Past Seminar

Reforming Today’s Conservation and Environmental Policies for Tomorrow’s Scarcity (and Abundance)

Sep 9, 2015 RFF First Floor Conference Center, 1616 P Street NW, Washington, DC, 20036

About the Event

Environmental policies typically reflect an assumption that today’s scarcities will be tomorrow’s scarcities. Yet in the past, many social and technological innovations have radically altered the nature of scarcity, often reducing environmental impacts in the process. Several current trends (in agriculture, materials use, energy, and water) suggest that, with the right policies and investments, the human footprint could peak and decline in coming decades.

At this RFF First Wednesday Seminar, panelists discussed the following questions:

  • What has been learned from past instances of nature-sparing technological change?
  • In which ways can technology complement other efforts to halt biodiversity loss, including protected areas and payments for ecosystem services?
  • In looking further toward the future, can we assume the continued capacity to save nature by innovation?
  • How can economists, conservationists, policymakers, and others contribute to accelerating positive trends while dealing with inevitable trade-offs?

This seminar featured the release of a new report from the Breakthrough Institute, Nature Unbound: Decoupling for Conservation, and discussed several of its key themes: how humans destroy nature, how they save nature, and what this implies for conservation. 

This seminar is part of RFF’s continuing discussion series on the “limits to ingenuity,” which explores the future of environmental conditions in light of human creativity and technological change. See related content at right or below.



  • James W. Boyd, Senior Fellow
  • Linus Blomqvist, Director of Conservation, The Breakthrough Institute
  • Jesse H. Ausubel, University Fellow, Resources for the Future; Director of the Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University
  • Thomas Lovejoy, Senior Fellow, United Nations Foundation; and University Professor, George Mason University