Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fire and Sagebrush

Last week's Science Friday had a great segment about the changing landscape of the American West caused by invasive species and brushfire. All the interview questions and expert guests were fantastic, but the discussion failed to clearly define the ecosystem management goals--are we opposed to certain invasive species because we want to preserve the historic makeup of the ecosystem? Is ecosystem health and resilience more important? How much economic damage are we willing to tolerate before we intervene to stop a brushfire? Over what timeframe?

Lots of commentary on environmental issues is similarly vague, often framing debates using concepts like "naturalness". These focusing ideas may serve a social role by signalling to others an environmentalist identity affiliation, but hinder progress by muddling the debate and limiting coalition possibilities to pretty much just liberals. Certainly there are benefits to having a huge environmentalist coalition, but by decomposing environmental and natural resource issues into more specific terms, we open up the possibility of forming novel coalitions that cut through the zero-sum partisan logic of our current policy process.

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