EPA is Poised and Ready to Help Communities Address the Impacts of Looming “Megatrends”

By Alan Hecht and Aaron Ferster

The world faces serious challenges due to a growing number of what scientists and other have defined as megatrends, long-term changes that affect governments, societies and economies over long periods of time.  Many of these large-scale changes are driven by the environment. A 2015 report from the National Science Foundation, America’s Future: Environmental Research and Education for a Thriving Century: A 10-year Outlook, notes that “we’re experiencing a time in which human society and technology are increasing the pace and rate of environmental change in ways for which no precedent exists, and which have significant potential consequences.”

The destruction left after a major storm

EPA research is dedicated to helping communities become more prepared and resilient in the face of looming environmental megatrends.

The biggest impacts from these changes are felt most in cities, where the majority of people live. Cities today are struggling with the very real economic and quality of life impacts of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and other super storms, extended droughts, extreme heat days, and flooding.

And the extended forecast is not promising. Scientists project that in the decades ahead, droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains could be drier and longer than dry conditions seen in those regions during the last 1,000 years. Maps of potential rising sea levels show that nearly two million U.S. homes could be inundated by 2100, displacing many more millions of people and resulting in staggering property losses totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

EPA is poised to respond to these predictions through science, innovation, and extensive collaboration throughout the government and business communities.

EPA researcher Alan Hecht and co-authors identify several key actions for working toward a more resilient and sustainable society in their recently published paper, Responding to Megatrends for a Resilient and Sustainable Society.

These actions include:

  • Anticipating future changes and adopting foresight management;
  • Applying systems thinking in problem solving;
  • Developing and using decision support tools;
  • Advancing green design and infrastructure;
  • Advancing environmental education and the understanding of future threats and the links between the environment, the economy, and human well-being; and
  • Expanding stakeholder engagement and cooperation, especially between businesses and government.

Taking action to anticipate and meet even the most daunting environmental challenges is at the core of EPA’s mission. Over the past forty-plus years, our role has evolved to a science-based leader in innovation and collaboration. A new challenge for EPA now is to act with the foresight needed to deal with present and future megatrends in ways that increase resiliency and advance sustainability.

For society as a whole, the challenge ahead is to respond to emerging trends, build a resilient and sustainable society, and recognize the need for widespread cooperation to ensure the security and prosperity of present and future generations. A new era of environmental management and education is needed.  We must plan for future challenges and disprove Benjamin Franklin’s classic adage “It is not until the well runs dry that we know the worth of water.”

About the Authors: Alan Hecht is a Senior Sustainability Advisor in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Community national research program. Aaron Ferster is the communications lead for that program, and an EPA science writer.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/promoting-years-sustainability-responding-to-mega-trends.

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.