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Annals of the American Association of Geographers
ISSN: 2469-4452 (Print) 2469-4460 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/raag21
Speaking Power to “Post-Truth”: Critical Political
Ecology and the New Authoritarianism
Benjamin Neimark, John Childs, Andrea J. Nightingale, Connor Joseph
Cavanagh, Sian Sullivan, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Simon Batterbury, Stasja Koot
& Wendy Harcourt
To cite this article: Benjamin Neimark, John Childs, Andrea J. Nightingale, Connor Joseph
Cavanagh, Sian Sullivan, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Simon Batterbury, Stasja Koot & Wendy
Harcourt (2019) Speaking Power to “Post-Truth”: Critical Political Ecology and the New
Authoritarianism, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109:2, 613-623, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/24694452.2018.1547567
Published online: 06 Feb 2019.
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Speaking Power to “Post-Truth”: Critical Political
Ecology and the New Authoritarianism
Andrea J. Nightingale,
Connor Joseph Cavanagh,
Tor A. Benjaminsen,
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
Department of Geography, University of Oslo
Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Research Centre for Environmental Humanities, Bath Spa University
School of Geography, University of Melbourne
Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Development, Wageningen University
International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University
Given a history in political ecology of challenging hegemonic “scientific”narratives concerning
environmental problems, the current political moment presents a potent conundrum: how to (continue to)
critically engage with narratives of environmental change while confronting the “populist”promotion of
“alternative facts.”We ask how political ecologists might situate themselves vis-
a-vis the presently growing
power of contemporary authoritarian forms, highlighting how the latter operates through sociopolitical
domains and beyond-human natures. We argue for a clear and conscious strategy of speaking power to
post-truth, to enable two things. The first is to come to terms with an internal paradox of addressing those
seeking to obfuscate or deny environmental degradation and social injustice, while retaining political
ecology’s own historical critique of the privileged role of Western science and expert knowledge in
determining dominant forms of environmental governance. This involves understanding post-truth, and its
twin pillars of alternative facts and fake news, as operating politically by those regimes looking to shore up
power, rather than as embodying a coherent mode of ontological reasoning regarding the nature of reality.
Second, we differentiate post-truth from analyses affirming diversity in both knowledge and reality (i.e.,
epistemology and ontology, respectively) regarding the drivers of environmental change. This enables a
critical confrontation of contemporary authoritarianism and still allows for a relevant and accessible political
ecology that engages with marginalized populations likely to suffer most from the proliferation of post-truth
politics. Key Words: authoritarianism, environmental policy, political ecology, post-truth, science.
Dada una historia en ecolog
ıtica que reta las narrativas hegem
ıficas”en lo que concierne a
los problemas ambientales, el momento pol
ıtico actual pone de presente un enigma portentoso: c
ıticamente con narrativas del cambio ambiental al tiempo que se confronta la
on “populista”de “los hechos alternativos”. Nos preguntamos c
ıan situarse los ec
ıticos en relaci
on con el creciente poder que registran las formas autoritarias contempor
Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109(2) 2019, pp. 613–623 #2019 by American Association of Geographers
Initial submission, December 2017; revised submission, May 2018; final acceptance, July 2018
Published by Taylor & Francis, LLC.
