ever more land to put under the plough. As Professor Kuenen noted: The fact that there are some big areas left to exploit for agricultural use, implies that there is something wrong with them.' The material supplied by Dasmann, Borgstrom and others amply justified this apparently cynical observation. Indeed the world's remaining tropical forests cannot be turned into viable farmland. Their soil is very thin and totally unsuited to agriculture. All this is, of course, common knowledge, yet, as Professor Kuenen points out in spite of it 'the destruction still goes on. What has developed in millions of years, and what has been the natural basis for the existence of Man for tens of thousands of years, is disappearing in a few decades because at present we seem to have no proper alternative, at least in the minds of the politicians and big business. And soon the next problem will arise because there will not be enough fertiliser to keep the soils productive. Particularly phosphorus, which is as essential for life as any other minerals, may pose a serious problem because no mineable reserves are at present known, which will carry us much further than a few decades'.
The Position of Third World Leaders
There were only a few representatives of the Third World leadership present at the conference. Some, in particular the Indian delegate, Professor Misra, one of India's leading ecologists, and until recently President of the University of Benares, and Mr Gaekwar, formerly the Gaekwar of Baroda and now a member of the Indian Parliament, fully understood the seriousness of our problems and also fully appreciated the many unpleasant implications. Others, however, insisted on maintaining what has become the Third World's general line on these matters. As Fosberg puts it,
'Although a few of the more far-sighted citizens of Third World nations are very aware of the dangers we are all facing, this cannot be said of many of their leaders and people in positions of power. We hear in International forums biting criticism of those who, after getting rich through exploitation of their own national resources, would like to retard others from doing the same thing. Most international attempts at environmental protection founder in this sea of protest and righteous indignation — perhaps territoriality is a better term.
'What the protesters seem to want is not only the right to the benefits of modern technology, but the right also to learn the hard way •— to make, all over again, the mistakes that the industrial nations have made and which have destroyed much of the best of their habitats. This, in my scale of values and definitions, is nationalism at its worst. It is not common-sense, which must very largely consist of the ability to observe the mistakes of others and avoid repeating them. There are people in every country that I have visited who desperately want to see their countries avoid what they observe in the wake of advanced technology. Unfortunately, few of these are elected to office or otherwise placed in positions of leadership. This is sad both for these nations and for the world.'
The paper given by Mustapha Tolba, Director of UNEP, showed that this is basically his position. In
his lecture, presented by Dr. Letitia Obeng of Ghana, he explained the urgency of the world environmental situation and then made the usual exhortations which he, as well as everybody else knows, will not, and in fact cannot, be complied with, for basic social and ecological reasons. Thus while Tolba admits that irrigation schemes have caused salinization and the spread of water borne diseases he still wants more of them, insisting that 'when ecological and environmental principles are applied from the planning stage, these hazards can be averted and the health, well-being and productive capacity of the population can be improved.' This is a pure act of faith based on nothing else than wishful thinking. There is no evidence of any large scale irrigation scheme in the tropics that has not caused these, and other problems as well.
In the same way Tolba exhorts us to increase our ability to predict and anticipate the climate changes that everywhere are making agriculture increasingly more difficult, and to increase our capacity to influence these changes. This is an equally vain exhortation. As Professor Flohn and others pointed out, climatic phenomena are too complex to predict with any sort of accuracy. Besides predictions are only useful, if the situations predicted are of a nature that can be adapted to. The large-scale climatic upheavals that we can expect if our industrial activities continue to expand do not fall into this category, and to predict them can be of academic interest only.
As for the notion that modern technology could conceivably succeed in neutralising these climatic trends, this belongs to the sphere of yesterday's science fiction. I doubt if even Hermann Kahn would dare make such a suggestion today. Action
What then should be done? The situation indeed appears desperate. The notion that we can change something may indeed be wishful thinking, as Kuenen put it 'The general theme of this conference is that we know there is no solution and we are trying to believe that there is one.' However this is no reason for not acting. Kuenen reminded the conference of the words of William the Silent: 'I I n'est pas point necessaire d'esperer pour entreprendre' he said 'ni de reussir pour perseverer.'
