as the genesis of modern environmentalism, this essay has argued for a more complicated genealogy. Indeed, as desertification illustrates, colonial science was integral to ‘global’ understandings of the environment, and North-South tensions stemming from incomplete decolonisation were central to structuring how the environment was debated after 1945.

Beginning with the environmental awareness sparked by rising soil erosion in the 1930s, this essay has aligned itself with scholars like David Anderson to view the US Dust Bowl as a ‘global’ crisis embedded in colonial systems of exploitation.[117] Within this, the nascent environmental rhetoric shared between the US and European empires was embedded in colonial myths which conceptualised desert environments in developmentalist terms as ‘desiccated’ and unproductive wastelands, and stigmatised indigenous knowledge and practices.[118] With the onset of decolonisation and the establishment of international bureaucracy on the environment, experts and technicians from the interwar period were circulated into the UN system, resulting in ‘desiccation theory’ becoming globally institutionalised.[119] This was demonstrated through the UNESCO Arid Zone Programme, which highlighted the distinct but overlapping understanding of the environment between global experts and post-colonial actors, and how these sought to control and contest local uses of the environment, particularly by nomadic groups.[120] Finally, this essay has turned to the ‘global’ 1970s, traditionally seen as the decade in which modern environmentalism originated, to firstly illuminate its continuities with the 1930s, and secondly how North-South tensions resulted in development being prioritised over environmental regulation.[121] UNCOD and the subsequent PACD demonstrate this ‘failure’ through their continued emphasis on state-led development to ‘combat’ desertification, once more marginalising local uses of the environment by rural and nomadic groups.[122]

This essay has attempted to highlight a gap in the scholarship on internationalism, which remains limited on the emergence of environmentalism and which would benefit from further study. Indeed, the presentism offered by the concept of the Anthropocene is particularly conducive to global studies of the environment, offering opportunities to complicate understandings of environmental awareness as something recent, and infallible.[123] Certainly, the production of knowledge about the environment should not be viewed as a sanitised and apolitical process. In view of this, this essay has aimed to highlight the flaws inherent in the ‘view from above’ of environmental expertise, which reproduces the same local/global divide established during the colonial period and perpetuated by post-independence governments that marginalises ‘the local’.[124] This is in spite of the central importance of indigenous knowledge to understanding the genuine problem at the root of desertification myths – that of land degradation.[125] This remains a relevant issue in the wake of the UN Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification, which ends in December 2020, and has seen the redeployment of ideas of ‘spreading’ deserts and the privileging of state-led afforestation schemes, evident in Africa’s ‘Great Green Wall’.[126] What is needed, as Davis has stressed in her work, is a reconciliation of the gap that has intensified over the last century between the local and the global uses of the environment.[127]


Figure 1: UN World Map of Desertification presented at UNCOD, 1977.

Source: ‘V. World Map of Desertization’, Food and Agricultural Organization, 1977 <> [last accessed 6 December 2020].

