Panel Submissions: Science, Politics, and Values in Environmental Impact Assessment

Panel Session: Science, Politics, and Values in Environmental Impact Assessment
Environmental Studies Association of Canada Annual Conference
University of Victoria, Victoria, BC
June 3 – June 5, 2013


This panel aims to explore the connections and tensions between science, politics and values in environmental impact assessment.


Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is typically understood as a rigorous, scientific procedure used to predict and mitigate the potential effects of resource and other development projects prior to political decisions about whether or not to proceed. Emerging in the context of the United States’ burgeoning environmental movement in the late 1960s, EIA was originally conceived by legislators as a rational means to account for the environmental impacts of political decisions. A key purpose of EIA was to use science to assuage the public’s environmental concerns. Today EIA is used in most jurisdictions around the world. Yet, despite EIA’s success as a widely implemented scientific tool, it is generally not able to resolve political debate over environmental values.

Indeed, the assumed separation between the science of EIA and the politics of environmental decision-making does not exist in practice. Recent sweeping changes in Canadian environmental assessment legislation, for instance, illustrate the strong influence of politics and values on EIA practice.  At an international level, plans by the recently established Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development to export Canadian corporate social responsibility also hold implications for EIA practice.


This panel welcomes theoretical and empirical contributions that explore the influence of politics and values on the science of EIA in Canada and elsewhere. Contributions may examine the role of politics and values as an external, contextual influence on EIA science. In addition, the panel welcomes contributions that explore ways in which science and politics are internal to EIA science, influencing its very content.

Potential Contributions

Some potential questions to consider include (but are not limited to):

·         How is ‘objectivity’ defined in EIA and what is the role of ‘professional judgement’?

·         How do politics influence the scope and methods of EIA?

·         How is the issue of values addressed across different EIA jurisdictions?

·         To what extent do epistemological and ontological assumptions in EIA align with or contradict non-scientists’ perspectives?

·         How is ‘significance’ determined in EIA?

In answering these and other questions about the nexus between science, politics, and values in EIA, the panel hopes to strengthen the rigour of EIA science and to make it more politically accountable.

Panel Submissions

Please send paper abstracts (300 words maximum) to panel organizers, Dr. Justin Page ( and Dr. Robin Sydneysmith ( Those accepted will need to be, or become, members of ESAC and will be asked to register for ESAC’s Annual Conference, to be held at the Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, in Victoria, B.C., from June 3rd to June 5th, 2013.