Chair: Kenneth Prewitt
President, Social Science Research Council
We are going to start. It is my unhappy responsibility to report that Andrew Steer is spending the day with Hurricane Fran. He could not get out of Washington because Fran came into Washington. I am chairing this session. I will not substitute a keynote address of my own.
There are several people who will get the floor at the conclusion of this panel, not for lengthy presentations but for making certain that a perspective or two that has been missing thus far from deliberations can be introduced.
The expectation is that we have the rest of the afternoon really for reasonably open conversation, that is more time from the floor than we have had thus far. So I think you can be sort of relaxed on the opportunity for people to speak.
We have obviously a distinguished set of panelists, as has been true in the earlier sessions. We will go right down the line, starting with Lowell Flanders, whose training was at UCLA in Public Administration and who has spent time abroad in both India and Central America, but has primarily been engaged in the UN system and has been deeply involved with a number of technical assistance activities. He is currently Assisting Director in the Division for Sustainable Development.
Assistant Director, Division for Sustainable Development, Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, United Nations Strengthening Access to Enabling Technologies
Thank you very much. Let me first of all extend very much the thanks of the Commission on Sustainable Development and also the Secretariat of the Commission to Professor Choucri and MIT for sponsoring this very important meeting that we have been attending over the last couple of days.
Contribution to 1997 Earth Summit Review
We anticipate this will be a very important contribution to our 1997 Earth Summit Review which will take place next year and which will try to look, as we have been doing, at what has happened since UNCED. I will try to be very brief because I also would like to get back to New York before Fran takes over and it is impossible to leave, not that I would not like to spend the weekend here at MIT. But in any case, it will give me some impetus to be as brief as possible.
We were sort of asked to address what are the practical steps for, in my particular case, strengthening enabling technologies. I would say this is one of the most difficult topics and tasks that we have had to deal with in the course of this discussion because as somebody noted yesterday, although we have a lot of good analysis about the problems and we have even good normative prescriptions about what should be done, there is still a pretty big gap between that and outlining practical steps that have to be taken to actually address some of these problems. We have been grappling with this particular thing within the Secretariat over the last four years in terms of how to put in front of the Commission on Sustainable Development practical measures that governments can take in this context. Of course, what constitutes practicality in a policy context and what may constitute practicality in everyday life may be somewhat different.
If some of the things I am going to say sound like "deja vu all over again," please bear with me. I will make a few points. A lot of things have been covered, and some of what I have to say has in one way or another been said. But I will try to be brief about it.
I just wanted to recount to you before starting, a couple of weeks back we had a visit from a Russian NGO and we were talking to him about sustainable development and what they are doing in Russia. He said something to us that I thought was very interesting. He said: you know, over the last 70 years during the Soviet system, our socialist planners told us that we could only have one pair of shoes because that was the most equitable thing to do. Now we have gotten rid of socialism. We were looking forward to having a more prosperous future and you sustainable development people come along and tell us we can only have only one pair of shoes because that is the best thing for the environment. So we are sort of right back to where we started.
I think this story is especially important in terms of the demographic information that we saw this morning in terms of where the new demands for consumption are going to be in the future, and that will be in the developing countries, in the countries in transition.
Various people have commented on this growing movement within industry towards increased resource and productive efficiency through cleaner production, and somebody is going to be speaking to us about industrial ecology and these other eco-efficiency concepts, but there is also the realization that improvements in efficiency at the current rate are not likely to keep pace with gross world production and this rapidly increasing world population. In fact, we are on an accelerating treadmill.
The more resource- and energy-intensive goods that are produced to satisfy the needs of a growing population, the more pollution we have to reduce in order to simply hold environmental quality constant.
Hence, significant and rapidly increasing gains in resource efficiency are required for us just to stay in place.
A recent study noted, however, that only 20% of North American and European companies are really at the forefront of eco-efficiency and cleaner production. It was noted in this study that a major difficulty of integrating environmental management into the business fabric is that there is a difference in culture between the environmental management side of business and the business side.
At the same time, front-runner companies are facing particular competitive disadvantages when the efforts associated with superior environmental performance are not rewarded in the marketplace. This occurs when there is limited or very uneven demand for innovative and environmentally preferred technologies across world markets.
I also wanted to mention the small and medium-sized industry sector because it has not really been talked about too much this morning or in the last two days.
The reality is that 80-90% of all enterprises around the world fall into the small- and medium-sized sector, and this is, in fact, the sector that is most difficult to communicate with and also has the greatest resource needs and also the greatest limitations in terms of finance and other capabilities of responding to sustainable development. So we have to give much more attention to this small and medium-sized sector.
Clearly the number one challenge we face is to bring companies across the globe into the cleaner production and eco-efficiency movement. But in the four years since Rio, we have only begun to scratch the surface in this effort. The main issue is what can be done to promote greater eco-efficiency in both the developed and developing countries, and what governments and industry can do to speed up the process of technological transformation.
I will briefly give one or two examples that are being done.
Examples Relevant to Small Enterprises
A few years ago in the United States it was reported that there were several communities in the Northwest that were plagued by problems of poor and even dangerous water supply. It turned out that many of these municipalities were using waste treatment facilities and technologies dating from the early part of the century. Clearly more advanced and efficient technologies were available, but up to the point of having a crisis, these municipalities were quite satisfied for economic reasons with their low-cost, out-of-date water treatment facilities.
