What is responsible environmental engagement?

This question addresses the engagement of two or more parties who differ in their views about an environmental issue.

The issue may be relatively straightforward and about an action or series of defined actions which have taken place, are occurring or are contemplated.

The issue may be one about which there is no agreed-to definition of the subject of dispute and possible causative factors.

In both situations the social, cultural, economic and geographic contexts but also those of space and time are of major importance. The perspective of parties in any engagement may differ radically depending on the contexts in which they occur. And given this the emphasis must be on the word “responsible”. The word has several meanings but “accountability”, trustworthy, “rational conduct” are what I believe most persons would associate with it. With responsibility there is also the key element of trust. This is fundamental in an act of engagement between parties and particularly significant where it is in the public arena.

Parties to a dispute may come with fixed agendas and if intransigent then there is no possibility of productive engagement.

Responsible engagement invariably means that factual evidence, experiential and scientific knowledge become important elements. Often these are subject to contradictory claims or interpretation in addition to differing perspectives in which they may be viewed. In many environmental engagements it is an understanding of the spatial and time elements and associated ecological processes that is important. Static “one shot” views may purportedly establish a position and gain support especially in the media but invariably are counter productive to responsible engagement.

Sometimes those taking part in controversial subjects of an engagement come to it with passion and emotion which while understandable usually detracts from any fruitful result.

-Ken Armson R.P.F., retired Chief Forester of Ontario

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