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Environment, Population and Development :
DILEMMAS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY
Institute for the Study of Society, Population and Nature
The potential threats to national and international security posed by environmental issues are commanding increasing attention. The environment-security theme has been broached from a great variety of approaches and outlooks. Much of the attention has been concentrated on the probable impacts of human-induced environmental pressure in the escalation of various forms of potential conflict. By contrast, little attention has been given to the impacts which recent sweeping changes in the international political and development scenario will have on the nature and consequences of this pressure. This omission is critical since the current trend towards globalization of market-oriented economic activity greatly heightens the probability of both conflict and environmental damage.
On another level, the role of population growth in environmental degradation is being increasingly played up. The debate between neo-malthusians and cornucopians has taken up most of the attention; recently, the neo-malthusian view has prevailed increasingly among environmentalists, ecologists and policymakers from different spheres. The importance of the population factor for future environmental welfare is undeniable. Yet, for the most part, the ongoing debate has failed to examine the population/ environment equation within the context of concrete development efforts and possibilities. Again, this means that it has neglected to examine the recent politico-economic transformations in the world scenario and how they will affect the interrelations between population, environment and development.
This paper proposes to address the relation between international security and environmental issues within the context of the emerging development scenario. In the course of the discussion, specific attention is focused on the role of the population factor in the environmental question.
2. Recent Changes in the World Order and their Implications
The extraordinary structural transformations witnessed in the international economic and political order during the 1980s provide the framework for sustainable development efforts in the foreseeable future. Essentially, recent years were marked by the growing prestige and vigor of liberal ideologies as well as the synchronous decline of the legitimacy of State intervention. This turn of events has imposed the emulation of philosophical, ideological and organizational patterns which supposedly prevail in First World countries. There is now only one road that poor and developing countries can hope to follow in the quest for development, namely - neo-liberalism - which has become synonymous with development. In order to promote well-being among their populations, countries have to stimulate the free play of market forces, both within and between countries. The resulting scenario which emerges from these forceful trends is one of globalization of market-oriented economic activity. The following paragraphs briefly discuss the economic and environmental implications of these changes.
a) Prospects for Economic Growth Under Globalization
There is no denying the compelling vigor of the currently proposed globalization model - particularly in view of the absence of viable alternatives. Moreover, its credibility is strongly reinforced by the efforts of various international and bilateral agencies which are trying to ensure that developing countries follow the approved path to liberalization of their economies. On the other hand, the appeal of western-style consumerism, whose external manifestations have spread rapidly throughout the entire world, constitutes a powerful attraction/stimulus facet for this new model. Consumerism has, in some senses, become the prize which awaits those countries which become successfully integrated into the world market economy.
The recent growth experience of a few Asian countries who are said to have followed the prescribed formula for development is really quite impressive. The crucial role of the State in the takeoff of these minor economic miracles tends to be downplayed, but in any event, their transformation is undeniably striking. Consequently, they - and to a lesser extent, some countries in Latin America - have become the models which the entire developing world is encouraged to pursue.
Meanwhile, however, other analysts have expressed considerable apprehension as to the concrete possibilities for economic growth in a large segment of the world under this new scenario. Any attempt to evaluate the probable trajectory of different regions and countries here would take us far afield. Nevertheless, in order to set the scene for a discussion of the environmental implications of globalization, it is necessary to review a few salient characteristics of the proposed model of growth.
Globalization of markets implies free competition between all the different nations and between the various segments of the world economy. The view of the business community, supported by international financing agencies, is that competitive free markets are necessary to stimulate efficiency, productivity and thus growth which will lead to development. What they generally neglect to say is that global competitive processes evidently get under way with the various players having greatly differentiated abilities and strengths. The comparative and structural advantages accumulated in the past by the now-developed countries - in terms of the access to capital, to a more educated and more skilled labor force, to entrepreneurial savvy and experience, to more sophisticated political culture, to scientific and technological advances, etc. - will not cease to exist simply because liberalism has become the dominant ideology. On the contrary, such comparative advantages will now be even more important than before, will be exercised over a much greater territory and will affect a much larger set of economic activities.
By the same token, it should not be imagined that all nations, especially the powerful developed countries who have become accustomed to establishing all the rules of the competitive game, will suddenly forsake the defense of what they consider to be their own best national interests. Indeed, recent experience shows a reinforcement of protectionist measures in some leading nations and a recrudescence of nationalism, and even something akin to semi-tribal sentiments in others.
On the other hand, not everybody can produce everything and thus there is an inevitable division of labor in the globalization of markets. It is not clear just what comparative advantages would accrue to the many small and/or poor nations of the world under this global framework. Lacking comparative advantages in technology, skills and capital, what can they offer in the open market scenario? The traditional trump card of poor countries - the availability of a cheap and abundant labor force - is rapidly becoming a comparative advantage of diminishing returns. This is occurring both because massive population growth in developing countries promises an unlimited supply of cheap manpower for the foreseeable future and because technological development tends to replace unskilled manpower in huge quantities.
In short, one should not harbor illusions either about equality in the terms of economic competition between countries, nor about the sudden emergence of supra-national developmentalist sentiments. Consequently, it appears inevitable that the disparities between rich and poor, both among countries and within countries, is going to increase. Ultimately, even these inequalities could be justified - IF globalization resulted in improving living conditions of all social strata in all countries. Under current conditions, however, this generalized improvement is an improbable outcome for many countries.
For present purposes, the main issue of concern is the probable impacts which the unfolding of this scenario will have on environmental welfare and international security. The next section deals directly with this question.
b) The Impacts of Globalization on Environmental Concerns
The globalization of economic activity can bring several important consequences for the environment. Two of these will be discussed briefly here: the consequences of the generalization of the production and consumption patterns of industrialized countries to the developing world, and, the implications of the new international division of labor for the dissemination and control of environmental degradation.
b.1 The collision course between "development" and "sustainable development"
It is a matter of considerable concern for the future of humanity that the model of economic growth - and, ultimately, the very core of the civilization model which developing countries are being encouraged to emulate - has been, and continues to be, extremely detrimental to the environment. This commonly-acknowledged fact has been stated in the following terms in a recent UNFPA publication: "With barely 25% of the world's population, developed countries consume 75 per cent of all energy used, 79 per cent of all commercial fuels, 85 per cent of all wood products and 72 per cent of all steel production. In addition, developed countries generate nearly three quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions which account for half of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
In short, the patterns of production and consumption which currently prevail in the advanced industrialized nations are basically responsible for the environmental predicament facing humanity on Planet Earth. Yet this very same model is the one that all of the world's nations are being actively and passively enjoined to imitate. As a result, practically the entire world is attempting to emulate some version of the neo-liberal road to economic and social well-being. Yet this path is on a clear collision course with the proposed trajectory of sustainable development. Should any of the larger industrializing nations be, in fact, capable of swiftly following this road to development, it would inevitably increase the serious environmental threat faced by humanity on Earth.
In this light, the promises of neo-liberalism can represent an illusion - not only from an economic standpoint, as argued above -but also from the standpoint of social and environmental welfare. Unbridled economic growth, should neo-liberalism achieve its promise, could arguably lead to a rapid degradation of the environment beyond any tolerable limits.
The obvious rebuttal of neo-liberals to this criticism is that the market has an innate ability to react to the stimuli of adversity and to generate adequate solutions; that is, competitive free markets are needed to develop new technologies which will stimulate economic activity while reducing environmental impacts. Thus, the increasing gravity of environmental problems being generated by current development models would necessarily stimulate the invention of new and appropriate technologies. Such advances would be attained, either through the control of traditional productive processes, and/or through the generation of new products, processes and technologies.
Without denying the viability and the urgent necessity of environmentally-beneficial technological development, there is serious cause to wonder whether such breakthroughs will realistically be made in time to prevent even more severe and lasting environmental damages. Capitalist firms only introduce changes when a given environmental situation threatens profits; this will only happen if degradation is severely penalized by the public sector and/or if consumers reject a given product on environmental grounds. Both of these alternatives presume heightened environmental awareness. Given the differential levels of environmental consciousness throughout the world, deconcentration of pollution and degradation is frequently a more likely option than technological development.
