Modernism, environmental assessment and the sustainability argument : moving towards a new approach to project-based decision-making in South Africa

Audouin, Michelle (2009-12)

Thesis (DPhil (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Through my research I have developed an alternative conceptual approach to project-level environmental assessment in South Africa, which begins to move beyond modernism in its philosophical, procedural and substantive aspects. This approach draws on the ideas of certain radical philosophers, and three innovative thinkers, namely: Bent Flyvbjerg, Amartya Sen and Paul Cilliers. The overall purpose of project-level environmental assessment (i.e. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)) is to predict the impacts on the environment of proposed development, and to recommend ways to mitigate its negative consequences and enhance its positive effects. However, there are a number of recurring problems in the practice of EIA which include: achieving interdisciplinarity in the assessment process; effectively undertaking stakeholder engagement; and accurately predicting the impacts of proposed developments. Addressing uncertainty and adequately considering the implications of cumulative and social impacts are also often poorly addressed in environmental assessment procedures. In this thesis, I describe these problems as symptomatic of the modernist roots of environmental assessment, an argument, or similar, which has been made by others in related domains (e.g. philosophy), as well as in the international field of environmental assessment itself. I identify the following three main problematic assumptions of the modern worldview that are currently constraining the effectiveness of this field: A system can be understood by observing the behaviour of its parts; All processes flow along linear, deterministic, predictable and orderly paths; and Technical, objective, natural science-based information and processes are separate from, and superior to, non-technical, subjective, and value-based information and processes. Drawing on my investigation of the core ideas of radical ecologists and of the work of Bent Flyvbjerg, Amartya Sen and Paul Cilliers, I challenge the modernist assumptions listed above and propose an alternative conceptual approach to environmental assessment, which involves the formulation of a ‘sustainability argument’. I explain the philosophical tenets (for example, humans and nature are seen as part of an interrelated social-ecological system) and general principles on which this approach rests (for example, the normative nature of all knowledge of social-ecological systems should be recognised), as well as its key characteristics (for example, the team that undertakes the study should comprise disciplinary specialists, key stakeholders and at least one ‘sustainability practitioner’ who coordinates the development of the argument). These tenets, principles and characteristics are designed to guide the development of context-specific processes, for the formulation of a sustainability argument that informs project-level development decisionmaking. The ‘sustainability argument’ approach moves beyond the human-nature (or developmentenvironment) divide inherent in current environmental assessment, in which the impact of the former on the latter is determined. The focus is shifted to understanding how the social-ecological system is likely to alter, under different conditions, as a result of the proposed development, which is seen as a potential change in the system. In addition, the way in which the social-ecological system is likely to affect the implementation of this change is described. These effects are evaluated in relation to contextually defined sustainability values, which are identified by key stakeholders through a participatory process, and guided by the principles proposed as part of the sustainability argument approach. The principles include a view of humans and nature as part of an interrelated social-ecological system in which diversity, both human and natural, is valued as a pre-requisite to sustainability. Human needs are defined beyond the provision of basic goods and services, to include the promotion and enhancement of the valuable functionings and capabilities of an individual, as described by Sen (1988b). Nature is valued, not only for its role in enabling the achievement of these functionings and capabilities, but also for the fact of its existence, as part of the overall social-ecological system.