Though the focus of this section is on the importance of socio-economic
change in triggering environmental impacts, it is clear that environmental
change is a potent driving force in its own right. Countries and regions
must contend not only with unequal environmental endowments, but also
with acute environmental problems. Human impacts on the environment have
aroused growing anxiety. Atmosphere, land and water resources have been
spoiled. Persistent organic pollutants and toxic substances have accumulated
in living organisms. Species have been lost and ecosystems degraded. In
addition, social and ecological systems are vulnerable to natural and
human-influenced hazards and catastrophes.
|'Among the four scenarios, Sustainability First assumes
the largest shift from current trends in terms of culture.'
The way natural systems react to these pressures (the rate, for instance,
at which climate patterns change as a result of higher concentrations
of greenhouse gases, or the response of coastal ecosystems to pollution),
can have a big impact on social, economic and other natural systems. The
realization that individual states cannot shield themselves from environmental
change is already changing the basis of geopolitics and global governance.
The scenarios presented here do not differ greatly in their assumptions
about the environment as a driving force. Most significantly, it is assumed
that natural systems are in a more fragile condition in Security First
than in the other scenarios. This implies that ecosystem collapses
and curbs on the capacity of certain natural systems to provide goods
and services are more likely, even when facing the same pressures. In
Policy First and especially in Sustainability First, the
values of stewardship and caring for the environment play a greater role
in guiding science, technology and governance, as well as in shaping economic
and social development.