The very complexity of the task of resolving major environmental problems through technological development is a challenge which normal market mechanisms are unlikely to face of their own volition. The issue at stake is not just one of reducing pollution or of substituting scarce natural resources - domains in which science seems to be making continuous and giant steps - but, above all, the containment of global and apparently irreversible environmental degradation, such as ozone depletion, greenhouse effects and the accumulation of toxic wastes, which are essentially linked to a pattern of growth and a model of civilization.
Within recent years, industrialized nations have already altered their productive profile significantly towards cleaner (and more profitable) activities. (CF. Table 1) Thus, high income countries have reduced industrial activity, particularly in "dirty" sectors such as chemical and intermediary-level products and significantly increased the participation of the advanced services' sector. On the basis of the redistribution of activity and of increased differentials in environmental awareness, it is realistic to envision a scenario in which the advanced industrialized nations find ways of using clean energy, of generally reducing the emission of toxic gases, of substituting synthetic products for non-renewable natural resources, of controlling the degradation of air, soil and water and of eliminating toxic wastes from their territories.
However, there is absolutely no guarantee that this scenario will extend to industrializing countries and to poor countries. Indeed, while advanced nations are getting rid of energy-intensive industries and adopting a new generation of equipment based on an intensive information paradigm, industrializing countries are prolonging the life of obsolete and inefficient equipment. Their lack of competitive technological advances, or of other comparative advantages in a free market framework, impels them to exploit natural resources and to pollute at a faster rate in order to bridge the competitive gap. Hence, in this scenario, the negotiation of new environmental technologies on the open market may end up having a multiplication effect on international inequality and on the degradation of the environment in industrializing countries. Given their relative technological backwardness, their lack of environmental awareness and the size of their populations, it is highly likely that this situation will catalyze environmental degradation.
In sum, blind faith in the capacity of market forces to prevent and/or regulate environmental damage is an extremely dangerous attitude for humanity. Only a small parcel of all market forces are oriented to the long-term view and are capable of foregoing immediate returns in favor of long-range or societal benefits. At the same time, globalization of the economy has stepped up the pace and the stakes of competition. Given the apparently long-term nature of environmental issues, sacrificing a little environmental cleanliness generally does not appear to be a large price to pay for economic growth. The implications of such thinking can, as seen in the next section, pave the way for much faster global degradation.
b.2 - The Contribution of Globalization to the Intensification of Degradation on the Periphery
In addition to the above-mentioned tendency of developing countries to try to make up for their comparative disadvantages by "selling" their natural resources and their environmental cleanliness, the spatial re-allocation of environmental degradation will also be influenced by the severe differentials in environmental awareness between countries and regions. Although the only sure detonator of awareness-raising is the emergence of perceived environmental threats, it is almost certain that, over the short and medium range, environmental consciousness will continue to rise more quickly and intensely in developed countries than in the rest of the world. This will spur technological development in the control of degradation and in the search for alternative production and consumption patterns in the developed world. Nevertheless, some industries will remain for which no economically-feasible pollution control is available. Moreover, certain kinds of toxic wastes will continue to be produced well into the foreseeable future.
Given the tendency for differences in environmental awareness between developed and developing countries to increase in the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to envision a division of international labor based on willingness to tolerate or to accommodate pollution and degradation. This new division of labor is considerably more perverse than previous ones since poor countries with little perspective for economic competition or growth will obviously be tempted to use their lack of environmental awareness as a proxy for comparative advantage. Pollution and degradation, for people who are starving, appear to be little more than a rich man's worry. Moreover, the fragility of institutions in poorer countries is evidently not restricted to the environmental sphere but affects the entire range of political and social organization. Such fragility translates into a lack of information, a greater susceptibility to graft, and an absence of checks and balances which, taken together, greatly increase the probability that poorer countries will accommodate polluting activity or toxic dumping, or overlook the deleterious health effects of industrial activities on workers, as well as on the surrounding resident population. Evidently, the environmental impacts of such a situation would not be limited to the poor and industrializing regions.
