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U.S. Department of State
95/08/01 Speech: T.With on Global Issues
Office of Global Affairs
TIMOTHY E. WIRTH
Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs
Ecological Society of America
Salt Lake City, Utah
August 1, 1995
Thank you. I am delighted to be with you and to be back in the American
West -- what a beautiful setting for this important conference.
I am honored to have such a distinguished audience. For 20 years I have
been reading the work of many of you, and some of you have been
intellectual coach and mentor to me during my years of public service.
So I have real pride and trepidation in addressing such a group.
This morning I want to talk to you about change; about the global issues
that confront us; about the resultant need to change the way we think
about foreign policy and our national security; and about the political
tides that have the potential to profoundly change our government, and
which have already changed the obligations that each of us has as
citizens of the United States of America.
Indeed change is all around us -- in the angry election results of last
fall, in the altered nature of geopolitics in the post-Cold War era, and
in the relationship between human beings and the natural world.
Comparing the experiences and priorities across generations is one way
to comprehend the utterly changed nature of our world.
In August of 1961, I was an Army private when the Berlin Wall was
started; we were placed on alert and thought we were about to go to war
in Central Europe. Thirty years later, my children sat on top of that
same Wall with some 750,000 other young people from across Europe and
the United States, listening to a Pink Floyd concert. What a remarkable
change in one generation.
For my generation East-West confrontation was the formative experience.
It defined who we were, what we thought was valuable, what we thought
was important for the country. For my children the Cold War is a
distant reflection in the rear view mirror.
Change can also be measured in the progress of the medical community,
the altered priorities of scientists and the new findings of
scientists, researchers and scholars like all of you.
Measles, smallpox and polio -- major global challenges only thirty years
ago -- have been all but tamed in virtually every region of the world
and the international community is now working to develop a single
children's vaccine that will innoculate the young against a host of
easily preventable diseases.
In their place, however, new and reemerging infectious diseases are
surfacing and demand our attention -- HIV/AIDS, resistant strains of
malaria, tuberculosis, various hemorrhagic fevers, including the
perplexing and devastating ebola virus.
Here in the United States, the 1960s brought us Rachel Carson's ominous
warning about the possibility of a Silent Spring and the environmental
movement was born. A host of citizens groups and scientists began
investigating, learning, extoling and leading us toward change. The
Cuyahoga River caught fire, and became the poster event for the first
Earth Day 25 years ago.
The National Environmental Protection Act was passed -- the Clean Air
Act, the Clean Water Act, energy legislation, the Endangered Species
Act, and a host of measures at the federal, state and local level.
Private industry changed dramatically, responding to the public will and
to new markets -- and resulting in increased productivity and enhanced
competitiveness. When the science on ozone depletion started coming in,
the first response by some was to suggest that people wear hats, suntan
lotion and dark glasses. We then got serious, and agreed with dozens of
other nations to phase out harmful chlorofluorocarbons, and industry
invested several billion dollars to produce substitute chemicals and
design CFC-free systems.
The U.S. model for government organization -- public-private partnership
and science-based law -- has become the model for the world. Scores of
countries have copied our approach and programs; and defenses for the
environment and preservation of God's creation are being built around
the globe. Like it or not, the world looks to the United States for
I cite these successes, and emphasize this momentum, not to be a
pollyanna, or to suggest that our work is done and that we can now
I cite them because these successes are important, very important:
-- they prove that these partnerships between public and private
sectors, between science and government can work.
-- they prove that public dollars, wisely invested, can bring a
-- and they should give us a basis of great confidence and momentum to
face the challenges of Washington today.
And I need not remind you that the challenges are great. When many in
our Congress attempt to overturn carefully crafted law and regulations
that protect our citizens from pollution and the looting of our natural
heritage, they are, in a very real sense, not merely overturning a
legislative legacy of several decades. They are doing something even
more deadly -- they are attempting to overturn a 500 year legacy of
civilization that has steadily replaced superstition and irrationality
with understanding of, and respect for, science. The long-term
consequences of such actions will reverberate through the coming decades
in ways that will degrade far more than the health of our citizens and
environment and our material well-being.
