Michelle Sullivan Govani
The ethical issues at stake regarding climate change include, but are not limited to, questions of risk and uncertainty, allocation of responsibility for emissions and their impacts (i.e., equity), and deliberation on policy options including mitigation, adaptation, and inaction (Gardiner 2004; Grubb 1995). Because climate change causes and impacts are distributed around the planet (though unevenly), many such discussions and questions are framed in terms of global and generational scales of space and time. For example, responsibility for the causes and effects of climate change could be discussed in terms of justice or equity among nations. Certain countries, including the United States, have been responsible for a disproportionate share of emissions, and yet the impacts of climate change will be distributed globally, and often felt by nations where emissions are relatively low or even absent (Grubb 1995). Should the US be considered responsible for assisting in adaptation and mitigation efforts in other countries given the disproportionate share of historic emissions driving climate change? What is the basis for deciding? Who decides? Which countries should or should not be favored in such discussions? Who mitigates and how much? Who adapts and how much? With what funds? And how should impact, adaptation, and mitigation be defined? (Paavola 2008). Regarding time-scales, responsibility allocation could be discussed in terms of the impact on present vs. future humans (and nonhumans). How can the interests of future generations be accounted for in decision making? (Paavola 2008; Grubb 1995).
Though these are worthwhile questions and conversations to explore on the global scale, this case study frames such questions at the local scale in Phoenix and Yuma, AZ. As mentioned in the case, climate change impacts in those places include extreme heat, prolonged drought, and diminished water supply from the CO River. Who is responsible for causing and responding to these challenges? And Callie wonders, what are the options for response, and who decides among them? Will competing communities in Yuma city and county reach an understanding? One issue that emerges is whether the urban population benefits more than they realize from the agricultural uses of water; do they acknowledge that they may benefit from the agricultural uses of water in an indirect way (i.e., food supply) even as they focus on more direct uses of water (e.g., for showering, watering lawns, washing cars, etc.)? The answers to these and other ethical questions are context specific, depending on a locality's unique physical features, demographic distribution, politics, and leadership (Rosenzweig 2011). For example, the climate challenges faced in Yuma (drought, extreme heat) are quite different from those faced in Boston, MA, (e.g., sea level change), as are the demographics, politics, and economics. What limits or determines climate change responses in one city may not be limiting or determining in another, due to the different ethical perspectives, scientific evidence, and risk perceptions, as well as the differing relative value of each in deliberation (Adger et al. 2008). This is why even places facing similar climate change challenges, like Phoenix and Yuma, will still arrive at different responses (or perhaps, at the same response, but through a different process) unique to each city's infrastructure, cultures, history, etc.
In addition to the context-specific nature of climate change challenges, there is also a lack of locally based scientific information, including climate change models. But beyond calls for more climate science grounded in local contexts (e.g., Rosenzweig 2010), Callie has clued into the need for reflection on how best to address the ethical dimensions of climate change challenges. Regardless of the scientific findings, decisions regarding adaptation, mitigation, or other responses depend on the interests of who is involved in the goal-setting and decision-making processes (Adger et al. 2008).
In this case, Callie decides that a citizen forum will provide an opportunity to deliberate on the goals of a climate change response for Yuma, as well as to delineate and understand the various perspectives at play, a dynamic she has experienced first-hand throughout her upbringing in the agricultural community and adult-life in the city. But first, she must decide how and with whom to organize the forum. To achieve an equitable representation at the forum, Callie should balance perspectives from the city, the agricultural community, Native American communities, and perhaps different important industries in Yuma, such as tourism and healthcare. Even within those communities there will be diverse and divergent perspectives. For example, the residents of Yuma city represent myriad economic, demographic, and political characteristics. Further, the agricultural community consists of large-scale industrial farms as well as small-scale, family-owned farms. To address the diversity among and within interest groups, Callie might consider organizing the forum with members of the local governing bodies in the area, including the Yuma City Council and Chamber of Commerce, as well as representatives from adjacent Native American communities.
Though the myriad perspectives may seem to present an obstacle for building consensus, varied values held by diverse stakeholders promote thoughtful deliberation to ensure equitable action (Adger et al. 2008). Deliberation may also serve to reveal hidden or under-represented interests and to generate new ideas. Iâ€™ve had the opportunity to act as a facilitator in such a forum, and despite comments on the arduous process of reaching consensus, participants believed that the process demonstrated the robustness of their resulting goals and decisions. Although some parties disagreed with the outcome, all parties were heard. There was also a noticeable effort by participants to frame their opinions in terms of the moral values of participants who disagreed with them, or at the very least to notice that differences of opinion were -- beyond being "right" or "wrong" -- rooted in different values. Given that context plays a central role in goal setting for climate change response, localities that are aware of and open to a diversity of perspectives may end up being more adaptable (Adger et al. 2008).
Finally, it is worth noting there are several programs and institutions that recognize the unique needs and challenges for climate adaptation in local contexts and thus provide resources for local deliberation, goal-setting, and response. For example, calling attention to the role of cities in responding to climate change impacts, there are a few organizations that unite mayors across the world, including C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. (Rosenzweig 2011; Rosenzweig et al. 2010). Understanding that these citizen forums are experimental and evolving, Callie could use any one of these resources to guide her planning process. This would ensure that her Yuma forum is ethical, context specific, and properly representative of the community, as well as to manage her expectations about forum outcomes and relevance to decision making.
There is no one definition of "ecotourism," but the common thread through most definitions is that ecotourism should be nature-based tourism that has both environmental and socio-economic benefits. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as: "...responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education" (TIES 2015; TIES 2017). With a focus on conservation of the environment, empowerment of the local communities, and interpretation for a greater understanding of nature, TIES paints ecotourism as a win-win-win. Similarly, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines ecotourism as: "Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact, and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples" (Ceballos-Lascuráin 1996, 20). The Nature Conservancy argues that ecotourism should be sensitive to biodiversity as well as appreciating the local cultures. They also highlight that there should be "local participation in decision-making." (The Nature Conservancy 2017).
Although ecotourism, in theory, is a win-win-win for the environment, the local community, and the tourism industry (hoteliers and tourists), there can be situations in which one or more parties are unduly burdened. For example, any kind of tourism to environmentally and culturally sensitive areas can be detrimental when visitors come in large numbers (Stem et al. 2003), leading to increased waste and habitat disturbance. Any benefits (e.g., revenue for protected areas and local communities, education for travelers and locals, etc.) must be weighed against potential negative impacts.
