Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sustainability: 4 Scenarios for the 21st Century

A report from the Tellus Institute: "The Century Ahead: Searching for Sustainability"
Download the full report in pdf format
Excerpted summaries of  the four scenarios:

 2.1. Market Forces: Market-centered Development
Market Forces is constructed as a future in which free market optimism remains dominant and proves well-founded. As population expands by 40 percent by 2050 and free trade and deregulation drive growth, the global economy expands over three-fold by 2050, eightfold by 2100. All economic figures in this paper are expressed in purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars, which takes account of national differences in the cost of living when converting to a common currency. The availability of sufficient resources- raw materials, land, water, energy- and the means of maintaining ecological resilience in such a huge economy are critical uncertainties. The challenge of satisfying bio-physical sustainability constraints would be compounded by the challenge of maintaining social and economic sustainability in a world of profound inequalities between rich and poor countries, and within each country. Instability and conflict could undercut the evolutionary dynamics of the scenario, triggering a descent of civilization toward a Fortress World or more chaotic outcomes.

2.2. Policy Reform: Directing Growth
Policy Reform assumes the emergence of a massive government-led effort achieves sustainability without major changes in the state-centric international order, modern institutional structures, and consumerist values. Strong and harmonized policies are implemented that, by redirecting the world economy and promoting technological innovation, are able to achieve internationally recognized goals for poverty reduction, climate change stabilization, ecosystem preservation, freshwater protection, and pollution control. The scenario meets tough stabilization targets for carbon dioxide emissions and, in rough compatibility with United Nations Millennium Development Goals, halves world hunger between 2005 and 2025 (then halves it again by 2050).
 Policy Reform is designed as a backcast constrained to meet the objectives shown in Table 5. As total greenhouse emissions decline, growth continues in developing countries for two decades as redistribution policies raise incomes of the poorest regions and most impoverished people. Although such transfers have been debated at climate negotiations, with little success to date, our analysis indicates that a Policy Reform approach will require a deep and widespread commitment to economic equity. As poorer countries converge toward the living standards of richer countries, they accelerate investment in environmentally sustainable practices.
Implementing this grand policy program in the context of Conventional Worlds values and institutions would not be easy: intergovernmental efforts to address sustainability challenges over the past two decades have not succeeded. The Policy Reform path would require unprecedented political will for establishing the necessary regulatory, economic, social, technological, and legal mechanisms.

2.3. Fortress World: An Authoritarian Path
If the market adaptations and policy reforms of Conventional Worlds were to prove insufficient for redirecting development away from destabilization, the global trajectory could veer in an unwelcome direction. Fortress World explores the possibility that powerful world forces, faced with a dire systemic crisis, impose an authoritarian order where elites retreat to protected enclaves, leaving impoverished masses outside. In our troubled times, Fortress World seems the true business-as-usual  scenario to many. In this dark vision, the global archipelago of connected fortresses seeks to control a damaged environment and restive population. Authorities employ geo-engineering techniques to stabilize the global climate, while dispatching- peace-keeping  militia to multiple hotspots in an attempt to quell social conflict and mass migration. But the results are mixed: emergency measures and spotty infrastructure investment cannot keep pace with habitat loss and climate change, nor provide adequate food and water to desperate billions. In this kind of future, sustainable development is not in the cards, a half-remembered dream of a more hopeful time.

2.4. Great Transition: A Sustainable Civilization
In dramatic contrast, Great Transition envisions a values-led change in the guiding paradigm of global development. The transformation is catalyzed by the push-pull of deepening crises and the  desire for a just, sustainable, and planetary civilization. A pluralistic transnational world order coalesces as a growing cultural and political movement of global citizens spurs the establishment of effective governance institutions. The new paradigm is rooted in a triad of ascendant values: human solidarity, ecological resilience, and quality of life. Less consumerist lifestyles moderate the growth thrust of Conventional Worlds scenarios, as notions of the  good life turn toward qualitative dimensions of well-being: creativity, leisure, relationships, and community engagement.
Population stabilizes more rapidly than in other scenarios as more equal gender roles and universal access to education and health care services lower birth rates in developing countries. The world approaches a steady-state economy with incomes reaching about $30,000 per person by 2100, three times the current average. Although this figure is well below the $50,000 of Conventional Worlds, the egalitarian income distributions of Great Transition leave most people far better off, while the
improved social cohesion reduces conflict. In this deeply sustainable vision, crises still linger, but the world is able to confront them with enhanced institutions for reconciliation and cooperation."

Source: Tellus Institute: "The Century Ahead: Searching for Sustainability"
Tellus Institute website

Friday, February 4, 2011

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

2010 ended up tying for the hottest year globally. It was also the wettest. Scientific consensus is ascribing the  pace of extreme weather events during the year, such as the flooding in Pakistan,  to the 'increased energy in the climatic system'.

In the meantime, in Washington, the recent GOP victories in the Congress have put climate-change-deniers in the ascendancy, even in charge of the relevant congressional committees. The new House Majority wants to eliminate the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and block the EPA from regulating carbon and  roll back other climate regulations.

For the record then, here is a statement written and signed by 250 members of the National Academies of Science in May of last year, intended for publication as an Op-Ed in a major newspaper, but which was refused by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. Finally, it was published as a letter in Science.

