NATURE | COMMENT
Democratically weighing up the benefits and risks of gene editing and artificial intelligence is a political endeavour, not an academic one, says Daniel Sarewitz.
NATURE | COMMENT
Democratically weighing up the benefits and risks of gene editing and artificial intelligence is a political endeavour, not an academic one, says Daniel Sarewitz.
Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST)
Technology Assessment and Public Participation: From TA to pTA
Richard Worthington2, Darlene Cavalier4, Mahmud Farooque1, Gretchen Gano1&5, Henry Geddes5, Steven Sander2, David Sittenfeld3, David Tomblin6
December 6, 2012 (Rev. December 20, 2012)
This report about participatory technology assessment (pTA) is prepared by ECAST members. Our primary motivation is to articulate the role that a network like ECAST might play in conducting and institutionalizing pTA in the U.S.
ECAST’s first large scale project was coordination of the U.S. component of World Wide Views on Biodiversity. This global citizen consultation, conducted in 25 countries on September 15, 2012, provided input to the Eleventh Council of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that took place the following month. In this report, we examine the process and results of WWViews as a means of understanding the challenges and opportunities for expanding the practice of pTA in the U.S. Our report thus takes up three main themes:
1= Arizona State University; 2 = Pomona College, 3 = Museum of Science, Boston; 4 = Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, 5 = University of Massachusetts; 6 = Virginia Tech
David E. Blockstein, Ph.D., Executive Secretary, Council of Environmental Deans and Directors and Senior Scientist National Council for Science and the Environment, reflecting on his observation of ECAST’s World Wide Views on Biodiversity Project. David participated in the June 5th launch of the project, was a member of the ECAST Expert Panel that guided the development of the question for the National Session, gave the welcoming remarks during the September 15th deliberation at the Koshland Museum in Washington DC, moved from table to table as an observer, and attended the presentation of the ECAST report, Technology Assessment and Public Participation: From TA to pTA, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on December 6th.
18 October, 2012, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
The Global Political Economy of Biodiversity
In my last post I promised to next address concerns that the UN Convention on Biodiversity, whose Eleventh Council of Parties is now concluding its deliberations in Hyderabad, is weak, compromised, or both. If so, CBD stands little chance of achieving its estimable goals of halting the worldwide loss in biodiversity and restoring a balance between people and nature.
I regret to report that concerns about CBD’s prospects were altogether too easy to identify. I had scarcely posted my first reflection before attending a session at the convention on CBD’s status in international law. While the first several presentations were reassuring accounts to the effect that CBD’s rules to protect nature areas, provide equal access to ecosystem services and the like are binding on its Parties and can be enforced in court, one disquieting note was the observation that no test case of violations has yet been filed.
More significant, however, was the next presentation by an indigenous activist from the Philippines, who argued that most of the discussion and debate at CBD asks the wrong questions. She acknowledged the importance of “mainstreaming” biodiversity through binding laws, but identified the centralized decision-making of states as the main obstacle to a more effective CBD.
This prompted my recollection of comments by Arizona State University Professor Clark Miller at the Arizona WWViews event on September 15. Addressing the participants at the beginning of the day, Professor Miller noted that when “environmental diplomacy” got its start around the time of the Stockholm Conference in 1972, it was handled through traditional diplomatic means, and often conducted in secret. Over time, this conventional (and elitist) diplomatic approach slowly changed, first as scientists were incorporated into observer roles at international conventions, and later when civil society organizations established a presence. WWViews, he noted, continues this trajectory by bringing ordinary citizens into the process.
Clearly, the decision-making structure of CBD is more decentralized than it was at the outset of global environmental governance. So how is the centralized state a problem? Important insights on this question were provided by the next speaker, Chee Yoke Ling from the Third World Network. She first noted that CBD in substance is a development rather than an environmental treaty, because it deals with issues central to the cultural and economic trajectories of entire societies. Since it is typically viewed as an environmental treaty, however, most states engage it through weak environment ministries that lack the clout to gain political and financial support at home for measures that integrate economy and ecology rather than treating them as separate, and competing, priorities.
