23 July 1971
Environment - a Global Perspective
The Hon Russell E Train, Chairman, Council on Environmental Policy, Executive Office of the President.
To attempt to substitute on the lecture platform for Lord Clark can perhaps best be described as a ‘civilizing’ experience. It is certainly a humbling one. Kenneth Clark’s depth of knowledge and sharp intelligence, combined with rare sensitivity and lucidity of expression, have made him a truly extraordinary communicator of the traditions of our civilization.
The occasion tempts me to explore the relation between civilization and the environment. That there is an intimate association between the two is hardly in doubt. Culturally no less than biologically, man has evolved in a close causal relationship with the influences of the natural world that surrounds him. To a very significant degree, he is the product of that environment. And, of course, like other organisms within an ecosystem, he has in turn had a major effect upon his environment.
Environmental influences and, in particular, their seeming mystery gave form and substance to early religious belief. Social institutions, such as nomadism, developed in response to the particular characteristics of the ecosystem. Angkor Wat and Venice, Petra and Macchu Picchu, represent human responses to differing environments. They are architectural and cultural manifestations of man’s adaptation to the environment. Man is, in many ways, the most adaptable of all animals, and these examples show how he has adapted his culture to environments as diverse as arid deserts, mountain tops, humid tropics, and ocean shorelines. Our painting, our architecture, our music, our poetry — have all been strongly influenced by the natural environment. Our sense of the beautiful — of color, of form, of scale, and of composition — is hardly separable from our perception of the harmonies of the natural systems of which we are a part.
Of course, as I have noted, man’s civilization has not been just a passive recipient of environmental influence. Each has influenced the other. There has been a constant interplay of forces between the two. Indeed, the history of man has been a record of steadily increasing power over nature characterized by increasing intervention by man’s civilization in the natural systems upon which we depend. It was August Comte, the early social philosopher, who said over a hundred years ago:
‘Civilization consists, strictly speaking, on the one hand, in the development of the human mind, on the other, in the result of this, namely, the increasing power of Man over Nature.’
Primitive man lived in a rather precarious balance with his environment, an integral part of the natural ecosystem, probably barely able to survive in the face of natural forces over which he was essentially powerless. With the development of hunting and fishing and agriculture, he began to develop a modest control over his surroundings — how modest is made apparent by the fact that from the birth of Christ to the year 1000 the population of Europe remained substantially unchanged, at about 28 million people. The industrial revolution and the accompanying reduction in death rates through control over disease has changed all this very recently and very dramatically. The Biblical injunction to ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’ — has been obeyed in full measure.
Therein, of course, lies the problem and the great question of our time. If the environment has helped shape our civilization, we must now ask whether civilization will destroy the environment — and, of course, in doing so, destroy itself.
Let us admit our tradition of economic growth and increasing standard of living based upon an ever-increasing consumption of resources provides little reason for optimism in answering that question. This tradition is closely related to Judeo-Christian religious belief, illustrated in part by the passage from Genesis that I have already quoted. Western man has assumed a divine license to do what he will with nature and his environment without assuming at least equal responsibility for the environment and its continued welfare. The doctrine that man is the centre of the universe for which all nature was created has hardly led to a responsible or a responsive attitude toward the environment and its resources. Indeed, we may well ask whether the various concepts of divine creation of the world may not have blinded man from recognizing the reality of his own role in altering the face of the earth.
Of course, from earliest times, there have been those who have called attention to the problem. Plato in “Critias” implied man’s role in reducing the formerly rich, forested hills of Attica to ‘the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left.’ However, it was not until 1864 that the full range of man’s impact on the environment was laid out by George Perkins Marsh in his book “Man and Nature”.
Finally, it is only very recently that this recognition has become general rather than that of the occasional philosopher, theologian, scientist, or writer. Now, within the past few months, one can say that concern for the environment is an idea whose time has come. The ‘environmental crisis’ is today a familiar concept.
