Hard Choices for the Future: Role of Evidence and Power in Environmental Decision-making

By Kerry Burton.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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This paper discusses environmental evidence based decision-making with reference to two critical areas of concern for mankind in the 21st century, climate change and resource shortage. It is widely agreed that the evidence should be both scientific knowledge with the qualifications of honesty, relevance, accessible and neutral (as far as possible), and lay knowledge which provides valuable stakeholder insights and allows cultural and social factors to be discussed. Critically important in the decision-making process are the pivotal roles of interpreters who facilitated understanding between knowledge providers and decision-makers, and also the acquisition of power by groups and individuals.
Evidence for environmental decisions is usually incomplete, complex, lacking certainty and multidisciplinary in nature. When this evidence base includes competing and opposing arguments and the use of discourse management may aid resolution between opposing groups. However if the gap between opposing arguments cannot be bridged then disputes arise, sometimes between environmental groups, ‘Green vs. Green’ disputes, for instance whether to install low carbon energy generation technology and how this effects wildlife, biodiversity and the landscape. Politicians then make Hard Choices based on assessment of evidence and power judgements of the arguments. This paper discusses the themes of evidence, role of interpreters, and acquisition of power in the decision-making process with reference to biofuels and low carbon energy generation (wind turbines). Despite the apocalyptic thinking associated with climate change, the behaviour of individuals has changed little, however resource shortage (energy-security) has become politically important and has changed the power dynamics in favour of renewable and low carbon technologies.

Keywords: Governance, Evidence Based Decision-making, Regulation of Science, Climate Change, NGO, Contested Facts, Alternative Energy, Peak Oil, Biofuel, Wind Turbine, Energy Security

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.55-64. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.564MB).

Dr. Kerry Burton

Senior Lecturer, Warwick HRI, The University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

I am an active biological researcher, Senior Lecture of Applied Microbiology and a PI at Warwick HRI. I have 30 years research experience in biochemistry and molecular genetics and developmental biology of fungi and plants. My research interests are in bioconversion, and fungal responses to nutrition and environmental and biotic stresses. Gene function has been characterised by silencing, expression profiling and promoter analysis. Current projects are using a transcriptomic approach to examine the transcriptional regulation of fungal morphogenesis and host responses to viral infection, and the development of a new concept biorefinery degrading the lignocellulose. I have spun out a company to produce therapeutic proteins in mushrooms. I am course leader for an MSc ‘Plant Bioscience for Crop Production’ and lead the module for ‘Bioscience, Politics and Social Acceptability’.