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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 25: Knowledge and Global Environmental Policy

Marc Williams


Marc Williams In modern, technological society knowledge is a prized asset. Knowledge has a number of dimensions and includes instruction, learning, information and authorized belief. The possession of knowledge provides its holders with the skills to enhance their material well-being. At base knowledge is concerned with the production of truth and with accurate representations of reality. The importance of knowledge in environmental policy making arises from a number of sources. It is widely accepted that modern global environmental challenges are characterized by uncertainty, irreversibility and uniqueness or nonsubstitutability (Pearce, 1990: 366). And it is the first of these three features that directs attention to the role of knowledge in environmental policy making. Whether we are concerned with greenhouse gases and global warming, biodiversity, hazardous and toxic wastes, desertification, the hole in the ozone layer or the impact of acid rain, the role of knowledge becomes an important consideration. There are, of course, many factors that account for the success or failure of international efforts to halt or reverse environmental decline, but it is widely accepted that knowledge plays an important role in the policy process. Furthermore debates in society about how to respond to environmental degradation – for example, what forms of conservation or preservation are required – are shaped by conceptions of knowledge. In the absence of a single truth about the human/nature interface (Pepper, 1996) competing conceptions abound concerning appropriate policy responses. Although knowledge is not the sole factor determining environmental policy, it is, as will be demonstrated below,...

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