Society frequently reacts to environmental problems only after they become public crises, then wishes that timely research had helped either to anticipate the crises or to provide means to deal with them. The absence or inadequacy of relevant scientific knowledge and understanding frequently makes it difficult to generate rational environmental policy to deal with problems as they arise. The best that can usually be done is to base responses on imperfect information and what seem to be reasonable hypotheses. It is, of course, impossible to anticipate all problems. The key question is which areas of research should be pursued now so that after 5, 10, 20 or more years, society will be in a better position to identify and respond to serious environmental problems. This is what the committee calls ''anticipatory research.''
This report summarizes a workshop on anticipatory research held in Woods Hole, MA, June 14-15, 1989, to conceive and define research programs not already under way that would help the federal government, states, industry, universities, and other research organizations in anticipating environmental problems and providing a base of scientific knowledge in time to shape a response. Workshop participants included environmental scientists and engineers who were asked to focus on responses to the following questions:
What should be the shape of a long-term research program to cope with these problems?
How can arising problems be identified in an ongoing way?
What potential problems can be identified now?
Discussion of the responses to these questions at the workshop led participants to propose the following responses:
Management: The overall goal of a more fully developed capability to anticipate and respond effectively to future environmental problems is to improve our ability to manage the environment. The overall objective of improving the capability to manage the environment will be well served through improving the heterogeneity of ideas, approaches, and activities in environmental research; using and balancing holistic and mechanistic studies; and using and balancing system-level and process-level investigations.
Institutional arrangements: Several alternative institutional arrangements should be investigated, including working within existing institutions as well as establishing new ones. Whatever alternative is selected, anticipating future environmental problems, identifying anticipatory and exploratory research needs, conducting the requisite research and acting on the results have to be given a clear, continuing, and unambiguously high priority. Environmental organizations should consider establishing new units charged with an anticipatory, exploratory responsibility. Past attempts such as EPA's Washington Environmental Research Center should be examined as possible models, as should programs in other environmental organizations, in the United States and in other countries. Whatever the organizational structures selected, these units should be inter-and multidisciplinary.
Environmental personnel: Government and industry have an obligation to see that the environmental sciences have sufficient funding and visibility to ensure adequate recruitment of bright, capable individuals. Ways to effectively use and
retain successful, experienced scientists should also be implemented. Funding organizations should recognize that researchers need to have flexibility and that some portion of each grant or contract should be devoted to development of new ideas.
Understanding past environmental problems: A preliminary step in designing an exploratory research program to anticipate environmental problems should be studies of the past to determine the reasons that environmental problems often go unnoticed and how early identification and resolution can be achieved. Understanding past environmental problems can be improved through: an analysis of case histories and synthesis of past efforts to manage environmental problems; study of the relation between the contribution of science and other factors to successful environmental management; scrutiny of research programs at existing academic, government, and independent research institutes to identify those factors that have contributed to highly successful research programs; evaluation of the effectiveness, advantages, and disadvantages of programs carried out by individual investigators, research teams, and centers to identify the relative advantages and disadvantages of alternative approaches; establishment of an unambiguous high priority and long-term commitment to environmental studies; and international cooperation to exchange ideas, expertise, and experience.
Monitoring programs: Any sound environmental research program aimed at achieving a better understanding of our environment in the future should have two basic objectives: to know what the situation is now (i.e., to establish baselines), and to recognize and follow changes, to provide warning and to determine the seriousness of emerging threats. A critical question is what to monitor and where. Several key elements of a monitoring program are: a multidisciplinary advisory panel; inventories of resources, emissions/discharges, chemical use, and other vital statistics of societal and industrial activity; social, economic, and technological trend data; and active research, modeling, and diagnostic programs to assess environmental conditions now and in the future.
A program to manage physical phenomena should establish baseline conditions in the biotic and abiotic components of the environment; quantify trends in pollutant concentrations in the environment and in the condition of ecological resources; define the magnitude, rate, extent, and location of changes; and provide data to allow relationships between anthropogenically induced changes and alterations in the quality and quantity of biotic systems to be determined.
Three key social and economic areas that need to be monitored are environmental consequences of human behavior, impact of management and regulatory initiatives, and the relations between societal values and environmental expectations. The ways public values and behavior interact with environmental problems are poorly understood. A series of studies exploring how public values and behavior might be expected to change over the next several decades and the implications of such changes on the perception of environmental problems and the constraints on the potential effectiveness of alternative management strategies should be undertaken.
New technology studies: New technologies may involve either new materials or new processes whose environmental impact is unknown. In such cases, the introduction of the major new technology should be preceded by environmental and societal impact analysis of the process, the manufacturing materials and the products and byproducts. However, the hazard of a new technology should be compared not with an arbitrary standard, but to the technology currently in place. In other words, the comparison made should be relative rather than absolute. Many industries require environmental monitoring, yet the financial resources to perform adequate monitoring may be lacking It is important to expand the monitoring to the entire life cycle of each product, in terms of cradle-to-grave mass balances of products and byproducts. A research program on new technology should ask what knowledge is needed to reduce the risks of introducing new technologies to an acceptable level, what critical knowledge regarding environmental impact the history of the introduction of technologies shows to be necessary, and whether there are general lessons or whether each case must be analyzed us generis. Two emerging areas where consideration of environmental consequences before
implementation might alleviate problems in the future are renewable energy and advanced materials.
