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Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals
Science policy must ensure research is undertaken that is essential to identify environmental threats in a timely fashion so as to avoid the kind of crisis caused by "unknown" natural events.
Science policy must ensure that science itself respects limits that are defined by the environmental impacts of unknown applications of scientific discoveries.
Science policy must contribute to developing technologies that redirect human efforts from environmentally damaging to environmentally benign activities.
Science policy can give direction to future social and economic development, providing extraordinary comparative advantages to the individuals, corporations, and societies that take the "right" decisions earlier than others and thereby define the parameters of future development and reap the social and economic benefits associated with this paradigm shift that may follow.
While all countries face the need to articulate science and technology goals for environmental research and policy, each will tend to go about this process in characteristic ways.
Environmental policy is confronted by essentially the same agenda in all countries. In the temperate zone, the environment will be more forgiving than in extreme climates, but everywhere the basic need is to protect air, water, soil, fauna, and flora from the impacts of human interventions. Everywhere the extraction of natural resources, their transport and transformation, their use, and the wastes attendant upon these processes are the stuff of environmental policy. Despite these basic similarities, due to the universality of nature, environmental policies differ widely from one country to the next because they reflect specific environmental conditions, because differing social and economic priorities exist, and because they can only be expressed through the existing political and administrative culture of each country.
Environmental policy represents a relatively recent development. In most Western industrialized countries, systematic attention was first given environmental management in the late sixties and early seventies. The problems were everywhere the same: economic growth had reached a stage where the consequences of emissions could be felt over large areas, affecting significant segments of the population. Public pressure increased to limit the risks associated with the practice of using the ambient environment for waste disposal. The responses were also everywhere quite similar: the adoption of laws regulating emissions to air and water, the establishment of procedures for environmental management, and legislation concerning the control of hazardous wastes and toxic substances. Table 1 shows the early pattern of regulation in selected countries. It is most remarkable for the overall symmetry of responses.