On Owning Nature: Part II

(And the Pleasure of Life)

 Beneath the fog, I miss the hot breath
Of lovers’ abated anticipation
Forgive me, death
I have not forsaken you.
Take caution in your felicitations
For we have not proved our innocence yet

I had intentions of telling you about European trepidation—of French elites clinking glasses of rosé in the Aix-en-Provence countryside. White linens and fresh cheese from the farm.  What a tempting romance—to sing the praises of uniqueness!  Of a fear of globalization and the perversities of strangers it may introduce.  But instead, I want to tell you a cautionary tale.

To speak of prudence in an era of unprecedented technological ‘progress’ is almost blasphemous.  However, there has been growing public dissent in the EU toward genetically modified organisms[1].  Roger Cohen of the New York Times writes that, “the specter of nature being rendered more uniform by scientists in America has meshed with a wider fear of an increasingly undifferentiated planet where national distinctions fade.”  The European approach to implementing technological innovations is characterized by precautionary sentiments where we, here in the United States, have tended to allow innovations to seize the market barring direct scientific evidence of harm. Though this may be in line with the view of individualistic freedom, it places the burden of proof upon the victim of dominating infiltrators; this is characterized in a multiplicitous array of ways from the use of hormones in beef to the ‘drill baby drill’ attitude toward hydraulic fracturing to the proliferation of genetically modified seeds and so on.

It is often in my constitution to run quickly into the sea without surveying to see how deep it is.  But I am willing to concede that in my maturation I have developed a reverence for caution, for anticipation.

The major difference in the approaches across the pond lies in this issue of caution – particularly with regard to risk assessment.  For the EU, in the absence of relevant scientific evidence, one can invoke the precautionary principle.  The precautionary principle does not explicitly require scientific consensus to take action against a policy that is suspected to be risky.  Rather, those implementing the policy or taking the action are encumbered with the burden of proof to show that the action is notharmful.  Paragraph 2, Article 191 of the Lisbon Treaty states: “union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union.  It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.” This is something that makes the EU resistant to allowing GMOs into the market.

Lynch & Vogel point out that “when Europeans think of wildlife and the rural environment, they think of farmland, and for them GM technology appears to be the next step in an unwelcome intensification of agriculture.  Americans, in contrast, think of the wilderness areas their national parks; they regard farmland as part of the industrial systems” (17).  Herein lies a fundamental issue of individual rights versus communitarian values, and a key difference in the U.S. and EU views on genetically modified organisms.  The political pundits and industry leaders have tried to propose that both genetically modified seeds and organic seeds can flourish in harmony relying on the mantra of individual rights.  However, the reality is that the harmful impacts of the modified seeds and their proliferation have shown that we do not live in isolation.

So perhaps I should have titled this ‘Ode to Precaution’.  A thank you note to an under-appreciated and somewhat bullied perspective. It is not sexy; it is not Hollywood; it is a cap over the electrical socket; it is slowing down at a yellow light; it is turning off the radiator when you leave the house.


[1] ”GMO” stands for Genetically Modified Organism–this is an organism that has been genetically engineered.  These are used in a number of fields spanning from pharmaceuticals to research to agriculture.  In my previous post, I wrote about the patent protections of genetically modified seeds.

Photograph by Kevin Dooley

Lynch, D. and Vogel, D. (2001). The regulation of GMOs in Europe and the United States: A case-study of contemporary European regulatory politics. Council on Foreign Relations. 1-39.

Posted under: BlogTechnology & Society

On Owning Nature: Part II

(And the Pleasure of Life)

 Beneath the fog, I miss the hot breath
Of lovers’ abated anticipation
Forgive me, death
I have not forsaken you.
Take caution in your felicitations
For we have not proved our innocence yet

I had intentions of telling you about European trepidation—of French elites clinking glasses of rosé in the Aix-en-Provence countryside. White linens and fresh cheese from the farm.  What a tempting romance—to sing the praises of uniqueness!  Of a fear of globalization and the perversities of strangers it may introduce.  But instead, I want to tell you a cautionary tale.