Thus, the scenario described by a tongue-in-cheek World Bank analyst is actually a very realistic one. It is indeed likely that economic activities which are intensive in renewable and non-renewable natural resources - or that produce an inordinate amount of soil, air or water pollution for which clean technologies are not available, or are too costly to apply on a necessary scale -will become increasingly absorbed by poor and distant countries. By the same token, the dumping of toxic wastes in these same countries is sure to increase.
Such outward movements of environmental degradation are, of course, already observable in a variety of instances. Industrial plants which require a great deal of natural resources and raw materials - such as those in the cellulose and petrochemical sector, for instance, have already been shipped to developing countries where environmental safety regulations tend to be non-existent or easily flouted. Moreover, there is an international pecking order through which poorer countries (and/or those with less active environmental movements) absorb toxic debris ranging from nuclear wastes, through hospital wastes and down to prosaic non-degradable materials and solid wastes.
There is thus a real and present danger that in the current global market scenario, the only comparative advantages wielded by the governments and entrepreneurs of the poorest and more distant countries in the competition to attract investors will be their lack of environmental awareness and the absence (or lack of enforcement) of environmental regulations.
In actual fact, this process is already well underway. Recent studies in Brazil, for instance, show that during recent years, the only sector to display important growth has been the production of intermediate goods. This is almost entirely composed of industries which require large amounts of natural resources and/or which cause considerable damage to the soil, water or air. On another level, it has also been demonstrated that many of the industries which settle in Brazil do not follow the same kind of environmental safeguards as they do in their country of origin, nor do they comply with workers' safety standards which are mandatory there.
In short, it can be expected that, under the neo-liberal scenario, two different sets of rules will prevail with respect to comparative advantages. For those countries which present real competitive edges, standard economic advantages will continue to predominate. For the remainder, locational advantages will be governed by their relative degree of leniency in dealing with environmentally-threatening industries and dumping activities. Both sets of rules will be established and arbitrated by the interests and necessities of developed nations and/or of particular groups within them.
Over the short run, such a division of labor will benefit the quest of rich and advanced nations for environmental cleanliness in their own territories. However, given the fact that environmental problems are increasingly global in nature, this solution may be short-lived. Moreover, the sloughing-off of environmental problems to countries having weaker social and political institutions and inferior levels of awareness inevitably means an increasing loss of control over the course of environmental damage. This will almost inevitably mean an intensification of the rate of degradation. In the short run, the advanced world stands to gain from this division of labor; in the long range, everybody loses.
3. The Role of Population in Environmental Degradation and International Security
The population/environment relation has been the object of heated debate in recent years but it was in the context of the UNCED Conference that the subject received the most intense world attention ever focused on this question. Not that the official activities of the Conference ever highlighted the subject; quite the contrary, since a small body of actors, centered around the Vatican and the United States delegations, managed to keep the population debate at bay. Nevertheless, various international celebrities made highly-publicized statements to the effect that without a firm stand on population control, the whole Conference would be a fiasco. Population issues were also very present in parallel events, but it was in the mass media that they were most conspicuous. Quite possibly, the information blitz to which the world audience was subjected on demographic questions - more specifically, on population size and growth - was the largest ever registered.
It is fair to state that neo-malthusian orientations prevailed in the substance of this blitz; indeed, the view that the need for population control is urgent holds sway among the large majority of people who have ever expressed any opinion about this matter. Cornucopian and neo-marxist views are currently at a low ebb. The prevalence of neo-malthusian views is understandable.
The notion that population increases exponentially and thereby generates pressure upon natural resources is a simple, straightforward and appealing argument for most actors in the environmental scene. For environmentalists, who are accustomed to thinking in terms of closed ecosystems, the notion that excessive growth in any one part of the system threatens the whole is commonplace. For developed countries which are disinclined to contemplate any serious alteration in their model of civilization, neo-malthusianism is an easy out which allows them to forego re-examination of this model. But even for the elite in poor and developing countries, the neo-malthusian view is appealing because it throws blame for economic, social and environmental ills on population growth alone, without regard for the need of structural reforms.
