Informed decisions need to be based on objective rather that subjective information; but is that even possible? The following example shows how opposing conclusions can be drawn from a single piece of information: This morning, I went for a walk around my block and I walked on pavement all the way. Which of the following conclusions is correct?
- I didn’t walk on any plants or animals, so my environmental impact was zero.
- Nature was paved-over on every spot I walked so my environmental impact was 100%.
It is important to realize that questions and statements are value driven, and that the data that is gathered in response, and in support, is as well. To make sense of environmental data, we need to dig a little deeper.
In my opinion it is the collective unconscious of Western culture that warrants further investigation. Specifically how Western culture defines the words nature and environment and how it deals with accountability for pollution.
- Western culture comprises conflicting desires regarding the protection of the environment. The first is its desire to keep impressive landscapes and certain plants and animals. The second is its desire to protect its citizens from the devastating effect of storms, volcanoes and decease. To be able to fulfill both desires, nature is artificially split into two parts: the part that we want to keep and the part that could hurt us. Many disputes over data can be disarmed by this realization.
- Western culture waters down the responsibility for environmental impacts by mentally separating production and consumption. The pointing of fingers that ensues is merely a product of that distinction. It is not real. Data generated from this perspective is best served with a pinch of salt.
The real challenge is the embedding of this subconscious thinking in Western culture. When I look at data, I want to separate the facts from their cultural interpretation; to clearly distinguish between subjective and objective information.