Ecotourism and Ethics
Environmental ethics asks us to reflect on humanity's responsibility toward the environment. What are those responsibilities? How ought we behave toward nature? (Holden 2003). It is appropriate to evaluate ecotourism practices in these terms to see if promises of environmental stewardship and motivations are true in practice. Just as there are competing definitions of ecotourism, there are also competing claims as to what constitutes the most ethical motivations and practices. For example, some environmental ethicists argue that true ecotourism is non-consumptive, and thus non-utilitarian, and eco-centric (nature-centered); they view all organisms as having intrinsic value (Reviewed in Aciksoz et al. 2016; TIES 2015). Others argue that all ecotourism is inherently utilitarian, viewing nature as a commodity to sell accommodations (Stark 2002; Holden 2003). Holden claims that transitions toward ecotourism (such as in the hypothetical Okavango Game Lodge case) are often anthropocentric (human-centered); lodges transition only when they notice that other modes of tourism destroy the environment that draws human visitors in the first place (2003). In Holden's view, a lodge manager is concerned with environmental well-being only so far as it contributes to the health of their eco-tourism business. Finally, what are an eco-lodge's responsibilities to the local community? There are experts who believe that eco-tourism practices must be in harmony with not only the natural environment, but also the human environment (Aciksoz et al. 2016; Mbaiwa 2015; Stark 2002).
Some find it is helpful to frame ecotourism practices as "deep" or "shallow," with the acknowledgement that such classifications are fluid and gradated (Acott et al. 1998). Deep-ecotourism practitioners are guided by a deeply intrinsic value of the natural world. They are ecocentric, and encourage first-hand experiences with nature and culture. Shallow-ecotourism is more utilitarian; a healthy environment is valued as a driver of visitation. Such a framework acknowledges the array of motivations and practices you might find among eco-tourism projects, but the terms "deep" and "shallow" are normative, and thus it would be more neutral so simply use the labels "ecocentric" and "anthropocentric" ecotourism, again with the understanding that the classifications are fluid and gradated.
Ecotourism in the Delta
The Okavango Delta, one of the largest inland deltas in Africa, lies in northwest Botswana, a sparsely populated country in southern Africa with just over 2.2 million residents across a territory the size of France (CIA 2017). This UNESCO World Heritage Site floods during the dry season, transforming the brown, arid landscape into a lush, nutrient-rich oasis, providing water for countless animals and plants during the arid winters (UNESCO 2017). This wetland system is largely untouched by human development, with restrictions on permanent settlements.
In the last two decades, the national government in Botswana has become dedicated to ensuring that the massive tourism industry has a small footprint on the delta it depends on (Botswana Tourism Organisation 2013). Note that such motivations for a national ecotourism program are indicative of anthropocentric ecotourism; the government has a utilitarian value of nature as being crucial to maintaining levels of tourism. (This makes sense, as travel and tourism contributed to 8.5% of the nation's GDP in 2014 with projected increases around 5% per year through 2025 (World Travel and Tourism Council 2015).) However, such values and motivations may not be replicated on the local scale.
In 2002, as part of the Botswana National Ecotourism Strategy, the national government launched an Ecotourism Certification System, "designed to encourage and support responsible environmental, social, and cultural behavior by tourism businesses and make sure they provide a quality, eco-friendly product to consumers." According to this certification system, ecotourism must be sensitive to natural and cultural heritage with opportunities for biodiversity conservation and economic development. Thus, development initiatives for local communities are required to be integrated at the outset of all certified ecotourism projects (Stevens and Jansen 2002). Through this program, lodges and hotels are expected to minimize negative impacts on their social, cultural, and environmental surroundings, ensure equitable distribution of benefits to their host communities, invest part of their revenue in conservation, provide educational programming for guests and locals, and provide a "quality" experience to guests.
In this case, each character experiences some of the benefits; we will explore later whether those benefits are distributed fairly. In short, we see that Nuru and the Hambukushu community are benefitting from an influx of revenue that contribute to new infrastructure, job opportunities, and tourist patrons of shops and restaurants. Nuru is employed by the craft market and has also applied for a position as a safari guide and wildlife educator. Rachel feels fulfilled in carrying out her personal conservation mission by changing practices and programming at the lodge. She also knows that certification with the national government will bring more guests and more revenue to support her initiatives. Mahendra has options; if he values cultural, social, and environmental sustainability he can choose an eco-lodge that fits that ethic. And he may also benefit through enhanced research opportunities with the lodge due to proximity to his field sites. Finally, the delta environment is likely to benefit from more sustainable tourism practices that can protect the area from waste, pollution, and unsustainable uses of resources. While each character and the environment derive some benefit, there are also tradeoffs and tensions.
According to the definitions of ecotourism above, one component of a successful ecotourism venture is that it is economically beneficial (such as providing income and employment opportunities) to the local community. And more broadly, biodiversity is often defended as a resource of food and income for the world's poorest people (Gilbert et al. 2010). However, a review of several studies presented at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London in 2010, found that evidence linking conservation projects (including ecotourism ventures) with poverty alleviation is only anecdotal. Those locals who do benefit are most often the affluent members of the community (Gilbert et al. 2010).
For example, in a case study in Wolong Nature Reserve, China, He et al. (2008) found there was significant inequality among rural stakeholders; those who were closer to roads and further from the reservation reaped the benefits both of direct tourism and indirect infrastructure improvements. Also, He et al. found that the nonpermanent souvenir shops are run by the less affluent locals, while the year-round permanent shops were run by community elites. And when rural residents are employed, it is often in low-skill, low-wage jobs (cleaners, waiters, cooks) (He et al. 2008; Lenao and Basupi 2016).
J. E. Mbaiwa, an expert on and scholar of ecotourism in Botswana, found that across the last 30 years, ecotourism ventures in Botswana have often been successful, but only when certain socio-economic and political dynamics are at play (Mbaiwa 2015). Specifically, villages tend to benefit most when an active and fair Community Trust implements ecotourism projects in the community (Mbaiwa 2015). Community Trusts are government prerequisites for any ecotourism projects in Botswana; they are registered legal entities comprised of adults who have lived in the village for more than five years.
