Covid-19 pandemic and oil spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The confluence of two crisis

How can we reframe the current planetary crisis to find ways for decisive and life-changing collective action? The Amazon region of Ecuador, at the center of two crises –Covid-19 and a major oil spill–, but also home to a long history of indigenous resistance, offers some answers.

Navigating two crises

In Ecuador, the intensification of resource extraction and pollution, floods and weather disturbances have hit hardest marginalized populations. Indigenous peoples and people living in the Amazon have continuously suffered an enormous political and economic disadvantage when confronting extractive industries and allied state bodies. The vulnerability of the peoples and territory of the Ecuadorian Amazon region has been even more severely exposed during the Covid-19 lockdown period which began 16 March 2020.

On 7 April 2020, the Trans-Ecuadorian Oil Pipeline System and the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline, which transport Ecuador’s oil production, collapsed. The pipelines were built along the banks of the Coca River and the collapse resulted in the spillage of an enormous quantity of crude oil into its waters. The Coca river is a key artery in the regional Amazon system. It runs through three national parks that form one of the richest biodiverse areas on Earth, which has been historically preserved by the ways of life of the indigenous peoples who inhabit it.

Read the full article here

Wendy Harcourt is co-author of this blog published on Undisciplined Environments


Maine must do better at welcoming diversity

Field Notes —

Island Institute logo

By Rob Snyder, Ph.D.
President, Island Institute

We believe that black lives matter and are committed to doing our part to further the conversation along the Maine coast.

You’ve heard it said many times: “Maine is a white state,” or maybe even, “Maine is the whitest state.” Actually, Maine is not a white state. Some 74,000 Mainers are people of color.

When Mainers assert that our population includes a majority of white people, whether through statistical analysis or casual conversation we inadvertently—but inexcusably—risk erasing the voices and struggles of people of color. This further marginalizes Maine’s Native communities and the African immigrant communities that have emerged in Portland and Lewiston. And, as we look to the future, it can signal to people of color that they are not welcome here. 

So how can Mainers become more welcoming and accepting? It starts with each of us learning to see racism for what it is, and seeing how it permeates our viewpoints and behaviors—even those of us who believe we are not racist.

In 2019, the Island Institute began the work of integrating these values into our community development organization. It has meant a new way of doing our work and will include speaking out and taking action when we see racial injustice.

We began by establishing a diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) taskforce within the organization and hiring professional external support to advise our work. Our DEIJ taskforce is working to bring understanding, skills, and behavioral changes to the Island Institute.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we have made the commitment and we are heading down this road because this work is important to the staff and board of the organization, and because it is highly relevant to communities along Maine’s coast. 

Many communities along the Maine coast are struggling with population decline. What are the causes of that decline? Certainly, the high costs of housing and energy make the coast a tough place to live and do business, among many other technical factors.

In the past, the Island Institute would work to ease these burdens, and this would be counted as success. But what if one of the underlying issues in a community is that they are generally unwelcoming? In the past, the Island Institute would have stayed silent on this issue—we would have considered it too difficult to address. But we have learned that if a community is unwelcoming it may not matter how much effort goes into solving other problems; the long-term outcome will still be population decline.

Can the Island Institute help leaders along the coast who would like their communities to be more welcoming? This remains to be seen, but it is a question we are grappling with. 

And how can we become more welcoming? What would it take for Maine’s island and coastal communities to have the hard conversations, undertake the personal reflection, develop the skills, and adopt the behaviors to become places where difference is celebrated, and people of color are welcomed? We are beginning by doing this work and answering questions within the Island Institute. My hope is that by doing this work we can contribute to a future where the Maine coast celebrates diversity, and in so doing, we would all inherit a brighter, safer, and more prosperous state.

The Island Institute expresses our deep sorrow for the people of color in Maine and around the country who are being persecuted and killed every day. We believe that black lives matter and we are committed to doing our part to further the conversation along the Maine coast.

Rob Snyder is the president of the Island Institute, where he works with island and coastal leaders, in Maine and around the world, to identify innovative approaches to community sustainability. He also works with staff across all programmatic and strategic priority areas to help the Institute identify and address emerging challenges faced by these communities and exchange ideas and experiences to further the sustainability of communities here and elsewhere. Read his full bio here or connect with him on Twitter and Instagram.

From March madness to marathon: seeing possibility within pandemic

Field Notes —


By Rob Snyder, Ph.D.
President, Island Institute

Along the coast, March madness is a state of mind linked to living off diminishing savings from last summer, the uncertainty of livelihoods linked to the next tourism and lobstering seasons, isolation, and bracing for a few final snowstorms. Most years, this lasts through April.

During an average spring, I am concerned about the social fabric of the coast as stresses increase on community, economy, and home life. I worry about the impacts that this time of year can have on people who struggle with mental illness and addiction.

Now add the pandemic. I can’t think of a worse-case scenario for communities that are already experiencing their most difficult time of year.

Our communities are not idyllic. Our communities are imperfect, challenging, and beautiful places. Above all, they are communities. Fortunately, they are resilient communities built on helping each other, even when folks don’t like each other much.

March wasn’t only maddening, it was a month filled with grieving, as we paused the lives we were leading and moved to a new and unknown way of life. This new life would be defined by integrating teaching, daycare, supporting loved ones (at a distance), home offices, isolation, and sometimes all of this at once. At the same time, even those who thought they had steady jobs are now concerned about income and healthcare.

For weeks, we would plan for the next two weeks. As a friend of mine reflected, “I kept sprinting to the end of the week—toward what I thought it would take to get to a new normal, and once I made it to the end of the week, everything changed again. After a few weeks of this, I was exhausted.”

I was living and seeing this exhaustion everywhere. And I concluded that sprinting is the wrong approach when you are running a marathon.

An important shift in mindset started to emerge, driven by data showing that the pandemic would not end soon and reinforced by leadership that couldn’t clearly see an end in sight. Collectively, we began shifting to a marathon runner’s mindset, albeit one with no map and not knowing when the next aid station would appear.

What does it take to successfully integrate all aspects of our lives with this longer term, uncertain future in mind, when so many different aspects of life require navigating all at once?

The good news: I see people being vulnerable and relying on others out of necessity. When you are faced with a complex problem or a series of related problems, it requires thinking from across many domains of expertise. Within days of acknowledging the local impacts of the pandemic, towns began meeting in new ways that cut across all services. School leaders, healthcare officials, town managers, and transportation providers are meeting weekly to trouble shoot new challenges.

What should ease the burden a bit is that it’s not just one person’s job to solve all the problems of the week. These problems are shared across the group, increasing the creativity and resources brought to bear. By sharing the burden, leaders are less likely to burn out.

What can each of us offer to one another during the pandemic? What is happening in your neighborhood or community that can help each of us imagine what might be needed in the short term—the next few weeks—or the longer term—the next three months?

What are you witnessing that you hope never ends? What acts of kindness, generosity, sharing of work, and changes in attitude are evident right now?

How can we become a connected set of people who could quickly assemble and help if extra hands are needed for any number of reasons?

What will we put down and leave behind?

In a recent article in the Financial Times, Arundhati Roy, author of God of Small Things, posed a way of seeing through the pandemic to other possible worlds:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I love the vividness of Roy’s challenge. How can we, in the midst of the pandemic, notice and appreciate the best of who we can be, and how we can show up in our communities and bring this forward to a post-pandemic world?

This, to me, is the hope we can find as we navigate the disruptive times ahead. The new world we will inhabit is filled with possibility.

seeing possibility within pandemicRob Snyder, Ph.D.
Island Institute

As President of the Island Institute, Rob is responsible for working with island and coastal leaders, in Maine and around the world, to identify innovative approaches to community sustainability. He also works with staff across all programmatic and strategic priority areas to help the Institute identify and address emerging challenges faced by these communities and exchange ideas and experiences to further the sustainability of communities here and elsewhere. Read his full bio here or connect with him on Twitter and Instagram.

A memory from pre-corona times – a visit to Montevideo March 2020

A memory from pre-corona times

Looking at these four photos now, taken when I was visiting Ana Agostino and Constance Dupuis in Montevideo Uruguay March 6-13 it seems a life time, not just two weeks ago. My visit included what today would be an unthinkably risky schedule. Together with Ana and Constance (and our partners) on 7 March we attended the opening of the Plaza Las Pioneras, a collective feminist space mingling with 100s of people in a joyful celebration of reclaiming disused space for feminist arts and culture and politics. On 8 March we were marching with 350,000 people through the centre of Montevideo singing, chanting. I admired all the energy and vision around me. In all these encounters I was constantly being introduced, hugged and kissed. We washed our hands but we were free of the omniscient presence of the Corona virus in our daily life, though it was there in the messages from Italy (where my daughter and others in WEGO were on lockdown) and of increasing worries about what if it were to spread?  

During my visit I went to the Universidad de la República de Uruguay, Montevideo (UdelaR) and the Defensoria de VyV de Montevideo  to discuss the WEGO project and Constance’s project on ageing and to give a talk on Feminist Political Ecology and development dilemmas organised by Javier Taks at the Social Science faculty. More informally, I joined a dialogue with feminists of all ages at the Cotidiano Mujer about feminist political ecology and eco-feminism. I was poised to go on with Ana and Constance to Buenos Aires to meet more feminists in academia and government, when the impact of COVID-19 abruptly hit. Just the day before leaving for Buenos Aires we were informed as I had been in Italy less than two weeks ago, I was not allowed into Argentina, and it rapidly became clear that foreigners were going to be asked to leave Uruguay. 

Now we are in the reality of Corona times it seems incredible how much I could do in that week in Montevideo, and what I took for granted. We could walk, chat, hug, enjoy dinners together, greet and kiss strangers, sit together on crowded buses, visit museums and even go to a Tango concert.

These photos capture those last tranquil moments, as well as the deep friendship and respect I have for Ana Agostino who hosted me. I have known Ana for well over a decade. We share our feminism, our passions and our network of friends overlap. I use her writing on climate justice and post development for my classes, and have been inspired over the years by her on-going commitment to human rights, environmental justice and feminism. I am so pleased she has accepted to be Ombudsperson for WEGO bringing her 5 years of experience of being Ombudsperson at the Defensoria in Montevideo and vice president of Latin America Ombudpersons. 

These photos were taken by Constance in Montevideo and also at La Flores – a seaside area we visited just before I went to the airport. It was here amongst the sea, the flowers and birds that I shared some needed quiet time with Ana and enjoyed this last (for a while)  beautiful sunset of freedom.

Wendy Harcourt

Resilient leadership in times of crisis

Field Notes —

What ‘resilient leadership in times of crisis’ means

Our communities can lead, but their challenges are critical

Island and coastal communities, and the people who care about them near and far, must pull together right now.

Tourism and lobstering, our key economic drivers, are in peril. The islands and coast rely on an annual influx of $4 billion in tourism revenue, earned primarily between June and September. If the pandemic runs its course through October, as some models predict, the financial stability of many families will evaporate.

For the $1 billion lobster industry, national markets and key export countries are struggling, so demand has evaporated. The pandemic has driven lobster prices through the floor, below $3 per pound at the boat. At that price, it doesn’t make sense for fishermen to take their boat off its mooring.

In the midst of this turmoil, North Haven island has garnered national and international press attention by the decision of its board of selectmen to ban non-residents from coming to the island.

One reaction to North Haven’s move is sympathy, with some seeing it as consistent with nations closing borders and enforcing social distancing measures. And so it is not surprising the island community would implement its own measures to accomplish what others are trying to do on an international scale.

But community is experienced personally and specifically, not in the abstractions of pandemic and international politics. At a personal level, North Haven’s decision has amplified concerns among a large number of people who consider Maine home, but are not residents. For seasonal residents who thought they were neighbors and friends, the move to close off the island may seem like distrust and animosity, and could have a long-term detrimental impact on the community’s social fabric. Many who care about the Maine coast, but live elsewhere, are asking if they are still considered a part of the communities they love.

Many of the educational, social, and cultural institutions in island and coastal communities exist because of a partnership between residents who lead local initiatives and the generosity of seasonal residents. Decisions that amplify the “from here, from away” divide undermine the social fabric that has allowed Maine’s island and coastal communities to become guiding lights nationally and internationally for how to live sustainably.

There are good reasons why Maine coastal communities are struggling with responding to those who might come to Maine to wait out the pandemic. Maine’s island communities are at great risk during this pandemic because of the age of their populations. Maine’s island communities have a median age of 48; Maine’s median age is 44.6, making it the nation’s oldest; and the U.S. has a median age of 37.9.

The islands are vulnerable, since the virus has a disproportionate impact on seniors. These are communities of between 50 and 1,200 people with little or no capacity to deal with medical emergencies.

In this context, the concerns expressed by North Haven municipal leaders are understandable, but the message still hurts.

All across Maine, small isolated communities are struggling with how to care for people. When we look to the islands more broadly, we find a more educational and conversational tone during this stressful time. It can be summarized as follows:

Please consider the risk you would expose our community to by coming here. Our community has an aging population that is already difficult to care for, and our resources are stretched. We don’t have the ability to help care for you if you get sick. You will have to go to the mainland. It would be a great help to us if you stayed where you are right now. We appreciate you, and we look forward to seeing you when the pandemic passes.

A robust series of conversations are taking place across the coast as the pandemic worsens. The Island Institute is helping to facilitate these discussions.

Resilient leadership in times of crisis requires generosity and caring, networking, asking for and offering support, and staying informed. Leadership also requires recognizing that island and coastal communities exist in reciprocal relationships with each other. The long-term relationships between island and coastal residents—and those who care about the Maine coast more broadly—are of critical concern, because this will not be the last crisis Maine’s island and coastal communities face.

It is important that we pull together, rather than create divides. Our actions today will speak volumes on how we interact with each other the next time we need the care and support of our neighbors.

Additional information and resources

State reacts to coronavirus challenges with emergency legislation

Island Institute coronavirus resource page

* Island Institute is a partner institute in the WEGO-ITN consortium

How are communities responding to climate crisis, and what can we learn from them?

WEGO coordinator Wendy Harcourt  was interviewed by Erasmus University Rotterdam. Read the full interview.

“We are looking at how communities are responding to climate crisis in order to understand how to link this to a global understanding of resilience”


News from CERN: community economies website

Jenny Cameron of Community Economies Research Network (CERN) shared the following news:

A small group have been working on the Community Economies Website – it’s a labour of love done in our spare time.

This website serves a number of functions and one of these is to share 
news and information about community economies activity. To do this the 
latest news is featured on the home page (see and then all news items are in the 
News section (see

We’re still fine-tuning a few things (e.g. making it clear in the News 
section that there is more than what you see and that you need to click 
on each story to read the full item; and we’re working on the images 
that go with each story).

To test our capacity to run regular news items we’ve focused on the 
activities of the core members of the Community Economies Institute 
(these are the people listed on the People page of the website).

But we’re now ready to run more news items (ideally a new story each 
week), and we’d like to include news about the community economies 
activity of CERN members. This might be information about teaching 
community economies, an update on a community economies research 
project, a community economies workshop or opening. If you look at the 
News section you’ll get an idea about the types of activities that are 
being featured.

All you need to do is email with 
some brief information (and perhaps a link to a website) and an image 
idea (could be a photo or you’ll see we sometimes grab an image from a 
document). Jenny will put the story together and run it by you before 
adding it to the Home page.

Look forward to hearing from CERN members and sharing more information 
about what we’re all “up to”.

Jenny Cameron

CERN Inaugural international community economies conference

With the Handbook of Diverse Economies edited by J.K. Gibson-Graham and Kelly Dombroski coming out in 2020 it seems high time to organize the Inaugural International Community Economies Conference. This conference will offer the opportunity for members of the Community Economies Research Network (CERN) to share their work, discuss common themes of interest and advance a post-capitalist politics.

The conference is organised by the Community Economies Institute with the School of Spatial Planning & Development and the School of Political Science at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. It will take place from

5-7 November 2020 in Thessaloniki, Greece.

The CERN currently has 225 members spread across 27 countries. It is hoped that by locating the conference in Thessaloniki—an historic site of international cultural interchange—many people from across the world will be able to attend. Registration costs will be kept low and there will be a limited number of travel bursaries for those who cannot access institutional conference funds.

The conference will begin on Thursday night with an opening address followed by an interactive poster session and participatory mapping of the CERN story. Friday and Saturday are set aside for paper presentations, panels and workshops organized by CERN members. There will also be sessions open to the public in which connections between community economies research and current concerns are discussed with scholars and activists from Greece and the region. The conference will be followed by an optional day of field visits and walks in Thessaloniki and the surrounding region led by activist researchers. During the conference the Greek translation of Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities (with additional Greek examples) will be launched.

An international organizing committee led by Katherine Gibson, Giorgos Gritzas and Karolos Kavoulakos is being formed. The Community Economies Institute and the University of Thessaloniki will provide organizational support for the conference.

More information about deadlines for submitting papers, panels and workshop proposals will be forthcoming. And keep an eye on the community economies web site for more information:

Hope to see you there!

Undisciplined Environments goes live

Undisciplined Environments – a platform for political ecology research and activism – has launched today, 1 October 2019

This novel effort is a collaboration between the ENTITLE Collective and the WEGO project, as well as other transnational networks – like the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN).

Undisciplined Environments (UE) aims to become an influential crossroads for activists, researchers, journalists and anyone interested in the mutual imbrications of power, society, culture and ecology. Our commitment is to establish UE as a compelling virtual space to share ideas, stories, concepts, methods and strategies for the elaboration of the knowledges and practices needed to build more emancipatory socionatural worlds.

WEGO members Panagiota KotsilaIlenia Iengo, Irene Leonardelli, Wendy Harcourt and Stefania Barca are on the editorial collective.


Doing fieldwork on community gardens in Berlin

Community gardens in Berlin. Photo: Marlene Gomez

In Berlin, community gardens are mainly abandoned plots that were saved by the inhabitants to transform them into gardens to grow vegetables and seasonal fruits for self-consumption. To me, what is interesting about these gardens is not the food itself, but the social relationships that emerge by taking part in the garden activities. In this sense, arise questions such as: can we consider community gardens as platforms for political articulation? Are they also places to raise people’s concerns about violence, poverty, marginalization or racism experienced in their everyday life? Who can take part in these gardens, and who does not? What social implications do community gardens have concerning care work and care in general? We will be discussing those few questions during the research.

Marlene Gomez is doing fieldwork entitled The politics of food in urban southern Europe.