Lately I’ve been thinking and writing about environmental governance. Here’s a summary. It has to do with the consequences of not thinking systemically; combining top-down and bottom-up policies; technology forcing; fairness and the SDGs; and prospects of violence.

First, as we know, some people tend to see systemic interactions, while others seem able only to see direct, immediate cause-and-effect. The latter folks cause three kinds of troubles.

First, they think Covid-19 is a single problem that will be solved, following which all will return to normal. And ditto, they believe, for climate change, the Ukraine war, migration, and so on – not realizing that each of these problems causes all the others, and that therefore we are in deep doo-doo.

The second trouble is that people oriented to direct cause-and-effect are also susceptible to authoritarian “leaders” (Lakoff 2016). Authoritarian and autocratic regimes tend to be anti-science and anti-education. This rules out autocracy as a viable means of environmental governance.

The third trouble lies with those, predominantly evangelicals, who expect to be raptured to heaven, within their lifetimes, as Jesus returns. Such folks, planning to leave the Earth behind, have no reason to vote for pro-environmental measures. Though difficult for many of my audiences to believe, these millennialists constitute formidable voting blocs, in the USA, Brazil, Ireland, and elsewhere. This makes it difficult for one-person-one-vote democracy to be an effective means of environmental governance.

One religious leader just decided these evangelicals should be labeled “heretics” and cast out from Christianity. One needs no theological expertise to see that this would only inflame an already dangerous social polarization. What my colleagues and I have proposed instead (Phillips, Reimer,&Turner 2022) involves constructive dialogs with evangelicals, drawing on several models from social psychology. By striving toward shared visions of the future, these dialogs may slowly transform some evangelical opinion leaders to a pro-environmental stance.

The climate crisis is urgent, so this bottom-up initiative should be tried simultaneously with top-down measures. The problem, of course, is that the intrusive, top-down, technocratic measures proposed to date either have failed, or have never been implemented. My proposal (Phillips 2022) for environmental governance centers on technology forcing. Its role model is the successful reduction in harmful automobile emissions that resulted from the Environmental Protection Agency’s administration of the Clean Air Act of 1970. In short, the President (this must begin as an executive action) will force, via time and performance targets, accelerated advancement of green technology. Hard targets for what and when, but not for how. All other aspects of democratic government continue untouched. The time targets give incumbent industries sufficient warning of technological transitions.

After the writing of Phillips (2022), U.S. President Joe Biden (who most certainly did not read my draft!) invoked the Defense Production Act to “scale up the domestic production of clean energy technologies” (Dhanesha 2022). His executive order fell short of full technology forcing. He assigned the Department of Energy to administer it. This was politically astute, as the opposing party despises the EPA – and in fact a week later, the Supreme Court further crippled EPA’s ability to protect the environment – but unfortunate in that the DOE labs move at a glacial pace.

Just two years ago I advocated (Phillips 2020) research toward reducing the negative interactions among the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. The alarming pace of climate change and attendant disasters leads me now to say, instead, that we must decide what SDG trade-offs we can tolerate. The SDGs were designed to be fair, but fairness will not save the world. There will be tragedies and sacrifices, unevenly distributed, before things get better.

Violence won’t save the world either. Though it’s clear that tensions due to warming climate, pandemics and migration will spark armed conflicts, one hopes to minimize these. Phillips (2021) examines the literature of violent conflict, specifying under what conditions optimism may be feasible. (Ironically, I submitted this work to a Russian journal just before the start of hostilities in Ukraine. There has been no response from the journal staff, who understandably have other matters on their minds.)


Dhanesha, Neel (2022) Why Joe Biden is invoking a war power to build heat pumps and solar panels. Vox/Recode, June 8.

Lakoff, G. (2016) Understanding Trump.

Phillips, F. (2020) The SDG Project: A Long-term Project under Technological Uncertainty. Engineering, Volume 6 Issue 6 (June 2020)

Phillips, F. (2021) On Violence. Submitted to Foresight & STI Governance, December.

Phillips, F. (2022) A 3rd Way? Technology forcing for planetary survival. Preprint at

Phillips, F.; Reimer, L.; Turner, F. (2022) Climate Dialog, Climate Action: Can democracy do the job? J. Open Innov. Technol. Mark. Complex.8(1), 31;