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The Role of Scientific Knowledge in Drawing up the Brundtland Report

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«The most important questions that Man must answer are questions on which Science has nothing to say,» according to the historian Arnold Toynbee.

This perhaps sums up the view of science which guided the World Commission on Environment and Development during the three years over which it worked on its report, Our Common Future. The Commission had been entrusted by the UN General Assembly not to report back on the physical realities of the present natural world, but to seek paths toward a better, more secure, more equitable human world. And as the psychologist R.D. Laing said about science: «All natural science can say about values is that they do not come within its domain of investigative competence».

Commissioner William Ruckelshaus of the United States, twice head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, summed up many of the commissioners' scepticism of science and brought a laugh at the same time - when he said during a Commission debate: «I don't want to give too much credence to the scientists. When I was head of EPA, I would have a bunch of them in my office in the morning telling me that some substance was so good for me I ought to put it on my breakfast cereal. Then I'd have another bunch through in the afternoon telling me that the same stuff was so dangerous I should not be in the same country with it».

But Ruckelshaus said this while he was actually calling for more scientific data to back up certain areas of the report. He felt that the Commission should not call for certain expensive activities unless science had documented that a serious problem existed.

Science not the driving force

Thus science and scientists were not the driving force and the initiator in the Commission's conclusions. They acted more...