The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2005 01:21:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: US takes the lead in trashing planet

US takes the lead in trashing planet

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Boston Globe
April 13, 2005

For more than four years, President Bush has told us he
needs to see the "sound science" on global warming
before joining the rest of the world in combating it.
In June 2001, he brushed off criticism of his pullout
from the Kyoto Protocol, saying: "It was not based
upon science. The stated mandates in the Kyoto treaty
would affect our economy in a negative way."

A year later, Bush's own Environmental Protection
Agency put out a report that the burning of fossil
fuels in the human activities of industry and
automobiles are huge contributors to the greenhouse
effect. He publicly trashed the report, embarrassing
then-EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, saying,
"I read the report put out by the bureaucracy."

Now comes a new study, by a bureaucracy representing
just about the whole planet. It is the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, commissioned by the United
Nations in 2000 at a cost of $24 million and compiled
by 1,360 experts from 95 countries. It is the latest in
dire reports as to how we are doing the planet in and,
implicitly, how the United States puts its interests
and pollution over the welfare of the rest of the

The report said human beings, whose numbers have
doubled to 6 billion, have changed the world's
ecosystems more in the last 50 years than in any other
period in our pursuit of food, fuel, water, and wood
products. More land was converted to agriculture since
World War II than in the 18th and 19th centuries

Those conversions, aggravated by the use of synthetic
nitrogen fertilizers, have led to 10 to 30 percent of
mammal, bird, and amphibian species facing the threat
of extinction. Highlights of what we have already lost
in the last 50 years include: 20 percent of the world's
coral reefs, with another 20 percent seriously
degraded, and 35 percent of the world's mangroves.

The dilemma is that many of the changes in
agricultural, fishing, and industrial technology have
had incredible benefits for human beings, including the
reduction of hunger and poverty. But in the process, 60
percent of the services the world's ecosystems provide,
from basic food to disease management to aesthetic
enjoyment, have been degraded. One example that is
particularly painful in New England and Atlantic Canada
is the collapse of fishing stocks.

"Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of
poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and
environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if
most of the ecosystem services on which humanity relies
continue to be degraded," the study said.

The study offered several scenarios of how humans can
halt the degrading of the planet. The most obvious
strategies involve a global economy where the sharing
of education, skills, technology, and resources leads
to a reduction in poverty and pressures on local
environments. The worst possible scenario is one called
"Order from Strength," which results in "a
regionalized and fragmented world, concerned with
security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional
markets, paying little attention to public goods, and
taking a reactive approach to ecosystem problems."

That precisely describes the United States. We consume
a quarter of the world's energy, are the world's
leading contributor to the greenhouse gases of global
warming, and take advantage of agriculture in all parts
of the world so we can have fresh peaches, peppers, and
berries 365 days a year if we wish. Not surprisingly,
the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has been out for
two weeks and there has not been a peep out of the
administration on it -- the same administration that
needed no sound science on weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq.

The assessment was cochaired by the World Bank's chief
scientist, Robert Watson. Watson was formerly NASA's
chief environmental scientist and environmental adviser
in the Clinton administration. Watson said two weeks
ago that the study reinforces his belief that climate
change "may become the most dominant threat to
ecological systems over the next hundred years."

The World Bank has been in the news for other reasons,
being so important to Bush that he had the right-wing
defense hawk Paul Wolfowitz installed as president. It
will be interesting, once Wolfowitz -- hardly known for
his caring about birds, insects, and Iraqi civilians --
is fully in power, how much more Watson and the World
Bank will speak out about how we are doing ourselves
in. Watson speaks for 1,360 experts from 95 countries.
It's only a matter of time before we hear Wolfowitz
saying, "I read the report put out by the

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

(c) Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


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