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close this bookIn Place of the Forest: Environmental and Socio-economic Transformation in Borneo and the Eastern Malay Peninsula (UNU, 1990, 310 pages)
close this folderAppendix : A discussion of environmental and PROCEZ criticality
View the documentForms of criticality
View the documentEnvironmental criticality
View the documentImplications of PROCEZ criticality
View the documentEndangerment, criticality, and this case-study

Forms of criticality

Criticality in PROCEZ

Since "criticality" first came into use in the literature on global environmental change, the term has acquired a rather diverse set of meanings, as Kasperson et al. (1990) have demonstrated in a review that traces the use of the term from the early 1970s.~ Arguing that neither purely biophysical nor anthropocentric bases of definition capture what is involved, they initially proposed the following working definition (Kasperson et al., 1990: 16): a continuous portion of the earth's surface, preferably larger than 5,000 km2, constituting a habitat in which human occupation has so changed multiple components of the environment that the quantity and quality of those uses and/or the well-being of the population cannot be sustained, given feasible socio-economic and/or technological responses.

In their revision, however, they focus attention on stages of degradation, being "a decrease in the capacity of the environment as managed to meet its user demands" (Kasperson et al., 1995: 7). They therefore distinguish between "environmental impoverishment," in which the trajectory in the medium to longer term threatens to narrow the range of possibilities for human use, "environmental endangerment," in which the trajectory threatens in the near term to preclude the continuation of current human use systems, and true "environmental criticality" in which this preclusion of continuation of current human use systems is immediate (Kasperson et al., 1995: 25).

On the basis of our earlier, interim assessment of the trajectory in Borneo and the Peninsula (there termed the eastern Sundaland region), Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner (1995) class this region as among those "endangered" rather than "critical." In the present much fuller review we have explored this assessment as profoundly as we can. We accept that "endangerment" is probably the limit of the effect of present trends. However, we have retained the question of "criticality" in relation to two areas in which current trends are believed to have important global impact: the reduction of biodiversity and the effect of tropical deforestation on global warming. Neither of these was closely considered in our interim statement, and both are excluded from the general discussion of that statement by Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner. In this Appendix we explore some of the general issues that have, over the life of the PROCEZ project, been raised within and around it. They have had an effect on the strategy we have employed in our analysis.

Types of global environmental change

Turner et al. (1990) separate the types of global environmental change, such as might lead toward criticality, into two classes: "systemic" changes, which are of global domain, however caused, and "cumulative" changes, initially of local domain but which, in combination, have an impact extending from regional to global. Global climatic change is representative of the first, although the worldwide drive for economic development could also be regarded in this category. Deforestation is a prime example of the second, and it is deforestation that is generally seen as the cause of endangerment or criticality in that part of the South-East Asian region discussed here. This approach, which is fairly strongly anthropogenic, to a large degree explains the selection of "case-studies" reported in Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner (1995). They concern a set of areas in which different aspects of severe human impact on the environment are exhibited, each with a different local set of driving forces. The driving forces in our region are summed up as mainly external though we have had some reason to question this assessment - and the trends bringing about "endangerment" arise principally from deforestation.

As we embarked on our task, we found problems with the def inition of "criticality" initially presented to us. As stated in the Introduction, we saw ourselves as writing a test of criticality in the PROCEZ sense, rather than an account of any demonstrably critical situation. We found it necessary to break the analysis of "criticality" into parts, and even to break the specific question of the effects of deforestation into parts. The downgrading of our test to one of "endangerment" perhaps made this strategy even more appropriate, since it more readily permits relative rather than absolute judgements.

We retain, however, some problems with the attempt to combine the geophysical with the human in a single assessment. In our region, some elements of environmental process are certainly sharpened in their effects by human activity. Other parts of our analysis relate almost wholly to human forces, and the specific nature of the environment other than being part of the hot, wet, and developing tropics is of minimal significance. We therefore feel it necessary to analyse the general issue of criticality, and the track toward it, in order to clarify the argument of our book.