Blue Revolution

talks presented at the American Association of Geographers meeting, 2014 (LA) and 2015 (Chicago),
+ the Contested Global Landscapes workshop @ Cornell University:

Ocean pastures, ocean afforestation, and ocean cultivation: the Anthropocene beyond land

The Anthropocene— the proposed geological epoch after the Holocene, when human- driven changes in biogeochemical cycles is visible in geological strata— features distinctive landscapes, from monocropped fields to urban sprawl to strip mines, all of which are supposed to shape this new era. However, the idea of active human shaping of earth processes has less frequently been extended to the oceans, which are still often imagined
as wild or undomesticated. What does the Anthropocene imply about the human relationship with the ocean? The oceans are particularly imperiled by climate change, with ocean acidification and rising temperatures. At the same time, aquatic space is said to hold tremendous potential for carbon sequestration and food and energy production in the Anthropocene. On the oceans, the shift from hunter-gatherer to farmer is said to be happening in accelerated time. This “Blue Revolution” is posited as the marine counterpart to the increased productivity of the Green Revolution, drawing on both agriculture and industry as a metaphor to explain new practices. This paper looks at the emergent Blue Revolution practices and industries of ocean afforestation, mariculture, algaculture, and ocean fertilization. It examines some the socioecological implications of these practices and their claimed utopian opportunities, reaching as far as the question: can marine and aquatic cultivation imply new philosophical or political arrangements in the Anthropocene?

The role of the defense industry in ocean space and ocean infrastructure

States are increasingly interested in the potential marine resources within their offshore economic zones (EEZs), as new technologies of ocean extraction, harvesting, and discovery promise to open up genetic, mineral, or agricultural ocean wealth resulting in “blue growth.” At the same time, firms with traditional backgrounds in defense, as well as expertise in large-scale ocean engineering and infrastructure, are often the actors in a position to actually pilot and develop these new ocean resources. Some firms are looking to diversify their portfolios into other future industries like renewables, given a slump in defense spending relative to the mid-2000s and encouragement by military efforts towards cleaner tech. If the role of the environment-making state is to “deliver” nature (Parenti, 2014), what does it mean when defense firms are the ones actually making the delivery? Furthermore, what happens when defense contractors are notjust executors of the ocean visions, but designers and drivers? This paper looks at what ocean resources become through the eyes of defense firms, with their particular visions of ocean space, and how that may change the social relations around the technologies and industries involved in ocean production. With both historical and current illustrations, this paper proposes that large defense-oriented science and countercultural utopian visions for the “Blue Revolution” in ocean use have in fact grown up together since the 1970s. Specific examples of defense partnerships discussed include pilot Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants, smart aquaculture technology, and ocean robotics and data infrastructure.

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