Assistant to the Presidentfor Science and Technology
Forum on Environment and Natural Resources R&D
March 28, 1994
It is a pleasure to see all of you here today. I am delighted to be in suchgood company and hope that, through this Forum, OSTP can enlist your activeparticipation in the revolutionary changes afoot i n environment and naturalresource policy. Thomas Jefferson described a revolution as the extraordinaryevent necessary to enable all the ordinary events to continue. And that, Ibelieve, is exactly the opportunity that is before us in the United States andother parts of the world.
The advent of the Clinton Administration reflects a mandate for change. Thisgovernment has turned away from the adversarial separatism of public andprivate sectors evident in past Administrations. For example, we have becomeactivists in winning the peace, rather than basking in the pernicious myth thatwinning the cold war automatically ensures peace. We are facing the realitiesof living within our means. And we have accepted the challenge of facing up toi ssues of sustainability, to the reality of environmental limits.
We are attempting to effect an extraordinary paradigm shift in the distinctionbetween growth and progress, in the difference between richness and wealth,between dualism and steward ship in our relationships with the natural world.We have rejected defeatist attitudes about the inherent conflict between a goodeconomy and a good life and replaced that perspective with the demonstrablefact that, with wise use of technology there is n o fundamental dichotomybetween conservation and economic progress. Indeed, our Nation has begun torecognize that our future -- including our economy -- increasingly depends onmore careful stewardship of resources. One of the central goals of theClin ton/Gore science and technology policy is to foster long-term economicgrowth that creates good jobs and protects the environment. We have everyreason to believe we can make it happen.
To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, the new paradigm is not man the conqueror, but manthe biotic citizen; not science the sharpener of his sword, but science thesearchlight on his universe; and not land the slave and servant, but land thecollective organism. This new land ethic, while still very much in its infancy45 years after Leopold wrote his Sand County Almanac, is evident inseveral new policies of the Clinton Administration. Let me give a fewexamples:
In our RESPONSE TO THE MISSISSIPPI FLOODS, the Administration's goalhas been to achie ve a rapid and effective response to the damaged flood controlsystem that will minimize risk to life and property, ensure a cost-effectivelong-term approach to flood damage mitigation and floodplain management, andprotect important environmental and na tural resources values. Importantly, allagencies have been directed to consider, to the extent practical, nonstructuralalternatives (e.g., flood plains acquisition and easements) and designmodifications that could provide greater local benefits of flo od control,reduction of future potential flood damages, especially in high value areassuch as cities, lower long-term costs to the Federal government, and naturalresource protection. The many miles of our river and stream corridors are someof our co untry's most valuable resources, and there is growing publicrecognition that rivers have many values in addition to their traditionaleconomic uses. This Administration will encourage planning and policyinnovation involving a broad range of river and f loodplain interests.
Our regional ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INITIATIVE calls for demonstrationprojects in ecosystem management, and illustrates the Administration'scommitment to extend ethics to humankind's relation to land and to the animals and plants that grow upon it. Leopold described an ethic, in ecological terms,as a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence. Hebelieved, and the President is acting upon this belief, that extension ofethics to this third element in the human environment (beyond individualrelations and societal relations) was an ecological necessity. We areattempting to move beyond the concept of land-use as solely an economicconsideration. We are examining each question in terms of what is e thicallyand aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient andsensible. Development of this ethic is clearly an evolutionary process, butnow at least we have an Administration that is firmly committed to itspromulgation.
Presi dent Clinton's CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION PLAN aims at the twinchallenges of responding to the threat of global climate change andstrengthening the economy. Returning U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to their1990 levels by the year 2000 is an ambitious but achievable goal that can beattained while enhancing prospects for economic growth and job creation andpositioning our country to compete and win in the global economic market whilealso playing a leadership role in global environmental stewardship. The ActionPlan represents a major mobilization effort to stimulate federal agencies,companies, State and local governments, and citizens across the nation to makeuse of existing technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in acost-effective manner . The core of a long term multi-decade strategy to moveus toward sustainability, must ensure that a constant stream of improvedtechnology is available and that market conditions are favorable to theiradoption. To that end, OSTP is co-chairing the lon g-term strategy workinggroup to examine all budget, technology, R&D, regulatory and economicpolicies that could impact greenhouse gas emission levels beyond the year2000.
