Energy transitions in the UK: Is Fracking the Future?

Fracking; Painting by Gloria Betlem

Prof. Steffen Boehm, Director of the Essex Sustainability Institute and Principal Investigator of the Ecocultures Programme, recently published a piece in the East Anglian Daily Times on the need for a more sustainable energy policy, based on local production and the use of renewables.  You can read the full text by clicking on the link below.


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Socioecological Resilience at Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage – South Brazil

Landscape around Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage, South Brazil. Photo: Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger

Socioecological Resilience at Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage – South Brazil

Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger, Gustavo C.M. Martins, Alexandre Paulo Teixeira Moreira, Cristian Curti and Cristiana Simão Seixas 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: This manuscript analyses the social-ecological resilience of Céu do Patriarca ecovillage (Florianópolis city, Santa Catarina state, Brazil). Initially, we describe the motivation and main events guiding the intentional self-organization process of the community in the past 23 years. We then provide a descriptive analysis of the main attributes – technological, knowledge and skills, social structures and relations, behavioural, psychological and belief systems, adaptive policies and management – related to its capacity to manage social and ecological disturbance in the present, past and future. We have also analysed the response measures demonstrated by the ecovillage to 8 of the main local socio-ecological disturbances. The analysis enabled the identification of 33 characteristics within the ecovillage that are indicative of its resilience. We also illustrate the presence of adaptive co-management features, and argue they have shown a high level of transformability across their 23-year trajectory. Before all the advancements and experiences accumulated by the Céu do Patriarca ecovillage, we conclude that it does not only offer an outstanding and insightful case study to think about the various facets of social-ecological systems resilience. Above all, it may well serve as a reference to other communities and people in search of concrete social-ecological systems trajectories that have shown significant progress in pursuing sustainable development.

About the authors: Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger is a Phd student in Environment and Society at the Centre for Environmental Studies (Nepam), University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil. Gustavo Martins has a Bsc. in Environmental Engineering and is an associate of the Ecovillage for the past 6 years, where he is working with several aspects of permaculture.

Download Gerhardinger-et-al-2012-42.pdf

A psychological approach to understanding resilient communities: The contributions of individuals and of the community

Legate and Weinstein, 2011. Figure 2.

A psychological approach to understanding resilient communities: The contributions of individuals and of the community

Nicole Legate and Netta Weinstein

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: Throughout this volume, we are introduced to communities from around the globe adapting to drastic social, economic and ecological changes in an effort to preserve their way of live in the face of powerful stressors. This paper provides a psychological perspective of the resilience demonstrated by these communities, drawing on the major themes of coping and positive adaptation that run through the case studies in this volume. We discuss how social-ecological resilience can emerge as a function of the individuals within it and how fostering the psychological needs of community members can promote resilience. Using this framework, we then illustrate two types of interventions aimed at promoting social-ecological resilience. Finally, we put forward questions that we see as most important for further investigation.

About the authors: Nicole Legate is a graduate student at the University of Rochester. Netta Weinstein is a lecturer at the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.

Download Legate-and-Weinstein-2012-3.pdf

Economic Analysis of Resilience: A Framework for Local Policy Response Based on New Case Studies


Figure 1; Regibeau and Rockett, 2011

Economic Analysis of Resilience: A Framework for Local Policy Response Based on New Case Studies

Pierre Régibeau and Katharine Rockett 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: A recent set of case studies on resilience of ecocultures forms the basis for our review of and comment on the resilience literature.  We note the diversity of definitions of resilience and the confusion this creates in implementing resilience studies and develop a synthesis view that establishes a framework for defining resilience in an implementable way.  This framework emphasises the importance of defining the source of and magnitude of shocks as part of the definition.  Next, we outline measurement issues, including a variety of performance measures that can be used to gauge resilience.  We argue that self-determination and local ownership of resources is supported in the cases, and review the effectiveness of the informal insurance arrangements observed in the cases. We close with the variables suggested by the case studies to include in a resilience index and lessons for regional governments developing resilience policy.