This attractive simplicity of neo-malthusianism is in stark contrast to the difficulties of conciliating development with environmental preservation. Even the omnipresent "sustainable development" formula is losing its appeal due to the difficulties of its practical insertion in today's mainstream economic model..Given the complexity of alternative venues, the neo-malthusian view appears to have great lucidity. Indeed, it is unquestionable that population size and rate of growth affect environmental equilibrium; poor people and poor nations do have the fastest growth rates and the sooner they traverse the demographic transition, the better; population growth is a problem even in developed countries since their high consumption levels multiply a sizeable per capita environmental burden; the global population/environment relation is unquestionably easier to face with 5 billion inhabitants than with 15 billion. To dispute any of these obvious facts would be irresponsible both from a scientific and socio-political standpoint.
Nevertheless, the issue is much more complex than the simple pressure of numbers on scarce resources since, as stated in the previous section, the population/environment relation is fundamentally mediated by development models. Oversimplification is dangerous because it retards a serious look at the real nature of the issues. Required solutions are much more complex than making birth control available (or even obligatory) to the earth's poorer inhabitants. Indeed, even if the poor of Africa, Latin America and Asia did not produce a single baby during the next ten years, the earth's environmental situation would still deteriorate rapidly, given the preponderant role of industrial civilization in the etiology of degradation.
On the other hand, the world is already undergoing an extremely rapid fertility decline. Basically, only Sub-Saharan countries and a few Muslim nations have yet to begin their fertility transitions. Obviously, the sooner they make this transition and the quicker it is completed in other developing countries, the lower the level at which the Earth's population will stabilize and the better for its environmental balance. But, as argued by Jacobson, there are reasons for skepticism that the rate of population growth can be lowered much more, particularly among those large countries which most affect global rates of growth. Indeed,it may well be that without some improvement in levels of living of the poorer countries, the knowledge and motivation which people would need to control their fertility will remain insufficient. Thus, again, development is probably the real issue. In any case, for the world as a whole, the general trajectory of global population growth has already been set and it is misleading to give the impression that massive population control efforts will determine the environmental picture in the foreseeable future, independently of development.
In short, the population/environment relation defies easy simplification. A number of key countries are already extremely large in demographic terms and any economic growth which they attain is going to have an enormous effect on global environmental degradation. Other countries, both large and small, are already having a tremendously adverse effect on the environment, even in the absence of significant population growth. Hence, the terms of the discussion need to be refined. The following pages aim to provide elements for a more appropriate framework of discussion.
3.1 - Scaling of Environmental Problems and the Population Factor
In order to advance towards a more adequate perception of population's impact on the environment, it would appear essential to distinguish between environmental problems according to their degree of gravity. The proximity of their respective connection with population questions can then be ascertained. In this vein, it would appear useful, for purposes of discussion, to distinguish initially between critical/global versus secondary types of environmental problems. Critical/global problems in this context are those which adversely affect the very prospects for human life on Planet Earth and for which no current or anticipated technology is likely to present realistic solutions in the foreseeable future. It can be suggested that there are basically four categories of global/critical problems: the depletion of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, the accumulation of toxic wastes and the loss of biodiversity.
Secondary problems, for present purposes, include a broad variety of environmental crises of varying gravity. The list could be expanded at some length but the main point is that these problems differ from global/critical ones in two important respects. Firstly, all of the "secondary" problems are restricted, in spatial terms, to a given locality, region or part of the earth's surface. Secondly, all of them are subject to reversal within a reasonable period of time through one or more of the following factors: socio-economic development, political will and/or technological advances. Problems such as acid rain, desertification, deforestation, air and water pollution, erosion, depletion of natural resources, accumulation of solid wastes, etc. can thus be defined as secondary.