In Nuru's village the Board of Trustees are affluent, male members of the society. Many of them own large parcels of land close to main roads and the village center. Thus, the distribution of revenue and other indirect benefits like infrastructure improvements may be skewed toward such members of society. In addition, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities are most available to those members of Nuru's village who are already trained to take such positions or who have the land and facilities necessary to start a restaurant or shop. While a job at the Craft Market provides nice supplemental income, Nuru will find that her business is sensitive to seasonality (the delta is most popular May through December). A job at the lodge could provide better security and income, as well as opportunities for upward mobility into management positions.
To improve the distribution of benefits to rural, less affluent members of her village, perhaps Nuru should run to be elected to the trust. Her voice could represent those with similar struggles. In addition, the lodge could help by initiating a training program to build foreign language, hospitality, and entrepreneurial skills. A real-life example, the Chobe Game Lodge located in Botswana's Chobe National Park implemented the first female safari guide training program in an effort to provide more equitable job opportunities (Wilson 2014). It is worth noting that in Botswana, societies are traditionally patriarchal, and women tend to be excluded from some opportunities (Lenao and Basupi 2016; Jones 2005). However, the country has started to pass legislation aimed toward removing or counteracting prior discrimination (Lenau and Basupi 2016). Still, initiatives to improve opportunities for women should be done in a way that will not be construed as imposing western gender norms.
Given Rachel's background as a biologist, CI employee, and her new focus on making Okavankgo Game Lodge a sustainable eco-lodge, it is highly possible that she holds an ecocentric ethic. She accepted the manager position to reduce the negative impacts of the lodge on the environment, not because the lodge depends on the environment for business (though it does), but because she has seen in her prior career the damage lodges' can cause to the environment and animals she has harbored a life-long passion for. This ethic stands in contrast to the utilitarian view of ecotourism held by the national government and certification program.
Rachel's passion for the environment drives her to seek foreign investments that will initiate and maintain several sustainability measures at the lodge, but such investors will request that revenue be shared. Her ethical viewpoint and passion may lead her to accept the compromise, meaning she may be blind to the potential damage such agreements could do to the local economy. Thus, in one sense, accepting foreign investments could suit her ecocentric ethic, but to others with a more anthropocentric leaning worldview, Rachel could be entering an unethical deal. For example, according to our definitions of ecotourism above, "ecotourism ventures should only be considered 'successful' if local communities have some measure of control over them and if they share equitably in the benefits emerging from ecotourism activities" (Scheyvens 1999). But it is also possible that Rachel could justify her foreign investments in terms of benefits to the local community. Increased investments could lead to better facilities that attract more guests and thus more revenue. Rachel could grant control over revenue, and related investments, to the local Community Trust.
In addition, Rachel's focus on western standards of scientific expertise may make her more likely to hire her CI colleagues as opposed to Nuru, because she knows she can trust her old friends to espouse and practice her same ecocentric worldview. And logistically, her CI colleagues would require less training; most speak many foreign languages, are experienced in education, and all have expertise in ecology and conservation. She might also realize, however, that she could balance the hiring process by hiring one or two of her CI colleagues to then train several local hires, including Nuru.
Is it possible to be ecocentric and still be concerned about the local community? Ethical worldviews come in gradients. Rachel may realize that she can still achieve her goals without foreign investments, albeit more slowly. First, in a conversation with the Community Trust, she might find that many of her raw materials and food can be sourced locally, meaning lower costs, a boost to the local economy, and a more authentic culinary experience for guests. She could also take advantage of the tax incentives for sourcing and employing locally -- a budget saver.
And perhaps her ecocentric ethic means she hopes the she can inspire both guests and locals to have a better appreciation for nature. One way to get the local community excited about her projects, is to involve them. She could have them arrange a cultural education program to supplement environmental education (Stem et al. 2003). She might also initiate a training program to build entrepreneurial skills in the community, because although direct employment with ecotourism has been found unlikely to influence conservation perspectives, indirect benefits such as education opportunities and infrastructural improvements can have a positive influence on conservation perspectives (Stem et al 2003). Plus, Rachel would be building the capacity of the local community to participate in the educational and tourism market. In other words, she would be contributing to their economic empowerment (venues for regular income), psychological well-being (potential for building optimistic futures), social empowerment (keeping revenue local to contribute to community groups, health clinics, etc.) and political empowerment (allowing community voices to guide development) (Scheyvens 1999).
Where Mahendra decides to stay will depend on his world view, as well as how he weighs that against logistical concerns. If Mahendra is a strong ecocentric, he will certainly want to support the Okavango Game Lodge as the only ecotourism option. However, if he does not have a strong ecocentric ethic he may be more concerned with either (a) saving money or (b) keeping his family comfortable, in which case we would stay at the Sanctuary Inn or the Royal Safari Camp respectively. The Okavango Game Lodge does get logistical bonus points for being conveniently close to his field site. Also, depending on Mahendra's awareness of and concern for local and indigenous communities, he might be either pleased that the lodge sponsors a Craft Market or disappointed by the Craft Market as the lodge's only (current) meager attempt at community engagement and support.
Considering that Mahendra knows of Rachel's background as a fellow elephant biologist, Mahendra might consider reaching out to her to initiate a community science program. Perhaps he could become a regular patron of the Okavango Game Lodge, implementing a training and employment program for locals and lodge guests who are interested in partaking in elephant research. This would be considered "research ecotourism," providing research opportunities for visitors and locals that focus on the delta region's biology (in this case, specific to elephant biology) (Clifton and Benson 2006). Additionally, employing community members to help with "mapping, measuring, and monitoring" could increase local capacity to self-employ or seek employment as safari guides, wildlife educators, or ecologists. This could also be seen as part of a broader call to increase biodiversity knowledge and knowledge acquisition skills in developing countries (Vanhove et al. 2017).
The Botswana government's "Ecotourism" certification level is defined as follows:
Ecotourism: This level upholds the principles of ecotourism, as stated in the Botswana National Ecotourism Strategy (2002) and defines those facilities that have met all the principles of ecotourism. The level reflects the facilities' commitment to and involvement with local communities in tourism development, nature conservation, environmental management and interpretation of the surrounding environment to the guests. (Botswana Tourism Organisation 2013b)
In this case, there are trade-offs between affording new sustainability measures vs. achieving developmental goals, particularly if Rachel's ecocentric ethic drives her to compromise with foreign investors and leads her to hire only her CI colleagues. However, if Rachel wishes to achieve the final "Ecotourism" certification level, she will need to balance her goals with community engagement and development. So "success" in this case is a balancing act for the lodge and the community.