To speak of prudence in an era of unprecedented technological ‘progress’ is almost blasphemous.  However, there has been growing public dissent in the EU toward genetically modified organisms[1].  Roger Cohen of the New York Times writes that, “the specter of nature being rendered more uniform by scientists in America has meshed with a wider fear of an increasingly undifferentiated planet where national distinctions fade.”  The European approach to implementing technological innovations is characterized by precautionary sentiments where we, here in the United States, have tended to allow innovations to seize the market barring direct scientific evidence of harm. Though this may be in line with the view of individualistic freedom, it places the burden of proof upon the victim of dominating infiltrators; this is characterized in a multiplicitous array of ways from the use of hormones in beef to the ‘drill baby drill’ attitude toward hydraulic fracturing to the proliferation of genetically modified seeds and so on.

It is often in my constitution to run quickly into the sea without surveying to see how deep it is.  But I am willing to concede that in my maturation I have developed a reverence for caution, for anticipation.

The major difference in the approaches across the pond lies in this issue of caution – particularly with regard to risk assessment.  For the EU, in the absence of relevant scientific evidence, one can invoke the precautionary principle.  The precautionary principle does not explicitly require scientific consensus to take action against a policy that is suspected to be risky.  Rather, those implementing the policy or taking the action are encumbered with the burden of proof to show that the action is notharmful.  Paragraph 2, Article 191 of the Lisbon Treaty states: “union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union.  It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.” This is something that makes the EU resistant to allowing GMOs into the market.

Lynch & Vogel point out that “when Europeans think of wildlife and the rural environment, they think of farmland, and for them GM technology appears to be the next step in an unwelcome intensification of agriculture.  Americans, in contrast, think of the wilderness areas their national parks; they regard farmland as part of the industrial systems” (17).  Herein lies a fundamental issue of individual rights versus communitarian values, and a key difference in the U.S. and EU views on genetically modified organisms.  The political pundits and industry leaders have tried to propose that both genetically modified seeds and organic seeds can flourish in harmony relying on the mantra of individual rights.  However, the reality is that the harmful impacts of the modified seeds and their proliferation have shown that we do not live in isolation.

So perhaps I should have titled this ‘Ode to Precaution’.  A thank you note to an under-appreciated and somewhat bullied perspective. It is not sexy; it is not Hollywood; it is a cap over the electrical socket; it is slowing down at a yellow light; it is turning off the radiator when you leave the house.


[1] ”GMO” stands for Genetically Modified Organism–this is an organism that has been genetically engineered.  These are used in a number of fields spanning from pharmaceuticals to research to agriculture.  In my previous post, I wrote about the patent protections of genetically modified seeds.

Photograph by Kevin Dooley

Lynch, D. and Vogel, D. (2001). The regulation of GMOs in Europe and the United States: A case-study of contemporary European regulatory politics. Council on Foreign Relations. 1-39.

Posted under: BlogTechnology & Society

Planning for Unpredictability

Published @ gnovisjournal on November 22, 2011, edited on October 21, 2012.

How good are we at predicting the future?  Much of economics is about reducing risks, and you reduce risks by planning for the future. We invest in innovative infrastructure in preparation for the future.  We tune into Kramer and hire money managers to manage our future investments—hoping to get in before the rest of the world does.  We bet on future commodities in an effort to spread risk. We even superstitiously believe an octopus can tell us who’s going to win the World Cup!  It is clear that in assessing risk we are looking for a simple way to understand complexity.

And then natural disasters hit, or the housing bubble bursts, or the stock market plummets, (or the octopus dies) and we’re left confused in how we got it so wrong.

If there is one thing that is certain it is that we are incredibly uncertain in our predictions making it difficult, inefficient, and irresponsible to dump top-down strategies on the rest of the world.

As Douglass North in Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance will tell us: institutions are a way for reducing uncertainty.  In an era of a ‘we vs. them’ worldview, things were simple, straightforward, certain—we made predictions based on ideological bents.  However, we have seen that the neoclassical paradigm was a huge misfit for other countries as it assumed zero transaction costs and rational behavior of individuals; it assumed that humanity was predictable using the self-interested individual as the unit of analysis.  Illuminating the crucial difference from one country to another, North emphasizes that a common set of rules will function differently in different societies given their specific histories and institutional frameworks.  He examines the adoption of the U.S. Constitution by several Latin American countries in the 19th century and finds that “although the rules are the same, the enforcement mechanisms, the way enforcement occurs, the norms of behavior, and the subjective models of the actors are not.  Hence, both the real incentive structures and the perceived consequences of policies will differ as well” (North, 101).

