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Natural resources for the 21st century.

I t wasn't just another sit-down, drone-on conference. It was an ears-forward, disturbing, mind-bending series of perspectives ranging from global resource economics to grassroots touchdowns right where we live and work and recreate. And it is fervently hoped that the new administration taking shape right now in Washington will pay more than lip service to its findings, which will take the form of a book to be published this spring by Island Press.

"Natural Resources for the 21st Century" was convened November 14-17 in the nation's capital by the American Forestry Association along with the Extension Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Son Conservation Service, and Waste Management, Inc.-and cosponsored by 26 other groups ranging from the Agricultural Research Service and National Park Service to the Conservation Foundation and the Wildlife Management Institute.

The vested interest of so many resource-concerned organizations was one of this gathering's special strengths-and perhaps was the reason all of the speakers in the opening general session urged the audience to adopt an attitude of openess and cooperation in these times of unparalleled conflict, competition, and turf protection.

" Speak the truth to one another, is the way Peter Myers, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, put it in charging participants to take a holistic view-rather than a series of snapshot looks-at resource problems. AFA President Scott Wallinger, calling this conference a critical step in the policymaking process, charged listeners with keeping an "inner eye" focused on tomorrow.

Keynoter Daniel Bell, Harvard University's Henry Ford Professor of Social Science, wasted no time in piercing to the heart of things. "Are we summer soldiers and sunshine patriots?" he asked. Can we reach beyond the "issue-attention cycle" characterized by beaches full of syringes, huge blazes in our most famous national park, and the like? We must focus instead, he said, on political and social factors that are largely determining the condition of our present and future natural resources. We should be asking questions like: What is the socially optimal rate of resource use?

Ben cited four critical elements here:

Demographic Imbalances: Many parts of the world are experiencing what he called "demographic tidal waves"enormous increases in numbers of people, galloping urbanization, unrestricted migrations. What do we do with all these people? Where wil] the resources come from to tend to their needs? One example: 40 percent of today's Mexicans are under the age of 16.

Technology: This is a bright spot, Bell said. Thanks to such innovations as microchips and miniaturization, there is a substantial reduction in the amount of natural resources needed per unit of output of goods and services. That trend will likely continue.

Politics: Our political systems are responsible for most of the problems involving natural resources. Tropical forests, for example, have no constituency. We must have more responsive political systems throughout the world.

Social Policies: Citing Gifford Pinchot's concept of the greatest good for the greatest number, Bell said that the real "tragedy of the commons" is that we have no "generational sense of equity"-that is, we are depleting our resources at a mindless rate, with little thought for our posterity. He took a frank look at the concepts of free market vs. free social decisions.

Following Bell's "big picture," the conference's focus tightened down. Session 1 examined the Status and Trends of America's Major Renewable Resources. Nationally recognized experts spotlighted croplands and soil, water, wetlands, forests, rangelands, wildlife, and fisheries. Session 2 covered Factors Affecting Resource Availability and Use-population and economics, climate and atmosphere, technology, society and politics.

The goal of Session 3-titled Challenges, Opportunities, and Choices-was to begin the enormous task of finding solutions to the unprecedented resource issues of our day. It took the form of four Response Panels: Resource Sustainability, Quality of Life, Public Policy, and Natural Resource Owner/Manager. An Essay Author was assigned to each of these response panels, and their interpretive essays will form the first section of the book to be published this spring.

There isn't space here to even begin to capture the depth and breadth and vitality of "Natural Resources for the 21st Century. " Session moderator john Gordon told AFA's Board of Directors that the conference was a "signal achievement and a major output of the conservation community." Said AFA's Neil Sampson, "The key is to plant understanding, the single most important factor in attaining resource sustainability."
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Author:Rooney, Bill
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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