[1] Ralph Townley, ‘The United Nations Conference on Desertification, held in Nairobi, Kenya, 29 August–9 September 1977’, Environmental Conservation 5:1 (1978), 69-70 (p. 69). [2] Perrin Selcer, The Postwar Origins of the Global Environment: How the United Nations Built Spaceship Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), p. 249; Diana K Davis, The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge (Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 2016), pp. 1-2. Although ‘dustbowlification’ has been seen as a more accurate term to capture older ideas about human-induced ‘desertification’, this essay will use ‘desertification’ throughout for the sake of consistency. [3] Hannah Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism (London: Yale University Press, 2018), pp. 1-3; David Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls, demography and drought’, African Affairs 83:332 (1984), 321-343 (p. 327); Kenneth Pomeranz, ‘Introduction: World History and the Environment’ in World History and the Environment ed. by Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz (London: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 3-32 (pp. 7-8). [4] These misperceptions have been identified in such works as Davis, Arid Lands, pp. 1-2; Diana K Davis, Resurrecting Rome’s Granary: Environmental History and French Colonial Expansion in North Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), pp. 1-4. [5] Sverker Sörlin, Paul Warde, ‘The Problem of Environmental History: A Re-Reading of the Field", Environmental History, 12:1 (2007), 107-130 (p. 111); A.W.Crosby, ‘The Past and Present of Environmental History’, American Historical Review 100:4 (1995), 1177-189 (pp. 1177-1178); Christophe Bonneuil, Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us (London and New York: Verso, 2016), pp. 24-25. For environmental/imperial studies, see: Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environ­mentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: the biological expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: science, imperial Britain, and the ‘improvement' of the world (London: Yale University Press, 2000); Peder Anker, Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001); William Beinart, Lotte Hughes, Environment and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). [6] Selcer, The Post-war Origins; Perrin Selcer, ‘Patterns of Science: Developing Knowledge for a World Community at Unesco’, (unpublished doctoral thesis: University of Pennsylvania, 2011) in Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations, 323 <> [last accessed 18 November 2020]. [7] See, for instance, Kai Hunemorder, ‘Environmental Crisis and Soft Politics: Détente and the Global Environment’ in Environmental Histories of the Cold War ed. by J. R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 257-276 (pp. 257-259); Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 48-49, 64-65; J. R. McNeill, Corinna R. Unger, ‘Introduction’ in Environmental Histories of the Cold War ed. by J. R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 1-18 (pp. 4-5); R.S. Deese, ‘The artifact of nature: ‘Spaceship Earth’ and the dawn of global environmentalism’, Endeavour 33:2 (2009), 70-75 (pp. 70-71). [8] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 133, 189-190; W. Steffan, J. Grinevald, P. Crutzen, J. McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives’, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A, 369 (2011), 842-867 (pp. 842-843) [9] Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 326-327. [10] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 110-111. [11] J. Donald Hughes, “Global Environmental History: The Long View,” Globalizations, 2/3 (2005), pp. 293-308 (p. 298). [12] Selcer, Post-war Origins, p. 230. [13]David Worster, Dust Bowl: the southern plains in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 4-6; Hannah Holleman, ‘De-naturalizing ecological disaster: colonialism, racism and the global Dust Bowl of the 1930s’, The Journal of Peasant Studies 44:1 (2017), 234-260 (pp. 234-235, 239-240). [14]William Beinart, Peter Coates, Environment and History: The taming of nature in the USA and South Africa (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 59-63. [15] Ibid.; Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 67-68; Davis, Arid Lands, p. 105; Davis, Granary of Rome, pp. 94-96. [16]Ibid., 234-235; Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 62-63; Worster, Dust Bowl, p. 