Planet Earth is in trouble. That is the conclusion of an extraordinary report made to President Carter by 13 United States government agencies. The report, three years in the making, warns that only international cooperation can arrest degradation of the world environment, resource exhaustion, and overpopulation.
"If present trends continue," the report says, "the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population , resources, and environment are clearly visible ahead. Despite greater material output, the world's people will be poorer in many ways than they are today."
The report's tone is calm and factual and emphasizes that its conclusions are projections and not predictions: in other words, that the dire consequences of what it sees as present trends need not necessarily happen.
It may well be the most detailed and authoritative review of this planet's problems ever prepared. Besides going to President Carter and Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, who issued statements on it July 24, copies of the report were distributed to embassies here, and US ambassadors brought it to the attention of foreign governments.
The 766-page document is the size of a telephone book, and its six-page index covers such items as potential climate changes, energy, food and agriculture, and comparative prospects for rich and poor countries.
Its message is restrained but blunt: "Beware: Global Danger Ahead!"
President Carter ordered the study in his environmental message to Congress May 23, 1977, to be conducted by the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State. The project was expected to take one year, but it took three and brought in other government agencies, which prepared "models" (projections) in their fields. What emerges is the first full-scale demographic and ecological model in history prepared by a government. Earlier models have been published by the World Bank, various United Nations commissions, the Club of Rome, and other sources.
The report underlines Carter's global view, represented in his earlier drive for human rights, and what the authors cite in their preface as "a growing awareness of the interdependence of population, resources, and environment." The report recognizes "their inter-relationships and attempts to make connections between them."
The findings include:
Population. Rapid growth in world population -- at a rate of 100 million annually -- will continue until the year 2000. The world's population, 4 billion in 1975, will be 6.35 billion at the end of the century. Where there are two people today, there will be three 20 years hence. Ninety percent of growth will be in the poorest countries.
Economic gap. The gap between rich and poor nations will widen. Some of the LDCs (less developed countries) will raise their comparative income, but in the "great populous regions of south Asia . . . [income] remains below $200 a year [ in 1975 dollars.]."
Arable land. This will increase only 4 percent by 2000, while population (from 1975) increases 50 percent. This could mean hunger for millions, with possible social unrest.
Energy. World oil production approaches its limits. Many less-developed countries will have difficulty meeting energy needs.
Nonfuel mineral resources. These appear sufficient to meet projected demands. The quarter of the world's population in industrial countries will continue to absorb three-fourths of world output.
Water resources. Supplies will become "increasingly erratic" as population growth doubles demand. The world's forests are disappearing at the rate of an area half the size of California each year, making water storage more difficult.
Farm land. Faulty methods are turning global grassland and crop land into "barren wasteland" at a rate of approximately an amount of land the size of Maine each year.
Climate. Concentrations of carbon dioxide and ozone-depleting chemicals are expected to increase, at rates that could warm the world's climate with a possible ultimate melting of the polar ice caps.
Plant and animal species. These may decrease dramatically, with 20 percent of all species on earth made extinct, especially in tropical forests, by 2000.
Officials declare the gloomy forecast "may actually understate the impending problems." But they hopefully note that world policies are beginning to change as dangers are recognized. For example, family planning is growing; also high-yield seeds may be found.
In summary: "The available evidence leaves no doubt that the world -- including this nation -- faces enormous, urgent, and complex problems in the decades immediately ahead. Prompt and vigorous changes in public policy around the world are needed. . . . If decisions are delayed until the problems become worse, options for effective action will be severely reduced."