In the United States, concern over environment extends throughout the country, to all groups and most particularly to the young. I am frequently asked whether this apparent interest is in reality just a fad which like other fads will suddenly vanish from sight. I believe that the somewhat frenetic quality which has characterized the environmental issue in the United States will diminish and, in fact, is already doing so. At the same time, I am totally convinced that environmental quality as a public goal will continue and grow as a major priority of our time. The main reason for this is that the underlying causes for environmental concern are not imaginary or superficial. They are very real and they go to the very heart of our human condition — to the quality of our lives, and even ultimately our survival. While no group is immune from the effects of a deteriorating environment, the residents of our inner cities probably suffer the most from air pollution, crowding, noise, lack of open space and recreation opportunities.
The fact that public excitement over the environment as an issue has apparently moderated in the United States, particularly on university campuses, should not be taken as evidence of slackening interest. On the contrary, it is my belief that environmental concern is rapidly maturing as a public issue, accepted as an integral part of our concerns as a nation, representing a highly complex set of problems which we are coming to recognize are not susceptible to instant solutions but which rather require hard work and careful analysis over a long period of time — and undoubtedly some hard choices and a great deal of money. Public opinion polls consistently show pollution and related problems among the very top public concerns.
That a consensus has developed in the United States in favour of environmental programs is evident from the strong initiatives being taken by government at all levels. President Nixon has made environmental improvement a major priority of his Administration. Our Federal Government has been moving vigorously both to establish a strong institutional base for effective environmental management and to develop and implement comprehensive programs designed to reverse current environmental trends.
Until recently, major environmental responsibilities were scattered throughout our Federal establishment with little possibility for coordinated administration, let alone policy formulation. This picture has now changed dramatically.
On January 1, 1970, as his first official act of the decade, President Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act creating our Council on Environmental Quality. The Council is situated in the Executive Office of the President — a part of the White House — and is, thus, comparable to the Council of Economic Advisers. It has three members and a staff of about fifty. The Council advises the President on environmental policy and, in this connection, has developed the President’s very extensive environmental legislative program. The Council directly coordinates the administration of environmental programs which involve the responsibility of two or more agencies. Thus, tanker oil spills at sea involve both the water pollution responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency and the clean up and enforcement responsibilities of the Coast Guard. The Council on Environmental Quality insures a national response to this growing problem.
The problems of our society are growing increasingly complex. In terms of public administration this means that it is the rule rather than the exception that a given problem cuts across the functions and responsibilities of a number of agencies, a circumstance which is especially evident in the field of environment. No matter how we organize the affairs of government, it is impossible to put all programs with environmental impact into one agency. The coordinative function of the Council on Environmental Quality represents a response to this fact combined with a determination to provide strong and unified direction to all environmental programs within the Federal Government.
In addition to its responsibilities for coordination of Federal programs and for advising the President on environmental policy, the Council is responsible for providing guidance and oversight to implementation of the requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act that all Federal agencies in all of their planning and decision-making must take environmental factors into full account. Thus, in determining whether to grant a permit for building a pipeline across Federal lands in Alaska, the Department of the Interior must consider not only the engineering and economic factors but also the potential effects on wildlife, commercial fisheries, wilderness areas, and outdoor recreation opportunities, the pollution of lakes and rivers, the danger of seismic activity along the route, and of oil spills from tanker accidents as well as the impact of the pipeline upon the Alaskan native peoples whose culture and livelihood is still integrally associated with the environment.
Not only is the Department of the Interior required to consult with all other agencies with responsibility in these areas, it must develop a written environmental impact analysis which must be made available to other agencies for comment as well as to the general public, and made available to our Council on Environmental Quality for review — all before a final decision is made. This analysis must set out in detail the environmental impact of proposed actions, identify any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, identify alternatives to the proposed action, describe the relationship between short-term uses of the environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity, and finally identify any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposed action.
None of this is to say that environmental factors are to be controlling but rather that they must be fully identified and weighed, along with more traditional considerations such as economic and engineering factors, as a normal and integral part of decision-making. The requirement that the analyses be made public has given the private citizen an effective new role in the government planning process. This role is not limited to general complaint of the ‘letter to the editor’ variety. Environmental impacts of proposed government actions are increasingly frequently the subject of formal public hearings. Likewise, the new statutory requirements for environmental decision-making have become the subject of a large number of citizen suits in our Federal courts. Already, over the past i8 months, some 25 Federal actions — ranging from pipeline construction to timber cutting — have been enjoined by judicial action based upon citizen suits brought under the National Environmental Policy Act.
