2 The routes of action.
1.1 The roots of the environmental movements
Nostalgic love of nature has been around for quite a while in the Western world. Concern for nature is something that is difficult, if not impossible, to date, but in this case, it has left undeniable traces since the Renaissance. The first traces of the environmental ecology movement appear only much later, doubtless as a reaction to the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution.
The rector of Selborne and his parish
Selborne is a small village about 50 mi (80 km) southeast of London, in the rural countryside of Hampshire, on its edges with Sussex and Surrey. Gilbert White (1720-1793) was born there, studied at Oxford, and was rector of Selborne for many years. Many historians of ecology, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, consider him among the first scholars to adopt an approach to natural history that sought to look at the connections between the living things within a given system. The letters and notes that form his famous work The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789) show his keen observation of all living things, even the most insignificant.
This thorough work begins with a description of the landscape of Selborne and everything related to its physical geography. It then deals with the weather, geology, the paleontology and ethnology, followed by an inventory of the mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects, spiders and worms, finishing with botany and local superstitions. It thus represents a relatively thorough study of a specific environment. Its multidisciplinary nature and the inclusion of human society among the environmental factors seem very modern from a twenty-first century perspective. It is little known outside the English language, but this book has had a major effect on the ideas and sensitivity of ecologists and environmentalists in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The American historian of ecology Donald Worster (b. 1942) sees this work as the origin of what he calls the "arcadian" approach to nature. He contrasts this with the "imperial" tradition, which became dominant in North America and the European cultures from which it arose. According to Worster, the arcadian approach is nonaggressive, respects natural balances, expresses a humble and romantic concern for nature, and is in historic opposition to the imperialistic conception and practices, which are brutal, productivistic, destructive, and manipulative. We shall later return to this dichotomy, which is often criticized for its simplistic nature.
Gilbert White's work includes the arcadian style poem "The Naturalist's Summer-Evening Walk," which, like the rest of the book, is filled with testimonies of the emotions conjured up by a confrontation with "the harmonies of nature." The rector of Selborne expresses these emotions beautifully in verse:
"Each rural sight, each sound, each smell, combine: The tinkling sheep-bell or the breath of kine; The new-mown hay that scents, the swelling breeze, Or cottage-chimney smoking through the trees."
Walden: or, Life in the Woods
Valuing a simple and natural life is an idea that goes back to antiquity. It recurs in a wide range of forms in the literature of the eighteenth century, from the novel Paul et Virginie (Paul and Virginia) by French naturalist and historian Henri Bernard de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) to Atala by Francois Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) to Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). The idea of going "back to nature" is more recent. The American philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) seems to have been the first to put the idea into practice and make a conscious effort to spread it: "Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself," he says in Walden, the book explaining his attempt to return to nature.
Thoreau had adopted the transcendental doctrine of the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Strictly speaking, any philosophical system is transcendentalist if it admits the existence of a priori categories and concepts that dominate experience. Emerson's philosophy contained some element of pantheism: nature was considered an imperfect sphere that has to be transcended; thus, it could be viewed as a means of union with God. This type of philosophical religiosity was perceived as nonconformist within Bostonian society (Thoreau lived in Concord, Massachusetts, close to Boston and Harvard University). The Concord Transcendental Club brought together philosophers, progressives, and feminists who questioned traditional dogma and institutions. The independent spirit cultivated there explains, at least in part, Thoreau's attitudes.
Thoreau was already familiar with nature before his "life in the woods" on the edge of Walden Pond. He had, for example, descended the Concord River down the Middlesex Canal to the Merrimack River. He lived in his cabin for two years and two months (1845-1847). "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." It is easy to see a relation between this attitude and the feeling of dissatisfaction experienced by many people in the large, modern urban and suburban zones of the industrialized countries.
Walden is an unusually honest book. Thoreau does not hide that his isolation was not total, since he stayed with his family from time to time because the cabin he built himself was only a mile from his nearest neighbor. Written in a metaphorical style and full of Greek, Latin, and Oriental references, Walden deals with all the varied aspects of the author's experience. Its authenticity means that it has had an unequaled influence on many generations of readers, possibly more than any other work on the general idea of ecology.
From anarchism to Silent Spring
Darwin pointed out in On the Origin of Species that natural selection may favor cooperative behavior, when it is favorable for the population in which it occurs. Noncompetitive behavior harboring moral qualities such as mutual assistance may thus be favored by natural selection.
The Russian geographer and naturalist Piotr Alekseyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921) was an anarchist revolutionary who had been born a prince. Kropotkin developed the Darwinian perspective on cooperation in his 1902 book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin's book opposed social Darwinism, which applied Darwin's theory to human society, and was a response to Thomas Henry Huxley's essay "The Struggle for Existence," in which Huxley (1825-1895) equated the evolutionary "struggle for existence" with the struggle between organisms of the same species (that is, competition). Kropotkin had traveled in eastern Siberia and observed the harsh natural conditions, the general scarcity of animals, and the occasional death of huge numbers of animals due to severe weather. He concluded that the weather and other "natural checks to overpopulation" were also important components of the struggle for existence. Kropotkin noted that animals such as deer came together to flee the advancing snow and argued that they all benefited from migrating together. He then extended this argument to human society, insisting that it was not intrinsically competitive but intrinsically cooperative. Historians in the life sciences have attributed great importance to the thinking of Kropotkin in the area of ecology. His Mutual Aid is considered a definitive work on the idea of interdependence among living beings.
Another influential group formed at the University of Chicago around Warder Clyde Allee (1885-1955), Alfred Edward Emerson (1896-1965), and the population geneticist Sewell Wright (1889-1988). Like Kropotkin, these researchers to some extent rejected the notion stemming from Darwinism that natural selection acted exclusively on the individual, arguing instead that natural selection favored a notion of competition in which cooperation is fundamental. According to this group, competition structured the social organism and made it highly efficient because it installed conferred patterns of domination and subordination among the individuals that constituted it, which in turn created a sort of division of labor. The American historian Gregg Mitman has related this position to the fact that the members of this group of biologists were committed in different ways to the struggle for peace and democracy. Allee and Karl P. Schmidt, for example, publicly supported conscientious objectors when the United States entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917.
This approach, based on ideas of community and cooperation, formed the ideological basis of the most famous work of the Chicago Group, Principles of Animal Ecology (1949; by Allee, Emerson, Thomas Park, Orlando Park, and Schmidt). The culmination of the different authors' publications between World War I and World War II, this textbook was read by large numbers of students of ecology. In 1951 Allee and Schmidt republished their Ecological Animal Geography, which had been published first in 1937. The thought of the Chicago Group remained influential until the success of Eugene and Howard Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology, a book based on the idea of the ecosystem (see also p. 120).
The development from the idea of an objective solidarity (mutual aid) mutual between organisms in general, to the idea of a necessary solidarity between them and human beings is one of the characteristic features of ecological thinking. This was clearly shown by American biologist Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring, in which she describes the possible risks of pesticide misuse and abuse and the chained destruction that it caused (see vol. 7, p. 351). The silent spring to which the title refers is due to the absence of birdsong; the birds have been killed by the bioaccumulation of pesticide residues in the food chain. Carson's work was a great success and played an important role in the development of the environmental movement.
1.2 Protectors of nature
After the 1750s, first in France and then in other European countries, there was a renewed enthusiasm for life in the country. This was shown by some of the nobles who left Versailles and Paris, authors like Voltaire (16941778), Rousseau, and Diderot, and of some rich bourgeoisie who bought or rented campagnes, rural properties that they restored or built on.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, other scholarly travelers started to follow Rousseau's example and travel through the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps, the Vosges, and the Pyrenees. Louis-Francois Ramond de Carbonnieres (1755-1827) studied the Pyrenees, and his observations attracted the attention of Alexander von Humboldt. Ramond pointed out that the high mountain flora of the Pyrenees is very similar and closely related to the flora of northern Scandinavia, an observation that Humboldt considered a forerunner of the field of plant geography.
The first protectionist measures
From the early nineteenth century onward, largely for economic reasons, various measures were taken to protect nature in the most developed countries of Europe. Legislation to protect or manage nature was often introduced on the advice of foresters, as the rate of deforestation was becoming quite alarming. This was not, however, the first legislation of this type (see vol. 7, pp. 240-241, 302-303, and 307). In France, Louis XIV's famous edict of 1699--introduced by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), his secretary of state--dealt with waters and woods. This French law was one of the first modern political texts that proposed rational measures for the "good use" of the forests. In the second half of the nineteenth century, during the Second French Empire, pines were planted on nearly 1.75 million acres (700,000 ha) of moors and wastelands on the Atlantic Coast in order to dry out the wetlands and prevent coastal sands from spreading inland.
In the mid-nineteenth century the first legislative regulations appeared to protect especially beautiful landscapes. Pressure from the Barbizon school of painters during the Second Empire led to the Decree of August 13, 1861, which created the first nature reserve in France, the Fontainebleau forests near Paris. Later, in almost all the countries of Europe, associations arose to bring together people wanting to protect and conserve nature. The growth of tourism, hunting, and angling also contributed to the spread of organizations devoted to the conservation of nature (mountain climbing and excursion clubs in the Alps and Pyrenees, associations of friends of the trees, bird-watching associations). In France there is even a century-old association against advertising in the countryside.
The first national parks
The United States, a land where human monuments are scarce and recent, was the first country to draw a parallel between the conservation of historic monuments and the conservation of natural monuments--an idea proposed by both Humboldt and Thoreau. The first national park was Yellowstone, located in the state of Wyoming and partly in Idaho and Montana, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) created the park on March 1, 1872. The first people to promote the idea of the park (three lawyers, including a member of Congress) obtained the support of the U.S. Geological Survey Department, and the administrative work seems not to have been very difficult.
At this point in history, industrial production was viewed as being inevitably destructive. Growth, however, was not even questioned, as it was considered a source of well being for most people. The main intention of late nineteenth-century conservation efforts was to preserve Earth's most pristine landscapes and to conserve, for the benefit of future generations, relics of the wild spaces that the pioneers had found, cleared, and exploited. In 1890 (see vol. 5, p. 392) Yosemite, General Grant, and Sequoia National Parks were completed; Mount Rainier National Park in Washington was created in 1899.
The first national parks in Europe originated in Sweden in the first decade of the twentieth century, while alternative forms of protection--public or private--began to be introduced in other European countries. The first national park in Switzerland was established in 1914, the first in Spain in 1918, and the first zapovedniki (comparable to a strict nature reserve) in the Soviet Union, Askaniya-Nova (Ukraine), was created in 1919 (see vol. 8, pp. 236-238).
The first international agreements and organizations
The trans-frontier--that is, the international and even global nature of environmental problems and their solutions--gained attention in the early nineteenth century, and this eventually led to the creation of international agreements and organizations. An international agreement was signed in Paris in 1883 to protect the seals of the Bering Strait from extinction (see vol. 9, pp. 236-238). An international convention was held in 1895 to protect "birds beneficial to agriculture." Another was held in London five years later regarding conservation of the fauna of Africa. Many voices were raised in favor of conservation at congresses on zoology or botany, on agriculture and forestry, and in geographical societies. The first International Congress on Landscape Preservation was held in Paris in 1909 and the second in Stuttgart in 1912.
A Swiss zoologist, Paul Sarasin (1856-1929), proposed the creation of the first international organization for the protection of nature. At the Eighth International Zoological Congress at Graz (Austria) in 1910, he proposed the creation of a committee responsible for organizing an international or world committee for the protection of nature, and his suggestion was approved. The commission was to consist of "representatives of all the nations" and its task was "to protect nature all over the Earth, from the North Pole to the South Pole, both on dry land and in the seas." Sarasin was commissioned by the congress to develop this idea, and the Provisional Committee for the Universal Protection of Nature held its first meeting in Basel (Switzerland) the same year. On this occasion, a proposal for a large international meeting was made, and the foreign ministers of the main countries were contacted. This meeting took place in Berne in 1913, and the delegates, from a total of 19 countries, decided to create the Permanent Consultative Committee for the Protection of Nature, the first permanent international body of this type.
World War I interrupted Sarasin's work, and the First International Congress for the Protection of Nature was not held until 1923. It dealt with a wide range of matters, including some that seem very modern, such as the role of uncultivated land in the spread of harmful and useful insects, the death of seabirds due to oil spills, and threats to the fauna in many regions of the world. The momentum from the 1923 Congress made it possible to set up the International Office for the Preservation of Nature in Brussels in 1928. This office was run by Professor Pietr G. van Tienhoven (1875-1953), who replaced Paul Sarasin after his death in 1929. The institution organized the Second International Congress for the Protection of Nature in 1932, but World War II put an end to its activities.
In 1946 the Swiss League for the Protection of Nature held the Conference for the International Protection of Nature. Article 1 of the conference's conclusions included the following recommendation: "It is desirable that, in order to facilitate collaboration between the national societies concerned with the protection of nature and the conservation of the beauty of the landscape, an international organization should be created that is broadly international and representative in nature, provided with a budget in keeping with its importance, and appropriate statutes." An international conference met two years later in Fontainebleau (France), under the auspices of the French government and UNESCO, and created the IUCN. This new body soon started to play an important role in the conservation movement. In 1951 the IUCN published a compilation of 70 reports on 70 countries called the State of Nature Protection in the World in 1950.
The incorporation of ethical positions
In the late 1940s, after the end of World War II, the great development of communication media, together with the nuclear threat hanging over the planet as a result of the cold war, helped to make people aware of the global character of ecological problems.
It was against this backdrop that Aldo Leopold (1886-1948) wrote his essay "The Land Ethic," which was published in 1949 in a collection of essays called the Sand County Almanac. Leopold had started out as a forest assistant but later founded the modern science of game management. He was one of the first to propose a more biocentric view of nature and was a fervent opponent of the idea of management aimed only at making economic use of nature. Leopold thought every living thing had the right to be respected; nature should not be exploited, he said, and ethical requirements should be extended to the biosphere as a whole. This approach was influential in the development of what is now called deep ecology (see p. 173).