Workshop participants came to the broad conclusion that, if future environmental problems are to be met, a broad based, long-term research program is needed in addition to the short-term research and testing programs that provide the scientific foundations for current regulatory problems. Such a program will require well-designed environmental monitoring to establish baselines from which environmental changes can be measured and then followed. It will need ongoing studies of the changing social situation, the public's expectations for environmental management, and the outcomes of environmental interventions. New technologies need to be evaluated from two points of view: what new environmental problems they might generate and how they might contribute to the alleviation of environmental difficulties.
Research Needs in Anticipation of Future Environmental Problems
This report summarizes a workshop on anticipatory research held in Woods Hole, MA, June 14-15, 1989, to conceive and define research programs not already under way that would help the federal government, states, industry, universities, and other research organizations in anticipating environmental problems and providing a base of scientific knowledge in time to shape a response.
Society frequently finds itself reacting to environmental problems when they become public crises and wishing that timely research had helped either to anticipate the crises or to provide means to deal with them. Acidic deposition, biomagnification of DDT, asbestos fibers, and cleanup standards for ground water and soil, all are examples of problems for which we might have been better prepared. The absence or inadequacy of relevant scientific knowledge and understanding frequently makes it difficult to generate rational environmental policy to deal with problems as they arise.
In some cases, testing programs or other short-term investigations can provide the necessary information. However, many problems, such as devising generic rules for identifying substances involved in the carcinogenic process or estimating the ecosystem impacts of alternative energy scenarios, are not amenable to direct, short-term attack. Several workshop participants believe that what is needed in many cases is a quantitative understanding of the basic processes involved. However, if basic research programs are required, one needs to decide what areas should be studied and what environmental questions are likely to arise. Otherwise there would be no limit to the exploratory programs that might be undertaken.
Because current problems require immediate action, the best that can usually be done is to base responses on imperfect information and what seem to be reasonable hypotheses. Yet there are reasons to believe that many of the current estimates of risk, and hence of the urgency of the requirement for particular actions, may be in error by factors as great as a million and, therefore, that the funds spent for alleviating environmental risk may be grossly misallocated. There is nothing that can be done about that now, but if appropriate research had been carried out for the past 20 years or more, we would be in a better position today to deal with many of these problems.
It is, of course, impossible to anticipate all problems. However, future problems can sometimes be discerned through informed speculation based on current trends (e.g., health statistics, population structure, building stock and infrastructure, and new industrial technologies). The question is what areas of research to pursue now so that after 5, 10, 20, or more years, society will be in a better position to identify and respond to serious environmental problems.
Past Anticipatory Research Efforts
Past attempts to improve our ability to anticipate and respond to environmental problems, beginning with the 1965 report, Restoring the Quality of the Environment, by the President's Science Advisory Committee, have had limited success. For example, in 1971, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Washington Environmental Research Center to develop a strategic environmental modeling and socioeconomic studies capability. For a variety of reasons, the center was abolished in the mid-1970s.
The next attempt by EPA began in 1978, when, with congressional support, a strategic anticipatory analysis and exploratory research program was
developed in the Office of Research and Development. The Office of Exploratory Research (OER) was created, comprising the Office of Strategic Assessment and Special Studies (OSASS) and the Office of Research Grants and Contracts (ORGC). Both offices participated in the EPA's research planning and budget-making processes. OER still exists, but only the grants and centers programs remain; OSASS was abolished in the mid-1980s.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is the only federal institution directed to focus on the underlying science relating to human health and environmental interactions. In addition to conducting basic and applied research studies in its intramural programs, it also has provided continuing support to university-based scientists in its extramural program. Of particular note here are the multidisciplinary "center grants" supporting broad-based environmental health programs with a variety of emphases. These centers are one of the leading sources for well-trained scientists (at pre-and postdoctoral levels) in the environmental health sciences.
Workshop participants were asked to focus on responses to the following questions:
What should be the shape of a long-term research program to cope with these problems?
How can arising problems be identified in an ongoing way?
What potential problems can be identified now?
The concept of exploratory research is large and heterogeneous, and an exhaustive list and analysis of the possible structure and research needs is impossible. Therefore, workshop participants focused on a few areas that appeared to offer potential for exploratory research: monitoring, impact of future changes in energy and technology, impact of societal and economic trends, and the process of designing exploratory research programs.
IDENTIFICATION OF ARISING PROBLEMS
Any sound environmental program for the future needs to establish baselines for the current situations, recognize and follow changes, provide warning, and determine the seriousness of emerging threats. This kind of program requires the monitoring of physical and social phenomena.
A critical question is what to monitor and where. To help ensure that adequate attention and oversight is given to these important questions, workshop participants included the following requirements for the monitoring program:
Multidisciplinary advisory panel including a diversity of natural, social, and health scientists.
Inventories of resources, emissions and discharges, chemical use, and other vital statistics of societal and industrial activity.