This Spring, the President will call for a national dialog on ENVI RONMENTALTECHNOLOGIES that will outline our public-private partnership role indeveloping, commercializing, and diffusing clean technologies -- a crucialfirst step toward global economic growth concomitant with environmental health.Five fundamental principles underlie the strategy:
We will help American industry move beyond compliance and toward anticipatingand exceeding future regulatory standards
We will facilitate a shift of emphasis from pollution cleanup and mitigationto pollut ion avoidance
We will increase environmental and resource efficiency by focusing on theentire technology life-cycle of products -- from design to recycle
We will promote use of environmentally sound technologies throughout theworld; and
W e will be full partners with industry and other stakeholders in the effortto achieve competitive advantage in global environmental technology markets.
One of the most exciting environmental technology programs we've embarked uponis the Partnershi p for a New Generation of Vehicles -- earlier known as theClean Car Initiative. The Federal Government is working in partnership withthe American auto industry to produce a family car that competes in the market,has vastly lower pollution emissions, a nd runs at 3-times the energy efficiencylevel of today's vehicles. This initiative typifies our effort to create longterm economic growth while creating good jobs and protecting the environment.
For my final example, I will shift gears a bit an d emphasize thisAdministration's
REESTABLISHMENT OF SUPPORT FOR NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL FAMILY PLANNINGASSISTANCE. I mention population because it is probably the mostfundamental parameter that, in the long run, will determine whether we can beresponsible stewards of spaceship earth. By the end of the Second World War,the Earth's population was 2.5 billion. Today, it is more than 5.5 billion.Demographers project that by the year 2025, the population will expand toapproximately 8.5 billion. Approximately 95% of population growth is occurringin the developing world. The United States has made a major commitment tocooperate with the world community to stabilize global population, recognizingthe linkages between birth rates, child survival, economic development,education, and the economic, health, and social status of women.
The United States has a population problem, as well. We are among the fastestgrowing of the industrial countries, and the environmental impacts of o urgrowth rate are exacerbated by our high, per capita consumption rates.
In every action undertaken by this Administration, we come up againstoverwhelming evidence of past environmental neglect, inactions, and abuse,especially over the last doz en years or so. The needed corrections won't comewithout political costs -- for a number of sacred cows -- and oxen -- must beGored, so to speak. And the reality of democratic governance isencountered in making tough trade-offs and compromises .
Compromise is always necessary when reasonable people differ. And thediversity of views on sustainability issues is enormous. A recent report,How Much Land Can 10 Billion People Spare for Nature, jointly sponsoredby the Rockefeller U niversity Program for the Human Environment and the Councilfor Agricultural Science and Technology, finds that if we maintain our currentrate of technical progress in farming, we could spare 30% of the land now usedglobally for agriculture. On the oth er hand, the Worldwatch Institute just asrecently describes the world as facing food insecurity. It finds that afternearly four decades of unprecedented expansion in both land-based and oceanicfood supplies, the world is experiencing a massive loss of momentum. Theirbottom line is that the world's farmers can no longer be counted on feed theprojected additions to our numbers, in part because of the effects ofenvironmental degradation on the food production system.
Yet, despite such news, p ublic sympathy for environmental issues appears to bediminishing. For instance, in the U.S. membership in environmental groups isdwindling, and courts are awarding millions of dollars to landowners affectedby environmental regulations portrayed as one rous. At the same time, cogentobservers see our problems as more serious than ever. Robert Kaplan, in hisrecent book called The Coming Anarchy, sees environmental problems asthe national security issue of the early 21st century. He ar gues thatsurging populations, spreading disease, deforestation and soil erosion, waterdepletion, air pollution, and over-crowded regions like the Nile Delta andBangladesh will become core foreign policy challenges. Our economic,environmental, and nat ional security depend on achieving a level ofinternational stability and cooperation that can come only from a concertedeffort by individuals and nations sharing an ethical commitment to care for thefuture.
As we feel our way through this moras s of opinion and technical uncertainty wecan emphasize the philosophical and ethical rationale for conservation. But wemust always underscore the need for credible information, for analysis ofoptions, and for identification of high-leverage opportunit ies. That makesscience and technology absolutely critical to short-term, as well as long-term,success -- both in understanding the situation and in devising ways to dealwith it thoughtfully.
Understanding and knowledge empower people. In thi s great democracy, that isan essential concept. James Madison, recognized that if "the people mean to betheir own governors, they must have access to the power that knowledge gives."This nation will be able to deal much more effectively with environme ntalproblems once they are better understood.
Meanwhile, the human race is conducting a giant and uncontrolled experimentwith Planet Earth. Human activities are changing the radiative balance of theEarth's atmosphere, depleting stratospheric o zone, and causing andunprecedented conversion of the global landscape, including loss of biologicaldiversity.
The atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide,methane, nitrous oxide, and the halocarbons, are increasing due to humanactivities. The higher concentrations of these gases will alter temperatureand precipitation patterns globally and nationally, with adverse effects onhuman health, ecological systems, and socio-economic sectors. Because theresidence time of the major anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere,carbon dioxide, is decades to centuries, society would be foolish to wait untilcause and effect are established beyond a shadow of a doubt, especially whencost-effective strategies to limit gree nhouse gas emissions are available now.That is why this Administration, as a first step, developed a plan to limitgreenhouse gas emissions in the year 2000 to 1990 levels.
With respect to the issue of stratospheric ozone depletion, the Antarct icozone hole, was deeper than ever before in 1993. In addition, during the lastcouple of years, ozone at northern mid- and high-latitudes has been the lowestever recorded. It is sobering to realize that even with the Copenhagenamendments to the Mont real Protocol and rapid responses of industry to haltsuch emissions, the Antarctic ozone hole is expected to continue to appearevery Spring until the middle of the next century. Similarly, if, as assumed,mid-latitude ozone depletion is caused by anthr opogenic halocarbons, thisdepletion will continue for many decades. Sherry Rowland will address thisimportant issue much more thoroughly later in the Forum.
The effects of competition for resources, including land use practices asinfluenced by changing human demographics, have hit biodiversity hard. In thepast, a plentiful supply of unallocated open space served as a buffer againstfuture demand and against unexpected shifts in the social and economicvaluation of resources. As resource sup plies diminish, conflicts amongcompeting needs increase. Such competition now routinely affects the economicand cultural well being of large human populations as well as the structure andfunctions of ecosystems over broad geographic areas. Peter Rave n will laterprovide a much more complete accounting of this important topic.
For too long U.S. citizens have been accommodating or adjusting ourselves toslowly-developing crises, rather than seeking to prevent or ameliorate themwith science, te chnology, and other policy tools. Now we must all learn toplay what economists call the zero-sum game.
Before Apollo 8, the Earth was our universe, and it seemed infinite. But theastronauts in that tiny craft revealed we are all traveling in a spaceship -- one that is stunningly beautiful, but one that is also isolated, unique, andlimited in its capacity to readily a bsorb human activities.
In the 20 short years since Apollo 8, our perspective on the earth has changedagain. Pictures taken from space now show a world on fire, show us the impactsof humankind's use and production of fuels. From such a perspec tive emerges aworld view that indefinite exponentiation of population and resourceconsumption is simply not sustainable over time.
The idea of physical and biological limits contrasts dramatically with anidealized "frontier society." Many p eople continue to propound the deep- seatedbut anachronistic Western view that exponentiation is the principal route toprogress. W e have to think less in terms of exponentials and more in terms ofS curves. The idea of exponential expansion has dominated the traditional waywe have viewed ourselves and the future. When the future is considered interms of exponentials, an improve ment in resource efficiency or a reduction ofthe amount of waste per unit of goods and services produced lowers the rate ofexpansion, but only temporarily postpones the time when a given pollution levelis breached. But as Herb Stein has said, that whi ch cannot go on forever mustcome to an end.
The opportunities to provide for the future are extraordinary. But so, too,are the tasks associated with effecting the transition from where we've been towhere we choose to go. Are we ready to meet the challenge, or is what we havehere what Yogi Berra described as an "insurmountable opportunity?"
The Clinton Administration is aware of recent, thoughtful criticisms of theway the Federal Government conducts its environmental R&D, such a s thosefrom the Carnegie Commission, the National Research Council, and the Office ofTechnology Assessment. And with your help, we are making an extraordinaryeffort to direct our financial resources and finest scientists and engineerstoward these pro blems in order to allow our citizens and the rest of the worldto have productive and satisfying lives for generations to come.
Just as we have initiated a number of important new policies, we haveinstituted major changes in management of Federal environmental R&D.President Clinton created the Office of Environmental Policy within the WhiteHouse, which is headed by Katie McGinty. He has proposed the elevation of theEnvironmental Protection Agency to Cabinet status. And we have created an environment division within OSTP.
An important initiative for R&D in general, and for environmentespecially, is creation of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC),and within it, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR). NSTCis chaired by the President and its members include the Vice President, CabinetSecretaries and agency heads with major S&T responsibilities, and key WhiteHouse officials. To create the CENR, OSTP worked with other offices of theWhit e House, and several agencies to create a single interagency committeestructure that will coordinate all federal environment and natural resourceresearch and development activities, and that will improve the links betweenthe scientific and policy agenc ies. Your help is now earnestly solicited toassist us in devising a sound basis for making R&D investments that willboth frame and aid our environmental strategy: challenging problems, toughchoices, exciting opportunities.
I will yield th