el modo como opera el segundo a trav
es de los dominios sociopol
ıticos y las naturalezas que est
de lo humano. Inquirimos por una estrategia clara y consciente del poder de la palabra ante la pos-verdad,
para habilitar dos cosas. La primera es llegar a un acuerdo con una paradoja interna de hablarle a quienes
buscan ofuscar o negar la degradaci
on ambiental y la injusticia social, en tanto se retiene la propia historia
ıtica de la ecolog
ıtica sobre el papel privilegiado de la ciencia occidental y el conocimiento experto
para determinar las formas dominantes de la gobernanza ambiental. Esto implica entender la pos-verdad y sus
pilares gemelos de hechos alternativos y noticias falsas, como si estuviesen siendo operados pol
ımenes que buscan respaldar el poder m
as que personificar un modo coherente de razonamiento
ogico en relaci
on con la naturaleza de la realidad. Segundo, diferenciamos la pos-verdad de los an
que afirman la diversidad tanto en conocimiento como en la realidad (i.e., epistemolog
ıa y ontolog
respectivamente) en relaci
on con los controladores del cambio ambiental. Esto permite una confrontaci
ıtica del autoritarismo contempor
aneo y deja campo todav
ıa para una ecolog
ıtica relevante y
accesible que se comprometa con las poblaciones marginales, m
as propensas a sufrir los efectos de la
on de pol
ıticas pos-verdad. Palabras clave: autoritarismo, ciencia, ecolog
Post-truth is the latest manifestation of a long,
troubled history in the relation between truth,
politics, and power. Indeed, it is hardly a reve-
lation that politicians selectively choose (or con-
struct) their facts to serve particular ends. Yet, the
current political moment has also managed to pro-
voke a heightened level of anxiety about the nature
of truth in science and politics that has emerged as
particularly disruptive (Dillon et al. 2019). This anx-
iety has ushered in new language with terms such as
alternative facts and fake news becoming part of an
For geographers, and in par-
ticular political ecologists, post-truth presents a
familiar yet intensified challenge. Post-truth pro-
vokes questions for scholars critical of scientific
institutions and their knowledge-making practices
that shape environmental policy, given that these
same institutions are now under attack from populist
authoritarian discourse and policies.
A paradox thereby emerges between working with,
while also problematizing, the production of know-
ledge associated with positivist science—aparadox
that demands both reflection and action from critical
political ecologists and activists alike (Robbins 2015).
How can political ecologists mount an effective chal-
lenge against the propagation of alternative facts in
service of populist authoritarian agendas, while also
embracing multiple knowledges and realities associ-
ated with cultural and linguistic diversity (de la
Cadena 2010; Burman 2017)? How can we defend
this stance against charges that our dismay with post-
truth politics stems from an elite, liberal “chagrin at
the fact that the wrong kinds of people are suddenly
claiming authority and having their say?”(Mair 2017,
3). Finally, how can political ecologists, many of
whom have long insisted on the need to analyze the
politics of knowledge production within science, work
with science to show that the form of critical engage-
ment we advocate and practice is different from that
propounded by the authoritarian right?
Both political ecology and post-truth politics take
issue with certain hegemonic types of truth making.
It is political ecology, however, that concerns itself
with the epistemological violence effected through the
coloniality of reality that subjugates cultural, and espe-
cially indigenous, diversity in relation to ecological
knowledges and praxis (Burman 2017; Sullivan 2017).
Our main contribution in response to this is to affirm
the necessity of speaking power to post-truth
(Collingridge and Reeve 1986): by amplifying an
inclusive, effective, and publicly accessible political
ecology that both refracts populist (re)framings of
socioenvironmental concerns—at times mobilizing
and allying with positivist science to do so (King
2010; Brannstrom and Vadjunec 2013)—and organizes
to contest mechanisms of authoritarian power.
This strategy, first, situates political ecology as a
useful bridge to a diversity of approaches that probe
the co-constitutive relationship between environmen-
tal politics and scientific truth making (Jasanoff
2006). It recognizes and welcomes the conceptual
convergence between, for example, political ecology,
science and technology studies (STS), and anthropol-
ogy (Rocheleau 2008; Goldman, Nadasdy, and Turner
2011; Dillon et al. 2019). Combining perspectives
across these approaches means accepting that knowl-
edges do not necessarily become authoritative because
they more accurately portray “the truth.”Rather, they
614 Neimark et al.
become paradigmatic as the truth in part through
their generation and endorsement in politically
empowered networks as the best means of uncovering
the truth (cf. Kuhn 1970; Foucault 1980;Guthman
and Mansfield 2013). Foregrounding (once again)
these relationships between political power and truth
claims makes it possible to clarify mechanisms of
knowledge production and exclusion and thereby to
clarify possibilities for contestation (Hulme 2010).
Second, as well as having an established history of
critically analyzing environmental truth making, pol-
itical ecologists are experienced and motivated in
acting and collaborating beyond the academy, to
speak power to post-truth through new knowledge
coalitions and action. Coalitions beyond the acad-
emy are about creating an accessible political ecol-
ogy that can empower a politically engaged and
informed resistance to current post-truth narratives.
