[I]f you study the history of political decisions about the environment … you find that there are no New Jerusalems at the end of [the] road …. Each political decision implants a choice into our system of social values; this imperceptibly changes the system of values, and this in turn affects the next choice(Ashby 1978: 78).
In his 1978 book, Reconciling Man with the Environment, Eric Ashby sought to address what he considered to be one of the most critical issues of his time: the protection of the environment. He believed that by continually making difficult policy choices and confronting the associated dilemmas, humans would gradually arrive at a fuller understanding of their environment and thus a more anticipatory approach to managing it. This reconciliation, he contended, would be achieved not by ‘heroic long-term megadecisions’ but by ‘the cumulative effect of wise medium-term microdecisions, each … clarifying the shape of the decision that needs to follow’ (Ashby 1978: 87).
Ashby was one of those rare individuals in public life who somehow managed to combine a lifelong career as a scientist (he was, among other things, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a Fellow of the Royal Society), with equally important roles in policy making. This sensitised him to the realpolitik of decision making.