The recent discussion on another thread on this blog re concerns about local collaboration reminded me of this op-ed by Erica Rosenberg on the Dangers of Collaboration in the Christian Science Monitor op-ed a while back. I remember because I wrote a letter to the editor that got published (good) but frankly, writing within the number of word limits for letters to the editor does not add much to dialogue, IMHO.
“After years of being tarred as obstructionist ideologues, some environmental groups now have a seat at the negotiating table. Enjoying their newfound popularity, these self-appointed decisionmakers become heavily invested in reaching an accord, regardless of the science, the law, or the long-term effect on the land.”
It sounds like the author is saying 1) if local environmentalists negotiate with others in local collaborative groups they can be “wrong” (which raises the question in my mind “if national groups negotiate nationally with the Executive Branch, can they be “wrong” also?”), 2) the local groups would know less or care less about the “science”, 3) local people know less or care less about the long-term effect on the land. Caring less about the land seems difficult to understand; isn’t NIMBY a real phenomenon we’ve all experienced? This seems to be a paradox; thus, perhaps, we need to dig deeper.
I would also observe that the unpleasant consequences of the uncertainty related to protracted court decision-making tend to fall entirely on the local people, so that they have a stronger interest in making a decision and moving on. These costs are not borne by national groups, who simply tend to move on to other things, and then show up in the next act of the glacially-paced courtroom drama.
In my experience, local environmental groups usually know more and care more about a particular piece of land and what is being done. Let’s go to Dan Kemmis on this as he is infinitely more articulate than I, in this article Science’s Role in Natural Resource Decisions in the journal “Issues of Science and Technology.”
To add to what Kemmis says, in my experience, local knowledge is valuable in resolving natural resource disputes- because you are arguing about facts, not broad philosophies. I once spoke on a panel (a Festschrift for Gene Namkoong at UBC) with a medical ethicist. He said that while people had strongly held philosophies about what to do with patients and what was right or wrong, when it came to specific cases in the hospital, there was much more agreement. When I taught Environmental Ethics, my text was by Joseph DesJardins Environmental Ethics: an introduction to environmental philosophy.
In the epilogue, (in the third edition) DesJardins talks about his real world experience in dealing with a community environmental problem.
No one got what they wanted and neither side “won.” Yet, as one member pointed out, the real winner was democratic citizenship. People came together, argued, debated and eventually found common ground. The compromise “worked” in the sense that most everyone concluded that they could live with it. In a democracy- indeed, in any situation in which diverse perspectives conflict- it is unrealistic, unreasonable and perhaps unfair to expect or desire one side completely to triumph over others. This is, in many ways, the “pragmatic” solution.
DesJardins goes on to discuss the arguments of supporters and critics of “environmental pragmatism.”
So, we could ask, is this ultimately a deep philosophical divide between pragmatists and others?
Is there a feeling that locals (westerners, in the case above, or rural people or ?), can’t quite be trusted to arrive at the “right” conclusions?
When people negotiate to end wars, or for trade agreements, we never talk about there being a “right answer” and a “wrong answer.” We would just like to have the disputes settled and move on. Why are natural resource conflicts on the public lands different, or are they?
Lots of places to go with this one, but I think it is fundamental to our forest planning world and worth exploring.