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Setting Limits in Nature and the Metabolism of Knowledge: The Case of the Critical Load Concept
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2003 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In the 1980s, the earlier understanding that environmental problems are relatively simple was questioned. In order to handle the perceived complexity, several responses emerged. The Critical Load concept is a prominent example of such a response, which was introduced in thesecond-generation Protocols of the Convention of Long Range Transport of Air Pollutants (CLRTAP). The aim of this thesis is to analyse the dynamics of the ideational content of the Critical Load concept, using a discursive approach on policy. At the centre of the analysis are theories, ideas and knowledge claims about nature and processes in nature. The empirical material consists of policy texts produced by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and interviews with SEPA employees.

The Critical Load concept can be interpreted as a meeting place where perceptions of different pollutants, objects in nature and scientific disciplines, meet and interact under the common view of nature as being robust within limits. Chemical mass-balance calculations oftransboundary air pollution in soils and forests dominate the operationalisation of the concept. The dominating chemical perspective has two origins. The first is the acidification concept, which has been the central issue of CLR TAP and has mainly been identified and discussed as a chemical problem. The second is the perception that chemical processes can be exactly measured in nature just as they can in the laboratory. Consequently, it is also generally assumed that estimates based on calculations of chemical processes fit well into the larger discourse of economically and ecologically efficient environmental policy-making within which the Critical Load concept has been situated. A change in the Critical Load concept, from exact mass balance calculations to risk analysis, could be identified with the introduction of new pollutants into the CLRTAP policy agenda. For certain types of pollutants even the possibility defining limits is denied. The conceptual change is here interpreted as a shrinkinglegitimacy of the concept, which also encompasses a weakening of the dominant view of nature as being robust within limits. It is, however too early to judge if this change will lead to larger discursive changes and a general refutation of the ideas that nature's limits are calculable and that such limits provide suitable foundations for environmental policy.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköpings Universitet , 2003. , 135 p.
Series
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 274
Keyword [sv]
Föroreningsfrågor
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-29565Local ID: 14940ISBN: 91-7373-655-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-29565DiVA: diva2:250381
Public defence
2003-05-30, Sal Elysion, Hus-T, Universitetsområdet Valla, Linköping, 10:00 (Swedish)
Supervisors
Available from: 2009-10-09 Created: 2009-10-09 Last updated: 2014-09-01Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Critical Load: The politics of chemistry
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Critical Load: The politics of chemistry
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Critical Load was introduced as a environmental policy tool in the late 1980s in response to a need for exact and scientifically based measures to abate transboundary air pollution in the Convention onLong-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP). The main objective in this study was to analyse the practical operationalisation of these limits. The study proceeded by analysing policy document treating the Critical Load concept produced by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEP A) It is showed that the concept is mainly operationalised through three scientific disciplines, chemistry, ecology and toxicology. Chemistry dominates and two things are forwarded as a reason. First, the political over all aim of Critical Load is based on the ideas that nature is robust within limits a perception, which is closely entangled with an idea that it is possible to calculate these limits. This favours chemical explanations, as chemistry is perceived as more calculable than for example ecology. Secondly, the Critical Load concept was initially used in connection to acidification, which primarily has been perceived a chemical problem. As ecological  explanations in the material not are operationalised into precise limitsthe role of ecology is interpreted as a complement to the precise calculations provided by chemistry, taking into consideration the balance and the complexity of nature. Toxicological explanations on the other hand provide precise measurements and are therefore interpreted as an intermediary between ecology and chemistry. Thethree stories are therefore interpreted as versions on the same story,nature as robust within limits and calculable. The ecological and thetoxicological explanations are also interpreted as answers to a changein the perception of environmental problem to more complex and to achanging focus of polluting compounds in the CLRTAP.

