Printer Friendly

Environmental movers & shakers.

11 the signs indicate that the 1990s are destined to

become "the environmental decade." Awareness

that our planet faces a looming ecological crisis

has spread beyond environmental and conservation organizations to take the head of the table for a growing number of educators, writers, entertainers, politicians, and even industrial titans.

The information these leaders convey, the technology they develop, the policies they shape are certain to have an incalculable impact on the future of life on earth. From global threats such as ozone depletion and climate change to more localized problems of air and water pollution and waste disposal, their inspiration has never been so critical.

Who are some of the individuals at the forefront of this turning point in our civilization? What new directions do they foresee, and in what courses of action are they engaged? Here we shall probe the insights of 11 movers and shakers from a diversity of backgrounds and achievements. All of them are already leaving their mark on the future. WILLIAM REILLY

When George Bush proclaimed that he would be "the environmental President," considerable skepticism was swept aside with his appointment of William Reilly to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As former head of the merged Conservation Foundation and World Wildlife Fund (U.S. division), the 49-year-old Reilly had long been a force in the burgeoning environmental movement. A pioneer in bringing together business leaders and environmentalists seeking to resolve polarizing issues, Reilly suddenly found himself as administrator of some 15,000 employees and a $5 billion annual budget. The question was whether he could revitalize an agency rocked by scandal and lack of commitment during the previous Administration.

A new tone was established early, with Reilly's decision to review, and most likely abandon, the billion-dollar Two Forks Dam project in Colorado. Overruling his own regional administrator, Reilly argued that Denver's need to supply water to its growing suburbs was outweighed by the dam's threat to valuable wetlands along the South Platte River in neighboring Nebraska. The new President had declared "no net loss" of wetlands a high priority, and Reilly quickly took the ball.

Throughout his first year, Reilly has maintained White House access unprecedented for an EPA chief-sitting in private visit, even accompanying Bush to the Paris economic summit last July. There, while sometimes doubling as unofficial translator for the President (Reilly speaks four languages), he was the prime mover behind a historic communique in which 18 of 56 items highlighted environmental concerns.

As primary achievements of his initial months, Reilly cites new rules to restrict the use of benzene and phase out asbestos, both potential human carcinogens; a ban on imports of elephant ivory and a policy ordering a complete phaseout of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons CFCS) by the end of the century; a comprehensive reform of pesticide laws; and a revised Clean Air Act now pending before Congress which for the first time mandates a 50 percent cutback in sulfurdioxide emissions that result in acid rain. For the future, he has declared pollution prevention" and "enforcement first" as top EPA priorities.

Like his mentor Russell Train, Reilly also envisions his role as that of an educator, bringing controversial matters to the front burner for dialogue. "That's one reason I've spoken out as much as I have, giving so many speeches," he says. "It's been a bit of a surprise to discover that so many issues have been around so long without ever having been cleanly resolved. And it's made me very impatient. For example, the potential for greater energy efficiency is enormous, and I'm a little discouraged that we haven't seen a major national debate on this."

In a recent speech to the American Petroleum Institute, Reilly told his listeners that they are a "part of the industry that will be significantly affected by the need to address climate change and stabilizing our CO, emissions, so let's engage the question. "

The Bush Administration, however, has been widely criticized for not moving fast enough on the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming. Indeed, when environmental ministers (including Reilly) from 68 countries met in the Netherlands last November, U.S. pressure postponed the European Economic Community's plans to set a specific timetable for stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions. Reilly maintains that "we didn't look upon that conference as a place where we would have to show our cards on our strategy" and adds that the Europeans privately admit "they don't have a clue" on how to achieve such a goal.

