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Time for a new environmentalism.

We need a new environmentalism in the 1990s, different in some ways from the environmentalism of the 1970s. Rather than concentrating on pollution cleanup, it needs to focus more on waste and pollution prevention. There's a lesson to be learned in the leaking toxic dumps, bulging nuclear waste storage areas, and dirty air. The lesson is this: when toxic materials are released into the environment they can be very expensive, if not impossible, to remove. Wastes must be recycled into resources where possible. The notion of "use-it-once-and-throw-it-away" has run its course.

In the area of land conservation, more attention needs to be focused on the productivity and sustainability of ecosystems, both natural and managed, and on production activities that depend on a productive natural resource base, such as fishing, agriculture, and forestry. In the 1970s, conservation efforts concentrated on protecting environmentally sensitive and special areas. We set aside parks, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, wildlife preserves, and national monuments. That agenda is probably never finished, but most of the crown jewels" have been identified, and many have been protected.

We must beware, however, of using land preservation as an "environmental icon." We can't point to a few preserves and brag about our stewardship if we are still abusing or destroying croplands or forests through exploitive use or unwise management. Preserving special areas is important, but keeping farm and forest lands productive for generations is imperative.

There won't be many easy choices ahead. Air pollution is damaging human health, crops, forests, water systems, even artwork and buildings. But when we look for culprits, we find the power plants, factories, and automobiles that are an essential part of everyday life.

Water pollution affects the drinking water of millions, and one source of trouble may be the farm and forest technologies that produce the food and fiber we depend upon. Much of the problem with water is, in fact, a problem with watersheds and watershed management. It is what we do on the land that determines, in large measure, what happens to the water.

We are warned about the possibility of global climate changes fueled by industrial pollution, excessive fossil fuel use, and massive deforestation. When we examine the possible consequences of letting these processes continue to drive temperatures and sea levels higher, we are appalled at the potential for human and environmental tragedy. But when we confront the basic changes required on a global scale to begin to reverse this trend, we are struck by the immensity of the task, and the difficulty of getting so many diverse nations and peoples to agree upon and work toward a common goal. Again, however, it will be what we do on the land that determines the quality of our climate.

The common ingredient in all these challenges is the need for clear leadership. People have to understand what needs to be done, and agree on a course of action. It's not just a matter of throwing a new agency together, or inventing a new law or program, or spending more federal money. Any or all of those may be needed, but they're not enough. Solutions to complex environmental challenges emerge best, it seems, in response to the combined efforts of private citizens, industries, and governments. If people, in their everyday lives and actions, regularly damage the environment, there's little that government can do to fix it. If those same people regularly restore, rebuild, and improve the world around them, our environmental future is secure.

National leaders can help that happen by clearly and consistently articulating the issues and calling for cooperative public and private efforts to seek solutions. Those calls don't need to be alarmist, nor should they pit economic interests against environmental quality. Instead, they should remind people that our world is one big boat. We're all on that boat together, and its future depends on what each of us is willing to do to keep it afloat and headed in the right direction.

The record suggests that, with appropriate leadership, this country can do a creditable job of environmental management. At the recent conference "Natural Resources for the 21st Century, " sponsored by AFA and over 30 other agencies and organizations, leading scientists evaluated the current condition of America's renewable resources. In general, their evaluation was that there are many success stories, as well as problems.

Natural resource systems often show surprising resilience and a capacity for recovery once people halt abuses and begin to apply good management. People can be the problem with the environment, but they don't have to be. They can also be the solution, if they dedicate their efforts to re-building and renewing the inherent strength of the earth.

The new President needs to point the direction for that effort. The "new environmentalism" need not follow the patterns of the 1970s, but it must establish a clear identity and purpose that engage and energize the American people. That is the challenge, and the opportunity, as we begin a new Administration.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Next Article:AFA gears up for 1989.

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