Leopold, like White and Thoreau, lived much of his life in the countryside, as he was a naturalist and preferred the simplicity of rural life to the refinements of technological city life. This choice and his ideas favoring the country over the city have had a tremendous impact the environmental movement in the United States, where his influence has been as great as that of Rachel Carson.
The Stockholm Conference
Only in the late 1960s did the large international organizations decide to intervene in environmental matters (see pp. 124-125). The initial boost became effective four years after the meeting in Paris of the Intergovernmental Conference of Experts on the Scientific Bases of the Rational Use and Conservation of Resources of the Biosphere (1968). This conference paved the way for the 1971 launch of UNESCO's intergovernmental Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme.
The involvement of the major international bodies led to the first world conference on the subject, the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm in 1972. More than 1,400 participants from 113 countries were present. The political problems related to the postwar division of Germany led the Soviet Union and its European satellites to boycott the conference. (The 26th General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution allowing the participation in the conference of the Federal Republic of Germany [West Germany] and preventing the participation of the Democratic Republic of Germany [East Germany].)
Despite this, the Stockholm Conference was very beneficial. The bases for international legislation on the environment were agreed upon, and the UN created its environmental program UNEP. A definition of the scope of the UN's activities in the field of the environment was approved, and despite the political difficulties mentioned above, most of the participants shared deep and daring ideas: 1) banning nuclear weapons was included among the measures required to solve ecological problems, 2) colonialism, apartheid, and racial discrimination in general were all condemned as being contrary to the planet's ecological needs, and 3) for the first time, the problems of the biosphere were explicitly related to the development of freedom throughout the world.
1.3 The limits to growth
Since the 1970s there has been a great deal of research seeking to elucidate the principles of sustainable growth based on ecological precepts. Since Marx, almost all the systems of political economy have, explicitly, sought to do exactly the same thing, as they all consider that the origin of wealth is the transformation of nature by human work. What, then, are the limits to the exhaustion of nature and human beings in this process of production?
Fertility and the limits of the energy-based approach
It is possible to find distant origins for this approach in the work of the French economist Francois Quesnay (1694-1774). Quesnay was the head of the physiocratic school (a term derived from the Greek words physis, meaning nature, and kratos, meaning power). He considered that economic laws were natural ("laissez faire, laissez passer"), and he based his system on what he considered the essential sources of wealth: land and agriculture.
The development of scientific ecology, especially the energetic approach postulated by Odum, has made it possible to look more deeply into the idea of ecological economics. In accordance with this paradigm (see p. 120), the ecosystem can be described in terms of a closed structure in which materials and energy flow. As it is possible to establish a relationship between energy and production (see vol. 1, p. 187), it is also possible to measure biomass in terms of its energy equivalent (expressed in calories or watts). This is the idea underlying an approach based on energy analysis, which considers energy in the ecosystem in a way comparable to the role of currency in the economy, the universal means of exchange. And so the question is raised: What can really be quantified and what cannot? Is it reasonable, for example, to try to assess the "value" of an elephant or a sperm whale? Or to try and assess its "cost"?
The entropy law applied to economics
Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994), an economist of Romanian origin, criticized this energetic analysis because it does not take into account the cultural features of the man-nature relationship: "The true product of the economic process is not a material flow of wastes, but an immaterial flow: the enjoyment of life." A professor in the United States from 1948, Georgescu-Roegen proposed a theory that went beyond the most pessimistic perspectives on growth. What is needed, he claimed, is not sustainable development (see p. 182) or zero growth, but a genuine reduction in growth, something that is now absolutely unavoidable if one seeks to ensure the long-term survival of humanity. His ideas were based on thermodynamics, especially the second law of thermodynamics, which he called the entropy law (see p. 76) in his main work The Entropy Law and the Economic Process.
From the economic and thermodynamic point of view, noted Georgescu-Roegen, valuable natural resources enter into the economic process; what is left, in the form of wastes, has little value and low entropy. The entropy of the minerals from which an object is made is greater than that of the object itself, but "the purification of the mineral compensates for its loss of entropy by the increase in the entropy of the environment" (the burning of fuels, the dumping of wastes in the environment, etc.). The balance is harsh, as "in terms of entropy, the cost of any biological or economic undertaking is always greater than the gain." The solutions proposed by Georgescu-Roegen to this question converged on the solutions suggested by environmentalists, namely the recycling of wastes, using nonaggressive technologies to produce energy, changing consumption habits, promoting agriculture that does not rely on chemical inputs, and moving toward disarmament. The main difference is that environmentalists rarely go so far as to say, as Georgescu-Roegen did, that negative growth is needed.
The report by MIT for the Club of Rome
Aurelio Peccei (1908-1984) created the Club of Rome in 1968 as an informal association of independent thinkers. It brought together university professors, journalists, businesspeople, and politicians, and its main concern was to identify the world's problems related to development and the environment.
The Club of Rome became widely known all over the world in 1972, when it published The Limits to Growth, which it had commissioned from the systems dynamics group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by Dennis Meadows (b. 1942), and also known as the Meadows Report. It was a computer simulation (based on a re-elaboration of Jay W. Forrester's "World 2" program) and concluded that the planet's economic and social systems would start to collapse around 2025 unless measures were taken to reduce growth and change the consumption habits toward greater austerity. The book was translated into 30 languages, and about 12 million copies have been sold.
There were many negative responses to The Limits to Growth. It was criticized for being the result of a computer simulation programmed in a rush, with some components wrong by a factor of 10, and for simply extrapolating the present situation into the future, almost totally ignoring human initiative, invention, and freedom. It was also criticized for being Malthusian. Some observers related the recommendations it contained to a speech given two years before by President Richard Nixon (1913-1994), in which he mentioned the idea of the "ecological brake" on the country's growth. In response to the critics, the MIT systems dynamics group prepared a second report, Mankind at the Turning Point, which added more detail to their first report, but it received little attention from the press.
Beyond these controversies, the first report of the Club of Rome had the very beneficial effect of putting the spotlight on the exhaustion of natural resources, including energy resources, and raising the question of the long-term limits to growth.
1.4 Earth seen from space: small, fragile, and unique
The Stockholm Conference took place after the American Apollo space program had accomplished its objectives but before it was abandoned. On July 21, 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 became the first humans to walk on the Moon, and they were followed by the crews of the other Apollo missions, ending with Apollo 18 in 1975. After each flight, the photos of Earth taken from space were broadcast around the world, and they have played a major role in changing "mentalities," as they overturned previous ideas about the relations of humans with the rest of the biosphere and with the whole universe.
Ecology in the perspective of the Space Age
The images of Earth from space changed peoples' attitudes--and not just the way they saw things. "Mentalities" represents a sort of intermediate position between theory and practice, representations and acts. A change in mentality implies a long-term change in behaviors and ways of acting. In the course of this brief history of the idea of the biosphere, changes in mentality have been discussed at several points; in antiquity, with the birth of philosophy and democracy in Athens; in the Renaissance, when Galileo realized the world could be analyzed geometrically; in the course of the nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution.
In all these cases, an attempt has been made to demonstrate the material practices that underlie these new ideas and knowledge. Like a large ship, whose inertia means it must maneuver very slowly in a port, mentalities, which can be shared by the whole of humanity, do not change rapidly. For example, the phrase "spaceship Earth" has been used since the mid-1960s, when the Stockholm Conference was being organized, but the deep change in attitudes associated with the first moon flights (that is, the conquest of space) was not yet noticed.
The 1970s saw the beginning of a worldwide crisis with the international effects of the "oil shocks" (resulting in the decade's energy crisis), as well as great advances in satellite detection (see vol. 1, pp. 382-387). Infrared satellite images can be used to assess and measure the decrease in plant cover in the different continents, while the use of different wavelengths have shown the presence of a gigantic network of fossil rivers in the Sahara Desert. Visible wavelengths of light can be used to detect the advance of the edges of the deserts (see vol. 4, pp. 31-48). The weather report on television now often shows the movement of huge cloud masses, and information of this kind has improved the reliability of short-term forecasting. The general public has thus learned to see the world (or their region) in images from space, a perspective from which national frontiers are absent. As a result, people have become aware that ecological problems not only cross frontiers, but affect the world and, consequently, the biosphere as a whole. The idea, then, of the extinction of a species as a result of human activities can be considered the destruction of part of humanity's heritage.
Many environmental problems are now considered from as wide a perspective as possible. This is especially true for climate change, which is the result of an interaction of factors that include human modification of the composition of the atmosphere by emissions of greenhouse gases (see vol. 1, p. 399), the hole in the ozone layer (see vol. 1, pp. 402-405), and modification of Earth's albedo (reflective power) as a result of forest loss (see vol. 1, p. 400). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, other problems have to be managed on a planetary scale, among them combating desertification, preserving the oceanic environment, preserving biological and genetic diversity present in the wide range of different ecosystems, and managing the in situ conservation of genetic resources, which is not restricted to laboratories.
The Brundtland Report and the idea of sustainable development
In the mid-1980s, people became increasingly aware that environmental problems could only be grasped on a planetary scale. Thus, the UN launched many initiatives, especially that leading to the production in 1987 of the Brundtland Report, "Our Common Future," which proposed the idea of "sustainable development."
Gro Harlem Brundtland (b. 1939) is a leading Norwegian politician. After holding the post of mayor of Bergen, she became Norway's environmental minister, was prime minister three times, and served as head of the World Health Organization (WHO). In 1983 she was appointed president of the newly created World Commission on the Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Brundtland is credited with helping to generalize awareness of the planetary nature of environmental issues. She recruited six commissars from the advanced Western countries, three from Eastern Europe (then Communist), and twelve from the developing countries. They formed a world commission that met for the first time in 1984 and followed a new procedure, consisting of public audiences all over the world, the establishment of expert committees on specific issues, and written requests for contributions. The members of the commission included people from all walks of life: individuals such as Maria Jose Pereira de Lacerda, a resident of the Gariroba favela (shantytown) in Brazil, Eberhard Diegpen, the mayor of Berlin, and Lee Shipper, from the Shell Oil company.
The commission worked for 900 days and its report was examined at the 42nd General Assembly of the United Nations. Some of the text is clearly a compromise, especially the references to the nuclear industry, where it was necessary to temporize between the interests of states committed to the nuclear option and the powerful antinuclear lobby. Other parts of the report correspond to current issues and recommend reducing energy consumption in the more advanced countries.
The Brundtland Report's contents provoked considerable thought on the environment. For example, it compared the cost of the arms race with the cost of some ecological and humanitarian measures and concluded that the urgent need for drinking water throughout the world could be met within 10 years at a cost equivalent to only 10 hours of military spending. The report also said that the lack of drinking water is responsible for 80% of all diseases in the less advanced countries. The Brundtland Report further argued that the foreign debt of less advanced countries should be waived.
In the countries that opted to meet their energy needs from nuclear power, the Brundtland Report was not well received. It has not even been published in France; for many years the Quebec-French version of the official UN report has been distributed by a modest environmental association. Even so, the public has come to accept the idea that development of the world economy has to be sustainable, that is to say, it has to meet the needs of current generations without endangering the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
The Earth Summit
It was in this context of growing global awareness that the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development took place in 1992. This world conference, held 20 years after the Stockholm Conference, became known as the "Earth Summit" and was attended by representatives of 178 countries and 188 heads of state. The sessions were covered by more than 8,000 journalists, and an estimated 500,000 visitors appeared at the forum.
The prosperous countries were afraid of a confrontation with the less developed countries. The preparatory conferences in Ottawa, Bergen, Paris, and New York had suggested this would happen. On many points, the group of poor countries known as the Group of 77 (though 128 nations were members) opposed the relatively united front formed by the rich countries, led by the United States and the United Kingdom. Five major documents emerged from the Earth Summit: Agenda 21, which fixed the aims of sustainable development for the twenty-first century (cost estimated by the UNO: $125,000 million a year until 2000); the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which lists 27 principles for sustainable development; the Framework Criteria for the Sustainable Management and Development of All Types of Forest; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which does not include compulsory regulations or any real calendar; and the Convention on Biodiversity. All of these documents are compromises.
Two themes reflect the contradictions of the Earth Summit most clearly: the causes of poverty and the sovereignty (ownership) of biodiversity. The United States and the United Kingdom could not prevent the Rio Declaration from considering poverty the cause of population growth, not its effect. The document on biodiversity was ambiguous, as a result of the perverse use of the idea of a human heritage. It recognized the sovereignty of states over the biological wealth and limited the benefits of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, but left open the question of the conditions of access of the industrial countries to the genetic material and other biological resources of the tropical forests (which contain two-thirds of all living species).
Yet, the very notion of human heritage was used by some of the rich countries and the EEC (European Economic Community; now the European Union or EU) to try, unsuccessfully, to impose the idea of a limited sovereignty over their forests on the poor countries.
The Earth Summit was considered a "solemn mass" by its critics, but it did play an important role in informing the public in general. It also recognized "the vital role of local populations, native communities and other collectives in environmental management and development." Like the Stockholm Conference, it restated the idea that "peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and inseparable."
This summit had the advantage of starting a process that over the following decades could lead to an ecological strategy on a planetary scale. From this point of view, the measures taken by states for the application and development of the Rio agreements should be monitored with great attention: as we have already seen, they require economic strategies that are not in harmony with the currently dominant practices.
1.5 The various approaches within today's environmental movements
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, much if not most of the population of the industrialized countries and an enlightened minority within the developing countries had become aware of the need to intervene in environmental problems. The notion that action should be taken to remedy long-term processes was making headway.
The dilemmas facing ecology in the third millennium
The opposition between the required reform of individual behavior and the need for collective action in political and economic fields provoked many debates in the 1970s and 1980s. After being discussed within the environmental organizations and Green parties for more than ten years, this sharp disagreement no longer seems to be such a problem, as both approaches are equally necessary.