"We're committed to an international treaty, and I think will be prepared to do as much as any country," says Reilly. "If we had as conclusive, indisputable science as we do with respect to CFCs and ozone depletion, we would be much more able to get everybody to agree to take the very difficult and expensive measures needed to address global warming. The sooner we get that science, the better." The White House subsequently announced that it will hold an international global warming workshop sometime this year. DR. JAMES HANSEN

No scientist has done more to bring the greenhouse effect to public attention than the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. At age 48, james Hansen has employed computer modeling since 1976 to study the effect of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, CFCS, and others) on trapping heat in the earth's lower atmosphere. It was his congressional testimony during the blistering, drought-ridden summer of 88 that sounded the alarm, in his words, that "the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now. "

Hansen again made headlines last spring when he revealed that the government's Office of Management and Budget had been "censoring" his testimony calling for a crash scientific effort devoted to global warming. "I think I have an obligation to point out clearly the consequences of our findings," says Hansen, "and not to bury them in so much technical discussion that the conclusions are not obvious to the policy makers. "

Hansen has since come under criticism from certain scientific colleagues and some in the media, such as a Neu, York Times editorial writer who speculated about "Crying Wolf in the Greenhouse." To which Hansen responds: "When is the proper time to cry wolf? Must we wait until the prey-in this case the world's environment-is mangled by the wolf's grip?"

He adds, "A greater danger is to wait too long. The climate system has great inertia, so as yet we have only realized a part of the climate change that will be caused by gases already added to the atmosphere. Add to this the inertia of the world's energy, economic, and political systems, which will affect any plans to reduce greenhouse emissions. Although I am optimistic that we can still avoid the worst-case scenarios, the time to cry wolf is here. BILL McKIBBEN

The most eloquent translation of Hansen's science into layman's language is this young author's recent The End of Nature, one of a host of new books calling for a re-examination of humankind's relationship with the earth. A former staff writer for the New Yorker, McKibben draws upon the inspiration of Thoreau, john Muir, Edward Abbey, and others in portraying our planet as "a museum of divine intent. "

Calling for an altering of American lifestyles to prevent a future when "perhaps summer will become the season when no one goes outdoors," McKibben painstakingly charts how "in the course of about a hundred years, our various engines and fires have released a substantial amount of carbon that has been buried over time .... We are living on our capital, as we began to realize during the gas crises of the 1970s. But it is more than waste, more than a binge. We are spending that capital in such a way as to alter the atmosphere." R. NEIL SAMPSON

Although several bills that would mandate greater fuel and auto efficiency, and more emphasis on renewable energy, have been introduced in Congress, clearly the impetus for change must come from the people. R. Neil Sampson, who spent 16 years with the Soil Conservation Service and has been head of the American Forestry Association since 1984, sees it this way: "This is a different environmental movement from the one 20 years ago. Then the federal government needed to set boundaries on wilderness areas and scenic rivers, establish uniform standards for air and water quality. Today I don't believe the government holds too awfully many of the solutions. Nonpoint sources of water pollution, for example, constitute a vastly scattered, almost de-institutionalized problem that needs multilevel solutions-local ordinances, private actions. It's going to take everybody."

This, says Sampson, is why AFA chose to frame the global-warming issue "in a way in which people can see that human-scale intervention is a part of the problem and that they have to be part of the solution. The idea behind Global ReLeaf is to build a commitment to action from the ground up. It's not trees, but mobilizing people. When that happens, people mobilize corporations, agencies, and governments. "

There has been remarkable response to Global ReLeaf's goal of Americans planting 100 million trees around homes and businesses by 1992 to help offset global warming. Over 1,000 Global ReLeaf programs are underway, ranging from garden clubs to Audubon chapters to neighborhood improvement associations, city councils, and soil conservation districts. Now AFA is working and negotiating with almost 100 corporations for financial support and to incorporate public education campaigns into the companies' advertising. And the federal government is considering a program to offer assistance in the tree-planting effort. Worldwatch Institute, was the 1989 recipient of the prestigious $50,000 Sasaka International Environment Prize, administered by the United Nations Environment Program. His organization's annual State of the World reports are available in as many languages as Reader's Digest, sell nearly a quarter million copies annually worldwide, and are used in classrooms at some 400 universities. Nearly as influential are the regular reports on global environmental staff turns out.