This is the context for my exchange of thoughts with you this morning,
and as I will suggest, must be the context for your actions and your
involvement as citizens: to act with confidence in your successes; to
act with surety in your science; and to act with urgency in your
Let me return to Rachel Carson. Because of her DDT was banned. Thirty
years later we celebrate the soaring once again of our national symbol,
the bald eagle.
This is an important case study, loaded with science, meaning and
symbolism. Like so many successes in the environmental movement, where
science bested self-destruction and stewardship replaced neglect, we
also discovered newer challenges and broader implications.
Even as the eagle rebounds, the same chemicals are impacting in new
ways, here at home and around the world. A growing field of scientific
study is looking into the effects of DDT, PCBs and other chemicals,
which due to their persistance and pathways may interfere with the
endocrine systems of mammals, significantly affecting reproductive
capability and fetal viability:
-- infants of mothers who ate just two meals of contaminated fish per
month from Lake Michigan during the six years prior to pregnancy were
smaller at birth and had poorer cognitive development, suggesting
neurological damage during embryonic development;
-- in the North of Alaska, indigenous peoples are being found to have
dangerous loadings of toxics and chemical compounds despite their
What does that mean for us? What are the implications of bioaccumlative
persistent organic pollutants on human health and reproductive
capability? There is much to learn from the eagle.
This is one of the many new subtle, persistent and urgent challenges we
face. In fact, the changes and the choices that the United States and
the world community now confront are every bit as demanding as those we
have known since 1945. The nature, diversity and speed with which the
new challenges proliferate dictate a new understanding of the meaning
and nature of national security and of the role of individuals and
nation-states in meeting new tests and forging a better world.
We are accustomed to searching for international purpose and the causes
of international instability in such factors as ideology, geo-politics,
economic inequity, or intense hatreds spawned by nationalism, race and
religious fanaticism. To these we must now add such factors as
population growth, climate change, biodiversity, carrying capacity,
ozone depletion and many others. Compared even with the complex
considerations that determined our national security policies during the
Cold War, the new global threats to international stability are almost
bewildering in their interplay of man-made and natural phenomena. All
of these factors are linked through complex chains of cause and effect,
resulting in issues that can make even the arcane calculus of nuclear
deterrence seem like a simple proposition. Climate change calculations,
as just one example, challenge even the most sophisticated and powerful
computers designed for our Cold War weapons programs.
But, complexity need not be the enemy of a coherent concept for policy
related to global issues. Instead, we have to recognize and adapt to new
responsibilities and new challenges -- issues that will define the 21st
century. These include familiar issues: political relationships and non-
proliferation, trade and democratization. Also included must be the
overriding issue for the future -- sustainable development, a concept
that recognizes the mutually reinforcing nature of economic, social and
I have long believed that the biggest obstacle to the pursuit of
sustainable development -- here in our country or around the world -- is
the misguided belief that protecting the environment is antithetical to
economic interests. How often have we heard it said that "I'm for
protecting the environment.as long as it doesn't cost jobs."
It is within this terribly mistaken analysis that we encounter the
fundamental intellectual challenge to sustainable development. Over the
long-term, living off our ecological capital is a bankrupt economic
Stated in the jargon of the business world, the economy is a wholly
owned subsidiary of the environment. Virtually all economic activity is
dependent in some way on the environment and its underlying resource
base. When the environment is finally forced to file for bankruptcy
under Chapter 11 because its resource base has been polluted, degraded
and irretrievably compromised, then the economy goes down to bankruptcy
To avoid stealing from our children's future, we must make it clear that
sustainable development is a worthy challenge and incredible opportunity
for renewing our common sense of purpose in the aftermath of the Cold
War. We must demonstrate that hope and hard work are the antidote to
fear and resistance to change. We must meet misinformation with renewed
creativity and the powerful force of ingenuity. We must transform the
debate from one that often frames scientific issues as obstacles to ways
of the past, and instead views them as opportunities for new ideas, new
products and a better quality of life for the future.
Sustainable development can serve as a cornerstone of national renewal
and individual purpose. It can serve as a broad, comprehensive and
future-oriented vision to replace the narrow cynicism and base greed
that grips our nation in gridlock.
This is a vision that views the challenge of protecting and
understanding our biological resources as an enormous opportunity for
cataloguing our inheritance and prospecting for products from nature's
wonder. We can measure the distance to the moon within a matter of
centimeters, but don't know whether there are 10, 30, or 100 million
species on our own planet.