Close contact with a social, economic, technological trends program aimed at anticipating future issues that should be incorporated into the program as well as provide feedback on current programs.
Active research, modeling, and diagnostic programs to assist in the selection of the best indicators of environmental conditions now and in the future and to provide the necessary interpretation of relevant trends, especially with regard to ecosystems.
Biological and chemical methods and instrumentation development program to advance our ability to make needed measurements efficiently and accurately.
Extend quality assurance programs for data collection and management to ensure comparability, accuracy, precision, and, ultimately, usefulness over the long-term.
Reporting element that regularly conveys the findings for both the scientific community and the decision makers.
Accessible database for all who wish to assess and explore the information, refine the interpretations, or gather insights for managing the environment.
Close coordination among the programs of the various agencies that may be involved.
Monitoring Physical Phenomena
Few programs are adequately designed to examine the status and trends in the physical environment other than the global-scale programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Geological Survey. These agencies monitor the concentrations of the "greenhouse gases," such as CO2, N2O, CH4 and the chlorofluorocarbons that are responsible for the drop in stratospheric ozone concentrations. There are also programs to monitor global temperatures, sea levels, and changing ocean currents. All of these monitoring programs are part of large-scale, ongoing research programs aimed at understanding the evolving status of the earth.
However, regional and local environmental problems raise difficult questions regarding what should be monitored and in what detail Such questions as how point measurements of air or water quality should be combined to draw more general conclusions are difficult theoretical questions. As a consequence, we are rarely able to address emerging environmental problems with the certainty required for decision makers to take action. The situation arises because our monitoring efforts are primarily compliance oriented and hence designed to determine whether criteria, standards, or permissible levels are being exceeded.
Therefore, workshop participants suggested that an environmental monitoring program should be designed and implemented in areas other than those included in current programs of such organizations as NASA, NOAA, NSF, and the USGS. The program should have an international focus and be designed to accomplish the following:
Establish baseline conditions in the biotic and abiotic components of the environment.
Quantify trends in pollutant concentrations in the environment and in the condition of ecological resources.
Define the magnitude, rate, extent, and location of changes.
Provide data to determine the relationships between anthropogenically induced changes and alterations in the quality and quantity of biotic systems.
Because a primary goal of a monitoring program is to establish trends, long-term funding is important if that program is to be successful. An example of a successful long-term study is the "Six Cities" study, in which air quality and the health status of a large cohort of children and adults were monitored for more than a decade in six cities with varying pollution levels. Only now are important conclusions emerging.
Detecting long-term environmental trends or identifying damage requires that statistical designs receive particular emphasis in the new monitoring programs. Issues of scale, measurement frequency, variability within and among systems, and desired precision, to mention a few considerations, all need to be evaluated with the aim of improving efficiency and consequently reducing costs of monitoring. In addition, as global, national, regional, subregional, and local environmental problems need to be considered, coordinated designs for monitoring programs are warranted, because they provide flexibility in making appropriate measurements at correspondingly appropriate scales while achieving maximum aggregation and disaggregation options for exploratory analyses of the data collected.
Societal and Economic Monitoring
The design of long-term exploratory research programs must take into account the societal and economic trends that will generate new environmental problems or change the character of problems that are already apparent. Workshop participants identified three social and economic areas that need to be monitored:
Environmental consequences of human behavior.
Management and regulatory initiatives.
Relationship between societal values and environmental expectations.
Currently, the process of societal values and behavior interacting with the environment to generate health and ecological impacts is poorly understood. Some businesses resist changing
habitual production patterns even when shown that different options would be both economically and environmentally beneficial Homeowners may actively oppose the construction of waste-treatment facilities near their homes, yet show no interest in inexpensively testing their own homes for radon, which potentially poses a greater hazard. Periodic scares—medical wastes on beaches, tainted Chilean grapes, or EDB in foodstuffs—generate public calls for action, while other more serious risks produce only limited responses. Many public policy interventions intended to achieve environmental protection miscalculate human behavior and its environmental consequences.
Environmental decisions are typically based on a narrow set of considerations that are important to society. Thus, the value of protective actions is customarily measured by reference to health and injury effects, direct economic impacts, and effects on a small number of specific, measurable environmental indicators. This range of effects omits many issues relevant to public values and concerns and thus contributes to the seemingly perplexing divergence between the evaluation of the importance of problems by public agencies and the public's responses. The difficulty is that even if risks to health and ecology were reduced at a feasible cost, people still would not be well served if it were done at the expense of the happiness derived from esthetics, meaningful work, or harmony with nature. Research is needed to develop more comprehensive methodologies for assessing the human values resulting from environmentally protective actions.
The monitoring of each of these areas—environmental consequences of human behavior, management and regulatory initiatives, and societal values—can be done through forecasting by extrapolating from past and current trends and through constructing goal and surprise-oriented scenarios.
Forecasting Long-Term Socioeconomic Trends
According to workshop participants, forecasting and analysis of basic long-term social and economic trends can provide important dues and insights into potential future environmental problems. Some trends meriting analysis are demographic changes, changes in gender ratios in the work place, changing consumption patterns and uses of new products, shifts in industrial patterns and technologies, and changes in urbanization patterns.
