The Environment in the 21st Century
Jacques Theys provides an overview of mid- to long-term issues of environmental protection. He classifies them into those which are a legacy of the 20th century and those which could be solved by a third industrial revolution.
In the first class, the author reviews the pending issues that our century will hand down to future generations. Up to now, he stresses, we have concentrated our efforts on flows (such as pollution), and we should now be looking at the restoration of stocks. He underlines, however, that this will be complicated by an economic and demographic transition. On one hand the world population is likely to grow very rapidly before it finally stabilizes, and on the other the process of globalization will continue to generate paradoxical consequences. This inventory ends on the note of climatic risk which, however controversial, could nonetheless provoke a shock of seismic proportions.
According to Jacques Theys, new problems will doubtless be interweaved when the third industrial revolution reaches its maturity. Biotechnology and the information/communications revolution present risks as well as opportunity.
He especially insists on the amplitude of "structural uncertainty" which accompanies the "society of risk" (Ulrich Beck), the characteristics of which are scientific incertitude and the vulnerability of major technical systems. The author sketches a panorama of the environmental problems he anticipates in the 20th century, wondering what degree of attention our offspring will pay to them, and how they will value and represent them. Will they live "beside nature", co-habiting with indifference, or will they be increasingly concerned by ecological issues?