The Role of Science
Science versus art. Science versus intuition, emotion and traditional knowledge. Science versus values. In Canada, EA practitioners have looked for a middle ground between decision making based on scientifically verifiable information and decision making based on values, customs and common knowledge.
While many argue that scientific standards are unimportant, others contend that scientific facts do lend a measure of credibility to environmental assessment (Beanlands and Dunker 1983). Actually, successful environmental assessment depends on an appropriate blend of information derived from science and from other sources of information. As Beanlands and Dunker (1983: 2) point out: "it must be recognised that decisions resulting from environmental assessments may be based as much on subjective judgements involving values, feelings and beliefs, as on the results of scientific studies."
Is it necessary for the administrator of a small community development project to find the perfect balance between science and human values and knowledge in an environmental assessment? Probably not. It is unrealistic to expect project managers to routinely engage applied scientists in lengthy studies. Furthermore, it is doubtful that such scientific support is even necessary for more than a small minority of community development projects.
In any case, certain steps can be taken to lessen the need for scientific support. Employing technology that is environmentally sound and socially acceptable can go a long way towards minimising the environmental damage caused by community development projects. Over the last ten years, considerable research and experimentation has been done in agroforestry, renewable energy, appropriate technology and soil conservation techniques. Traditional sustainable agriculture and forestry practices found in Africa, Asia and the Americas have been a major focus of this research. These technologies and techniques are often more efficient and less harmful to the environment.
Project planners should be aware of the full range of technical and material options available in order to make the most environmentally sound choice for a project. For example, many different styles of latrines and well construction are promoted for use in water sanitation projects but their environmental protection potential and social acceptability varies widely. Policies can be formulated to specify acceptable project technology, thus ruling out projects involving polluting technologies and other environmental hazards right at the outset. The mitigating potential of the "ideal" technology can be enhanced through proper maintenance and proper use. Taking steps such as this will diminish environmental risks.
Tapping the knowledge base of the target community is another way to reduce the need for scientific verification. Development practitioners greatly underestimate the range and depth of information possessed by local communities.