Ecology, politics and policy

1. The British Ecological Society aims to promote the science of ecology through research and to use the findings of such research to educate the public and influence policy decisions which involve ecological matters.’ Yet, how successful have we been in influencing UK and EU environmental policy?

2. Many scientists hold to the ‘deficit model’ of turning science into policy, the view that if only politicians are told what the science reveals, ‘correct’ policies will automatically follow. Nothing could be further from the truth. Politicians have all kinds of reasons, some valid, some less valid, not to adopt what often seem to us to be common sense policies to protect the environment.

3. Here, I explore some of the successes and failures of ecologists to influence UK and European environmental policy, using acid deposition, the collapse of global marine fisheries, GM crops and climate change, carbon dioxide and ocean acidification as examples. I briefly review the extensive literature (largely ignored by natural scientists) on what social scientists have to say about evidence-based policy-making (or the lack of it) and why it often appears to be so difficult to persuade politicians to adopt sound environmental policies.

4. Synthesis and applications. Ecologists can, and do, influence government policy on the environment, but often via complex and iterative interactions that can be painfully slow, and may require fundamental changes in politicians’ belief systems, values and norms.

Lawton J. H., 2007. Ecology, politics and policy. Journal of Applied Ecology 44: 465–474. Article.

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