Hence, the adoption of new technology, even within a country like the United States, does not depend entirely on the availability of better technologies or a conducive market setup. Recognition of the need to change, knowledge and information about how to change, and the financial resources necessary to change, as many have spoken about, are as important as the availability of the technologies themselves.
This raises a few key questions.
What is the incentive for adopting new technologies and in the case of developing countries, market development for new technologies? How do people or companies who need new technologies learn what is available? What capacity exists to use and adopt new technology? How does the new technology get financed?
Governments of both developed and developing countries have an important role to play in creating the demand for cleaner production and eco-efficiency methods and techniques and in accelerating this technology transfer process. This they can do as we have heard from various speakers, either by establishing environmental standards and regulations or through economic and market instruments which provide incentives to companies to adopt new technologies.
For developing countries, no doubt, and even developed countries, a combination of these approaches will be needed. Various studies have shown that well-formulated regulation can promote innovation which improves resource productivity to the levels where it may partially or more than fully offset the costs of compliance. When this happens, business becomes more competitive, not less.
The objections to regulations as they have traditionally been used is that in addition to being costly, they provide a standard for industry to achieve but do not encourage them to go further. While regulation is needed to deal with situations where major risks and uncertainty exist, efforts by governments to create the proper environment to stimulate the adoption of cleaner production processes through economic instruments and other strategies are becoming more widely used. Economic instruments and other tools, such as environmental taxes and charges, environmental subsidies and funds, negotiable emission instruments, joint implementation, voluntary agreements, and environmental performance bonds, are in use, at some level, in all regions of the world.
Environmental Management Standards
Another important trend that has been mentioned has been the adoption of environmental management standards and reporting requirements at national and international levels, notably the European Union's regulation on eco-management and audit and the ISO 14000 Standards which were mentioned earlier. If incentives work to promote market development, the next issue is access to information about technology alternatives. The situation with regard to information is rather contradictory, however, as most of you know.
Information for Decision-Making
On one hand, we read daily about the information superhighway, and we are sort of literally swamped with information. On the other hand, we seldom seem to have readily available the kind of information that is needed for good decision-making.
Facilitating information flows to small and medium-sized enterprises is a critical priority, since large companies usually have their own well-developed sources of information. There is a growing demand for environmental and technology information by small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries, but they face a lack of real-time on-line current information.
A key factor contributing to this gap is that information systems generally do not take into account the limited capacity of small enterprises to handle information effectively. For a company with limited resources, information is costly in terms of both time and money.
One promising example that has emerged in terms of providing potential information and support service mechanisms for small and medium-sized enterprises is provided by the Asian Pacific Center for Transfer of Technology, which is located in New Delhi. They have formed an international network for transfer of environmentally sound technology, and this network is targeted on small and medium-sized enterprises. They are trying to provide a brokering service between buyers and sellers of technology to developing countries. This could be, if more widely used, an interesting model to be followed in terms of intermediaries between buyers and sellers.
We also need an EST information system organized on a regional basis that can network institutions that use or supply information on environmentally sound technology, and could promote a decentralized approach based on the multiplicity of access points. This network should link up existing regional centers such as the one I just described to insure that information about ESTs is updated regularly and is available throughout the region.
There are currently quite a few regional centers for cleaner production that are being established by UNEP. What is missing at this point is linkages between these different regional centers in order to provide a better network of information throughout a region. This is maybe one of the areas for practical action in the future.
National technology-needs assessment is also one possible tool that has been used by some countries and is being experimented on by the Netherlands government and a few others in terms of facilitating and accelerating the diffusion of ESTs. Technology-needs assessment can be of value to a number of different actors in the technology transfer process.
For the national government of a country, it offers an opportunity of priority actions and technology transfer and capacity-building based on the assessment of actual technology demand. To different stakeholders in the target country, the technology needs assessment process is an opportunity to enter into a national dialog regarding socioeconomic and environmental strategies and to participate in the planning and execution of capacity-building actions related to the uptake of ESTs.
Sooner or later, of course, every issue comes back to financial means, and we have heard quite a bit about that already; so I am not going to go through all of this over again.
One of the things, though, to keep in mind is that capital generally is not attracted to technology by itself but is usually part of a larger capital investment program. One problem that we face in the international community in terms of monitoring what is going on with technology transfer is the fact that there is no really discreet information about what technology transfer is taking place at the present time. We do not have good information about it.
What also may be needed and might be an interesting initiative is some kind of technology fund. I think one of the reasons the Montreal Protocol has been fairly successful on the technology transfer side is that it did set up a specific fund to help finance this kind of technology and certainly that may be, in terms of the general technology transfer issue, something we need to look into for the future.
While I spend a lot of time talking about technology transfer and technology issues, we have to appreciate that technology cannot solve all the problems of sustainable development and that we very often seek in technology solutions to the very problems that technology has created.
The historical record suggests that many times new technologies have impacts and consequences that could not be foreseen at the time of their introduction. As important as it is, technology ultimately can only reduce the impact of the production system. There also is a danger that technology transfer may become a kind of prescription for all of our environmental ills, reducing sustainable development to a technology fix which masks the prevailing paradigm of business as usual.
But we must make a dramatic shift in the way we produce, distribute, consume, and dispose of our goods.
