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Integrated assessment of agricultural sustainability: the pros and cons of reductionism
Giampietro, Mario
Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals; Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
In this paper I review a series of theoretical concepts that are relevant for the integrated assessment of agricultural sustainability but that are not generally included in the curriculum of the various scientific disciplines dealing with quantitative analysis of agriculture. I first illustrate with plain narratives and concrete examples that sustainability is an extremely complex issue requiring the simultaneous consideration of several aspects, which cannot be reduced into a single indicator of performance. Following, I justify this obvious need for multi-criteria analysis with theoretical concepts dealing with the epistemological predicament of complexity, starting from classic philosophical lessons to arrive to recent developments in complex system theory, in particular Rosen´s theory of modelling relation which is essential to analyze the quality of any quantitative representation. The implications of these theoretical concepts are then illustrated with applications of multi-criteria analysis to the sustainability of agriculture. I wrap up by pointing out the crucial difference between "integrated assessment" and "integrated analysis". An integrated analysis is a set of indicators and analytical models generating an analytical output. An integrated assessment is much more than that. It is about finding an effective way to deal with three key issues: (i) legitimacy – how to handle the unavoidable existence of legitimate but contrasting points of view about different meanings given by social actors to the word "development"; (ii) pertinence – how to handle in a coherent way scientific analyses referring to different scales and dimensions; and (iii) credibility – how to handle the unavoidable existence of uncertainty and genuine ignorance, when dealing with the analysis of future scenarios.
2010-11-09
631 - Agricultura. Agronomia. Maquinària agrícola. Sòls. Edafologia agrícola
Agricultura sostenible – Anàlisi
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Reports on Environmental Sciences;2010-01
         

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