Structural changes such as natural disasters and war disrupt the institutional framework.  Chaotic events are typically unpredictable, as are the effects of an institutional breakdown.  The earthquake in Haiti illuminates what an effect unpredictable, cataclysmic forces coupled with a lack functioning government can have on a country.  Because the Haitians did not have formal laws delineating property rights, the informal, insecure property rights were uprooted after mass displacement.  

One development strategy for Haiti that Patricia Adams proposes, and I think North would agree with, is the need for a new government structure, “one credibly backed by the Haitian people.”  She recommends this “occur via a referendum, administered by Canada and the United States under United Nations auspices, in which the Haitian people are given a choice between their existing system of government and that of their island neighbour, Puerto Rico, which is a commonwealth under U.S. protection.”  Formal institutions such as a referendum will give the Haitian people sovereignty over their nation for the first time, giving the citizens the “means to make higher demands of their government.”

What Haiti needs now for development is a reestablishment of local identity.  What they need is for the U.S. to reverse the neo-liberal adjustments it has imposed over the last few decades, and perhaps come to adopt some new institutional frameworks that would provide a space for successful bottom-up opportunities.  These provisions would allow for a future that is within the hands of the  Haitian people–not subject to the predictions and prescriptions of the developed world.

Fractured States

Question: How can information technologies be used to deal with an increasingly complex human-environment system, particularly with regard to land-use disputes?

Hypothesis: I hypothesize that open source information technologies such as mapping can enable local citizens to mitigate land-use disputes by providing geolocational visualizations of dialogue and values, similar to an interactive version of public forum debates.  I propose a prototype for a tool that would benefit local governments and citizens by providing a platform for visualizing values that are often unquantifiable.

For understanding human-environment relationships, multiple scales of analysis have been explored. GIScience initially tended to focus on spatial environmental data at the pixel level received by remotely sensed imagery.  However, the social aspect has become increasingly important, especially with an influx of web 2.0 participatory tools, marrying the local level survey and census data to visual communication.  Thus, a blend of socially participatory data and spatial planning have become one.  In this way, “a map can facilitate mutual understanding and common agreement about facts, and can be used to develop trusting relationships across a diverse set of participants” (Schlossberg and Shuford, 2005).   Understanding human-environment systems is increasingly critical as we deal with the ill-structured and ambiguous problems of living in a globally connected world.

The research will use both quantitative and qualitative methods.  I refer to the Alternative Futures Analysis, a tool developed in 1990 by Carl Steinitz and now utilized by the EPA, which analyzes multiple layers of information about land-use habits to visually portray how land-use decisions affect a region over time.  In addition to this resource, I would like to use open source mapping tools such as MapBox, TileMill, and OpenStreetMap, to create a design that would allow users to easily edit values into the map and engage in dialogue with their neighbors.  This will allow residents not only to see how their values relate to others within the community, but will also provide a predictive futures analysis on how their values will be represented in the future.

Interacting in the Commons

“Information visualization aims at visually translating large volumes of data into digestible insights, creating an explicit bridge between data and knowledge.  Due to its intrinsic aspirations for sense-making, information visualization is an obvious tool for network science, able to disentangle a range of complex systems and make them more comprehensible.  Not only do both disciplines share a yearning for understanding, but they have also experienced a meteoric rise in the last decade, bringing together people from various fields and capturing the interest of individuals across the globe” (Lima, Manuel. Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information, pg. 18). 

Despite massive innovations over the past 40 years in geoinformatics, there are still some unmapped cracks in the sidewalk for further research.  This research seeks to explore to what extent information technology, such as mapping, has empowered citizens to take part in more participatory action, cutting across their own networks (will refer to work done on participatory GIS and public participation GIS).  This thesis is underpinned by the view that individuals are not isolated beings, but rather, are embedded in a dense social network, one that is laden with discordant values and customs.

Theories of collective action and public goods theory (Samuelson, Hardin, Olson, Ostrom) display the need for coordination among a myriad of interests.   My research will rely on these theories to provide a framework for thinking about how individuals within groups make decisions.  Despite literature which tells us that individuals will cooperate better within small groups because they will share like interests (Krackhardt, Passy, Burt); it has become increasingly clear that even individuals within same groups hold a myriad of conflicting values.  This makes collective decision-making incredibly complex.