Next is Professor Jiang, who is a distinguished guest today from China, where he teaches both at the University of Beijing and Fudan University. He is a systems theorist and he brings experience in demography and economics as well as systems analysis.
In addition, I should note that he has been a Deputy Minister of the Family Planning Commission of China for half a dozen years, and those who follow family planning policy in China will know that is no small set of tasks and responsibilities, and no small success.
Concurrent Professor of University of Beijing, Jiaotong University, Fudan University Deputy Minister of the State Family Planning Commission of China
Responding to New Insights on Critical Socio-economic Demographic Shifts
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and also thank you very much, Dr. Choucri, for giving me this opportunity to talk to these distinguished guests.
Socio-economic and demographic shift of the world
The debate on population growth, economic development, and resources protection has lasted for many years. There are mainly two schools: Neo-Malthusians and Cornucopians, both of which cite evidence to support their point of view. For example, since the beginning of this century, the number of people inhabiting our planet has multiplied more than 3 times, while the world economy has grown by 20 times in the same period. From this comparison, it might seem that population growth is not a major problem.
Growth and Differentials
In the past 100 years, the consumption of fossil fuels has increased by 30 times. Of this growth, three-quarters of fossil fuel consumption and four-fifths of industrial production growth occurred after the 1950s. Socio-economic development pushed the world which was disrupted by the war into a new peaceful and prosperous era. However, the high productivity and advanced technology has also created serious problems and brought us new responsibilities. First, expansion of mining has created extensive exchanges of material and energy between the earth and the atmosphere. Second, millions of man-made chemicals have entered the world's waters and atmosphere with serious consequences. Third, large quantities of industrial wastes have polluted the environment and in many places have disrupted the ecological balance of nature.
Along with the progress of socio-economic development, the tempo of population growth also accelerated. Since 1950, the size of world's population increased from 2.5 billion to 5.8 billion. According to the UN's population projection, the number of people living on our planet will pass 10 billion in the middle of the next century.
In developing countries, although food production has increased rapidly in the last half century, the growing population has consumed all of the agricultural progress. For instance, the output of grain in China was 113.2 million tons in 1949. This increased to 465 million tons in 1995, three times more than that of 45 years ago. In the same period, the Chinese population doubled from 541.67 million to 1.21 billion. Although the growth rate of food production exceeded that of population, the Chinese people still place heavy pressure on the cereal supply with the increasing demands of industry, changes in diet, and loss of arable land.
Shortages and Scarcities
More than half of the countries in Africa experienced a drop in per-capita cereal production in the 1980s. The performance of Latin America was even worse. The number of people suffering from malnutrition has been increasing over the last 20 years, and the world food market is increasingly dependent on the performance of North American farmers. When drought hit the United States in 1988, world cereal stocks dropped from 24 percent of global consumption in 1986-87 to a dangerously low 17 percent and decreased further to 16 percent last year. In recent years, the unstable global weather system has caused serious food crises, and the number of people suffering from food shortage has increased from 800 million in late 1980s to 1 billion. Among these, 260 to 390 million people suffer seriously from malnutrition.
In brief, we have the good news that over a long period of time, economic development has been going quite well. But the bad news is that population size has increased at a high rate, and living standards have declined in many areas of the world.
Changing Views of Development and Population Linkages
In light of the figures presented here, the views of governments on population and development have undergone dramatic change. In the 1950s and 1960s, fast economic growth and improving living standards led people to the conclusion that economic development will solve the population problem. The Green revolution doubled food output in many areas within only 10 years, and cheap energy pushed industrial production forward continually.
However, some scholars and scientists warned that the situation must change sooner or later. The founder of the Green revolution made a short speech when he received the Nobel Prize in which he said that in his best estimate, the Green revolution provided only 30 years for the world to solve the population problem.
Shifts Around the 1970s
The 1970s was a critical period of time for the world. The negative side of economic development became apparent.
The Green revolution caused degradation of arable land. According to the USA National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. has lost one-third of its fertile surface soil, while the world would lose all its precious surface soil of the cultivated land within 150 years if soil erosion continued at its present rate.
In the 1980s
The UNFPA reported at the beginning of the 1980s that the cereal production of the world could feed 6 billion people then. But at that time, there were 450 million people in the world who did not have enough food. The size of world's population was 4.5 billion when the report was published.
Today, the world population approaches 5.8 billion and the number of starving people has increased to 1 billion, much higher than the figure given by UNFAO experts at the beginning of the 1980s. As a matter of fact, the food supply situation is much worse than predicted previously due to a high population growth rate and ineffective distribution as well as institutional and political problems.
By the 1990s
The rapid increase in the cost of energy in the 1970s revealed that the high economic growth rate in 1950s and 1960s was unreliable. Throughout the 1980s and the beginning of 1990s, the world economy suffered from stagnation, and in many countries, the environmental problem became a serious socio-economic one and even a political problem.
The greenhouse effect, acid rain, deforestation, soil erosion, and many other global problems have begun to threaten our everyday life and that of our descendants. The ideal of sustainable development has gradually become accepted by many countries.
The Regional Example: China
I will take China as an example to illustrate the serious consequences caused by socio-economic and demographic shift. To resolve these environmental problems will cost a lot in money, resolve, and ingenuity.
