Great paper at on EPA’s 40th birthday by Joe Fiksel, Deb Swackhamer and a slew of others.

  • "Sustainability science suggests that effective environmental protection requrires an integrated systems approach."
  • "Rather than treating environmental management as a subject for static optimization, we need to apply advanced modeling and decision support approaches for dynamic, adaptive management."

The paper highlights how poorly EPA can deal with complex problems as they are saddled with narrow authorization under media-specific laws.

TSCA is an exception that they don't mention. Perhaps because of EPA's silo mentality, TSCA hasn't been able to work except for new chemicals - where the opportunity for dialog and flexibility exists.  The other exceptions are the voluntary programs that EPA has tried to implement that cut across programs and that rely more on partnerships - DfE, SmartWay, Project XL.  But more times than not, such integrated programs are dissed as unenforceable and letting companies get off easy.  Creatures of the Bush Administration, so bad by definition.

I agree there needs to be more systems thinking and flexibility to find the best overall solutions.  But on a practical basis, in this most litigious society, I don't know if enough trust exists to work on an integrated basis.  As long as the focus is on nailing the bad guys by laying down lines and watching to see who crosses them, how are we going to build a legal system that allows for dynamic, adaptive systems thinking?

Of course, there's also a bit in the paper about a new "sustainability science and technology."  SS&T tries to model how complex social and natural systems will perform under given requirements (with just a little more data collection) to inform decision-makers and the public on what the right things to do are.  Uh- huh.  Shades of Asimov's Foundation series.   How will we know how many necessary variables there are, what the boundaries are, and can we collect enough data?  Not so easy to test ginormous eco-social systems.  It'll be interesting to see how SS&T develops.

But we have to try to break out of the silos we've been stuck in for decades and learn to see in 3D.

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