Edited by Shannon O’Lear
Chapter 2: Getting the measure of nature: the inconspicuous geopolitics of environmental measurement
Measurements of the biophysical environment are an often overlooked yet fundamental component of geopolitical discourse. While generally considered a ‘scientific’ domain, measurements are fundamentally entangled with socially situated claims regarding what is, what might be, and what should be. Yet measurement is also distinctively more-than-social. Measures are not credible unless they can be directly related to the biophysical environment they purport to describe. This chapter explores this dual character of measurement as expressed through two episodes in which ‘good condition’ for freshwater has been articulated, measured and contested in scientific and public policy arenas. We show how measures for river health crystallize inconspicuous ideals about desired natures, and how instituting biophysical objectives for ‘swimmability’ can narrow the scope of public debate regarding environmental quality and distributive justice. An analytical focus on ecological measurement offers a valuable lens for geopolitical enquiry, providing the opportunity to investigate the processes through which environmental discourses are deployed, stabilized and potentially challenged.
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