Summary

To summarise the lessons of this chapter, we could say that environmental management has appeared in the industrial economy at best as a sort of afterthought, an addendum to the main business of producing economic goods and services. But the dangers evident and the failures witnessed by proceeding in such an ad hoc fashion lead us to a radically different assessment of the situation.

The message from past environmental failures and from the precautionary principle itself is that future environmental management needs to be built on environmental foresight. We can no longer hope that laissez-faire emission of materials from the industrial economy will be an acceptable strategy. Nor can we rely on the ability of the environment to assimilate all kinds of material emissions from the economy. Rather we must make continued and strenuous efforts—within the constraints of thermodynamics—to reduce the material impact of the economy on the environment.

What emerges from this preliminary analysis is that environmental management is a process which demands the utmost care and consideration. It is amongst the most difficult of the tasks which face the industrial society, if we are to navigate safely between the conflicting demands of our own needs and the constraints of the physical world. First and foremost, this task demands that we design and, where necessary, redesign environmental foresight into industrial processes, consumer products and material consumption patterns. At the same time, it is essential that we do better than we have done in the past, if industrial society is to bid farewell to the environmental negligence epitomised by the incident at Love Canal.

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