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Nature's Experts

Nature's Experts: Science, Politics, and the Environment

Stephen Bocking
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Nature's Experts
    Book Description:

    "With clarity and grace, Stephen Bocking tackles the complicated question of the role of scientific expertise in environmental policy making. Nature's Experts is a timely and important book."-David H. Guston, author of Between Politics and Science: Assuring the Integrity and Productivity of Research

    "This book by Stephen Bocking is as much about deliberative democracy as it is about science and the environment. Stephen Bocking's treatment is deep, perceptive, and profoundly wise. He has caught the heart of present and future environmental science, politics, and democratic governance."-C. S. Holling, The Resilience Alliance and emeritus professor, Arthur R. Marshall Jr. Chair in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida

    "If knowledge is power, how should expert advice be deployed by a would-be democratic society? This perennial question is newly illuminated by this timely and wide-ranging review of the role played by science in the making of environmental policy."-William C. Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government

    It seems self-evident that science plays a central role in environmental affairs. Regulatory agencies, businesses, and public interest groups all draw on scientific research to support their claims. Some critics, however, describe science not as the solution to environmental problems, but as their source. Moreover, the science itself is often controversial, as debates over global warming and environmental health risks have shown.

    Nature's Experts explores the contributions and challenges presented when scientific authority enters the realm of environmental affairs. Stephen Bocking focuses on four major areas of environmental politics: the formation of environmental values and attitudes, management of natural resources such as forests and fish, efforts to address international environmental issues such as climate change, and decisions relating to environmental and health risks. In each area, practical examples and case studies illustrate that science must fulfill two functions if it is to contribute to resolving environmental controversies. First, science must be relevant and credible, and second, it must be democratic, where everyone has access to the information they need to present and defend their views.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5766-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I Introduction

    • Chapter 1 Encountering Science and Politics
      (pp. 3-15)

      Environmental matters are widely seen as matters of science. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Environment Agency, Environment Canada, and other such agencies invest in scientific research, obtain advice from scientific committees, and assure interest groups that their decisions are based on science; regulations they administer usually define the environment in terms—parts per billion, cases of cancer per million—requiring measurement and interpretation by scientists. Environmentalists, although sometimes ambivalent about the effects of science and technology, in practice draw heavily on scientific expertise: national environmental organizations recruit professional scientific talent, while community groups solicit volunteer scientists from the...

    • Chapter 2 The Uncertain Authority of Science
      (pp. 16-44)

      When we want to know more about the state of the earth, or of a city, we start by asking scientists. It is their views, on topics ranging from the ecology of clean water to the health consequences of lead, that we accept most readily as reliable and useful. This is interesting, because scientists are certainly not the only source of knowledge about the environment. Activists and policymakers engage daily in environmental affairs, while other experts—political scientists, sociologists, and environmental historians, among others—devote careers to understanding how and why we consume, protect, and argue over our environment. And...

  5. Part II Science and Politics in Environmental Affairs

    • Chapter 3 Science and Environmental Values
      (pp. 47-74)

      As we were driving across America in the summer of 2002, my kids and I stopped at a rest area on Interstate 90 in Wisconsin. There we found a plaque celebrating “The Nation’s Hardest-Working River”:

      From its source at Lac Vieux Desert to the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, the Wisconsin River descends 1,071 feet in 430 miles. Twenty-six power dams utilize 640 feet of the fall of the river to produce an annual average of one billion kilowatt hours of electrical energy. The Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, created after passage of state enabling legislation in 1907, operates a...

    • Chapter 4 Science and Natural Resources Management
      (pp. 75-105)

      The Ocean Sciences Center occupies a spectacular site on a rocky promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, north of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Inside, oceanographers and fisheries scientists work on making sense of the North Atlantic, charting a course to the sustainable use of its resources. But when I visited in 1997 I could not avoid another, more disconcerting impression. Five years before, in 1992, the cod fishery had collapsed, and thousands of Newfoundlanders had lost their jobs on fishing boats and in processing plants. The center’s exhibits discussed this collapse and reviewed several possible explanations for what had happened. But there...

    • Chapter 5 Science and the Global Environment
      (pp. 106-134)

      No one has ever seen the greenhouse effect. But most agree that carbon dioxide and other trace gases trap the sun’s heat, and unusually hot summer days are no longer just the weather, but harbingers of a changing climate. Such has been the recent impact of climate science on our attitudes. Nor has anyone ever looked through a hole in the stratospheric ozone layer. But all agree that CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) catalyze the breakdown of ozone, allowing ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth’s surface. Negotiations on eliminating CFCs began soon after scientists had confirmed this phenomenon. These perceptions and responses illustrate...

    • Chapter 6 Science in a Risky World
      (pp. 135-160)

      Achanging climate raises expectations of hotter summers, flooded coastlines, disrupted agriculture, tropical disease. It is a worrying prospect, but a distant one. Other hazards can seem far more immediate—indeed, as near as the next person coughing. In 2003, many countries experienced such a hazard, in the form of a new illness—Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The experience can tell us much about the science and politics of risk.

      SARS first appeared in November 2002 in Guangdong Province, China, perhaps transferred from a farm animal. Highly contagious, often deadly, it spread rapidly. In late February 2003 a doctor...

  6. Part III Seeking Effective and Democratic Science

    • Chapter 7 Credible and Effective Science
      (pp. 163-198)

      The preceding chapters have presented a contradictory image of scientific knowledge. On the one hand, this knowledge is clearly essential: we need to know about the world and what we are doing to it if we are to protect ourselves and other species. Without this knowledge we would still be harvesting forests oblivious to the impact on endangered species, heedlessly producing CFCs that erode the ozone layer, and spewing countless contaminants—invisible, but toxic—into lakes and rivers. Investments in environmental science over the last several decades, and the accumulation of environmental laws invoking scientific knowledge, testify to this view...

    • Chapter 8 Democratic Environmental Science
      (pp. 199-225)

      InSilent Spring, Rachel Carson indicted not just pesticides and their “unthinking bludgeoning” of the environment, but the institutions that allow this violence.¹ Too often, she argued, decisions were made not by those with broad knowledge of their consequences, or by citizens, but by experts in the Department of Agriculture and the chemical industry, especially economic entomologists, who refused to consider even the possibility of alternatives. It was time, therefore, for everyone else to have their say: for the “millions to whom beauty and the ordered world of nature still have a meaning that is deep and imperative” to pay...

    • Chapter 9 Achieving Effective and Democratic Science
      (pp. 226-228)

      The problem might be stated as a riddle: How can science be part of the political process, and yet separate? To restate in a slightly expanded form: How can we ensure that scientific research provides the information we need to pursue our environmental values and priorities (whether these relate to exploitation or to protection) without science itself becoming subject to the conflicts and controversies of environmental politics? We know, at least, that science cannot contribute simply by isolating itself, dispensing insights into environmental problems while remaining fixed on the objective pursuit of truth as defined by scientists. There are no...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 229-264)
  8. References
    (pp. 265-288)
  9. Index
    (pp. 289-298)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-300)