While our Council does not have direct authority to stop or change a Federal program, it does have considerable persuasive power. And, of course, we can and do make recommendations to the President based on our review. It was on the basis of such a review and report by our Council that the President brought to a permanent halt the construction of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal after some $50 million had already been spent on the project. In taking this dramatic action, the President stated that he was doing so because the potential environmental damage from the project outweighed the economic benefits. He pointed out that when the canal was first authorized a number of years ago, environmental factors were not considered an important element in decision-making and, as a result, potential environmental costs were not included in the economic analysis.
That a head of state should take such a step for such a reason is in itself an historic event.
It is no exaggeration to say that a revolution is underway in the way our government makes plans and decisions. I know that here in Great Britain your own government is steadily strengthening the role of environment in decision-making. The recent discussion on the location of a new London airport is a significant case in point. While different governments have different procedures and institutions, there can be no argument over the need for all governments at all levels to take environmental factors into full account in all of their actions. We should, indeed, do so in our private business affairs. In international activities, we might well consider appropriate ways and means for improving and strengthening the environmental responsibility of nations.
The remaining function of our Council that I should mention is the preparation for the President for submission to the Congress of an annual report on the quality of the environment. Our first report was transmitted to the Congress last August. Our second is due in a matter of days. It is our duty to report on status and trends in the environment — a difficult task given the inadequacies of current data.
The second major institutional reform that we have undertaken has been the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency proposed last year by the President. The Agency brings together under unified direction our environmental pollution programs — particularly our air and water pollution programs, our solid waste management program, our growing effort to control noise pollution, the regulation of pesticides, and radiation standard setting. EPA is an independent agency comparable to the Atomic Energy Commission or the National Aviation and Space Agency. Unlike our Council, it is an administrative agency with standard setting and enforcement authority in specific areas of pollution. Our Council, on the other hand, has policy functions which extend not only to the field of pollution but to all other areas of Federal activity which affect the environment, such as forest management, mineral development, parks and recreation, land use, housing, transportation policy, energy policy, etc.
Finally, the President has recently proposed to the Congress the establishment of a new Department of Natural Resources which would not include our pollution programs but which would bring together our other water, energy, and natural resource management programs.
While these institutional developments have constituted our response in the United States to the need for more effective environmental management, other governments with other traditions and other organizational problems will find different solutions to the same need. The vastly encouraging fact is that other nations are moving ahead rapidly to improve their environmental organization. Great Britain has provided an outstanding example with the creation of a Ministry for the Environment under a Secretary of State, Mr Peter Walker. The new ministry brings together the control of pollution with land use planning, transportation, housing, local government and public works. This organization represents a significant effort to deal with the environment as a totality. It recognizes that pollution abatement and wise land use are part and parcel of the same problem and that they must combine in its solution. The fact that the United States has not chosen such an organizational arrangement is not because we disagree with the concept but rather because independent status for our pollution control programs seems to provide the best assurance at this time of a strong, national effort in that area of great public concern. It is the function of our Council to provide the necessary coordination between these pollution control programs and the related programs of other agencies.
France has created a new Minister-Delegate for the Environment. The Federal Republic of Germany has designated the Minister of the Interior as the focal point of environmental responsibility. Canada has established a new Ministry for the Environment. Japan has just created a Cabinet-level Environmental Agency. Other nations, such as India, Kenya, and New Zealand, are experimenting with similar organizational reforms, including the establishment of coordinating mechanisms comparable to our Council on Environmental Quality. This fact has great significance because until governments provide centralized direction of environmental responsibilities, intergovernmental communication and cooperation on environmental matters is made difficult and often ineffective.
Not only has the United States undertaken major institutional reform, we have also been developing important substantive reforms in our programs. Last year, based largely on President Nixon’s recommendations, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act of 1970. Among other requirements, that law establishes stringent new emission standards for 1975 model automobiles. It is important to note that automobile pollution is not simply a problem of Los Angeles. It is a problem throughout our nation. Automobile emissions are the single most significant source of air pollution in the United States. Transportation — primarily autos and trucks — account for 42 per cent. of all air pollutants by weight.
