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17 THE GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT: A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE* Albert Gore, Jr. Many have come to share the belief that humankind has suddenly entered into a brand-new relationship with the planet Earth and that human civilization is, in its current pattern, causing grave and, perhaps soon, irreparable damage to the ecological system that supports life as we know it. My purpose is to sound an alarm--loudly and clearly--of imminent and grave danger, and to describe a strategy for confronting this crisis, with changes in our collective behavior and thinking that, if made, can forestall and prevent the horrendous prospect of an ecological collapse. First, why is such an alarm necessary? Do we need a crisis before we can act? Sometimes in human affairs a pattern is well set before its implications are felt in our daily lives. This is true both in politics and in science. When shattered glass filled the streets of Berlin on Kristallnacht, few could conceive of the holocaust to follow. But from a distance, the pattern is now clear. When the first atom was split, few could conceive of nuclear bombs. But when Albert Einstein wrote to Franklin Roosevelt, the pattern was clear. How much information Unneeded by the human mind to recognize a pattern? How much more is needled by the body politic to justify action in response? It took a long time for the world to respond to Adolf Hitler. Because of Hitler, it took only reshoot time for Roosevelt to respond to Einstein. In a classic experiment often cited, a frog dropped into a pot of boiling water quickly jumps out. But the same frog, put into the water before it is slowly heated, will remain in place until it is boiled. The meaning of a pattern is conveyed by contrast as opposed to sameness. Sameness lulls the senses and conveys an absence of danger. Gradual change sometimes resembles sameness, obscuring danger from minds that reserve their alertness for sharp contrasts. Exponential change at first resembles sameness, then gradual change, then explosive contrast. It is often hard to recognize the shape of an exponential curve before it reaches the explosive stage. It is difficult because the contrast essential to understanding very large patterns is sometimes visible only from a distance. *Presented May 1, 1989, as a speech to the assembled speakers for the Forum on Global Change and Our Common Future. ~ / /
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178 If an individual or a nation is accustomed to looking at the future 1 year at a time and the past in terms of a single lifetime, then many large patterns are concealed. If a political body looks at policies in the context of a single nation, then the global impacts will remain invisible. In the relationship of the human species to the planet Earth, not much change is visible in a single year, in a single nation. Yet if one looks at the entire pattern of that relationship from the emergence of the species until the present, a distinctive contrast in very recent times clearly conveys the danger to which we must respond. It took 10,000 human lifetimes for the population to reach 2 billion. Now in the course of a single human lifetime, it is rocketing from 2 billion toward 10 billion, and is already halfway there. Startling graphs showing the loss of forest land, topsoil, stratospheric ozone, and species all follow the same pattern of sudden, unprecedented acceleration in the latter half of the twentieth century. And yet, so far, the pattern of our politics remains remarkably unchanged. The earth's forests are being destroyed at the rate of one football field's worth every second, one Tennessee's worth every year. An enor- mous hole is opening in the ozone layer, reducing the earth's ability to protect life from deadly ultraviolet radiation. Living species are dying at such an unprecedented rate that more than half may disappear within our lifetime. Chemical wastes, in growing volumes, seep downward to poison ground water and upward to destroy the atmosphere's delicate balance. Huge quantities of carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluoro- carbons (CFCs) dumped into the atmosphere are trapping heat and raising global temperatures. In 1987 carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began to surge with record annual increases. Global temperatures are also climbing: 1987 was the second hottest year on record; 1988 was the hottest. Scientists now predict our current course may raise world temperatures almost 5°C in the lifetime of our children. The last time there was such a shift, it was 5°C colder: New York City was under 1 km of ice. If 5°C colder over thousands of years produces an ice age, what could 5°C warmer produce in one lifetime? Why are these dramatic changes taking place? Because the human pop- ulation is surging, because the industrial, scientific, and technologi- cal revolutions magnify the environmental impact of these increases, and because we tolerate self-destructive behavior and environmental vandalism on a global scale. The problem in organizing our response is that the worst effects seem far off in the future, and they are so unprecedented they seem to defy common sense, while right now, in the present, millions of people are suffering in poverty and dying because of starvation, warfare, and pre- ventable diseases. How do we deal with these immediate problems and at the same time confront the problems of the future? One of the philoso- phers of the environmental movement, Ivan Illich, in a recent interview explained the sudden environmental activism of Margaret Thatcher, MiLhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders previously uninterested in the global environment by saying, "What has changed is that our common sense has