Science 7 May 2010: Vol. 328 no. 5979 pp. 689-690
Climate Change and the Integrity of Science
We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.
Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial- scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That's what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of "well-established theories" and are often spoken of as "facts."
For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5 billion years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14 billion years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today's organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.
Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:
(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.
Much more can be, and has been, said by the world's scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels.
We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.
P. H. Gleick*, R. M. Adams, R. M. Amasino, E. Anders, D. J. Anderson, W. W. Anderson, L. E. Anselin,M. K. Arroyo, B. Asfaw, F. J. Ayala, A. Bax, A. J. Bebbington, G. Bell, M. V. L. Bennett, J. L. Bennetzen,M. R. Berenbaum, O. B. Berlin, P. J. Bjorkman, E. Blackburn, J. E. Blamont, M. R. Botchan, J. S. Boyer,E. A. Boyle, D. Branton, S. P. Briggs, W. R. Briggs, W. J. Brill, R. J. Britten, W. S. Broecker, J. H. Brown,P. O. Brown, A. T. Brunger, J. Cairns Jr., D. E. Canfield, S. R. Carpenter, J. C. Carrington, A. R. Cashmore,J. C. Castilla, A. Cazenave, F. S. Chapin III, A. J. Ciechanover, D. E. Clapham, W. C. Clark, R. N. Clayton,M. D. Coe, E. M. Conwell, E. B. Cowling, R. M Cowling, C. S. Cox, R. B. Croteau, D. M. Crothers,P. J. Crutzen, G. C. Daily, G. B. Dalrymple, J. L. Dangl, S. A. Darst, D. R. Davies, M. B. Davis, P. V. de Camilli,C. Dean, R. S. Defries, J. Deisenhofer, D. P. Delmer, E. F. Delong, D. J. Derosier, T. O. Diener, R. Dirzo,J. E. Dixon, M. J. Donoghue, R. F. Doolittle, T. Dunne, P. R. Ehrlich, S. N. Eisenstadt, T. Eisner,K. A. Emanuel, S. W. Englander, W. G. Ernst, P. G. Falkowski, G. Feher, J. A. Ferejohn, A. Fersht,E. H. Fischer, R. Fischer, K. V. Flannery, J. Frank, P. A. Frey, I. Fridovich, C. Frieden, D. J. Futuyma,W. R. Gardner, C. J. R. Garrett, W. Gilbert, R. B. Goldberg, W. H. Goodenough, C. S. Goodman, M. Goodman,P. Greengard, S. Hake, G. Hammel, S. Hanson, S. C. Harrison, S. R. Hart, D. L. Hartl, R. Haselkorn,K. Hawkes, J. M. Hayes, B. Hille, T. Hökfelt, J. S. House, M. Hout, D. M. Hunten, I. A. Izquierdo,A. T. Jagendorf, D. H. Janzen, R. Jeanloz, C. S. Jencks, W. A. Jury, H. R. Kaback, T. Kailath, P. Kay, S. A. Kay,D. Kennedy, A. Kerr, R. C. Kessler, G. S. Khush, S. W. Kieffer, P. V. Kirch, K. Kirk, M. G. Kivelson,J. P. Klinman, A. Klug, L. Knopoff, H. Kornberg, J. E. Kutzbach, J. C. Lagarias, K. Lambeck, A. Landy,C. H. Langmuir, B. A. Larkins, X. T. Le Pichon, R. E. Lenski, E. B. Leopold, S. A. Levin, M. Levitt,G. E. Likens, J. Lippincott-Schwartz, L. Lorand, C. O. Lovejoy, M. Lynch, A. L. Mabogunje, T. F. Malone,S. Manabe, J. Marcus, D. S. Massey, J. C. McWilliams, E. Medina, H. J. Melosh, D. J. Meltzer, C. D. Michener,E. L. Miles, H. A. Mooney, P. B. Moore, F. M. M. Morel, E. S. Mosley-Thompson, B. Moss, W. H. Munk,N. Myers, G. B. Nair, J. Nathans, E. W. Nester, R. A. Nicoll, R. P. Novick, J. F. O'Connell, P. E. Olsen,N. D. Opdyke, G. F. Oster, E. Ostrom, N. R. Pace, R. T. Paine, R. D. Palmiter, J. Pedlosky, G. A. Petsko,G. H. Pettengill, S. G. Philander, D. R. Piperno, T. D. Pollard, P. B. Price Jr., P. A. Reichard, B. F. Reskin,R. E. Ricklefs, R. L. Rivest, J. D. Roberts, A. K. Romney, M. G. Rossmann, D. W. Russell, W. J. Rutter,J. A. Sabloff, R. Z. Sagdeev, M. D. Sahlins, A. Salmond, J. R. Sanes, R. Schekman, J. Schellnhuber,D. W. Schindler, J. Schmitt, S. H. Schneider, V. L. Schramm, R. R. Sederoff, C. J. Shatz, F. Sherman,R. L. Sidman, K. Sieh, E. L. Simons, B. H. Singer, M. F. Singer, B. Skyrms, N. H. Sleep, B. D. Smith,S. H. Snyder, R. R. Sokal, C. S. Spencer, T. A. Steitz, K. B. Strier, T. C. Südhof, S. S. Taylor, J. Terborgh,D. H. Thomas, L. G. Thompson, R. T. Tjian, M. G. Turner, S. Uyeda, J. W. Valentine, J. S. Valentine,J. L. van Etten, K. E. van Holde, M. Vaughan, S. Verba, P. H. von Hippel, D. B. Wake, A. Walker, J. E. Walker,E. B. Watson, P. J. Watson, D. Weigel, S. R. Wessler, M. J. West-Eberhard, T. D. White, W. J. Wilson,R. V. Wolfenden, J. A. Wood, G. M. Woodwell, H. E. Wright Jr., C. Wu, C. Wunsch and M. L. Zoback
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
1. The signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but are not speaking on its behalf.
2. Signatory affiliations are available as supporting material

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