The other main question raised within the environmental organizations between 1970 and 1990 was the idea of participation in electoral politics, which often led to bad feelings in associations concerned basically with defending the environment. Should environmentalists remain single-issue associations or join the political arena in the form of a political party? Environmental organizations risked tarnishing their image by getting involved in the mudslinging of politics. Like the preceding dilemma, this question is no longer very relevant. There are now Green parties in all the countries of the EU, as well as in other continents, and (at the time of translation, early 2000) Green parties formed part of governing coalitions with the Socialist parties in Germany, France, and some other EU states. Public concern for the future of the planet does not seem to have changed greatly. In many countries, the Green parties now form part of the electoral landscape and influence national politics. Their influence, though, is far greater than the size of their vote, which is not very high at all (see vol. 7, pp. 366-369).
At this moment of unprecedented context for the future of the biosphere, one can distinguish two main lines of thought: one inspired by deep ecology and one that arose after the Earth Summit, favoring sustainable development. These orientations are opposites, though they influence each other, and all the intermediate positions are possible. Still, they both contain a common link that German thinker Hans Jonas (1903-1993) updated in the last quarter of the twentieth century, namely, concern for future generations.
Jonas was a specialist in gnosis, the esoteric religious doctrine of inner revelation, and he studied the problem of psycho-physical dualism, culminating in his work The Phenomenon of Life: Towards a Philosophical Biology (1966). His best known text is Das Prinzip Verantwortung (The Responsibility Principle), published in 1979 as a reaction to the ideas of the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) as expressed in his book Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Hope Principle, 1959), which gave science and technology a value that Jonas considered utopian. Jonas thought it was imperative, as a result of our responsibilities to future generations, to redirect the development of science and technology toward noble aims--not power, success, and production at any cost.
In Roman law, the idea of responsibility is mainly related to the past (one is responsible for "what happened") or the near future (breaking some rule or law might cause some damage and be sanctioned). Furthermore, it is a concept that is always assumed by individuals; when it is considered collective, responsibility is shared by individuals (whether or not they represent legal entities), and it only refers to damages suffered by specific individuals. Jonas extended the idea of responsibility beyond these legal principles and proposed an ethical conception: we should take into account the most far-reaching effects of our actions so as to preserve for future generations conditions of life that will allow them, in turn, this extended responsibility.
And, recalling German philosopher Immanuel Kant, Jonas announced a new categorical imperative: "Work in a way that the effects of your actions are compatible with the maintenance of a genuinely human life on the Earth," and that "the effects of your actions should not be destructive to the future possibility of this life."
There are essentially two ways of thinking about human activity on planet Earth. One conceives humanity, considered as being in a situation of confrontation with nature, as essentially negative for the biosphere as a whole; this might be called fundamentalist deep ecology. The other way of thinking, in which the irreversible disturbances caused by transformation due to human activity constitute the factors limiting human growth, is the basis of the idea of ecological activism in favor of sustainable growth.
The fundamentalism of deep ecology
"If a war broke out between the species, I would be on the side of the bears," said American naturalist John Muir (1838-1914), the founder of the Sierra Club. This expresses the essence of deep ecology, which represents a complete rupture with the anthropocentric approach. Deep ecologists view nature--not humanity (which is considered parasitic, destructive, corrupting, and noxious)--as being supreme. The term deep ecology was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (b. 1912). This radical doctrine is in opposition to what Naess calls shallow ecology, which would correspond to an approach based on managing nature to benefit even further the wealth and health of the rich countries.
It should be pointed out that the apparent duality between humanity and nature, which seems to be the starting point of deep ecology, in reality implies a monist philosophical approach, meaning that nature--an immense network of complex interactions--is the supreme entity on the basis of which elements that form it exist. Species, including the human species, would not exist without it or without the relations they have with it. As the American philosopher Paul W. Taylor, a defender of deep ecology, commented in 1981, the fact that one of the species, whichever it is, is endangering the whole, leads to the conclusion that its disappearance would not be a "moral catastrophe, but rather an event that the rest of the biotic community would warmly applaud." Most supporters of deep ecology would thus favor a drastic reduction of the world's population. Adding in elements of mysticism and Buddhism, this fundamentalist version of ecology also has a feminist branch called gyn-ecology, according to which masculine domination of nature would be exercised over women in a comparable way. Furthermore, the female sex, for biological reasons, is considered more sensitive and more receptive than the male sex to the aggressions experienced by nature.
Deep ecology has developed mainly in the United States. Apart from Naess, it has no prestigious advocates in Europe, though it has notable sympathizers such as the French philosopher Michel Serres. It claims roots in many historical precursors, among them Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, and especially Aldo Leopold, whose famous essay "Thinking Like a Mountain" expresses the need to see things from nature's point of view. Deep ecology has had a considerable influence on the environmental movement, which tends to criticize industrial and agricultural production because of the damage they almost always cause to nature.
The anthropocentric ecology of sustainable development
The opposite of deep ecology, but also in line with Jonas's ecological imperative, is an approach to ecology that focuses on sustainable development and aims for the indefinite sustainable development of humanity in harmony with the planet. Even though this position predates the Brundtland Report, the idea of sustainable development is generally associated with the report. There has been wide acceptance of the report's definition: "sustainable development is development that responds to the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs." The report then adds that two ideas are inherent in the notion of sustainable development--the needs of the deprived, and the limits that the environment's limited capacity to respond imposes on current and future human needs.
Except for the defenders of deep ecology, most environmentalists and politicians from other political persuasions accept unanimously the principles of sustainable development, especially since the Rio Earth Summit. The idea of sustainability played a decisive role in the debates and the final agreements reached at the summit. Unfortunately, the unity achieved back in 1992 has splintered a bit at both the national and international levels of planning and in relation to dissuasion by means of economic sanctions and encouragement in diverse ways.
Despite the creation of national commissions responsible for ensuring the application of the Rio agreements in most of the countries of the Northern Hemisphere, national governments seem, in their own domains, less and less committed when it comes to taking action to fulfill the agreements they signed. Yet, if it were necessary to establish coercive measures at an international level, which supranational bodies would be responsible for their enforcement and who would legitimize them? Furthermore, coercive measures have already been denatured in some countries, as for example, in the United States, where companies can acquire "rights" to pollute and sell them (and even negotiate their sale on the stock exchange). Clearly, most environmentalists reject the purchase of the right to cause damage to a social heritage like the environment.
The idea of internalizing the damage caused to the environment when making some product is now fashionable among the institutions of the European Union. Apart from the fact that this type of cost is hard to quantify, critics of this position feel it is unfair for the consumer to pay in the long term for the manufacturer's self-awarded "right" to pollute in order to maintain their profits. Furthermore, the regulation of the deterioration of the environment through the development of ecoindustries is no longer considered a serious hypothesis, at least from the strictly ecological point of view. Polluting the environment becomes doubly profitable, as it produces profits when the product is made and when the environment is rehabilitated. Some highly polluting companies have also championed the idea of decontamination through subsidiary companies. To paraphrase Hans Jonas, in each of these approaches the basic aim is not "responsibility of humans to humans," which calls for the responsibility of each and every one toward nature, but the search for increased profits and to meet certain needs in the short term.
The catastrophic ecological balance reached during the Soviet communist regime and the equally negative balance of the liberal societies has shown that both systems had one feature in common: the absence of the individual's control over his or her social and individual destiny. In Minamata, Bhopal, Chernobyl, or Seveso, on the shores of the Aral Sea and in the Amazon, the question remains: did the agents of production and the inhabitants of the threatened zones ever have the legal and practical means to intervene in the processes that led to the catastrophe? Nobody denies that the answer is no. Deaf or blind bureaucrats and hard-line liberalism have been responsible for the degradation of the beauty of things and the fragile happiness of the inhabitants of the biosphere. Now more than ever it is clear that it will be difficult to change the brutal relations of humanity with the biosphere without simultaneously changing the relations between human beings. The ecology of human freedom is yet to be created. In the twenty-first century, humans must face up to the challenge of making the biosphere a garden for all humanity instead of its waste dump.
2. Great challenges, new solutions
2.1 Social and ecological problems and major planetary dysfunctions
The future of the biosphere should be of much greater concern to the human population than it is, but people should really be far more worried about the future of the human species as part of the biosphere. It is often said that the destructive potential of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the cold war could destroy all life on Earth, but this is inaccurate, as it would destroy all human life (and possibly all plants and animals).
Yet even the worst nuclear war--one that destroyed all human life, plants, and animals--would not eliminate bacterial life; bacteria would be the only form of life on Earth, as they were in the past, and new organisms with complex cells and nuclei (like the contemporary eukaryotes) might evolve again within a billion years or so. The biosphere has survived immense catastrophes, including several mass extinctions. The first mass extinction to affect the human species will surely be the last, but only our species' typical self-centeredness leads it to see this as the end of all other organisms. It seems more likely that a mass extinction of this type is going to be caused by human actions than by the impact of an asteroid, as appears to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Ecology versus economy
The basic and most important environmental problem is that of the economic order (or, perhaps more accurately, disorder). For the political right and left and ordinary people who read newspapers and watch television, it has become the accepted dogma that the market is the measure of all things and that economic growth is the priority of all human societies. The fundamentalists of the free market maintain that the free market (through the price mechanism) can regulate everything, including environmental conditions. In this scheme, it is thought that if oil reserves become exhausted, oil prices will rise, and alternative energies (which are now relatively more expensive) will take the place of oil. If pollution occurs, it is blamed on a consumer "demand" for the goods and services that cause pollution.
Yet the problem is that the behavior of the real world does not correspond to the idealized theoretical model of free competition. All economic agents are not models of virtue, and all of them cannot intervene in the setting of prices to the same extent. Those who have a strategic raw material, the means of production, more money, or the right inside information have a greater chance of intervening effectively than those who have only basic raw materials, their own labor, little money, and erroneous, misleading, or scant information. When real markets are left to themselves, they tend not to contribute to the greatest well-being of the greatest number of people. Rather, they tend to form cartels or monopolies that seek to fix the price of raw materials, to increase the profits of the businesses (rather than their employees), and to increase the wealth of those who already have the most.
Economy and ecology deal with similar ideas; they both start with the same prefix (eco-, from the Greek word oikos, meaning household). However, most economists and ecologists until recently have made a point of ignoring each other's contributions to knowledge, despite having a great deal in common. Ecology has assumed some concepts from economics and the related sciences, including the concepts of accounting (as well as accountability), turnover, and demography.
Most academic ecologists, even those studying human-influenced ecosystems (also referred to as "artificial systems"), have rejected the inclusion of monetary flows in their models--because the value of money is purely symbolic and does not correspond to any physical reality--and have instead sought to evaluate exchanges in terms of energy. Only Howard T. Odum has ever considered monetary flows as the inverse/opposite of energetic flows, thus conferring a physical dimension to money.
Orthodox economists have traditionally underestimated the material characteristics of the goods that the economic agents produce, sell, buy, and consume. Goods, services, and agents, are, in economic theory, abstractions without physical dimensions, even though they are quantified in terms of money, a symbolic unit that also lacks a physical dimension. This (theoretical) abstractness is becoming increasingly widespread in practice, from the increasing use of credit cards in everyday life to the speculative deals of high financial operations. As Ramon Margalef, one of the few ecologists who has taken money into account, has pointed out, there is no doubt that money plays a role in humanized ecosystems. Money often flows in speculative cycles totally unrelated to any flow of materials or energy.
According to Margalef, then, it is easy to make an analogy between money and the territorial instinct (or imperative) of many animals: a certain collective consensus regulates individual access to the use of resources and also regulates the maneuvering capacity of each human being to appropriate the resources to which they have had access. Margalef points out the inability of economists and ecologists to reach an agreement about money and its role as a mechanism that generates inequalities and regulates flows. This lack of agreement is one of the basic causes of the limited success of the sporadic attempts to connect ecology and economics.
From economics to politics
Apart from the free market school of Milton Friedman (b. 1912) and the Chicago School, most economists reject the idea of leaving the assignation of the use of resources exclusively to the market. Rather than acquiring a role that regulates natural flows, money seems to be acquiring the character of a mechanism for the establishment and consolidation of inequalities--not only individual inequalities, but also inequalities between different social groups and between different countries, reinforcing those that already exist as a result of the unequal distribution of natural resources and population.
The 1997 Worldwatch Institute Report on the state of the world points out that just eight countries (the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil) are home to more than half the world's population, half of the world's gross product, half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, and half the world's forests. Thus, global environmental trends are largely determined by the attitudes and trends within these countries, and especially those within the richest three (the United States, Germany, and Japan). Taken together, these three countries represent a relatively small proportion of the world's population (about 8%) and the world forest (about 7%) but generate about 51% of the world's gross product and are responsible for 32% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. These countries also play a role in the environmental policies of the less industrialized countries. For example, Japan is largely responsible for the deforestation of Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific area, while Germany exports industrial wastes to other countries, mainly in Eastern Europe, where regulation is nonexistent or looser.
Inequality in power and wealth also implies inequality in trade exchanges. All of humanity contributes to damaging the environment, but the rich countries do so more substantially, as they control most of the horizontal flows of raw materials, energy, and information. The contribution of the poor countries, however, has more to do with local overexploitation of resources due to population pressure and the need for hard cash to buy the resources from other countries because they are unavailable locally.
Thus, for example, changes in the supply and demand of agricultural, livestock, and forestry products--a result of the globalization of markets--have deeply altered the relations between human societies and resources. However, this modification has gone in totally different directions in the rich industrialized countries and in the poor underdeveloped countries, where the human population is growing rapidly despite the horrible poverty.
The rich countries produce more food than they can consume or sell; current fiscal policies often compensate the abandonment of cropland in less profitable areas in order to reduce overall production. Reducing agricultural production is not easy, especially because official policies until recently sought to promote production. The change from a mechanized intensive agriculture that uses large quantities of agricultural chemicals (with the consequent environmental degradation) to a more diversified agriculture that, in some ways, recovers former traditional practices is not simple, especially if it is to be done without causing major social and ecological imbalances or loss of jobs. It is feasible, however, as shown by the experience in the 1990s in Sweden, where 45% of farms have adopted these new strategies. It is clear that the transition (a revolution in the systems of agricultural and livestock production as important as the use of motorized machinery and agricultural chemicals was in the past) has to be considered at the local or regional scale and cannot be improvised. It has to take into account the local culture, and it has to be done with the participation of the local people.