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179 begun searching for a language to speak about the shadow our future throws." Science already has such a language. Consider a picture showing how time and space are shaped by mass, with a black hole pictured as a deep well in a grid, with the space and time around the well sloping toward it. Human political awareness is shaped by history in precisely that way. Our political awareness of the world is shaped and bent by events. Large events like World War II exert a powerful gravitational pull on every idea we have about the world around us. The Holocaust shapes every idea we have about human nature. And just as in Einstein's theory, future events can exert the same gravitational pull on our thinking as events in the past--even though the events in the future have not yet occurred. Time is relative in politics as in science. The political will that made possible the mass political protests against escalating the nuclear arms race came from awareness of a downslope toward a future we did not want to see. Many felt us being pulled toward a nuclear war that would crush human history forever into a black hole. We are now changing our course away from that downslope, we hope, and taking a new direction-- even though 99.99 percent of all human beings on earth have never seen, heard, or personally felt nuclear destruction. The awareness of that potential future event came from political communication, with abstract symbols, like words. Now throughout the world we are witnessing the emergence of a new political will to take a different course in order to avoid the slope toward global environmental destruction. We see the catastrophe coming; we hear Rachel Carson's silent spring. The slope seemed gradual at first but now it is steep. We feel strongly pulled toward ecological collapse by the policies we are now pursuing. I personally became deeply involved in the effort to avoid a nuclear holocaust 9 years ago because I felt the slope toward that horrendous possibility. And I tried to bring to the task the skills of my pro- fession. I believe all the talk about the global environment as a national security issue makes a great deal of sense in political terms. For the past 13 years, as a citizen and as a member of the U.S. Congress, I have had long-standing interests in both the environmental threat and in national security. As a practical matter I have dealt with these subjects as separate intellectual accounts involving distinct areas of public policy, each with its own completely different set of concerns and participants. Yet they grow more and more alike. National security comprises matters that directly and imminently menace the interests of the state or the welfare of the people. As such, these issues command the attention of political leaders at the highest level, with a propor- tionate claim on the resources of government and the wealth of the nation. If society were an organism, national security would involve the instinct for survival. To this point, the national security agenda has been dominated by issues of military security, embedded in the context of global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, a struggle that the protagonists have often waged through distant surrogates but that has always harbored the risk of direct confrontation and nuclear war. Given
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180 the changes in Soviet behavior that have begun under Gorbachev, there is growing optimism that this long, dark period may be passing. There is also hope that this will open the international agenda for other urgent matters and for the release of enormous resources, now committed to war, toward other objectives. Many hope that the global environment will be the new dominant issue. They assert that a collective, international struggle for stability in the ecosystem will succeed the old pattern of national struggle for tem- poral power and will justify the preemption of enormous resources, and reshape the public consciousness in support of another long, global struggle. I am deeply in sympathy with this view, and yet as someone who has worked hard on both issues, I believe the analogy must be used very cautiously. The U.S.-Soviet struggle has lasted almost half a century, consumed several trillion dollars, cost close to 100,000 American lives in Korea and Vietnam, and profoundly shaped the psychological and social consciousness of our people. Much the same could be said of the Soviets, who, if anything, have endured far more than have we for the sake of their ideology. Nothing is automatic or foreordained about the course of U.S.-Soviet relations, no matter how many editorial writers now claim, "The Cold War is over." Nothing relieves us of our present responsibilities for de- fense or of the need to conduct painstaking negotiations to limit arms and reduce the risk of war. The old agenda is with us still, exacting its price in wealth, creativity, and the attention of statesmen. And yet, the environmentalists are right. Certainly, there is strong evidence that the new enemy is at least as real as the old. For the general public, the shocking images of last year's drought, or of beaches covered with medical garbage, inspired a sense of peril once sparked only by Soviet behavior. And for environ- mental specialists, the steady flow of data from scientific investiga- tion of the environment--often ambiguous, but always menacing--is eerily equivalent to intelligence collection against the more familiar Soviet threat. The U2 spy plane, for example, now is used to monitor not missile silos, but ozone depletion. Already we are seeing governments struggling to resolve issues whose domains go far beyond anything in our experience. Debate over the dis- position of radioactive wastes, for example, involves choices that must remain valid across geological time. The species now disappearing at an unprecedented rate will never return. The global climate pattern could shift to a new equilibrium and never regain its former pattern. In the not distant future, there will be a new "sacred agenda" in international affairs, policies that enable the rescue of the global environment. This task will one day join, and then perhaps even sup- plant, preventing the world's incineration through nuclear war, as the principal test of statecraft. However, in thinking about environmentalism as a national security concern, it is important to differentiate between what would--in military jargon--be called the level of threat. Certain environmental problems may be important but are essentially local, others cross borders and in effect represent theaters of operations, and still others are global and
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181 strategic in nature. On this scale, even phenomena as important as the slow suffocation of Mexico City, the deaths of northern forests in America and Europe, or even the desertification of large areas of Africa will likely not be regarded as full-scale national security issues. However, the greenhouse effect and stratospheric ozone depletion fit the profile of national security issues of global significance. These phenomena certainly will in time produce effects big enough to threaten international order, even at the level of war and peace. In the case of global warming, the fact that some of the worst effects will not fully manifest themselves until the middle of the next century is offset by the fact that actions we take now will determine the extent of the damage later. When nations perceive that they are threatened at the strategic level, they may be induced to think of drastic responses involving sharp discontinuities from everyday approaches to policy. In military terms, this is the point when the United States begins to think of invoking nuclear weapons. The global environment may well involve responses that are, in comparative terms, just as radical--not just business as usual, not just incremental variations, but massive departures from the norm. Nuclear war is an apocalyptic subject, and so is global environmental destruction. We are dealing here with increasingly credible forecasts of climatic dislocations, vast changes in growing cycles, inundations of coastal areas, and the loss to the sea of vast territories--some of them very heavily developed and populated. We are dealing not only with a threat to human health, but also with unpredictable and potentially vast changes to all life at the surface of the earth and the seas as the re- sult of prolonged exposure to increased ultraviolet radiation. What is more, despite some progress made toward limiting some sources of the problem, such as CFCs, we have to face the stark fact that we have barely scratched the surface. Even if all other elements of the problem are solved, a major threat is still posed by emissions of carbon dioxide, the exhaling breath of the industrial culture upon which our civilization rests. The implications of the latest and best studies on this matter are staggering. We must be honest about them. Essentially, they tell us that with our current pattern of technology and production, we face a Hobbesian choice between economic growth in the near term and massive environmental disorder as the subsequent penalty. This central fact cuts across the face of all environmental stra- tegies as we generally think of them. It suggests that the notion of environmentally sustainable development at present may be an oxymoron rather than a realistic objective. It declares war, in effect, on routine life in the advanced industrial societies. And--central to the outcome of the entire struggle to restore global environmental balance-- it declares war on the Third World. The Third World does not have a choice about whether or not it will develop economically. If it does not develop economically, poverty, hunger, and disease will consume entire populations. And long before that, whole societies will experience revolutionary political disorder. Rapid economic growth is a life-or-death imperative throughout the Third World. The peoples and governments of the Third World will not be denied