Keyword
Critical Load, transboundary air pollution, CLRTAP
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-79019 (URN)
Available from: 2012-06-27 Created: 2012-06-27 Last updated: 2012-06-27Bibliographically approved
2. The Critical Load graph: A rhetorical trope
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Critical Load graph: A rhetorical trope
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

It is often said that pictures and graphical visualisations have a greatpower to unify and simplify ideas: "a picture says a thousand words" as thesaying goes. The ability of graphs to explore and summarise large sets ofnumbers is also well known (Tufte, 1983: introduction). Although scientistsfrequently have recourse to graphical illustrations when explaining complexproblems, the role of pictures and graphs in forwarding scientific findingshas received relatively little attention in studies of science compared to the attention given to texts. Ronald Giere and Michael Ruse have suggested thatthis lack of interest may be explained by the strong influence of logical empiricism in scientific culture (Giere, 1996; Ruse, 1996). Logical empiricism emerged in the eighteenth century in the transition between an oral-visualculture and a text-based culture, nurturing a suspicion towards pictures andarguing that human thinking relies on words. In this textual culture pictures are reduced to persuasive aids, if considered at all, being thought of as pedagogical tools or simple 'illustrations' used to facilitate the presentation and sharing of scientific findings (Stafford, 1994). Another reason why visual displays in science have been underestimated and neglected compared to scientific texts, may simply be, as suggested by David Lynch, that methods for analysing verbal materials are more advanced than thosefor analysing pictures (Lynch, 1990:151).

(...)

National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-79020 (URN)
Note
Abstract is an abridged version of the introduction.Available from: 2012-06-27 Created: 2012-06-27 Last updated: 2012-06-27Bibliographically approved
3. Setting limits in nature and the politics of chemical compounds
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Setting limits in nature and the politics of chemical compounds
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Critical Load concept, emerged in the late 1980s as a response toan expressed need from especially policy makers to create more exactand scientifically based policy tools for the abatement of transboundary air pollution in Europe (Gehring, 1994; Wettestad, 2000). The concept has mainly been used in international negotiationson emission reductions related to the second-generation protocols, tothe Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), i.e. the 1994 Oslo protocol and the 1999 Gothenburg protocol.

To create a policy based on scientific findings of effects in nature was, by policy makers in the CLRT AP regime, seen as an improvement in relation to the uniform emission reductions, used in earlier protocols. Equal percentage cuts were viewed as arbitrary, economically ineffective and unfair. Arbitrary, as there was no solid scientific base to support the cuts. Ineffective, as the cost for reduction was different in different parts of Europe. Unfair as uniform emission reductions had failed to take into account that ecosystem sensibility varies. The introduction of Critical Load in the CLRTAP can hence be described as a change from a focus on equity of reduction, based on equal commitments for different countries to a focus on equity of environmental effects and economical commitments. The solution to these problems was the Critical Load concept which estimates ofnature's limits to different types of pollutants were aimed to serve asthe base for cost-efficiency calculations, creating the desired policy. The shift from equal percentage cuts to emission cuts based on effects led to an increased importance of scientific estimations (Biickstrand, 2001; Cresser, 2000).

(...)

National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-79021 (URN)
Note
Abstract is an abridged version of the introduction.Available from: 2012-06-27 Created: 2012-06-27 Last updated: 2012-06-27Bibliographically approved
4. The Critical Load concept: A milestone or milestone for future environmental policymaking?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Critical Load concept: A milestone or milestone for future environmental policymaking?
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article provides an analysis of the critique directed towards the Critical Load concept expressed in policy texts produced by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. The aim is to trace and discuss the character of this critique. A further aim is to discuss whether it is possible that this critique may gain a foothold in today's environmental policy, and what the result of such a development could be for the future use of the Critical Load as a basis of environmental policy-making. It is shown that the Critical Load concept faces a decreasing legitimacy as a policy tool, giving it an uncertain, but nevertheless possibly viable future. However,depending on how the possibilities of estimating limits in nature areinterpreted and used in practice, the concept may become either amilestone or a millstone.

National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-79022 (URN)
Available from: 2012-06-27 Created: 2012-06-27 Last updated: 2012-06-27Bibliographically approved

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