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Technology and Environment 1989. Pp. 182 191. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Engineering Our Way Out of Endless Environmental Crises WALTER R. LYNN In our society, crises play a vital role in the never-ending game of capturing the attention of the public. During the summer of 1988 the news media helped to make everyone who reads or watches television aware of a variety of unpleasant, costly, and disturbing events, all of which reflect the continuing crises of long- and short-term environmental changes. All the environmental news sounded bad and seemed to promise to become worse: droughts, floods, forest fires, solid waste washing up on public beaches, sewage pollution of water supplies, ozone depletion, the "greenhouse effect," acid rain, and more. This chapter argues that, as important as public awareness is to solv- ing problems related to environmental change, public and private energies should be redirected from following crises to opening avenues for more constructive response. Future crises can be averted through timely re- sponses to anticipated and precursor conditions. The most effective control technologies are likely to result from local and regional actions guided by national and international consensus. The leadership to develop these technologies must come from government and industry, supported by sci- ence. We as individuals have important roles to play because, ultimately, technology Is socially constructed, and the interplay of our views will filter, moderate, and determine what is acceptable. ENVIRONMENTAL ENDS, TECHNOLOGICAL MEANS In the spring of 1987 new names invaded the public consciousness- Mobro, Khan Sea, Bark. The Mobro, a modern day "Flying Dutchman," 182

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ENGINEERING OUR WAY OUT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES 183 spent two months cruising the Gulf Coast and the Can~bean in search of a final resting place for its unsightly and fragrant cargo of solid waste from Long Island. Other, less well known vessels, such as the Khian Sea and the Bark, wandered the Caribbean and the African coast carrying inciner- ator ash from Philadelphia. After fruitless searches for places that would accept their unsavory cargoes, the vessels returned to their home ports-at least, temporarily.) Other developed countries also have sought less ex- pensive, "simple" solutions to their disposal problems, such as exporting them to poorer countries. Such actions continue even though international groups such-as the Organization of African Unity characterize the export of toxic wastes to their continent as "a crime against Africa and the African people."2 That hapless scow the Mobro triggered an awakening of the public to the long-standirlg solid waste disposal crisis posed by the condition and capacity of sanitary landfills in the United States (National Research Coun- cil, 1984~. Additionally, this disposal option, chosen by most municipalities because of low cost and convenience, no longer appeared to be a viable solution for the future because domestic wastes were often found to con- tain hazardous materials. State and federal requirements for land disposal imposed more stringent and costly controls at these sites. Regrettably, alternative technologies for treatment and processing of solid wastes are not competitive in cost and convenience with former sanitary landfill design and operations. Confronted with the prospect of closing filled or nonconforming land- fills, more stringent federal and state design and operational requirements, and rebellious communities unwilling to tolerate the construction of new ones in their vicinity, public works officials sought other alternatives to land- fills, such as loading garbage on trucks, trains, boats, or barges for shipping to some far-off place or shifting to newer incineration technologies.3~4 Shipping solid wastes someplace else in the United States turned out to be expensive and was not greeted graciously or with much enthusiasm (Public Works, 1988~: Whether it's solid waste from historic Philadelphia, classy garbage from New York City's fifth Avenue, or trash from the finely landscaped lawns of Northern New Jersey, the fact is nobody else wants it. The summer of 1988 was special in the annals of environmental history. The United States experienced relatively severe drought conditions in much of the Midwest and elsewhere, and the drought was charact~enzed by some as evidence of a more significant impending crisis the "greenhouse effect."5 Presidential candidates helped ensure that all Americans became aware that garbage was washing up on East, West; and Gulf Coast beaches. Weekly news magazines presented the story of beachfront pollution while deftly

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184 WALTER R. LYNN interweaving other local, national, and global pollution problems such as the hole in the ozone layer, acid rain, and disposal of nuclear wastes. Opinion polls indicated a large majority of public opinion favored stronger actions to preserve or enhance environmental quality. Echoing these themes in an editorial, Harold M. Evans (1988) of US. News and World Report took the National Research Council and its parent Academies to task for their alleged complacency in characterizing concerns about chlorofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide, and acid deposition as "unwarranted and unnecessarily alarmist." Evans concluded that the conservatism of National Research Council panels and committees has consistently "thwarted pollution controls that would have cost millions at the time, but now confront us with costs of untold billions for irreversible consequences that might yet produce global catastrophe." The middle ground on environmental issues appeared to shift toward environmental ,actimsm reminiscent of the early 1970s, with the new element that global concerns matched the traditional ones close to home. The universe of environmental changes, for the purpose of discussion, can be divided into mo classes: global and local. Local changes have the following characteristics: They are often obvious (they can be seen, smelled, felt, etc.~. The factors that cause these changes are reasonably well under- stood. The means to improve environmental conditions and to prevent further environmental degradation are relatively well known. Global environmental change results from the cumulative effects of countless individual and collective actions at the local level. When there are no perceptible local effects, many individuals assume that what they do has no global effects. Where effects are difficult to detect with one's senses, they must be understood in the abstract. Polyethylene wrappers provide an example of how little attention indi- viduals pay to waste flow problems when making decisions. Polyethylene is essentially nonbiodegradable when it is deposited in sanitary landfills, and it is a source of concern when burned in municipal incinerators. Relatively recently a new product appeared in the form of clear polyethylene magazine wrappers. This is a useful product It ensures that publications delivered by the U.S. mail system arrive in good condition. It also ended a long-standing complaint by some of the readers of Science who were annoyed because the mailing label was pasted on what they claimed was the otherwise attractive and useful magazine cover. Although most people were probably content with the delivery sys- tem that existed before this product was introduced, after the fact, the widespread acceptance of this product is evidence of a "consumer demand"