This vision embraces the quest for knowledge -- to unlock the mysteries
of the oceans, the atmosphere, and the biosphere, to understand how they
work individually and how they interact collectively -- a wondrous
It is a vision that sees clearly the opportunity of global trade and the
necessity for nurturing the family of democratic, free-market economies
so that poverty is vanquished and human misery obscured; where
sustainable development and basic human needs are met in every nation.
It is a vision of a society that will once again place on its pedestals
Nobel Laureates, astronauts and scientific geniuses, not the purveyors
of television violence, political pundits or million-dollar athletes who
distinguish themselves in the police blotter.
And it surely is a vision that will not be realized unless those with
shared values about the various components of sustainable development
come together, work together and succeed as one.
Unhappily, U.S. leadership in international science, in international
relations and in the effort to improve the lives of our citizens and the
world's are in question as never before. A political wave has swept the
country which suggests that the response to change is retrenchment.
Within innocuously labelled legislative proposals and arcane
appropriations bills are a host of initiatives whose message is that we
should face backwards while we travel the down escalator toward the 21st
century -- rolling back the gains of the past, and undercutting the
momentum for progress in the future.
This approach appears to be more than a reluctant unwillingness to
invest in the future. It seems willfully premised on the misguided
belief that what we don't know can't hurt us. It is an attempt to avoid
knowledge, sidestep reason and ignore change for narrow and sharply
Based on obscure writings of individuals with no experience or peer-
reviewed work in the field of atmospheric chemistry, the State of
Arizona -- bucking unprecedented international consensus among public
and private sector experts (not to mention national law and
international agreement) -- passed a law allowing the manufacturer of
chemicals with the greatest capacity to destruct Earth's protective
ozone layer. Bouyed by the bombast, several members of Congress are
Similar absurd "experts" halted what had appeared to be a smooth
ratification of the Convention on Biodiversity. After being reported
out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on an overwhelming 16-3
vote, the Biodiversity Treaty was stopped in its tracks when a long-time
writer for Lyndon Larouche wrote a 75-page report evoking images of
world governance, paganism, nature worship and a host of other nonsense.
It would have been funny had it not been so destructive. Despite broad
industry support, the treaty was shelved as a result of willful
Ignoring that family planning and reproductive health care is the best
means of reducing the need for abortion, the Congress has repoliticized
domestic and international population programs and certain members are
on a crusade to eliminate them altogether. These efforts are based on
an unmistakable campaign to equate family planning and reproductive
health programs with the issue of abortion, knowing full well that U.S.
policy has banned federal funding for abortions at home and abroad for
25 years. Even domestically this agenda has become clear: the House is
moving full steam toward the elimination of the nation's family planning
program -- a step so extreme that even fellow Republicans have noted
that their colleagues have taken their anti-choice agenda to the field
On the international front, the void left by the end of East-West
conflict has evoked suggestions that the U.S. mission is domestic only;
that since our interests and responsibilities around the world are
greatly diminished, we should simply maintain a strong defense to guard
against military threats and traditional security concerns. This view
ignores much more than the extensive human deprivation and environmental
degradation occurring in today's world, it ignores our interests in a
peaceful and prosperous and democratic community of nations; it ignores
our responsibility and enormous opportunity to shape progress for the
world of tomorrow.
And what of that world? Will we be a nation that participates in
enterprises that by their nature require cooperation among nations?
Will we be a nation that continues to move forward in science,
technology and ideas -- which have been and remain the essential
underpinnings of making this country prosperous, strong and successful?
Or will we withdraw and retreat; shut the doors on scientific and
technologic progress; stifle the efforts to renew our economy; delay our
preparation for an ever more complex 21st century -- in which our
economy, our society and the environment will be challenged as never
Preparations for the new century are being made in classrooms and
laboratories and boardrooms and households all across America. But
these preparations will only be successful if public policy is just as
thoughtful -- and the signs are not encouraging.
No doubt, intergenerational equity requires that we guard our children
from a crushing burden of inherited debt. But we need to leave our
children more than a budget in balance; it is equally essential that we
not leave an environmental debt, a scientific black hole, a legacy of
neglect on pressing health concerns, which also presage an unsustainable
future for our children.
