Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Second Edition
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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Second Edition

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The second edition of this Handbook contains more than 30 new and original articles as well as six essential updates by leading scholars of global environmental politics. This landmark book maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this energetic and growing field. Captured here are the pioneering and lively debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 34: Knowledge, Power and Global Environmental Policy

Marc Williams


Marc Williams At the beginning of the twenty-first century interest in environmental issues commands the attention of governments, business leaders, citizen-based groups, academics, and the wider general public. Knowledge is an important tool in the search for improved environmental governance. Knowledge has a number of dimensions and includes instruction, learning, information, and authorized belief. At base knowledge is concerned with the production of truth and with accurate representations of reality. The policy-making literature focuses attention on the generation, transmission and use of knowledge1 and at each stage of this process knowledge claims can be highly contested. It is widely accepted that modern global environmental challenges are characterized by uncertainty, irreversibility, and uniqueness or non-substitutability.2 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 biodiversity, climate change, hazardous and toxic wastes, or desertification, 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 interface3 competing conceptions abound concerning appropriate policy responses. Although knowledge is not the sole factor determining environmental policy this chapter...

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