Environmental Governance at the Leading Edge of Technology

In an interview for the website “Ubiquity” David Rejeski Director of the Foresight and Governance Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars discussed the governance problems associated with rapidly advancing technology.

“REJESKI: The one common characteristic underlying surprise over the past decades has been the speed of advance. Think of the sequencing of the human genome. When the project began it was viewed as nearly impossible, then we predicted it would be complete in 2005, then in 2004, and then it was done. In these compressed timeframes, we have less room for careful deliberation about the consequences (both good and bad) of our technological choices and far less time than needed to educate people about complex issues. I would also say that what will surprise us as a society in the future is likely to arise from the interstitial spaces between disciplines (for instance, at the intersection of biology and nanotechnology or nanotechnology and cognitive neuroscience) and we are ill-prepared to venture into and explore these spaces.

UBIQUITY: How do you make public policy in a Moore’s Law world? How do you make public policy on a scientific and technological frontier that’s moving very quickly?

REJESKI: Adaptation, co-evolution, agility and improvisation — all things that come hard to government. My argument is that we have entered the next major industrial revolution. We are witnessing a major change in how we manufacture, where we manufacture, and even if we chose to manufacture (substituting information for things and extracting economic value from bits, not atoms). Most of what we call government was set up in the last 30 to 50 years. We have entered the 21st century with outmoded bureaucratic structures firmly in place — structures designed to deal with the first industrial revolution and its aftermath, not proactively with the emerging knowledge economy. Attempts to “reinvent” government have focused mostly on improving what we already do, not on fundamentally changing how we think.”

Rapidly advancing technology will challenge our systems of governance in many areas including in the field of environmental protection.  The George Washington University Law School in collaboration with the Environment Law Institute and the GW Journal of Energy and Environmental Law will explore the ramifications of technolgy developments in synthetic biology, geo-engineering and nanotechnologies, among others, for environmental protection.  The agenda for the Symposium follows:

2011 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Conference

March 23-24, 2011

Burns Moot Court Room

The George Washington University Law School

20th and H Streets NW

Environmental Governance at the Leading Edge of Technology

Examining how the legal system can better anticipate and respond to the environment and public health challenges associated with increasingly complex technologies

The conference will explore the need for and the possible structure of anticipatory governance systems that are capable of protecting the environment and public health in the context of emerging technologies such as geo-engineering to address climate change, hydro-fracturing and deep water drilling to recover energy resources, synthetic biology to produce new fuels and other innovative materials, and expanding use of nanotechnologies.

Day One, March 23

8:30-9:00 Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00-10:30

I. The Governance Challenges Associated with Leading Edge Technology

a.      Moderator—Scott Schang, Vice-President, Climate and Sustainability, the Environmental Law Institute

b.     Brad Allenby—Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and of Law, at Arizona State University

c.      David Rejeski, Director of the Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International Institute for Scholars

d.     Gary Marchant, Lincoln Professor Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-12:15

II.              The Technology Context—The panel will discuss the nature of leading edge technology  such as synthetic biology and geo-engineering, as well as information technologies that may help resolve governance challenges

a.      Moderator—Jennifer Bowmar, Associate Professor and Shaw Fellow, The George Washington University Law School

b.     Samual Thernstrom, Bipartisan Policy Center

c.      Michael Rodemeyer, Science, Technology and Society Program, University of Virginia

d.     Jerry Johnston, U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Information

e. Jonathan Gilligan, Vanderbilt University

12:15-1:10 Lunch

1:10-1:30 Announcement of the first winner of the Jamie Grodsky Prize for Environmental Scholarship

1:30-3:15

III.            The Strengths and Limitations of Existing Governance Structure—The panel is designed to identify aspects of existing governance systems that can respond well to rapidly advancing technology and aspects of existing governance systems that do not respond well to new technologies using nanotechnology and early experience with synthetic biology as the context for the discussion

a.      Moderator—Robin Juni, Assistant Dean, The George Washington University Law School

b.     Linda Breggin , the Environmental Law Institute

c.      Mark Greenwood , Ropes & Gray

d.     John Monica, Porter Wright

e.      Lynn Bergeson,  Bergeson & Campbell

3:15-3:30 Break

3:30-5:00

IV.            Environmental Impact Analysis in the Complex Technology Context—The panel will examine issues related to worst case scenarios, risk analysis, low probability—high risk situations, review of sources that individually have minimal impact but collectively have very large impacts, and the use of “precaution”

a.      Moderator—Robert Glicksman, J.B. & Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School

b.     Brad Karkkainen, Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

c.      Paul B. Smyth, Perkins Coie, former Associate Solicitor, Division of Mineral Resources, U.S. Department of Interior

d. Jim McElfish, Senior Attorney and Director of the Sustainable Use of Land Program, the Environmental Law Institute

Day Two, March 24

8:30-9:00—Continental Breakfast

9:00-10:30

V.             Public engagement, Stakeholder Dialogues and Information Availability—The panel will explore issues such as including “upstream” public engagement at the research stage, early stakeholder dialogues about governance of new technology, information disclosure, equity and the impact of public perceptions on technology acceptance

a.     ModeratorBarry Hill, Visiting Scholar, the Environmental Law Institute

b.     Don Braman, Professor, The George Washington University Law School

c.     Laura Bloomberg, Executive Director, Center for Integrative Leadership, University of Minnesota

d.     Hari Osofsky, Professor, University of Minnesota Law School and Associate Director of Law, Geography, and Environment with the Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences at the University of Minnesota

10:30-10:45 Break

11:00-1:00

VI.            Round Table Discussion of New Approaches to Government Oversight—The program will conclude with a roundtable discussion of ways to build a more anticipatory governance system within government agencies and the role of NGOs and businesses in governance related to rapidly advancing technologies

a.      ModeratorLee Paddock, Associate Dean for Environmental Law Studies, The George Washington University Law School

b.     Gary Marchant, Director of the Science and Technology Innovation Program, Woodrow Wilson International Institute for Scholars

c.      David Rejeski, Lincoln Professor Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University

d.     Michele Garfinkel, Policy Analyst, J. Craig Venter Institute

e.      Dan Fiorino, Director, Center for Environmental Policy, Department of Public Administration, American University

f.       Tracy Hester, Professor of Law and Director of the Environment, Energy and Resources Center,  University of Houston Law Center

g.     Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, Climate and Air, the Environmental Defense Fund

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, the GW Journal of Energy and Environmental Law, and the GW Environmental Law Association

Registration information is available at http://www.eli.org/Seminars/event.cfm?eventid=598

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