Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
In-depth disciplinary knowledge and expertise are necessary but not sufficient to the task
of improving the decision-making process for dam development. The Hungarian scholar
Michael Polanyi (1962), known for his boundary-crossing insights in fields as disparate
as physics and economics, famously envisioned a “Republic of Science” in which highly
trained individual experts organize themselves into groups that function collectively as a
“body politic” to solve society's most pressing problems. In doing so, these experts must
delve deeply into their respective fields, but they must also resurface long enough to fash-
ion a common language that allows them to communicate with one another and to convey
their findings to policy makers and to society at large.
In the final analysis, scientific experts—and whatever models or other forms of know-
ledge they construct—cannot tell us what the best course of action is or even how to op-
timize the trade-offs between multiple desirable outcomes such as hydropower generation
and environmental conservation. These normative questions require a public discussion of
the values that drive policy. But where does such scientific input go, and what are its pro-
spects for influencing policy? In chapter 2 , I outlined the complex institutional structure of
water management in China and alluded to the “nine-dragon” problem in which the roles
of various government agencies and private institutions—from the NDRC to the various
River-Basin-Management Commissions and the Five Energy Giants that generate electri-
city—are convoluted and ambiguous. All stakeholders are not created equal.
At the Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research in Beijing, I interviewed
Dr. Zhou, a junior engineer who was just beginning her career. She had recently led an ef-
fort to apply the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, developed by the Inter-
national Hydropower Association, to evaluate the ecological effects of the Jinghong Dam
on the Lancang River. Sitting at a large, polished table in a brightly lit conference room
at the institute, she reflected on the process of providing technical consulting to Huaneng
Corporation, which was responsible for the design and construction of the Jinghong Dam:
“Our role is to help them [the hydropower corporations] improve their work. We produce a
report based on our findings and offer our opinions about the positive aspects of the project
and about aspects that need improving. Sometimes our suggestions relate to the technical
aspects of a dam, such as design or operation. Other times, they are administrative sugges-
tions, like 'You should open an office of environmental management to oversee environ-
mental compliance.' ”
As the culmination of her research, Dr. Zhou had produced an environmental assessment
report ( pinggu baogao ) and delivered it to Huaneng Corporation, but she was unclear on
how—or even whether—her efforts would shape the final outcomes of the project. In fact,
her experiences with assessment underscore the tenuous nature of environmental law in
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