Cover Image

HARDBACK
$74.95



View/Hide Left Panel

Summary

The general desire on the part of societies to improve their standard of living has resulted in greater consumption of water, food, mineral, and energy services and expansion of our manufacturing capability. Although wastes and other products that result from such consumption produce a greater burden on the environment, it is also generally true that the higher the living standard, the greater the resources that are devoted to protecting human health and the environment.

Thus, industrially advanced societies tend to have safer food, water, and air than do less-advanced societies. Nevertheless, there remains a conflict between the desire for more goods and services, particularly in a growing population, and the desire for a healthy environment.

Following the recommendations of the Carnegie Commission report Enabling the Future: Linking Science and Technology to Societal Goals, the National Research Council convened the first National Forum on Science and Technology Goals, which addressed goals related to the environment. The central question was, "How can science and technology contribute most effectively to meeting societal environmental goals?"

The National Forum on Science and Technology Goals Environment Committee developed conclusions and recommendations based on four sources:

  • Responses from 128 persons and organizations to a questionnaire sent to a broad array of national, state, and local governments, citizen groups, environmental groups, industry and academe.

  • Eight commissioned papers, summaries of which were presented at the forum.

  • Discussions by forum participants, especially in small breakout groups.

  • The committee members' own special knowledge.



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



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals Summary The general desire on the part of societies to improve their standard of living has resulted in greater consumption of water, food, mineral, and energy services and expansion of our manufacturing capability. Although wastes and other products that result from such consumption produce a greater burden on the environment, it is also generally true that the higher the living standard, the greater the resources that are devoted to protecting human health and the environment. Thus, industrially advanced societies tend to have safer food, water, and air than do less-advanced societies. Nevertheless, there remains a conflict between the desire for more goods and services, particularly in a growing population, and the desire for a healthy environment. Following the recommendations of the Carnegie Commission report Enabling the Future: Linking Science and Technology to Societal Goals, the National Research Council convened the first National Forum on Science and Technology Goals, which addressed goals related to the environment. The central question was, "How can science and technology contribute most effectively to meeting societal environmental goals?" The National Forum on Science and Technology Goals Environment Committee developed conclusions and recommendations based on four sources: Responses from 128 persons and organizations to a questionnaire sent to a broad array of national, state, and local governments, citizen groups, environmental groups, industry and academe. Eight commissioned papers, summaries of which were presented at the forum. Discussions by forum participants, especially in small breakout groups. The committee members' own special knowledge.

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals Using that information as a basis, the committee adopted the following process for selecting subjects for this report: Via the call for comments and forum discussion, the committee developed a list of some 30-odd topics that could possibly be discussed in the report. The committee then selected the topics that they believed to be the most important for the scientific and engineering community to focus on, given the current intellectual and financial resources devoted to each. Eight topics were selected. Of the eight topics, six eventually emerged as subjects for the chapters of this report (several topics were merged). The six topics are Economics and risk assessment. Environmental monitoring and ecology. Chemicals in the environment. The energy system. Industrial ecology. Population. The chapter titles incorporate those topics but have been revised to reflect the content of the chapters. Many other topics are also important, but the committee believes that they are already receiving considerable attention elsewhere. For example, two major global environmental problems have not been addressed in this report: climate change and biodiversity. For both, international treaties have been signed, goals and plans have been developed, and substantial international research resources are being applied. The committee believes that these two very important environmental issues needed no further committee discussion. The committee's conclusions and recommendations regarding the chosen topics follow, with some discussion of the nature of goals and the environment. USE SOCIAL SCIENCE AND RISK ASSESSMENT TO MAKE BETTER SOCIETAL CHOICES In recent years, many segments of society have become concerned about the economic impact of environmental regulation. Business, government, and individuals together spend an estimated $150–180 billion of their revenues each year to meet environmental regulations. Present regulatory strategies do not sufficiently differentiate between minor and major risks. Furthermore, the costs incurred to reduce risks often do not bear a consistent relation to the magnitude of the risks and the number of people potentially affected. The nation's existing environmental goals could be met less expensively or faster by substituting incentive-based approaches to environmental