Careful analyses of such trends can improve the capability to anticipate changing exposure patterns, changing vulnerability to various natural and technological hazards, new environmental stresses (e.g., changing land use and emergence of megacities), and new or underestimated hazards. Research should be done to forecast key social and economic trends over the near and the long-term. The emphasis should be on assembling data and projections now scattered through a variety of institutions, exploiting them to forecast key social and economic trends pertinent to environmental impacts, and identifying major environmental problems that may occur. Consideration should be given to how potential problems can best be characterized.
Goal- and Surprise-Oriented Scenario Construction
While extrapolation of past and current trends should improve our analytical ability to anticipate future environmental problems, workshop participants believe that this approach should be complemented by a very different type of analytical thinking, namely scenario construction. Scenario construction can make several important contributions to society's anticipatory capabilities. It directly combats the mind sets referred to above and challenges linear types of thinking. By encouraging anticipatory thinking, scenario construction contributes to an improved early-warning capability. It generally enhances rapid response and managerial adaptiveness in the face of surprise.
Workshop participants recommended that research should be undertaken and maintained to support the following two types of scenario construction:
Type 1: Goal-oriented. Here the scenario beans with a postulated goal—for example, a low-energy society in 2020, a fossil-fuel phase-down, and a global strategy of sustainable development. The scenario construction would then address technologies and social structures that would have to be in place for the goal to be realized;
alternative pathways for getting there; and environmental, resource, and social implications for each pathway.
Type 2: Surprise-oriented. This analysis begins by projecting a future state of society that may reasonably be expected to exist at a specified time. The analysis then treats the major attributes of that societal state, pathways for getting there, possible surprises or disjunctures that may occur along each pathway, the environmental consequences associated with the pathway and surprises, and the likely adequacy of societal warning systems and coping abilities.
Better use should be made of comparative experience. European nations, for instance, have adopted some approaches different from those used in the United States. The nations of Europe and elsewhere have also developed experience in dealing with the environmental problems associated with high population densities and urban and industrial activities, and in some cases have developed innovative and different approaches. Research should be designed to identify which approaches are most effective and how the transferability of success elsewhere can be assessed and facilitated.
Further, workshop participants suggested that with increasing recognition of the impact of transnational issues, the scale of multinational corporative actions, and the diversity of cultural settings and values, research is needed to clarify the management issues posed by an increasingly interdependent world, and the institutional and regulatory developments needed to Fall current voids.
Specific Areas That Require Monitoring
Workshop participants identified specific areas in the physical and societal environment that require monitoring.
Integration and critical analysis. Monitoring data on the structure and function of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems have the potential to identify emerging environmental issues and problems. Organ in the environment can serve as integrators of environmental stress. Changes in their physiology, biochemistry, species richness, diversity, etc., may be early warnings of emerging environmental problems. Biological monitoring of the environment can be conducted at various levels of ecological organization. Frequently monitored levels include organism, population, community, and ecosystem. A current critical research need is to develop dear ecological assessment end points at each of these levels of organization to be used in biomonitoring of the environment. Assessment end points are formal expressions of the actual environmental values that are to be protected. Once these assessment end points are established, measurement end points that can be implemented efficiently can become part of a biomonitoring program.
Biological markers. Biochemical, physiological, and morphological manifestation of anthropogenic stress—"biological markers"—have the potential to provide early indications of adverse effects to organisms. Research to relate these biological marker changes to effects on survival, growth, and reproduction is currently being conducted in a number of laboratories. It is recommended that biological markers be employed in the monitoring program where appropriate and that developments in this rapidly developing field be closely followed.
Regional, national, global levels. Most biomonitoring programs have been designed to assess local environmental concerns, but regional, national, and global scales of concern must also be addressed. New assessment and measurement approaches designed to address environmental issues at these levels may need to be developed. Establishment of a biomonitoring program to identify emerging environmental problems requires more than just collecting data and plotting trends. It requires the integration of physical, chemical, biological, and demographic data. The use of data management systems such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has the potential to assist the environmental analyst in this complex job. Thus, it is recommended that high priority be given to research on the application of GIS technology to monitoring data. GIS has
particular value at the regional, national, and international scales of environmental concern.
Biotechnology. The increased interest in biotechnology and the resulting production and use of genetically altered organisms have led to questions about their possible harm to the environment. Although such organisms are unlikely to be ecologically successful outside the habitat in which they are introduced, we must nonetheless develop a fundamental understanding of their survival and dispersion in various ecosystems and devise techniques to monitor their fate in the environment.
To achieve these goals, appropriate research must be undertaken.
Natural waters. A considerable increase in the scientific data base on the organic and inorganic composition of natural water systems could result from the deliberate substitution of the question "What compounds are present?" for the question employed in priority pollutant analysis, "Is this compound present?" In almost all chemical monitoring programs conducted today, chemicals that are thought to be important are quantified. Whether a chemical is investigated often is related to whether it has caused a problem previously. The number of compounds tested for has increased from approximately 10 halogenated organic pesticides in the 1960s to more than 100 substances on the priority pollutant list used today. In these programs, only compounds on the list generate a signal, which is fed back for some informational or regulatory purpose. Compliance monitoring or NPDES permit monitoring are examples of this approach.
