By: Virginia Riddle
Environmental “win-wins”, or objectives that have little negative environmental impact, are becoming more and more difficult to come by. An example of an environmental win-win would be the mass fishing of shrimp while avoiding harming other unneeded sea creatures. These situations are often projected to be achievable in theory but fail to come to fruition when applied to the practicalities of the real world.
“If a scientist’s model predicts a fishery will catch a certain number of fish with little bycatch, or predicts a farm will harvest a certain amount of corn while cutting back on harmful fertilizer—but fishermen and farmers on the ground report the opposite, that leads to frustration on both sides,” said Margaret Hegwood, a University of Colorado Boulder graduate student in Environmental Studies and lead author of the study Nature Sustainability.
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) is leading a study to examine faults and reasonings behind the elusive nature of environmental win-wins. With its research, discrepancies and issues can be predicted, and alternative solutions to the original win-win can be proposed.
Hegwood works with CIRES and reports, “We used math to show real-world complexity makes win-wins harder to achieve—allowing scientists and stakeholders to compromise and aim for more achievable, realistic goals about environmental impact, food production, biodiversity, economic yield, etc.”
Hegwood continued to recontextualize this issue by adding, “Instead of asking, ‘is it the ideal outcome for only a single objective?’ we need to shift our thinking to ask, ‘Are we better than where we started?'”
To achieve these more attainable objectives, the CIRES team is analyzing and modeling 280 different environmental situations in which the product may hurt the environment. The models review the severity of each situation, and therefore allow all entities involved in the processes to feel assured and understood.
While it is hard to always find a perfect solution to environmental issues, CIRES is making obvious efforts to mitigate our negative impact on the world as much as possible.