It is worth noting that "success" depends on your environmental ethic. Those who tend toward anthropocentric will want to see environmental goals balanced with developmental goals. Someone who is strongly ecocentric, like Rachel, might be willing to compromise developmental goals in order to move more quickly with sustainability and environmental initiatives. It's also worth noting that community involvement with ecotourism doesn't necessarily change the terms in which locals see the forest so much as it keeps them too busy with new jobs to conduct old, potentially "harmful" activities, such as converting protected land to agriculture (e.g., Stem et al. 2003). Should ecotourism project managers like Rachel be satisfied to simply keep people preoccupied? Then, questions remain: If people had time, would they hunt? It tourism levels dropped, would the forest lose its value? So perhaps Rachel should push for "loftier goals," such as a greater respect for nature or a shared ecocentric ethic. But how could she go about achieving that? And what does it mean to respect nature? There are different interpretations, and utilitarian values don't necessarily equate with "disrespect."
Rachel needs to develop a greater understanding of the community's own environmental ethic before she decides to impose her own. A good practice would be to offer involvement and training with the eco-lodge wherever she can, especially to underrepresented members of the local community. Most importantly, balancing community development needs, local traditions and values, and sustainable development, is not amenable to one-off solutions; rather it requires careful and continuous attention.
In the last decade, assisted migration, "the intentional introduction by humans of an organism beyond its natural range" (Keel et al. 2011, 44; Keel 2005), has gained attention as a radical tool to save species threatened by climate change and habitat destruction (e.g., McLachlan et al. 2007, Hoegh-Guldberg, et al. 2008; Richardson et al. 2009). These environmental changes are in some cases occurring faster than species can adapt or migrate, and the connectivity of landscapes has largely been altered by human developments, blocking would-be migrations as environmental conditions shift (Kolbert 2014).
In this case, the Torreya Guardians have decided that assisted migration is necessary and justified for the Torreya taxifolia, a rare and endangered tree species that is native to Florida. Their first and foremost goal is to save the species from extinction that the group claims is driven by climate change combined with the tree's inability to migrate (Torreya Guardians 2016e; Barlow 2009; The Economist 2015; Torreya Guardians 2016b). The group's goal, then, is to move the tree north, where they claim it could and would migrate if there weren't so many barriers.
The Torreya Guardians hope to serve as a model for similar cases, or in their words, "for the kinds of geographic interventions that will be necessary for plants in a warming world" (Torreya Guardians 2016e). In many cases, extinction cannot be prevented without assisted migration (McLachlan et al. 2007). Options are slim and shrinking for species that are threatened by climate change; the high stakes demand "radical strategies" and a "significantly more activist and hands-on approach to species conservation than we have taken in the past" (Minteer and Collins 2010, 1804, 1802).
The Torreya Guardians approach their program systematically, such that they could even claim to have scientific justification. For example, they have developed a set of "Ecological Standards" that help them to decide whether an endangered species should undergo assisted migration (Beardmore and Winder 2011). They examine species history, risk of extinctions, characteristics of the plant that could portend invasive potential, and overall feasibility of the project (Beardmore and Winder 2011). Their volunteer cultivators keep thorough records of all plants (Torreya Guardians 2016f), and the group uses that data to fulfill their third goal, to "test the efficacy of assisted migration for this and other threatened plants that were ‘left behind’ in their peak-glacial reserve" (Torreya Guardians 2016e). The Torreya Guardians have also been careful to justify their actions in legal terms, arguing that it's lawful to transport privately owned plants between states and replant in new locations on private property (Torreya Guardians 2016c; Shirey et al. 2011).
Finally, if humans are (at least in part) responsible for the rate and nature of climate and environmental change, humans may have a duty to act to save species from extinction due to climate change. Despite risks of bad or unintended outcomes, they may feel it is worse to do nothing while species go extinct because of anthropogenic climate change (Marris 2011). The Torreya Guardians certainly feel a duty to save Torreya taxifolia: "We're just helping the tree get around habitat obstacles that we humans have put in its way" (Barlow 2009).
There are, however, also strong arguments against assisted migration. For example, questions are being raised about the role assisted migration can play within the system of traditional conservation practices which have historically focused on preserving species in their native habitats by setting aside tracts of land as protected areas, as well as lobbying for legislation like the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Minteer and Collins 2010). Conservation biologists who are proponents of this conventional approach will argue that time, money, and resources should be spent on (1) facilitating natural range shifts by maintaining or restoring habitat connectivity, and (2) working to achieve carbon-management solutions (Hunter 2007). They remain committed to saving endangered species by minimizing human influence, as opposed to intervening further, and they argue that there is no scientific support for assisted migration (e.g., the "Nativist Technocrat" in Neff and Larson 2014). But that doesn't mean a balance can't be struck. Both traditional and newer, more controversial techniques could be used in complimentary ways, with assisted migration being an option, even if just for a small number of species (Appell 2009; Minteer and Collins 2010).
Despite the potential for integrated management strategies, there are still those who resist assisted migration, citing human arrogance; humans could never know enough about an ecosystem to be certain whether a relocated species will become invasive or not (Greenfieldboyce 2011; Minteer and Collins 2010). Indeed, there is incredible potential for relocated species to become invasive in new habitats (Greenfieldboyce 2011; Davidson and Simkanin 2008; Ricciardi and Simberloff 2009; Seddon et al. 2009). Related, contested definitions of native vs. non-native species (which are more likely to become invasive) have come into play. To justify their actions, for example, the Torreya Guardians question the ways in which native species are defined. Does history matter and to what depth of time? If the Torreya taxifolia lived in mid-east to northeast North America between 2.5 and 65 million years ago, migration to that location today, with the assistance of the Torreya Guardians, could be interpreted as a movement into an older species range (Greenfieldboyce 2011; Barlow 2009). Torreya Guardians founder, Connie Barlow, calls this a "deep-time" perspective:
"A deep-time perspective... opens up a new line of questioning: where would the native range for species X have been during a peak interglacial -- or during even more ancient times (species of genus Torreya coexisted with Cretaceous dinosaurs) when global climate was even warmer than it is today?" (Barlow 2009, 168-169).
