Environmentalism for the 21st Century

Environmentalism For the 21st Century

It’s easy to see that the mainstream of the environmental movement has fallen prey to misguided priorities, misinformation, dogmatism, and self-interest. Soon after I left Greenpeace in 1986, I found out that they had initiated a pension plan. I knew I had got out just in time. In the early days many of us realized that our job was to work ourselves out of the job, not to give ourselves jobs for life. I feel the same way about my efforts to promote sustainability, sustainable forestry, and the application of science and logic to environmental issues. I am sometimes amazed by the fact that this seems more difficult than my original work to promote awareness of ecology and the environment. Perhaps this time I do have a job for life. Still no pension plan, however!

What are the main features off a rational environmental policy for the 21st century? Some points to consider are as follows:

  • Wherever possible, we should move towards an economy that is based on renewable energy and material resources. Sustainability is not synonymous with renewability but it is strongly linked to it. Where we do use non-renewable resources they should be used wisely and recycled whenever practical.
  • We should learn to manage our population voluntarily. The UN Conference on Population, held in Cairo in 1994, concluded that the most effective way to manage population growth is the education and empowerment of women. This leaves no place for patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, or dictatorships.
  • We should develop a more globally unified analysis of the relationships among land use, energy and resource consumption, forests and biodiversity, and population. Policies that have global implications must not be logically inconsistent one with the other.
  • We should learn to be better gardeners at both local and global scales. With 6 or 8 billion mouths to feed this will require more intensive agricultural production including the use of fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, and biotechnology. It is a simple fact of arithmetic that the less land we need to grow our food the more is available for forest and wilderness.
  • Urban sprawl must be brought under control. We have allowed the automobile to determine urban form by default. 300,000 hectares of forest are lost in the United States every year, all of it due to 200 cities spreading out over the land. Denser, more livable, cities must be designed if population continues to grow.
  • Deforestation in the tropics must eventually be stabilized or reversed. This can be accomplished by the transfer of intensive agricultural practices, the establishment of fast-growing, sustainable fuel-wood plantations, and the management of population growth.

Environmentalism for the 21st Century

As an ecologist and environmentalist, not a political scientist or political activist, I have always shied away from strong opinions on poverty and class. But it seems unacceptable to me that so many hundreds of millions of people live at a material standard that we in the industrialized countries would not consider acceptable for a dignified life. I believe there is a great deal to be learned by exploring the relationships between ecology and politics. In some ways politics is the ecology of the human species. The two subjects have developed such completely different disciplines and terminologies that it is hard to think of them together. But I believe we must if we are to gain a truly holistic understanding of the relationship between ourselves and our society, and the Earth on which we ultimately depend.