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals regulation for command-and-control approaches. Incentive approaches provide a more flexible and cost-effective regulatory environment for industry, business, and government while maintaining or perhaps even improving environmental quality much less expensively. The tools needed to implement incentive-based approaches—specifically quantitative risk assessment (QRA) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA) (including some attention to distributional effects)—are not as well developed as they need to be if they are to be reliable aids in decision-making. Nor are these tools widely understood or accepted by decision-makers or other interested parties and the general public. Recommendation Research to improve the analytical tools available to decision-makers should be expanded. Several specific questions need attention by researchers With respect to cost-benefit analysis, what values do people attach to the services provided by ecosystems? To the protection of endangered species? To the extension of human life? To aesthetics and the quality of life? How do those values differ for different states of ecosystem and human health? Also, with respect to benefit-cost analysis, how can models better estimate the costs of regulatory proposals? How can models predict human behavior, as opposed to relying only on the more reliable predictive value of current technologies and practices? How should models account for lost opportunities, even when no out-of-pocket expenditures are made, and for continuing technological changes that bring down the costs of regulatory compliance? The distribution of risks and benefits involves issues that are inherently political, and cost-benefit analysis generally is silent on these distributional matters. In light of that, how can models more realistically take into account the distribution of risks, costs, and benefits among all affected stakeholders? What are the best ways to assess noncancer health risks, such as neurological and reproductive disorders? Disproportionate attention is paid today to collecting information on cancer risks compared with, for example, risks of neurological and reproductive disorders. Future research on quantitative risk assessment should be directed toward correcting this imbalance of emphasis. Can quantitative risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis be integrated so that the health or ecological end points that risk assessors predict are the ones that the public understands and cares about? To what extent could and should probabilistic techniques be used with worst-case assumptions? In the face of uncertainty, what degree of conservatism should be used in connection with probabilistic techniques? Research should be increased and demonstration projects launched to expand the application of incentive-based approaches to environmental protection

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals (these include pollution taxes, systems of marketable discharge permits, and deposit-refund schemes). The research should include the evaluation of institutional impediments that often reduce the savings associated with incentive-based systems. Experimental economics—in which a group of participants act out the decisions that they would make in given regulatory or other scenarios—is a particularly promising avenue for research. As more data on incentives become available, decision-makers can have a better intellectual rationale for choice between incentive-based approaches to environmental protection and command-control regulations. Social science research on comparative risk assessment (or risk ranking) can be helpful at all levels of government to help to establish regulatory and legislative priorities. Comparative risk assessment activities should involve elected and appointed officials; members of business, environmental, and civic organizations; and lay persons. In addition, natural and social scientists who can provide information on the magnitude of various risks to health and the environment, the likely costs of mitigating these risks, and the uncertainties associated with both should be part of the process. FOCUS ON MONITORING TO BUILD BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS Science and technology provide quantitative data to characterize the state of the environment. Scientists analyze and interpret this information to provide society with a deeper understanding of its relation to the state of the environment. As part of this analysis, they compare past conditions with projections to determine the potential for achieving a desired state of environmental quality at a feasible rate of change. One particular concern relative to achieving a desired state of environmental quality is our understanding of the ecological system in which plants, animals, and humans lives. Current ecological data and understanding are inadequate to Detect, monitor, and characterize environmental changes. Evaluate the consequences of human activities. Provide an information base for sustainable management (i.e., ''no loss") of both natural and ecological human-designed systems. Therefore, it is difficult to conduct the comparative analysis of past, current, and future ecological states (as described earlier) to determine what actions are needed to achieve a desired end of environmental quality. Furthermore, current programs do not address these issues in a sufficiently coherent and comprehensive manner on a national basis. Indicators that are needed to measure the current status of ecological systems, to gauge the likelihood of meeting society's environmental goals, or to anticipate problems resulting from economic growth are not available

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals able. We are spending much money to collect data that are neither complete noralways relevant to the decisions that society needs to make about land use, transportation, industrial activity, agriculture, and other human activities. The system of monitoring the state of the environment needs to be improved to make it more relevant to decision-makers, and there is need for a more-sophisticated and better-informed discussion of what needs to be measured and why. Recommendations The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should review and evaluate the quality of existing measurement and monitoring systems for relevance to and usefulness in meeting environmental goals. That would include establishing a system-design process to complete and maintain the monitoring system. Congress should assign an existing or new federal research organization the mission of working with the scientific community to identify key subject areas for ecological research and ensuring that this research is being pursued adequately somewhere in the overall environmental research system which includes not only the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, but also the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy. Research should aim at identifying and developing reliable indicators of the health and sustainability of the environment and ecosystems. Such factors might include chemical nutrient systems, habitat fragmentation, and changes in biodiversity. New systems of monitoring that meet society’s decision-making needs should be identified and implemented. This includes provision of access to data sets via the Internet, integration of data from various scales (such as integrating satellite data with land-based measurements), and finding sources of historical data (such as glacial samples that have preserved the earth’s history). The nation’s existing monitoring system needs to be reviewed and evaluated for its relevance to indicators of environmental progress and identification of emerging issues. This evaluation procedure is a first step toward improving the overall system. REDUCE THE ADVERSE IMPACTS OF CHEMICALS IN THE ENVIRONMENT Concerns about chemicals in the environment have focused major attention on the possible consequence for humans, animals, and whole ecosystems. Substantial progress has been made, and some contaminated bodies of water have been restored to use. However, we still lack basic knowledge and procedures for