We argue that political ecology and cognate disci-
plines can combine with reflexive scientific know-
ledge production to offer collective responses within
this eco-political moment. This sort of critical polit-
ical ecology (Forsyth 2003) contributes to broader
public discourse and builds on recent attempts to
decolonize knowledge production inside and outside
the academy not by creating a geographic and aca-
demic silo, but rather to be united against a reduc-
tive and regressive post-truth debate.
In what follows, we provide a brief genealogy of
political ecology in relation to post-truth. We pro-
ceed by offering three interrelated areas for interven-
tion that, taken together, may articulate a political
ecology counternarrative to truth making while
remaining critical of authoritarian attacks on know-
ledge production. We insist throughout that it is
possible to retain our critical stance toward scientific
knowledge production through careful positioning of
it within the circuits of its own production. When
this same critical approach is applied to alternative
facts, we can show that these are not new ways of
knowing but rather new mechanisms of deploying
power within an erstwhile and reductive ontology
that colonizes other ways of knowing.
Political Ecology beyond Post-truth
Political ecology has long been concerned with
authoritarian forms of power and politics in relation
to environmental knowledges, policies, and infra-
structures, as well as to understandings of the
materiality of nature itself.
At its core, early polit-
ical ecology analyzed historically and spatially situ-
ated (and differentiated) powers to access and
control natural resources, originally seen through
class and later through other forms of social differ-
ence such as gender, ethnicity, age, and, sexuality.
Political ecology thereby brought into focus how
“the environment is an arena of contested entitle-
ments, a theatre of which conflicts or claims over
property, assets, labor, and politics of recognition
play themselves out”(Peluso and Watts 2001, 25;
Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, and Wangari 1996). A
second related dimension of political ecology soon
emerged that involved a more poststructuralist
understanding of the politics of environmental
knowledge production and its material-discursive
interplay with environmental governance (Escobar
1995; Peet and Watts 1996; Stott and Sullivan
2000). Reflecting the influence of Foucault, a key
emphasis has been on the institutional and other
societal structures through which environments and
environmental truths are defined, known, and there-
fore controlled and managed (Peet and Watts 1996;
Robertson 2006; Burke and Heynen 2014).
A series of early empirical studies showed how
local ecological problems have origins in trans-scalar
political and economic contexts, rather than merely
the allegedly maladaptive behaviors of local land
users (Watts 1983; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987).
Environmental processes were presented by apolitical
(and Malthusian) ecological analyses as caused by
small-scale producers, while research in political
ecology demonstrated how these problems were
incorrectly explained, or largely exaggerated, thereby
challenging received wisdom on environmental deg-
radation (Fairhead and Leach 1996). An outcome of
these local(ized) studies was that there were different
ways of knowing and managing environments which
were frequently bypassed by mainstream environ-
mental policies. For Forsyth (2003; see also
Benjaminsen, Aune, and Sidib
e2010), this also
meant linking political economy and epistemologies
of environmental change to empirically challenge
dominating environmental policies.
Although certainly critical, such challenges to
dominant narratives and theories are—as the expli-
citly antiauthoritarian The Open Society and its
Enemies (Popper 1971) observed—simply an integral
feature of good (social) scientific inquiry. A certain
degree of skepticism toward knowledge claims and
Speaking Power to “Post-truth”615
findings is part of conventional scientific practice.
As such, political ecology’s relationship to environ-
mental science has over the years been complex.
Playing the “trickster,”political ecology both
engages and borrows methodology from mainstream
science regarding land use change, hazards, and
environmental health, only “to undermine them,
demonstrating power-laden implications in any such
foundational account of human/environmental
relationships”(Robbins 2015, 93).
Recently, political ecology has been shaped more
explicitly by postcolonial, subaltern, feminist, and
queer critiques, opening up new avenues to counter
“universalizing dimensions”of knowledge production
associated with Western science and modernity (e.g.,
Nightingale 2006; Burman 2017;Sullivan2017).
Political ecologists have also found fertile ground in
debates emanating from assemblage theorists in actor
network theory (ANT) within STS, emphasizing how
environmental phenomena and governance are medi-
ated by technology and materiality (Bennett 2010)
and the roles of beyond-human actants in socio-
techno-natural assemblages (Castree and Braun 2001;
Kosek 2006; Goldman, Nadasdy, and Turner 2011).
