Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.
The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Tyson, W. 2003. Relaxing in uncertainty. Conservation Ecology 7(2): r7. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss2/resp7/
Response to Robert Costanza 2000. "Visions of alternative (unpredictable) futures and their use in policy analysis"
Relaxing in Uncertainty
Published: November 6, 2003
Costanza (2000) has solicited the participation of his readers. In furtherance
of his goal (and my own goal of promoting brevity on the Internet) I offer
the following observations for the consideration of Costanza and others.
- To the degree that wealth is gained by exploiting earth
resources, that wealth may be expected to decline along with, and at a
similar (related) trajectory, of the exploited resource. But indirect
damage to ecosystems and earth structures upon which they depend may be a
more potent force for destruction and extinction than direct
exploitation—much like "incidental take" on a grand
- The problem with consensus is that it is by definition an
average, appealingly democratic, but not necessarily, nay, unlikely, to be
the optimum path toward a future that can sustain both a dynamically stable
world (or local) ecosystem and a cash/credit economy with excess at its
- Opinions are by definition connected to perceived individual
self-interest. "Expert" opinion may be little better, sometimes
far worse, than "inexpert" opinion. A nuclear scientist, for
example, may persist in the opinion that technology will someday be
developed to neutralize nuclear wastes; an inhabitant of a remote
tribal/barter economy may believe that he/she needs an Internet connection
to market his/her art work. There is a kind of seductive optimism in both
positions; neither may foster a better world in the long run; either, to
some extent, may--at least temporarily. That is to say that most
"public judgments" will require the application of principles
through a continuous process that questions those judgments—and the
principles themselves. Opinions are adversarial; seeking a common truth in
the recognition that all opinions share both truth and error and contain
independent error and truth is more intellectually and scientifically
defensible. This is the essence of intellectual discipline, and it can be
learned; it can supplant winner-take-all debate and adversarial
"law." To attempt to secure unanimity, even with public policy
power, is a Gordian Knot of infinite proportions.
- Resolving the
conflicts is a large enough chore, but by what means and by what standard
is "judgment" to be defined?
- Regardless of the time remaining before the "ultimate" point
of no return is reached, it should be at least theoretically possible to move
the "ship" (Tyson 2000a) of destiny toward betterment and
away from disaster by adding increments of reasoned judgment and action at
all levels—personal, group, community, state. It is also possible to
transcend such rigid hierarchical structures by emphasizing interconnected
strands of relevance across them. Conservation Ecology is an exemplary example.
It is perhaps no accident that "Internet" and "Worldwide
Web," like those superior structures woven by eight-eyed arthropods,
are a combination of superior strength and resilience. It may similarly be
no accident that when they do break, their weavers simply keep weaving.
- "The vision thing" has been discussed elsewhere in this Journal
(Holling 1999, Tyson 2000b) but suffice it to say that vision needs
to be organic and dynamic, continuously adjusting itself as the uncertainty
principle does its work, much as organisms and ecosystems do. One need look
no further for an "appropriate" model.
- It may be necessary and desirable to
accept "irreducible uncertainty" as a norm rather than an
obstacle. Movement toward betterment that has organic, ecological origins
may beat "appropriate analysis" and "innovative
implementation" in the long run.
- Certainly a cooperative, precautionary "policy" is preferable
to a competitive zero-sum game that is more "rational," since
both rationality and policy have dismal records of performance. Something
quite different in the human psyche is likely to be a precondition for these
pop-philosophy elements to produce the "intended" result. Perhaps
just as religions grew out of the parables of oracles to amuse and guide the
distracted masses in the early days of civilization, a network of common,
interconnected webs of new eternal verities will be needed to move world religions
and secular thought into an integrated whole. Christianity and Islam can be
honestly interpreted as requiring a respect for the Earth and its life, and
secularism should welcome an enlightenment consistent with its own principles.
Ultimately the final power and decision rests within each individual, not
a universally "shared vision." The real challenge is to imbue
the disparate expressions of uncertainty-fear with an invisible shared web
of principle common to all.
RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLE
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Costanza, R. 2000. Visions of alternative (unpredictable) futures and
their use in policy analysis. Conservation Ecology 4(1): 5. [online]
Holling, C. S. 1999. Visions: a personal essay. Conservation Ecology
3(1):12. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/Journal/vol3/iss1/art12
Tyson, W. 2000a. Advancing toward "Eden". Conservation Ecology
4(1): r6. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1/resp6
Tyson, W. 2000b. Suspect visions. Response to Mel Kotyk (1999):
"No vision = wandering in the wilderness". Conservation Ecology
4(2): r2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss2/resp2
Address of Correspondent:
Box 34069, San Diego CA 92163-4069 USA