ES 392 Discussion Environmental Science
Public participation is the “participation of individuals and groups that may be impacted by a project, either positively/negatively, or are interested in it” (MacDonald, 2022). Many jurisdictions across the world require public participation in decision making processes for all large projects. Public participation is very important, however, as we learned in lecture 4, there are different types of public and the importance of each may vary: active and inactive public. The active public are those that can affect decisions, for example, industry associations or environmental organizations. The inactive public are those that are not usually involved in making decisions, for example, the typical citizen. Knowing the difference between the two, I think that participation of the active public should be mandatory in environmental assessments. By having public participation, it allows for a wider range of information that would not have been considered if the public is not addressed. For example, an important form of public participation is Indigenous traditional knowledge (TK). The Indigenous have such a different perspective of the environment and much more experience with nature than governments and civilized organizations. By consulting the Indigenous, it allows for a wider range of information on the impacts that this development will cause to the environment. Since public participation has allowed for more variety of information, addressing the new information can reduce potential conflicts that could occur after the project is completed. With public participation addressing potential impacts, these issues could be resolved in the assessment phase before the project starts and save time and money for the future. Finally, another benefit for having mandatory public participation in EA is identifying solutions to problems in a socially acceptable way. This will result in less public conflicts and negative attitudes towards the project being conducted.
Public participation should be mandatory, but there is much debate as to how much they should participate in the EA process. In 1969, Sherry Arnstein created the Ladder of Citizen Participation, which is a highly referenced influential model in the field of democratic public participation (Organizing Engagement, 2022). This model is organized in a ‘ladder’ style, where “each ascending rung represents increasing levels of citizen agency, control and power” (Organizing Engagement, 2022). There are eight different participation levels, starting from low power, to high power: manipulation, therapy, informing, consultation, placation, partnership, delegated power and citizen control. Currently, public participation practices fall between the informing and consultation level. This means that citizen’s rights and opinions are identified and heard, however, their opinions are not paid attention to. Personally, I think that active public participation should fall between placation and partnership in the Ladder of Public Participation, where the active public can speak on their concerns and trade-offs can be negotiated. This way, the public’s opinions are heard and acted upon, rather than heard and ignored. Since the part of the public that is participating is the ‘active’ public, they will most likely have background information and education about the impacts the project could cause, which brings value to the discussion table.
Here are a couple questions to consider:
1. What are ways to ensure that public participation is ‘meaningful’ and does not waste time?
2. Which level should Indigenous Traditional Knowledge fall under in the Ladder of Public Participation?
Ladder of Citizen Participation – Organizing Engagement. (2022). Retrieved 19 January 2022, from https://organizingengagement.org/models/ladder-of-citizen-participation/
Lecture 4 Public Participation. Dr. Lauren MacDonald. (2022). Retrieved 19 January 2022, from https://mylearningspace.wlu.ca/d2l/le/content/420590/viewContent/2787824/View
Question: Should public participation be mandatory in EA? How much involvement or say should the public have in environmental resource management and protection?
I found the public participation lecture for this week very interesting. After listening to the lecture, I realized how little I knew about how public participation in EA was actually conducted. I thought that “the public” included anyone who wanted to have their opinions heard. It is very interesting to learn about the active vs inactive public. This makes sense to me because it would not make sense for anyone, even if they are not affected by the project, to voice their opinions about a project. It would take too long to review what the public had to say and the decision-making process would also take too long.
I was very shocked when reading the “Federal Requirements” slide. This slide mentions how the government legally has to consult indigenous people but the final decision does not have to be in agreement with what the indigenous people have said. Basically, they are asking the indigenous people what they think and then possibly ignoring it. I think that before a project is approved, an agreement between the indigenous groups in the area must be met. In my opinion, it is very important for the indigenous people to have control and a voice over projects proposed on their land.
Going back to the overall lecture material, I liked how both the pros and cons of public participation were included. I think that most people would agree with public participation in environmental assessments. This brings me to the decision that yes, public participation should be mandatory in environmental assessments. Without public participation, decisions would be easier to make and take less time but the total impacts of the project might not be considered. In order for a decision about a project to be the best one possible, all viewpoints should be considered. It is possible that a concern from a member of the public was never considered by those performing the EA.