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182 that hope, no matter what the longer-term costs are for the global envi- ronment. And why should they accept what we, manifestly, will not accept for ourselves? Who is so bold as to say that any nation in the developed world is prepared to abandon industrial and economic growth? Who will proclaim that any nation in the developed world will accept even serious compromises in levels of comfort for the sake of global environmental balance? Who will apportion these sacrifices? Who will then bear them? Development, of course, is part of the problem as well as the solution. We know that, just as we know that nuclear deterrence depends on the weapons we are trying to render obsolete. The effort to solve the nuclear arms race has been complicated not only by simplistic stereotypes of the enemy and the threat he poses. It also has been complicated by simplistic demands for immediate unilateral disarmament, without any basis for a widely shared confidence that the original threat is no longer real. My own belief is that perceptions must evolve simultaneously in both superpowers, keeping pace with changing technology, accompanied by con- scious efforts to improve information each side has about the other and about the nature of the threat--all aimed at increasing mutual confidence that the threat is in fact changing and receding. In similar fashion, the effort to solve the global environmental crisis will be complicated not only by blind assertions that more and more environmental manipula- tion and more and more resource extraction are essential for economic growth. It will also be complicated by simplistic demands that develop- ment, or technology itself, must be stopped for the problem to be solved. This is a crisis of confidence that must be addressed. Recently, when our son was hit by an automobile, my wife and I lived in the world of medical science, pursuing the goal of restoring our son to health. Ten years ago, a child with his injuries would have had several surgical interventions that doctors now realize are unwise, given the greater likelihood of the body healing itself where some injuries are concerned. Yet two days after the accident, when doctors were unable to stabilize internal bleeding, my wife and I naively hoped that some natural healing process would take care of that problem and make any surgery unnecessary. If the doctor had relied not on science but on us, we would have unwisely urged against an operation. But doctors have acquired sufficient knowledge to realize that the body should be allowed to heal itself when it can do so. At the same time, they know there are some instances in which intervention is essential to save life. Similarly, we must acquire sufficient knowledge of the earth's system to judge when it can heal itself and when it is necessary for us to intervene. For example, when 40,000 children die of disease and starvation every 24 hours, we obviously must intervene. But it is past time to recognize that many of society's interventions in the environment have been and are unwise. Much ecological destruction is subsidized by governments. We need more knowledge, more experience, and the kind of sensitive judgments that modern doctors have learned to make. The cross-cut between the imperatives of growth and the imperatives of environmental management represents a supreme test for modern in- dustrial civilization. The test is whether we can devise very dynamic
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183 new strategies that will accommodate economic growth within a stabilized environmental framework. That is an extreme demand to place on technology. There is no real assurance that such a balance can in fact be struck. Nevertheless the effort must be made. And because of the urgency, scope, and even the improbability of complete success in such an endeavor, I am strongly tempted to use a military term for the metaphor. To deal with the global environment, we will require the environmental equivalent of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a 'iStrategic Environment Initiative." I have been an opponent of the military SDI. But even opponents of the SDI recognize that this effort has been remarkably successful in drawing together previously disconnected government programs, in stimu- lating the development of new technologies, and in forcing upon us a wave of intense new analysis of subjects previously thought to have been exhausted. We need the same kind of focus and intensity, and similar levels of funding, to deal comprehensively with global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, species loss, deforestation, ocean pollution, acid rain, air and water pollution, and all of the problems degrading the world's environment. In every major sector of economic activity--energy, agri- culture, manufacturing, and transportation, for example--a Strategic Environment Initiative (SKI) must identify and then spread sets of in- creasingly effective new technologies--some that are already well in hand; some that need further work, although they are well understood in principle; and some that are revolutionary ideas whose very existence is now a matter of speculation. Let me briefly illustrate. Energy is the lifeblood of development. Unfortunately, today's most economical technologies for converting energy resources into usable forms of power--as in burning coal to make elec- tricity--release a plethora of pollutants. An ''Energy SKI" should focus on producing energy for development without compromising the environ- ment. Chief on the near-term list of alternatives are energy efficiency and conservation; on the mid-term list, solar power, possibly new-gen- eration nuclear power, and biomass, as well as enhanced efficiency; and on the long-term list, nuclear fusion, as well as enhanced versions of solar, biomass, and nuclear energy, and energy efficiency. In agriculture, we have witnessed vast growth in Third World food production through the Green Revolution, but often that growth relied on heavily subsidized fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, and overall mechanization, sometimes giving the advantage to rich farmers over poor ones. We need a second green revolution to address the needs of the Third World's poor. An 'agricultural SKI'' must focus on increasing productivity from small farms on marginal land, and on further develop- ment of low-input agricultural methods. These advances, whose compo- nents are not only technological, but financial and political as well, may be the key to satisfying the land hunger of the disadvantaged and the desperate who are slashing daily into the rain forest of Amazonia--leav- ing behind the depleted soil of their previous homesteads. They may also be the key in the battle to arrest the desertification of sub-Saharan Africa, where human need and climate stress are now operating in a deadly partnership.
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184 Fortunately, the next wave of agricultural improvements is almost upon us--from biotechnology. In my view, we should carefully push forward work on new crop strains with genetic encoding that allows Natural' resistance to pests, disease, and droughts, not to mention improved yield. Of course, biotechnology will not completely solve the problems that arise from inadequate distribution of food supplies--they are most often due to a failure of politics, not crops. In addition, new industrial processes, new materials, and increased use of recycled materials will all become important to "sustainable" development. Needed in the United States probably more than anywhere is a "Trans- portation SKI" focusing in the near term on improving the mileage stan- dards of our vehicles and encouraging and enabling Americans to drive less. In the mid-term come questions of alternative fuels, such as biomass-based liquid fuels or electricity. And in the mid-term and long term comes the inescapable need for reexamining the entire structure of our transportation sector and its inherent demand on the personal vehicle for efficient transport. Funds to promote these research objectives could be drawn from very modest U.S. energy taxes, eventually perhaps even a carbon dioxide (CO2) tax, although that is not yet politically viable. The U.S. government should organize itself to finance the export of energy-efficient systems and renewable energy sources. That means preferential lending arrange- ments through the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Encouragement for the Third World should also come in the form of attractive international credit arrangements for energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable processes. Funds for this lending stream would be generated by institutions such as the World Bank, which, in the course of debt swapping, might dedicate new funds to the purchase of environmentally sounder technologies. Finally, the United States, other developers of new technology, and international lending institutions should establish centers of training at locations around the world to create a core of environmentally edu- cated planners and technicians, in order to ''make the ground fertile" for sowing environmentally attractive technologies and practices--an effort not unlike that which produced agricultural research centers throughout the world during the Green Revolution. With this SKI, we must transform science and technology to make it more efficient, consume less of the earth's natural resources, and emphasize waste minimization, recycling, and the use of renewable resources in harmony with the natural world. We must start by quickly obtaining massive quantities of information about the global processes now under way--through, for example, the Mission to Planet Earth program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And we must target first the most readily identifiable and correc- table sources of environmental damage. For example, I have introduced a new comprehensive legislative package to effectively halt CFC, carbon tetrachloride, methyl chloroform, and halon emissions, and to promote development of technologies to replace those that now rely on CFCs.
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185 Earlier this year, I introduced the World Environment Policy Act of 1989, a far-ranging bill to address virtually every aspect of the global envi- ronmental crisis. In order to accomplish our goal, we also must trans- form global politics, shifting from short-term concerns to long-term concerns, from conflict to cooperation. Recent evidence leads me to believe that we have the capacity for this change. Just as the equilibrium of an environmental system can suddenly change from one state to another, so the equilibrium of one political system can suddenly change from one state to another. We politicians are frequently adept at symbolic action, a pretense of change without the substance of change. And for that reason my optimism is tempered by awareness of the power in the forces of greed and fear. But I do believe we have the capacity for what is needed--because the challenge can now be accurately described in terms of national security. Some may believe that the idea of the environment as a national security issue is just rhetoric. Many of us, however, accept it as a statement of fact. But we also know that just as the world has been living with the possibility of man-made disaster in the form of nuclear war, so it now lives with the growing threat of man-made disaster in the form of catastrophic environmental failure. In many ways, it is the same basic dilemma. In each case, our sur- vival was threatened at a basic, primal level--the fear of death from attack by an enemy, the fear of death from running out of food. To each threat, we responded with more and more efficiency. The increasing sophistication of our technology has enabled us to confront each threat to our survival with a more powerful response. And in each case, the effort to secure our survival has instead threatened our survival. Moreover, even if we are successful this time in meeting the needs of our survival and preserving the world's environment, it probably will not be the last time we will face this basic problem. Genetic engineering may pose the same dilemma all over again. In the effort to protect our- selves against disease, we are creating a new and more powerful technol- ogy that may ultimately confront us with the same historic challenge to human nature and the same hubristic relationship of our species to the limits nature has designed for us as part of the world ecological system. As a result, it is hard to escape the conclusion that we must also transform ourselves--or at least the way we think about ourselves, our children, and our future. This last transformation is the most essential and yet the most difficult. If there is one cause for the prevailing pessimism about our ability to meet this unprecedented challenge, it is the belief by many that we are incapable of the change in thinking required. And yet there are precedents that give cause for realistic hope. Human sacrifice and slavery were both once commonplace in human soci- eties, yet both are now obsolete. Our thinking was transformed. These changes, like most changes in global climate patterns, took place over a long period of time. But now just as climate changes are telescoped into short periods of time, we must create in a single generation changes in human thinking of a magnitude comparable to the change that brought about the abolition of slavery. Yet once again, we must remind ourselves that the pattern of change required is visible only from a distance.
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186 In this case, we cannot rely on science to give us a new point of view, for it is partly responsible for the problem. In ways not yet fully understood, the scientific revolution itself changed the way we saw ourselves in relation to the world. We detached ourselves from nature to examine the physical world. In a kind of Heisenberg principle writ large, we altered--without realizing it--the nature of what we began to examine. The new pattern of thinking we must now create is one in which we once again see ourselves as a part of the ecological system in which we live. What we now lack is a sense of the proper location of our species in the ecosystem. We have lost our "eco-librium." How then can we gain sufficient distance from ourselves to see a pattern that contains ourselves in a larger context? My own religious faith teaches me that we are given dominion over the earth but that we, also are required to be good stewards of the earth. If we witness the destruction of half the living species God put on this earth during our lifetime as a result of our actions, we will have failed in the respon- sibility of stewardship. Are those actions, because of their result, "evil"? The answer depends not on the everyday nature of the actions, but on our knowledge of their consequences. In an examination of Hitler's lieutenants, Hannah Arendt coined the memorable phrase ''the banality of evil." The individual actions that collectively produce the world's environmental crisis are indeed banal when they are looked at one by one: the cutting of a tree, the air conditioning of a car. "Evil" and "good" are terms not used frequently by politicians. But in my own view, this problem cannot be solved without reference to spiritual values found in every faith. For many scientists on the edge of new discoveries in cosmology and quantum physics, the reconciliation of science and religion sometimes seems near at hand. It is a recon- ciliation not unlike the one we seek between man and nature. But even without defining the problem in religious terms, it is possible to conclude that the solutions we seek will be found in a new faith in the future of life on earth after our own, a faith in the future that justifies sacrifices in the present, a new moral courage to choose higher values in the conduct of human affairs, and a new reverence for absolute principles that can serve as guiding stars by which to map the future course of our species and our place within creation.
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