The first step is to reach agreement. Reid Bryson pointed out that it is not the politicians who are the main barrier to accepting basic realities but fellow scientists. How can politicians be expected to take the right action if their scientific advisers do not provide them with a single clear message? In this respect the Reykjavik conference was a triumph, for near unanimity was reached on all basic matters. Indeed our pathetic government experts would have been singularly out of place at this meeting.
Maurice Strong, ex-Director of UNEP and organiser of the famous Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972 called for political action on a world scale. Governments everywhre must commit themselves to a completely new set of priorities. 'Conservation can no longer be a fringe activity' he declared 'but a central recurring theme around which everything else must revolve. The oceans, in particular, must be protected to prevent them from becoming: 'the ultimate cess pool of the world' for among other things they are a 'vital component in the buffeting of atmospheric processes, without which life on earth would be insupportable/
Tropical forests too must be protected. Their exploitation 'for timber for the rich countries should be restrained and other ways found to help the developing countries to balance their financial budgets. As there is very little to be gained from agriculture on soil formerly occupied by rainforests, extension of agriculture in these areas should be abandoned as counterproductive.' The preservation of our environment, of course, also requires a reduction in pollution levels, and the conference called for ' "no release" policies for substances on the International Register of Potentially Toxic Substances.'
All these measures, however, would clearly not be possible unless we also reduce the impact of man's activities on the environment. What is required, first of all, are stringent population-control measures. 'To limit population growth will not in itself save the world from impending disaster' the Declaration reads 'but it is an essential part of the solution and its importance cannot be over-emphasised.' The conference warned very dramatically that if population growth were not controlled 'the deaths of a thousand million people from lack of food, some by outright starvation but mostly by disease caused by severe malnutrition, may well be the tragedy of the century. 9
The second measure required to reduce our impact on the environment is to abandon the goal of economic growth. The conference called for 'a fundamental new approach to economic growth — new growth (a term proposed by Maurice Strong) . . . new growth emphasises quality rather than quantity.' Its achievements must be compatible with reducing 'the demand on the earth's resources and the risks to its life-sustaining systems to levels that are fully compatible with human survival and well-being.'
What is more this means, among other things, basing our survival 'almost entirely on renewable resources' and in the case of energy 'the transition to renewable resources must be achieved within the next thirty years not only for reasons of conservation but also to protect the environment from damage that might prove catastrophic.'
The conference recognised that 'This effort will require major changes in the incentives and penalties that motivate the economic life of our societies/ These changes, however, were indispensable. Ecology, in fact, must become politicised and this was also the theme of Kenneth Hare's summing up. T approve of political solutions,' he said 'there are no others.'
'We call upon all governments, all communities, all people,' the Declaration concluded 'To take immediate action to avert the disasters which loom ahead.' Can the governments of the world really ignore these warnings? Do we not all secretly realise that they are justified and that the future of our planet may depend on decisions that must be taken today?
THE COASTAL SOCIETY
Thir d annual meetin g
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, November 3, 4, 5, 1977 Washington Plaza Hotel, Seattle, Washington, USA
Theme : Energy Across the Coastal Zone. Papers an d discussion , interdisciplinar y i n scope, dealin g wit h variou s aspects o f energy movin g i n an d throug h th e coastal zone . Sessions wil l be devote d t o state an d federa l policie s an d programs , th e industria l poin t o f view , th e conservationis l poin t o f view , economi c considerations , an d alternativ e powe r sources (waves, tides , etc.) . Speakers by invitation . Ther e wil l be a POSTER SESSION ; wit h abstracts fo r presentation s o n an y an d al l topic s relate d t o th e coastal zone hereb y requested . Fees: preregistratio n S28 , a t meetin g S35 ; include s progra m wit h abstracts , luncheon , an d proceedings volume . Bot h a one-hal f day an d on e day fiel d tri p are planned . Fo r furthe r information : T . Terich,Dept . o f Geography , o r M . L. Schwartz , Dept . o f Geology , Western Washingto n Stat e College , Bellingham , W A 9822 5 USA .
Note : These tw o meetings precede th e annua l meetin g o f th e Geoiogica i Societ y o f America , whic h wil l be hel d i n Seattleo n November 7 , 8 , and 9 .
HOSTED BY WESTERN WASHINGTON STATE COLLEGE
Ecologist. Vol.7 No.6 j( >(J