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals evaluating the potential impacts of chemicals, compound mixtures, or artificial concentrations of natural substances that have an adverse effect on human health and the environment. Such knowledge will be essential for developing products with adequate safeguards against unwanted side effects. Reasonably good methods are available for testing the potential carcinogenic effects of chemicals on surrogate species for humans, particularly rodents. The correlation between these surrogates and humans is far from proved and is hotly debated. However, on the basis of experience and buttressed by significant testing, use of surrogate species seems to have been most helpful in reducing exposure to many suspect carcinogens. However, there is a need for better tests to assess ecological damage potentially caused by single compound chemicals, the byproducts of various waste-treatment processes, and the degradation products of intentional products or unintentional process emissions that find their way into the environment. Better understanding of the basic biochemical processes occurring in the environment is necessary to decide where to look, what to look for, what to measure, and how to measure it. Recommendations Better test methods should be developed to evaluate, model, and monitor the potential long-term environmental impacts of single compounds emitted as a result of new products or processes. Emphasis should be placed on compounds that degrade only very slowly. Better test methods should be developed to define and ultimately to model and predict the byproducts and degradation products associated with production and use of materials. Basic studies of biochemical effects and of the impact of various chemicals and other adverse effects on the biochemistry of sensitive plant and animal species should be strongly supported. It is from such studies and the monitoring program that the most-effective hypotheses about items of greatest concern and about the continual development of testing will arise. Strong support should be given to innovative ideas for modeling and tests on lower-order surrogate species that help to reduce the cost of tests for potential adverse environmental health effects on humans or shorten the response time needed to obtain that information. International standardization of testing and international sharing of testing responsibilities should be promoted to reduce costs and speed the availability of reliable and reproducible assessments. The emerging concept of developing experimental "miniecosystems"—focused on controlled-exposure environments for testing and for developing mathematical simulations of ecosystem impact based on limited, specific tests—should be supported.

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals DEVELOP ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIONS FOR THE ENERGY SYSTEM Energy production and use underlie the growth of modern industrial society, but production and use are often replete with environmental problems. Of particular concern is the use of fossil fuels that lead to environmental problems, such as urban air pollution, acid rain, resource extraction, and global warming. Responses to these concerns can be actions on either the supply side or the demand side. In both cases, knowledge, technical, and social barriers need to be overcome before these actions can be implemented. The barriers can be overcome by additional research and development. Energy research and development should create options for an uncertain future of energy availability and the environmental impact of that energy. Development of cleaner and economically viable efficiency and production alternatives will be key to preserving options against a number of contingencies. One contingency is scarcity caused by rising energy demand and limited supplies. Another contingency would arise from new knowledge that indicated severe environmental impacts of CO2, radionuclides, or other emissions from conventional energy sources than now expected. If either of these contingencies arises, alternative energy sources and end-use technologies will be critical. Recommendations The committee recommends sustained research and development that will lead to more options for energy generation and use, less emission of carbon into the atmosphere, and more efficient use of natural resources. In particular, the following topics should be explored: Electricity. Thus while the United States is still the largest national consumer of primary energy, its relative contribution to pollution from energy use in the world is declining. Per-capita electricity use remains strongly correlated with development as electricity continues to replace other forms of energy because of its environmental and other advantages. Further increases in electrification should be accompanied by research in non-fossil-fuel sources (described further below) load management, and in other conservation approaches. Renewable energy sources. Solar energy, especially as used in photovoltaic cells, and biomass are the leading options for renewable energy sources. Research efforts should focus on making these more economical. Transition to widespread use will not occur until the cost of electricity from these sources is so low that large public-sector subsidies are no longer required to make them cost-competitive. Coal. The United States, as well as Russia and China, has vast reserves of coal. About 60 of U.S. electricity comes from coal plants. Coal is also a major energy source in other countries. Thus, even though efforts should be made to