5. [17] Holleman, ‘De-naturalizing ecological disaster’, 240; Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 64-68. [18] See Paul Bonnifield, The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979); Siegfried D. Schubert, Max J. Suarez, Philip J. Pegion, Randal D. Koster, Julio T. Bacmeister, ‘On the Causes of the 1930s Dust Bowl’, Science 303:5665 (2004), 1855-1859. [19]John F. Richards, The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 5-6, 621-623. [20] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 165-166; Pomeranz, ‘Introduction’, pp. 7-8. [21] Grove, Green Imperialism, pp. 6-8, 485-486. [22] Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, p. 86. [23] Holleman, ‘De-naturalizing’, 244. [24] Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 102-103; John Bellamy Forster, ‘Capitalism and the Accumulation of Catastrophe’, Monthly Review 63:7 (2011) <> [last accessed 23 November 2020]. [25] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 189-190. [26] Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 146-147. [27]Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 10-14. [28] Diana K. Davis, ‘Deserts and Drylands before the Age of Desertification’ in The end of desertification?: Disputing environmental change in the drylands ed. by Roy Behnke and Michael Mortimore (Heidelberg: Springer, 2016), pp. 203-223 (pp. 203-204, 210-212). [29] Ibid., p. 218; Laurence S. Grossman, ‘Soil Conservation, Political Ecology, and Technological Change on Saint Vincent’, Geographical Review 87:3 (1997), 353-374 (p. 370); Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 326-327. [30] Also see E.P. Stebbing, ‘Supplement: The Man-Made Desert in Africa: Erosion and Drought’, Journal of the Royal African Society 37:146 (1938), 3-40; ‘Dust Bowls of the Empire’, The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 29:114 (1939), 338-351. [31] Holleman, Dust Bowls of Empire, pp. 51-53; Joseph M. Powell, ‘The Empire Meets the New Deal: Interwar Encounters in Conservation and Regional Planning’, Geographical Research, 43:4 (2005), 337-360 (p. 345). [32] Joseph Hodge, ‘Science, development, and empire: The colonial advisory council on agriculture and animal health, 1929–43’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 30:1 (2008), 1-26 (pp. 14-15) [33] Ibid., 1-3, 14-15. [34] Ibid., 14-15; Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 340. [35] Powell, ‘The Empire Meets the New Deal’, 341; Anker, Imperial Ecology, pp. 243-244. [36] Holleman, ‘De-naturalizing’, 234-235; Pomeranz, ‘Introduction’, pp. 7-8. [37] Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 337-338. [38] David Anderson, Eroding the Commons: The Politics of Ecology in Baringo, Kenya, 1890-1963 (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), pp. 20-21. [39] Ibid., pp. 181-184; Powell, ‘Empire Meets the New Deal’, 344-345; Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 337-340. [40]Ibid., 334. [41] Ibid., 323-324, 334. [42]Anderson, Eroding the Commons, pp. 92-93. [43] Ibid., pp. 159-160, 181-184. [44] Ibid., pp. 2-3, 22; Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 322. [45]Grossman, ‘Soil Conservation’, 370-371. [46] Selcer, ‘Patterns of Science’, 203; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 177-179. [47] Ibid., pp. 64-65. [48] Glenda Sluga, ‘UNESCO and the (One) World of Julian Huxley’, Journal of World History 21:3 (2010), 393-418 (pp. 417-418). [49] Stephen Macekura, Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 18-19; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 68-69, 75-78. [50] Ibid., pp. 22, 63-64. [51] Ibid., pp. 90-91; Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 165-166. [52] Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo, José Pedro Monteiro, ‘Pasts to Be Unveiled: The Interconnections Between the International and the Imperial’ in Internationalism, Imperialism and the Formation of the Contemporary World The Pasts of the Present ed. by Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and José Pedro Monteiro (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), pp. 1-29 (pp. 5-7, 10-11). [53] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 98-99. [54] Ibid., 108-111; Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 148-151; Ritchie Caldor, ‘Men Against the Desert’ The UNESCO Courier 3:3 (1950) accessed via UNESCODOC Digital Library <> [last accessed 5 December 2020], p. 8. [55] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 96-97; Davis, ‘Deserts and Drylands