Book Review: The Truth about Nature: Environmentalism in the Era of Post – Truth Politics and Platform Capitalism
The Truth about Nature: Environmentalism in the Era of Post – Truth Politics and Platform Capitalism, by Bram Buscher, University of California Press, December 2020, 254 pages.
James Phillip M. Monserate, OHF
This essay evaluates the book entitled The Truth About Nature by Bram Buscher which elaborates and highlights truth tensions under (meta) theoretical bearing, haring truths and natures under the political economy of platforms, post-truth, power, the politics of co-creation, distinction, hysteria under environmentalism with its corresponding salient points which holds significance to readers, and the ever-changing society.
Buscher puts emphasis on the current environmental predicaments the world is experiencing and the corresponding problem on environmental action and on how communicating said environmental concerns could lead to apathy instead of action. He was able to point out the relevance of concentrating on facts and truths given the current environmental situation the world is facing today and also raised the problem on how to communicate and share the need for environmental action in a post-truth context. One prevalent reality the work was able to effectively substantiate and emphasize is the contemporary environmental condition. “Today’s greatest threat is not climate change, not pollution, not famine, not flood or fire. It’s that we’ve got people in charge of important sh*t who don’t believe in science” (Buscher, 2). This was able to clearly give readers a glimpse of the deeper problems and realities etched and rooted in our present environmental concern, specifically on how nature can be saved through appropriate evidence-based action and how any commitment to a shared understanding of facts or reality seems unrealistic (Buscher, 4-17). Buscher’s elaboration on environmental concerns and the role of people is effective in establishing the truths behind it.
One of the main points clearly provided by Buscher is that there is a need to make truth productive given that it has regained urgency against the background of the emergence of post-truth. According to him, “a metaphysics of truth tensions is crucial for any effective and meaningful environmental politics going forward because it allows for mediating between different statuses of the term in different times and spaces and in relation to different objectives or aims, and because, politically, it provides direction in the tension-ridden space between more solid and shifting forms of knowledge” (Buscher, 13). Different views from different scholars on truth claims about truth itself, and many others were able to strongly provide a critical perspective on the power-only understanding of truth, the post-truth conundrum, and how a political ideology of truth emphasizes nature and power in relation to its very notion as well as truth tensions. It establishes a deeper understanding towards the impending need to do justice in the shifting relations between power, truth, and nature in the contemporary setting of complex concerns which is vital in understanding the political ecology of truth that Buscher is after. Scholars such as Focault also elucidated how truth is directly connected to power which further shapes the present understanding of truth. Buscher was able to distinctly argue that a focus on the integrated realms of political economy and everyday praxis allows for a deeper understanding of power (Buscher, 19). The main point provided by the author was well-structured and corroborated, providing a glimpse on what the book has to offer towards understanding the truth about nature.
“Nature belongs to us all” (Buscher, 37). This is one of the primary points that effectively summarized the section on sharing truth and natures. According to Buscher, sharing of nature through various media forms also influences the relationship between truth and nature. The truth about nature is shared with and rendered visible to power is one of the main and salient points presented (Buscher, 38). This point was intelligibly expounded through introducing the fundamental contradictions and tensions in relation to sharing nature. The said point puts relevance to how post-truth needs to be countered by sharing truths and facts about nature and that these are based on the idea that we all share nature (Buscher, 37). Nature which is shared with and by power is one that capital can see and said power mentioned is one which is a capitalist power prevalent in the entire system (Buscher, 39). The language of natural capital according to him, helps to “speak nature to power” which in turn aims to speak the truth regarding the present environmental predicament. Despite fundamental contradictions, different actors that use nature for capital purposes can have a deeper idea of sharing nature in mind (Buscher, 40). This is in relation to how sharing nature is constrained by marketization and privatization of natural lands which serve as one of the constraints in sharing nature. Buscher’s elaboration on the salient points was able to provide a clear, substantial, and impactful insight towards how nature is shared, its correlation to power and its changing relations, and how different environmental actors can possibly have a deeper idea on sharing nature.
Another significant point made by Buscher is how conservation actors at influential conservation organizations are changed by social media. Said changes were clearly explained and established by Buscher. His well-corroborated interviews from different respondents of conservative organizations and social media experts support the fact that conservation organizations feel more pressure towards being transparent and accountable. Data-driven explanations make the work more significant and objective, creating depth for the facts established. Despite other older generation employees being skeptical about the integration of social media in said organizations, the responses were able to effectively show that social media needs to be integrated and learned by various conservation organizations to bring the right message to the specific audience in varying media as well as bring more structure in the utilized media strategy. One of the most important points effectively established by Buscher is that conservation organizations are after engagement and action and the rapid rise in social media utilization across conservation organizations shows that said organizations have undergone rapid processes of social media professionalization and increased its usage. It provides a bigger perspective to the role of social media in environmentalism. Hence, providing a contribution towards deeper understanding on how it can serve as a medium to reduce environmental impact and promote environmental awareness. Buscher was able to clearly establish the point that, “the choices that conservation organizations make in sharing truths and natures online renders both nature and truth biased, partial, and selective” (Buscher, 83). He was also able to successfully address the partial and biased data through analytical and methodological strategies which solidifies the credibility of the facts established. Buscher intends to show an analysis of the online and offline dimensions of the elephant corridor over time and show that there was a large disconnect between the natures shared online and the offline natures they were meant to conserve.
Another main point stated, and well supported in this book, is how online philanthropic gestures are far removed from offline realities. According to Buscher, many similar online projects like the Elephant Corridor as well as crowdsourcing initiatives serve as a politics of platforms and a battle over the control of doing good online given that development capital and data flows become central in online conservation (Buscher, 107). The Elephant Corridor project reveals that the rise of new media platform led to change. Particularly in using the plight of elephants and other conservation and development projects as a background against the disappointing reality which prevails, and that is how platforms compete over the capital flows which becomes the primary motivating factor of the initiative which also determines the possibilities for “doing good” online. Online platforms as techno-cultural and socio-economic constructs highly influence how online users see or understand doing good for nature online (Buscher, 109). This clearly shows the main point provided by Buscher, a main point which is a post-truth in action.
The new media and how they are used to share truths and natures reinforce the unjust legacies of Fortress Kruger which was one of the main arguments stated. This is supported by the fact that politics of distinction functions in two integrated and mutually reinforcing ways: how new media offer individuals new tools to distinguish themselves and how it allows individuals to inscribe distinctions and boundaries into social space (Buscher, 124). Buscher was able to strongly emphasize his main point by providing evidence;one of which is Carruthers narration on how “in exploring the idea that whites romanticized their past through the natural landscape and its wildlife, it is imperative to take cognizance of the fact that whites chose to disregard the role that Africans had played in that past (Buscher, 126). This supporting evidence was clearly established and affirms how the symbolic importance of Kruger as a romanticized white fortress was reflected in iconic mediations of the park and the idea of Kruger as a “modernist form of symbolically enclaved space” of deeply truthful natures. Buscher’s main point on how Kruger truths and natures reinforce unjust legacies was clearly, effectively, and strongly established. It also holds substance as to how truths about widely shared and popular natures are deeply embedded in various contexts may it be economic, technological, social, political, and many others. The fact that Kruger natures are likely(?) to be seen by affluent whites without context, history, or positionality through various new media platforms which substantiates the main point provided contributes to a deeper understanding towards the development of apartheid through Kruger natures and its corresponding impact to racial and class dynamics as well as various contexts.
Another focal point provided by the author is how the poaching crisis towards rhinos results to hysteria, specifically, the politics of hysteria which haunts numerous whites in South Africa and beyond. It also leads to the sharing of emotions through new media that people have more control over. This main point was well-expounded through the discussion with regards to how social media spaces appear to encourage more extreme or exaggerated behavior which further exacerbates issues such as the rhino-poaching crisis (Buscher, 152). Buscher was also able to define hysteria and politics of hysteria being a description of the dominant online expressions in response to the said crisis which provided much clarity towards the readers when it comes to the main point provided.. It is also a relevant contribution to deepen understanding towards the truth about nature and how it can be saved through appropriate action which is weakened by hysteria towards rhino extinction. A better understanding towards truths about nature in connection to the poaching crisis is achieved with ample support and elaboration. Concepts of heroization and vilification are also explained in the text which also supports the main point on how hysteria leads to sharing of emotions through new media wherein those slaughtering rhinos are considered “evildoers” while those going out to protect rhinos are rendered “heroes” (Buscher, 147). This shows how the main point was well-supported by various details, being clear and concise, as well as how it provides a deeper understanding to the crisis highlighted and the politics of hysteria. There is also an implicit call to action to minimize hysteria through new media platforms given the established truth that it weakens the addressing of the rhino poaching problem.
To recapitulate, Buscher’s main points were cohesive and coherent and holds substance with regards to the main topics highlighted in the book such as truth tensions, sharing nature, truth about nature, the political economy of platforms, post-truth, power, environmentalism (on a different level), and many others. The salient points were also able to effectively establish the current natural situations; the crises that needs to be addressed--which strengthens the call to environmental action. His elaborations were raw yet in-depth, relevant but skeptical, and timely but timeless. Buscher was able to clearly state and emphasize his focal points through supporting evidences may it be from respondents, scholars, or other data and sources which also makes the work reliable and objective. The main points also contribute towards deepening understanding on current environmental predicaments and the call to action, the role of social media in influential conservation organization, and the existing relationship between truth, nature, and power..