The basic point which has to be made in this context is that critical/global problems are, with the exception of loss of biodiversity, largely due to the production/consumption patterns which prevail in developed countries and to the efforts at industrialization made by developing countries. Consumption of energy, emission of carbon dioxide, of CFCs and of other toxic gases, as well as the production of toxic wastes, are all more intense in industrialized countries. Only Brazil, India and China have, to the present, made any significant contribution in terms of the greenhouse effect. All this may change radically in the future, of course, if developed countries cut back on emissions, through a combination of technological improvements and farming-out of polluting activities, while developing countries strive to industrialize at all costs. The shift of responsibility will be quicker in view of the probability, explained above, that the developing countries will adopt obsolete and environmentally unclean technology as well as non-renewable energy sources in an effort to compete on the international market.
Loss of genetic diversity is a different issue since most biodiversity, due to the differentiated environmental characteristics of North and South, were deposited by nature almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Consequently, only this section of the world - which contains few advanced industrialized nations - can actually destroy any biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity has occurred through two basic types of processes -land-intensive cultivation which involves deforestation, and, the adoption of Green Revolution technology, which favors monoculture over large expanses of land and therefore eradicates the great majority of the existing native species in that area.
Population-related environmental problems have, so far at least, been of the secondary type. Thus, overpopulation and rapid population growth have contributed directly to deforestation, to erosion and desertification, to the degradation of land and loss or contamination of hydraulic resources, and, indirectly to urban environmental degradation, to poverty, to the unavailability of land and so forth. Other problems classified here as secondary, such as acid rain, are more typical of industrialization.
What is the point of this classification between global/critical and secondary problems for the population/ environment relation and for the future of international security? The point is simply that population size and growth, per se, cannot be blamed for the major environmental problems which are being faced by humanity; the main environmental impasses stem from the production and consumption patterns associated with industrial civilization. Yet, population size and growth definitely compound these problems. Should the impacts of industrialization on the environment be permanently confined to the developed countries, it is possible that technological breakthroughs would make damage control more feasible before the situation becomes environmentally disastrous at the global level.
The dilemma, however, is that many other nations are trying to emulate the production and consumption patterns of industrialized nations. This is the only known road to economic growth and "development". Several of these countries are already huge in terms of population size while others are still growing at a fairly rapid rate. Their technology tends to be backwards and even more polluting than that of advanced nations. Consequently, their path to development could be extremely prejudicial to global environmental welfare.
4. The Environmental Threat to International Security
The central argument of this paper is that the path to development which poor and industrializing countries are being enjoined to follow is inherently threatening to global environmental balance. The only model of social organization which is currently being supported has, to the present, been based on patterns of production and consumption which consume valuable energy, pollute air, soil and water, produce harmful emissions and generate huge amounts of toxic and non-degradable wastes. The division of labor which will establish itself under the globalization of markets will transfer dirty industries, obsolete technology and toxic wastes to countries with large population sizes and/or rapid growth rates, ineffective institutions and reduced environmental awareness. The combination of these factors in poor and industrializing countries transforms economic growth into an extremely serious global environmental threat.
If and when this threat is perceived as such by other nations - particularly by the powerful industrialized countries - then we could be faced with a situation in which a given bloc of countries could become directly or indirectly interested in impeding the economic growth of others. Obviously, this wouldn't be the first time that such a situation occurred, but now the major cleavage would follow the singular lines of rich and sparsely-populated versus poor and overpopulated. This scenario of conflictive international interests on environment issues is a realistic one which merits serious consideration - before it reaches a point of no return. Recent events in UNCED and in the USA presidential campaign demonstrate how intensely short-term economic gains and nationalistic interests can be defended against long-term or diffusely-perceived global environmental concerns.
The only real mechanism which the market system commands in order to avert this sort of confrontation are the limits to growth imposed by the imminence of natural disasters. In the absence of clearly-perceived and extremely grave planetary cataclysms, it can be assumed that the market will carry on "business as usual". True, the market may find it profitable to greatly increase investments in technological R & D in the environmental domain. But, it is unlikely that clean technology will be adopted equally and simultaneously by all countries and firms - unless they are somehow coerced into doing so; indeed, it is almost certain that such universal adoption will not occur.