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals defossilize our energy sources, research and development to improve the efficiency and reduce the emissions of coal plants (clean-coal technology) can help the U.S. environment and be a major factor in the Asian market, where India and China will burn increasingly large amounts of coal. Nuclear fission. A major source of U.S. electricity (21%), nuclear plants do not emit carbon or other pollutants. However, the U.S. nuclear industry has been crippled by the high cost of plants, by the government's inability to solve the problem of safe and reliable disposal of nuclear waste, and by the resulting disenchantment of the public and investors. Nuclear research should focus on these problems, including designs with improved safety. Until such problems are solved, further expansion of installed nuclear power capacity is unlikely, at least in the United States. Nuclear fusion. For more than 35 years, researchers in the United States, Russia (previously the Soviet Union), Japan, and the European Community have sought to use the energy potential of fusion to generate electricity. The potential fuel source is vast; yet the scientific and technological problems remain daunting. Although it might offer substantial advantages over fission plants in waste, fusion is unlikely to be a major energy source within the next 30 years. Basic and applied research should be continued. Hydrogen. The committee recommends long-term R&D to investigate the feasibility of hydrogen-energy cycles, because of their potential as an efficient and clean carrier for distribution of energy to users. Transportation. The largest present primary source of energy in the United States is petroleum products; more than 50% of energy from petroleum products is used in transportation (DOE/EIA 1995). The ubiquitous automobile influences our choice of jobs, where we live, and how we spend our leisure time. There has been enormous progress (including improvements in fuel efficiency) in the reduction of automobile emissions implicated in urban air pollution; but the automobile is still the major source of such pollution in part because growth in automobile ownership and in driving per vehicle has nearly offset this progress. Continued research to improve the fuel efficiency of automobiles will help, but further major improvements will almost certainly require switching from vehicles powered by the internal-combustion engine to electric (or possibly hybrid-electric) or hydrogen-fueled cars that need such technologies as fuel cells, flywheels, and greatly improved batteries. Research is needed so that this transition can occur. The United States should continue to address ways of making energy use more efficient, including pollution reduction. It should also help to conduct the R&D and policy analysis required to take account of the severe needs of the developing world, where primary energy use for economic development is less efficient, the growth in primary energy consumption is more rapid, and severe

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals environmental damage per unit of energy is much greater than in developed countries. This will persist until better methods of energy use are developed and political and economic incentives for achieving their adoption sufficiently rapidly on a large enough scale can be devised. USE A SYSTEMS ENGINEERING AND ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO REDUCE RESOURCE USE In our current efforts to reduce the pollution generated by and the ecological impact of society's industrial activities, we most often use "end-of-the-pipe" controls. However, end-of-pipe treatment is increasingly less likely to be the most cost-effective or the most-desirable means of pollution control. In recent years, a new way of thinking about how to reduce environmental impacts has been developed. It is called industrial ecology, and it is influencing the thinking of many major corporations in how they handle environmental issues. Industrial ecology takes a systems engineering and ecological approach to integrate the producing and consuming segments of the design, production, and use of services and products to reduce environmental impacts. A key component of industrial ecology is analyzing the environmental effects of all materials in manufacture, use, and disposal. Companies find that the use of the industrial ecology approach in the design process provides them with more options for reducing the human health and ecological effects of their products and processes. However, its use is in its infancy. The information, planning, standards, and societal changes needed to implement this concept on a scale sufficiently extensive to have a large impact is still lacking. The problem of implementation is made more difficult by the fragmentation of industry and, to some extent, by the present trend toward decentralization and devolution of hitherto vertically integrated industries. Some form of "societal vertical integration" among many institutions and economic entities "from cradle to grave" will be involved in a solution. How it can be achieved is an important topic for research and public-policy debate. One key challenge is to formulate effective economic incentives to create a market-driven industrial ecology. Another is to alleviate the liability and regulatory barriers that inhibit the full application of industrial ecology. Furthermore, industrial ecology requires substantial recycling, including the use of one plant's waste stream as feed for another plant, and therefore requires coordination, planning, and perhaps proximity, all of which could make it more difficult for it to achieve widespread use. One key challenge is to formulate effective economic incentives for developing a market-driven industrial ecology. Another is to alleviate the liability and regulatory barriers that inhibit the full application of industrial ecology.

