University of Oulu

Sarkki, S., Ficko, A., Grunewald, K. et al. How pragmatism in environmental science and policy can undermine sustainability transformations: the case of marginalized mountain areas under climate and land-use change. Sustain Sci 12, 549–561 (2017).

How pragmatism in environmental science and policy can undermine sustainability transformations : the case of marginalized mountain areas under climate and land-use change

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Author: Sarkki, Simo1; Ficko, Andrej2; Grunewald, Karsten3;
Organizations: 1Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu, PO Box 1000, 90014, Oulu, Finland
2Department of Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Vecna pot 83, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia
3Leibniz-Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Weberplatz 1, 01217, Dresden, Germany
4Department of Forestry and Management of the Environment and Natural Resources, Democritus University of Thrace, 193 Pantazidou Str., 68200, Orestiada, Greece
5Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group, The James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, AB158QH, Scotland, UK
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.5 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2017
Publish Date: 2020-08-14


Global warming, land-use change, mass tourism and a deteriorating socio-economic situation pose serious threats to the sustainability of mountain areas. The future development of these areas could be an example of the Great Transition scenario. Based on iterative and collaborative discussions with 60 treeline experts, we (1) envisioned plausible futures of treeline ecosystems in Europe and (2) explored the role of pragmatism in scenario development and use. The three global change scenario classes (Conventional Worlds, Barbarization, and Great Transitions) and four European scenarios (Economy First, Fortress Europe, Policy Rules, and Sustainability Eventually) were downscaled using the drivers-pressures-state-impact-response (DPSIR) framework. The scenarios that emerged, i.e., Global Markets, Self-sufficient Economies, Tyranny of Climate Governance, and Sustainable Use of Ecosystem Services, show that pragmatism can have either a propitious role or pernicious role in scenario analysis. Instead of being truly honest brokers, scenario producers are likely to manipulate, reconstruct, and change scientific knowledge to avoid socially and politically undesired trajectories. We showed by mathematical optimization that scenario users are likely to miss the Sustainable Use of Ecosystem Services scenario if they search within the pragmatic decision space which optimally justifies the two pre-existing global policies: climate policy and economic growth. We conclude that pernicious pragmatism leads to “the trap of the day”—a tendency of both users and producers of scenarios to use pre-existing policy agendas and scientific narratives as a pretext to promote their own objectives instead of being open to transformation in science and policy.

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Series: Sustainability science
ISSN: 1862-4065
ISSN-E: 1862-4057
ISSN-L: 1862-4065
Volume: 12
Issue: 4
Pages: 549 - 561
DOI: 10.1007/s11625-016-0411-3
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1172 Environmental sciences
Funding: This article is based upon work from COST Action ES1203 SENSFOR, supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). Support of the H2020 SIMRA project on Social Innovation in Marginalized Rural Areas, Contract number 677622, provided by the European Commission to the James Hutton Institute and the University of Oulu is acknowledged by Maria Nijnik, the Coordinator.
EU Grant Number: (677622) SIMRA - Social Innovation in Marginalised Rural Areas
Copyright information: © Springer Japan 2016. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Sustain Sci. The final authenticated version is available online at