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Expanding the environmental agenda

LEADERS of the 10 largest environmentalist groups in the United States have issued an impressive ``agenda for the future.'' It provides clear bench marks against which both the US and the world can measure future progress in addressing problems such as acid rain, farmland erosion, and disposal of toxic wastes. Presentation of the report last week in Washington was the culmination of a process that started in 1981, when the 10 leaders began meeting informally to assess the environmental challenges facing both America and the world. The agenda indicates how the definition of ``environmental'' issues has broadened and how many of them are global.

The threat of nuclear war would not have been included in this environmental agenda if it had been issued a decade ago, noted one participant. It now is realized, he said, that nuclear war would be ``the ultimate environmental catastrophe.'' Also on the agenda is population control, not a familiar item on ecological priority lists of the past.

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What this new agenda does not represent, we are told, is the emergence of a ``super'' American environmental coalition which would produce joint national policies or become some sort of environmental political party. Leaders of those groups which are organized on democratic lines will not be taking the agenda back to their members for ratification as some sort of national platform. But general agreement on the agenda is expected.

Another reason the new agenda does not portend some monolithic national environmental movement is that the organizations whose leaders put the document together vary greatly in organization, philosophy, and the methods they use to promote their particular points of view. The Izaak Walton League, for example, and Friends of the Earth are not likely to join up in an American version of the Green movement of Europe.

Political action -- by single groups and jointly -- has been on the rise in recent years, particularly in response to the Reagan administration's environmental policies and the confrontational approach of former Secretary of the Interior James Watt. A few of the environmentalist organizations, but by no means the majority, actively worked on behalf of individual candidates in the 1982 and 1984 elections.

Internationalization of the environmental movement seems likely. The nuclear threat, acid rain, deforestation in areas like the Indian subcontinent and South America, pollution of the oceans, and many other such concerns transcend national boundaries.

America has a head start on much of the world in contending with many environmental problems. US environmentalist leaders have provided themselves, the nation, and the international community with a formidable ``must list'' for the coming decades. Besides providing goals for their own organizations, it prods national and international leaders to bend more effort toward safeguarding Earth's precious natural assets.

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