In calling for a redefinition of national security, Brown is adamant that "if we do not act quickly, there is a risk that environmental deterioration and social disintegration could begin to feed on each other. "

He notes that those of us who "look very closely at monthly economic reports" pay little attention to "what's happened to the natural resource base" that underpins production. The media and economists can tell us how much oil was produced and discovered in the world, "but who analyzes how much topsoil is being lost? Or look at biological diversity. Each day we are losing an unknown number of plant and animal species, and why shouldn't we be doing a global inventory to find out how many?"

While Brown's organization encompasses the big picture, the National Wildlife Federation NWF)-since 43year-old Jay Hair took command eight years ago-has become a potent lobbying and litigation champion on behalf of its 5.8 million members and supporters. A heavyweight among environmental groups, NWF today operates on a $75 million annual budget.

"What people need to understand," says Hair, "is that it's no longer a matter of calibrating the political dials a few clicks to the right or left, but of major changes in the way societies behave. Free enterprise is wonderful, but what drives it is quarterly profit statements. We need policies that allow sustainable economic development and incentives to take the longer view."

Some colleagues have long considered Hair, who grew up in a small town in Indiana, to be relatively moderate in approach. But he says he believes that even civil disobedience is "an important dynamic that can make changes happen. I've never seen such a high level of latent anger out there about what's happening to the environment. It's important to go to local supermarkets and say, We don't want your damn plastic bags.' Or to go to McDonald's and say, We don't want hamburgers wrapped in CFC-containing styrofoams.' (In response to such pressures, many supermarkets have begun changing their practices.)

Hair, whose organization is currently pouring resources into Earth Day 1990 and pushing to make the EPA a cabinet-level agency, does not shy from dramatics to make a point. After visiting the site of Alaska's Exxon Valdez oil disaster, he sent plastic bags of oil-saturated rocks to every member of Congress, the White House, and numerous agency officials to demonstrate the continuing pollution problem. GEORGE WEYERHAEUSER

More than ever before, corporations like Exxon are being called to account for careless practices. But an increasing number are also taking a hard look at themselves-and finding, as Minnesota's 3M Corporation did in cutting its toxic waste volume in half with improved technology, that more environmentally sound ways are also more cost-effective.

Take, for example, the Weyerhaeuser Corporation, the world's largest private owner of timberlands. Though the firm remains under fire for importing tropical hardwoods, its reputation for proper stewardship of its own holdings remains unparalleled in the industry. George Weyerhaeuser, scion of the family business, worked his way up from logger 24 years ago to chief executive officer of the Tacoma, Washington-based company. While companies that buy timber from public lands have become increasingly embroiled in battles with conservationists over clearcutting of old-growth forests and endangered species like the spotted owl, Weyerhaeuser's long-time high-yield program designed to spur productivity of natural second growth and plantation crops is today an example of sustainability.

"Our seed orchards and nurseries, initially established to serve our own genetic improvement and reforestation needs, have become businesses in themselves, serving public markets in this country and abroad," says Weyerhaeuser. "Today we also have major resource-recovery, or recycling, facilities in the Portland area. "

The looming question, according to environmental groups, remains whether Weyerhaeuser-which continues to manage a partnership with Indonesia for tropical hardwoodswill decide to leave what remains in forest areas of Java and Sumatra. DR. JOHN GORDON

The dean of Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is on the cutting edge in envisioning a future where "environment and economic development are positively connected," with long-range planning and ecosystem management as hallmarks. Gordon chaired the 1989 Commission on Research and Resource Management Policy in the National Park System which called for an end "to the current short-term, brushfire' approach to research funding and design. "

Angered by compartmentalization within the university of the various fields of natural resources ("lost in the process are integration and the environment," says Gordon), he has pioneered at Yale a flexible approach where working groups interact on everything from global change to forest production, and which has brought social scientists into the picture.

