Then, is climate change really attributable to human activity? Is anthropogenic attribution significant ? How important is the political incentives in shaping the consensus ? Is it true that the global warming consensus is just a scientific hoax and more like a political consensus as what the skepticism claimed ? How could we explain the relationship between evolution of scientific discovery and political incentives ?
I believe the following interesting video could help give us a clue to some of the above confusions.
Climate of Doubt (PBS FRONTLINE)
However, one argumentation of the skepticism triggered my reflection on the relationship of governmental incentive with scientific evolution. The observation of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both avoided to talk about climate change in their 2012 election campaign, as well as the collective disappearance of voice on this topic among republicans and politicians, aroused my strong curiosity and interest.
Why do they stop talking about climate change any more ? Is it true that the global warming is just a scientific hoax, as the skepticism says ?
Well, I couldn't answer this question yet. However, it seems to me a solid fact that political incentives do serve as selection pressure in scientific activities. Many scientific research needs huge sum of money and the scientists apply for grant from government. The money may at its end comes from tax and the tax payers are also electors in democratic societies. So the question comes to how the stakeholders, tax payers, get involved in the scientific evolutionary path through the policy incentive forces. The government could either facilitate or impede certain discoveries through their external control or setting boundary conditions.
It then comes into my mind the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) model. SCOT sees a variety of groups (called relevant social groups) competing to control a design, which at this point is far from preordained (SCOT callsthis the phase of interpretive flexibility). Each group has its own idea of the problem that the new artefact is supposed to solve and, in consequence, favors a distinctive technological design, including components and operational principles that may not be favored by competing groups.
In the SCOT model, the artifact is the consciously human-made, artificial object. And the relevant social group refers to people who are involved in a certain technical development and who hold the same view regarding that artifact. Around each artifact, a number of social groups could be distinguished and people within a particular group share the same attitude and view on the artifact. A certain group, however, could define several problems towards the technology of the artifact. Multiple solutions are conceivable to the problems. Thus, the core concept of SCOT model is a centered artifact perceived by various social groups who defines problems regarding to the artifact and at the same time seek solutions to the problems. Then, the direction of the technology development is the collective effects from different groups. Each group influence the technology development by defining problems and possibly including solutions.
In active regulation only variety can destroy variety. Ashby's principle has important implications for practical situations: since the variety of perturbations a system can potentially be confronted with is unlimited, we should always try maximize its internal variety (or diversity), so as to be optimally prepared for any foreseeable or unforeseeable contigency. This theory, as far as I see, has its implication in SCOT model where each group influence the technology development by defining various problems and possibly including various solutions. Thus, the variety of possible solutions destroyed the variety of defined problems through multilateral interaction so as to achieve the synergy of collective effects from each group on the technology development. Nevertheless, no matter what the innovation derives into, the new innovative technology again exert feedback to each social group. The technology development result at each stage may favor some social groups but might backfire some others as well. The erratic relationship between each social group's decision and the subsequent collective evolutionary result is because of the complexity of the system in SCOT model. However, if we zoom out of the SCOT model and regard all the multilateral interactions of the social groups as internal dynamics and aggregate all social groups as one sector, the technology innovation as another. Then I find the SCOT model also fits the Coevolutionary Theory. In the SCOT system, the coevolution of artefact innovation and collective decision from social groups is driven by reciprocal selection. Selection pressures provoke adaptation and thus it becomes feedback. The innovation result exert feedback to each social group, some beneficial while some adverse if we zoom in to look at each group. Then the social groups adapt themselves to the new technology and define new problems and seek for relative solutions. The collective decision from new solutions again direct the technology development into next stage. The whole coevolution process thus is driven by reciprocal selection.
By elaborating here, I somehow find that the core concept in Coevolutionary Theory "Decision makers are subjected to selection pressures from the physical system and the societal environment as much as they can exert selective pressures on them" more or less equivalent to, or rather, embedded in the statement in Ashby's theory of Law of Requisite Variety "a controlling system must be at least as varied as the system it seeks to control "
I put it this way,
a controlling system (decision makers) must be at least as varied (as much as they can exert selective pressures) as the system it seeks to control (subjected to selection pressures from the physical system and the societal environment)
Back to the relationship between government incentives and scientific research. I would like to conclude that in some situation there is also a reciprocal selection drive. The scientists receive not only grants from governmental agencies, but also an implicit selecting pressure. Those scientific topics favors the policy makers might have higher priority to be financially aided while those topics judged as not urgent or significant enough will be screened out. Thus, the discoveries of selected research topics might favor political interest or needs in subsequent policy making. In some extreme cases, the policy development will attract more young scientists who want to delve into the specific fields and begin their research on it. Some senior accomplished scientists may also step into the political hierarchy and become policy makers. Their opinions as politicians based on their previous research experience also influence the whole filed and future research direction. In this sense, government incentives and scientific discoveries are also driven by reciprocal selection.