The annual growth rate of GDP in China was 8% from 1985 to 1990, compared to 3.3% for the world. In the last five years, the annual GDP growth rate of China went up to 12% (4.1% for agriculture and 17.8% for the industrial sector). Meanwhile, the total population of China has increased from 540 million in 1949 to 800 million in 1969 and 1.21 billion at the end of 1995. The fast population growth has been partly due to the dramatic reduction of mortality; life expectancy of the Chinese increased from 35 years before 1949 to 69 in the 1990 census year, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 200% to below 50%. Using income in 1978 as a standard, the annual growth rate of per capita income has been 15.5% in urban and 14.8% in rural areas. It seems as if population growth might not be a major problem. But, the bad news is:
The employment problem became a heavy burden for China. At present, the labor surplus is 120 million in rural area -- even though 100 million laborers have already been absorbed by the rural industries. In cities, about one fourth of the employees are underemployed. It has been estimated that the surplus labor force will further increase to 190 million by the year 2000.
The number of people aged 60 and above will be 128 million in 2000, accounting for 10% of the total population. This figure will reach 379 million in the year 2050 -- more than the total population of the United States.
The number of people living under the poverty line has dropped from 200 million before 1980 to 60 million last year. These are mainly concentrated in 18 poor regions, including high mountains, rocky mountains, and other areas where very few resources are available.
The income distribution used to be equal in China. The GINI coefficient was below 0.01 before 1980 but has now increased to 0.34 and will further increase to 0.4 or higher. On one hand, this change has gone along with greater efficiency of the economy, but on the other, it has also raised conflicts among different social groups.
These problems may be solved in different ways while maintaining socio-economic development. But there are some problems created specifically by socio-economic development: The rivers, lakes and reservoirs received 12 billion tons of waste and polluted water in 1975. Twenty years later, the amount of waste and polluted water increased to 42 billion tons.
Acid rain became very common in many areas; in particular, Southwest China became one of three acid rain regions in the world. The water in some rivers smells appallingly bad.
Fish and shrimp have disappeared in these waters, where there used to be an abundant aquatic food resource. In several hundred cities, shortage of water became a severe problem. In recent years, the Yellow River has dried up in its lower reaches once or twice a year. Preservation of resources and environment protection has now become an urgent problem for China.
Government Response: Efforts and Results
China's government pays great attention to these problems.
The Environmental Protection Bureau was set up under the State Council. In the People's Congress, there is a special Environment Committee. An environmental protection committee was also established in the State Council, with members from related ministries. There are 88,000 people working in the Environment Protection System and 2,184 monitoring stations with a 34,000 staff located in different regions; and 793 natural protection regions, covering 71,720,000 hectares of land, were established, accounting for 7.2% of the territory. Among these regions, 98 are at the national level.
By the end of 1995, 362 items setting environmental protection standards were published. In 1995, China's government invested 3.67 billion Yuan (about U.S.$430 million) to implement 4,397 projects to deal with pollution problems. In 530 cities, 3,002 dust and smoke control areas covering 12,532 sq.km. and 1980 noise control areas covering 5,144 sq.km. land were established. Since last year, more than 100 factories were forced to close due to pollution control reasons.
Progress is visible. Water quality is changing for the better. Meanwhile, each year 4 to 5 billion Yuan has been invested in the family planning program to reduce the population growth rate, thereby relieving the heavy pressure on resources. International sources supplied around 2 to 3 million U.S. dollars each year for family planning, which has accounted for less than 1% of the government's investment in this program.
Government Response: Problems and Challenges
Not all things are going so smoothly. There are still many problems.
Different levels of government may have different targets. For instance, some members of the People's Congress visited a country in a remote province where the head of the country had built a factory which seriously polluted the key water resource of the province.
The Congressmen indicated that the factory should be shut down and the head of the country should be punished. But, a few months later, when they visited the same spot again, they found that the factory was still there and the man had been promoted due to the contribution of the factory to economic development of that area. Clearly, long-term environmental considerations were downplayed here.
Literacy and knowledge is important, but not always sufficient to solve pollution problems. A good example is one of my students who after graduating from university worked in a fertilizer factory which produced serious air pollution. When he was a technician, he urged the head of the factory to adopt a plan to control pollution. A few years later, he became the head of the factory; in this position he kept quiet, doing nothing about pollution. Some years ago, he was promoted to mayor of the city, and once again he strongly urged the factory to take responsibility for its pollution.
This example indicates that some sort of mechanism should be established to encourage people to be concerned about the problem, no matter what their status in the economy.
These mechanisms could include laws, economic and political responsibilities, administrative duties, and mandated evaluation procedures, etc.
Regional conflicts are frequent. Very often we find that a factory at the upper reaches of a river makes pollution, while people at the lower reaches suffer. But these areas may belong to different administrative regions.
Thus, some kind of inter-regional coordinating organization should exist and be authorized to negotiate between differing interest groups, with the central government using strong administrative means to coordinate necessary joint actions.
The economically developed regions should give aid to developing regions. In China, developed and developing regions are organized into pairs so that systematic cooperation could be continued.
The Future of the World
What will be the future of our descendants? Whether they will enjoy happy life and create a better society or suffer from shortage resources depends on us. Our beautiful planet belongs to all people, including the future generations. Nobody has the right to damage this precious island of life in the universe. It is beginning to be widely recognized that only through the cooperation of all countries in implementing a sustainable development strategy can we save our home.
