Blowing in the wind: the politics of environmental decision-making

“Utterly offensive” and “a blight on the landscape,” fumed then Treasurer of Australia, Joe Hockey, in reference to a wind farm at Lake George, near Canberra. “Visually awful”, “noisy” and “ugly,” responded Prime Minister Tony Abbott when pressed for his views on wind turbines during interviews in 2015. These are not the comments of policy-makers who have deliberatively consulted technical, economic, and environmental data to present ‘evidence-based policy’ or ‘rational decision-making’. These are the comments of politicians seeking to shape the public discourse around renewable energy and, by extension, the primary rationale for renewable energy policy instruments: climate change.

In this example, environmental decision-making is inextricably linked to the framing of an environmental challenge. By highlighting aesthetic criticisms of wind turbines, the Abbott government subverted the environmental discussion to one of personal, visual (and auditory) amenity instead of a collective responsibility to address the global climate change challenge, and downgraded the economic analysis to one of spending money on ugly structures instead of investing in clean energy technology and transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency. It is surely evident from this example that politics and socio-cultural dynamics, framing and discourses, play dramatic roles in shaping environmental decision-making.

In the world of business and marketing, a PESTEL analysis provides an appraisal of the Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Environmental and Legal contexts in which a business operates. It is encouraging to read about this type of analysis, which goes beyond the limitations of scientific, technical and economic considerations, and recognises the real-world implications of political, socio-cultural, and legal perspectives. While it is imperative for environmental managers to recognise that policies can fail when they are implemented without regard for socio-political contexts, it is equally important to see that policies fail when the socio-political contexts are ‘guided’ (or manipulated) to meet outcomes that are not derived from economic, technical or environmental analyses.

Feature image: Albany wind farm at sunset. By Leon Brooks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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