Iowa is a leader in crop and livestock production, but high productivity has had concomitant negative environmental and societal impacts and large requirements for fossil-fuel derived inputs. Maintaining agricultural productivity, economic prosperity, and environmental integrity will become increasingly challenging as the global demand for agricultural products increases and the fossil-fuel resources needed to produce those products becomes increasingly limited.
This research developed four possible scenarios for Iowa in 2100 based on combinations of differing goals of the economy (high material throughput versus improvement of human and environmental welfare) and differing energy availability and cost (high versus low). In scenarios with a focus on high material throughput, environmental degradation will be exacerbated and social unrest will increase. In scenarios with a focus on human and environmental welfare, current environmental damage will be ameliorated and societal happiness will increase.
Movement towards a society focused on human and environmental welfare will require changes in the goals of the economy in addition to complementary governmental policies, whereas no major changes will be needed to continue to focus on high throughput as an economic goal. When energy sources are readily available and inexpensive, the goals of the economy will be more easily met, whereas energy limitations will restrict on the options available to agriculture and society. The scenarios developed through this work can be used as tools to inform people about choices that must be made to reach more desirable futures for Iowa and similar agricultural regions.
Peer-reviewed articles from the experiment:
Jarchow, M.E., I. Kubiszewski, G.L.D. Larsen, G. Zdorkowski, R. Costanza, S. R. Gailans, et al. (2012) The future of agriculture and society in Iowa: four scenarios. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 10:76-92.