Science and Discourse in Environmental Management
Escobar (1996) speaks of a term ‘techno-science’ which entails an evolution of human scientific endeavors. Science has moved forward in the ‘management’ of nature in a way that separates nature from its organic origins. In the scientific age, we manipulated forests in a way that produced ease in extraction for human purposes, for example tree farms. We changed the way in which trees naturally form spatially and even temporally, in order to meet resource needs. In the ‘techno-science’ age, we have moved beyond such ‘simple’ manipulations to genetically modifying species so that they further meet our desires. We now manipulate fruits and vegetables to meet such extraneous desires, and further depart from an ‘organic’ nature.
Such manipulation is in line with the dominant western scientific worldview that sees nature as something to be manipulated and managed. Such a management view has come to dominate not only the West, but also the developing world where potential lies for alternative forms of viewing nature. Escobar (1996) posits that ‘sustainable development’ is yet another form of nature appropriation that solidifies the western mindset at a global scale. While SD discourse may seem harmless, the values that form the base of such a theory are based on a particular human-environment understanding, thus proliferating such a worldview at the expense of alternative knowledges. This critique of SD is critical at such a juncture where more governments are disillusioned with the promises of such a strategy.
Forsyth (2003) goes further and describes the importance of social framings in environmental management. In many cases, the environment is managed in a way that environmental problems are determined according to preconceived ‘framings’ or understandings, which are laden with underlying values and assumptions, thus promoting a strand of particular policies that support the dominant understanding. The discourse of such framings is accompanied by a set of language that promotes the particular dominant view. For example, Forsyth uses the example of ‘deforestation’. At face value, it implies a negative connotation leading the hearer to develop a particular cognitive understanding to what is being applied. However, a straightforward definition of deforestation simply involves the removal of trees, without any negative connotations or whether the removal of the trees is due to destructive human activity or perhaps natural cyclical environmental processes. Therefore, the discourse or framing of discussions around deforestation entail a particular perspective. This perspective becomes dominant as it promotes certain policies that strengthen the base assumptions. In the case of deforestation, the underlying assumption is that it is bad and should be avoided in order to promote stability within a forest ecosystem. This leads to another key point of Forsyth in which much environmental policy is based on such a commitment to equilibrium ecology, despite the fact that much modern critique promotes non-equilibrium within nature.
Forsyth is quick to point out that such criticisms are not to remove merit from claims concerning environmental degradation, but instead he promotes a reframing of environmental ‘crises’ as to encapsulate place-based perspectives that can then formulate appropriate policy measures that avoid discrimination or inequality. A harmful example would be forest policies framed around the protection of ‘wild’ nature, thus promoting national parks while excluding indigenous use of such areas. Such a policy will be seen as socially and economically harmful, and even unnecessary, yet further promotes the hegemonic western perspective. It may be more appropriate to frame the problem in terms of sustainable forestry use, and then create options for conservation and preservation with an appropriate starting point. But such a reframing is difficult within a global culture that is already dominated by a particular framing and where decision makers are unwilling to consider alternative viewpoints.
Escobar, A. (1996). Whose Knowledge, Whose nature? Biodiversity, Conservation and the Political Ecology of Social Movements. Journal of Political Ecology, 5, 53-82.
Forsyth, T. (2003). Critical Political Ecology: The politics of environmental Science. London and New York: Routledge Press.