Forum: Geography and environmental policy - introduction
Much is at stake in the formulation and implementation of environmental policy. The jaw-dropping destruction attending the south east Asian tsunami of late 2004 reminds us that such policy has a double role: to regulate human impacts on the natural environment and to manage environmental impacts upon humans. Whether the latter impacts have anthropogenic or natural causes, there remains a pressing need to control, ameliorate or eliminate them. Human uses of the environment entrain material, moral and other considerations that make environmental policy as necessary as it is value-laden and contested. What's more, environmental policy affects us all: it is not something anyone can remain indifferent to, even if most people rarely give the subject formal consideration in their daily lives. Such policy (or its absence) touches on everything from basic human needs (for shelter, warmth and water) to security of livelihood to aesthetic and spiritual issues. Environmental policy thus has implications that are as pervasive as the object of that policy: the physical environment itself in all its diversity and multiscaled interconnectivity. It speaks to profound issues of the world we want as much as the world we have. The three commentaries below arise from a plenary session at the 2003 RGS-IBG conference in London. That session was devoted to a formal consideration of the conference theme: 'Geography serving society and the environment'. 'Service' is not, of course, a self-evident thing. Geographers have come a long way since the early-1970s critiques of deracinated, technocratic understandings of geography's actual or potential role in the wider world. But an enduring concern in both human and physical geography is how research can inform public policy. Of late, the discussion of policy relevance (in Britain at least) has been dominated by human geographers and has focused on urban, regional and social policy. That a formal consideration of environmental policy has been missing is surprising and unfortunate. It is the only policy area that is of common concern across the discipline (evidenced by the very large audience at the session from which these commentaries arise). What's more, environmental issues are 'on the agenda' in a way not seen since the early-1970s scares about natural resource exhaustion. The publication of this Forum in the Transactions will, I hope, equip a wider disciplinary audience with some useful ways of thinking about the perils and possibilities of influencing environmental policy.