Book review: Science for environmental protection from The National Academies Press

10th December 2013

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David Robert Hughes

Science for environmental protection

The National Academies Press / paperback £32 / ISBN 978-0-3092-6489-1

The authors are advisers to the US government so this book focuses on the future of environment protection in America. This is a shame because it misses the fact that many of the examples it cites as future good practice are already established in Europe.

That said, this is a highly readable book that provides strategic guidelines for future environment protection through sound understanding of the issues and the appropriate deployment of emerging tools and technologies.

It is heartening to see human health placed at the centre of the evaluation of future activities and recognition that some environment problems arise as a result of a failure to appreciate the tensions between health and ecology.

The authors recognise the need for “big data” to solve “wicked problems” in the future. Such data may come from crowdsourcing or collaborative computing and should enable a bigger, more integrated picture to be used in environmental policymaking.

The authors are in favour of “systems thinking” – considering the links across and between lots of contrasting systems, such as economics, biology and physics. Integrated and collaborative systems should lead to better cost-benefit analyses based on the “whole picture” rather than pet areas for funding, they argue.

The authors discuss the need for integrating social, economic and behavioural science skills, while avoiding the use of the terminology “sustainability”.

This is a great read for those starting their career to see how it may look in 20 years’ time, and for those involved in policymaking who are looking to develop better informed policies and identify future opportunities.

Gillian Gibson, FIEMA CEnv, is an environmental scientist

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