The Colorado Internet Center for Environmental Problem Solving

Providing Access to University and Regional Expertise in Dispute Resolution and Environmental Policy Making

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Interview Based-Search System

In a sense this system emulates a consulting interview with a member of the Consortium's professional staff. The system asks you several questions to find out more about the environmental problems which concern you. You then have the option of linking to a variety of resources related to the topic.

This is an experimental way of organizing University expertise. As such there many be significant omissions and mis-catagorizations. We are working to improve the system and apologize for the imperfections of this version.

Understanding Environmental Problems:

The first step toward making sound environmental policy and sensibly addressing environmental disputes is to fully understand the basic issues involved. What is the environmental problem? What options are available for dealing with the problem? What do the various interest groups see as the costs and benefits associated with each option? In our experience, many parties to environmental disputes often proceed without an adequate understanding of the complex issues involved. This often leaves people pursuing options which don't really advance their interests. For example, many people often spend a lot of effort opposing an action which is not as damaging as they think it is while failing to recognize and respond to more serious threats to their interests. If you are not confident in your understanding of the underlying environmental issues, you might find resources in the following categories useful.

Overall Approaches to the Environmental Policy Making Process:

Efforts to advance one's interests with respect to environmental issues requires an understanding of processes through which environmental policies are made and the strategies through which these policies might be influenced. University faculty make use of the following resources in helping students better understand these processes.

Environmental Dispute Resolution

One key to constructively addressing environmental problems is to identify affected stakeholders and bring them into the policy making process. The next step is to identify the differing issues that the stakeholders would like to see addressed. The parties to environmental disputes also need to employ effective communication techniques so that they can accurately understand the positions, actions, and motivations of other parties. Understanding the nature of environmental problems and assessing the effectiveness of possible solutions usually requires complex scientific analyses and a process which is able to take advantage of this information. Perhaps the most destructive dynamic which can arise in the course of environmental problem solving efforts is escalation. Its intensifying cycle of action and reaction can easily transform serious efforts to address the issue into emotionl and bitter confrontations characterized by distrust and often outright hostility.

Crucial to the success of efforts to successfully negotiate a compromise resolution of an environmental problem is an understanding ofwhen a situation is "ripe" for settlement and when it is not. In cases where an environmental issue is likely to be amenable to resolution through some type of agreement-based process, the parties need expertise in the appropriate negotiation, mediation, or consensus-building process. University resources related to environmental dispute resolution include the follwoing.

Building Environmental Arguments

One key to solving environmental problems is an ability to persuade others that a problem does in fact exists and that the proposed solution is appropriate. This in turn requires an ability to the make moral arguments concerning the appropriate relationship between human society and the natural environment. An examination of the relative merits of competing arguments is an important part of the work of many faculty members.

Administrative Procedures:

Most environmental policy disputes are not resolved by agreement-based processes. For these cases environmental problem solvers need to understand the many other mechanisms through which environmental policies are made. One such mechanism is administrative procedure in which government officials make many key environmental decisions.


Many other environmental policy disputes are resolved through litigation or the threat of litigation. Here information is available from the following sources.


Political action, either the lobbying of existing legislative bodies or electoral campaigns designed to change the membership of those bodies, also plays an important role in the environmental problem solving processes. These processes appropriate tax money for environmental purposes, determine how state and federal lands are administered, and enact laws which dictate private responsibilities on a broad range of environmental issues.

Market Approaches

Many environmental actions result from market forces rather than government policies. Sources of infomration about the market's role in environmental decsions include:

Public Education and Grassroots Approaches

Other important environmental actions result from the individual decisions that people make governing their own behavior (recycling, car pooling, energy conservation, etc.). As such, persuading people to pursue more environmentally conscious lifestyles is another important component of the environmental problem solving process.

The Colorado Internet Center for Environmental Problem Solving Main Home Page -- Main Conflict Research Consortium Home Page

For more information contact: Conflict Research Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0327 Phone: (303)492-1635; Fax: (303)492-2154; E-Mail:

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