Monday, November 1st, 2010
Right up there with climate change, biodiversity conservation is one of the most challenging issues at the intersection of nature and culture. Part of this challenge arises because of genuine differences in how people value other species.
In an interesting forthcoming article in Conservation Biology, Chris Sandbrook and colleagues at Cambridge University argue that these value differences not only show up in society at large, but among conservation professionals, who—like climate scientists—are drawn to the possibility of developing scientific consensuses to inform policy debates:
Conservation biology has been called a crisis science and a mission-driven discipline. Both the mission, and its urgency, seem clear, and there has been a substantial increase in activities intended to address the rapid decline in the variety of life on Earth at all levels of biological organization (structure, composition, and function). Nevertheless, there are tensions within the field about the values that underpin the conservation mission, particularly concerning the nature and singularity of these values and the role of values when conservation professionals try to inform or influence policy.
Recently, the values held by conservation professionals themselves have been debated. Conservation professionals often refer to both instrumental values (the usefulness of nature for humans) and noninstrumental or intrinsic values, and there may be an element of opportunism when they do so. Thus, although some may privately base the positions they hold on intrinsic values, they may espouse use-value arguments in public, adapting arguments to the interests of their audience. Some call for conservation scientists to return to a conservation ethic derived from intrinsic values
…[Others] propose a more pragmatic engagement with material values of nature in their focus on what they see as the “hard socioeconomic realities in real-world conservation problems.” The environmental philosophy of pragmatism, with its acceptance of both intrinsic and instrumental values of nature, is the hallmark of adaptive management
To study values held by conservationists, the research team posed a set of values to scientists and asked them to rank the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with the statements (Q methodology). The responses were then run through a set of statistics (factor analysis) to distill the huge pile of value-by-person data into four overarching factors that summarized the main values held.
Their results suggest that consensus building may not only be difficult, it may be counterproductive…
Posted in biodiversity science, communication and framing, environmental ethics, nature and culture, policy, population, race and class, science advocacy, social science, sustainable development | No Comments »
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
An interesting exchange happened yesterday at the NY Times. Climate scientist James Hansen wrote a column, Cap and Fade, which, as the name suggests, is critical of cap and trade policies for mitigating climate warming.
In his blog, Paul Krugman responded with an article, Unhelpful Hansen, in which he takes readers through a basic primer of C taxes and cap and trade, arguing that they are basically the same and that Hansen is wrong for trashing what may end up being the best available approach.
Most of this is the kind of policy play-by-play that dominates daily blog traffic. However, one of Krugman’s paragraphs caught my eye:
Things like this often happen when economists deal with physical scientists; the hard-science guys tend to assume that we’re witch doctors with nothing to tell them, so they can’t be bothered to listen at all to what the economists have to say, and the result is that they end up reinventing old errors in the belief that they’re deep insights. Most of the time not much harm is done. But this time is different.
Although this may not be an entirely fair criticism of Hansen (I have no idea what his formal training in economics is), it is interesting to see the implied call for better transdisciplinary understanding. Social scientists have a responsibility to call out natural scientists for being naive when they wade around in social issues (and vice versa). Although most of us are trained as disciplinarians, this is why it’s good to stretch ourselves and really understand perspectives and theory from fields with which we are not traditionally affiliated—as any good Environmental Studies program should do. Most of the time it makes us better teachers and scholars. And more humble about what we know and don’t know.
Specialization and expertise have their limitations, and, as Krugman points out, in some cases, they can be downright counterproductive.
Thursday, October 15th, 2009
In the latest issue of Conservation Biology, Nelson and Vucetich1,2 tackle the thorny issue of whether scientists can/should also be environmental advocates. This is one of the better, more philosophical, analyses I have seen.
For scientists worried that advocacy undercuts credibility, this piece may allay your concerns. I recommend reading the whole article (it’s a rich analysis).
Here’s the conclusion as a short excerpt: