Material Society and the Science-Policy Interface in Environmental Decision-Making: Understanding Risk and Mercury Pollution Policy in Canada 1995 to 2005
Lourie, Bruce Allan
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The intrinsic conflict investigated herein is that on the one hand, scientific evidence is required as a basis for environmental policy decisions; however, socio-economic and political dimensions of risk dominate decision-making to the point where risk is no longer situated in the realm of science but rather as a social construct within the political economy. The science-policy interface is therefore a complex network of social, political, economic, historical and scientific factors. Ulrich Becks risk society provides the dominant theoretical framework used to present the research and findings. A case is presented that governments in Canada have failed to manage environmental risks due to a reliance on conventional regulatory risk management approaches that assume risk is a calculable, objective, technical exercise, whereas it is in fact a product of economic material society interests; largely the extractive resource sector, and designed to maintain status quo economic activity. The research draws upon the idea of two conflicting pathways that appear to underpin challenges in environmental policy decisions. One is the recognition that ecosystem science is inherently complex and uncertain, that humans have altered fundamental ecosystem functions, and that we are living in a world risk society where humans are the uncertainty within risk. This is contrasted with the second idea, namely that Canada is trapped in the material society epoch where a political economy deeply rooted in a resource-dependent staples economy thwarts environmental policy choices that threaten economic interests. The dissertation investigates these tensions within the science-policy interface applied to toxic substances management. The findings of the research highlight the presence of two dominant paradigms described as the economic risk paradigm and the adaptive precautionary paradigm, and the extent to which the followers of these paradigms adhere to a set of beliefs and practices that align with material society and risk society. This policy dichotomy has created a conflict contributing to environmental policy incoherence in Canada, exhibited by weak decision-making and a loss of credibility in the environmental policy system; challenging the fundamentals of theoretical sustainable development. Contemporary environmental policy failures such as Canadas climate change policies can be explained by this analysis.