Seeing the forest for the trees: The future of environmental policy lies in interaction

ns that evolve into new challenges for both humans and nature.

At AAAS, Liu discussed the work that he and his collaborators had done at the Wolong Nature Reserve in the Sichuan Province of southwestern China, which is one of the largest homes to the endangered giant panda. In Wolong, the Chinese government has instituted three policies to preserve panda habitat: an eco-hydropower plant program to eliminate fuel wood consumption, a natural forest conservation program to prevent illegal forest harvesting, and a grain-to-green program to return cropland to forest.

Liu said each program had been carefully considered, but already some policies are having unexpected effects once people started living them. For example, many new households were formed to take advantage of the natural forest conservation program as economic incentives from the government were provided on the household basis. Furthermore, much of the money received from the natural forest conservation program was not used to buy electricity. As a result, most households continue to use fuel wood.

"We're finding that it's human nature to, if you have money, use it to buy what you like," Liu said. "Fuel wood is a common resource, and many people choose not to do what the policy intended."

Liu said a solution is to consider the interactive effects of different policies rather than in isolation. It places different demands on policy making, forcing experts to look beyond their own fields and requiring various government agencies to work together.

"To meet the challenges of environmental policy in business and government we need a new kind of scientist," said Thomas Dietz, director of MSU's Environmental Science and Policy Program (ESPP). "They will continue to need the scientific depth and rigor that comes from traditional fields. But they also need a breadth of understanding that the traditional fields don't supply.

"Environmental problems don't come in ne

Contact: Tom Oswald
Michigan State University

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