Implications for Decision Making and Environmental Policy
New Horizons in Environmental Economics series
Chapter 1: Introduction: Dealing with Uncertainty in Environmental Decision Making
1.1 INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM OF ENVIRONMENTAL UNCERTAINTY On the whole, men are more good than bad; that however isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. Albert Camus, The Plague (1972) At the core of this book is the assertion that many decisions surrounding the environment are conditioned by the presence of uncertainty. The recognition that there are a number of different modes of uncertainty radically alters the way in which environmental uncertainty can be dealt with both at a epistemological and practical level, and necessitates an alternative approach to that encompassed by traditional probability-based models. However, while there is an extensive literature on probability-based models of risk in decision making (Perrings et al., 1995), the literature on dealing with environmental uncertainty and in particular with what will be termed ‘hard uncertainty’1 in decision making is rather limited. It is this issue of dealing with environmental uncertainty in decision making that provides the impetus for the research carried out and presented in this book. The uncertainty that decision makers are faced with in many environmental problems is derived from three main sources. First, uncertainty exists about the resilience of ecosystems and the consequences of human induced change for ecosystems, particularly when the action could result in a ecosystem threshold being exceeded. Second, uncertainty...