This type of reasoning is not meant at hastening the death knell for market-based development. Indeed, there are no realistic alternatives in sight. What it does point to is the necessity of imposing certain limits and controls on market mechanisms at the international level in order to mitigate its innate ruthlessness and to benefit the long-range well-being of mankind. Such checks and controls on market mechanisms are routinely imposed in all civilized societies. But the imperatives posed by the environmental dilemma require much more radical control and a sweeping revision of the very model of civilization. The problem is that short-sighted economicism and nationalism, steered by myopic politicians with their eyes on the next elections, appear to preclude the possibility of collective soul-searching nor of adopting the kinds of resolute measures essential to long-range welfare.
If private enterprise and national governments are unlikely to begin taking essential steps towards the solution of global environmental problems, a supra-national political instance for environmental management becomes an urgent necessity. Such an entity would have to take an active role in monitoring critical/global and secondary environmental problems, in stimulating technological development and adoption, in arbitrating conflicts of interests in the environmental domain and, above all, in helping to formulate medium and long range environmental strategies taking into account economic, social and political parameters.
In thinking through the nature and functions of such an agency, it would seem essential to avoid existing formulas on international organizational since they generally reflect the existing hierarchy of international power and, thus, the interests of the more powerful countries. An international environmental agency governed by a system of quotas and in which two or three members have a power of veto (or of effective decision) would probably be ineffectual.
The political support necessary for the establishment of such an organism and for the delegation of sufficient capacity and discretionary power so that it can make correct decisions and enforce them will not be easy to obtain. It is of little comfort to know that, over the long run, the global environmental situation is likely to deteriorate so shockingly that people from the world over will eventually clamor for such an agency. While imminent and grave dangers are not clearly perceived, it will take more than market mechanisms to guarantee global environmental well-being.
In this context, the present and potential role of environmental movements and of awareness-raising efforts should be given serious consideration. There is no questioning the sharp rise in environmental consciousness world-wide during the recent decade. Nevertheless, the development of what has been called "global environmental postures" has been rather sluggish. The environmental problem, at both the national and world level, has turned out to be considerably more complex than had originally been touted in the romantic dawn of environmental activism. Activists, along with politicians, abhor complexity. When the inherent contradictions between known forms of economic growth and environmental welfare became apparent and proved to be insoluble over the short term, much of the environmentalist movements' energy switched to specific causes.
Saving the Amazonian rainforest proved to be the most spectacular and long-lasting of these. Although these initiatives unquestionably did much to reduce the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, they have done little for increasing the environmental feasibility of industrial civilization. Indeed, it might even be contended that the enormous amount of world concern focused on the Amazon actually served to deviate attention away from the crux of the development/environment dilemma for at least a five year period. It may take additional time to re-define and re-program priorities of the environmental agenda in the minds of many politicians, scientists and activists.
Much the same could be said of the population issue. Population size and growth have, as stated above, very clear and definite implications for the environmental future of the world and of specific nations and regions. Moreover, it is urgent that the fertility transition be universalized. Nevertheless, the amount of attention being focused on this issue by the mass media is potentially misleading. Such a clear-cut issue, with well-defined problems and solutions - and no necessity of any sort of structural change - is obviously appealing. But to the extent that population questions divert attention away from the main issue, namely, the very course of industrial civilization, intense concentration on the population question will retard the search for more penetrating and lasting solutions.
Environmentalist movements will thus have to play a key role in clarifying the hierarchy of environmental problems and pointing out their possible solutions. The mass media will also have to be enlisted in order to generate greater awareness of the real nature of the environmental dilemmas in the general public; for this purpose, they will have to be better informed. Only after the general public, or at least key sectors of it, have been convinced that the world's primordial environmental problems are not really attributable exclusively to the on-duty scapegoat will the political class be motivated to search beyond the electoral rewards of immediatism for lasting solutions.
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