Critical ecology

The first time I heard about Critical ecology was while listening to Allie Ward’s podcast Ologies, where one episode was dedicated to Critical Ecology. How I found this topic interesting, I searched about it and decided to write an article to learn more about it and to spread the word about it.


“Critical ecology is an area of environmental research illuminating the direct lines between environmental processes and human equality and liberation. Critical ecology seeks to empirically and mechanistically define the social precursors and consequences of climate change and anthropogenic environmental harms. This is an application of basic science to the real-life practices and structures that promote and maintain social and economic disparities. In addition, critical ecology promotes the development of research methods that are truly equitable and based in respect for indigenous sovereignty and antiracist praxis. By its nature, critical ecology requires investigators to reckon with their own social positions within their research questions and among their colleagues, students, and the public.”

To push Critical ecology as a science global change ecologist Dr. Suzanne Pierre established Critical Ecology lab.

Critical Ecology Lab is a space to investigate and explain the ways that the natural world, from soils to the atmosphere, has been shaped by the ideas of racial and cultural supremacy, natural resource exploitation, and social exclusion. 

The Lab is also an experiment in world-building: Can a scientific research team also be a hub for social justice advocacy, developing a capacity for compassion, scheming futurisms, and healing the trauma of marginalization?

As a PhD student, Dr. Suzanne Pierre found that connecting settler colonialism, racism, and capitalism to ecology was not welcome in traditional spaces. She began describing these questions as critical ecology, a way of allowing critical social theory on race and gender to take shape in ecological inquiry. In 2017, she started an Instagram account to connect others with these ideas.

Despite the wall of resistance and doubt, she knew these questions could produce insight into how and why humans have shaped the climate crisis and how we may navigate it. Pursuing critical ecology was worth the risk. With the support of collaborator Kunal Palawat, Sue formally started the Critical Ecology Lab in winter 2020.

Their mission is to create novel processes and spaces for communities of people with scientific and generational knowledge to destabilize oppressive systems and fight back against escalating social and planetary disasters.

Some projects of the Critical Ecology Lab are:

  1. Ecological scars of slave plantations: “To draw out these relationships between race, slavery, and ecological change, we propose a critical ecological framework that focuses on two broad questions: How did the Transatlantic Slave Trade and plantation slavery affect ecologies in the Americas? How do those legacies persist today? This proposal addresses aspects of these two questions with a focus on archaeological and ecological research at the Estate Little Princess, a historic eighteenth-century Danish plantation in the St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Unpacking the relationship between slavery and massive environmental change is an essential application of critical ecology, which seeks to use the plantation as a testing ground for the empirical relationship between racism and environmental degradation. Critical ecology is in effect the merger of disciplines, including Black studies, critical race studies, global change ecology, archaeology and related subdisciplines, to address the limitations in each of these disciplines to explicitly address the role of white supremacist processes, including but not limited to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have contributed to the state of the environment

2. Microbial ecology  of colonial water planning: When the Dutch colonized Indonesia in the 1800s, they redesigned the landscape, built canals, and destroyed wetlands. Did Dutch conceptions of appropriate urban hydro-design set the stage for the present day environmental microbiome of Jakarta, Indonesia?  

More information about Critical ecology ( podscasts, seminar and workshop):