But the situation of excess production occurs in very few countries. In most of the world's countries--especially in the tropics, where biodiversity is highest--the ratio of food production to population has barely increased; in many places, it has gotten worse. The general development strategies in these countries seek to increase production of goods and to modernize and industrialize. This is a perfectly reasonable aim that should be possible to achieve without degrading the environment and without seriously reducing biodiversity. Unfortunately, it does not occur in such a manner. Decision-makers, as well as many technicians, consider that the preservation of biodiversity is a hindrance to development. In the tropical countries, sustainable development is not considered an aim to be reached in the short term. This is due largely to economic, cultural, and political factors at the national and international levels and to a lack of awareness of the possible ways of meeting this aim.
Economics lacks a common standard of measurement (a theory of value) with ecology, and, together with a total subordination (in almost all countries and many of the most influential international bodies) of the decision-making process to the imperatives laid down by liberal economic models, this makes it very difficult for ecological data and lessons to be taken into account.
It would not be wise, as Joan Martinez Alier (b. 1939) has pointed out, to replace blind faith in the market with blind faith in the planetary ecosystem (though the planetary ecosystem is visible and material, unlike the free market, which is pure abstraction). Growing social participation in the debate shaping environmental-based decision-making represents a hopeful change. Despite the slowness and the shortcomings (let alone failures) in applying the agreements reached at the Rio Earth Summit, the daily presence of environmental news and comments in the media cannot be ignored by politicians.
The major environmental problems
Though environmental problems are complex and vary greatly in space and time and in their social and political aspects, four global problems have been identified: the improper use of resources, the loss of biodiversity, climate change, and pollution. Other problems on the global scale (such as the holes in the ozone layer) or more localized ones (such as desertification and acid rain) are in fact combinations of these four main factors (the loss of biodiversity associated with climate change and soil impoverishment in the case of desertification, and change in the climate and pollution in the case of damage to the ozone layer and the formation of acid rain).
The improper use of resources
It is hard to separate the improper use of resources from pollution. If the term resource is taken to mean everything that can be used to meet human needs, there is almost nothing in the biosphere that is not a resource (see vol. 1, pp. 308-311). But there are few resources that are used completely and do not leave wastes. These residues are released into the atmosphere or waters or accumulated in certain land sites and thus become what is known as pollution.
To speak of improper or bad use of resources implies a moral judgement, not an ecological or economic one. As Margalef has pointed out, the behavior of human beings in relation to resources corresponds to what we would expect of an animal: humans exploit the production of an area, utilize it inefficiently, and accumulate wastes in a more restricted area. The problem is one of scale and intensity and the fact that, unlike other animals, human beings have the ability to reason, live in society, and are able to adjust their behavior to ethical and social norms that are recognized as "correct." In terms of scale, the area exploited by human beings now includes the entire surface of Earth. In terms of intensity, in many places the application of appropriate technology means we squeeze the last drop out of some resources, while in other places overpopulation means resources are extracted until they are totally exhausted, even with precarious means and great investment of human effort. After this, the people living on the overused land will have no choice but to migrate. The concepts of good and evil are always the result of a social consensus concerning an aim that cannot be renounced, which in the final analysis, is always the survival of the individual, of the social group, and of the species. However, we have now reached a point where conservation of the biosphere must be added as a condition related to the other three.
The resources needed to support individual life are very limited. The basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter vary from one biome to another, but humans have traditionally found ways to meet their needs, as has been discussed in vol. 2-10 of the Encyclopedia of the Biosphere. This has generally been done without causing changes that represent a loss of the biological bases of production. Yet, human needs have rarely been limited to the satisfaction of physiological requirements.
A need is a culturally determined social construct whose limits can always be extended in light of new beliefs, new knowledge, and new technologies. Thus, for example, fermented drinks like wine and beer are not, strictly speaking, a need, but after the discovery of the technology of fermentation there has not been a culture that has not produced and consumed some type of fermented beverage.
The importance of wine in the liturgy of the Christian church in its beginning centuries meant that the use of wine accompanied the expansion of Christianity. Coal was not a significant resource until the invention of the steam engine made it the most important source of energy in the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century cars were only owned by the rich and rather eccentric, but by the end of the same century most families in rich countries owned one or more. It is this social construct of need and consumption that can be ethically judged, that can vary from one individual to another, from one social group to another, or from one country to another. Thus, an ultra-liberal economist's opinion on the consumption of fossil fuels can be very different from that of an environmentalist. Milton Friedman, the leading voice of the Chicago School, has even stated that from the economic point of view it cannot be said that oil is a limited resource because, at the moment, discoveries of new reserves are greater than the amount consumed. Furthermore, prices remain relatively stable, something that would not happen if the resource was really scarce. But one does not have to be a radical environmentalist to realize that, given that oil only forms under special conditions and over a very long period of time, the availability of reserves is inevitably limited in time; in fact, many oil fields are now completely exhausted.
In practice, it is known that the model of consumption in the developed countries is wasteful; above all, though, it is unjust, since this extravagance is made possible only by the exploitation of the resources of the poor countries. The present-day "wretched of the earth" are not, as nineteenth-century socialists and anarchists argued, the industrial workers alienated from their work by their capitalist bosses, but the poor countries (excluding their corrupt elites, who are accomplices in this exploitation) whose resources are being plundered, thus condemning them to overexploit the meager resources to which they have access. The enormous inequality in energy consumption between the rich and poor countries exemplifies this point.
Misuse, however, is not limited to the injustice of the exploitation of some humans by others, something humanity has suffered for many centuries. Blindness in resource exploitation, mainly of energy resources (the key to all the others), is the possible basis of the intensification of climate change and the release of nuclear radiation, which negatively affect both the individual's health and development and the integrity of the human and other species. These environmental aggressions are not only contrary to the rights of human beings individually and collectively but to the integrity of the human species and the biosphere.
The loss of biodiversity
One of the signs of the misuse of resources, the loss of biological diversity, can only be perceived negatively, by noting that something is missing, and is thus usually noticed only in the case of large and conspicuous plants or animals. The loss of biodiversity is one of the worst and most lasting forms of human damage to the biosphere. This phrase--"the loss of biodiversity"--refers not only to the decline in the number of species present in an area or ecosystem, but also to changes in their relative frequencies, that is to say the increased rarity of a given species, or certain genetic combinations, or even a given ecosystem in a given space.
The processes of speciation (species formation), selective competition, and the extinction of species are nothing new to the biosphere. But human action has changed their meaning and extended and intensified their effects. This has not, in general, been deliberate, but came about as a result of carelessness in very common operations such as plowing, clearing or opening tracks through forests, draining wetlands, using land to build industrial premises or housing, and particularly, the voluntary or accidental introduction of non-native species, especially onto islands.
Popular concern is greatest about the almost-certain extinction of the tiger or the situation of the brown bear in southwest Europe (where there is great controversy between those in favor of the reintroduction of the brown bear in the central Pyrenees and those who oppose it), but the most important losses are far less noticeable on first sight. For example, the losses of the interstitial soil fauna may lead to a loss of soil fertility. Certain insects that have disappeared might have been the only pollinators for a given plant or might have controlled other insect pests of crop plants. Every year thousands of species disappear, and their role and properties in their ecosystems are unknown. It is estimated that the potential uses of only 1% of the world's species are known, though one should not take the approach that this is a catastrophe; the most useful species are presumably already known, and the most usable species have been domesticated since the Neolithic. Yet, even within the major plant crop species, there is an alarming loss of genetic diversity. Hundreds of local varieties (representing hundreds of different genetic combinations) are lost every year when they are replaced by varieties that are preferred for their high production, because they have highly valued features, or because they are the varieties promoted by the seed companies. One of the negative aspects of the Green Revolution in many counties (which had many positive aspects for the people living in these countries) has been the loss of biological and genetic diversity. The loss of local varieties means the loss of genetic characteristics that are very well adapted to local conditions or resistant to certain pests. It also means the loss of varieties that might have added hybrid vigor to new varieties or been used as replacements because of their resistance to pest attack.
Earth's climate (see vol. 1, pp. 56-73) has not been constant over the course of the planet's history, so it is not surprising that it is still undergoing changes. Nevertheless, since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has become an important factor changing the atmosphere. Analysis of air samples taken systematically since 1958 has shown an increase in carbon dioxide concentration from 315 ppm in 1958 to 360 ppm in 1996. Analysis of air bubbles trapped in ice in several glaciers suggests that concentrations in 1850 were around 275 ppm. Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that contributes most to the greenhouse effect (see pp. 88-89). It is released into the air by the burning of all sorts of fuel, by volcanic eruptions, and more restrictedly by intensive stockraising and in certain agricultural production practices such as rice production.
There are undeniable signs of global warming. In 1866 (the beginning point for a reliable series of measurements), the average temperature of the planet's surface was about 58[degrees]F (14.5[degrees]C), but by 1997, at the time the hottest year on record, this average had risen to 59[degrees]F (15.25[degrees]C). This rise has not been uniform, but there has been a clear tendency for temperatures to rise. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognized in 1995 the evidence for global warming, which this expert group said could be 1.8-6.3[degrees]F (1-3.5[degrees]C) per century. These changes will not be equal all over the world, with the greatest rises occurring at the high and mid-latitudes. There is no consensus on the related changes such as alterations in rainfall distribution, ocean currents, movements of air masses, the rise in sea level, or whether the consequences of the increase in temperature will be negative or positive for human beings.
Swedish physicist and chemist Svante August Arrhenius (1859-1927) thought that, on the whole, the effects would be positive. Now, however, the general impression is that the effects will be negative, as sea level may rise and submerge entire archipelagos and large areas of deltas, coastal plains, and wetlands. Countries like the Netherlands, Bangladesh, China, and the island states of the southern Pacific and Indian Ocean are all concerned about this, as estimates suggest the sea level may rise 3-10 ft (1-3 m) over the course of the twenty-first century. It is also possible that global warming might cause desiccation of areas in subtropical climates, which might, in turn, affect the Mediterranean climates; at the same time, however, the climate in the boreal latitudes could be favored by increased rainfall and higher temperatures.
It is not clear whether increasing or decreasing the effects of climate change is an objective shared by the whole of humanity. At the Kyoto Conference (December 1977), the representatives of 161 states could only agree to sign a protocol in which the European Union and other developed countries committed themselves to a reduction of 8% in total emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxides from their 1990 levels--the United States by 7% and Japan by 6%, while Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine committed themselves to maintain their emissions at the 1990 levels. Equivalent reductions, but with respect to the levels in 1955, have been agreed upon for some other gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect.
The scourge of pollution
Contrary to what many people think, the concept of pollution did not originate with ecology. The term is in fact derived from jurisprudence. To pollute was, in the past, a criminal offense and implied converting the water in a well, drinking trough, water tank, or any type of deposit or pool, so that it was unfit for its previous use. Public watercourses did not enjoy this type of protection, and anything could be dumped in them. This sometimes resulted in local accumulations of pollutants and waste downstream, leading to streams being named for the waste and pollution they carried (and these names have been maintained to present-day).
In pre-industrial societies, except for the largest cities, the small amount of pollutants dumped into rivers consisted mainly of organic wastes that were quickly recycled. The current idea of pollution implies something that is out of its place. Nothing is a pollutant if it is in its place. The worst poison, provided it is sealed in a container and not consumed, is assumed to cause no harm. Phosphates, which are a pollutant when present in water in excessively high levels, are necessary as a fertilizer for many soils and are responsible for the rich marine life in areas of ocean upwelling. Pollution is thus a "defect" in the horizontal transport--the accumulation or discharge into the biosphere of the remains of incomplete consumption of products brought from sites near or far.
The effects of pollution on ecosystems are comparable to those of resource exploitation. The ecosystem's rate of turnover increases, and it becomes simplified, while the pollutants are hardly used at all or are transported to neighboring ecosystems. In other words, most of the species of the affected ecosystems die or move away, while the most resistant species make use of the fertilization that may be caused by the entry of materials and become dominant within the ecosystem. This is shown clearly by the wastes from farms that raise livestock intensively; the liquid wastes that accumulate are rich in nutrients and are applied to the fields. Consequently, the crops and weeds grow very well, but the excess nutrients that are not used in plant growth are washed from the soil by rainwater or irrigation water, then enter the underground aquifers or the watercourses, where they cause eutrophication. It should be born in mind that some pig farms now produce a quantity of organic waste comparable to that produced by a small town.
There are also huge differences in pollution between the rich and poor countries, if only because the rich countries control the flow of transports and are the ones that consume the most. They also recycle less, despite stepped-up efforts in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Unfortunately, only need (or imposition of strict regulations) seems to incline people to abandon or diminish excessive use of resources. A car, for example, is a complex object that uses more than a ton of processed resources (which have been obtained by industrial processes of greater or lesser complexity) and a large amount of energy. Yet a car is considered old after ten years, though in most rich countries, cars are only used to transport about 220 lb (100 kg) of human flesh from one place to another.
Residues derived from an industrial process that are directly toxic or harmful to living things (including human beings) are exceptionally dangerous forms of pollution. Rachel Carson was the first to draw attention to pesticide residues, the most common of these pollutants, in 1962. Such toxic pollutants are now much more numerous and diverse than they were then and represent a serious threat to the ecosystems they affect, especially the atmosphere and water. Their accumulation at the top of the food chain is especially alarming.
2.2 From biosphere reserves to preserving the biosphere
Environmental problems are not abstract but occur in real space and real time. They exist in a given location right now. Thus, viable formulas for the preservation of the natural heritage have to be found in real places and in the present, and they have to be compatible with the maintenance and improvement of human living conditions.
The origin and development of the biosphere reserves
Volumes 2-10 of the Encyclopedia of the Biosphere finish with a list of the biosphere reserves in the featured biome and a description of one or two representative reserves. The biosphere reserves aim, with greater or lesser success, to combine development with the maintenance of environmental quality and the conservation of biological diversity, that is to say, sustainable development. The role of the biosphere reserves in industrialized countries can be quite different from their role in developing countries. In the industrialized countries, they are laboratories in the search for postindustrial forms of agriculture, stockraising, and forestry; they are spaces for the promotion of new styles of regional development in relatively marginal areas. In the developing countries, they have to become active centers for land-use planning, for rational natural resources management, and for research into finding solutions to the questions--often contradictory and mutually exclusive--derived from economic interests.
