Human Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 677–685 | Cite as

“It Becomes Scientific…:” Carbon Accounting for REDD+ in Malawi



I present a case study of project planning meetings during which meticulous accounting procedures are used to convert social and ecological life into marketable carbon credits. This focus on the micro-processes of carbon credit production nuances the understanding of: (1) the politics involved in these calculations in small-scale interactions; (2) the particular mechanisms through which social and ecological life is made equivalent to carbon units, social actions, and other places across the globe; (3) how these equivalencies and quantifications co-constitute one another; and (4) how this process (re)imbues these objective numbers with a particular context that is generated from the nexus of local and cosmopolitan expertise. This process lends legitimacy to an otherwise imprecise set of accounting practices and translates social and ecological data into forms legible to transnational commodity markets and investors.


Climate change Forests Africa Carbon offsets Redd+ 



Many thanks to Duncan, Cheri, Mike, and Elton for their input on this project. This research would not have been possible without the help and input from natural resource managers and people living in target communities in Malawi. Zikomo kwambili! Tawonga chomene! Thank you also to Cindy Isenhour and Jessica O’Reilley for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper, and to the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This research was supported by the U.S. Fulbright Program as well as Michigan State University’s Graduate School, Center for Gender in Global Context, Center for Advanced Study in International Development, African Studies Center, and the Department of Anthropology.

Conflict of Interests

After the conclusion of this research, the author served as a consultant for the TGC, contributing information on the history, culture, and biodiversity of the target areas for the project validation documents.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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