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Complexity as a cause of environmental inaction : case studies of large-scale wind energy development in Saskatchewan

Date

2010-09

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

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Type

Degree Level

Masters

Abstract

The rate of development for large-scale wind energy in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is a complex issue such that the various actors of the surrounding policy community (decision-makers, influential stakeholders, and the attentive public) cannot reach consensus. Inaction on resource and environmental issues like this one is often the result of complexity, either the inherent complexity of the problem being targeted or the complexity of the communicated information surrounding the problem. Inherent complexity is managed chiefly by central decision-makers and influential stakeholders of the policy community, while information complexity must be dealt with primarily by the attentive public of the policy community. This thesis uses a case study of large-scale wind energy development in Saskatchewan to explore complexity as a root cause of environmental inaction. In manuscript style, this thesis investigates two types of environmental complexity and two segments of the wind energy policy community. Through an exploration of barriers to wind energy expansion in Saskatchewan, the first manuscript focuses on the complexity of environmental problems themselves as dealt with by decision-makers and other influential policy actors. Interviews were conducted with a range of experts and stakeholders where participants were asked to describe barriers to development in each of six categories: agreement, knowledge, technology, economic, social, and political barriers. A number of key issues are identified: disagreement regarding the balance between environment and economy, contradictory knowledge about the benefits of wind energy, conflicting faith in technology to accommodate high levels of wind energy, unquantified non-economic benefits of wind energy, lack of social interest in and support for wind energy, and lagging provincial political leadership on the issue of wind energy. Perhaps more importantly, the interviews reveal that experts disagreed on many facets of the wind energy issue, which demonstrates that the complexity of the issue makes consensus and any resulting action difficult to accomplish. Intuitive solutions for managing complexity through the more effective reconciliation of disagreement are also suggested. The second manuscript focuses on the complexity of environmental information by examining policy information regarding wind energy implementation in Saskatchewan for complications that might reduce understanding about and participation in the issue by the attentive public. Through a review of publicly available reports, articles, and documents, four complexity-related problems are uncovered: non-intuitive information, misreported information, obsolete information, and absent information. Such occurrences may well be problematic for environmental policy information in general, so intuitive solutions involving clarification and elaboration are suggested for managing each one. Together, the two manuscripts illustrate that both inherent and information complexity can be problems for environmental issues, especially when one causes or feeds back into the other. Results from this thesis provide a way of thinking about environmental complexity and understanding environmental inaction as managed by policy communities.

Description

Keywords

mass media, controversy, SaskPower, grounded theory, misinformation, sub-government

Citation

Degree

Master of Environment and Sustainability (M.E.S.)

Department

School of Environment and Sustainability

Program

School of Environment and Sustainability

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DOI

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