Some human groups that retain their ancestral traditions have developed and still maintain systems of natural resource utilization that produce an economic yield without damaging the ecosystem. These groups have reconciled production and conservation. This is no mystery: it is simply another manifestation of natural selection, the great architect of evolution. If a human group has lived in a given landscape for a long time, it means that they have learned to use it without destroying it (otherwise they would have destroyed it and had to migrate). The pressures of the consumer society, as well as the immigration of other human groups, are factors that endanger not only the biological richness of the ecosystems and landscapes but also the associated traditional cultures. Joining the preservation of traditional knowledge of how to use nature with the protection of nature has been suggested several times, but relatively little progress has been made in this area. The biosphere reserves are zoned, and the zones include protected areas where some degree of controlled human activity is permitted, making them the ideal places to preserve this traditional knowledge, which is as endangered as biological and genetic diversity.
The concept of the biosphere reserve was created and has been developed within the framework of UNESCO's MAB Programme, which has received very important theoretical and experimental contributions from Mexico. The first meeting of the MAB International Coordinating Council, when this program started its operative phase, took place in Paris in 1971. The concept of the biosphere reserve was not present on the original agenda for the meeting, but one of the fourteen working lines adopted at the first meeting was the "conservation of natural areas and the genetic material they contain," with the idea that these areas should form an international network.
In 1972 and 1973 neither social participation nor research into alternatives for regional development for these areas was considered. A year later, in 1974, both criteria were included, and the name "biosphere reserve" was adopted for these areas, largely because of the experiences obtained from the first two areas to be given the name, Mapimi Biosphere Reserve and La Michilia Biosphere Reserve, the first biosphere reserves in Mexico and the whole of the Latin America. These were promoted by Gonzalo Halffter (b. 1932) and were created by the Instituto de Ecologia (Institute of Ecology) in Xalapa (Mexico). In 1976 the international secretariat of the MAB Programme accepted the first list of biosphere reserves, and this led to the formation of the international network of biosphere reserves.
At that time, with the cold war still going on, the two great competing world powers (the United States and the former Soviet Union) turned some of their already existing natural parks into biosphere reserves, without modifying greatly their structure or objectives. In other countries such as Mexico, biosphere reserves were created as an alternative innovative option to conservation and were totally unrelated to the existing system of national parks. This meant that scientific research into regional problems and cooperation with the local people and institutions could be considered as basic objectives. A true biosphere reserve, as Halffter said in 1984, is not simply a protected area. Though it is protected, its area and influence should extend to the region as a whole and contribute to a more rational use of biotic resources. The reserve thus becomes a pilot area, combining research, conservation, and regional development. This also helps to break the dichotomy between conservation and development.
The First International Conference on Biosphere Reserves was held in 1983 in Minsk (now in Belarus), and there were differences about the idea of what a biosphere reserve should be. Thanks to the two organizers of this conference, Francesco di Castri and Michel Batisse, the presentations were not restricted to the management of protected areas but were organized around three main themes: conservation, science, and society. This led to the first formal formulation of what a biosphere reserve should be, how it should be structured, and what its functions should be. An action plan was drafted in 1984 by the MAB International Secretariat. A working group convened by UNESCO completed the definition of the biosphere reserve and the plan of action over the course of 1985 and 1986.
UNESCO believed that biosphere reserves should form an innovative and basic aspect of the international strategy for the conservation of biodiversity with views toward the twenty-first century. This belief was confirmed after 1992. UNESCO's director general convened a small group of scientists from around the world to form an advisory committee on biosphere reserves, and this group's proposals revitalized the MAB Programme, as they considered the international network of reserves to be the backbone of the program.
The advisory committee insisted on the innovative nature of the idea of the biosphere reserve. The committee also pointed out that the biosphere reserves had to achieve their declared aims, and it established an assessment procedure in order to notify governments about reserves that fail to meet these aims (and retained the ability to recommend their exclusion from the network). The committee also presented a declaration linking the biosphere reserves to the idea of sustainable development.
The new horizon after the Seville meeting
The advisory committee also proposed holding a Second International Conference on Biosphere Reserves; this was eventually held in Seville in March of 1995. The meeting included a critical review of the progress made in the application of the biosphere reserve concept and practice in the previous 20 years. The many notable successes--and the failures--were examined and evaluated, and the meeting approved a new strategy (known as the Seville Strategy) for the creation and management of the biosphere reserves and a new set of statutes for the world network. Clearly, what happens to the world network of biosphere reserves will depend on the desires of the national governments, on economic and social conditions, and, in many places, on purely local circumstances. The Seville meeting attendees discussed and ratified the idea that flexibility should be one of the essential characteristics of the biosphere reserves; the creation and administration of a biosphere reserve has to respond to specific local and national factors.
The Seville Strategy defines biosphere reserves as zones that include terrestrial, coastal, or marine ecosystems (or any combination of them) and are internationally recognized within the framework of the MAB Programme. The governments of each country decide which areas they wish to consider biosphere reserves, and, if they satisfy certain criteria and fulfill a set of minimum conditions, they are admitted to the network. The basic condition for admittance is to perform three complementary functions aimed at preservation and sustainable development, taking into account local, national, and world interests. These are 1) to conserve and protect genetic resources, species, ecosystems, and landscapes, 2) to promote sustainable human and economic development, and 3) to provide the logistic support needed for the promotion of permanent research, education, training, and observation activities. Thus, in accordance with the new approach that is an essential part of the new conception of the biosphere reserve, the reserves are considered as the bases for the regional planning of land use and use of living resources. This rules out the idea of making the biosphere reserves "islands" within a world increasingly threatened by simplification due to economic activity, proposing instead that they assume the role of laboratories to research regional models of sustainable development.
Another highly innovative aspect of the Seville Strategy is recognition of the need to strengthen the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. In countries where traditional use is still made of resources, this directive has become essential. Traditional cultures and the genetic diversity associated with the use they make of nature are as threatened as the diversity of wildlife. This led to the proposal that one of the specific tasks of the biosphere reserves should be the protection and conservation of the traditional knowledge and genetic resources associated with traditional cultures.
The Seville Strategy explicitly states that the biosphere reserves are more than just protected areas, in the conventional meaning of the term. In particular, reserves need to reflect the human dimensions of the compatibility between conservation and development. The people living and working in the reserves must be able to retain a balanced relationship with their environment. Unlike many national parks, the biosphere reserves have to try and incorporate a model of participatory democracy. To do this, it was proposed that the administration of each reserve involves a pact between the local community and society as a whole, an approach that means that the reserve and the local communities will be able to respond better to external pressures of a political, economic, or social nature.
The above aims cannot be successfully accomplished in a relatively small area. Optimally, biosphere reserves have to be large, and their land use has to be adequately planned, which requires zoning into distinctive areas. Thus, each biosphere reserve consists of three zones. One or more are core zones, composed of representative portions of the ecosystems and landscapes of the area requiring long-term protection to ensure their integrity, evolution, and the conservation of their biological diversity. In the core area or areas, the only activities permitted are those that cause little disturbance (such as scientific research). There also must be a buffer zone around the core of the reserve that can be used for activities compatible with conservation (environmental education, leisure, eco-tourism, research, and experimentation). Finally, there has to be a flexible transition area or cooperation area, where the human settlements are located and where agriculture and other activities are permitted. The local communities, management bodies, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and other interested groups must work together on the administration and the sustainable development of the resources in this transition zone.
The Seville Strategy and the new statutory framework for the world network of biosphere reserves were presented for consideration by the International Coordinating Council of the MAB Programme (June 1995) and the UNESCO General Conference (November 1995) and were approved by both of these international bodies. Thus, they became the regulating framework governing all the biosphere reserves.
The importance of conserving diversity
Despite the approval of the strategy by international bodies, the conditions for conservation of biodiversity are unfavorable in many poor countries (as well as in many rich countries). A system of protected natural areas (even biosphere reserves) is not enough to conserve a significant proportion of biological diversity. It is not possible to maintain neat, orderly patches in an area that is filthy and degraded. If the landscapes around the protected areas undergo drastic changes, this gives rise to a series of ecological problems. The smaller the protected area is and the greater its insularity, the smaller the number of species it contains and the number of viable populations it can support; the smaller the available space, the smaller the size of each population, and the less genetically diverse each one will be. When an area is completely surrounded by a hostile landscape, migration and exchange with other populations becomes impossible. A protected area, even a large one, never contains all the species of the ecosystem type, for the very simple reason that the species composition of an ecosystem varies geographically from place to place. For example, it is not possible for a reserve to contain all or most of the species of plants that live in the evergreen forests of Mexico, since the species that occur on the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico are different from those occurring on the Pacific coastline or on the Yucatan Peninsula, even though these ecosystems may appear to be very similar.
In the beginning, these limiting factors of protected areas were not taken into account, as most of the parks were in landscapes that had not been severely modified. Under these conditions, the external space both satisfies and masks the limitations of the protected areas. As the external landscape is modified, the protected areas become islands, not because their legal limits are made smaller but because the real space available to the biota is reduced. This is when the problems derived from the size of the area become clear. These problems affect, above all, the animals that move along great distances or occupy large areas such as many large mammals and birds, especially predators. In the short term, however, these size-related problems will affect the fauna and flora as a whole, as has already happened in some protected areas.
In the twenty-first century, conservation of biodiversity has to find a response not only to increasing human pressure but also to these ecological problems, whose consequences have only recently been realized. The solution, if there is one, is not to continue with the current approach (increasing the number and size of the protected areas). The part of Earth's surface that can be excluded from productive use is limited--and is increasingly limited because of population growth.
Some industrialized countries are considering the establishment of a system of "ecological corridors" to join together or interconnect their protected areas and avoid the effects of insularity. In tropical countries, however, where pressure on land is becoming increasingly intense, the space that can be devoted to corridors of this type is limited. Under these conditions, the only answer to the problem is to consider the biosphere reserves as laboratories, where rational traditional uses help to make economic development compatible with conservation. These uses need not be invented but recovered and applied to the network of protected areas. Rational traditional use does not mean abandonment or distortion by improvised actions and sudden pressures. These uses (plural, as they are numerous and varied) have to be analyzed, validated, and strengthened with scientific and technical knowledge and protected by legal measures such as awarding the "green labels" that are coming into use.
A significant portion of the world's land surface and oceans is still managed more or less traditionally. This type of usage produces immediate yields without totally modifying the environment. The areas of traditional usage are not uninhabited, but the people living there make conservative, nonintensive use of their resources. Logically, the distinction between the two prevailing types of usage is not always clear, and there are many intermediates between the two extremes. Their distinguishing feature is not their low efficiency, as both traditional usage and intensive usage can be considered inefficient, though for different reasons. Intensive use is taken here to mean the search for maximum yields in the short term (even per harvest), while using large amounts of fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, and credit. Agriculture of this type leads to monoculture (the growth of one kind of crop) of large fields, and the harvests are destined for the national and international market.
Traditional use corresponds to much more diverse landscape patterns. Traditional agriculture allows for the cultivation of different plants and is complemented by raising livestock and using wild resources (wood, hunting, fishing, gathering); no (or very few) agricultural chemicals, heavy machinery, or fossil fuels are used in this type of agriculture, although it is extremely labor intensive. Production units of this type are mainly family owned, communal, or cooperatives, and they sell their harvests in the local and regional markets (though they may export the more valuable products). What they aim for is stable long-term production, rather than maximum yields.
The traditional use of natural resources is clearly threatened by a form of development that promotes unrestricted use of resources. The spread of intensive cultivation is limited (by availability of water and energy and problems related to costs and markets), but bad use leading to degradation has no self-restrictions or self-limitations, nor are the losses due to pollution and chaotic urban growth limited. Activities that damage the environment as a whole are also a threat to biodiversity. The tropical world is full of examples of unsustainable use of biological resources for immediate economic reasons.
By the mid-1950s the scheme of unbridled colonization (opening new spaces for stockraising and monocultures) ceased to make much sense--if it ever had made any. It has been very difficult, if not impossible, for governments to change their development strategies, as inertia, internal pressures, and interests are great. The lack of land-use programs means that a reductionist pressure dominates the use of biotic resources--a pressure that aims for homogeneity, diversity reduction, and immediate yields in external markets, while ignoring the relationships between resources and the environment and between the environment and human welfare. We are still in the transition from an archaic approach to conservation (linked to the traditional economy) to modern norms for consumption (meant to satisfy the requirements of a global capitalist economy).
The preceding reflections lead to the conclusion that much of the success of a given conservation strategy depends on what happens in the enormous land area modified by human activity but not totally transformed by intensive exploitation. In these areas, which have been used traditionally for centuries, a large number of plants and animals have been able to survive and have maintained their gene flows and their biogeographic ranges. Under such circumstances, biodiversity has followed its evolutionary process to the present days. These lands and uses are endangered by the current expansion of the intensive-use systems linked to a burgeoning population increase. This is the scenario outside the few protected areas and reserves.
Ecological, social, and economic factors lead us to believe that in the twenty-first century, the conservation of biodiversity has to be considered on a global scale, against standards far different from the ones that have been used so far. The conservation of biodiversity should be considered as part of models of sustainable development, more closely linked to agricultural and livestock production and seeking the most appropriate solution for each type of scenario.
2.3 The search for sustainability
Yet sustainable development cannot be limited to the privileged spaces known as biosphere reserves; if development is to be sustainable, it has to be sustainable on the level of the entire biosphere. But what, in the present circumstances, is sustainable? The universe as a whole can be considered unsustainable, as it seems to have started in a Big Bang and been heading ever since toward its "deleterious centrifugation." From this perspective, the search for sustainability is unattainable. The search for sustainability is not like the search for perpetual motion, but an attempt to make human social and ecological activity viable in a given place and time, with a concern for the following generations.
