Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science

By Tim Forsyth | Go to book overview

8

Democratizing environmental explanations
This chapter now starts seeking solutions to some of the problems described in this book. So far, the book has outlined the problems of environmental science, and the difficulties of explaining environmental degradation without also reflecting social and political framings. But is it possible to explain environmental problems in ways that do not reflect politics? How can scientific practices be reformed to overcome the problems of environmental “myths” (or environmental orthodoxies) that have been shown to be inaccurate and unhelpful in so many contexts?The chapter will:
• summarize new approaches to environmental explanation that acknowledge the institutional basis on which causal or truth statements are built. These “institutional” approaches to explanation may be considered more democratic than the generalizations of orthodox environmental science because they reveal the tacit politics contained within causal statements, and allow greater possibility for reframing explanations in favor of localities or under-represented social groups.
• present case studies of institutional science, and how these might allow forms of scientific progress by demonstrating the errors of environmental orthodoxies. Institutional forms of explanation may provide a middle ground between the inaccurate generalizations of orthodox science, and the more phenomenological accounts of local environmental problems many scientists fear are relativist and non-generalizable.
• discuss the implications of such alternative forms of explanation for debates about scientific realism and the status of “global” environmental problems. Democratizing environmental explanations in favor of localities does not suggest championing “local” above “global” concerns. Instead, the aim is to acknowledge how existing explanations reflect different framings, and to seek ways of addressing global problems that are more relevant to the concerns of local people.

This chapter therefore contributes to a “critical” political ecology by proposing means by which the tacit politics within scientific analysis may

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