Equipped with these new epistemological and
ontological tools, political ecology has the ability
both to distinguish itself vis-
a-vis power, especially
in its contemporary authoritarian forms and to push
similar work to explore how forms of power operate
through sociopolitical domains and nonhuman
natures. Therefore, in echoing contemporary calls to
scrutinize alternative facts, political ecology’s atten-
tion to power-laden scientific claims is well equipped
to examine differing environmental representations
to expose the multiple ways in which power operates
to produce, maintain, and privilege particular
“truths”about the environment.
The openness and fluidity of poststructuralist
approaches to knowledge production, however, lend
themselves both to a seeming “overcomplexification”
of socioecological circumstances and to cooptation
by far right agendas. The latter have knowingly bor-
rowed tactics and strategies used by left-leaning acti-
vists and scholars to highlight the politics of
knowledge production, to push for the acceptance of
alternative facts and to relativize the views of scien-
tists and right-wing ideologues (Nagel 2017). Thus,
the awkward conceptual resemblance between alter-
native facts and academic debates about the politics
of knowledge production is not mere coincidence.
Yet, there are crucial distinctions to be drawn
between critical approaches of scientific practice and
the tactics now adopted by the alt-right. A critical
approach to the environmental sciences underscores
the ways in which power constitutes, moves within,
and reproduces sociomaterial relations to shape which
knowledges, social relations, and practices (and corre-
sponding ecologies) are hegemonic. For example,
although not always accomplished, many political
ecologists attempt to challenge dominant environ-
mental narratives and recognize multiple non-Western
knowledge perspectives to analyze the production of
uneven environmental outcomes for diverse individu-
als and populations (Burman 2017). Such groups and
individuals are stratified by differences and inequalities
of—inter alia—class, ethnicity, and gender and are
commonly those most vulnerable to socioecological
shocks or stressors. Difference and inequality in turn
shapes and are shaped by environmental change proc-
esses themselves (Nightingale 2006). Moreover, by
observing everyday and mundane forms of authoritar-
ian power and governmental control, critical political
ecologists have sought to take account of how know-
ledge and governance of resources are actively resisted
and have been a focal point for empowerment of
marginalized groups through both individual and col-
lective agency (Li 2007;Wolford2010).
Future political engagement by political ecologists
and others therefore requires a sharpened focus on
knowledge production and who holds the power to
define truth (Gramsci 1971; Foucault 1980).
ontological politics probes the values, relations, and
practices through which some forms of knowledge
(epistemologies) come to be accepted as more true
than others. One way forward could be to carefully
distinguish between the ontological and epistemo-
logical politics of asserting that there are many ways
of knowing, measuring, and relating to or being in
“different”worlds (ontology). If we accept the
notion of multiple ontologies (that what the world is
can be different across communities of knowing),
political ecologists have much to say about the socio-
material relations through which different ontologies
arise and are sustained. There is an accompanying
epistemological politics of asserting the truth about
how one ostensibly should know or live in a single
world. This latter stance largely rejects the notion of
multiple ontologies and rather probe how asserting a
single epistemology (how we can know the world) is
inextricably bound up in claims to authority.
616 Neimark et al.
One role for political ecologists is to illuminate
how the privileging of alternative facts exacerbates
tensions between different ontologies and thereby
claims space for competing knowledge claims. Some
take the position that feminist political ecologists'
engagement with power and privileged forms of envir-
onmental knowledge construction could help guide us
to navigate the paradox of post-truth politics, while
some others prefer seeing power through the lens of
structuralism and/or post-structuralism. Nevertheless,
we thereby advocate that political ecology, in all its
forms, be made more relevant, accessible, and engag-
ing to (newly) marginalized populations while we
work to bridge the binary of science and activism
closely with social movements toward new “liberation
ecologies”(Peet and Watts 1996) and alternative sus-
tainablilities (Cavanagh and Benjaminsen 2017).
Speaking Power to Post-truth
A constructive and critical political ecology, then,
is about meeting power with power, mobilizing not
only the discourses and social networks of critical
scholarship, which at times can be just as universal-
izing in their own right, but also publicly informed
elements, such as collective action and activism, or
what we define throughout as to speak power to
post-truth. Taken together, we argue that we can
effectively counter the purveyors of post-truth and
their inventive uses of environmental messages. This
requires not only exposing the workings of power in
the generation of alternative facts but also in consol-
idating an alternative edifice of knowledge produc-
tion, policies, institutions, and relationships that can
counter authoritarian politics with new social (and
socionatural) relations. This is not only about build-
ing a better, more nuanced version of science via
the practice of political–ecological research but also
about harnessing more-than-scientific resources in
ways that seek to change rather than merely describe
the world (Castree, Chatterton, and Heynen 2010).