Sustainable development as a process
Sustainability is not a value in itself, nor is it a clear and well-defined aim. Sustainability is a process, or maybe a declaration of intent seeking to overcome the dysfunctions of the current social and economic model by balancing the conflicting demands of conservation and the Third World's urgent need for economic development. This requires a preliminary evaluation of the dominant social and ecological strategy--one reason why the idea of sustainable development first spread among environmentalists and beyond them in the 1980s and 1990s. Note the change in the ideas expressed by the names of the 1980 World Conservation Strategy and the 1991 Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainability, both of which were the result of an agreement between UNEP, the IUCN, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF; see photo 48). The World Conservation Strategy defines sustainable development as one of its aims, but Caring for the Earth considers it as the main objective.
Still, sustainability is more than simply cleaning up the environment. It extends into the field of human behavior, where attitudes need to be changed. It is worth stressing that the search for sustainability should be seen as a process. For eco-fundamentalists, sustainability is a pre-existing magic formula that need only be unearthed and applied. Some of them have already found it in deep ecology (see p. 173), with its mysticism more or less based on relating human society with the nitrogen cycle. For the bureaucrats in the environmental departments, sustainability is just a banal rhetorical phrase that expresses little more than the same old options redefined with a new vocabulary. But sustainability is not a formula; like life, sustainability is an intelligent and self-organizing process that acquires knowledge in the course of its development. Sustainability is the antithesis of what is unsustainable, the daily contradiction of the unsustainability that the biosphere seems to tend to, whether as a result of thermodynamics (which is inevitable) or as a result of human (anthropogenic) carelessness (which occurs only too frequently).
In any case, sustainability is a relative concept that depends on the environmental matrix in which it is located. The more externalizations and imports that are possible within this framework, the easier it will be to ensure that it works. Human beings have never before designed a sustainable social and ecological strategy. In the earliest days of its existence, the biosphere was an open system consisting of a small number of unsustainable species that consumed abundant resources and produced small quantities of unusable wastes. The increasing scarcity of resources and the accumulation of wastes led to a second phase of interaction consisting of a system, still open, but constituted by a series of different types of organisms--each one just as unsustainable on its own--that consumed resources or each other's wastes. The cycle eventually closed, forming a complete network in which some organisms lived at the expense of others, but all ultimately lived on energy from the Sun and nutrients present in the environment, that is to say, the biosphere as we presently know it. Yet this contemporary biosphere is not sustainable. If it stopped receiving energy from the Sun, it would cease to function and would gradually "wind down."
The emerging ecology of the industrial system has followed the example of the biosphere. For decades, and even for centuries, modern civilization has functioned as the second stage of the biosphere's development did, with a multitude of interactions between different social and economic agents, but with a large flow of wastes and an extravagant importation of resources. Now is the time to close cycles and to increase the efficiency of processes in order to enter into the third phase, that of the minimization of externalities.
The real problem: unsustainability
The Neolithic revolution marked the systematic capture of the Sun's energy by human beings. Agriculture and stockraising represented seizing the Sun's energy in the form of plants and animals. In fact, a field of crops can be compared to a solar panel and a herd of animals to a turbine, in which there is a conversion of energy. This was the main source of energy in the Western world until about the eighteenth century, when there was a change from harvesting energy to the extraction of energy from fossil fuel. Coal, and then oil, made it possible to change first to the use of machines and then to motors. The machine is Neolithic and can be explained in terms of classical physics; Isaac Newton exhausted the subject and surely the Neolithic order. The motor requires a thermodynamic explanation; Sadi Carnot is thus the physicist of the industrial era. The motors of the time functioned with fire (oil or coal). The Industrial Revolution, in energetic terms, represents the use of fossil energy and the triumph of the motor over the machine, the victory of Carnot's thermodynamics over Newton's mechanics.
The Industrial Revolution also represented the defeat of the previous provisionally sustainable order. In general, industrialization makes the matrix stricter because it makes it harder to externalize costs--resources become scarcer and wastes become more abundant. As the nineteenth century progressed, matters became more complicated: some resources (mainly energy resources) were being obtained from previously unharnessed sources (nuclear power, for instance), and chemical plants began generating new and unknown synthetic chemicals that were not biodegradable. Thus, the sustainability of the Neolithic was hard to transfer to the industrial order--and even harder to transfer to the contemporary postindustrial order. No one can escape the consequences of the laws of thermodynamics.
One of the first signs of the new situation's unsustainability was the emergence of many environmental conflicts, all of them related largely to the control and use of energy. First came the deterioration of the environment, which was accompanied by an unexpected decrease in the quality of life due to pollution. After this came the gradual but alarming increase in the scarcity of resources, which were (and are) paradoxically wasted despite their increasing value (see pp. 188-190). Finally, the first signs of dysfunction on a planetary scale appeared among them the enhanced greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer (see p. 191).
In the meantime, environmental unsustainability has gradually been joined by social unsustainability, which includes, among many other factors, injustice, conflict, instability, and unrest. In fact, the concentration of power--the result of an initial cultural advantage that permitted certain societies to take control of energy sources and supplies--has led to exaggerated social asymmetries. Unbelievably, 20% of humanity, the percentage living in the developed world or First World, controls 80% of the resources. The system of sovereign states has totally divided Earth's surface and has limited the areas that are the exclusive responsibility of each, while the spread of the multinational companies has created a new map of the world that is much more operative but politically uncontrollable. There has thus been a process of globalization of economic activity that does not correspond to the necessary planetary strategy. The business elite--those individuals with the money and power to make big decisions--apply to a global scale what they have learned from their local situation. This process is often erroneously referred to as globalization; in reality, it should be called the global application of local strategies. And these local strategies stem from so few localities that they can sometimes meet together in a few offices or the meeting rooms of the headquarters of a large transnational company.
According to the WWF, 70% of world commerce, 80% of the world's investment, and 30% of the world's gross product is in the hands of just 500 transnational companies. The combined turnover of these companies is greater than the gross domestic products (GDP) of all the countries of Africa put together. Half a dozen transnational companies dominate 63% of the world's mining industry, and a single company controls 60% of the world cereal trade. Vehicles manufactured by 20 transnational car companies consume about 90% of all the hydrocarbons used by vehicles. In this context, and especially after the inevitable collapse of the countries with planned economies, the political powers do not control the growth of the economy, but neither does the market, because it has become a prisoner of the virtual trust (cartel) formed by the transnational corporations.
The environmental market is thus completely distorted. The accounting books are balanced by externalizing costs to systems that can no longer absorb them or by transferring the amortization (and depreciation) to future generations. In order for the market to be able to regulate environmental management on the planetary scale, it would have to start by assigning a price and an owner to all the resources, including the atmosphere, the air, the water, and soil. And it would also be necessary to establish a single global market to which everyone had access on equal conditions because the current liberal market is really only the portion of the total market that is dominated by the First World.
In addition to the risk of environmental bankruptcy, there is also the risk of social bankruptcy, which is increasing as the values that regulate conduct are in full crisis. Collective morality has traditionally been regulated by religion or some form of lay ethic. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, at least in Western Europe, religion seems to have been abandoned by a considerable portion of the population, mostly as a result of its dogmatism and false piety. The socialist left, in turn, has exhausted a significant part of its progressive arguments and has reduced its discourse to the classes in the Western world, most of them well-off or relatively well-off in comparison with the working class in the Third World. It is also crudely true that the Fourth World--the areas of poverty within the developed societies--is becoming more important. The resurgence of religious fundamentalism and sects is the inevitable corollary of all this.
Industrial culture has also stuck to its prejudices. Some initial mistakes are now resulting in clear contradictions. The blind argument of those who continue to maintain that economic growth will create employment (like most current politicians) does not withstand logical analysis and is disproved by experience. Still, maintaining the rate of growth continues to be the main priority of those in public office: it is presented as the cure for all ills. In fact, politicians do not talk about economic growth, but of growth of production-turnover; in their amortized paradigm these terms are still confused. As a result, social health may collapse in front of them, and unemployment, marginalization, and ecological deterioration may increase around them.
The initial holism of scientific thinking, on the other hand, has been displaced by a sectorial reductionism that prevents the understanding of the global reality (see pp. 139-140). The technological machine behaves like an out-of-control android, bringing to life the science fiction of the 1950s. All the technological paraphernalia of the misnamed "information society" (which rarely goes beyond interest in data) is exemplified by the out-of-control robot. The idea of the "end of history," that is to say, the absence of any real intellectual challenge to the current situation, is another way of looking at the same thing. In the contemporary context, science tends to know without thinking, so it generates knowledge, not wisdom (or, if you prefer, culture).
All in all, now that the era of Newton and Carnot is over, the former dissolved in history, the latter overcome by silicon, the above invalidates the general matrix of reference. The Neolithic lasted until the times of Newton (a few millennia), and industrial civilization has exploited thermodynamics (a couple of centuries). They were sustainable in their own context, but the postindustrial context is different. That is why this reality is becoming unsustainable.
The reaction in favor of sustainable development
More and more scholars believe that the current model is approaching a crossroads, a situation of unsustainability, and they suggest a redefinition of the paradigm. The late 1990s brought an increasingly angry reaction (though completely predictable and understandable) against this increasingly inadequate model. But the first signs of the growth of the environmental movement have been heard, and environmentalists should be thanked for sounding the alarm and setting the process of remediation in motion.
The environmentalist discourse has broadened to include social considerations. Nuclear power stations really can go up in flames, trains carrying radioactive wastes can crash, the world's temperature is rising (as all the evidence seems to confirm), there really are wars for the control of energy resources, population growth is reaching a limit, famines do occur, desertification is getting worse, and biodiversity really is being lost. At the same time, the ecological--or rather the environmental--movement, a movement whose origins lie in the Western developed societies, is being outmaneuvered in the Third World.
In the Third World, new movements are developing that look at these things from a different but complementary perspective. The Chipko or Appiko movement in India, the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, the ecological aspects of the grievances of the Zapatista rebels in Mexico, and the coordinating committee of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin clearly show this. In addition, some initiatives closer to the First World approach (and sometimes more advanced in strategic considerations) have arisen in countries with a Western tradition, such as the new ideas on sustainable development that have arisen within the Latin American Environmental Sciences Forum (the Foro Latinoamericano de Ciencias Ambientales; FLACAM), an academically accredited extramural center that coordinates about 30 environmental research and management centers in 12 Latin American countries and Spain.
It is hard to structure and make rigorous this reaction. It is also difficult to clarify what ecology is, what economics is, what sociology is, what engineering is, and what politics is, in all this analysis of the criticism of sustainability. If sustainability is a process, the environmental movement is sequential to it. Sustainable environmental (or ecological) activism, the opposite of eco-fundamentalism, adopts some of its most basic ideas from ecology, but it has also ended up incorporating progressive ideas from many other disciplines. It could not have been otherwise; as a result of its very nature, sustainable ecological activism needs to be reinterpreted from a global perspective.
The new paradigm of sustainability has undeniable social and ecological roots. This means that it cannot be formulated by ignoring the knowledge of ecological science. Ecology explains ecological dysfunctions, but not environmental problems, and it does not foreshadow any new strategy.
The proactive projection of sustainability
The verb "to plan" means to formulate a program of action, in this case, action against practices that degrade the environment. The process toward sustainable growth must enter a projective phase. The idea is not just to respect the environment but to plan it in an ecologically correct way and to introduce this plan by means of a social pact.
We will not be able to find this solution; we need to invent it. Tomorrow's world will presumably be like today's, albeit with some differences. The entire biosphere is in a process of constant reform in which the oldest elements are still recognizable. Thus, the process of sustainability is the strategy of reform--a revolutionary reform that seeks to change a few things so that everything can be different. Instead of relying on an inefficient process and then cleaning up the consequences, the process of production must be made more efficient. The strategy of sustainability has to be aimed at the physiology of reality (in terms of its functioning), rather than at its anatomy (its structure). It is a functional project more than anything else.
Clearly, this will be a difficult route to follow because major changes will have to be made, especially in personal and social attitudes, even in value systems. Such changes are comparable to those that accompanied the arrival of industrial culture in the aristocratic and rural world of the eighteenth century. And so the political and social side of the idea of sustainability merits further discussion, but there is also a more immediate side, one that can be expressed in scientific and technological terms. This will necessitate the reconsideration of many materials and processes, as well as the implementation of many new solutions. For example, rather than creating new centralized sources of energy production (such as nuclear fusion) it might be better to develop small-scale independent sources of energy (such as solar panels). Here again, industry should show greater courage in research and development oriented toward change rather than relying so heavily on marketing studies.
It is unfortunate that the confusion between what is alternative and what is marginal prevents the correct extension of the new paradigm, which, technologically speaking, is sometimes presented as a boy scout's manual. One should bear in mind that technical gimmicks are the main material inducers and sustainers of development--for bad (conventional entropic development) or for good (the sustainable development that represents the desired change). There can be no structural change without the material elements that support it, especially adequate infrastructures. And designing the infrastructure of sustainability will surely require thinking in terms of light and reconvertible elements, elements that are able to absorb the changes in demand that will take place in the first decades of the twenty-first century.
The technicians of sustainability thus have to be competent, but above all they must be relevant. Implementing technically correct solutions in the service of functionally aberrant options is one of the features of current unsustainability. A factory producing antipersonnel mines that does not pollute, that recycles its wastes, and that obtains electricity by cogeneration is still producing weapons of destruction, and this should not be forgotten. Without exaggerating, there are many potential solutions that actually make things worse. For example, large projects to divert water may help to maintain inefficient hydraulic policies (and, at the same time, remove resources from watersheds in equal need); a project such as this is not a good idea in terms of the technology of sustainable development. Likewise, the use of high technology for purposes like torture or ritual sexual mutilation does not make these practices any more acceptable--or sustainable. Sustainability, then, cannot be limited to preventing infections; it must try to create a genuine state of health.
Coexisting successfully with complexity will be one of the requirements of the new sustainable order. This complexity has to be accepted and guided if governance is to be attainable. This is why we speak of a multidisciplinary and socially integrating project, one in which the idea of sustainable development is contrasted with the idea of sustained growth, a new noteworthy factor to be taken into account. In fact, the idea of development (necessarily sustainable, otherwise it would not be development) will, in the long term, be incompatible with unlimited quantitative growth. The idea of sustainability and its planning must be constructed against a backdrop of disorder--and this must be done before the disorder becomes permanent and irreversible.
