A fresh, urgent look at global environmental concerns

Only One Earth PBS, Mondays, 8-9 p.m. through Sept. 21; and Sunday's 10-10:30 Oct. 4-Nov. 22 (check local listings). Co-producers: Better World Society and BBC Television in association with North-South Productions, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and RAI (Italy). The message of this 11-part series is simple, direct, and dead serious: ``If we destroy nature, we are destroying our own future.''

``Only One Earth'' is being billed as the first major international television series to explore and demystify the inescapable links between environment and development. According to Rachel V. Lyon, senior producer for the Better World Society, it ``examines how economics and ecology have clashed, yet shows how conscientiously and responsibly executed development is indeed possible. ... We see remarkable individuals confront the need to improve their standards of living without destroying'' the environment.

The first episode, ``The Road to Ruin,'' focuses on three areas - Senegal, Mexico, and Scotland - where the delicate balance between man and nature has been upset.

In Senegal, where many village people have migrated to cities, cash crops like peanuts have depleted the land where millet used to nourish both people and the environment. In Mexico, slash-and-burn settlers in jungle areas and the growth of resorts in once-isolated areas have caused the depletion of the rain forests. In Scotland, uncontrolled fishing in the North Sea has resulted in a disastrous decline in the herring population. Now, trawlers are turning to haddock and cod, which also may soon disappear.

The solution offered in all cases is environmental management. Later episodes investigate vaccines, acid rain, overpopulation, birth defects, rural industry, shanty towns, and planned development.

This series, from beginning to end, adds up to one long, urgent plea for ecological awareness. While the graphics are often fascinating, the text is too often unnecessarily didactic. After a time, the message becomes jarringly repetitive. But certainly the point is made about the urgency of the global situation.

The series has been launched in 1987 specifically to coincide with the Europe's Year of the Environment and with the presentation of a report by the United Nations-chartered World Commission on Environment and Development.

The makers of ``Only One Earth'' clearly feel compelled, for good reason, to repeat in each segment the warning that man must make nature his ally rather than his enemy - before it is too late. The organizations that have chosen to make this plea through the medium of world television hope that the world will recognize time is running out. But will the world pay attention?

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