About the authors: Pierre Régibeau is Visiting Professor at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Group at Imperial College, London, and Academic Associate at Charles River Associates. Katharine Rockett is senior lecturer at the Department of Economics and was Dean (Social Sciences) between 2010 and 2011.

Download Régibeau-and-Rockett-2012-2.pdf

Resilience Through Relocalisation: Ecocultures of Transition?

Energy Saving Show, Richmondshire Eco Week, Yorkshire. Photo: Transition Richmond Yorkshire.

Resilience Through Relocalisation: Ecocultures of Transition? Transition to a post-carbon, post-consumer society: new, traditional and alternative ways of living in the ‘adjacent possible’.

Stephen Quilley 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: The paper provides an overview of the Transition movement, exploring the relationship between the positive bottom-up approach to capacity building and the ontology of civilizational collapse.  As a vision of the good life, Transition is seen as an attempt by typically liberal, cosmopolitan and connected individuals to parachute into smaller, face-to-face, place-bound communities with greater capacity for resilience in uncertain times. The psychological structures and belief systems characteristic of complex ‘gesellschaftlich’ societies are contrasted with those implied by the project of relocalisation. The ‘peverse resilience’ of existing food provisioning and manufacturing systems is explored as an obstacle to the emergence of more resilient systems at lower spatial scales.  Using the evocative phrase the ‘great reskilling’, Transition successfully articulates the kind of technologies, knowledge and skills which will have value for a post-fossil fuel, more localised economy – a world made by hand. The Transition skills agenda also taps into a wider current of disaffection with meaningless consumerism and a resurgence of interest in both traditional crafts and the ‘maker’ approach to technology exemplified by the culture of ‘hacking.’   However, this counterculture not withstanding, the ‘prefigurative’ Transition skill-set  is miniscule relative to the overall scale of the economy  and the prospective needs of relocalized economies. There are real challenges to re-creating it from scratch, particularly in advance of any structural collapse, in the absence of local demand and in competition with the conventional economy. The paper goes on to discuss the social, political and cultural obstacles to the project of  resilience through relocalization, the problem of scale in constructing Transition communities and the tension between mobilising effective we-identities without abandoning liberal and cosmopolitan emphasis on diversity and tolerance. Finally it is suggested that given the degree of systemic interdependence, the vision of local, community-level resilience must be married with a broader strategy for transforming global production systems.

Stephen Quilley

About the author: Although Senior Lecturer in Environmental Politics at Keele University [] Stephen Quilley is technically a sociologist, having worked previously at University College Dublin (1999-2005) and the ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition in Manchester (1997-1999). With academic research interests ranging from the historical sociology of Norbert Elias to the long term dynamics of human ecology, Stephen is also working on policy-related projects relating to sustainability, urban regeneration, food systems, resilience and social-ecological innovation. Working closely with colleagues in Canada, Quilley has Associate Faculty status with Social Innovation Generation (SiG) at the University of Waterloo and is an Affiliate Researcher at the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. A sponsor ofOpen Source Ecology [], he is also interested in education as a vehicle to create a society of proactive makers, menders, bodgers and builders – a vision he is trying to integrate into a new model of university education (

Download Quilley-2012-1.pdf

Eradicating Ecocide: A Critical Appraisal

Coal Mine in South Kalimantan; Coordinates: South 03' 09" East 115' 18".

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The following evaluation of the Ecocide proposals is by Dr. Karen Hulme, senior lecturer at the School of Law, University of Essex and author of War Torn Environment: Interpreting the Legal Threshold, Martinus Nijhoff, 2004.


This post will provide a critical appraisal of the concept of ecocide under international law.

International environmental law is largely governed by Principle 21 of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, which states that:

“States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.”