The analytical methodologies developed for these monitoring programs often intentionally eliminate or ignore compounds not on selected lists. Most of the information generated by the analytical instruments involved, such as gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers, is discarded. With the development of computerized analytical data systems however, all analytical signals can be collected through A to D converters and stored on disk or tape.
Standardizing methodologies allows comparison of data generated over time at different laboratories by different individuals. Software eau be generated to investigate total data sets to determine if new compounds or new classes of compounds are entering the system. Temporal or aerial concentration trends can be evaluated. Data systems from various laboratories can be directly linked together. The chemical monitoring data base could increase exponentially. Because the extent of such a system would be limited by cost, the sampling scheme needs careful design.
If the intent of the program is to test hypotheses or to follow trends, then the analytical methodologies should be such that the accuracy of the data will be maximized. However, to maximize the probability of detecting or observing a new compound or class of chemicals, a broad qualitative scheme at the sacrifice of some accuracy may be in order.
Characterization of population. The potential character of an aging global population over the next 50 years and the magnitude of the effects on health and environment should be analyzed.
Analysis of changing values and behavior. The possibility of values and behavior changing over the next several decades should be explored, and the implications of such changes on the perception of environmental problems and the effectiveness of alternative management strategies should be studied.
Assessment of the nation's capability to deal with major environmental problems in terms of behavioral and value constraints. This assessment should specifically identify human values or behaviors that are most amenable to changes designed to increase human or environmental protection and those that are most resistant to change. It should ask whether it is reasonable to believe that such changes can occur and how such changes may best be pursued.
Comprehensive analysis of management intervention outcomes. The analyses performed to develop management strategies and subsequently to evaluate the strategies often lack the scope necessary to foresee all or even the most relevant effects of environmental management on society, including outcomes such as substitution of one hazard for another,
secondary and tertiary effects of decisions; new hazard creation; or social, technological, or economic changes. Improved methodologies should be developed to predict outcomes of intervention better.
Understanding of management thinking. All managers and institutions are prisoners, to some extent, of ingrained ways of thinking about and responding to problems. A current example is the tendency in EPA to assume that point-source pollution should be dealt with by regulation and nonpoint source pollution by incentives or voluntary compliance. Meanwhile, the key environmental problem has shifted from regulation to incentives. Research is needed to assess the frameworks that now exists among corporate and governmental environmental managers, how these frameworks affects the abilities of our institutions to anticipate or respond in timely fashion to new environmental problems, which frameworks have an adverse impact on the environment, and how these frameworks might be changed.
Extending valuation analysis. New valuation estimation methods should be developed that treat qualitative aspects of environmental hazards, secondary and tertiary impacts of regulatory action, cumulative and long-term effects of regulatory action, and the broader domain of moral discourse concerning environmental values.
Ongoing and systematic appraisal of changing values and concerns. A rigorous program of monitoring and appraisal would require the best of social science expertise. Specifically, it should extend well beyond polling and survey efforts to employ a diversity of approaches and theories, as well as sustained secondary analyses of data gathered. The design of such a program should be participatory in nature and broadly peer reviewed.
Developing an ability to discriminate between types of public response, if properly done, should provide an enhanced ability to discriminate between two different kinds of public reactions: Those arising from misinformation, issue dramatization, and extensive media coverage, and those rooted in basic and enduring public values, societal or group goals, or specific public knowledge.
It is important to identify how best to inform various national and international institutions of the results of the overall forecasting and assessment efforts referred to above. Of paramount importance to a monitoring program designed to anticipate future environmental problems is the integration and evaluation of the data generated. At this time, no framework or mechanism is in place to allow such considerations. Therefore, workshop participants recommended that a data management system be developed with the responsibility to integrate various data sets.
TWO POTENTIAL PROBLEMS ADVANCED MATERIALS AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
The introduction of any major new technology should be preceded by environmental and societal impact analysis of the process, the manufacturing materials, and the products and byproducts, according to workshop participants. Microelectronics industries, for instance, use many hundreds of materials that have largely unknown consequences on human health and environment. Organometallic compounds such as trimethyl arsenic; semiconductor substrates, such as gallium arsenide; and metal alloys used in superconductors are several examples of materials used in new products.
Many industries require environmental monitoring, yet the financial resources to perform adequate monitoring of all industries may be lacking. It is important to expand the monitoring to the entire life cycle of each product, in terms of cradle-to-grave mass balances of products and byproducts. How can the innovator of a new technology participate optimally in environmental protection? To what extent should public support be anticipated by industry? What mix of public and private support and participation in environmental protection would be optimal, given both environmental protection needs and the importance of incentives for technological research and development? What incentives will foster research and development of technologies with acceptable environmental impact?
All of these questions could be answered better after suitable research. A research program should ask what knowledge is needed to reduce the risks of introducing new technologies to an acceptable level, what critical knowledge the history of introducing technologies shows to be necessary regarding environmental impact, and whether there are general lessons or whether each case must be analyzed sui generis.
