Ways of Seeing in Environmental Law: How Deforestation Became an Object of Climate Governance

75 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2010

Date Written: October 19, 2010


Few areas of law are as deeply implicated with science and technology as environmental law, yet we have only a cursory understanding of how science and technology shape the field. Environmental law, it seems, has lost sight of the constitutive role that science and technology play in fashioning the problems that it targets for regulation. Too often, the study and practice of environmental law and governance take the object of governance - be it climate change, water pollution, biodiversity, or deforestation - as self-evident, natural, and fully-formed without recognizing the significant scientific and technological investments that go into making such objects and the manner in which such investments shape the possibilities for response. This Article seeks to broaden environmental law’s field of vision, replacing the tendency to naturalize environmental problems with an exploration of how particular scientific and technological knowledge practices make environmental problems into coherent objects of governance. Such knowledge practices, or ways of seeing, are instrumental in shaping regulatory possibilities and must be interrogated directly as key constituents of particular forms of governance. The argument is developed through a case study of how tropical deforestation, which accounts for some 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions but which was expressly excluded from the Kyoto Protocol, has recently become a viable object of climate governance, demonstrating the fundamental importance of conceptual advances in carbon cycle research, the synoptic view of global land cover change made possible by remote sensing, and new carbon accounting techniques in rendering the problem comprehensible for climate policy. Building on the case study, this Article identifies and elaborates on three general ways of seeing - kind-making, calculability, and equivalence - that operate through particular scientific and technical practices to shape and inform the substance of environmental law, with specific attention to the implications of the overall approach for a comprehensive theory of the field.

Keywords: environmental law, climate change, deforestation, REDD, carbon, science & technology

JEL Classification: A14, K32, Q23

Suggested Citation

Boyd, William, Ways of Seeing in Environmental Law: How Deforestation Became an Object of Climate Governance (October 19, 2010). Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 843, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1694612

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