Sunday, April 27, 2008

Small is not beautiful

Rob Lyons offers this excellent summation of the eco-activist view of agriculture as given expression in a recent report:
  • ...there was blatant disregard for the benefits of existing technologies, and for technology's potential to support agriculture's efforts to meet future crop needs. I think this was in part because the differences between various participants' perceptions about these technologies, and the scientific facts, were not maintained and highlighted.
  • Sadly, social science seems to have taken the place of scientific analysis.
  • Technical fixes alone will not be enough to really transform the situation of agriculture in the developing world; the various regimes of subsidies and trade barriers, for example, hurt farmers and consumers in the developing world by effectively denying them access to major markets while allowing subsidised crops from the West to undermine local markets.
  • But to reject the best available technology in favour of a romanticised view of farming - one that reflects the prejudices of Western NGOs far more than the interests of poor farmers – is even worse.
The key points of Lyons' commentary are the substitution of social science for scientific analysis and the concomitant, assertive use of eco-activist moralism as the only allowable social science in that substitution.
Generic to all contemporary eco-myths is the framing of development issues as "scientifically" derived policy options, when those options reflect a particular political and moral perspective and not full scientific nor technical assessment.  Science is used as an authoritative mechanism to both censure and discourage dialogue.  The moralism is presented as axiomatic and the only possible, reasonable response is thus the further investment in regulation and governance reflective of the eco-activism framing the report, media release or staged event. 
In this instance, the topic was agriculture.  But the same scenario exists for climate, pesticides, energy and waste management.