Principle 21 thus implies that states are sovereign over their own natural resources and are allowed to exploit those resources provided that in doing so they do not cause significant damage to other states or the ‘global commons’. Clearly, this basic principle does little by way of preventing damage within a state and has therefore been supplemented by a tranche of treaties which require states to protect the environment within their borders.These include the 1992 Biological Diversity Convention, the 1971 Wetlands Convention and the 1972 UNESCO Cultural Heritage Convention, as well as others that have a broader, more global reach yet still require domestic implementation, such as the 1992 Climate Change Convention, the 1973 Convention on Trade in Endangered Species and the 1946 Whaling Convention regime.

These treaties and regimes notwithstanding, global environmental degradation continues apace. As a response, Polly Higgins defined a notion of ‘ecocide’ in 2010.For the purposes of international law, Polly defines Ecocide as:

“the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

Polly’s campaigning on this notion has brought to the world’s attention such environmental tragedies as the oil extraction from the Canadian Athabasca tar sands. The US Senate recently voted to reject the Keystone XL pipeline which is proposed to transport the oil extracted from the Canadian tar sands to Texas, although with weighty Republican political backing the issue will undoubtedly return to the Senate in the near future. Other possible examples of ecocide include the BP oil spill in the Mexican Gulf in 2010, Chevron’s oil devastation in Ecuador, Shell’s destruction of the Niger Delta as well as far too many examples from around the globe of environmentally-destructive mining, deforestation and damming projects. With the Rio+20 conference almost in our midst can a crime of ecocide finally be realized?

The above definition of ecocide poses a variety of problems. First, it is clear that any  international instrument, including the proposed notion of ecocide requires state consent – and clearly it is those recalcitrant states that are causing environmental damage that are least likely to ratify such a treaty. Second, with regard to proposals within the ecocide bill of ‘non-human’ (or natural) causes of harm or those that cannot be proven to have emanated from a particular state, these are, it has to be said, unlikely to be adopted in any international instrument, let alone one mandating criminal sanctions. The remainder of the definition would probably not cause too many problems for acceptance although ‘peaceful enjoyment’ is not a particularly concrete notion. Lastly, the notion of a state ‘crime’ that is likely to result from the application of the above definition is similarly vague. It must be remembered that in the 2001 Articles of State Responsibility the notion of state ‘crimes’ was rejected[i] In an early ILC draft (1996) of the Articles on State Responsibility, Article 19(3)(d) suggested that an international crime may result from “a serious breach of an international obligation of essential importance for the safeguarding and preservation of the human environment, such as those prohibiting massive pollution of the atmosphere or of the seas.” This formulation of a ‘crime’ gained some acceptance and was undoubtedly a response to the heightened sense of environmental awareness during the early 1990s. Yet, its ultimate demise as well as the rejection of the 1994 Draft Principles of UN Special Rapporteur Ksentini on the right to a healthy environment reflect, lamentably, a more limited, conservative approach by states to how we value the environment and protect it from harm. Prior experience also suggests that political will is not likely to favour such mechanisms. For example, acceptance of the 1998 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law has been extremely poor (3 state ratifications to date).

This is not to say that the notion of environmental protection is unlikely to be adequately enshrined in state policy. Many states do positively promote and protect the environment. Many NGOs are now well able to promote the environment in all spheres of human development and protection, and greater use of litigation against companies in states where they are headquartered is proving to be invaluable. Furthermore, the right to a healthy environment has become acceptable to over 100 states who, having enshrined such a human right in their constitution, provide an encouraging measure of environmental protection.

With regard to strengthening the legal provisions for international environmental protection, an avenue for the notion of ecocide may thus lie in either the soft law instrument which will inevitably emerge from Rio+20 or in an international instrument providing a new way for states to hold companies (and their CEOs) criminally liable for environmental damage (many states provide for such liability already).

