Uncertainty: On a Himalayan Scale

Thompson M, Warburton M, & Hatley T (2007). Uncertainty: On a Himalayan Scale. Patan Dhoka: Himal Books. ISBN 99933

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Abstract

The Himalaya, all the experts agree, face serious environmental problems; they are caught in a downward spiral. The rate of fuelwood consumption, for instance, is asserted to be far in excess of the rate at which the forest grows. However, the expert estimates of these two rates vary by such immense factors that we simply cannot say whether the spiral, if it exists, is upward or downward. There is something severely wrong with the Himalaya but we cannot tell what it is. The traditional response - a call for more research - has not worked and the perceived urgency of the situation calls for action now, before it is too late. The challenge is to furnish a non-arbitrary strategic framework for that action.

Putting such a framework together calls for a new synthesis of hard and soft science. When, try as you may, you cannot find out what the facts in the Himalaya really are you can still do something. You can find out why it is that you cant find out what they are. The authors (a cultural anthropologist, an ecologist-turned-historian and a natural resource economist) begin by showing how it is the institutions and their contradictory problem definitions - the international agencies insisting that there are too many people; the people themselves insisting that that there is not enough food - that continually muddle the hard scientists efforts to pinpoint what is really going on and why. In an important sense, they argue, the institutions "are" the facts.

They then go on to show how a combination of hard and soft approaches - obtainable physical facts correlated with obtainable institutional facts - can provide a framework for action - immediate action. This, because it anticipates the grassroots obstacles that all too often get in the way of conventionally designed development programmes, actually improves on the sorts of hard-fact dominated frameworks that are unobtainable in the Himalaya anyway. The uncertainty is itself the key. That is the surprising and hopeful, message of this book.

Item Type: Book
Research Programs: Risk and Vulnerability (RAV)
Institute Scholars (INS)
Bibliographic Reference: Himal Books, Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
Related URLs:
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 08:39
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2016 12:29
URI: http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/8262

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