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Natural Resources for the 21st Century.

Natural Resources for the 21st Century, edited by R. Neil Sampson and Dwight Hair. Island Press, Box 7, Covelo, CA 95428 (1990). 349 pp. Hardcover, $34.95; softcover, $19.95, plus $2 handling.

It may be that human beings recognize all great crises by holding an abundance of meetings and conferences. Like no other time in our history, the 1970s and 1980s have been marked by state, national, and world conferences about the environment and our natural resources. These conferences have discussed global warming and local air pollution, world hunger and the dumping of surplus crops, desertification and the threat to coastal lowlands from rising sea levels.

The most important questions about any debate are: first, do we have the right facts, and second, what can we realistically do about the problem? Natural Resources for the 21st Century grew out of a conference by the same name held in 1988 and chaired by R. Neil Sampson of the American Forestry Association. The goals were to assess the current condition of the resources we depend on and to understand how we reached our present state.

Other conferences and books have also had the goal of assessing our condition-State of the World (published annually by Worldwatch Institute), Global 2000 Report to the President (Carter Administration), The Resourceful Earth (Kahn and Simon, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation), and The Global Possible (Repetto, World Resources Institute). Some of these books have contained similar background information. I would not remove one of them from my reference shelf, but I feel compelled to add this new book.

Not only is this the newest of the surveys, but it is the one freest of ideology and the most readable-neither ponderous nor suspiciously short. Most of the writers are scientists or government employees not far removed from the resources they discuss and the realities of politics in a democracy. Time and again these front-line people find themselves led into questions of values-past and future.

If there is any consensus about the future, it is that management of our resources will take a holistic approach. In a global economy we will develop a global political sensitivity. The most important resource decisions will be made with world politics in mind. This is a natural extension of the first law of ecology, 'Everything is connected to everything else.' " More than most anthologies, this one is permeated by the realization that not only are the parts of nature connected, but natural events are interdependent with human events.

This recognition leads to a recommendation that activists hate-do more research. That means a future that romantics despise more technology and computers. Romantics want to revert to a simpler time when they believe our values were clearer and stronger. The authors of this book do not agree, but they have a common concern with the romantics-sustainable resource management.

To want to sustain our resource base is clearly a moral desire-a concern for other people, other generations, perhaps even for other beings. How to sustain our resources and ourselves is the "to be or not to be" of the next decade. The last six chapters in this book provide a very sobering and professional picture of our situation. They make it clear that the answer is as complex as the sensational questions raised by modern medicine about whom to save and how.

Without preaching or becoming philosophical, this book makes it clear that every important resource question has become an ethical question. There are no final answers here, just an honest invitation to what will surely be the greatest debate in world history.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Forests
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kaufmann, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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