Workshop participants identified two emerging areas—renewable energy and advanced materials—where consideration of environmental consequences before implementation might alleviate problems in the future.
The possibilities of significant increases in the use of renewable energy sources have been expanded through technology, for example, more efficient transmission of hydroelectric energy if superconductivity became commercially feasible. However, too little attention has been given to the potential negative consequences of significant increases in the use of each of the potential energy sources. Therefore, the examination of an optimistic but credible scenario of a significantly higher reliance on renewable energy resources for, say, the year 2020, should be undertaken as a research program to focus on the consequences of expanding such alternatives as hydroelectric power (e.g., silting, salinity, and other problems associated with dams), agro-energy production (e.g., land scarcity and pesticide pollution potentially arising from sugar-cane-based ethanol production), and a methane/methanol-based system. More generally, plausible future scenarios of different kinds of energy generation and delivery systems should be assessed to determine the relevant byproducts and to evaluate the consequences of these byproducts.
Part of the associated research effort could be to study the byproducts of current applications of these systems (for example, the level of leakages in methane and methanol systems) and to undertake applied research to find ways to reduce the total inputs necessary for these various energy systems, both to economize and to reduce harmful byproducts.
Even though most engineering studies of systems, whether or not they involve new technologies, presume that safeguard systems will operate as planned and that control procedures will be followed fairy, experiences such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Bhopal indicate that accurate forecasts of environmental hazards ought to incorporate some scenarios of suboptimal performance, such as accidents.
For existing technologies, such as nuclear power plants, a record on the frequency of errors can provide a basis for for casting, but for new technologies, the likelihood of environmental risks must be based on analysis of the systems and modeling of the possible consequences such as human error, equipment failure, and sabotage. Many issues axe involved in anticipatory research, as opposed to a single risk assessment, because the problems change easily over time due to new technologies and the effects of increased use.
New materials should be designed in such a way that desirable commercial and economic properties are combined with attractive environmental properties such as recyclability, reusability, low energy use in production and recycling, inertness, and low toxicity. However, some new products and materials introduced into the marketplace, such as composite materials, zinc-coated steel, microchips, disposable diapers, and multi-layered plastic packaging materials, show that these objectives have not been achieved.
Biotechnology offers, in principle, the possibility of manufacturing products that come closest to fulfilling these objectives. It will have a significant impact on agriculture, human health, and chemical manufacturing as a result of our new-found ability to combine genetic material from organisms in widely divergent taxonomic groups in precise, rapid ways.
Biotechnology, like any other technology, also has potential negative aspects that must be taken into consideration. Environmental application of genetically modified organisms is by no means a new human endeavor. We already have a large body of data on environmental release of modified and unmodified organisms produced by selective breeding; for the most part, these releases have posed few environmental problems. In the case of genetically engineered organisms, the risks can be minimized by careful, responsible
design and use of organisms after appropriate research.
Some specific deleterious consequences that may result from releasing transgenic organisms include the following:
Transfer of new genetic material from the engineered organism to a nontarget species. For example, engineered traits may move from engineered crop plants to their wild, weedy relatives. Depending on the trait, increased competitiveness, subsequent range expansions, and future weed problems may result.
''Cascade'' effects resulting in the loss of beneficial species that are ecologically distant from the transgenic organism.
Disruption of community structures and dynamics as populations of competitors, predators, parasites, and hosts shift.
Unintentional broadening of host ranges of pathogens to include beneficial species.
Possible narrowing of the genetic base of crop plants, thus creating unforeseen pest problems.
Workshop participants noted that renewable energy and advanced materials are examples of areas in which ongoing research is needed so that potentially negative consequences of large-scale use of biotechnology implementation can be determined.
DESIGN FOR AN EXPLORATORY RESEARCH PROGRAM
To some extent, the reasons for the poor performance of the scientific community in anticipating environmental problems can be identified, according to workshop participants. Some of these reasons are discussed below.
An adequately integrated conceptual theory or framework for how environmental systems function is lacking. In the absence of such a framework to guide research and set priorities, much of what has been learned about natural systems has come about incidentally from studying specific problems as they arise. For example, the fundamental concepts of nutrient cycling and energy flow in ecosystems were considerably advanced by studies in the 1960s and 1970s on the movement of radioactive waste products through various geological configurations.
Closely associated with the absence of a framework for environmental sciences has been the lack of a singular scientific discipline to embrace and integrate the knowledge needed to solve environmental problems. Environmental sciences and problem solving are typically taught and practiced as subspecialties of individual disciplines such as chemistry, biology, engineering, earth sciences, economics, and policy analysis. Thus, individuals expert in one discipline but unschooled in the basics of another area are often ill prepared to anticipate environmental problems that call for multidisciplinary kills.