Still, contesting a definition does not erase the potential for negative impacts on other species when transplanting Torreya taxifolia outside its current range. The Torreya Guardians may not be properly assessing the situation, including the status of Torreya taxifolia, as well as the invasive or disease-transmission potentials of the species (Greenfieldboyce 2011).
For instance, the group claims that climate change is the driving force of extinction, but researchers from the University of Florida have found that the main reason for the decline of the species continues to be a fungal species of Fusarium and not climate change (Smith and Trulock 2010; Smith et al. 2011). Currently, there are no options for managing the disease. This call into question the legitimacy of the scientific standards used by the Torreya Guardians. Also, it raises the issue of under which scenarios assisted migration is defensible: should the species be threatened by climate change and other anthropogenic factors to justify assisted migration? If Torreya taxifolia are threatened by a pathogen, as opposed to climate change, should they be relocated? And what if the species' demise is caused by a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors in unknown proportions? How much fault demands action?
Further complicating decision making around this issue are questions of the terms of debate and who decides. First, though it may be tempting to couch these discussions into technical terms, there are clearly political, legal, and ethical elements as well. In an analysis of the arguments used in assisted migration literature, most rhetoric was found to have "implicit or explicit evaluative terms" (e.g., what is the appropriate level of risk? which species should we move? etc.) (Klenk and Larson 2013). Similarly, in a classification of four varying perspectives on assisted migration among conservation practitioners, Neff and Larson (2014) discovered that "disagreements... were defined by value-based and policy-strategic considerations as least as much as they were by varied understandings of technical issues" (1). The central non-technical 'considerations' include regulating the practice of assisted migration, as well as assigning the distribution of limited resources for conservation projects (Klenk and Larson 2013). Given that these are not solely scientific considerations, this raises questions about who should be involved in the debate:
"The debate over [assisted migration] has been concentrated in the scientific community, but at its core is a political and societal debate about the role of science and the public in shaping the future of our ecosystems..." (Klenk and Larson 2013, 17).
When it comes to assisted migration for endangered species, who should make the decisions? To what degree should decisions and practice be public, professional, and/or scientific? (Minteer and Collins 2010, 1803). This corresponds to the final listed goal of the Torreya Guardians: "To nurture citizen-professional collaborations and a high degree of volunteerism in the service of biodiversity" (Torreya Guardians 2016e). The group believes that as concerned citizens and advocates, they have a duty and a right to decide and act. And the experts with the US Fish and Wildlife Service have taken note, recommending that the USFWS biologists "foster a working relationship" with the advocacy group (USFWS 2010, 18). But there are conservation professionals who feel that such a risky method, if carried out, should be in the hands of experts (Neff and Larson 2014; Shirey and Lamberti 2011). As demonstrated in this case, advocacy groups can be influential stakeholders, but how much influence should advocacy groups like the Torreya Guardians have in shaping public policy?
In this case, Armando must consider competing interests among his constituents, colleagues, and advisors while being mindful of the myriad ethical dilemmas in which the forest is implicated. Here, we will consider the biodiversity and ecosystem services associated with the forest, the social and economic issues surrounding deforestation, and the options available to Armando as he makes his recommendation on how to use the US funds. Finally, we will explore the role of Maria as a science advisor and address her responsibilities, as well as her mistake in addressing the press.
The Amazon Rain Forest is the largest tropical forest on earth (6.7 million km2 … eight times the size of Texas!); it contains more than half the planet’s rainforests and record amounts of biodiversity. Brazil, the largest country in South America, encompasses the largest portion of the Amazon within its borders, particularly in the states of Amazonas and Pará in Northern Brazil. Although there is no current, official species count, Brazil likely contains around 50,000 species of plants alone, accounting for one-sixth of the earth’s plant species (Myers et al. 2000). A 2005 estimate put the total number of species (plants and animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates) in Brazil at between 170,000 and 210,000 species, or approximately 9.5% the world total (Lewinsohn and Prado 2005). Deep within the forest, it is easy to feel isolated from human issues, totally encompassed by wild nature. But the forest is very much central to social, economic, and environmental interests at local, national, and global scales.
In the last 50 years, around 20% of the forest cover has been lost to logging, development, and agriculture (WWF 2016, The Nature Conservancy 2016). Deforestation leads to loss of biodiversity, particularly through habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Biodiversity loss in the Amazon can affect the global pharmacology sector, the regional tourism sector, and the scientists and environmentalists the world over who praise the intrinsic value of the unique and unparalleled plants and animals found there.
In addition to threats to biodiversity, the regional and global regulatory ecosystem services provided by the Brazilian Amazon are also in jeopardy. Plants in the Amazon contain between 90 and 140 billion tons of carbon (Soares-Filho et al. 2006). In perspective, human induced carbon emissions occur at a rate around 35 billion tons a year (and growing) (IPCC Report 2014). When trees are logged, the forest’s capacity to absorb and hold CO2 is greatly reduced. In particular, land use change for agriculture contributes to human emissions by burning off CO2 contained within slashed and burned portions of the forest. In addition to being a carbon reservoir, the Amazon plays a crucial role in the water cycle. The forest recycles 25-50% of regional rainfall (Eltahir and Bras 1994), but large-scale deforestation could break the cycle and reduce average regional rainfall. The Amazon also impacts the amount of cloudiness, thermal insolation, land surface reflectance, atmospheric aerosol loading (which could effect global rain patterns), and surface roughness (affecting regional wind speeds) (reviewed in Malhi et al. 2008).
Besides regional and global ecosystem services, the forest holds local economic value to Brazilian citizens living in the forest. Though there are sustainable ways to live off of the forest, such as rubber tapping, many more people either directly or indirectly derive their income from logging. For example, in Tailândia, Pará, 70% of the 25,000 people living in the city depend financially on deforestation in some way (Economist 2009). Loggers take the best and most valuable trees for their lumber business, while farmers and cattle ranchers depend on cleared lands for their agricultural purposes.