Difference of Views
There are different views on the carrying capacity of the world's population, ranging from 1 billion to 100 billion. However, most scientists agree that 10 billion to 20 billion will be the maximum supportable size of global population. Fortunately, we may be able to stabilize the population size at around 12 billion by the end of next century.
A number of studies of integrated plans have been produced -- for example, those discussed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IIASA, the efforts at the Institute for Economic Analysis for UNCED, The Global 2000 Report to the President, The Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits, International Futures, the Sustainable Society for Canada Project, The Road to 2010: Looking Toward the Next Two Decades, and others. Some scholars estimate that a fivefold to tenfold increase in economic activity would be required over the next 50 years in order to meet the needs and aspirations of a burgeoning world population as well as to begin to reduce mass poverty.
To achieve this to goal, joint efforts of governments and people all over the world are necessary.
Need for Synthetic View
There are different definitions for sustainable development, including ecological sustainability, sustainable living, maximum net economic benefit with a qualified resource supply, the greening of technology, etc. A synthetic view should take into consideration all factors which are likely to have important impacts on our future. Neglect of any one of the socio-economic and demographic factors may cost a lot sooner or later.
National and Global Responsibility
Governments have special responsibilities on a national basis as well as for the whole world. Integrated actions should be taken to deal with key problems, such as global warming, environmental degradation, deforestation, etc. International agreements should be made and respected in order to address global challenges and take care of the interests of different countries, particularly small, poor, and vulnerable countries. Clear policies and special action and agencies are necessary for every country.
Pioneering model communes for sustainable development are very useful in convincing people to accept the concept of sustainability and to provide practical experience. Some examples exist in different countries, and international organizations should create facilities for people to learn from these examples.
Science and technological progress is the key to promoting sustainable development, and in particular, technologies for the best use of resources and waste materials should be given the highest priority. These technologies should be distributed free of charge. Clean production technology, environmental monitoring techniques, disaster forecasting technology, and integrated research on sustainable development are very important for our future.
Population is an important factor and one of key determinants for sustainable development. Family planning programs play a significant role in curbing the dramatic growth of the world's population.
However, it remains important for the international community to support family planning over a long period of time.
Clearly there are other issues of priority. But it is important to focus on select items for action. We have to overcome a lot of difficulties, and an overall solution is not here yet. But we should move step by step and set a limited target for each step. I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. We cannot solve the problem in one package, but we can make progress.
Let me remind you: The scholars emphasize what we should do. The decision makers emphasize what can be done.
Thank you very much Dr. Jiang. The practical problems are real.
Dr. Braden Allenby, whose primary responsibilities are at Lucent Technologies, where he is Research Vice President for Technology and Environment, but who is currently spending a couple of years at Lawrence Livermore directing their energy and environmental systems work, is particularly noted for his work on "industrial ecology." If you do not know what that means, you are about to.
Braden R. Allenby
Director for Energy and Environmental Systems, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Research Vice President, Technology and Environment, Lucent Technologies
Achieving Sustainability: Industrial Ecology Research Requirements
I would like to start by making four points.
The first is that technology is a critical system, especially in the short term, and it is critical because many technological systems can be evolved over a relatively short period, especially as compared to cultural systems. Therefore, in a sense technological evolution in the short term is a way to buy time to make cultural changes that we are nowhere ready to accept yet.
The second is that we need an intellectual framework to support the development of a science and technology base for sustainability.
The third point is that we do not have that. Our ignorance is profound, and we do not respect that ignorance the way we should. We think we know a lot more than we actually do.
The fourth point follows from that.
It is fair to say although perhaps for this point in the afternoon -- I will say it rather aggressively -- that we are not yet serious about the environment. And one of the fundamental reasons is that we do not know how to be serious about the environment yet.
Let me begin by providing a framework, which, although it is very simple, has proven very useful both at AT&T and at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories for thinking about some of these issues. I think it is important to have a vision about where it is you want to be. That vision is obviously sustainable development.
The problem with sustainable development, as everybody here knows, is that it is extraordinarily ambiguous, and it is almost impossible to operationalize.
Sustainable development includes a lot of dimensions which are not part of industrial ecology. For example, sustainable development has dimensions of population and culture and organizational change which are not picked up by industrial ecology. You can think of industrial ecology as the science and technology base for sustainable development.
The industrial ecology infrastructure is the answer to this question: supposing you can give incentives to consumers and producers to want to do the right thing, what do you as a society need to provide them to do the right thing? It includes, for example, prioritizing risks so that when you have a choice as a manufacturer between a possible increase in global climate change as opposed to toxics and water, you have an idea of what society's priorities are.
Sector initiatives answers is what is going on now in a lot of individual sectors in the economy, albeit at a fairly experimental level. Design for environment is the kind of thing that is done primarily in manufacturing, the electronic sector, the automobile sector, and to some extent aerospace. Sustainable agriculture in forestry is obviously very important because agriculture and forestry are where a lot of immediate intersections between human systems, artifactual systems and natural systems occur.
The buzz word is "sustainable" agriculture and "sustainable" forestry. The problem is nobody really knows what that means. I suggest that the reason is that if you begin to look at it in sort of a systems perspective, what they are trying to do is to tie this specific activity right now into the concept of sustainable development without knowing what that means. Sustainable energy systems -- that is the official plan of the Department of Energy for the United States. I do not know what a sustainable energy system is.
The industrial ecology research agenda is what I will show you next. It is very much a work in progress, but what it does do is begin to indicate some of the work that needs to be done if we are going to start talking about some of these concepts with a little more rigor and a little more seriousness.
Materials, Models and Databases
If I were to ask a design team to design a "green computer," their first question reasonably would be to ask what materials should be used. The answer is we have no idea because we do not know what the environmental impacts are that are embedded in materials. Now if we do not know that fundamental fact, I suggest that we have an awfully long way to go before we can talk about a "green computer" in a very robust way.
Comprehensive Risk Assessments and Risk Prioritization
Most of the decisions that you make in the real world do not occur when you are working at the level of: Is substance A more potentially carcinogenic than substance B? It occurs at the level of: Do I invest here, or do I invest there? Do I take this action, do I take that action? What is the effect of this policy? In that real world, there are always tradeoffs.
The problem is partially because of our desire not to admit that there are any risks; we do not have a robust decision structure to support making the kind of comparisons we need to do. The result is not that we do not make the decisions and have the impacts. The result is that we do not have a way to know whether we are making the right decision.
Now what kinds of things might an industrial ecology research structure involve? This is based on some very preliminary work by a group of industrial ecologists called the Vishnus (Vishnu being the Hindu god known as the preserver), in comparison to the Jasons, who are physicists who do a lot of very heavy duty lifting on things like nuclear weapons.
This is based on some of the preliminary work that the Vishnus have done trying to develop an industrial ecology research agenda. I put up the slide here not because it is final but because I think it is an interesting way of understanding how little we really do know.
Think about the kinds of units and systems that you want to understand as you think about sustainability. Well, the most obvious is materials. Where do they go? What are the material stocks and flows in our society? What happens when it crosses national boundary lines? What is it as you start to move around the world and get into a global economy? How does it differ in a country like China? Good questions. How do we regulate materials and know we are doing the right thing without having that information?
The impact of energy is very obvious and yet energy is also critical and has been critical to the development of every economy and probably will be. It is very important to begin to get a handle on the impacts of various kinds of energy decisions because those decisions are being made right now in places like Asia. Once the energy infrastructure is in place, it is in place for decades.
Products: Simple versus Complex
Simple product is something like a shampoo or a pesticide, where the functionality of a product depends on its material composition. Pesticide works because you put poison in it if you are making a good pesticide.
A complex product is something like a 747, where the impact of a product depends not so much on the material choice as it does the use to which that product is put in society. I could figure out the environmental impacts of every material in a 747 and still have very little idea about its overall impact because of its role in the economy. That is a complex product.
One of our problems is that we have developed some tools that work with simple products, and now we are trying to apply them to complex products without understanding that there is a difference. This is not a criticism of that effort, which should be undertaken. It is to say that we need to play and experiment with these methodologies to understand where they apply and do not apply, how to use them, and under what circumstances they are valid and not valid.
Services and Service Sectors
These have an enormous impact on environmental systems in at least two ways. The first way is if you look at services such as retailing, as you get large retailers, their ability to impact the technology used by their suppliers is substantial. They are important leverage for environmental improvement. Some retailers, like Home Depot, are in fact doing that. That is a very, very salutary effect of the service industry.
The other side of the service industry is something like transportation. A lot of times when people think about the environmental impact of a product, they look at the product, they look at the materials, they look at the way it is made, and they forget that the sub-assemblies in this thing have been probably shipped around the world several times by the time it finally gets into the product and then the product itself is shipped all over the world. The transportation impact can be enormous in product design.
Moving towards sustainability is going to imply that the technologies of some sectors are going to be very important, whereas other sectors are obviously going to get hurt. Because you get in trouble talking about sectors that are going to get hurt, I will not do that. But think about some of the technologies and capabilities that are going to be important in a sustainable world, e.g., biological engineering, not just biotechnology but understanding how to put biological systems in appropriate places in engineered systems. It requires a completely different way of thinking about engineering because biological systems are not made to do the same things that engineered systems are.
When I do an engineered system, my interest is usually throughput, maximum throughput. Most biological systems want to exist and be stable.
They will evolve, of course, but their aim is stability of bio-mass or something along those lines. Integrating those different kinds of systems in such a way that they make sense is very difficult, but I think it is going to be important.
Another sector that is going to be critical is telecommunications and electronics.
The modern car has achieved enormous increases in efficiency in its drive system over the last ten years. If you look at the figures, the increases in efficiency track fairly closely to the increases in computing power that is built into the modern automobile.
I am sure most of you know the modern automobile has more computing power in it than your PC by at least a factor of several times, depending on the car. Then you have a whole series of systems that you need to think about in terms of scaled separate systems integrating into each other.
An example is a community: you have a community, but if the community makes itself "sustainable" by shipping all its material down the Rhine River, then it is not really very sustainable, which means that you have to not only understand the community in terms of its operations, but you need to understand the way it integrates into higher level systems in such a way that it is a graceful integration.
Now these are just some of the analyses that you would want to do to try to understand these systems. I will not go through them all. I think they are fairly self-evident, but think about it this way. Probably at present we can say that we know bits and pieces of information in here, and what we do know is vastly outweighed even in the case of, say, materials stocks and flows by what we do not know yet.
