liu.seSearch for publications in DiVA
Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Critical Load: The politics of chemistry
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Water and Environmental Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Linköping University, The Tema Institute. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
(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 [en]
Critical Load, transboundary air pollution, CLRTAP
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-79019OAI: diva2:537708
Available from: 2012-06-27 Created: 2012-06-27 Last updated: 2012-06-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Setting Limits in Nature and the Metabolism of Knowledge: The Case of the Critical Load Concept
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Setting Limits in Nature and the Metabolism of Knowledge: The Case of the Critical Load Concept
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.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 274
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-29565 (URN)14940 (Local ID)91-7373-655-4 (ISBN)14940 (Archive number)14940 (OAI)
Public defence
2003-05-30, Sal Elysion, Hus-T, Universitetsområdet Valla, Linköping, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2009-10-09 Created: 2009-10-09 Last updated: 2014-09-01Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

No full text

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Öberg, Gunilla
By organisation
Department of Water and Environmental StudiesFaculty of Arts and SciencesThe Tema Institute
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Total: 89 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link