Social issues in the forest abound. In the 1960s through the 1980s, the Brazilian government subsidized the mass migration of citizens into the forest in efforts to begin economically utilizing the country’s vast interior (Economist 2009; Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2009). However, once citizens moved into the forest, promises of free land and prosperity were met only for the lucky few. Members of the elite class bought land ahead of the mass migration, and to demonstrate ownership they immediately began to log and burn the land. Still today, the top 1% of affluent landlords oversees 45% of the land (Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2009). And “only 14% of privately owned land is backed by secure title deed,” while the rest is backed with fake documents (Imazon study quoted, Economist 2009).
Many low-income families living in the forest are forced to work in harsh conditions governed largely by landlords, gangs, poachers, and illegal loggers (Garcia-Navarro 2015; Economist 2009; Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2009). It is said, “the law of the Amazon is made by the bullet” (Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2009, 49). For example, a recent NPR report details the ongoing “war over wood” between rubber-tappers and illegal loggers in protected portions of the forest. Illegal loggers are barely penalized, due to a lacking and understaffed police force. When rubber tappers who depend on the intact ecosystem encounter loggers, arguments are settled with bullets, knives, and murder. Rubber-tappers fight to defend their way of life. Loggers not only fight to protect their illegal jobs, but also their own lives. Many are impoverished and treated no better than slave laborers, overseen by cruel gang lords who run the illegal logging operations (Garcia-Navarro 2015).
Finally, there is a long history of fear over foreign involvement in Brazilian affairs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger (2009) summarize:
“As a country of great artists, architects, diplomats, designers, and engineers, and as people who speak Portuguese in a region where Spanish dominates, Brazilians justifiably see themselves as special and unique. At the same time, many Brazilians are ashamed of the persistence of widespread poverty, violence, and lawlessness… This stew of national pride and shame results in Brazil’s love-hate relationship with the United States. Environmentalists’ efforts to reassure Brazilians that their attempts to save the Amazon are in Brazil’s best interests not only fail to assuage Brazilian concerns, they trigger Brazil’s fear of being patronized…
Brazilians continue to see environmental proposals [such as working with US funds to establish a new national park] as suspicious. …Brazilians ask themselves … ‘Do you care about us or just our forest?’” (60-61).
Armando will consider these multi-scale social, economic, and environmental interests as he decides how to recommend using the US funds. He must also manage input from his constituents, his Senate colleagues, the US government, and Maria and his other trusted advisors. His personal compass further complicates his decision. Armando’s anthropocentric ethic and utilitarian view of the forest make him partial to social and economic interests. So although he is aware of the global and regional benefits of a protected area, his constituents have local, immediate needs that he feels more answerable to. Having grown up as a rubber tapper and having studied the forest extensively in school, Armando loves the Amazon, but he believes that people can co-exist with nature and there is no need for a national park that would restrict human use of the forest.
On the other hand, Maria’s ecocentric ethic fuels her bias toward preservation of the forest, particularly for its intrinsic value. She would like the forest protected in pure form, free from human influence. Her US-based education may contribute to her admiration of the US National Parks. And having come from the large city, Belém, Maria is detached from the direct interactions between people and nature occurring at the border of and within the Amazon in Pará, such as in Tailândia. Thus, it is understandable that she would believe the best policy is to create a national park, and as an advisor she can provide this opinion to Armando. It is his decision whether or not to act on Maria’s suggestion.
Maria should be able to perform her job as a science advisor despite her personal biases. It remains up to her how she elects to use her expertise. For example, Maria might choose to be an “Issue Advocate,” and “[focus] on the implications of [her] research for a particular political agenda” (Pielke 2007, 15). In the case study above, she did just that, aligning her policy suggestion to her ecocentric ethic and using media outreach to push her agenda. Maria could also be an “Honest Broker,” with a responsibility to provide information regarding a suite of different policy alternatives and how they will effect or be affected by the state of the forest. A politician or the political process (e.g., popular vote) takes on the responsibility of making a choice among the alternatives (Pielke 2007, 17). Armando’s negative reaction to Maria’s media statement and his disapproval of her narrow vision for a policy suggestion alludes to his preference for science advisors that act as “Honest Brokers.”
There is also a workplace authority problem in this case. It is possible that Maria could advocate her position and Armando would not mind. But, whether Armando agrees with her recommendation or not, she should not be talking to the press without permission from her boss. Typically, institutions (including Armando’s Senate office) have press secretaries that are charged with communicating to media outlets. Because she spoke to the press without a clear message, Maria and the reporter and editor at O Liberal who misunderstood her all share responsibility for the misquoted phrase. However, there is a possibility that the reporter did understand but decided to embellish the story. If that is the case Maria bears less responsibility, but speaking via a press secretary may have helped, as press secretaries are knowledgeable about how to communicate clearly and consistently with reputable news sources. If in the future Maria is allowed to speak directly with the press, she should be honest and she should be clear that her statements in no way reflect the as of yet unannounced opinions of Armando or any other members of Armando’s team. The press secretary will release statements that represent the views of the institution as a whole.
Considering that Armando does not plan to adopt Maria’s vision of a national park, below are a few alternative policy options that are more in line with Armando’s desire to both protect the forest and support his constituents with the funds (by no means, an exhaustive list). An “honest broker” analysis by a Maria might have revealed some of these policy alternatives. Note that many of them are not strictly scientific, an indicator that it may also be the job of a science advisor to collaborate with experts and advisors of different expertise to come up with a more thorough and inclusive field of potential policies.
Although law enforcement efforts in the forest have increased in recent years, “the basic factors driving deforestation — including poverty and the profitability of agricultural land — have not changed” (Tollefson 2015). To address these “basic factors,” Armando could use the funds to invest in local economic issues. For example, investing in public education and stimulating creation of service-economy jobs could help to eliminate the need for a logging-derived income. Another option, subsidization of advanced faming equipment, could preclude the need for slash and burn agriculture. Armando could also advocate using the funds to bolster efforts to put together a rural land registry in Pará (Tollefson 2015). A land registry could aid in easing violent disagreements over land ownership and allow the government to more easily enforce land-use laws. These locally minded suggestions would also be appealing to Brazilians who would like to minimize replicating or depending on the American environmental movement.