This past February, President Nixon submitted to Congress a truly extraordinary group of legislative proposals for environmental improvement. These include strengthened standards and enforcement for our water pollution program, $6 billion in new Federal funding for municipal sewage treatment, a tax on sulphur oxide emissions, the control of noise pollution, the regulation of the sale of toxic substances, new controls over the use of pesticides, the control of ocean dumping off our own shores, a tax on lead in gasoline, a new national land use policy, regulation of the environmental effects of strip mining and other mining, legislation governing the siting of power plants, tax incentives for historic preservation, and greatly increased funding for open space in and around our urban areas.
In his message the President noted that next year — 1972 — marks the Centennial Anniversary of the establishment of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone, and he called for the creation of a World Heritage Trust to give recognition to the fact that there are areas all over the world of such great cultural, scientific, and scenic value that they should be treated as part of the heritage of all mankind. This is an exciting concept, one which has had strong support by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is our hope that the World Heritage idea will be given permanent form and substance by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment to be held at Stockholm.
I have been emphasizing up to this point mostly the domestic environmental programs of the United States. And certainly environmental improvement must begin at home. If we are to protect the world environment, each nation must put its own environmental house in order.
Yet it is essential that we recognize that the problems of the environment are global in nature. They affect all peoples, all nations. Every human being on the face of the earth is dependent upon the continued health of the air and water and soil. Pollution of the oceans is a threat to the survival of all. Pollution of the great river systems of Europe — such as the Rhine and the Danube — are a major international concern. In the field of pollution, to borrow a phrase I have heard used by your Secretary of State, Mr Walker, one country’s ‘out-tray’ has become another country’s ‘in-tray.’ The poisoning of our own Great Lakes — the greatest fresh water resource on earth — threatens both the United States and Canada. The narrow seas of the world — such as the Baltic and the Mediterranean — are becoming the common sewers of many nations. Sulphur oxide emissions from the smokestacks of one nation fall as acid rain over the land of another. The transportation of oil by tanker gives rise to increasing spillage of oil on the seas, with serious consequences for marine life as well as for the beauty and human enjoyment of beaches throughout the world. If the operation of supersonic transports should give rise to major changes in the upper atmosphere, all peoples everywhere would be affected.
In the latter connection, our Council has consistently urged the need for increased research on the potential atmospheric effects of SST operation. In our first annual report a year ago, we stated ‘Further study is necessary to better determine the effects of supersonic jet transports in the stratosphere before they are mass produced.’ While Congress recently decided against further funding of SST development at this time, for a variety of reasons, I am glad to report that our government has developed and will continue to pursue an important research program addressed to the environmental questions to which mass operation of supersonic transports give rise. I earnestly hope that all countries involved in the development of supersonic aircraft take these questions seriously and undertake their satisfactory resolution before becoming committed to mass operation.
The less developed countries have many critical environmental problems such as sanitation and healthy water supplies in overcrowded urban centers, soil erosion, and effective management of forests and other natural resources which in many areas are being rapidly laid waste. The less developed countries have the opportunity to act now in advance to avoid making the same mistakes that are proving so costly for the more developed countries to correct.
No place is immune from the major environmental impacts which our technology is producing. High levels of DDT are found in the tissue of seals and penguins in Antarctica.
We are slowly coming to learn the truth — that we all belong to one, closely interrelated world system. It is essential that we work together to protect and preserve that system.
We have no other.
In transmitting his recent message to Congress entitled ‘A Foreign Policy for the Seventies’, President Nixon declared:
‘We know that we must act as one world in restoring the
world’s environment, before pollution of the seas and skies
overwhelms every nation.’
One of the most heartening developments of our time is that the nations of the world are finally coming to recognize this blunt fact and are beginning to cooperate in various important ways to protect our common natural heritage.
International environmental efforts should constitute a major dimension of the priority which nations are increasingly giving to environmental protection in their domestic affairs.
In the United States, these international environmental activities fall into two main categories — bilateral efforts between the United States and individual other nations and multilateral efforts among a number of nations. In both areas, we have enjoyed a close working relationship with Great Britain.
