The policy process outlined by Walter Rosenbaum reveals the relevance of consensus in policy-making. Rosenbaum explains, since a single policy requires decision-making by institutions ranging from the federal government to private actors, complexity arises (Rosenbaum 2020, 33). The multitude of decision-makers, who already bring various sets of data to the table, makes it difficult to reach consensus. Further, there can be disagreement about the proper interpretation of scientific data in regard to policy questions (Rosenbaum 2020, 33). That said, policy decisions result from compromise among all sharing a portion of the diffused power (Rosenbaum 2020, 33). Specifically, within the federal government, any original idea for a policy is shaped and then edited based upon the constitutional separation of powers, biases, statutory laws, and shared understandings about the rules of the game for conflict resolution etc. (Rosenbaum 2020, 33).
One rule of the game for conflict resolution is using precedent or existing laws to drive consensus resulting in new policy. The catastrophic New South Wales (NSW) fires persisted for 240 consecutive days from July 2019 to March 2020. The disaster destroyed 312 homes and 80% of the Shoalhaven National Parks Lands. Originally receiving approval for the project back in 2008, developer Ozy Homes planned to turn a 20-hectare area that is still unburnt mature growth forest into 180 new, upscale properties (Yahoo News 2020). However, after the brutal disaster cleared the surrounding area, now the residents are taking a stand to preserve all they have left. The coastal forest contains a wide array of biodiversity including the Powerful Owl, Yellow Bellied Glider, Koalas, Sugar Glider, Swift Parrot, and the Greater Glider. Since the latter is already endangered, it brought potential to protect the bushland via the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). On May 27, the Federal Court ordered a short reprieve of the developer’s plans while a team overseen by David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University takes three days to survey the land for primarily the Great Glider’s presence amongst other living things (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). The EPBC allowed for a clear consensus to be reached based on respect of existing laws because the issue of letting Ozy Homes conduct its development became dependent on the presence of endangered species.
Environmental Defenders Office. May 27 2020. “Federal Court Order Halts Manyana Clearing.” Accessed June 2 2020.
Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.
Yahoo News. May 4 2020. “Demonstrators Exercise in Protest Against Land Clearing on South Coast During COVID-19 Restrictions.” Accessed June 2 2020.
Comment by Andrea Glaros:
Mary, the example you have shared is a great example of how government can function but also the hard dilemma it can be in to implement appropriate actions. On one hand they’ve got the stakeholders who are the Ozy Homes developers who had acquired the land and established plans to develop it. Now, with the devastating forests fires you have environmental groups and residents who are pressure to preserve the land to protect the ecosystem. I at this point, they have taken the appropriate steps to evaluate the area and collect the evidence needed to support either decision on developing the land or not.
Comment by Professor Morgan:
Thanks for providing that example from Australia. Collectively we can work for years to make a decision that is based on science and involves stakeholders and the entire circumstances and environment can change in a matter of weeks due to wildfires, floods, or hurricanes. Somehow we need to find a way to make our landscapes more resilient to these kinds of disrupters.
Hi Andrea and Professor Morgan,
Yes, it was interesting to see stakeholders strongly in favor and strongly opposing the conservation in play. It took massive amounts of protesting (during the initial months of the pandemic) and letters to legislators in power to even get the scientific investigation to take place at all. I admire people who devote heaps of energy to the cause. I have always been shocked at the amount of damage a relatively short-term event can do. It would be strategic to be proactive in protecting the forests, particularly considering the types of storms impacting a certain space can be somewhat predicted based upon the landscape. In terms of science’s role in this political issue, the hardest part was to get the study to happen. After it was deemed as required by the courts, residents who have gotten to know the land well over the years were confident Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would protect it.
Comment by Erin Cleere:
Thanks for sharing that interesting case! Do you know what the outcome was? I found an article from June 5, 2020 that tree clearing had halted for that survey to take place, but not finding anything more recent. And one of the last pieces of info in the article is that the Shoalhaven City Council had asked the NSW government to buy the land, but the council supposedly rejected a proposal to share the cost of repurchasing the forest and won’t change it’s zoning from residential.
Reference: McNab, Heather. 2020. “Developer pauses NSW tree-clearing plans”. June 5. https://www.standard.net.au/story/6783440/developer-pauses-nsw-tree-clearing-plans/
Response to Erin Cleere:
The case is so interesting! I wrote about it for my final paper in Environmental Protection Law and was finishing the paper June 5th at the end of the quarter. I found an article (Links to an external site.) explaining, as of August 10th, the case is still in progress (Pacific Long Boarder 2020). So, there is still not any outcome. The logical policy solution is supported by precedent. The development in Manyana is only one out of many instances showing the issues that arise when environmental catastrophes happen within the interval between a housing development being granted approval and work starting (Cox 2020). In the past, a land purchase protected terrain similar to the Manyana forest. In 2019, multiple government and non-government groups joined together to purchase over 10,000 square meters of ecologically valuable, coastal rainforest at Newport in northern Sydney (Environmental Defenders Office 2020). It was previously reserved for a private residential subdivision. Multiple groups financially contributed to the Newport land purchase, and the same solution makes sense in Manyana’s case. In Newport, the funding for conservation was distributed between both government and non-government entities including the NSW Government, Northern Beaches Council and a local community group (Environmental Defenders Office 2020).
Cox, Lisa. May 27 2020. “Manyana Bushland Clearing Halter as Protest Group Launches Federal Court Challenge.” Accessed June 2 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/envi ronment/2020/may/27/manyana-bushland-clearing-development-halted-as-protest-group- launches-federal-court-challenge
Environmental Defenders Office. May 27 2020. “Federal Court Order Halts Manyana Clearing.” Accessed June 2 2020. https://www.edo.org.au/2020/05/27/federal-court-halts-manyana- clearing/
Pacific Long Boarder. August 10 2020. “Manyana Matters – the fight for bushland on the South Coast”. Accessed October 3. https://www.pacificlongboarder.com/news/Manyana-Matters-the-fight-for-the-bushland-on-the-South-Coast/
Response by Erin Cleere:
Thanks very much for the additional info! There are so many layers to consider, and, as I saw posted recently, they’re bracing for the next wildfire season in Australia. It seems like it, unfortunately, even with the past precedents, comes down to finances – if there is enough to buy back the land (and then, how long does that remain in effect for)? Thanks again for bringing up such an interesting situation.
Original Post by Jenny Murphy:
When various groups or departments within the government have separate interests, creating policy can become a battle. Often times, scientists within the Department of Agriculture, the Fish and Wildlife Service among others can present conflicting information; confusing policy needs even further (Rosenbaum 2020, 32). Dilemmas in reaching a census on policy making can be avoided by sharing information and facts (Pierce 2013).
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a group formed to bridge the gap between science and politics. One way that the group relay information is to relate the climate issues directly to citizens. Another strategy is to help people to realize that these issues are not in some distant future. Focusing on short term climate impacts can create a sense of urgency. The Union of Concerned Citizens point out that climate change is already affecting us through smog, downpours and heat waves (Union of Concerned Scientists 2014). In addition, the video discusses how scientists should provide outreach and education to policy leaders. Writing reports, lobbying congress, and “getting the right information, to the right people, at the right time, on one piece of paper” is the key to getting a policy on the federal agenda (Union of Concerned Scientists 2014).
Pierce, Margo. 2013. “The Intersection of Science and Public Policy.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science. January 22.
Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press.
Union of Concerned Scientists. 2014. “Science and Policy Change: Using Your Expertise to Influence the Policy-Making Process.” YouTube. YouTube. September 15.
Excellent post! I agree conflicting information leads to challenges in policy.
I also value the work the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is doing, particularly considering the Trump administration’s approach to science. While the union is strategizing about how to create a sense of urgency instilling climate change action, the administration is slowing down the progression of environmental research projects worldwide (Plumer and Davenport 2019). Further, the Trump administration has been pressuring researchers not to speak publicly (Plumer and Davenport 2019). It makes considering the role of stakeholders as the administration has particularly challenged scientific findings pertinent to the oil drilling and coal mining industries (Plumer and Davenport 2019). Scientists from the Environmental Protection agency are leaving. The strategy of educating the citizen, implemented by the UCS is smart because the federal government is not aligned with its mission.
Plumer, Brad and Davenport, Coral. “Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work.” The New York Times. December 28.
Original Post by Josh Mabis:
I think Rosenbaum’s example of the rusty patched bumblebee shows how muddled the policy making process can be when you have all sorts of competing interests giving their input for a policy. Each group hires different scientists, who work to discredit the opposing groups’ scientists by interpreting the scientific data in a different way (Rosenbaum 2020).
One example of competing interests coming together and actually accomplishing something effective was in 2015 when the federal government successfully implemented the Greater Sage-Grouse conservation plan. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service worked with state agencies, private landowners, and others to come up with a plan to conserve the habitat of the greater sage-grouse before it had to be listed as endangered (Kershaw 2017). If all the competing interests could come together, they could take measures so the much more strict endangered species designation wouldn’t be needed. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see if the plan would be successful, since the Trump administration destroyed it when they took office.
Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy. 11th ed. Thousand Oaks: CQ Press
Kershaw, Jessica. 2017. “Historic Conservation Campaign Protects Greater Sage-Grouse.” U.S. Department of the Interior, May 10, 2017. https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/historic-conservation-campaign-protects-greater-sage-grouse
I am interested in how the policy process is impacted as multiple stakeholders interpret the same scientific data in various ways because it threatens maintaining respect for science in politics. Science being objective truth is one of its assets. At the same time, I am intrigued multiple industries are using the same researchers to alter public preference. Particularly, multiple industries are collaborating to take people away from being concerned about global climate change. In Climate Wire, Benjamin Hulac explains the goal of the tobacco and oil industry it to fly under the radar, essentially “unchecked” (Hulac 2016). Starting in 1956, both industries have been hiring the same publication company Hill and Knowlton Inc. (Hulac 2016). While the growing strength in collaboration may appear detrimental to climate activists, there is also room for opportunity. Just as tobacco companies were untruthful about the connection between smoking and cancer, environmental groups can retrace old research study documents to prove the oil companies were lying about global warming risks. The audience environmental attorneys can prove truth extends past the public into a pool of investors (Hulac 2016).
Hulac, Benjamin. 2016. “Tobacco and Oil Industries Used Same Researchers to Sway Public—As early as the 1950s, the groups shared scientists and publicists to downplay dangers of smoking and climate change.” Climate Wire. July 20.