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Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science

By Tim Forsyth | Go to book overview

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Political ecology and the politics of environmental science

Abraham Lincoln once remarked that anyone who enjoys eating sausages and using the law should avoid seeing how either is made. The same can be said about many of the scientific “laws” and principles underlying environmental policy and debates today. This book is about why we should treat these apparent environmental “laws” with concern, and instead seek a more accurate and politically aware approach to environmental explanation. The book's key purpose is to show how we need to see the evolution of environmental facts and knowledge as part of the political debate, rather than as a pre-prepared basis from which to start environmental debate.

The time has never been better for reevaluating the political basis of environmental explanations. Few days go by without media reports of environmental crisis. Unusual weather events are taken as evidence of irreversible and catastrophic climate change. Increasingly complex environmental policies and agreements are being agreed, with progressively more control over different aspects of our lives. Inexorably, we seem to slip toward the “Risk Society” of Ulrich Beck (1992), in which lives and politics are organized around the avoidance of risk. Yet, in environmental terms at least, the causal basis of environmental risk, and the implications of proposed solutions to risk, are far from clear.

This book seeks to provide this reevaluation of environmental science by considering the intricate ways in which science and politics are mutually related. This project does not refer to conventional political debates such as public access to scientific information, or the ability to communicate scientific findings to policy. Instead, the project is to develop a political philosophy of environmental science that indicates how social and political framings are woven into both the formulation of scientific explanations of environmental problems, and the solutions proposed to reduce them.

Thus, when Michael Zammit Cutajar, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commented that: “The science has driven the politics…if the science is to continue guiding the politics, it is essential to keep the politics out of the science” (2001:1), he adopted the classic position that environmental science is somehow disconnected from environmental values and politics. This book

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