We call for a sensitivity to the power of both
ontological and epistemological politics through
which environmental issues are defined and known,
and that thereby shape conflicts (Blaser 2013;
Escobar 2016). We put forward three pathways—
expose, teach and learn, and engage—to show what
an effective political–ecological critique in the post-
truth moment might look. Our aim is to inspire a
response that counters post-truth, to think about
how to engage with the public that form enduring
resistance networks to authoritarian power. We cau-
tion, however, that this should not be read as a sin-
gular prescriptive solution; rather, we advocate for
multiple emerging pathways to counter and resist the
onslaught of authoritarian post-truth narratives.
The power of political ecology is that it cuts
through post-truth to expose it. Political ecology is
not alone in this, as there have been many other
fruitful attempts to deconstruct science debates in
Political ecology, however, has been at the
forefront of calling out the role of powerful authori-
tarian states, individuals, and corporations who link
post-truth discourse to policy and take shortcuts
with democratic rights, especially with territorially
based and indigenous communities, but also with
global planetary health (Batterbury 2016).
“Alternative facts”are often central to such efforts.
This perhaps involves political ecology’s role as the
“trickster,”both mimicking and calling out hege-
monic science and political discourse (Robbins
2015), but more its willing to use this science to
critically think about how truth claims emerge and
can be judged.
For example, the framing of climate change brings
powerful actors, institutions, and capital together in
shaping the political economy of oil (Bridge and Le
Billon 2017). This kind of culturally, historically,
and politically contextual analysis shows that alter-
native facts on climate change emerge from within
the same relations and logics that perpetuate current
capitalist projects, rather than existing as an alterna-
tive to a capitalist worldview. This needs to be dis-
tinguished from the kinds of alternative ontologies
that sit outside of capitalist structuring, such as those
that may be practiced by indigenous peoples
(Valdivia 2009; Sundberg 2010; Theriault 2017;
Anthias 2018). Exposing unsubstantiated “alt. facts”
will not suffice, though. The role of political ecolo-
gists is to expose power, profit making, and threats
to the environment and social justice (Martinez-
Alier et al. 2016; Nightingale 2017). This is
reflected in the work of environmental justice organ-
izations and other nongovernmental organizations,
like the EJOLT project (see http://www.ejolt.org/pro-
ject) and Accion Ecol
ogica in Quito, Ecuador, which
brave personal risks to expose environmental
Speaking Power to “Post-truth”617
injustices and make essential links between scholars
and environmental justice activist networks.
Power that coalesces through exposure is not singu-
lar but can take many forms. Examples include the
Environmental Justice Atlas, or the growing Political
Ecology Network initiative (see https://politicalecolo-
gynetwork.org/), which links academic output to
social media and political journalism (see http://www.
way to expose is through collaborative attempts, such
as the ENTITLE writing collective, which main-
streams critical environmental scholarship through
less-known public and activist stories. It aims to link
policymakers, scientific researchers, and activists,
“through engagement in movements and institutions”
(see https://entitleblog.org/). Meanwhile, the network
of academics and nonprofits working under the
Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI;
see https://envirodatagov.org/) are on the front lines
exposing authoritarianism threats to progressive U.S.
“federal environmental and energy policy, and to the
scientific research infrastructure”meant to
“investigate, inform, and enforce them”(Dillon
et al. 2019).
These efforts are a small sampling of the initia-
tives taken by political ecologists to link across com-
munities of knowledge. A question that emerges in
these efforts is this: Whose voices are privileged and
whose are marginalized, even within collaborative
projects? It is arguably more important than ever, in
an era of post-truth, to use the counternarratives
and explanations generated by political ecology offer
much by way of evaluating environmental ‘post-
truths’asserted in domains of populist authoritar-
Teach and Learn
Going beyond exposure, political ecology teaching
and learning can expand the impact of our critique of
alternative facts. Geographers are learning fast that
effective communication can challenge authoritar-
ianism through deliberately networking, publishing,
increased social media presence, and, moreover,
mobilizing this effectively to students and the
broader public. For example, political ecologists have
been at the forefront of recent attempts at
“decolonizing”how ecology and the Anthropocene
(Schulz 2017) are delivered in the classroom and
approached by the institutions that structure them
(e.g., Fletcher 2017; Meek and Lloro-Bidart 2017;
Meyerhoff and Thompsett 2017; Osborne 2017).
