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The politics of environmental policy with a Himalayan example

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Publication Date: January 2004

Publisher(s): East-West Center

Author(s): Piers M. Blaikie; Joshua Muldavin

Series: AsiaPacific issues ; no. 74

Topic: Environment (Environmental policy)
Politics (Politics)

Type: Report

Coverage: Asia


How we arrive at knowledge and how we draw on knowledge to make policy have been the subject of vigorous debate and analysis. Simple models of expertise and action are gradually yielding to a more complex vision of how truth speaks to power and power talks back. The Himalayan region where scientists, statesmen, and citizens confront a unique set of environmental challenges and political legacies provides a powerful case study. For more than a century, it was believed that over-use by local farmers and pastoralists threatened fragile mountain and river environments. Beginning in the colonial era and continuing into the present, governments have strictly curtailed traditional land-use practices. In the 1980s, scholars began to question the science on which those restrictive laws were based. But new science has not, in most cases, led to new policy. This disconnect inspires questions about the nature of both science and policy, their influence on each other, and whether each could benefit from greater openness to the insights of people who fall outside the narrow roles of expert and politician.