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Wanted - a second wave

THE TRUE STATE OF THE PLANET -Edited by Ronald Bailey ,The Free Prees:$15

By Ravi Sharma
Published: Wednesday 15 November 1995

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)A GROUP Of 10 scientists from the rich world are demanding a fresh look at the world's environmental problems today. While praising the environmental movement in the North for pioneering positive changes in air and water quality there, the scientists accuse them of failing to accept their wrong predictions about global famines, total deforestation in the us and Europe and fear of pesticide use.

The book explores the myths about overpopulation, deforestation in the North, catastrophic climate changes, health impact of pesticides and continuing loss of biodiversity. Though agreeing on the issues of water pollution and over-exploitation of fisheries, it completely disagrees with the solutions offered by the environmentalists.

Calling the past 25 years of environmentalism in the rich world as the first wave of environmentalism, the authors say that their fundamental problem lies in the failure in theory. From Rachel Carson to the Club of Rome, the leaders of the first wave all operated under a false assumption of Malthusianism. The scientists challenge the 1798 theory of Malthus, that humans had a propensity to reproduce faster than the food supply could increase.

The first-wave environmentalists believed that humanity and technological civilisation were profligately using up the earth's resources. The authors say that if 10 per cent of the forests were cut by one billion population, it does not mean that two billion people would cut 20 per cent and so on. Instead, people would have figured out how to use less wood.

People change their behaviour when faced by crisis. But according to the authors, the environmentalists assumed wrongly that behaviour needs to be changed by force from above. Top-down it laws and regulations, in turn, capacity of people to initiate their behaviour.

So what is to be done? The answer greater knowledge and wealth to enablee people to respond flexibly and effectively to unexpected. The good cannot be held hospital to the perfect, that is there is no perfect ad tion and trade-offs have to be ma Prioritisation, rather than focussing on "crisis of the month media menta essential. It pins down the all too problem of "tragedy of the common Control of overfishing in the sew, exploitation and misuse of ground and a face water resources and overgrazing in men pasture lands is the number one pro lem. Besides, the problem is not with folk or herders but with the "common".It calls for privatisation of these conamons solve their exploitation- a strategy that many Indians would disagree with.

The book does an excellent analysis or why economic growth is necessary for envi ronmental conservation, and it does so, basen on the past industrial development in the North. If this is accepted by societies the there is no alternative to economic girowth protect the environment.

However, the book seems to have gone overboard in simplifying the solutions, or times, particularly when it Suggests drviding the oceans into pirm properties and confines role of forests to only A of supplying wood and W other ecological benefit IC society. The book is also weak on the issue of cc mate change where it MR to confuse the reader ini believing that since the world is not going accept drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissioq why bother to do anydiing instead money can spent on adapting to climatic changes. However, notwithstanding its shortcomings, this bool is a must for all environmentalists and their followers.

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