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21 POLITICAL LEADERSHIP AND THE BRUNDTLAND REPORT: WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PUBLIC POLICY? Charles Caccia It came as a shock in March 1989 to learn from an Environmental Pro- tection Agency (EPA) report that about 1 billion kg of toxic chemicals are released annually and 100 million Americans breathe pollutants that exceed federal standards. Representative Henry Waxman was quoted as saying that "EPA has broken commitment after commitment to deal with this problem" during the 19-year life of the Clean Air Act. In Canada, we are hardly innocent--the Canadian record on water pollution is not much bet- ter. We are better off on air pollution, mostly because we have more air! When one adds the mostly ignored principles of the Stockholm con- ference and the near-paralysis of the Law of the Sea, the inevitable question is, What is going on? What kind of game are we engaged in? Are the implications of such behavior relevant to the implementation of the Brundtland report (World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, London, 1987~? We seem superbly gifted in articulating principles, as proven by the Stockholm Declaration. We also know how to define the problem and even how to prescribe remedial action. Some political leaders have even embraced sustainable development: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in July, President George Bush on August 31, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in September, 1988. But to what extent do they mean it? Do they know what they are endorsing? Will a public, often prone to for- getfulness, hold them accountable in the polling booth? Politicians have been known in the past for drafting and even passing legislation yet paralyzing its enforcement by denying adequate resources, or even failing to proclaim approved legislation into law, as in the case of the Vehicle Fuel Consumption Act, passed by Parliament in Canada in 1982 but never proclaimed into law. Our judgment of governments should not be entirely determined by their performance with respect to the Stockholm Declaration, The Law of the Sea, and the U.S. Clean Air Act. But there are good reasons for being skeptical. Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration reads: "States have, in accordance with the charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the re- sponsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction." 204
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205 Yet 17 years later, signatories of the Stockholm Declaration continue to dump their acid gas pollution on each other. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, to name three major industrial nations, have so far ignored the Helsinki Protocol on sulfur dioxide reductions. Take the Clean Air Act: Why must Representative Waxman scream 19 years later about lack of enforcement? In the case of the Law of the Sea, why have Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, to name a few major maritime nations, not signed or ratified it? In the search for explanations for this strange behavior, where should we look? Science, a human enterprise based on skepticism and caution, seems to understand and agree on the urgency of global change on many fronts. The public--with the help of the media--accepts the need for action on global change. Politicians, at least individually, seem to understand global change to the point of saying the right things. Almost everybody seems to agree that the situation is both real and urgent. Why, then, are governments so reluctant to implement, to act, to enforce? Why not practice what they preach? Having endorsed the implementation of the Brundtland report with a mile-long resolution at the U.N. General Assem- bly on December 11, 1987, why are the major nations of the world not even beginning to restructure any part of their economies? We had best find out soon. Part of the answer is to be found in attitudes slow to change at the deeper level necessary to alter both personal and institutional behavior. Where and what are the triggers required to bring about those deeper at- titudinal changes? How do we move from worry to action? How do we change attitudes that underlie the following? o Rampant consumerism and manufacturing for planned obsolescence. O The persistent shifting of costs of production on to water, air, and soil. o The undue emphasis on the offensive approach to defense policies. O The heavy drawing on the earth's capital, particularly in forests, fisheries, ground water, and top soil. o The tendency to see the earth, as David Barash puts it, ''. . . as something to be conquered rather than to be appreciated, as challenging and threatening rather than nourishing and protecting."' True, some new attitudes have emerged, here and there, and have even reached the level of institutional thinking in some political parties and governments. But just at the margin, the edge. The debate has just started in search, for instance, of ways of integrating the economy with the environment. But substantive decisions, the tough and necessary de- cisions, are hard to find. We are still toying with demonstration pro- jects and "maybe someday" commitments. For example, take present-day political leaders in North America and the United Kingdom who have en- dorsed the Brundtland report: Are they just now waking up, or are their basic values and ideologies fundamentally incompatible with Brundtland's concept of environmentally sustainable development? Or both? We all have a good deal of rethinking to do. Having embraced environmentally sustainable development, how do political leaders propose to proceed? Can contemporary conservatives
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206 become regulators and use government in a restructured form to implement Brundtland's blueprint? And if they cannot, since they believe in market forces, are conservative leaders prepared to really use the marketplace to achieve sustainable development, rather than using the marketplace as an excuse for inaction? Will they offer real incentives to nonpolluters? Will they impose heavy taxes on polluters? If Mulroney, Bush, and Thatcher mean what they say, the marketplace is there for them to use, in keeping with their ideology. Yet their tax systems remain, for the most part, unchanged, blissfully ignoring incen- tives and obstacles to environmentally sustainable development. Their energy policies have drifted back to pre-oil-shock days. Their agricul- tural policies still rely on heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, with consequences for ground water and health. Forests are being de- pleted. Fisheries are in danger because of overharvesting, not to men- tion oil and other