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Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
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5

Key Themes and Possible Next Step

KEY WORKSHOP THEMES

Christopher Scott (Steering Committee Chair) led a discussion to solicit feedback from all the sessions and identify key points from the workshop. He noted five themes that had come up throughout the workshop:

  1. using the primary flows in the binational region to identify and prioritize sustainability challenges;
  2. applying and exchanging data and intellectual resources to better understand binational sustainability needs;
  3. improving sustainability by mitigating anthropogenic change;
  4. using governance to further binational sustainability efforts; and
  5. funding.

Using Primary Flows to Identify Sustainability Challenges

Scott noted that the flow and allocation of water, as well as the effects of water scarcity on arid regions, were addressed at several points during the workshop. Having sufficient amounts of water of a certain quality (fresh, treated, or desalinated) affects agriculture and human living conditions. In addition, water is tied to the flow of energy: energy is used to move water, water is used to produce energy, and certain types of energy (solar, for example) can reduce the amount of water used to produce energy. Several participants said that future sustainability discussions need to involve

Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×

experts from the energy sector who can address issues associated with energy technology, politics, and regulations.

Some participants noted that water quality is also closely linked to environmental health. Pollution, including by natural contaminants such as arsenic and fluoride, can have adverse health effects—symptoms that are often overlooked by physicians. This may necessitate increased communication between water scientists or engineers and medical health professionals.

More generally, some participants noted, the transboundary drylands region experiences a variety of biological and ecological flows. In general, plants, animals, and pollinators are positive flows, but the movement of infectious agents, invasive species, and pathogens are negative flows. Examples include cases of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika virus, all of which been reported in the state of Sonora.

Another issue raised by some participants was commerce—the movement of agriculture and other goods across the U.S.-Mexico border and from the drylands region to other parts of the world. Consequently, they said, a discussion about sustainable use of land and resources for commerce and industry will also bring to the forefront considerations of trade regulations and regional economic growth.

The discussion next turned to the daily flow of people across the border for a myriad of reasons. Many participants noted that in addition to work, recreation, and immigration, many people cross the border to receive specialized health services—a phenomenon referred to as medical tourism (of which Mexico is a top destination). The border region is a gateway for these people flows. On a more nefarious note, they pointed out that, the region is also a gateway for drugs and drug trafficking. Gang and drug activity can lead to increased violence, which compromises human safety in the area, requiring heightened security and creating what several participants referred to as social stressors.

Data and Intellectual Resources to Better Understand Binational Sustainability Needs

Scott observed that the flow and interchange of knowledge and intellectual resources was a driving theme in many of the workshop sessions. Many participants mentioned that education to understand the effects of sustainability science and sustainable approaches needs to be a priority, and they said that it ought to start earlier than in higher education. One key point noted was that such education goes beyond the science curriculum to include studying methodologies that could lead to improved programs or policy. In addition, some participants noted, technology as a resource can add to the courses of study and aid in developing socially relevant solu-

Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×

tions. Scott said that binational educational programs are becoming more prevalent throughout universities in the region.

The discussion next turned to data and information exchange, including knowing how to effectively process and use available data. One participant stressed that even an infinite supply of valid, accurate data serves no purpose if it is not known about and used. Another participant raised the notion of going beyond simply generating data to creating a databank that can help synthesize the available data.

On this point, Scott noted that infrastructure emerged in several different contexts throughout the workshop—not just brick and mortar edifices, but the planning, application, and politics involved in adequately using infrastructure. He said it is important to recognize the roles that treatment and reuse play in water infrastructure—particularly in water-scarce areas—as well as the implications they have on environmental and public health.

Improving Sustainability by Mitigating Anthropogenic Change

One participant emphasized the fact that people in the drylands are facing a combination of both natural and anthropogenic risks. They are exposed to climate changes and, in many instances, water shortage, and must decide how to operate within and around these changes. As the population grows, the economy influences the rate at which resources are consumed and used for infrastructure. Scott commented that the overlap in flows and changes produces a telecoupling between natural and human systems. In this context, he said, it is important to keep in mind that environmental threats can occur either sequentially or in parallel, and phenomena occurring at different scales (local, regional) or different locations can have lasting effects in other areas.