The female side of progress toward sustainability
When designing a strategy for sustainability, the noteworthy aspect of the feminization of sustainability should be taken into account. For generations, women have been accorded a secondary role in society based on their maternal and educational responsibilities, which are not at all secondary. It is a fact that women constitute half the planet's environmental agents because 1) among their major tasks and responsibilities are finding water and wood (which is still the main domestic fuel in the Third World) and 2) in places like Africa women produce 80% of the available foodstuffs.
Sustainable development can thus be seen as the feminization of development. Sex or gender (which is something quite different from reproduction) means that the two halves of a species have their own survival strategies (at least in mammals), an arrangement that boosts ecological efficiency significantly. In most primates, management of the species is the female's responsibility, while the male hunts for resources and provides some degree of security. Humans have superimposed a whole cultural universe onto this division of labor, permitting some progress but generating many misunderstandings in the process. Thus, the appropriation of resources and the conversion of the epic into subjugation have given the male an apparent domination over a species that he has, in fact, never managed. The externalization of the consequent dysfunctions, which was possible in the past environmental setting, has concealed this mistaken (one might say, unsustainable) practice for centuries.
Humans are currently transferring their cultural and strategic errors onto the planet as a whole. This is why sustainability requires recovery of the meaning of biological management that is natural to the feminine condition. Women are singularly able to manage complexity, the main characteristic of the new order. Humans have conceived a fragmented and reductionist model in which uncertainty is mistaken for falsity and complexity is mistaken for disorder. Its aims are based on pretended certainties that have not been demonstrated and on some simple principles that turn out to be not so simple (such as economic indexes or school marks, for example). Thus, the current model is monolithic, competitive, and simplistic. When relativist physics, the mathematics of chaos, the uncertainty principle, or the value of complexity emerge as the most advanced achievements of modern thought, it is absurd to adopt in a defeatist manner the reductionist model, which is pieced together from false certainties. The male model has failed. Sustainability, it seems, has much to do with women; it is both complexity and the everyday life, that is to say, the reality of real life headed toward power.
The dominant masculine model is a flight forward, growth to pay debts by extending capital, the perpetual search for new mines to exploit. The next wonder source of energy is nuclear fusion, which should provide human beings with all the energy they need to waste in order to continue growing and striving to maintain an impossible balance. Our economy is like a man on a bike, unable to stay upright except by pedaling all the time, able only to attain a short-lived and precarious balance by going dangerously fast.
Sixty percent of all the energy consumed in the world is wasted (low yields, escapes, misuse), but the general preference is to aim for a hypothetical energy El Dorado rather than to double in a short time the energy available by making thorough use of what is already being used (or rather misused). The main new source of energy could be efficiency and reduced use of the resources we already control. In any case, the unstoppable incorporation of women into the circle of decision-making will lead to the recovery of the valuable perspectives of 50% of humanity. This phenomenon has not been given enough importance but will lead to an important qualitative change in the government of reality, which will more than likely be in the form of a pragmatic and realistic approach to sustainability.
The current economic paradigm puts 50% of humanity--those who bear children, raise them, and ensure the daily logistics of the household--outside the active population, a fact that represents a colossal accounting failure and a misunderstanding of economic activity in its true sense. When the cost of maternity and domestic chores (whether performed by men or women) have to be internalized, along with the environmental externalities that are now transferred to future generations or are borne by the countries of the Third World, the absurdity of the current Western economic system becomes clear. This, after all, is the reason why it is not sustainable.
It seems that in the definition of the sustainable new order, the contributions of scientific and technical thought will also be important. Two determining factors in the change to sustainable development will be 1) the shaping, by means of education, of a new academic and social attitude and 2) conducting the necessary research for new technological solutions. What is known as the "knowledge society," which is already beginning to distinguish itself from the obsolescent (though it was new only recently) "information society," will have to integrate this aspect of knowledge for sustainability.
Strategies for the future
And all this has to be done to make possible something that is very simple, but not at all uncomplicated. In the immediate future, only a sustainable society will be governable. And only sustainable collective bodies that are effectively governed will be true societies. But what does governing mean in this new sustainable context?
The Enlightenment, America's Declaration of Independence, and the French Revolution were based on the still-valid concepts of human rights, liberty, equality, and fraternity, but, for their part, nineteenth-century liberals (and neo-liberals today) stressed liberty. Socialists and communists (whether utopian socialists, Marxists, or social-democrats) have stressed equality, and anarchists have stressed fraternity and freedom. It is on fraternity that a sustainable society has to be built, without ignoring liberty and equality.
Fraternity, brotherhood, solidarity, and compassion are all different names for a single attitude, an attitude that rejects 1) well-being at the cost of lives, 2) suffering, 3) destruction and waste, and 4) the exclusion or marginalization of anyone for racist, macroeconomic, or technocratic reasons. If it is accepted that the biosphere is the inseparable solidarity of everything that is alive, if it is accepted that Earth is the fatherland of all human beings, then every effort should be made to introduce forms of government that not only ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and guarantee freedom and safety for people, but also safeguard the solidarity of the whole of humanity. What is needed is not just new macro-ecological indicators to be added to, or, in some cases, to replace the now omnipresent macro-economic indicators (some of them fallacious and obsolete).
The eradication of violence, intolerance, and oppression should become the objectives of governments and citizens of the entire world, as should the full participation of the citizens in decision-making, the extension of human rights globally, and the free circulation, not only of merchandise, but also of persons and information. To sum up, the real goal should be the implantation of a society without exclusions or hegemonies in a planet without frontiers, the establishment of a global homeland (also referred to as motherland or fatherland, which shows how the gender issue enters the language). This society would be diverse and mixed, and it would accept the richness of the diversity of human beings and their cultures. It would know how to self-regulate population size and growth without needing coercion or violence of any type. It would live joyously, autonomously, and in solidarity, that is to say, a good state of health. And, with respect to the biosphere, beyond this fraction that consists of human beings and their artifacts, it would have as its objective the respect for all forms of life, especially for those that humans use as resources, whether renewable (by ensuring their renewal) or nonrenewable (by promoting their recycling, reuse, or reduced exploitation), slowing down the flows of energy and developing low impact technology.
Utopias? Yes. Fanciful? Not at all. Because only utopias have historically raised the horizon. To be realistic in modern times, one must demand the impossible.
43 Woman from the Chipko movement, hugging a tree. The word chipko means "to embrace" in Hindi. One morning in March 1973, a group of peasants in the Gopeshwar region (in the foothills of the Himalayas and in the north of the state of Uttar Pradesh) embraced some old beech trees near their village to prevent them from being cut down. During the following months, this simple protective gesture spread throughout the region and blocked a lot of logging. This movement did not become widespread until the women adopted it. Women are the ones most affected by the problems caused by indiscriminate logging, as in rural India women are responsible for collecting firewood. By 1998 the Chipko movement had spread throughout India, taking different names in the different languages of the different regions. In the state of Karnataka (formerly Mysore), for example, where this photo was taken, it is known as Appika in the official language, Kannada.
[Photo: Roderick Berriedale-Johnson / Panos Pictures]
44 A non-aggressive conception of the human relationship to nature that respects natural balances, has been called "arcadian" (referring to a simple, rural, peaceful existence blended with nature) by the American historian Donald Worster, who contrasts it with an "imperial" approach. Worster places the crystallization of this arcadian conception in the late eighteenth century, though its roots go back to classical thought. The term arcadian is derived from Arcadia, the name of a region in Greece, the center of the Peloponnese, which the poets of antiquity and the Renaissance considered an idyllic country of pastoral contentment. This mythification was also present in painting, as is shown by this work by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), Les Bergers d'Arcadie (The Arcadian Shepherds), one of the most important works of his later years. The Arcadia of the poets and painters never existed but it is the image, relatively remote in time, of paradise on Earth.
[Photo: Musee du Louvre, Paris / Giraudon]
45 The opposite of any arcadian ideal, the film Blade Runner (1982), by the American director Ridley Scott, shows an oppressive and anguished image of the world in the future. This image represents the culmination of the "imperial" conception of nature as a space to conquer, a source of resources to exploit by all means available, and the final dump for all waste products. An Earth with monstrous overpopulated and congested cities, choking in their own fog. Only the palace-factories of the powerful rise, like ziggurats, above the pollution, and entrance to the comfortable, open spaces inside is restricted. Colonial exploitation continues off the planet Earth, performed by genetically engineered human-like slaves who are known as "replicants." The film is a science fiction classic and an extrapolation of present trends into a non-inviting future.
[Photo: The Ronald Grant Archive]
46 Yellowstone was made the world's first National Park in 1872, but was not the first area to be protected by a government. It was preceded by Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Redwood Forest in California, which the U.S. Congress, in 1864, had designated for public use, leisure and relaxation under the responsibility of the State of California. Yellowstone, instead, remained the responsibility of the federal government through the federal forest service until 1916, when a specific administration was created, also within the federal government, for this and other parks. Yellowstone's beautiful landscape soon attracted many visitors, despite the difficulty of getting there. This photograph, taken in the 1920s, shows a group about to go on a trip within the park on horseback.
[Photo: American Heritage Center / University of Wyoming (WY)]
47 The spectacular size of the trees in the Mariposa Redwood Forest in Mariposa, California, was one of the reasons that many famous citizens made an effort to protect them. Among those active in these protection efforts was the famous landscape architect Frederic L. Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York, and also the author of the first management plan for Yosemite Park and the Mariposa Redwood Forest in 1864. In 1890 the U.S. Congress created Yosemite National Park, which included and greatly extended the park already managed by the State of California. The photograph shows some of the participants in the International Plant Geography Excursion at the foot of one of the great redwoods (Sequoia). The figures in the photo include Henry C. Cowles (fourth from the left of the first row of those standing), Frederic E. Clements (with hat in the second row standing) and Arthur G. Tansley (second from the left in the seated row).
[Photo: Clements Collection / American Heritage Center / University of Wyoming (WY)]
48 The WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) has been one of the most controversial organizations dedicated to the conservation of nature. It was founded in 1961 as the World Wildlife Fund (a name which was changed in 1989) with the intention of raising funds for the IUCN (now the World Conservation Union, initially the International Union for the Conservation of Nature). From its beginnings, the WWF included a number of European aristocrats among its leaders, and they were often more interested in the conservation of big game species than in problems related to the protection and preservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. This photograph depicts the opening of the conference held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the WWF. It shows the president (the Duke of Edinburgh) and vice-president (the Aga Khan) of the organization, along with Wangari Muta Maathai (see p. 207), then President of the National Women's Council of Kenya. Apart from changing its name from WWF to Worldwide Fund for Nature in 1989, the organization has revised its activities and objectives, which now focus on more general concern for biodiversity and ecosystems. Together with the IUCN and the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), it has shifted from the World Conservation Strategy (1980) to a commitment to sustainable development (since 1991).
[Photo: Magnum / Zardoya]
49 The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which was held in Stockholm on July 5-16, 1972, brought together more than a thousand delegates from 113 countries, but it did not achieve its aim of creating an international consensus on how to conserve and improve the environment for present and future generations. The mutual distrust of the different blocks, the blind adherence of some to a policy of economic growth at any cost, and the fear of the developing countries that environmental arguments would be used by the rich countries to increase their exploitation of the poor, led to the adoption of a proposed action plan with 109 recommendations. Most of the recommendations were generalizations and never came into force, but the suggested creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) did take place. A 26-point declaration of principles was also agreed on human rights and responsibilities in relation to the global environment, a document that acted as a guideline for later international actions. Above the photograph is a reproduction of a Swedish stamp issued to coincide with the conference.
[Photo: Y. Nagata / ARA / Courtesy of the United Nations, Geneva]
50 The Club of Rome is inseparable from the names of Aurelio Peccei and Alexander King. In the 1960s, Aurelio Peccei was head of a consulting firm dedicated to development and engineering projects. In 1966 he began to promote global study of world problems and soon obtained the support of Alexander King, then scientific director of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and Eric Jantsch (who had worked on technological perspectives for the same organization). With funding from the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, the Club organized a first meeting (April 1968) in Rome of economists, planners, geneticists, sociologists, experts on politics and businessmen. This meeting led to the formation of the Club of Rome. The Club of Rome called itself a group of world citizens who shared concern for the future of humanity. They wanted to act as catalysts to stimulate public debate, to promote research and analysis of the problems of the world system, and to get the attention of decision-makers. The photo, taken in October 1973, shows Aurelio Peccei (in the center) about to lay a wreath to the memory of the victims of the first atom bomb in Hiroshima (Japan). He is accompanied by Alexander King (to the right) and Saburo Okita, another of the founders of the Club of Rome (on the left).
[Photo: Courtesy of the Club of Rome, Paris]
51 The Stockholm Conference and the Rio Earth Summit were both promoted by Maurice Strong. A Canadian, Maurice Strong was the Secretary General of the Stockholm Conference and then occupied the post of Executive Director of the UNEP from 1972 to 1976. Twenty years after the Stockholm Conference, Maurice Strong was appointed Secretary General of the Earth Summit at Rio. He was one of those responsible for the concept of sustainable development and many of the international agreements on environmental matters in the late twentieth century. The photo shows him at the Rio Earth Summit, accompanied by a representative of the Kayapo, an Amazonian people who have played an active role in Brazil demanding that their rights and those of other indigenous peoples be respected.
