Building the Future: Infrastructure, CLIMATE change, & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE in the Gran Chaco

Building the future in South America’s Chaco (Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina) is one of my current projects. The study investigates the implications of rapid land-use change, development of large-scale infrastructure projects, and dynamic political economies on Indigenous rights, climate and environmental justice, and conservation practice in the Gran Chaco. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration with members of Indigenous communities, scholars, and civil society organizations that draws from Indigenous research methodologies and a commitment to public scholarship.

The Gran Chaco is Latin America’s second-largest forest ecosystem, spanning more than 1.3 million km2, and largest dry forest in the world. A quintessential frontier—the Chaco has long been at the edge of the states it crosses but increasingly important for economic growth as hydrocarbon exploration, ranching, and agriculture rapidly expand. These very development pressures have turned the region into a global deforestation hot-spot since the early 2000s (see for a helpful visualization). My research seeks to understand the social implications of environmental and political economic change currently underway in the Chaco while supporting pathways toward more just futures.

As 2019 University of Florida Global Fellow, I conducted preliminary field research to support this project by traveling to Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay which resulted build new relationships, scope potential research sites in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. The preliminary research involved traveling over 7,000 kilometers of dusty roads and highways in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina to meet with potential collaborators and scope priority research sites. During the course of the trip, I met with representatives from Enxet, Sanapaná, Ayoreo, Manjui, Guaraní, and Wichi Indigenous communities, academics, and over 30 non-governmental organizations. 

The pandemic delayed field research plans. However, in 2021 I hosted a multi-day conference with colleagues from across the region and leading academics whose work focuses on the Chaco (see recordings here). During 2022-2023, I will continue field research for this study as a Fulbright Scholar in Paraguay.

Publications related to this project:

  • Vital infrastructure: Rethinking environmental geographies and race in Latin America’s fading forests. *Working paper for submission in Spring 2022.