"Ecosystem management is the antithesis of the traditional approach in which you manage what you own, and anything else you don't worry about,' " says Gordon. In its simplest form, it means we all become better at being neighbors and adopt a larger sense of common purpose.

"Biological and physical knowledge must combine with social and political knowledge, and then be used toward sustainable development strategies. This is a national and global need that transcends traditional land management, whether for parks, farms, whatever. Which strategies do not cause long-term deterioration of the land? How do you manage so you don't lose hillsides to poorly installed roads, so that species mixes are maintained, so that environmental values are served at the same time as commodity extraction values? It's going to take a revolution in thought and action to accomplish this, but it's beginning. TED TURNER and MERYL STREEP

Intrinsic to that "revolution in thought and action" are individuals with a direct hotline to the public. Unique among media moguls, Cable News Network/WTBS owner Ted Turner has made the environment a personal crusade. His Atlanta-based TV station has just initiated a regular "Earthwatch" series. And as chairman of the Better World Society, Turner has pushed funding for landmark documentary projects like the BBC's 11-part "Only One Earth."

"I'm calling for a cease-fire against. the environment," says Turner, "because the planet is dying and in 20 or 30 years it'll be too late. We've got to somehow make our way to where we can live off the interest of the planet rather than the principal."

Hollywood has since picked up on Turner's message, with actress Meryl Streep leading the charge for a safe food supply. It was Robert Redford, who has his own environmental organization in Utah, who first alerted Streep to a Natural Resources Defense Council study that concluded our children are being harmed by the very fruits and vegetables supposed to make them grow up healthier.

Having started by organizing a town meeting in her Connecticut hometown, Streep is now national chairman of Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits, modeled on the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"With children you don't take any chances," says Streep. "We don't offer children cigarettes and alcohol. Why should we offer them food contaminated with pesticides at dangerously high levels, even when we don't know all the health risks involved? Food is a religious, sacred thing." WES JACKSON

Last September, after the National Academy of Sciences came out with a landmark study showing how farms could be more productive using far fewer chemicals, Wes jackson of Salina, Kansas, realized that "there seems to be a shift in consciousness, at last."

jackson, co-founder with his wife, Dana, of the Land Institute, is experimenting with perennial crops that might someday replace current chemical-intensive, soil-eroding monoculture farming. The author of four books and a widely sought lecturer, jackson and his friend Wendell Berry are homespun philosophers whose ideas are starting to make substantial inroads.

"Historically, where nations have not taken care of their agricultural base, ultimately the forestlands go too," says Jackson. "You can't hold up wilderness-as-saint and then go spread atrazine all over Iowa's cornfields. If you don't take care of lowa, the Sierras are gonna go as well.

"We need to expand woody vegetation into areas where it deserves to be, more for holding soil than anything else. We still have not discovered America-so far we've only colonized it. We've treated it as a quarry to be mined.

"What we've seen is a shrinking of the cultural seedstock from rural areas, the kind that's going to be so necessary to meet the challenges of the next century. Rather than get by on a sufficiency of technology and capital, we ought to think about counting on a sufficiency of people. People who will finally get to know this place, and become the first true pioneers."

Is it really such a long jump from William Reilly's perch atop EPA headquarters in Washington, DC to Wes jackson's Kansas prairies? Or from George Weyerhaeuser's Pacific Northwest timberlands to john Gordon's call for ecosystem management? Or from Lester Brown's probing Worldwatch analyses to Meryl Streep's grassroots anti-pesticides movement? If there is a single message clearly sent by all the movers and shakers, it seems to be that we can no longer tolerate isolation -between nations, between individuals, or between humanity and the natural systems upon which we all depend. The quest for truly common ground, a step which humankind has never taken, is the only way forward in a world that will otherwise plunge to catastrophe. AF
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Russell, Dick
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Which way to the revolution?
Next Article:A special camp for special kids.

Related Articles

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters