Integrated Environmental Futures for the U.S.

EPA Grant Number: R827583
Title: Integrated Environmental Futures for the U.S.
Investigators: Bernow, Stephen , Dougherty, William , Heaps, Charles , Kartha, Sivan , Raskin, Paul , Stutz, John , White, Allen
Current Investigators: Bernow, Stephen , Cleetus, Rachel , Rajan, Sudhir Chella
Institution: Tellus Institute
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: July 1, 1999 through July 1, 2000 (Extended to March 19, 2001)
Project Amount: $150,000
RFA: Futures: Detecting the Early Signals (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Sustainability , Land and Waste Management , Ecosystems , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Many studies of environmental problems treat them individually, responsively, locally, and over short time-frames. Given the increasing scale and complexity of emerging environmental problems, and their relationship to socio-economic processes and goals, a more anticipatory, precautionary a systemic approach is warranted. This project would develop comprehensive integrated scenarios of alternative socio-economic and environmental futures for the U.S. It would address patterns from all major sectors, resources and environmental loadings, over a time horizon of several decades. This analysis would be informed by global scenarios already completed or under development. The work will provide a concrete, quantitative, comprehensive and widely available basis for continuing the discussions begun by the Brundlandt Commission Report and UNCED's Agenda 21, the President's Commission on Sustainable Development, the National Academy of Science Board on Sustainability, World Resources Institute's sustainability research, EPA's Beyond the Horizon and its Futures Project, and others.


Owing to the inherent uncertainties and path-dependence of complex systems and human interventions, we take the scenario approach. The analysis will consider the key driving forces, critical uncertainties and stresses on various social and environmental systems for each scenario. It will include quantitative assessment of the evolution of economic, resource and environmental patterns for the nation over the next several decades. It will entail detailed representation of a range of possible demographic and economic changes. It will consider alternative patterns in the use of materials, natural resources, labor, land, water, agriculture, forestry, and energy. It will assess pollutant, solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions for each scenario. It would identify the type, timing and magnitude of various transitions, problems and opportunities for sustainable development in the U.S., under different sets of assumptions regarding the key drivers of change, demographic, economic, technological, institutional, and policy. These scenarios will provide benchmarks and indicators of change for two classes of scenarios; one would assume continuous evolutionary changes and one would reflect qualitative and deeper changes, either endogenous or designed to meet specified sustainability goals.

The PoleStar system, developed by researchers of the Boston Center of the Stockholm Environment Institute at Tellus, will be used to organize data and assumptions and construct the scenarios. PoleStar is being used for global and regional scenarios in studies of the Global Scenario Group, the National Academy of Sciences Commission on Sustainability, the United Nations GEO Project, and various regional studies around the world (EU, Africa, the Baltic region). PoleStar provides a comprehensive and flexible accounting framework for developing alternative scenarios.

The proposed work will be informed by these other efforts. It will entail more detailed scenarios for the U.S., based on the global scenarios already developed or underway. Thus, for example, global scenarios encompassing trade, climate policy and relative rates of economic development would inform our U.S. futures analyses.

Expected Results:

A report detailing the approach, methods, analyses, data, results and implications of the research will be provided, focussing on at least two integrated scenarios of U.S. economic, demographic, resource and environmental futures over 1998-2025 and beyond. The key drivers and stressors will be tracked, along with indicators of ecosystem, human and resource sustainability, and benchmarks for measuring progress. A computer framework for maintaining, updating and adding to the scenarios, and for monitoring developments, will embody the inputs and outputs of these analyses.

The research would illuminate the requirements for a transition to a sustainable pathway and suggest levers for change - policy, values, institutions and life-styles. It will produce a high quality report to reach agencies, policymakers, academics and citizens with its findings. It will establish a start for ongoing dialogue among key players about the goals and policies that are needed to meet the sustainability commitments of Agenda 21. It would provide a framework for sustainability planning, reporting its indicators, and marking movement towards problems and progress towards goals. The "projections" and comparisons could be updated periodically. The project's futures scenarios could: (1) guide strategic planning and policy for a sustainable U.S.; (2) establish indicators which could be used to monitor changes as they occur; (3) establish benchmarks against which performance could be measured; (4) highlight gaps in understanding and data that need to be filled and; (5) create a quantitative information base to support the continuing discourse on what will constitute and ensure a sustainable future; (6) establish the basis for institutional memory for environmental futures explorations.

Supplemental Keywords:

Multi-attribute, multi-media, climate, decision-making, renewable resources, innovation, precautionary principle, critical loads, eco-efficiency, and resource depletion., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Air, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, climate change, Economics, Environmental Monitoring, decision-making, Ecological Risk Assessment, Exp. Research/future, Social Science, Economics & Decision Making, Futures, ecosystem valuation, emerging environmental problems, demographic, eco-efficiency, precautionary systemic approach, socio-economic changes, sustainable development, human activities, risk management, decision making, climate studies, conservation, socioeconomics, global scenarios, environmental policy, exploratory research, precuationary systemic approach, sustainability, changing environmental conditions, global warming, legal and policy choices, public policy, ecological dynamics, futures research, integrated environmental futures, multi-criteria decision analysis, integrated ecological economic model

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000
  • Final Report