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ENGINEERING OUR WAY OUT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES 185 -an unstated, perhaps unknown and obviously unfulfilled need now being met. It is hard to believe that the producers, distnbutors, or ultimate con- sumers of this product gave any consideration to the waste processing and social costs associated with it. Presumably, the improved physical condition of our magazines comes at the cost of increased waste flows and waste treatment. Engineering communities have become painfully aware that such phrases as the "tragedy of the commons" (Hardin, 1968) and the "tyranny of small decisions" (Kahn, 1966) are not only parabolic but also accurate descriptions of reality. The engineer's consciousness about environmental issues was raised in 1970 with passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, which, among other features, established the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. The EIS imposed an obligation on all engineers to consider the short- and long-term environmental consequences of vari- ous projects. The EIS process which now exists in various forms in many states and even at local levels requires those who are advocates of change to evaluate, disclose, and minimize adverse environmental consequences. Those requirements have helped to make environmental consequences as much a part of the overall engineering design process as are considerations of safety, economics, and useful life. Today, no responsible engineer designs anything without giving explicit consideration to its possible impact on the environment. Welfare economists have long tried to convince us that the true costs of environmental consequences-are classic examples of external economic effects and, thus, do not directly influence or play a role in guiding the decisions members of a society routinely make-decisions that may have devastating environmental outcomes. Because market forces do not con- sistently provide the kinds of messages that lead to sensible environmental outcomes, regulation is employed by societies to redress these problems. If one of our objectives is to prevent deterioration of environmental con- ditions for reasons of health and safety, then regulations compelling all producers to include the costs of pollution control in the prices of all goods and services would have a salutary effect on the behavior of organizations and individuals. It is true that regulations reduce our freedom of choice, but so does a deteriorating environment Until recently, it has been difficult to collect compelling scientific evidence to demonstrate that global environmental changes are taking place, and despite the new information, not everyone is convinced. Although there is even less agreement about what could or ought to be done to prevent global environmental change or to reverse changes that have already occurred, mere is little argument that these kinds of changes result from ubiquitous local or regional actions. It seems clear that the only way such global issues can be addressed is if they are properly orchestrated at the

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186 WALTER R. LYNN national and international levels guiding and, if necessary, directing local and regional efforts. If mankind has become endangered as a result of significant global environmental changes that have already occurred, whose effects due to past actions are largely irreversible (at least for the next few decades), it is as important to focus on actions that prevent conditions from getting worse in the future as it is to clean up existing conditions. It is difficult to get political bodies to address and resolve environmental issues in their own baclyards. Getting them to make behavioral changes and economic sacrifices in order to come to grips with global issues presents an enormous challenge. Clearly, engineers have a responsibility, if not a duty, to act in ways that help reduce the likelihood of such potentially harmful environmental events. Although engineers are probably thought of as consummate technological optunists, there are things they can and cannot do through technology. Engineers must be constantly aware, and ultimately must convince the public, that technology is a means not an end. Over the past two decades, we have learned a great deal about the limits of "technological fixes." Technological optimism frequently led us to exceed unintentionally our competence and wisdom. Alvin M. Weinberg (1966) argued that some "quick technological fixes" were viable alternatives to "social engineering." Acknowledging that such approaches "do not get to the heart of the problem," are at best "temporary expedients," and "create new problems as they solve old ones," Weinberg claimed that changing people's behavior (i.e., social engineering) was a far more difficult and demanding task Thus, even temporary technological patches were highly desirable because they would buy time and accelerate evolutionary change. Over the past two decades, society has benefited a great deal from its ability to devise technological fixes, whereas the social and political processes have accomplished relatively little by way of "social engineering." However, these short-run solutions have not brought us much closer to confronting successfully the major environmental changes with which we and future generations have to deal. When Weinberg suggested that technological fixes buy time, he im- plied that more long-lasting solutions were identifiable (or knowable) but were inaccessible for a variety of reasons, including costs and lack of scien- tific understanding. Currently, technology provides the only viable means by which our complex, interdependent society is able to address these environmental problems. Until those of us who create and devise these methods are challenged to put much more effort into preventing future ad- verse consequences, much of the engineer's contributions will be perceived as ineffectual in addressing the root causes of environmental degradation.

