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Chapter: Future Developments
Section 2: Environmental Forum
Check these out, too!
Section 1:  Sustainable Development Forum
Section 3:  Energy Forum
Author # Title:  Click to visit article
Ajai Malhotra
1 Excerpts from 'A commentary on the status future generations as a subject of international law'; Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 39.
Lester W Milbrath 2 Excerpts from "We are at a fork"; published in "Environmentalists: Vanguard for a New Society"; State University of New York Press, 1984; page 6.
LUHNA Concept Paper 3 An emerging national program: Land Use History of North America (LUHNA); Clues from the past about our future environment.
  4 Watch this space for new additions!
  5 Watch this space for new additions!
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Preamble:
Que sera sera ... we can only dream of a world free of want: where the promise of science is fulfilled; where knowledge is unleashed as a social force. We would like to believe that such a future is on the horizon of Bengal. However, to seize this vision, it must be taken up, struggled over, articulated, popularized and made into a material force.

But what can 'Future Vision' do? For too long, the debate about social change has been focussed around old world concepts of a world fast disappearing. We must pose the proper questions, not just towards understanding the world we live in, but towards changing it. New ideas are needed to annihilate the accumulation of exhausted ideas.

Hopefully, 'Future Vision' will contribute to that effort. Join us ... send us your contributions and thoughts: mailto: sankalpatrust@hotmail.com.
Bon voyage!

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CONTRIBUTIONS & ARTICLES:
1. Excerpts from 'A commentary on the status of future generations as a subject of international law', by Ajai Malhotra; in Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 39.
The UN Conference on Environment & Development (UNCED)
The convening of UNCED in Rio de Janeiro from 3-14 June 1992 is of particular interest ... in view of the implications of its outcome for both present and future generations ...

Agenda 21
Perhaps the most important operational output of UNCED was the agreement reached on Agenda 21 - a detailed program of action addressing all major areas affecting the relationship between the environment and the economy. With a force extending into the 21st century, it reflects a global concern for integrating environmental concerns into an accelerated development process. Agenda 21 is not legally binding , yet its endorsement by 180 countries, of which over 100 were present at Rio at the level of head of state or government, clearly reflects the importance assigned to it by the global community and the high political commitment of its contents.

... The preamble of Agenda 21 specifies the integration of environment and development concerns and that the devotion of greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improving living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. It emphasize that nations acting alone cannot achieve this objective but can do so through a global partnership ... While stressing that successful implementation is the responsibility of governments, international cooperation should support and supplement rather than seek to supplant national efforts ...

... The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development consists of 27 principles meant to govern the environmental and economic behavior of peoples and nations. One of the principles (Principle 3) states that:

    "the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of the present and future generations"
[Reminder from Essem: This presentation is only an extract. Please read the full article for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.]

DISCUSSIONS:
Comment # 1: Received from:

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2. Excerpts from "We are at a fork" in Environmentalists: Vanguard for a New Society"; State University of New York Press, 1984; page 6.
[Note from Essem: This article has been edited and in some places altered, but only to make the contents of this important contribution locally applicable. No disrespect to the original author(s) is intended, but time and space constraint has forced us to undertake this exceptional, editorial action. Please bear with us ... but do read on ... our lives could depend on it ... ]
Prophecy and Society Choice
In most primitive communities, the prophets (chiefs, priests, wise men, witch doctors) who interpreted for their people how the world works, usually claimed that a god or other spirits determine the workings of nature and the fortunes of humans as they live in nature. These "wise men" had the ability to remember and preserve that which was believed to be good from the past, and to prescribe "correct" forms of behavior in the present that the people were told would provide a happy and fulfilling future. These prophets urged their people to adopt certain beliefs and behaviors that assuredly would lead to eternal life in some future heaven Their interpretations as to how the world works were given authority by mystical connections to to an infallible, all-powerful god that not only told humans what they must do but also could shape nature itself, for it was this very god that had created nature.  Even though we moderns are skeptical of the pretentious claims to know how the world works put forth by the prophets of the old, we can recognize the importance for social cohesion of having an agreed upon "story" that guides the beliefs and behavior of the people.

In modern society there are no widely recognized infallible prophets to tell us how the world works and how we should behave. Science is now being looked to as the authority to tell us how our natural world  works, although we are continually discovering how much we still do not know. In addition, science and technology have given the humans the power and the capability to do many things that have far-reaching social, economic and political consequences, some of which may be life-threatening. Yet the canons of science lead scientists to strive to keep it value free; furthermore, scientists will not try to give society a code of ethics. Instead, we fall back on an ethical code, inherited from organized religion, that was mainly developed in the pre-scientific era when humans had less capability to dominate and exploit nature. Our ethical / normative structure is so far out of step with the power and the capability provided by modern science that many people are questioning the wisdom of following the normative prescriptions from old traditions. Many of them believe that these old traditions are incapable of guiding us as we strive presently to avoid destroying our own biosphere and civilization.

