The distrust between many farmers, policy makers and academics isn’t a secret. But at the same time, I think this may be an overlooked part of the water pollution problem (and other problems regarding common-pool resource use). I’m under the impression that, at least for some people, problems such as nutrient runoff in the Red Cedar watershed are just seen in economic and/or scientific terms. For example, it may just be the case that it’s in the farmer’s economic interest to adopt environmentally-suboptimal practices. Something like a subsidy is thus necessary for meaningful change. Otherwise some technological advancement is needed.
But while material conditions are important and highly significant, this view probably makes humans out to be more helpless than they really are. Environmental and social problems hinge more on what people actually do, rather than some technological frontier or some inexorable law. It’s not inevitable, for example, that stakeholders over-exploit common-pool resources (the “tragedy of the commons” view). To that end, I’m very interested in seeing about what we can learn from the sociology and anthropology projects this summer. Science can tell us a lot about what is and isn’t possible, but after we have identified the set of feasible choices, there is definitely a lot of work that still needs to be done.