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TECHNOLOGICAL TRAJECTORIES AND THE H U MAN ENVIRONMENT Edited by Jesse H. Ausubel and lI. Dale Langford NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1997
NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS · 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW · Washington, DC 20418 The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Wm. A. Wulf is interim president of the National Academy of Engineering. This set of papers first appeared in Daedalus (Vol. 125(3), 1996). This volume has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a National Academy of Engineering report review process. The interpretations and conclusions expressed in the papers are those of the authors and are not presented as the views of the council, officers, or staff of the National Academy of Engineering. The activity that led to this publication was done in collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute, The Rockefeller University, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Funding for the publication was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering Technology Agenda Program. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Technological trajectories and the human environment / edited by Jesse H. Ausubel and H. Dale Langford. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-309-05133-9 (alk. paper) 1. Environmental management. 2. Technological innovations- Environmental aspects. 3. Energy-Environmental aspects. 4. Materials Environmental aspects. I. Ausubel, Jesse. II. Langford, H. Dale. GE300.T43 1997 363.7-dc21 Copyright 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. 96-48427 CIP Cover art: Figure in a Landscape, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist, Susan Bee, New York City. This book is printed on recycled paper. Printed in the United States of America
Preface Among our largest and hardest problems are the unwanted environmental transformations associated with huge numbers of people and huge flows of mate- rial and energy. In 1988 the National Academy of Engineering launched an effort to increase understanding of long-term interactions between the environment and technological change and to identify opportunities to embed industry and its products more intelligently within nature. This effort is yielding a new disci- pline, industrial ecology, as well as the practical progress that comes from the stimulation of fresh networks of creative engineers and other experts. Technological Trajectories and the Human Environment places in context the progress we are seeing. It also offers frameworks for understanding energy and materials that may help enterprises as well as society more broadly to select profitable and environmentally sound courses. And it draws our attention to some technologies of great promise. It does not set out a spectrum of possible futures, nor does it provide a complete picture by including, for example, military and medical technologies. Rather, this volume's authors provide scope and imagi- nation in understanding technological evolution over the past century in energy, agriculture, and a few other fields of utmost importance to the environment. They speculate about what might be achieved if engineering and science continue to advance. In other words, suppose in these fields, societies continue to invent and innovate and diffuse technologies as has been the rule in the industrial era. Then what is the outlook for the environment? Several of the papers, however, also allude to the unintended, sometimes harmful consequences of technology, which are another lesson history teaches. Subsequent activities must probe more . . . 11!
IV PREFACE fully the possible unintended consequences of some of what the authors foresee, as well as the considerable obstacles to achieving the promise laid before us. The volume complements earlier NAE books in this field published by the National Academy Press, including Technology and Environment (J. H. Ausubel and H.E. Sladovich, eds., 1989), The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems (B.R. Allenby and D.J. Richards, eds., 1994), and Engineering within Ecological Con- straints (P. Schulze, ea., 1996), as well as the special section of Vol. 89~34~1992) of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA devoted to industrial ecology edited by NAE member Kumar Patel. Books soon to appear are The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management, which draws on international case studies; The Ecology of Indus- try: Sectors and Linkages, which looks at best practice in several industry sec- tors; and Environmental Performance Measures and Ecosystem Condition. Many members of the NAE have contributed to our efforts in technology and environment, but I would especially like to thank Robert A. Frosch and Robert M. White for their sustained leadership, as well as Robert Herman and Chauncey Starr in the present volume. Indispensable intellectual as well as organizational assistance in this field has come from past NAE J. Herbert Hollomon Fellows Braden Allenby and Peter Schulze, as well as past and present NAE staff mem- bers Jesse Ausubel, Bruce