Science and Technology-
Moving Us Toward a Sustainable Future
"I would like to state in the strongest possible terms that the Clinton Administration is committed to moving our nation forward on the path towards sustainable development. We are especially proud of the progress our country has made in the past generation in cleaning up our natural environment. We strongly support long-term environmental research, energy research and development, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, ecosystem management, and pollution prevention, to name just a few important areas."
--Vice President Al Gore
Advances in environmental science and technology hold tremendous promise for creation of a sustainable future in which environmental health, economic prosperity, and quality of life are mutually reinforcing. In the words of the President's Council on Sustainable Development:
Progress towards sustainability requires us to confront a
variety of local, regional, and global environmental challenges, such as
maintaining biological diversity, safeguarding water resources,
improving air quality, reducing exposure to toxic substances, limiting
the impacts of natural hazards (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods,
and forest fires), reversing stratospheric ozone depletion, and
understanding, mitigating, and adapting to climate change.
SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Scientific understanding of the environment and environmental quality
have advanced together over the last 30 years. We have made significant
progress in learning how to manage our environment and natural resources
more effectively and to repair damage from past practices, largely due
to our improved scientific knowledge of complex natural systems. At the
same time, our growing knowledge has revealed vast gaps in our
understanding of many environmental issues. We need additional
information and new methods to manage future threats more effectively
and efficiently. The assessment of the state of the environment and our
scientific understanding of it can provide us with the knowledge we need
to anticipate the potential consequences of current decisions, thus
enabling us to make informed policy decisions and to avoid future
THE GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY ASSESSMENT
Biodiversity is the array of living organisms, their relationships to
each other and their environment, and their genetic make-up. Humans
depend on earth's biodiversity for food, medicine, construction,
clothing, energy, aesthetics, inspiration, and a host of ecosystem
services that are critical for maintaining environmental quality, such as
the purification of air and water. In many ways, biodiversity is
intertwined in the economic and recreational fabric of our daily lives.
unique national treasure. As part of the South Florida
Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, scientists and resource managers study
the Everglades and Florida Bay ecosystems using Landsat imagery and
other sophisticated methods. Visible are agricultural land (reddish),
water conservation areas (blue with green lines of nutrient-rich
canals), the Miami coastal metropolis (pink), the Everglades (dark
blue-green), and Florida Bay (deep blue).
The process of
assessment also pays dividends on smaller scales, as shown by the
example of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.
The South Florida ecosystem is a unique national treasure that includes
the Everglades and Florida Bay and is inextricably linked to the Florida
Keys to the south. Regional development led to water diversions and
river channelizations that have disrupted the natural flow and led to
steady declines in the area's habitat. The community came to recognize
that the long-term viability and sustainability of the ecosystem is
critical for the tourism and fishing industries, as well as the water
supply, economy, and quality of life for South Florida's entire
population of over six million people. In response, Federal agencies
with capabilities and responsibilities in the area banded together with
the state and tribal organizations to form the Task Force. Its science
subgroup, drawing on relevant expertise from the academic community and
Federal, state, and local organizations, built a solid foundation of
research which supported development of a plan to restore the essential
hydrologic functions of the historic wetlands in and around the
Everglades. The restoration effort got under way in earnest in 1996.
Scientists will continue monitoring studies to guide the restoration
effort as it goes forward.
RESEARCH TO IMPROVE PREDICTION
Among the greatest recent advances in environmental science and
technology is the creation of a new generation of models - of
molecules, of ecosystems, of the entire earth system, of human and
industrial processes, and of the interaction between humans and our
environment. These models result largely from a combination of precise
measurement technologies, sophisticated measurement strategies, and vast
increases in computing power. They assemble the experience gained from a
wide array of observations, field programs, and laboratory studies into
rigorous frameworks that are based on the underlying physical, chemical,
and biological laws and principles that govern environmental processes.
Then researchers test them under varied conditions in order to assess
the models' reliability.
predictive power of high performance computing and satellite
monitoring, the death and damage toll from Hurricane Fran would have been higher. This
computer-enhanced satellite photograph shows the hurricane just before
it came ashore at Cape Fear, North Carolina, in 1996. The 115 miles per
hour winds of the 60,000 square mile storm killed 34 people and
destroyed nearly $1 billion worth of property.
modeling also proves useful outside of the areas of climate and weather.
Models of the flow of groundwater are helping to pinpoint where
contaminants are going as they move below the ground. Such models are
also being used to test pumping plans so that contaminants can be
removed from the water and to slow the flows of the underground
pollutant streams, thereby reducing potential adverse impacts.
AND ANALYSIS PROJECT
The question of how ecosystems will respond to climate change and
concurrent changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is one
of the most important in the study of global change. Until recently,
there has been little capability to model such changes and begin to
assess vulnerabilities. The
Vegetation/Ecosystem Modeling and Analysis Project (VEMAP) effort is
providing a capability to do so by running a selection of ecological
models for different climate scenarios and comparing the results. It is
being conducted through a government-private partnership, with the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Electric Power
Research Institute, and the U.S. Forest Service all taking part.
AND RESEARCH INITIATIVE
Working through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the
Federal government is developing a national framework for an integrated
monitoring and research network in response to the Vice President's call
for a Report Card on the Health of the Nation's Ecosystems by 2001. This
effort will allow, for the first time, a comprehensive evaluation of our
nation's environmental resources and its ecological systems, thus
producing a sound scientific information base to support natural
resource assessment and decision making. It will add value to existing
programs by linking broad-based survey, inventory, and monitoring
information to research on environmental processes. An important result
of this effort will be the provision of information to the public on
what it is getting in return for its annual investment of over $120
billion in pollution abatement and control. The Departments of
Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior; the Environmental Protection
Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the National Science
Foundation are partners in this venture.
This initiative will be linked to both local decision-makers and to global environmental programs. It is a partnership with state and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and citizens - the people whose decisions affect our nation's environment. Coordinating this nationwide effort with those of other nations, and with the major global-scale observation programs that are now being defined and implemented, can lead to an international monitoring network capable of detecting large-scale, long-term environmental changes, such as improvements in response to environmental policies or detection of new, and perhaps unanticipated changes due to climate and other environmental or anthropogenic change.
AVOIDANCE: APPLYING SCIENCE AND
TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE SUSTAINABLE
PROCESSES AND PRODUCTS
In the next three decades, the population of the United States will grow
by 60 million people - an increase of approximately 40,000 individuals
per week. Our economy is expected to more than double in size during
this same period. Given these trends, we must develop a new generation
of technologies capable of supplying the goods and services that society
needs with less energy, fewer materials, and far less environmental
damage. We cannot afford significant increases in industrial emissions
and use of natural resources.
By helping to
reduce costs and by stimulating market adoption of U.S.
renewable energy technologies, the Administration is accelerating the
environmental, economic, and security benefits of increased use of
renewable resources. This Northern California wind farm is an example
of how fundamental and applied research helps the renewable energy
industry develop advanced products. Wind-generated electricity is
closely competitive with conventional electric power in several
We must shift
our focus away from traditional, isolated, end-of-pipe
solutions to the integrated design of whole processes and systems of
technologies. For instance, through process changes, Intel, at its
Aloha, Oregon, plant was able to more than double production over a
three-year period with no increase in emissions and without investing in
traditional control technologies. Over time, strategies to make better
use of valuable resources will have to extend across the entire value
chain, from the extraction of raw materials to their processing, use,
disposal, or eventual reuse.
A VISION FOR AMERICA'S ENERGY FUTURE
Maintaining a robust and affordable supply of energy while reducing the
environmental impacts of energy production and use is vital for our
economic prosperity, national security, and environmental quality.
America relies largely on fossil fuels, yet emissions from fossil energy
use are among the most significant threats to sustainable environmental
quality and human health. The consequences of our energy choices are
significant and long-lasting:
emissions cause health problems, acid rain, and global warming. They
account for more than 90 percent of sulfur-dioxide, nitrous oxides,
carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and most of the smallest
particulates (those less than 2.5 microns in diameter) emitted by human
activities in the United States. More than 50 million Americans live
in areas where tropospheric ozone concentrations still exceed safe
levels, with significant costs. For example, even though air quality
has improved, increased respiratory-related illnesses due to air
pollution in Los Angeles are estimated to cost more than $9 billion a
year in medical expenses and lost work time.