These efforts serve to decenter some forms of science
as hegemonic ways of knowing, at the same time
providing students with the critical skills to place all
ways of knowing within the power relations that per-
Feminist political ecologists have been at the fore-
front of the coproduction of knowledge with people
outside academia and how values and facts that
drive outside involvement combine in everyday pol-
itics. Harcourt and colleagues, for example, have
overseen a movement to engage feminist political
ecology with grassroots organizations worldwide that
brought forward insights into how smaller scale,
localized resistances to hegemonic economic and
political relations can succeed (Harcourt and Nelson
2015). The recently formed WEGO (Well-being,
Ecology, Gender and Community) network will col-
lect together knowledge of local communities’own
understandings of strategies to build resilient and
equitable futures. This work highlights the coproduc-
tion of knowledge to help community and network
activists better understand the institutional, eco-
nomic, and political contexts that serve to support or
inhibit their efforts. Scholars engaging in these practi-
ces also gain experiential and in-depth understanding
of alternative ontologies and visions for a better
world. These efforts have shown the importance of
scholarship in not only exposing but also learning
from community efforts at challenging hegemonic
relations of power.
Other efforts at coproduction of knowledge
through teaching and learning include the ENTITLE
collective’s political ecology syllabus (see http://www.
politicalecology.eu/) and also POLLEN’s online teach-
ing resources (https://politicalecologynetwork.org/pol-
itical-ecology-syllabi/) that produces scholarship
through community building and stimulating dialogue
among “diverse communities”(Harcourt and Nelson
2015), albeit ones that are most likely to use Web-
based resources for learning. Political ecologists can
learn from recent decolonizing efforts that call for
new forms of “epistemic disobedience”—political and
epistemological delinking of one’s colonial past
good example of this learning in practice through dis-
obedience is the historical problematizing of neo-
liberal or market conservation that has displaced local
practices and knowledges (e.g., Igoe, Sullivan, and
618 Neimark et al.
Brockington 2010). The key, however, is to not only
bring to light meaningful political ecology research
but to integrate this learning, both within the acad-
emy (Sundberg 2014) and through broader networks
of resistance (Dillon et al. 2019).
Some political ecologists have taken the notion of
learning to another level by trying to translate it dir-
ectly into policy arenas. For example, Ojha, Paudel,
and Dipak (2013) experimented with policy labs in
the forestry sector (earlier called Ban Chautari but
now used beyond the forestry sector to deal with cli-
mate and water issues) to generate critical thinking
about environmental governance questions for which
conventional expertise is inadequate. Policy labs
bring together political actors and sectoral specialists
(i.e., hydrologists, agricultural officers, and forestry
officers) to tackle environmental governance prob-
lems. Using Chatham House rules, policy labs are
designed to create safe spaces of ignorance, encour-
aging people to ask questions rather than providing
answers. A core concern is to show how different
sectors are linked together, the histories surrounding
how and why that is the case, and where their agen-
das are conflicting. This helps to place the issues at
stake within a wider contextual frame and can offer
opportunities for everyone involved to learn and
generate new critical ideas about action.
A renewed focus on rights infuses geographical
work, faced with threats that are existential and real
and geographical—from border policing to reneging
on international treaties and agreements (Sundberg
2010). Social scientists have a particular duty to call
out the broader publics’—from civil society groups
and individuals to those marginal or invisible—rights
to participation (Neimark and Vermeylen 2017). For
instance, the “Political Ecology for Civil Society”
open access publication by the ENTITLE group is an
excellent example of bridging the gap between activ-
ist groups and critical social science (ENTITLE
Fellows 2016). Also relevant is the Emancipatory
Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) work on authoritar-
ian populism that looks to provoke debate and
action among scholars, activists, practitioners, and
policymakers on how “exclusionary politics are deep-
ening inequalities,”through issues of growth, climate
disruptions, and social division and focused on gen-
erating alternatives to regressive, authoritarian
politics (Scoones et al. 2017). There are even more
overt political campaigns that require new alliances
and coalitions (de Vrieze 2017) around antifracking,
food sovereignty movements, and pollution cleanup
(Hudgins and Poole 2014; Cambell and Veteto
2015; D’Alisa et al. 2017).
