Reflecting on this weeks topic, Environmental Decision Making is an area I personally find very interesting. It’s far from a straight forward process because of a number of factors, particularly the battle between environmental, social and economic interests that tend to frame the arguments one way or another.
This is always in the news, but recently there was the approval of the Shenhua open cut coal mine in prime agricultural land in northern NSW.
What I find interesting about this particular decision is the conflict between competing economic interests. Often in the debate over these sort of approvals the trade off for an environmentally damaging development is the economic benefits, particuarly in the case of coal. In this case it is the economic interests of the mine vs the agriculture sector, vital also to Australias economy.
What else is noticeable is the framework in which the decision is made. There is great emphasis on the conditions, based on scientific results, that have been imposed as part of the approval. They don’t really deal with uncertainty, however. There’s not a real consideration of cumulative impacts, just threshold levels for different impacts. As the farmers in the article mentioned, there doesn’t seem to have been consideration for affecting the water supply itself, just amount of water being used.
These sort of articles really illustrate what is considered in environmental decision making, and the approach taken. They consider economic, scientific, environmental, social impacts but it is more an interdisciplinary manner than any transdisciplinary way of appraching the decision. It enables them to say everything has been considered but without really considering how each of these factors then interact with each other.
It’s not necessarily a bad decision (time will tell on that), I just think it’s quite short sighted when obviously agriculture is such a vital component of Australias future.