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.

POSTSCRIPT

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.

NOTES

1.  

A 1992 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-sponsored study by the World Resources Institute focused on some of the institutional learning challenges facing the government and concluded that there was a significant risk that "the great strides made by private institutions during the next 30 years will probably not be matched by public institutions." See: Challenges Ahead



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement