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Get the environment right first

By Michel Stasse - posted Tuesday, 18 December 2001

Until now, the most dramatic changes that our forefathers experienced were droughts, floods, famine, or war. But due to technology and cultural evolution, all of this is changing. Some might say changing for the better because of new innovations in technology. Diseases are being conquered, child mortality is falling, incomes are rising, and people are criss-crossing the globe in hours.

One must ask though, what cost are these changes exerting on our future? Social injustice, economic exploitation, and environmental pollution are not natural. They are the consequences of ideas that have molded human development for more than 200 years. In fact, mostly 19th century ideas. Is this cultural evolution a blessing or a curse? Poverty, hunger, resource depletion, and climate change are not the problems, they are symptoms of something deeper, something as old as time. Greed. Fear, and ignorance are, as always real problems too. Today these translate as terrorism in many parts of the world.

Our health is at risk too due to the very quality of life that this technology, chemical, food, and plastic revolution bring. Because science and technology have made all this growth possible, most believe that science and technology can make possible all the things we continue to want in the future. The expansion of global trade by modern technology makes it easier and faster to get what we want from further and further away. This, however, only serves to totally block our understanding of the real effects that increased numbers of humans have on the carrying capacity of Earth and its resources to support all of us.


Today 250 square km of good, productive land will be lost to encroaching deserts, the results of human mismanagement and overpopulation. Today the human population will increase by 263,000. And today we will add 2,700 tonnes of CFCs to the stratosphere and 15 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere.

For every 100kg of product manufactured in Australia, 3,000kg of waste will be produced.

Today alone tonnes of persistent chemical contaminants will be added to our atmosphere, water, and land. Over 180 square km of rain forests globally will be eliminated. Between 30 and 85 species of plants and animals will be lost from the Earth. So little do we know of our ecosystems that no one knows whether the count is closer to 30 or 85. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more polluted, and millions of our global neighbours that little bit worse off.

Today low levels of insecticides, weed killers, and fertilisers are commonly found in our water. The average Australian has 180 foreign chemicals flowing through his or her veins. Our grandparents had one, lead, a natural occurrence. As a direct result, today 1,400 people will die of cancer. All of these things are transient and dangerous, ultimately contaminating and eliminating plants and animals at the rate of dinosaur extinction.

These are the things Mr Howard should worry about.

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This is an edited version of a speech given to the National Press Club on October 31. A full transcript of the speech is available from the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies website.

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