This subordination, Chee noted, is even more obvious when viewed in the general context of global governance. CBD came into existence along with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification at the original Rio conference in 1992, at about the same time that regional and global economic treaties were forged, e.g., the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993, and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1995 that produced the World Trade Organization. The economic treaties essentially created a framework for the globalization of production, which has proceeded with astonishing speed and scope. What is centralized, then, is the power to determine basic development pathways. In the world of global governance, CBD is at the margins, generally powerless to limit ecological devastation and unable to mobilize the resources that would be required to build sustainable economies in contexts ranging from rural indigenous communities to the world’s cities.
A telling example emerged in an interview I later conducted with a WWViews project manager in the south of India, who reported criticism of one of the questions in the deliberation that concerned “overfishing.” The critics, it turns out, were traditional fisherfolk who have seen stocks plummet with the advent of industrial fishing vessels, many operating under foreign flags. Prior to this development, the boats of the indigenous fishers, which carry 3-4 people, use small nets, and have a range of just 1-2 nautical miles from shore, existed in balance with the ocean ecosystem. Having lost their livelihoods to the globalization of fisheries, these participants were understandably critical of a discussion about overfishing that failed to distinguish who, using what technology, and connected to what markets, was responsible for the depletion.
The globalization that was constructed by the economic treaties can be seen in numerous other biodiversity cases. In one panel, a researcher noted three biodiversity-reducing developments in agricultural practices in recent decades that are associated with globalization: the shift from rice farming to banana plantations aimed at export crops; converson of shade grown to sun grown coffee production to increase output for global markets; and the abandonment of home gardens by families too beset by time compression (24X7 production, “always on” tele-communication) to tend them.
The global agenda is clear: maximize output, and draw on the particular assemblage of scientific and technological resources commanded by the rich countries to accomplish that end. Both the national state (with few exceptions) and the global governance system are effectively organized to pursue this agenda. As long as that is the case, biodiversity is likely to continue declining.
Eric B. Kennedy
On September 15th, 2012, I found myself at an impressively diverse table. Gathered around me were a church’s facilities manager, a student, a data analyst, an American Indian, and a university staffer. Their task over the day ahead – important, if daunting – was to share a citizen voice on biodiversity. Mine was to observe the deliberative process with an eye towards the collaboration, social dynamics, and struggles unfolding around me.
As I’ve reflected on the experiences since then, many memories remain. I was deeply encouraged, for instance, by the degree to which the participants engaged with each other, new ideas, and challenging questions. Their commitment to collaborating and hearing each others’ voices was admirable, and despite the occasional impassioned interruption, the group managed to deliberate relatively equally and effectively. As the group built trust and comfort with each other, it was particularly special to hear the conversation turn towards more personal stories of childhoods spent in the wilderness, and even to significant individual aspirations of giving back and taking responsibility locally and globally.
These successes were encouraging, but also captured my interest enough to wonder how these sorts of deliberative processes could be improved in future iterations. To what degree, for instance, was the group self-selecting towards those with strong interests in biodiversity? What real-time resources could be made available to participants to assist in answering the many pressing questions that arose during discussions?
Amid these memories and questions, however, something else stands out most strongly one month later. On September 15th, something special happened. Gathered around tables, the tone of conversation shifted fundamentally from the partisan and polarized politics so common elsewhere.
Something different happened. Listening happened. Long-term dreaming happened. Problem solving happened. Genuine conversation happened.
Incredible things happen when polarized politics become participatory. No matter what comes to pass with the decisions, voting, and recommendations made that day, I hope that one month later – and well into the future – those involved remember the kind of collaborations and conversations that can occur when you connect with the diverse community around you.
Eric is a PhD student at the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University, and a graduate in Knowledge Integration from the University of Waterloo. He’s interested in trust, expertise, and collaboration, and is eager to re-imagine political systems as participatory and positive spaces. You can get in touch with him at ericbkennedy.ca.
