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Umbrella, steel sculpture by Robert Kuhn "I'm just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human." -- John Trudell, Native American songwriter, musician and activist

graphic: steel sculpture "Umbrellas" by Robert E. Kuhn, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

"Hearing the Scientists and Heeding their Call"

by Frances Lamberts

On his trip to India this month, President Clinton made a science-collaboration offer to that country's leaders. "Give us a chance to work with your scientists," he said [so], "you can achieve even greater economic growth and make the environment cleaner." The statement seems implicitly to affirm what common sense surely apprehends -- that the knowledge and insights from science should be used in seeking solutions to great problems, and that the problem of economic wellbeing and environmental protection are linked.

Some may question the also implied claim of US leadership in the matter of valuation of scientific insight to social-political decision making. Our example of two decades ago can hardly yet be forgotten and our subsequent failures to join in or implement international protective treaties (such as the Rio biodiversity and Kyoto global warming conventions) are not reassuring.

Think back to l980! That year, a veritable army of scientists from most of the major US universities and research centers concluded three years of study called for by then President Carter, and explicitly authorized by Congress. Prompted by accelerating signs of environmental decline and following institution of annual, national "Earth Day" events to draw attention to these signs, the president asked the scientists to examine trends in population changes, the natural resources, and environmental health of the planet to the end of the century, so that this knowledge could inform and shape US long-range, national planning.

SandTree, watercolor by Vera Jones The study results were submitted in l980 as "Global 2000: Report to the President." In their submission letter, the scientists stated:

"The conclusions which we have reached are disturbing. They suggest for the period to the year 2000, a potential for global problems of alarming scale. The pressures on environment and resources, and population pressures, are growing stronger. These will increasingly influence the quality of human life on this planet."
Because of the urgency and magnitude of the problems, the scientists advised that global cooperation on a scale never seen before be initiated immediately, to avert the dangers which nations and humanity as a whole could face.

What happened then? National elections had brought in a new president. Ronald Reagan took no notice of the questions which his predecessor in office had asked, and of the answers which the nation's topmost scientists had given. The report was filed away in the National Archives. Nothing happened.

But in the early 1990s, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a call to the world scientists to alert political leaders to continuing, urgent need for action to curb environmental damage. Their statement, signed by 1680 scientists including 104 Nobel Laureates, was issued in 1993 as "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity."

In our market and money driven world, few business and political leaders -- including the US in this administration -- are showing courage to acknowledge the dangers which changes in the earth's ecological systems should signify. Those who raise the alarms, whether in small ways or in powerful messages such as the "Scientists' Warning" are apt to be accused of fear mongering. The "alarmists," is the fashionable word, only seek to stir public suspicion or opposition to the inventions, technologies and market mechanisms which hold such promise for ever higher standard of living, ever greater affluence for (a few of the world's) people. No need for irrational fear.

Forest and lake Yet, as German psychiatrist Hoimar von Ditfurth notes, fear in response to danger is a psychological and behavioral mechanism which is "hardwired" in the neurological system in the animal world. Ability to experience fear is adaptive, and repressing legitimate fear a sign of illness. Losing the capacity for it deprives us of elementary reactions whose function is to protect: to avoid, escape, or "fight" danger. Even fable and fairy tale, e.g. of "The youth who went forth to learn fear" (Brothers Grimm) teach the moral that he who lacks fear is lacking in a fundamental human characteristic.

Neither the "Global 2000" report nor the "World Scientists' Warning" received much press in the mainstream media. It may help us to ponder the "Warning" as we approach another Earth Day, not to raise (more) fear only but to let the signals which should call it forth also stir us to action. That alone can keep hope alive for a sustainable future.

World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, 1993

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

Population. The Earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing number of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the Earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's [1993] 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.

Warning. We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

What we must do. Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

  • We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the Earth's systems we depend on. We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to Third World needs -- small scale and relatively easy to implement. We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.
  • We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively. We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other minerals, including expansion of conservation and recycling.
  • We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.
  • We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.
  • We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.
The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest; whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war -- $1 trillion annually -- will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required -- a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

We require the help of the world's peoples.
We call on all to join us in this task.

Earth Day Stamp "A half billion people worldwide will participate in Earth Day 2000. That's April 22, not all that far away. The 30th anniversary of the original Earth Day, this one will be the biggest environmental event in history. Get involved a little or get involved a lot. But do get involved. Be part of something really BIG." -- Earth Day Network

Raised in Germany on a self-sufficient farm located between the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, Frances Lamberts has created an award-winning homestead, complete with extensive organic gardens and domestic animals, on a one-acre plot in Tennessee's Tri-Cities region. Her lifelong concern for peace and environmental issues is reflected in a current appointment as Natural Resources Chair for the Tennessee League of Women Voters. Dr. Lamberts is a retired psychologist, professor, and clinic director whose interests include membership activities sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Coalition for Jobs and Environment, a network of grassroots organizations supporting sustainable development and concerned with environmental and social justice issues. She also hosts the Washington County Environmental Action Group, which meets monthly to share information, ideas and writing activities, and a convivial meal.

Feminine Nature, by Vera Jones

"The earth will continue to regenerate its life sources only as long as we and all the peoples of the world do our part to conserve its natural resources. It is a responsibility which every human being shares. Through voluntary action, each of us can join in building a productive land in harmony with nature." -- President Gerald Ford

The Green Party of Tennessee -- A new political party in the volunteer state, vote on-line to participate in primary. Their issues/platform: "conserve and recycle; improve public schools; abolish the death penalty; enact universal healthcare; improve air and water quality; develop renewable green energy; protect our forests and natural areas; raise wages and ensure safe workplaces; support small businesses and small farmers; provide more and better low-income housing; promote public not corporate campaign financing; give local people more say in road construction projects; make taxes fairer (lower) for low- and middle-income families; stop subsidizing corporations with tax breaks and public funding."

Save The Rain Forest -- Click on this site once a day and save 24.9 square feet of irreplaceable land and plants and animal species that are vital to survival on the earth.

The Wilderness Society -- "High Knob [Wise County, VA] has been declared one of the 15 'most endangered wildlands' in the United States by The Wilderness Society, making the list with the likes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Grand Canyon in Arizona." (Kingsport Times-News)

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"SandTree" painting & "Feminine Nature" mixed media sculpture Vera Jones, Jonesborough TN
"Umbrellas" Robert E. Kuhn
computer graphics Jeannette Harris
text Frances Lamberts, April 2000. All rights reserved.