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Uncertainty, ecology, sustainability and policy


Dovers, SR and Norton, TW and Handmer, JW, Uncertainty, ecology, sustainability and policy, Biodiversity and Conservation, 5, (10) pp. 1143-1167. ISSN 0960-3115 (1996) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1007/BF00051569


Using an Australian focus to explore theoretical and policy issues of wider concern, this article examines linkages between public policy and the science of ecology. This is done within the broader framework of sustainability, emphasizing the problem of decision making in the face of 'uncertainty'. Insights from the ecological, risk, sustainability and policy literatures are used. The sustainability-uncertainty problem is characterized, and the adequacy of existing policy support techniques and approaches noted, particularly the precautionary principle. The problem is further defined using the notion of ignorance. The treatment of ignorance and uncertainty in ecology is discussed. We suggest that the science of ecology has had a limited influence on policy formulation and discuss the basis of this using biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management as examples. We conclude by considering challenges for handling risk, uncertainty and ignorance in ecological science for policy formulation. We emphasize the need for improved communication between the science and policy communities, greater recognition of the limits of quantitative techniques in addressing uncertainty, and contingency planning.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Forestry sciences
Research Field:Forestry sciences not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Plant Production and Plant Primary Products
Objective Group:Other plant production and plant primary products
Objective Field:Other plant production and plant primary products not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Norton, TW (Professor Tony Norton)
ID Code:44914
Year Published:1996
Web of Science® Times Cited:44
Deposited By:Agricultural Science
Deposited On:2007-06-27
Last Modified:2011-09-27

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