Yet, new opportunities beyond academia have also
opened up. These are particularly in settings less
examined by political ecologists but nonetheless at the
heart of current political dynamics around post-truth.
They include rural white working-class communities
who are generally (mis)represented as “conservative,
xenophobic, and reactionary”(Van Sant and
Bosworth 2017) but that many times also share expe-
riences of marginality and forms of local knowledge
with some of the subjects conventionally focused on
in political ecology studies (McCarthy 2002).
Although political ecology is effective in highlighting
political activism and social movements, if anything,
it has been historically less successful at delivering its
research results in ways that are easily mobilized to
diverse political coalitions. It is these diverse political
coalitions where we argue that political ecology
research if delivered to nonacademic settings can gain
traction in countering post-truth narratives.
Public outreach beyond academia is therefore
vital. Political ecology’s Public Political Ecology Lab
(PPEL) is one important public outreach project (see
http://ppel.arizona.edu). It narrates the need for prac-
tical and political engagement through academic
work, providing training on research methods (par-
ticipatory action research) and pragmatic media and
communication skills to activist-minded students
and the wider public. It also provides an online
forum to make vital connections between commu-
nity organizations and graduate students for direct
impact. Similarly, the rapidly growing Political
Ecology Network is now reaching beyond Europe to
facilitate exchanges with a number of “nodes”con-
sisting of non-Western institutions, academics, and
civil society organizations. As Martinez-Alier et al.
(2014) showed, there is a “reverse movement”of
concepts and ideas coming from environmental just-
ice organizations to academic political ecology,
thereby, “favor[ing] cooperation between activist and
academics because they do not compete for the same
turf”(49). This demonstrates the potential for scien-
tists, political ecologists, and activists to form essen-
tial alliances to counter post-truth discourse and new
forms of authoritarianism.
Speaking Power to “Post-truth”619
If anything, political ecologists are responding to
contemporary authoritarianism, drawing attention not
only to injustice but also to social and political resist-
ance through collective action around the world. To
be effective, though, we need to move beyond just
illustrating obvious tensions that exist within our
own practice and praxis. We must question “truth”
based on empirically based natural and social science
through multiple perspectives, also explicitly amplify-
ing an inclusive, effective, and publicly accessible pol-
itical ecology that speaks power to post-truth.
Crucially, we must continue to explore links between
knowledge and authority, in our own scholarship and
in other very relevant cognate studies and also with
and as we evaluate knowledge claims emanating from
different communities globally.
If anything, our collective response to this post-
truth moment is to call out the dominant hegemonic
discourses that accompany alternative facts through
exposure of the links between power and knowledge
and through seeding new counterinitiatives. As
those on the political far right successfully adopt
poststructuralist ideas and techniques and methods
of grassroots activism to maintain authoritarianism,
political ecologists need once again to reappropriate
these methods of public engagement and civil
action. This is a long and difficult project and by no
means do we pose a single solution here. Yet, our
collective goal is to add tactics and analysis, making
our scholarship more relevant, accessible, and engag-
ing to populations most likely to suffer from the pro-
liferation of post-truth politics, notably around the
denial of climate change and its impacts.
This article represents work conducted as part of
the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN). We
thank Rob Fletcher and Bram B€
uscher for help with
earlier drafts of this article. Special thanks to James
McCarthy, Jennifer Cassidento, and three anonym-
ous reviewers from the Annals of the American
Association of Geographers for suggestions.
Benjamin Neimark https://orcid.org/0000-0003-
John Childs http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3293-9517
Sian Sullivan http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0522-8843
Tor A. Benjaminsen https://orcid.org/0000-0003-
Stasja Koot https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8625-7525
1. Since being used by the U.S. president’s special
counsel to defend demonstrably false statements by
the White House Press Office, the term alternative
facts has been invoked widely in the media to
question the relationship between science and truth.
Similarly, President Donald Trump makes personal
and repeated dismissals of major international media
and research outlets as “fake news.”
