Nature's Experts: Science, Politics and the Environment

Nature's Experts: Science, Politics and the Environment

Nature's Experts: Science, Politics and the Environment

Nature's Experts: Science, Politics and the Environment

Synopsis

Explores the contributions and challenges presented when scientific authority enters the realm of environmental affairs. Practical examples and case studies illustrate that science must be relevant, credible, and democratic.

Excerpt

Most people see it as self-evident that scientific knowledge is relevant to environmental affairs. Scientists study the global climate system, identifying signs of a warming world. A forestry agency uses science when deciding how much timber can be cut each year. Environmental organizations marshal data to demonstrate that a pollutant is toxic and must be controlled. Biotechnology firms manipulate the DNA of crops in hopes of creating new markets for seeds and pesticides. Environmental politics may be replete with conflicting interests and attitudes, but all parties appear to agree, at least, that science is essential.

And yet, never has the relation of science to environmental politics been as actively debated as it is today. Observers cite countless issues that lack resolution—from global climate change to neighborhood contaminants—even after decades of research. Scientists provide multiple views of problems, unable to agree on what advice to offer. Science is widely viewed as too closely tied to powerful interests, especially in industry and government. According to some critics, the act itself of defining environmental problems as scientific hinders consideration of their political and economic dimensions—especially inequalities of power and wealth.

This book is about science in environmental politics: how it contributes to resolving environmental problems; and how, frequently enough, its contribution is ineffective or heedless of people's concerns. Many scholars have examined science and politics in recent years, and I draw on this work. However, this book also makes a distinctive contribution to the discussion. In the first chapter, I begin by taking a walk in New York City, demonstrating how issues of science and politics are all around us. I then examine various aspects of environmental affairs: the role of science as a source of authority, the connections between science and environmental values, and the contribution of science to natural resources management, international environmental issues, and decisions about risks. Most studies of science in environmental politics focus on just one aspect—say, international issues, or risk. I argue, in contrast, that there are elements . . .

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