Disaster is not the inevitable result of present global trends, government environmentalists have told Congress with hope. This was the message conveyed in a hearing conducted by Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D) of Wisconsin. On an upbeat note, experts declared that the government's startling new comprehensive study to the President -- the "Global 2000" report -- gives mankind time for reform in handling food, minerals, soil, forests, and cities in a world whose population is expected to reach 6.4 billion within 20 years.
But the challenges outlined by the "Global 2000" report, declared Gus Speth, chairman of the Council of Environmental Quality, are second in importance only to the global arms race.
Thomas R. Pickering, State Department expert on environmental and scientific affairs, said Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie has sent a personal letter to each US ambassador noting the importance of the report (issued July 24) and proposing world action.
The huge document is the first attempt by the Unnited States or any other government to make authoritative long-term projections across the range of population, resources, and environmental cocnerns.
Some of the finding for the year 2000:
* Population: 6.4 billion people.
* Food: barely sufficient, with a calamitous drop in the poorest lands.
* Forests: half destroyed.
* Soil: serious erosion, salination, and loss of nutrients.
The consequence of these conditions: global social unrest accompanying ecological decline.
"What should America do to avoid the apocalypse envisioned in report?" chairman Reuss demanded of Mr. speth.
"The report's conclusions are not predictions, but projections," Speth responded. "There is no doubt in my mind that we have the ability to alter the trends. The issue is not [one of] capability but of will."
French and Spanish translations of the unprecedented report are being prepared. Supplies of the first 17,000 copies have been quickly exhausted and a new printing is being rushed. The government is considering Arabic and Portuguese translations, and Japan may reprint it. It reportedly received heavy world press coverage, much of it front page: "The overseas press is reportedly 'almost uniformly complimentary,'" Mr. Pickering reported, but the Soviet press sees "capitalistic bias" in failure to demand disarmament first.
Meanwhile, Secretary Muskie is pushing the matter at the UN; the State Department has instituted a task force; the report will be brought up at the UNESCO general conference at Belgrade this month, and individual nations (the Philippines, Togo, Brazil) are taking initiatives. Invitations have been sent to other major economic nations to meet in Washington Oct. 14 to discuss "Global 2000."
Even now, Speth said, 800 million people "live in conditions of absolute poverty" and that number will grow to 1 billion in the year 2000 unless trends change.
"If present trends continue, 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," the report began.
"Barring revolutionary advances in technology, life for most people on Earth will be more precarious in 2000 than it is now -- unless the nations of the world act decisively to alter current trends."