[Photo: John Maier / Still Pictures]
52 At the Earth Summit (The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development or UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, there were many actions drawing attention to local, regional and world problems. The photo shows a hot air balloon that complained that there was too much hot air at the conference and not enough action. Hot air, of course, is a reference to global warming, one of the matters discussed at the recent New York Conference (June 1997), a preparatory meeting for the Kyoto Conference (December 1997). The Kyoto Conference was intended to review the progress made in the five years after the Earth Summit, but, in fact, no specific actions resulted and states continued to have difficulty in reaching agreements. No agreement was reached to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (the main cause of global warming), or on forest protection, or on increasing the amount of aid to the developing countries. This was doubly disappointing. Five years after Rio many of the non-binding agreements have remained "hot air." In addition, the only commitments that some countries (including the United States, the main obstacle to the adoption at New York and Kyoto of binding agreements) are willing to accept can be summed up in declarations of intent, for example "to search for new ways to improve the situation." The meager results of the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change (see p. 191) do not encourage optimism, perhaps because of the high expectations the conference had raised. Even so, it was the first international meeting where the industrialized countries admitted without reservations that they bore some responsibility for this planetary problem and agreed to take measures (excessively timid ones) to deal with the problem.
[Photo: Mark Edwards / Still Pictures]
53 The collapse of the former communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has revealed the disastrous environmental situation in these countries. Many factors, especially a dictatorial political system and large-scale industrialization based on technology that was even more wasteful of energy than that in the capitalist countries, have led to an environmental emergency. The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, for example, was a warning of what might happen. The previously silenced citizens of these countries started to make environmental demands. The photo shows young Hungarian environmentalists demonstrating on the streets of Budapest on Earth Day (June 6) 1990, with a banner saying Kegyelmet a foldnek (Give the Earth a Chance).
[Photo: Jeremy Hartley / Panos Pictures]
54 Earth Day, June 6, is celebrated by many environmental organizations around the world. It has taken root in many countries, becoming an occasion to pressure the authorities to take social and ecological problems into account. It is also a festive event, far from the warnings of catastrophe usually associated with environmentalists. The photo shows Earth Day 1992 in Manila (Philippines).
[Photo: Mark McEvoy / Panos Pictures]
55 The first environmental movements sprang up in the United States in the 1960s. Many different ecological and environment organizations have a significant presence in American society, as can be seen by the large crowd in this picture, taken on Earth Day 1996, in front of the capitol in Washington, D.C.
[Photo: Markel / Liaison / Gamma]
56 Greenpeace militants disrupting a session of the International Monetary Fund (Madrid, 1994). Finance and industry have been remarkably insensitive to environmental problems, and now show undisguised hostility towards those who denounce the consequences of their more aggressive economic activities. For this reason, Greenpeace undertook this spectacular action during the opening of the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund. The protestors unfurled a banner demanding that the World Bank should not finance ozone destruction, and then showered the delegates with fake bank notes.
[Photo: Andrada-Samano / Cover / Zardoya]
57 Transfers of money are becoming more and more unrelated to the real flow of goods and services, and mainly circulate within speculative circuits that yield nothing but money. This circulation is almost totally unrelated to anything that can be measured in material or energetic terms. The current functioning of the monetary (chrematistic) economy has become a mechanism to accentuate current inequalities on a global scale (between rich and poor countries) and within each society (differences between social classes). In December 1997, the then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, said that if steps were not taken rapidly, these inequalities would become intolerable, and that this time bomb would explode in the face of the children of the generations that now govern the planet. In 1997, 82 of the world's states (most of them in sub-Saharan Africa) were unable to produce or purchase the food their people need. [Photo: P. Abbey / LNS / Zardoya]
58 Globalization of the economy is usually discussed without mentioning the unequal terms of trade between the industrialized countries and the less industrialized countries. Globalization of the economy tends to favor the commercial strategies of many transnational companies with headquarters in developed countries, most of them in the United States. Globalization of markets, is thus Americanization, with touches of Europization and Japanization. Products from more developed countries are traded on a massive scale throughout the world, such as Coca-Cola, seen here advertised at a remote site in the Punjab (India). It is much harder for products or brands from poor countries to enter markets in developed countries, except for cheap raw materials and some low-cast consumer products, such as clothing and ornaments. As happens in the relationship between a mature ecosystem and a less mature one, in the bilateral relations between a rich country and a poor country, the poor country is always exploited, unless rules regulating the terms of trade are deliberately introduced.
[Photo: Daniel O'Leary / Panos Pictures]
59 The increasing use of credit cards (and soon electronic money) shows how immaterial the flow of money is. There is no real difference between a card with a magnetic strip that is used to open a door, and a credit card, with a code to access a bank account, except for the data and programs to which the credit card gives access and the functions that can be performed. In ecological terms, it seems more reasonable to compare money to information than to the inverse of material flows.
[Photo: Svenkst / Firo Foto]
60 The problem of the accumulation of wastes in dumps is even worse when the waste is toxic, hazardous or radioactive, and when the necessary control and monitoring facilities are lacking. Dumping "special" waste in heaps in the open air without any protection or control is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution. This toxic waste dump in Charborvice (Czech Republic) is considered the most dangerous accumulation of toxic wastes in Europe, and is absolutely characteristic of the catastrophic environmental management under the communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era.
[Photo: Heidi Bradner / Panos Pictures]
61 Air pollution is not restricted to the urban areas of the rich countries. The large conurbations of the Third World also suffer air pollution, usually due to the large number of motor vehicles, which are often badly maintained and circulate within a chaotic system that cannot cope with the current high density of traffic. The photo shows morning in a peripheral district of New Delhi, the capital of India, with the typical smog.
[Photo: Daniel O'Leary / Panos Pictures]
62 A small number of seed companies in industrialized countries almost completely control seed production and sale. They breed varieties that are highly productive or resistant to certain pests. Only a few internationally funded research centers also breed varieties of the species that are basic foodstuffs in some countries of the Third World. The Verenigde Bloemenveilingen Aalsmeer, in the Netherlands is an example of this market concentration, with daily sales of 14 million cut flowers and 1.5 million rooted plants. These flowers and plants are sold wholesale to florists all over the world, mainly in Europe and the United States, as most of the Netherlands' enormous production of decorative plants and flowers is exported after sale at auctions like this. Aalsmeer is the largest of these auctions, accounting for 43% of the total sales.
[Photo: Dennis Stock / Magnum / Zardoya]
63 A new filter and one after being exposed for a single day to the extremely polluted air of Santiago de Chile. In Santiago, atmospheric stagnation and poor regulation of automobile exhausts are responsible for this pollution. The recent economic growth of some Latin American countries has often been at the expense of effective loss of quality of life, and has been accompanied by increased pollution of urban and industrial areas. This is a clear sign of the unsustainability of the development styles and modalities of most developing countries.
[Photo: Jon Spaull / Panos Pictures]
64 The effects of air pollution on health vary depending on the pollutant, but there are few studies conclusively correlating pollution to a specific disease. A study, published in Nature in 1997, by an Italian biologist and an Italian physician (Cesare Cislaghi and Pier Luigi Nimis), correlates lung cancer in the Italian Veneto region to general air pollution, assessed by the loss of biodiversity in lichens. Lichens are excellent indicators of air pollution levels, and are especially sensitive to sulfur dioxide in the air. The index of biodiversity of the lichens was obtained by taking 2,425 samples of epiphytic lichens from the trunks of lindens (Tilia) in 662 sites. The species present in each quadrat were recorded, and the index of air quality (IAP), based on the occurrence, distribution and diversity of lichen species, is calculated as the sum of the frequencies of all the species present in the samples. The intervals of the scale of the map of the index of biodiversity are based on the percentile values (arbitrarily grouped) of the distribution of these frequencies for all the localities. The IAP or Index of Air Quality is internationally accepted and standardized. The samples are taken from trees at a height of 4.3 ft (1.3 m), and 4 to 8 trees are sampled in each study plot [an area of 11.8 in x 19.7 in (30 cm x 50 cm) subdivided into 10 rectangles; the species present in each rectangle are recorded and the IAP is calculated]. The densely populated areas in the east of the region, which are upwind of the main sources of pollution, have a considerably lower rate of death from lung cancer than in the western part (which is downwind). This confirms the correlation between exposure to air pollution and lung cancer.
[Maps: IDEM, courtesy of Cesare Cislaghi and Pier Luigi Nimis; reproduced by permission of Nature (vol. 387), 1997 Macmillan Magazines Ltd.]
65 The network of biosphere reserves now includes areas almost all over the world, though the principles of the MAB (Man and Biosphere) Programme are not applied equally in all areas. In some cases, this is due to an excess of zeal, when a biosphere reserve is confused with a strictly protected space. One of the aims of the biosphere reserves is to show that conservation and protection of ecosystems, landscapes and their genetic and biological diversity are compatible with sustainable development, especially concerning local populations. In other cases, this is due to lack of administrative responsibility, because the administration may ignore the commitments it accepted when the area was designated a biosphere reserve, and may not manage it in accordance with the principles of the MAB Programme and the international network. In still other cases, local or international conflicts prevent the effective establishment of the reserve or degrade its value. Yet most of the reserves play their role silently but effectively.
[Photo: Jordi Vidal / ECSA]
66 The MAB Programme tries to inform people about the biosphere reserves, and the idea behind them, in a variety of different ways. The spread of the knowledge gained in these reserves and the education of their populations are key points in the program's strategy. The photo shows one of the MAB's publications explaining its work.
[Photo: Jordi Vidal / ECSA]
67 Mass tourism can destroy the natural environment, as shown in this picture of part of the Cancun coast of Mexico. Tourism has a very direct impact on biodiversity, since building totally destroys all the more or less natural habitats in the affected area.
[Photo: AGE Fotostock]
68 The network structure of the landscape of some areas that have been exploited for long periods of time helps to conserve biodiversity and contributes to an increase in the system of protected spaces by connecting them and preventing them from becoming "islands" surrounded by intensely exploited areas. The photo shows an area with dry stone walls and plant cover, separating different fields and estates on the Mediterranean island of Minorca.
[Photo: Jordi Vidal / ECSA]
69 "Smoke Mountain" is the name given to a huge rubbish dump on the outskirts of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Thousands of people from marginal social sectors live there by searching through the rubbish to find something to eat or sell. Current economic patterns of consumption and waste of resources are totally unsustainable, because they are often linked to the extreme poverty of large sectors of the population, which sometimes form genuine cities of the marginalized, as in the case of "Smoke Mountain." In the last few years there have been several attempts to install some sort of recycling scheme in this dump, so that a significant part of the useful materials that are discarded can be recycled. Many of the cities in industrialized areas are introducing recycling programs to reuse part of the waste they create, thus making a deliberate attempt to become more sustainable.
[Photo: Ron Giling / Panos Pictures]
70 Awareness of environmental problems is not enough, action has to be taken to reverse them. This is particularly clear in the struggle against desertification, which has become a problem for the entire world, even though desertification mainly affects areas where rainfall is low and erratic. The struggle against desertification is costly and difficult, especially in the areas where it is most necessary, i.e., the most economically depressed areas of the world's poorest countries in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. The photo shows two men in the Aleg area of southwest Mauritania making a windbreak with dry branches to prevent wind erosion.
[Photo: Jorgen Schytte / Still Pictures]
71 Research can make important contributions to sustainability, though it is often distorted by the interests of the powerful. In the face of the control of world trade by a relatively small number of transnational companies, the countries of the Third World have to look for strategies that will make them less dependent on the outside world. The photo shows a researcher at an agronomic research center in Guyana monitoring the results of an experimental cross of two varieties of rice to select a high-yield variety resistant to local diseases and pests.
[Photo: Duncan Simpson / Panos Pictures]
72 The high consumption of paper in developed countries, especially in newspapers and magazines and in trade and service activities, is a threat to forests all over the world. Recycling used paper to produce new pulp may make the information society more sustainable, but this is no cause for naive optimism. Much of the paper in use already contains recycled paper, but this has not reduced the huge demand for virgin paper pulp, which is greater than the productivity of the forest systems providing that pulp.
[Photo: Jim Holmes / Panos Pictures]
73 Many social movements in poor countries have a clear environmental component. Poverty, environmental degradation, and exploitation by rich local landowners or companies with far-off headquarters have all led to the growth of the "environmentalism of the poor." One of the most recent examples, and one that has had some successes and tremendous international impact, is the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (the Zapatista National Liberation Army, named after the peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata [1879-1919]). This movement arose in 1994 in the Mexican state of Chiapas, specifically in the Lacandon Forest, home to the Lacandon Mayan Indians (as well as some very interesting examples of biodiversity, see vol. 2, p. 19). The Zapatistas started as a guerrilla movement, but they have combined armed actions with negotiation and, by clearly explaining their objectives, they have reached a world audience through the Internet. It is supported by the Frente Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Front), a political party present throughout Mexico, which struggles for the rights of the indigenous peoples and to preserve their communal and family customs and their cultural and religious identity. The Zapatistas have promoted craft cooperatives, reforestation and other activities compatible with sustainable development among the indigenous communities of the forests of Chiapas. They have become a model for many environmental groups and other social movements in the Third World and some developed countries.
[Photo: Liam Bailey / Camera Press / Zardoya]
74 Many Third World environmental leaders are women, such as Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (upper photo), and Vandana Shiva (lower photo). Their determination and effectiveness at organization confirm the importance of the contribution of women to environmental thought and to the emergence of new effective and imaginative movements to promote sustainability.
[Photos: Trygve Bolstad / Panos Pictures and Gustau Barbat / by courtesy of Gea, Consultors Ambientals, SL]
75 The great changes in attitude required for sustainable growth start with small gestures. This Danish woman putting her paper into the special container for paper in front of a spectacular mural brings together three things that are essential for a change towards sustainable growth. These are: a change in social attitudes, especially in consumption habits and the use of resources; the active participation of the different levels of government in encouraging these changes, by making it easier for citizens to use resources responsibly; and greater human respect for other living things in order to ensure the survival of renewable natural resources for future generations. Simple, everyday gestures, like this woman's, made by ordinary citizens, measures instituted by different levels of government and companies, and solidarity between all human beings and between them and the rest of the world, may hopefully lead to a better future.
[Photo: Mark Edwards / Still Pictures]
76 The general use of alternative or renewable energies, such as solar power, is a condition for the changes in behavior and mentality associated with the idea of sustainable growth. Capturing solar energy, in particular, allows the development of autonomous power sources, which may make connection to an electricity grid unnecessary or merely complementary. This possibility of increasing energy independence is what makes alternative energies most feared by those who benefit from the current model.
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|Publication:||Encyclopedia of the Biosphere|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2000|
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