Highlighting interesting articles and papers that take a deeper look into current issues.
Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?
Uncertainty is a concept that defines our times. Every media headline seems to assert that things are uncertain, and increasingly so. Whether it’s climate change, disease outbreaks, economic conditions or political settlements, the same narrative exists.
Helga Nowotny, in her book The Cunning of Uncertainty, argues that “uncertainty is written into the script of life”. But how should we understand ‘uncertainty’, and why does it matter? Are we equipped for responding to seemingly accelerating uncertainties across different policy domains?
A conventional, managerial and technocratic approach is to construct such challenges as risks – where the probabilities of future outcomes are known, or at least can be estimated. The paraphernalia of risk assessment and management are familiar, derived from engineering approaches. These approaches are good for some cases, such as designing a bridge or road, but not for others, where complex socio-ecological dynamics are involved.
There has been much commotion in the media over the past week, following the ruling by the European Court of Justice over how to interpret EU laws bearing on the regulation of GM crops.
The ruling clarifies an anomaly, in that new plant varieties developed by longstanding non-GM gene-altering techniques of ‘mutagenesis‘ (using chemical reactions or ionising radiation) are now interpreted “in principle” to be classifiable as GMOs. The new GM techniques of ‘gene editing‘, on the other hand, are interpreted by the ECJ to be included in existing GM regulations.
In a complex case, the Court’s rationale is not without some ambiguity or persisting questions.
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