Funds could also be used for a “payment-for-ecosystem-services” (PES) scheme for the farmers within Pará. Such a scheme would reward farmers for keeping parts of the forest that fall within their property intact. For example, a farmer could be paid for the economic hit they take for not planting on a forested portion of their property. However, PES schemes are difficult to implement (e.g., how do you decide the value of the intact forest? How do you monitor the scheme?), and an Amazon forest PES scheme may only benefit large land owners because they are the ones who own the majority of land (or at least appear to own the majority of land based on documents, both legal and fake) (Börner et al. 2010). PES schemes could also be internationally scaled, such as REDD (“reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”), in which foreign countries pay Brazil to keep the forest intact to prevent the carbon emissions associated with deforestation. In 2015, Norway paid the last installment of an unprecedented $1 billion investment in the program. However, Brazilian farmers and local programs complain that they’ve seen few direct benefits from the REDD program (Tollefson 2015).
Another idea, Armando could use funds to advertise and implement a boycott of products and goods that are implicated in deforestation. For example, initially backed and promoted by the international environmental organization, Greenpeace, the Soyabean Moratorium is essentially an agreement among soyabean exporters (led by McDonald’s) to cease buying from growers in the Amazon and to fund monitoring programs to ensure the success of the moratorium (Greenpeace 2016; Tollefson 2015; Economist 2009). The moratorium appears successful thus far. A 2015 study found that deforestation was higher in areas not under the moratorium, compared to those that were (Gibbs et al. 2015). Funding could potentially be used to maintain and expand the soyabean moratorium, or to replicate it in the cattle or logging industries.
What remains for Armando, is to decide which of the options (among these and among others) he thinks could be successful and desirable. Then he will advocate his selection to his colleagues and constituents in the upcoming Federal Senate session.
In this case, Kiera confronts a variety of roadblocks and ethical dilemmas. First she must contemplate different ways the community could value the forest and its biodiversity (“Ecosystem Services”). Then, she must explore the literature related to “Biodiversity and Disease” to ensure a complete understanding of the points of consensus and of disagreement in the research community. Of course, this is an issue for more than just scientists. Kiera should be fully aware of social and political implications of the research as well (“Environmental Justice and Disease Management”). Finally, Kiera will need to consider how to best communicate the research, including uncertainties, to the public, and this requires a decision regarding what the role of science should be in making a public policy decision about the forest (“Communicating Science and the Role of Science in Public Policy”).
One major issue that Kiera will contend with is to decide how the forest is valuable and which of those values she will utilize in an argument to protect the forest. There are many ways to value a forest; these values may be tangible or intangible, economic or spiritual, human-centered (anthropocentric) or nature-centered (ecocentric). And one could argue that these values are or are not mutually exclusive.
In 2001, called into action by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) initiated a major evaluation of human impacts on the environment. The MEA panel released their synthesis report, “Ecosystems and Human Well-Being,” in 2005, and in it they popularized the term “ecosystem services” to name the benefits human gain from healthy ecosystems (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). In 2015, the UN released the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets and topics they hope to address by 2030. Reiterated in the goals are commitments to reduce poverty and protect life both on land and in water (United Nations 2016).
The appeal by the UN and others, including the Nature Conservancy, to value biodiversity in economic or instrumental (how biodiversity can be useful to humans) terms, has encountered pushback from some in the science and environmental communities. In a heavily circulated essay published in Nature in 2006, Stanford biologist Douglas McCauley argued that instrumental valuation of nature is flawed because it cannot guarantee protection of biodiversity in perpetuity. Markets fluctuate, and so too will the market value for a given ecosystem service. Additionally, technological advancements by humans may eventually replace services provided by an ecosystem, and thus make protection of that ecosystem unnecessary in instrumental terms. Finally, some ecosystems simply do not provide any obvious or market-valued services to humans (McCauley 2006).
When dealing with governments and businesses, however, it may be more effective to negotiate in economic terms. For example, when the earliest U.S. National Parks were proposed to Congress, it was the appeal to tourism dollars and the railroad industry that convinced doubtful Congress members to back the parks (Runte 2010). Still today, the National Park Service releases extensive reports detailing the financial benefits that park units bring to local communities and the national economy.
Perhaps, as Belinda Reyers (scientist for the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and her colleagues argue, the best path forward is to use a combination of instrumental and intrinsic value arguments to support biodiversity conservation: “If this debate leads to polarization of the conservation community, it may prevent the emergence of common understanding of how best to push forward with conservation, which in our experience, is what all sides of the current debate desire” (Reyers et al. 2012, 506).
Assuming that Kiera does decide to bring attention to the ecosystem services that the biodiversity in the Indonesian forest provides, human health could be a significant focal point for her argument. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), human health “ultimately depends upon ecosystem products and services (such as availability of fresh water, food and fuel sources)...” Directly related to biodiversity, healthy ecosystems can also harbor a variety of species that may have pharmacological value- an ecosystem service that could directly benefit progress in medical science. (WHO 2016).
Biodiversity and Disease
In the last decade, much research has been conducted to better understand another potential ecosystem service provided by biodiversity: disease control. Reductions and alterations in biodiversity have cascading effects on biogeochemical interactions throughout an ecosystem to which infectious diseases are sensitive. Specifically, researchers have found that intact biodiversity acts to regulate and control vector-borne and parasitic diseases. However, the research community is not in unanimous agreement; some researchers claim that there is no connection between biodiversity and disease control. Kiera will need to wade carefully through the competing claims and carefully present uncertainty in the research to the public and to government officials.
In 2006, Bard College biologist Felicia Keesing and colleagues first reported an “inverse relationship between [bio]diversity and disease risk,” which they termed the “dilution effect” (Keesing et al. 2006). The dilution effect describes the process by which greater levels of biodiversity will decrease (dilute) the chances that a pathogen will meet its host. When a system contains more species, there are more opportunities to interrupt the life cycle of a disease, and there exists a smaller concentration of vectors for the disease (Bonds in Barclay 2012). Declines in biodiversity tend to eliminate species that prey on vectors for disease. And often, the animals that survive biodiversity declines are the “weedy species,” those that are likely to be good disease hosts (Keesing et al. 2010; Barclay 2010).
In a 2012 study, Harvard professor Matthew Bonds and colleagues found that countries with high levels of biodiversity (such as biodiversity hotspot, Indonesia), will see a 30% increase in disease burden should 15% of biodiversity be lost. This finding could be alarming, considering that increasing human development has led to unprecedented biodiversity loss, with current extinction rates at least 100 to 1000 times background rates and future rates (in the next 50 years) predicted to be 10 to 100 times present rates of extinction (Mace et al. 2005).
