Four Environmental Futures for USA, 2008
scenarios written by Wendy Schultz and Chris Jones
For the next hour, we will explore scenarios portraying four different
future environmental policy contexts. YOU HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED ONE
OF THESE SCENARIOS. These four scenarios emerge from slightly different
emphases given current trends of change and emerging issues. They
are differentiated on three primary axes: regulatory regime, attitudes
of/towards business, and definition of sustainable development.
In this context, any
one of the four scenarios described is possible. DO NOT DISCUSS ITS
RELATIVE PLAUSIBILITY OR PROBABILITY; SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF -- a
context exists; simply consider how you would cope most successfully.
After reading your scenario, address the following discussion questions:
- what challenges and
opportunities does your scenario present to policy-makers, business
leaders, and communities?
- who in your community
would gain the greatest advantage in the context of your scenario?
who would be marginalized?
- what "vision" (preferred
future) might you try to bring about, given this context?
- does your scenario
require a leader have certain qualifications or a specific knowledge
base to lead successfully? would conditions require coordinated
leadership by several people with different skills?
- what skills would
most contribute to successful leadership -- that is, organizing
transformative change -- in your scenario?
Federal funds for environmental initiatives decreased over the last
decade, mirroring the decrease in overall national budget, yet federal
environmental regulatory regimes are still in place. However, the
slow public value shift towards heightened environmental awareness
had continued and in fact strengthened during the millennium celebrations.
Perceiving this change in consumer attitudes, business culture and
practices gradually adjusted to match it: environmental ethics and
good corporate citizenship are highly salable commodities in this
first decade of the 21st century.
Local communities, thrown back on their own regulatory resources
and fed up with erosion of the quality of life throughout the 80s
and 90s, enacted stricter local usage regulations, engaged
in more mountain to shore integrated planning, and explored
the use of innovative natural system approaches to controlling
pollution [e.g., artificial wetlands and marshes, water hyacinths
and other natural filters for sewage and polluted water].
Community and regional voluntary organizations and NGOs now link
up with international grass-roots organizations to trade information
and expertise, and to sensitize businesses with local branches.
Local support has increased for environmentally-friendly changes
in workstyle, such as teleworking and green campus business
- Regulatory regime: intermixed state and local jurisdiction stronger
than increasingly underfunded federal programs.
- Attitudes of/towards business: grudging admission that environmental
ethics not only sell, but can save money; more community-business
- Sustainable development means doing the same with less
[especially the EPA].
Technological innovations have changed not only the way people work,
live, and govern themselves, but changed their relationship to the
environment as well. Planetwide communication/computer networks enabled
fast distribution and access to environmental data, as well as greater
public access to policy and planning debates. These networks revitalized
national coordination of environmental regulations and policies while
enhancing their flexibility vis-a-vis particular local conditions.
Unfortunately, they are also prone to waves of environmental
rumors. The entire political environment is more fluid due to increased
information flows and interpersonal connectivity.
Bio-engineering, nanotechnologies, and artificial intelligence experts
have blurred past distinctions between whats natural
and whats artificial. For example, landscapers may
now choose among various species of decorative plants which fix nitrogen
in damaged urban soils, and glow in the dark, marking paths and emergency
services. Nanotechnologies -- microscopically small filters, manipulators
and robots -- speed up garbage decomposition and materials sorting
and re-use in landfills and control weeds and pests, aided by gene-engineered
insect species. We have lowered our chemical inputs into the environment,
but many people question the long term impacts and risks involved
in such pervasive changes to natural systems, and the possibilities
of molecular and virtual pollution.
Nonetheless, many peoples homes are computer controlled, mini-biospheres
-- tailored to their personal climate and ecological choices. Communities
plan and manage regional ecologies by tailoring and weeding
plants and animals for local conditions. More and more, people fear
the fragility of these complex, synthetic natural systems with potential
risk of system shutdown/breakdown, as well as their vulnerability
to international terrorism.
- Regulatory regime: a revitalized, more porous command
and control featuring high levels of public input and interaction
via enhanced Web technologies, and innovative ombudsman initiatives
that take advantage of recent developments in artificial intelligence.
- Attitudes of/towards business: environmental monitoring, designing,
tailoring, and sustaining are entrepreneurial growth areas [Ecosystems
R Us, Nanotech biocontrol, etc.]
- Sustainable development means resource substitution and
micro-precise efficiency of use.
GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHORITIES/GREEN SENSIBILITIES
The worst ENSO in history, back in 97-98, and its resultant droughts,
storms, and floods, was followed by increasingly erratic weather and
accelerating symptoms of global warming. Storm surge, subsidence,
and sea-level rise brought new health problems on coastlines and in
delta areas. Local climate changes encouraged the migration of insect
species and brought new disease vectors to communities. Initially,
the public demanded --and got -- increased federal spending on environmental
That, however, represented merely the first barrage in public outrage
and backlash over environmental problems: the second round of demands
addressed non-point source pollution and contaminants [fed, no doubt,
by a bumper outbreak of pfiesteria piscicida]. Increasingly, the publics
perception of the risks was more important than scientific assessments.
International impacts also led to international initiatives, by equally
outraged non-OECD publics, who felt buffeted by environmental impacts
caused by global business activities predating their own industrialization
efforts. In the US, the public pressured the government to enact regulations
paralleling the Rio Agenda 21 initiatives, and regulations were passed
which sharply curtailed business impacts on the environment.
Local communities were hit hard by the economic shifts: environments
were given a chance to recover at the cost of fewer jobs, as businesses
went where countries had carbon emission rations. Tree-planting
has become a civic duty required of every citizen; Americans have
finally faced up to the kind of gas taxes Europe had paid for decades
-- and created some new local jobs with innovative mass/rapid transit
strategies; and eating habits have shifted radically since the environmental
luxury tax was levied on beef as well.
- Regulatory regime: thou shalt not.
- Attitudes of/towards business: Scramble within economy for new, low-impact
products and services simultaneous with movement of high-impact industries
off shore where possible; public impatience with any lingering
efforts to externalize environmental costs.
- Sustainable development means doing more with less, and
ECONOMIC SURVIVAL/LIBERTARIAN REVOLUTION
The four tigers of Asias economy became, in the
transition to the 21st century, a veritable herd of economic predators,
who were contending more and more often with a revitalized and slowly
strengthening European Union. Afraid of any signs of economic weakening,
the panicked US government significantly loosened environmental and
resource regulatory strictures on business. Impact penalties were
lightened, and permitting processes eased for resource use and extraction
in parks, preserves, and the coastal zone. The command and control
regulatory regime was, in essence, dismantled: an era of business
self-regulation began. It was, in essence, a time of environmental
backlash mirroring the affirmative action backlash and related
regulatory turn-around that occurred in the late 90s.
At the community level, people have become willing to trade off costs
to community of business activities -- water use, longer phase-in
of emission standards, etc. -- in order to assure job availability.
Some businesses have traded off specific community benefits -- playgrounds,
new health centers, educational donations -- for less restrictive
operating practices. Unions continued their long decline -- most employees
were desperate to ensure the continued health of their current employer.
- Regulatory regime: command and control dismantled;
restrictions and processes loosened.
- Attitudes of/towards business: entrepreneurialism is king; virtual
corporations and development teams todays business
heroes; growth of anti-multinational corporation feelings.
- Sustainable development means more jobs