The recent direction of Congressional actions sacrifice the latter
objectives in haste to achieve the first. By withdrawing from
international cooperation, undermining health and safety laws and
gutting the research needed to enhance scientific understanding of the
world we live in, we are diminishing our readiness and relinquishing our
ability to shape change on behalf of America and her interests.
Global cooperation on environmental threats -- ozone depletion, climate
change, loss of forests and irreplaceable species -- has been one of the
most exciting untold stories of the last decade. Remarkable strides
have been made in linking economic and environmental progress on behalf
of all nations, large and small, rich and poor. These efforts have
demonstrated that we can respond to the best information scientists are
providing us about the health of the environment and the state of the
world. And the critical glue making this possible has been parternship
-- scientists with policymakers, public with private sectors, industrial
with developing nations.
But as recent actions to reverse protections for the stratospheric ozone
layer demonstrate, these kinds of partnerships are now threatened.
International cooperation to protect the ozone layer is endangered by
revisionism and neglect. One month ago, the House of Representatives
voted to slash funding for the Montreal Protocol Fund -- which links our
successful efforts to halt production in the developed countries with
the developing countries more difficult transition to safe substitutes.
This funding is not charity -- it represents enlighted self-interest:
ozone depletion transcends boundaries regardless of where the chemicals
The House has also voted to reduce the U.S. contribution -- a 70 percent
cut -- for the Global Environment Facility, which was established
precisely for the purpose of lowering the cost to any one nation of
protecting the global environment. Every dollar we invest leverages 8
in return. Eliminating GEF funding risks unravelling the facility, and
with it our efforts to bring developing countries into the process of
safeguarding the globe.
More troubling is the emerging, but none-too-subtle attempt to block the
underpinnings of environmental policy, the very science that is
necessary to improve understanding and decisionmaking. Domestically,
the Congress is bent on diminishing -- if not eliminating -- the
National Biological Service and NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research,
initiatives premised on the unassailable idea that reasoned judgements
are predicated on knowledge.
Internationally, they hope to wipe out the scientific basis for concern
about global climate change -- as if shutting down science will still
the course of nature. A primary target is the comprehensive global
change research program -- conceived and begun under President Reagan
and Bush (no knee- jerk, regulatory zealots they) -- and now being
systematically dismantled in the budgetary process. Is it a coincidence
that funding for global change research at EPA, the Department of
Agriculture, the Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, the National Science
Foundation and elsewhere are all slated for deep cuts? -- EPA on the
order of 90 percent, NASA 40 percent, and the list goes on. The
industry lobbyists who have been fighting science with evasion, action
with obstruction -- they don't think so and neither should you.
Nor should we be complacent about the misguided attempts to gut the
President's Climate Change Action Plan -- which is built around
voluntary programs that save our economy money while reducing greenhouse
gas emissions. To some in Congress, these programs aren't targets of
opportunity for reducing emissions...they are just plain targets. That
is why we are confronting disabling cuts in programs that promise to
reduce emissions and save almost $2 billion annually by the year 2000,
including EPA's Green Lights, Energy Star Computer, Natural Gas STAR and
similar voluntary efforts. And that is why there are numerous so-called
"policy-riders" on appropriations bills, including proposals to halt the
issuance of more modern, more efficient appliance efficiency standards
and building codes which have the potential to save yet another $2
All told, the concerted attack on the President's Climate Change Action
Plan could take a heavy toll. Preliminary analysis -- to be completed
in October -- reveals the scale and potential scope of this damage. The
analysis shows three things. First, we have made great progress in
controlling greenhouse gases over the past few years and many of the
programs that we have initiated have been even more successful than
predicted. Second, we still have a long ways to go to meet our
commitment to return to 1990 emission levels by the year 2000. And
third, the targetted cuts proposed in Congress would move us at warp
speed in the wrong direction.
Our review to date indicates that Action Plan programs implemented to
date have both reduced greenhouse gas emissions and saved the American
people money. But our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are
not sufficient to meet our objective of reaching 1990 levels by the year
2000. This gap is largely the result of our economic successes over the
past two years. The stronger-than-expected economic growth under the
Clinton Administration, as well as lower-than-expected oil prices, have
combined to push up the rate of our emissions.