A robust energy future for the United States requires a diverse portfolio of technologies and options that allow us to modify our current energy supply system to include more efficient conversion of fossil fuels, to shift from higher carbon fuels to lower carbon fuels, to increase utilization of renewable energy technologies and, in the longer term, develop nuclear energy options while greatly enhancing energy end-use efficiency. For these reasons, the Administration has consistently recommended budget increases for clean energy research, development, and demonstration.
CREATING A DIVERSE PORTFOLIO
A number of organizations are looking toward the future and seeing a
world with a very different mix of energy resources. The World Energy
Council has forecast that alternative fuels could meet the bulk of our
energy needs by 2050. Royal Dutch Shell, the largest and most
profitable oil company in the world, envisions a future in which energy
efficiency improves, use of renewable energy sources grows, and fossil
fuels peak in the middle of the next century. Chris Fay, CEO of Shell
U.K. Ltd., has noted the challenge and the opportunity:
technology are an important aspect of meeting this challenge. An
integrated environmental/energy R&D strategy is necessary to reduce
emissions, reduce impacts, and reduce foreign energy dependency without
hurting U.S. economic competitiveness.
We are pursuing
other renewable options, as well as fusion energy as a long-term
alternative within the framework of international collaboration. There
are many additional opportunities for progress. Taking advantage of such
opportunities remains a fundamental Administration priority.
Great global potential exists for renewable energy. This Shell Oil Company forecast shows increasing energy demand, with much greater dependence on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and less on fossil fuels. The primary challenge to expanding the role of renewable energy resources is the need to further reduce costs to ensure that competitive renewable energy technology is available in domestic and international markets. This availability depends on sufficient research and development investments now.
LOOKING AHEAD: ENVIRONMENTAL
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FOR A
Administration's accomplishments and plans for environmental research
and development demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and to
defining and implementing the science and technology agenda that will
support this goal. We are beginning to apply science and technology in
the active pursuit of sustainable environmental quality by assessing,
anticipating, and avoiding environmental problems. In addition, we
remain committed to improving scientific understanding of fundamental
biogeochemical processes. This knowledge can be used to address problems
created in decades past from inappropriate, ill-informed, and illegal
disposal of toxic chemical wastes.
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS ASSESSMENT
A growing body of scientific evidence has begun to suggest that a range
of chemicals we have introduced into the environment may be producing
adverse health effects in humans and in wildlife by disrupting endocrine
system function. These chemicals, collectively referred to as endocrine
disruptors, exert their effects by mimicking or interfering with actions
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) include some pesticides (such
as DDT and its derivatives), industrial chemicals (such as surfactants
and PCBs), drugs (such as DES), and contaminants (such as dioxins).
NATURAL HAZARDS INFORMATION AND MITIGATION
This Administration is strongly committed to reducing losses from
natural disasters by supporting programs in observing, documenting,
understanding, assessing, and predicting the potential consequences of
natural hazards. Highly populated urban and metropolitan areas are
especially vulnerable to natural hazards, as illustrated by the meteoric
rise of government expenditures and private losses in recent years.
Natural hazards of terrestrial origin (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions,
landslides, tsunamis, hurricanes and other severe storms, tornadoes and
high winds, floods, wildfires, and drought) and solar-terrestrial
hazards (solar flares and geomagnetic storms) are inevitable. The
long-term effects of natural disasters - the lingering disruption of
entire communities, persisting long after the event - are determined as
much by societal behavior and practice as by nature itself. The impacts
of natural disasters can be, at a minimum, mitigated or, in some
instances, prevented entirely.
ASSESSING THE REGIONAL IMPLICATIONS
OF GLOBAL CHANGE
Over the past decade, a series of global environmental changes have been
documented in increasing detail. Not only have we demonstrated that
climate change, the loss of biodiversity, stratospheric ozone depletion,
alteration of the land surface, and changes in the nitrogen balance of
the earth's soils and waters are all occurring and changing the
environment on a global scale, but we have also established beyond a
reasonable doubt that human activities are among the driving sources of
such change. We are recognizing that these changes are interrelated, and
that they form a suite of multiple stresses affecting people and the
earth's ecosystems in numerous ways.
ON CLIMATE CHANGE
For many years, scientists have predicted that greenhouse gases and
microscopic particles that are building up in the earth's atmosphere due
to human activity will eventually alter the climate. One of the
decade's most important findings in atmospheric science indicates that
this forecast is coming true. For the first time, the vast majority of
the world's leading climate experts agreed that "the balance of evidence
suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."
