Tonight, I am brainstorming connections between scientists and remedy design. Addressing environmental problem basically seems to revolve around changing the intensity with which an activity is being carried out (ie. fish or cut down trees at the rate of regeneration) or finding substitutes (using solar power instead of natural gas power). Both kinds of solutions involve some critical imputs from scientists. Not surprisingly, my focus here is on types of actions that pertain specifically to my case studies.
I have come up with the following. Does anything else spring to mind?
- Alternative chemicals to replace ones that have been problematic (for instance, CFCs and POPs)
- Alternative mechanisms for energy generation, storage, and transmission
- Energy-using technologies that are more efficient
- Plant varieties that require fewer pesticides
- Mechanisms for the disposal or long-term storage of unwanted by-products
- Less polluting mechanisms for waste disposal
Anticipating the consequences of:
- Continuing to behave as we have been
- Adopting one or another alternative approach
- The combination of our impact upon the world with possible natural changes, such as major volcanic eruptions
Providing information about uncertainty:
- How good are our predictions?
- If they do fail, in what ways might it occur (what is not included in the models?)
- What kinds of uncertainty are out there (ie. magnitude of effects, distribution of effects, etc)
Predictions about technological development:
- What will the state of environmentally relevant technologies be in X years?
- Is it better to invest in the best technology we have now, or continue research and wait (partly an economic question)
Big ideas about the world
Establish and describe the limits of nature:
- Is this a factual or ideological exercise?
- The same facts could justify differing views
- Some ideologies have elements that can be pretty effectively undermined by science (ie. eugenics)
- Are there categories of risk that it is more ‘rational’ to worry about?
- When does it make sense to ‘wait and see’ and when does it make sense to act in a precautionary way?
Naturally, those last few items extend into territory that is not obviously scientific. One big question about the social role of scientists is the extent to which they do or should contribute to such hybrid debates, with both empirical and ethical dimensions. Also, there is the question of whether they do or should do so ‘with their scientist hats on’ or whether they are no different from any other actor, once they have strayed from their area of core competence.