The Industrial Green Game. 1997. Pp. 48–72.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Metrics, Systems, and Technological Choices
He who avoids new remedies, must expect evils, for time is the greatest innovator.
The sustainability of the biosphere by efficient and equitable use of planetary resources has become an important cornerstone of a number of national and international policy statements. Though sustainable development will depend on a more environmentally robust industrial ecology, the ecological restructuring of industry will also depend on a sustainable infrastructure for energy and other critical resources at multiple levels. Governments play an important role in the development, maintenance, and social and technological transformation of such infrastructures. To help support an environmentally sustainable industrial ecology, national governments need to change fundamentally their systems of national accounts, analyze and improve critical metabolic processes, and explore emerging technological paradigms and their implications for sustainable development. Such tasks need to be undertaken in partnership with industry and with the support and consent of the public at large.
Much of the discussion about the role of the government in industrial ecology has focused on the use of economic instruments (pollution taxes and markets, tax credits, deposit refund schemes, etc.) and regulatory frameworks (take-back regulations) to provide incentives for industry and consumers to move in more ecologically sound directions. There also have been proposals to encourage collaboration among industries and between academia and industry (Weinberg et al., 1994). Such policies are important but are insufficient for avoiding new evils. By placing the government in the role of benevolent steersman, one runs the
danger of confusing the navigator with the oarsman. As we attempt to steer industry in the right direction, we may loose sight of the larger policy horizon critical for systems navigation.
This paper argues that national governments must go beyond the study and improvement of industry's ecology and apply similar principles and paradigms to nations as a whole. This will involve adapting a systems-ecology view of human and economic activity across multiple scales.
There are several interlocking rationales for advocating a broader government role in industrial ecology. From an ecological perspective, one must acknowledge that there are obvious limits to applying ecological and biological analogies to socially contrived systems such as industry or governments. Ecologists have noted that society is facing a new class of problems that are fundamentally cross scale in space as well as time (Holling, 1992). These problems are not susceptible to reductionist analysis or the simple optimization of subsystems. They must be approached with a healthy suspicion of parochial solutions and a skepticism of what single organizations can accomplish. Figure 1 illustrates a potential space-time hierarchy of industrial, or industry-relevant, systems (adapted from Holling, 1992). Similar hierarchies are exhibited by ecological phenomena and natural systems, such as weather. The time axis refers very roughly to the average time required for significant structural change (e.g., the time require to develop new products, transform organizations, and build new infrastructures—essentially
the transformational life cycle of products, processes, organizations, and infrastructures).
Ecological theory, if it holds, would predict that this is a loosely coupled system that exhibits asymmetrical interactions between levels (Allen and Starr, 1982). Normally, large, slower systems set the boundaries in which faster, smaller systems operate. The experimental and creative latitude of firms is often limited by physical, economic, and policy or regulatory infrastructures, which may require decades to change. However, a bottoms-up asymmetry can establish itself when the larger systems become tightly coupled and brittle or during periods of reorganization. In such times, small events can affect large systems. Advances in microdynamic systems, nanotechnologies, advanced materials, genetic engineering, or information systems and potential new ways of organizing and managing the production processes around these technologies could have significant bottoms-up impacts on the whole system. The "greening" of the industrial system means the greening of this space-time hierarchy from the level of the nation to that of micro- or nanoscale production.
Ultimately, this will involve the joint optimization of technical and social systems at different time periods and geographic scales and the solution of a number of what some observers have termed "messes," or systems of problems (Ackoff, 1981). The significance of such systems is that normal approaches to problem solving and policy making, which break problems into parts and solve each part, will not work. Systems-based problems require a fundamental shift in the mental models used by decision-makers at different organizational levels, from business managers to government policymakers and research scientists. The mess we must extricate ourselves from involves helping private- and public-sector organizations to learn their way out of dysfunctional, nonecological, nonsustainable ways of doing business. The adaptation of a holistic, ecological perspective is only likely to occur in organizations that have learned to learn, where values, operating assumptions, and frames of reference are questioned and changed as needed. Unfortunately, large bureaucracies may be the ultimate prototype for organizations with learning impairments.1 For this reason, industrial ecology must deal not only with industrial organizations, but also with macro-social systems, such as governments. The public and private sectors must work together to transform the intellectual and political ecology underlying our systems of materials and energy transformation at multiple scales.