So much for peacetime mechanisms for international environmental protection. Peacetime legal obligations  are generally much weaker  during situations of armed conflict, when the laws of armed conflict are generally said to represent ‘lex specialis’ or ‘special/temporal law’ which is viewed as displacing or redefining peacetime obligations. Higgins, however, uses a number of wartime protections as evidence or legal authority to bolster the acceptability  of the ecocide notion in peacetime . The following sections will thus indicate why these wartime provisions do not provide the measure of support suggested by Higgins for a broad-base of acceptance of the notion of ecocide in peacetime.

The notion of ecocide became an emotive term coined in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and referred to the damage caused by the American environmentally-destructive tactics of herbicidal defoliation and the use of Rome Ploughs. It was enshrined as a crime in the domestic laws of many Communist states (Russia, Vietnam, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia etc), usually in the form that “destroying the natural environment, whether committed in time of peace or war, constitutes a crime against humanity” (Vietnam) or “massive destruction of the fauna and flora, contamination of the atmosphere or water resources, as well as other acts capable of causing an ecological catastrophe, constitutes a crime against the peace and security of mankind” (Russia).

The wartime prohibition on environmental destruction was specifically included in the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions at Article 35(3), although it has to be said that it was drafted in such as way as to provide very little, if any, protection whatsoever for the environment. Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol stipulates:

“It is prohibited to employ methods or means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment.”

On this occasion the term ‘long-term’ was defined to mean ‘decades, 20 or 30 years as being a minimum’. Despite the phenomenal shift witnessed in peacetime environmental policy since the 1970s, a similar ‘greening’ of wartime provisions has been largely absent. Thus it was a deliberate action by dominant states at the negotiating conference to create only weak environmental protection obligations in wartime, and this attitude has continued to dominate discussions since. To exemplify this conclusion, it is often recalled by states that the oil-well destruction during the 1991 Persian Gulf Conflict would not fulfill the threshold of damage; some even doubt its applicability at all for conventional warfare (i.e., outside the use of chemical, nuclear and biological warfare – note that chemical and biological weapons are absolutely and comprehensively prohibited and the environmental prohibition itself probably does not apply to nuclear weapons anyway). Thus, it is often stated that this particular provision provides little, if any, actual environmental protection during armed conflict.

The 1976 ENMOD Convention prohibits the hostile manipulation of the environment so as to cause damage to an enemy state. The full provision is thus,

“Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party.” (Article I(1), ENMOD Convention)

However, inherent in the Convention’s prohibition are its limitations. The Convention is about artificial rain-making, which is used as a wartime tactic to flood enemy supply routes, or the use of a nuclear device to trigger an earthquake or a hole in the Ozone layer above the enemy to ‘burn’ enemy troops. While cloud-seeding has been used in peacetime (note the use in the Beijing Olympics to move clouds away from the stadium), its military use was easily prohibited in the aftermath of the Vietnam War (note the US cloud-seeding tactics). Furthermore, it is unclear how Higgins is using the ENMOD Convention in her theory. Certainly, it does contain a low threshold of damage – i.e. it only requires the resultant harm to be ‘widespread, long-lasting or severe’, which terms are defined at a very low level [for example ‘long-lasting’ refers to ‘several months or more, or approximately a season’]. Higgins, however, appears to suggest that the ENMOD definitions can be transposed into a crime of ecocide for oversight by the International Criminal Court. With respect, it is undoubtedly the case that the very low threshold of harm  contained in the ENMOD Convention reflects the preposterous notion that any state would use such tactics. Where similar terms have been used in other laws of war provisions their meaning has not been set at such a low threshold.

The notion of ecocide did not make it into the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, although wartime environmental destruction is included where such damage was (1) intentionally caused, (2) fulfils the very high threshold (of Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol – above) of ‘widespread, long-term and severe’ damage and (3) is also disproportionate to the military advantage anticipated from the attack (See Article 8(2)(b)(iv)). Clearly here the Statute has adopted the terms of Article 35(3) of the 1977 Protocol, and added an additional criterion of disproportionately. This additional element serves to further restrict the scope of the crime. And to this extent international law already contains a crime of ecocide, albeit confined only to situations of international armed conflict (i.e. not ‘civil wars’).

