Complexity, uncertainties and vulnerabilities in contaminated places decision-making in Portugal and Brazil
School of Economics/ Centre for Social Studies University of Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
Science and technology involved in chemical production and use produce risks and uncertainties that can generate environmental and health problems. Population and institutional vulnerabilities in some countries and places aggravate these impacts. S&T advance produce short term economic and social benefits in this area. Risk analysis techniques and the production and consumption paradigm guide most of the public policy development, promoting a "toxic culture" and neglecting the quality of life of local communities and the uncertainties in long term predictions of health and environmental damages.
We claim that these policies should be anchored in the precautionary principle and the righ to know principles. The question currently guiding most chemical policies is: 'How little damage is possible?' whilst we defend that the question should be: ´How much damage is safe?'. Normal science is a decision-making mechanism, that isn't able to address the problem, most of the times. It doesn't take into account the complexity, uncertainties and vulnerabilities of the chemical contamination case. On the other hand, local knowledge produces and expresses social, political and cultural values and claims neglected by scientists and technicians in the contaminated environment decision process, who consider theirs as the only kind of acceptable knowledge.
The contaminated environments of Estarreja (Portugal) and Cidade dos Meninos (Brazil) are the selected case studies of this research, both considered here as a "toxic culture" product, complex systems, with technical, political, social, cultural and economic interfaces and population and institutional vulnerabilities presence. The work's main objective is to understand the ways of (non) interaction between local and technical-scientific knowledge involved in the decision-making process related to contaminated places. This paper discusses the main results of the work up to now.