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1 TOWARD A GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY William D. Ruckelshaus It will come as no surprise when I say that politics is not entirely rational. It does not move in the world of crisp and precise analysis, but through more obscure channels. Politics dwells in symbol, in gesture, in metaphor. Some deplore this; I do not. Democracy is government by the people, and people are larger than their economics, or the numbers that describe them. They feel and they act on their feelings, and elected governments ignore feelings at their peril. This is by way of prefacing my own feeling that as a metaphor for dealing with the current global environmental crisis, the word ''management" leaves something to be desired. It is as if the environment were a horse that has suddenly become stubborn. We, of course, are the cowboy. This image puts us outside nature as its master, whereas the point of this crisis is surely that we are inside nature--are in fact both a contributor to the crisis and potentially its ultimate receptor. The rhetoric of the environmental movement is partially to blame here. Seeking to convince the powerful to change their ways, many environmentalists have put forward an image of nature as vulnerable and helpless: the silent spring, the poor oil-soaked birds, the ravaged forests. Attractive animals and even particular ecosystems may be vulnerable, but Nature herself is not. Let us not forget that we are talking about a self-regulating system the size of a planet, 3 billion years old, about whose detailed workings we are still in profound ignorance . The reason we are here in this hall, the reason that the scatter- brained attention of mankind has been focused, is because nature seems to be running a fever. We are the flu. Maybe that is a better metaphor, one that is more suitably humble. Our goal is not so much to manage planet earth as to make ourselves less like a pathogen and more like those helpful bacteria that dwell in our own guts. So make no mistake: It is not nature as a whole we are trying to protect; this is not about environmental protection. It may be about the survival of human society. Science will figure very powerfully in how we do this, of course. Science is the necessary basis for political or social action. But the difficulty of converting scientific discovery into political action is a function both of the uncertainty of the science and the pain generated by the action. Given the current uncertainties as to the actual effects of the predicted rise in greenhouse gases, and the enormous social and 3

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4 technological effort that would be required to control them, it is fair to say that responding successfully to the global environmental crisis, and creating a fully sustainable world economy, will be a most difficult political enterprise, maybe the most difficult ever attempted. Essentially, we would be trying to get a substantial proportion of the people of the world to change their behavior in order to possibly avert a set of changes that will mainly affect a world most of them will not live to see. One does not have to be an expert in politics to know that changes in human behavior do not ordinarily stem from such concerns. Also, while models, such as the ones that now predict global warming, may convince scientists, who understand the models' assumptions and limitations, as a rule projections make poor politics. If you do not believe that, think of the clear and future danger of our national deficit. People will make enormous changes in their lives to escape a present danger, like war or a flood, or to improve their lot in an immediate way--by emigration, for example. But it is hard for people-- and hard even for the people who constitute governments--to change in response to something that might not happen for a long time, or might not happen at all. Fortunately, we do have a response to such contingencies: We call insurance. The analogy is apt. We think it prudent to pay insurance premiums so that if catastrophe strikes, we, or our survivors, will be better off than if there had been no insurance. Current resources foregone or spent to prevent the buildup of greenhouse gases are a sort of insurance premium. And, as long as we are going to pay premiums, we might as well pay them in a fashion that will yield some dividend, in the form of greater efficiency, improved human health, or more widely distributed and sustainable prosperity. Such actions must include measures that will begin to reduce the rate of increase of carbon dioxide or acid rain or ozone by concentrating on those steps that most everyone will agree are reasonable under the circumstances. If we turn out to be wrong on greenhouse warming or ozone or acid rain, we still retain the dividend benefits. Also, no one complains to the insurance company when disaster does not strike. That is the argument for some immediate, modest actions. On the other hand, something enormous may indeed be happening to our world. species may be pushing up against some immovable limits regarding combustion of fuels and ecosystem damage. Our usual tendency is to assume that if shortages or problems arise, we will discover a technological fix, or set of fixes, or that the normal workings of the market will adjust prices so as to solve the problem by product substitution. We may, for example, discover a cheap and nonpolluting source of energy. It is comforting to imagine that we might get through this present crisis without much strain, to suppose, with Dickens' Mr. Micawber, that "something will turn up." Imagination is harmless; but counting on such a rescue may not be. We must at least consider the possibility that, besides those modest adjustments for the sake of prudence, we may have to prepare for far more dramatic changes. Doing this thinking now while we have the leisure to think is, in fact, another kind of insurance. Our

