Augmenting or Obscuring the Reality of Species Extinction? Bad Environmentalism at a time of Crisis
Abstract of paper presented at the 2019 Annual Meetings of the Canadian Anthropology Association (CASCA) and American Anthropology Association (AAA) by James Stinson.
In recent years, there has been growing scientific evidence indicating the world is in the midst of a human-induced annihilation of global biodiversity, increasingly described as the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event (Ceballos et al. 2015). At the same time, weariness with, and enmity toward, the doom and gloom of mainstream conservation has spurred expressions of “bad environmentalism” that take a more playful, ironic, and irreverent approach to environmental issues (Seymour 2018).
This paper explores an instance of “bad environmentalism” through a case study of the social enterprise Internet of Elephants (IoE), a self-described team of animal lovers, data heads and game geeks aiming to combine GPS-based animal tracking data with Augmented Reality video games and social media to make endangered species “a part of daily life for millions of people currently unconnected to conservation.” As stated by IoE, “through games for fun and education and even for betting, we can multiply the number of wildlife enthusiasts around the world. Akin to Farmville, or fantasy sports, or horse racing, or even playing the stock market, we can ‘play’ with wild animals that are not within our sight, but with whom technology allows us information about their movements and whereabouts.”
This paper critiques IoE’s Augmented Reality games as a form of “derivative nature” (Büscher 2010) that paradoxically obscures the reality of the extinction crisis by rendering endangered species increasingly visible and consumable as entertainment products in a manner that perpetuates the capitalist and consumerist ethos at the root of the crisis.