Given this complexity, how do people use technology such as geographic information systems to make decisions with regard to the environment, a commonly held resource, when presented with such varying value structures?  If we cannot assume that all individuals are acting in a standardized rational way, how do we calibrate for a varying scale of individual values?  One commonly cited problem is that of concentrated private costs versus diffuse public benefits.  I hypothesize that mapping public benefits to geographic space will incentivize participatory action on behalf of the citizen; in part, because it provides a mental map to the citizen.

The research will use both quantitative and qualitative methods.  A current area of contention is over the use of land with regard to natural gas extraction.  Friction exists over the method of extraction, hydraulic fracturing, and its potential negative effects on the health of the community, both physically, aesthetically, and spiritually.  On the converse, some community members argue that the industry will bring on an influx of revenue to the community; there is also an appeal to some environmentalists based on the notion that natural gas is cleaner than coal.  I will look at three communities currently battling these issues, and explore how the visualization of values — one’s own in relation to others’ — might mitigate dissidence.

A deeper question that this research poses is does a sense of wonder inspire more civically minded citizens?

Burt, R. (2005). Brokerage and closure: An introduction to social capital. New York: Oxford University Press.

Elwood, Sarah. (2006). Beyond cooptation or resistance: Urban spatial politics, community organizations, and GIS-based spatial narratives. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 96(2): 323-341.

Goodchild, M.F. (2007). Citizens as sensors: The world of volunteered geographic information. GeoJournal, 69(4).

Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162(3859): 1243-1248.

Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S., and Austin, M. E. (2008). Factors shaping local land use decisions: Citizen planners’ perceptions and challenges.  Environment and Behavior, 40(1): 46-71.

Krackhardt, D. (1972). The strength of strong ties: The importance of Philos in organizations. Networks and Organizations: Structure Form and Action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Koontz, T. M. (2001). Money talks–But to whom? Financial vs. non-monetary motivations in land use decisions.  Society and Natural Resources, 14: 51-65.

Lessig, L. (2001). The future of ideas: The fate of the commons in a connected world. New York: Random House.

Moran, E. F., & Ostrom, E. (2005). Seeing the Forest and the Trees : Human-environment Interactions in Forest Ecosystems. Mit Press.

Neuliep, J. W. (2011). Intercultural Communication, 5: 45-167

Olson, M. (1971). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Harvard University Press.

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press.

Passy, F. (2003). Social networks matter but how? Social Movement and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vandello, J. A., and Cohen, D. (1999). Patterns of individualism and collectivism across the United States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(2): 279-292.

Walsh, S.J., and K.A. Crews-Meyer, eds. (2002). Linking people, place, and policy: A GIS-cience approach. Boston: Kluwer.

Outlining

Despite literature on rational choice theory and neoclassical economics, it has become increasingly clear that even individuals within the same groups hold a myriad of conflicting values.  This makes collective decision-making incredibly complex.  How do people make decisions with regard to the environment, a commonly held resource, when presented with such varying value structures?  If we cannot assume that all individuals are acting in a standardized rational way, how do we calibrate for a varying scale of individual values?  One commonly cited problem is that of concentrated private costs versus diffuse public benefits.

To investigate ways of resolving tensions, first we need to understand how decisions are made and implemented.  Decision-making is an interaction between federal, state and local governments, industry, citizen groups, and individuals; thus, it is important to look at the ways that external forces such as institutions and government play a role with respect to individual behavior.  In his book, Institutions, Institutional Chance and Economic Performance, Douglass North tells that institutions matter because they are a way for reducing uncertainty.  In an era of a ‘we vs. they’ worldview, in which the individual was viewed as isolated from any social context, things were simple, straightforward, certain—we made predictions based on ideological bents.  However, we have seen that the neoclassical paradigm was a huge misfit for other countries as it assumed zero transaction costs and rational behavior of individuals; it assumed that humanity was predictable using the self-interested individual as the unit of analysis.