When you start getting into some of these more complex systems, we know very, very little at all. So that is what I say when I say that I think we really do not understand much about sustainability yet.
One of the reasons that sustainability right now is such a difficult word for some people is that a lot of arguments that should be made on the basis of good science and technology are being made on the basis of ideology. Of course, that is a "bum's game."
You have your ideology, I have mine. We can fight about them ad nauseam, but it really does not matter. On the other hand, if we begin developing some of this information, we can begin to separate out the kinds of arguments that need to occur at a cultural and ideological level, and there are those, and the kinds of things that in fact simply reflect our ignorance of the concept that we are dealing with.
I would suggest this indicates is that if we are really serious about sustainability, then one of the things that we ought to be funding that we are not now are centers in various regions of the world to begin looking at exactly these issues in terms of their culture and in terms of their physical structures.
A lot of this work is not even being done in the U.S., but even less is being done in some of the developing areas of the world. It is very important that that input gets into this kind of structure before the developed world builds in its own technologies and assumptions into this kind of system. So if anybody is looking for things to fund, I think that would be a good thing to do.
Concepts of Complex Systems
The other thing that is kind of interesting about this -- and it is interesting in an unusual way -- involves the concepts of complex systems. By that I do not mean the science of complexity, which has kind of become something fun for the comic pages. I mean really complex systems.
Most of you know it is a very profound difference in the approach to science that goes all the way back to Taoism in early China. Now what is interesting is that those two different approaches to science -- (a) the holistic and the organic, as opposed to (b) the reductionist -- have never really been brought together, and they are very strong in their respective cultures.
What is kind of interesting about something like this is that in order for this to work, you really have to begin to integrate those two. So if you really want to get sort of Hegelian about this, you can pick which one you want to be your thesis and antithesis, but this kind of study almost demands a synthesis of the Eastern and Western traditions in science, which I actually find kind of "nifty" in a weird way.
John Preston, who has certainly put in his time at MIT, spent ten years here as Director of Technology Development where he was deeply involved in the commercialization of a number of technologies, and is currently CEO of his own firm that is engaged in those issues once again, especially with energy saving technologies, some of which we are about to see.
John T. Preston
President and Chief Executive Officer, Quantum Energy Technologies Corporation
Practical Moves Toward Sustainability
Actually, it is tough to follow these speakers because I am indeed a technologist out of MIT.
I am going to give a much more upbeat vision of technology, even though I recognize that changes in behavior would yield enormous benefits. I am going to talk about technology and the possibility of technology creating solutions for some of the environmental problems. In doing this, I recognize the fact that technology created many of these problems in the first place.
For example, if we did not have the technology to print millions of tons of paper every day and cut down trees and computer generate the text that goes on newspapers, we would not lose a forest every morning to our daily newspaper.
Ninety Percent of Scientists & Engineers
We live in interesting times. Ninety percent of all the scientists and engineers that have ever lived in the history of mankind are alive today and we are generating new technologies at a rate much faster than we ever did in the past.
This place (MIT) where we are sitting generates two inventions every day. Just an incredible engine for inventiveness and entrepreneurship.
One of the reasons technology has had "mixed results" in the past is that there have been unexpected results from the application of technology. This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are starting to analyze the environmental impacts of our technology as we are developing those technologies.
We have never done this in the past. When the airplane or the automobile was invented, no one thought about what is that going to mean for air pollution 60 years from now. But we are indeed starting to think about that right now.
I am going to move rapidly through a couple of slides. You are going to have to be speed readers because I want to frame the problem and much of this you already know.
U.S. waste generation each year: the one key point I want to leave with you is 53 tons per waste per year per capita. That is an incredibly large amount of waste.
A professor in Germany did a very nice study on water and found that annually over 500 tons of water are moved per capita in Germany. The U.S. is about the same. The extent of the problem even in a very clean country like the United States is incredible. Forty percent of our lakes and rivers are polluted. One in three drinking sources are violating local standards -- and so on.
This is an interesting one: sixty thousand Americans die each year because of airborne pollutants. That is more than are killed in automobile accidents each year. It is clearly not just limited to the elderly. In Mexico City for example, 70% of the residents have respiratory ailments. The average age in Mexico City is about 20 years old. You can see how this is really affecting young people. There was an interesting study done on air pollution in the United States. The study found that life expectancy is shortened by two years if you live in Los Angeles. I would guess that living in Mexico City shortens your life expectancy by more than five years.
The greenhouse effect: I think we all acknowledge this problem. Seventy percent of the earth's surface is made up of water. As you heat that surface, you put more water in the atmosphere. As you put more water in the atmosphere, you create more frequent and more violent storms. There is just no question in my mind that greenhouse effect gases are severely modifying our climate today, creating more "one-in-a-hundred-years" storms than can be explained statistically. We have numerous headlines in the paper highlighting recent weather problems.
Having framed the problem now in two minutes, let us talk about some of the trends that we are seeing in the U.S.
Trends in the U.S.
We are actually seeing some good trends in air pollution with exception of the greenhouse effect gases which have gone up over the last ten years. But lead, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and so on have gone down. Water. We have seen probably some of the best results in improving water quality in the United States over the last decade, from 1980 to 1990, with the exception of ocean dumping, which since this study was completed has gone down. So we are seeing good results with water.