Guile, and Deanna Richards. The continuing financial support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Academy's work in indus- trial ecology is greatly appreciated. The project that resulted in this volume benefited additionally from partner- ships with the Electric Power Research Institute, the Program for the Human Environment of the Rockefeller University, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The contents first appeared as "The Liberation of the Environ- ment" in the summer 1996 issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Acad- emy, through the good auspices of its editor, Stephen Graubard. Former NAE editor H. Dale Langford teamed with Jesse Ausubel and Phyllis Bendell, the associate editor of Daedalus, to handle the innumerable steps between concept and publication. Advisers, participants in a preparatory workshop, and reviewers assisting with the volume (in addition to the authors) included David T. Allen, Brian J.L. Berry, Joshua Lederberg, Helga Nowotny, Stephen C. Peck, Vernon W. Ruttan, Andrew R. Solow, John H. Steele, Kurt E. Yeager, and Norton Zinder. I am confident readers will share my gratitude to all for opening wide our eyes to important possibilities for improving the ways we live and work. Wm. A. Wulf Interim President National Academy of Engineering
Introduction: Technological Trajectories and the Human Environment ROBERT M. WHITE The search for an economic system that can provide both more and better goods and services compatible with the long-run quality of the planetary environ- ment has intensified with each recent decade. Industries and governments, as well as individuals, struggle to find orientation. In 1992 Rio de Janeiro hosted an unprecedented meeting of 130 heads of state to seek ways of harmonizing envi- ronment and development. But are environment and development truly the con- flict? At least two further questions appear to underlie this great question. Are the directions of invention and innovation, that is, the trajectories, in fact toward the lessening of pressures on the environment? And, if they are, are the rates of diffusion of innovations likely to be rapid enough to raise the quality of life for a large majority of people? To shed light on these questions, the National Acad- emy of Engineering, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and the Program for the Human Environment of the Rockefeller University collaborated in an effort to explore "technological trajectories and the human environment." The main fruit of that effort is this set of essays. Collectively, the essays strike an optimistic note on a topic that generally evokes pessimism. The logic is sharp and the evidence surprisingly plentiful. Vast efficiencies can be achieved with respect to energy (Nakicenovic), land (Waggoner), and materials (Wernick et al.~. Indeed, we can begin to envision a quite different "industrial ecology" in which the notion of waste largely disap- pears (Frosch). Superb technical possibilities exist consistent with long-term historical developments and with one another (Ausubel and Marchetti, Starr). v
Vl INTRODUCTION And a new philosophical turn may relocate humans more constructively in nature (Meyer-Abich). But we must also acknowledge cautions. The time period for a change can be considerable, 50 years or so for a major system (Grubler); appetites for goods and services appear unsated (Schipper); and solving problems in one time frame may create larger, harder ones over longer periods (Kales). Still, my overall sense is that the trajectories do point, in Ausubel's evocative phrase, toward a "liberation of the environment." Perhaps the Rio meeting really was a turning point. The scope of this exploration is due in large part to Chauncey Starr, who insisted that we look many centuries back in order to locate ourselves in the present and to try to see decades and even centuries forward; and to Jesse Ausubel, who helped shape each essay. I hope this volume meets the wishes with which we began this effort: to provide stable, useful reference points for individuals as well as enterprises and governments on matters of the utmost long-run impor- tance.
Contents The Liberation of the Environment Jesse H. Ausubel Time for a Change: On the Patterns of Diffusion of Innovation Arnulf Grubler Population, Technology, and the Human Environment: A Thread Through Time Robert W. Kates How Much Land Can Ten Billion People Spare for Nature? Paul E. Waggoner Freeing Energy from Carbon Nebojsa Nakicenovic Life-styles and the Environment: The Case of Energy Lee Schipper Elektron: Electrical Systems in Retrospect and Prospect Jesse H. Ausubel and Cesare Marchetti . . V11 14 33 56 74 89 110
. ~ . V111 Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends Iddo K. Wernick, Robert Herman, SheLhar Govind, and Jesse H. Ausubel CONTENTS 135 Toward the End of Waste: Reflections on a New Ecology of Industry 157 Robert A. Frosch Humans in Nature: Toward a Physiocentric Philosophy Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich Sustaining the Human Environment: The Next Two Hundred Years Chauncey Starr Biographical Data Index 168 185 199 205
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