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5 What would it take to move the world economy to true sustainability as recommended by the World Commission on Environment and Development? To answer that question we have to determine, first, what kind of change in consciousness would be required to maintain sustainability as a way of life. Such a change might include the adoption of the following benefits: 1. The human species is part of nature. Its existence depends on its ability to draw sustenance from a finite natural world; its continuance depends on its ability to abstain from destroying the natural systems that regenerate this world. This seems to be the major lesson of the environmental situation now as well as being a direct corollary of the second law of thermodynamics. 2. Economic activity must account for all the environmental costs of production. Environmental regulation has made a start here, but as yet a small one. The market has not been mobilized to preserve the environment at anywhere near its potential, with the result that an increasing amount of the "wealth" we think we create is in a sense stolen from our descendants. 3. The maintenance of a livable world environment depends on the sustainable development of the entire human family. This was one central finding of the World Commission on Environment and Development and appears to be the only reasonable option because of the well-documented impacts of population growth. Development stabilizes population; it is the only permanent solution we have discovered. If the four-fifths of humanity now in developing nations attempts to create wealth using the methods of the past, the result will at some point be unacceptable world ecological damage, such as accelerated ozone depletion or global warming. If what is sustained is poverty, the result, given current population growth, will be mass death, social chaos, and accelerated environmental degradation of the type that results from poverty. Such situations also breed wars and the attendant danger that these will spread to the developed nations. But changes in consciousness of this type do not come about simply because the arguments for them are good or because the alternatives are unpleasant. Neither will exhortation suffice. The central lesson of realistic policymaking is that most people and organizations change when it is in their interest to change, either because they derive some benefit from changing or because they incur sanctions when they do not, and the shorter the time span between the action and the benefit or sanction the better. This is not mere cynicism. Although people will struggle and suffer for long periods to achieve a goal, it is unreasonable to expect most people to work against their immediate interests forever, especially in a democratic system, where their interests are so fundamental in guiding the government. Changing interests requires three things. First, a clear set of values must be articulated by leaders in both the public and private sectors. Next, a set of incentives has to be established that will support those values. Finally, institutions must be developed that will

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6 effectively apply those motivators. The first is relatively easy, the second harder, the third hardest of all. When we look at global environmental policy, we see that values similar to those described above are increasingly being articulated by political leaders throughout the world. In the past year, the president and the secretary of state of the United States, the premier of the Soviet Union, the prime minister of Britain, and the presidents of France and Brazil have all made major statements about global environmental problems. Most industrialized nations have a structure of national environmental law that reflects such values, and we now have a set of international conventions that does the same. Yet mere acceptance of a set of values, while a necessary precursor, does not generate the necessary change in consciousness, nor does it change the environment. Although diplomats and lawyers may argue passionately over the form of words, talk is cheap. In the United States, for example, which has a set of environmental statutes second to none in their stringency, and where for the past 15 years, poll after poll has recorded the American people's desire for increased environmental protection, the majority of the population continues to participate in a most wasteful and polluting style of life. The values are there; the appropriate incentives and the institutions are either absent or inadequate, and of course this is even more true of the earth as a whole. The difficulties of moving from this situation stem from basic characteristics common to all the major industrial nations, the nations that must, because of their economic strength, their preeminence as polluters, and the share they claim of the world's resources, take the lead in any change of the present order. All of these nations are market system democracies, and it is apparent that an important part of the problem lies with something inherent in the free market economic system on the one hand, and with democracy on the other. The economic problem is the familiar one of externalities, in which the environmental cost of producing a good or service is not accounted for in the price paid for it. As Kenneth Boulding has put it: "All of nature's systems are closed loops, while economic activities are linear and assume inexhaustible resources and 'sinks' in which to throw away our refuse."' In willful ignorance, and in violation of the core principle of capitalism, we refuse to treat environmental resources as capital. We spend them as income and are as befuddled as any profligate heir when our checks start to bounce. Closing the loops in economic systems--making people pay the full cost of the resource use--is the way to avoid this. That we have rarely done this in the industrialized world is related to the second problem, the problem of action in a democracy. Modifying the market to reflect environmental costs is largely a function of government. Those adversely affected by such modifications, although they may be a tiny minority of the population, often have a disproportionate influence on public policy. In general, the minority much injured will prove more formidable a lobbyist than the majority slightly benefited. The interest problem is naturally exacerbated when dealing with pollution on a global scale. Elected representatives are even less

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7 likely to support short-term adverse effects on their constituencies when the immediate beneficiaries are residents of other lands. This reluctance is magnified even more by scientific uncertainty regarding the timing, origin, or importance of those benefits. The question then, is whether the industrial democracies will be able to overcome the political constraints on bending the market system toward long-term sustainability. History suggests some answers, for there are a number of examples in which nations have been able to harmonize a variety of short-term interests with a longer-term goal. War is, regrettably, the obvious example. A conflict, like the Second World War, that mobilizes the entire population, changes work patterns, manipulates and controls the prices and supply of standard goods, and reorganizes the nation's industrial plant demonstrates that things considered politically or economically impossible can be accomplished in a remarkably short time, given the belief that national survival is at stake. Another example is found in the Marshall Plan for reconstructing Europe after World War II. In 1947 the United States spent nearly 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on this huge set of projects. Although the impetus for the plan came from fear of the expansion of Soviet influence into Western Europe, it established a precedent for massive investment in increasing the prosperity of foreign nations. Besides these, there are numerous examples where belief systems many generations old changed rapidly under the press of necessity. These include the abandonment of feudalism by Japan and of slavery by the industrialized nations in the nineteenth century, and the retreat of imperialism and the development of the European Community in the twentieth century. In each of these, important interests were made to give way before national goals. We should also not forget that of all the political and economic systems that have been devised, liberal democracies based on free enterprise appear to be the most capable of change. At any rate they appear to have survived the passing of all the others, and they now dominate the world. If it is possible to change, how do we begin? Obviously government policy must lead the way, since market prices of commodities typically do not reflect the environmental costs of extracting and replacing them, nor do prices of energy from fossil fuels reflect the risks of climate change. And policy matters. In the case of global warming, for example, policies implemented soon and continued over the next decade could significantly affect the rate and extent of the greenhouse effect. Policy must focus on changing incentives and perfecting institutions. If we do that, the values of sustainability will thrive and survive. If we do not, they will degrade along with the environment. The leaders in making these policy changes must be the developed nations, and they must begin with their domestic economies, which currently use the bulk of the world's resources. If they do not they will have no credibility with the leaders of the developing world, a necessary prerequisite to achieving sustainable development. And that, of course, remains our greatest challenge.