Within the organizations with environmental responsibilities (with the exception of the NIEHS and those dealing with global phenomena) the emphasis is primarily, if not exclusively, on the near term. Because managers' performances are evaluated on the basis of how well they deal with existing environmental problems, a disproportionately large amount of resources is invested in short-term problem solving. This emphasis contributes to the inability to anticipate, identify, and act decisively in a scientifically informed manner on environmental problems. No systematic program to assemble ideas and evaluate new, emerging, and escalating environmental problems has been sustained. Thus, an exploratory research program should have an integrative framework, and be interdisciplinary, coordinated, and long-term.
An example of the difficulties described above is ecotoxicology, the study of the fate of chemicals released to the environment and their effects on individuals, species, and ecosystems. Ecotoxicology is a young science that has not been recognized by funding agencies; thus, research priorities are still identified within traditional disciplines. A fundamental understanding of environmental sciences must be fostered and activities that improve the use of fundamental mathematical, physical, chemical, and biological processes should be emphasized in an ecotoxicological context.
In the United States, as well as in other countries, responsibility for ecotoxicological issues is split and fragmented to such an extent that
communication between closely related areas of responsibility is poor or completely absent. This situation results in haphazard approaches to ecotoxicological problems that are slow and unpredictable and lacking in dear and global objectives. One agency may support short-term ecotoxicological research to solve a specific environmental problem while another federal agency may support basic research in core disciplines with the expectation that this knowledge will eventually be applied to environmental problems. No federal agency has historically supported basic research in the environmental sciences to anticipate ecotoxicological problems.
The problems resulting from this lack of theoretical and disciplinary guidance are compounded by the fragmentation of environmental science and engineering responsibilities among federal agencies, institutes, and national laboratories. Although mechanisms exist that are intended to ensure coordination and cooperation, neither an overall federal environmental research and development plan nor a dearly articulated division of responsibilities exist.
Objectives of an Anticipatory Research Program
The overall goal is to improve our ability to manage the environment by developing capability to anticipate and respond effectively to environmental problems. That is, the goal is to develop the fundamental understanding and the analytical methods and tools needed to achieve designated environmental objectives. The following goals were developed by workshop participants to achieve the overall objective of improving our capability to manage the environment:
Improve the heterogeneity of ideas, approaches, and activities in environmental research. Enhanced communications and collaboration among environmental scientists of different disciplines will promote innovative thinking and development of the truly multidisciplinary approaches and understanding needed to solve local as well as global environmental problems. This heterogeneity not only has the advantages of hybrid vigor and the enhanced creativity fostered by nontraditional thinking but also encourages use of the collective expertise of several disciplines to yield the best solutions to problems.
Incorporate holistic and mechanistic studies to contribute information for resolving environmental problems. Mechanistic studies provide precise answers to narrowly defined studies through, for example, controlled experimentation. Holistic studies, by studying the actual conditions in the real world, for example, incorporate a broad and realistic range of factors but at a sacrifice in precision. The ability to generalize from a particular instance or to predict on the basis of partial information is directly dependent on our fundamental understanding of processes. This understanding may be molecular (e.g., the effect of an organic chemical on DNA) or global (e.g., the processes that control the carbon cycle). A fundamental understanding of most environmental processes is developing slowly, chiefly as a byproduct of other research rather than as a defined goal in itself.
Use system-level and process-level investigations. This use might be established by encouraging collaboration, for example, between people modeling environmental systems (e.g., global atmospheric conditions) and others interested in measuring chemicals in air as indicators of particular reaction processes. Thus, resources should be invested in research involving both mechanistic understanding and field measurements to test modeling results.
Four key ingredients were identified to implement an improved long-term environmental R&D program: an effective institutional arrangement; highly qualified environmental scientists and engineers; adequate, dedicated, and continued funding; and the means to assemble promising ideas on a continuing basis.
Alternative institutional arrangements should be investigated, including working within existing institutions as well as establishing new ones, according to workshop participants. Whatever
alternative is selected, anticipating future environmental problems, identifying anticipatory and exploratory research needs, conducting the requisite research, and acting on the results have to be given a continuing and unambiguous high priority. Personnel and financial resources need to be committed, and the performance of environmental mangers should be evaluated on the basis of long-term implications and consequences as well as on the basis of near-term results.
Environmental organizations should consider establishing new units charged with an anticipatory, exploratory responsibility. Past attempts, such as EPA's Washington Environmental Research Center, OER, OSASS, and ORGC, should be examined as possible models, as should programs in other environmental organizations, in the United States and in other countries. Whatever the organizational structures selected, these units should be inter-and multidisciplinary to improve interaction and exchange of ideas among critical disciplines. A more fundamental break with the past should also be considered. For example, a national institute patterned after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should be examined. In contrast to EPA's programs, which support short-term regulatory objectives, NIH has a research mission dedicated to high-quality, long-term, fundamental research in its own laboratories. Furthermore, NIH provides stable research funding to public and private institutions and provides visible and attractive careers to talented young people (beginning with an excellent pre-and postdoctoral fellowship program).
Environmental Scientists and Engineers
The exploratory research program in EPA should be designed and implemented to attract young, bright professionals as well as accomplished, experienced researchers. A shortage of first-rate talent in the environmental field apparently exists. This shortage is predictable in that environmental sciences may not be perceived as an attractive career by the best and brightest. Many talented undergraduate chemists, biologists, and engineers would be interested in environmental careers if they perceived (1) the intellectual and scientific challenges in the environmental sciences, (2) the opportunity to have a significant effect on protecting the environment and ameliorating environmental contamination, and (3) the opportunities for career development.
