Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taylor: "How Do We Know We Have Global Environmental Problems?"

In “How do we know we have global environmental problems?” Taylor suggests a simple answer to this question: we have scientific evidence. He then points out that evidence is not good enough. Science is set up so a person can use science to question science. It allows for people to argue about methodologies and in doing so allows openings for policymakers to dodge unpopular decisions due to the necessary incompleteness of the science of environmentalists. Taylor argues that social dimensions, like politics, are deeply intermixed within the workings of environmental science. The way in which the science is created is a primary problem. There are many different factors such as, the topic chosen for research or the methodology can be heavily influenced by politics. For example, if someone wanted to do research on climate change and was funded by an oil company, that person would probably avoid pointing a finger at the corporation that funded them. Obviously, there are many motives for portraying environmental data in specific ways.


In studies such as the LTG, in which a program was used to model the world’s population, economy, and climate, and said that the system would end in a collapse, the program used lacked the structure to encompass local differentiation in social factors, such as resource distribution.
Unfortunately, the data resulting in studies like this fails to gain the support of the masses. This is because it is presented in a way that tries to unite people by suggesting that everyone has the same interests in the environment. The fact is that they do not. Because there are social classes and resources are unequally distributed, the most pressing immediate concern of a farmer is very different from that of a businessman, and both are radically different from the interests of environmental scientists.

A growing problem with the advocacy of global environmental policies is that the intended outcomes of, for example, deforestation in Africa end up in causing more harm to the local people than good. Not paying attention to local politics can cause harm to people, thereby turning them off from environmental policy and data altogether.

For the most part, I agree with Taylor’s view that without incorporating the social aspect with the hard science, you are missing out on the meat of the problem associated with environmental policies. Also, I really began to think about politics and how much they really do affect the decisions people make aside from environmental issues. For example, if you are an anthropologist doing ethnographic fieldwork in a different country and the country has given you permission to be there, you would probably try hard not to portray the country in a negative fashion for fear that they would kick you out. The politics of personal advantage play into science, despite the assertion by many of the sciences, natural and social, that they do pure empirical research. No matter what they say, science exists in society, and to divorce one from the other will simply result in ignorance of the relationships that exist whether you want them to or not. I also agree that instead of simply criticizing the scientific data, some sort of dialogue needs to develop between natural scientists and the social scientists, so they can identify some of the flaws in approaching this issue with the limited views that would result from ignorance of the other discipline. The environmental crisis is not only empirical, but also immensely social and political, and to pour our resources into the gathering of ‘empirical’ data to the exclusion of institutional analysis is misguided at best.


  1. I agree with Rebecka when she said that people are concerned about different aspects of the environment. I probably have different worries than a farmer does. I know that when it comes to climate change I'm worried about the poor polar bears more than I'm worried about extra snow in the winter or warmer temperatures in the summer.

    I know that if I were a scientist I would probably focus on that in my studies and ignore other things so in a way I can understand why scientists manipulate their research to benefit them and their companies. I can't say that I wouldn't do the same thing if I were given the opportunity. I'm not saying that I would lie about things but I would probably omit things that I viewed as unimportant to my original study. I am an American after all...and isn't that the American way?

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  3. When you say, “Science is set up so a person can use science to question science” I disagree here. What I believe is that science is set up so people can use it to test theories, nature, and the evolution of things. What I do agree with Taylor and your understanding of the article is that the production of honest scientific theory and research has had many different problems. Some of these being for political or personal gain as well as policy makers dodging decision making due to the “incompleteness of the science of the environmentalist.” The problem is, in some ways, dependent on funding outside of the federal government, especially, those of corporations with “special” interests. What is also crucial to environmental science, is the data in studies that wish to gain support of the masses.
    In the LTG study mentioned what makes this less successful that it could and can be, was the system’s ability to look at “local differentiation in social factors.”
    The other problem sharing the data was that as a study it fails to gain momentum. This is because resources that people use and social classes also known as castes, were unequal. So how can we fix this? First I agree as well that we must take the different interests of the business person and farm worker seriously, and speak to them at the level of the heart. That is epeaking to the things that concern them. So that their issues are also being taken care of aside from the interests of environmentalists.
    The relationship between people and science is a fascinating one. One without the other, to me as well, would make for more incomplete research. I would love to examine his views against some of Marx and I’m sure others. Nice post, thank you for being clear in helping me to understand all of this information.

  4. I agree with the statements above. People that get funding for companies, do tend to ignore and or manipulate their findings to make it seem like they are not having that much impact on the environment. Although i do have to say that it is also hard to tell who is doing what. This is because, as human beings we are ignorant about what we do until someone realizes and points out that we are having an effect on other species of animals and the environment.
    Do we have proof that the world is changing? Yeah we do, but as for the factors that caused it we don't. Personally, i think we do have a global environment problem, but instead of pointing fingers at who did it, we should suck it up and work together to try and fix it.

  5. Well from the comments listed above I believe that our environmental situation attracts enough attention but the issue again lies in the attempt to do something productive about it. I will be honest, I do care that our world is quickly becoming worse, but is that enough for someone to get up and take action on reducing problems and to lend a so called green hand. I agree with the comments posted above about how we are ignorant and its embarrassing to admit that though some people do have a care for what is going on, the problem may be too overwhelming or too unapproachable to the naive eye and thus produces a lack of active participation and interest.