As for the other crimes listed in the ICC Statute, environmental destruction of a nature and scale as to constitute ‘genocide’ cannot be completely ruled out of the Statute’s definition, but the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ appears to be far less amenable. This is not to say that the ICC would not relish an opportunity to expand on the notions contained in the Statute but with a quickly expanding case list and the requirement for it to consider only the gravest of international crimes it is unlikely to be doing so any time soon. Another point to remember regarding ICC jurisdiction at present is that it concerns only individual criminal responsibility (not states and not companies) and requires jurisdiction to be found on the basis of either treaty ratification or reference made via the Security Council – which all serve to limit severely the list of potential defendants.

In conclusion, this author is quite skeptical of the acceptance of a crime of ecocide at the international level, emanating either from existing peacetime obligations or from the adoption of a new treaty (or amendment to the ICC). This author does not believe that wartime protections of the environment offer value for the development of a peacetime concept of ecocide. Indeed, the three-fold threshold of harm coupled with the conjunction (i.e. widespread, long-term and severe) has severely incapacitated the applicability of that provision in wartime. Consequently, the wartime experience should serve as a warning to others who seek to adopt a three-fold threshold of harm when the simpler, one-word threshold of ‘severe’ damage can cover all dimensions of duration, breadth and severity of harm in a more flexible way.

[i] As it was more recently in the 2007 ICJ case concerning the Application of the Genocide Convention (Bosnia-Herzegovina v Yugoslavia).


Further reading on Ecocide is available via Polly Higgins‘ book, Eradicating Ecocide, the website of the Ecocide campaign, and the Ecocide information pack.

Alternative Agri-Food Networks in the Colchester area

Biodiverse meadows used to graze cattle for local markets near Maldon, Essex

Alternative Agri-Food Networks in the Colchester area and their contribution to  resilient communities

Ambra Sedlmayr [ambracsedl [at] gmail [dot] com] 

Background: Local and sustainable food sourcing initiatives in the Colchester area were surveyed to gain an understanding of the main opportunities and challenges to the development of alternative food sourcing strategies to build local resilience. A diversity of initiatives were identified and key informants were interviewed for each type of initiative. It was found that Alternative Agri-Food Network (AAFN) organisers perceive that lack of time and financial resources are the main factors limiting the promotion of AAFNs. They also believe that insufficient consumer awareness is a constraint to the spreading and deepening of AAFNs. Nevertheless, the recent development of a number of initiatives and the growing interest in local and sustainable food is promising for the future development of alternative food sourcing in the area, which is essential for developing more sustainable and resilient communities.

Ambra Sedlmayr

About the author: 

Ambra studied Biology at the University of Coimbra (Portugal). From there she moved on to conduct her postgraduate studies at the University of Essex (UK). At Essex she first completed the Masters degree in Environment, Science and Society, followed by a doctorate in Environmental Studies, focussing on the subject of agricultural marginalisation in Portugal.

Ambra’s research interests focus on the political, economic, social and psychological frontiers of conflict and tension, emerging between different ways of conceptualizing and realizing development. Her main research interest is on the maintenance and development of sustainable forms of agriculture and sustainable agricultural livelihoods in the context of  long standing and continuing pressures that drive agricultural industrialisation. Her research is intrinsically transdisciplinary and solution-orientated. Ambra is currently working for an international charity in the promotion of sustainable agriculture. She is still connected with the Centre of Functional Ecology at the University of Coimbra and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex.