Existing environmental programs have an unfulfilled responsibility to give visibility to environmental careers and to avail the profession of a larger diversified applicant pool A fellowship program to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows would make an important contribution to this goal.
Overall, workshop participants concluded that government and industry have an obligation to see that the environmental sciences have sufficient funding and visibility to ensure adequate recruitment of bright, capable individuals. Ways to use and retain successful, experienced scientists should also be implemented. Funding organizations should recognize that researchers need to have flexibility and that some portion of each grant or contract should be devoted to developing of new ideas.
Environmental Research and Development Funding
In the discussion on funding, participants agreed that care is needed to ensure that research funds are substantial and sustainable. Creative methods of funding should be considered, such as formula funding to establish new bases of support. In addition, it should be recognized that many important scientific discoveries are the result of work performed on the periphery of another funded project. Research sponsors should accept and encourage projects that promote exploratory studies in addition to more specific projects.
ASSEMBLING AN EXPLORATORY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
A preliminary step in designing an exploratory research program to anticipate environmental problems should be to determine the reasons that environmental problems have often gone
unnoticed and how early identification and resolution can be achieved. The following steps were developed to help gain an understanding of environmental problems:
Analyze case histories related to the management of significant environmental problems. The program should include efforts to synthesize the results of past efforts at environmental management. It should include studies of the whole process from risk identification to action and resolution. The 1986 National Research Council book, Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Problem-Solving: Concepts and Case Studies, is an excellent prototype. Such a study could focus on environmental problems resulting from chemical releases to the environment as exemplified by the chapters on "Ecological Effects of Nuclear Radiation" and "Environmental Effects of DDT."
Scrutinize research programs at existing national and university laboratories, federal agencies, and independent research institutes to identify factors that have contributed to highly successful research programs. Similarly, exploratory research programs in industry should be examined for key factors such as institutional rewards for exploratory programs, methods of financing the research, incentives to the institution as well as to researchers.
Evaluate the effectiveness, advantages, and disadvantages of programs carried out by individual investigators, research teams, and centers (such as those at NIEHS and its centers). Large, successful multidisciplinary research programs in areas outside of environmental sciences could also be scrutinized to learn what factors have contributed to the success of these programs.
Establish unambiguous high priority and long-term commitment to environmental studies. The criteria for judging environmental managers would have to be changed to reward such long-term commitments.
Foster and encourage expert scientific vision on a continuing basis by assembling experts to identify potential, emerging, or escalating environmental problems.
Design international programs to exchange ideas, expertise, and experience in environmental studies. This international cooperation should be incorporated in the exploratory studies program. Historically, international activities and programs have prodded valuable tools for learning about emerging problems. They have also provided unusual opportunities for studying pollutants that have affected more people and in much greater intensity than in the United States. Environmental problems in other countries can provide valuable lessons for anticipating and preventing similar experiences in this country, as well as providing a means of ensuring that other countries will not repeat the pitfalls experienced in the United States.
The general conclusion of the workshop was that future environmental problems will be solved only by a broad-based, long-term research program in addition to the short-term research and testing programs that provide the scientific foundations for current regulatory situations. Such a program will require well-designed environmental monitoring to establish baselines from which environmental changes can be measured and then followed. The program will need ongoing studies of the changing social situation, the public expectations for environmental management, and the outcomes of environmental interventions. New technologies need to be evaluated from two points of view:. What new environmental problems may be generated, and what their contribution may be to alleviate environmental difficulties.
These goals will have to be incorporated into a long-term research program, which will provide career opportunities for first-rate professionals to develop a scientific discipline from natural and social sciences that provides the tools to manage the environment in the decades ahead.
Research Needs in Anticipation of Future Environmental Problems Woods Hole, Massachusetts June 14 and 15, 1989
Donald Horning, Chair, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
William Ascher, Duke Institute for Policy Sciences, Durham
Russell Christman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
William Clark, Harvard University, Cambridge
James M. Davidson, University of Florida, Gainesville
Kenneth Dickson, University of North Texas, Denton
John R. Ehrenfeld, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Peter Gresshoff, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Peter Groenewegen, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
Phil Gschwend, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Robert Huggett, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point
Roger Kasperson, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts
Joseph Ladou, University of California, San Francisco
Adrianne Massey, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Research Triangle Park
Francois M. M. Morel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Stephen D. Parker, National Research Council, Washington, D.C.
A.J.M. Schoot-Uiterkamp, MT-TNO, The Netherlands
Keith Solomon, Canadian Center for Toxicology, Ontario
Barbara Walton, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Irvin L. White, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany
Terry Yosie, American Petroleum Institute, Washington, D.C.
Dan Beardsley, EPA, Washington, D.C.
Carl Gerber, EPA, Washington, D.C.
Rick Linthurst, EPA, Washington, D.C.
James R. Fouts, NIEHS, Research Triangle Park