The Need for Objectivity

Why are Environmental Problems Difficult To Solve

An acute, but subtle and unrecognizable problem in society today is a slow move away from the idea that we live in a "rational" world, to an idea that the world can act arbitrarily. This can largely be attributed to the following:

  • Science has been tremendously devalued - it is not understood as a process. Science fiction often substitutes for reality.
  • People are losing the skill to distinguish between credible and incredible information sources.
  • People think we are a lot smarter than we really are and that problems have therefore been solved.

These issues are extremely relevant to environmental debate. If we all act arbitrarily and just "make-up" the relevant physics, then no convergence can be achieved.

If a newspaper headline says that 1 billion salmon are killed a day by Bonneville dam - most people will just believe that. In other words, a) number mean nothing to us and b) we have lost our desire to question authority and ask to see the data which means anyone can sell the public anything, these days.

There is an increasing tendency for everyone to act in their own self-interest. Again, if this is done in an arbitrary way it exacerbates the problem.

An uninformed public is both dangerous and largely useless. At a time when the public participation process in environmental decisions is increasingly important, we need a well-informed public so the process can really work.

Without an informed public we see the perpetuation of myth and the polarization of environmental issues. The value of objectivity with respect to environmental management lies in its ability for bring about convergence. There is nothing like good data to illuminate a problem and no data or bad data to make a problem worse.

Overarching principles for this course.

5. You will understand exponential growth!!!

Why is science important and not boring?

Science is a process whereby aspects of a problem are discovered. It is a process without answers but a process that points to the kinds of questions which should be asked. It is this process, as applied to particular environmental problems, that we will study during this term.

The fundamental problem:

Nominal World Population Clock

These people need energy and resources. Sustainable growth may be a myth but managing resources in an intelligent, responsible and long term way is not a myth. But to do that requires an understanding of basic scientific principles and methods of data acquisition and analysis.

Next Lecture Course Page