Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science

By Tim Forsyth | Go to book overview

2

Environmental science and myths
This chapter outlines the key problems addressed by this book. The chapter will:
summarize some of the uncertainties associated with many definitions and explanations of environmental degradation commonly discussed as “fact” by politicians, activists, and in the media. Perhaps surprisingly, the explanations associated with these so-called problems are sometimes highly uncertain and contested by a variety of scientific research and local experience.
discuss the impacts of such contested explanations on attempts to manage environmental problems, and on the livelihoods of people accused of causing problems. Some environmental policies adopted to address “problems” may actually not address the underlying causes of biophysical changes, and, in some cases, policies may unnecessarily interfere with livelihood strategies. The problems of desertification, soil erosion, and deforestation are summarized as examples.
introduce the concept of “environmental orthodoxies” to describe common explanations of environmental problems that are considered to be simplistic and inaccurate. Some writers have also called these “myths.” The chapter discusses how far such explanations can reasonably be called “science” or “myths” and explains how a focus on these problems does not mean supporting destructive land uses, but a greater attention to how science can engage with environmental problems.

This chapter therefore introduces the book's central theme of showing that many supposedly “factual” explanations of environmental problems are highly problematic and overlook both biophysical uncertainties and how people value environmental changes in various ways. The aim of this discussion is not to deny the existence of environmental problems, nor to legitimize destructive practices. Instead, there is a need to understand the complex social and political influences upon how we explain environmental problems, and then see such explanations as factual. A “critical” political ecology achieves these objectives, and offers the chance to con-

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