Canada and the United States are providing an important demonstration of the opportunities which exist for positive cooperation for mutual environmental improvement. The International Joint Commission has been actively engaged in developing proposals for cleaning up the Great Lakes. Last month, at an historic meeting in Washington, the United States and Canada announced their intentions to enter into an agreement this fall to implement our commitment to stop the pollution of the Great Lakes.
Last October I visited Japan and met with Prime Minister Sato to initiate regular collaboration between our two countries on environmental matters. Early this month a Cabinet level delegation from Japan came to Washington to continue and strengthen our cooperation. We reached significant agreement on many important matters. One of these was acceptance of the principle that the polluter is responsible for paying the costs of cleaning up the pollution he causes. Thus, the polluting industry should pay the costs of pollution control and should not look to government for a subsidy. Naturally, we would then expect in the usual case that such costs would be passed on in the price of goods to the consumer. In this way, we believe we will achieve the greatest efficiency in the clean up of pollution at the least overall cost to society.
A highly effective environmental cooperation program, in which Great Britain is an active partner, is underway within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At the initiative of President Nixon NATO has established a Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CC MS), to which I am the U.S. representative. This Committee has achieved important agreements in the development of experimental safety vehicles, in the limitation of oil discharges on the high seas and has projects in flood control, regional planning, earthquake warning, air pollution monitoring, and in the development of low pollution automotive power systems. An interesting and innovative aspect of this NATO program is that it operates without a bureaucracy but depends instead upon the concept of a pilot country’ to take full responsibility for individual projects, in association with other nations as are interested. CCMS is not designed to replace or compete with established international organizations but rather to act as a catalyst for action by such organizations. Thus, the NATO oil spill agreement has recently become the basis for almost identical action within the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization (I MC 0) headquartered in London.
In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) headquartered in Paris, the major developed countries are working closely together on environmental matters, particularly with regard to the international trade and other economic impacts of environmental controls.
The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) provides an important forum for the exchange of environmental information between East and West.
Finally, as I have already mentioned, the United Nations itself is holding in 1972 at Stockholm a worldwide conference of governments on the Problems of the Human Environment. This conference will be a major opportunity for all countries of the world — developed as well as less developed -- to meet together on problems of the environment and to take effective action for environmental protection. Recently in London, the United States put forward a draft convention governing the control of ocean dumping with the hope that such a treaty could be finally agreed to at the Stockholm Conference. We also look forward at that time to cooperative action to develop and improve environmental monitoring systems worldwide.
These are examples of the growing international cooperation on environmental matters. It is important that the nations of the world act now, together, to control such international problems as pollution of the oceans. Effective regional agreements should be undertaken now for the protection and clean up of such shared waters as our Great Lakes and the great river systems of Europe. The nations should act now, together, to control pollution of such seas as the Baltic and Mediterranean and the North Sea.
While conditions are too varied around the world to make a uniform set of specific pollution standards very feasible, regional standards could be agreed upon. And on a worldwide scale, the nations could develop and adopt agreed-upon criteria to guide individual nations in setting their own specific standards.
There is much that can and must be done now as a matter of urgency. We are entering I believe a new era of international environmental diplomacy. We have an unparalleled opportunity for the nations of the world to work together in positive fashion to build a better world for the future. All nations have a stake in the outcome and a common responsibility for the success of our efforts. Each nation can make a special contribution to this process, and it is my experience that each nation — developed as well as less developed — can gain from cooperation and technical exchange in environmental matters. All of our nations have a direct self-interest in the maintenance of a decent, liveable environment for our own populations, in the continued healthy functioning of the biological systems of the global environment, and in the wise management on a sustained yield basis of the natural resources of the world as a whole. As we in the West seek to strengthen areas of peaceful cooperation with all nations, including Soviet Russia and the People’s Republic of China, environmental cooperation can provide a particularly useful and appropriate avenue.
I have tried to present a picture of some of the domestic environmental programs in the United States, as well as some of the more significant international environmental activities. On both counts, the picture is necessarily fragmentary. I have not described the major activity by private citizens or by industry. I have not alluded to the important environmental efforts of such international organizations as FAQ, UNESCO, WHO and WMO, among others. Obviously, in a short space of time, it is impractical to do more than suggest the broad outlines of activity.
At the same time, I do want to convey a sense of the major efforts that are being made. We are not going to solve the problems overnight — but then the problems did not exactly arise overnight. We are making important progress. And we are demonstrating that our institutions are responsive to the critical need for environmental protection.
I recently had occasion to re—read the report of the Conference on Environmental Control held here at Ditchley last November. It is heartening to note how may of the recommendations made at that time are already in process of positive implementation within our two countries and elsewhere.
At the same time, let us not underestimate the problems ahead. Let us look at a few of the more troublesome.
There are those whom I describe as ‘doomsayers’ who would have it that we are racing headlong into ecological catastrophe and that there is no escape. This is nonsense. One can identify any number of trends — such as energy consumption — which if projected unmodified into the infinite future will cause disaster. But there is no reason to believe that we are either so helpless or so irrational that we will not bring such forces under control. Irresponsible doomsaying can lead to a backlash evidenced either by public apathy — a sort of ‘what’s the use’ attitude — or, at the other extreme, by a discounting of the real seriousness of environmental problems.
Public apathy would quickly lead to government apathy and the end of effective environmental protection. There is no question that an active, informed, and concerned citizenry is the surest guaranty we have for environmental improvement. I know that it has provided the fundamental generating force and the essential political base for environmental programs in the United States. I was interested to read recently of the pollution of Lake Baikal in Soviet Russia caused by new cellulose plants. It is plain that environmental pollution is no respecter of particular economic systems and that strong economic incentives exist under both communist and free enterprise capitalism to maximize production at the expense of the environment. There is, however, a significant difference in our respective abilities to cure the problems and this lies in the difference in public accountability.
One contributor to public apathy can be the attitude that ‘science will save us!’ This is rather akin to a faith in magic. We do need very greatly increased scientific research in all aspects of environmental phenomena, and science can make major contributions to the solution of environmental problems. At the same time, many of the most difficult of these are primarily political, economic and social. It was not science that protected us from radiation fallout from above-ground nuclear tests but an aroused public opinion.
It is important to recognize that the problems are extraordinarily complex and that their solution will involve substantial public and private costs. Our Council estimates that over the next five years in the United States alone the cost of dealing with air and water pollution and with solid wastes will be about $105 billion. Air and water pollution abatement alone over the same period will amount to about $50 billion in expenditures by government at all levels and by industry and other private sources. Of course, substantial as these figures are they must be compared to a Gross National Product now running above one trillion dollars a year. Furthermore, when we total the cost of environmental improvement, it is important that we compare this with the very real economic costs which our society is bearing as a result of environmental pollution. Thus, for example, we estimate that in the United States the economic cost of damage by air pollution to human health, to plant and equipment, and to crops is running at an annual rate of about $i6 billion — far in excess of the projected costs of air pollution control. At the same time, while it is important that the public recognize the very positive benefits that will accrue from the control of pollution, the public must also recognize that there are costs, that they will be substantial, and that they will not be borne by ‘someone else’ but by each and every one of us. For example, we estimate that the cost of meeting our 1975 auto emission standards will add $260 to the purchase price of each car, an estimate that may well prove to be on the low side. Some manufacturers have estimated the per-car cost at about $6oo.
As we look at the vastness of our environmental problems, their complexity, and the very real difficulties that lie in the way of their solution, it is easy to feel discouragement. Similarly, while I have described the extraordinarily comprehensive environmental program upon which my own government is embarked, when one compares it with the magnitude of the problem ahead, it can still seem inadequate to the task. And it is true that we are still engaged in dealing on a rather ad hoc basis with discrete aspects of the problem rather than with its totality. At the same time, it is important to recognize how far and how rapidly we have come within a very short period of time. It is equally important to recognize that the process of dealing with environmental problems is a continuing and an evolving process. As we develop the requisite knowledge and experience, as new institutions come into being, as old institutions adapt to our new environmental requirements, and, indeed, as our society as a whole adapts to these needs, the effectiveness of our programs will steadily increase. My own experience is that this is in fact happening on a day-by-day basis.
