Volume 79, Number 1

April 2004

Environmental Protection in the Information Age

Daniel C. Esty

Information gaps and uncertainties lie at the heart of many persistent pollution and natural resource management problems. This article develops a taxonomy of these gaps and argues that the emerging technologies of the Information Age will create new gap-filling options and thus expand the range of environmental protection strategies. Remote sensing technologies, modern telecommunications systems, the Internet, and computers all promise to make it much easier to identify harms, track pollution flows and resource consumption, and measure the resulting impacts. These developments will make possible a new structure of institutional responses to environmental problems including a more robust market in environmental property rights, expanded use of economic incentives and market-based regulatory strategies, improved command-and-control regulation, and redefined social norms of environmental stewardship. Likewise, the degree to which policies are designed to promote information generation will determine whether and how quickly new institutional approaches emerge. While some potential downsides to Information Age environmental protection remain, the promise of a more refined, individually tailored, and precise approach to pollution control and natural resource management looks to be significant.