2. Although used somewhat interchangeably, we
recognize that hegemony and dominant forms of
science, and knowledge, are not necessarily always
the same (see Guha 1997).
3. Critical political ecology is an open-ended and
empirically based approach that combines
deconstruction with a realist belief in science as a
means to achieve a more accurate description and
understanding of environmental realities. This is not
the only attempt to do this. In fact, there is a long
history of previous work in “critical realism”to
integrate sociopolitical values with positivism (see
Bhaskar  1997) and also to some degree in
sustainability science (see Clark et al. 2016).
4. We do not provide a review of political ecology but
rather a snapshot of some examples of its breadth; for
fuller reviews, see Robbins (2011), Bryant (2015),
and Perreault et al. (2015).
5. Albeit a key theme in earlier political ecology, our
hope is that given the particular political climate of
post-truth, more studies today can reemphasize the
importance of the emergence of facts simultaneously
with values and structure.
6. From this perspective, truth making is more about
establishing an effective hegemony (understood as the
articulation of different interests around a common
cause) than trying to champion a particular
constellation of facts.
7. Although STS does include debates around positivist
science and many, particularly those geographers and
others adopting the language of assemblage, claim
that their frameworks do explain the entanglement of
facts simultaneously with values and structures, it is
critical political ecology that has been more willing
to adopt positivist science as a tool to counter
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BENJAMIN NEIMARK is Senior Lecturer of Human
Geography in the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster
University. Library Avenue, Lancaster University, Lancaster
LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail: email@example.com.His
research interests include the political ecology and political
economy of bio- and green economy interventions, uneven
development, and labor and global commodity chains in
Madagascar and Africa.
JOHN CHILDS is in the Lancaster Environment Centre,
Lancaster University, Library Avenue, Lancaster University,
Lancaster LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
His research interests include the political ecology of
resource extraction in the Global South, particularly focused
on mining and its various forms, geographies, and effects.
ANDREA J. NIGHTINGALE is Chair of Rural
Development in the Global South at the Swedish
University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and in 2019 will
move to the Department of Geography at the University of
Oslo. E-mail: email@example.com.Hercurrent
research interests include the nature–society nexus; feminist
theorizations of emotion and subjectivity in relation to
development, transformation, collective action, and the
commons; political violence and climate change; and pub-
lic authority, collective action, and state formation.
CONNOR JOSEPH CAVANAGH is a Post-Doctoral
Research Fellow in the Department of International
Environment and Development Studies (Noragric),
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1433 As, Norway.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. His research and pub-
lications explore the political ecology of conservation and
development interventions, with a focus on land and
resource tenure conflicts and the institutional evolution
of laws, regulations, and policies for governing both eco-
systems and rural populations.
SIAN SULLIVAN is Professor of Environment and
Culture at Bath Spa University, Newton Park, Bath BA2
9BN, UK, and Associate of Gobabeb Research and
Training Centre, Namibia. E-mail: email@example.com.
Her research interests include cultural landscapes, political
ecology, and the financialization of nature.
TOR A. BENJAMINSEN is a Professor in the
Department of International Environment and
Development Studies, Faculty of Landscape and Society,
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, 1432 As, Norway.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. He works on issues of environ-
mental change and conservation, pastoralism, land rights,
resistance, and justice in Mali and Tanzania, as well as in
SIMON BATTERBURY is a Professor of Political
Ecology at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster
University, Library Avenue, Lancaster University, Lancaster
LA1 4YQ, UK. E-mail: email@example.com.Heis
also Principal Fellow in the School of Geography at the
University of Melbourne. His research interests include the
political ecology of natural resources in West Africa
STASJA KOOT is an Assistant Professor in the
Department of Sociology and Anthropology of
Development at Wageningen University, Wageningen,
6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. His research interests are predomin-
antly in Southern Africa, including nature conservation,
tourism, wildlife crime, capitalism, indigenous people,
land, and philanthropy.
WENDY HARCOURT is Professor of Gender, Diversity
& Sustainable Development, Westerdijk Professor at the
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus
University, Rotterdam, ISS, 2518 AX The Hague, The
Netherlands. E-mail: email@example.com. Her research inter-
ests include feminist political ecology, feminist theory,
Speaking Power to “Post-truth”623