Much of the research and application of industrial ecology has been focused on the level of the firm or the internal processes of the firm. The greening of our industrial infrastructure cannot be limited to solving firm-level problems alone, because all firms are embedded in larger physical, economic, and organizational systems and metasystems. These can continue to function in nonecological and nonsustainable ways outside of the influence of industry. This paper focuses on the national infrastructures in which firms operate.2 To support an evolving industrial ecology at a global scale, governments must fundamentally alter their
systems of national accounts, analyze and continually improve their metabolic processes, explore emerging technological paradigms, and seek sustainable development paths. This is obviously a large agenda and can only be presented in cursory form. Seeking new remedies will require leadership on the part of government, strong partnerships with industry, and an informed and engaged citizenry. These changes are explored in three short essays.
ESSAY 1: THE SEARCH FOR NEW METRICS
In politics, numbers beat no numbers every time.
Jodie Allen, former U.S. assistant secretary of labor
The Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal once remarked that the question must be asked before the answer can be sought. The existing system of national accounts does not ask any ecologically relevant question, nor does it provide any answers to fundamental issues of industrial transformation and sustainable development. The application of traditional macroeconomic indicators will not guarantee environmentally benign or sustainable development because the conventional measures of national economic performance (such as gross domestic product [GDP]) fail to measure adequately human, social, and ecological welfare. In addition, they often treat different forms of wealth differently and inconsistently and neglect inputs and outputs that are not marketed, leaving large parts of the economy and biophysical infrastructure unmeasured. One can trace the development of these accounting systems and the relationship among economic growth, resources use, and environmental pollution they imply through four distinct phases (Colby, 1990). Although one must be cautious when using this analogy across scales and institutions, similar patterns can be observed at the level of the firm.3
The first phase described by some economists as "frontier economics" describes a well-known situation in which profits are maximized with little or no concern for environmental impacts or the efficiency of resource use (Figure 2A). Essentially, concerns for environment and resources remain external to the calculus allowing environmentally rapacious behavior to go unnoticed or actually registered as a net economic gain.
This phase was replaced during the 1960s and 1970s in many developed countries by a phase of environmental protection, where increased reliance on command-and-control policies and assorted end-of-pipe controls allowed certain types of pollution to be decoupled from economic growth and output (Figure 2B). This decoupling is not, however, invariate. Cross-national studies by the World Bank have shown that certain environmental problems (e.g., carbon dioxide and solid waste) actual worsen with increasing economic growth, suggesting that much more aggressive policies aimed at decarbonization (use of less carbon per
unit of energy produced) and dematerialization (use of less material per unit product) may be needed (Ausubel et al., 1989; Shafik, 1994). The third phase, termed resource management, focuses on the decoupling of natural resource use from economic productivity (Figure 2C). Such decoupling may not be the result of any conscious environmental policies but may be the gratis effect of structural changes in the economy itself and the underlying systems of production (e.g., a shift to a service-based economy). There is significant debate about the limits of decoupling inputs from economic growth. Evidence indicates the ability of humans to create man-made goods that will substitute for natural resources and capital may not be as great as some neoclassical economists would like us to believe (Georgescu-Roegen, 1979). However, there is little doubt that existing efficiencies of resource use can be improved considerably within the limits set by fundamental thermodynamic laws.
The final phase has been termed ecodevelopment, or sustainable development, and clearly represents the measurement approach required to support a sustainable industrial ecology at multiple scales (Figure 2D). This approach involves correctly gauging the total environmental costs of the nation (and of the firm) and recognizing that the traditional measures of economic growth and progress are often flawed and must be modified. Modifications normally fall into two broad categories that involve the inclusion of natural capital, and its depreciation, in the balance sheets as well as the subtraction of remediation costs and monetized environmental damages.4 Some have termed this approach, which provides a true ecological perspective to whole economic and social systems, ''ecologizing the economy" (Colby, 1990). Attempts to improve accounting methodologies range from natural resource inventories used in Norway (Alfsen et al., 1987) to fully integrated approaches for calculating sustainable national incomes being developed and applied in the Netherlands (Folke and Kaberger, 1991; Hueting et al., 1991).