toxic chemical spills. Development aid programs are mostly in a pre-Brundtland mold. Mind you, it is not all discouraging news since the Brundtland report. The government of Norway is in the lead with the adoption of their white paper incorporating sustainable development in the policies, budgets, and programs of each and every department of government. In The Netherlands, an action program is scheduled to be presented to parliament any time. In Japan a white paper was produced in response to the Brundtland report, outlining Japan's contribution toward the conserva- tion of the global environment. In Indonesia the government approaches sustainable development in its seventh national economic plan. In Canada the Task Force on Environment and Economy reported in October 1987. Roundtables on sustainable development have been announced and formed. The fact is that in the major industrial countries, while the public seems ready to accept stiff medicine to ensure a future, governments' actions seem no more than sporadic. Governments are still lurching from catastrophe to catastrophe. They are seeking refuge in declarations, most recently in The Hague on March 12, 1989. Between Saint-Basile-le- Grand (site of a major PCB fire in Canada) and the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, we go back to sleep until rudely awakened by the next environ- mental disaster. Missing is the leadership that can translate emerging values into tough but necessary decisions that would change trends. We remain re- active rather than proactive. Yet public opinion seems ready to accept leadership capable of giving the creative momentum required to change trends. But we still seem trapped. Why? Why is it that we seem to be behaving like institutionally bound lemmings? We have a public well ahead of most decisionmakers in matters affecting global security, be it the environment or defense. All over the world, the public wants peace and security, and safe and healthy living conditions. People want environmental integrity for their own sake and the sake of their children and grandchildren. But governments, particularly governments of large industrial nations that could act on the publicly expressed will, are still making declarations. Why? Is it because sectoral economic interests stand in the way? Is it because the common interest gets lost in a welter of special interests? Is it because calcified policies pose seemingly insurmountable obstacles
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207 to implementing a new agenda? Is it because public pressure is still smaller than the pressure exerted on decisionmakers by vested interests? Yes, all of those. It is these barriers that must be cleared. And quickly. Specifically, what is it that needs to be done? O Replace the present structure of government, in which the envi- ronment operates in isolation and in competition with other departments, with a structure in which the environment becomes the responsibility of all departments and agencies. o Demonstrate that social and economic good can be achieved through environmental action, with resulting jobs in conservation, new industries in pollution-control technology, rehabilitation of water, air, and soil quality, improved public health, and better quality of urban life and planning. o Make environmental impact assessments of major economic sectoral policies mandatory before mega-projects are approved and major decisions are made. o Ensure that we live off the earth's interest without encroaching on its capital, investing to sustain and even enhance that capital so that future dividends can be ensured and enlarged. o Make the promotion of energy efficiency a high priority and reduce our dependence on nonsustainable and environmentally risky energy sources. o Reform tax systems with a focus on prevention of damage to air. water, and other resources. o Provide incentives and support to the most energy-efficient modes of transportation. o Include the scientific community in regular consultations with governments. o Reduce agriculture's dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides so as to restore surface and ground water quality. o Encourage and adopt production processes and technologies that do not damage the environment. o Reduce international debt levels by using funds made available from a reduction of armament expenditures. o Sign and ratify existing international laws and protocols affecting the environment. 0 Give priority to the preparation and implementation of a global convention on the protection of the atmosphere. o Establish international standards of behavior in the global commons. o Urge the U.N. secretary general to constitute a special U.N. Board for Sustainable Development and the U.N. General Assembly to create a Security Council for the Environment, to which such a board would report. To say that we need all this and more to happen is not enough. We must find ways to make it happen. The key to making it happen lies in the values, the vision, and the creative capacity of new political leadership.
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208 The nature and speed of change, the complexity of issues, the inertia of institutions, and the power of vested interests are such that they require leadership qualities that usually emerge in troubled times, with the hallmark of rendering difficult decisions acceptable--leadership that can mobilize the public because the public senses integrity, commitment, and foresight; leadership that believes in the vital role of government in regulation, restructuring, advocacy, and education. Declarations alone do not change trends. Exhortations to proper behavior are just exhortations. They are not very effective. They offer good escape hatches, good public relations for the short term, but they are symptoms of impotence. Creative leadership is what is needed to implement Brundtland's prescription. In the past, Pierre Trudeau, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt were able to bring about widespread acceptance, of difficult decisions. They possessed creative intellects. They over- came obstacles. They brought about change. They knew how to use gov- ernment, democratic government, trusted government, and all its instru- ments for the collective good. For global change is a matter of collective interest and survival. We must find again ways of generating the leadership required at all levels of Government, in all sectors of society, v , I, to change present trends as Gro Harlem Brundtland has urged. And for a simple reason, given so poignantly by way of a graffito painted on a bridge in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. It reads: "Good planets are hard to find!"
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