It would be helpful if today's society could find some modern-day prophets who understand, much better than ever before, how the world works physically and socially and who also have the breadth and depth of vision to develop a new ethical / normative belief structure that would enable humans to so guide their affairs, and redirect the course of their society, that they could live lives of reasonably high quality in a long-run sustainable relationship with nature. A new group of leaders, known simply as the environmentalists, is trying to combine a sophisticated understanding of the natural workings of the world with a newly developing environmentally-oriented ethic. These leaders have the potential for becoming modern-day prophets to guide society toward a better way of life, one that is sustainable in nature over the long run ...

Mindless Pursuit of "Progress" in the Old Dominant Social Paradigm

    ... Every organized society has a dominant social paradigm (DSP) which consists of the values, metaphysical beliefs, institutions, habits, etc.  that collectively provide social lenses through which individuals and groups interpret their social world ...
A paradigm may be defined as a society's dominant belief structure that organizes the way that people perceive and interpret the functioning of the world around them. Thomas Kuhn (1962), a philosopher / historian of science, has elucidated the way that scientific disciplines or communities are dominated by an accepted belief paradigm that shapes the way the people participating in that discipline think about their subject matter. From time to time, paradigms are proven to be faulty in certain respects and they undergo a shift toward a new, more adequate paradigm. Such shifts are generally resisted strongly and occur only when the old paradigm has proved to be no longer serviceable or acceptable ...

... Meanwhile, several overlapping social thrusts in modern society are challenging the validity of the old DSP ...  The prophets of old [possibly] could not anticipate the power and exuberance that modern technology would place in human hands, and our religious heritage provides little guidance for problems such as :

  • Human population is growing so swiftly that its numbers must be limited either by interference with normal reproduction (birth control) or by premature death (disease or famine);
  • Humans can distort or obliterate the biosphere (slash down forests, move mountains, redirect rivers, etc.), foreclosing its use for other purposes;
  • Humans crowd many other species out of their niches and drive some of them to extinction;
  • Humans can, through nuclear war, devastate much of the world's biosphere and destroy all life in those areas;
  • A minority of the world's population, located in a few privileged countries, can dig out, and use up, in a few centuries most of the planet's storehouse of metals and fossil energy;
  • Humans can invent new life forms; and
  • Humans can keep bodies "alive" even though the brain is dead.
  • No! Turning back to old moral precepts will not solve the problems of modern society

If the society, working according to the old DSP, is experiencing such difficult problems, why don't we simply change it? While most people feel that modern society does indeed have many difficulties, there are also so many things that people feel are good about modern society ... we have been relieved of a great deal of the heavy physical drudgery that our forebearers had to endure. Modern medicines make it possible for people to recover from or cope with many injuries and illnesses that shortened the lives of our ancestors. Even ordinary people now have the opportunity to travel to exotic places, to experience the thrill of power (e.g.: drive through wilderness in an off-road vehicle), to eat exotic food that formerly only the nobles could afford, to bring the best entertainment in the world into their own living rooms. The list could be extended, but you get the idea. At one level of analysis, it is valid to say that humans never had it so good. Ironically, it is the very achievements of modern science and technology, such as those just mentioned, that eventuates in the sense of unease about the way society is working ... For example, travel by masses of people to exotic places not only destroys their exotic character but consumes prodigious amounts of fossil energy. When the energy is depleted, such travel will no longer be possible and many other energy dependent activities will also be impossible. The very success of modern society could well lead to its failure.

Why don't we keep what is good about modern society and fix up those things that aren't working well? At first blush that sounds eminently sensible ...However, the ideas of the vanguard of the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) are so challenging to the old DSP that it has stimulated a rearguard effort to defend the old DSP. These competing paradigms are highly contrastive; the protagonists face each other in a spirit of exasperation, talking past each other with mutual incomprehension. It is a dialog of the blind talking to the deaf. Nor can the debate be settled by appeals to facts. We need to grasp the implicit cultural meanings which underlie the dialog ...

    It is because protagonists to the debate approach issues from different cultural contexts, which generate different and conflicting implicit meanings, that there is mutual exasperation and charges and countercharges of irrationality and unreason. What is sensible from one point of view is nonsense from another. It is the implicit, self-evident, taken-for-granted character of paradigms which clogs the channels of communication ...
The "establishment" is likely to defend the present system; for them the old DSP continues to work reasonably well. Most of the leadership groups in a society have deep emotional investment, as well as strong self-interest, in the preservation of the system. They will fight to preserve the system and will be the last to abandon it.

It seems, then, that the place to look for this gradual change in beliefs, and ultimately in behavior patterns, is in the large mass of people who fall somewhere in between the environmental vanguards and establishment rearguards. These people are much more ready psychologically to abandon the old DSP - not necessarily because they have a vision of a better society - but because they are disenchanted with the "old " system that no longer works well for them. Even though these people may not recognize the social change they are living through, many of them have already abandoned a substantial part of the old DSP ...