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ENGINEERING OUR WAY OUT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES 187 Regrettably, technological fixes are prescribed primarily to keep e~nst- ing systems working. Little attention is given to determining and developing longer-term solutions, and short-run fixes become the order of the day. The result, as expected, is to move from crisis to cnsis. Long-run solutions do not arise from technology alone; thus, we must look for answers that ar- range decent marriages between social engineering and technology (Gray, this volume). For such marriages to be successful, the following conditions must be met: We must overcome the reluctance to recognize the existence of these environmental problems. We must educate individuals about how their behavior in exercis- mg consumer preferences affects local and global environments. We must be prepared to spend money to develop the lmowledge base needed to expand our understanding of the environment and to develop technological and social means to address these environmental issues. CHAI1~ENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR WASTE TECHNOLOGY Although technology alone cannot provide long-term solutions to the kinds of problems we face, there is much important work to do (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1987~. There are opportunities to make significant improvements in solid, gaseous, and liquid waste treatment processes that meet elevated performance requirements. One of the most difficult challenges is to devise methods of treatment and disposal that can cope with smaller and smaller concentrations of impurities in waste streams and to accomplish that end without breaking the bank The relatively easy, inexpensive treatment or disposal methods have already been devised and exploited, and the problems that remain are much more difficult and costly to solve. Research and development are being carried out in places where they have always been done: university engineering and science departments and centers, state and federal research laboratories, and in private indus- t~y. Given the importance placed on competitiveness and productivity, it is distressing that so little attention has been given to the R&D effort needed not only to enhance our "environmental condition," but also to provide the science and technology required to support innovative production technolo- gies and practices, many of which brag with them new hazardous waste problems. The Engineering Research Board of the National Research Council (1987, p. 142) called attention to the need for the federal research support system to recognize that

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188 WALTER R LYNN environmental resources are critical to the domestic economy, to national security, and to both human welfare and the quality of life in the United States. These resources are fundamental to other technologies as both inputs . . . and output . . . As such, they form the base on which virtual all other economic activities are built. Although statutorily mandated responsibilities have grown, support for R&D in these areas (identified in the federal budget as resources and environment) has declined to a level that makes one apprehensive about the capacity of the engineering and scientific research communities to sustain a meaningful research agenda to address these problems.6 The record clearly shows that federal support for research in the areas of resources and environment has greatly diminished in the 1980s. The time has come to develop an R&D program that truly represents a national commitment to address the threat, if not the clear and present danger, posed by environmental changes at both local and global levels Without such support it will not be possible to provide the technological base required to cope with the ever-changing and expanding demands to which society must be prepared to respond. A broad range of R&D topics must be explored to gain a better understanding of pollutants and to develop treatment and disposal processes for dealing with them. Increased attention should be given to the following areas (after National Research Council, 1987, pp. 164 168~: . Manufacturing processes and design: research directed toward the cost-effective alleviation of environmental hazards arising from the manufacturing industries Combustion: increased fundamental understanding. of the physics and chemistry of combustion in order to develop improved in- cinerator technology (involving thermal processes, incineration, pyrolysis, biological and wet combustion processes) and methods for control of hazardous emissions Microbial transformation: basic knowledge about microorganisms, their physiology, biochemistry, and ecology, to develop further the biotechnology for transforming dilute hazardous waste Assimilative capacity of the global environment: research directed toward understanding the movement, fate, and effects of chemicals in the environment in order to develop control strategies that make more effective use of the ability of the environment itself to deal with contaminants Sensors and measurement methods: development of improved sensors to gather more comprehensive information and of analyt- ical modeling techniques that can integrate this information and identify viable control strategies Several specific areas likely to have significant effects on our ability

