Scientific Evaluation of Environmental Problems: Process and Steps

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  • 1:34 Scientific Assessment
  • 2:04 Environmental Risk Assessment
  • 3:14 Public Engagament
  • 4:25 Political Action
  • 5:17 Long-Term…
  • 6:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

This lesson will explore how the process of scientific evaluation is used to solve environmental problems. We will also investigate the steps involved in the scientific evaluation of environmental problems and how they all work together to solve an important issue.

The Process of Scientific Evaluation

Many people think of science as a subject or a class they took in high school. Science is more than a set of facts and knowledge; it is a process of asking questions, making observations, and developing experiments to investigate and learn more about a specific topic. Scientific evaluation is very valuable because it makes it possible for us to investigate questions and learn more about the world around us.

Although science can be used to solve many different types of problems, let's examine how scientific evaluation can be used to help solve an environmental problem. Imagine you are walking through the forest, and you notice multiple dead birds. This might alarm you and raise concern about why so many birds are dying in one area. In order to investigate and solve this issue, a scientific evaluation of the environmental problem would be conducted, and it would involve five major steps.

The process starts with scientific assessment and then moves on to environmental risk assessment, public engagement, political action, and ends with long-term environmental management. Although the majority of the true science, based on the definition from the previous section, only takes place in the first two steps, the whole process is referred to as scientific because the science is what lays the foundation for the solution and management of the environmental problem.

Scientific Assessment

The first step in the scientific evaluation of an environmental problem is scientific assessment. Scientific assessment is when information is gathered about the problem through observations and experiments.

In terms of the mysterious bird death example, this step would include the initial observations of the dead birds. It would also include any questions generated by the mysterious deaths and the data collected from experiments conducted to learn more about the cause of the deaths.

Environmental Risk Assessment

The second step in the process would be to conduct an environmental risk assessment, and this would occur after the scientific assessment has found the cause of the problem and after potential solutions are determined. The environmental risk assessment would investigate the potential harm to human health or the environment as a result of the specific problem or the management options.

When related to the mysterious bird death example, there are many aspects to the environmental risk assessment. For this example, let's say the cause of the bird deaths was found to be a rare and deadly fungus growing in the forest. The environmental risk assessment would first be done to determine what would happen to the remaining birds and other organisms, including humans, if the fungus was not removed.

Secondly, the environmental risk assessment would examine the possible removal solutions for the fungus and determine the potential harm caused by each solution. The estimated harm caused by leaving the fungus would then be compared to the potential harm caused by the removal solutions to determine the overall risk of both possible outcomes to the problem.

Public Engagement

After the cause of the environmental problem has been determined and the risks associated with each outcome have been assessed, it is important to get the public involved. The third step in the scientific evaluation of an environmental problem is public engagement. Public engagement is when citizens are informed about the environmental problem and presented with the potential solutions and risks associated with the problem.

Public engagement is very important to this overall process because it is the step where more people become informed and can take action to make sure something is done about the problem. In some cases, this leads to public demonstrations to raise awareness, or citizens voicing their opinion on how the issue should be handled to their local politicians and governing agencies.

For the mysterious bird death example, this is the step when the public would be informed about the bird deaths, the fungus that is causing the deaths, the proposed solutions, and the risks associated. This is when people would voice their opinions on which proposed solution should be implemented to remove the fungus, or they may advocate to leave the fungus alone and let nature take its course.

Political Action

Once the public has been educated about the problem and opinions have been voiced, the next step, which is political action, can occur. Political action is when the risks associated with each possible solution are weighed against each other by politicians, and a legal decision is made about how to handle the environmental problem. Due to the fact that politicians are elected by citizens to represent them, the opinions voiced by people are often factored into the legal decisions about the environmental problem.

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