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[Chapter 8 - Modelling responses to uncertainty]

Accounting for environmental decision making:


Our recent interactions with the environment have been governed largely the by application of economic ideas on the profitability of actions (whether in Capitalist or Communist societies). This limits the range of actions condoned by that society. Societies and their economies are imbedded into ecologically and physical environments. That actions that societies make in these environments limit their ability to consider the environment as an external source of uncertainty. Therefore society must view environmental uncertainty as internal.

With internal uncertainty it is difficult to distinguish those actions that generate uncertainty. Value systems are a combination of their explicit expression in terms of results that are deemed as good, and the social structures that enforce and weight particular values. Values systems can be created that separate good results from bad results, however relating these to specific actions is more complex. Results of certain actions can be viewed as against a particular value system, but other results are emergent properties of multiple actions. The value system is then limited in its powers to locate and proscribe these actions.

However, internal uncertainty is not totally intractable. A value system that views uncertainty as external is responsive to different types of external uncertainly (different temporal and spatial, scales patterns and functions). Internal uncertainty can be viewed as amplifying the effects of unresponsive areas in the value system. The environment/society system evolves as if its external source of uncertainty were changing . This brings the value system into areas that it cannot cope with. Therefore a value system will not immediately fail due to internal uncertainty if it is a effective match for the uncertainty at that particular time and place.

Value systems can be analysed to discover some of the areas in which they are unresponsive to external uncertainty. This will allow us to find other systems that can be used in their place. These replacement systems should not be viewed as complete answers, but as part of the process of dealing with internal uncertainty.

An important question is how social systems enforce and allow changes in value system. Apart from mentioning communicative rationality and accountability as possible forms, this question is beyond the scope of this work.

Accounting for the environment cannot be more than a system of limited usefulness unless it takes into consideration the types of information it is trying to convey. The ways it values the environment must be relevant to the problems encountered at a particular time and place. Currently, decision making seems largely based on systems of value that do not include the environment. This has caused problems of pollution and environmental resource degradation that could ultimately limit the ability of the value system to produce adequate responses that ensure sustainability.

The uncertainty of the environmental agenda (Gray et. al. 1993) is not a agenda that we can ever know. But hopefully, it is an agenda that we can know well enough at a particular time and place to sustain life on this planet.


Finished 13/9/96
Created 18/9/98