2.4 Environmental decision making in the context of sustainable development
In simple terms, environmental decision making is taken to mean decision making that has an effect on our environment, however it is defined. If adopting a broad definition of environment, it could be said that nearly all decision making comes into this category. So why do we need to talk about environmental decision making at all rather than simply decision making? It is because there is increasing recognition that many of the decisions we make and actions we take, both individually and in groups, have an effect on our environment and yet economic and political considerations often dominate in a way that seems to exclude environmental considerations. By environmental in this context, I mean that which surrounds and affects us including our physical and biological life-support base alongside social, economic, cultural, political and institutional factors.
We are mainly taking into consideration those decisions which have local dimensions but are related to worldwide environmental issues, and where individuals and groups have choices they can make to maximise positive environmental outcomes, improve our environment and limit detrimental effects. Examples include our use of transport, making consumer decisions, planning new or improved developments and managing natural resources.
Whilst accepting that there are widely divergent views about what environmental decision making implies, we believe that the main challenge seems to be not one of replacing economic, political and social considerations, which currently prevail in much decision making, with an environmental agenda but one of bringing these factors together in every decision-making process. A note of caution is needed however: singling out one area for special attention might on occasions have the effect of separation rather than integration. In order that we might more fully explore this integration of environment with the other factors prevalent in decision making, we perhaps need to begin by taking the position that we cannot afford to exclude environmental concerns if we are to meet basic human needs both now and in the future. This is based on an assumption that the rate at which we are using some of our natural resources (such as oil, water or land) and polluting air, soil, fresh waters and oceans is unsustainable. Hence we will consider environmental decision making in the context of sustainable development and will now go on to explore what that means.