We would welcome an opportunity to work constructively with the Congress
to close this gap. But the Hill is moving rapidly in the wrong
direction. Our analysis indicates that House Republican proposals in
all likelihood would double the gap. This very likely means that
emissions in the year 2000 would be close to where we would have been
without any plan at all. As the situation in Congress looks right now,
the gap wouldn't get smaller -- it would explode.
The failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not one of sound
planning, it is a victory of short-term politics over long-term public
policy vision. We will regroup, but the forces against reason, against
science, against progress and the environment are ascendent. We have a
steep hill to climb.
I point these actions out not to recite the laundry list of horror
stories, but to suggest that reason must be revived, that the search for
knowledge and wisdom, science and new technology are not a given in
today's politics, yet they remain a must for tomorrow's environment.
But if we are to continue to make progress, scientists such as
yourselves are going to have to think anew. Most scientists
understandably believe that the great battles pitting reason with
research, scientists with society have been fought and won. But the
current debate over public policy in America demonstrates that progress
is determined by politics, not reason.
If ever there was a time -- or a need -- for the scientific community to
enter the fray beyond peer-review and publish or perish, it is now.
Engagement in the world around you is not only necessary, it is
essential. Reaching across disciplines, overcoming silence, defining
priorities and working together must characterize your work in the
months and years ahead. There will be an overwhelming urge to fight
over the crumbs, to atomize efforts on behalf of this project or that
institution. This is a doomed strategy. On the other side are
interests and organizations far more mobilized, with deeper pockets and
an instinct for the jugular.
In one of the most impressive organizing efforts ever, the Christian
Coalition has built an organization of almost 2 million members with
chapters throughout the country, a $20 million annual budget and a
grassroots organization capable of shaping public policy to the will of
a vocal, well-organized minority for many years to come. Reportedly,
the organization has detailed voter files for 1.7 million Americans, and
aims to have an organizational arm in every voting precinct in America
within the next five years. I do not agree with their views, but I
acknowledge their success in mobilizing an enormously effective
Unhappily, these are the great battlegrounds for the environment and
science in the future. The skirmishes will not be fought -- despite
posturing to the contrary -- on the basis of sound science, common
sense, and relative risk. They will be fought out in neighborhoods and
precincts, they will be fought on computer terminals, through grassroots
organizing and active participation in our democratic processes.
And this is where you come in. Like it or not, you must get involved --
each and every one of you -- in the processes that govern our country.
You must apply your knowledge, your expertise and your ability to
express yourselves. You must research your local situation and find out
who is doing what and why. And then you must act -- to teach your
fellow citizens (in classrooms and editorial boards, town meetings and
talk shows) and to be the involved citizen that our country depends
This may make you feel uncomfortable -- you may be saying to yourself
"that's not my job -- I'm a scientist". So ask yourself who built the
great medical establishment in the United States? It was a partnership
of doctors, researchers and public policymakers, building NIH, our
medical schools, the rural hospital network.
Who built the space program? It was scientists, engineers and political
leaders. And who built our great research universities? It was the
impetus of World War II, the quest for knowledge and great leadership
from scientists and academics in America.
I don't have to tell you that the stakes in all of this are huge -- for
each of us, for our children, for life, for the earth. The high degree
of political volatility is matched only by the magnitude of global
In 1948, when the notion of space exploration was still science fiction,
the Astronomer Fred Hoyle said: "Once a photograph of the Earth, taken
from the outside, is available...a new idea as powerful as any in
history will be let loose."
Twenty years later, when space travel became a reality, the travellers
themselves provided powerful testimony to Hoyle's sense of the unity of
the world. Let me read to you from our own astronaut, James Irwin:
"That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate that
if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart."
And now from a Russian cosmonaut: "After an orange cloud -- formed as a
result of a dust storm over the Sahara -- reached the Phillipines and
settled there with rain, I understood that we are all sailing in the
In this last decade of the millennium, we have the power and enormous
responsibility to captain that boat carefully. We also have the ability
to shape change for the benefit of the United States and the entire
world. The interests and intellectual capacity reflected in this room
today bears a special burden in this regard. Working together, your
talents, your energy and your power is more than the match for the
challenges and the institutions involved. I hope that each of you will
engage in this effort and that we can harness that energy and wisdom in
service of these objectives. Our future certainly depends on it.
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