From the lecture material, it was stated that the average level of involvement the public has is between informing and consulting on Arnstein’s Ladder. I think that the public should be between placation and partnership and indigenous groups should be between partnership and delegated power. For the public, they should have a bit of a larger say when it comes to EA projects but the overall decision does not have to include what was said. For indigenous groups, they should have a much larger say in EA projects. I think their opinions should have to be taken into account and an agreement/ negotiation should have to be made between the groups before proceeding with the project.
Finally, I have some questions I would like to hear your opinion on. Please also include what you thought about my opinions.
1. What level in Arnstein’s Ladder should the public as well as Indigenous groups be at? Why do you think this?
2. Do you think the government should have to come to an agreement with the indigenous groups in the area before approving a project?
3. Do you think that the final decision from an EA will be the best one possible if public concerns are or are not taken into account?
1. Dr. MacDonald. Lecture 4 Public Participation. https://mylearningspace.wlu.ca/d2l/le/content/420590/viewContent/2787837/View (Date Accessed: Jan 18th/ 2022)
Should public participation be mandatory in EA? How much involvement should public participation have in environmental resource management and protection?
After going through this week’s lecture, I believe that public participation should be mandatory in environmental assessments. I believe that the public provides a new perspective to impact assessments that are often overlooked but important when regarding the wellbeing of the environment. I also believe that the active and inactive public are equally important in environmental assessments. In terms of involvement, I believe that the current placement for the general public is fair, in which the public is informed and heard. For indigenous groups, I believe they should have more partnership and their advice should be taken into further consideration. Indigenous and traditional knowledge on the environment is very important for impact assessments, as this type of knowledge is a reflection of the cultures, communities, and areas affected. Using Indigenous knowledge for impact assessments is beneficial in the way that it provides more insight towards how Indigenous governance, laws, land, and use of resources, may be impacted.
An example where indigenous knowledge was used and was beneficial to assessments is within the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council works towards sustainable development, environmental protection, and cooperation for land use in the Arctic regions of the world. In 1996, The Ottawa Declaration recognized Indigenous Knowledge for “its importance and that of Arctic science and research to the collective understanding of the circumpolar Arctic.” (Council, A., 1996). This knowledge also helped the council with the “conservation and sustainable use of Arctic biological resources” (Council, A., 1996). There are 13 principles on Indigenous Knowledge that the council follows, which included respecting the communities, and taking their knowledge seriously for each assessment conducted. I believe that most impact assessments should be conducted in a similar manner to the Arctic Council, in which Indigenous Knowledge holds a high and respected degree of power in decision-making processes. Overall, I believe the public and mostly indigenous communities should have more involvement in environmental assessment processes in which their opinions and boundaries are taken very seriously, as it has the potential to be very beneficial.
It is also important to recognize the disadvantages within public participation. As mentioned in lecture, including the public in environmental assessments slows down the process and is less efficient, it also requires early inquiry. It is required to ensure the public has proper knowledge on the assessment, and to be aware of all factors included. Under the Impact Assessment Act, transparency is very important, and the public must be informed through plain-language documents, social media, or meetings. This act also states that the Agency will focus mainly on communities near the project area, and that public participation will only occur within their legislative timelines (Government of Canada, 2021). This may lead to conflict, as communities that may be further from the project area may have important knowledge and opinions that will not be held to the same importance or have the same time to voice their opinions.
Overall, despite any disadvantages, I believe that public participation allows for a careful assessment process that is necessary for the protection of the environment. The public should have more involvement in the process, as their viewpoints could create more insight and should be seriously considered instead of just simply regarded.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with my opinions, and here are some questions to consider.
1. Do you believe that the opinions from communities that may be farther from the project area should be held at the same importance from communities closer to the project area?
2. Agencies create their legislative timelines for public participation, and it only mainly occurs during the ‘Planning’ phase of a project, do you believe public participation should extend into the building phase of a project? What advantages and disadvantages may this cause?
Council, A. (1996). Ottawa Declaration (1996).
Government of Canada. 2021. Framework: Public Participation Under the Impact
Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge . Arctic Council . (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.arcticpeoples.com/knowledge#indigenous-knowledge
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