Illuminating the crucial differences within groups, North emphasizes that a common set of rules will function differently in different societies given their specific histories and institutional framework. In personal exchanges, because the salience of informal rules, community, and cooperation is high, situations for risk and uncertainty are low.  In tribal exchange, “the absence of a state supported by formal written rules is made up for by a dense social network” (North, 123).  Because of this, there is little need for costly, often inefficient, formal institutions such as regulatory agencies or government institutions to step in.  People are willing to take risks on behalf of their community.  However, as society grows and we become more and more globalized, it is not that informal rules lose their meaning, but the opportunities of defection are greater.  It is here that society may benefit in having weak ties with rooted cosmopolitans (Granovetter, Tarrow, and Tilly).

However, if values are not written into the individual stemming from inner personal motivations but are embedded in a society, how do we account for varying values within a colony? Coming from a socio-cultural and systemic thinking perspective, I ask how people today make decisions on how to use publicly shared resources.  As this is an age-old problem, dating back to antiquity, how might individuals resolve tensions with new information communication technologies?

In particular, I am curious about how useful, if employed at all, are information technologies in the context of contention over issues of land use.  Is there a way for preserving individual values while responding to the wants and needs of each person?  There is a paradox in the attempt to be sensitive to a diversity of individual values while also preserving the land.

One example of where we see this tension is in conflict between the tribe members of Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Northern Montana who are currently arguing over whether or not to lease their land for hydraulic fracturing.  In some literature such as Richard Pascale’s The Power of Positive Deviance, we see that the solution to many problems can come from within communities.  It comes from an observation of local identity and an understanding for how society works together.

References:

North, Douglass. (1990). Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance: Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions. Cambridge University Press. Print.

Expanding and Contracting

I have begun to hone in on more specific areas of the complexity of understanding global environmental problems while simultaneously maintaining a broad perspective to take in different disciplines.  I still propose that environmental problems are related to STEM in that they are ill-structured and ambiguous; they include a multitude of variables, thus, there is a need for better methods of engaging society on these complex issues.  But upon deeper reflection, this interest does not extend from the perspective of an advocate of change or a particularly pro-conservationist mindset.  Rather, it is inspired by an interest in how individuals interact with one another to make sense of an uncertain world.

Social psychology has shown that behavioral modifications are effective in changing individual behaviors specifically through feedback mechanisms (Goetz, Thomas).  And by changing individual behaviors, one can presumably mitigate the cumulative effects of individual choices.  By and large, the latest literature shows that science communication has been ineffective in educating the public and in fact, it has largely increased public polarization around contentious issues (Hart & Nisbet, 2011).  So here we witness a scenario in which individuals do not respond well to scientific information; however, are moved to action by nudges (Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge).

Some of the more specific questions that have come to mind are:

How can new technologies be designed and deployed to localize and individualize global problems such as climate change?  Have tools such as mapping and spatial analysis given rise to more participatory action by providing a place to self-report?  Given that individuals tend to align with an ideology to ward off uncertainty (Jost et al.), how could these tools possibly mitigate the chances of individuals adopting ideologies that may be inconsistent with reality?

More specifically, what are tribal communities in the Arctic and Pacific Northwest doing to have their local problems voiced in the context of global climate change?  How do these local communities transmit knowledge both within their network and to those outside of their network? For instance, the Local Environmental Observers (LEO) provide Alaskan communities with tools for mapping and monitoring climate change.  In these tribal communities, the residents rely on their own observations and communication with one another.  However, it is critical to have a liaison between local residents and state and federal governments.  The chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Billy Frank Jr., speaks about the importance of linking a direct observation of the natural world with scientific research. “Traditional knowledge is on the ground stuff; it’s not a theory,” says Ray Harris, a fisherman in Chemainus First Nation.  I might also look at how local fishing communities in South Louisiana responded to their plight post-Hurricane Katrina (and the BP Oil Spill)?

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I hypothesize that the problem of denial or lack of concern for global problems is not a problem of individual morality for all men desire to be virtuous (Aristotle) but of the social context in which one is embedded.  Furthermore, though the political regime as well as institutions and organizations may shape the incentives for sustainable innovations (North, 1990), “expert-driven, centralized and top-down approaches to problem solving are not nimble enough to effectively address global challenges characterized by high levels of complexity and uncertainty” (Westley et al., 776). When designing processes for citizen engagement, new technologies must diverge from the centralized, top-down approaches to problem-solving and take on a much more distributed and decentralized nature. But it is critical that we not be too quick to extol the Internet and its subsystem, the World Wide Web as the beacon of democratic technology.  There are many components that comprise these systems, some that may or may not be entirely conducive to democratic decision-making.