...Whether [sensible] environmentalists can attract these masses of people to the New Environmental Paradigm remains to be seen ...

[Reminder from Essem: This presentation is only an extract. Please read the full article for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.]

DISCUSSIONS:
Comment # 1: Received from:

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3. An emerging national program: Land Use History of North America Clues from the past about our future environment.
Most of us realize that our lives are lived on a scale that is insignificant when compared to geological time. Continents break up and drift apart, mountains rise and are worn away by the elements, and all of human history is dwarfed by the vastness of earth's history. What many of us fail to realize is that, like the continents and the mountains, the Earth's living ecosystems are in constant change. While faster than the movement of continents, ecological change occurs at a pace that can be difficult to detect over the span of a human lifetime.

Plant communities are constantly shifting in distribution and species composition -- much of what was a rich wetland when humans first crossed the Bering land bridge into North America is now desert, and large expanses of arid grassland seen by the pioneers during the United States' westward expansion has given way to shrubs and woodland. Many such changes in vegetation -- collectively referred to as land cover change -- have resulted from, or been intensified by human activities. From the spread of fire to the expansion of agriculture, humans have shaped the face of North America.

Resource managers and scientists, working together, are coming to terms with land cover change and the dynamic view of ecosystems and ecological processes. We can no longer assume that the nature exists in a static, unchanging "natural" condition interrupted only by the work of humans. Instead, we must view nature as a dynamic system of which we are a part, recognizing that a variety of forces -- ranging from climatic change, to fire, to human land conversion -- are constantly interacting to determine the magnitude and direction of change. And we must accept responsibility for the fact that, in most places, our activities have become a dominant component of biological change.

Understanding the relationship between human land use and land cover change, and assessing implications for the future, is the goal of a new national program: Land Use History of North America, or LUHNA. In the summer of 1995, the National Biological Service (now the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey) hosted a diverse group of scholars working on the issues of land use, land cover, and ecological change. Historians, geographers, ecologists, and sociologists met with scientists from NBS, the Park Service, NASA and other institutions to discuss how the work of the different agencies and academic subdisciplines might be brought together to provide an integrated perspective on land cover and land use history, from pre-European times to the present. The LUHNA project, now in a pilot phase, is exploring approaches for fostering this cross-disciplinary work and developing data products and analytical tools for researchers, resource managers, educators, and the general public.

The first task is to develop a clearer understanding of the historic changes in the distributions of plants and animals and their relation to human-induced changes to the landscape. Much of the impact that people have had on the environment can be viewed as a series of unplanned experiments, with particular perturbations generating measurable responses, in the form of contractions in the ranges of some species and expansions in the ranges of others. Within the context of these temporal dynamics, species extinctions and the spread of non-indigenous species may be seen as the extreme cases, where biological elements are lost or introduced. These experiments have been run, and environmental scientists are assembling the data needed to assess the results. Among the efforts supported by LUHNA are pilot projects examining patterns of forest clearing and reforestation in New England, a comparison of the influences of natural fire and timber harvest in forest development in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, a multi-scale view of the vegetative change in the arid Southwest emphasizing fire history, and a continental perspective on the spread of exotic species.

Embracing the dynamic perspective of North American ecosystems has opened up a new understanding for many North Americans, and a new set of challenges for land and resource managers. For much of this century parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas were viewed as inert relics of a natural state that had been lost over most of the continent. However, changes observed in these natural areas over just the past few decades plainly indicate that, like the rest of the landscape, the parks themselves are changing. Climatic variation, the dynamics of plant and animal populations, and the direct and indirect effects of humans are influencing the ecological character of pristine and altered lands, alike.

In such a dynamic world, what is the role of the resource manager? Managing parks and wildlands for what is believed to be a "natural" condition has become a vague, unsatisfying goal. Increasingly, scientists and managers are trying to understand the effects of management options in the context of the background rates of change -- often referred to as the natural range of variation or NRV -- of ecological systems. And again, they are turning to our parks and wilderness areas, this time not as specimens of "natural" conditions but as living laboratories, where ecological processes are operating with minimal interference from humans. A complementary approach for understanding NRV is to look back in time and study the rates and magnitude of change that occurred before humans came to dominate most terrestrial ecosystems. In some cases, what seem to be profound and lasting human impacts may appear insignificant when viewed in the context of the system's natural range of variation. In other cases -- such as the removal of old-growth forests and the draw-down of freshwater aquifers -- consideration of NRV confirms that change is occurring at a rate that is unprecedented in the recent history of the planet. Recognizing the difference is a new and critical challenge for environmental scientists. BRD and its LUHNA collaborators are working to bring this hard-won understanding to the management of natural resources.

[Reminder from Essem: This presentation is only an extract. Please read the Concept Note for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.]

DISCUSSIONS:
Comment # 1: Received from:

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