Once the measures of economic growth have been modified, the question of whether resource use, though decoupled from growth, is at sustainable levels (i.e., whether rates of extraction and use equal rates of regeneration or substitution) must be dealt with. There is an obvious danger in running an economy on nonrenewable resource inputs. In the United States, a smaller fraction of primary material needs has been met by renewable resources since the turn of the century, and a significant increase in the use of nonrenewable feedstocks in the production of such secondary materials as asphalt, plastics, fiber, and petrochemicals has also occurred (Figure 3) (U.S. Bureau of Mines, 1991). Recycling has changed that picture somewhat during the past decades, but the United States still remains extremely dependent on the flow of nonrenewable materials into its economy.
Systems dependent on nonrenewable feedstocks or systems that continuously overdraw renewable resources flirt with a number of dangers. There is an unfortunate tendency to confuse rates of discovery with actual rates of replacement of resources. This can lead ecosystems and industrial ecosystems into serial traps. Such traps occur when the replacement rate of resources is exceeded by the use rate and resource depletion cumulatively affects availability, resulting in intensifying
scarcity and irreversible damage and collapse (Freese, 1985). Modeling industrial systems after ecosystems does not guarantee success, because various species such as birds and caribou are subject to such overuse and crash phenomena, and human-dominated systems may not be immune to such traps. For this reason, attempts to calculate (even very roughly) the sustainable levels of resource use and incorporate these measures into accounting systems at multiple levels are crucial. In approaching this task, we must be explicit about our assumptions concerning natural-resource saving technologies and our future ability to substitute labor and reproducible capital for exhaustible resources. As economist Robert Solow once remarked, "Someone…must always be taking the long view. They must somehow notice in advance that the resource economy is moving along a path that is bound to end in disequilibrium of some extreme kind" (Solow, 1974).
In general, we need accounting systems that allow us to track our progress toward a more sustainable economy with a shift away from nonrenewable inputs, increased recycling of waste streams, and the use of renewable resources at sustainable levels. The application of such accounting systems should be coordinated to allow the measurement of environmental-economic performance across industries, regions, and countries.
Country data can be used to examine where different countries lie on this continuum of accounting systems (Figure 4). For instance, the former Czech Republic typified a frontier economy, though economic reforms and recent changes in resource pricing in some former east block countries, such as Poland,
are leading toward greater resource-use efficiency. For many Western, developed countries, a decoupling of energy and the resource-intensive production of commodities such as steel and cement began with the oil price hike by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the early 1970s. In many cases, this decoupling trend was further intensified by an expansion of a service economy. (Sweden provides an extreme example of this phenomenon.) The United States presents a mixed picture (Figure 5). Decoupling of energy, steel, and cement consumption occurred beginning in the 1970s, but a breakdown of energy consumption by fuel type shows much stronger decoupling for oil and gas than for coal. Also, the weight of rail and truck freight has increased in lock-step with GDP, which may roughly indicate the spatial separation of production from consumption.
Though helpful, such analyses are only the beginning. Additional questions need to be asked and answered. For instance, high levels of population growth may neutralize relative per capita structural changes, even though absolute improvements occur. Material and energy substitution effects need to be considered because decreases in the consumption of one material can be negated by corresponding increases in substitutes (plastics for steel, glass fiber for copper, etc.). Finally, regardless of substitution patterns, resources still may be consumed at levels that cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Despite the deficiencies inherent in any measurement system, the development, harmonization, and application of a full-cost accounting system for industries and nations must be accelerated.5 Projects such as the National Environmental Performance Review of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development need to be expanded both geographically and conceptually along with country-specific projects to develop a green GDP. Ultimately, the quest for a sustainable industrial ecology will be aided by an intelligent search for a sustainable economy. This search must begin by asking and answering the right questions.
ESSAY 2: THE METABOLISM OF THE NATION STATE
You, the engineers and managers and bureaucrats, almost alone among men of higher intelligence, have continued to believe that the condition of man improves in direct ratio to the energy and devices for using energy put at his disposal.