My elaboration above argues that in many situation, government incentives and scientific discoveries are under reciprocal selection drive. Now I take LCA tool as an example to explain how government can increase the use of LCAs through external control and setting boundary conditions.
Tuomas Mattila in his paper "Methodological Aspects of Applying Life Cycle Assessment to Industrial Symbioses " categorized the research questions of Industrial Symbiosis studies into five main groups and further assigned them into three big groups.
(the paper could be download here)
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modeling) and to set the system boundaries of the supply chain.
The three decision contexts of the ILCD guidelines are presented in the following figure. In situation A, the LCA will be used to support a decision with only minor influence on the surrounding economy. In situation B, the decision to be supported may have significant impact on the regional economy, through, for example, increased or decreased production capacity. In situation C, no decisions are supported, but the focus is on static analysis of either an existing site or a hypothetical scenario.
In the field of LCA, two different methods have emerged for inventory collection: attributional and consequential analysis. The former looks at existing systems and allocates environmental
impacts to a certain production chain using accounting rules. The latter analyzes the changes (consequences) caused by decisions. Since the analysis of potential changes includes so many uncertainties and assumptions, some researchers recommend using attributional approaches, which at least are based on measurable data. Others, however, view avoiding the uncertainties as providing a false sense of security.
1. Government could set environmental management goals for local enterprises and existing industrial parks or industrial symbiosis. Enterprises and Industrial Parks should be requested to publish their sustainability report to evaluate current environmental impact. For example, government could issue emission standards for carbon dioxide, waste water and other toxic materials on a life cycle perspective. Products from certain companies must comply with the standards issued by government in terms of energy consumption and material extraction behind the product itself. Industrial Symbiosis clusters are also required to evaluate their existing system to comply with the government standards. Those products which meets the standards might be able to labeled as "green product" while those industrial clusters meeting the standards could be labeled as "eco industrial parks". Thus by setting some standards as external control, government could encourage the use of LCA tool in calculating the environmental impacts which should be limited to certain level to meet the standards. In this situation, the LCA use falls into the group 1 "Accounting" and "Situation C".
2. In the expansion, no clear reference is available and a market analysis is necessary for identifying what would have happened if the expansion had not occurred. Applying the guideline of LCA to IS, it's suggested when improvement or expansion is analyzed either (1) it be demonstrated that the proposed changes do not change the surrounding system or (2) these changes be analyzed with consequential LCA. Government could thus set boundary conditions requiring that the expansion result of industrial symbiosis do not change the surrounding system or within an acceptable range by consequential LCA analysis. Thus, Government encourages the use of LCA for decision making by comparing current industrial network with the planned expansion. Implementation of the more decision-oriented LCA methods could ensure that progress in IS does not result in unexpected indirect effects throughmarket mechanisms.
3. Analyzing the implementation of Circular Economy is macroscale decision support and calls for consequential LCA (situation B in figure). According to the ILCD guidelines, a CE should be compared to the long-term marginal development that would have occurred without the CE (ILCD 2010). Macro-level LCA tools are used to analyze Circular Economy as it has macro-impact on economy. Government should thus clearly set boundary conditions and define the target of Circular Economy. Besides, government might also initiate subsidies to those companies who want to participate and benefit in the Circular Economy. Both government, strategies designers, policy makers and stakeholders all need LCA to evaluate the consequences of being a member of the Circular Economy.
4. Perhaps, the most important resource in implementing an LCA study is the database. Government should also sponsor the research institute for establishing and updating the national and local database to foster the utilization of LCA tool. Besides, more and more LCA software have been development in recent years. Thus investment in R&D of LCA software and database construction is also a significant approach to increase the application of LCA.
5. Apart from above, government might also contribute in the propaganda and public education of Life Cycle Thinking to shape better customer behavior or social value concept system in order to lead us to live a sustainable living style.