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Is a Cleaner World Now Possible?

For 15 Januarys, Lester R. Brown has declared the planet is reaching the end of its resources. Now, the leading environmental researcher and founder of WorldWatch Institute says corporations and governments are listening.

Mr. Brown and co-researcher Christopher Flavin sounded like anything but doomsayers in outlining their new report. Both bubbled with enthusiasm over advances in renewable energy sources, corporate moves to shift gears in favor of the environment, and increased recognition by governments of the need for sustainable economics.

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"We may be on the threshold of change," Brown said in an interview on the 250-page report published yesterday. "The thing that's exciting now is that the world is beginning to come around to recognize that the old model is not going to be viable for the world over the long term."

He cites Toyota's new hybrid fuel-cell car Prius, huge increases in wind power generation and photovoltaic cell use, and investments by major corporations like Enron, British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch Shell in renewable energy sources.

But the report also preaches a heavy dose of gloom and doom. "As the economy grows, pressures on the Earth's natural systems and resources intensify," it says.

The litany is not new: "Forests are shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, wetlands are disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, ... rivers are running dry, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are dying, and plant and animal species are disappearing."

All that spells impending disaster, says Brown.

His critics see a different world. "In every single report in 15 years, he has said we are outgrowing the planet's capacity. For 15 years, that's proved to be absolutely in every way false," says Jerry Taylor, an assistant director for the rival Cato Institute.

"If economic growth means anything, it means a cleaner and better planet," agrees Julian Simon of the University of Maryland.

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