Dryland: Afforestation and the Politics of Plant Life explores plant adaptation and behavior through afforestation—the practice of planting trees in otherwise treeless environments.

Chapters address the tradition of afforestation through the rise of scientific forestry in the American Prairies, the control of colonial holdings throughout Africa’s Sahelian grasslands, and the threat of airborne particulate across the deserts of the Chinese continent. Through the pretense of environmentalism each response proliferates a localized tree planting project as a solution to a raging global conflict.

The culminating argument suggests that planting a tree can either be one of the ultimate offerings to thriving on this planet, or one of the most extreme perversions of human agency over it.

Ulmus pumila L.
Populus Spp.
1_The Prairie States Forestry Project, USA. 2_The North American Prairie (Image courtesy of U.S. Forest Service). 3_Report on Forest Trees of North America by Charles Sprague Sargent, 1884. 4_The Denuded Prairie (Image by Homer L. Shantz).
1_The Three-Norths Shelter Forest System, PRC. 2_Clonal plants. 3_Shelterbelt in China (Photograph courtesy of George Steinmetz). 4_Taklimakan Desert Road (Photograph courtesy of George Steinmetz).
1_The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative, Africa. 2_A. Aubréville, 1949. 3_Rhizosphere. 4_African Savannah (Photograph by Ruben Ernestine).

Forthcoming book

2 images small – MS

Elkin, R.S. “Desertification and the Rise of Defense Ecology” in Portal 9 (Issue 4, Solidere, Beirut 2014) trans. Arabic

20130110_timeline RSE

Elkin, R.S. “Planting the Desert: The Chinese Three North Shelterbelt Project” in Topos (No.82, 2013)

RSE_ 1 UNEEP Base_Hatch 1977

Cultivating Scale samples projects across a century of environmentalism, in order to explicate how tree planting has been promoted as a solution to alleged ecological conflict.  The research adopts a telescopic narrative that advances from the tree to the planting schemes to the continent, while sampling three distinct ages of concern: the soil conservation movement in America, the struggle for air quality in China and the obscured risk of desertification in Africa.

In each case, a supranational planting project is presented as a remedy to heal degraded land. As catastrophic evidence is mainstreamed, trees are enlisted as the link between culture and nature in order to regain control of deteriorated political agendas. This universal reaction is evocative of the idea that the ecology of ‘greening’ has become a cultural project–– a measure of value and control. A geopolitical scheme is concealed when trees are aggrandized to an urban elite, initiating planted consequences in remote deserts and negligible territories.

RSE_2 Shelterbelt 01

Elkin, R.S.  “Cultivating Scale: Planting the Desert” Funded Research for Publication, Prepared for Graham Foundation for the Arts, Chicago. (September 2014)