A team of researchers engaged in a "horizon scanning" exercise have published a list of their top concerns for 2013.
They used a technique intended to identify issues that could emerge as threats or opportunities, especially developments that have not yet risen into the popular consciousness. The identification of these emerging issues supports investments to help prepare experts to better predict problems and to react in case big problems do arise in the areas of concern foreseen.
Green Ideas Gone Wrong
Environmental improvements constitute major drivers for change currently, and many of the top issues researchers prioritize for closer watching represent efforts to find better ways to meet our energy or resource needs. Lead author Bill Sutherland from the University of Cambridge points out:
This kind of horizon scanning exercise can be useful to avoid situations where we’re ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. One example is biofuels. They were promised to be a green alternative to fossil fuels, but no-one anticipated that pristine rainforest would be cleared for them.
Sutherland invited 19 experts to submit their proposals for little-known issues they believe could engender major consequences as they expand. The 72 issues identified were pared down to 15, which were reported in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.
Not a Black ListIt is important to note that this list does not define bad technologies.
Some of the issues on the list may turn out to have overwhelmingly positive impacts -- the problem is that we just cannot know that now, at the inception of the ideas.
TreeHugger favorites like on demand 3D printing, for example, could reduce manufacturing waste and transport footprint, but could also outstep its advantages if it trends towards an even more throw-away society. Concentrated solar power could significantly improve collection efficiency, possibly sparing larger amounts of land from coverage by photovoltaic systems, but the water cycle footprint of this technology bears close watching.
Top 15 Biodiversity Threats/Opportunities to Watch in 2013
- Rapid growth of concentrated solar power
- Widespread development of thorium-fuelled nuclear power
- Seabed located oil drilling and processing
- Accelerating water cycle
- Proliferation of hydropower in the Andean Amazon
- Species loss as a driver of global environmental change
- Vegetarian aquaculture feed
- Rapid rise in global demand for coconut water
- Detecting aquatic species with environmental DNA
- Use of coral nurseries for reef restoration
- Forest conservation and restoration by micro unmanned aerial vehicles
- The 3D printing revolution
- A link between biodiversity, allergy and autoimmune disease
- The commercial use of antimicrobial peptides
- Synthetic genetics