Kurt Vonnegut, The Player Piano
The goal of greening all major systems of energy and materials transformations within nations and between nations requires the study of major social and institutional systems set up with the implicit, or explicit, goal of transforming key resource inputs into services for society. An important analytical approach will be to map the metabolic activity of these systems with the aim of improving resource, environmental, and economic efficiencies and exploring new options for providing fundamental services to society.6 Such mappings need to take place at various scales--from processes to industries, urban environments, and regions and nations--and embody both supply- and demand-side perspectives. This higher-level perspective is required because most firms are embedded in and dependent on larger systems of transformation for energy, transportation services, materials, water and wastewater treatment, etc.
The flow of energy through the United States economy illustrates such an approach (Figure 6).7 This typifies an industrial ecology characterized by linear, one-way flows and large uncaptured waste streams. It exhibits very low system efficiencies when viewed from the standpoint of the services delivered to society (mobility, heat, light, commodities, etc.).
In the transportation sector, for instance, only 1.6 quadrillion British Thermal Units (quads) of useful service are being derived from an input of almost 20 quads. Nine quads of waste heat flows from the engine blocks of internal combustion engines alone, and another 3 quads are being lost through idling and traffic jams. This analysis obviously forces one to take a close look at the limitations of the spark-ignition heat engine as a prime mover in the transportation sector. Both the thermal and mechanical efficiencies of the internal combustion engine can be increased through improving combustion, reducing friction, and
decreasing heat loss, but many of these techniques have high costs or environmental down sides. Some obvious technological alternatives, such as the orbital two-stroke engine, increase efficiency at the cost of emissions. That leaves us in the near term with tighter tolerances, better fuel injection, and cleaner fuels, but the long-term technology options have yet to be fully explored and chosen.
If one flips this model on its head and begins with the services delivered by this infrastructure, the way to provide mobility and access may not be vehicles with engines. This is an important point because a meaningful industrial system cannot be built solely on a calculus of supply-side efficiency. One must consider the ecological restructuring of the demand profile, exploring ways to provide essential services with new institutional and technological approaches.
In the electricity sector, the amount of waste heat from the mechanical conversion of steam to electricity is almost 20 quads more than the primary energy consumption of Japan. The options here to improve efficiencies include shifts to electrochemical conversion (fuel cells), district heating, and co-location, options that have been pursued for many years in Japan and many European and Nordic counties. Again, an end-use perspective of the electricity sector indicates that the options are not lightbulbs or energy-saving lightbulbs, but lightbulbs and better ways of using daylight in buildings; not air conditioning with or without chloroflurocarbons (stratospheric ozone depleters), but air conditioning and better techniques for natural ventilation. In many cases, the wider range of end-use options will include energy conservation technologies and knowledge-based solutions.
The last point from Figure 6 is that renewable supply options, except for low-head hydroelectric, remain vastly underused (the small lines within the larger arrows show used vs. potential resource). From an ecological perspective, this system exists on nonrenewable feedstocks, with renewables making up less than 10 percent of the primary energy consumption.
How does one understand this system and its historical evolution? A fundamental lesson is that money can drive metabolism in strange ways. The structure and inflexibility of such systems of physical transformation can only be understood by studying the long-term spending habits of organizations influencing their evolution—essentially, the political ecology of capital. A second-tier metabolism transforms monetary inputs into policies, actions, and structures. These flows need to be examined as carefully as are traditional resource flows. Figure 7 shows the flows of money, in terms of federal research and development (R&D) funding, into the U.S. energy system. One is immediately struck by the enormous difference in investments in demand-side vs. supply-side options and low funding for renewable options. Comparisons of these data with budget breakdowns going back to the end of World War II (see pie chart) indicate very little change in the distribution of applied R&D funds among primary energy sources.
Public investments in R&D are only one part of the picture. Figure 8 shows the pattern of subsidies that flow into the U.S. energy system (described in Figure 6).
Subsidies flowing into the transportation sector, estimated at between $60 and $300 billion, have been excluded from the scaled mapping. Subsidies to the oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and utility sectors amount to almost $8.5 billion compared with less than $0.5 billion for renewable options.
These types of metabolic mappings can be applied to various sectors of the economy and used at different geographic scales. Figure 9 shows the flow of water through the United States water and wastewater system (Truong, 1993). Very little wastewater is being directly recycled in the system; most reuse is for irrigation (about 930 million gallons per day total or about 2.6 percent of wastewater discharged from treatment facilities, represented by the flow of reclaimed water in Figure 9). In addition, a large amount of water remains unaccounted for or is lost in conveyance (through leaks in pipes, irrigation systems, etc.). The diversion of water for the energy sector almost equals that for agriculture.8 Other flows through this system have significant environmental impacts. The sludge output is around 5 billion dry tons per year (1988 figure) and the energy inputs for the pumping and treatment of water and wastewater amount to 1 to 2 percent of all electricity consumed in the United States (Truong, 1993). Again, the metabolic, holistic view of the water and wastewater system shows high throughput levels, significant waste generation, and little reuse of resource and waste streams.
These types of analyses are needed for all national systems with critical impacts on the economy. Though the physicist and the engineer often focus on mappings of resource flows, the policy maker needs a larger contextual and historical picture to assess national policies and alternative strategies.
System efficiencies and macroinfrastructures need to be measured across various cultural and social systems, across regions with different cultural and social systems, different resource endowments, and different policy and regulatory regimes. If we are to improve the metabolism of transformational systems over time, such analyses could also be used to explore various future scenarios, showing the results of changes in policies, technologies, consumer preferences, etc. Studies of metabolic processes at various scales and for various resources (energy, materials, capital, labor, etc.) may be our best defenses against the myopia imposed by not thinking in terms of systems. A more sustainable industrial ecology must be built on an analytical ecology that creates a holistic perspective of how society functions.
ESSAY 3: TECHNOLOGICAL CHOICES
Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science.
Paul Goodman, New Reformation
Recently, we witnessed the end of the Cold War. Viewed from the perspective of daily newspapers, it is easy to dismiss this geopolitical event. As Czech President Vaclav Havel recently observed, we may have simply replaced the "communism nightmare" with the "post-communist nightmare." If people only remember our wars and revolutions, then the end of the Cold War may take a prominent place in historical annals. The futurist will note that this occurrence did stimulate a long-needed rethinking of the U.S. government's role in managing the intellectual and policy machinery affecting our science and technology infrastructure. Whether or not our technological prowess helped win the Cold War is a debatable point. However, the ability of the military imperative to shape the technological agenda has now significantly declined.
The past 4 years have seen a new debate on science and technology policy in the United States being carried out in forums, commissions, and publications.9 Different camps have emerged to do battle for the enormous U.S. federal R&D budget (over $75 billion). These range from the social Darwinists (the best technology will win out), to the neoclassical economists (the market knows best), to the utilitarian moralists (technology for what ends?), to the democratists (who decides?). Such ideological eclecticism is needed, and a well-rounded debate from multiple perspectives will be crucial to move funding away from defense-related technologies. (Over 50 percent of the U.S. R&D budget is still being targeted at military applications.)
Interestingly, other countries in which the military imperative played a far less important role in shaping the technological landscape are also beginning the search for new paradigms and technologies. The Netherlands recently began a large, multiagency program to define and develop technologies critical to sustainable development (Vergragt and Jansen, 1992). This exercise is built on the development of long-term social goals (for energy, shelter, nutrition, clothing, etc.) and the use of "backcasting" exercises to define the required policy paths to achieve these objectives. The Dutch and Danish programs include high levels of public and industry participation in developing both social goals and the technological means and policy measures to reach them.
Internationally, there is and increase in large-scale, structured searches for new paradigms. Some of these projects are being undertaken by governments, though nongovernmental organizations are also becoming more active in this area.10 Most of these exercises are grounded in the belief that incremental changes in the social, political, and technological infrastructure will prove inadequate in meeting the global challenges posed by rapid population and economic growth over the next 50 years. The old paradigms and ways of doing business have
simply reached the limits of environmental responsibility, economic efficiency, and political acceptance, and questions are being raised concerning their potential successors.
Of particular interest are what some have termed technoeconomic paradigms—pervasive changes in the technological infrastructure that affect multiple sectors of the economy and the development and application of other technologies (Freeman, 1992). Figure 10 compares a number of attempts to chart such shifts in these paradigms over the past 2 centuries (Freeman, 1992; Gruebler,
1993; Kuznets, 1953). Interestingly, there is a high degree of agreement on the length and character of the last great wave, which included "Fordist" mass production techniques, the internal combustion engine, and petrochemicals. One could argue that this paradigm was extremely pernicious from an environmental standpoint, and much of the organizational apparatus of environmental protection continues to deal with the intended, or unintended, side effects of this paradigm. To a large degree, industrial ecology is a response to the ecological dysfunction embedded in this model.
Three points can be made about such dramatic shifts. First, these paradigms often become dominant for several decades, influencing the range of technological options and the character and rate of innovation. Second, much of the commitment--to technologies, the institutions that support them, and the capital that enables them--is focused on past and present paradigms. Third, the risks involved in the explorations of new paradigms are probably too high for most industries to bear without government cooperation. Governments need to explore the outer envelopes of these emerging and new trajectories, because the "lock in" of technologies, and their associated social and financial infrastructures, may occur very early and lead toward unsustainable development paths. This must be done when the social change potential is high and before significant human, capital, and intellectual resources have been committed by the public or private sector (Figure 11).
Though the historical shifts in these paradigms have been explored quite extensively, far less has been done to try to define their potential successors. Freeman (1992) has argued that the existing information and communications technology paradigm could be adapted for sustainable development but will ultimately prove insufficient and a new paradigm will be needed.
Where would searches for such paradigms begin?11 Attempts to characterize the status of next-wave technologies can be summarized as follows: The operating principles (cause-and-effect relationships) of the next-wave technologies have already been identified, most of the applications of those principles to inventions have already been conceived of, many of the basic innovations are already being worked on in laboratories, half of the basic innovations have begun development, but very few of the innovations of the next long wave are available commercially (Graham and Senge, 1980). Such a characterization still leaves considerable uncertainty, because many generic, precompetitive technologies meet these criteria. One can deal with this uncertainty by developing several possible scenarios, in essence defining a scenario space in which the future may play itself out. These descriptive scenarios would be conditional if-then explorations of the future to assess the impact of particular technoeconomic paradigms on the industrial sector and industrial ecology itself over the next 40 to 50 years.
For instance, the miniaturization of mechanics may have as profound an impact on industry and society as the miniaturization of electronics. A recent National Science Foundation document noted that microdynamics may well create profound changes in medicine, science, communications, and industry (National Science Foundation, 1988). Several nations, including the Netherlands and Japan, have identified microdynamic systems as a critical area of research in the coming decade (Brendley and Steeb, 1993).12 At one level, microdynamic sensor systems will offer much better control of the flows of energy and materials used in industrial processes. However, the impacts on economic and industrial systems could go far beyond that. The ability to manufacture at a molecular, or eventually an atomic, scale could radically reduce industrial throughputs of energy and materials, generation of wastes, and design times for products, fundamentally altering the system of flows and structural and organizational dynamics on which industry's ecology is presently built. The microscale mechanics scenario could interact in interesting ways with the existing information and communications technoeconomic paradigm, accelerating the development of extremely small-scale intelligent assembly systems and smart sensors that could have large intra- and intersectoral impacts.
If we can anticipate such new trajectories, could we then chose those with the greatest chance of leading us down a sustainability path? Few attempts have been made to map multiple technology trajectories and their complex interactions. (An interesting discussion can be found in Schot et al., 1993.) There have been even fewer attempts to do this in a normative context where the endpoints of such trajectories would converge on some set of long-range, socially defined and
agreed-upon goals. However, the idea that a key group of critical technologies exists somewhere that needs to be discovered and exploited has been a key motivating factor in the development of so-called critical technology lists. (See Kenzo, 1991.) Though many of these list have proved too generic to be of use for policy-making, the idea that one can identify a priori technologies that may be critical to economic growth, human well-being, sustainable development, or global competitiveness remains a seductive challenge to policy and decision-makers.