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ENGINEERING OUR WAY OUT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES 189 to deal with long-term environmental changes relate to energy: electric powered vehicles; reduction of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate emissions; improvements in electric energy use; energy storage; reduction of power requirements; and fuel cells. Epics that have long been on the environmental research agenda, such as recycling or reuse and the development of biodegradable materials, remain largely unsolved problems still requiring attention. LEAVING THE END-OF-PIPE APPROACH On the regulatory side, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been properly criticized for strategies or policies used to address pol- lution problems that focus almost exclusively on "end-of-pipe" solutions to pollution problems. Such practices focus almost exclusively on treating what comes out of the pipe or smokestack, ignore broader systems-oriented ap- proaches and the assimilative capacity of the environment, impose lockstep application of the "best available technologies," and thus hinder innova- tion. Embedded in such policies are disincentives that hinder our capacity to address these problems at more efficient and productive levels, such as waste reduction and prevention, recycling and reuse, isolation of wastes, and substitution of materials in manufactured goods. ~ address the global and local changes in the environment, fundamental changes must be made in the strategies we have been pursuing, as an EPA Science Advisory Board Report recently urged (U.S. EPA, 1988~. A careful reexamination of the targets for technology is required, especially if engineering and the applied sciences are to be effective in addressing environmental changes that are already well understood and accepted, as well as those that appear to be emerging. Although one ought to be impressed with the political acumen of those who have used the events of the summer of 1988 to increase the awareness of changes in the global environment, few believe that doomsday is in sight (Solow, 1988~. However, most of us will never know whether they are right or wrong. The consequences to ourselves and, more important, to future generations are so monumental that it would be irresponsible not to face up to these matters. The crisis before us is of a special kind: it demands the rejection of avoidance and denial, and a genuine and complete national commitment to confront the environmental changes that lie before us. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I want to thank James Coulter, the late Abel Wolman, and Daniel Okun for taking the time to read an earlier draft of this chapter and provide me with their thoughtful and helpful comments. I owe special

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190 l WALTER R. LYNN thank; to Mike Lynn and Judy Bowers for their editorial help. Needless to say, all of them are absolved from responsibility for the final producL NOTES 1. These kinds of episodes are likely to continue even though Resource Conservation and Recovery Act rules do not permit any waste defined as hazardous to be exported "unless . . . EPA . . . and the government of the country [involved] . . . consent in writing to adopt the waste" (Bernthal, 1988~. Although poorer nations do not relish this kind of trade, they may find the offer of cash for accepting hazardous wastes an acceptable trade-oR in the short run (Shabecoff, 1988~. Incineration is an "old" technology for which there has been some innovation recently, including refuse-derived fuels, improved burning techniques and boiler design, fly ash handling and disposal, etc. It is important to recognize the link between our environmental problems and the quality of our infrastructure. Much of the U.S. urban infrastructure is already recognized as inadequate, and most municipalities face a crisis brought about by decayed, ineffective, and inoperative urban services. Newsweek estimated that it would cost approximately $3 trillion dollars to put these systems back in working order. The difficulties of raising such vast sums of money for sewers, water pipes, roads, budges, and the like, tony represent a crisis of major proportions (National Council on Public Works Improvement, 1988~. A recent report concludes that atmospheric circulation anomalies were the primary cause of the drought of 1988, not greenhouse warming. "Any greenhouse gas effects may have slightly exacerbated these overall conditions . . . but they almost certainly were not a fundamental cause" (I~nberth et al., 1988~. The 1987 budget allocation for resources and the environment decreased by $1= million, or 12 percent, after remaining almost constant in 1986. This category involved expenditures representing 1.5 percent of the total federal R&D budget; expenditures for waste treatment and disposal R&O represent a tiny fraction of that total. REFERENCES Betrothal, F. M. 1988. U.S. views on waste exports. U.S. Department of State, Current Polipy No. 1095. Washington, D.C Evans, H. M. July 11, 1988. Editorial. U.S. News and World Report. P. 67. Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162:124~1248. Kahn, Al E. 1966. The tyranny of small decisions: Market failures, imperfections and the limits of economics. Kyklos 1~.23 24. National Council on Public Works Improvement. 198%. Fragile Foundations: A Report on Amenca's Public Worm Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. National Research Council. 1984. Disposal of Industrial and Domestic Wastes: Land and Sea Alternatives. Board on Ocean Science and Policy, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. National Research Council. 1987. Directions in Engineering Research: An Assessment of Opportunities and Needs. Engineering Research Board, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems. Washington, I).C.: National Academy Press. Public Works. 1988. Editorial viewpoint. Public Works 118~8~:7. Shabecoff, P. July 5, 1988. Irate and afraid, poor nations fight efforts to use them as toxic dumps. New York Times 13;7:~(N), C4(L3.

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ENGINEERING OUR WAY OUT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES 191 Solow, A. R December 28, 1988. Pseudo-scientific hot air The data on climate are inconclusive. New York Times 138:Al5(N), A27(L3. enberth, K E., G. W. Branstator, and P. A. Arkin. 1988. Origins of the 1988 North American drought. Science 242:1644}1645. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1987. Unfinished Business: A Comparative Assessment of Environmental Problems. Office of Policy Analysis. (NTIS-PB88- 1Z7048~. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1988. Future Risk: Research Strategies for the l990s. Science Advisory Board. (NTIS SAB-EC-99 040~. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Oflice. Weinberg, ~ M. 1966. Can technology replace social engineering. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 22~10~:4 8.