I think we see that one of the worst problems is that 53 tons of solid waste per year per capita is not going down. We have seen increases in almost every type of solid waste generation in the United States.
Now I actually think that technology is our best hope for solving this problem because it is very difficult to change human behavior without making that change more economically attractive.
Claims on Others
For instance if we were to ask China, "please do not generate as much electricity per capita as the United States does because you will quadruple the greenhouse effect gases that go into the atmosphere" (because likely they will use coal as the way to generate electricity). We cannot make that request because it is an unfair request, especially if reducing the pollution costs more than burning the coal. We must make the environmentally clean alternatives cheaper than current practices. The nice thing about technology is that occasionally we can come up with a technological solution that costs less and pollutes the environment less.
Let us talk about what is happened in technologies over the last decade. I am going to give you three phases of how technologies have started to be applied to solving environmental problems.
The first set of solutions I think of as "plugging leaks," i.e., making your systems tighter. For example, since 1970, the chemical industries have doubled their output while cutting their pollution 60-90% and halving the energy involved. Nippon Steel, for example, reduced emissions 75% since 1987. Ciba Geigy is down 62%; that is while upping production at Ciba Geigy. 3M in the United States has also dramatically reduced pollution while increasing output.
If you look, for example, at natural gas production in the former Soviet Union, and you compare it to natural gas production in the United States, over 10% of the gas pumped out of wells in the former Soviet Union has leaked into the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect gases. In Western Europe and the United States, it is less than one percent. These gains are achieved by having tighter engineering. In fact, by tightening leaks, we would significantly improve yield of production. The greenhouse effect gases leaked by the former Soviet Union gas system probably contribute more than a quarter of the greenhouse effect in the world right now.
Destruction of Waste
Second round of technologies that started emerging in the 1980s was what I call destruction of waste. In the early 1980s or late 1970s, we had companies like Clean Harbors, Rollins, Waste Management, and a number of others were formed around the idea of: let us take our hazardous materials and destroy them in a cleaner, more environmentally benign way. Incineration was the dominant technology used worldwide.
The problem with incineration is that you take a hazardous material and you convert it from a solid form or a liquid form into CO2 and other gases that are released to the atmosphere and also into an ash that gets landfilled. That ash and the gases released could still have hazardous properties, so you are actually shifting the waste from one form to another.
Re-Process & Re-Use
In the 1990s we are starting to see some new technologies emerge that look more promising. One of the companies out on the West Coast, for example, has come up with a way of reusing asphalt to make roads. Instead of starting with the raw materials, they actually reuse the asphalt that was on the road before and reprocess it and lay it down again.
The net effect of this technology is that instead of using 100 barrels of oil for every one lane mile that they build, they are using three barrels of oil and improving the economics at the same time. One of the companies that I started with Maurice Strong, Bill Haney, and Chris Nagle is called Molten Metal Technology where we take hazardous waste and inject it into liquid steel, and then we break the waste into its atoms. So a PCB, a hazardous material, becomes carbon, chlorine, and hydrogen industrial products. Thus we mine wastes for their atoms and sell those atoms as products. So you have waste in, products out, totally closed, no emissions released to the atmosphere.
Breaking the Paradigm
For the first time we break a 200 year old paradigm. The 200 year old paradigm is that since the Industrial Revolution industry creates waste, and more industry creates more waste. Here we have the ability to harvest our wastes and mine them for their atoms and resell them as products.
Now most of these companies are starting by treating wastes that I consider to be at the top of the pyramid. -- the most expensive ones to get rid of. For example, radioactive waste is much more difficult to get rid of than household waste. So Molten Metals started with radioactive waste because the economics are driven not just by the recycling of the atoms but by the fees that are for taking that problem away.
The fundamental economics though of this type of technology, in my opinion, will enable the economic recycling of the wastes at the bottom of the pyramid. Within ten years, I hope, we will be able to treat household waste as a mineable material because the atoms recovered will be useable as valuable products and the economics will be high enough to pay for the cost of running the plant.
I am working at Quantum Energy on a fundamental new understanding of energy exchange mechanisms developed in part at MIT and at the U.S. Air Force. This understanding has led us to is a new way to think about making energy related products that greatly reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we would consume while improving the environmental benefit.
I thought that I would bring just one sample because I could put it on the overhead projector, but this is by no means everything we are working on.
This is a solar cell, and the interesting thing about this solar cell is it uses no semiconductor materials. Normally you would have compounds like silicon that would be expensive materials to make. They are energy-intensive to make and have a long (20-year) payback on energy. This solar cell is ten percent efficient. The most expensive material in this device is the glass. One of the major active ingredients in this cell is titanium dioxide, which is in the whitener used in toothpaste. It is a very cheap material, very commonly available, but it is in a different configuration that allows us to extract energy from common benign materials.
We are moving to apply this technology in very inexpensive processes, such as printing the solar cell on a polymer film.
Reducing Costs Further
Our hope is that we could make this cheaper than burning coal to generate electricity. If we make it cheaper than burning coal to generate electricity, then I think that China as well as the U.S. will want to adopt this technology.
Thank you to the panelists. The floor is about to be opened for a general discussion of the issue posed. I have asked three persons who have asked to speak. In each instance they represent sort of the industrial sector on the assumption I think understood that perhaps we have not entirely balanced the presentations.
I would extend an invitation for a focused comment, if that is all right.