Claims concerning the inverse relationship between biodiversity and disease outbreaks are disputed. A meta-analysis found weak support for the dilution effect (Salkeld et al. 2013), and another concluded that the relationship is far too complex to come to any conclusion (Wood et al. 2014). Most recently, a review published by NOAA Senior Science Advisor, Paul A. Sandifer, and colleagues (2015) argues that although there is “strong evidence linking biodiversity with production of ecosystem services and between nature exposure and human health,” most “studies were limited in rigor and often only correlative” (emphasis added). But their conclusion is caveated: “we believe the best current answer to the question of whether increased biodiversity reduces risk from infectious diseases is ‘probably not, but it depends.’ This question requires further research about the mechanisms and effects of biodiversity on disease transmission…” (Sandifer et al. 2015). Even studies that assert to have evidence for the inverse relationship between biodiversity and disease outbreaks admit that more research is needed to determine a mechanism of causation and to formulate a general theory on the effect of biodiversity on disease control (Bonds et al. 2012; Morand et al 2014; Citivello et al. 2015).
In general, however, the Keesing et al. (2006) team’s initial findings have been supported in the literature with studies showing patterns resembling the dilution effect for malaria in particular, (Allan et al. 2009; Ezenwa et al. 2006; Swaddle and Calos 2008), in addition to meta-analyses detecting similar patterns across vector-borne and parasitic diseases more generally (Bonds et al. 2012; Morand et al. 2014; Civitello et al. 2015; Keesing and Ostfield 2015).
Environmental Justice and Disease Management
The Bonds et al. (2012) study also demonstrates the negative economic impacts of disease burdens. This is a not a new idea; previous studies have linked disease outbreaks to poverty (Garchitorena et al. 2015; Bonds et al. 2010; Bloom and Canning 2000). Bonds et al. claim that such economic effects could explain the differences in income among tropical and temperate regions. And indeed, poverty and disease have similar, distinctive geographic distributions. The tropics hold 93% of the global burden of vector-borne and parasitic diseases and are home to 41 of the 48 “least developed countries” and only two of 34 “advanced economies” (Lopez et al. 2006; UNCTAD 2008; IMF 2009).
Though more research is needed to see if there is causation underlying this correlation, Bonds et al. (2012) argue that the manner in which income increases with latitude “is highly suggestive of underlying biophysical drivers” particularly because vector-borne and parasitic diseases spend much of their life cycle outside the human host, and are thus dependent on environmental conditions (including levels of biodiversity).
The links among biodiversity, vector-borne and parasitic diseases, and poverty have environmental justice implications. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Environmental justice is achieved when everyone, regardless of race, culture, or income, enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work” (EPA 2016; emphasis added). If lesser income communities and countries are more often subject to human activities that destroy biodiversity and instigate disease outbreaks, then environmental justice is not fulfilled. Perhaps one policy outcome of this body of research is that local communities should be informed of the possible disease risk that accompanies biodiversity destruction and be consulted before nearby human development that threatens endemic species and ecosystems occurs.
Understanding the relationship between biodiversity and disease could also change policies for management of tropical diseases. Tropical diseases are typically managed as medical and public health issues, but perhaps public health officials and tropical disease specialists should also note the role of biodiversity in disease outbreaks, especially for diseases that spend parts of their life-cycle outside of humans (Barclay 2012). The potential role of biodiversity conservation in tropical disease management has not escaped the attention of the WHO: “‘If we see biodiversity loss increasing infectious disease transmission as a general rule, that’s an argument for conservation […],’ says Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a senior expert on health and environment at WHO” (Quoted in Barclay 2010).
Communicating Science and the Role of Science in Public Policy
Kiera now has the tricky task of communicating the science, as well as the social and political implications, to the community of stakeholders. She will encounter the difficulty of conveying scientific uncertainty to a public audience, and she and the community will need to decide how scientific findings should be used in the policy sphere.
If disease control and protection of human health truly are quantifiable ecosystem services, they should be considered among the list of other ecosystem services provided when weighing decisions regarding human development and biodiversity conservation (Bonds et al. 2012; Keesing and Ostfield 2015). The trouble is that whether or not policy makers believe and act on this claim depends on which experts and literature are consulted and how that information is interpreted. In the US, disagreement among experts would likely lead to political gridlock with both sides of an argument finding evidence to substantiate their positions. In other countries and cultures, you may find a different outcome. For example, many countries in the European Union interpret contested scientific findings in light of the precautionary principle, under which the existence of substantial literature showing a connection between biodiversity loss and health risk would be enough to drive policy decisions to avoid potential risk.
Whether Indonesia operates more like the US or the EU, Kiera has an obligation to present both sides of the debate to the public, to the plantation employees, and to the government. There are a few ways she can describe the uncertainty found in the scientific literature. First of all, natural systems such as the Indonesian forest are inherently variable. This variability encompasses the effect that biodiversity has on disease outbreaks. It is possible that a scientific consensus regarding the effects of biodiversity declines on disease may never be reached because of the considerable randomness that exists in the natural world. In addition to the endemic uncertainty of the study subject, the perspectives of the scientists themselves are varied and affect both the questions and hypotheses they pose, as well as the methods they use to address them (Pielke 2007).
If disagreement over this relationship was a purely scientific issue, why hasn’t over a decade of continued, intensive scientific research settled the debate? In their classic essay, Risk and Culture, Dame Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, an anthropologist and a political scientist respectively, argue that the reasoning behind a continued debate like this is due to the fact that risks (including the risk of disease outbreaks) have both objective and subjective facets (1982). Though science can advance our knowledge, including awareness of what we don’t know, it cannot reduce uncertainty, particularly the political strain. Douglas and Wildavsky quote Philip Handler, President of the National Academy of Science from 1969-1981, “The estimation of risk is a scientific question… The acceptability of a given level of risk, however, is a political question, to be determined in the political arena” (Douglas and Wildavsky 1982, 65).
Although Handler’s point is not entirely sound (estimation of risk is also subject to politicization, particularly in terms of the assumptions that different risk estimation tools make), the general premise stands. The role of science is to understand how different choices can lead to different outcomes. The role of politics then, is to choose which outcomes and thus which choices are acceptable (in Kiera’s case, by way of public forum and vote) (Pielke 2007).