The most important point from this brief exploration is this: Industrial ecology must encompass a forward-looking search for next-wave technologies. In short, industrial ecology must be defined within the context of the wider sociocultural future of communities, cities, regions, states, and nations. What are the implications of an industrial ecology embedded in a hydrogen economy? Will such an economy abandon petroleum-based chemical synthesis, be built on microscale processes or advanced materials, and support a knowledge-based rather than commodity-based commerce? It is unlikely that industry alone can answer these questions, but industry and government should begin to explore and facilitate the broader public discussion surrounding our long-term goals and the technological paths to these objectives.
Jonathan Swift once noted that "vision is the art of seeing the invisible." The search for the invisible will not begin or end in the firm, in the office of government bureaucrats, or at late-night town meetings. History has provided us with an opportunity to craft a new technology policy, but this policy will require a rare combination of foresight, innovation, political will, and public consent to search for and collectively choose new technological paradigms.
Maurice Strong (1994), organizer of the 1992 Earth Summit recently commented that
for all the good things that our political leaders are saying these days about sustainable development, the economic, fiscal, and sectoral policies of government by and large continue to provide incentives and subsidies for environmentally unsound behavior. Ultimately, a sustainable future will require us to move from political rhetoric to fundamental changes in the way we measure humanity's progress, use our limited natural resources, and evaluate our technological choices. Business and government must make this move together to realize the potential of an [environmentally sound] industrial ecology and a sustainable political economy.
for the Environmental Protection Agency in the 21st Century, prepared by the World Resources Institute in Cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Document located at http://www.epa.gov/docs/futures/mega/challenge.txt.html.
The rapid globalization of the world's economy may ultimately make regions and cities more important than nations as centers of commerce and economic power. By the year 2000, there will be 19 cities with populations over 20 million people. For this reason, regional and urban economies impacting the flows of energy and materials may become more important as a unit of analysis than nations themselves.
Frosch (1996) discusses industrial and environmental history passing through similar phases from a state when "environmental impacts were generally regarded as external to the industry" to a state of greater internalization of effects when "manufacturing combines cost minimization with low or zero production of wastes."
Natural capital can include the biological and mineral resources of a country, such as water, forests, wetlands, protected ecosystems, air, soils, subsoil minerals, and all living resources. Commercial natural resources (such as fossil fuels and agricultural lands) are often excluded because they are normally addressed in annual economic accounts.
Early attempts to develop resource accounting methods within the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) were ended abruptly in the early 1980s after the publication of only one paper. Recently, BEA has begun a new program on natural resource accounting (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 1993). A prototype green GDP was unveiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce on Earth Day 1994.
A recent conference on urban metabolism in Kobe, Japan, addressed some of the strengths and limitations of the metabolic metaphor. Though the concept of metabolism focuses our attention on highly complex systems essential to life, it does not address the social, ethnic, linguistic, and class differences underlying our cultures and human values. As a metaphor it is essentially descriptive with little culturally relevant normative power (Ness, 1994).
The mappings of the U.S. Energy sector presented in this paper were developed by the following people: energy (David Bassett, U.S. Department of Energy), research and development expenditures (Michael Manning, EPA), and subsidies (Michael Brylawski, Stanford University).
Though this has yet to pose serious problems in the United States, use conflicts are already occurring in countries such as China where significant amounts of water are being diverted from irrigation to cool large, coal-fired power plants.
The flavor of this debate can be captured by looking at the following documents: the series of publications by the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology and Government; the debate in the Harvard Business Review (1992) surrounding an article by Lewis Branscomb (1992) on whether America needs an industrial policy; and a 1992 report by the Office of Technology Assessment called "Technology and the American Economic Transition: Choices for the Future."
One of the best examples of a nongovernmental organization project looking for new paradigms is the 2050 Project being undertaken by the World Resources Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Santa Fe Institute.
An unorthodox but often fruitful place to search for new paradigms is in utopian literature. Interestingly, visions of possible future worlds built on new social, political, and technological paradigms tend to proliferate every 50 to 60 years, during the stagnation phase of long-term Kondratieff cycles (Kiser and Kriss, 1987)
The United States lags behind a number of nations in investments in microdynamics systems research and development. Japan is presently spending $150 million to $200 million per year; the Netherlands, $100 million; Germany, $70 million to $100 million; and the United States, $15 million to $20 million (Brendley and Steeb, 1993).
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