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Paul R. Ehrlich Environmental Science Input to Public Policy A N EARLY VERSION OF THE AG ENDA OF THE CONFERENCE ON POLITICS and science at the New School stated: “Public policy is determ ined through careful balancing of various interests, including science.” The m eaning of this statem ent was somewhat obscure—what, for example, is the “interest” of science and w hat sort of entity is “science”? But I suppose it represents the view that a balancing of inputs from scientists or a consensus of the scientific com m unity and those of other inter­ ested parties enters at an appropriate level into the form ation of policy. That level, in my view, is as far as possible supplying a factual back­ ground that should be taken into account w hen values enter the mix in the formulation of policy. But if that is the case, it is crystal clear that in the area of environm ental policy the statem ent is very often dead wrong. Indeed, it is easy to come up w ith examples in which scientific input has not been given rem otely the attention it deserves in policy formation, while there are other cases in which such input, at the very least, has pointed policy in the right direction. I will first look in some detail at a sample of what I and most of my colleagues would consider the m any failures to consider the scientific input and draw appropriate conclusions, such as in population policy. Then I will examine briefly some successes and partial successes, such as the Clean Air Act. Finally, I will see what m ight be said about why the failures have been worse in some areas than others, and why in some circumstances the level of scientific input was recognized and taken seriously. social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2006 915 SCIENTIFIC INPUT IGNORED OR UNDERVALUED Egregious exam ples w here the inputs o f science to environm ental policy have been given too little weight or were totally overwhelmed by other inputs are easy to come by. Perhaps m ost dramatic is the total lack of population policy in w hat m ight be considered the w orld’s m ost overpopulated nation, the United States of America (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1989b; 1990; 1991). A nation of 300 million people (third larg­ est in the world), w ith by far the highest level of per capita consump­ tion of any large nation and heavily dependent on imports, should have population policy at the top of its list. The life support systems around the world being destroyed to support that consumption, of course, are also those that will be required to support future generations—includ­ ing those in the United States. Population size and grow th rate are largely absent not only from policy but from public discourse, even though virtually every environ­ m ental problem nationally and globally is exacerbated by population growth, as the scientific com m unity has repeatedly pointed out (Brown, 1954; Daily et al., 1998; Ehrlich, 1968; Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 2005; Ehrlich and Holdren, 1971; National Academy of Sciences USA, 1993; Union of Concerned Scientists, 1993; Vogt, 1948). Of course, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to see the connection. More people, ceteris pari­ bus, m ean m ore greenhouse gases released to the atm osphere (and thus m ore rapid climate change), m ore natural ecosystems paved over, more tropical forests cut down, m ore toxic substances injected into the envi­ ronm ent, m ore extensive and intensive agriculture, more w ater needed for households, industry, and irrigation, and so on. But all is not equal. Hum an beings are bright apes—they bring the richest land under agriculture first, get w ater from the nearest, m ost convenient sources first, m ine the m ost concentrated ores before those that have only traces of the desired m etal, exploit the shallowest, m ost extensive oil deposits that will flow naturally before drilling down thou­ sands of feet, opening fields under shallow seas, and injecting steam to thin recalcitrant oil so it can be pum ped to the surface...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 915-948
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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