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals Recommendations Design of products and processes for environmental compatibility should make use of such mechanisms as life-cycle analysis, alternative manufacturing processes, and efficient separation technologies, which use energy to unmix materials that have been mixed. Products and processes should be designed to accommodate recycling and reuse more readily. Regulations introduced for other purposes often create barriers to the use of economic incentives for promoting the adoption of the principles of industrial ecology. Research should be aimed at identifying and eventually removing such barriers. The use of industrial ecology approaches should be expanded to many industries through dialogue among an ever-widening circle of corporations, governments, academic institutions and environmental and citizen organizations. Research should be conducted to develop methods for chemical species-specific separations that yield streams that are economically recoverable or dischargeable to the environment. Research on new or improved catalytic systems that offer improved yields and improved specificity from more-benign chemicals should be promoted. IMPROVE UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN POPULATION AND CONSUMPTION AS A MEANS TO REDUCING THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF POPULATION GROWTH The current and potential future threats to environmental quality, of which there are many, are the results of the character and magnitude of today's economic activity and human population growth. As the experience of the United States, other industrialized nations, and developing countries indicates, birth rates and economic development are closely linked. Although the extent to which threats to environmental quality and ecological resources will be intensified by future population growth is debated, there is agreement that continued population growth has the effect of narrowing the options available for meeting these threats. The predicted addition of billions of people to the global population in the next few decades could overwhelm programs aimed at enhancing energy efficiency, global monitoring, and industrial ecology. Many elements of social science, such as demography and sociology, and of medical research address issues that affect population growth. Environmental engineering develops strategies and devices that can be used to decrease the impact of population growth on the needs of developing countries. The political milieu makes it difficult for U.S. federal agencies to recognize publicly the interdependence of environmental quality and global population growth. The federal budget often omits support for studies related to population

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals growth—studies of demography, ecology of population growth, and contraception—even in the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Health and Human Services. This omission reflects a serious constriction in the horizons of current U.S. environmental policy. As noted in The Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (Lubchenco et al. 1991), The issues associated with population growth are broad, involving such factors as changes in per capita income and resource distribution; increasing pollution and environmental degradation; problems of health and poverty; the effects of urban, industrial, and agricultural expansion; and especially the integration of ecologic and socioeconomic considerations. Even those factors that are primarily economic will have substantial environmental effects. Recommendations The United States, in its efforts to cooperate with the world community, should recognize the linkages between birth rates, child survival, economic development, education, and the economic and social status of women in its environmental research efforts. To cope with global population pressures, researchers should focus on ways to improve the potential for universal access to effective family-planning information, contraceptives, and health care. U.S. policies, both domestic and foreign, need to provide support, through partnerships with developing countries, for the scientific and technological research needed by international population programs. Interdisciplinary research should be conducted on the future environmental consequences of population growth, especially in vulnerable environments. This research should incorporate human biology, human behavior, epidemiology, and ecology to acquire a better understanding of all aspects of the population-environment interface. Research should be conducted on the possible adverse consequences of technology when introduced into a population (e.g., the possible adverse impacts of the use of artificial baby formula in developing countries). SET ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS VIA RATES AND DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE When speaking about environmental goals, people often focus on achieving a specific level of environmental quality by a specific time. However, such formulations might not be the best way to evaluate our rate of progress. Measuring progress requires a metric and a path to determine the direction in which progress is going. Therefore, in setting environmental goals, rates and directions of change might be more important than end points, but it is endpoints that seem to be at the center of the public discussion of environmental policy.

OCR for page 3
Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals Rates and directions of change should become the focused goals for current actions with end points as the tools for motivation (not just one-time goals). Both a desired end point and a rate-of-change are needed in order for society to be successful in achieving its goals. Without an end point, it can be difficult to mobilize the political will to take action; without a predetermined rate-of-change, it can be difficult to establish the specific actions needed to achieve the desired end point. Recommendation Rather than stopping at the selected specific end points being discussed in the federal government and elsewhere, environmental goals should be formulated in terms of an adjustable strategy for continuous evolutionary improvement in environmental performance, including intermediate milestones. CONCLUSION The committee has had some difficulty in getting its hands around such a large, amorphous issue as the environment, but it hopes that it has made a credible effort to advance the discussion of the role of science and technology in defining and addressing society's environmental objectives. The major disadvantage of the effort is that the forum format, with its relatively limited time frame, at best permits only a first cut at these issues. Nevertheless, the committee believes that this report will be an important guidebook for both the scientific and policy communities and a starting point for further deliberations.