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8 Aid is both an answer and a perpetual problem. The total of official development assistance from the developed to the developing world stands at around $35 billion per year. This is not a great deal of money when one considers that if the United States now spent in foreign aid the same proportion of GNP it spent during the peak Marshall Plan years, the annual U.S. foreign aid expenditure would be $127 billion. For comparison, the United States spent $45 billion protecting shipping in the Persian Gulf. There is no point, of course, in even thinking about the adequacy of aid to the undeveloped nations until the debt issue is resolved. The World Bank reported in 1988 that the 17 most indebted countries paid the rich nations and multilateral agencies $31.1 billion more than they received in aid. This obviously cannot go on, and debt-for-nature swapping alone will not solve the problem. In most nations, we now realize, a prosperous rural society based on sustainable agriculture must be the prelude to any future development. To obtain that, land tenure reform will have to be instituted in many countries and basic international trading relationships will have to be redesigned to eliminate the ill effects on the undeveloped world of agricultural subsidies and tariff barriers in the rich nations. This is another way of saying we must focus on what motivates people to live in an environmentally responsible manner. People will not grow crops when governments subsidize urban populations by keeping prices to farmers low. People will not stop having too many children if the labor of children is the only economic asset they have. People will not improve the land if they do not own it. Negative sanctions against abusing the environment are similarly missing throughout much of the undeveloped world. In the short term, substantial amounts of aid could be focused directly on the environmental protection ministries of developing nations. These ministries are typically impoverished and ineffective, particularly in comparison to their countries' economic development and military institutions. To cite one example: The game wardens of Tanzania receive an annual salary equivalent to the price paid to poachers for two elephant tusks, one reason why that nation has lost two-thirds of its elephant population to the ivory trade in the last decade. Finally, we must create and maintain institutions that will support the values and motivators that favor a sustainable world economy. This is a difficult task, for institutions are powerful in that they support some powerful interests, which usually includes supporting the status quo. On the other hand, free societies are good at creating effective institutions, and the transfer of power among their institutions, according to perceived social needs, is a fact of life. The important international institutions in today's world are those concerned with money, with trade, and with national defense. Those who may despair of environmental concerns ever reaching this level of seriousness should recall that current institutions like NATO, the World Bank, and multinational corporations have fairly short histories. They were formed out of pressing concerns about continuing the expansion of wealth and maintaining national sovereignty. If concern for the

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9 a comparative scale, comparative environment becomes pressing on institutions will be developed. To further this goal, three things are wanted. The first is money. The report of the World Commission on Environment and Development says: ''The U.N. can and should be a source of significant leadership in the transition to sustainable development and in support of developing countries in effecting this transition.'' The annual budget of the United Nations Environment Programme is $30 million, a laughable amount considering its responsibilities. If we are serious about sustainability, we will provide our central international environmental organization with serious money, preferably money derived from an independent source to reduce its political vulnerability. An international tax on certain uses of common world resources has been suggested as a means to this end. The second thing is information. We require strong international institutions to collect, analyze, and report on environmental trends and risks. We need a global institution capable of answering questions of global importance. The third thing is integration of effort. We obviously do not wish to create a monolithic bureaucracy, but neither can we afford redundancy and conflict in our efforts to solve common problems. On the aid front, this may become tragically absurd: Africa alone is currently served by 82 international donors and over 1700 private organizations. the tiny African nation of Burkina Faso (population 340 independent aid projects under way. We need to _ _ In 1980, in 8 million) there were form and strengthen coordinating institutions that combine the separate strengths of nongovernmental organizations, international bodies, and industrial groups and focus their efforts on global warming and on the short list of environmental priority issues identified by the World Commission on Environment and Development. Finally, in creating the consciousness of advanced sustainability, we will have to redefine our concepts of political and economic feasibility. These are, after all, human constructs. They were different in the past; they will surely change in the future. But the earth is real, and we are obliged by the fact of our utter dependence on it to listen more closely than we have to its messages.