Self-regulation and reflection (Anderson et al) often referred to as metacognition (Flavell) will help inform the questions asked in my survey of individuals’ perception of their views in relation to others.  Additionally the social cognitive theory presented by Albert Bandura helps in understanding why people may not respond immediately to dire environmental issues.  Here it will be worthwhile to look at what scholars have said about perception (Eagleman).

Time and time again we see that change is happening most at the fringes. This research will explore what new information communication technologies can be employed to engage the social cognitive function of individuals, particularly in places marked by disaster and uncertainty.

All who are able, may gain virtue by study and care, for it is better to be happy by the action of nature than by chance. To entrust to chance what is most important would be defective reasoning.
-Aristotle

Scientific Uncertainty and Decision-Making

Does scientific uncertainty impede pro-environmental decision-making in the public as well as in policy-making?

Does scientific uncertainty lead to environmental skepticism?

Do interactive designs communicate environmental challenges more clearly than mainstream news media and science journals?

Has the reliance on scientific “proof” to justify injury diminished the trust in science?

How closely correlated is environmental protection and economic growth?

What branch of the U.S. government has the greatest effect on environmental policy?

Night sweats. Fever. Swollen lymph nodes. Nausea. Rising sea levels. Depletion of wetlands. Droughts. The list goes on and on—a mélange of toxins culminating in localized problems. Air pollutants often go unseen until they make themselves known through the human body. Strides to connect the uncertainty of disease and natural disasters to human action and air pollutants have relied heavily on scientific research.  But how has the quantification of scientific certainty and economic valuation around environmental problems had negative effects on the regulation of potentially harmful substances?  As noted by Norman Vig and Michael Kraft, the late 60s to early 70s marked a time of widespread, bipartisan pro-environmental movements mostly due to sensationalist images and events capturing the risk of environmental problems as well as a plethora of scientific findings linking air and water pollutants to human illness.  This was a time in which the focus became much more legal and scientific than in the past.

The Clean Air Act was backed by Congress during this time period, the same year that the EPA was created and was given the primary role in carrying out the law (plain English guide to the CAA, 2).  To give the EPA even more authority in holding companies accountable for pollutant emissions, Congress amended the act in 1990 to include a requirement under section 812 that EPA “conduct periodic, scientifically reviewed studies to assess the benefits and the costs of the Clean Air Act” (ES-1).  Additionally, the Act majorly relied on cost-benefit analysis for justifying environmental programs.  This has proved to be an incredibly difficult way to assess the benefits of the act because it requires monetizing human suffering and loss. Another problem with this kind of assessment is that there are real, visible, upfront costs of implementing regulations while the benefits go unseen but are potentially far greater than the immediate costs.  As seen in the Supreme Court case between the state of Massachusetts and the EPA, under the modern framework, petitioners bear the burden of proof to show that an injury is “traceable to the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to promulgate new motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards, and that is likely to be redressed by the prospective issuance of such standards” (Mass v. EPA, Roberts, C. J., dissenting, 2).  The problem is that it is almost impossible to trace alleged injuries “back through this complex web to the fractional amount of global emissions that might have been limited with EPA standards” (Roberts, C. J., dissenting, 11).

Though the rise in global temperatures and its linkage with greenhouse gases was based on scientific opinion, the EPA petitioned to not regulate ‘greenhouse gases’ due to conflict over what is under the EPA’s jurisdiction[1].  Additionally, the EPA capitalized on the ambiguity of the word ‘judgment’ to say that there are other areas of the government who can regulate; however, the term was meant that the EPA can only avoid regulations “if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do” (5).  In other words, the EPA must give a reason for why it chooses to act or not act.  The Supreme Court’s opinion was that the use “of the word ‘judgment’ is not a roving license to ignore the statutory text.  It is but a direction to exercise discretion within defined statutory limits” (30).  It is of particular interest not only how scientific uncertainty led to snags in the regulatory process, but also, how the text itself became a science.  As noted in the Supreme Court case “textual ambiguity” of the definition of air pollutant and the lack of a definition for air pollution provided room for uncertainty, misunderstanding, and manipulation of the text.


[1] The EPA argued that the regulation of motor-vehicle carbon dioxide emissions would fall under the role of the Department of Transportation.