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, 10 October, 2012
By Rick Worthington
First, a confession: I had never heard of Hyderabad, India before my involvement with World Wide Views on Biodiversity, a project to provide citizen input to the delegates at the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity Eleventh Council of Parties (COP 11) that started here on Monday (October 8). Arriving early Sunday at Rajiv Ghandi Hyderabad International Airport after 33 hours in transit from Los Angeles, my exhaustion receded as I left the secure area of Arrivals and took in the vista revealed by a spacious outer room that is open to the green countryside descending below the airport. Walking through the space became an immersion in contrasts. Its fresh air provided tangible relief from the conditioned variety dispensed in airplanes and most airports. The massive concrete structure, and in particular its open front at the far side, framed a pastoral scene beyond. And the openness itself struck a pleasant contrast with conventional, security-driven airport architecture.
The greenway leading from the airport to the city was lined with pink and white flowers on luscious tropical bushes, and attractive billboards welcomed delegates to the convention. There were unmistakable markers of a metropolis in the global south—people walking at the edge of the highway with little concern for traffic whizzing by, buildings with re-bar extending above incomplete structures—but these accentuated rather than diminishing the intrigue and energy that had emerged at the airport, leaving me to wonder if this was a new kind of Third World city.
Soon enough, vast expanses of wretched structures housing the urban poor appeared alongside what had been a greenway, and the bustle of foot, motorcycle, car, bus and truck traffic going all directions at once (at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, no less) cemented Hyderabad’s affinity with places like Bangkok, Johannesburg and Lima. Iconic among the many images of that ride in its illustration of calmly living at the edge was the motorcyclist traveling alongside my taxi (i.e., within about 6 inches) who navigated with his left hand while holding a cell phone to his ear with the right. In this context, the airport and greenway seem to symbolize what development can muster in countries like India: a beginning toward socioeconomic improvement that quickly yields to the sheer enormity of the challenge. By contrast with the greenway, the majority of Hyderabad’s land and inhabitants is beset with incessant traffic, air befouled by exhaust and dust, and the ubiquitous stench of garbage. Security is high at passages between these two types of zones, whether the particular boundary is between the street and hotel, or between a country club and its environs.
Among the splotches of prosperity in this bleak landscape is a high tech zone known as HITEC City, which includes the Hyderabad International Convention Center hosting COP 11. Few things convey the cultural and political underpinnings of this zone better than the promotional ventilations of a developer who aspires to multiply its initial footprint nearly 100-fold:
“Hyderabad,a twin city along with Secunderabad, has now acquired a third dimension – Cyberabad, a city by itself, covering 51 sq.kms. It has been declared a pollution free, eco-friendly town. HITEC City forms the core of this new knowledge hub. Some of the other institutions which are part of Cyberabad are Indian Institute of Information Technology(IIIT), ISB, proposed golf course, botanical gardens, night safari, Engineering Staff College of India, University of Hyderabad, etc.”
Information technology is at the forefront of Hyderabad’s considerable high tech activity, but the city is also the center of biotechnology research and business in India. The ecology-for-the-rich culture of the convention center’s neighborhood, as well as the prominence of the life sciences industry in its economy, leave one to wonder: how did a biotech center become the host to the Convention on Biodiversity, where conflicts with the agendas of biotech developers in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and other life sciences industries simmer just below the surface, and not infrequently above it? This tension dates at least to the founding of CBD in 1992, when U.S. President George H.W. Bush declined to sign the convention at the behest of pharmaceutical companies that chafed at its aspirations to compensate biodiversity-rich (i.e., developing) countries and indigenous populations for the use of their genetic resources and knowledge of them. (Bill Clinton later signed the Treaty but it was never ratified by the Senate, leaving the U.S. in the company of Andorra, the Vatican, and South Sudan as signatories who are not bound by the treaty, compared to 192 countries fully integrated into it).
Are CBD and our own project, World Wide Views on Biodiversity, largely symbolic exercises in a larger cultural and political environment that is dominated by forces opposing their aspirations to sustainability and democracy? Or is it possible for contrasting agendas to identify zones of convergence that lead to effective action toward CBD’s aims? Questions like these emerge from the contrasts I have observed in my first few days in Hyderabad. In subsequent posts I will report on observations here that prompt concerns about CBD, inspire appreciation for what people are actually doing, and help inform a vision of prospects for the future.