This finding, reported by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is based on a variety of observational and modeling results, including
measurements of temperature taken from balloons, land, and ocean
regions. The conclusion of scientists from more than 100 countries
gives new credence to the concern that human-induced climate change
could have profound consequences for the economy, human health, and
quality of life in future generations.
incontrovertible record is among the most fundamental evidence
of global-scale human perturbation of the earth system. This figure
displays the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last 1,000
years. Particularly rapid growth began in the mid 1800s, when the
industrial revolution resulted in significant increases in carbon
dioxide emissions that continue today. After 1950, the growth rate
again jumped significantly.
Human-induced regional and global changes in temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, and sea level add important new stresses on ecological and socio-economic systems that are already affected by pollution, increasing resource extraction, and non-sustainable management practices.
The projected changes in climate include potentially disruptive effects that will affect the economy and the quality of life for this and future generations.
Human health will be adversely affected through an increase in the rate of heat-related mortality and in the potential for the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and encephalitis and non-vector-borne diseases such as cholera and salmonellosis.
Food security will be threatened in some regions of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics, where many of the world's poorest people live, even though the effects of climate change on total global food production may be small to moderate in comparison to the effects of population change and increasing nutrition demands.
Water resources will be increasingly stressed, leading to substantial economic, social, and environmental costs, especially in regions that are already water-limited and where there is strong competition among users.
Human habitat loss will occur in regions where small islands and coastal plain and river areas are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, leading to environmental refugees.
Natural ecosystems will be degraded because the composition, geographic distribution, and productivity of many ecosystems will shift as individual species respond to changes in climate. This may lead to reductions in biological diversity and in the goods and services ecosystems can provide for society.
Some extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, will occur more frequently.
Developing countries are more vulnerable than developed countries to climate change because of reduced flexibility and resilience caused by their socio-economic conditions.
More than three years after the Great Midwest Flood of 1993, life is
back to normal in the Upper
Mississippi River Basin (UMRB), but the way the basin is studied has
changed forever. The President stimulated this change as the flood
waters began to recede and he wondered how to prevent damage and loss of
life when the floodwaters rise again. One way seemed to be for the
Federal government to purchase lands where residents were at greatest
risk, move the people out of the floodplain, and then allow the lands to
revert to wetlands. But which lands?
using radar and topographic data to assess more accurately the
potential for future flooding and to lessen its impacts. This image of
the Missouri River indicates the effects on low-lying agricultural land
from a burst levee which scoured a deep channel across the fields,
showing up as a purple band in the center. This picture, taken from the
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Topographic Synthetic Aperture Radar
System on a DC-8 aircraft, is an example of the use of experimental
instrumentation to support resource management and natural disaster
The data form the basis for a computerized regional
geographic information system (GIS) of the entire upper Mississippi
River Basin. It makes full use of information technology to provide the
data required to manage the floodplain. Due to its existence, more is
known about the 1993 flood than about any other natural disaster.
Federal agencies and non-federal organizations will continue to maintain the database. So far, the Internet site has been contacted about 16,000 times by people in the Federal, state, and local governments, and at U.S. and international universities, who can access, download, and use the data for their own research. The address is http://edcwww.cr.usgs.gov/sast-home.html.
Amidst the millions of acres of Arizona desert, a 12-acre oasis may
not seem like much - but the tiny green space is home to beaver,
muskrats, bobcats, reptiles, and more than 45 bird species. Little do
they know that the "oasis," which residents of Phoenix know as the Tres Rios wetlands,
exists thanks to the treated wastewater pumped through it every day.
This enterprising research effort is a "constructed" wetland, designed
by the City of Phoenix and the
U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation to demonstrate treatment technologies for reclaiming
municipal, industrial, domestic, and agricultural wastewater. It is an
example of the kind of innovative thinking stimulated by the
Environmental Technology Initiative sponsored by the Environmental
"Tres Rios is an economic solution to necessary water treatment with additional valuable benefits that include much needed and highly valued fish and wildlife habitats, flood control to protect local residents, and recreational opportunities for all," states Skip Rimsza, the Mayor of Phoenix.
IN ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY