Climate Change Action Plan

Creating “Years of Sustainable Development:” Anticipating and responding to Mega Trends

By Dr. Alan D. Hecht and Barb Walton

Taking ActionLate last year, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs pronounced 2015 the “Year of Sustainable Development,” reflecting the United Nations’ efforts to identify goals and agree on greenhouse gas emission targets for the decades ahead.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions and anticipated yet unquantifiable impact on climate change is one of many major global trends that governments at all levels and corporations need to address.

The full suite of such “global mega trends” challenges all of us to find ways to achieve “years of sustainable development.” EPA, the World Environment Center and the Wilson Center are hosting an Earth Day seminar (April 22 from 3 to 5 pm) on Mega Trends to encourage discussion of the following:

  • What major long term trends (mega trends) will have the most profound impacts on society?
  • How can Government, business and civil society best prepare and respond to these trends?
  • What science and innovation would help reduce risk and prepare for the future?
  • What issues require public dialogue to improve policy decisions and promote better business-government cooperation?

Joining us to share thoughts and lead the discussion will be Jennifer Turner of the Wilson Center, Banning Garrett, adjunct faculty at Singularity University, and Terry Yosie of the World Environment Center.

Together, we will share our views on such topics as: projected trends and impacts from climate change; extreme weather; urban growth; and energy, land, and water use.

EPA has been leading the responsive to a number of such emerging issues, notably to climate change, the management of new chemical wastes such as endocrine disruptors and nanomaterials, the evaluation of biofuels, and the effectiveness of green infrastructure. Our Climate Change Adaptation Plan recognized drought as a major vulnerability to human wellbeing.

EPA has also launched new academic grants requesting proposals for new strategies to improve the Nation’s readiness to respond to the water scarcity and drought anticipated in response to climate change.

Working closely with other agencies, we are also sensitive to the stresses and interactions of energy demand and water use. Accordingly, the Agency has developed a set of principles and actions to advance energy-water use in a more sustainable way.

And on urban growth, EPA is attuned to the potential impact on human health and on disadvantaged communities. EPA has identified 51 communities where it will work to respond to past, present and future issue affecting society wellbeing.

The challenge of achieving sustainable development requires multiagency cooperation, business-government partnerships and full public understanding of the potential impacts. To prepare for Earth Day in 2030 and for Years of Sustainable Development, we need to:

  • Set Clear Sustainability Goals
  • Focus on states, cities and communities
  • Promote business innovation
  • Support “Nexus” among government programs
  • Overcome traditional legislative silos in programs
  • Overcome business-government conflict and create effective collaborations and partnerships.
  • Be flexible and innovate within the existing legal framework.
  • Promote innovation in science and technology.
  • Enhance public understanding and support.

We and our partners are meeting those challenges. To learn more and join the discussion, I invite you to attend the Wilson center event in person or by video. For more information, please visit:

About the Authors: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development at EPA. Barb Walton is the Assistant Laboratory Director for the Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Humpback Memories and Climate Change Research

By Aaron Ferster

Humpback whale breachingI was hooked the first time I saw a humpback whale leap out of the ocean. All that impossible bigness exploding through the waves, hanging in the air for a moment, and then crashing back down into the water. A cascade of sea mist and foam where a forty-ton animal just existed.

Within a few months of that first encounter I was a volunteer data collector on a whale watch boat; not long after that I was the ship’s first mate, devoting my remaining college summers to securing lines, swabbing the deck, and climbing to the roof of the wheelhouse to scan the horizon for the next sighting.

Why was I thinking about the whale watching days of my youth during the President’s recent climate change address? Because as President Obama talked about his Climate Change Action Plan and the need for innovation and low-carbon fuels, it reminded me that long before whales were a tourist attraction, for most people their primary value was as an energy source. Flames burning whale blubber and oil kept homes, businesses and streetlamps glowing long after dark. Early lighthouse beacons ran on the highly prized spermaceti oil of Moby Dick fame.

Back then, whaling was big business, the staple of the economy in coastal towns all up and down New England and elsewhere. The tide began to change when the light bulb and electricity came into favor, cheaper and more abundant than dwindling supplies of spermaceti.

When will the next generation of energy arrive? While the consequences are certainly more daunting and far reaching than centuries ago when energy was harvested with a harpoon, I liked hearing President Obama’s optimistic talk about the promise of American ingenuity and innovation being equal to the challenges of the day.

As an EPA science writer, I may be an easy mark for such talk, but I also have a front row seat to some of the engineers and scientists working on the research and technical solutions to address, mitigate, and adapt to climate change.

Some of that work is highlighted in the latest issue of our newsletter EPA Science Matters. The issue features stories on how Agency researchers and their partners are helping decision makers, communities, and individuals incorporate the latest science into strategies and actions designed to protect public human health and the environment in the face of a changing climate. I invite you to read the issue, and join the expanding conversation on climate change through this and other EPA blogs we have in the works about EPA climate research.

About the Author: Before joining EPA as a science writer, Aaron Ferster’s work experiences included first mate on a whale watch boat, assistant elephant trainer, and zoo exhibit writer.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.