For Immediate Release
October 12, 2012
U.S. Citizens call for political action to stop the decline in biodiversity
Results Report from global citizens’ consultation released at the UN Convention
Washington—Boston, Denver, Phoenix and Washington area residents are among 3000 participants from 25 countries to express strong support for taking further political action in order to stop the global decline in biodiversity. The results report from the World Wide Views (WWViews) on Biodiversity, released at the 11th Conference of Parties (COP 11) of the UN Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Hyderabad India, indicate significant similarities of opinion between countries, across continents and among different age groups.
In the U.S., more than 9 in 10 participants thought most people in the world are affected by biodiversity loss, and almost 85% were “very concerned” about the issue. Nearly all the rest were “concerned.” The citizens strongly supported education at all levels (85%) as the best means to stop the decline in biodiversity. A significant minority thought new natural areas should be established even if doing so conflicts with economic interests. Nearly 6 in 10 respondents favored eating less meat as a way to reduce the pressure on agricultural land, and 9 in 10 favored creating additional marine protected areas on the High Seas.
Despite the general consistency between views in developed and developing countries, a surprising difference emerged regarding who should pay for preserving biodiversity. Most citizens in both developed and developing countries thought developed countries should pay the main part of costs for preserving biodiversity in developing countries, replacing the system of voluntary donations currently in place. However, citizens in developing countries were even more likely than those in developed countries to say developing countries should pay the main part among the minority who took this view.
In addition to the global questions, participants in the U.S. sites developed recommendations about the desirability of adopting a national biodiversity strategy and action plan, something the CBD is advocating all countries do under its strategic plan for biodiversity.
WWViews on Biodiversity is the result of a unique cooperation between CBD, the Danish Ministry of the Environment and the Danish Board of Technology. Participants in the 34 day-long meetings across the world, which were held on September 15th, 2012, were non-expert citizens selected to reflect the demographic diversity in the respective countries and regions. Using unbiased information about biodiversity and policy measures to stop its decline, participants deliberated with their fellow citizens and voted on alternative answers to 18 predefined questions.
The complete results report is available at: http://biodiversity.wwviews.org/. The results will be presented in a special session of the COP 11 meeting on October 18.
“World Wide Views takes place in a polarized society where discussion, not debate is needed more than ever,” remarked Massachusetts State Representative Martha Walz. Speaking at the WWViews forum at the Museum of Science, Boston, she added, “At a time when it is difficult to get people to sit down and talk respectfully about anything, the fact that thousands of people in over 30 sites around the world are having this important conversation is a welcome development.”
WWViews forums in the U.S. were coordinated by the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) network. ECAST was officially launched at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in April 2010 with the release of the report, Reinventing Technology Assessment: A 21st Century Model.
In its first large-scale collaborative project, ECAST coordinated WWViews citizen forums in four U.S. cities: Boston (Museum of Science, Boston, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst); Denver (Colorado School of Mines, Denver Botanical Garden); Phoenix (Arizona State University, Arizona Science Center); and Washington (Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, Virginia Tech, and the Koshland Science Museum). Thoughts and reflections from WWViews biodiversity project can be found at:
Results from the WWViews project in the U.S. and the lessons learned about further developing the capacity for conducting science and technology assessment through citizen participation will be presented in a comprehensive report at a special event of the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Thursday, December 6, 2012.
Founded in 2010 as a response to a call to use “citizen participation, collaboration and expert analysis to inform and improve decision-making on issues involving science and technology”, ECAST is a collaboration among university, informal science education, and policy research partners to establish a non-partisan, independent, flexible, and proactive technology assessment capability in the United States. The Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, Loka Institute, Science Cheerleader, Museum of Science Boston, and the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are its founding members.
Darlene Cavalier, firstname.lastname@example.org, 267-253-1310
Expert & Citizen Assessment of Science & Technology (ECAST)