June 3, 2022

Four Questions with Carolina Marques de Mesquita

Delaina CastilloEcoAgriculture Partners

Carolina Marques de Mesquita is a Program & Development Associate for EcoAgriculture Partners. After recently completing her MA at the University of Chicago, Carolina’s eagerness to work in the environmental space and within a multicultural environment brought her to EcoAg. Carolina’s experience in communications and working on public service campaigns help her as she organizes the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative, fundraises and supports EcoAg’s Board of Directors. After a short but impactful year at EcoAg, Carolina will be pursuing her Ph.D. in political science at Yale University in the fall of 2022.  

Q: You have a background in political science. How has your experience shaped your time at EcoAgriculture Partners?

Carolina Marques de Mesquita: As a discipline, political science often addresses questions about our normative values while encouraging us to question where those values come from, posing questions like what is just, what is right and what should the world look like? It inspires us to challenge both established and imagined assumptions that others hold as true. In many ways, studying political science has prepared me to tackle some of those questions related to environmental governance and community development, and I believe that’s the perspective that I bring to EcoAg.

EcoAg does an excellent job of encouraging a community-based approach to landscape management. This is not always a perspective represented in policy-focus circles, which can focus primarily on political institutions rather than ground-up political action. I’m glad this is a space that allows for some give and take and permits certain disciplines and backgrounds to come together to complement each other.

Q: You wrote your Master’s thesis on international environmental norms and how they shape forest governance and wildfire management in Brazil, a niche topic. What was the inspiration behind your thesis and what did you learn?  

CM: Two things drew me to this research. The first is that I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, so climate and environmental issues were really at the forefront of my mind as I started to form my views on politics. We face many environmental challenges in Phoenix, like water scarcity, urban sprawl and limited public transit. As I was graduating from my undergrad and heading to my master’s program, I became involved in a local city council campaign for a climate-focused candidate. That was one of the experiences that convinced me that working in the climate and environmental space would be exciting.  

The second thing that drew me to my thesis topic was my cultural background. As a Brazilian-American, I became interested in conversations about the country’s climate challenges during the crisis of wildfires in the Amazon in mid-2020. During this time, several international actors sought to influence Brazil’s response to the wildfires because of the Amazon’s important role as a global carbon sink. This prompted backlash by the Brazilian Presidential administration, whose response to the crisis could only be described as half-hearted. This case was interesting to me because of its relevance amid global conversations about how to best mitigate climate change and because it raises important questions about territorial sovereignty. It prompted me to explore how much individual countries can deflect responsibility for domestic ecological crises when those crises bear implications for people beyond their national borders. 

Australia, in contrast, implemented several measures to respond to wildfires in the Australian bush after facing strong international pressure during the same year, despite being led by a similarly climate-skeptical government. This inspired my thesis question: why do some efforts to galvanize states to address domestic ecological crises succeed, and why do others fail? 

Using Brazil and Australia as case studies, I concluded that when socialization is perceived to undermine a nation’s territorial sovereignty, it is more likely to fail. In the case of Brazil, international leaders often laid a symbolic claim to the Amazon by describing it as “the lungs of the planet”. The Brazilian government perceived that as an echo of past colonialist discourses and an attempt to undermine the country’s sovereignty. One of the implications of this research is that effective climate diplomacy must be sensitive to the histories of inequality and imbalances of power that continue to influence the global order. Of course, this is true not only when we’re talking about imbalances of power between governments but also among different populations within the same nation.

Q: What future goals are you excited about? 

CM: I’m still figuring things out, but I might be interested in moving back into research. At the moment, I’ve been very involved in programmatic and administrative functions within 1000 Landscapes. I’ve enjoyed the day-to-day implementation of a major landscape initiative. I also miss research and as I move forward in my career, I hope to look for additional opportunities to be involved in the research side of things. 

The challenge is that even if I pursue a more research-oriented professional agenda, I don’t want to let go of the applied, public service part of the equation. In an ideal world, I would create a career where I research and think about more abstract questions in environmental governance and climate policy while still making sure that my research is public-facing and bears relevance beyond the research and academic communities.

Q: If you could live in one landscape for the rest of your life, where would that be?

CM: I spent a bit of time after college working as an English teacher in Portugal through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and it is a beautiful landscape with really, really wonderful people that are so kind and welcoming. There’s a lot of history to explore there. The southern coast specifically has a variety of landscapes, such as turquoise beaches, forested lands, and mountains. That’s where I would love to return.

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