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Sources of Conflict: Environmental Impact Statements as Methodology and History

Thu, March 15, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, MR 8

Session Submission Type: Panel


Knowledge is power, information is power, and increasingly data is power. Environmental impact statements and assessments (collectively, EISs) are a means of not only identifying and evaluating human effects on the non-human world but also including the public in decision making. EISs attempt to disperse power by disseminating information and facilitating participation.

Environmental historians in the U.S. and Canada have long recognized the importance of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. They have paid less attention to the intended and unintended consequences of EISs for people and the non-human world, and to the ways that EISs shape our understanding of human activity on a changing planet. This panel focuses on EISs as a factor in environmental, political, and information history.

Cheryl Knott considers EISs as a trove of source material and metadata that consumed massive amounts of paper to record an ongoing conversation about human activity. Keith Woodhouse relates the story of the California Desert Conservation Area, a vast space that involved dozens of EISs and competing interests and that finally weighed a fragile ecosystem against the need for renewable energy. Jeff Hall discusses the intersection of environmentalism and prison planning in New York’s Adirondack Park, where EISs recorded a contest between local residents and urban recreationists over the meaning of a scenic place in which people lived and worked. Glenn Iceton examines how environmental assessment in Canada’s Yukon Territory considered natural resource development while at the same time offering indigenous communities an opportunity to intervene and advance counter-narratives. Alessandro Antonello, who studies environmental history and international diplomacy, has agreed to comment.

Taken together, these papers suggest that EISs are sources and accounts of conflict that ultimately had cultural and material impacts of their own.

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