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In my navorsing het ek alternatiewe, konseptuele benadering tot omgewingsbeoordeling op projekvlak in Suid Afrika ontwerp, wat begin om verby die filosofiese, prosedurele en substantiewe aspekte van die modernisme te beweeg. Hierdie benadering berus op die idees van sekere radikale filosowe, en drie innoverende denkers, naamlik: Bent Flyvbjerg, Amartya Sen en Paul Cilliers. Die oorkoepelende doelstelling van omgewingsbeoordeling op projekvlak (i.e. Omgewingsimpakstudie (OIS)) is om die impakte op die omgewing van voorgestelde ontwikkeling te voorspel, en om voorstelle te maak om die negatiewe gevolge daarvan te beperk en die positiewe gevolge te bevorder. Tog is daar aantal herhalende probleme in die praktyk van OIS, wat die volgende insluit: Die bereiking van interdissiplinariteit in die proses van omgewingsbeoordeling; die versekering van effektiewe deelname van belangegroepe; en die akkurate voorspelling van die impakte van voorgestelde ontwikkeling. Die hantering van onsekerhede en die voldoende oorweging van die implikasies van kumulatiewe en sosiale impakte word ook nie voldoende aangespreek in die ontwerp van omgewingsbeoordeling nie. In hierdie tesis beskryf ek hierdie probleme as simptome van die modernistiese grondslag van omgewingsbeoordeling, wat soortgelyke punt maak as die argument wat nie alleen deur ander in verwante velde (e.g. filosofie) ontwikkel is nie, maar ook in die internasionale veld van omgewingsbeoordeling self. Ek identifiseer die volgende drie problematiese kernaannames van die moderne wêreldbeeld, wat tans die doeltreffendheid van omgewingsbeoordeling beperk: Sisteem kan verstaan word deur die gedrag van sy dele waar te neem; Alle prosesse volg liniêre, deterministiese, voorspelbare en geordende patrone; en Tegniese prosesse en objektiewe, natuurwetenskaplik-begronde inligting is apart van, en verhewe bo, nie-tegniese prosesse en subjektiewe en waardegebaseerde oorwegings. Op grond van my ondersoek van die kernidees van radikale ekoloë, asook die werke van Bent Flyvbjerg, Amartya Sen en Paul Cilliers, daag ek die bogenoemde modernistiese veronderstellings uit, en stel alternatiewe benadering tot omgewingsbeoordeling voor, wat die formulering van ‘volhoubaarheidsargument’ insluit. Ek verduidelik die filosofiese uitgangspunte (byvoorbeeld dat die mens en die natuur, in onderlinge wisselwerking met mekaar, gesien moet word as deel van geïntegreerde sosio-ekologiese sisteem) en algemene beginsels waarop hierdie benadering berus (byvoorbeeld dat die normatiewe aard van alle kennis van sosio-ekologiese sisteme erken behoort te word), asook die kenmerkende eienskappe daarvan (byvoorbeeld dat die span, wat die studie onderneem, saamgestel moet word uit kenners vanuit verskillende dissiplines, sleutelbelanghebbendes, en ten minste een ‘volhoubaarheidspraktisyn’ wat die ontwikkeling van die argument koördineer). Hierdie uitgangspunte, beginsels en eienskappe is ontwerp om die ontwikkeling van konteksspesifieke prosesse te stuur, en vir die formulering van volhoubaarheidsargument wat besluitneming oor ontwikkeling op projekvlak informeer. Die ‘volhoubaarheidsargument’ benadering beweeg verby die mens-natuur (of ontwikkelingomgewing) onderskeid inherent aan die huidige praktyk van omgewingsbeoordeling, waar die impak van die eersgenoemde op die laasgenoemde bepaal word. Die klem verskuif na begrip vir die manier waarop die sosio-ekologiese sisteem moontlik gaan verander, onder sekere toestande, as gevolg van die voorgestelde verandering, wat beskou word as moontlike verandering in die sisteem. Boonop word die manier waarop die sosio-ekologiese sisteem waarskynlik die implementering van die verandering gaan beïnvloed ook beskryf. Hierdie effekte word geëvalueer met betrekking tot konteks-gedefinieerde volhoubaarheidswaardes, wat deur deelnameproses geïdentifiseer word deur sleutel belanghebbendes, en gelei deur die beginsels wat voorgestel word as deel van die volhoubaarheidsargument benadering. Die beginsels sluit beskouing van mense en die natuur as deel van interverwante sosio-ekologiese sisteem waarin diversiteit, beide menslik en natuurlik, gewaardeer word as voorwaarde vir volhoubaarheid in. Menslike behoeftes is gedefinieer as meer as net die voorsiening van basiese goedere en dienste om die bevordering en verbetering van die waardevolle funksioneringe en vermoëns van individu, soos beskryf deur Sen (1988b), in te sluit. Die natuur word gewaardeer, nie slegs vir die rol wat dit speel om die verwesenliking van hierdie funksioneringe en vermoëns moontlik te maak nie, maar ook vir die feit van die natuur se bestaan, as deel van die algehele sosio-ekologiese sisteem.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/1324
This item appears in the following collections: