MAKE PREDICTIONS FOR 2000
WASHINGTON – At an EMS (Environmental Media Services) Press Breakfast, five of the nation's leading environmentalists discussed what they consider to be the most important issues facing the world in the next century.
Below are the speakers and a few of their comments:
Jane Lubchenco, professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, a MacArthur Fellow and a Pew Scholar in conservation and the environment, on ecosystem dysfunction: Ecosystem services – which purify our air and water, regulate climate, pollinate crops and generate fertile soil – are being severely disrupted by human activity.
"There are very profound ramifications for us, and we're not paying attention. We are in the process of transforming the planet in unprecedented ways ... increasing carbon dioxide content in our atmosphere by 30 percent, transforming two-thirds of our land surface. These changes are disrupting the systems on which we depend. Scientists are only beginning to understand how these ecosystems work. What is obvious is that today is different from any other time on Earth. We have learned that many of these changes are irreversible."
To deal with this problem, "We need good, credible sources of information. We've seen junk science, ignorance and disinformation play out. We need much more comprehensive research. We need to be able to hear that information without having a lot of ridiculous assertions being portrayed as credible science."
Lubchenco was heartened that the National Science Foundation's board recently announced that environmental science must be made one of its highest priorities, calling for an additional $1 billion annually to be added to its present budget for this discipline. She called on all parties to practice the precautionary principle: "Uncertainty warrants precaution."
Bill McKibben, former New Yorker editor and author of The End of Nature, on global warming: "For the first time, we have become big enough as a species to affect everything around us. Climate change is the one issue which – if we don't take care of it – all others won't matter much."
Besides warmer temperatures, he said, we are seeing or will see more flooding and droughts, dramatic ice thinning and a huge melt rate in the Arctic.
"This indicates that the hugest forces on this planet are behaving in ways they never have, at least in human history. It's not clear what's going to happen, but something is going to happen. The great hope of the Clinton Administration – but really of almost all politicians – is that technology is going to shift so fast that (climate change) won't become a political issue. Seattle struck me as the opening bell of a newer kind of politics I think we're going to see in the coming decade." [All the speakers noted that Seattle marked the touchstone of a strong new alliance between the labor and environmental movements.]
For journalists, said McKibben, the coming stories will be the disruptions caused by climate change and the political response to deal with it. "Pressure on corporations," he added, "will be as intense as on politicians."
Lester Brown, president of the Worldwatch Institute, on water shortages: "There is evidence of water scarcity on every continent. It's probably the most under-estimated issue the world is facing in the next century. I don't think we've grasped the consequences of a world population that continues to grow at 80 million a year. Falling water tables are a 20th century phenomenon. With the advent of modern diesel pumps or electric-powered pumps ... we're depleting underground aquifers."
As cities grow and demand more water, water is diverted from agricultural uses and countries turn instead to importing food, such as grains. Around the world, 480 million people are fed on grain that has been produced with an unsustainable use of water.
"It takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain. As globalization proceeds, water scarcity will cross international boundaries through grain imports. The market must tell the truth about the real cost of resources."
Philip Shabecoff, former New York Times environmental writer and founder of the Greenwire news service, on changes in the American environmental movement: The environmental community must change to ignite what is now a broad but shallow concern by the American public. It must work to become a key player in societal changes.
"The causes of the world's major environmental problems remain largely unaddressed. The environmental movement is going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. The problems it must address have become bigger, more intractable and the solutions less clear. The challenge for the environmental movement is to get at the root causes of environmental degradation instead of nibbling around the edges. Environmentalists have to recognize that their role lies not at the periphery but at the core of American (life)."
Denis Hayes, organizer of Earth Day 2000 and president of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation, on making environmentalism global: "The biggest threats today, and probably the biggest opportunity, lie in the international arena ... . We need to forge a global majority around environmental values. Earth Day 2000 is pioneering a new model of international engagement."
With 85 percent of the world's population so poor they would qualify for food stamps in the U.S., American environmentalists will face the challenge of crafting a global campaign around issues like global warming and the extinction of species.
The availability of affordable clean energy, for example, would be vastly speeded up if public policy supported the kind of subsidies that accelerated the development of, for example, computer chips. "We know how to drive down the cost of photovoltaics to the point where it will be the cheapest source of electricity for at least half of all new generating capacity around the planet," said Hayes. But current subsidies, he noted, are wrongly directed [for example to fossil fuels, which generate greenhouse gases].
Pointing out that environmentalists "have not simplified things enough" to attract strong, mass support, Hayes said that clarity on these issues will be a hallmark of the massive events to take place before and during next April's Earth Day 2000. "We have been afraid of emotion. We've been enormously rational. We need not be afraid to talk emotionally and culturally. Before Seattle, Americans had not focused on globalization. Now public understanding has been simplified – to something that talked about trade in terms of labor and the environment."
Via Earth Day 2000, said Hayes, "We want to catapult this issue to such prominence that you can't run for president of the United States, or for city council, without addressing environmental issues in a positive, affirmative way."
Written by: Environmental Media Services
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