What is being done around the world right now shows what can be done to forestall the dire conditions projected by the United States government's massive "Global 2000" report. The question is whether the positive policies and practices found here and there will become sufficiently widespread and coordinated to meet the challenge. With the new US report added to several other global studies -- some of them more pessimistic -- humanity can't say it has not been warned.
The basic equation to be solved involves population, natural resources, and environment. How to provide food, energy, and healthful surroundings for a population of more than 6 billion in the year 2000? By 2030 the projected population would reach 10 billion, which the US National Academy of Sciences has previously concluded is the maximum that an "intensively managed" world "might hope to support with some degree of comfort and individual choice." Indeed, by ending with the year 2000, the present report stops short of the most dramatic projections found in other global studies, which see serious resource scarcities and severe environmental deterioration coming in the first half of the 21st century.
YEt, without speedy natioanl and international efforts, the prospect even for the next 20 years is not bright. "If present trends continue," says the report, "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. For hundreds of millions of the desperately poor, the outlook for food and other necessities of life will be no better. For many it will be worse."
With the gap between rich and poor nations wider, there would be a growing invitation to strife. World peace and security as well as simple humanitarianism dictate that measures to prevent the projected outcomes be pushed forward. The report stresses that it is not only the publicized problem of nonrenewable resources such as oil and minerals that is likely to worsen but also the problem of renewable resources like crops and forests as lands for them are exhausted or used for other purposes.
The hope now is that the United States will take the lead in improving the situation its report documents in hundreds of pages prepared over three years. Certainly both its present secretary of state and his predecessor have spoken strongly of the need for such leadership. With his well-known environmental concerns, Secretary Muskie would be a particular disappointment if he were not to follow through on his call for action.
It is not simply a matter of foreign aid, of course, but this is a kind of touchstone of national commitment. This year, with no foreign aid bill passed, with the US operating at 30 percent below budget, "our commitment ought to be a national embarrassment," as Secretary Muskie said on the release of the Glboal 2000 report. The report demonstrates, as he went on, "just how important our investment in the welfare of our neighbors can be." The US, of course, does remain a leader in dollar amounts of contributions to world needs, if not in terms of percentage of gross national product. And these contributions, along with those of other countries, are paying off in many places. President Carter has appointed a task force to report back in six months on what steps would be effective in the light of the report. It is the kind of task force not to be nominated and forgotten.
Meanwhile, it is important to reiterate that what is being done around the world now shows what can be done to forestall the worst projections. In the case of population, in fact, the report's estimate of a rise from 4 billion in 1975 to 6.35 billion by the end of the century assumes that extensive developments will occur to reduce fertility rates. Otherwise, the projected growth would be even more rapid.
Since 1965 donor countries have supplied about $2.5 billion in aid for population programs in third-world countries. Birth rates have declined so substantially that, despite a decline in death rates also, population growth rates have dropped, too.
Or consider the question of food. Through such efforts as those of the International Rice Research Institute India has improved its agriculture to the point where it can feed its vast population -- even through a severe drought like the one last year. In Africa a United Nations development project is building 14,000 kilometers of all-weather rural roads to connect kenyan farmers to potential markets. In Bolivia yields of grain have increased dramatically under a farm credit system developed over the last three decades.
As for energy, various programs are going forward to save nonrenewable oil. In Nicaragua two geothermal energy plants are to be constructed under UN auspices to meet almost 20 percent of the country's electrical needs. A hydroelectric plant financed by the Inter-American Development Bank will supply more electricity to thousands of Costa Ricans with no rise in oil imports.
These are a but few examples. They must be multiplied in a new spirit of national self-help and international cooperation. And what really happens to the globe in 2000 will also depend on how individual outlooks rise to the challenge, seeing the planet as a home to be preserved and cherished for all by each member of the family of man.