Scott referred back to the presentation about the importance of sustainability science and how conceptual approaches to socioecological systems—understanding how humans interact with the environment—apply even in an analytical framework. He said that resource scarcity and extreme events can drive the necessity to reach new types of solutions and agreements. Scarcity and extremes are certainly not optimal conditions, but they can be seen as driving forces for innovation and solutions.

A participant recalled the breakout conversation about the “tragedy of the commons,” the phenomenon in which individuals exploit a resource for personal gain without considering the overall effect on society. He said that as cities become larger they can become more difficult to control in terms of resource management and allocation. In some cases, sustainability solutions can be global and generalizable, but in other cases they may need to be customized to a specific area based on demographics and local population and dynamics. He said that a population’s mindset can also

Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×

affect its approach. For example, the notion of poverty carries different connotations in different groups. He added that drought can be viewed in different ways as well: for some populations it is a one-time phenomenon; for other groups it is an annual occurrence, and they manage it as a common water stressor. Scott said that there is a close bond between the physical aspects of drought, precipitation, water scarcity, and the surrounding social context—how communities are affected and how they respond and adapt. He suggested that social programs could be designed to transform a population’s mindset and approaches to managing these vulnerabilities.

Governance

Scott pointed out that environmental changes are not the only stressors that can affect the land. Differences in jurisdiction and management systems between states and across the border can hinder effective governance and innovation. Sometimes a regulatory framework exists, but it is not properly enforced or monitored over time. He added that political cycles for various government offices and potential changes in party agendas may slow progress on environmental and social policies.

One participant emphasized the importance of designing adaptive laws and policies that can grow with and accommodate the ongoing environmental changes. Regulations need to be responsive to current threats while also proactively maintaining a vision for the future. Many participants noted that there are strong relationships among the political sector, social programming, and the biophysical dynamics of environmental resources and environmental change. Scott said that a plan to use natural gas developed through fracking as a transition from petroleum and other carbon-intensive fuels to more sustainable and low or zero-carbon energy solutions in the long run will have to rely heavily on the energy sector’s participation and coordination with all the other sectors.

Funding

The topic of funding and finance emerged many times throughout the workshop discussions: who would finance the combined sustainability efforts and how to ensure that systems of public or private financing exist to follow proposed guidelines. Is it the responsibility of federal or local governments, industries, or private nongovernmental organizations? One participant suggested creating a coalition of foundations or a binational group of nonprofit organizations. Another wondered if the Border 2020 process could be enhanced to create and strengthen the types of collaborations that would support binational sustainability work. Scott said it would behoove

Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×

researchers to look at lessons learned from prior attempts to coordinate binational sustainability and resilience efforts.

POSSIBLE NEXT STEP

Scott and Toby Warden (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) wrapped up the workshop by noting that it is considered the first phase of a potential two-phase process—the second phase being a more in-depth study on taking action toward viable binational sustainability approaches. Warden said Phase 2 could be used as an opportunity to bring more stakeholders to the table from additional sectors such as energy, industry, and mining. It could also forge a path for increased interaction with local communities and help advise future research efforts. Scott thanked the Mexican and U.S. National Academies for investing in this joint effort and for their interest in continued collaboration.

Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×

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Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"5 Key Themes and Possible Next Step." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25253.
×
Page 50
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The drylands region shared by the United States and Mexico currently faces multiple sustainability challenges at the intersection of the human and natural systems. Warming and drying conditions threaten surface water and groundwater availability, disrupt land- and marine-based livelihood systems, and challenge the sustainability of human settlements. These biophysical challenges are exacerbated by a highly mobile and dynamic population, volatile economic and policy conditions, increased exposure to extreme events, and urbanization on marginal, vulnerable lands.

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine collaborated with the Mexican Academy of Sciences, Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine to plan a 2-day binational workshop, Advancing Sustainability of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Drylands. The workshop goals were to highlight the challenges facing the region, assess the scientific and technical capacity that each nation can bring to bear in addressing these challenges, and identify new opportunities for binational research collaboration and coordinated management approaches in the advancement of sustainability science and development. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.

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