Further publications: 

  • Sedlmayr, A. (2011). Agricultural marginalisation in Portugal: Threats and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, Colchester. PhD Thesis.
  • Sedlmayr, A. (2009). How does agricultural marginalisation come about? Presentation of a research paper at the Essex & Writtle “Sustainability and the Environment” Conference, Colchester.
  • Sedlmayr. A. (2008). The flooding of the foodshed. How cheap imports undermine local food systems in rural Portugal. Proceedings of the VII Iberic Conference of Rural Studies, Coimbra.
  • Sedlmayr, A. (2005). Factors affecting the Ecological and Economic viability of organic farming in central Portugal. Implications for the development of sustainable agriculture. Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, Colchester. Master’s Dissertation.

Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets

Upsetting the Offset. 2010. Edited by Steffen Böhm and Siddhartha Dabhi. Mayfly Books.

Upsetting the Offset engages critically with the political economy of carbon markets. It presents a range of case studies and critiques from around the world, showing how the scam of carbon markets affects the lives of communities. But the book doesn’t stop there. It also presents a number of alternatives to carbon markets which enable communities to live in real low-carbon futures.

Endorsement for Upsetting the Offset: 

  • “If you wondered whether capitalism could ever produce the perfect weapon of its own destruction, try this heady mix of carbon fuels, the trade in financial derivatives, and more than a dash of neo-colonialism, and boom! But this book is far from resigned to that fate. After examining the case against carbon trading… the book turns to alternatives, to hope, to sanity, and to the future.’ Professor Stefano Harney, Queen Mary, University of London 
  • “Anyone concerned about the future of the planet (is anyone not?) should read this book. The contributors give powerful evidence and argument to show that the carbon trading regimes favoured by the world’s elites will not work – and are, indeed, set to make things worse. But the message is not negative. There are alternatives, both effective and desirable.” Professor Ted Benton, University of Essex 
See more on the book on the publishers’ website.

Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures?

Abstract: Wastewater-fed aquaculture is generally in decline. The 12,500 ha East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) Ramsar site in peri-urban Kolkata, India, is the only large-scale formal system still operating and appears to demonstrate a high degree of resilience. This paper identifies aspects of wastewater-fed aquaculture in the EKW that contribute to its sustained operation. The Driving Forces, Pressures, State, Impact, Response (DPSIR) framework was used to structure the assessment. Resilience within the EKW can be attributed to the scale of operation, adaptive production strategies that optimise resource utilisation while minimising risks, self-organisation among stakeholders and timely legislation and institutional interventions to preserve the natural character of the wetlands. The introduction of externalising technologies, erosion of social capital and loss of traditional ecological knowledge threaten to undermine this resilience. Outcomes from this analysis should inform future management of the EKW to ensure that resilience is retained and enhanced.

Citation: Bunting S., Pretty J. and Edwards P. 2010. Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures? Reviews in Aquaculture 2(3): 138-153.

View text here.

Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems

Abstract: The emergent human cultures have shaped, and in turn been shaped by, local ecosystems. Yet humanity’s intense modification of the environment has resulted in dramatic worldwide declines in natural and cultural capital. Social-ecological systems are becoming more vulnerable through the disruption of livelihoods, governance, institutions, resources and cultural traditions. This paper reviews the environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged to seek solutions for conservation and maintenance of the resilience of social-ecological systems. It shows that a central component is engagement with the knowledges of people within their contexts. Local knowledges of nature (traditional, indigenous, local ecological knowledge and ecoliteracy) are used by place-based cultures to guide actions towards nature. The importance of new engagements between different knowledges is now becoming more widely recognized by scientific institutions. Yet there still exist many false dualisms (for example local knowledge versus science) which tend to emphasize a superiority of one over the other. Ecocultures retain or strive to regain their connections with the environment, and thus improve their own resilience. Revitalization projects offer ways to connect knowledge with action to produce optimal outcomes for both nature and culture, suggesting that systems can be redesigned by emphasis on incorporation of local and traditional knowledge systems.

Citation:  Jules Pretty (2011). Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems. Environmental Conservation, 38: 127-139.

View text here.