before the Age of Desertification’, pp. 218-219. [56] Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 117-118; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 97-98. [57] Ibid., pp. 20-21. [58] Ibid., pp. 110-111 [59] Ibid.; Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 152-153. [60] Joseph M. Hodge, ‘British Colonial Expertise, Post-Colonial Careering and the Early History of International Development’, Journal of Modern European History, 8:1 (2010), 24-46 (pp. 37-39, 42-43). [61] Ibid., 42-43; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 20, 180. [62] Sara Lorenzini, Global Development: A Cold War History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 90-91 [63] Thomas Roberts, ‘New Frontiers: World War II Technologies and the Opening of Tropical Environments to Development’ in The Development Century: A Global History ed. by Erez Manela and Stephen Macekura (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 107-129 (pp. 108-110); Robert Fletcher, ‘Decolonization and the Arid World’ in The Oxford Handbook on the Ends of Empire ed. by Andrew Thompson and Martin Thomas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 373-386 (pp. 383-386). [64] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 143-144. [65] Toby Craig Jones, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 70. [66] Ibid., p. 68. [67] Roberts, ‘New Frontiers’, pp. 108-110. [68] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 146-147; Davis, The Arid Lands, p. 159. [69] Riccardo Bocco, ‘The Settlement of Pastoral Nomads in the Arab Middle East: International Organisations and Trends in Development Policies, 1950-1990’, in Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa: Entering the 21st Century ed. by Dawn Chatty (Leiden: Brill, 2006), pp. 302-330 (pp. 304-305). [70] Dawn Chatty, ‘The Bedouin in Contemporary Syria: The Persistence of Tribal Authority and Control’, The Middle East Journal 64:1 (2010), 29-49 (pp. 35-37). [71] Bocco, ‘The Settlement of Pastoral Nomads’, pp. 302-303, 310-311. [72] Chatty, ‘The Bedouin in Contemporary Syria’, 30-3 [73] Chatty, ‘The Bedouin in Contemporary Syria’, 39-41. [74] Dawn Chatty, ‘The Bedouin in the Syrian Badiya’ in Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa: Entering the 21st Century ed. by Dawn Chatty (Leiden: Brill, 2006), pp. 737-758 (pp. 741-743). [75] Ibid., pp. 744-745; Chatty, ‘The Bedouin in Contemporary Syria’, 40-43. [76] Hughes, ‘Global Environmental History’, 298; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, p. 118; Diana K. Davis, ‘Indigenous knowledge and the desertification debate: problematising expert knowledge in North Africa’, Geoforum, 36:4 (2005), 509-524 (pp. 520-521). [77] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 20-21. [78] See for instance, McNeill, Unger, ‘Introduction’, pp. 11-12; Hunemorder, ‘Environmental Crisis’, pp. 274-276. [79] Marc Elie, ‘Formulating the Global Environment: Soviet Soil Scientists and the International Desertification Discussion, 1968–91’, The Slavonic and Eastern European Review 93:1 (2015), 181-204 (pp. 181-183); Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 115-116, 128; Erez Manela, ‘A Pox on Your Narrative: Writing Disease Control into Cold War History’, Diplomatic History 34:2 (2010), 299-323 (pp. 314-315). [80] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 130. [81] Ibid., pp. 115-116; Worster, Dust Bowl, pp. 7-8. [82] Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 2003), p. 14. [83] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, p. 28. [84] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, p. 96. [85] See, for instance, Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010); Lorenzini, Global Development; Thomas Borstelmann, The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), pp. 245-246; J. R. McNeill, ‘The Environment, Environmentalism, and International Society in the Long 1970s’ in The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective ed. by Niall Ferguson, Charles S. Maier, Erez Manela and Daniel J. Sargent (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), pp. 263-278. [86] Elie, ‘Formulating the Global Environment’, 190-191. [87] Camilla Toulmin, Karen Brock, ‘Desertification in the Sahel: Local Practice Meets Global Narrative’ in The end of desertification?: Disputing environmental change in the drylands ed. by Roy Behnke and Michael Mortimore (Heidelberg: Springer, 2016), pp. 37-63 (pp. 41-43). [88] Behnke, Mortimore, ‘Introduction’, pp. 3-4. [89] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 189-190; Crosby, ‘The Past and Present’, 1186. [90] Behnke, Mortimore, ‘Introduction’, p. 4. [91] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, p. 186. [92] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 24-25; Roy Behnke, Michael Mortimore, ‘Introduction: The End of Desertification?’ in The end of desertification?: Disputing environmental change in the drylands ed. by Roy Behnke and Michael Mortimore (Heidelberg: Springer, 2016), pp. 1-34 (p. 13). [93] Ibid.; Davis, The Arid Lands, p. 119. [94] Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019), pp. 1-2; Nils Gilman, ‘The New International Economic Order: A Reintroduction’, Humanity 6:1 (2015), 1-16 (pp. 2-4). [95] Getachew, Worldmaking, pp. 144-145. [96] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 206-208. [97] Lorenzini, Global Development, pp. 135-136. [98] Gilman, ‘The New International Economic Order’, 1-2. [99] ‘Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm 5-16 June 1972’, United Nations Digital Library <> [last accessed 3 December 2020], pp. 1-77 (pp. 3-4); Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2013), pp. 126-127. [100] HKW Anthropocene, ‘Dipesh Chakrabarty | Keynote | The Anthropocene Project. An Opening’, online video recording, YouTube, 21 January 2013 <> [last accessed 6 December 2020], 09:30-09.50. [101] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 237-238. [102] Gilman, ‘The New International Economic Order’, 2, 11; ‘Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order’, 1974, United Nations Digital Library <> [last accessed 6 December 2020], pp. 3-5 (p. 3). [103] Lorenzini, Global Development, pp. 126-127, 139-141; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 237-238. [104] Toulmin, Brock, ‘Desertification in the Sahel’, pp. 41-43; ‘United Nations Conference on Desertification: report of the Secretary-General’, 1977, United Nations Digital Library <> [last accessed 3 December 2020], pp. 1-10 (p. 4). [105] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, pp. 189-190. [106] Toulmin, Brock, ‘Desertification in the Sahel’, pp. 40-42; Douglas H. Johnson, David M. Anderson, ‘Introduction: Ecology and society in northeast African history’ in The Ecology of Survival: Case Studies from Northeast African History ed. by Douglas H. Johnson and David M. Anderson (London: Lester Crook Academic Publishing, 1988), pp. 1-26 (pp. 1-3). [107] Davis, The Arid Lands, p. 160. [108] Behnke, Mortimore, ‘Introduction’, p. 4. [109] Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 155-156, 158; Elie, ‘Formulating the Global Environment’, 189-190. [110] Bonnieul, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, p. 48. [111] Deese, ‘The artifact of nature’, 70-71; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 237-238. [112] Toulmin, Brock, ‘Desertification in the Sahel’. pp. 40-42. [113] R. S. Odingo, ‘Implementation of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (PACD) 1978-1991’ reproduced from Desertification Control Bulletin 21 (1992), 6-14, accessed via <> [last accessed 3 December 2020]. [114] Ibid.; Benedetta Rossi, ‘The Keita Project: An Anthropological Study of International Development Discourses and Practices in Niger’, (unpublished PhD Thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science), in LSE Theses Online <> [last accessed 3 December 2020], pp. 1-321 (pp. 72-75). [115] Sluga, Internationalism, pp. 126-127; Macekura, Of Limits and Growth, pp. 6-9. [116] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, p. 173. [117] Anderson, ‘Depression, dust bowls’, 327; Holleman, ‘De-naturalizing’, 235-236. [118] Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 1-5. [119] Davis, ‘Deserts and Drylands’, pp. 219-220. [120] Davis, The Arid Lands, pp. 143-145; Selcer, The Postwar Origins, pp. 97-99; Bocco, ‘The Settlement’, pp. 302-303. [121] McNeill, ‘The Environment’, pp. 263-264; Lorenzini, Global Development, pp. 139-141. [122] Behnke, Mortimore, ‘Introduction’, p. 5. [123] Bonneuil, Fressoz, Shock of the Anthropocene, p. 133. [124] Selcer, The Postwar Origins, p. 22. [125] Davis, ‘Indigenous knowledge and the desertification debate’, 519-521. [126] ‘Main Page’, United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification, 2011 <> [last accessed 3 December 2020]; Toulmin, Brock, ‘Desertification in the Sahel’, pp. 46-47. [127] Davis, ‘Indigenous knowledge and the desertification debate’, 521.

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