Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

The Lorax Can Win: Using Scenario Building to Create A New Vision and Invigorate an Activist Agenda"for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Basin

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

The Lorax Can Win: Using Scenario Building to Create A New Vision and Invigorate an Activist Agenda"for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Basin

Article excerpt


sustainability, scenario building, Great Lakes St. Lawrence, marine and freshwater policy, vision


There is movement afoot across the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Basin to create a binational vision. As argued by scholars, heightened public awareness and government commitment are coalescing to create a potential spark for transformative change. While this transformation is exigent, it is by no means certain. By examining the question, "what can happen if..." we used scenario building to explore four alternative futures open to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Basin. These futures and the discussions they generate serve as a strategic means to inform the evolution of this new vision. By throwing into relief the undesirable futures possible for this region, we argue for an "activist" agenda calling on all interests to seize this pivotal moment in the history of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence and help turn it from potential collapse to sustainability.


The Loraxi is Dr. Suess's 1971 piquantly told children's fable that uses metaphor to chronicle the impact of human greed on the environment. Beyond being an amusing anecdote, The Lorax demonstrates the power of narrative to illustrate cause-and-effect outcomes that can drive societal change. In one sense, Dr. Suess is using a modern planning technique-scenario building to describe a particular future and associated outcomes. Through the examination of the central question "what can happen if..." scenario building can help create a common argumentation among different individuals that can assist in setting the foundation for desired policy and management outcomes (e.g., Bezold,1999; Collins & Porras, 1996; Lindgren & Bandhold, 2003).

In the Great Lakes St. Lawrence context, we argue that while progress has been made over the last half-century, the environmental agenda largely suffers anemic implementation; particularly within the last 15 years. The myth of abundance-that is, the enormity of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence debars it from collapse-seems ingrained in the wider public consciousness. Decisionmaking at the economic, societal and political levels largely continues under a traditional exploitation paradigm established with first European settlement. On the other hand, the region's economy is undergoing rapid transition from the familiar heavy industrial base to a post-industrial era (e.g., Austin, Dezenski & Affolter-Caine, 2008). The confluence of these pressures has left basin experts questioning if the current governance and management regime is sufficient to meet future challenges (e.g., Manno & Krantzberg, 2008; Jackson & Kraft Sloan, 2008).

The use of vision statements as a policy tool to ground management regimes and guide associated actions is widespread in the environmental management sphere. Although some Great Lakes St. Lawrence actors feel an adequate vision exists in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA)-as centered on water quality- Krantzberg (2009) diagnoses the lack of a binational macroscale vision as a principal malaise in improving implementation of the basin's environmental agenda.

A significant gap missing in the 1987 GLWQA is the recognition of the requisites for a sustainable Great Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin ecosystem. The socioeconomic nature of this region is nowhere acknowledged nor are there programs or policies in place that overtly enhance the economic vitality and social cohesion of the region (p. 255).

The need for a higher-level vision that integrates environment, economic and social dimensions, has also been echoed in other policy forums including the Great Lakes Futures Roundtable (GLFRT) which is currently undertaking a stakeholder process to seek higher-level consensus among upper level bureaucrats and power holders to move forward on a proposed vision.ii Furthermore, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario reported the overarching theme throughout the roundtables and public forums was the need for greater Great Lakes presence on the government's policy agenda; in short, a Great Lakes vision backed by strong leadership (Environment Commissioner of Ontario, 2006). …

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