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Worldwatch Outlines Plan for Sustained Eco-Based Economy

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THE White House energy proposal, sent to Capitol Hill this week, stresses increased production over efficiency and conservation, traditional supplies over renewable sources, and market economics over government intervention. It is in sum: more of the same with a nod to environmental concerns and geopolitics.

A very different vision is presented by the Worldwatch Institute, a private research organization whose annual ``State of the World'' reports are read by governments and international agencies worldwide.

The essence of this year's Worldwatch report is that global economic progress in recent years (as measured by traditional indicators like output of goods and services) masks consistently negative environmental signs. These include annual forest losses of 42 million acres (an area the size of Austria), the loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil each year, and the yearly spewing of 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

At the same time, the rate of population growth has begun to rise again after declining for about a decade and a half. This has put greater demand on sources of food and energy.

``The result is a disguised form of deficit financing,'' warns Worldwatch president Lester Brown, that will eventually lead to economic collapse. ``In sector after sector, we are consuming our natural capital at an alarming rate.''

The institute warns that business as usual on energy would mean reliance on Persian Gulf oil would eventually increase from 26 percent today to more than two-thirds. It would also necessitate the building of three times as many nuclear power plants over the next 30 years as were built in the last 30.

The Bush administration does favor more nuclear power, but wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil by tapping new domestic sources.

Worldwatch says now is the time to switch to renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower. (Recent studies done for the US Energy Department show renewables could supply 50 percent to 70 percent of US needs by the year 2030. The studies say renewables would also create more jobs than traditional energy sources while sharply curtailing carbon-dioxide emissions.)

The technologies are at hand, proponents say, but the shift will require major policy changes.

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