Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taylor, "How Do We Know..."

According to Taylor, the purpose of his article is to propose a different interpretation of the relationship between environmental science and politics and how his interpretation could impact the reconstruction of environmental science-politics.

In a sentence Taylor answers the question of ‘how do we know we have global environmental problems’ by stating that “we know we have global environmental problems because science documents the existing situation and ever tightens its predictions or proposed scenarios of future changes.” He explains that science supplies knowledge necessary to stimulate and guide social-political action and makes three propositions as to how we know these problems exist on a global scale:
1.They are constructed as such by scientists and political actors.
2.In environmental discourse both the moral and technocratic views of social action emphasize environmental problems as unitary rather than differentiating between cultural and national interests and the politics that ensue.
3.They (environmental scientists, political actors, etc) do not know most people do not have problems of a global nature.

Taylor develops his propositions by reviewing system dynamics computer modeling of global environmental, resource and climatic systems citing The Limits to Growth (LTG) study of the 1970s, the subsequent Mankind at the Turning Point study. The undifferentiated SD model of the world proposes that undesirable cycles of exponential growth and collapse are inevitable unless the structure of the system as a whole is changed. In order for change to occur, everyone from the local to the global act together to change the structure of population and production growth.

The difficulty lies in the construction of environmental science and environmental problems which involve multiple, interacting causes that contribute to its vulnerability to deconstruction by numerous parties with different and often conflicting interests. Even more recent global climate research utilizes the same discourse as the LTG which is dominated by physical and natural sciences that emphasize social change as a response to environmental change, ignores the differentiated politics and economics of socio-economic change that would propose a different response.

Taylor gives examples of unpredicted outcomes, unintended conflicts and unlikely coalitions that result from this modeling citing desforestation in Senegal, development of the Gambia river basin and conservation in Kenya. The lesson from these examples would be for environmental scientists and activists to position themselves with the new coalitions and conflicts and work from there so that all social actors are engaged.

Modeling environmental problems as global ignores the diverse ways that different groups experience problems which shapes their actions. It displaces the responsibility of environmental problems as they are in the third world to their society without recognizing who made them most vulnerable in the first place.

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