Tim Forsyth, the LSE’s Senior Lecturer in Environment and Development, cuts an interesting figure, both challenging and reassuring, mixing the inquisitiveness of the scientist and the certainty of the academic. His class on the Politics of Sustainable Development was a far cry from the environmental Doomsday scenarios we have become accustomed to today. In a nutshell, he put forward the Orthodox vs. Constructivist approach to sustainable development:
- The former is firmly rooted in physical sciences’ method, arguing that scientific knowledge about the environment (and the effects on it by human activity) should inform the way we develop policies. Its commonly heard views include: Land Use Cover Change (LUCC); concerns about commercialization and the environmental impact of economic growth; and the separation of science and politics.
- The latter stems instead from the social sciences, and looks at the social influences of how truth claims are made. More specifically, constructivists argue that ideas about the environment (and how to deal with it) are a historical product, and reflect the cultural context in which they were developed – close to home, for example, Tuscany is thought of as an untouched paradise, when in fact it’s an entirely man-made environment and its aesthetic qualities are clearly a construct.
This raises some crucial questions:
- Are scientists – even if subconsciously – feeding us information which is in fact political in nature?
- Are we being fed images of ‘truth’ to legitimize other policies – for example a preservation of the natural ‘beauties’ of the South to maintain the current economic supremacy of the North?
- Are we living inside the Matrix?
- If so, should I take the blue pill or the red pill?
This really calls into question a lot of assumptions about what we think we know about the environment, something I personally feel very strongly about. I need to ask myself: are my strong feelings on the matter a social construct themselves?
But if this is the case, what stops us from relativizing absolutely everytruth we know? This has even more far-reaching ethical consequence. Relativism is the best breeding ground for extremisms of all sorts: when no truth holds, it is the one that asserts itself with more strength that prevails. If applied for example to religion in politics, we already know what the consequences of this situation might be.
Food for thought and heated debate…
Meanwhile, I have done some blog-hopping on the subject, and via Margot Wallstrom’s blog, which has just posted an entry on Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, I came across this interesting blog on climate change. Worth keeping an eye on.