Moreover, there are promising signs that our increasing environmental understanding and ecological sophistication are leading us to recognize the importance of maintaining the living parts of the ecosystem which makes up our total life support system. We are coming to regard wildlife, for example, more as an integral part of the ecosystem necessary for maintaining the health of the environment than purely as an object to be harvested. This broadened understanding was evidenced rather dramatically recently by the new United States policy toward whales. We have come to recognize on the basis of available information that most of the world’s whales are in critically low proportions and that the others are being so rapidly depleted that a continued harvest represents a clear threat to the continuation of the species. We are terminating all participation in the commercial exploitation of whales at the end of this year, putting the health of the marine environment ahead of the health of one industry. Moreover, we have made clear to the International Whaling Commission, of which we are a member, that, although we are ending our commercial involvement with whales, we will continue as a member of the Commission to have a strong concern for whales and their management — not as a crop to be harvested — but as contributors to the health of the world’s environment. Our government has undertaken a financial commitment to help support an international system of observers for this purpose.
This example illustrates a fundamental aspect of our environmental problems. The world’s economic system has become so dependent upon environmental exploitation that environmental control and improvement will necessarily require economic adjustment. In the international sphere, what one country does for environmental protection may well have a significant impact on some economic activity of another country. This fact underscores the importance of international cooperation, and in particular the importance of initiatives such as are being undertaken in O E CD to assure early warning and early discussion of such moves.
More fundamentally, present and projected levels of resource consumption — particularly when combined with projected world population growth and the rising standards of living to which all peoples aspire — simply cannot be sustained over the indefinite future. We must discover how to live and work and how to sustain a high level of economic activity in better balance with the world around us, taking into account not only our own needs but also the needs of the distant future. The need is clear - we must come to terms with our environment, which is perhaps another way of saying we must come to terms with ourselves. A very recent poll in California showed that 29 per cent, of the residents of the State would like to move away. Of course, there is really no longer any other place to go. We are home, and we had better straighten the old place up.
In the closing paragraph of his book Civilisation, Kenneth Clark writes:
‘I said at the beginning that it is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Fifty years ago W. B. Yeats, who was more like a man of genius than anyone I have ever known, wrote a famous prophetic poem: ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
‘Well, that was certainly true between the wars, and it damn nearly destroyed us. Is it true today? Not quite, because good people have convictions, rather too many of them. The trouble is that there is still no centre. The moral and intellectual failure of Marxism has left us with no alternative to heroic materialism, and that isn’t enough. One may be optimistic, but one can’t exactly be joyful at the prospect before us.’
I said at my beginning of this talk — and that is becoming a rather unconscionably long time ago — that a great question of our time is whether our civilization will destroy the environment. I have not given an answer, nor can I. The task of bringing the two into harmony has only just begun. Indeed, we are only beginning to perceive, and that somewhat dimly, the dimension of the problem
But I am an optimist. I believe, probably more as an article of faith than anything else, that we will deal effectively with the problems. And, of course, it is not just a matter of cleaning up pollution. That is only a major symptom. We must come to grips with the basic values that shape our society. Economic growth just for the sake of growth, or technology just for the sake of technology are simply no longer good enough. We must learn to develop high levels of economic activity and technology that are based less on the consumption of resources and which contribute more to the quality of life. Such a goal cannot be achieved overnight, but will require long-term adjustment. The planning should begin now. And let us make no mistake about it — it must be in the developed countries, those most tied to the production and consumption of goods, that must pioneer the effort and demonstrate the way.
We will require in the future a higher level of personal participation than ever before, a wider range of personal choice, and greater opportunity for the exercise of choice. We will be giving our society, collectively and individually, a new sense of purpose. Concern for the environment is basically a concern for the human condition, for the quality of life. While we have only just begun the quest, I believe its pursuit provides that alternative to ‘heroic materialism’ to which Kenneth Clark refers.
Thus, it begins to appear that the future of the environment and of our civilization are in reality inseparable. In each lies the fate of the other. If we accept this truth and make it a guiding principle of our society, there is hope for both.