This post is slightly philosophical (no gas prices here!), so put on your thinking cap.
And stop for a moment to imagine what kind of philosophical question would appear on this blog.
Hold that thought. If I don't get to it, feel free to ask your question in the comments.
So -- I want to talk about pauses and information.
The pause refers to stopping to consider what has just been asked of you. William Buckley was a master of the pause, stoners are good at pauses, kids often make you pause, and most professors know about that terrifying (for them? for the students?) pause following their question.
What happens during that pause is that someone is thinking about something they have not previously considered. They are putting the question in a context that combines their knowledge, opinion, belief and audience. A thoughtful answer will illuminate the question (and the respondent) to the questioner and bystanders. Socrates had it right.
Apply this notion to environmental topics. The first thing you know is that many people do not pause on environmental questions. This may be because they are expert on the topic (and do not have to pause) or because they are opinionated (and do not want to pause). Those who do pause before responding (and blog readers often do -- because words are patient) often learn while teaching.
The reason that pauses matter more with respect to environmental topics (as opposed to, say, which motor oil to use) is that we have so little information on the environment, which brings me to a related issue.
On global warming, water quality, or GMO foods, we know very little. We can model dynamics as if we know (setting parameters, guessing variables, assuming functional forms, etc.), but our information environment is worse than the case with blind men and an elephant. We are many men who do not know (or believe) they are blind, cannot talk to each other, and are feeling different elephants.
The information problem (or knowledge problem :) is absolutely profound in environmental studies, and environmental economics in particular. That's because most environmental science does not include human behavior. Economics, as a social science, must include human actions and reactions as an endogenous component that will not only complicate calibration (how will humans respond?) but also alter the system from within (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle on steroids).
It gets worse. People have strong emotions about the environment and opinions on what is true, false, good and bad (the morality!). From this, we know that they will acknowledge or ignore information in proportion to its contribution to their beliefs -- reinforcing, rather than reducing prejudices. This behavior is not economical (since the gains to trade among different views are largest when there is little common knowledge), but that does not stop people from acting that way. (Not us, of course!)
The "solution" to the resulting problems (people talking past each other and deadlock) is a greater respect for, and use of, the pause.
Bottom Line: Think about it.